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The story of my life

Fruma Nir Faimuszewicz

My parents' house

I was born in Vilnius on 13.9.1930 to my parents Betia and Yitzchak Faimuszewicz, and given the name Fruma.

My parents were also born in Vilnius, my father in 1906 and my mother in 1909.

In 1927 my father travelled to Israel. He resided in Hadera and worked in banana planting. We had a photo back home of him with a banana plant on his shoulder. We had a lot of photos in the house that he sent from Israel, including one from a notable rabbi's funeral. He had friends in Israel, and years later, when I came to Israel, I got some of my father's photos from his friends, which is fortunate because nothing was saved from home. There was typhoid fever in the Hadera area and he had to come back, because he was very ill. When he returned to Vilnius he got better and met Betia, my mother, and shortly afterwards they got married in 1929. My sister Hasia was born in 1937.

My grandparents from my father's side were Sonya and Avraham. I didn't get to meet my grandfather Avraham. He died, aged 36, leaving behind my grandmother with seven children, including my father. The eldest was Haim, after him came Nadia, Monic, Yitzchak (my father), Burka, Katia and the youngest Herschel. All of my father's brothers had families of their own.

My father worked in a paint factory which belonged to his mother Sonya, and he basically managed the factory.

My mother's side of the family included eight family members. The parents, Miriam and Mordechai, four girls, Betia the eldest (my mother), Dina, Rivka and Leah, and two boys, Daniel, who was a year younger than my mother and died from a disease in his youth, and Alter the youngest who was born two days after me. My mother and my grandmother were pregnant at the same time, and were embarrassed to be seen together in the streets.

When the youngest son Alter reached Bar Mitzvah at 13, his name was changed to Daniel in memory of his brother.

My mother's parents earned their living from a fabric shop, and as the eldest daughter my mother was in charge of housekeeping.

After my parents got married and raised their family, we were part of quite a big family and we all met at the holidays once at one grandmother's house and once at the other.

We lived in Gaona street no. 8. Our home was a traditional Zionist one. My father was the head of the Mizrahi movement and was also a Hasidic.

Every holiday my father took me to a nearby synagogue. I liked going there. People were always singing and it was very enjoyable.

In the holidays when the whole family gathered together, we were singing, and it was very traditional. I studied in a Jewish public school and all the students there were Jewish. The school was one street away from our house.

In Vilnius there were about 80,000 Jews, and there was a Hebrew gymnasium where both my parents went. When they didn't want us to understand them, they were talking in Hebrew.

I spent time with my friends only at school. We lived in a house with no yard, and I didn't have a place to host my friends and play with them. On vacations I went to my grandmother Sonya, who had a big yard and I had many friends to play with over there.

I really enjoyed staying at my grandmother's. Her house and her garden were very big. So big that it was possible to play hide and seek inside the house.

I didn't spend much time with my sister, because she was seven years younger than me. I remember once some of my relatives came to our school and took me to my grandmother's house. I didn't know that my mother was pregnant, because children weren't told about things like that. I was only told that my father would arrive later, so I didn't ask any questions. When my father later arrived he said: “Congratulations, you have a sister”. Grandmother bought me some new clothes, a coat and a hat with a feather. Since my sister was born on Passover, we spent most of the holiday at my grandmother's house. My mother came home at the end of the holiday.

On weekdays we usually went to Grandma Miriam. At her house I felt very comfortable, as opposed to Grandma Sonya's house where my father always told me to be quiet, because it bothered grandmother. At Miriam's house, there was also my uncle, Danni. We were the same age, so I had a playmate.

All of my friends were Jewish, because almost everyone around us was Jewish. We had some non-Jewish neighbors who during the war came and took things from our house. They thought it was good we would be taken to the ghetto.

My father returned from Israel, as mentioned in 1927, after he became very ill, but he always wanted to go back there. Soon after he recovered he started handling our migration to Israel. In 1936 we already had certificates, we sold the content of our house and everything was packed and ready. Our close family didn't object to us leaving, because they knew my parents wanted it very much. For a reason not known to me, the man in charge of the certificates gave ours to someone else. Therefore we stayed. My parents kept dreaming about leaving, but in 1937 my sister was born and the trip got cancelled again.

My mother was sick a lot and at the age of 16 a vein in her leg burst and the doctors recommended to amputate the leg at the knee. My grandfather asked for consultation from Warsaw and it was decided not to amputate the leg. I remember it looked like a snake with stitches was crawling up her leg. She suffered a lot, but it didn't stop her from managing the house. She kept cooking, baking, embroidering and drawing all the while singing.

Singing was quite common in our home. I remember all sorts of songs that my parents sang in Hebrew and in Russian.

During the First World War my mother lived in Russia, where she had a large family. She used to tell us the story of how her family ended up in Russia in the first place. Her parents decided to leave Vilnius, because the Germans were approaching. At a family gathering with uncles and cousins they took a map and rolled a marble on it. Wherever the marble would stop, they would go. It stopped on the city Orel, so they went there.

My mother spoke Russian fluently and she sang to me in Russian. I vaguely remember a very sad song about a man who sweeps the streets.

Even though my parents used to sing a lot, I never had a singing voice. I think I got my embroidery and knitting skills from my mother. My late daughter, Hagit, was just like that. I always thought about how she inherited wonderful hands from the grandmother she never knew.


Wartime and the Ghetto

In 1939 the Germans invaded Poland. In Lithuania everything was still relatively quiet. We were in a summer camp when the war broke out on the 1st of September 1939. Usually I went to the summer camp with my mother and my sister, and our father came in the weekends.

When it was announced that the war had started our father came right away to take us home.

At the end of 1939 the Lithuanians occupied Vilnius and established several restrictions on the Jews. We were always afraid of them. For us children they looked very big and tall.

Things had changed. We were already accustomed to the Polish people, even though we used to stay clear of their streets on Saturday nights, because they got drunk and it became very dangerous. When the Lithuanians arrived they introduced some changes to our school. For example, we started to learn Lithuanian.

In June 1940 the Russians invaded Vilnius. They captured many Jews and sent the rich ones to Siberia. My grandmother was quite rich and we feared for her, but she managed to avoid capture. Later they took over the factory. My father continued working as the factory's accountant.

