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Chapter 4

Bershad

Bershad. Bershad – a name I would never forget. A name that still haunts me today. It was our destination. For miles and miles one could see nothing but abandoned houses. One section of the village in Bershad was sectioned off for us. This was the Ghetto. The buildings were old and broken, deserted for a long time. The windows were broken. People had used the doors as beds and had taken them out. We collapsed there in exhaustion. In these half-destroyed shacks, decrepit barracks, with holes in the roofs where rain and snow fell, defective or non-existent doors and windows there were 10 to 20 people in a room.

It was freezing inside and there were people leaning against a wall or stretched out on the floor barely moving. We collapsed on the floor of a little shack, exhausted, starved and freezing. There were 10 people in our room. There was our family, another family with two boys and an elderly couple.

Bershad and all the land between the River Dniester and the River Bug had been annexed to Romania and was now called Transnistria. It extended through the town of Odessa all the way to the Black Sea.

There was no one guarding us in the fall of 1941.

The day after we arrived both my brother and I got very sick from the lice that invaded our bodies. We both caught typhus. I had a high fever and remember nothing about that time. Altogether, I was sick for about two weeks along with my brother. When I was conscious again I felt better but very weak. My brother was in the same bad shape. But we survived the disease, somehow, miraculously.

My mother was trying to boil water to give us to drink. We were too weak to move.

A few days later after my brother and I recovered, my mother got sick and I could do nothing to help her. It was the beginning of December by then. She had a high fever and thrashed around the floor, her body shivering under her coat. She hardly spoke and developed a terrible case of diarrhea.

We had nowhere to eliminate our urine or feces and the smell was overwhelming. We found an old car battery that we dragged into the room. We began to pee into the battery, the only depository we could find.

We felt like animals, trapped, with walls closing in on us in the cold.

As I said, there were about 10 people in the small room, all of us sick. The floor and walls were frozen and covered in frost. It felt like being inside a freezer. No one was able to move or get up to get food or some wood to warm up the room. Everyone was too sick.

It was hard to think or feel anything during that time. Another blessing.

I felt like I was living in a labyrinth and couldn't get out. My broken and tormented dreams were of being trapped. When we tried to sleep our sleep was fitful and we listened to the wind blowing outdoors. If I dreamed at all it was of a normal day at home with a warm fire and my mother cooking something that smelled delicious. If anyone dared to go to farmers in the surrounding area to try to find food for themselves or their dying relatives they were shot. Emaciated children used any strength they still had to beg for a bite of bread.

I looked at my mother and felt miserable. I thought how clean my mother was and how clean she wanted to keep her house, her clothing and most of all, her children. I knew she was disgusted when she saw her children wasting away in this ghetto with filthy bugs crawling all over them.

I would jump to her lap to try and comfort her with words, but after a while, my mother was just silent and stared into space.

I watched my mother who I loved more than anyone in the world deteriorate and lose her fight with the disease. She had shivers and a high fever and couldn't fight the illness in her weakened state.

She died on the 16th of December, 1941. She was lying right next to me.

When my father saw her dead, he said, “Children, we've lost our leader. What will we do?

Some people are born lucky,” he said. “The luckiest day in my life was when I met your mother. I loved her so much,” he cried. I touched her face and it was ice cold.

When he said that, I started to cry as well. I wailed so long and so hard that I had no tears left. My throat hurt from crying and I felt totally drained and exhausted. I missed her so much already and felt an emptiness that would never be replaced. I started to lose all hope and felt despondent and sad in my grief. I tried to talk but I only could emit choking sounds holding back tears.

I kept seeing the image of my mother's face in death. She was so peaceful looking yet so white. All of my previous memories of her as a loving mother started to fade in the recesses of my mind. Her beautiful smile and warm eyes stayed in my mind's eye. I wanted so much to keep her memory alive, but it was dimming.

It took days until they took her body away to be buried. When it happened, I couldn't look and felt myself sinking into a depression – a black hole I wasn't sure I could ever crawl my way out.

