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Berlin

Spring 1946

Dov Freiberg

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Two serious-faced, young men welcomed us and ushered us into a large hall, with many white doors and benches along the walls. A woman brought us coffee and sandwiches. Another man registered our personal particulars and asked some additional questions. He also told us that we would have to wait there, until they came to take us onwards to another place and instructed us not to leave the building and wander around the streets. “You're in the area controlled by the Russians and it's not worth complicating matters,” he said.

We quickly learned that we were in the building that, until Hitler came into power, had originally been the Jewish Hospital of Berlin, named after Rothschild, who had endowed it. The Nazis confiscated it, as they had all Jewish property. When the City had been taken by the Russians, the hospital was returned to the Jewish community which began to reorganize itself, and now it was used as a hostel for Jews returning to Berlin or as a way-station for them when arriving from eastern Europe and transferring onwards, to the American sector of Berlin. Apart from our own group, I saw other people in the hall, most of them old, speaking German, but also some elderly people speaking Yiddish, and these immediately asked us if we had any gold or dollars to sell.

After about an hour's wait, we were called and told to get on another truck, this time a truck belonging to the American army - as smuggled goods we were transferred from the truck of one army to the truck of another. One of the two men who had first welcomed us, came with us. The driver of the truck, dressed in the uniform of an American soldier, was also Jewish and spoke to us in Yiddish. The American truck, like its Russian counterpart, was also covered with a canvas awning, but the rear flap was left open so we could see something of the streets of Berlin as we passed. I saw the rubble of many destroyed buildings, some of them luxurious and beautiful. People walking in the streets seemed to be very poor. Berlin, which in my imagination, was drawn as a city of strength and power, rich and luxurious, its streets full of strutting SS men, men of other armies and fashionable women, now seemed a grey, beaten city. The miserable people whom I now saw, were only yesterday lords and masters of the world, and their abominable cruelty knew no bounds. My heart welled up inside me with the knowledge that I had lived to see this joyful sight.

The truck left the centre of Berlin and entered an area full of greenery and trees, dotted with splendid villas surrounded by gardens with a river flowing between them. We had arrived at the suburb of Wannsee, the place where the meeting held to decide 'The Final Solution' of the Jewish people had taken place. The suburb was in the hands of the Americans and American flags flew from many buildings. We continued on and arrived at Schlachtensee, a suburb close to and similar to Wannsee, swamped in greenery and with many army camps. The truck entered a camp, over the entrance to which a large sign proclaimed: 'Refugee Camp - Schlachtensee'. Not long ago it had been an SS camp. Round about we saw two-storied buildings, standing close together and not far away a large building - the kitchens, dining-room, cinema and lecture halls. The truck stopped next to the offices. All round we saw people walking slowly together, hither and thither, or sitting in the entrances to the buildings and children running around playing. The people began to crowd round us asking where we had come from, what was the situation in Poland, do we know this one or that one. Others asked if we have anything to sell, or if we wanted to buy anything. Everyone in the camp was Jewish - it reminded me of the ghetto; even the policemen were Jewish, just like in the ghetto!

Even though I didn't know a soul, I didn't feel strange. I felt as though I'd returned to a place to which I belonged. Again our personal details were registered, each of us received a blanket, tooth-brush, tooth-paste and other similar articles, and were housed in one of the buildings, four to a room. I put my things on one of the beds and went out to look around and get to know the camp. Next to the gate stood a group of fellows talking and laughing together. I walked over towards them but without getting too close. One of the chaps, thin and short, dressed well, approached me and asked:

“You new? Just arrived today?” When I answered in the affirmative, he stretched out his hand in greeting and said: “My name's Schneider.”

“They call me Bolek,” I replied.

We walked around together and Schneider told me that he was the only one from his whole family, which had been killed in Auschwitz, who had survived. He, himself, had been for a time in Auschwitz, and was afterwards transferred to different labour-camps, whose names I had never heard of, but which he rattled off, one after the other. At the end of the war he had got to Berlin and stayed for a while in the Russian Sector. In Berlin, he said, it was possible to earn a lot of money, because the city was divided into four sectors, each sector controlled by one of the four allies and the opportunities for smuggling are excellent; he, Schneider, buys and sells everything, from cigarettes and coffee, to cars and motorcycles. When he has enough money, he'll open a big shop in the heart of Berlin. Schneider also said that it was good for him in the camp because he was under the protection of the Americans, and advised me not to waste time but to start trading immediately.

