by Moshe Duvdvani (Kirschnbaum), Jerusalem
Some 15-20 young fellows arrived at Michalovce from Poland in 1920. Most were already members of the Zion Workers Movement and others joined it later.
The process of our integration was not smooth. Most of us were craftsmen like tinsmiths, electricians, clerks and some simple workers. But the law forbade to occupy foreigners and so, only with the kind help of Matias Singer did we succeed in finding our place in the town.
Bread, having been attained, we wanted Torah. The only place where we could meet and converse was in front of the big synagogue. Soon we opened a dramatic club. The money we gathered in the end of the first play which was a big success, was transferred to Keren Kayemet LeIsrael. This was our first considerable Zionistic activity.
After a short time we hired a room where we gathered in order to discuss and
plan our activities.
We engaged in selling Shekels before the Zionist Congress and in preparing public lectures of certain messengers from Israel land.
In 1926, we worked on another play in Yiddish, Babylon Rivers, which harvested another success. This pushed us towards an accomplishment of intensive activity. We were ready to carry out whatever was imposed on us by the Zionist movement. We prepared also other plays for Hannuka and Purim.
I have to remark that branch of Czechoslovakian Social Democratic party lent us a hand in all the domains and intervened for us also before the authorities.
In 1930, we were invited to the countrywide convention of the League for working Israel and of Zion Workers held in Praha. We were then 50 members. Soon later we assembled and elected Dr. Alexander Goldstein president of the local branch.
In 1932, a year before the 18th Zionist Congress, we held a seminar in Moravska Ostrava. Our activities reached their peak in 1934, during the election of the congressional committee. The local branch offered his candidacy and won 54% of the votes. Thus were we able to make hearts to the Zionist idea. In this period, our branch consisted of 125 members.
After our emigration in 1934, we held a close correspondence with those who
stayed behind but unfortunately we did not meet most and it is only their
memory that we eternalize in this memorial volume.
[Page 38 - English] [Page 78 - Hebrew]
by Akivah Keshet
Our congregation was a meeting point of the Hungarian, Slovakian and other cultures. From the Jewish point of view it was influenced too by various spiritual streams of which two were the most important:
The Beginning of the Mizrahi
Till the end of the first World War the influence of the Mizrahi in our town was weak. It was a period of peace and the town was shut to outer influences.
The First World War brought together the Hungarian Jewry and Jews of different locations. The encounter did not only widen the horizons of our fellow citizens but made their sufferings and hopes more tangible. Back to this time dates also the Balfour Declaration (2.11.1917) which left a deep mark in the hearts of the Jews. The story of the Rabbi Shapira who had bought many copies of the paper informing of this event and distributed it on his own initiative among the Jews excited Michalovce for a long time.
The national feeling of the Jews were stimulated also by the establishment of the Czechoslovakian State.
Those factors together formed the Hamizrahi in the twenties. Its main purpose was to make hearts to the Zionist idea. Wise scholars who distributed books was followed by long and hot discussions.
Our activities in the thirties centered on the youth. An association, by the name of Yong Hamizrahi Pioneers, we founded and organized cultural and social activities, held balls, and Jewish and Israeli programs. In this way the youth was acquainted with the Hebrew and Yiddish literature. The young read also papers and discussed current problems.
In 1931, a Bnei Akiva branch was established in Michalovce. It consisted of 200
members. This movement tried to merge biblical values and labour with education
and social elements. The emphasis was laid on self-realization and emigration
Many young boys went to training centres where they cultivated the dream of the Ancestor's land. Few realized it. Most of them were annihilated, may the God revenge their blood.
by Dov Gregor (Gleich), Givat Nesher
I was released from the army in 1930, and having been a member of the Hashomer Kadima, I sought to join a Zionist movement. One day I was informed by a friend of a lecture Mr. Greenberg of Hashomer Hatzair was going to hold in Michalovce. At the end of this lecture we decided to found a local nest of Hashomer.
A short time later I was chosen a representative to the regional assembly in Krompachy to which our nest was invited.
In the assembly I reported on the activities of my nest and accounted among other things for the scouts' camp we held near Vienna.
After Krompachy we began to appear in the Youth Movement style. Our uniform was marvelous; we wore flat berets with a blue-white ornament and a blue-white tie on a green blouse.
Soon we were supplied with a new instructor, Nathan Rubinger, who was sent by the leadership of Kosice to organize the local nest. His arrival marked the beginning of a true and enthusiastic Shomeric and Zionistic life.
Nathan centered around him youth of all ages whom he organized in congregations. He was eager but also strict and imposed studies o those who had not read before, thus bringing the members to a high cultural level. I would not exaggerate if I said that his activities reputed Michalovce all over Slovakia. Nathan could not, unfortunately, hold on to his task because the religious circles saw in him a great danger. Rabbi Moshele called to boycott the Zionists and Nathan. Consequently he had to quit. But others replaced him and assured the continuation of his enterprise.
The first Zionists were trained in Varin and Bratislava. We founded also a training centre in Medov.
Our members were among the first pioneers who emigrated to Israel in 1932.
It was not easy because their departure was conditioned by the affirmation of the training centre and their ability to acquire 50 pounds, as they had to pretend to be tourists. In spite of these difficulties, many came here and they are till today loyal citizens.
[Page 41 - English] [Page 74 - Hebrew]
by Benjamin Helinger, Tel-Aviv
Before the First World War, there were few Zionists in Eastern Slovakia. One of the pioneers of the pre-Zionistic period was undoubtedly Mr. Helinger Ignatz, a teacher of Torah and Jewish history who brought up several generations of Michalovce in a Zionistic spirit. During the War, Slovakian Jews came in touch with Zionists from Poland and Russia. They were also influenced by Zionist journals like Zsid&oactue; Néplap and found the time fit to organize the Zionistic life.
In this connection I should bring to the reader's attention the difference between the eastern and western congregations of Slovakia. The former reputed in their strictly religious character and their conservative and traditional way of living. This atmosphere was the background for the growth of some youth movements among them Beitar Brit Trumpeldor.
This movement was founded by Mr. Denesh Gatesman and the writer of this article. With the first activities of the youth movements, the town shook off its religious character and began in an intense public activity. The essential differences among the movements lead to many disputes. As we did not possess yet any permanent building we hired a little room where we gathered for our weekly activities in groups of age. I recall now the club which was located in Mr. Elfent's apartment in Sholovski Street. When our number grew we had to move. The new club was located in Mr. Shebastin's house where we hired two rooms. Within the scope of our activities we took up the history of Zionism, the history of Beitar, Hebrew teaching, (compulsory) discipline exercises topography, geography, signalization and a bit of military training.
When the new place became too narrow for the great number of the new members,
we moved to the apartment of Dr. Kessler in the Turkish street, from whence we
moved to the last station of our wanderings: Mr. Hershkovitz' apartment.
There we led an active and intensive Zionistic life, full of enthusiasm.
The branch of Michalovce was chosen to lodge the first convention of all Beitar branches in Slovakia in 1933. The happiness we felt, in seeing for the first time the blue white flag side by side with the Slovakian on the Town Hall is unforgettable. On our initiative we opened in 1939 a summer camp in Vinné which had a success. We established many training centers too. Our nest distributed Israeli products like oil, Sabbath candles, citrons, etc. Our activities became emergent during 1935-36 with the first signs of a Nazi movement being organized.
When Menahem Begin and later Mr. Glaser were appointed the heads of our movements we concentrated our efforts on organizing an Alia B. Many emigrated in this way. Our veteran members were among the first settlers: Berkovitz, Bela, Frichman, Itzkovitz, Miller, Halinger, Dr. Frischer, Blau and his wife.
In addition to our activities in organizing the youth we also grouped the adults who called themselves Brit-Hatzohar. Their leading personalities were Dr. Brugler and Alemer Brown.
The attitude of the Czechoslovakian authorities towards our movement was so good as to permit us to establish camps for military training. It was a blessed time for the movement which was reinforced by a great number of Jews. We should not forget, however, the success of the Nazi party in Germany at that time. We had to face a struggle for existence which aggravated from day to day. The signs of the tragedy which threated European Jewry became the more evident when we witnessed the arrival of Jewish refugees.
During the horrible Holocaust our members took pains to conceal Jews and transfer them to partisan groups. These enterprises inspired the Jews with a bit of hope.
