Mrs. Etta Flam (Part I)

Can you tell me your name and where you were born?

My name is Etta Flam, née Frankfurter. I was born in the town of Kashau (Kosice), Czechoslovakia. Kashau had a very large Jewish population: one-hundred-twenty-thousand people.

What memories can you share with us about your family?

I had a beautiful childhood. I grew up in a home steeped in Chassidus. My whole extended family lived in one courtyard. In this courtyard we had a shul and our own matzah bakery. We were not rich but we were very close with each other. My grandfather was a Rav and a tremendous talmid chacham. My father spent his whole lifetime learning.

We were eight children; I was the fifth child. There were three boys and five girls. Chaya and Avrumi were married; Chaya had a baby. They lived in the same courtyard as us and they were all taken to Auschwitz together.

What kind of education did you receive?

I was about six years old when Sara Schenirer came to our town and opened the first Bais Yaakov in Kashau. It was housed in a big building which still stands today. Whatever we learned came from this Bais Yaakov because my father never allowed us to attend the local public school. My brother Meilich went to Satmar yeshivah and then the oldest boy, Avrumi, traveled to a yeshivah in Poland to further his learning.

Did you feel anti-Semitism in your town before the war?

Definitely. We had good neighbors near us who were very friendly with my parents. The children always played with us. Then, they turned around and called us all kinds of unclean names. My little brother came home crying when they beat him up because he had long peyos.

Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at this time?

We didn’t know anything. It’s possible that my father read a newspaper so maybe he was more aware; however, as children, we certainly didn’t know. We were situated not too far from Poland. When Polish people came to tell us what was taking place, we figured that they were imagining it and they had lost their minds. There were those who came with a plea to us to hide them. My father hid them in the oven of the matzah bakery. We were so naïve, we didn’t believe them.

When did your family begin feeling the pressures of the war?

The announcement came that the Germans were marching into Kashau. We were instructed to wear a yellow star and a curfew was enforced.

Can you describe the scene that took place when the Germans arrived in Kashau?

I recall the Pesach of 1944; it was beautiful. Right after Pesach, my mother put away all the Pesach dishes and stored them in the attic as we had done in previous years. On the first Shabbos following Pesach there was a knock on the door. We were instructed to pack whatever necessities we absolutely needed into a small bag. The children had all been sleeping. We were forced to wake them all and dress them. In the middle of the night we were all herded into a large wagon and taken to the local big shul in the middle of the town.

This time of year was still very cold in Kashau. We were told to sit on the stone floor of the shul. Since it was right after Pesach and there was not too much chametz around, we had very little food to bring along. The young children and the babies were crying endlessly. (The scar that this has left me with can never go away.)

From the shul we were taken to a brick factory. Blankets were laid out on the floor for us to lie on. The gentiles in town were happier than ever. They watched us as we were being carted away, mocking us and laughing at our misfortune.

In the brick factory we were forced to hand over all the extra belongings that we had taken along with us. We were given minimal food; our meals consisted of potatoes, bread and water.

One day some Germans walked up to my father, who wore the full levush of a chassidishe man, and cut off his beard and peyos for no reason — just because they felt like it, and a Jew could not fight back. You will never understand how much we suffered.

To be continued…