I was born in Suceava in 1931. My father (Mendel, 1895) and great-grandfather (Zeidel = Yitzchak Eliyahu, 1844) and my great-great-grandfather (Yisrael Hopfenmayer) were also born there. The first time the name Hopfenmayer appears in the archives of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Suceava was at the end of the 18th century. The documents that I have, show that Grandpa Zeidel was in Suceava trading oil and oil products in about 1870.
Family members usually had many children, so during the Days of Austrian government, there were quite a few Hopfmayers in Suceava. So, in 1941, many more were living there, although some emigrated or moved away from Suceava.
Before the family home in Suceava
My father, Emmanuel (Mendel) Hopfmayer, was the youngest of the eight children born to Grandfather Zeidel and his wife Jetti (née Sternlieb). Her older sister was his first wife with whom he had five children. So, it came out that there were decades in age differences between siblings, especially in relation to my father. Father had nephews (my cousins) at his age or older; e.g., Professor Srul Hopfmayer. The Hopfmayers were considered well-off, but that was on the small-town scale, which did not suit my father and us at all. Even if
the savings of the other Hopfmayers may have saved our lives during the tough days in Transnistria, the nickname rich caused me and my father a lot of aggravation, especially during the days of the socialist regime. Until 1941, my father had an insurance agency. But during difficult times, he helped at his sisters' shop. His income was barely enough to cover our daily needs.
My father's two brothers, Noah and Abraham, were engaged in the iron product trade in a store on the city's main street. His sisters owned a store for sewing essentials and textiles, particularly for the rural population, the Jewish Street. Noah was the best-known of them. With the end of World War I, he ran a branch of a bank that bankrupted in 1929. As a result, there were countless legal suits, because some people believed that their money was not deposited in the bank but with Noah personally, even though his own money was buried in the bankrupt bank. Noah, who saw himself as an unjust victim, developed a persecution complex, seeking justice and this gained the name Processmayer. Both haunted him until the day he died.
Father's brothers and sisters were workhorses but lived modestly. I knew all of them as intelligent people, but I rarely saw them express their feelings. Because of worries about a livelihood, most of them could not find time to get married. My father was an exception; his brother Avraham got married at 45.
Dad was the youngest. He was spoiled by his sisters, of course only in a way that intelligent people do so. After returning from the war, the sisters sent him to Germany to a textile school. He was supposed to find out how to make a leather substitute, which was highly sought after by the peasants. He did so, but the interest in self-production stopped. Dad continued to work in Berlin, returning only in 1928 and getting married later on.
My mother Betty, from the David family, was the second of five sisters. Her father, Hersch David, came from Vama. My maternal great-grandfather, Eli, fled Russia at 14 (in 1840) to escape conscription into the Czar's army. They smuggled him across the border into Bucovina, hidden in an empty barrel of wine. He married Frimzi Etel David and adopted her surname. In Vama, he had a hydraulic iron smithy, which the family called the Hammer. It has produced farmers' tools such as hoes, scythes, etc. He died at a young age after falling from a horse, leaving behind a wife with seven children, in a tough situation. Etel was a talented woman and family members relate, that one night her husband came to her in a dream and instructed her to restart the iron smithy. The hammer that made a lot of noise, attracting clients who returned and again ordered tools to be manufactured. Thus, she was able to raise her children.
My maternal grandmother, Mariasi, came from the Heitel family. Her father was a tanner, and that is probably
the source of the surname (leather = haute in German). My grandfather, Hersh David, worked in construction before the World War I. After the war, when he was about 70 years old, he became a partner in the Leinburd-Gropper textile store. His house stood behind the public garden. He behaved like a farmer, kept a cow on the farm, produced butter which we also enjoyed, and worked a small vegetable garden. He always tried to get me to work in the vegetable garden; something that did not attract me at all.
Hersch David was a Cohen (priest) and an important member of the Great Synagogue. He always spoke Yiddish. It was a bit of a stand against the modern spirit, which his daughters lived by. We were all sent to German high schools, spoke only German and studied subjects that were unsuitable for girls.
My parents' families were, like many of Schotz's Jews, traditional but less religious, kept kosher, sometimes went to the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays. On Shabbat, there was the usual menu: Ḥalot, gefilte fish, peppery kugel, etc. On Passover eve, the unleavened stuff was burned, the Seder was celebrated in the proper manner, baked cakes for Purim, and lit the Hanukkah candles. The aunts also occasionally read some books of the Apocrypha. Stories of wonders about rabbis, yes, but people with side-locks, caftan or streimels I did not see in our family. As a child, when I saw people dressed like that, I thought it matched the way Jews dressed in the time of Moshe Rabbeinu! Sometimes our family would refer to such Jews as hypocrites and call them Gefikte bert (German for fictitious beard).
My father's sisters spoke mostly Yiddish at home, but with me always German, which they were perfectly fluent in, since they all attended German schools. Only one knew a little Romanian. They settled for the meager vocabulary they learned from the Romanian peasants. For those who grew up in Kaiser Franz-Joseph's state of justice and order had a kind of contempt for the Romanian government that seemed inferior compared to the previous regime. Around me people read, as before the World War I, books and newspapers in German and to those who had a radio, only listened to programs in German. Therefore, when applying to the Romanian authorities, people were often helped by children who attended Romanian schools.
In the Hopfmayer family were many single people, aside from me there were hardly any children. So, I was at the center of the interest of the uncles and aunts who would engage with me and listen to my nonsense. Maybe it caused me to develop some self-recognition. Although Freddie (Schieber) was also in the family, five years older than me, but he was not a Hopfmayer! It was only after another six years that my cousin Beatrice, uncle Avraham's daughter, joined us.
When I was about a year old, our house on Jon Karianga Street (which was mostly built
by my mother's dowry), was finished, and we moved in. By Suceava residents' concepts, it was a modern house with a bath and toilet in the house, parquet flooring and a tiled oven. The house had a ground floor and a top floor; each floor has an apartment. The house had a garden with fruit trees. After a while, we settled in the upstairs apartment and rented the bottom one to the Vasiliu family. The rent was quite significant for our budget. Mr. Vasiliu was chief inspector of the sugar factories and had a private car. He had a wife, who was much younger than him, and a daughter.
When I was 3-4, they sent me to Melamed Carten's Talmud Torah and to Aunt Isolis' kindergarten, which was in the same building. There, for the first time, I came across reading and writing in Hebrew, studying the Hebrew alphabet with Mr. Carten and Aunt's Hebrew games.
I later had other Hebrew teachers, especially my Aunt Teresa, whose Hebrew was excellent. She was the only one in the family who, even before the war, thought about emigrating to Palestine. The best I got was being able to talk to my neighbor and playmate Jetti Lederman when we did not want the Romanian kids to understand us. But later, when we did not use it, it was lost. Yiddish, which I always heard and understood, but I only learned to speak in Yiddish in Transnistria.
There were many playgrounds and extensive gardens in the house's vicinity, where I spent time with friends, usually the Carton neighbors' children or those of my parents' acquaintances. For example, Irwin Willing, Boutzi Fuchs, Herta Geller or Wilma Pollakman, as well as our Christian neighbors' children. I was a naughty boy, climbing neighbor's trees and roofs, and to my mother's displeasure, I would come back injured and with torn clothes. My father was uncompromising, and I earned a thrashing, but it did not have a lasting effect. My father's attempt to engage me differently led to me turning to books with pictures in Father's library. So, and even before I started school, I knew how to read, even then I had not given up on the trees in the neighbors' gardens.
As for hatred of the Jews, I only came into contact with that at the beginning of my studies in school. Before then, I had not really internalized adult conversations about this. Etched in my memory is an event when I was about 6 years old when I hid in someone's shop as a group equipped with marching sticks on the main street, it was the Cosistes. There was also the newspaper with anti-Jewish headlines and cartoons circulated by Bokur Orandovich's printing press, a well-known member of the infamous Iron Guard. The newspaper was called Furunka Vermi but Dad called it, Porcaria Vermi (Swinishness of the Hour). I only came across antisemitic expressions in elementary school. The headmaster of the school at every opportunity called us Żyden [Polish?], or, You think you are
in the żydowski school. The Christian children reproached us with, You killed the Crucified one (Jesus). But all this did not affect me much. Also, at school, I was not a quiet child. I was often put in a corner and later punished at home by Father. None of this really hurt me, because I already knew almost everything they taught there.
Shortly after that, all the negative events began. Suddenly, in 1939, an influx of Polish refugees showed up in Suceava. The adults seemed worried and talked all the time about politics. The situation became more complicated after the Soviet occupation of northern Bucovina. As usual, the Jews were to blame. We did not know who to fear more, from the Romanians who grew angrier every day or the not-too-distant Soviets. When authority was transferred to the Iron Guard, the Jews were dealt severe decrees: dispossessing, nationalizing property, attacks of any kind, and above all the evil.