The movement descended to the underground with the rise of Tito's fascist rule. This was the first sign of our movement's decline.
Now, that all the remnants of the congregation live in Israel, and after our intensive activities abroad, we have set before us a new aim which is a full integration in the social and economic life here and a loyal care as to the security and the entity of the nation in general.
But no happiness exists which is not mixed with grief. Happy are those who
realized their dream and live in this country. There are many who did not live
to know the taste of life in Israel and life in general.
[Page 43 - English] [Page 84 - Hebrew]
by Dr. Alexander Mitlman
With awe and love, with a holy reverence, a torn heart and a heavy grief we record in the pages of this memorial volume, out of the millions of Israel's holy souls, the memory of the sacred people of our town Michalovce. We recall her Rabbis, her scholars, her administrators and communal workers, her sons and daughters, our fathers and mothers and our relatives who were exiled as lambs that are led to be slaughtered, who were liquidated and did not come to a Jewish grave.
Let God avenge their blood, and we, we will recall them with love and pray that we and our descendants may become champions of rights and that their pure souls may be bound in the bond of life with the souls of the virtuous and the pure. Amen.
When in our numerous sins our world darkened in bloody states, when our brothers and sisters were murdered with our fathers and mothers, when our rabbis were drawn and our congregations destroyed, when we were condemned to life because secret are God's ways and the revelations belong to us and our sons, then we sat down and wept.
This eternal monument, in the form of a memorial volume, was established for the future generation to know What Amalek had done to thee.
Israel wept and wept for the hundred and thousands of congregations, synagogues, religious, educational and charitable institutions and for the ruins that were spread in a cruel plot to erase Israel from beneath the sky.
In this memorial volume we come to affirm Hazal's sayings, that all the true monuments are good deeds of virtuous people who passed away from this world. And those dear who expired their souls in sanctifying the Holy Name and were all Zadikim and Hassidim, give evidence as a hundred witnesses that all their deeds were done for the love of God.
We bear the duty to transmit this inheritance which is left in our memory from
the last, lost generation, to the future ones. We must be directed by a duty to
define, to strengthen and to keep in all possible ways what is left from the
reminiscences, the sayings and the good deeds of our holy brothers who were
drawn and liquidated in the horrible Holocaust, which came as a result of our
numerous sins in the years 1939-1945.
During those days of awe, our congregation in Michalovce was destroyed and her inhabitants, wise scholars, children and adults, young and old, rich and poor were exiled and burnt alive in Auschwitz, Maydanek, Bergen Belzen and in hundreds of unknown places by the cursed Nazi and their helpers, the Gardist.
Let this book be a candle to their pure souls and a memorial monument to their
good name Amen.
by Jachet Gregor (Hexner]
The town was evacuated of the remnants of her Jewish inhabitants on the 15th May 1946. Only those who had hidden and some doctors and pharmacists survived. We set out westward, the greater part of us, in the direction of Bratislava and another part, no smaller, in the direction of Rabbi Frieder's Home of Aged in Nove Mesto, on the river Bug. With some other families, we remained in Liptovski St. Mikulash, my native town.
One Friday night, Mrs. Lisho Glück called on us and told us very secretly that Arno Rosin, who had worked with us was kept as a prisoner in the tax office. We wanted to meet him on the spot, but we did not know how. Egon Roth came to us on Saturday morning and by his strange behavior we understood that there was a good reason for it. Finally he told us and asked us to arrange him a quiet place for a very dangerous task. He wanted to sit down and write a protocol with two Auschwitz survivors who had escaped from there: Rosin Arna and Ceshek Mordovitz. Thus they sat, Egon and Kransianski from dawn to the latest hours at night recording the adventures of those runaways. They stayed with us for ten more days, till we supplied them with flats and documents and till we fed and clothed them. Mikulash was town of tanners. Jewish factory owners were still dwelling there. Dov went to one of them and told him about Rosin's deeds.
How old are you my young man? asked the factory owner.
27 years old, was Rosin's answer.
Then, as I had not known you all those years I would not know you in the future.
The two boys became pale and told him that if it were not for their
consideration of him as a factory owner they would not let him get out of his
In a search carried out on Yom Kippur, this factory owner was expelled to Auschwitz from when he did not return.
Ceshek Mordovitz came to Auschwitz again. His fellow prisoners recognized him, changed the tattooed number into a rose and in the same night he was sent to a mine in Schlesia.
A year ago he immigrated with his family to Israel and now he lives in Kron.
The two sat for ten days and nights and told us about their adventures. They
were visited by Rado and rava Vaksler who had escaped two months before them.
[Page 45 - English] [Page132 - Hebrew]
by Elizabeth Szenes
It was in my native Michalovce, a small town in Slovakia, where I first knew gypsies. They camped outside the city, on the breezy riverbank, near the pine forests. Day after day, in the early hours, they would come in droves to the market, a colorful lot who filled the streets with their unmistakable din.
My little brother and I befriended a small gypsy boy whose name I still remember because it had struck us as something very funny at that time. He was called Ylona. He was bright, deft, and a good chum. Other gypsy children would show up in groups every winter and ring our bell. They were covered in rags and would do their begging with an obstinate, wailing chant until someone would open the door and press a small coin in each hand.
The old, blind gypsy, Janko Korej, would come almost every day. Strange as it was, he always knew whose door he was approaching; he also knew each resident by his name. Other gypsies were often turned away but there was always a penny or a piece of bread tossed into his tattered hat.
I had come to like the gypsies. They were like birds who knew no bondage or ties; their sense of liberty appealed to me. But it was not before the time of our persecution that I recognized their true Humanness.
For over ten years Marya, they gypsy woman, came regularly to our house.
In winter, she chopped wood for kindling the fire in our log heated stoves and she carried the wood to the second story where we were living. In summer, she swept the backyard, carried poultry, potatoes, or vegetables from the market. She was absolutely dependable; there was, therefore, always work for her.
I remember the time she first came to our house. She was very young, with a lithe, graceful figure, her walk delicate blithe like a chamois'. I watched her as she ran up and down the stairs, her movements full of rhythm like a dancer's. She had very regular features but only from a distance did her face seem beautiful; a closer look would reveal pock-marked skin. She would never talk, except when asked, but she was neither simple-minded nor did she lack a sensitive soul. She had too much soul, and her eyes shone with natural intelligence.
In the forties, as the war progressed, we too were caught in the web of the Jewish problem. Our regime in Slovakia, led by two Quislings, Tiso and Macha, had copied the Nurenberg Laws to the dot and even added some of their own. There was no use withdrawing into our inner circles; the outside world intruded through the keyholes, penetrated through the cracks in the window and suddenly it seems to me that our lives had been built on seaweed, their foundations had become shaky and everything around threatened to sink with us.
Our friends stopped calling; they averted their eyes when we met them in the street. The old mailman, Uncle Klincsak, who had delivered mail at our house for twenty-five years, did not greet any more, and his disloyalty hurt us, perhaps, more than anything else.
Meanwhile, the loyalty of the gypsy women was asserting itself steadily and increasingly. The law demanded that we dismiss our Aryan maid. Marya assumed more and more duties to fill her place.
Able-bodied Jewish men had been rounded up for forced labor and deportation
long before their elders were driven to the gas chambers. My brother who was
now a lawyer, escaped across the border to Hungary where at that time the
measures against the Jews were still less rigorous than in Slovakia. We tried
to save his law books and packed them in a box which Marya was supposed to
smuggle out of the house and take to a friendly Christian attorney for
safekeeping. She managed to sneak out unobserved, carrying the heavy load on
her back. No sooner had she crossed the street, however, when she was caught in
the act by one of the terror boys of the Slovakian National Guard, a fellow we
all knew. His real name was Durcso but the Jews called him gazlan,
He was a devil incarnate. He had no other job but watching the Jews. His heart leapt with joy when he could swoop down on his victims. He immediately spotted Marya with the heavy box. He followed her, then stopped her.
What is it you are carrying? he inquired.
Marya did not answer
Where are you taking it? Who is sending it and to whom?
Marya was keeping her silence.
He grabbed the box, wrenched it from her shoulder and jerked it to the ground. The books spilled in every direction.
Brutally, he struck Marya's face with his fist. Blood was gushing from her mouth and nose. This was not enough punishment. He began to kick her with his ungainly boots. Still, Marya, did not speak, she did not speak, she did not give us away.
