In 1943, you were supposed to be drafted into the Russian army. Instead, you were sent to another forced labor camp. What happened to you there?
We worked there for three months before someone in our group complained that we were supposed to have been sent to the army and not to a forced labor unit. The commander reported us and we were sent back to Siberia. I returned to my job at the fish cannery.
In the end of 1944, the Polish government intervened on our behalf for better working conditions and requested that the Russians let us out of Siberia. The Russians agreed and sent us to Ukraine. We were supposed to work in a sugar factory, but it had been bombed. Instead, we were paid to load vegetables and other goods onto trains. The Ukrainians hired us to do odd jobs, paid us well and fed us, too. By the beginning of 1945, I was doing all kinds of odd jobs to make a small profit.
Although the war was over by May 1945, we were not allowed to leave Ukraine immediately because the Germans were still in Warsaw. Eventually, the Russians began forming transports and I was on the first transport back to Poland. On the way, we stopped at a Polish train station. When we got off to buy some bread and nuts, there was a whole line of Poles standing there, screaming, “The Jews are coming. We are going to finish you off! We’ll finish the job for Hitler!” The bags that they were filling with nuts and corn were made from torn pages of sefarim and sifrei Torah.
It was too dangerous for us to return to our hometown. Besides which, there were Poles living in our homes now, so the Polish government settled us in a German town in Lower Silesia, which Poland now occupied.
Before the war, we had had a Polish neighbor who had returned to Poland from America. She had a lot of American currency and my father had often helped her by exchanging the money on the black market for her. My father wrote to her asking her to purchase our house in our hometown from us. She wrote back that the war had depleted her money. When a cousin of ours tried to retrieve pictures from our house, the Poles living there threatened to set their dogs on her.
We remained in Lower Silesia until 1946. In the city of Kielce, the Poles made up a story that the Jews had harmed a gentile boy and a pogrom broke out. Forty Jews were killed, including four children. Panic broke out and Jews began to flee. My brother and I were considered to be the tough ones, so our family chose us to be the scouts to find a way out for us.
We went to the Polish border with Czechoslovakia. We had an address where we were going to stay. They told us there that at night someone would come and lead us past the border guards. As we came close to the Czechoslovakian border, the guards demanded that we hand over our Polish money.
We were directed to the refugees’ cottages. When we arrived, we found the walls all scribbled with names of those who had passed through, so that anyone looking for them would know that they were alive. From there, we continued first to Vienna. There, we were sent to a displaced-persons camp, where I heard that someone named Kornbluth was looking for relatives. He turned out to be a distant cousin. He helped us get clothing and food. From there, the Joint supplied us with everything we needed until we arrived in the United States in 1950.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.