In the fall of 1940, I began third grade, but I had to leave school like the other Jewish students. My father was conscripted to a work company. We suffered countless searches. Once, they suspected us of accumulating food products, and once, apparently because of an informer, they searched us for a radio, which luckily, they could not find. When radios were confiscated from the Jews, my father hid the device behind the books on the bookcase. It was important to listen to news from abroad because nobody believed what was written in the Romanian press. At the time, we also had a Polish diplomat living with us, a refugee who was not searched.
In the winter of 1941, the Herbiliona (rebellion) arose, resulting in demonstrations, which also reached Suceava. During these events, my cousin was murdered in a pogrom in Bucharest. Then the Antonescu regime came to power. That did not look any better. We had to wear a star [of David] on our clothes and were restricted in leaving our homes. It was forbidden to leave the city; imprisonment was imposed on false charges, after which, in order to be released, one had to pay bribes. A lawsuit was filed against my father in connection with his forced labor service, and he was to appear at the military court in Iaḥi.
In the spring, Italian soldiers appeared in Suceava. Some of them camped in the large lot in front of our house and were very kind, especially toward the children. Ditches were excavated near our house for protection against bombs, but for us children it was a place for games. Soon after, the war with the Soviet Union took its toll. We had to black out the windows, under threat of legal action. Foodstuffs were rationed. We stood in lines at the bakeries to buy bread. The city filled up with German soldiers on the way to the front. They bought goods in Jewish stores that were probably unavailable in Germany. Apparently, they were happy to speak German, and even some anecdotes were created, such as the one about the German who entered Berish Kern's shop and asked, Sind sie Arisch? (Are you Aryan?), and received the answer Nein, ich bin Berisch! (No, I am Berisch!). But the situation
was gloomy. There were more reports of attacks by the Romanian army on Jews, with many killed in events in Iaḥi and the recapture of Czernowitz and Bessarabia. Although such phenomena occurred near us, the rumors from there were so horrible that they were not believed. It later transpired that the reality was much worse.
One of the young men named Moldovan, a well-known member of the Iron Guard, informed that my 84-year-old grandfather David Hersch, was signaling the Russians with light flashes. After an investigation and a search of the house, a Russian rifle was found under his bed. It was only with great luck my grandfather got away with it, because in the meantime, the Iron Guard rebellion failed; Moldovan was caught and admitted to stealing the rifle on the Czernowitz front and planting it under my grandfather's bed.
Then in October 1941, came the deportation. On one clear day, the drummer read out the instruction that we must all leave Suceava in a day or two with only hand luggage. My mother was anxious. She was alone because, at the time, Dad appeared before the courthouse in Iaḥi. She was incapable of packing. I do not remember how, but they postponed the deportation for a day. And Tuesday, a few hours before we had to get to the train, my father showed up. My parents handed over the keys to the house, along with all our possessions, to our tenant of many years, Mrs. Vasiliu, who we had an excellent relationship with. There were also others who were willing to faithfully keep some of our possessions and also promised us to do so.
Carrying a few suitcases, we gathered at the train station, where the uncles and aunts and many others were. We were crammed into cattle cars, which were bolted shut. After traveling all night accompanied by gendarmes with the people trying to guess the direction of the journey according to the names of the stations, we arrived in the morning at the Ataky station, the last station, on the banks of the Dniester. We later learned that we were lucky to arrive at the station in daylight and not at night, unlike the other transports that arrived in the dark and were robbed of all their possessions. And we were lucky enough to arrive by train and did not have to walk hundreds of kilometers as deportees in Bessarabia.
Armed soldiers stood where we got off. They ran us along the train tracks to Ataky near the train station. There we were put, together with relatives, into a large building with no windows and partially destroyed. Apparently, it was once a school. The floor was covered with filthy straw, with many people laying on it. The total area was in ruins; the houses without windows, doors and roofs, the walls covered with inscriptions written by some thousands of Jews who passed through and wanted to leave desperate messages about what had happened.
Across the Dniester, on the Ukrainian bank, they saw the city of Mogilev-Podolsk but the iron bridge was destroyed in a bombing. In Ataky, I saw dead people for the first time lying
on the riverbank, probably people who did not survive the rigors of the journey. It was a rainy and cold fall and the roads were very muddy. I wore several shirts and slept on suitcases. Undressing and bathing were out of the question. I do not remember where we got something to eat. I only remember a peasant woman who gave me one onion that I ate on the spot.
A few days later, we were taken on ferries across the Dniester to Mogilev and I think we were lucky, either by chance or by bribery to gendarmes. We could safely cross to the other side. This was not the case for my uncle Avraham, who was thrown into the water and barely survived drowning in the river waters.
Podolia, Ukraine's southern region between the Dniester and Bog Rivers, was under a Romanian administration and was called Transnistria. In Mogilev, we succeeded in huddling inside a ruined house, since all the other gathering places the conditions were inhumane and over-crowded. The city center was destroyed in the fighting in addition to the floods that had happened earlier. Nearby, in the remains of other houses, more people were housed. In one of them was a woman who had lost her mind. Close to the riverbank stood a former army club house, whose library was full of wet books, but for me it was entertaining because it allowed me to look at the pictures.
We were under constant military guard, especially at night. They gathered people and sent them inland on foot in Convoys. One could prevent this by bribery, but since we had to leave Mogilev, people sought access to corrupt officials who, for vast sums gave them trucks for transporting the Jews to the designated camps. Money was not the only thing that helped, also the right connections had to be found. Time was pressing. My father, who spoke German with a Berlin accent, found a German sergeant (Mogilev also had a German headquarters) who, for 30,000 lei, agreed to get us on a truck leaving Mogilev. Everything had to be in secret because the sergeant acted on his own and on his own responsibility, probably without the approval of his superiors and certainly contrary to the instructions of Romanian authorities.
Early next morning, he came along with two other soldiers and a closed truck, on which he loaded us, 30 people, almost all of them relatives, along with our bundles. In the meantime, a group of Romanian soldiers also appeared whom we had to bribe in order to ignore what was happening. Finally, we set off. We were required by the Germans to remain completely silent. The fear of death accompanied us. We were completely in the hands of our transporters who could, at will, abandon us halfway. It could have ended in disaster. It was scary when we drove up a hill near Mogilev and came across a group of soldiers who probably wanted to see
the German's documents. Finally, we drove on and reached Morfa, about 70 km north of Mogilev.
We stopped in the town center. The sergeant opened the doors and let the light into the room. The truck was immediately surrounded by many curious residents. The sergeant did not like any of that. He took out his gun and fired twice, driving off the people. Nikita, the Stroste (mayor), appeared with two Ukrainian militiamen. Nikita was a tall brute with a mustache, a drinker and, as we learned later, a Kulak who was persecuted by the Soviet regime and was now appointed the city's mayor. The sergeant ordered him to find us accommodations. There we could unload our things. Nikita did not understand German, but there was a young Jewish man there, also persecuted by the Soviets, who served as a Yiddish interpreter. The German sergeant's behavior toward us must have impressed Nikita. He declared that the house near where the truck stopped would be ours.
We unloaded our things, and the truck drove off. Thus, we were the first Bucovinians to settle in Morfa. The previously mentioned house was exceptional, the only one with an upper floor in the entire area. It belonged to Raya Kupferman, a 30-year-old woman who immediately showed up and agreed with us on the conditions of our stay there. We settled into the house, but since there was no room for everyone, Aunt Fani Holdengerber and her husband Faivel, and several other people who came with us in the truck, had to move into houses next door.
In our architectural concepts, the house was a joke, but after everything we had been through during the weeks leading up to it and with the anxiety of what might happen in the future, we were pleased to be under this roof. The building's ground floor was a kind of warehouse full of straw and debris. Habitability was applicable only to the three rooms on the top floor in an area of about 20, 15, and 10 m² that faced the street with passageways between them. There was also an open terrace, with supports so ruined that there was a danger that it would collapse. The back of the floor, called Pomeschnia by Raya, was without a roof and windows and faced the swampy meadow of the Morfa River and the hill behind it. That this part was not built was helpful because we used it as a place to hang laundry to dry and sometimes also a spare toilet. The walls of the house were about 10 cm thick and the windows were crooked and taped over with newspaper, so that the wind would not enter.
