By Arthur Rindner
In my last trip to Czernowitz August 2010, I was finally able to close the circle.
I hired a car and driver ($250.00) to take me to the place where we were deported; the place is called Budi. The car took 7 hours to get there, but during the deportation we walked and it took us 2 months.
On foot, we walked, together with thousands of people, surrounded by armed soldiers in uniform and barking dogs. I remember crossing a river by ferry and people falling in the icy waters. After many days, of walking in rain and in deep mud we arrived at a small village called Budi. We stayed there until the spring of 1942.
We shared a cowshed with many people, and I remember being hungry and the cold. One day, during the winter, there was a commotion and people were screaming I saw my mother covered in blood. She was thrown on a cart stiff from the cold, on top of other dead bodies. That is the way I remember losing my mother, who was 30 years old and I was 4 years old.
Every morning, I waited for that cart to come thinking the cart will bring my mother.
We stayed there until the spring of 1942.
I will not forget and I will not forgive.
I was looking for a mass grave and a cowshed where we spent the first winter.
I started to search for old people who possibly remembered the war and the Jews who were deported there. I was told that in the field there is an old woman with a cow who could tell me the place where we lived. I walked over to the field, no woman and no cow. Again I asked people, they told to go over to the local park and there I would find an old man who usually sits under a tree and smokes. I walked over there, no old man but lots of cigarettes butts. After about an hour I found a young man who took me to the place. As soon as I saw the cowshed I knew that I was in right place. The young man told me that a few years ago, people came from Israel and placed a memorial stone over the mass grave. The stone since then had disappeared. Standing near the mass grave, I was finally able to say Kadish for my mother.
The Dniester River, left side of the river is Transnistria
In this cowshed is where we spend the first winter of 1941
and this is the place where I lost my mother
The location of the mass grave,
where possibly my mother is buried
I had several e-mails telling me to ease off, to forgive and let go.
But what happened in Budi is imprinted in my brain and no matter how much I tried, I am unable to erase those terrible events.
I was only 4 years old and I witnessed the cruelty of what happened to my mother.
To forgive? I don't think so.
The uplifting things are those young volunteers, who came from several countries.
To clean a Jewish cemetery, who are not Jewish and have no connection to Czernowitz.
They could have been on a beach or slept late at home but they chose to volunteer for 2 weeks.
There are 2 organizations. One is called Ukraina SVIT which stands for Solidarity Volunteering Initiative Tolerance. And the second is a German organization called ASF Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste Action Reconciliation Service for Peace
My last day, having dinner with the SVIT volunteers
Crossing the Dniester River, visiting the village of Budy and finding my mother's grave has awakened my memories which I kept concealed for all those years.
About two years ago, my wife and I were dining at a sea side restaurant in Jaffa, Israel.
At the next table I could hear people speaking Italian, Roberto Benigni his wife Nicoletta Braschi were sitting there with several others.
I am sure everybody must have seen the movie Life is beautiful (La Vita è bella). In which a Jewish father (Roberto Benigni) with the help of his humor protects his son in a Nazi death camp. He hides Giosué his son in the loft of his hut from the Nazi guards.
I went over to their table, excused myself, and told them that I saw the film La Vita è bella and I believed that I have similar story.
They invited us to sit at their table and wanted to hear my story.
I told them that I saw the film in Fayetteville, North Carolina and when the film was over I started to cry. My wife asked me what was wrong and I told her that the film is very similar to my story when I was a child in Transnistria.
This is my story
We were interned in Bershad, Transnistria during WWII. We lived with our extended family, some were from Czernowitz and some from Strojinetz, in a wooden hut not far from the city center.
It was the summer of 1943, a nice Sunday and a warm day. My father and I went for a walk in the town square.
There were lots of people, having their Sunday stroll. Suddenly we were encircled by gendarmes and soldiers. This was Polizei-Razzia a police raid.
They selected the men on one side and the women on the other side of the square.
I was with my father with the men.
After a while the police marched us out of Bershad. We walked in endless wheat fields and soon I got very tired and was unable to walk. My father took me on his shoulders and we continued to walk. It was a long column and we were surrounded by gendarmes. The soldiers constantly prodded with their bayonets those who could not keep up with the column.
Suddenly I told my father that I needed to pee; he told me to be quiet and to hold it till we stop.
I started to cry and told him that I have to do it right now. My father asked one of the soldiers if we could stop so that I can relieve myself. He said OK and to make it fast and join the column as soon as possible. There in the wheat field was a small tree. I stood there, but nothing came out. Slowly the column passed us and they were over the horizon. The soldiers forgot about us and nobody came looking for us.
We sat down and hid in the middle of this wheat field. Soon it was dark and we started to walk back to Bershad. By the time that we arrived at our family hut it was dark and nobody saw or stopped us.
We told our story to our family and they got very worried and did not know what to do with my father and me.
Onkel Zeamu, my mother's eldest brother had an idea to hide us in the loft under the roof of the hut. We lived there for over 3 months.
I told Robeto Benigni, this is exactly what happened to the little boy in the film.
