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[Pages 336-338]

Wandering and Hunger in Russia

By Chana Fisherman (Pores)

Translated by Judy Grossman

 

 
Members of the Collective in Kovno, 1937
Left to right: Chana Pores, Fruma, Tamara Teitz

 

“Who Will Flee from Dusiat?“

In 1940 the Russians entered Lithuania and our collective – of Hashomer Hatzair in Kovno [Kaunas] - disbanded. I remained in Kovno, learned how to type and worked.

Close to the outbreak of war, I visited home, Dusiat, for the last time. A dark cloud was already hovering in the air. The shops had been nationalized, and no one slept peacefully, but no one believed that the worst of all could happen. Perhaps inside themselves people thought of leaving, but the fact is that no one got up and left. Their “property” tied them to the place. There were no millionaires there, and there wasn't anyone to whom to sell even the little they possessed.

Early in the morning of July 22, 1941, the bombing of Kovno began. People began to run around in the streets, and I also ran, not knowing to where. With the stream of pedestrians I arrived at the train station, and got onto a cattle car. We knew that the train was supposed to go in the direction of Vilna [Vilnius]. I planned to get off in Abel [Obeliai] and walk to Dusiat, but everyone said that we should flee from there! There I met Honke, Masha Slep's brother (who was a wagon driver and brought flour to the shops) and asked him to tell all the people in Dusiat to flee! I remember that he looked at me in wonder and said: “Who will flee from Dusiat?” and continued on his way to the shtetl.

My Mouth Forgot How to Chew

The route was changed and we arrived in Dvinsk [Daugavpils]. The bombing reached us there too. The train couldn't continue on, and we started walking. The bombing pursued us the entire way, and there were fires everywhere. We gathered weeds in the fields and ate them. We were a group of girls of approximately the same age, and we joined the soldiers of the retreating Red Army. We walked and walked, and thus for several weeks convoys of people trudged along for many kilometers, and our legs really swelled up!

When we crossed the Russian border we reached the spot of Velikiye Luki. I remember that when we reached it, I heard music for the first time in many weeks! There was a restaurant there and we went in. A mirror hung on the wall. I approached it, looked into it and didn't recognize myself. We were all a block of dust! I remember that they offered us toast to eat, but my jaw hurt, and my mouth couldn't chew.

Most of the time I was with Shula, who was also wandering like me, and we became friends. (Shula came from Mariampole and today lives in Canada). We were in a forest, and again there was bombing! We lay down, and I remember that we both prayed that we would at least encounter a direct hit and not remain crippled! Beside us many people were injured, and we got up untouched! We started walking again. Suddenly we were on our own. A lone house stood in the forest and beside it was a Red Army truck. We approached it. You could see on us that we were incapable of walking any further. An officer asked who we were and where we were from. He told us that they were waiting for orders from the front where to go, and proposed that we wait there with them. He asked the woman who owned the house to heat us water to wash, and she also served us a little food. Night fell and the order to retreat arrived. We were certain that the Germans would soon reach us.

In the meantime another truck arrived, and the officer asked that they take us too. The bombing continued and accompanied us all the way. German spies who had been parachuted into the area also infiltrated the convoys of refugees, and every once in a while they sabotaged the railway tracks and the trains. Such spies were also caught in my presence.

At the end of July we arrived in Siberia, to a place where all the refugees were concentrated. Many were sent to work in a kolkhoz [Soviet collective farm]. Shula and I asked to remain in the city, but they forced us to go to the kolkhoz. “You're young!” We worked hard in the fields, and food was almost nonexistent!

We became friendly with a family from Kovno, and one day they offered that we join them and go to Novosibirsk, where they had relatives who would probably also help us, and we would be able to work and study. Two trucks left the place, and we sneaked into one of them. We hid so as not to be discovered, and that is how we escaped from the kolkhoz. We reached Novosibirsk, and there our friend from Kovno said to us: “Now go wherever you want to.” He apparently didn't want us to be a burden to him.