My parents and I, my father's three sisters and Uncle Noah, moved into the big room. In the second room, were Aunt Mina Kaswon with her husband Aharon, with my father's stepbrother, Shlomo, as well as his daughter Feige and husband Max Zeidenstein (who came from Vama). Hersh David was in the smallest room with his sister Amy and niece Amelia. In the rooms we found a table with two beds, and on the balcony a children's bed with a wet mattress, which was declared as my sleeping place and from the packages and some planks we found, we installed bunks. We had a paraffin stove. Dad got
a few liters of diesel fuel from some of the German trucks passing by, and it was used to cook with for a while.
We were followed to Morfa by more Suceava and Bucovina veterans. Some arrived in trucks, some in horse-drawn wagons, some on foot in the Convoy, in an indescribably miserable state. The worst off were the Dorohoi people who came in the Convoys; hungry, thirsty, dirty, and wearing rags. The village was already crowded, and the room on the ground floor of our building was also filled with people. In the end, there must have been over 1,000 deportees in Morfa.
Morfa lies along the road from Shargorod to Zhmerynka (on the Bug [River]) and stretches between this road and the Morfa Stream, with branches east, among others, to Derebchyn. In the center of the city there was a small market and next to it the village [general] store, as was customary with the Soviets. Around it stood small buildings with crooked walls that appeared to be houses in Chagall's photos and were mostly populated by Jews, most of them were women, children and the elderly. The young men were mostly drafted into the Red Army; so too was Raya's husband. At the edge of the town, lived many Ukrainians. The northern part of the place, beyond a small lake and uninhabited area, was called New Morfa and was built during the Soviet regime. There were several large buildings, an empty school (across from us), a hospital surrounded by a large garden, the school of New Morfa, a large building called the Reizuyouz (the Regional Soviet) and a closed Catholic Church surrounded by a wall, which, in my eyes, appeared like a mysterious fortress. All around were extensive gardens and fields belonging to the Subhoz where many of the residents worked. They also owned a small butter factory operated with an ancient diesel engine that made noise heard far and wide.
In my memory, the people of Morfa seemed to wear gray clothing, leather or felt boots, padded coats and trousers and hats with ear protectors. The opposite colorful impression was made by the red and green-checked scarves worn by the Ukrainian peasant women, who came to the market. They all lived and existed primitively, without electricity, without water pipes or sewage, even without toilets in their homes. Their toilet needs were usually done in an open area near the stream, or in a bucket in the house, whose contents were then poured into the stream, from which a stench indeed rose in the summer, and reached the village itself. These were the consequences of the years-on civilian activities of the Soviet regime. Despite everything, many of the residents saw themselves as Kulturna (cultured); they had many books, including those by the Jewish Classicists. The Yiddish language was cultivated by the regime in order to distance the Jews from religion and the Hebrew language. It was possible to speak Yiddish with the Jews, but less so with the children, who mostly spoke Ukrainian. Bucovinians who had connections with the Ruttens at home could also talk to the Ukrainians. Raya Kupferman
told us how she lived during Soviet regime, in perpetual destitution, from clothes to matches and how people had to steal from their workplaces to exist. If they were caught, they were placed for a few years in the Tyorama (prison) but afterward returned to doing the same thing.
Parenthetically: In 1995, after 52 years, I visited Morfa. Apart from the school in New Morfa, the Catholic Church (the only one renovated) and some of the old crooked-walled houses were mostly destroyed. There was nothing left (including the house where we lived), as if a steam-roller had passed over the place. Even the stream looked neglected, covered over with bulrushes.
There was a Romanian gendarme station in Morfa. The center of Romanian regime was in the town of Shargorod, 12 km away. It was the seat of the corrupt Prefect Diendelgen, on whose conscience were many Jewish dead, despite the heavy bribes he raked in, and who, after 1945, was tried as a war criminal.
The threat of leaving the place was the death penalty. But often starving people who in their search for food could not observe the ban. There were cases of people who were caught and shot dead for leaving the place. After the Bucovinians arrived, daily life became difficult. Only a few people had enough money to buy enough to live on from the peasants. They began selling clothes or bartering them for food. Those who could not take it, begged and looked for leftovers, potato peels, and so on. After a short time, people were seen starving, or lying in rags near the houses. The same was true on the ground floor of the house where we lived. Soon, many people died there.
Thanks to their means, the situation of Hopfmayer family was, thank God, not so bad. But I remember that for months we supported ourselves with horse-feed porridge and pea-flour bread. We were pleased there was even something in the house.
Winter was especially difficult and cold. We purchased a small tin oven called Ribeka that was stoked with wood. It provided heat and was even used to cook on. We sat as close as possible around the stove, yet could not warm up enough. Until then, I wore shorts and woolen socks. But since I did not have the right clothes for the Ukrainian frost, I quickly received frost burns on my toes and barely healed from them. We also had doctors among us, but medicine was lacking. One big toe was in danger of being amputated. I survived it, but I still have signs of it. Finally, my mother sewed me a pair of long pants from a blanket.
At the time, we suffered from plagues. In winter, it was typhus, and in spring when the weather warmed up, typhoid fever appeared. Lice was constantly suffered by many people
who could not bathe. The lice caused the typhus to spread. It was endemic among the local population, which was quite vaccinated and less affected by it. For others, even if some of them had the option to bathe, there was always a danger that a louse would move onto you from contact with others and then they started counting 21 days, to see if you were infected. Many died of the disease. Some recovered but were so weak that they did not recuperate and eventually died.
Near spring time, I had a high fever. To this day, we do not know what it was. Typhoid or jaundice and maybe both. I laid sick for almost six weeks. When I came out of it, I was a shadow of myself. It took a long time before I recuperated. I suffered for many more years because of the disease. In the end, however, there were fewer typhus victims in Morfa than in other camps, such as Shargorod, where my father's brother, Avraham, also died of the disease.
From time to time, the gendarmes and their Ukrainian aides, held raids, usually at night, searching for people to be sent to forced labor on road construction. There, they were fed sparingly and treated abusively. Some did not come back. People tried to hide or escape in any form, something that Ukrainian Jews had been trained in since Soviet regime and perhaps dating back to the Czar's time. My father often escaped the militia raids, through the balcony and over the roof to the neighbor's house.
Sometimes, at night or in the fog, Jewish Ukrainian refugees came across the German-controlled Bug [River] to hide with their acquaintances in Morfa. Thus, rumors of SS actions, on the killing of many in shootings, camps, extermination, rumors so horrific that our people, despite their abject situation, did not believe in them. When these refugees were captured by Ukrainian gendarmes or militiamen, they were deported back to the Germans.
Without wanting to, we too have found some interest in these refugees. Max Zeidenstein, who lived with us at home, hooked up with gendarmes and extorted money or gold coins from people. These he apparently shared with the gendarmes. Although it was known in the family that he had good relations with the gendarmes, but the full story only became known later on, causing a quarrel at home. We knew Max as a sociable person, acting fairly with people. Everyone said that he was not guilty of his behavior, only that it was his wife Feige, daughter of Shlomo Hopfmayer, who always spurred him on to such acts. His end was painful. When the Russians returned in 1944, a large unit of gendarmes appeared one day in Morfa and raided these refugees. They seized some of them, but one who tried to escape was shot dead.
The Bucovinians organized and were elected to a committee, which tried to address some of the most troublesome problems. Thus, they established an orphanage in the empty school that stood in front of our apartment for the many children who were orphaned or abandoned.
The condition of the children there was dire; lack of means, but it was better than being left out on the street. They tried to avoid dangers by bribing the gendarmes and also negotiated with the Prefect of Shargorod, especially when to enjoy some meager aid that arrived in 1942, from the Jews of Archid through Mogilev, to deliver this help and to distribute it. We organized a bakery and a pharmacy. My father and Noah Hopfmayer were also members of the committee, where there were often disputes and power struggles.
People tried to help themselves by engaging in their professions such as cobblers, tin-smithing, soap makers or leather tanning. There were also those who traded tea or matches if they knew where to get them. Others conducted illegal trade in sugar, salt or oil, goods for which they were endangering themselves by obtaining them from factories in the vicinity. Sometimes it was possible, in exchange for bribes to the gendarmes, to get a travel permit to Shargorod and sometimes to Mogilev. Rarely and with great difficulty, it was possible to send letters to Romania and even receive news or packages from there. That is how we learned that our relatives who stayed in Czernowitz tried to get back part of our property from Mrs. Vasiliu, but she did not comply.
Rumors were renewed that the Jews in Romania had motivated Antonescu to bring us home soon. But for us nothing of this, and the ironic saying Shraga ba became a common. That Shraga was the name of one emissary of the Jews from Bucharest. From time to time, we got hold of a Romanian newspaper such as Corentol or Universal. Although they were loyal to the regime, they provided important information about the war, such as the failure of the invasion of Africa, the bombing of Hamburg and Berlin, and ultimately Stalingrad, which ignited hopes for us regarding the end of the war.