We had to both study and work on Saturdays. My father always said: “Never mind, you go to school, take your notebooks, but leave your pencil at home”.

The Germans invaded Vilnius during the summer of 1941. Immediately after it was reported that the Germans were getting close, they entered Vilnius.

As soon as they arrived, the “Actions” began. Jews were caught in the streets and deported. There were posters telling where it was forbidden to walk on the sidewalk, and some streets were banned completely. It seemed that everything was forbidden.

In order to avoid getting deported my father and his brother Hirshl went to Kena near the border to dig peat. They were later joined by Aunt Dina's husband Tuvia. They sent letters and one day my mother decided to go and see them. She asked a gentile (non-Jewish) to take her there with a cart. She dressed as a gentile with a big scarf on her head and he took her to Kena where managed to see my father. While my mother was away the big “Action” called the “Provocation” took place in our city. A rumor had spread that a Jew had killed a German and on the 6th of September the Gestapo went from house to house and captured thousands of Jews who were taken to Ponar outside Vilnius and killed at a mass execution.

My aunt Rivka stayed with me and my sister and through that terrible day and night we hid under the bed, but luckily the Gestapo didn't find the entrance to our house. The next day Dina came to take us to my grandparent's house and that is where my mother found us.

After that the Germans gave order that all the Jews were to move to two ghettos. Our house was very close to the small ghetto. Part of Gaona Street was inside the ghetto and the other part was outside. Our house was just outside the ghetto, but since all of our family went into the big ghetto we went there with our mother.

We heard that on ”Rosh Hashanah” all the workers from Kena were captured and executed, among them my father and two uncles. Someone succeeded to escape from there and came to the hospital in the ghetto where he told what happened.

After the war a memorial was placed over there. Years later I met someone who showed me a picture of himself next to the memorial and he said he would give me the photo.

After my mother arrived we lived together with my grandparents, aunts and Danni in the ghetto on Zawalna Street. There was a Jewish hospital in the ghetto area, where Aunt Dina worked as a nurse. At some point people with an occupation and also the nurses at the hospital received a yellow document which allowed them to register an entire family. This document was called “the document of life”, because it made you safe from deportation. Dina gave the document to my mother who was the eldest of the sisters. My mother also worked at the hospital, but she wasn't a certified nurse, she was only a nurse's aide, so she could not get the yellow document by herself.

My mother registered her sister Leah, who was just 5 years older than me, her younger brother Danni, me and my sister as her children. Aunt Rivka was registered as her friends' wife and stayed with him. Dina who was too close to my mother's age to be registered as her child went into hiding with my grandparents, so they wouldn't be left alone.

While staying in the ghetto I kept on going to school and my sister went to kindergarten. The ghetto had a theatre and a library with a huge book collection which the Germans knew about.

A cousin of my mother who was a professor in philosophy worked at a library outside the ghetto. Each time he came back he brought books from there. One day he and his wife along with their five children were caught and deported during an “Action”, but the German's kept him alive until 1944, because he knew many languages and could translate books into German.

In one of the ”Actions” my grandparents, Mordechai and Miriam were also captured.

They had hidden in an attic along with my aunt Dina.

While they were led to prison they went between two trucks and my grandmother tore off the yellow patch with the Star of David from Dina's coat and said to her: “Run!! You are still young - at least you'll survive”. She pushed her aside and Dina fell down. She wanted to run after her parents, but a gentile who had seen and heard it all stopped her and told her to save herself, so she went back to the ghetto. From then she took the responsibilities as the head of the family. We learned later that my grandparents were shot in Ponar. It was in the first week of November 1941.

Grandmother Sonya, together with aunts and uncles, were taken to Estonia. I think it was close to the time of the liquidation of the small ghetto, which was mainly populated by people who lived nearby. During October 1941 there were three “Actions” and the Germans killed everyone from the small ghetto. We were saved because we moved to the big ghetto at the time, even though the small ghetto was closer to our house.

In the year 1942 we were still in the large Ghetto. The Judenrat (a Jewish public committee who conveyed the German orders to the Jews in the ghetto) arranged the school system within the ghetto. The children were undernourished since there was hardly anything to eat. When we came to school, and the small children to kindergarten, the teachers gave us a glass of water with yeast. It was disgusting. Those who had official certificates were given food rations according to the number of registered family members, but they were also “starvation” rations. We lived with three other families in one small flat.

Every once in a while there were “Actions” and there were less and less people left in the Ghetto after each “Action”. Those who worked outside the Ghetto managed to bring some food back home. My aunt Leah was one of them. I remember how she made a skirt with tubes and filled them with flour and potatoes and wore it under her coat. There were Jewish guards in the Ghetto, the Jewish police, and they sometimes detained people and took the food they were smuggling, so it was very dangerous.

My mother brought some food home with her when she worked in the hospital.

During that time I got very ill with tuberculosis. I stayed in the hospital where my mother and Dina took care of me until I was better.

My aunt Rivka wanted to help the family and went to work gathering potatoes that had fallen under the train wagons at the train station. Suddenly, without warning the locomotive started up and the train moved. The women, who were under the wagons, were run over by the moving train and were seriously injured. They were rushed to the hospital in the ghetto and there were rumors that three of them were critically injured, and that aunt Rivka was one of them. Rivka did not want the family to know, as she was in a very bad condition. Both her legs had been cut off. The doctors tried to save her, but she died during the night– it was in May 1942.

There were also “Actions” in the ghetto where we lived. The German soldiers suddenly filled the streets of the ghetto and the rumor spread like fire. Those who had official certificates had some kind of insurance, but sometimes even people with certificates were taken by the Germans. Those who did not have certificates had to hide, fearing eviction in case they were found. We feared for our life from the moment we went out of our house until we returned. We weren't always sure that we would get home safely. In addition to the constant fear of the “Actions” there was a constant hunger as we hardly had anything to eat. Things got worse as time passed. We stayed in the ghetto until September 24th, 1943 when the Ghetto was demolished.


