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[Page 144]

“Righteous art thou, O Lord,
When I plead with them: yet
Let me talk with this of my
Judgements”

(Jeremiah, 12:1)

Confession (An Elegy)

by A. Achi–Frida

Translated by Ala Gamulka

No, my God! I will talk with you of judgements,
Like that bitter person, the man from Anatot,
Who am I and what am I? Dust and ashes–
But, please, let me confess…
I will confess to you publicly,
You, God, interrogated me and you know–
That I will not find rest for years and years
I am unable to hold in what is in me,
Since the executioner stood over 6 million
The old and the infant, the parents
Our flesh and blood– torn from the living
How it hurts, woe to us!
On the day of remembrance, on a holiday,
In a house of prayer or in a fancy hall,
The cantor will stand and will trill with his voice,
Hearts will tremble and tears will flow,
“God of Mercy, dwelling in the skies

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The judge over widows and the father of orphans…”
In front of my tearful eyes will appear
A row of figures, standing still;
Oh, Merciful God! There is Frida!
My widowed sister, my only sister;
Next to her stands Hinda, her daughter,
In her arms a young child;
There are Moshe and Berel in the row
And Mintzi–so big! A young woman!
And Fishel and Leibel and little Haimel,
Who did not even know his father, Natan,
At the end of the row is the second Frida
Daughter of my brother Fishel, she did not know him.
There are nine orphans and two widows,
God, look at them, God in heaven?
Woe is me, shame and disgrace!
They stand naked near the stage…
Look at their sad faces
Their frozen appearance rivets the hair,
And blood! Holy blood, black,
Look at them and see, Merciful father,
How great is their insult, it is deep.
It demands and shouts to the heavens,
It demands and shouts quietly:
“Why, dear God and why!?”

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I knew, dear God, our ways are not yours,
I knew, our thoughts are not yours,
As was said by Yeshayahu, son of Amotz,
Our opinion is short and light like a chaff
Therefore, I will not speak of judgements with you–
Like that prophet and poor priest,
But I will justify you as he did– Oh God!
I cannot, forgive me, I cannot!

 

Frida, daughter of Fishel

 

[Page 147]

The Fate of One Family

by Bezalel Halperin

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Who of us, former residents of Ustiluh, does not remember the dry goods store of Nachman Halperin, z” l, and his wife Hannah? She was widowed at a young age and was left with six young children. She worked hard to raise and educate them. When Hitler and Stalin signed their pact and Ustiluh was given to the Russians, our townspeople thought redemption came. However, many new problems arose.

My younger brother Yaakov, was captured

 

Hannah Halperin

 

carrying a small piece of cloth–smaller than a baby's diaper.

He was accused of owning a business. This was not permissible under the Soviet regime.

For that reason, the whole family was imprisoned, even my sister in Ludomir. She was married and had children. It is difficult to describe my mother's meeting with my sister. They were in prison through no fault of their own. In addition, pearls were found inside my mother's wig. She had treasured them because they were an engagement gift.

Much effort was put into saving and freeing them. One of “their” lawyers was brought from afar. He went over the charges and explained what he saw. It was clear that one of the prisoners had to stay. “So that people will see and hear!”. Even 1000 defense lawyers would not have been able to annul the sentence– ordered before trial! It was mother's fate to be so chosen.

She was brought to a more secure location, in the interior of Russia. She walked to Kovel and fell without any strength left. She could not continue on her way. She was sent to the hospital. She escaped from there and returned home. It was, by them quite dangerous in town. She wanted to be with her children and grandchildren in her last days.

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One night, during the Nazi pogrom, she was captured together with her younger daughter Bluma and her son–in–law, David Spitzer and their little son Nachman. They were discovered in their bunker. The rest of the family survived because they were in a different bunker. The bitter tragedy did not end there. My younger brother did not want to stay there and he decided, with three other young men, to go to Lublin. It was a center for survivors. On the way, they were all killed by murderers, haters of Jews. May their names be erased.

May their pure blood be avenged.

 

Yaakov Halperin

 

[Page 149]

The Last Greetings

by Yitzhak Farber

Translated by Ala Gamulka

 

Matriarch of the family Yocheved, z” l

 

The letter was written in Russian. This was a testament to the fact that during the division, Ustiluh became part of the Soviet Union. I said: this, too, was good, the chasing of Jews, is not part of the official party line of the Soviet regime.

I was told that my younger sister, Mindel got married. My nephew David, son of Shifra, is named for my late father. He told me about Hinda's daughter, Yocheved. I knew her as she was born about a year before I made Aliyah. She was named after our late mother.