The ground was frozen so the corpses were thrown on a cart, piled up under the blue icy sky inseparably twisted together. They looked unreal. The bodies were strewn on top of each other like logs of wood, a surrealistic sculpture of bodies with body parts dangling on top of other parts, frozen stiff and horrific. They were taken away and buried in a mass grave.

Nameless, without identities, massed together like leaves gathered for burning in a bonfire. There never was a burial for these people and no tombstones or graveyards where one would pray for their memory. These bodies would never be buried in a cemetery where their loved ones could visit their graves and pay their respects. They would be anonymous, stripped of their identities, their lives snuffed out as though they never existed.

I forgot how it felt to feel safe. I felt like nothing would ever be the same again. I would never have a normal life.

At that time we were trying to live through each day.

I was angry at first, then too tired to be angry. Too weak to do anything about the situation, yet I decided then that I would do whatever I had to do to survive.

We were lying on the floor and all we talked about was food and what my mother used to cook. The spinach we never wanted to eat, the chicken soup, the strawberries and cream and it seemed like talking about food filled our stomachs that were actually empty. After a while we didn't feel hungry.

We talked about the beilik fish my mother used to make. It was a delicious dish that tasted like fish but was actually made from ground chicken. We would eat the “fish” with horseradish sauce and bread.

I lost my faith at that point, and believed that no God could allow this horror to exist.

Those who lived were sometimes forced by the Romanian gendarmes to help build bridges and roads. We heard how they were made to serve as slaves-- half-dead and exhausted, but that was not an excuse for the Romanian Nazis to beat them as they worked.

And for the ones remaining, there was hunger. Food was the constant problem. You were constantly hungry and then there were days when there was no food to be had.

While lying down and trying to sleep, I would hear my stomach making noises from the emptiness it felt inside.

The sound of hunger is loud and keeps you awake when you want more than anything to sleep.

Finally, a cloudbank of hunger cleared as though a strong wind had torn it apart. For the first time ever, hunger had no meaning. I no longer pined for food.

A few days later after my mother died, my father got a terrible headache. Then he got sicker, developing a high fever. He said that when I go home I should go and collect money that people owed him. He could barely move and during the night he called out my mother's name. “Lotte, Lotte, I'm coming to you,” he shouted.

I tried to keep him warm by staying next to him, holding him and hoping my body warmth would help him. He had shivers and looked so pale. His skin was practically transparent. He whispered to me, “You have to stay strong. I love you.” Finally, he kept his eyes wide open looking at me, with his beautiful blue eyes, unable to speak anymore. He died the morning of January 1, 1942. He was only 50 years old. He had lost a lot of weight and his face was thin and drawn.

I will never forget those puzzled eyes. He wanted so much to live. I closed his eyes as he died.

That January, on the 19th, his first grandson Pierre was born to my sister Margaret who was living in the outskirts of Paris. He never knew about it.

My father died not knowing whether any of us would ever make it out alive.

I held him in my arms as he died, cradling his head in my lap. To this day, I still try to remember his voice, his smile, and his beautiful eyes.Where was God I wondered? How could He let this happen? What did we do? The question “Why?” echoed in my mind. I cried until I ran out of tears. I had this empty feeling inside my body when he died and my heart became numb.

According to Dr. Nathan Getzler of Montreal, Canada, in his testimony, “Diary pages from

Czernowitz and Transnistrien “The reports arriving are incomprehensible. It appeared that the insanity had exceeded all bounds. The speed at which the starving deportees were forced to march, while the guards drove them forwards with blows of their rifle stocks caused 60% of them to collapse and freeze to death.

In the ghetto, the dead lay for 6-8 days after death near the living. Typhus and other epidemics – caused by hunger, crowding, and primitive sanitary conditions decimates the survivors. Of the 150,000 Bukovina Jews, 80,000 have already died. Only 50,000 Bessarabian Jews still survive.