The demolition of the Vilnius Ghetto and the concentration camps

At the end of September 1943, the actions to demolish the ghetto had begun. The S.S. and the Lithuanian police surrounded the ghetto and brought everyone out into the streets. They gathered everyone in the main square and led us, thousands of people, in a long convoy outside the city to the monastery valley called Rosa, which was surrounded by hills.

All the people were assembled inside the valley, while the S.S. people, armed with machine guns, were lined-up on the hills around the valley. We were still together: me, my mother, sister, uncle and two aunts. We spent the night in the valley and throughout the entire night people kept arriving from the ghetto. Some tried to hide, but they had all been found. There were also informers within the ghetto, so people didn't even trust their own family.

We lay there the entire night and when we woke up in the morning we saw that the Germans and the Lithuanians with machine guns had surrounded us. We were ordered to line-up in rows, and we were led towards a gate, where a selection took place: women with small children went to the left, and women who could work and be useful went to the right.

My mother went ahead with my sister, who was 7 years old, and I saw she turned left, but Aunt Dina grabbed me and dragged me to the right. I wanted to join my mother so I started to scream, but Dina held me tight and told me to shut up. After I had calmed down, my mother and sister had already vanished and I never saw them again.

My aunt said I could work. I was only 13 years old, and I was short and slim, but she dressed me up in a woman's dress and put a towel on my chest. I was given shoes with heels and blusher on my cheeks in order to make me look older. Also my uncle Danni was dressed up as a woman and went with us. We were led to a train and on the way we saw five men hanged on gallows. They were men from the resistance who had been captured in the ghetto.

The guards ordered us to board the train while pushing, shouting and hitting us with the shafts of their guns. The train wagons were awfully crowded and were locked from the outside. Inside the wagon it was very dark. People were falling on top of each other while shouting in search of relatives. We travelled in these conditions for 2-3 days, I don't know how many, and without food or water. There were a few stops on the way and once in a while people jumped from the windows and tried to escape but I don't think many of them made it, because the guards shot them. A lot of people suffocated and died on the way.

When the train finally stopped and the doors were opened, we went outside and noticed that we were in a forest. We were escorted through the forest until we arrived at a large camp consisting of sheds and encircled by a tall barbed-wire fence. It was the Kaiserwald Camp near Riga in Latvia.

Danni, the uncle who was my age, came in the women's group along with us dressed as a woman. But when we got there, we saw there were also men in the camp. Danni managed to join the men's group, and he was “taken in” by a man named Haim who had a child at the same age, and he kept him safe for almost the entire duration of the war. (After the war Haim married Aunt Dina and came with her to Israel.)

At the camp entrance we were ordered to leave all of our belongings. Then we were led in groups into a big shed. We received striped uniforms and were escorted to the showers, men and women separately. After having showered we were divided into groups of about 50 women, and each group was put in a different shed.

In the camp there were also children who like me had managed to evade the selection, and got here with their parents or other relatives. While the adults went out to work the children hid inside the sheds. The Germans noticed that there were a lot of children in the camp and announced that the children would be given light-work duties. As a result a battery producing workshop was established. I worked there for a few days, but Dina said that she didn't trust the Germans and it would be safer to work with the adults outside the camp.

Before we started working outside the camp, our heads were shaved, men and women alike. The women received white head scarves, and the men were shaved leaving a line in the middle of the scull for distinction purposes in order to prevent people from escaping. We also had numbers sewn on to the front and back of our uniforms.

Work outside camp was very hard. There were “mountains” of sand and our job was to fill trolleys with sand and push them to another place. Those who worked with me had an even harder job as they had to do part of my job, too. We were a group of four women, my aunts Dina and Lea, another woman and I. One day during work a German guard approached me and asked how old I was. I told him I was seventeen even though I was only thirteen and looked more like an eight- year-old. It was obvious that he didn't believe me, and he asked why a young girl like me should work so hard. I told him I didn't have a choice and luckily he pretended to believe me, and I could go on with my work. There was another guard who once brought us something to eat, but that was really rare.

Being with my aunts saved my life more than once. Occasionally I had a bad conscience for not going with my mother and sister. Today I know that all those who went left were taken to the death camp Sobibor. We didn't know that then. We thought they were taken to Ponar, but only the sick and old evicted from the hospital were taken to Ponar.

Every morning, before going out to work, we had to stand in line for block inspection and occasionally there was a general inspection for the whole camp meant for selection. Women were standing in rows and the guards passed by, taking out those who didn't seem fit for work or every fourth or fifth woman just in order to have enough women for transport. We didn't know where the transports were going, but everybody tried to avoid being chosen for transport and stay in the camp where the number of women were rapidly decreasing.

Sometimes groups of women were taken for special jobs. One day one of the guards inspecting the rows asked me if I knew how to shave? I did not know whether it was a tricky question, so I replied that I could try. The German guard kept asking more women and once they had enough, they took us to a factory where we had to cut cabbage. You didn't have to be a barber for that, but it was an easier job.

In the hut where we slept there were wooden beds called “pritza”. Four women were sleeping on each pallet, Dina, Leah and I. I don't remember who my fourth “pritza-neighbor” was. When I came to Israel I met a woman who asked me if I remembered that we used to sleep on the same “pritza”. Women were telling jokes and singing in the evenings. There was a woman - I think her name was Hayale Rosenthal - she was a singer before the war. She was singing Yiddish songs and the others joined her, a way to pass time.

Dina was a member of the “HaMizrahi” youth movement before the war started. She was a Zionist and kept saying: “If we survive the war and after all this is over, we are going to go to Israel”. All those years in the ghetto, in the camps, where ever we were, she always believed that somehow one day we would get to the Land of Israel.

We stayed thirteen months in Keizerwald Camp, and we were among the last in the camp.

In September 1944 we were led to somewhere close to the sea. We were loaded on a cargo boat heading from Riga to Danzig. We sailed for two weeks in horrible, hard conditions. The sea was rough and we were squashed inside the boat like cows, climbing one on the other without water and unable to go out on deck.