I explained to my new informant, that I had come to Berlin because it was the easiest way of getting out of Poland, but that I had no intention of staying in that place; I want to get as quickly as possible to Italy and from there, I had heard, it's possible to get to Palestine 'illegally'.

Schneider cut me short and asked me where they had billeted me. I pointed out to him one of the houses and he said: “You're coming to live with me; come on, we'll go and get your belongings.”

I didn't object. It was natural that two fellows like us, both sole survivors from entire families, should want to live together, in spite of the fact that we had only met a few minutes previously. It was as if we had met in the forests during the war. On the way, Schneider said to me:

“I can understand why suddenly everyone here became a Zionist and wants to go to Palestine, but I didn't stay alive to get killed now, in Palestine, by some Arab or British soldier, or die there from fever.”
I wanted to ask Schneider how he was able to dwell there, among the Germans and even to open a shop there, but I wasn't inclined to enter into conflict with him at that early stage, and said nothing. After a moment he continued talking without the need for me to prompt him:
“I don't want to stay here permanently, among Germans, either, but I have no option. What can I do in the big wide world without education or a profession? Perhaps clean lavatories? That I learned to do well with the Germans. Here, I've got the chance to make money. Afterwards, we'll see.”
Schneider lived alone in a big room, half of it taken up by suitcases and trunks full of all sorts of goods, but the place was clean and tidy. He took me to the room next door and gave me a key as if he owned the place, inviting me to come and eat with him later - in his possession he had a large variety of foodstuffs. We sat down to eat. Schneider talked endlessly, telling me what goes on in the camp, about the Germans, the Americans, the Russians. Among other things, he told me that in Berlin, every German woman, from a young age on upwards, was prepared to sleep with any and every man, without exception. I expressed the opinion that he was probably exaggerating; it's not possible that every woman is willing to sleep with everyone. In the end we bet a bottle of vodka on the subject and Schneider took me for a walk through the city. We got to an S-Bahn. In and around the station, were tens, perhaps even hundreds of girls, each more beautiful than her neighbour, all of them well-dressed. I thought that they were waiting for a train, but Schneider told me:
“All the girls here have come to catch an American soldier, who will take her for a night or even for a 'quickie'. We'll wait and you see what happens when a train comes.”
He was right. When the train arrived, crowds of American servicemen got off. The girls pushed themselves forwards and offered themselves in their individual ways, although only one or two were lucky enough to find a client. Most of the soldiers already had beautiful girls on their arms, especially conspicuous among them the Negroes, walking along with the blond German girls.

We left the station and walked down a quiet, pleasant road, which looked very respectable and genteel. Schneider said:

“Look carefully and choose the most beautiful girl you can find and point her out to me.”
There were not many people in the street. Of men, there were virtually none. I inspected every woman that passed us, from top to toe. They seemed to be perfectly ordinary women, like any where in the world, although most of them were well-dressed - the sort of clothes one saw only rarely in Poland. Once or twice I wanted to indicate a woman to Schneider but continued to walk. A few times I didn't say anything because I didn't dare to assume that the woman would agree to come with us. After a while, a truly beautiful woman appeared in front of us, well-dressed but modestly. I looked at her gentle features and was impressed at the perfection of loveliness - she resembled an advertisement in a magazine. “That one,” I said to my new friend. He smiled, turned on his heel, with me after him and we began to stride after her. I was prepared to hear an angry remark causing us to clear-off shamefacedly, but when we neared her, she turned her head and looked at us, and once again I was struck by her beauty. Schneider greeted her in German and suggested that she come with us for a stroll. She stopped and asked:
“Why should I come with you?”

“We've got American cigarettes, and real coffee,” he replied.

The girl stood hesitantly for a moment, then said:
“But you are two and I'm alone. Come with me and I'll call a friend of mine.”
I'd lost my bet!

When we returned to the camp, we heard the sounds of music. Schneider led me to the dance-hall where tens of couples, young and old, were dancing to an orchestra, while others sat on chairs around the walls or stood watching. It was the first time in my life that I had heard American music and it grated in my ears. Schneider knew everyone and introduced me to a few of them. He tried to get me to dance but I refused. I was a poor dancer and until a short time ago didn't even know how to put one foot after the other and every attempt to dance had ended in abysmal failure. Only recently had I learned, somehow, to waltz and tango, but now I didn't feel like it in any case. But I enjoyed standing there, unknown, watching the dancers. I even began to get used to the sound of the music. Suddenly, the picture in front of me changed. I saw the people in front of me dancing in the undressing area in Sobibor, Oberscharf?hrer Mischel hurrying them along and the music changed to the shouts of the people being taken to the gas-chambers.