Attempts were also made to create cultural activities in Morfa, organizing concerts and performances with music or lectures, mostly in Yiddish. Some of these poems/songs, which I have not heard since, have been preserved to this day in my memory, such as: Kuipat a Zeitung, Lynette a Zeitung (Buy a newspaper, read a newspaper), Ich bin die Malka fun die Nacht (I am the Queen of the night) or Karaoke. There was also an elderly man named Zimmelbar from Czernowitz, who, as was said, played his violin before the King of Sweden. In our apartment, there was also an aunt who suffered from rheumatism and barely moved. She knew how to read beautifully in Yiddish from stories of Shalom Aleichem and Mendele Mocher Seforim. So, that is how I became acquainted with Yiddish literature.
And then there was Büchwerk. He was a pedagogical genius. But also, a humble and gentle man. He was deported from Czernowitz and landed in a quarry near Morfa, where he was employed as a recorder of the quantities of stones that the Jews of Bucovina and the locals had cut for paving the road. He remains in my memory about 30 years old, upright and short-sighted, always running around equipped with a side bag. All his attire was just what he had on him and like everyone else there, was always starving.
My father, who was concerned that for nearly two years I had not been in school, was happy when he discovered Büchwerk who was living with the Laufer family from Czernowitz, whom we knew. The Laufer family tried to help him with their limited terms. He taught their daughter Pia (later Lexi Neuberger's wife). I was put together with Pia and we both had classes at Büchwerk's a few times a week.
Perhaps it was after a long break from school that I was hungry for knowledge. Perhaps it was the change from Morfa's gray life. Still, he had the talent to get close to the children and convince them to engage in things that children at school do not consider interesting. Whether it was algebra, German in Gothic letters, French, physics and chemistry or geography, Büchwerk knew everything, and I always waited for lessons with him.
I think his specialty was mathematics and physics, but Büchwerk had these booklets that enabled his conveying study material in various subjects. He used it as a basis for teaching these subjects. In addition, the locals also had many textbooks, some of them even in Yiddish. I am particularly reminded of a book with solutions to mathematics exercises we used. There was no possibility of practically engaging in physics and chemistry that depended on experiments and not just what was printed in didactic books. He could interest us and bring us closer to these subjects, so later we learned with greater interest. I am reminded that under Büchwerk's guidance, we tried to make liquid laundry soap from caustic soda and lime, to extract soap from it, or to electrolyze water using a small generator removed from an old field phone.
Since Büchwerk and his wife lived next door, it was possible for our classes to take place with us. We were seven people (including my parents, three aunts and Uncle Noah, all aged 50 to 70), in a room of about 20 m², besides the table and oven that stood there. When Büchwerk came, there was complete silence. Apparently, his lecture interested not only us but also others from neighboring rooms, such as Uncle Solomon, who was over 70 years old and likely had no interest in science in his entire life. Even outside of study hours, we would meet often. In the evenings, we would go outside and he would talk and explain all kinds of nightly celestial phenomena.
He was also busy writing a Russian course, actually for himself, because he wanted to learn Russian. Soon the course, now written on notebooks, was distributed to different people in Morfa. Today, when I write these lines, I am convinced that as for Büchwerk, the person; I know very little. I heard nothing about himself, even from others older than him. Nor anything about his concerns, which he must have had, nor his views.
After Büchwerk started teaching us, other people heard about him, and several children started studying with him. I knew some children, including Ingold Zend, Wolfie Mossberg
and Boutzi Fuchs. We usually met in the Zend family's apartment to study with Büchwerk. Everyone tried to help him as much as possible, so that he and his wife survived.
This continued until the spring of 1944, when the Russians returned to Morfa. Soon after, Büchwerk was preparing to return to Czernowitz. After a few weeks, we too left Morfa and arrived in Bereznyi in Bessarabia. From there, my father and I managed, in January 1945, to travel for a few days to our acquaintances in Czernowitz. Clearly, it was important to me to find Büchwerk. I do not know how my father found his address. We went there, to the Rushesse Gasse (Russian Street). We only found his wife, and she was in mourning. After returning to Czernowitz, Büchwerk was recruited by the Russians, sent to the front, fell soon after somewhere in Eastern Prussia. Since then, I have had many excellent teachers, but no one has influenced me as much as Büchwerk, and I think the rest of his students are also of that opinion. Things I learned from him at the age 11-12 are deeply ingrained in me to this day. Sometimes, my eyes tear when I think about it.
And in Morfa, although hunger, disease, insults, and despair continued and people's concerns were great. After 1942, things got a little better. This opinion should be treated with caution since it was the impression of an 11-year-old boy. In late 1943, or the beginning of 1944, rumors that were circulating among the people seemed to be proven true. At first it was at night, then in the daytime the thunder of cannons was heard. One night, Zhmerynka was bombed, then a railroad intersection 30 km from Morfa. The bombing was severe, and we even saw the bomb flashes. While it was not clear what awaited us on the next day, still, it sounded like fairy music to us. Then partisans on horseback sometimes appeared, and the Romanian gendarmes were no longer seen.
One day, a convoy of German soldiers arrived. They looked like they had been moving on the road for several days and nights toward Shargorod. The soldiers looked different from what we were used to seeing in the German army: They were dirty from head to toe, barely walking, using walking sticks and escorting horse-drawn wagons full of wounded. We, who lived close to the road, did not dare go outside, even though they did not seem dangerous. The danger came from the Ukrainian mercenaries, the Volesubzi, who joined the German convoy. They were known for hating and abusing the Jews. One of these came into our house, threatened us with a hand grenade. I do not remember why, but he finally left.
And the day came in early April 1944 afternoon, when the Russians appeared. There was a battle with a German unit that apparently tried to delay their advance from a nearby hill. Since this hill was in view of our Pomesachnia, three Russians
with a machine gun set up in there and continued firing until dark. I was glad that I could look out over what was happening until my parents forcibly brought me back inside, because the Pomesachnia was also in view from the hill in front of us, from where they were returning fire. Finally, the shooting stopped and the three Russians, who spent the night in our room, left the next day.
Well, the Russians were here, and we were by them. There was no longer any danger to life, but not all dangers were gone. Two days later, when I got home, my mother waited for me with tears in her eyes. She made me promise not to go in, but to run to ask for urgent help. A local Jew, accompanied by three soldiers, came in looking for Max Zeidenstein. He must have smelled what awaited him and disappeared from Morfa in the early morning. Now the soldiers threatened to shoot my father instead. They did not know who Zeidenstein was, nor did they understand our language. The disappointed Ukrainian Jew who could not find Max was in no hurry to explain everything to the soldiers, and in those days, there was no problem shooting someone dead. I ran to Russian headquarters. The guard, perhaps because of my tears, allowed me to see the commander. I think I could not explain much, but the worry and despair that could be seen on my face led him to ordering a young officer to accompany me. In the meantime, the three Russians became masters of our assets and collected whatever they thought was necessary. The officer I came with got them to leave, but they took with them most of our possessions. Max Zeidenstein was later tried in Romania, served time in prison, and died a few years later.
The battlefield moved away. We were free to move, but did not know how long and how far. It was difficult to get a horse and wagon. After a few weeks, we moved to Shargorod and then to Mogilev. Many Bucovinians gathered there, but few dared to accompany the Russian soldiers to continue homeward. From time to time, a German plane was seen trying to bomb the bridge over Dniester. Day and night there was anti-aircraft fire. I became Bar Mitzvah in Mogilev.
After a while, we crossed the Dniester [River] toward Bucovina. But we only reached Bereznyi. We could not go further because the Russians wouldn't let us. The Romanians turned treacherous and fought alongside the Russians. The Prut River has become a border between countries that was forbidden to cross. We stayed with a lot of Bucovinians in Bereznyi during the winter, and negotiated with the Moldavian [government] institutions in Bilicz and Kishinev. It did not go so easily because the Russians, with no questions, recruited every man they thought the military needed. Father tried to avoid this by growing a beard to look older, and minimized leaving the house. In between, Father and I made a short visit to Czernowitz.
Finally, in March 1945, we could cross the Prut [River] near Ungheni. The Jewish community in Iaḥi welcomed us. Since there was no regular train traffic, we had to stay there for about two weeks until we could get to Suceava. Externally, our house was intact, but inside was quite desolate. As the front advanced, after the Vasiliu family left, many neighbors entered, including military units, turning it into a hospital. Russian officers were still living in the house. Faucets and electrical parts were damaged, much was stolen and eventually, the apartment was demolished. We entered. I do not know how my parents got the minimum things needed for the house. We learned from the neighbors that some of the furniture was sold and some was taken by the Vasiliu family or donated to the needy, through Mrs. Vasiliu's generosity. With great difficulty, my father learned that part of his furniture was found in the town of Chitila near Arad (in Transylvania) where the Vasiliu family had moved. My father had to travel the length and breadth of Romania, to find things and bring them back. It was not so easy because of the lack of train traffic. He only got the things with the help of the police. It turned out that Mrs. Vasiliu, as an activist in social work, had already donated the contents of our house in 1941, and only what had some worth, such as candlesticks, flatware and other things of silver and porcelain items, she took for herself. She denied taking them but with police help, and after searching the house, Dad could get them back.
