Told by Schaje Schmerler
A TOUCHING MEETING WITH MY TWO FRIENDS
FROM NADWORNA, ITCIE KNOLL AND
SCHAJE RATSPRECHER, AT THE
MUNKA-CZER-RUW-SCHUL IN BUDAPEST
The time: October, 1943
The place: Munkaczer-Ruw-Schul, Kiraly utca, Budapest, Hungary
Four unendingly long weeks under superhuman hardships, hunger, and thirst, and terrible experiences, lasted my hike from Stryj over the Carpathian mountains, until I had reached Hungary.
Workers in the woods found me unconscious in an abyss, lying in a pool of blood; I had fallen there from a slope.
The good people took me into their barracks in the woods, washed me off and bandaged my wounds, and brought me back to life with sweet coffee and food.
Two Jewish workers in the woods, father and son, in whom I confided the fact that I was Jewish, helped me to get to the next village; there, a Jewish tailor unfortunately I forgot the name of this good-hearted person took care of me.
The tailor's 10-year-old little daughter guided me in roundabout ways to a road where I could get into the place Nilipine unnoticed.
Helpful Jews made it possible for me to get from Nilipine to Munkacz by train.
Especially helpful in this was a nice, good-hearted Jewish cattle-dealer named Engel. He, Engel, took such great interest in me as if he had really been an Angel ("Engel") from heaven.
He found an employee at the railroad whom, I am sure, he rewarded liberally for it, and saw to it that he came with me to Munkacz.
This companion took care that I could slip through the control of all documents which was very strict there, due to the proximity of the border.
After my safe arrival in Munkacz I immediately went to see the family Fraenkel. (Mrs. Fraenkel was the aunt of Leibaly Goldberg, the son-in-law of my brother Mojshe.)
I had hoped that there, at the Fraenkel's, my flight would end. Unfortunately, however, I could neither stay with the Fraenkels nor anywhere else in Munkacz, because it was very strictly forbidden there to give refuge to strangers, especially Jews, without permission of the police.
One night I spent with the Fraenkels. As a precaution they hid me in a woodshed in their warehouse of building material.
The next day I was able to depart for Budapest with the help of the Fraenkels who got a railroad ticket for me to Budapest.
The trip to Budapest was successful thanks to two dear young Jews from Schwalowa who were also going to Budapest.
These two good and capable people saw to it that the railroad police who, during the trip, checked the travel papers and identification papers of the passengers, overlooked me.
I do not know if I would ever have reached Budapest, had it not been for the extraordinary help of these two dear people.
In the late afternoon we arrived in Budapest. Because I had no address to go to, these two good people took me to the Munkaczer-Ruw-Schul in the Kiraly utca.
Here, in this holy place, they said, nothing bad will happen to you. When the Jews come for the evening prayer they will be sure to take care of you. They took their leave and left me in the Schul.
I am waiting alone in the half-dark Schul, waiting.
I don't really know what I am waiting for. At best I am waiting for a miracle, that someone may come and help me.
My fortune consists of 4 Pengφ, approximately 4 Polish Zloty - in dollars this would not even be half a dollar.
The door opened and a man came in. It was the "Schames" (attendant); he asked me why I had come so early, since the "Mincha" prayer would only start in a few hours.
He made a sour face when I introduced myself. He told me (this is how I knew he was the "Schemes") to go to the congregation; this here is a Schul where people come to pray, but not a hostel.
He calmed down when I told him that I had just come from Munkacz, and that Fraenkel, owner of a lumber business, had sent me to the Munkaczer-Ruw (Rabbi).
Now he became more familiar with me. He explained to me the important role the Munkaczer-Ruw played in assisting the Jewish refugees from Poland to get permission to stay.
He told me this quietly so nobody could hear it, even if there was nobody around who could have heard.
This remains between us, he said, nobody is supposed to know it.
I could imagine that he gave away this "secret" very frequently. Not with a little pride he said that the Countess Larisch was a devoted follower of the Munkaczer-Ruw who, thanks to this acquaintance, was able to help many people.
I wanted to know when I would be able to talk to the honorable Ruw. He told me that the Rabbi would only be back in a week from an important trip.
He broke off because we heard steps. A few Jews came for the evening prayers.
The "Schames" who spoke to those who came in, must have told them about me, because I saw them reacting by turning in my direction towards my side in order to look at the "Orach". Then they came, one after the other, with the greeting "Schalom-Alejchem".
They were all very anxious to hear from me news about "Jenerwelt" (the world beyond the world outside the other world).
Again the door opened, and another worshiper entered. He was a brunette man in his middle years, of medium height, shaved (the others who had come earlier were bearded).
After the "Schames" had informed him, too, of my presence he quickly came up to me, also with Schalom-Alejchem, but with more feeling and friendlier than the others had been who were only curious.
He introduced himself; he said he had escaped from Lawoczna and his name was, unless I am mistaken, Berl Schleifer.
When he heard that I was from Nadworna he told me that he knew two young people who had recently fought their way here from Nadworna also. He gave me their names. But I could not deduct anything from these names because they were Polish names.