I was angry with myself because the thoughts keep coming to my mind and I tried to reject them and to be rid of them, but they kept coming back. I told Schneider I was tired and went to bed.

I didn't intend to stay in Berlin one unnecessary day. I looked forward to continuing my journey southwards, to Italy and the following morning, I went to the offices to look for the soldier from the 'Jewish Brigade', whom Schneider had said deals with everything connected with Palestine, from transferring groups of people from Berlin to west Germany and organizing information briefings and other lectures.

The building was still empty, but clerks and military personnel were beginning to arrive and enter their offices. Then the inmates began to come with their problems. I stood in the entrance looking at those entering impatiently. At last, the soldier from the 'Brigade' arrived in a Jeep and with him a few other military men. I wanted to approach him as he entered but didn't dare to stop him and only feasted my eyes on his British uniform, at the beret on his head, but mainly at his sleeves emblazoned with the yellow Star of David on a blue-and-white ground, the same Star of David which we had to wear as a badge of shame in the ghetto. This Star of David now filled my heart with pride and the young soldier wearing it, short and wiry, older than I was by only a few years, seemed in my eyes, much older and full of authority.

What tremendous hidden power there is, under the right circumstances, in a small symbol!

A few months ago, in Lodz, two soldiers from the 'Brigade' had arrived. The rumour spread like wildfire and people rushed to the place where they were and stood for hours just to gaze at the Jewish soldiers from Palestine. I too went there, twice, and crushed forward with the others in order to see them but it didn't help. Now I stood face-to-face with a Jewish soldier just like them. I waited a few moments in the doorway before entering his office and he, before I had managed to say a word, welcomed me and thrust out his hand.

“My name's Ze'ev,” he said, “Ze'ev Geller.”

“And I'm called Bolek,” I replied.

The soldier told me to sit down. ”You're new here,” he said. “I haven't seen you before. When did you arrive? Yesterday? Have you come from Poland?”

I could only answer 'yes' and 'no', but afterwards I told him about the situation in Poland and the route I took to get to Berlin. The soldier told me that all the Jews in eastern Europe had to be transferred westwards as quickly as possible, because there was a real danger of all the routes being closed. The conversation between us developed rapidly with the exchange of information and opinions, until I quite forgot my original purpose in coming to see him. It was the soldier who eventually asked me why I had come to him; then I told him that I wanted to immigrate to Palestine and asked him to help me get to Italy for that purpose.

The soldier smiled and said:

“Do you think, that if you get to Italy, the following morning you'll get on a boat and sail to Palestine? Not next week and not even next month! In Italy, now, there are thousands of Jews in camps and every day they are joined by newcomers from Germany, from Austria, from Yugoslavia - and all of them are waiting for the chance to go to Palestine. In Aliyah Bet - that's what we call illegal immigration - it's possible to bring only a small handful. The possibilities of immigration from Italy or Berlin are exactly the same. What is more important now is to prepare people, especially the young people, in readiness for their immigration, to make their absorption into the country easier.”
The soldier spoke enthusiastically in broken Yiddish, with some Hebrew words scattered here and there, giving me a sense of partnership: “We have to do...” “We must prepare... the youngsters...” he said, and I wondered to myself: who are these 'we'? He and I?
“I have a suggestion for you,” the soldier said. “You help me to create, here, a nucleus of young people and train them for building a Kibbutz in Palestine.”
I agreed on the spot without thinking twice about it or about what I was heading into, without asking one solitary question. The soldier from the 'Brigade' was, for me, the authorized representative of, and symbolized for me Palestine, and Palestine was the only solution for the problem of existence for the Jewish people and certainly the only solution for me. I was prepared to do anything that the soldier asked me to do. He seemed satisfied and then, as if by the way, he asked me: “What kind of a name is 'Bolek'? Did they call you that at home?”

I explained to him briefly how I'd come by the name and he asked:

“So what did they call you at home?”

“Bereleh.” - (little bear).

“In Hebrew that's 'Dov',” he said. “I'll call you 'Dov' and you'll call me 'Ze'ev'.” - (wolf).