From behind the curtain in a second story window, we were watching breathlessly, in utmost desperation. Now the gazlan was dragging Marya towards the city hall, the jail.
Oh no, my father moaned. This was more than he could bear. With the incriminating yellow star, worn by all Jews, on his breast, he dashed downstairs after the gazlan; he caught up with him, barring his way; he began to plead for her. He confessed everything, took all the blame, all the consequences.
The gazlan was more than pleased. He had detected a profitable case; there was somebody right in his hands whom he could blackmail. Against a couple of hundred crowns he released the gypsy woman and confiscated the books. The reason, of course, was immediately pocketed and not donated to the national cause.
As time passed and the fateful year of 1944 drew near it was not merely books or valuables; our very lives were at stake.
Late at night or in the small hours of the day, Marya stole into our house, her steps muffled. She did not wear her shoes on the errands; her feet were wrapped in rags. Softly she knocked at our door. They are rounding up Jews for another transport. Hide! Quickly!
More than once she saved our lives this way. There came the day, however, when
the microphone was blaring in front of the city hall, and the town drummer beat
his drum in the side streets announcing, Vsetci zidi (all Jews).
We had to prepare for our mournful exodus from house and home. The strangulating circle was steadily narrowing around us. And the loyalty of the gypsy woman grew heroic.
A gendarme had been killed in the vicinity of Michalovce. Immediately, two hundred Jews were arrested in the city, among them my father. They were locked up in a damp, dark cellar in the post office. It was a frosty early March; the chill cut into one's marrow. The prisoners were to sleep on the bare stone floor, and no one was admitted to see them. Yet, on the third day, Marya found access to the cellar and smuggled in a blanket, a small basket with food, and a thermos bottle with hot tea. We wondered how she managed to get by the guards. She did not tell us, but her face was beaming. Finally, on the tenth day, she broke the news with shining eyes. Tomorrow the Pan (Master) will be home again. And home he came, indeed, with a memento of the prison, a severe neurology which did not stop torturing him until the gas chamber.
In 1945, with the war over, the survivors of the concentration camps were slowly returning. Marya would spend whole days hanging around the railway station. Weeks went by, but she never tired waiting for my parents. She asked every new arrival about them.
At long last, I was back alone. It was the first time since I had known her that Marya allowed herself to ask questions.
Where are they? When will they be back?
And the young Master?
He will not be back either. They killed him.
The gypsy woman gazed at me; she could not grasp it. Her head dropped and tears were streaming down her weather-beaten cheeks.
I can hardly believe that Marya had any idea of God or religion. She was a
heathen. Yet, had those who called themselves Christians in my city been
heathens like Marya, the unspeakable horrors could never have been
inflicted upon us. There had been many spies, informers, traitors in Slovakia
and elsewhere, but never a gypsy among them. They unfailingly helped us
whenever they could. Themselves pariahs, they were sympathetic to our
predicament. They had never been maltreated by the Jews. It was hard for them
to witness our persecution, to see how we were first mortified day and night
and finally driven to death and destruction; but what seemed to them most
horrible in our persecution was our deprivation of freedom.
There is no one who esteems freedom higher than the gypsy and who would prefer death to the loss of it.
With most of the European Jews dead or awaiting death in the camps, it was the gypsies' turn to suffer. Hitler's henchmen rounded them up from nearly every country in Europe. They were deported to Auschwitz and their fate became the gas chamber, the smoke, and the ashes.
In Slovakia, too, the hounds of hate were trying to track them down. Yet, these migrants knew how to live in deep, dark forests and most gypsies in Slovakia escaped death by violence among the tall trees of the Carpathians. Unlike the Jews, they saw the day of Hitler's defeat and death.
Translated by Edith Ligeti
During the Second World War
by Benjamin (Berry) Bornstein, Kibutz Kfar-Masaryk
On the 1st of May, I arrived at Michalovce as a graduate of an officers' school within the scope of the Czechoslovakian army. Before that I had never been in that townlet and I had not known a person there. My barrack was outside town and in my free hours, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, I looked for connections with Hashomer Hatzair movement and through it with the Jewish congregation.
The first Jewish family that absorbed me, socially speaking, was family Gleich at the head of which was mother as she was know by the whole congregation. This extensive family concentrated for years the cultural, Jewish and Zionistic activities. Mother Gleich was the mother of the pioneers who underwent some years of training in the townlet and was also the trustee of Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. She succeeded in acting in the women's organization of WIZO too. Generally, her position and her activities behind the curtains were of first importance. She was aided by her married children who went all through the education of the movement and were active during all these years in the life of the Zionist movement. Most of them live at present in Israel. Through family Gleich-Heksner I was introduced into large circles of the Jewish congregation.
According to my approximation, there were in Michalovce nearly 4,500 Jews and
including the surroundings, nearly 6,000.
The region of Michalovce was the second biggest concentration of Jews in eastern Slovakia. I found that in that townlet the Jews were especially effervescent. The town was mostly pious and traditional and the life of the youth movements and the Zionist movement, on its diverse sects, were especially strong. One can say that from a Zionistic aspect that townlet made a considerable contribution.
In my civil life before my military service I had been a teacher and a school master of Jewish schools in many townlet in Slovakia which existed and flourished already in the days of Austria-Hungary. But in Mochalovce there was no trace of such a school. Another typical thing which I observed in this townlet was, that in spite of the political events in Germany, in Austria and in Czechoslovakia itself, where the German Henlein Party was active, life in Michalovce pursued as usual and was not even alarmed by the appearance of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria.
This complacency towards what happened in the Jewish world gave me no rest and I looked for an occasion to express my deep worry before the leaders of the congregation and its institutions.
In that time, national Slovakian circles which grew out of the Catholic Hlinka Party began already to act openly within the Czechoslovakian army, in the name of Slovakian autonomy. The disagreements among the Slovakian and the Czechoslovakian officers aggravated and only the quiet declaration of mobilization on the 12.8.38 brought a short intercession. Most of the military regiments were sent to the German frontier in the Sudets region and to the Hungarian borders as well. I, with my regiment, was transferred to Pelzan, near the borders, where we sat till 22.9. This date is well known all over the world since then the annexation of the Sudets region was decided on in Munich. Military troops had to withdraw without a single shot. The political situation in Czechoslovakia deteriorated at a dizzy speed. My regiment was sent back to the Hungarian borders in the areas of Michalovce, near Tarbishov. On the 6.10.1936 Slovakia attained its autonomy. That was the great historical achievement of the subversive activities of the Hlinka Party during the first twenty years of Czechoslovakia.
On this very date the eastern Slovakian Jews began to feel on their flesh the
grave results. Every Jew who could not prove his Slovakian citizenship from
1871 was taken out at night, without any warning, and was transferred to the
Polish or Hungarian front.
It was clear that neither Poland nor Hungary were ready to absorb thousands of Jewish families who were not listed among their citizens. Thus, in a few days, the eastern Slovakia Jews faced a catastrophic problem. Thousands of Jewish families sat in rainy October and November unroofed, on the borders, in no-man's land. The Slovakians refused to take them back and the Poles and Hungarians did not let them enter their country. The previously tranquil life of the Jews collapsed; there began a rushing around to find a solution.
Millions of pounds were quickly collected in order to bribe the authorities and in the first place the Czechoslovakian gendarmes who were all infused with Slovakian nationality. The borderline congregations were organized to drive back the expelled families. With the inhabitants of the area of Trabishov, near the Hungarian frontier, I took a free initiative. I searched for Jewish helpers among the different troops of the army and for weeks at nights, we were busy restoring the Jewish families into Slovakia. This campaign was bound up with danger of life, but we accomplished it with full awareness of the Jewish lives we saved. I had also the possibility to influence certain Czechoslovakian military commanders who had that border under control. This I did with success.
In December 1938, I was sent back with my regiment to Michalovce. The military command there, on its various echelons, had undergone some essential changes. Slovakian nationalist officers who were usually subaltern demanded a promotion and a transfer of command to their hands. Czechoslovakian officers, considering themselves still powerful did not give up and thus the struggle became more bitter from day to day. Most soldiers were of Slovakian origin, even those from the area of Michalovce and their subversive actions succeeded. The Czechoslovakian officers' position was not very comfortable. The Jewish soldiers felt themselves naturally in a worse state.
