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[Page 433]

To Safety

 

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From Olizarka to Rishon LeZion

by Penina Holland nee Bart

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

I, Pesia Bart, was born in Olizarka, Poland, to my parents Baruch-Yosef Bart and Mirka. I was the youngest daughter in the family.

My three older sisters Feigel, Rosia and Fruma, and my brother Shlomo married during my childhood and had large families, six-seven children each.

When I was about four, my mother died and my father soon remarried. My sister Fruma, who was not yet married, raised me in my father's house until my adolescence.

As an adolescent I joined the Hechalutz Hatza'ir movement. After several years, I realized that my place was not at home anymore, and I was sent, with the approval of the movement, to a training kibbutz in Kolomea, Galicia. There I remained three years, from the age of 16 to the age of 19, with the intention of making Aliya to Eretz Israel. After three years the kibbutz was closed and we were transferred to a kibbutz in Beltz. Groups for illegal Aliya began to organize and I joined such a group.

I was sent home for a few months, to get ready for Aliya and after some time I was called to Warsaw to join my group.

My sisters tried to dissuade me from doing this, for fear of the anti-Jewish riots in Eretz Israel, but at that time Hitler rose to power and the rumors about the laws against the Jews in Europe encouraged me to leave for Eretz Israel.

I arrived to Warsaw, where I met the rest of the group, about 400 people; I met also Zvya Lobotkin, who headed the organization. From Warsaw we were sent to Trieste in Italy; there we boarded an old and quite dilapidated ship, which was supposed to take us to Eretz Israel.

After sailing for a week, in terrible conditions of hunger and overcrowding, we neared the Haifa shore, but we were discovered by the British. Our ship began to retreat, but this was senseless, since the British were close and they shot at us. We stopped, waited for them and were caught. The British intended to send us back to Poland, but in face of our strong opposition, they began to negotiate with the Jewish Agency concerning our fate. After four more days on the ship, the Agency decided to give us certificates as “German refugees” and in May 1939 we were released in the Haifa port. Every member of the group went his own way. The majority joined kibbutzim and the rest went to relatives in the country. I and the other members of the Beltz kibbutz were supposed to go to kibbutz Ashdot Ya'akov, but before that I went to Hadera to visit my sister Fruma z”l, who had made Aliya before me.

My sister and her family were against the idea of my going to live on a kibbutz, and since I was not very enthusiastic about that myself I remained in Hadera. After a very short time with my family I had to leave, due to their difficult economic situation, and I went to Tel Aviv.

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There I met acquaintances from Poland, who helped me find work as a laborer at the Tel-Nof airport that was being built just then. It was hard work, but the morale was high, for the simple reason that work was found during such a difficult time.

In Tel Nof I met my future husband, Yitzhak Holland z”l, who was a laborer as well. In Poland he had been a kibbutz member and when he came to this country he left the kibbutz and lived in Rishon LeZion.

About a year after we met, we married and we went to live in Rishon LeZion. We lived in a one-room apartment; our eldest daughter Miriam was born there.

We both worked; we had occasional jobs. In time, we saved some money and started building our house on a lot we had bought in Rishon LeZion. This took about two years and when it was ready we moved in and there our second child was born, our son Shmuel.

At the time I arrived to Eretz Israel, WWII broke out in Europe. My father, my stepmother, my two sisters, my brothers and their families remained in Poland. There were also many uncles and aunts and other relatives.

During the war, the connection was cut off. We heard about what was happening in Poland, but we never imagined that the tragedy would be so great. We were certain that the stories were exaggerated. Only at the end of the war we realized extent of the tragedy. My entire family was murdered, except my niece Miriam, my sister's daughter. My sister Feigel survived as well, made Aliya and lives now on the kibbutz Eylon. My husband's family was also murdered.

Now I live in Rishon LeZion, and my name is Penina Holland. My husband died fifteen years ago. My daughter and my son married and have families and live in Rishon LeZion as well.

I am a grandmother and have six grandchildren, who give my much happiness.