Something changed in Suceava. The city's longtime residents were no longer, so there were many people, especially from northern Bucovina, who preferred to leave Soviet territory. In 1946, many more people came from Czernowitz, including our relatives, some of whom lived in our home.
I entered the Jewish gymnasium (high school) that was opened for many children, who for years were prevented from going to school. There I rapidly passed months of final exams for four high school grades, but did so without difficulty. The examiners' requirements, given the conditions, were quite low and my knowledge was good, thanks to Büchwerk. Therefore, I was also assigned a high-grade relative to my age. Thus, I entered the 5th class [form] in early 1946. Student discipline, who had been out of school for a long time but had also gained life experience, was not exemplary, including mine.
In 6th grade, I got into an ongoing quarrel with one of the teachers. They started teaching Russian at the school. The teacher was Fuldi Rohrlich, and I felt he lacked an appropriate approach to the students, especially me. This caused an argument and escalated to when, during a Russian lesson, I fired a cap-gun. The result was the desire to keep me back one grade, but they concluded it would be better to expel me from the school. I had to continue my studies at the Romanian Ştefan Cel Mare Gymnasium. But there were teachers who taught
at both schools. My actions were no secret. So, they expected difficulties with me. When that did not happen, they were surprised that at the end of 7th grade I achieved such a high score in behavior that I never had before, and I also received the class's second prize. I also finished 8th grade there and in 1949, I got my matriculation certificate.
Encouraged by my cousin Willy Glasner, I started studying radio technology as a hobby. It interested me for two reasons, not only because of the technology but also the opportunity to receive music that I was keen to listen to. I trained in this during the summer vacations at my cousin's workshop in Bucharest. The knowledge I gained helped gain my livelihood afterward during my university education.
When we returned from deportation, many people wanted to leave Romania, both because of the suffering they had undergone and because the new life in the country had been 'Sovietized', and the freedom to decide on their way of life was taken away from them. The Zionist movements preached emigration to Eretz Israel and arranged, as far as possible, licenses for Aliyah. Some of my relatives also left Romania and were deported by the English to Cyprus, from where they emigrated to Israel only after the establishment of the State.
Most of the young Jews in Suceava joined Zionist movements, each with its own character. I joined the Zionist Youth, which was mainstream. I did not do it out of any political persuasion, but because most of my friends were there. Until then, I had no connections with Zionism. Although, even before the war, my mother and other women were active in WIZO or OSE, sang Hatikva, collected coins in JNF boxes for donation. From time to time, I received brochures with pictures of water towers or young men wearing shorts, and that was all.
It was different in Zionist Youth. I learned a lot about the history of Zionism, the historical and political development of Palestine and then about Israel. Lectures were held, and sometimes plays. Here, the young people were prepared for life in Israel according to the movement's ideology. It did not exactly fit my plans for the future, to study, but it did not bother that in Zionist Youth I would have a different and happy life together with other friends and young people with the same background. There was not much in Schotz that really interested us, except for the weekly movie or a rare show at the Dom Pulaski Hall. Education in Zionist Youth also had other results. Smoking was forbidden. Thanks to that, I never smoked even though both my father and other men in the family did. But because of The Zionist Youth, I also did not learn to dance, because they boycotted ballroom dancing and danced only in a circle, the Hora, etc. Probably because of the persecution we felt we were lacking something in the game and its feedback. This increased the tendency to compensate ourselves with pranks, even between us.
We ridiculously twisted spoken words and phrases and stuck nicknames on to most of us. So, I was Noah (because of my uncle) or the Zig. There were also the Horeb, the Tanta, the Bambik, and so on. Particularly prolific and stimulating (but also trusting in others to act) in this and other exploits was Manio Michalovici: We woke people up from night's sleep by howling; hung locks on the outside of doors so that they could barely be opened the next morning, etc.
After the establishment of the State, relations between the Romanian Communist leadership toward us deteriorated. It got so much that official Zionist activity had to cease. Emigration was only possible with official approval and it was deliberately not given to everyone; to one yes and the other no. In addition, it took a long time and involved all kinds of demands and even bribes. However, people still tried for many years. My parents and I also tried. In the meantime, I had started my studies. My parents were approved, but I was refused. Here, my parents did not want to go. In 1949, I took entrance exams to the Faculty of Chemistry in Bucharest [University] together with Benzion Fuchs and Simcha Weissbuch. From then on, I stayed in Bucharest until my escape from Romania in 1969. I only came to Suceava to visit my mother or on vacation.
Translated from German Menaḥem, (Manio) Fischler
I was born in Kimpolung, and as of March 1945, after marrying Mata Brucker, I moved to Suceava.
I would first like to write about the Brucker family. David obm was the father, Jetti obm the mother, the late daughter Mata, and the late son Poldi (Leopold). They were deported to Transnistria in October 1941, together with all the city's Jewish residents. After all the hardships, they came to Shargorod via Ataky and Mogilev, where the problems and disasters began. In the first winter, the head of the family, David Brucker, died. The grief-stricken widow remained alone with her two children, Mata and Poldi. And so, for almost three years until the liberation, they lived in difficult conditions and with great suffering. In the spring of 1944, they returned with the other deportees to their homeland and home in Suceava.
|Alfred and Mata Horowitz|
I then met Mata. We married and lived happily together for 53 years until cruel fate separated us when she died on May 3, 1998. The whole time, she was the strong one and the family's anchor. I am left with the memories that accompany me every day.
We emigrated to Israel in 1964. Here we added to our precious daughter Denise, the name Daniella. She graduated from medicine in Italy in 1978, and married Dr. Sebi Weinstein of R&259;d&259;uţi in 1976. In 1979, their only son, Lior, was born. He is now a third-year law and economics student.
In 1967, when the Romanian violinist Ion Voicu, who I had known in Romania, arrived for a series of concerts, he visited us and accompanied by the renowned Jewish pianist Mîndru Katz.
After being widowed, I devote most of my time to visiting my daughter and look forward to my grandson Lior, who occasionally comes to visit with his grandfather. My dear relatives are a source of joy and satisfaction in my old age.
|From the right: Eva Dermer, Oswald Dermer, Zelma Heitel, Erich Heitel, Jetti (Ruckenstein) Ellenbogen|
I cannot end without mentioning the Dermer family, who I knew closely after I married and moved to Suceava in 1945.
Later, Oswald and Eva Dermer emigrated to Israel before us, but when we met again, our friendship resumed and strengthened. All this thanks to my late wife Mata, who knew them both for a long time. Great and very kind people who were always willing to help.
Oswald died a few years ago and his widow Eva lives by herself in Kiryat Ḥaim. She is taken care of by a Romanian assistant, along with her niece, Tamara Goldstein, from Haifa.
(Translated from Romanian by Simcha Weissbuch)
Carol Hurtig's Story
The Death Trail
These lines were written according to the memories of a 7-year-old boy (my age at the time of the deportation), as they are etched in my memory to this day. I am not inventing something,
but it is individual. You cannot compare suffering to suffering. Every one carries his own suffering on his back. Everyone together carries the suffering of the Jewish people.
Although the Jews suffered discrimination and social exclusion, and lacked rights, they endeavored to be loyal citizens of the state and to fulfill their duty, and the men even served in the regular army and reserves.
On one October day in 1941, a decree announced that Jews living on the specified streets in the order must report to the local train station before a certain hour. We were on that first transport. At the time of the deportation, my father was conscripted into the army. At home, we were just my mother. We were just two children and a grandmother who was an elderly woman.
At the train station, there was great turmoil. Only shouting, swearing, and crying could be heard. After a brief wait, an order was given to board cars intended for transporting cattle. Many people were crammed into each carriage, above and beyond its capacity, about 40, perhaps more. After all the people had entered, the doors were slammed shut. The conditions inside the carriages were unbearable. There was no air, there was no water and food, people fainted, children were crying. After a long wait, we began traveling. Where to? Nobody knew.
When the train stopped, in the darkness we saw a sign with the name of the station. It was Durensty. My mother knew that my father served at a military base close to this train station. Naively, she called him by his name hoping he would hear and join us. The rest of the carriage members also joined her,
calling with her. When people are in distress, they cling to anything, even when it is something that makes little sense. The disappointment was great. My father did not hear. The reality was harsh, but we had to go on without Father.