Only part of the passengers made it alive to Danzig. Most choked and died of hunger and thirst during this horrific journey. After arriving in Danzig we went off the ship and we then sailed on rafts on the River Wisla for a day or so. We came to a place from there we had to walk on foot to Stutthof Concentration Camp. This camp was nothing like what we had known until then. It was surrounded by a tall electrical fence and with guarding towers every few dozen meters. Unlike the labor camps we had been in in the past, this was an extermination camp. The extermination was done in gas chambers and the dead bodies were taken out and burned in ovens or on piles of wood when the capacity of the ovens wasn't sufficient. We could not see all this when we arrived in camp, but once we were inside, we saw the chimneys and with the addition of rumors it was all clear to everyone. Just before we arrived in Stuthof all the children had been moved to other camps or exterminated. Hungarian women who came on a transport from Auschwitz were already there when we arrived - most of them were in very bad condition. Those in better shape functioned as “Blockelteste” (in charge) and they were very cruel to us. The little food we got was served on heavy plates. We got filthy soup with a small piece of bread. I remember I was once sent to fetch the plates from the “pritzas” (sleeping pallets). I was told to bring them to the serving spot. The plates were too heavy for me and I dropped a few and broke them. One of the “Blockelteste” came up to me and she smacked me so hard on the ear that I couldn't hear for almost a month. We did not understand their language, so it was almost impossible to communicate with them. They only spoke Hungarian so we learned a few basic words.

Danni was in the men's camp for the first few months. We sometimes saw him through the fence and Dina now and then found a way to throw a little food over the fence when nobody saw. Later on he left the camp to work with other prisoners in Danzig. We later found out he was staying at a sub-camp to Stutthof called Burggraben.

Stutthof was not a labor camp and we did nothing except for going out for inspection. Every time some of the women collapsed during the inspection and were left there to die. The hygienic conditions were very poor and before long a typhoid plague broke out and killed many. We slept on the floor and when we woke up in the mornings there were dead bodies of women who had died during the night all around us. The bodies were taken out of the block, left in piles to be burned later. We got typhoid as well and Aunt Dina, who worked as a nurse in the camp, did her best to take care of us, mostly by supplying extra food. When the woman in charge of our block got sick Aunt Dina took care of her. We benefited from that by getting a different attitude from her. She arranged for a small room for the three of us, Dina, Lea and me which was apart from the rest of the women in the block. Dina was the first of us to get sick as she was exposed to the sick women she was treating. The same “Blockelteste” then brought us some food and water. Dina was also the first to recover and was the main reason we recovered.

Together with us there were many Polish people. Talking to them we found out they were exiled from Warsaw after the Polish rebellion there.

In the beginning of 1945 they started taking people out of Stutthof and sent them by foot in the direction of Germany. Already then there were rumors of the Red Army approaching along the Baltic coast line into Germany. When the Russian army finally arrived in Stutthof they started sending women onto the roads to Germany. We stayed until the last stages of evacuation. There was a German political prisoner in the camp who once in a while came to help us. He told us we should leave the camp if we were able to stand on our feet. He said the Germans would exterminate those who remained in the camp in order to leave nothing and nobody behind. The will to live is so strong you find powers to do things that seem impossible. We used what strength we had left and on January 25th,1945 we exited the gates of Stutthof.

We started a long and frightful journey. Most of the women were in some stage of illness or had just recovered from one. We were exhausted, suffered from starvation and were very weak. The Germans rushed us in the direction of the Baltic shore in the melting muddy snow, some of us without proper clothes or even shoes. The possibility of survival was very low. For most of us it was the final journey, the Death March.

We came to the camp called Burggraben which we later called Juden-begraben, because those who got in never came out. Danni had already left. Since the camp was full we had to go on with our march escorted by the German guards. There were other small camps on the way, most of them full of prisoners who had arrived before us. A few of us were put into those camps, mostly those who were falling behind while the rest of us moved on towards the next camp. We walked in rows of four or five across the road, like in a parade. There were only few guards watching us. We were a kind of insurance for them as they wouldn't be sent to the front as long as they were guarding us. Some of them changed their attitude to the prisoners. Often some of them would simply shoot those not moving fast enough, while others tried to help us. This march went on for over a month, day and night. We had short night stops in the forests or in the fields along the road. Our food was sugar beet we found in the fields.

On our journey we stopped one day at a small camp called Gothendorf, where we met some people from our stay in Riga. Uncle Danni was one of them which felt like a miracle. He had arrived there some time before us with the men. There was an isolation room for sick people in this camp and Aunt Dina went to work there so she could help us a little. We hardly got any food just one loaf of bread for ten women once in two days and a little disgusting liquid they called soup. When the food was distributed terrible fights broke out over a few crumbs and the guards did nothing to stop them. Dina sent a little soup to us from the isolation room asking some girl to bring it. We were there for almost three weeks and soon noticed we got only water. We later discovered that the girl used to take out the small pieces of potato, kind of charging us for the delivery. After that we went to get the soup ourselves.

It was a very hard period. The camp was extremely crowded with insufficient food, so we were always hungry. In the camp there was no real authority anymore. It was a German army camp deserted by the retreating German army. Our guards tried to keep some order in the camp fearing being sent to the front which was very close by now.

One day we were told to leave the camp. The men and the women were separated and we again had to part from Danni who by then was very ill with typhus. On the way we passed through villages. The villagers stood on the side of the roads or in the fields, staring at us and sometimes throwing food. People fought to get to the bread, sometimes in danger of their life. We walked in the forest that day and night. At night we lost contact with part of the group as some walked faster whereas we were barely able to walk at all. We could hear the shootings from the front which was very close by then. We could have run away, but we didn't know where to, we were so naïve. That night we “lost” our German guards. We saw people walking in the other direction and there was chaos and confusion. We stopped trucks passing us and asked them to send the guards to us, should they meet them on the road. In the morning people gathered from all directions, including the German guards.

We passed through a beautiful village called Chinow. People stood in the doorways staring at us. There was a Ukrainian man - probably one of those who were deported there - who shouted: “Where are you going? Stalin has not prepared your lunch yet!”

We were led into a huge barn just outside the village and somebody told us we were going to get food. There were Russian prisoners of war and many people like us. Among hundreds of people all we found Danni who was very ill and with him Haim, who later got married to Aunt Dina. The German guards said they were going to get us food, but through the cracks in the walls we could see they were smearing tar on the outside walls of the barn. The original plan was to lead us to the sea and drown us, but the plans were changed when they understood the Russian army was approaching and they therefore decided to burn all of us in the barn. When people saw the guards smearing the tar on the barn walls they immediately figured out what was about to happen, and there were screaming, shouting and chaos everywhere.