My mind was not occupied with military matters any more, so I thought it fit to
renew my connection with the congregational life and the movement. I felt that
some day the Jewish youth, both the working and the learning, would find itself
deficient of an educational frame. Already in the previous summer months I had
made friends with three eminent personalities of the Jewish congregation. The
first was the head of the congregation, A. Lang, a bank manager and an
intelligent man, active in public life. Although he secretly sympathized with
the Zionist movement and did not disturb the development of the various youth
movements in the townlet, he kept outwardly, as part of his duty, the strong
traditional folklore of the congregation.
The second personality was Dr. Alexander Goldstein, a lawyer by profession and in public life a whole-hearted Zionist. As a member of the leftist Zionist Workers Party a strong one in Michalovce he was elected as vice director of the Jewish directorate. His position in the congregational life was important. He represented the manifold interests of the various sects of the Zionist Partu and took care that the youth movement subsisted. He carried out this task with much skill. He knew how to take advantage of the proper situations for the sake of development of Zionistic activities in the congregation. With his personal charm he found a common language with even the wittiest oppressors. Michalovce Jewry who was mainly occupied with trade and various manufactures, needed him as a tribune before the authorities. He excelled in this domain too. His late wife who was a lawyer by profession was of great help to him. His house was open to every needy person. During that time a true and sincere friendship grew between him and myself and together we calculated and carried out all the future plans.
The thirs personality was Singer Matias who played an important role in the life of the Jewish congregation. By this name he was known by all the Jews in Michalovce. Singer was a retired teacher and was engaged as an accountant of high degree by big firms and proprietors. This Jew had absorbed European culture and was a great connoisseur in Jewish sciences. He always attained great respect from all those who came in touch with him. In the Zionist field, he was not very active. As a loyal Jew to his nation and as a man of wide horizons he forsaw the future and felt that he should be of help.
With those three persons, the plan of establishing a Jewish school began to take on form. The four of us agreed that we should act quickly and to the point.
The recognition in the necessity of establishing a Jewish school penetrated the public's consciousness and demands began to arrive from all sides.
The objective was hard since an establishment of a school for 500 Jewish
children in the first stage involved formal and especially practical
difficulties. The congregation itself did not possess big properties and did
not own any building which answered the demands of educational regulations.
Disputes began to arise in the congregational directorate and outside it, whether emphasis should be lain on biblical learning which was already organized and established or on secular learning which was dictated by the rules of compulsory education.
It was obvious that we were concerned about finding means for establishing a building and that the time was at hand was short. The disputes were bitter and exhausting and the conclusion was that in the building dedicated to biblical learning, ten crowded classes would be located, each class having 45-60 pupils. The dispute on the mere establishment of a Jewish school for secular subjects ended positively. Later there arose another question concerning the primacy of learning in those buildings: would the morning classes be dedicated to secular or to biblical learning? Time rushed on and I was convinced, with regard to the political development in autonomous Slovakia, that it would be necessary to open the school on 1.9.1939.
Being still a soldier in cadet's uniform I made up my mind to devote all of my efforts to organizing the establishment of the school. Since I had the experience, the congregational directorate with the above-mentioned persons at its head, imposed the responsibility of organization on me. In the army I was excused from military engagements and I began to act.
Due to my military position and my good ties with the commanders, I found the office doors of the authorities open before me. Though I did not occupy any post in the established school, I was considered by the inspector of education of the region of Michalovce as the right person and he demanded that I take the whole organization upon myself.
Still in uniform I prepared a survey in all the state schools on the existence of Jewish children there. I gathered all necessary certificates and I engaged myself in all the administrative details needed for the establishment of a school.
Another problem was to obtain the minimal equipment necessary for an orderly course of an organized school which would meet the state's demands. The contemporary rule said that the congregation had to care for the building, the equipment and the maintenance while the Department of Education should care for the inspection and tuition fees. Both things had to be confirmed by the state inspector.
With no other alternative we gathered furniture from an outdated state school,
which we repaired and brought to an acceptable state. The building of biblical
learning was also arranged to fit the regulations more or less. The
governmental confirmation was received and a staff of ten teachers had to be
According to the law, an advertisement of ten vacancies was published in an official paper of the Department of Education. In that same year, many Jewish teachers were discharged in Slovakia from state schools thus being deprived of their livelihood. To those were joined Slovakian civil teachers who had been teaching in those regions which, in accordance with the Vienna Treatise, were re-annexed to Hungary. Following the advertisement of the ten vacancies, hundreds of applications from senior certified teachers were received. According to law, seniority and experience had to be accounted for in choosing the teachers. All those who established the school, including myself, had as a clear aim to compose the staff of people with whom we were well acquainted and who were known to have a Zionist past.
In the frame of the congregational directorate a committee of education was elected with A. Singer as a chairman and Dr. Goldstein as his deputy. The composition of this committee of education reflected the congregational directorate which was not purely Zionistic. As was expected the non-Zionist representatives made their best to influence the committee to choose the preferred teachers. Since my position was kept for me in my town Levoca, where I had acted before I enlisted in the army, I was not actually unemployed, but I too, offered by candidateship for a teacher's position. I concentrated all my efforts to establish a school for the purpose of being included in the teaching staff. As I mentioned, all the organization was under my control and all the teachers' applications were submitted to me.
In the time left for us till the election on the 28.8.39, I gathered information about each candidate and in advance, we effected a list of ten likely candidates. All this was informal. The election day was conducted, according to the law by the chief inspector of education of Michalovce region. This inspector's confidence in me was so strong that at the opening of the selection he insisted on my participation in the committee and proclaimed that my opinion on the candidate should be almost the crucial one. A second thing which was clear to him was that I should be chosen. It should not be forgotten that in those days the Slovakian national law was already enacted because on the 14.3.39 the Czechoslovakian Republic decomposed and a Slovakian state was established under the exclusive leadership of the nationalist Hlinka Party.
This proclamation of the inspector was crucial and decisive.
The Zionist of the committee of education fixed, apart from myself, seven more
candidates previously agreed on.
The elections took place at a rapid pace and the inspector received in advance my recommendation on the candidate.
The religious sect in the committee demanded a short intermission for consultation and asked me to pass at least two more candidates of their recommendation. We agreed and so, my wife Miriam, who was their representative, and another native woman were elected. I was the oldest of the staff which included: Benyamin Bornstein, Laco Deutsch, Feri Braun, V. Grinfeld Smolovits, Gizi Rot (Braun), Regina Fischer (Deutsch), Ester Faufeder, Miryam Friedman (Bornstein), and Miryam Moskovits.
The teachers' election day passed with great tension which reached its peak when the inspector insisted on selecting a school headmaster. For him my candidature was obvious and he suggested it. The religious sect could not reject his suggestion and had reservation only about the final choice. For reconciliation it was suggested that I should be elected for a limited period of one year. In three days we gathered all the selected teachers and on the 1st of September 1939 we opened the school gates. Our great happiness was mixed with grief since on this date a war was declared by the Germans on Poland. Their troops moved through Michalovce and the whole region. Part of the teachers were mobilized by the Slovakian army so that by the end of the first day we had to close the school. As it is known the war against Poland was short. At the end of some weeks our school resumed its regular course.
We made use of this intermission for an interior reorganization, for a preparation of a precise curriculum and for an exact clarification of our educational aim. It turned out that the whole staff belonged to a Zionist movement of one stream or another and that it inclined toward the leftist stream. Among us we stated our purpose, to educate the children in a Zionist and a pioneering spirit.
I never concealed my membership in the Hashomer Hatzair movement. I was in direct contact with the Hashomer local nest and I acted among the adults within the compass of Hachalutz and the Zion Workers Left. Already in that year there were in Michalovce some very strong youth movements. In the first place was Hashomer movement which included several hundred trainees. Next was Bney-Akiva followed by Agudath Israel Youth and Beytar.
Though all the teachers were under my influence we never prevented our pupils
from joining the movement which they had chosen to join.
We kept a gentleman's agreement and we maintained regular friendly relations with the heads of these movements.
In the first school year 1939-40, we enjoyed the financial support of the Department of Education from which we received a full fee.
Already during the first months of the school year one felt the positive side of the establishment of the Jewish school. The children were liberated from the fear and distress to which they had been used in the state schools. They came to school gladly; absences were few and the achievements in studies improved from month to month. A close relationship was established between the teachers and the parents and the results were surprising. All the teachers devoted themselves to instruction and education winning the children's heart and the school came to be the children's second home. Furthermore, the partitions between the biblical and the secular studies vanished.