Halfway along, the train stopped, and shouting was heard again. The doors opened with a loud noise and an order was given to get out of the train cars. After they all got off, the soldiers demanded that the men hand over all their jewelry, money, and valuables. According to their threats, whoever was caught with things they were supposed to hand over and did not would be killed.
The soldiers' beastly cruelty knew no bounds. After we returned to the train cars, the doors were closed with a great bang, but the train remained in place. No one knew when or where they were going and the plight of the people increased from moment to moment. It turned out that we had reached the Ataky station, a city on the shores of the Dniester River. We started hearing shouting, swearing, and noise from many people. The door opened, and all people had to get out and line up. The soldiers started screaming and beating people with their rifle butts regardless of who they were beating, even if they were children or old people. After all the people got out, an order was given to move toward the river. From a distance, we saw the Dniester River, and across the river was Mogilev. The Convoy set out.
The mud made advancing difficult. Legs became heavy. A lot of people started giving up some of the stuff. By the side of the road stood local farmers who pounced on the loot. We finally reached some synagogue. We were pushed in. Early in the morning they woke us up screaming, beating, swearing, to get outside, get into lines, and start marching.
After crossing the river, we were rounded up and ordered to walk toward Mogilev. We marched until we reached some destroyed synagogue. Inside the synagogue, there were people who looked like walking corpses. Every morning, everyone had to leave the synagogue and lineup on parade. The purpose of the parade was to organize groups for transport. At the time of the parade, Mother approached the officer in charge of the transports and asked him to allow us to stay here for a few days, since my father was still in the army reserves and chances were that he too would be deported. Although the soldiers had no sentiments toward the Jews, the officer agreed we would stay put and wait for Father. But now we were separated from the rest of our neighbors.
Every morning we would go out on parade like everyone else. The officer who knew our problem would tell Mother to go back to our quarters, to the synagogue. Until one day, a new officer showed up for the parade. Mother approached him with the same request. to allow us to remain. The officer did not even want to listen to her. When she kept asking, he yelled at her. There was a danger
that she would also get beaten up. The Death March began for us. We were attached to a group of Jews from Gura-Humora, Kimpolung and other cities.
Although the distances between the villages were great, a lot of peasants popped up, escorted the Convoy, not out of pity or to help us, but simply they waited for someone to throw away their belongings, or to grab some package from a victim. People's adversity increased. Every step we marched brought us closer to the abyss, all was lost.
All the time, the soldiers became increasingly nervous all the time. There were only shouts, curses, and of course, beatings. They ordered us to increase our pace. They did not give us a moment's rest. Walking became more and more difficult. Fatigue, hunger and rain made progress difficult. In the evening, we reached a destroyed building in the middle of a field that had once been a train station. The soldiers ordered us to go inside. The building had no windows and doors, everything was open, the wind whistled strongly through it.
It was not long after we went to sleep when we heard screaming, swearing, and then the beatings started. At first, we did not understand who these people were and what language they were speaking. Little by little, we realized they were Ukrainians from nearby villages who came to rob us. The only ones who could save us were the soldiers. But they had left after they put us in the building, and went to sleep in the village. The soldiers gave us instructions stating that it was forbidden to leave the encampment, and those who violated the orders will be severely punished. Everyone understood what that meant. The place was secluded, with no food and no minimum living conditions. All the time, another danger threatened us. To all of this, add harassment by the peasants. Almost every night, the robbers would take everything from us they could find.
A miracle happened to our family. One day, when we had already given up hope of meeting my father, another transport of people arrived. Father was among those who arrived! The reunion with Dad improved our situation, not only mentally, but economically as well. As I mentioned, every object and every garment was bartered for food. Father brought relatively a lot of clothing.
After that, our lives have entered some kind of normality. The soldiers were gone, the local bandits stopped coming at night. What remained was the cold, the hunger, and the uncertainty. Leaving the camp took a lot of courage. But to stay in the camp was to accept a death sentence. We did not know what to do, but one could not sit idly by and wait for death. People started thinking about dangerous things; things that, under normal conditions, they would not have thought of. Hunger pushed people into doing crazy things.
Even in the most difficult moments, we did not lose the will to live. My father took some clothes and went to a village near the camp, in order to exchange them for food. He knew about the punishment expected
for those who violated the orders. After many hours of waiting, my father returned with a bag of food containing a few kilos of potatoes, a few beans, flour, peas, and half a loaf of bread. The treasure was big, but the problem was how do you sit down to eat when around you there are so many hungry people? What do you do with the little kids asking for a piece of bread?
Each departure involved many risks; the peasants began robbing the people when they showed their clothes for barter. The quantity of clothes they owned also ran out. Going out had to be in complete secrecy. Not only fear of the soldiers, but we were also afraid of collective punishment. Despite all the risks, my father took his last blazer and went to the village nearest to the camp to trade it for food.
The way was hard after several days of rain. It was his bad luck that as soon as he approached the village, two drunk soldiers appeared. They had no difficulty identifying him as a Jew. It was impossible to escape. He was facing death. The soldiers began to interrogating him, humiliating him, making fun of him, and threatened him, but did not harm him. They warned him that if he was caught outside the camp again, he would be severely punished. They ordered him to quickly return to camp.
After this instance, my father was left to choose between the two options: Go back to the camp and give up on his plans to get food, or infiltrate and look for another way to get to one of the houses and offer a garment for food. Some people in the camp blamed Father for possibly bringing disaster on all of us. You understand we were in a difficult situation, but this is the first time a Jew has been caught red-handed outside the camp.
I do not know how my father's best friend, a man named Karl Grossman obm, learned that we were in the Obukhiv Camp, which was close to Shargorod. The friend found a local teamster who, for money or clothes, agreed to take us out of the camp and bring us to Shargorod. It was not a comfortable feeling. On the one hand, we were happy to leave the place and maybe saved. But on the other hand, we left with a heavy heart, since some people lived in fear because my father had been captured by soldiers inside the village. We had to seize the opportunity. Perhaps it was the last one. Waiting for the teamster was hard, and very stressful. It was in the early hours of the evening and getting dark, and in addition, a light rain kept falling. We knew in advance that the escape involved many dangers. We did not know what was in store for us.
In the distance, we saw a flash of light. After my father made sure it was the teamster, we went out in complete silence toward the wagon. The teamster put us on the cart and covered us with a blanket to hide us. The darkness was absolute. You could see nothing over one meter ahead. The trip caused us a lot of fear. We had no confidence in the teamster. He could
abandon us halfway and take what little we had. There was also the possibility of his handing us over to the soldiers. All that did not happen. From where the teamster dropped us off, we walked quite a long way until we got to some house.
Father's friend did not want to put us into the main synagogue, where hundreds of refugee Jews were concentrated. It served as a transit station from life to death: dozens of corpses were removed every day. He moved us to some ruin of a house belonging to a woman who was always drunk.
This friend of Father's was our rescue ring: He was the one who got us out of the camp; he was the one who found us housing. Thanks to him, we remained alive. His actions constituted an expression of genuine friendship. I do not know what happened to the people who stayed in the camp. I do not know what happened to the people who stayed in the Obukhiv Camp. Some of them probably escaped. For the rest of my life, I will be grateful to Father's dear friend Carl Groszman, who saved us from certain death. Although he passed away, his memory will always remain in our hearts.
Even in this new place, the daily struggle to get some food continued. The principal goal was to survive the day.
Despite the great suffering I endured in the camp, there is no hatred or desire for vengeance in my heart. I have not become a sad and bitter man, but I cannot ignore everything I have been through. There are moments when the blackness and bitterness float and rises. Everything I have hidden or suppressed all these years appears and suddenly I return to my grisly childhood.
Today, I am more open and willing to talk about things that I have never spoken about before. I refer to the Holocaust days. Years passed before I realized that this was not a natural disaster, but a collective Holocaust made up of millions of personal Holocausts. The human mind cannot grasp the magnitude of the horror we endured during the reign of evil. You cannot come to terms with this tragedy. Anyone who was not there cannot understand. That is why I, like others who went through the Holocaust, keep it inside, not showing the pain outwardly. After many years of silence, I gathered courage and told my children about the hardest and most painful part of my life. I do not feel like a coward who did not know how to defend himself. My remaining alive is proof of my bravery in my daily war to survive, and so I can tell my children, my grandchildren, and the world, what human animals have done to me and to my people so that such a catastrophe never happens again. My son would ask me if Grandfather was a hero. I told him he was not a hero, he just fought to survive with his family, day after day, until liberation. Just as we read on Seder night about the Exodus from Egypt, that everyone must see himself as if he came out of Egypt, this is how future generations must see themselves as having gone through the Holocaust.