I was so happy to read the good news and I was remembering the olden days:

It was during WWI and our father had died (I almost do not remember him). Our mother was left alone with four small children. She was only 34 years old. She wandered and suffered until we returned to her town of birth, Ustiluh. Together with her mother Haya Rachel and her sister Gitel, she planned her new life. She had to devote herself to her children.

She worked hard for many years until we grew up and we began to help her. She never lost her cool. She suffered quietly in order to reach her goal. We, on our part, tried to lighten her load as much as possible. At the end, we did not allow her to work. These were her best days. We lived together for some time and managed well. She was happy and her eyes were smiling. But not for long! She became ill and her weakened body could not fight. She died after a few days. She left us forever.

Oh mother! It is not only Yizkor days that I remember you. It happens every day.

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I will never forget that terrible day on 27 Shevat 1933, the day you spoke to us for the last time. You had tears in your eyes when you said: “This is how I am leaving you”. You closed your eyes for eternity.

Your lot on earth was not great. You dedicated your best years to your children. You did not merit to see them in the wide world. They, too, are gone. I am the only survivor.

Hinda, Haim and daughter Yocheved; Shifra, Zvi–Aryeh and son David; Mindel and Moshe–your days on earth were few and they were bad. You were cut down by cruel hands. I will not forget the days we continued together in our dear mother's tradition. We said good–bye in the hope of seeing each other again. My hope was proven to be a lie and everything was lost forever. Let these words be the markers on your unknown graves.

 

 

[Page 151]

From the Claws of Death
(Memories From The War Years)

by Esther Goldman

Translated by Ala Gamulka

 

a. Before the Germans came

I was a young child of three, but I remember well our quiet home on Kovel Street in Ludomir. It was spacious and surrounded by a garden filled with flowers and fruit trees. Our family consisted of four people: my parents, myself and my sister Hela. She was seven years older. In addition to our family there was another small family: the Russian mayor and his wife. My father was a watchmaker and went daily to his store in the center of town. My mother supervised the house and my sister attended school. I would run around in the yard or on the street, playing.

This is how life was, until…

One morning, our Ukrainian neighbor (wife of Pansevitz) came in and gave my father a note that informed him he was to be drafted by the Red Army. I did not understand the depth of this calamity, but I sensed that my parents were in shock as a result of this pronouncement. My father went to a training camp near town. My mother used to take me to visit father and to bring him food. There were many Jews, Poles and Ukrainians training with him.

The draft deeply affected life in town. There was a great fear. All men of army age left their families and there was no one to take care of the families. Everyone felt something unexpected was coming, something terrible that no one could imagine. The fear was great as was the worry. Two months later the entire camp left town.

I remember how we all stood– mother, Hela, I and some other people– on the main road. We waved to the soldiers passing in tanks and trucks. The feeling was ominous. Would we ever see them back alive? What would happen to us, mothers and children?

At that time, our tenant, the mayor, tried to convince my mother that we should all run away with him to Russia in his truck. He explained that those who remain in the hands of the Germans will not have many chances to remain alive. My mother was afraid to leave home and to wander to the unknown with two little girls. She also believed that when father returned, he would not find anyone there. That was also a deterrent.

So, we said good–bye to the nice couple with our tears flowing. From that day one, we never heard from them again. They may have been killed on the way on mined roads or in bombings. Perhaps they remained alive. Let us hope so.

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b. In the hands of the murderers

A few days after the Russian army left, the Germans arrived. They immediately established a ghetto. At first, they forced the Jews, with threats, to bring valuables: radios, expensive clothes, jewelry, etc. The petrified Jews brought the items believing that they could save themselves by doing so. They did not yet know– they did not even imagine– what they could do to us. The ghetto was in the center of town and all the local Jews and from nearby villages were assembled there. Our house was outside the ghetto. Before we moved, my mother asked our neighbor to safeguard the house with its furniture and clothing. If we survived, that would be great, but if we perished– he should keep everything. During that time, my mother received news of my father from a Pole who managed to return to town. He told us that he was with my father when the unit was taken prisoner. At first, they were made to dig trenches and they did various jobs. Then, the Poles and Ukrainians were liberated. A day after he was freed, he found out that all the Jews in the unit were burned by the Germans. One can imagine how this news affected us.

We entered the ghetto a few days after Pessach 1941. We were five families in one room. I was the youngest among the children in that room. We slept on wooden crates. My mother managed to find work outside the ghetto. The work was exhausting: cleaning houses, carrying stones, laundry, etc. She would come back totally spent. Her hands and feet were swollen. However, she was able to bring back some food. Of course, the crowding was impossible and the dirt was unbearable.

