2nd Lt. Shalom Fichman (Eitan)
This booklet is telling, in a narrative, chronological way, stories from my life as I remember them now.
It is not a complete autobiography, and lacks the vivid and colourful description of the feelings because the story is told by a sixty five year old person on events he remembers about his childhood .
The things I remember are partly because of the strong impressions or impact of the events and partly due to stories heard from my parents and other members of the family.
The story was written because I felt, throughout my mature life, compelled by a vow to tell the story.
The vow was made by all my family members, in the midst of the terrible events, whenever death was the most apparent possibility and our destiny.
All this happened during the period now globally known as the Holocaust.
The exact words of the vow were" to survive and tell" . The story to be told to the entire world about the behaviour of the "neighbours" our local anti Semitic population, the "conquerors" Nazi Germany, the Antonescu regime in Rumania including the Soviets in 1940.
The booklet covers the period from 1930, my supposed birth day, to 1949, the end of the war of the independence of Israel, in which I participated.
I have written a more expanded edition at
present only in Hebrew. The later part covers the last 45 years in Israel where
I made a military career, serving 32 years in the regular Israel Defense Forces
and 15 years in the high-tech Israeli Industry. No decision has yet been made
to translate and adapt the extended part into English.
I have translated the first limited edition with the assistance of Ms. Riki (Rosenberg) Shachar and produced only few copies. My English speaking friends have all praised my courage but had many remarks regarding the quality of the English translation including spelling mistakes. My brother in law, gave some of his thoughts about editing which I included in the present version.
Without my Macintosh and its efficient word processor (and its speller) I would not have dared to edit and home publish this booklet.
I dedicate this booklet in memory of my family and friends who lost their lives during the events of the Second World War, events initiated and brutally executed by the Nazis and their supporters.
I would very much want this booklet to be read by as many readers as possible, but in particular by the generations which have no personal knowledge of the many facets of the holocaust.
I urge them, in the memory of all who have
suffered the persecution, hunger and mortal diseases, to carry on the message
"never to forget" what has occurred to the Jewish people during the
era of Fascism/Nazism and to a certain extent Stalin's despotic Communism.
Lipcani, a small town in Bessarabia, populated almost totally by Jewish, with only a very few gentiles living there. Lipcani was a border town on the river Prut dividing between Bessarabia and Moldova. Until 1918, Bessarabia was part of USSR.
Rumania who changed sides at the end of the first world war, was compensated by the allies, and received Bessarabia from the collapsing USSR. Empire and Northern Bukovina from the defeated Austro Hungarian Empire. (For the same reason Rumania received Dobrogea from Bulgaria and Transilvania and a piece of Banat from Hungary).
Bessarabia was part of Rumania until the 1940 when the Molotov -Ribbentrop agreement returned it to the Soviet Union.
In 1941 the Germans captured Bessarabia and gave
it to the Rumanians. In 1944, Bessarabia was "liberated" and since
then it has been an integral part of the Moldavian Republic of the USSR. Now
Bessarabia is in fact the independent Republic Moldavia, after the dissolution
of the USSR.
My family lived in the new area of the town called in Yiddish, "Der Goldener Barg" -meaning "The Golden Mountain", a name apparently given because most of the wealthy families from all areas of the town lived there. According to the stories, there were more than a few poor people also living in this part of town.
My father, Nachman Fichman, the first born in a large family (8 boys, 2 girls) worked from a very young age with his father, my grandfather Ya'akov Yehuda Leib (Hacohen), in the village of his birth, Viishoara. His job was gathering eggs from the peasants, help package them and expedite them to be marketed at the larger towns,
Grandfather Yehuda Ya'akov (Leib) Hacohen Fichman owned a flour mill and his sons performed all the tasks.
He also owned a store, the only "General Store" which was run by my grandmother, Fruma (Shechter) Fichman. Both the mill and the store served the entire region of villages and townships of about a radius of 10 Km.
After the outbreak of World War I, my father reached the age of conscription. He was called to arms and assigned to a unit consisting mostly of young men from Siberia, "The 5th Rifle Regiment of Simbirsk."
He was the only Jew in the entire regiment and was liked by everyone. Although he was called Nachman by the family, he was listed in the army by his full name, Chaim Nachman and in the unit they called him, "Chaimko."
The Siberians are not the tallest of people and father was even shorter than them; thus I believe is the reason for the sympathetic nickname.
He fought in the battles in the Riga area. As a result of his heroic action and capturing a "tongue," ( A prisoner caught to be interrogated for intelligence), he received a medal of the third order.
In one of he battles he was wounded and evacuated to a field hospital until recovery. Being wounded finished his army career and he returned home to help his father and brothers in the business.
My father received his basic education in the village of his birth, but he received the main education from his teacher, Dov (Berl) Sofer, who also was the "Shochet" (Ritual slaughterer) of the entire region. Since Dov Sofer lived in Corjeutz, my father stayed at their house for food and boarding as well. Here at the teachers house he met his wife to be, my mother, Chaia (Sofer) Fichman Father's father in law, Dov Sofer, lived in the village Corjeutz where there were more Jews than in my father's village.