Though the organization and the building were under our control, we took the pains to enable the children who wanted it to go on learning the Bible. The teachers of Talmud Tora who at first treated us suspiciously and were anxious lest we would occupy their places, understood that there was not any contradiction between us in the field of instruction and education. A sort of ceasefire was declared which turned in the course of time to a mutual understanding. It was not easy to satisfy the demands of the law and the demands of religious members in the question of learning. The buildings were not sufficient but we organized ourselves in such away as to satisfy both sides. The studies were carried on from the earliest hours in the morning till the latest hours in the evening with a full harmony. There were two to three shifts. The mutual understanding between the teachers and the pupils and between the teachers and the parents, created a fertile educational atmosphere and the achievements followed. The teaching staff covered by its talents not only the pure educational field but found place and time to encourage musical activities, sport, dances, arts and crafts clubs.
Being members of the Zionist movement we made our best to introduce the Jewish
spirit into school. We planned earlier to give a Zionist expression to the
Jewish feasts and we prepared to celebrate Hanuka in this spirit. The teachers
made tremendous efforts with a full cooperation from the pupils' side. We
organized the celebration as we had planned but, in the last moment, we met the
bitter opposition of the religious circles.
We were not ready to give up the national character of the celebration in spite of the threat of religious circles to boycott it. The main point of discord was not the content of the program but the fact that, boys and girls were going to perform together. After a long debate and a danger of cancellation by the Rabbinate, we agreed to a seeming compromise in separating boys from girls in the common performance. Actually we performed as we had decided with the full support of the head of the congregation and the head of the committee of education. The success was unpredictable. Even the pupils who were urged not to appear on the eve of the festival, stole to the stage at the beginning of the celebration and thus manifested their solidarity with the teachers. The enthusiasm on the first evening was so great that we had to re-perform on the following day. That was the first ice breaking in the life of the congregation which was not till then used to an activity of that nature.
The preparation and the execution of the Purim celebration was easier and more successful. Many sights of this celebration are deeply notched in my memory.
The political development in Slovakia was not favorable to the Jews. Anti-Jewish laws followed one another. Limits were set on the economic life. The Jews were gradually forbidden to engage in certain professions; Jews were discharged from governmental positions, from economic companies and from various institutions. In the region of Michalovce there were Jewish proprietors and rich farmers. The law reduced them to some tenet Jewish farmers while their land was transmitted to non-Jewish inhabitants. Trade houses as well, were urged to employ Aryan partners in manufactures. All this brought about a displacement of hundreds of families from their sources of livelihood. Only a few succeeded in acquiring seeming partners who in the long run also pushed the Jews out of their employment. We were all alert to this evolution and we knew that in the beginning of next year we would have to be prepared to absorb a wave of 200 pupils in the high grades. So did it happen.
In the end of the school year 1939-40, all the Jewish pupils were thrown out
from the Secondary Schools. With them professional teachers were thrown out
too. The development was so quick that during the school vacation we sought to
absorb the pupils as well as the teachers. On 1.9.1940 the number of classes in
our school grew from ten to nineteen.
We absorbed pupils to the age of 16-17 and got three additional teachers: Eng. Boksboim, Dr. Fisher and Zempleni Oscar.
At the beginning of the new school year the government suspended our fees and thus the burden of maintaining the enlarged school fell on the congregation and on the teachers themselves. The congregation taxed the Jewish population in order to maintain the school but the truth was that the majority could not pay the money and others escaped this burden. The teachers were not only occupied with education and instruction but also with collecting taxes. We came out from more than one Jewish home embarrassed and down hearted. As a result the teachers' source of income was demolished. However this fact did not prevent them from continuing their mission.
The mass dispossession of Jewish families from the sources of livelihood caused the children to appear in school with no food or appropriate clothes. We could not accept such a situation and together with the directorate of the congregation, and with the help of the Joint which acted in Slovakia in those days, we opened a public kitchen and a public dining room in order to secure a minimal diet for our pupils. We provided every needy person with two hot meals. We mobilized parents to cook those meals and gathered products among the Jewish farms left in the area. Thus we continued our life. We cared also for clothes. We established a bond of money and goods, supplied clothes and shoes and took care that the children would not be hungry and barefooted. All this was done apart from the educational work. Our situation was not at all easy. Many boys and girls of the age of 17-18 who did not find any sense in further learning went idle in the streets. It was necessary to see to their employment.
The Jewish youth of Michalovce were instructed by the youth movements, and, in
the search of a solution, joined one of the existing movements. In 1941 all the
youth movements reached their climax in size. All of them with Hasomer Hatzair
in the lead were not satisfied with an ideological education but had to search
for half or full employment of the youth. Thus, with the participation of the
congregation, the Joint and the Zionist movement, courses in carpentry,
installation and sewing were organized. Some tens of boys and girls from all
the movements joined in those courses. The activity was blessed. They learned
not only the profession itself but also theoretical and practical problems
which touched the profession. Our teachers made their contribution in this
field as well.
As I said before Hashomer Hatzair was a strong movement, with a rich past and with many able instructors. The year 1941 demanded more than this. The graduates of the movements were sent for training to various places in Slovakia. The training courses were overcrowded and more than once boys and girls were sent back home, there not being a possibility to absorb them. The situation of the youth movement demanded a leader of an extraordinary character. Hashomer nest was bestowed with one.
In the beginning of the school year 1940-41 the movement trainees presented to me their new instructor, Egon Roth, a young tall fellow, thin, with golden locks on his forehead and a pair of spectacles on his nose. He was slightly slouched and was constantly smiling. I had not known him before but a short conversation sufficed to establish a true friendship between us. He had a personal charm which influenced everyone who came in touch with him. His appearance, his awareness of what he wanted and of what he could achieve, his attitude towards people which was careful, almost diplomatic but at the same time sincere and true, ensued from his high intelligence and his numerous talents. His voice sounded nice and warm. He could act and recite and understood both the young and the adult. He was exceptionally clever and was particularly familiar with the Jewish sciences. He handled the Hebrew language well, wrote plays and composed poems. He did not acquire his vast knowledge at school because of bad health but received an excellent education at his parents' home. His father and mother were progressive people of a rabbinical family. At the age of 17 he prepared for the matriculation examination at school and came in touch with Hashomer Hatzair movement in Parshov. He joined it and some months late became one of its leaders. Following the decision of the movement he stopped his studies and was sent as an instructor to Hashomer nest in Michalovce. His task was to organize a group on a large basis and to take care of the education and work of the Jewish youth.
The youth of Michalovce was bewildered by the new regime and its prohibitive
edicts and felt the ground tremble under their feet. This concerned hundreds of
boys and girls of various origins of Michalovce Jewry. The youth needed a
strong man and a helper. The figure of Egon answered those needs.
The higher grades of our school were mixed. They consisted of able pupils who wanted to continue their secondary learning and were capable of absorbing much knowledge. Apart from teaching a profession we found fit to introduce a systematic study of Jewish history and the Hebrew language. In this aim Egon came to our help. He took upon himself the professional teaching and attained remarkable achievements in a short time. After some months he brought the pupils to a state where they were able to hold a conversation in Hebrew. He enlarged their horizons in the field of Judaism too. Egon succeeded in winning the class and apart from several pupils, all joined the Hashomer Hatzair movement. To our happiness part of those pupils live at present in Israel and can give evidence to my words.
Egon had an uncommon approach to adults and to his ideological opponents. This was due to his personal qualities and his great familiarity with all fields of Jewish sciences. He knew by heart almost the whole Bible, was familiar with interpretations, knew how to be strong in debates but never aggressive. His personal charm influenced all those who met him. I recall how one of his opponents Haim Greengeld, may he live a long life, who was the head of Agudath Israel movement made friends with him and looked for a possibility to converse with him in his free hours and to draw encouragement from his optimistic state of mind. They always conversed in Hebrew. For me, he was not only a friend and a comrade but also a brother. Thus was he with my family when he moved to our home. More than once I had a feeling that his absence, for a day or two, worried my parents more than my absence did. Thus he endeared himself to us and to all the people and thus he still lived in my memory.
The last months of 1941 became more and more difficult. The daily struggle to keep the school and the worry about livelihood showed their signs. The whole Jewish population felt that they stood before fateful events and nobody knew what would happen on the next day. Michalovce was the first town to know a law which obliged all the Jews from the age of six to bind a yellow patch around their left arm. Some months later there appeared a state law which forced the Jews to bear a yellow Magen David on the chest.