Five months passed. The first pogrom– on the town Jews– began. There was great worry in the ghetto. The Germans captured Jews– men, women and children– and put them on trucks. The Jews did not really understand why they were captured. Still, anyone who could, escaped and hid. We moved to a different house and we hid in a large cellar. There were forty of us. The cellar was dark and the odor was fierce. We stayed there for two days, holding on to each other. We heard women shouting and children bawling on the outside.

Among us was an elderly woman who had lost her entire family. They were murdered in front of her. She, somehow, had managed to escape. She could not stop crying and yelling. The other people were unhappy because our hiding place could be discovered. They suggested to strangle the old woman. No one could really do it. There was also a five–year–old boy who cried constantly and asked for his father. His mother tried to silence him with sugar cubes and candy, but to no avail. The owner of the house assembled his friends and relatives– we were among them– and suggested

we escape to a small attic in the house. We were 14 people in this group. One night we began to climb up quietly so the others would not notice. My aunt was among us. She was fat and weak. It was difficult for her to climb. She gave up and said that if she felt danger approaching, she would then climb up. Three days later, the murderers discovered the cellar and took out its inhabitants, including my aunt.

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She was the only one who knew our hiding place. She died with the secret. We heard the screaming and the crying. The little boy, previously mentioned, cried bitter tears and his mother comforted him by saying: “Don't cry, my dear son, you are going to your father– the one you so wished to see”. “Where is my father?” asked the boy. The mother replied: “Ask these cursed murderers and they will tell you”

This is how the mother and child talked a few hours before they were killed.

In general, people still trusted the Germans, that they were taking them to work. It was easier to believe it.

We peeked through the cracks of the attic and we saw how our cellar neighbors were being put on trucks and driven away. Our hearts were breaking. We were fortunate to find a new hiding place, but these poor people had their fate already determined. Would we be successful in hiding for a long time? We lay crowded together. It was not even possible to lift one's head. I lay on top of my mother. We spent six days in that place.

 

c. Outside there are ruins and inside there is fear

After we came out of that place, we found out that all the Jews from Ludomir and area were brought to a big forest nearby. They were murdered there. Some people managed, somehow, to return from the killing fields. Among them was a young girl from our town. After liberation she told us the story of what happened. The Jews that were murdered had dug the pits and trenches before hand. There were machine guns near the pits. The Jews were arranged in a row along the trenches and were shot. Some were ordered to lie down in the trenches and the Germans then shot them with guns and artillery. That young girl lay on top of her dead mother. Early in the morning, the Ukrainians came to cover the trenches with earth. At the same time, they also robbed the victims of their clothes and any other items they had brought. Suddenly they saw a frightening scene: a naked young girl, bleeding, rises from the pile of murdered bodies… One elderly Ukrainian woman had pity on the young girl. She dressed her and took her to her house. She stayed there until liberation.

I will return to the frightening day. When the Germans discovered the cellar, they took the people out. The Germans continued to search in the rest of the house– looking for Jews. We, in the attic, heard well their movements. We were lying without moving, without any food or water. After 24 hours my mother tried her luck and came down from the attic to the cellar. She then went into the house in search of food. She was fortunate to find, in the pantry, some food and water. On the way, some of the water spilled because her hands were shaking with fear. The same day, the Germans returned to the house and found the puddles of spilled water. This fact made them guard the house in the evening. We were in great danger. We were very hungry. The position in which we were lying and the crowding were difficult. All this was forcing us to run away from there. This is what we decided to do. However, we postponed the departure for midnight.

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A German came to visit his friend, the guard and brought vodka. In addition, he had good advice: “why are you guarding a Jewish house like a dog watching his master's house? Tomorrow we can burn the house down. If we find Jews here, they, too, will burn. Do not worry, they will not run away until morning. Now, let us enjoy our dinner to our hearts' content”. It became quiet. We knew they had left the house. Without giving it much thought, we came down from the attic. It was dark and the descent was difficult, especially after having been immobile and eating very little. A person's will to live is great and one can overcome difficulties– as if they are more than the suffering. Finally, we came down in peace and we hurried to the neighbor's house not knowing what awaited us there. The house was empty. First, we searched for food. Anything edible that was found there disappeared quickly. We were fourteen hungry and weak people. We hid in that house in a large attic for 15 days until the end of the first Aktion. It had lasted three weeks. Interesting, there were Jews hiding in that attic before we came. They made themselves at home as if they had been there for many years. At night they went to find food and water. In comparison to the previous place, this was a most comfortable location. It was larger and had more air. There were fairly large cracks to peek outside and to see all the atrocities. We saw Jews transported forcibly by the Germans. Sometimes there were dead bodies lying in the street. Jews came with stretchers and collected them to bring them to a grave. The Germans accompanied them and prodded them. At first, I was not allowed to look outside, but then it was evident they could not stop me and I was left alone.

