Through the Eyes of a Child (cont.)
We stayed in the cellar for about ten days. A young woman used to come and visit with the housekeeper and bring her up to date on everything that was happening. It was not a deep cellar, so we could hear everything. One day the woman told the story about my little brother Boris. He did exactly what he used to tell my mother. When the firing squad started shooting, he pretended he was dead. When the squad of Lithuanians left, the locals started throwing the bodies into the grave. My little brother Boris asked them to let him go. Some of them were ready to let him go, but one did not. Because of the one who did not, the rest were afraid to object. They called for the Lithuanians to come back. They did and they killed my brother.
It was time for us to leave. Father Pakalnis gave my mother his old boots. We had to find other clothes for me to wear, since it was a small town and people could easily recognize me just from my clothing. My mother always dressed me in the finest clothes she could get. At that time my coat and hat were of a blue color, and my mother wanted me to be less conspicuous.
And so we left. We walked in the snow, and once in a while villagers gave us rides. Most of the villagers knew my family because they had worked for my father, transporting wood from the forest to the processing place at the railroad station. When we asked for shelter, they refused, saying they could not keep us, but they said they would not report us to the police because my parents had treated them well.
With no place to hide, my mother decided to go to the Svenciany ghetto. I do not remember much about life there. We had a corner of the floor in a very crowded room. There was no food. Our former housekeeper Amelia, who lived in Svenciany with her sister, found out we were in the ghetto. She started bringing bread whenever she could and passing it to us through barbed wire.
I believe we stayed in the Svenciany ghetto for a couple of months or so. Then the news came that the Jews in the ghetto would be transported to Vilna and Kovno. My mother got word from the partisans that the whole thing was a big lie and that she should try to escape. I believe this was in April of 1943. There was still snow on the ground. We were loaded into horse-drawn wagons and the procession started the journey to the railroad station in New Svenciany, or as it turned out, the journey to death. We were escorted by Lithuanians with rifles.
It was cold. My mother's thoughts were racing in search of an escape. We were quite close to New Svenciany when she decided to collect money, from people in our wagon and I think from one other wagon, to give to the guards. She suggested that the guards find a place to buy vodka in a village and stop for a rest. When they did exactly that, she asked if she and her little girl could get off the wagon and walk because it was so cold just sitting and waiting. They let us get off.
At first we walked slowly to avoid raising any suspicions. Once we left the whole procession behind us, we started going faster and faster and then we ran until we reached the woods. We hid behind the bushes until the procession of wagons passed by. After about two hours of sitting in the woods, we started walking and tried to stay away from the main road. We knocked at the door of the very first house. It was a beautiful big house that looked like part of an estate. It was a risky decision because who could possibly own a house like that during the war? But something guided us and we did not have many choices available.
A woman opened the door, looked at us, and understood immediately that we were Jewish. She quickly led us to an empty part of the house where honeycombs were stored. She told my mother she would help only because of me, a child who was innocent. She was Polish, her husband was Lithuanian, and therefore she asked us to be very quiet. She did not want him to know what she was doing until she found us another hiding place.
She did find a place for us. She decided to send us to her sister, a single woman, who lived in the village of Gieryntsy, not far from Pabradzie. She gave my mother a couple of gold coins to give to her sister, and she hired a man to take us to Gieryntsy. The sister took us into her house. The problem was that her house was located right in the center of the village, and since the Germans were frequent visitors, she thought it would be a dangerous place for us to stay. Her boyfriend's family lived in a more isolated area. She asked him to take us to his family, and he agreed. His family name was Andrushanets.
While the weather was warm, they kept us in a shed where they stored grain. When it became cold, they brought us into the house and kept us in a loft whose floor was the top of an open kitchen hearth, a combination of stove and open baking oven. We were hidden behind a board. At times, it was very, very hot. It was while we were with the Andrushanets family that my mother decided to go back to the Lyntupy and Svenciany area. She wanted to recover some belongings so that she could give something to the Andrushanets family, to encourage them to keep us longer. It was not the best decision that my mother made.
It was close to the Christmas holidays when she left and started walking towards Svenciany. On her way there, she was approached by Lithuanians riding in a sleigh. They offered her a ride, but she refused. They insisted and took her straight to the police station. They thought she was spying for the partisans. Had they realized she was Jewish, they would have killed her immediately. They interrogated her and decided to keep her in jail until after Christmas Day.
Fortunately for my mother and me, it was a makeshift jail. Most likely, the house had belonged to a Jewish family who owned a store, because the house had two partsone residential, the other used for the store. The two parts were divided by a wall in which there was a tile stove that provided heat to both sides of the house.