This larger number gave legitimacy to a full-time "Shochet" and a synagogue. In father's village there were only two other Jewish families; grandfather's brother and sister and their families.
The "Shochet" would only visit the village and since the synagogue was built on the other side of the river Prut, they would cross the river in a boat (or raft pulled over by a cable connected at both sides of the river) to go to synagogue during the Days of Awe.
My mother had only one brother, Ze'ev (Vovik). My grandmother Dvora (Spectorman) Sofer died at a very young age as the result of a Leukaemia. Being orphaned left a deep mark on my mother for many years, long afterwards.
After their wedding my parents moved to the village of Terebena where my father owned and managed a flour mill. There, my sister Dvora was born and named after my grandmother whom I never knew.
With the coming of age 2 more of my father's brothers, became his partners. My grandfather bought his three sons another mill in the town of Lipcani, which they operated and managed in all its aspects.
Father was the manager and responsible for the business end; Moshe was the mechanic and Eliezer was the miller. Each of the three brothers knew everything about the mill and each was capable of making any technical task, operating, maintaining or repairing.
Business was good and the families grew. My
brother David was born about two years after my sister Dvora. A few years later uncle Moshe's wife gave birth
to their daughter, Rachel.
Then came I and my cousin Avraham, the son of Moshe and Olea. I was born about a month before Avraham. A few years later, my cousin Zvi, the son of Eliezer and Leah, arrived. I won't describe all of the aunts and uncles; I will just note their names and what happened to them in the appendix.
As a toddler, unlike my grandchildren, I was not a genius, hence I recall nothing from the first few years. I only know what was told to me later by my parents and siblings.
They brought it up only on few occasions, that I was a very good child amusing them and their friends, who liked to play with me.
I remember only from about age of three four and later.
As a small boy with difficulty in pronouncing the letter "r," all of my uncles enjoyed amusing themselves at my expense. Like a lot of children (not to speak of the Japanese), I would say "l" instead of "r."
I enjoyed being in the "gan" (pre kindergarten); where we played and sang songs in Hebrew. Our kindergarten teacher, which we all loved and made effort to get her attention, took very good care of us and made our time interesting, telling us stories, a great part of them about Eretz Israel. In our town there was a highly developed awareness of Hebrew. The Zionistic movements were well represented and active, hence the fact of the "Tarbut" all Hebrew school.
Since we lived at the "New Plan" Der Goldener Barg, we were at a distance from the main concentration of the population of Lipcani.
For us it was far away to school, to kindergarten and to the main activities of the commercial and business centre. To reach the "gan", I had to pass next to the cemetery. Once, the cemetery had probably been outside of the town limits, but it grew, becoming part of the town.
I used to be afraid of the geese which wandered around there. During the winter and rainy weather we learned in a very attractive and well equipped "gan" such as exist today. We played with toys, learned songs, recited and celebrated the Jewish holidays, all in Hebrew. It seems we were very up-to-date with the Hebrew culture being developed at that time in "Eretz Israel" – Palestine.
In retrospect I think that the Jewish
congregation in Lipcani have regarded their stay in the Diaspora as only
temporary, time being measured in tens of years, certainly not in hundreds of
years. The influence of the Zionist movement was strong. A sizeable number of
youngsters have emigrated to Eretz Israel.
My days in Lipcani
I was accepted into the first grade of the "Tarbut" grade school part of the Hebrew school system which existed in Eastern Europe during that time. The language of study was Hebrew. Rumanian, the national language, was compulsory and studied as a second language. At home, we spoke Yiddish and of coarse USSR, because that was the only language understood by the housekeeper and part of the gentile population living in Bessarabia, as well as the "Intelligentsia" and the Katzaps..
During the summer, after school, we were accustomed to travel to the village Viishoara, where we were pampered by my father's brothers and especially by my grandfather and grandmother.
Grandmother would prepare a carbonated sweet water for all of the children and grandchildren. Grandfather would make ice cream for us. The ice was cut and gathered from the frozen river during the days of winter.
At my grandfathers yard there was a large dugout where he kept the ice covered with hey for the entire summer.
Our trips to the village were noted by the local children who wore clothes of the national custom while our clothes were European. They looked rather silly to us.
We were accustomed to visit the places where my uncles did business and would travel on the threshing machine. That was a real treat.
The farmers would pile all of their crop beside their homes and our machine would separate the wheat from the chaff. Even though there was no organized co-operative or kolchoz (communal village), the spirit of mutual help was very strong. Teams of workers went from one farmer to another until the last one completed his winter preparations.
We were not paid money for our work; rather, we received a percentage of the wheat. Thus, we gathered wheat as payment for work, milled it and sold it as flour to bakeries. During the summer, we usually went to the river Prut. There, we jealously watched the "shkutzim" (gentile children).
They could swim like fish. We Jews were not exactly experts in that sport, except for my grandfather. He not only knew how to swim, but he could swim the river in an upright position carrying his clothes in one hand.