It sounded like a joke. Ze'ev told me, that he already had a few candidates for a kibbutz and he was expecting to get a house in the camp, where all the potential members of the kibbutz would live together. He asked me to come in the evening to a meeting of the candidates. I parted from him excited and confused - as if after one drink too many. I had no idea what was about to happen. I only felt that from now on my life would be different. I wasn't sorry that my plan to go to Italy was cancelled. I waited impatiently for the next step. I told Schneider all about my meeting with Ze'ev from the 'Brigade', and about the kibbutz that we were going to build, and suggested that he join us.
“That's not for me. You're wasting your time talking about it to me,” he said and invited me to join him in going to town.
We travelled by S-Bahn. A motley crowd of civilians and soldiers, all speaking different languages, got on and off at various stations. At one of the stations a small group of youngsters got on who were speaking Ukrainian among themselves. When I heard that language my heart began to thud. I looked at their faces. Perhaps I know them? Many Ukrainians, Poles and others, who had cooperated with the Nazis, and were on the wanted lists of various Governments, had found shelter in Berlin under the guise of being anti-communist refugees who had fled from the communists in their own countries. They hid their past and enjoyed the help and facilities of the western powers and even got immigration certificates to Great Britain and the United States. I didn't know any of them but their uncouth talk and noisy laughter reminded me of the Ukrainians who had served at Sobibor.

The further we got from the suburbs and neared the centre of the city, the more bombed out buildings we saw - perhaps because there was no greenery to hide the buildings. My eyes were glued to the window. I looked at what was left of the legendary splendid city of Berlin, the super power. Even the buildings still standing looked like corpses with no souls. Few people were walking along the streets. Only military vehicles passed to and fro. We got off the train at Alexander-Platz. In that area one felt the pulse of present-day life. The shops were open and people were walking about the streets. Most of them were not Germans and they were speaking different languages. Trading was taking place in the shops, and in entrances to houses and other buildings, and on street corners. Schneider knew many people in the area, stopping to speak to one or two of them, and here and there entering a shop. I dragged around after him totally disinterested. All my attention and thoughts were given over to the kibbutz we were preparing to create. Schneider took me to a restaurant where there were some old people sitting and drinking soup in a room smelling of sauerkraut. The owner recognized Schneider and greeted him warmly, leading the two of us through a darkened corridor to a separate, not very large room, where a few tables were nicely spread. At one table, a few people sat eating, and drinking wine. The owner enthusiastically told us that he could offer us a lamb-steak, which he had managed to acquire by some miracle or other, and brought us wine. I ordered vodka. Eating in the back room of the restaurant, gave an added aura of mystery and intimacy to the meal. The food was good and the vodka soon made itself felt on both of us.

“You know, Bolek,” said Schneider, “It's a pity you're leaving me. We could have been good friends.”

“I think you're right,” I said, also drunk, and now sorry about parting from him.

Many more people than had been expected, turned up at the meeting. A few of the candidates had brought their friends, most of them young individuals, but there were also older people and even two married couples. Some of them had been, in their youth, members of various youth movements, like 'The Young Guard' and they already had some idea of pioneering Zionism, and the kibbutz, but for most of them it was the first time that they had heard of the life-style of a collective farm like a kibbutz. Ze'ev, apparently satisfied and excited, gave a short survey in his broken Yiddish on the object of the meeting and on the importance of creating the nucleus in Berlin. He told us, that in west Germany, training farms had been put up, which had farming facilities attached to them, and its young members worked the land, grew livestock and managed the farms themselves. His own plan was to create in Berlin a group of people who wanted to live together, whose members would travel shortly to west Germany, where they would receive for themselves a farm in one of the villages, live cooperatively together and train themselves to build a kibbutz in Palestine. He added that only in the first days, would he manage the farm and help them to get organized; after that they will elect a Secretariat from among their own members and the Secretariat will run the kibbutz.

When he finished speaking everyone got up and crowded round him, expressing their opinions and asking questions. He stayed with us for well over an hour and in the meantime we all got to know one another a little bit more, asking each other questions about our experiences. People, who only a few minutes earlier, were strangers to one another, felt a mutual closeness and became aware of a unifying target which united them all.