Only later I learned that the escaped Jews lived here, in Budapest, under strange, Polish sounding names, and with Aryan papers lived as Poles in order to receive permission to stay.
I told him about myself, more or less. In this man from Lawoczna I found a sympathetic friend, not only because he was "one of us" and had himself gone through a lot before he had saved himself and his family, wife and several children, and come here; the man was a good-hearted person as was the old Jewish worker in the woods and his son, also the tailor and his 10-year-old little daughter, and the dear Engel family.
Later I convinced myself of this; his small apartment was always open to us refugees, and we felt at home there. Nobody was allowed to leave his poor place without having eaten, despite the fact that he was not well off.
This good compatriot told me to wait here and not to go away (neither did I have a place to go to), he would soon go and f ind the two people from Nadworna.
ltzie Knoll and Schaje Ratsprecher
How good I feel now being among Jews! Even if they are strange to me, and unknown, and some of them indifferent, and some not even very affectionate, they are far from doing me harm. After all, the people in that world I am now running away from except for those few human gentiles are not only robbers who stole from their Jewish fellow citizens, but cold blooded murderers.
I am sitting here in the Munkaczer-Ruw-Schul just like once at home an "Orche-Porche" Friday evening in Schul, waiting for somebody to take pity and invite him home for the Schabbes meal. So I am sitting here with my fortune of 4 Pengφ, waiting for such a person to help me.
And I am sure it will happen. After all, I am among Jews which is why I am feeling as good as I do.
The Schul is filling up. They are saying "Minche" ("Minche gedawent"). My friend from Lawoczna who went to find my compatriots from Nadworna has not returned yet; most likely he cannot find them.
One says the "Maariv" (the evening prayer). Many of the worshipers are leaving the Schul; suddenly my friend from Lawoczna came running; "I have brought them to you" he yelled, and right behind him came, rushing, the two from Nadworna, ltzie Knoll and Schaje Ratsprecher. Knoll had been employed as an official at the sawmill in Nadworna; he now lives in Israel. Ratsprecher mostly devoted himself to the "Gordonja" movement in Nadworna. Unfortunately he, Ratsprecher, died shortly before the liberation.
Our meeting was very touching. You have to realize that in late summer, 1943, there were no more Jews left in Nadworna; they were all dead. If anybody succeeded and survived, he was somewhere there in hiding. To get to Hungary was almost impossible. Mostly those courageous ones who tried to escape to Hungary over the Carpathian mountains, did not get far. On the way they would be caught by non-Jews who were lying in ambush all over, and they would extradite them to the Germans or kill them themselves. And if somebody succeeded in getting across the border, it was difficult for him to find help in reaching the old-Hungarian part of the country where he would have been saved, more or less. If, however, one of these unfortunate ones was discovered in the area around the border, he was simply sent back, and he was lost. That is why our meeting was so touching.
People were standing around watching the scene, as two young, good looking, well dressed men kissed, were overjoyed, and cried with the tattered, bearded, depraved beggar whom I looked like. At the time, the Hungarian Jews could simply not understand it.
After we had recovered from the exciting reunion, there remained in Schul only my two friends, Knoll and Ratsprecher, and my new friend from Lawoczna and myself. The other people had gone home.
Everyone of us hoped to learn about survivors from the others.
Unfortunately I could not say much about Nadworna since I had left Nadworna at the end of August, 1942.
The few people from Nadworna who, together with me, did slave-work in Stryl, have all died; they were my son Dolphi, Lajbaly Goldberg, Koppelmann and son, Menasche Zinn's daughter, Schaje Kawaler, his wife Sosie (Fawaly Tepper's daughter) and their two children Fredi and Lotte Kawaler, and Wilus Knoll; they all died, except Sosie, Ferdi and Lotte Kawaler, and Wilus Knoll who fled to Babij into the Doliner woods. At that time I did not know yet that the Kawaler family was not alive any more, either. Nor could I guess at the time that Witus Knoll, who had survived the hard time, later on voluntarily joined the Red Army and was killed in action.
I told them whatever I had heard about Nadworna. For instance, I was able to tell them what I had heard from a man named Schweizer who had escaped from Stanislau, after it was liquidated, to Stryj. Schweizer told us in Stryj of some unusual cases, about people who survived as if by a miracle.
In this connection he mentioned Dr. Anda Schmerler who tried suicide, but was saved by friends; and Salo Schmerler who succeeded twice to escape death; the first time he crawled out of a mass grave, wounded, and the second time he escaped through the sewer from the ghetto in Stanislau.
I knew, of course, that these two he mentioned were my brother's children. What happened to them later on I could not know at that time. (They saved themselves and are now living in Australia).
Then I told them how, in spring 1943, the young musician Rum (he once studied music in Leipzig) and a blonde girl named Reger (she had been working for Dr. Dirnfeld before the war) both were living in Stryj visited us in the work camp, outfitted with Aryan papers. An action that happened to start just then took them by surprise, and they fled to the Aryan side. I do not know what happened to them after that because I have never heard from them again.