The trips to the outskirts of Lipcani, where we celebrated "Lag Ba-Omer," a Jewish holiday commemorating the Bar Kohba's revolt have had a great impact on me. In these trips I believe I felt free and independent. We made believe we are in our own country. It was well indoctrinated using the victory of Bar Kohba's revolt. We had field trips and played war games of soldiers using self made bows and arrows. I loved it and couldn't wait for next years field trip. Every once in a while I was taken to see a game of soccer of our local soccer teams. I think I saw a film or two with Shirley Temple and one of Taras Bulba which really impressed me. I don't remember the script but I will always remember how excited and overwhelmed from the special effects which to me were a wonderful inspiring reality.
I was a healthy child, but complained that my stomach hurt. I don't remember if it was just an excuse to get out of eating or if I really did have a problem. What I do remember is going to the dentist, Dr. Havis, as well as stomach typhoid and a skin disease I caught from playing with cats. Problems with my teeth continued until I was about twenty five years old. I was hospitalized with typhoid in a hospital run by nuns and the skin disease caused me immense discomfort.
Because of the sores on my head, my hair fell out and the only way to treat them was to peel my scalp by putting wax/paraffin on my head, much the same as women do to remove leg hair. This was followed by baths of a special tincture. My friends laughed at and teased me, but that didn't bother me very much. What really bothered me was Aunt Olea, (the mother of Avraham, Rachel and Dodik), who teasingly asked me where my hair was.
Most of the Jews in Lipcani and our family observed Kashrut and most of the Jewish laws and traditions. We did not ware a yarmulke, but when visiting the synagogue.
But when I returned from the hospital from Chernowitz by train in a Shabat and I had to travel by carriage (Phaeton) I demanded my mother to cover the carriage not to be identified as "Shabes Goi" by my friends.
During the Jewish holidays we used to participate at all the prayers and relevant religious ceremonies.
In our leisure time we played soccer with a ball made from rags until we had a real ball bought for us. I especially loved the winter because it gave us children the pleasure of sledding, ice skating and skiing. Skiing was not really a reasonable activity for us because most of the area was flat but we practiced skiing with self made skis. Ice-skating was very popular and I loved it.
Not only did I skate with skates I was very proficient skating on my heels protected by a metal "Horse Shoe".
During the springtime, we usually sailed paper boats in puddles of melting winter snow. We played "campe" (Pronounced 'Kemp'a) and ran with wheels controlled by a wire with a U shaped end to accommodate the turning wheel; we were not lazy. We spent many hours playing outside our homes, no matter of weather conditions. Each season had its specials. Seldom did we play in side our homes. In fact we had no games fit to be played at home, nor were we encouraged to stay at home, except for food, preparing lessons for school and sleeping. My father being at work most of the time, we never had family meals, except on high holidays and other selected special occasions.
Every year, the school celebrated Hanukkah. Once, it was decided to make a gigantic celebration and for this event the Gershenson Theatre hall was rented. I was chosen to light the Hanukkah candles and recite the blessing; the hall was filled to the last seat many were even standing . There was little air to breathe and it was difficult to light the matches. We rehearsed a lot for this event and I was proud of being picked because of my fine voice. But in 1980 I was told by two of my former classmates, who made recently aliyah from USSR, that the real reason was because my father's money.
The myth of having been chosen due to my voice had disappointingly gone.
At home there were discussions about pogroms and robbers. I always had a fear in my heart that something would happen and even though nothing had, it was expected. There was never any talk about USSR taking control of Bessarabia.
We spoke about the Jews having rights and the Rumanian authorities, although anti Semitic, allowed business and free commerce. Rumania behaved in a relatively democratic way also towards Jewish residents, the majority being in a fair economic situation, some of them even prosperous.
We had concerns but not real and constant fears. We did not live in horror in spite of the ever increasing pressure of the German influenced government. The new regulations that no company, business or enterprise will have a Jewish name, was overcome by fictitious partnerships with some non Jewish partners. The atmosphere became tenser every year but no real fear governed our lives.
My uncle Matityahu, who emigrated to Palestine in the twenties knew better. He bombarded us with letters and telegrams urging us to sell everything, leave Rumania and settle in Palestine, or at least buy property there, because "black clouds are covering Europe" and the days of relative freedom is about to end. My father and many of his friends and peers, who probably received similar indications from their relatives, ignored the warnings or at least postponed acting. It is very difficult to grasp and accept a new situation, in particular one which changes stability.
In spite of the warnings and the anti-Semitic
limitations introduced by the authorities towards Jews my father continued to
develop the business, acquiring a new large modern mill in Chernowitz, the
nearest big city to Lipcani to where we eventually were supposed to move and
The Soviet occupation of Bessarabia
Tension rose in Europe. Germany occupied the Ruhr zone, made the "anschluss" with Austria, annexed Czechoslovakia and attacked Poland.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop accord divided Poland and parts of Rumania. Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina were the prey of the Soviet Union.
