[Page 78]

I Was a Gentile Girl in Berlin

by Lucia Rotman [4]

The whispers and gossip surrounding my Jewishness ceased. The paternal care of the factory director closed everyone's mouths and my position in the factory was consolidated.

There were other Jewish girls with me. We attempted not to act friendly and not to separate ourselves from everyone else.
At night all of the girls would go to a place of entertainment or for a walk. I would remain at home to be with myself and my sadness. My longing for my aunt Elka Widenbaum and my sister and brother-in-law grew day by day. All day long I turned my thoughts from them, but at night I could not overcome my emotions. Once a gentile Irina approached me and asked me directly:

“Why do you not go out at night? Are you a Jew, Janina?”

I became heated up and very frightened. I contradicted this will all my force:

“Are you crazy? I am simply sad. My parents were exiled to Russia, and I long for them.”

She was older than I was. She was cruel and a mocker. I was very much afraid of her, and therefore I girded my strength, and contradicted her suspicions strongly.

I thought that my performance was strong and natural. I escaped the danger. However she did not leave me alone and pestered me with sharp interrogations. I stood up to them all. I developed the “dramatic” ability to play the part of Janina completely. Suddenly, Irina opened up with a personal confession.

“Do not be afraid of me. I am a Jew like you. Don't hesitate.” A friendship developed between us. From that time, we spent evenings and Sabbaths together.

Once we were walking on the street. We knew that there were still Jews in Berlin, old time Berliners, and we went to search for them. We saw them with yellow Star of David badges on their collars with the word “Jude” written on them. They went to make their purchases in stores that were only for Jews. They would make their purchases with food cards that were stamped with the word “Jude”.

Something pulled us to talk to them, perhaps to encourage them. We walked around Ornienberg Street where they lived. We walked along. They were still there. We wished to talk to them. We did not know how to open up conversation with them. We were also afraid.

Once we found one of them in an isolated stairwell. We approached him and told him that we were Christians, but we wished to bring him bread. Bread was a dream for a Jew, and his face lit up with joy. We told him to meet us there the next day. We bought a few loaves of bread, and waited for quite a long time… and he never appeared. We left the bread in the place.

We often walked on that street. We enjoyed being among Jews. We took solace in the thought that there were still Jews in the world.

However on one occasion, in the beginning of 1943, we came to that street and it was empty. There was not one Jew on the street. They were all imprisoned in the communal building on that street. They looked out the window without any opportunity to speak. We stood below and looked at them, and our hearts broke. We knew the meaning of this situation. A Christian German woman was next to us who had come, apparently, to bid farewell to her former husband whom she loved despite his Jewishness. Or perhaps she was simply a friend. Tears welled up in her eyes and slowly streamed down her cheeks as she looked up to the “high windows” which sealed the fate of those dear people. My heart melted and tears choked my throat.

When we returned home, it was already dark. We wished to live. In order to not endanger ourselves we mingled with everyone. We laughed.

Soon after my arrival in Berlin, I wanted my sister to know that I had arrived. I wrote her in a letter: “I had difficult interrogations, but because of my strong and heart, I withstood them all.”

Suddenly, I remembered this letter and wanted to know if they received it. I wanted her to know that I was here. For some reason, I believed that the director would assist me in this matter. He liked me. He took pride in my youthful luster as if I was his daughter. He would tell stories of my “wisdom”. I also had a feeling as if it was my father taking pride in my before his guests.

Once he was informed that my birthday was approaching. When I came to the factory that day, I found a large floral wreath and a bowl of the finest fruits next to my workspace. The director left these there. He also spoke of my age, that the age of childhood is the happiest and the best. I knew that he would be prepared to do a great deal for me. I told him that I had a cousin (not a sister) and I wished to bring her here to assuage my loneliness. My sister arrived, and later her husband arrived. They were saved.

At the end of 1943, the morale of the Germans was declining. There was no more news of victories, and there were no announcements of such over the public address system. We felt that they had nothing more to take pride in. My factory, part of the weapons division of the gigantic A.A.G. Company closed. The girls received orders to go out and dig defensive trenches. I also went out for that purpose.