Around Mogilev, where Chmilnitzki's band murdered Jews 400 years ago, history is repeating itself. One stands shuddering in the piercing feeling of one's own helplessness.

Although the Bessarabian deportations started in September, and those in Bucovina at the beginning of October, the sending of aid was only permitted on December 10 (C.B.B.T. document No.259 of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers to the Union of Jewish Religious Communities). The actual sending of aid became possible, however, only after February 10, 1942, when document No.04687 of February 5, 1942 of the Governor ship of Transnistria reached the Central Office of the Romanian Jews; this document contained the exact orders regarding the sending of aid. By this time, however, in Transnistria almost 50,000 Jews had died of cold, hunger, starvation, disease and misery.

On a gray, damp and freezing cold morning, some soldiers came in and told us we had to leave that shack because it was collapsing.

Now we were just the four of us – me, my brother and the two Shattner boys still alive in that room. My brother was too weak and so were the other two boys.

I was emerging again as the strong one of the group.I got up and walked out in that cold snow. The sun blinded me and I almost collapsed when the cold air hit me. It was about 20 degrees below 0. Everything was frozen, the landscape a white, icy cloudy raw terrain. Even the river where people tried to get water was frozen. This has to be hell I thought. Not fire, but ice.

I walked out and looked around for the first time. I was outside that place where I felt I had been for an eternity. I looked for another place to go. I saw at some distance a few dilapidated buildings a little larger than the one we stayed in. I stumbled onto one that looked sturdier and pretty large.

When I came in there was a porch with a few dead bodies sprawled on the floor. One of them was a woman from our town who I instantly recognized. I entered the room and I saw about five beds made from doors lying on a few bricks.

On one of them was this girl about 15 who I knew since she was a child-- Martha. She had shiny brown hair and doe-like dark eyes. She had shaved off her hair because of the lice and looked so small and pathetic that she tugged at my heartstrings and I knew-- I had to help this girl.

Her face showed no emotion and she spoke in monosyllables.

Her father left for South America before the war and he was supposed to have her mother and Martha follow him.

Meanwhile the war broke and she was there in camp with her mother and a maiden aunt. The aunt was the dead woman lying on the porch. Martha was lying there in a state of shock and despair. With her shaved head from typhus she looked like a skeleton. She had a high fever and was talking in her delirium. Her fitful nights had her scream out in her sleep. We asked if she minded if we moved in. “I don't care,” she said. “I'm not going to be around much longer anyway.”

Her tone was full of doom and her eyes burning red from crying.

When I looked at Martha, for the first time, I imagined what I must have looked like. I was dirty and thinner with big blue eyes. I suddenly realized what was happening to us as human beings.

When Martha recovered from her fever, she was oblivious to everything.

I returned to my brother and helped him on his feet. He hobbled with me towards the new room and settled in. His feet were hurting him and he could only walk with a limp.

We took our few belongings and my brother, the two Shattner boys and I collapsed on the makeshift beds. Because we were so weak and cold, we crept on the cots, covered ourselves with our coats. And we stayed there waiting….Waiting for what I don't know.

Thinking back now, I wonder if I didn't do enough to go out and look for help.

Help? Where?

In the room next to ours, separated by a curtain lived a doctor, Dr. Menschel, with his wife and two children and a woman related to him with a young child.

The doctor was very much in demand and treated local peasants in exchange for food for his family. Dr. Menschel's daughter was my pupil when I was teaching in Czudin,-- that was the town where all the Jews were shot in the court's basement. I don't know how he and his family managed to escape.

At that time, there were Jewish people in the ghetto who made a living by going from house to house collecting clothes they sold to peasants for food.

That was how we occasionally got a little corn flour, a few potatoes for the few clothes we had left from our dead parents. We sometimes ate a dish from cornmeal called “mamaliga” and to this day I can't eat it because it reminds me of the camp.

Some people actually waited for their relatives to die so they could sell their clothes.