With united force the doors were forced open from the inside and outside we saw trucks and tanks. The Russian troops had arrived and a shooting fight started. People started running towards the tanks and trucks and were almost run over. The Germans tried to run away, but were shot or taken as prisoners.

It was at noon on Saturday, March 10th, 1945 that we were liberated by the Russian army.


The Liberation, Transition period and Aliya to Israel

When we came back to the village there was not a living soul left there. We entered the houses and found some clothes, but most important food, which we did not have for a long time. People fell on the food like animals, eating too much too fast. Many got sick and some even died. Still, people were hunting for food and it was quite dangerous to be carrying food. We stayed in the village for a few days until we partly recovered from what we had gone through during the previous months.

The Russian soldiers who had liberated us moved on to other military missions. Among them was a Jewish soldier from Kiev who knew an eye doctor from my mother's side of the family. He told us he knew our family back in Kiev. From that town we moved to Lenz and then to Lauenburg and Mlawa near Bialystok.

The Russians started gathering abandoned property, even cows, in order to take them to Russia. They used all the refugees for that purpose. Men were taken to work at the flour mill while women and children had to lead the cows from Germany to Russia. The Russian soldiers had been away from home at war for years and were “hungry” for women. They wanted to rape some of the women refugees and when the women resisted the soldiers were very cruel to us and didn't give us enough food. I remember incidents where they came and simply turned over the milk buckets while we milked the cows. We lead the cows from May until October that year.

In October we came to Tilsit. We met with a Jewish captain who served in one of the offices there. My aunts told him we were children who should go back to school after missing so much due to the war and that we wanted to go back to Vilnius. With his help we got back to Vilnius in November. We stayed there for a month in my mother's parents' house. The guardian of the house let us in, but we felt very unwelcome. He did not want to give back the house and the property which he had taken hold of. We started to walk around in Vilnius and went to an office where they registered all the Jews who came back from Germany and Russia. We went to see my grandmother's house. Our house was a private one in Gaona Street. The house was in ruins with only the outer wall standing still bearing the name plate “Faimuszewicz – Gaona 8”. When the war started my father hid all the silver- and gold in the stove. He showed me where he hid it, and told me to look for it should I survive the war. But now everything was burnt and ruined. It was very hard for me to see the house I grew up in in that state and I didn't even want to walk passed it again after that day.

We met some Jews who told Aunt Dina that there was an orphanage where she could put me. I heard the word orphanage and started screaming that I wouldn't go there, no matter what. Dina reassured me, that having survived the war and the death march she had no intentions of putting me in an orphanage. One evening, when we stayed with the gentile who had moved into my grandparents' house, there was a knock on the door. The war was over but there was still no electricity so we sat in the dark and were frightened by the noise. Finally we opened the door. A man stood there saying he had heard that people from the Faimuszewicz family, his family too, were in the house. Once he introduced himself and I saw him, I remembered him. He was my aunt's brother. She perished in the other ghetto. He told us he had been in Russia during the war and lost both legs. He was walking with crutches and it scared me seeing him like that. He asked about his sister and her husband. I told him they both perished in the other ghetto in the beginning of the war. He left after sitting with us for a short while. I never saw him again. He had a brother who lived in Israel. The brother came to visit us in Vilnius in 1938. His family lived one floor above our family. When I came to Israel I searched for the brother and his family but did not manage to find them.

Due to security considerations we decided to move to Poland as it was unsafe to stay in Vilnius. With help from Haim, Dina's future husband, we moved to Lodz. It cost a lot of money since it was impossible to cross the border into Poland legally. We arrived in Lodz in December 1945. For a while I stayed with my aunts Dina and Lea. Dina married Haim and they lived together. I attended a Hebrew school in Lodz together with my uncle Danni.

There were many children without families. They were joined in kibbutz training groups. In order to ease the economic burden on my aunts, Danni and I joined this group located at Kilinskiego Street, 49. In the morning we went to school and after school we joined the kibbutz group. The group leaders took care of food, activities and our social life. New children kept coming to those kibbutz groups. Some of them had been staying in the forests for most of the war. Others were hidden by gentile families or in Christian monasteries. After a short while we could go with the group leaders to meet the new children at the train station. Alongside us, there was a group of young people aged eighteen to twenty. We were thirteen to fifteen years old in our group, so they seemed very old to us.

Once in a while kibbutz delegates from Israel came to visit us. I remember one of their visits on TuBishvat and they brought us dried fruit. We had a social life, but it was still very hard, because we really started to miss the family we had lost. The war was over but still we heard of a pogrom in Kielce in July 1946. The funeral was in Lodz and thousands of Jews participated. Afterwards the Polish threw stones they grabbed someone and hit him. There was a feeling of restlessness even though the adults and the leaders did their best to look out for us. Those were actually the times when we started realizing and understanding what we have been through. The adults tried very hard to keep us busy with activities like dancing and singing, but there were also tears.

Some of our group members are now kibbutz members here in Maanit, and when we sit together we talk about those times, about what pranks the boys and girls and the girls did to each other. There were different practical jokes. The girls stitched together the boys' trousers so they couldn't wear them in the morning. The boys put pieces of paper between the girls' toes and lit them, which always resulted in burns. The boys peeped when the girls were dressing and undressing, but were told that only years later. The food was very bad, in spite of the efforts, and when it became really inedible we arranged our plates in a row and started a demonstration.

I remember we went with the kibbutz group from Lodz to Stettin in the north of Poland. On May 1st there was a parade and we participated, walking in the streets. After the parade we took care to stay indoors, as the Polish tended to abuse the Jews.

From there our group went to Jordenbad. We were there for about half a year. Life was good in Jordenbad and the place used to be a summer resort near the woods. People said Hitler stayed there in 1933. The place was maintained by nuns who took very good care of us, it felt like on a summer camp. There was an incident with some French people attacking us. It was a French territory and seeing we were Jews one of them shot one of the boys with a hunting gun and hurt him badly.