There was a store in that house. It had bolts of material. At night, we would go down the ladder and bring back scraps of material that were left over. The ladder was immediately pulled back up. The cloth was divided among all. Those who needed clothes were able to sew a garment. Others just kept the cloth.

Two weeks after we arrived in that attic, it was quiet on the streets. Slowly, Jews emerged from their hiding places. We, too, came out. We discovered that many Jews had been killed. We did not have numbers and we could not even imagine.

 

d. Between hope and desperation

At the end of the pogrom, the surviving Jews were allotted twenty houses. There were four families in each room. Again, there was crowding and great fear. My mother tried to go to work (as a rule, women with small children did not do it). At first, she worked inside the ghetto. There were various jobs: clearing destroyed houses, laundry for the Germans, etc. She then received permission to work outside the ghetto. It was a great gain because it was then possible to smuggle in some food, even though it was dangerous to do it. Nevertheless, there were many who endangered their lives and managed to bring, through the gate guarded by the Germans, a loaf of bread, some potatoes, butter or eggs.

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An additional difficulty was the spread of Typhus in the ghetto. I became ill, but it was a light case. I was able to get up within a few days. My sister got sick after me and her case was more serious. She had high fever and stomach pains. My mother went to work every morning and she returned in the evening. There was no one to take care of us. It was possible to call a doctor, but they avoided doing so. Sick patients would be transferred to the hospital. There, they would be given an injection, so as to stop the spread of the disease. From time to time, the Germans would comb the houses to discover sick people.

After I had recovered, I took care of my sister. I really did not wish to do it. I was angry at her for being ill and I found her to be a burden. During that time, mother tried to bring something home– at a great risk.

One day, mother returned from work looking somewhat happy. She told us that she had begun to work with a Polish family in their vegetable garden near the Old Peoples' Home, about 3 kilometers out of town. My mother became friends with the head of the family and he promised to hide her and her children in case there would be another Aktion. This fact gave us hope that perhaps we would be able to escape from the ghetto. My mother later discovered that the mayor of the village where the Old Peoples' Home was situated, was our Ukrainian neighbor, Pansevitz. She managed to meet him during her work day and he promised to help. He told her he did not know where she was and what happened to her, or if she even was still alive. Since then, from time to time, he brought my mother food to the ghetto gate. My mother was allowed to take it from him. Our life was a little easier now. We ate a slice of bread every day. It was possible to cook some potatoes and even an egg. The “euphoria” did not last long. One Friday evening, my mother returned from work upset and angry. She told everyone the ghetto was restless. Jews were standing in the streets talking about the catastrophe that was imminent. She suggested we try to escape, but no one believed her and they laughed at her. The residents of the apartment prepared for the Sabbath. They lit candles and prayed. My mother did not abandon her plan. She packed our belongings in a small package and we planned to leave. My sister had recuperated from her illness, but she was still weak. I should now tell you about a family relative, a young man of 14. His name was Moshele– he arrived in the ghetto and found us. We put him up in our room. The poor fellow became ill with Typhus. It was a difficult case and he could not move. My mother planned to transfer me and my sister and to return the next day for Moshele. The residents of the apartment promised to look after him. They convinced mother not to take him. How could she drag a boy sick with a fever of over 40 degrees? With a broken heart, we left Moshele lying with high fever. We went out of the house, feeling scared. Mother was leading and the two of us followed her towards the gate. Our bad luck materialized– a German policeman was guarding the gate. Mother gave him a watch and a gold ring. Not saying a word, he opened the gate. We breathed a sigh of relief. We were going to towards the Old Peoples' Home. Mother knew the area, but at night it was difficult to orient ourselves. We wandered all night in fields and hidden paths to avoid unpleasant encounters.

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It was very dark at night. From time to time, a rocket illuminated the skies. We immediately threw ourselves down on the ground. We walked fast, but we could not find our way. I suddenly felt that one of my shoes had fallen, but I could not find it. We did not want to be delayed. I continued to walk with one shoe only. Finally, we decided to rest and wait for dawn. We sat down on the cold ground and we tried to close our eyes. The sounds of constant shooting and the barking of dogs did not let us fall asleep. At dawn, we recognized where we were and we quickly continued on our way. We entered the village. Everyone was still asleep. We feared the dogs –that they would be barking at us. They would alert those who were not our friends. We hurried into the nearby hay stack. Mother hid me under the straw and went with my sister to the house of her Polish friend. An hour later, the Pole came with a wheelbarrow to the hay stack. He put me inside, covered me with straw and brought me to his house. I was scared and frozen. I found my mother and sister lying in bed, covered in blankets. I joined them immediately and I felt better.