Hunger made us crazy. We were no longer human. We were too beaten, too humiliated, and too dehumanized to be human. The only humanity we shared was that whatever we were able to find was shared equally. Many times I gave my brother my share, because I felt I could take the hunger better than he could.

One day, I remember, all we had to eat was an onion. A slice of onion was all we could share.

We were craving something warm to drink so the lady who lived with the doctor boiled a pot of water for us and we paid her every day a certain amount for the hot water. If there was a sliver of a potato in the water, it was a luxury. And that's basically what we were able to get daily. I can't remember how much it was. Where did we get the money?

From selling whatever we had left to sell. We would take whatever clothing we had and trade it for a piece of bread, some water.        We would try and figure out why the Germans and Romanians hated us so much, but never could. “Why do they hate us so?” I asked my brother.

“I don't know. God has turned His back on us. We no longer have a God who shows mercy to His own people. I don't know what is happening anymore. None of this makes sense.”

“The world has turned into hell.”

My brother was sick but never complained. He just kept looking out the window behind the cot where we were sleeping. He looked up into the sky with his cornflower blue eyes hoping to see planes that never came.

“The Americans won't let them get away with it,” he said. He always hoped that the Americans would conquer the Germans and save us. To him, they were the only hope for survival.

To me America was like another planet, the moon or Mars. I never thought America would get mixed up in this horrible war.

We had no idea of what was happening in the rest of the world. We didn't know how much of Europe Hitler occupied. We had no idea how the rest of the world also had no love for the Jews. Later we discovered how even the U.S turned away Jews who tried to land in Miami Beach on the SS St. Louis a few miles from Cuba only to be sent back to Europe to be put on trains and exterminated in ovens in the camps. This was the response of America – the land of the free, the home of the brave. Yet America was my future destiny – the place where my children would be raised.

We were ignorant of how the world fought the idea of a Jewish State and how even after the war, many Jews died trying to find a homeland for peace for their people. Jews only wanted to create a world where they could live and practice the Jewish faith and not face persecution or hatred. Sadly, with the Arab fundamentalists, that hatred is still very much alive.

For us, we just tried to survive day to day without any hope. Somehow we were able to use the little clothing and money we had to buy food – to get anything to eat. We were cheated over and over again by the healthier Jews.

One day a man from our town came into our room and took a look at us. We were five miserable filthy and dying creatures lying on the floor on our beds of doors. He said he could see on the faces of people who was destined to die. Just by looking at us, he could tell who gave up on living. He pointed to my brother and one of the Shattner boys and said, “You two are not going to make it.”

We chased him away and told him we didn't want to hear what he had to say. “Get out!” I yelled. “Get away from here!” I hated him and prayed his predictions were wrong.

Butz said, “Do you think he knows something? Maybe he's right? Maybe I am going to die!”

“No, no,” I said. “He's just a superstitious silly man. What does he know?”

“I don't know,” he said. “Somehow, I think maybe he's right.”

“Don't talk like that! We're both going to get out of this together! We have to continue to fight or the Germans win. Don't give up!”

“I'm not giving up. But I'm starting to feel like I have no energy left to fight. I'm too weak. Exhausted.” Even his voice sounded tired.

“We're all exhausted and weak. But I'll try and get you something to eat. We'll get our strength back. Just hang on as long as you can! Please! I can't lose you, too. I love you so much!”

“I love you too,” he said and smiled at me.

But in the back of my mind I wondered if I might be the next to die.

I would have nightmares of my parents piled on top of a cart with other bodies being buried in a ditch I would never find again. I heard the barks of wild dogs in my dreams forcing me to wake up in a panic.

I became very depressed and my will to live started to ebb. I wanted to imagine that life could again be normal and beautiful and that I should push myself to live.

In reality, only the love of my brother kept me strong and determined to fight to stay alive.

A few days later after we moved in with Martha, I found out that my cousins, the Chussids lived in the same building . They originally came as three brothers with wives and children and Selda and her mother, altogether about 15 or 16 people. Selda, her mother and her Uncle Sam were the only ones still alive.