From one minute to the next, we suddenly became unwanted or even worse, the enemy of the Communist regime. Here, in a country that claimed freedom and equality for all, my father, the mill owner, now was regarded dangerous to the authorities. The Soviet government had a special name, "bourgeoisie," for people in business like my father. A French word meaning a person of the middle class; however, the communists defined bourgeoisie as a class exploiting the proletarians. With the entry of the Soviets into the town, I saw my father lose his world. A man who was always extremely healthy now suddenly suffered from nervousness and kidney stones. His world collapsed upon him.
From the sealed-off country of the USSR, we received information of what was happening, especially about the fate of the wealthy. The atmosphere and general feeling of the wealthy sector of the Lipcaner society became very gloomy and sad. My father and his peers have understood how big a mistake they made not listening to the warnings.
They who read the news papers and listened to the radio, received letters and telegrams from relatives in Palestine and other parts of the free world, disregarded the stream of events, explicitly showing how the danger is closing on us. For them the world went under. For me, despite this, I rather enjoyed every moment of the great activity which came to our dormant town, and the great opportunities opened for me. To our out of the way town came people from faraway places, riding on tanks which I saw for the first time and really impressed me. Cars and trucks traveled on the dry areas of the town and there was singing and dancing in every square and street.
The Lipcaner community, except the rich ones, have had a very happy time which very soon was discovered to be but a temporary illusion.
Sites previously closed were now open. Lipcani was entirely owned by the "Paritz" a noble who leased his lands to build the town. The noble lived on the edge of the town. His palace and grounds were turned into public gardens and I, too, visited and was awed. My sheltered life became somewhat freer. My brother and sister returned home for the summer vacations from Chernowitz, began to talk about working because the communist slogan was, "whoever did not work, shall not eat. "The mill workers behaved as before and asked my father to continue managing the mill, although now not as the owner. "Sleeping" communists from the Jewish community came to receive "the keys," they demanded the horses, the land, and of course, the money.
My childhood is now going to totally change and my future, probably fully planed by my parents will no take a different path. My joy of the new situation was very short.
The world history is changing its course. Those having aggressive desires threat the great democracies and get their gains unopposed. The great democratic powers, the victors of the "Great War" are limiting their act to protesting only.
As it happened in the time that followed, we were very lucky on many occasions. The Soviets who conquered Bessarabia declared a bizarre rate of exchange to the Rumanian currency the Leu. At their rate of exchange, a radio could be bought for two dollars when the true value was about fifty to one hundred dollars.
A USSR captain, a Jew, came to buy "bargains." He bought everything he saw and paid us the price in Rubble, the Soviet currency; but, because of the rate of exchange, he actually robbed us in a most elegant way, as we discovered some months later.
The real value we received from him was a piece of advice he gave us; for this we will remember him and be forever grateful.
He explained to us that because of the wealth which he saw in our home, he assumed that we were very rich and this wealth made it extremely dangerous for us to remain in a place where people knew us. He recommended that we immediately leave our town and move to another place, even better to another republic where no one knew of us and our capitalistic background.
Despite the difficulties this imposed upon us, leaving our home, possessions, friends and the place where we grew and to move to a place where we knew no one, my father decided that we would leave immediately.
His brothers and partners in the mill made the same decision. We moved to a village in Northern Bukovina named Boian. The others moved to other villages.
My sister found a position as a grade school teacher in Larga, near Lipcani. My brother continued studying in Lipcani and stayed with our uncle Vovic, who's economical situation did not jeopardize his security in the eyes of the USSR.
My father worked as an accountant in the village flour mill which at least allowed him to continue working with wheat and flour which he loved and felt comfortable with. My mother understood the situation and although it was more difficult for her, quickly adapted to the new situation. Life did not give her very much comfort, satisfaction or other pleasures. She always worked very hard and only rarely did she receive thanks or recognition for her good heart and her loving and considerate attitude; she was always willing to give from herself for the good of the community or for those poorer and less fortunate than herself.
I don't know how these changes affected my brother and sister. We never had a chance or bothered to discuss it; not then and not later. I had a very difficult transition to the village. Everything was so different. I had to learn and acquire the Ukrainian language, the official language of the republic. I had to make new friends who were mostly non Jews wearing their national costume. Even my name was changed. Since I remembered myself my name was Sioma, a common nick name for Shalom or Shlomo. My official Jewish name is Shalom. In the new village I was called according to what was written on my birth certificate, or in a Ukrainian dialect, "Shulim."
They never heard about Shalom Aleichem, because if they would have heard of him, at least they would have called me Shalom instead of Shulim, which annoyed me.
The classroom where I was placed had twice as many students than my former class. The children wore the national costume which were made from sheep skin, strange jackets and shoes called Opinc (some version of the "moccasin" but made of raw leather). The unfinished leather of both the fur and the shoes gave off an odour in addition to the smells from the students who never bothered to control their bowel gas from the food they ate.
Each day I suffered real agony. More accurately, each minute in school was torture. I suffered in silence and did not tell my mother because I did not want to increase her hardships. The only pleasure that I can remember was when I watched and counted the cars passing on the road.
Our rented apartment was actually one half of a house, only twenty meters back from the road to Chernowitz, which was about sixteen kilometers from our village.