After having written this hard part of my life, I feel relieved. A heavy stone was lifted off my heart. It was difficult to open your heart and bring out those hard and painful memories.
These memories will remain etched in my mind for the rest of my life. They cannot be erased. They are part of my private history and are now the national history of the Jewish People. When I am about to summarize a period, I can tell myself with satisfaction that I did everything that could be done in the conditions that existed.
About my late father and my mother, the Shimshon and Zirel Huebner family
I did not know my late father, Shimshon Huebner's parents. They died before I was born. My father was born in the village of Goeşti in the Storozhynets-Chodin region of Bucovina. His parents had an estate. They had eight children; six sons and two daughters. One of my father's brothers, Yosef Huebner and his wife Rivka, had eight sons, but they did not know what bitter fate awaited them. The five sons, Flick, 30; Isaac, 28; and his wife; Zindel, 26; Shlomo, 24; David, 18, and their parents were murdered by local Romanian peasants in 1941. The first-born brother Michael and his wife died in Transnistria from typhus. The remaining two brothers, Shmuel and Zvi (who married my sister Mina), survived. I will never forget the scene of my brother-in-law Zvi, sitting in his chair, sobbing, looking at photographs of his parents and brother who were murdered in one day.
Also, on my mother's side (née Tennenbaum) I did not know my grandfather, who also died before I was born. Grandmother Sarah, a smart and beautiful religious woman, had ten children, but only five survived. One son, Avraham Aharon Tennenbaum, and four daughters: My mother Zirel and three daughters named Hannah, Mina and Gita. All were born in Suceava. Grandmother Sarah was also exiled to Transnistria. She died in Zhuchka near Czernowitz on the way home.
My uncle Avraham Aharon and his wife Hanela had three children; two sons and a daughter. The sons Israel (Bubi) and Muniu emigrated to Palestine in the 1930s overland by bicycle, via Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. Coca, the daughter, also emigrated to Palestine in the 1930s. They all settled in Haifa, started families, and had children. Israel has two daughters, Muniu has three sons and Coca has a daughter and a son. My uncle Avraham Aharon emigrated to Israel in 1947 with his wife. (After spending the years 1941-1944 in Transnistria). Today, the uncle, his wife and their children are no longer alive. They are all buried in Haifa. My uncle's seven grandchildren live in Israel.
My mother's sister, Hannah, married a cousin named Benjamin Schapira, a very honest, autodidact and educated person. They were financially sound and visited Eretz [Israel] in the 1930s, but instead of staying returned to Suceava and were exiled to Transnistria. They both returned to Suceava where they stayed until they passed away. They are buried in Suceava.
My mother's sister, Gita, was a registered kindergarten teacher. She left Suceava in the 1930s and went to Berlin, where she married a writer named Franzi Wentuch and opened a private kindergarten. When Hitler came to power, they escaped in time to Vienna, but Hitler also came to Vienna and then Prague. When Hitler also conquered Czechoslovakia, they fled to Poland, and when Hitler conquered Poland, they fled to London. They remained in London and died there.
I did not know my mother's sister, Mina, until I immigrated to Israel in 1964. She left Suceava before I was born, came to Palestine and married a school principal named Ḥaim Potashman. Most of the time they lived in Safed, and later in Jerusalem. They are no longer alive.
My parents had five daughters: Coca (in 1911), Edith (in 1914), Mina (in 1917), Bluma (in 1919) and Jetti (in 1922). But my parents did not give up, they wanted a son at all costs. He was finally born on November 29, 1929. My mother gave birth to me in our home in Suceava, as was customary in those days. My father had a flour store with some groceries. The shop provided flour for bakeries and confectioneries in Suceava. The distance between our home and my father's store was about 1 km. A neighbor volunteered and ran that distance and informed my father that he had a son. Because there were no private telephones in Suceava.
|Shimshon and Zirel Huebner|
I was told that my father was so excited that he got on a carriage and drove home shouting all the way to people (acquaintances): I son was born to me! I have a son! The circumcision took place in our home, and every bakery in Suceava and every pastry shop sent us one cake (Torts); some 14 cakes.
About my sisters and their families
My sister Coca studied language theory and art at the University of Czernowitz, and married engineer Isser Rosenheck of Iţcani. The marriage took place at our home in Suceava. They moved to Czernowitz, remaining there during World War II. Because he was an engineer, my brother-in-law Isser, received a license from the authorities to remain in Czernowitz. They moved to Suceava in 1945. Coca worked in Suceava as a French teacher. In August 1947, they had a son named Simon. He was orphaned by his mother at 12, because my sister died in 1959 after a serious illness. My brother-in-law Isser died in 1971. Both are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Suceava. Simon, who is my first nephew, married Shiela (née Weinberg). He studied electrical engineering in the Polytechnic in Iaḥi. Sheila studied physics at Iaḥi University. They had two children, a daughter and a son. In 2003, they had a granddaughter. They immigrated to Israel in 1977 and live in Holon.
Edith, my other sister, studied law at Czernowitz University. World War II broke out and she didn't graduate. She was exiled in October 1941 to Transnistria and returned to Suceava in 1945. She worked in my father's store with my brother-in-law Zvi until 1951. I visited Suceava four times. She died in 1994, and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Suceava.
My third sister, Mina, studied singing at the Czernowitz Conservatory. She too, could not graduate because of the outbreak of war. She married our cousin Zvi Huebner in 1940, in Czernowitz. From our family, only my sister, Coca, attended her wedding. The rest of the family was in Suceava (Jews could not travel by train). During the war, my brother-in-law Zvi was sent to forced labor in southern Romania and remained in Bucharest. My sister crossed the border from Czernowitz to Romania in 1944 to be with her husband. In 1945, they moved to Suceava. In 1949, they had a daughter named Yosephia. At the end of 1950, they immigrated to Israel, lived for a time in a transit camp in Haifa, but in the end got by. My brother-in-law died in 1999 after a serious illness and is buried in Haifa. My sister Mina lives today in Kiryat Ḥaim. Her daughter Yosephia studied sociology and political science at the University of Haifa and married Ze'ev Schaerf in 1971. Ze'ev has a master's degree in biomedical engineering from the Technion in Haifa, received the Rafael Prize (1994), the American Association of Environmental Engineering Award (2000). They had two children, a daughter and a son. In 2002, their first grandson was born. The live in Kiryat Ḥaim.
My fourth sister Bluma studied Hebrew in Suceava between 1929 and 1935 at the Beit Yaakov School with teachers, Miriam Stern, Trachtman and Sara Roth, daughter of Rabbi
Meshulam Roth. At the end of 1947, she emigrated to Israel via Cyprus, where she taught Hebrew to immigrants until her arrival in Israel at the end of 1948. She married Pinchas Jungmann, a tour guide, and they had two children, a son named Ram and a daughter named Nili. Rami studied Oriental Studies at Tel-Aviv University. He was discharged from the IDF with the rank of colonel. He is married to Mira (née Katsburg), who has a doctorate in contemporary Judaism from the Hebrew University. They had four children and live in Modiin. Nili studied music at the Tel-Aviv University Academy of Music. She is a piano teacher and married Ze'ev Liav, who studied computer software engineering. He was discharged from the IDF with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. They had three children, a daughter and two sons, and live in Ramat Gan.
My fifth sister, Jetti, was also exiled to Transnistria in October 1941. After her return, she studied medicine at Iaḥi University and married Dr. Myron Alterescu, a gynecologist. They have two children; a boy and a girl. They emigrated to Israel in 1972. My brother-in-law Myron was killed in a serious car accident in 1981. My sister lives in Rehovot. The daughter Jana studied electrical engineering at the Technion in Haifa and married Dan Shaki, a Building Engineer. They have two children; a boy and a girl. The son Sylvian is married to Engineer Vivian (née Shinda). He studied accounting and economics at Tel-Aviv University. They had one daughter.
Myself, I began attending Mrs. Isolis' Jewish kindergarten at three and a half. At the same time, I began studying the [Hebrew] alphabet in Mr. Kalchstein's Ḥeder. At 7, I began attending elementary school and graduated in 1940. In the 1940-1941 school year, I was expelled from school, as were all the Jews in Suceava.