Another brother, Berl is still there. Sam was a very handsome bachelor in his 30s. He was known for his neatness in his dress and as a cousin of my mother's, he had worked with my father in court. He came in one day, took a look around and said, “Poor kids!” and left.

Another cousin of mine was Jenny. She came a few weeks after us and seemed to have gotten some money from some relatives. A few weeks before she arrived, her mother and one sister died under the same miserable conditions as our parents.

When they first arrived, her sister Lotti was pregnant and about to give birth. I found out that she died a few days later after giving birth of an infection and then her mother died of, typhus. Of course, the baby died too.

Miraculously Jenny had come into some money. She had moved in with a local Jewish family and paid them room and board. Apparently there were other Jewish families nearby from the Ukraine who lived there all their lives that were much better off than we were. When she looked at us, she said, “I can't bear to see you. It breaks my heart.” But she never returned.

Maybe she was afraid to catch typhus from us. Jenny was very attractive and married for a few years. Her Jewish husband was taken into the Russian Army and was fighting somewhere on the front.

I remember her so well because she had a very tragic end.

I don't know how we lived those days. I remember that I was not hungry any more. After weeks then months of hunger, you don't feel hungry anymore. Your metabolism slows down and your body adjusts to not eating. Your stomach shrinks and the only necessity your body craves is water. We got bloated from not eating and skinnier and skinnier.

One day we got a cup full of grain from someone. Little yellow grains which when cooked would swell and make a thick soup. I put them in a little pot with water and went into the doctor's room next to ours. There was a little iron stove where the Menschel's were forever cooking. I asked them if they would allow me to cook the grains on their stove. She looked at me like she saw a ghost. She said, “OK but put the pot in the corner of the stove because we are cooking now.”

She had a big pot of stew, another pot of soup and my pot standing in the corner of the stove barely getting warm. As I waited for the corn meal to cook, I smelled the aroma from the food they were cooking and my stomach growled. I don't know how long I was standing there but when I woke up I was on the floor and realized that I had fainted. The doctor and his wife chose not to help me.

They put the pot with the warm water in my hand and pushed me out of the room. “Get out of here. You scared the children,” the doctor said. “Please don't come in here anymore.”

Then I remembered the Chussids living next door. They also had a stove and I hoped they would allow me to cook the grains. I went there and asked Selda's mother if I could I finish cooking these grains. She had a few red coals left in the stove and she said, “Put it on there and maybe it will still boil.” Well the coals went out before my pot got a little warmer and she wouldn't put another log on the fire. I went back to our room and we share the few grains of cornmeal soaked in the warm water.

The next morning, I noticed my brother's toe was sore and filled with pus. He said, “Don't bother with it. It doesn't hurt.”

After a couple of days one of the infected toes fell off.

I pulled myself together and went to the clinic, which had just opened.

You had to know someone important to get in. I told him, “Please, I beg you. I have this sick brother and all I want to do is help him. Please help us!” They said that there was no room. They gave me about five grains of permanganate, which I was supposed to place in water and soak my brother's feet in it. How do you soak someone's feet in a freezing room without warm water?

I didn't even have a container to put it in. So I dissolved the permanganate in water and poured it over his toes. A few days later he lost consciousness. I screamed and called Dr. Menschel next door. The doctor had been boarded up the door since that day when I fainted. Through the door, he shouted, “There's nothing I can do.”

I knew Butz was dying and I couldn't do anything for him. His breathing was labored and his skin was pallid. His head felt hot. My brother looked out of the little window in the room and said, “The Americans will not let them do this to us.” Then his eyes looked cloudy and the grip he held on my hand loosened. Those were his last words.

Butz seemed to rally for a few days but on the 4th of March in 1942 he died with his eyes wide open looking at me the same way my father did. He died with his head cradled in my arms. I had seen the entire process of his dying. I watched the lice evacuate his body and coat--the true sign that he was dead. This time my heart was completely frozen.