Ratsprecher and Knoll told me how they escaped and got here as if by a miracle. They also mentioned names of people who had succeeded in escaping, and who now were living in Hungary with Aryan papers.
They named Benzion Langsner with his daughter (his wife and son had died on the way), Kuten with his wife and several relatives, and Berger, Chaim Izek Zauderer's son (our neighbor).
Already on Hungarian soil Jankaly Hirsch and my brother Aron lost their lives.
It got late. Where to go now?There my young friends told me this: From today on, you are not any more the Jew Schaje Schmerler; as of this moment you are a "full blooded" Aryan. Think about a Polish name you want to assume.
I thought for a while, and gave as the name I wanted to assume: Stanislaw Niznikiewicz .
The reasons why I chose this name are the following:
A few years before the war, when I was in Warsaw on business, I visited my comrade from the First World War, by the name of Traub from Nadworna, who lived in Purszkow near Warsaw. He introduced me to his wife and little daughter: "My friend, Mr. Stanislaw". Most likely he did not find my Jewish name Schaje sounding alright for the ears of his wife and child. That is why I chose, for my first name, "Stanislaw".
And then my mind focused on the name Niznikiewicz: when I was starving, with my son Dolphi, in Stryj I succeeded to smuggle a letter out to my friend Ferdinand (Ferdus) Niznikiewicz who was working for the tax office in Stryj; in this letter I asked him to come and see us. Ferdus was my childhood friend; before the war he held a high post in the tax office in Nadworna, and he received from us not a few gifts of money.
It took only a few hours until Mr. Niznikiewicz appeared. However, as I found out later, Ferdus came hoping for something as it happened in Biblical times: when Lavan Haarami kissed his nephew, our forefather Jakob on meeting him, he hoped to find pearls in his mouth. The same way our Lavan Haarami Ferdinand Niznikiewicz who spoke Jewish as well as all other Jews believed the reason of my call to be that I wanted to give him my diamonds and dollars for safekeeping. But when he learned that I did not even own one Zloty to buy bread for us he made a sad face not, however, on account of my sad situation, but because his hope to find a fat victim in me had come to nothing.
Therefore, so that the name of this "noble" Polish compatriot should not be forgotten, I decided to set him a monument and named myself Niznikiewicz from that moment on.
This is how, in October 1943, in the Munkaczewer-Ruw-Schul, the Jew Schaje Schmerler was "baptized" by his two young friends Ratsprecher and Knoll, without holy water, and was made an Aryan Pole of the Catholic faith, and was given the name Stanislaw Niznikiewicz.
Told by Schaje Schmerler
With a Jew-Transport to Auschwitz The Jump from the running Freight Train
Two cattle cars were joined to a long freight train; they were loaded with human freight consisting of approximately 150 Jewish people, men, women, and children (I, too, was with this human freight). The sliding doors and the tiny barred windows of these two cars were hermetically sealed and reinforced with barbed wire.
During the loading of this Jew-transport heartrending scenes took place. A young mother, for instance, pushed her 5-year-old little girl out of the transport to give her the opportunity to mix with the gentile onlookers. But she did not succeed because the "merciful" guards chased the child back to motherly care.
The time and place of this sad event was June 1944, at the railroad station in the small town of Satra-Ujhely in Hungary.
This strange human freight was destined for the murder factory in Auschwitz where the inventive German "superman of the superior race" knew how to change the delivered human freight into various "valuable" products, such as soap, lampshades, women's hair for upholstery material, etc.
The sad Jew transport started to roll in the direction of Poland.
Now we began making plans how we might escape from this sealed car (in this car, there were only men; the women and children were in the second car).
We decided to cut an opening into the wooden wall of the car with a knife (it was my pocket knife which the gendarmes fortunately had not discovered on me during the search, and now the pocket knife was the only tool we could use); the opening was supposed to be close to the sliding door through which one could remove the barbed wire in order to open the trap of the sliding door; this was supposed to take place only after we had left Hungarian territory.
During the night, when the planned opening was noticed far enough so it would take only the cut of a knife to take out the inside piece of board, we heard Slovak songs being sung at a station; this way we knew that we were already on Slovak ground.
The train went on, and around midnight we cut out the last piece, removed the barbed wire, and were able to open the door.
Sliding open the door we were overwhelmed by the fresh air and the beautiful summer night. The fields and trees rushing past gave us courage to venture the jump into freedom.
Thanks to the good discipline, approximately 50 men succeeded in jumping out of the running train which was going on an elevation in the ground, without being hurt badly.
I landed on a potato field with torn pants and scraped legs.
The train moved on; I saw only the conductors with their lanterns sitting on the steps, and finally the freight train was out of sight.
I got up, and suddenly, a few meters away, a travel companion gets up, by the name of Halberstam, from Bochnia, West Galicia (from the "Rabunim" Halberstam family); now we were two fellow sufferers together.
A few minutes later the train stopped in a station where they discovered that we had escaped. We could watch the commotion because they signaled with the lanterns and they also fired shots; but we were free.