Those laws came to restrict the Jews in their activities and only persons who
were declared economically important or government officials were excused from
wearing the Magen David. Thanks to my connections with the inspector of
education, all the teachers were considered government officials (though they
did not receive their fees), among them Egon.
We were charged with an additional task, that of communicating between the townlets and the Jewish center in Bratislava. This task was of great importance because the post, the telegraph and the telephone services were censured. The hours of free movement in the streets were limited and we could stay outside (on the sidewalks only) from dawn to dusk. Among other things of value which were confiscated were radio sets. We were left without any information on what was happening in Jewish life, in the stately areas and in the world affairs in general. It is not to be forgotten that the Second World War was at its peak and that any encouragement from losses on the part of the German army was quite crucial. Exchange of information was carried out during prayer time in the synagogue yard, the only place where Jews were permitted to gather. Though I was not religious and did not go to pray in the synagogue in the fixed hours, I went there to transmit the information which I heard by myself from my gentile neighbor. He and his wife were devout party members but thought obviously about the future and let me hear the news from London and Moscow first through the door which separated our apartments and later in their room. This source of information was very important to the fearful Jewish population.
In the winter of 41-42 the Jews were mobilized for street cleaning and sewage draining in the main street of Michalovce. This was done in order to gradually humiliate the Jews. In the beginning of 1942 we felt the knot fastened around our neck. We felt that something unknown was going to happen to us and to the world. By information that infiltrated from Poland we gathered the Jewish population concentrated in ghettos but enjoyed as it were an autonomous life. The term ghetto in its full meaning was not yet grasped in Czechoslovakia. In Michalovce, Jews had to leave their apartments in the main street and move to humbler ones in side lanes. We lived in constant fear without conceiving of any solution or without seeing any possibility of leaving the country since in the north was Poland under the Nazi yoke and in the south there was Hungary where the government was not at all friendly to Jews.
The possibility of moving to Hungary in 1941 was not fully exploited because of
the Jewish tendency to hold the family together as long as possible, even in
the worst economic conditions. On the other hand our brothers in Hungary did
not make special efforts to absorb those that did cross the border.
Those who succeeded were usually imprisoned or, in the best cases, were transferred to prison camps in Hungary. Only the youth movement found a way to transfer a small number of Jews to Hungary and provide them with false documents, thus enabling them to make a living and even to mix in the life of the movement.
In the year 1941 youth movements in Hungary pushed forward strongly by absorbing members from Czechoslovakia. Being local near the border Michalovce played an active role in the illegal crossing though very late, when the Sword of Damocles was already above our heads. There was not any tendency on the part of the families to send their sons to work camps in Novaki, Srad and Vienna, which were organized and conducted by the Jewish centre in Bratislava because there was not great confidence in its activities but an anxiety with regard to the concentration of Jews in those work camps. Finally it became clear that the work camps justified themselves during the Holocaust in Czechoslovakian Jewry because few were sent from there to the annihilation camps As it is known, the three work camps joined the Slovakian revolt of 29.8.44 and recorded a brilliant page in the war history against the Nazi within the frame of military troops.
The first months of 1942 passed with great tension among the Jews. Much
contradictory information arrived from the Jewish centre and from private
sources and nobody knew what the morrow would bring. The German system was
clear – to hold the Jewish population in tension with rosy promises of keeping
their lives, and only during the Holocaust to strike them suddenly and with a
mighty exactitude. In Slovakia, the government, including its executive
branches, were actually under a rigid German inspection. In more than one case
the Slovakians surpassed the Germans in executing the Nirenberg Laws and
furthermore put the whole administration under German control. They wanted to
prove in various ways their loyalty toward the German Reich. Thus it happened
that the March 1942 the single girls were, all of a sudden, taken out of their
houses and driven into trains under the pretext of an urgent work in Slovakia.
We lived with the illusion that this might be right and the letters that came
from the girls held us in this illusion for a long time. In April 1942 the
boys' turn came. The professionals were, very wisely, ordered to take various
tools in order to create the impression that the concentration was owing to a
necessary work. The Jewish illusion worked in this case too. In the first two
transports we lost our best youth. The movement members felt that it was time
to organize a propaganda among the youth in order to prevent them from going to
But those actions did not help much because of the warnings addressed to the remnants of the families by the authorities concerning the absence of their sons and daughters from transports. In many cases the parents decided to hand over the hidden son to the authorities. Only in a few cases did we succeed in convincing sons and fathers not to present themselves and instead, to flee to Hungary. Their flight which was neither organized nor prepared was doomed to failure. In most cases they were caught, delivered, and exiled.
The Michalovce region was the first to come across anti-Jewish laws and mass deportation of Jews. On the 4th of May 1942, on the Sabbath (as usual), Hlinka men (S.S. in Germany), dressed in black entered the main street of Michalovce and covered the whole town. They closed the entrance and at night, with the help of the gendarmes and the local Hlinka men began evacuating whole families, purifying whole streets and directing the expelled towards trains. This mass expulsion lasted three days and three nights. The shock was so great that nobody knew what to do. Everyone was waiting with his valises for the hangers to come. The greater part of the population was expelled towards trains. This mass expulsion lasted three days and three nights. The shock was so great that nobody knew what to do. Everyone was waiting with his valises for the hangers to come. The greater part of the population was expelled in those three days from Michalovce and its surroundings. With my family, I waited in front of the house. Only later was I notified that the chief inspector of education protected me, my family and some other teachers' families.
I will never forget how the old judge and his family were driven along the main street and how he was treated. They drove him with an awful cruelty. The inhuman devouring beast was exposed to all. Our fell teacher Esther Faufeder and her family were also taken in that big deportation. Some teachers who hid, remained alive. We could grasp the extent of this deportation only when we returned after some days to school and found desks empty and the classes deserted.
Only 100 pupils were left out of 700. This small number reflected faithfully
how great the disaster was. With no other choice, we reorganized ourselves and
concentrated the children around us. Roaming around the streets or around home
was dangerous for the children and the irony of fate was, that the school
became a protected area. There was not even one case after the deportation in
which a child was called from school in order to be expelled with his family.
We diminished the number of teachers in accordance with the number of pupils.
The married women teachers ceased to work and thus we continued our life.
But this was not the full stop. The rulers held some fixed lists and every Friday and Saturday there was a hunt for hidden families. Every Friday and Saturday we were witnesses to a concentration of several families before a transport. We thought naively that it was impossible to drive out more Jews but we were awfully mistaken. A second wave of transportations occurred in June and the townlet was quite emptied. Our school was a sort of scale by which we could measure the extent of the disaster.
After the second wave we were left with 60 pupils aged from 3-16. The inspector of education did not come to visit us as he knew the exact number. He ignored me and did not demand a further diminution of teachers. Thus we carried on.
Egon was the first to recover from shock. He saved himself by hiding and dared, disregarding dangers, to leave the town without informing us of his destination. He simple disappeared for a week. Then he suddenly returned with seven birth certificates on which were the names of seven hidden boys and girls who had been Christianized, as it were, before 1938. These certificates were designated for young members of the movement who succeeded in hiding. He brought them from a Pravoslavic priest in an out of the way village near the Polish border. The revelation of this source of certificates saved the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of Jews in Slovakia. This action of Egon pushed other Jews to obtain such certificates from Catholic priests. Once cold possibly obtain them from priests of the Greek Catholic church. But it was the little Pravoslavic church in eastern Slovakia, which made the biggest contribution to the saving of Jews as well as the Evangelist church (Lutheran) which suffered most under the fascist regime. The acquisition of the certificates involved bribe giving as a means of protecting the survivors.
The life of the Jewish congregation of Michalovce was completely decomposed. All the judges, the administrators, the Rabbis, the Cheder teachers were liquidated. The life in the congregation was very poor. The deputy of the committee of education A. Singer succeeded in escaping the first wave but was not forgotten later. We went on living in fear during 1942 and only in 1943 after the first defeats of the Germans in the eastern front, did we feel a slight relief. This came as a result of the interference of the Catholic church before the notorious president Tisso, who was himself a Catholic priest and had signed the deportation rule.