Memories
(The wanderer's staff, Rafalovka, Uzbekistan, Rishon LeZion)

by Tzipora Goldberg nee Brill

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

My memories take me far, far away from here, to Poland, to my little town Olizarka in the District of Volhyn, where we were born – Zvi, Tzipora (Feigele), Yakov and Hanina – to our parents Shlomo and Rachel Brill.

In Olizarka there were several tens of families, who lived in small houses on both sides of the street. Most of the residents were craftsmen: tailors, cobblers, builders, and there were also some shop owners.

My father had a workshop, he was a locksmith – and this was our source of livelihood.

We grew up in a warm home. We, the children, went to the Polish Government School and in the afternoon to the Cheder to learn about our religion. The first few years we went to school in Olizarka, then our parents decided to send us to study at the Hebrew Tarbut School in Rafalovka.

At home we knew that learning was above all. That, however, was not easy.

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It cost money. During weekdays we stayed in Rafalovka and on Friday we came home for the Shabat. Finally my parents decided to move to Rafalovka.

Everything went smoothly. My older brother married and in the thirties went with his family to Eretz Israel, and settled in Hadera.

We grew up in a religious home, and Shabat and holidays have left a mark on us. Preparations for Shabat started on Thursday. Mother would get up early to bake the bread, the Shabat Chalot and all kinds of sweets. Then we would clean the house, which was quite large. On Friday afternoon, a festive atmosphere was felt in the house. All were washed and wore Shabat clothes. The table was covered with a white tablecloth, the candlesticks in place. Before Shabat, Mother recited the blessing over the candles and went to the synagogue.

For many years I am clinging to these memories – the Shabat songs after meal, the festive atmosphere on holidays and the feeling of holiness on Yom Kipur, which I missed so much in later years.

In 1939, the Russians came. My brother Yakov and I began working. Refugees from the center of Poland started to come. Everything was foggy and unclear – and suddenly war broke out between Germany and the USSR. The Nazi monster quickly occupied all of Poland. Sad news arrived from all sides. We decided to take a wagon and horses and leave our house. We started, the entire family, toward the Russian border. After several days of wandering we received a note to return, because the Germans have been driven back.

We returned home and Mother took a firm decision: we do not leave our home. My father begged: we go with the children, if we survive, we will regain our property and money later. But to no avail. The Germans approached again, and then we organized, a group of young people of several families, and we managed to board the last train to the East and flee toward Russia.

My father encouraged us to leave and save ourselves, but no one thought that we will never see our parents again.

During our trip we were bombed many times. It was summer and we wore summer clothes, but the nights were cold. We traveled many weeks. We were crowded in the freight cars of the train and there were days that we did not have anything to eat. After many troubles we arrived in Kalatz on the River Don, not far from Stalingrad. We were placed in the houses of the local residents and I, my brother Yakov and my brother Hanina were in the house of an old Cossack woman, who treated us well. Finally we could wash our bodies with hot water and rest from the hardships of the road.

Several days later we began working on a Kolkhoz. We did not receive any news from home. We missed our family and it became more difficult from day to day. Only the hope that soon the war would end held us up. But the Nazi animal moved forward and spread destruction and death. Refugees arrived from all sides and the situation deteriorated fast.

One day, we received an order to be on our way. The Germans were approaching Stalingrad. Our brother Yakov was not allowed to leave with us and was drafted to the army. I and my brother Hanina wandered further and we arrived in Uzbekistan.

This region was flooded with refugees. The situation was terrible, hunger was everywhere. Most of us suffered from malaria and undernourishment. All our strength was gone. My brother was very sick.

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It was hard to recognize him. I managed to take him to a hospital but he died in my hands. I was myself hungry and sick; I could barely stand on my feet. An old Russian helped me bury my brother in the rocky soil of Uzbekistan.

Meanwhile, news from the front began to arrive, that they succeeded in driving back the Nazi monster, and hope grew that we would soon be able to return home. I decided to return to Rafalovka, with my cousin Bat-Sheva.

The town looked as before, as if nothing had happened, but there were no Jews around. Poles and Ukrainians, murderers of our people, have settled everywhere. We went to live in a room, with my uncle Baruch and his daughter.