That same evening I wrote a letter to Harry and Ula. I asked them not to worry about me, that I had everything I needed and that I was all right. I told them that I was starting to live in a kibbutz. I wasn't sure that they would understand what a kibbutz was and I was concerned that they may think it was a sort of orphanage - I also began to think of it as being something like that - after all, we were all orphans, except that we weren't children. The following day, I left Schneider and moved to the kibbutz house. Ze'ev spent the whole day with us, helping us to get organized. He brought professional tradesmen with him to help in the improvements we needed to undertake and acquired furniture and worked, together with us, arranging the house, and cleaning it, inside and out, intending to use us as an example for the whole camp.

Within a short space of time our numbers increased to about fifty, most of them young, about twenty-years of age. A few were a little older - about twenty-five to thirty, among whom were a few married couples. We had among us people who had come from Russia and had served in the Soviet army, there were some who had served in the Polish army, partisans, survivors from concentration camps and extermination camps; there were those who made friends quickly and formed small groups, there were those who remained alone as individuals and it wasn't easy to approach them, there were those that talked about themselves and looked for someone who would listen to them, there were those who kept their tragic stories to themselves. and it was impossible to get a word out of them about themselves. We had all sorts among us, all with different backgrounds, each with his tragedy, every one almost the sole survivor of his entire family, every one affected, each in his own way by the experiences of the war years.

It was natural that there were among us those types who were prepared to take upon themselves the running of the kibbutz and Ze'ev was careful to make sure that everything was run democratically; he chaired our first meeting at which we elected the members of the Secretariat unanimously. There were also among us those who were skilled in drawing, art, singing and reciting. Every Friday evening we had a small ceremony celebrating the Sabbath-eve, which was open to all the young members of the camp.

Ze'ev dedicated most of his time to the kibbutz, teaching us Hebrew and Hebrew songs, lecturing to us about life in Palestine, on the kibbutz and other types of communal settlements, like the Moshav, and its close ideological neighbour, the 'Cooperative' Moshav, on the Hagannah, the Palmach, IZL and LEHI; he crammed into us everything he possibly could about the workings of Palestine. He acquired for us a ping-pong table and a net for hand-ball, a football, chess-boards, draughts and dominos. I discovered that I had a thirst for sports and games, for music and literature - every social activity that I had never had the opportunity to taste. There wasn't a single activity in the kibbutz in which I didn't take part - the days and the nights were too short for me to do all that I wanted to. I quickly made friends with everyone, I loved the connection with people, young and old, I enjoyed visiting the married couples, and feel something of a family atmosphere, I acquired a couple of close friends , all of them from concentration camps, all single and alone and the only survivors from their respective families.

One of them was Yossel, originally from Lodz. He was a little older than me, very shy, sometimes he seemed depressed and sometimes he joked around and took part in all sorts of practical jokes. He didn't talk about his stay in Auschwitz, the tattooed number on his forearm a silent witness to it, and he tended not to talk about his past, at all. Another friend was Nahum, a fellow I had chanced upon during his first day in the camp, and was deeply affected by his hesitant, uncertain walk and the way he kept looking suspiciously and carefully around him all the time, as one trying to get to know the place. I approached him and started talking to him. He was my age, perhaps a trifle younger, but taller and broader. Nahum said he came from Warsaw, had been in Majdanek and other concentration camps and from his entire family only he and an uncle whom he had rediscovered purely by chance, survived. Until recently he had been living in one of the east German towns, acting as translator in the Soviet Command Post and had now come to Berlin with his uncle. When I told him about my kibbutz, and suggested he might like to join he agreed unhesitatingly, in the same way I had, when Schneider invited me to join him. Nahum parted from his uncle, took his suitcase and came to live in my room. We quickly became close friends.

Another friend, Yisrael, was also an ex-Auschwitz inmate and other camps besides and he, too, was the only survivor of his family. While I was still debating with myself about my future and before I had formulated my view of the world at large, Yisrael was already a dreamer and visionary, a hard line Communist believer, sworn disciple of the Soviet régime, and fervent admirer of Stalin. He was convinced that Communism would soon rule the world, justified every step taken by the Soviets and had believed blindly in the principle of the end justifying the means. It was beyond my understanding what the fellow saw in the ideology of the kibbutz and why he was preparing to immigrate to Palestine, instead of going to Russia. When I asked him he said that in any case Communism will inevitably get to Palestine - but I felt that in spite of his great love for Moscow, his heart was drawn to Zion, to life among the Jews. The affinity between us was great and grew stronger and pretty soon I counted him as my closest friend. Although he had passed through the ghetto and Auschwitz, he asked me to tell him about my own past and listened tensely to every detail as if he, for all that he too had passed through hell, had come from another planet and was hearing of the atrocities for the first time. We both differed in our opinions on many topics and argued a lot, but for all that there was an excellent relationship of trust and understanding between us and we enjoyed being together.