After the liberation 1945 I learned in Vienna that all of those who jumped out of the train were alive; in fact, I met many of them in Vienna such as Schreiber from Lemberg, Dunio Hermann from Lawczna. The name of the place where we jumped is Michalovce in Slovakia. The time, June 1944.
Where to ?
Already the train is out of sight, and I am lying in this potato field where I landed after my jump from the running train. My fellow sufferer Halberstam, still a very young man, is next to me and we discuss what to do now.
I had placed great hopes in Halberstam to be a good guide now; at the time, in camp, he told us about his escape from Bochnia (Galicia) to Hungary via Slovakia where the Jews who were natives of Slovakia had been very helpful to him on his further travel.
We did not know that, at that time, there were no more Jews in Slovakia. The clergyman Hllnkl had accomplished his "assignment" there.
We got up and started to go on, with no particular direction in mind I walked ahead and Halberstam followed me.
We had the following conversation:
Me: "Halberstam, let's see how smart you are which way do we have to go now?"
Him: "What do you mean, which way? God has helped us, we got out of the train, therefore we have to go to the right."
Me: "If we turn right, I feel we will be back in Hungary; I think it would be better to go left."
After a short while I noticed that I got no more answer; I turned around, and Halberstam was gone.
Most likely he felt it was not right to disagree with me because I was much older than he was, and so he went his way by himself. I have never met him again; but later on I learned that he had saved himself.
Now I was alone in the dark of night, between fields and meadows, without any idea where to go. So I decided to stay there until daylight in order to inform myself about the area.
In the Field of oats
I hid in a field of oats, waiting for day to break.
In the early morning when I had hoped to go on unnoticed, a new danger arose, this time from the farmers coming to the field for work. It was impossible to get out of the field without being seen; it was equally impossible to stand up in order to find out where I would be able to go the next night, because these people were working all around this field of oats.
For me it was a day like in hell; the oats were low, the sun burned, and I did not dare move.
I suffered until 10 in the evening. Then I got up with broken limbs to find a bush or some woodland.
A whole night long I wandered around until I discovered a bush near a very steep slope; there I hoped to hide and wait.
Now I went in search of water, but unfortunately, my trouble was in vain; I found nothing; but I did discover an appletree which grew bent over a deep precipice; his branches were covered with little apples, the size of hazelnuts.
I could not reach the apples because the tree had grown very crooked over the precipice and was too thin for me to hang on. Necessity made me inventive; I looked around and found a dried rod which I notched on one end; then I slipped the notch onto the branch with the apples and managed to pick some apples. Many of them, unfortunately, fell into the deep precipice instead of quenching my thirst and hunger.
Finally I could enjoy my course of apples, but the first bite, unfortunately, brought the biggest disappointment because the apples were as bitter as gall; and, no matter how hungry and thirsty I was, I could not even eat a single one.
Of course, I took the apples with me and they did me great service later on, during my 32-day fast; it was enough to bite into such an apple and I would be brought back to life.
All day long I was wandering around; I was looking for something edible in the fields and, if possible, for some woods to stay. Unfortunately I neither found food nor a forest.
I got close to a river across which there was a bridge, rather high up. In order to go north, as I intended to do, it was necessary to pass the bridge. That, however, I could not risk because the bridge was guarded at either end by two Slovak soldiers; they looked in every direction and could easily discover me.
There was nothing else for me to do but hide close to the bridge and wait and see how to motion across the bridge which I simply had to pass in order to get to the north side.
Thus I am lying, hidden in the bulrush, approximately 20 meters from the bridge, and I am watching.
The guards changed twice. Many people, mostly farm workers, and vehicles as well, passed in both directions across the bridge without proving their identity with any kind of papers. I only heard the passengers greet the soldiers with the words "Z Bohom". Later I learned that this is the usual Slovak greeting.
The two words "Z Bohom" which means "With God" I have committed to my memory and decided to venture across.
I sneaked out of my hiding place towards the road in order to join the people.
I had noticed that the farmers going to the fields for work carried small bundles with them which probably contained their day's food ration; I wanted to look like them; but I had nothing left to make a bundle with; when I jumped out of the train my bag in which I had the most necessary things tore because the man who jumped right after me held on to it, and I landed with nothing but the handle of the bag; everything else had gotten lost.
This time my underpants came to the rescue; I simply took them of and made them into a bundle, hung it on a stick over my shoulder together with my short jacket the only piece of clothing which I still wore ever since Nadworna (naturally without a fur collar, since the fur collar had to be delivered to the Germans on pain of death); so I shouldered the stick with the bundle of food ration.
I suppose that I looked not very different from the other farmers passing by, in my worn-out baggy trousers, my shabby jacket and wrinkled cap, my face unshaven, and my bundle and jacket over my shoulders.
I summoned all my courage, joined the others who were walking ahead, and marched in the direction of the bridge.
Already on the bridge I passed the soldier with the usual greeting. Likely he had nothing to find fault with because with a returned greeting and the movement of his hand he indicated for me to go on. With the guard at the other end of the bridge the same procedure; and thus, with "Mazel" (luck) and not a little pounding of my heart I passed the bridge.