As I returned to Rafalovka, I learned that my parents, my uncle Berl and his wife and several other Jews had dug a bunker intending to live there until troubles were over, and if needed, they could escape and find shelter in the surrounding woods. However, their plan didn't work. The Ukrainian wild gangs came to rob Jewish property and discovered their hiding place. They took them out and tortured them, then turned them over to the Germans, who finished their work.

I walked through Rafalovka as if moonstruck. My nights turned into nightmares, I could not continue living in the town, which had turned into a big cemetery. I was alone and hurting. I managed to get in touch with my brother Yakov, who was in the Far East, in the Russian army.

I wrote to my brother and made him swear that when he returned to Rafalovka he would throw the Ukrainians out of our house and take revenge.

Meanwhile I heard that in Germany groups of young people organized to make Aliya to Eretz Israel. I took my wanderer's staff again and crossed all of Europe, arriving to Landsberg in Germany, where the Jewish Brigade was organizing groups of illegal Aliya.

After many difficulties and two weeks at sea, we arrived to the shores of our country. British war-ships stopped us and imprisoned us in the Atlit camp. Two weeks later, Golda Meir and a group of leaders came and gave us “certificates” so we would be liberated from the camp. We were sent to the kibbutz Kinneret. The situation there was quite difficult and I decided to leave the kibbutz and join my brother Zvi in Hadera. Two and a half months later I met a young man, also from Poland, and soon we married.

We lived in Rishon LeZion, and established a family; we had three children: Rachel, Shlomo and Devora.

In 1957, my brother Yakov arrived, with his wife and their two children – Rachel and Shlomo. The third, Chaia, was born in Israel. My joy was unlimited. Finally, after years of separation, I was with my family again. My brother Yakov lived in Ramat Hasharon. The circle was closed.

My brother Zvi died after a severe illness. Of our large family only few remained, but the Nazi enemy has not succeeded to uproot the tree entirely.

From the old roots new blossoms sprouted: nine grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My parents would have certainly been proud of them.

The memory of our parents will be with us forever.


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I Survived

by Motele Hevroni – Portnoy

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The Portnoy family was one of the largest families in town, perhaps the largest one.

We were eleven: the parents – Moshe-Yakov and Michale Portnoy; the brothers – Naftali, Yehoshua, Chaim, Feivish, Berl, Motl (writer of these lines); the sisters – Reizl, Freidl, Lea.

The brothers Yehoshua and Chaim died in Argentina.

The Koifman-Portnoy family numbered nine souls including grandchildren; Rachel-Lea Portnoy's family – nine souls including grandchildren.

Father was trading in cows. Sunday he would leave for the villages and return Thursday. He barely earned enough for the sustenance of the family. My brothers studied in the Yeshivas, later they joined the wood business. They were very talented, had beautiful voices, but none of them could develop his talents.

In 1939, the Soviet Union occupied Western Ukraine, at the East of Poland. At a certain stage, the Soviet authorities drafted to the Red Army those born in 1916-1918.

I was born in 1918 and was among those drafted. With all the others, I was taken to the Soviet Union, very far from home, and I never saw my family again.

The time I lived in the Soviet Union and the effort I made to leave its borders were like hell for me. While I was in the army I also had bad times, but I survived.

I was in battle at the Smolensk front. Later, according to an order from the authorities, the West Ukrainians were expelled from active service in the army and sent to the rear, to do forced labor. The authorities suspected that among the Western Ukrainian recruits were many who opposed communism, and those were considered traitors.

At the end of 1942, we heard that a Polish army was established, but people from Western Ukraine were not accepted to its ranks.

I decided to escape from the labor camp and go to the town Koybishev, where the Polish Army Command was located. Through woods and side roads I arrived to the train station; I managed to board the train and arrived to the commanding offices, but I was told to continue to Samarkand in Uzbekistan. On the train I met young men from Poland, and we traveled together. We reached the train station of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, and a new problem faced me: I had to acquire a document that would show that I was a Polish citizen and came from Poland.