In our yard was the village synagogue which served the religious needs of all the 95 Jews who for generations lived in Boian. Amongst them was the doctor, the pharmacist, the rabbi and ritual slaughterer, a few shop keepers and other typical Jewish professionals such as the tailor, butcher, etc.
During the year we lived in the village Boian, no family members visited us. We kept in touch by mail only, taking into account the severe censorship. Grandfather and grandmother were expelled to Siberia and their unmarried children who were at home left, every one to where he could to avoid being sent to labour camps in Donbas or Siberia.
If we hadn't listened to that Soviet Jewish officer, for certain we would have had a similar fate.
We had no more information about what was happening in the world. We no longer had a radio because we had "sold" it; there was no daily newspaper in the village unless someone brought one from the town. The only remaining source of what was happening came only from rumours.
My mother traveled to visit relatives when the Germans surprised the Soviets on 22 June 1941 and she returned home with my sister who was on her summer vacation from teaching.
The USSR retreat began earlier than we expected; we didn't even know that the Soviet army in our area had been surrounded because of the deep penetration by the Germans on the Ukrainian front.
After not many days and nights the retreat of the troops stopped.. During the first days of the disorganized retreat there were long lines of army personnel, foot soldiers, some on horseback and others in vehicles. Artillery and other heavy armaments made a great noise and shook the houses close to the road. The situation was as unhappy as possible. I remembered, from the previous year, the proud and happy scene of the Soviet soldiers' entry into the village; now, it was one of sadness and ugliness of retreating soldiers who knew that their fate had been decided.
When they decided to halt the retreat or perhaps
there were just no more soldiers, there was a sudden quiet, an actual cessation
of noise. There were only groups of local residents standing at a few points
along the village roadside.
The pogrom and massacre in Boian
The miller from the flour mill wanted to express his gratitude to my father for passing along his experience and teaching him the trade, or perhaps because he was just a decent person; whatever the reason, he advised my father to either hide or immediately leave the village because something terrible was going to happen that night.
My father spread the warning to the Jews in the village but they refused to take him seriously. Their claim was reasonable; they had lived in the village for generations, knew everyone and lived beside their neighbours with honour and friendship.
As the saying goes, "the situation was quiet." The Soviets had already left and the Germans had not yet arrived except for a few Stuka fighter planes which had flown low over the area. It was the first time I had ever seen a fighter plane; I could clearly define the pilot's head and think maybe I even saw his eyes.
The noise terrified me but my curiosity helped me overcome my fear.
My father took the miller's advice seriously but only partially. We hid in the attic of the house and "defended" ourselves by piling some objects against the door leading to it. At nightfall the pogrom began, intensified once the light totally faded and continued until almost dawn.
Using various methods, the gentiles murdered almost all of the Jews. Through a crack in the attic wall we saw them dragging the rabbi with the pitchfork stuck into his back. Beneath us, they broke into and ransacked all of our apartments. Beside our house, they burned the books and the scrolls of the Torah which they took from the synagogue. They were tired of stealing and drinking themselves into drunkenness, dancing and singing.
They tried to make their way into the attic where we hid, but without success. After many attempts of penetrating the obstacle which we created at the entrance to the attic they abandoned it and decided to torch the house.
Having no other alternative, we descended the stairs and were amazed to find ourselves alone, without any pogromists either in our apartment or in the area. We quietly crept from the house and were delighted to see the miller who knew we were hiding in the attic. He briefed my father of the situation and this time insisted that we leave immediately the village guiding us to the fields in the agricultural area at the outskirts of it, so that we can hide until dark and than leave under the cover of darkness.
We went to hide to the attic as though it would be for just a short time with the hope that everything would soon be over.
We had no idea of what was really going to happen and so we hid wearing only thin clothes which were fine for being at home but unsuitable for wandering from place to place, sleeping and traveling through fields at night. Fortunately, everyone wore shoes to the attic.
We got to the far edges of the fields and hid in the wheat, without moving or making any sound during the daylight hours. Peasants working the fields did not spot us although we heard their voices and noises made with their tools. We already knew what they are capable off, and took no chances. We just laid low during the entire daylight. At nightfall, we walked in this manner for three days.
We managed to walk only sixteen kilometers but it was the longest, most painful and arduous of journeys.
My father had his flour mill ownership papers in one of his pockets. Guilelessly, he thought that the Rumanians would positively consider his capitalism.
Our naive cover story was that we were running from the communists. My father was very frightened of what would become of us and did not want us to suffer. Each night and during each rest period, he planned the family's suicide: drowning when we were close to the river Prut; once, using a shaving blade which for some strange reason he had with him and once, by torching a pile of hay in which we were hiding.
I believe my memory to be accurate that I was always against any of these plans. I may not have known what it meant to die, but I really wanted to live. My idea of death was only from what I saw opposite our home in Lipcani, in front of the synagogue, on the way to the cemetery. I saw the sadness, the crying, the psalms of mourning, the tragedy. Because of that, the idea of death was intangible an abstract.
The idea of life was natural, self evident and needed not to be questioned or explained. It was a fact which I felt comfortable with. There was no reason to dispute the fact that I was alive and wanted to continue life to meet all challenges and opportunities it provides.