Though he was finally at peace in death, I couldn't believe he was gone and was inconsolable. Butz had just turned 20 on February 11th.

Though I also often prayed for America to save us, as months turned to years, the dream fizzled like a damp firecracker. I blamed myself and thought over and over again about what I could have done to save him. My throat was dry as dust from choking and crying over his body. I felt guilty and sad at the same time. Guilty at having outlived my younger brother; sad to have lost him forever.

They took his body and tossed it on a cart. Just like my parents. He became just another one of those bodies on the pile –like bizarre cords of wood. Eventually when they could dig a grave in the frozen ground, he would be buried like everyone else in a common mass grave.

I began to feel completely emotionally numb. I was just existing and didn't know why. I was alive, but I'm not sure if you could really call it living. I no longer cared about whether I lived or died. I had no reason to stay alive anymore.

My only reason for living had been to try and save my brother and I had failed. Life was meaningless to me. It was just a trap. I felt completely alone and empty. I was beyond hate. I didn't want to go on living. I tried to feel religious thinking that I would rejoin my family in some other world. But it was just impossible to believe in God and order and salvation. I was living in a world where death was more prized, more valued than life. Only the lice, crawling and biting into my skin, wanted me to stay alive.

The younger Shattner boy lit up a cigarette as soon as he noticed Butz had died. This is normally an unimportant detail, but it was at that moment a very symbolic act. He must have been carrying that cigarette in his pocket for months. At that time a cigarette was worth its weight in gold. We could have traded it in for a dozen potatoes and even a piece of meat. When the young Shattner boy lit up that cigarette (and it distresses me I no longer remember his first name) it was a signal that he was now ready to die. He no longer cared about anything but enjoying his last few moments of life. Each puff was a step towards death but we couldn't reason with him or even blame him for his selfishness. He knew, even before the man from the town had pointed to him, that he was going to die. He died the next day.

All this time, Martha, who at the beginning didn't want to speak, began to trust me. We shared whatever food we were able to get and she took some comfort in our being there. She was like our little sister. She had this innocence about her in her eyes. She had these beautiful big, sad brown eyes with long lashes but her hair was very short to prevent lice from infecting her. We told her that if she survives, she should be grateful she still had a father who would take her to America and take care of her.

Yet, she hated her father. “He left us here and now my mother's dead,” she cried. “I never want to see him again.”

A few days after my brother died, I got sick again. I don't know what it was but I had some kind of dysentery and thought it might be another form of typhus that attacks the stomach.

During the time we were in Bershad it was freezing cold outside (20-degrees below zero) we lived on hot water that we paid for everyday, potato skins and anything we could buy with the clothes we sold. People can't understand how we survived, but we did. We barely had shoes to wear and it was impossible to go anywhere.

In a short while, Martha caught the same illness and we were both close to death and ready to die.

Yet, when I looked at Martha I decided that there is more to life than mourning for our beloved family.

“We have to fight our feelings of sadness and survive. We still have lives ahead of us and we can't give up. Promise me you won't give up,” I begged.Martha gave me a half-smile.

It was March. The weather was starting to get a little warmer and there were only the three of us left alive--Martha, the Shattner boy and me. We were all sick at the same time.

One day, a woman we knew from our neighborhood who was a pharmacist came to our room and asked if she could stay with us. Her name was Golda and her mother was a close friend of my mother's. Her father was a teacher in my school.

I don't know how she managed to avoid getting sick and she seemed to be okay. She moved in and tried the make our room more livable.

We all chipped in with the few coins we still had left, and somehow she was able to get us a stove and a little food. She tried to give me something to eat but nothing would stay down and I was afraid to eat anything.

I was feeling weaker and weaker as the days turned into nights. I couldn't move and just stayed on my back on the floor. One evening, I felt like I was slipping into unconsciousness. I told Golda, “I think this is it. I feel different. I think this is the end.”