That night I lay down on the floor of the train station, among many soldiers and civilians, among them

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Poles, many of them sick and wounded, some of them dead. Next to me on the floor was a corpse. I assumed he was Polish, and indeed in one of his pockets I found a document by the name “Polovintchik Michael sin Kazimirza” (Polovintchik Michael son of Kazimirza). I was glad. With this document I will be able to go to Samarkand.

In Samarkand I went to the commander and said that I was from Lodz, of course that I was Polish. After a long discussion they accepted me to the Polish Army.

I heard that my unit intended to leave the Soviet Union. I was glad, because I hoped I would be able to reach Eretz Israel.

We arrived to the port of Pahlava, Persia. Then the army announced that any person who had fled from the Soviet Union and changed his name, was allowed to take back his original name. So I returned to my surname, Portnoy.

We arrived indeed to Eretz Israel. I deserted from the Polish army and went to my sister, but my troubles were not over yet. The Polish army in Eretz Israel was looking for deserters, in particular Jews. Immediately my sister went with me to the Jewish Agency and I received a new name – Hevroni.

At the Agency they directed me to the kibbutz Bet Oren. There I worked six months, until the Polish soldiers left the country.

In time, I married and raised a beautiful family. I am the father of three children: my daughter is professor at the Weizmann Institute; one son is an engineer and the other son was discharged from our army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. We have nine grandchildren, two of them are in the army and one is married and raising a family.

It is so unfortunate that my parents didn't live to see me and our families in Eretz Israel.


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My Parents and My Sister Did Not Come

by Nisan Chizhi

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Our home was a warm, Zionist home. The Keren Kayemet [JNF] and Keren Hayesod boxes were always waiting for contributions. We went to the Tarbut Hebrew School, where the principal was Sarid Yakov z”l and we received a national-Zionist education. In 1934, I went to the training kibbutz in Anraswitz and after some time we were transferred to the kibbutz in Baranowitz, where we worked in the sawmill. Three years later I received the much-awaited “certificate” which enabled me to make Aliya. The joy at home was great, due to the fact that the parents would be represented in the Holy Land by their son; this gave them hope that perhaps they, too, will someday be in our country. I promised them that I shall never forget them, but my first duty was to help my sister Sheindl to make Aliya, and together we will make every effort to bring them as well.

In 1937 I went to the Holy Land. I joined the kibbutz Plugat Hayam in Kiryat Chaim. I lived in a tent with a friend and worked in the Haifa Harbor. We worked as porters, carrying sacs of flour and of salt from the ship to the warehouse on the pier. We worked 12 hours a day, and after work we were sent to escort to the slaughterhouse cattle that arrived from Romania – cows with big horns. Each of us received four cows. We had to pass through an Arab village, where they threw rocks at us, and when we returned at night to the kibbutz we found that they had not left any food for us. In nights of rain and storm, we couldn't find our tent and we had no place to sleep. Life was very hard. I went to the secretary of the kibbutz and asked if they could help me bring my parents; the answer was negative. I left the kibbutz and went to Hadera, at a time of unemployment and Arab uprising and riots. I would go every morning to register at the placement bureau, and several weeks later I received work in an orange orchard. It was hard work, but I was satisfied that I had work. After a short time I lost that work, because the boss preferred to hire Arabs, since that was cheaper. Again I registered every day at the placement bureau, where I received also food-cards for the workers' kitchen. During those difficult days, I didn't forget my promise to my parents and I began looking for help in that matter. I found a good man from Poland who knew my parents and he gave me a loan of 30 Pounds to pay back 1 Pound each month. I sent the money to my sister Sheindl, the plan being that she would go by illegal Aliya and both of us will work out a plan to bring our parents. But before she could join the illegal Aliya, the war broke out and the hand of the Nazi animals cut off my plans. So I remained the only survivor of our large family, fulfilling my duty by lighting a candle in their memory and reciting every year the Yizkor Prayer in memory of my dear, pure souls.


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Two Stories

by Aryeh Pinchuck

Translation by Rachel Zetland

Donated by Jay Snider

I first thought to contribute something from my memories of the town, good and bad, but I decided to abandon this, with great difficulty I must say, as I prefer to describe events that relate to the town and the family which I remember most of all.