When night fell, my mother started searching for a way out. She noticed that the tiles on the stove were cracked. She started moving the tiles and they came off one by one. She tried very hard to reach the other side of the stove. Her hands were bleeding. When she reached the back of the stove, she pushed hard and part of the stove wall fell, creating an opening.
My mother crawled through the hole in the wall and found herself in the side that had been a store and was not being used as a jail. She ran to the door, which was a French style door with two hooks holding the door closed from the inside. She lifted the hooks and found herself outside. She knew she had to cross the river to reach a safer place. The river was frozen, but as she was getting closer to the other side, she fell into the water. She made it to the shore, ran, and knocked at the window of the first house she saw. It happened to be the house of someone who used to work for my family. They took her in, gave her dry clothes, and hid her.
My mother came back to me, but the Andrushanets family could not keep us any longer. Their daughter had been taken away and sent to a labor camp in Germany. We found ourselves in the forest. Occasionally they would bring us some food, but most of the time, we had to look for potatoes stored for spring in holes dug in the ground. We kept close to the village. We were hungry, and hunger forces you to do things you would normally not do. I had dark blond hair and blue eyes, and could easily pretend to be a gentile.
One day, I went by myself to beg for food. I knocked at the door of the house that was quite close to the woods where my mother was hiding. A woman gave me some bread and asked where my mother was. I told her my mother was not far away. She asked me to come back with my mother when it was dark. We did. They realized we were Jewish, and held a family meeting to discuss whether they would be able to help us. The family decided it was too dangerous. When we were leaving, however, the woman, whose name was Antoniowa, whispered to us to go and hide in a loft in the shed in the backyard.
Antoniowa came to see us the next day and told us that her husband was putting together a kind of shelter in their big barn. The shelter, resembling a dog house, would be hidden under a huge stack of hay. There would be an opening that they could use to pass food to us. Also a rock was removed from the foundation, so we could get out at night. They kept us until springtime. The stack of hay was getting smaller and we had to leave. Antoniowa was trying the best she could to provide us with food. Sometimes it was very difficult because, in addition to the Germans, there were Polish partisans who were as dangerous to Jews as the Germans and Lithuanians.
One day Antoniowa told us that there were two Russians hiding in the forest. The village was helping them and providing them with food and other supplies. The two Russians had built dugouts, the so-called ziemlianki, all over the forest. They were well masked hideouts. You could walk over them and never realize that beneath the piece of earth, on which grass and bushes were growing, there was a shelter. Antoniowa approached them and asked them to help us with a hiding place, but they were very reluctant. She told them she would discourage the villagers from continuing to provide food, and also she reminded them that the front was coming closer and closer, and that we deserved to live.
The Russians provided us with a shelter and shared with us the food they were getting from the village. Gradually we started hearing the sounds of the approaching front, and finally we found ourselves right under the fire of the two sides. The two Russians came to say goodbye and left in a hurry. Antoniowa came running to us and pleaded with us not to leave but to wait. The village was right in the middle of the exchange of fire still going on between the Germans and the Red Army, and she was concerned that we could easily be killed easily after all the effort she made to save our lives.
We were overcome with the burning desire to feel the freedom. We left. We walked towards Pabradzie. The forest was burning on both sides of the road, and we saw boot prints left by the German soldiers. It was a dangerous road to freedom. We made it.
When we saw the first Red Army unit, we felt free. In Pabradzie, we met some Jewish families. We did not stay long, because we were anxious to get to Lyntupy. I remember standing on the outskirts of the town, wearing shabby clothes, and hoping for something good to happen. Part of Lyntupy was destroyed and our house had been burnt down when the front passed through the town. In Lyntupy, we met the few Jews who survived. We met Abram Rein, Basya and Sonia Rudnitski, and their two nieces, the Milikovski sisters. There were a few more.
|Ilana Milikovski Hochbaum in front of the Rein-Tsinman House,
where all survivors gathered together
|The Rein-Tsinman house on Marat Kazey
(formerly Podbrodskaya) Street in Lyntupy, 1999
We went to see Father Pakalinis, the priest who helped us at the moment of extreme danger. My mother did not coach me, she did not have to. I understood quite well I owed my life to him and many other kind people. I buried my face in his kind hands and cried. We visited the mass grave where my two brothers were buried. We did not have even a single photograph of my family members. People who found out about our survival sent us a few pictures of my family.
We lived in Lyntupy for about two years, waiting and hoping that my two wonderful brothers, Monya and Meilach, had survived the war and would come back to us. They never did. We never were able to find out what happened to them. Lyuba Matskin, one of the two Matskin sisters, who went with my brothers in the same group and survived the war, thought that my brothers perished during the heavy bombardment near Smolensk.
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