On October 10, 1941, we were deported to Transnistria. We arrived first at Burdujeni train station, were put into very crowded cattle cars. We arrived at Ataky. We crossed the Dniester and arrived in the city of Mogilev with my mother's sister and her husband and my mother's brother with his wife. In Mogilev, we were put into an old barracks, which did not have any doors or windows. We bribed a Romanian officer and ended up in an apartment belonging to a Jewish family in Mogilev. The Romanian officer, along with two gendarmes, followed us and demanded an additional amount of money from us. At first, my parents and uncles refused the Romanian officer's demand. The officer then said to the gendarmes, Take them back to the barracks and tell the superiors that these people tried to escape. The punishment for escaping was death, so the officer got what he wanted. The violin that I carried by hand, was left in Mogilev (before the expulsion, I studied violin for 5 years, from age 7 to 12). Instead of a violin, my mother gave me a suitcase to carry. We arrived in the town of Morfa. There, we were given a small room with a local Jewish family for clothes. I do not think it is possible to write briefly write about everything I have been through and felt. I can only
highlight the hunger, cold, disease, and danger to life. The whole family came down with typhus, but luckily, we recovered from it. My father worked in road construction, and my sisters and I worked for a short time growing and collecting tobacco.
I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah with four friends. The refreshments were a cup of white seeds.
In the spring of 1944, just a few days before liberation, when the German army had already begun its retreat, some German soldiers knocked on the door of our room. Our room had two small windows covered in ice. We were hiding by the door. We trembled with fear, but luckily the Germans must have been in a great hurry and left. If they had broken into and entered the room, I am convinced that they would have shot us dead. When we told this to the landlord, he invited us to their hideout. They dug at night during the whole winter in 1943-1944, a deep, narrow pit whose entrance was through a small cabinet. We went into the pit and stayed there with the landlord's family, altogether, 10-12 people, for about 50 hours in terrible conditions. While we were in the pit, some German soldiers broke down the front door of the house. We heard anxiously how one of them knocked on the floor and said: It's hollow here. Luckily, the Germans must have been in a great hurry and left. After two days and a few hours, the landlord's daughter went up to their room and a few minutes later started shouting, You can come up, the Red Army has entered Morfa!
We stayed in Morfa for a few more weeks. We then rented a wagon with our neighbor, Dr. Tolchinsky, and drove to Mogilev. I should mention that at the beginning of 1944, my sister from Czernowitz sent us some money and our economic situation improved a bit. We arrived in Mogilev, crossed the Dniester River by ferry, and arrived in Ataky. There were no windows or doors in the abandoned house. We lay on the floor with 40-50 other people. At a distance of 200-300 meters from this house was a bridge over the Dniester, which the Germans bombed all night. Miraculously, we were not hurt. We continued by freight train from Ataky to Czernowitz and arrived at Sadigura near Czernowitz. We could let my sister know we were in Sadigura. My sister and brother-in-law came to us the next day and by bribery, we arrived at their apartment in Czernowitz. We wanted to continue home to Suceava, but the border to Romania was closed and we had to stay in Czernowitz until March 1945.
The day after Simḥat Torah (1944), my father suddenly died, probably from cardiac arrest. My mother went into the bedroom and found him dead on the floor. Sixty years have passed since then. I wanted to visit at least once my father's grave in Czernowitz, but it turned out
that the old cemetery in Czernowitz is very neglected. There is no point in going there because no one could find the grave he was looking for.
In April 1945, the border to Romania was opened, and we drove home to Suceava. I completed grades 5-12 in 2½ years like all my friends who were deported to Transnistria. In 1948, I applied for the first time for a passport to emigrate to Israel. I did not get a positive answer and started working as an assistant bookkeeper and later on as a Costing and Planning Department manager. In 1958, I applied for the second time for a passport to emigrate to Israel. I did not receive a positive answer until the end of April 1964.
I emigrated to Israel with my mother and arrived at Lod Airport on July 3, 1964. I studied Hebrew at the Borochov Ulpan in Giv'atayim. After graduating, I began working as an accountant in a private accounting firm until February 1971. From February 1971 to June 1998, I worked as chief accountant in two different factories. In 1968, I married Becka (née Yankovitz), also an accountant, and we had two children, Sharon and Yifat. My mother passed away in May 1972. She was buried in the old cemetery in Haifa.
Our son Sharon studied business administration in Tel-Aviv and works at Bank Leumi. He married Miriam (née Malki), who has a master's degree in law and is a criminal lawyer in the Israel Police. They had three children: Daniel, Ido and Eitan. Our daughter Yifat studied communications and later studied psychology at the University of Haifa, where she pursuing a master's degree in clinical psychology.
Memories from the kindergarten
Before and shortly after World War II, there was a Hebrew kindergarten in Suceava run by kindergarten teacher Blanca Isolis. About seventy years ago, when I was four and a half years old, I attended this kindergarten. In the summer of 1934, it was decided to prepare an end-of-year presentation. The play took place in the municipal hall at the Dom-Pulaski Theater. Apparently, I must have had a beautiful voice then, so the kindergarten teacher taught me a song in Hebrew for the show. I did not understand the words I sang since I did not know Hebrew. But I still remember the lyrics to the song. And here (around me stood several children):
Me: If you only knew what I dreamed of this night!
The children: What did you dream? Tell us your dream?
- a. At night on my bed
e. Tara la la la la
a. I saw a dream in my sleep
e. Tara la la la la la la
a. A cherub came from the heavens
e. Ah ah ah ah
a. A cherub with two wings
e. Ah ah ah ah
- a. The cherub said to me thus
e. Tara la la la la
a. I'll send you my wings
e. Tara la la la la la la
a. Oh, heavenly angel
e. Ah ah ah ah
a. Where are the wings
e. Ah ah ah ah
The power of Truth
Before World War II, my late father, Shimshon Huebner, had a flour store with groceries. The store provided flour to the bakeries and confectioneries of Suceava. However, my father sold flour and groceries to individuals as well.
And here is an incident that occurred in 1939-1940, when I was about ten. This was a time when antisemitism was at its height, an unbearable period during which the Jews were required to wear the yellow star as a mark of Cain. During this period, there was a great shortage of money in small denominations.
One day, a non-Jewish woman entered my father's shop, bought a commodity, paid with a 100 Lei note, and asked for change. My father explained to her he had no change and, to prove it, opened the till for her. In response, the woman began threatening my father with complaining to the authorities, which would lead to a trial.
Awhile later, my father received an order of appearance at a military court in Bacova, which was about 200 km from Suceava. The night before the trial, some time before my father had to set off,
my father and I lay on our backs on the couch. My father was very tense and smoked cigarette after cigarette. Even though I was a little boy, I saw the fear in his eyes. He bade farewell to my mother, my sister, and me and set off.
On the day of the trial, late at night, while I was asleep, I heard a noise in the house. When I got up, I noticed my father talking to my family and so he related: In court; the judge asked both my father and the non-Jewish woman to give their versions. My father repeated the case and that he had no change. The Gentile woman insisted that my father had change, but preferred not to give her. The judge, miraculously for this period, asked the woman to swear to the veracity of her version. The woman was speechless, struck dumb, unable to get a single word out of her mouth! My father was released to go home.
The power of Truth!
About the Carten family
Chaim Faivel Carten obm, was born in 1889 in Bobryk. From there, he came to Suceava in 1917, where he lived with his wife Hinda (cousin Zollinger) and their children Uri, Aaron and Sarah.
|Sali (née Carten) Hirsch|
He was an avid Zionist teacher and educator of religious and Hebrew studies. He educated the city's youth in the Talmud Torah, which he managed with the late teachers David Miller and the Mr. Weissberg. On Sundays, he would give Hebrew lessons to the city's women, who had gathered to raise money for the Hadassah Foundation and the KKL-JNF.
In 1940, many Jews in the villages were murdered by the Romanian army retreating from North Bucovina. For six months, the authorities did not allow them to be brought for Jewish burial. After many solicitations, they brought 40 coffins to the synagogue. The incident caused him shock and deep emotions, giving him a heart attack from which he did not recover. He died at 52. In 1982, he was brought for burial in Haifa.
His wife, Hinda, came from a large, respectable family. Her father, David Yona Zollinger, visited Israel in 1936 with his son Moshe, who lived in Kfar Atta. Her older sister Rosa, married Ḥaim Messing, who visited Israel in 1934. The rest of her siblings were Shlomo Meir, Yehoshua Zollinger, Rivka Wolf, and Esther Sommer (whose husband was among the victims).
In 1935, the son, Uri Carten, moved to Eretz Israel. The son, Aaron Carten, was a known activist in the Torah Va'Avoda Movement. After returning from Transnistria camp, he operated the Bnei Akiva branch in Schotz. He immigrated to Israel in 1950, and lived in Kiryat Tivon. He died in 2001, leaving a wife, Yocheved (née Herling), two children and a great-grandson.
The daughter, Sarah, emigrated to Eretz [Israel] in 1946, on the ship Smyrna, renamed Max Nordau. She lived in Haifa and married the late Meir Hirsch.
|Teacher Ḥaim Carten and his wife Hinda (seated) and their children, Uri, Sarah and Aaron|
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