I'd like to talk first about the circumstances that led to my migrating to Eretz Israel in the summer of 1937. The skies of our people had already been darkened in the eastern parts of Poland, on the border with the Soviet Union. The Polish government and People deeply hated communism and had considerable fear of their neighbor to the east and his assumed intentions, both physical (i.e., conquering the territories that were lost during WWI which included our area) and ideological (spreading the Bolshevik vision). Just thinking of this would make every Pole shiver.

This led to many odd edicts, targeted especially at the minorities, and sometimes specifically against the Jews, many of whom were suspected of supporting the socialist vision. Among these edicts was the extensive authority allotted to the police, which gave it the right to arrest suspects and imprison them for many years without a trial if they were suspected of supporting the Soviet Union or communism. The summer of that year, a few young Jewish men were arrested under these edicts. One of them, who's name unfortunately I don't remember, was arrested before my eyes while we were working together filling beer bottles in a small factory that belonged to my uncle, David Tennenboim of blessed memory. I was shattered and shocked by the incident, the circumstances, the handcuffs the policeman (sarvotke) put on his wrists. I was shocked by the glee with which he carried out his duty, and all this weighed heavily on me and upset me for weeks. The young people of Rafalovka, including myself, were organized at the time in a Ha-Shomer Ha-Zair center that contributed greatly to our yearning to have a Jewish state, to emigrate to Eretz Israel and to live in a lawful and just society. We were no doubt moved by the very difficult conditions of our lives with the government's heavy hand and the hatred towars us Jews harbored by Poles and Ukrainians amongst whom we lived. Thus, the hope for the day we would be free people in the state of the Jews under a government of justice and equality was an elixir of life for us, enabling us to continue living in a hostile environment.

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Just a few months went by since the arrests I mentioned, and on one dark night I was visited by someone and had an encounter that changed my life. That night I spent a few hours over at Lazer the carpenter. His sons and he himself were inclined towards communism and a few of them had impressive intellectual and argumentative skills. I used to meet with them and argue about socialism, communism, Karl Marx, Karl Coutzki, Otto Bauer, and their philosophies. We always argued late at night and this was the case that night as well. When I left to go home, after midnight, I remember I saw no one on the way and was accompanied only by the barking of dogs. When I reached our house and came up onto the front porch, I suddenly saw a man who I immediately realized was the police commander. He demanded that I explain where I had come from and what I had been doing that night.

I didn't close my eyes that night. I was hounded by thoughts and my heart was beating fast and loud. My mother felt my restlessness and began questioning me to find out why. After two days of deliberation I told her what it was about and said I must urgently leave Poland and immigrate to Eretz Israel. We discussed and clarified this matter for a whole week, because it wasn't a thing you could just get up and do. What made us make the decision was that one of the friendlier policemen visited my uncle's tavern, and while he was drunk, he let it slip that it would be best for the family to send “Leibke” to Palestine. The uncle was quite startled by the message and helped us make the decision that I should immigrate. At the end of that week I traveled to Warsaw and reported to the Palestine-emt. with my high school graduation certificate. I told my story and demanded that they arrange for my journey immediately, I decided not to settle for a promise that they'll take care of it, and stayed there for two weeks until the telegram from Jerusalem was received. I registered for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which had enabled me to get the immigration permit.

I have to say that when I got on the train in the Rafalovka station, on my way to Constanza in Romania, and from there on the ship Polania to the port of Haifa, that policeman came to the station and said goodbye to me warmly with a light pat on my shoulder. That was an exceptional gesture that is etched in my memory, because it was so different from our usual relations with the goyim. And so, without extraneous preparations and almost at a moment's notice, I left the town I had grown up in and went to a country which, despite the fact that it was the place I dreamt of, I knew nothing about. My mother and Leah my sister shed tears. My father arranged the suitcases I had with me on the rack, and didn't forget to ask me whether I had forgotten the tefillin. My uncle checked where I was keeping the 5 pounds sterling, which was all I had. All the town's Jews were on the platform to bid me farewell. I felt like a pioneer if not somewhat of a hero, about to take part in a great deed. Five years later, this feeling was replaced by feelings of guilt. I felt like a deserter who had abandoned his parents, family, and friends to their bitter fate during their most difficult hour, looking to save his own life. This feeling has haunted me for a long time, and though it has dimmed with time, something of it is still with me today. I believe I will carry it forever.

