After fleeing a Nazi deportation in Poland and heading into Russian territory, your family was transferred to Siberia by the Russian army. There, you were used as forced labor for 18 months. What happened to your family then?
When the Germans invaded Russia, the Polish government became allied with Russia. The Polish government in exile protested to the Russian government that it had taken Polish citizens to Siberia for slave labor.
So the Russians let us out of the woods. We were allowed to leave, but not to go to the large cities. My family went to a nearby village where we were able to get easier work. My father became a shepherd. I got a job in a cafeteria. In the meantime, my brother Berel caught pneumonia. A doctor warned us not to travel with him, so we stayed in the village.
In the summer, my father and I worked ten-hour shifts at a fish cannery. When the Germans moved in closer, we began working 12-hour shifts. Part of our job required unloading the barges when the ships arrived with fresh fish. Every case of fish weighed close to 200 pounds. We attached harnesses to our backs and dragged the heavy loads. Often, the work was not completed and our shift was extended to 14 hours, until the ship was empty. After the fish were sorted, another man and I were chosen to drag the boxes of fish to the area where the fish would be canned for the army.
We both worked the night shift. My older sister, who was sixteen years old, worked as a cleaning woman in the cannery. While the fish was sorted and boiled, she would take the little pieces, walk over to the window and drop them into my hand. One night, the supervisor came by and saw us. B’chasdei Hashem, he turned around and pretended not to have seen us; he did not report us.
When the weather turned cold and the river froze, there was no fish. We were taken back to the forest to chop trees for firewood. I was the only one from my family working at this site. My father and my sister worked inside the barracks, while my younger sister and brother attended a Russian school. My mother did not work.
In 1943, while we were still in Siberia, the Russians formed two divisions mobilizing Polish citizens for their army. The first division consisted of people from the area around Tashkent. They were taken to the Russian-German front and sent to the front line. Almost all of them were killed. Another division was formed of people from Siberia. In July 1943, I was drafted, too. We received lots of training before we were to be sent to the front. The plan was that we would go the big town of Omsk. We were a group of 170 men — Jews and Poles. We were gathered in a field and they called our names alphabetically, separating our the Jews. There were only 45 of us. We were very scared.
The Polish soldiers were taken away on a truck, while we stood and waited. Finally, two Russian soldiers told us that we would be doing construction in a labor camp. We were loaded onto trucks and taken to barracks in Omsk. We had to share the barracks with sick soldiers, many of them from the Ukraine and Finland.
In the mornings, we were woken early and ordered to line up, four rows across. They marched us to a construction site. The foreman distributed jobs. For a while I was assigned to cutting pipes. I tried to make some money by chopping some wood that was lying around and selling it in the bazaar.
To be continued.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.