I had no desire for this. In the factory I had a Polish friend from Lodz, who was older than I. She acted as my protector. She believed that I was Polish, and since she was a great patriot, she showered her great Polish love upon me. She decided:

“You are not going out to dig trenches. We Poles will not ever help the Germans, the enemies of our homeland.”

Her father worked in a town about 100 kilometers from Berlin. She decided to send me to him. I did not agree to go without her. I convinced her. At the beginning of April 1944, we succeeded in escaping. We took the chance when there was a bombardment of our area. We went out as usual with all our belongings to the shelter. When the alarm ceased, we did not return home.

That night we slept with the secretary of the factory. We were six girls, and he took care of us all. He arranged beds and food for us.

We spent an entire day at his house. The next day, we went out to the train. The station was filled with army captains. Their perplexity was evident to everyone. They did not pay attention to us. We sneaked on to a train that was set aside only for them and traveled to Neustadt, to the father of my Lodzer friend. It is interesting to note that no more trains departed and arrived from the Berlin station. This was the final one.

On January 5, 1945, the Polish army entered Neustadt. We both got dressed up and went out to the street to greet them. Our hands were waving in greeting to “our” victorious army.

I was quite distraught. What did I have to do with this army. What relationship did I have to them. Suddenly, a Polish soldier called me to the side and said:

“Pardon me, are you Jewish?”

How did he figure this out? Did he realize it?

I was afraid. I knew that there were no more Jews in the world. I was sure that he was a gentile. I answered with a definite “no”. However he was not satisfied:

“Behold, I am Jewish. Believe me.”

I did not believe him.

He was apparently intelligent and not deceitful. I brought him to the girls. He told us to ask of him anything that we want, and he would bring it to us.

We wanted bread. I wanted a bicycle. The father wanted an accordion. The soldier brought everything.

We did not continue to discuss my Jewishness.

A few days later, we were standing in the street. A car full of soldiers stopped next to us. One of them, who spoke fluent German, jumped out and asked me if I knew German. He also asked me the same question: “Am I Jewish?” I did not have a chance to answer with my usual denial, for he continued:

“Don't be afraid of me. I am from Tarnopol. My name is so and so.”

I did not withstand the temptation. I admitted my Jewishness.

When we returned to the group, we both presented ourselves as Poles. The game had to continue for some time. He had suitcases full of pillaged clothes. He wanted to bring them to his sister, but he found out that she had died. He begged us to take them. He gave money in new Polish currency to the father.

My protector showered me with warm and good care. I liked her. Her dedication to me was boundless.

Once we were standing on a street, and we saw a soldier directly approaching us. He turned to me without any warning:

“Tell me. You are Jewish, right?”

My friend answered in my stead:

“Why would you think this? What a strange question from your side.”

He answered: “This is not strange, her appearance is Jewish.”

She debated with him: “Looks are often deceiving, and you cannot judge by them”.

He then interjected: “I am also Jewish, and I look Jewish”.

She then said: “You know Janina, I have nothing against Jews, but I cannot stand them… they are a nation that does not fight.”

She continued with her personal commentary, however my ears were closed. A rift came between us. At that moment, it became clear to me that I have no place among them.

If I ever had any false expectations about my life among the Poles, at that moment they were buried forever.

[Page 82]

My Visit As A Guest to the Ghetto of Lizhensk

by Roth

After we were exiled across the San, we went to Lemberg. In the meantime, winter approached and we did not have any winter clothing, or anything with which to cover a child at night. My husband advised me to travel to Lizhensk, where our home was locked up and guarded vigilantly by our Polish tenants, in order to bring back the necessities, and then to return.

I arranged a permit on the Soviet side. The relations between them and the Germans were orderly. I traveled. Mrs. Krok, also from Lizhensk, set out with me.

It was December 1939, and the weather was getting colder. We arrived at Przeworsk where Mrs. Krok had Polish acquaintances, in order to wait there until the only night train to Lizhensk would arrive.

Until we arrived at the home of our hostess, a group of Poles, both strangers and acquaintances, gathered around us and began to mock us over our desolation. Their joy over our calamity was great.

We arrived at our forlorn town at 7:30 a.m. First we went to a Christian woman, an acquaintance of my travel mate, and there, after checking out the situation, we went to my house.

