It wasn’t long before word began to spread that the Russians were backing out and the Germans were taking over again. People began to run. However, many were reluctant to leave, for they had houses and valuable possessions and running would mean leaving everything behind. But our home had already been burned and we had not much left to our name. My father hired a gentile with a horse and wagon and during the night he took us to the Russian border. Many families followed suit — from our town and from many of the neighboring towns as well.
We moved into a basement apartment. Although it wasn’t as frightening as being in town, it was wartime and we knew we weren’t safe. Then an order came that everyone had to register for a Russian passport. My parents weren’t sure that it was to our benefit; we decided that we should not apply for a Russian passport.
For how long were you able to remain under these conditions?
One Friday night soldiers arrived with large bayonets to take us away to the train station in the center of town. Although we didn’t have too many possessions with us, they allowed us to take along whatever we wanted. Men, women and children squeezed onto the train between the packages; we had no idea where we were headed. My two sisters were not at home at the time. It was just my parents, one brother and I.
The trains were very long freight trains with many cars attached. It took a few days to fill up the cars before we were able to begin our journey. We traveled for two weeks; the doors were barred, making it impossible to escape. I do remember that we stopped at different stations where the townspeople had pity and brought us water to drink. The children were crying; there were no bathrooms and overall the conditions were horrible.
It was the fall season already, around the time of the Yamim Tovim. The train traveled as far as it could go, discharging full cars of people on the way, until we arrived in Siberia. At the last stop we were finally let off the train. We unloaded and remained outside for the night. In the morning, we piled into the next group of trucks. We arrived at our next destination, where we remained for a very short time. We could not continue on, for there were no roads for the trucks to travel on. Instead, they brought horses, and finally we arrived at our final stop, deep in Siberia. They set us up in barracks, a few families to each barrack.
Flies stormed the area, eating our flesh.
What were the new living conditions?
We were given 200 grams of bread a day to eat. We were woken up in the middle of each night for appel; they counted us again and again. They wanted to make sure no one escaped — not that there was anywhere to run or hide.
The weather conditions were icy. Work was distributed to all. My father and my brother received jobs cutting wood. They would stack up the wood and send it down the river to be shipped to the neighboring villages. The work was quite hard.
I recall an ehrliche, frum young man, an extremely nice man by the name of Reb Benzion Faber, whose wife and small children were on our transport. At the last second he arrived and jumped onto the train to be together with them. When we arrived in Siberia, he worked alongside the rest of the men cutting down wood. Suddenly the bark of a tree fell on him and instantly killed him. He left behind a wife and two young children who emigrated and settled in Eretz Yisrael
I acted as a water carrier, bringing water to the workers to drink. The roads were like a sheet of ice. I carried an ice chopper with me to break the ice and make a path. By the time I arrived at the workers’ site, the buckets of water were mostly empty; the water had spilled on this treacherous path.