On the way, we met a detachment of Rumanian soldiers who acted very suspicious towards us, but they accepted my father's explanation or maybe "nationalizing" (confiscating) my brother's watch satisfied them.
Being very tired and hungry and still very naive regarding the local population, we made an effort to hire a horse and carriage to take us to Chernowitz. We met a farmer not far from the village Mahala, well-known for its evil. We asked if we could rent his horse and wagon to travel to Chernowitz.
He agreed and took us to almost the centre of the village . He secretly told some of the villagers what we wanted to do or perhaps he planned with them to attack us. Whatever, they gathered around us and started to hit my father, mother and brother.
My sister and I ran away and watched in painful agony the severe beating of our family. My mother suffered a serious bloody head wound which bloodied most of her house-dress. She turned pale and cried. From early childhood my mother suffered from serious tearing in one eye. When she was a girl, a dog bit her in the upper lip and lower eyelid. This time, she wept silently with only the tears, making no sound.
She suffered in silence and almost certainly thought about her mother, who suffered similar agonies at the time she had been robbed and with all that had happened! Perhaps mother worried more about the pain we might suffer but we never spoke about it. I never asked because I didn't want them to relive the painful event.
Three big, strong gentiles beat my father. My short father bent even lower until he fell. They rolled him into the roadside gully, kicking and jumping on him. My brother's hand was injured from being hit by a rock. When these giant peasants were satisfied by their deeds, they thought they "had taken good care of us," they left. We must be thankful to these bandits who did not kill us, as did their friends in Boian. We were lucky again and fled to the fields from whence we came. We made a quick damage assessment and praised the Lord we were still alive. The pains were forgotten regarding the possible alternative.
We lay in the field until darkness took over, long agonizing hours. Mid summer has long days, for us these days were infinitely long. When dark finally arrived we started our night journey. The next morning we arrived at an industrial village, Juchka, on the southern bank of the Prut river a bridge connecting to Chernowitz, the town which we were trying to reach.
We had the feeling that we were alone in the town. The town looked like being deserted. We wandered silently throughout the alleys. We walked through the yards and everything looked abandoned. We came to a house which we realized belonged to Jews because it had a hutch hanging on the wall. Only Jews were using it for meat being koshered with salt.
Not to raise suspicion, we didn't want to enter any house, although their appearance of being abandoned. We choose to find some service building in the back yard, and rest during day time, seeking a way to cross the river to Chernowitz.
We entered the barn, climbed up to the loft to hide and rest from all that we had endured. After a night in the fields a short rest was well deserved.
About half an hour after entering the barn, we heard someone, slowly and carefully, open the barn door. May father whispered that it had to be a Jew because the gentiles opened doors quickly and forcefully. Father was right. The visitor was a Jew, a local resident who had seen us and watched where we had gone. He brought us hot tea and asked us to leave immediately because we endangered him and all of the Jewish residents of Juchka. He told us that their former Rumanian chief of police had returned, as well as the good relationship they had before the Soviet occupation.
The chief of police announced that nothing would happen to them if they stayed in the town; but, if he found one stranger amongst them, then he would kill the strangers and whoever hid them. Since he did not want to risk the chance and imperil himself and his family, he asked us to leave. He agreed to point out an abandoned house where we might hide until some of our shock wore off. Without argument we moved to an abandoned house with the thought of resting.
In the abandoned house we found some dry bread, even a jar with sour milk covered with hungry flies. My mother found something to dress instead of the blood soaking house dress she wore. From the window we could see the bridge connecting Juchka to Chernowitz.
A few hours passed before we heard knocking on the door. Outside, there was a group of people, one of whom wore a uniform, apparently the chief of police. All of the people with him appeared to be local Jews who probably decided to tell the police of our arrival and save their lives. We did not blame them then, but after the war we had other thoughts inspired by the many (not enough) gentiles who endangered themselves to save and hide Jews on their premises.
The policeman informed us that we were forbidden to stay in the town and he would "look away" if we would go to the other side of the river. Without choice we did so. In fact that was our original goal, to get to the big city where we thought things would be better.
We still had hopes of being reunited with the rest of the family. But at that time we did not know anything about them.
The bridge was not far away. The chief of the police escorted us to the bridge and made sure we are leaving in the direction of Chernowitz, out of his jurisdiction. As we walked on the bombed bridge we ran into "technical" problems. The Soviet Army had bombed the bridge and it could only be crossed on foot. Soldiers , Rumanian and German, were everywhere. We managed to walk on the bridge until reaching the bombed area. My father, sister, brother and myself managed to cross the damaged area; but mother had problems. She was too weak from loss of blood, tired and hungry.
All of these combined made her very dizzy. She was unable to maintain her balance while climbing over the shaking framework of the bombed bridge. We were at a loss for ideas when a Rumanian soldier saw our dilemma and without knowing who we were, helped my mother to safely make her way over the bridge.