Danni and I wanted to visit Leah and Dina who now lived in Heidenheim. I asked our group leaders for permission to go, but they said no. I told them that we then would leave the group, because it was such a long time since I last saw my aunts and they were all the family we had left. Together with Danni, I went to Heidenheim and stayed with my small family for a short time. When we got back our group had in the meantime moved to Rosenheim. They called a meeting where they decided to accept me back in the group, but they did not accept Danni, so he went back to his sisters. We stayed in Rosenheim during the winter.

In early 1947 our group went to Lindenfels. It was a gathering place for children from all youth movements waiting to immigrate to Palestine. When our time finally came we went on trucks to the French border. The trucks were closed, covered with canvas. They told us we were undercover as Greek group. Arriving at the border, the trucks came to a halt and we could hear dogs barking. We were told to keep very quiet. Travelling with us were some grown-ups who paid for being helped across the border. They took our seats and we had to stand up all the way. The air was dense due to the canvas cover, so we made small breathing holes in the canvas, because it was too dangerous to put up the cover. The war was over, but it was illegal to cross the border like that.

We drove to Salon in the south of France. They took us to the port where we boarded the ship “Theodor Herzl” in order to go to “Eretz Israel”. It was a big ship with room for all of us, about 2500 children and youth. We were at sea for three weeks, also during Passover, because I remember we had Matzos. Every time we heard an airplane or saw a vessel getting close we had to hide below deck. The conditions onboard were hard and at times the sea was rough and people got seasick. When we came close to the shores of “Eretz Israel” a British patrol airplane discovered us. It was not long before two British destroyers escorted us into Haifa Port. The British soldiers urged us to get off the ship and get on British ships waiting there. People from the Jewish Agency boarded the ship and brought us food. We refused to get off and the British soldiers started shooting from all sides. A real battle started and we were later told that this was the first ship arriving from Europe where the passengers fought the British. Only after three Jews were killed and more were wounded the soldiers let them be carried off the ship. The Pal Mach people who were on the ship went off too and a new quite cruel fight started. From aboard the ship we threw cans of food and bottles on the soldiers and they used water hoses and tear gas. In the end we had no choice but to surrender. They moved us onto the British destroyers (we could only see the Promised Land from afar) and took us to Cyprus.

We arrived in Cyprus in April 1947. First we stayed in camp 68 and then were moved to camp 65. It was a youth camp with guides and teachers from Israel and other immigrants like us. On Friday evenings we welcomed the Sabbath, we had parties and we celebrated the Jewish holidays. The camp was surrounded with a fence and guards so we couldn't go out. One time, however, they took us on a trip to the beach escorted by armored cars, one in front and one behind us. Each camp had running water for two hours a day and if we missed it, we had to go to another camp to shower. We cooked our own meals and washed our clothes. The guides and teachers from Israel who were in charge of us, were also teaching us and telling about Israel, showing us pictures and performing plays. We had a special visit from Golda Meir where everyone gathered and she made a speech.

There was a power struggle between the “Hashomer Hatzair” people in our camp and the Revisionist people in the neighboring camp 46. I remember they caught Moni Alon from kibbutz Hazorea and beat him up. In response our people went into their meeting place and made a mess there. There was some tension between the groups of different ideology in spite of the common goal – Aliya to Eretz Israel. The guides and teachers did their best under the circumstances to keep a normal atmosphere and preparing us for “Aliya”. Close to camp 68, there was the babies' house and a football field. When the boys played the girls came to watch.

I met Dov, my future husband, already in the children house in Lodz and we were on the same ship to Cyprus, but in Cyprus we became friends and took long walks along the fences.

Towards the end of November 1947 we heard about the United Nation's resolution to let the Jews build their homeland in Israel. We had a big celebration with singing and dancing.

In December 1947 it was announced that the children were going to leave Cyprus.

We boarded the ship Kedma and sailed to the shore of Atlit. We stayed in the internment camps in Cyprus for eight months.


Life in Israel and Kibbutz Maanit

We stayed in the immigrant camp in Atlit for three weeks. The War of Independence had started before that, so we arrived into a new war.

We had three options to choose from as our new kibbutz home: Shaar Hagolan, Shaar Haamakim and Maanit.

We were told that in Maanit, the factory Galam produced “halva”, so we decided to go there.

We arrived five years after the kibbutz was founded. We took the bus from Atlit, the war had already started and it was really dangerous to travel on the road between Atlit and Maanit. We found a very poor looking settlement with everything still exposed without trees. We entered the dining room, where we were welcomed by some kibbutz members. We were impressed and very much wanted to finally find a home after all these years. We were told to wait and the members brought us tea, bread and jam. We sat outside the dining room for the next few hours, until a woman named Sluva came. She said we had to wait a little longer while they can arrange a place for us. They knew we were coming, but they did not find the time to prepare it in advance. They arranged a place for us in what was then the library. Mattresses were put on the floor and we spent our first night there. Little by little there were arranged other things like more permanent housing.

Then we could start the time of our youth. Since there was war the boys worked all day mostly digging trenches and serving as messengers linking the men in the trenches.

The children were evacuated to Pardes Hannah and we started studying in Oren's Classroom (today Beit Rakefet ).The teachers were Shmuel Frenkel and Mordi Lavi and Sarah Menachem was our “metapelet”. We worked at various jobs after school. Some worked in the wood with Shmuel Maayan and Aaron Harel helping planting the trees. Some worked in the apples orchards. I worked a lot in the vegetable garden. There were several armed attacks where we had to run off the road.

About school - there were two levels: there were some guys who were scholars and studied a lot by themselves - Pinchas, Benjamin, and Dov, and there were a few who knew a little Hebrew and others - I included – who knew less. Mordi was adamant about us speaking in Hebrew only. We used to pass his house, where the archives are located today, and spoke Hebrew in case he would hear. Times were very hard, because we had no families. Most of us were orphans. There was another group of young people who had arrived in the kibbutz before us (they moved to kibbutz Revadim later) and we became good friends with them, because we were about the same age. They arrived first and were treated better than us. Maybe it was difficult for some of the members to treat both groups equally. We ended the school year in 1948 and became a “Garin”. Later an additional group called Elal arrived in Maanit.