 

e. For the good of charitable people

We were received warmly and with friendship. My mother could not have imagined that we would be so received. A bed and a warm blanket after a night of wandering revived us.

Mother asked the Pole, Agrontchik, to go to town to find out what was going on there. He did go, but he returned quickly with bad news: the roads were closed, the Germans were roaming. He found out from some farmers that the second pogrom had begun.

What luck we had that we were saved! How sad that our neighbors did not listen to mother's warning. Poor Moshele…our hearts were bursting with pain.

We had refuge in this house for 18 months. We spent days and nights in the little kitchen from which it was possible to climb into the attic. There was an entrance to the house in this kitchen, but it was camouflaged with clothes hanging on it. We could peek through the boards on the door to see who came into the house. Many times, we held our breath as one of the Polish villagers came into the house. Inside the kitchen there was a large stove that served as our bed. In addition, Agrontchik made us a bed out of planks as well as some shelves. For a year and a half, we spent our days and nights lying on these beds. Zusha, his wife, gave us food. They performed a great charitable act. They endangered themselves by hiding us. They were repaid for their efforts. Mother gave them gold and the village mayor, the Ukrainian Pansevitz, gave them flour, potatoes, etc. for us. There was a public Old Peoples' Home in the village and the fields belonged to the government. A few families worked the land as lessees. Agrontchik was in charge of the laborers, but during the war he had to do the work by himself.

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A few weeks after we began to stay there, Pansevitz came to visit us. He described the situation in the ghetto and on the front. The stories were not encouraging, but it was worse not to know anything. He came to visit from time to time.

On cold nights, Zusha would bring us into their warm beds. It was crowded, but at least it was warm. In the morning we returned to our cold kitchen.

We had many “friends” in our hiding place. The first were mice. They got used to us and we to them. We even played with them. Lice were also our friends, but they were not so pleasant. They roamed freely over our bodies, our clothing and anything else in the kitchen. The was a tiny window in the kitchen that was hidden on the outside with straw. We never turned on lights at night. We sat in the dark. I cannot remember how my sister and I occupied ourselves during those long days and nights. My mother found a job. She knitted socks and gloves for Zusha and her children. Our life was not always so” idyllic”. We often had to climb into the attic and hide there for hours, sometimes even days. Guests would come to see Zusha. We did not starve, but Zusha could not bring us food.

Zusha had a sister in a nearby village. Her husband was a soldier. One day, before Christmas, she came with her children to visit. We immediately had to go up to the attic and we stayed there for three days without any food. When they left, Zusha came to apologize to us. She was sorry that she could not look after us during those days. She was afraid to tell her sister that she was hiding Jews. With great fear, she told us her sister invited her to visit and she could not find an excuse to say no.

Zusha prepared for the trip. Since the road was difficult, she decided to leave her baby daughter at home. She invited my sister Hela to join her. At first, mother was against it, but Zusha managed to convince her that nothing bad could happen. It would be good for her to be out in fresh air and in sunshine. They left on the trip. A few days later we received a letter from her. She was being well treated by the sisters. Zusha presented her as an orphaned Polish girl. Everyone believed it. They did not mention returning home.

Zusha sent her elderly mother to take care of the children. The old lady was a shrew. Zusha told her that we are the Jews hiding in her house and that she should look after us, too. She did do it, but she had to be paid. My mother gave her, from time to time, earrings or a ring with a precious stone or a gold chain.

 

f. Fire in the villages

At that time the frontline came closer and the partisans began to appear in our area. The thick forest served them as an excellent cover. They made contact with the farmers.

They obtained food and arms and found out about the movements of the enemy. The first chance they had, they attacked a German unit. They killed 18 and injured others. The news of this event was circulated in the area and the villagers were afraid. They knew the Germans would not accept it quietly. Their revenge would be great. The reaction came soon afterwards. At first, the Germans searched houses looking for arms. Then, they burned village after village and expelled the residents. When they found Jews hidden by farmers, all were executed.

We peeked through the small window and we saw fire everywhere. We were afraid. We felt they would reach us any day. However, since our village was a little farther from the forest, a few days passed before the Germans arrived. They ordered all furniture to be removed. They waited patiently and then they lit the houses on fire. They came to Zusha's house. Mother came out of hiding and pretended to be part of the family. She began to help the old lady to empty the house. Later, mother told me that the old lady had asked her to give me to her in case the Germans would burn the house down. My mother could not agree that the day would come when she would lose her entire family. She already knew about father's fate (in her heart she did want to believe it). She did not know what was happening to Hela. She did not agree to separate.