We reached the other side of the bridge and could smell the big city. Each town or city has its own smell and large cities have special odours. The most prominent of them is the smell of smoke, dominated by the odour of burning anthracite or coal, smells of restaurants and public kitchens. But the smell of Chernowitz that welcomed us was the smell of death!
For the first time we saw groups of German soldiers marching with confident, pounding steps and heard the ringing of steel horseshoes on the stone laid roads. The Germans marched either in groups or twos and spoke loudly. The Rumanian soldiers, who were part of the success over the Soviets, did not behave as though they were the winners. The Rumanian soldier was never proud of himself and his present situation appeared more like a servant than like a master. It was clear to everyone that the true masters and victors were the Germans!
As we came nearer to the city, we were stopped by a Rumanian soldier who, without even questioning us, claimed that we were "Soviet Spies" dressed as civilians and our aim was to cause damage, sabotage and spy. The soldier put us up against a wall opposite the central train station, where he gathered and forced other "wandering spies" to stand beside us.
The soldiers who captured these "spies" claimed amongst that we also wanted "to shoot at the army with machine guns". A detachment of them stood before us in the formation of a firing squad and the sergeant in charge began to put them through the execution drill.
As in previous occasions we embraced, kissed good by and reminded that whoever will survive has the sacred task to carry the story that should bee known and never forgotten.
At that very moment, like in the movies and which always appears to be unbelievable, a low ranking officer (second lieutenant) passed by. My sister attracted his attention and he asked the sergeant what was happening. His tone full of confidence, the sergeant replied that we were spies who tried to shoot at the army, that we were disguised Soviet soldiers and should be shot. The officer gave the order to halt any execution.
It appeared to us that one trustworthy soldier was chosen by the young officer and ordered to take us to the Command Post headquarters.
On the way to the post of command, we passed local residents who shouted, "drag them to the abattoir (slaughter house) and kill them" and offered other similar bits of advice. At the command post, we were held for only a short time and then taken to the courtyard of the Chernowitz police station. The courtyard was packed from fence to fence with people from various areas who had been arrested for different reasons.
This was already the fourth day of our wandering. We hadn't eaten one meal and except for the tea we drank in the barn loft, the sour milk and dry bread in Juchka, no cooked food passed our lips.
Our nourishment consisted of the wheat from the field and the moisture licked from those objects covered with night dew.
We were afraid to go too close to a well or any settlement. My mother and sister were taken to clean the rooms of the police station, at the upper level. My sister asked a policeman for something to eat for her little brother. One policeman, whom she had probably convinced that I was starving, and being the only arrested child in the police yard, threw me a slice of bread from a second floor window; I managed to catch it and was immediately pounced on by about ten other captives who were just as hungry as me.
I was a child already weakened by the difficult journey and that night I aged so drastically that no one managed to take the slice of bread from me. That was my first real battle for food and I shall never forget it. Towards evening it was announced that the women and children were released to return home. After the announcement we suspected that the word "released" just meant a new trick of the Rumanians.
The explanation for our suspicion was that the soldiers were allowed to kill, without trial, for the first four days only. Because the first four days had already passed, they were taking advantage of the imposed curfew to shoot anyone found on the streets after six PM.
We did not want to leave father and brother and we also did not want to fall into the trap set for us by the Rumanians. The police did not listen to our pleading to stay in the courtyard and simply pushed us outside and closed the gates of the police station behind us.
We were left outside. To our good fortune, my mother and sister knew the way to the home of our relatives on Gheorghe Lazar Street (Stephan Wolf Strasse in German). The streets were empty because of the curfew.
We reached their apartment building, rang the main door bell, banged on the door but no one answered. It was as though the house was abandoned, even though we knew there were people inside. We threw stones at the second floor windows where the family lived and after very long fifteen minutes, they opened the door, but not before they closely examined us to be certain that we were really related to them. We climbed to the second floor and were surprised to see uncle Zunea, my aunts Batya and Dina looking as though they did not recognize us and certainly as though they did not understand what had happened to us. They had been locked in their home during all of the time of the events which I described and knew nothing about what had happened in Chernowitz, their own town.
Our sudden torn and tattered appearance, covered in blood and bearing other signs of distress were not easy for them to understand and believe. One could think only of a disguise, as part of a game.
But it was no game and our appearance was real and ugly. Our young relatives welcome was to cool. We have taken them by surprise.
We did not feel welcome there at first. It was a weird feeling and perhaps it was not really the way they felt, but we perceived that we were unwanted and their behaviour towards us did nothing to change our opinion.
The first few days were spent with everyone looking for ways to free father and brother from their confinement. Finally, we found someone from the Interior Ministry who had been paid graft money by father in the past. We gave him a Persian carpet for "the government" and father and brother were released from confinement.
By the time we arranged the release of father and brother, we managed to convince our relatives of the terrible things which had happened to us. At first, they were unable to understand and believe us. With the passing of a few more days, they were able to absorb the impact of the events up to a certain point.
It was very difficult for them to accept our story. The change in us was swift and radical. When my father and brother joined us, we hoped that it would be the intention of uncle, his sister and sister in law to have a more positive feeling towards us. Although the situation was not hostile, we did not feel part of them or the household. We became a burden they were unprepared to deal with. It is probably unfair to demand from those relatively young people to understand and accommodate to the new situation which they have encountered with our sudden arrival.