We were walking in the street when suddenly a girl passed by and called us by name: “Anya, Shula, what are you doing here?” It was Marusya from the kolkhoz. We started to shiver in fear that she would inform against us. But she calmed us down and told us that she was living with her sister, and invited us to join her too. We came to a tiny apartment, and we all slept on the floor there. Suddenly a policeman entered. We were frightened, and were certain that we had been caught. But we quickly learned that he was Marusya's brother-in-law. He offered to help us and brought us to a center where they took care of refugees. The head of the center recognized us, but promised not to return us to the kolkhoz. I remember that we were walking unafraid on the street then, and on the way we came across an old Jew and his wife who were selling red water to drink. We didn't have any money, and we asked for one glass for both of us. The old man asked us where we were from, and I told him. The old woman began to cry and the old man calmed us and led us to some shop or other, where he told the Jewish shop owner our story. That Jew gave us his address and promised that his wife would welcome us and care for us.

In the meantime we went into a restaurant, and met a group of young people from Riga there. They suggested that we leave the cold of Siberia and go to Alma Ata. The director of the center had already previously promised us work and studies, and even warm clothes, and pleaded with us to remain there, but we decided to go with the young people.

 

 
Shtirel Pores (nee Yudelowitz, widow of Avraham-Yitzchak) and her sons:
Greinem (top left), Shimon (seated on the right), his wife Chava (nee Adelman)
and their children
(from right to left): Motele, (-), (-), Chaya-Libale and Sarale
Top right: Idel (Chana's brother) son of Yoel and Esther Pores

 

 
Greinem Pores(right), his brother Feivish (left)
and their cousin Idel, son of Yoel

 

“Are There any Jews Still Alive?“

We reached Alma Ata, and there we also encountered refugees. At that time Shula's boyfriend arrived in Alma Ata. She joined him and I went to Tashkent, and from there to Stalinabad. There I met Malka Feldman from Dusiat and Raya Ger, a friend from Hashomer Hatzair in Kovno (who later on passed away in Vilna). I went to school in Stalinabad, and also worked in the restaurant of a film company, whose director was a Jew from Moscow. I also remember Batya Basok, the sister of Adv. Chaim Basok, from there.

I wrote a letter to Eretz Yisrael from Stalinabad, to my sister Rivka Klass in Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet, and one day I received word that I had received a package from Eretz Yisrael! I was so excited. The manager of the restaurant assigned a fellow to help me carry the package from the post office. I was surrounded by an entire group of people, and they all waited impatiently to see what was in the package. But it was very disappointing. The package contained old clothes and patched shoes. The group began to murmur: “Those are clothes from abroad?” Apparently the package had gone through many hands until it reached me, and I immediately wrote my sister not to send any more packages.

I sent a letter to Dusiat from Stalinabad. Although we had already heard the terrible news, I still hoped that someone had survived. I sent the letter to our Gentile neighbor, Stalameikis, who was friendly with the Jews. His reply wasn't long in coming: “No one is left.” I didn't believe it. I had still hoped. I had hoped so much! And I still wanted to see my shtetl “through a peephole”.

I was in Stalinabad until the end of the war.

I arrived in Vilna, and there I encountered Malka Feldman and Baruch Krut. They lived in the same house, and then I learned that Tzilka Shub my friend from childhood survived the war and was also in Vilna. It is hard to describe our emotional meeting in words.

I decided to go to Dusiat. Shmuelke Levitt, Tzilka and I took the train to Abel. There we encountered Lithuanians who were transporting logs to Dusiat in wagons. We got into a sleigh and set out with them. It was cold. We stopped and went to warm up in houses at the side of the road. When people learned who we were, they immediately crossed themselves and from the expression on their faces you could see the question: “Are there still Jews left alive?” They were certain that we had come from another planet.