While she was moving freely in the house and in the yard, mother ordered me not to leave the hiding place. I was quite curious and I peeked from the slit in the wall. I saw my mother covered in a large shawl, carrying mattresses and other household goods. The old lady was barely able to drag anything. The children were crying. There was much noise and tumult. I felt very hot and I did not know the reason. I began to get undressed. Suddenly, I heard loud banging on the kitchen door. It had been discovered after the rags had been taken off. I was scared to open and I began to cry. When the banging became louder, I opened the door to an unfamiliar person. The man spoke to me, but I did not understand a word. I was confused and embarrassed because I was naked. I quickly began to get dressed and he disappeared. In a moment, I saw my mother near the window. She motioned me to come out. I did not understand and I did not do so. She was afraid, for some reason, to come inside. The house was on fire.

The German to whom I had earlier opened the door told my mother to take me out. My mother managed to do it at the last minute. The walls were crumbling. She even took my clothes and my shoes. After 18 months of sitting in an enclosed space, it seemed strange to me to step on the ground, to see so many people crying and yelling, running around and dragging sobbing children. Cows were trampling through the snow, without purpose and the Germans were standing and watching this “interesting scene”, fire and smoke, collapsing houses. They were enjoying themselves and laughing at their own work.

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g. The flight

Mother was afraid that one of the locals would recognize her and would denounce her to the Germans. The old lady also thought so and advised her to quickly hide in the haystack at the end of the village until the Germans left. She again repeated her wish to look after me. Even in this moment of despair, my mother did not want to be separated from me.

As soon as we began to walk away, we heard: “Halt! If you don't stop, I will shoot!”. My mother did not stop and quickened her steps, pulling me with her. We ran as fast as we could until we reached the haystack. Mother hid me under the bales of straw and ordered me to be quiet. “If they kill me”–she said–“If they will not find you, you can stay with the old lady until the end of the war. You will then look for Hela”. I was shaking with cold and fear and I listened to mother. I was not even 5 years old, but I understood the situation. I knew I had to do as I was told. Mother kissed me and went to close the doors. From outside we heard the voices of Germans passing by the haystack. A few minutes later, the door was burst open and a German asked my mother: “Are you the woman who ran away with a little girl?” “Yes” – answered my mother–“I am the one. Do what you want with me, but do not torture me. My children are dead, my husband is dead. My whole family is dead. I have no relatives left”.

“I promise you that we will not do anything bad to you as long as you tell us the truth”– said the German. “Tell me, where did you hide your daughter?” – “I told you, all my children are dead, I have no more children”. The German began to search the haystack with the sharp end of his gun. He found me crying and shaking. He brought me to my mother and asked: “Is this your daughter?” Mother burst out crying and hugged me. “Are you Jewish?”– he asked– “Yes!”, replied my mother. “Tell me, do you know anything about the partisans? Where have they been hiding until now?” My mother told him that we had only arrived in the village a few days ago. She had no idea what was going on here.

It seems the German believed her. He took out a picture from his pocket and showed it to my mother. “Do you see this woman? These are my wife and children who were taken prisoner by the Russians. Who knows if they are still alive? Now, hurry and find a place to hide until after Passover that is coming soon. Then you can go to the nearby village and join the Poles”.

We stood as if glued to the ground. We could not believe our ears. I still remember the German. He was tall, with glasses. It seemed he was the commander of the unit that had done the burning. My mother thanked him and I bowed and kissed his hand. We said good–bye with this “ceremony”. He ordered his soldiers to leave and we were able to continue on our way. We reached a house that stood further away from the village. My mother knew the owners. Fortunately, that house was not burned down. Perhaps because the lady of the house was very ill and lying in her bed.

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Mother asked for permission to stay for a few days until the Germans would leave the area. They agreed. We left after three days. The roads were covered with melting snow. We sunk in it up to our knees, but we continued to the nearby Polish village. On the way we met a peasant woman and we asked if the village still existed. She told us there was no purpose to going there as there were no people left. Still, we continued in that direction. We came to a crossroad and we did not know which way to go. Suddenly, we heard people speaking German. We immediately threw ourselves on the ground until the voices became fainter. When we got up, we saw three Germans walking leisurely in one direction. We decided to go the other way. We reached a settlement, but we discovered that most of the farmers had left the village. We joined the families leaving.