In 1943 many Jews returned from Hungary because life in Slovakia seemed more
The Slovakian State Minister Sano Mach held us frequently in tension especially after his declaration that more will follow. He looked obviously for an alibi and did not make any effort to continue liquidating the remnants of Jews.
I was lucky to be able to keep my parents and my wife due to my connections with the inspector of education (who regretted as a Catholic, the horrors committed by the regime). After Passover of 1943 I succeeded in moving my parents to Hungary, to Budapest. My father died at the age of 79, undoubtedly from suffering and shock. My late mother did not escape fate and was taken, with my sisters, from Hungary to Auschwitz.
Those months were very long. The battles in the eastern front lasted a long time, though it was known by then that the Russians had gained the upper hand. The Germans did not give up easily and retreated step by step. We succeeded in living out 1943 and began 1944 with a great hope of survival.
The year 1944 was more encouraging in eastern Slovakia and its environments. There were signs of the appearance of groups of Partisans in Vienna mountains.
These activities heralded the approach of the Russian front. On the other hand small numbers of Jews suffered from it since they were charged with assisting the Partisans and even with direct activities. Our secret joy was mixed with fear that the oppressors would take advantage of the last moment to liquidate the last remnants of the Jewish population. It was clear that every piece of information which indicated danger made us hide. We did not rely on any confirmed document but wanted only to survive this difficult period of wrath.
The broadcasting of London and Moscow radio stations was heard more freely by the non-Jewish population. The hypocrisy of this population was fully exposed and there were people who regretted the events and sought to purify themselves. We all waited for the German resistance to collapse and for a possibility to avenge when the Russian army paraded into Michalovce.
We did not succeed in seeing it. While we were waiting, a message was received
with an order to concentrate all the remaining Jews in the synagogue yard. The
families gathered but not all of them. The panic was great because everyone
thought that the end had arrived and that we would be led to concentration
camps. We left Michalovce by chance because of Miriam's illness, in the
direction of west Slovakia.
In Parshov we descended to visit my brother and his family and there I was informed that an expulsion order against all Jews in eastern Slovakia was issued. On that very evening we took a fast train to Nova Mesto Nad Vahum where, on the following day, we were informed that the expulsion order was still effective for western Slovakia only. All this happened because of the fast nearing of the front. Two days later, we returned to Michalovce, gathered our things and set out for Bratislava. Michalovce was completely evacuated of her Jewish population.
On our way to Bratislava we met some friends who were dispersed in various
corners of western Slovakia. To my best knowledge those people died: Ester
Faufeder who was lost with her family, Eng. Boiksboim who fell as a hero in the
Slovakian revoldt, Smolovitz who was expelled from Parshsov with his parents
and Egon Roth who fell near me in the Dukovitz mountains, near Banska
Bisteritza, in the Slovakian revolt. I brought Egon to a Jewish grave in Banska
[Page 66 English] [Page 98 Hebrew]
It was on a certain day between Christmas and New Year's Eve of the year 1944. We were sitting at home with some friends when Harry Schwartz and Shtafi Klein broke into our house with great excitement. We understood immediately that something horrible had happened. Indeed they had a very unusual story to tell: A letter was received from Auschwitz. Sorotzin's son was in an S.S. regiment and a guard of Auschwitz camp. He brought a letter from Zehava Goldberger, addressed to Harry Schwartz and a booklet bound with a green material. The letter was written in Slovakina and contained a notice that if something was not clear he should see Dr. Vicht. Harry did not grasp the meaning of this remark, but when we touched the envelope and the cover of the booklet, we revealed a piece of silkish paper with Hebrew letters on it. The letters were so tiny what we tried hard to decipher them. Their content was as would follow.
We were bewildered to read the letter and understood that something horrible befell our people. We had an authentic certificate.
Sorotzin was repaid. We sent Zehava a packet and something for encouragement
but she did not live to receive the.
We are sure you know nothing about our hell.
Only few remained from the first. We were not taken to work but to death camps. We want to tell you the truth about our life which is horrible. There are here Jews from all countries of Europe. Transports of ten thousand Jews arrive every day and every night. Only few reach the camp. Old folks, children, mothers and even young people are thrown as cattle to trucks and are driven to the slaughter place. There, with great and long pain and agony which cannot be conceived by anyone, some more are thrown into the fire. The nights are the worst. But who knows whether life in the prisons is better. We work half naked, we are beaten and attacked by the dogs of the guards. When we set off to work we do not know if we will come back.
Around the camp there are amusements but our pillows are full of insects which cause many diseases. There is no medical help. Hundreds of dead lie every day before the tents. They die from the beatings, the hunger and the diseases. We don't feel anything, we are not human beings any more. They have turned us into beasts. I do not refer to Jews only but also to thousands of Aryans who live and die in the same way. It is impossible for men who did not live here to grasp how we are urged during half a night, die in the morning and do not get up forever. Healthy people are slaughtered too. We witness the end of our nation.
We don't want to die in this way and we cannot suppress our feelings any more. This is the first piece of information we send. If you receive these words know that we are waiting for an answer. If you are unable to lend us any real help then send us a few words to encourage our souls.
Remember that here young Jewish boys and girls are waiting for a sign of life from their brothers.
Let your hands strengthen
Bread water. The tumult of the town did not cease. Numerous soldiers marched in disorderly rows. Further on, a moving scene was exposed to my eyes: A long column of Russian soldiers, ragged and barefooted were led by Germans on the snow and ice. The captives clung to each other from the penetrating cold.. Few words escaped their lips, Bread water. From both sides of the street citizens were standing, accompanying the mournful column with deep sorrow. Suddenly, some loaves of bread were thrown from among the crowd toward the captives. The German guards reacted with heavy strokes of their rifle-butts.
The column disappeared around the corner of the street. The sidewalks were empty and the few citizens left in town, went back home to shut themselves in. Only here and there could you see people sneaking away and glancing rapidly at the side streets. I arrived at one side street evading the German soldiers who were digging trenches for the tanks. I did not dare to approach. I stood afar and watched their work. Suddenly I was aware of a man in the corner of the street who fixed his gaze upon me. After some minutes he crossed the street and walked in my direction. His face was familiar and I tried hard to recall where from. Only one step separated us when I cried at him in recognition, Karol, what are you doing here?
There was a sudden flash in my mind like a lightening on a dark winter night,
but it was Karol who had been summoned to Banska Bisteritza during the revolt.
We sneaked towards one of the trees with great excitement and immediately I
began questioning him. Karol told me that he had been sent from his troop in
Liptovsky St. Mikulash to spy on the German reinforcement in the town. I told
him a little about my particular mission and during the conversation I learned
that he possessed the material I needed. He had been in town for some days and
owing to his total detachment from his regiment he could not transmit the
material. I wondered at the coincidence. Two persons had been sent to the same
town from different places for the same mission. I had tired my brain for hours
trying to think of a reliable source which would furnish the necessary
information, but in vain. Then all of a sudden, all the problems vanished.
Karol asked me to wait for a while till he brought me the material. Relieved
and satisfied I sat down by the tree, the valise with the placard near me and
smiled to myself.
What a mysterious hand directs the order of all things. Karol returned in the meanwhile with a heap of papers which contained a precise list of the head-Gardist, maps of the fortifications of the town, etc. We separated with great excitement, wishing each other a good luck.
I returned to the hotel. While I was hastily packing my things I was thinking anxiously whether I would arrive safely with my valise which concealed so many dangers. I left a letter to Mr. Vaber expressing my gratitude for his hospitality and my sorrow at his refusal to help me.
I walked to the road which was full of movement. Every several kilometers I
came across military troops. I made my way hastily in the white snow trying to
drive my worries about the valise out. Soon I arrived at one of the sideway
stations, occupied by Hungarian soldiers. A military cart stopped by me and a
Hungarian soldier consented to pick me up. I detected in his curses a deep
hatred for the haughty Germans. The cart crept on leaving two trenches in the
soft snow. I understood that in this way I would never arrive in Rozonberok,
therefore I decided to get off the cart and try to halt a car. I stood on the
margins of the road while the cars passed quickly but did not stop. A wintry
fog covered the road and the cars kept speeding with their lights on. Two spots
of light which penetrated the goody curtain disappeared not far away. I felt
relieved. It was a car which dragged a large wagon, covered on both sides. The
driver signaled me to mount on the wagon. In entering in I was surprised to
discover a room on wheels
two comfortable armchairs, a table and even
sofas. Two German officers were sitting inside, sipping from a bottle of wine
which stood on the table. They welcomed me politely asking me first where I was
going. I told them my banal story and lay my valise near me. They offered me
sandwiches and even invited me to drink with them. I thanked them kindly but
refused the drink. A sudden thought crossed my mind. If they only knew whom
they are driving. With sorrowful voice I lamented the fate of my parents who
wandered from place to place because of the nearing of the front. One of the
Germans shared my sorrow and said with a sigh, Ya, such is a war. What
can one do? I asked them naively where they came from and where they were
going. Where from?, asked one with an ironic smile on his face.