Later we were told that columns of exhausted, half starved men were placed at the disposal of the SS by the Romanian gendarmes for heavy labor, building bridges and roads. Very few returned alive after the war.
Roberto Benigni and his wife Nicoletta Braschi, liked my story and as we said our goodbyes, I was asked for my address. A few weeks later I received an autographed copy of the film.
CD Life is Beautiful, autographed by Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi
Was this pure luck that in that moment of time I requested to relive myself and by this I saved my father and myself from certain death? Or somebody was looking over us.
There is going to be a second time when I saved my own life.
I saved my life a second time, but this time it was possibly a premonition.
My young brain was filled with memories and images of terror and death. I was too young and afraid to think about tomorrow.
In the end of fall in 1943, a rumor started, that whoever has the right amount of money, could buy a train ticket which will take young children to Palestine. I was 5 or 6 years old.
My father had no money, but he had a few gold teeth. He had those teeth extracted, sold them and had enough money for my ticket to Palestine.
The day arrived; I remember it like it was yesterday. It was cold, overcast with a light mist.
My father hired a peasant with a horse and wagon to take us to the train station. Near the train were hundreds of kids with their parents. My father looked for a boy of 10 or 11 whom he knew and told him to look after me. I was given my last instructions for the hundredth time: remember who you are, I want you to grow up to be a Mench, your name is Arthur Rindner, your mother's name was Eva Rindner and my name is Jacob Rindner. Then he gave me a small silver mirror in the shape of a pear which belonged to my mother, he told me to look after it and not to lose it. This little mirror was the last possession of my mother.
As I boarded the train I started to cry and told my father that I do not want to go. He said don't you want to go to Palestine and save yourself from the life which we have here? I told him that I do not care, what will happen will happen as long as we are together and not separated.
The train left and we returned to our hut in Bershad.
Years later after the war, my father visited Iasi a city in the Moldavia region of Romania, and met the little boy of 11 who was supposed to have looked after me. He asked him, how come he is not in Palestine?
He told him, that the train stopped in several more places to pick up more kids and when the train was filled with kids it stopped near a forest and the kids were told to disembark. They were shot, massacred right there in that forest. The boy played dead and escaped.
The Nazi's used deception as a tool; it was so easy to come up with a story to save the children. Those Jews are going to fall for this. They needed Arbeitskräfte (work force) but der Nachwuchs (offspring's) were always in the way. The Nazi's, by use of deception, had a way of getting rid of the children and cheating the Jews out of their money that they possibly hid.
I escaped death, did lady luck look after me the second time? I believe so.
My mother's small silver mirror is still in my possession.
After our first winter in Budy, a rumor started that we were going to be exterminated. One night with the help of a guide we walked through forests in the rain and mud and arrived in Bershad, where we found some of our surviving relatives. These were relatives from Storojinetz, it was Tante Regina, my Onkle Zeamu and my two cousins Grete and Coca.
I have no recollections of how I passed my years there; I can only recall the cold, the hunger and the mud.
One morning in the spring of 1944, I looked out the window and on the tree outside the hut, perched the most beautiful bird with red feathers. I had never seen such a beautiful bird; I asked my father what kind of bird it was. He told me it was a Stieglitz (Goldfinch in English). I knew right then and there that this horrific nightmare was going to be over.
In the spring of 1944, a Russian airplane flew over our town and we knew the war was over for us. I recall the Germans retreating on every possible vehicle available and throwing away their weapons. I remember a few of the Germans for whom my father worked, came to him, asking for letters, saying that they were good Germans and that they have not mistreated us or the other Jews. My father gave it to them, having pity and knowing what was waiting for them.
We were liberated by the Russians, and returned to Czernowitz on foot.
At the entrance of the city of Czernowitz, my aunt, Tante Fanny, my father's sister, was waiting at the Sadegura Bridge for days. She had heard from other returning refugees that we were liberated and that we were walking home. She stood there, waiting our return. On seeing us arrive, she was very emotional, and began to cry from happiness. I will never forget the meeting; she immediately took me to a Konditorei in the Herrengasse and bought me a Chocolate Kugel. This was the first taste of chocolate I had had in my few years, and I can still remember the taste to this day.
Even though 66 years have passed, the horrendous tragic events and visions still haunt me and continue to linger within my being.
Possibly our house in Bershad
The interior of our house in Bershad, painted by the painter Arnold Daghani,
who lived with us after running away from a camp across the Bug river
Looking for my stepbrother in Mogilev
My stepmother and her husband whose last name was Schwartz, were expelled from Czernowitz to Transnistria. They walked over a month on foot all the way to Mogilev. As soon as they arrived in Mogilev her husband was taken away by the Romanians and given to the Germans never to be seen again. My stepmother whose name was Dora was pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy on arrival in Mogilev.
She had not eaten for nearly one week and had no milk to nurse her baby.
She told me that she walked over to the barbed wire fence and begged a passing peasant woman to take her baby and to take care of it. The 2 or 3 years that she was interned in Mogilev she never saw her baby or her husband again.
In 2006 during our Czernowitzer Reunion, I visited Mogilev with my wife; we walked the streets looking for an old man of 65 who possibly looked like my stepmother.
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