There were armed attacks now and then, but the next evening we were dancing and we tried to have fun. We continued to work - I worked in the vegetables garden with Ushi Ram, Simon Abel, Yitzchak Noyvirt and Rina Ivri. I remember that one time I wanted to go visit my aunts and I had nothing to wear, so Rina offered me her dress which was in fact too short for me. It was pink with dots.

We sometimes had a day off and we received two Israeli pounds for the bus to visit the family. Not everyone had a family, but everyone found somewhere to go, the main thing was to have a day off. We would also buy chocolate for that money.

Both my aunts had already arrived in Israel. Leah and Danni arrived on the “Exodus” and when Dina came, she was somewhere near Hadera. We used to go visiting them.

Later they all moved to live in Haifa. I remember once before going to Haifa, Rachel Ziontz said to me: “You're going to Haifa - I have an aunt in Haifa. She lives Kiryat-Haim.” The trip from Haifa to Kiryat-Haim was quite long, but she also told me that her aunt was from Vilnius. I went there together with Dov (we were not married, but we were friends), and she asked me: “Who are you?” I answered: “Fajmuszewicz.” “What? Is Herschel a relative of yours?” “Yes, that's my father's brother”. She took out a photo of him and gave it to me, and she told me that he used to be her friend.” Just because of a coincidence I found a connection to one of my relatives. That's how I collected pictures of family through friends of my parents, especially with help from my aunts, who knew more people than me. Once in a while my aunts took me somewhere to meet someone, another connection to a family member.

Life in the youth group “Nitzanim” was all in all not bad.

Dov and I had started being friends in Cyprus, where we walked along the fences. When we arrived in the kibbutz the relationship developed little by little. In 1950 it was decided in that he would go studying teaching. Before that he had worked with children, and had always been guiding at summer camps. After the decision at the kibbutz meeting, he came to me and said: “Let's get married”.

Meanwhile his parents had also come to Israel and were staying in Pardes-Hannah (his father Simcha, his stepmother Sabina and their daughter Masia). They were in an immigrant camp, where the kibbutz children also stayed later during the evacuation. We used to go visit them there, in the harsh conditions in which they lived - a lot of people in a crowded room, until they moved to a place of their own.

We decided to get married. Miriam and Natan Gvirtz decided to get married too. The wedding took place in the dining room and the members and our friends had prepared the entertainment. The family and friends we were working with – Dov in construction and I in the vegetable garden at the time - brought wedding presents. It was the first wedding in our group.

Dov started his studies and came home once in two weeks on Friday nights and on Saturday night or early Sunday morning he returned to “Oranim” where he studied.

There were twenty girls in his class, but I wasn't jealous. When I came to see him girls were standing outside and said to me “Dov is waiting for you”. Before my first visit they did not believe he was married. He studied for three years until 1953 and it was quite a difficult time.

In 1952 Yitzchak (Itzu) was born and named after my father. I remember we had an argument about the name. I immediately wanted it to be Yitzchak, but Dov suggested something else, and his father said he had a few suggestions, but I said that my father's name came first.

Yitzchak was sick a lot, and every time he got fever cramps. We had no family in the kibbutz, but there was Mania Nisani who was really devoted to taking care of the babies and she helped a lot, until she gave birth to her own son Yaron, who was born a few months after Yitzchak. The babies lived in the stone building near the eucalyptus, four babies in a room. The house was full of babies crying a lot. It was very difficult.

The parents were not allowed to go visit them and in the evening no one was there until the woman with the night guarding shift would come. From a distance we could hear the babies screaming. One day Dov came home and Yitzchak had a very high fever, so he stayed at home. We lived in the “train hut” opposite the babies. The “train hut” contained 11 rooms - three regular rooms in the middle and four small rooms at each end one of which was ours. Suddenly I heard a cry and I looked and our baby was completely cramped and his eyes rolled back. Barefoot in the middle of winter, Dov ran with him wrapped in a blanket to Genia, the kibbutz nurse. As we entered, he quickly laid Yitzchak down on the bed, and when Genia saw how he looked she asked her husband Lolek to hurry and heat some water. He brought two bowls, one with hot water and the other with cold water. Genia measured Yitzchak's temperature and it was over forty degrees, so she gave him medicine and cold/hot bath. This incident repeated itself about three times within a very short time and it was very scary as we were young and inexperienced parents. We were afraid that other children would be infected too, but it was all right.

After Dov finished his studies we lived in a hut next to the dining room. I had by then started working in a children's house with 12 toddlers together with Sarah Sofer. There were normally six children in a group and mine was later called “Shalhevet”. Later I worked with six other children, part of the group “Dror” and then in the kindergarten together with Raya Sade. When the “Dror” group started in the first grade I worked as a “metapelet” with the teacher Yitzchak Perry for six years, and one year in Mevo'ot Eiron” high school when there were in the seventh grade.

After that I worked for a while in the Galam's packing house. Then Sarah Sofer came to me and asked me to join her with group “Hatzav”. At first I did not really want to, but eventually I worked with them for seven years. When they started high school I woke them up in the morning and waited for them until they came back from school. I was taking care of the house, cleaning and arranging things, and taking care of all their needs.

Towards the end of that period I was invited to study cosmetics. I was then fifty years old. The course took place in Tel – Aviv. I combined my studies with work in education. I studied two days a week. I remembered that when my parents were in Russia, during World War I, they had a large family there. One of the aunts was engaged in making creams and cosmetics, and she taught my mother. My mother was very talented in all fields. It seems that Hagit inherited all that from my mother. I really like my work, I feel good about it and I have been working with it since the beginning of the eighties.

Yitzchak went easily through primary and high school and after his regular army service he took officers course during his reserve service. After a few years of working in agriculture (Bananas plantations and in charge of the irrigation system) he studied engineering at the Ruppin Academic Center. For years he's now been working in Galam - most of the time in computers. Yitzchak married Inge who came to the kibbutz as a Danish volunteer - and they are both members of the kibbutz. Inge was an English teacher for 10 years and when she decided to quit, she started working in Galam, first in Export / Import and today at the purchasing department. They have four children - Avi, Daniel, Miri and Amos.