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Meeting with my sister Lea

In 1942 I volunteered to the British Army. This was the only way Jewish youth could take an active part in the war against Hitler. I was attached to the Jewish Brigade when it was formed and was fortunate enough to fight the Germans and have a piece of the real action under the national flag and the Jewish Star of David. In 1942 we began to hear about the extermination of Jews from Rafalowka and the area. From the news that reached me I had little hope that anyone of my family members had survived.

At the end of the war the Brigade sent emissaries all over Europe to locate survivors and organize them to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael. A comrade who served in the same battalion was sent to Poland and came back a few months later with a sack full of hundreds of notes containing names of survivors who were looking for relatives in Eretz Yisrael. They emptied the sack on the floor of one of the barracks and organized the notes alphabetically. In the middle of arranging the notes one of the soldiers hurried anxiously to me. He told me that among the notes they found one with the name Lisa Pinchuck and that she is looking for her brother, Leibel. The note did not mention where she was. This was the case with the majority of the notes, for the refugees were constantly on the move from one refugee camp to another. Giving an address had no meaning, for the person would probably not be there shortly afterwards.

I was, of course, tremendously excited by this and immediately started thinking about my departure, but I had to think how exactly I was going to leave. Many low ranking soldiers left units to look for relatives. They could do so with great ease because their direct commanders, the commanders of the platoons and the companies, were mostly Jews from Eretz Yisrael and covered for their absence. An officer was in a completely different situation. It was inconceivable for an officer to be absent from the battalion for a few weeks without the matter being noticed by the commander who was English.

The matter was further complicated by the fact that the commander of the battalion I served in, Colonel Gofton Salmond, was very sympathetic to his Jewish soldiers and understood their special situation. He used to turn a blind eye away to our various activities aimed at saving the refugees, activities that intensified at the end of the war. I was among a small group of officers who had a special and close relationship with the Colonel, a relationship based on loyalty and trust. He reciprocated by acting like a father to us. Under these conditions I did not dare 'disappear' from the battalion for an unknown length of time. I consulted with my best friend in those days, the battalion adjutant Captain Yitzhak Vartzman (now known as Almog), and confided in him. He promised he would talk to “the old man” and get him to help

I was deeply moved by the Colonel's reaction. He instantly declared he is sending an urgent personal telegram to the British Army of the Rhine (B.A.O.R), asking for official authorization for my departure to Eastern Europe to look for my sister, the only survivor of my family.

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It was only two days later that a battalion headquarters runner came to inform me that the old man was urgently looking for me. I entered his office and found him and the adjutant. I saluted and he gave me a document which turned out to be the telegrammed reply from Headquarters. The telegram had two lines. For obvious reasons I remember them to this day. They read: Captain A. Pinchuck will NOT repeat NOT proceed to Eastern Europe.

As was the custom in the British army and in telegrams of this kind, the word NOT was capitalized, underlined, and repeated twice to avoid any doubt or mistake. I believe there is no need to describe what I felt at that moment. I stood there for a long time, unable to utter a word, not knowing how to react. The somewhat long silence was interrupted by the Colonel's astonishing question, which took me completely by surprise: “When are you ready to leave?”

Now I was really confused. I felt like I had been taken out of burning heat and thrown into freezing cold, like I had just come out of a boxing ring where I was pounded from below and above and all sides. Another long moment passed before I answered him: “In a week, Sir.”

To that he answered immediately: “Why not tomorrow?”