I really was lucky for the second time in Slovakia. The first time: jumping out of the train heading for Auschwitz, and now the crossing of the bridge that was guarded by soldiers.
I feel strengthened, more secure but what now ?
A precious Find
After the successful crossing of the guarded bridge, a few hundred meters further on, I found a beer bottle with the neck broken off. It is not exaggerated if I say that this broken bottle represented a most precious find to me.
I imagined having found a water fountain where I drink my fill, and take along some water for the road ahead.
Even greater was my joy when I really found a little liquid in the bottle which I would call water. Probably it was rain water or dew, mixed with beer foam and dust. In any case, this "drink" did me a lot of good, even if I did cut my lips with the broken glass.
This bottle, the only utensil for drinking or eating, was of good use to me later on in my hiding place.
The Beechwoods (The little Beech Forest)
Strengthened by the sparse drink as well as the successful crossing of the bridge and the area without any people I started my hike.
I came to a hilly part of the country, low mountains, mostly cultivated with oats. The red earth is probably not good for anything else.
On the one hand it was good for me that no people were in sight since the workers came here only to cut the oats; for that it was still too early. On the other hand, however, my hopes grew dim for finding something to eat here; not as it had been during my flight from Stryj to Hungary when I stole potatoes and sometimes even roots and peas from the fields. But a bite into one of those little apples which I had with me from the "Emek Habuchu" would still my appetite. Besides, I had to take care of more important things than food; I had to find a hiding place at any price.
So I wandered on, and towards evening I came to a poor pasture, barely covered with grass, on which cows and sheep were grazing, guarded by a few little boys.
I was glad to see this pasture border on a small young forest.
Hiding I awaited the evening when the herdsmen drove the cattle home; then I moved into my new home.
The forest which was more like a bush was very good for a hiding place.
I walked into it about as far as one kilometer, looked for suitable bush, crawled into it, spread my jacket to lie down on, and thus started the first night of the 32 days and nights I spent here, hiding and starving.
Three days already I have been staying in these woods. I picked out a dry spot, not wet, suitable for the hiding place from which I could well watch and see without being seen.
With all means at my disposal I tried to make myself as comfortable and homelike here as possible, in order to wait for the end of the war.
But since I had nothing with me except my short jacket and the beer bottle I found, I used, for the improvement of my "house", my experiences from the summer 1943 when I hiked for weeks across the Carpathian mountains, from Stryj to Hungary.
That time, however, in 1943, my situation was better than now. I had with me then a sharp axe with which I could chop wood and branches. I also had a big tarpaulin against rain, which I used for cover during the nights so I was not cold; also, at that time I succeeded in getting matches ("Zόndstein") [flintstones] to make a fire. Besides, my safety was not as endangered then as it was now, because I was high up in the mountains, far away from people, and could move freely during the day. But this time I have nothing with me.
The hard beach branches which I have to have for camouflaging my hiding place, I have to break off with my bare hands, and those branches I have to change every other day, because the leaves wilt and one could easily see that this is not a natural bush but an artificial one.
So that it would not look suspicious and that there would not be any traces of any kind of work I brought the branches from deeper lying spots in the woods; the same way, I carry the discarded dry branches far into the woods.
My jacket serves as sleeping place and cover as the same time.
The bottle stands ready to take on provisions. But where should the provisions come from?
Mannah from Heaven
After difficult searching I found food it came to me like the Mannah from heaven. I hardly think I could have stood it any longer.
In reality the Mannah did not fall from heaven for me, but I found it in the woods, in a place where trees had been felled; the Mannah was in the shape of green raspberries which in this place, where the trees were felled and the sun was warmer, could grow better.
The sun also made approximately 10-12 berries ripen every day which I picked; I saved them in my bottle and rationed them out for the normal three meals.
I was forced to start rationing, because after much searching I found only this one place that had berries, and even they were scarce.
The fact is that my Mannah resembled the one which God threw down in the desert so much, only because it came to me at the time of extreme misery. Otherwise, it was different in color as well as in use.
The Mannah in the desert came from heaven and was white, but mine was green and grew in the woods, and was only edible after it started getting reddish.
Another difference between the Mannah in the desert and the one in the woods was: the one in the desert came in larger quantities, and had to be used up the same day because the next day it would have gotten wormy. This Mannah, however, which God sent me in the Slovak woods so I would not starve to death, was very little. I could not have more than 10-12 berries a day.
And I was satisfied with what little I had not like my forefathers who, after they emigrated from Egypt, were longing for the fleshpots, and wanted to go back to Egypt; whereas I only imagining what I would face should I be brought back was very, very happy to be in these woods, and not to be seen by people, even if I had to starve.