Yisrael had a friend named Bereleh, who had been together with him in a Nazi concentration camp. Bereleh communicated well with everyone but beyond that didn't strike up a close friendship with anyone. He trusted no one and continued to 'fight for his life' as if still living in the ghetto or the camp. He lived in the kibbutz house but also had a room in the Russian sector of Berlin. Under his bed he kept a suitcase full of foodstuff and every day he would bring a loaf of bread and other items of food to the dining room, where he would exchange his old food for the fresher food of the dining room trying to make sure that no one saw him doing it. When we sat to eat lunch, Bereleh wouldn't join us but sat by himself at a vacant table, so that others wouldn't interfere with him while he was eating. He would take two or three bowls of soup - soup was distributed freely - and the main course and then rest a little, take off his coat, sweater and shirt and again go and take a bowl of soup, eating slowly, pausing often, sitting and waiting then suddenly standing up and pacing to and fro in the dining room, serious-faced, as if he had to solve a difficult problem. Finally, he would take his plate from the table where he had been sitting and yet again, go and get a bowl of soup. We would sit and watch Bereleh all this time as he coped with his problem of the soup, while he was so involved I n eating that he saw nothing of his surroundings, except the bowl of soup in front of him.

Bereleh told me that he had a radio that he wanted to donate to the kibbutz and a few other items that were in his room in the Russian sector that he wanted to bring to his room. He asked me if I would speak to Ze'ev on the matter and see if, perhaps, we could get the use of a vehicle to transport the things. After a few days, the three of us went with a private car, which belonged to the camp administration, and Ze'ev suggested that we take the opportunity to take a sight-seeing trip round the city. Bereleh, who had lived in Berlin for a year, was our guide and showed us around as well as he could. For half a day, we drove round Berlin, Berlin the conquered and divided city - governed separately by four armies, and before our eyes unfolded the sight of a destroyed city. Of the splendid buildings that had been, nothing more than piles of rubble remained.

During the tour, I felt moments of indescribable satisfaction accompanied with a deep sadness. Since I had left Poland and set foot on German soil, I had been unable to stomach the Germans' behaviour. The complete and total surrender of that whole Nation, the attempt to hide the past and wash the blood from their hands was so typical of all of them, without exception, that it could only strengthen the detestation in my heart that I felt towards them. Every single German with whom I spoke - without me asking him a thing - would immediately apologize to me saying that he, personally, knew absolutely nothing of what had been going on; only Hitler and his gangs of thugs - they, and only they were the guilty ones, only they brought disaster and tragedy upon everyone. All of them, every single German was lying with bare-faced effrontery. The destruction of millions of men, women and children, continuing over a period of years, is something that is impossible to hide.

I was also unable to comprehend the self-humiliation of the Germans who were prepared to go down on their knees in front of you and kiss the soles of your feet if you will only give them a cigarette; they would sell body and soul for the simplest commodity of minimal value. When I travelled by train, in a carriage full of Germans and went to light a cigarette, all the Germans sitting round me would jump to offer me a light; sometimes I would give them all a cigarette and they would simply overflow with gratitude - old people would get up to offer me their seat. Most of them didn't smoke the cigarette immediately but put in carefully in their pocket, apologising to me that they'll save it for after their meal. . Once I lit a cigarette but after a few puffs, decided I didn't want it and threw it on the floor of the carriage. I automatically moved my foot and managed to grind it out with my heel, at the same moment that several Germans had moved to bend down and pick it up. They were aghast at what I had done and their faces wore expressions of great sadness. In surprise, one of them asked me, red-faced, why I had done it.

“The Germans taught to do it,” I said.

“Where?” he asked me.

“In the extermination camp, I saw them do it all the time,” I answered.....

.....And again the same reaction - they all spoke at once: “We, here, knew nothing of any of this...Hitler, he is the one who did all these terrible things.....”

As in the days of their 'greatness', when their arrogance, and their degradation of others knew no bounds, so it was today, that they sank to the uttermost limits and beyond, of ignominious and shameless self humiliation.