My Polish tenant tried to dissuade us from going up to our residence. According to her words, robbers emptied the home out immediately after our departure. She took the key and went up with me. She was not willing to give me the key to the home; she acted as the landlord and opened up the door. The place appeared as if a pogrom had struck. The books were scattered on the floor, the closets were broken into and everything was gone. I realized that my trip was in vain. I gathered up the books into the closets, I closed up the door and left. I did the same thing in the home of my mother and sister. In the three homes, I found eleven pairs of tefillin and many pairs of tzizit[5]. I stored them away in the closets for what turned out to be for good. Perhaps we would sometime return and use them again here in Lizhensk.

Before I returned to Lemberg, I decided to endanger myself and visit the ghetto to see the remaining Jews of my birthplace.

The ghetto was not fenced in. Fewer than one hundred Jews were concentrated in the Jewish street, closed in by the fear of death which stalked all who would venture out of the ghetto outside of the permitted times. They were forbidden freedom of movement, and could only move around under the eyes of the Gestapo.

I went from family to family.

A heavy pall was cast upon everybody. Moans and sighs accompanied every sentence. The heart was empty of hope. Not even a ray of faith lit up their deep agony. This was a distressed community, imprisoned by a human prison and waiting for fearful events from which there would be no escape. This was my impression and feeling.

As I sat in the room of Gittel Borer, I heard frightening things from her. It was only permitted for them to go out between the hours of 8 and 10 in the morning and for one hour in the afternoon. They did not have any food. The men were taken for work and were given set portions of food as payment. During the hours that they were permitted to go out, they would go to the Christians and sell what they had salvaged in order to sustain their souls. They brought the foodstuffs that they purchased into the ghetto with mortal danger. Gittel saw with her own eyes the deeds of pillage conducted by our Polish acquaintances. The sons of these treacherous people went into the homes of the Jews with the lust of robbery, without any signs of conscience or discipline.

{Photo page 83 – Gittel Borer.}

During the course of our conversation, a Gestapo agent entered. He knew that I did not belong there. He asked to see my papers. My Russian permit of passage angered him greatly. He demanded that I leave immediately, with threats and shouts.

I went to our Polish hostess. There Mrs. Krok was already waiting for me. She had a great deal of belongings, which she gathered from various places. A few moments later, we saw from the window Gestapo agents approaching the home. She immediately hid. It seems as if her former helper who assisted her gather the belongings requested from her a pair of silver candlesticks in return for her services, and since they were not given to her, she informed the Gestapo.

When they entered, they asked me to show them the belongings. I told them my story and proved to them that I did not have any belongings. They did not believe me and said that a Polish woman informed that I packed up seven sacks of belongings, including items of value. Mrs. Krok, who heard this discussion, came out from her hiding place and said that the belongings were hers.

They took her along with the belongings.

I waited for her an entire night at the home of her acquaintance. I did not close my eyes at all. The next morning I went to the Gestapo office so that they could authorize my permit of return. Prior to their issuing my authorization, they took me to a special room, where one of their women searched my body thoroughly. She did not find anything and they authorized my permit. They demanded that I leave immediately. I pleaded before them and said that prior to a long journey, I wished to purchase some food. My pleas did not help. By chance Leibele Katz was there. He was apparently acceptable to them. He guaranteed to them that I would return in ten minutes. That was the way it was. I returned ten minutes later. They loaded me up on a wagon and brought me across the San.

I walked to Korolowka across the river at a later hour at night. It was Friday. I stayed with Zishele Korolowker to rest, and then I traveled on.

On the Sabbath morning, I began to worry about how I could return without my travel partner. What could I tell her husband, given that I did not know what happened to her. I remembered that Leibele knew her entire story, and I believed that he would rescue her as well, according to the way he did things.

I said to Zishele that I would go out to the San, and perhaps I would see her by chance. I did not rest.

From afar I saw a laden wagon which was approaching, and Mrs. Krok was waving to me with her hands. I knew that she had been saved.

In Korolowka, my friend succeeded in hiring smugglers who would take us over the border. We arrived in Sienawa and our situation worsened. The Russians did not permit us to enter and the Germans did not permit us to return. I was left without any means. During the long discussion between them, I found a chance to escape, and I went to Sienawa. She arrived a bit later.