Ofer was born four years after Yitzchak in 1956. We decided not to name him after anybody, because we wanted a break away from memories and having to pick a name out of those who did not survive. We wanted a modern name. Ofer had a difficult time in school, but after serving the army he studied to be teacher in Physical Education and has worked in that profession for years. He played volleyball and was on the Israeli national team. Ofer married Yaffa who came to the kibbutz in a youth group and they have three children – Tal, Yuval and Peleg. Ofer and Yaffa left Maanit in 1991 and worked as a teacher and a nurse in a few other kibbutzim. After about 10 years they returned to Maanit and rented a house here.

Six years after Ofer, Hagit was born, but before Hagit I had a premature birth, in the sixth month, and I then met my friend Shoshana who was in the same situation as I. Since then we have become very good friends. One year after the incident, and after we consulted a doctor who said there was no problem with me having another baby, I conceived Hagit. She was crying a lot as a baby, but also laughing, and she had a catching laugh that made you join her. She grew up and had some difficulties in school. She did not want to study. She was very gifted, and the teachers suggested she should go to the School of Technology. She had a very nice teacher and when we asked him how Hagit was doing with her studies, he would say: “I wish I had a lot of pupils like her”. She learned what she wanted, a little of everything: sewing, typing, home economics, literature and mathematics. She stayed at the high school dormitory and she was happy socially. When she graduated, she joined the army where she continued to study (English). Her commanders were very pleased with her. When she moved to Rehovot, she studied making jewelry and English. She met Jacky in the army in Beer - Sheva, and they moved in together at his grandparent's house in Rehovot. She continued to work and study after they got married. She was sewing, embroidering and cooking and kept her house like a model home. Two boys were born, Alon and two years later Ofir. That is when she found out she had cancer. We passed a period of five and a half very difficult years while she was ill.

She was talking about the disease, and was very confident she would recover. She tried all sorts of treatments and healing and everything there was and believed she would defeat the cancer. Finally, when the cancer spread to her liver, she knew that nothing would help. Jacky was great during her illness and took good care of her. Hagit died in 1995 only 32 years old.

When Hagit was eight years old our youngest daughter Yael was born. I was forty years old. A girl once said to me: “I know what it is to have an old mother - poor Yael!” Yael never gives me the feeling that the age difference is a problem.

Dov and I went abroad for six weeks when she was six years old. She could not ride a bike or swim, and Yitzchak, who was eighteen when she was born, was in the army. He took care of her in the afternoons and taught her to swim which came as a surprise to us when we returned.

We used to go to the theatre and concerts and the children were staying with friends in the afternoon and would sleep in the children houses at night, so there were no problems with baby-sitting. With Yael we had a problem - she came home to us at night. Once we had visitors from the United States and I told her: “Yael, we have no extra blankets, so please stay in the children's house tonight”. That night she came home carrying a blanket ... She always brought her shoes and clothes with her for the morning.

Raising the children was not an easy period, but at the same time the children were happy and grew up all right. When I ask them today all of my children say they had a good time staying in the children house in the so-called “collective education”. But even so, they were sometimes crying and afraid and that was hard for me.

We did not know anything better. We tried to give the children everything, so they would be happy. The same Yael, who used to come home at night, just waiting for the night guard to pass to another house, said as a teenager, when it was decided that children should stay at home with their parents: “I think it is a wrong decision. I think children should sleep in the children houses.” She does not have any bad memories, and neither does Yitzchak. I had no problems with the idea of having our children stay in the children houses. It was normal for us.

Yael married Moshe and they had Renana. After divorcing Moshe she made a new home together with Dror and they have two girls - Or and Rotem. Among other things Yael studied computers and is now working in medical computer programming.

Three of the children left the kibbutz at some time during the years - only Yitzchak stayed here. It was hard for me, I would prefer them to live close, but they chose different and I saw it was good for them, and that's what counts. Yael returned to live in the kibbutz for a short while after her divorce, but then left again.

Dov and I always loved theatre and concerts and used to have subscriptions for both. We also liked travelling and have had many wonderful trips together and also with the children during the last few years. I like to read books, not so much newspapers. In the past I was embroidering and knitting, but today I hardly do that. The children have grown up and there are no demands. Today I'm also attending “Milo” (a center for older people) three days a week and serve as a link to “Milo” for other members in the kibbutz. I like all my activities.

For many years I was a member of different kibbutz committees for education, members, the high school, connection to school graduates and making the working schedule for the children houses.

I had a very difficult time with the kibbutz about my compensation money from Germany. For forty years I gave the full amount of the compensation to the kibbutz, and once when I asked for something for myself I got an insulting response. I wanted to go abroad to visit my uncle Danni who was then in South Africa. He had invited my aunt Lea (his sister) to visit and I wanted to join her, and asked the kibbutz to help me funding the ticket. The reply was negative, so I decided to take the money from my monthly compensation. I was told to return the money when at the same time I saw that there were members who had money from other sources and the kibbutz did nothing about it. The kibbutz Secretary started sending me letters warning me of the consequences in case I didn't return the money. I started considering leaving the kibbutz. Hagit was ill and I travelled a lot to visit her, but never took a penny from the kibbutz. Everything was paid for with that money. It was very difficult. I had hoped that at such a time there would be a little more understanding, but there was no sympathy for my situation in this matter. It was decided not to give us any budget from the kibbutz, nor did we get a pension account like every other kibbutz member. Later on the decision was changed saying I (and others) could keep the compensation money or similar. I think it is better for me this way. I can do whatever I want and have more choices and there is less pressure.

In May 1990 we had a big family reunion. It was Dov's and my 60th birthday that year and we had been married for forty years. Also three grandchildren had been born within a month that spring.

In 2000 we had a gold wedding surprise arranged by our children and we all spent a wonderful time together on a holiday resort up North.

It is very sad that Hagit is no longer with us. But there is comfort in the fact that her family, Jacky and the children, kept in close contact with us. Also after that Jacky remarried and he and Lily had the girls Noa and Dana.

We raised a wonderful family, a kind of compensation for the families we once had and of whom so few survived the Holocaust.

Fruma Nir


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