It took me a little over a week to get ready for the journey because I had to take a vehicle that didn't belong to the battalion. I got a hold of the car with the generous assistance of a Canadian sergeant major from the discharge camp of a Canadian division whose soldiers had been sent home. It took me time to prepare the vehicle because I knew the journey would be long and difficult and I would be far from our base. The way I got the vehicle was this: The Canadian SM explained to me that the vehicles they leave behind after discharge are divided among four bases according to their condition. Each camp was marked with capital letters: A – vehicles in good condition; B – vehicles that could be fixed locally; C – vehicles that could be fixed only in the shop at the base; D – vehicles that could not be fixed and from which any military driver could walk in and take parts. He promised to take a good jeep from base A and put it in a certain spot in base D for me during the night. And, indeed, when I came to the place we had fixed early the next morning with a driver from the battalion, I found the jeep. I started it and a few moments later I was on my way to the battalion base. And thus, one bright day, after eating lunch in the officers' mess with the Colonel and the adjutant, who were the only people who knew about my trip, I quietly bade them farewell and set off on my journey which lasted 6 weeks.

I knew the general direction of the mass of refugees. I knew they were moving west through Austria and Chek and then south to Italy where the Brigade was located. I left Holland where the Brigade was sitting at the time and reached northern Italy after many difficulties, including two road accidents, one of which caused the driver and myself serious injuries that necessitated hospitalization. I started to comb the camps going north, then east through Austria and in the direction of Poland. I was wearing the uniform of a captain in the British Army, with the blue and white Star of David on my sleeve, a uniform that enabled free movement and which drew the attention and sympathy of the Jewish refugees.

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Wherever I went I met with the Jewish Comitat. In Zaltsburg I stayed at the building that housed the superior Comitat of all the camps, and they were very helpful. They had representatives everywhere and they knew all the camps. If I had the ability and the emotional strength to do so, I would tell the detailed story of this journey, which is worthy of a complete book. During this journey I was helped by a colonel in the Red Army to reach Vienna, which was a separate zone controlled by all the four powers, Russia, France, Britain and the US. It was difficult to get into the area. A young (Jewish) Soviet officer in the superior headquarters of the Red Army in Vienna also helped me get from Austria to Poland aboard a train that was returning repatriotted people to Poland. I met hundreds of Jews in the camps. They would all gather round me, pushing and shoving to touch my uniform and see that they were not day dreaming, that I really was a living Jewish officer.

In one of those camps in Austria something special happened to me. Surrounded by hundreds of Jews who were asking me about the Brigade, about their relatives in the country, I suddenly hear a sharp yell: “Leibel!, Leibel! It's me, Simha Brat from Rafalowka!” I turn my head to where the voice came from and I see an old man at a distance making his way to me, shoving through, pushing everybody aside. I am also trying to get closer to him and after a moment we meet and embrace – embrace and cry. He is a neighbor from my hometown, hugging and kissing me, and all the people around are looking on in silence. Still sobbing, he started telling in detail how the Jews of our town including my parents were led to their death, shot and pushed into an enormous mass grave outside town; how he and a few others including my sister Lea managed to survive; where he saw her last and where he suggests I look for her; and more and more. And so we stood in the middle of the camp. It was my first meeting with someone from my town who had come back from hell.

It was now almost six weeks since I had left the battalion and I still did not come up with anything. The jeep had eaten up thousands of kilometers, but nothing. I came back to Salzburg, the city where I began my journey, to the Comitat headquarters. It was close to midnight but there were still people up. One man came up to me and told me that one of their emissaries had located Lea in a distant camp called Binder Michal Zidlong near the city of Lintz. I called my driver immediately and we set out for the place. It was way past midnight when we got there and the place was pitch dark, the roads unpaved. The houses along the roads were gray and intimidating, the windows were shuttered and dark. It was nightmarish. I decided to get in the jeep and wait until morning. In the first light I could see that this was an enormous camp with refugees from all nationalities and territories. The first residents who came out told me where I would find the Jewish refugees. When I got there I saw lists at the entrance to every building with the names of the residents.

[Page 447]

I stated going from house to house reading the names and on one of the lists I saw Lisa Pinchuck. I ran up the stairs and looked on one of the doors. I used my military pocket flashlight to read the sign. I found her name. It was early and the camp was still sound asleep. The darkness had only began to disperse. I knocked on the door full of excitement, my hand trembling, and was astonished to hear my sister's voice from inside the room: “Leibi, is that you?”

Less than an hour later my sister Lea, now dressed in a British uniform, and I were on our way to the Brigade base in Holland.

 

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