Now, I am already the owner of a homestead and a farming establishment with a raspberry field. The only one thing I still miss is water. There was little chance to find water in the woods themselves. Outside the woods, of course, it might have been possible; but during the day it was too dangerous to venture out; this is why I could do nothing else but use the time of night for that. I was hopeful to find water outside the woods, because, as far as I was able to hear from there, there was a pasture close to the woods. All day long, from early morning until sundown, one could hear the lowing of the cows as well as the shouting of the herdsmen and the cracking of their whips, and the barking of their dogs. That is why I was sure that somewhere there, nearby, must be water where the cattle were watered.
I waited for the night, went out of the woods, searched all over, but in vain; I could not find anything. The nights were dark and it was very difficult to find your way.
Several nights I searched in vain, with no success I was desperate. The thirst tortured me terribly and I could not help myself.
I tried with the footprints of the cattle's claws I tried to feel my way hoping they would lead me to the watering place but in vain.
Help came to me by accident; when I, long past midnight, felt for the prints of the claws and followed them. I found water in those footprints. Probably these footprints filled with dew in the late hours of the night and so I was saved.
Of course, I could not take any of this liquid along because they were filled, at best, with 1/4 of a centimeter of water, so that I could drink only if I stretched out on my stomach and licked the water.
Naturally, I had to filter it in my mouth, in order to spit out the spiders and worms I sipped with it; but in a way, I quenched, my thirst and I was satisfied.
32 Days of Hunger
14 days already I have been spending in my hiding place in this Slovak piece of woods, waiting for the end of the war. I am starving terribly except for the 10-12 raspberries daily and the little liquid that collects during the night in the footprints of the grazing cattle, which I later hide, I have nothing to sustain myself.
Also, the time drags very badly.
As an example, let me describe, more or less accurately, a 24-hour-period of my stay in these woods:
2 o'clock at night; I sneak out of my hiding place and go, rather I crawl because I have no more strength to walk out of the woods into the open. I leave the woods for two reasons: 1) I want to lick the collected water, and 2) I want to breath some air, since I spend all day in the bush that is covered with branches with no access of air.
As I have remarked previously, the woods consist of beech trees and dense leafy bushes which don't let any air go through; that is why, during the night, I not only "drink" water, but breathe in some air for the coming difficult day.
3 o'clock in the morning: I return, naturally on roundabout ways so as not to leave traces, into the woods; I take the wilted branches off my hiding place, take them to different places, scatter them, and break off a number of fresh branches which I take back to my hiding place to camouflage it with fresh branches of leaves.
Then I go to my raspberry patch, pick 10-12 raspberries more or less put them into the broken bottle, and with these "provisions" which are supposed to last me for 24 hours, I "luckily" return to my hiding place; there I lie down on my spread-out jacket, and eat my breakfast of 4, sometimes only 3 raspberries. The bottle I hide so as not to provoke the "Jezerhore" (bad thought); later, around 12 o'clock, I eat some more, and around 6 in the evening I eat the "Afikomen".
After breakfast I take out my "Roskopf-Patent" pocket watch (this watch I have to this day, and I would not give it away for anything in the world) and start doing my daily "work", lying on one side, alternating, no longer than one hour.
I start by "reading the paper"; that is, I have embellished the delousing with a proper name.
The lice which were still of Magyar descent, and no less patriotic than their Hungarian brothers, probably intend to Magyarize the Slovaks. Who can understand what goes on in these little lost-souls ?
The worst is that even the Hungarian lice love to drink Jewish blood.
There is plenty time for me to attack them.
As I do with my raspberries, of them I also pick only the "ripe" ones. Of course, I don't do this only from consideration; but in this obstructed light I can recognize only "larger specimens" and those are pretty large, approximately like a grain of corn with a dark spot in the middle.
I even know how many I "harvest" every day. They come to 40-50. After this bloody work I clean both my thumb-nails and start eating in my imagination.
In the beginning I heard putting my ear to the ground-music playing, and I very much liked this music, because these muffled sounds, coming closer each day and clearly audible, not only filled my monotonous existence but the closer and clearer the sounds coming from afar became, the more I knew that help was approaching. It was the thundering of artillery of the advancing Red Army. After the liberation I learned that the Russians had already been near Sanok (Galicia), on the other side of the Carpathian mountains, at that time.
Unfortunately, one day the thundering stopped and later I learned that the Russians went into a huge retreat.
The silencing of the concert that had pleased me so much was a bad blow for me then.
I also heard, at a specific time every afternoon, the whistle of a locomotive of a running train. Later the whistling of the locomotive also stopped completely, after a heavy explosion. I had no idea what all this was supposed to mean. 32 days later, when I left the woods, I learned the cause: partisans had blown up a train viaduct not far from the woods; that was the cause of the interruption of the locomotive whistles, since the trains were simply stopped after the viaduct which had been used for them, had been blown up.
A good Find of which I was robbed
During my usual nightly excursions I came to a field of oats which had not been mowed yet; I knew from my first hike through the Carpathian mountains that sometimes isolated stalks of peas and beans grow wild in field of oats, because some of them had gotten mixed in with the oats seeds and sown with them; they later grew by themselves and wound themselves around the blades. That is why I went searching.
In fact, my sense of smell which often develops in people in such a situation became helpful.
