Mrs. Etya Kleinman (Part V)

When I arrived home, my brother Yom Tov Lipa was already there. He, too, had been taken to Auschwitz. Upon entering the house, I saw that everything was gone. The only remaining things were the challah pans and my father’s sefarim — exactly as in my dream. We could not stay in the house, for it was totally empty. Our next-door neighbors, who had worked in my father’s fields for years prior to the war and were considered family friends, stole everything from our house. We moved in with others who had arrived home. There was a community kitchen from which we got food to eat.

It was August already and right before the Yamim Nora’im. My sister arrived home at this time; and my brother Chaim Yosef, who was two years older than me, also came back to Kerestir. We were four survivors of 12 children.

We remained in Kerestir for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. After Yom Kippur we traveled to Budapest. My father’s older brother was living in Budapest. His house was situated in the ghetto. He was never taken to Auschwitz, and he survived the war.

A short while later, we heard that there was a group of people traveling to Germany and from there they were going to Israel. We tried to join them. We went back to Vienna, Austria. From there we went to Germany with a transport in the middle of the night, a transport of babies who had survived the camp in Debrecen and had come back with their families.

How did you reconstruct your life after the war?

My oldest brother lost his wife and child at the hands of the Nazis. In 1945 he wanted to remarry, but he needed proof that his first wife was no longer alive. I had to travel to München where the Klausenburger Rebbe was staying, to be a witness for my brother. I spent Shabbos with the Rebbe. Motzoei Shabbos the Rebbe called me into his room and asked me many questions. After that he gave my brother the necessary signature in order to remarry.

It was 1946, and my sister returned to Czechoslovakia. She met a man who was a prospective shidduch for her. When she returned to Germany, another man was introduced to her, and she got engaged. On that same day, the man she had met in Czechoslovakia came to Germany to bring his sister. My older brother introduced him to me, and 24 hours later we were engaged. My chassan knew how to sing very well; he served as the shaliach tzibbur on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This was very important to me.

Between the time that we got engaged until we were married, my chassan returned to Czechoslovakia to bring another one of his sisters. He was carrying letters that people had sent with him, which wasn’t legal. He was arrested and thrown into jail. I didn’t hear from him from Purim time until July.

It was almost Pesach, and he was worried. How was he going to keep the mitzvos of Pesach in a prison cell? There was a gentile who was released on Erev Pesach from the jail. My chassan wrote a note and asked him to give it to any Jewish person that he saw. The freed prisoner did as he had been asked and the Jewish community came to my chassan’s aid and had him released.

The gown I wore under my chuppah was bought from a gentile in exchange for a carton of cigarettes. It was worn at least three times on that day alone. Each time it was tailored to fit the girl who would wear it next.

At my chasunah we were lucky to have a chicken and challah that we baked in the community kitchen. There was music, too.

What message can you impart to today’s generation?

I sometimes wonder: Why after all these years are we still in galus? Why was I chosen to live? I imagine that Hakadosh Baruch Hu wanted me to bring a whole generation into this world. I was baruch Hashem zocheh to see my children and grandchildren all frum and working in avodas hakodesh. I derive tremendous nachas from this. This month I celebrated the 90th birthday of my oldest nephew — my oldest sister’s child, which is also a big zechus.

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.