Where not from?
From then on stories began streaming about battles in the African desert, about amusements in Rome and about thundering cannons on the banks of the Seine. Sitting and hearing their haughty stories I suddenly threw a question, And now where to? Now, opened the senior, we are pursued by the bloody Yudobolsheviks. This statement indicated indifference and for consolation, as it were, they raised their glasses and resumed drinking.
Raising my voice, I ventured, What will I do if the Red attain me? I offer you an evacuation, continue the other. But for God's sake, where to? I cried out. Go to Bratislava. And if they arrive there too? Head for Praha then, and if Here silence fell for a moment. They were both struck dumb and all of a sudden cried at me, From there to Berlin, to Berlin. And if they reach Berlin too? Once more there was a silence in the wagon and one of them lowered his voice and emitted bitterly, Yes, it would be rather bad.
I stopped engaging the Germans in questions and answers and as for them they ignored my presence and resumed their drinking. I peeped through the thick folds of the material which covered the wagon and I saw houses flowing fat before my eyes. I understood immediately that we arrived at Ruzonberok. A long military coat hung near me. All of a sudden, without thinking of what I did, I took a placard and put it in the pocket of this coat. The car halted at the town square. The German officers parted from me by a handshake and said, Remember my words evacuation.
A sun lit day. Andray stands in the entrance of the village leaning on the
automat and smiling at me. My spirit is high. Soon, when I go up to Parshiva,
my mission will be over. Andray, I called at him, accompany
me up the hill. Without a word he took my valise and we were mounting.
Perforce I smiled.
In that moment the German officer must have put his hand in the pocket of his coat and found to his surprise, a white sheet of paper announcing in black printed letters the approaching defeat of the Nazis. In my mind's eyes I saw the bewildered Nazi calling at his friend, Wili, look.
When we arrived I thanked Andray and made for the bunker. In the headquarters, the officers were sitting as usual around the only table there. Having greeted me they asked me to sit down. I began to tell my story without delay. That lasted for some hours. I handed the lists and they began observing them on the spot, with great tension.
Suddenly one of them approached me, shook my hand and said two words, You succeeded Katia.
From the Book of Jewish Partisans in Hapoalim Library edition.
K. Carmi (Larber)
by Szenes Erzsi
I shall never be able to understand how Tova succeeded in saving and concealing the sewing needle. We were undressed and usurped of anything we had in Auschwitz. How could she think about a needle in those horrible moments when we were sure our end had come? The place to which we were directed was unlike any other which we had known before. In the most horrid visions we could never have conceived of such a place.
We were five hundred in number. We were pushed into the wagons in Kishtratza
and on arriving at the camps were thrown outside. Someone stood on an
improvised stage, signaling with his hand to the left and to the right, as if
leading an orchestra. Two hundred of us were directed to the right, towards an
unknown fate. They snatched our purses along with other things we had, cut our
hair and shaved our heads. All this was done with devilish speed. Our minds and
hearts were paralyzed. I felt as if I had been pushed from a high cliff down
into a dark pit of death. In this very moment Tova whispered in my ear, I
succeeded in saving the sewing needle. The precious object sparkled
between her fingers. I glanced at her and could not grasp the meaning of her
words. If reality was not so hopeless it could seem as if the situation was
taken out of Andersens' stories.
A person walking on a razor's edge, an open chasm beneath her, completely robbed and humiliated, draws encouragement from a thin needle, deluding herself that it can perform miracles and restores her back to life.
Tova had a dress which was fastened with gold buttons. I am still not sure how she succeeded in holding on to the gold on her way from the jail where she had been imprisoned, and keep it until Kistarcsa camp. The fact was that she had gotten on the death wagon dressed in that dress.
During the journey she consoled me, Don't worry my dear, we will not starve. In exchange for that gold we will obtain some bread everywhere. We'll tear a button from time to time
Twenty buttons at least adorned her dress. As for me I saw only darkness around me but I did not want to discourage her. In a little while Tova's dress was also cast on the big pile of clothes, yes the one with golden buttons.
Later the darkness closed on us and the needle was forgotten. Instead of our dress, we were given rags as clothing. I got a short skirt which did not even cover my knees and a blouse without any buttons or hooks. We were not given any underwear and so on the first days I roamed around half naked. Finally I succeeded in obtaining in exchange for two portions of bread, some clothes which protected me more from rain and sun.
Tova was transferred in the third day after our arrival to another block and she did not rest till she brought me there secretly. We were in Auschwitz for six weeks.
Time passed on and I felt as if I was afflicted with lethargy. If once we were not urged and forced to carry kettles too heavy for our strength, if I escaped hard blows (Toska, the woman soldier beat us cruelly) and if I did not have to stand inert for some hours, I tried to sleep. Very frequently the rain streamed into the block and I lay in the puddle and slept till I was awakened and taken from the place. That was an escape from reality. Although I witnessed and knew all, the gas cell and death with all its horrors, I did not want to see and conceive of it as something real.
One day Tova and I were assigned to a group which was led to the railroad
station and pushed into a narrow wagon. Previous to this we were give
nicer clothes. I wore a light under-dress which was fortunately a
little bit long on me. Immediately after we set off Tova took the needle in her
hand. She took off threads from every dress and began in an energetic activity.
Dress after dress was changed. Her mind was absorbed by one thought: How to
form shawls which would cover our bare heads, because the disgrace of being
bald headed was the biggest of all.
The baldness made miserable creatures of us, creatures disposed of any human form.
My shawl was prepared from a piece of material which was torn off my under-under-dress. When we got off two days later in Perlsban our figure seemed more human. The shawl gave us a certain self-confidence.
Tova kept the needle as a precious treasure. For a whole month we were subjected to a hundred searches and were usurped of every possible object. But the needle was not found by them Step by step this needle became a symbol, a real life saver. Summer passed away and the foggy autumn came followed by winter and Tova sat, bit off our covers and prepared an under wear which warmed us a bit. We were severely punished. The German woman inspectors beat us without pity but as soon as we were robbed of our rags, the magic needle started working nimbly in her fingers.
In the hours when the work in the factories decreased many of us were taken to remove ruins. Outside, the cold air froze the marrow of our bones, especially at dawn. The cold increased to such an extent that we were indifferent to the inspector's urgings, because when we stood in one place we trembled. It was winter; it was January.
Under the piles of ruins which we evacuated, we found some rags. We succeeded always in saving them and stealing them to the block. Tova sewed bags for bread and she bestowed me with a pair of gloves as a present. They were sewed from a pink material and were padded with a lining. I think that no present had ever gladdened me as those gloves did.
Tova devoted all her might to this activity. She worked secretly by the dim light. Even today I don't understand how she could retain her strength. The tiny needle inspired her with life and strengthened her. In this time there were already more needles in the camp and the S. S. woman learned that the prisoners had a real skill. They organized special groups of prisoners who knitted and sewed for them. The commander of the camp did not pay attention to this affair until he revealed that white bands were stolen from the infirmary. The inspectors coveted the white color and ordered us to knit sweaters from the white threads.
No one knew who revealed it but most of the inspectors were arrested and
according to rumors were sent to a penalty camp. The new women inspectors who
replaced them were ten time worse but we found comfort in the fact that we had
our knitting and sewing tools.
The quantity of hats and shawls increased from day to day. Each time we succeeded in stealing remnants of wool from old sweaters and not one remnant was wasted. My vocabulary will not suffice to describe the ideas which our minds engendered and the success of the nimble hands which made something out of nothing.
The women risked their lives frequently in performing this secret work. The power of invention and the industry caused us, the women, to suffer less from cold. As a result, the death rate among us lowered.
In recalling that period, I think more than once whether I would have survived
had it not been for the kindness, the love and the hope with which the needle,
Tova's tiny needle, inspired in us.
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