I really found several husks, but unfortunately, they were wild lentils good only for fodder.
I cannot say that I was choosy, but it was really impossible to eat those; after eating some of them I had to vomit, and decide to do without them.
After some further search I was luckier because I discovered approximately 2 dozen large pea pods. My joy was immense. A few of those I ate, and the rest I took to my "home". I bedded them down in leaves in a cool place so they would not wilt, and I hoped to enjoy them for 3-4 days as an addition to my raspberries.
The following night, too, I searched a lot in the fields, but there was nothing more to be found.
How terrified was I when I reached for the pea pods at breakfast the next time and there were only the empty pods left. The peas were carefully picked out and stolen.
It was a great loss for me.
Later I became convinced that this daring robbery could have been undertaken by nobody else but the flying field mice. These field mice who jump so fast and so far, resemble the flight of an arrow.
They became frequent visitors in my "shelter", but I had nothing left for them.
The raspberries they could not touch because they were kept in the bottle; most likely they are not their taste, either.
The empty pods I have not thrown away, of course I ate them up.
The Deluge and the unexpected Visitor
It has been raining for two days am soaked through and through. I am exposed not only to the rain which comes down in torrents, but also to the water running down on me from the branches. Besides, the water has also collected in the place I use to lie in, and I was forced to lie in the wetness all the time.
The vermin in my clothes have decided on a mass migration. Probably they, too, were uncomfortable living in the wetness; that is why they went looking for dry spots on my emaciated cadaver.
The itching was horrible. "Reading the paper" also had to stop on account of the pouring rain, and the "hordes of huns" on my body multiplied vigorously and had a good time.
But our dear Jewish God had "Rachmones" after all for his chosen people of which I am a part, and miracle that it was I the rain suddenly stopped and the sun came out with all its summery strength; my depression quickly went away, and I came to life once more.
Despite the grave danger connected with venturing out into the open during the day, I could not resist. I crawled out, taking my soaked jacket along, sneaked approximately 2 km. away from my hiding place in the woods, looked for a spot with few trees where the sun could have better access, undressed until I was stark naked, hung the clothes on the branches, and stretched out on the ground where the sun shone upon me and warmed me.
Thus I was lying about 2 hours. I waited for the clothes to dry, but I could also not resist the pleasure to be warmed by the sun and not to be bothered by the vermin.
As I was lying there half asleep I hear a strange movement. I turned my eyes sideways and, oh horror I was terrified I saw a horrible thing I saw another man.
For hunted animal as I was, being a Jew at the time, the appearance of a man is something terrible.
While I, the hunted, was lying there naked and helpless and the man, some 10 meters away, was looking at his victim, he could not guess who the sleeper might be; but my situation was not enviable. He was probably no less surprised at the sudden find than I was.
In my strange situation I could do nothing else but pretend to be asleep; at the same time, however, I watched his movements.
The man could not decide, either, how to behave; he came a little closer, circled around my hanging pants, shirt, and jacket, and coughed a little probably in order to wake me up but without any success.
He went away, but returned once more; since I had not reacted to his leaving he returned, walked around me once more, and finally he disappeared for good.
After I had waited a few minutes and he did not come back, I got up, quickly picked up my "wardrobe" which had gotten dry by then, and disappeared in the thick of the woods.
I quickly put on my clothes and started to go away in the opposite direction from my hiding place.
I did not return to my "apartment", but picked a new hiding place.
Fortunately nothing happened. I suppose the man considered me one of the partisans who were very active in that area, as I later learned. They were rarely given away by the population who did not want to be punished for their treason later on, such as having their houses burned and the like.
After the related incident I changed my hiding place to a different spot, as I mentioned; so it happened that, around dawn, I discovered a house not far from the woods.
Influenced by this unexpected discovery my thoughts would not stop wondering what this house might mean to me. In my imagination the plans fell over one another, how I could sneak into the farm and steal some food. One of them was that I would make it into the pantry during the night. But this plan seemed too dangerous to me and I gave it up. Then I thought of getting into the chicken house and stealing the eggs; this, too, was too dangerous, because the chickens would make noise; so I decided it would be best for me to get into the pigsty. Surely on the walls of the feeding troughs where the fodder for the pigs is poured, there must be some bran or flower sticking which I could scratch off; so piggish the pigs could not have been to lick the feeding troughs clean! But when I considered the consequences, if the pigs would start squealing and the farmer would come running out and meet me there, he would be sure to suspect that I wanted to steal the pig.
So all my plans came to naught, and I go on starving, even more so.
The 30. Day of Hunger
The 30th day already I am spending here in the woods; I am starving terribly. All my hopes to break into the farm and steal food remained only a wish I could not have materialized, if for no other reason, for this one during those 30 days I had grown so weak that I had no strength not only to walk the approximately 3 kilometers to the farm, let alone to possibly have to escape from there.
It is the third day since I have discovered the farm. As soon as dusk falls I lie at the edge of the woods and look in that direction.
I could determine only that much: it is a small house, and next to it is a big freestanding chimney from which comes thick smoke. A little hut is there as well, most likely it is the cow-shed. Otherwise I could not detect anything unusual.