Unbelievably, somehow she had found some ground meat and made a hamburger. I still don't know where she was able to get the meat. “You have to eat this. What do you have to lose? Please just try,” she begged.

I ate it slowly, chewing the meat carefully and eating small bites and it was like a miracle. The next day I felt better. From then on, I started to feel stronger and so did Martha. We were still in bed, but Golda managed to get out every day to get us some food.

After a few days we wanted to get out of bed, but the muscles in our legs atrophied behind our knees and we couldn't stand up. Martha's knees were in exactly the same condition. Our legs were skeletal and I forced Martha to walk with me as painful as it was for both of us.

I was alive, thinking about my own possible demise. What I realized at that moment was an epiphany: that all of the pain, cold and hunger meant that I was alive. If I were dead, I would feel nothing. At that moment, I felt that the most urgent goal I had was to try everything to stay alive.

Crossfire

The next morning, I looked outside and Serafina, an old friend of my mother's I didn't even know was alive, was looking for me and miraculously found me!

“Come darling with me,” she said. “I am so glad to see you alive – the only one of the family.” She was staying outside the ghetto where it was safer with Max, Sonia his girlfriend and her mother. “You are coming home with me she said and I will not take no for an answer.” Serafina was almost my mother's age and she watched my brother and me growing up.

The feeling that you have some family again after being so alone and so miserable is almost indescribable. Until today, I still don't know how she found me.

From then on, she adopted me. She never had her own children, so she treated me like her own daughter. It was quite a distance to the farm house, but when I got there I was well-received. They fed me, let me wash myself and found a place for me to sleep. I could not believe my good fortune! Sonia working in the hospital treating the German soldiers brought home some food and other things, which I missed for all these years, comb, a toothbrush, a little mirror, some soap to wash my underwear. It was like a miracle!

In the middle of the night, we heard cannon fire. We woke up and didn't know what was going on. In the morning we looked through the windows and saw German soldiers running in the street. We saw German trucks full of supplies and ammunition stuck in the mud, which was almost two feet deep in some places. If you walked, the mud came up to your knees it was so deep!

The streets in the Ukraine are not paved and in the spring after the melting of the snow the streets are covered with deep mud. We heard bombs falling and shooting. Bullets were whizzing by and we heard those loud whistles and crashing bombs around us.

We figured out that the war was coming closer and we were in the middle, in the crossfire. We saw Middle Eastern soldiers in German uniforms and couldn't figure out who they were. Our gentile landlady who lived in the other side of the house told us that they were Russians from Uzbek stock who had deserted the Russian Army and joined the Germans. They were running like wild beasts. The Germans didn't want to take them along as they retreated. Justifiably they were afraid that when the Russians caught them in German uniforms they would be executed as traitors.

Everybody was hiding wherever they could. We didn't move out of the house for a few days and hid in the basement most of the time.

One day our landlady came to tell me that one of those Uzbeks were in the neighborhood. She took me and pushed me into a little barn where she kept a few goats. I stayed there for a few hours and believe it or not, I was afraid of the goats! They looked like little devils with those green eyes and horns.

There were hours of complete silence and since the house was about 200 feet from a river I decided one morning to go out to the river and wash some of my clothes. All of a sudden, bullets whizzed all around me. I ran as fast as I could back into the house. Quickly I realized that the Germans were on one side of the river with the Russians on the other.

A few days passed like that with sporadic shooting and gradually we ran out of food. We had practically nothing left, so I decided to venture out. I walked about a block from the house and saw a truck stuck in the mud. I went closer to it and on the ground there was a dead German soldier. I looked around at the scene and saw no one. Then I looked into the truck and there were bags filled with rice and sugar. I ran back to the house and told Max and Sonia what I had found. We all ran back to the truck and took as much rice and sugar we could carry.

For the next two weeks we ate nothing but rice cooked with sugar.

The shooting went on for sixteen days. I don't know what we would have done without the rice and sugar!

 

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