 

h. Wandering

We walked a great distance from there to Rozhishets. We wandered many days and nights. We walked on foot most of the time. If we were lucky, we had a ride on a cart. We were cold and hungry. Months went by. I do not remember the names of the villages we passed. Some villages were totally destroyed and some only partly. There was a thick forest with cleared areas where there was a deep pit in the middle. It seemed there had been a bomb there. I vaguely remember all of this. It is as if there was a thick fog, in a dream. The travelling was exhausting and the stops, mainly at night, were short. There were horses and other animals, but mainly horses. However, they were not always available to us.

On the way we came close to a bridge that the Germans had tried, for several days, to bomb. Everyone moved quickly, with one cart trying to overcome the other. Suddenly, the sound of the airplanes was louder and the bombing began. After we managed to cross the bridge, we found out from those who were closest to us that the bridge had collapsed. All the people who were not able to pass fell into the water, were killed or taken prisoner.

For a few days we traveled with gypsies. It was a family: husband, wife and a small child. They had two horses. Their cow had died on the way and there was no milk for the child. A few times, my mother bought milk for the child and, in return, they transported us in their cart. Finally, they got tired, for some reason, and asked us to get off. Again, we had to walk. I could not walk far and, at times, my mother had to carry me in her arms. She felt courageous and asked a young Polish woman carrying a baby if I could sit in their cart. The Polish woman agreed, but wanted to be paid. Mother gave her a gold ring and, in exchange, I lay down in the cart. I sighed in relief. Mother was still waiting to see the response as the woman had to consult with her husband. Soon a man, around 25 years old, came over and pointed to me. The woman quickly explained to him the situation and showed him the ring. He forcibly took away the ring from her finger.

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He returned the ring to my mother and said: “Get out of here, you stinking Jewess and take your daughter. If not– you will have a bitter end”.

My mother was scared and she took me off the cart. She felt helpless. Soon, she recovered and asked another peasant woman for a ride for me. The woman had no husband, only a young daughter. Her cart was packed with belongings and was pulled by two horses. My mother promised to lead her cow. We finally found someone who had pity on us. I remember name– Kozlovska. She treated us very nicely. We ate and slept together as we wandered. One night, we were in the forest, the wind was howling and it began to rain. All the families had prepared tents. Kozlovska joined one of them, but no one invited us. We slept in the cart. We were soaked through and through. That night I developed a cold and I had small sores, full of pus, on my hands. They hurt, but I cried quietly. There was no ointment and there was fear I had scabies. It was not a dangerous illness, but quite infectious. The Polish woman drove to Rozhishets, already in the hands of the Russians, and she brought me an ointment for scabies. It did not help me. The sores became larger and hurt me terribly. They wrapped my hands with rags. Everyone looked at me with evil eyes.

The families began to go to liberated Rozhishets. Our Polish lady agreed to take us there. We said good–bye to her with friendliness. She helped us to find a medical clinic so we could get an ointment for my hands.

 

i. “I don't want to be Jewish”

I walked out of the medical clinic with my hands bandaged. I had a strange feeling. The nurse in the clinic had asked me what my origins were. I confidently told her I was Polish. Even after mother told her we were both Jewish, I stubbornly insisted that I was not Jewish. (The nurse wondered: why would I deny it?)

This feeling, not wanting to be Jewish or the question why I had to be Jewish and suffer so much awakened in me during our wandering. As we distanced ourselves from danger, this feeling became an open rebellion. This is what happened:

When we stopped in one of the forests, my mother found out that there were Jews in the area. She wanted to contact them. She told me she was going to speak to some Jews and would soon return. In that forest there was a pond surrounded by bushes. I told my mother that if she did not return immediately, I would drown myself. My mother left and I descended from the cart and went to wash up. As I was washing my feet, I fell into the pond. I do not remember if I did it intentionally or if it was an accident. My good fortune was that our gentile friend noticed it. She rushed and quickly took me out by pulling my hair. I turned out the pond was not very deep, but I still could have easily drowned. The woman undressed me

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and changed my clothes. I lay back on the cart feeling victorious. When my mother returned and the woman told her what had happened, she began to cry. I was giving her so much trouble. I told her: What business do you have with Jews? Why was she going to them? Poor Mother! Is it not enough that so much has happened to her because Jews were so disliked? Now she had her own “anti–Semitic” event.

Truthfully, time, which healed my scabies and obliterated my memory of the terrible events, also cleansed me of this “hatred”.

 

j. Going home with Hela

We had not heard from Hela since the day we said good–bye. Mother did not stop speaking about her. Who knew if she was still alive? Suddenly, Hela arrived in Rozhishets, went straight to the market and found Mother. I was not present when they met, but I know Mother was deeply shaken. She was quite ill afterwards. I did not get too excited. I almost did not recognize her as she had improved so much. She told us about the hardship she had suffered.