Most of the people in the camp passed the time away doing nothing, waiting for what was coming next. There were those who occupied themselves with smuggling and dealings on the black-market, which was flourishing in those days in Berlin. Time and again, the American Military Police would enter our camp, carry out searches for smuggled goods and make arrests of suspects. Time and again, arguments would break out between different groups of the camp residents, and the verbal argument would become an exchange of blows and even sometimes the drawing of knives. The fights mostly started over no very good reason usually like someone saying something aggressively provocative like: “So what!” or “What are you going to do about it?” One evening, when there was a dance on, a group of youths, nicknamed 'the Bialystok Group', came in. The congregated in one of the corners of the hall, while in another corner another group was concentrated. One of the Bialystok group tried to dance with a girl who was dancing with a chap from the other group. he approached them and, tapping the fellow on the shoulder, in the accepted manner asked the girl to dance with him. In the same accepted manner the girl changed partners and began to dance with the second chap. The first became angry at being displaced and after a moment reversed the situation in the same manner, taking the girl back. The anger became mutual, the two played 'pat-a-cake' with the girl for a few moments with increasing tension until a row inevitably broke out which very quickly turned to blows. Friends of the two quickly came to join in and a general fight broke out turning the dance-hall into a battle-field. There was no alternative other than to call the Military Police, who arrived almost immediately in a convoy of Jeeps. The wailing sirens of the Jeeps, heralding the approach of the forces of 'Law and Order' was enough to send all the combatants scurrying to different parts of the hall.

The kibbutz began to add 'flesh and sinew' to its bare skeleton. A company of different people, strangers to each other, learned to live together and crystallized into a viable commune, not least due to the efforts of Ze'ev Geller who invested all his energy in us and gained the trust of each and every one of us. Ze'ev formulated the founding articles for the kibbutz and at the end of a long debate we decided to call our kibbutz 'Talba'. The Secretariat organized an official ceremonial evening, in which everyone's official standing as a member of the kibbutz was confirmed. The hall was festively decorated. At the top table sat Ze'ev and the secretariat members. We, the members, were called, one by one, to the table and signed the founding articles of the kibbutz and Ze'ev pinned on each of us the Movement's badge - NoHaM - 'United Pioneering Youth'. When I was called to the table and Ze'ev pinned the badge on me, shaking me by the hand, I knew that I was joining an enterprise of the utmost importance, which obliged me to place my private life second to the greater needs of the group.

All the members of the kibbutz were invited to take part in the Passover Seder, which was arranged by the Chief Rabbi of the American Forces. The Seder took place in a large sumptuous hall, in one of the 'palaces' in the suburb of Wannsee. The hall was decorated and brilliantly illuminated. The tables were laid and lighted candles, in candlesticks stood on every table. Several officers welcomed us on our entrance and conducted us to the top table. Officers and men in dress uniforms filled the hall and sat at the tables. It was a sight from another world - hundreds of American soldiers sitting down to a Seder service, and I among them.

The Rabbi, sitting at our table, read the Haggada. I heard him begin with the first paragraph: “This is the bread of affliction, which our forefathers ate in the Land of Egypt.....” I closed my eyes and saw myself sitting at the table in our house in Lodz. I heard my father's voice reading the Haggada. I saw my little brother, Yankeleh asking the traditional 'Four Questions' with a frightened look on his face, I saw my mother serving everyone with food, I experienced again the festival atmosphere, the elevated spirits of all those sitting round the table; I saw again the beautifully coloured service, used only at Passover, and the special, traditional foods....and then I saw next the Seder that we had managed to arrange in the ghetto, without my father. My grandfather had led the Seder, and there was so much sadness round the table. How was it possible for us to sit down to a Seder without our father being with us? How can it be that he is dead, and is no more? The room was dark and poor, and for all that, apart from my father, all the family was sitting at the table....now I was sitting down to a Passover Seder with hundreds of strangers. From my family, there was not one soul. All of them are among the dead. Disappeared, as if they had never been. Only I am alive. Why did I remain alive? How can I live without them? How am I not ashamed to enjoy myself, to sing, to laugh - while they are all buried in the ground or their ashes scattered to the four winds? But of what am I guilty that I am alive? Often there had been but one small step between me and death - and death passed me by - passed over me. Why are others happy that they are alive? Or perhaps they also think as I do but don't show it to anyone, as indeed I don't make it known?

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