We arrived in Lemberg after much travail.

My final visit to Lizhensk endangered my life and my health. I was deeply distressed that I had done this.

Now I see the entire episode as an event over which I had no control. During the course of my many years in Israel, I am able to bring a final greeting from the remaining Jews of Lizhensk who perished in the ghetto, and whom I had seen in their moments of despair and agony as they were awaiting their certain deaths.

To the extent that my memory serves me correctly, the following people were in Lizhensk at the time, with or without their families.

Reb Yosel Melamed; Moshe Neeman and his wife; Matityahu Borer and his wife; Gittel Borer his aunt, the wife of Zalka Borer; Golda Eisenberg; Sheindela Rotman and her daughter; the wife of Reb Mendel Rotman; Nota Rotman; the daughter of Shmuel Ber Want and her husband; Hertzke Bakung and his wife; Leibele Katz and his parents; Moshele Rosenblit, his wife and two children; Shalom Kirschbaum, his wife and daughters; the wife of Mordechai Kleinman and her husband; the mute shoemaker and his wife.

The children of Naftali Roth were also in Lizhensk, however they were not locked up in the ghetto, since they were considered as residents outside the gate.

Perhaps there were more; however I am at this point not certain who they were.

[Page 85]

Jews and Judaism in their Misfortune

by Lea Braude

(Memories of a young girl)

Between Lizhensk across the San and Wola Buchoska, my family and the family of Moshe Melech Widenbaum became joined together. I did not know whether this was by chance, or by design, but I remember that a friendship blossomed among myself, Lucia Rotman, and the daughters of Moshe Melech. We had hours of deep friendship when the walls of the houses did not separate between us, hours of friendship in a shaken world.

In Wola Buchoska we were separated. They went on and we remained for another week to “wait and see”. Perhaps, who knows, we might be able so return home to Lizhensk that was near to our hearts. Father wanted to rescue what he could, to purchase a horse and wagon, and to rescue as much property as possible from the destruction.

After a week it became clear that it was futile to wait for a chance in the situation. We purchased a horse and wagon in partnership with one other Lizhensk family and set out on our journey.

We bid farewell to our host with a heavy heart. He was a village Jew, a miser and with a narrow heart. However Bracha Petachias his relative from Lizhensk did not ask his permission. She opened up the doors of his home and declared: “Jews, come on in”. The house was small. She pushed the owners of the house into one room and she herself took control of the house, turning it into a guesthouse. She took hay from the silo in order to provide sleeping accommodations for the children of Lizhensk under cover of a roof. When her relative the homeowner wanted to give the milk of his only cow to his children only, Bracha arranged for the young people to milk the cow in front of him and she divided up the small amount of milk among all the children.

We were the last ones in this house, and I cannot forget the display of Jewish brotherhood that was displayed there. The image of Bracha Petachias is engraved in my memory, and I am indebted to her.

On the eve of Simchat Torah we set out for Sienawa.

The horse, which was old and weak, carried the old people who could not walk with great difficulty. We went on foot. Along the way, we met people from Lizhensk who were perplexed and wandering around. We took their sacks from them in order to lighten their load and the horse slowed down its pace. The group grew larger.

I was twelve years old, and I made the 35-kilometer journey along with the rest of them on foot in one day.

In Sienawa, we turned to the house of the town shochet (ritual slaughterer). He arranged food and lodging for the refugees, and opened his house up to them. In any place, a Jew is supposed to provide refuge for those in difficulty. We remained in his home for about one month. We sold our struggling horse and wagon and traveled to Przemysl, for there we had relatives. They were very poor, more than we realized for they never told us of their straits. Nevertheless, they received us properly, with Jewish enthusiasm. They shared their simple home with us for some time. Later we rented a room and moved to live there. This was a narrow, long room, meant for the storage of clothing and textiles. It was all shelves. We slept upon the shelves and were thankful for a roof over our heads.

I begin to attend the Jewish Soviet school. It seemed to us that for the meantime, our wandering had finished.

The atmosphere was gloomy. The winter was difficult and we were lacking clothing and food, and had no means of heating our storehouse that served as our home.

In 1940, a joint German Russian committee was set up in the area in order to determine the situation with the refugees on both sides. The Jews were informed that they could return to the western sector, which was under German rule, if they so wished.