My health is deteriorating rapidly I feel that this is my end. To stay here longer would mean my death.
The Walk to the Farm
So I decided to go to the farm; I did not want to sneak in, but simply go there to ask for food. But my condition was horrible; aside from the fact that I had trouble walking, my pants were so torn that parts of my body were visible through the holes; and before going to the farm I would have to mend them first. But where should I get needle and thread ?
In this case, too, necessity made me inventive: I got thread by somewhat shortening the pants, loosening the threads of the fabric which I then twisted together in double fashion; thus I had a sewing thread.
A needle I also manufactured by breaking a pointed tooth out of the pants buckle; in this pointy tooth there was a hole through which I threaded the twine, and in this strange manner I sewed up the torn pants, more or less.
I waited for the next morning which was the 32nd I spent hidden in the woods. Around 2 o'clock in the morning I got dressed "appropriately" and started the walk to the farm.
I started out so early in order not to meet the herdsmen who lead the cattle to pasture very early, and who would have bothered me.
I was so weak that it took me approximately two hours for this short way, about 3 kilometers, and this with the greatest effort.
Meeting the Farmer
Finally I was on the farm. The first thing I saw there was a huge oven in which bricks were being made. Attached to the oven was the chimney from which smoke continually rose as I had seen from the woods. A little further away, there was a young man who was kneading a heap of red clay with his feet; the clay he probably put into the forms next to him.
He had not seen me coming and was very much surprised when he noticed me I must have looked pretty wild.
My impression was that the man was more scared than myself. He was startled seeing me, but soon calmed down when I greeted him.
He stepped out of the mash of clay, reluctantly approached me, and asked who I was and what I was looking for. According to previously prepared text, I answered him that I was a Pole from the other side of the Carpathian mountains; that, due to the battles raging there, I had been evacuated from our village together with other farmers; that I had lost my way and was unable to find my people, and the carriage and the cattle we had taken along. I had been wandering around these woods for several days and was very hungry. When I saw his house from afar I decided to come here and ask him to give me something to eat.
I did not want to tell him that I had not eaten for 32 days because that would have seemed unbelievable to him.
He told me I should wait there, he would bring something from his place.
He walked towards his house. I was sure he would come back with his son or his farm-hand to finish me off, because by himself he did not feel strong enough to start anything with a ghost like me, the way I looked.
And how surprised was I when the man came back all by himself, carrying half a bread, and he gave it to me.
It is not like me to cry; but I was so touched by the fact that there were still people who did not kill one that I could not hold back my tears.
The farmer expressed his sympathy by patting me on the shoulder; he told me to calm down, I would find my people and my cattle, and the Slovaks would surely be helping me.
He said the war would end some time, after all, and I would be able to return to my home.
I don't know how this man would have acted, had he known that I was a Jew; but I did not want to think anything bad about this good man.
The good-hearted farmer is talking to me but my thoughts revolve around one question: Where to now ?
The following epilogue brings to a conclusion the 350 stories in which I, Schaje Schmerler, describe the horrible experiences I went through during the gruesome Hitler regime, 1941-45.
These stories are collected under the title
"My Life of Suffering"
Some of the stories are reprinted in the Memorial
Book of the Nadworner Society
It is February 1945. From the Tatra-mountains we can watch the once-victorious German Hitler army retreating in defeat; they had already been standing at the Volga, and in the suburbs of Moscow and Leningrad.
Like an endless snake trail the retreating bandits and murderers.
Not even in their present agony do they forget their loot. They drag it all along on wagons hitched to horses and oxen, since they have no fuel left for their motorized trucks.
They requisitioned all wagons and beasts of burden, from horses to cows, in order to secure the stolen goods in their murderer's fortress named Germany.
We can watch them, in their destructive furor, not only blowing up bridges, but systematically, with blasting cartridges, ripping up rails and ties of the railroad bed as well as the telegraph poles.
The last battle in this area had taken place in Myto pod Dumbierom (Slovakia) where a unit of Hermann Goehring Panzer-Division approached with their long-sighted Tigers, most likely in order to cover the retreat. They demolished houses and stables where the cattle that had not been stolen yet, perished.
They could not last long here either, because the Red Army, supported by the partisans, were already on their heels.
Totally broken, leaning on crutches, I came down the Tatra-mountains. I have lost everything: my wife and my three children, my old mother, my three brothers with their wives, children and grandchildren, my two sisters and their husbands and children, my numerous relatives, friends and acquaintances.
I was moved to tears when two officers of an artillery unit of the Red Army came up to me and spoke to me in Yiddish which I had not heard for so long; and when I answered them in Yiddish, they embraced me and they cried, too.
My loss is monstrous. Nothing in the world can make good for that. Neither myself nor any surviving Jews can or will ever forget what the murderers, the dehumanized Germans, have done to our people. They have killed six million innocent Jewish people, among them a million and a half children.
Remember, and never forget, what the German "A m a l e k" has done to you.
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Updated 9 July 2004 by LA