We knew that the Lithuanians were ambushing and murdering people on the roads, but I wasn't afraid. More than anything I wanted to see our house with my own eyes. I still hoped. I couldn't believe that there was no one left!

Our house remained intact. A Lithuanian veterinarian and his family were living in it. I opened the door and was incapable of taking another step. I remained frozen to the spot. I couldn't utter a word. The woman came up to me, apparently having immediately understood that I belonged to this house, and began to caress me. I started to cry. I cried and cried for over an hour. The woman told me that they were not locals and that she hadn't known my parents. She told me that a bandit had removed the furniture to another village. She asked me if I wanted to remain in the house, but I wasn't capable of answering her and ran away.

I went to Stalameikis's house, where they recognized me. Tzilka was with me. Shmuelke came and took us to another family, with whom we remained for two weeks.

Shmuelke learned that Jewish property was hidden in the home of a Tatar woman, in the area where the ghetto had been. At the order of the mayor, we were given a sleigh, were accompanied by a policeman, and went to search for our property. We entered the Tatar woman's house. A cupboard stood there, and Shmuelke – in uniform – gave the order to open it. We stood stock-still: there were various objects there, also gold and silver objects, and gold bars, and Tzilka discovered her sewing machine there. The Tatar woman stood and shouted, absolutely screamed and cursed.

A Lithuanian revealed to me that my parents had left various items in his house. I went and there recognized our blankets from when we were children, candlesticks and copper items. Are there words to describe my emotions?

The Gentile offered us smoked pork for these possessions, so that we would have what to eat. We asked the Gentiles how they hadn't rescued even one Jew. They apologized, saying that nothing could be done. But Stalameikis told us that they didn't even try to rescue them. They waited for the Jews to be liquidated in order to inherit their property.

In many houses we found the windows boarded up. The synagogue stood neglected as a ruin. The Gentile woman with whom we were staying used to get up every morning and prepare us excellent food in the oven, and disappear. We almost didn't see her. At that time we didn't know that her husband had been an active fascist.

 

The Lithuanian Elena in the house of Shtirl and Avram-Itze Pores

 

Elena: “I know that this house belonged to the Jew Avramitze, who used to grow 'ugerkes' [cucumbers in Yiddish]. I know that they took the Jews to the forest and killed them there. I didn't go there…”

 

The kitchen

 

The original stove still exists in the kitchen

 

[Courtesy of Sara Weiss-Slep, Dusiat 1993]

 

The Goal – Eretz Yisrael

I married Misha Fisherman, and we were in Vilna until 1958. When people with Polish citizenship were given the opportunity to return to Poland from Russia, we obtained the proper papers, went to Poland and from there – to Israel. Throughout all the years I knew that my goal was to reach Eretz Yisrael.

At the end of 1944 a repatriation treaty was signed for the return and reciprocal exchange of populations between the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania on the one side, and the interim Polish government on the other. In post-war Europe, “national migrations” such as these were considered the “best” solution for the problems of the national minorities. This treaty encompassed millions of people in Poland and the Soviet Union, among them about a quarter of a million Polish Jews who had found sanctuary in the Soviet Union during the war. This treaty also applied to Vilna and its environs, which were part of Poland until September 1939, and have now become parts of Lithuania and Belarus.[1]

When we arrived in Israel, although we received the right to live in a cabin in Tel-Mond, we immediately went to Hadera, and there we enjoyed the generosity of our relatives, Feigitzke Orez (nee Pores) and her family. We rented a house there, and our daughter Esti (Esther) was born there. Later on we moved to Rishon Lezion.

With the help of Israel Ziman, whom I knew from Kovno, to our joy we located a cousin of my husband. It was so important for us to find and meet relatives.

For we had remained so alone…

 

 
In the Company of Friends, Soldiers in the Red Army
Misha Fisherman (standing, second from the right)

 

Footnote

  1. [24] Gar, Yosef, Jewish Life In Lithuania After the Liberation, in Yahadut Lita Vol 4, p. 470. Return

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