It was very difficult to decide. Who knows what was good for the Jews. We decided to return to the west. Other Jews were surprised at our decision, however we could not do anything other than that, given that we had left our son and brother there studying in Yeshiva, and we wanted to be with him. We also had no interest in the German police. The problems of the times had suddenly turned into problems of an oppressed family, surrounding a son who was continuing its traditions, who would be a faithful peg for the new tent when the storm abated.

In the meantime, we remained in Przemysl, and our transfer had not taken place yet. During an evening in July of that year, we realized that something was about to happen. The Russians suddenly began to gather trucks, wagons, and other transport devices into the Market Square. A serious atmosphere of change was in the air. During the night, the N.K.V.D. men visited all of the Jewish residences and asked for their Soviet passports. They checked their lists thoroughly, and whoever did not have a passport was told to pack their belongings into whatever bags they can carry and go out.

Only those who held passports remained in the city. We were removed from our homes, concentrated into the Market Square, loaded on trucks and transported away… We did not know to where, we were not being taken to our brethren.

Grandfather, who was a Przemysl native, remained behind. He perished. The journey lasted for six weeks. We were pressed together in transport wagons. We were brought to the other side of the Ural Mountains.

The journey was very difficult to bear. There were more than eighty people stuffed into each transport. There was nothing to eat, and there were not even minimal hygienic conditions. People attended to their bodily needs publicly, in front of everyone. We all became despondent. Most of the time was spent picking lice off our skin, which bothered us to no end. Everybody was stricken with diarrhea. There was among us a deranged woman with two young children. The image of this family crushed every good part of a person. We received bread and kipiatok[6]; however for some reason, these were given to us in the middle of the night. Until this day, I do not the reason for this, why they made us wait until sleep overtook us, and when our tired senses were overtaken by slumber and darkness, the knocking and noise began. We were disturbed from a world where we could forget our tribulations and brought into the world of bitter reality, whose aim was a slice of bread and a cup of boiling water.

Our situation eased up on the other side of the Urals. On occasion, the transport stopped. People were permitted to get off at stops to purchase something, to straighten their limbs, to relax a bit, to breath some air, and… to attend to one's bodily needs in a human fashion.

Apparently, until we reached the Urals, we were suspected of being harmful political instigators, but on the other side of the Urals, the danger was no longer there.

Thus, we arrived at Tomsk. There, we were loaded upon wagons and brought to a village on the banks of the Tom river, whose name I forget. There, most of the men were employed in gathering rafts. These were large blocks of wood and planks, which were sent down the river from the north, and when they arrived at this village, people caught them, and made them into building material for industry or building, as well as firewood.

Most of the Jews were occupied in this work. Life gradually took on an orderly fashion. The living conditions were humane. The food was poor, however no poorer than it was in the rest of the U.S.S.R. There was small comfort in this.

During the first winter, many of the Jews died. Their travels had worn them out. Father and other Jews worked on a voluntary basis to ensure a Jewish burial for the dead. The work was difficult, for the ground was frozen and the powers were weak. With this type of food, and with the hours available after work, people could only prepare a shallow burial. When the ice, snow and frost melted, this became obvious. The corpses came forth from their shallow graves and began to float on top of the water from the melting ice and snow. It was necessary to rebury them.

It was indeed a frightful sight to see corpses floating in front of you, however all of the Jews occupied themselves with the good deed of providing burial, and this great disgrace was averted.

Until this day, I remember the days of wandering during my childhood as frightening days, and I am surprised as to how our parents were able to maintain their Jewishness even in the midst of these ungodly conditions. It is a testimony for the generations.

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  1. Centralny Okreg Przemyslowy (Central Manufacturing District of Przemysl). Back

  2. A rosary. Back

  3. A question mark appears in the text here, which seems to serve the same purpose of the English 'sic', expressing surprise at the nonsensicalness of the statement. Back

  4. This is a continuation of the story of page 54-60. Back

  5. Tefillin (phylacteries) are leather boxes with parchment scrolls that are worn by Jewish men during weekday morning prayers. Tzitzit are four cornered undergarments with ritual fringes worn by Jewish men at all times. Back

  6. Apparently, some sort of soup. Back


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