She hid in the forest with the partisans. She then came to Ludomir where she hid with a Ukrainian peasant woman. She was not actually hiding, but she worked for her. The woman did not know she was Jewish. She attended church and wore a cross on her neck. She did everything, suffered quietly in order to remain alive. After liberation Pansevitz took her to him and told her that if she did not find her mother, he would adopt her. My sister did not stop looking. She went to the Jews who came back to town to ask if they had, by chance, met Mother. One woman told her that Mother and I were in Rozhishets. She decided to immediately go to search for us. It was dangerous and difficult to do so. The trains were full of injured soldiers returning from the front and the roads had dangerous people milling about. In spite of her young age (13), she overcame all the difficulties and came to us.

A few days later we decided to return to Ludomir. Our house was still standing. Our good neighbor Pansevitz guarded the belongings that we had left when we went into the ghetto. We had beds, a table and dishes, but we had no way of subsisting. Mother did not have any gold items left–she had used them up during the war to pay our way. Here, as in Rozhishets, the main way of earning a living was in the market, buying and selling food items and other things. For that, one had to obtain a permit from the police.

After much trying, Mother received a permit to sell bread rolls. She would buy flour, bake the bread rolls at night and sell them in the morning. Later, she also sold writing implements and other items.

Life was very hard. In spite of everything, we were pleased that we had withstood all our troubles and that we merited to see the end of the war and to start a new life.

Hela attended a Russian school– there was no Jewish school. I was still at home because I had not yet turned seven. I did not have any shoes, but my turn came to go to school. At the beginning of the winter, I started school. We were two Jewish girls in the class. Even in the other grades there were very few Jews. At first, it was difficult for me to learn. Soon I learned to read and write and I studied with great pleasure.

Although we got used to our new life, we did not wish to remain with gentiles. The few Jews who survived returned to Ludomir and Ustiluh, but they began to leave and work in other countries. Most of them went to Poland. Poland became an intermediate stop on their way to Eretz Israel or America. We also decided to leave our town of birth.

 

k. Safe harbor

In Summer 1945 we left Ludomir and traveled to Poland. We did not know what to expect, but our wish to live among Jews was strong. We had heard that in Poland there were large concentrations of Jews.

We lived in Bytom. There we found a large Jewish population and we saw the activities of various organizations. There was talk of making Aliyah. There were also Jews who went to Germany, to France and to America. Mother had a brother in Canada and another one in Eretz Israel. She did not know where to go, but, we, the girls, wanted to go on Aliyah. We knew nothing about life there and how we would manage. The decision was made and our wanderings began.

The first stop was in Austria. We spent a few months in a special camp. It had been a concentration camp during the war. It was difficult. People were still reliving their war experiences. Here they were brought to a former concentration camp where the ovens for burning bodies were still standing. There were also other signs. Near the camp there was a village of Austrian peasants. They told horrific tales about the extermination.

From Austria we went to Italy. There, we were received by a relative, Haim Stolar. He had served in the Red Army during the war and he was active in the Aliyah movement. He helped us to go to Ostia, a village near Rome. Life here was free and happy. There was no need to worry about making a living because we received everything, money, clothes and food, from the Joint and UNWRA. The happy Italians were very nice. I learned to speak Italian and we visited Rome and other places. These were very interesting trips.

My sister Hela belonged to Hashomer Hatzair and they were planning Aliyah. Mother became ill and underwent a serious operation in a hospital in Rome. Hela decided to stay

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until we could go on Aliyah when our turn would come. She was lucky, because the ship her friends had boarded was captured by the British and was brought to Cyprus.

We left a month later. We took a small boat –with the help of Haim– that was bringing glue to Eretz Israel. We were only 10 people, carrying documents of returning residents who had left before the war and were unable to return.

We passed Cyprus and our hearts were beating fast. We were afraid to be discovered, but all went well.

On a summer night, 22.7.1947, we docked in Haifa. We stayed in port and the ship was rocking back and forth. Lights were flickering in the distance. Had we really arrived at our destination? Will our wanderings stop here? The lights of Haifa charmed us. We stood on deck and watched all night. The next day we were taken on a motor boat. We were checked and questioned. We then booked a hotel near the port. This was the first time I met Arab women. They were singing, but it seemed to me like crying. I was surprised they did not have tears in their eyes.

Mother telephoned my uncle in Kibbutz Mishmar Hayam. My aunt and uncle appeared a few hours later. The meeting was very exciting. We took our belongings and went to Kibbutz Mishmar Hayam. We were finally in safe harbor.

 

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