In 1939, your family escaped a deportation from Dzikow and fled into territory controlled by the Russians. What did you do?
Once my mother and the rest of the family had joined us, we followed many people we knew who had gone to Lemberg (today, Lvov, in the Ukraine). The living conditions there were terrible. Lemberg was full of refugees who had nowhere to go. People slept in the shuls, in the schools, in basements and just about anywhere they could find shelter. All the stores in Lemberg had been liquidated when the owners were forced to sell their merchandise at extremely low prices. We stood in long lines to purchase anything we could. We would then take the items and sell them on the black market for a nice profit.
My father had a brother who had fled to Lemberg from Cracow. He found an apartment, and my family, along with my mother’s brother and his family, all squeezed into this one-room apartment with his family.
We were in Lemberg for eight months. Then, we got word from some people who had returned to Dzikow that it was peaceful and that men were just being drafted for day work. So we registered to go back home. However, it was not to be.
The Russians had a list of where each Jew lived. After Shavuos 1940, Russian soldiers arrived with trucks and picked up all the refugees in town. We were driven to the railroad station and put into freight cars. My father was made foreman of the car. We saw my mother’s uncle and his family on the truck but they were sent to another freight car. My father approached the commander and requested that my uncle’s family be moved into our car. The 16 of us were reunited again.
The freight car began moving but we had no idea where we were going. When we arrived at the Russian border, the guards told us we were going north, “to Siberia.” We traveled for four weeks; traveling by day and stopping at night. Finally, we arrived at the border of the Ural Mountains.
When we arrived at the last railroad station, we were transferred onto barges normally used to hold wheat. We received daily food rations. We remained there for two weeks before we began traveling north on the river. At the river’s end, there were approximately a thousand people who had arrived on other transports. From there we were transferred to row boats, in which we traveled for a day. Then the transport was divided into three groups. Ours consisted of 350 people.
We arrived at a clearing in the woods with five barracks. Guards were waiting impatiently for us. We were told that we would be living and working in these quarters. About 60 people were assigned to each barrack.
They allowed us to rest for two days before bringing in the Russians who would teach us to chop down trees. We were divided into groups of five. We used six-foot saws and axes. Each group had to meet a quota; any group that didn’t meet its quota received only half the food ration for the day. The food ration wasn’t too big to begin with. Some people who had money were able to purchase extra food from a nearby store, but those who had no money basically starved.
On Rosh Hashanah 1940, a few chassidic Yidden decided to daven in their barrack. I was among them. There were Russian foremen supervising us. When none of us reported to work, the foremen told the commander. He came rushing in and found us davening. Many of us escaped through the window. Two older men who couldn’t run were arrested, still wearing their talleisim. One of them died; he was the first korban in our barrack. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, no one dared to stay behind.
Winter came and snow fell heavily. We trudged through the snow. Most of the older people and the children did not make it through the winter. They died of dysentery. We were there for 18 months. In that time, we cleared about 2.5 miles of forest area. We worked every day, six days a week.
To be continued.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.