Your family fled your hometown and eventually posed as non-Jews in the town of Riecka, where you were offered a hiding place by a gentile woman. How did you survive there?
My mother would bake cookies and sell them. With that money, she would buy food. One day, there was a big sale on meat. The landlady tried to convince my mother to purchase the non-kosher meat to feed us. My father told my mother to buy it and cook it in a separate pot to give to the two youngest children. My mother did so and gave it to my little brother Shloimy, who was two-and-a-half years old. As soon as he put it in his mouth, he threw up.
When my father saw this, he immediately asked my mother to get rid of it. During the night, my mother took the pot and spilled all its contents into the stream that ran through the backyard.
My father kept his tefillin hidden in a shed outside. On Chanukah, he lit Chanukah licht inside the lid of a suitcase so that he could shut the suitcase if anyone came by. For Pesach, my father got some flour and made five matzos. All winter, my parents saved the one egg they were able to get and used it for the Seder.
At this point, the war was quite intense, with the Russians and Romanians fighting the Germans. Our small town changed positions a few times. But even with the war raging outside and bombs flying overhead, my mother left the house to go kasher the few dishes we owned for Pesach.
That year, my father said the Haggadah by heart. I recall sitting at the Seder with my sister and crying.
The next day, my sister walked into town and there were Germans swarming the area. A soldier stopped her to ask for directions to Riecka. After this frightening episode, my father decided on the second day of Pesach that we should leave. He felt it had become too dangerous to remain in Riecka.
Although my mother was not sure if we should be mechallel Yom Tov, my father insisted that it was pikuach nefesh and we left. Two days later, we heard that three soldiers had been killed in the room where we had been hiding.
We went to the next town. My father still had two matzos, which my parents ate. We children were given black bread and my father was adamant that we eat it. From there we went back to the big city of Banska Bystrica.
When we reached Banska Bystrica, it had been liberated by the Russians. There was a large funeral in progress for a Russian general. The tune the mourners were singing was the first song we heard after we were liberated, and so that is the tune our family uses for Hallel to this day.
We noticed people rushing toward the shul. My father stopped some of them and asked where they were going. They responded, “We are going to hear the Megillah.” My father had a small calendar with him. He showed them that they were a month behind — it was really Pesach.
Did you ever return to your hometown?
With the war over, we wanted to return to our hometown and in May 1945, we arrived back in Revuca. It was deserted. The shul was in shambles. Soldiers had used it as a stable. The sifrei Torah and sefarim were strewn outside like garbage.
The atmosphere was extremely depressing. After trying to save some of the sefarim, my father decided we would not stay. He found a position as Rav in nearby Tornal’a.
My father had an uncle in America. He wrote to him for assistance in getting us to the United States. We traveled from Tornal’a to Prague, and from there to France. In the interim, some members of our family got scarlet fever and we had to remain in France for six months. There was a Lubavitch family living in Paris who helped us out a great deal. Finally, in December 1946, we came to the United States.
In 1985, I went with a few of my siblings back to Hungary, in search of any survivors of the Spivakova family, who had risked so much to hide us during the war. We were told that the daughter, Marka, was still living and she could be found tending to family matters in the cemetery. We met with her. My sister was able to converse in Slovak with her. We were all crying — it was a very emotional moment.
What message would you impart to today’s generation?
It is very important to teach the youngsters of today’s generation about the atrocities of the Holocaust and how much the Jewish people suffered. We feel very lucky to have been saved.
To paraphrase the Chasam Sofer, as my father would say, “It is just as important to speak about the nissim we encountered during the horrors of the Holocaust as about the nissim of Yetzias Mitzrayim.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.