As I already described, we were almost naked, having very few clothes. In the house, like in every house, there were many items and with a little improvisation they could have given us some suitable things.
In view of what had happened to us during the past four days, we did not make big demands and we certainly were not pampered.
For me a new experience began. A very drastic change from what I was used to. Now I was confined to the apartment, having nothing to do or somebody to play with. I was just listening to the discussions and watching the deeds of the family members. I observed the undercurrents existing between my family and our relatives. Nobody bothered to ask how I feel and if at all I have any needs or wishes. Understanding the tremendous impact on my parents and sister and brother, I didn't complain and had no demands. My sister was close in age to my aunt Batya, having in common many things. She got easily adapted to the new environment.
She studied in Chernowitz before the war, had friends and had no problems to meet , be entertained, read books etc. My brother as well studied in Chernowitz, couldn't make use of his previous admittance, because of the authorities.
They used to hunt Jewish males in the streets, for hard labour. He could at least read and participate at the grown-ups discussions. I could not read good enough, had nothing and nobody to play with. All my thoughts were devoted to what happened to us and what will be. Will we survive? Is it the end of our lives? What have Jews done that we are constantly persecuted beaten and even murdered. Do I want to be Jewish? Do I have any choice? I had no answers to any of my thoughts and nobody cared about me, except my mother who hugged me crying and murmuring "I wish all your suffering falls upon me" (Es sol mier sein far dier).
It was still dangerous to be on the streets. The signs and results of the pogrom and the killing of thousands of Jews were still felt and visible.
My father released from the Police station rested several days for recovery of his wounds and hunger, had to find some ways to earn money for us to live. The only way of communication or transportation was to walk to your destination if you had one
One day my father walking on the streets to find work or a source for income, was "hunted" by a German soldier while walking on the street. They loaded him onto a truck with other "hunted" Jews and put him to work as a welder. The German turned on the welding machine wearing the necessary dark protective glasses, he welded while my father had to hold the pieces of metal to be joined together, of course without any protective gear. If he didn't look, his hands would be injured. When he looked to protect his hands, it blinded his eyes. That night he was freed and returned home, almost blind with swollen red eyes and in terrible pain including from his burned hands.
Hunting in the streets caused people to stay away from them, compelling the Jews to infiltrate clandestinely to their desired places. Needing "volunteers" or unpaid labour the Germans demanded from the Rumanian Police to provide them with the needed man power. For that purpose or just for persecution the Rumanian police raided the apartments looking for workers, going door to door This time father tried to hide and avoid the terrible experience he had with the Germans. Unfortunately he was found and was severely punished.
He received twenty five lashes on his back and body. He suffered horribly and we agonized along with him.
Mother's family in Chernowitz, elder then my father's brother and sister, and much more experienced, were a bit more understanding and considerate.
She and her aunt Dina were of the same age. Aunt Dina gave us some things and even allowed us to bake bread in her oven. Even distant relatives like uncle Moses's parents in law, helped us.
Father's brother, Moshe, lived with his family in a village Molodie, not far from Chernowitz and at first did not know what had happened to us. He left the village and joined us when we move to the Ghetto. He needed not join us but he choose to share his faith with the rest of the family
Gentiles from my father's village Viishoara, who came to the city to sell their fruits, vegetables and other merchandise had mercy and helped us, or so it seemed.
The Chernowitz ghetto
A few months after we arrived in Chernowitz, the Rumanian government, apparently on the instructions of the Nazis, decided to concentrate all of the Chernowitz living Jews into a ghetto. A very small area in the city was declared to be the ghetto and we were given a couple of hours to evacuate our apartment and being displaced to the ghetto.
Each person was responsible for finding himself a place to live in the ghetto. We looked for a relative or friend who lived in the ghetto who was both capable and willing to take us in. Shaul Weinrober, a relative and family friend from my mother's village, Corjeutz, lived in the ghetto. He had married Yetti, who was born and lived in Chernowitz. Shaul and Yetti welcomed us and we made arrangements to move in.
Our family, relatives of father and friends of Shaul's wife gathered in their apartment. The move to the ghetto was quick. My father found a farmer from Viishoara in the market who volunteered to transport us and our things in his wagon.
Of course, he took for himself anything left behind in the apartment.
An old army winter coat, which uncle Shimon brought back from the Rumanian army, was painted in Brown and from its material a short winter jacket was sown for me. At last something was done for me, not to freeze in autumn and winter closing in. At this opportunity all of us have received something to wear.
We stayed in the ghetto for about a month until the deportation to Transnistria. The ghetto was closely packed and I felt good. Here I could move around, talk to children my age. I even met my cousin Avraham who for ten years, was my best and closest friend. The paradox is that in the ghetto I felt better and happier than before the ghetto, even better than in my exile village Boian. People felt closer to one another and shared the difficulties and hardships. Mutual aid and understanding improved.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
"Survive and Tell" Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 11 Jun 2005 by LA