In 1942, the Polish government made a pact with Russia and we were free to leave. We had to register to travel. We didn’t know where to go. My brother — a yeshivah bachur — led the horse and buggy; we ended up in a nearby city.
Upon arriving in this new city, about which knew nothing, we met many families who had been on other transports and had arrived there before us. The gentiles living in the city allowed many families to move in with them.
The room we were given had no inside plumbing. We had to use the outhouses for our bathroom needs. Every item we owned was a commodity. We were able to sell everything. My brother and I went to the market to sell what we had and buy what we needed — although there wasn’t much for sale.
We remained with many other Jewish families in this town for five years. Although practicing religion was illegal, there were minyanim for the men to daven with. We had a shochet from Moscow who slaughtered a cow and distributed the meat. A matzah bakery was set up and the men baked matzos for Pesach.
I had a friend, Bracha Mersel. We would get together in our free time, especially on Shabbos afternoons. My mother would prepare food for our gatherings. Her father, Mr. Mersel, who was a wonderful man, made a mikveh in the city. Many people got married at that time and my father was mesader kiddushin for many couples. Yet all this was done under strict secrecy.
And then the biggest surprise of all: We found my two sisters! They were both in Siberia, but in different villages. One sister had married and was there with her husband. The second sister got married at that time in the city of Bisk where we were staying.
Can you tell us about liberation?
In 1946, after five years, the war was finally over and we were allowed to return home. They provided trains for us to return to Poland. We returned to Chechin, which belonged to Germany before the war. People stood at the train station waiting and hoping that they would find some relatives. In Chechin we found a cousin who had been in the army. He got us a room to live in.
At this time, people were trying desperately to get to a DP camp. The trains were overflowing with people, yet my cousin managed to arrange a place for us on the train. We had carried candlesticks with us from home all the way to Siberia, but now we had to leave them behind for there just wasn’t room for any packages.
We couldn’t go together for it wasn’t legal to travel. My parents went first. My cousin made arrangements for my brother and me to travel on the next train. I worked in the DP camp in Berlin, sorting shipments of clothing and other goods which had been sent from America.
We didn’t cook for ourselves. There was a central kitchen from which we got food. Once a month we received household supplies. We remained there for three years, until 1949.
One married sister left with her husband to settle in Eretz Yisrael. My second married sister remained with us in the DP camp in Berlin.
At that time, the Berlin Wall was being constructed, so we were taken to the other side. We changed camps many times before registering to come to America.
Did you have family in America?
We had a cousin with the same last name as ours — Harcsztark, whose father had been a Dayan in Lodz prior to the war. They had immigrated to America earlier. These cousins signed the affidavit which allowed us entry to the United States. We also had family by the name of Sochaczewsky, who helped us out tremendously.
I was of marriageable age. My sister’s husband had relatives here and they arranged for me to meet a man who originated from the same city as I did. A year later, we got married.
What message can you impart?
I want to thank the Ribbono shel Olam for helping us and giving us the opportunity to survive and rebuild. I continue to have emunah and bitachon that Hashem will continue guiding us on the correct path.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.