Mrs. Henya Minz (Part III)

I wandered from one place to another. Some of the gentiles were nice to me; many times they would even give me a loaf of bread. However, many of them feared for their own lives. Sometimes I was able to convince them to allow me to stay on their property. They were always afraid that if I was caught I would give out the names of the people who helped me.

There was one gentile woman who allowed me to stay on her property. She was very nice but her husband and her two little children were not allowed to know. Her husband was very rich and likely would not be pleased if he knew that I stayed there. Sometimes I would climb up to the attic with my loaf of bread and remain there. There were times that I was in the attic and the woman thought I was not there. When she knew I was inside, she guarded the attic carefully. There was a chicken laying eggs in the attic and her little boy wanted to go up and watch but she was careful not to allow him to climb up. She allowed me to eat the raw eggs from the chicken and this kept me going. After six months she was too frightened to keep me. I continued on my way and whenever I was searching for a place to stay, I returned to this nice woman for a night or two.

Throughout the years of the war did you have any connection to Yiddishkeit?

No, nothing at all. Even if we would have known when it was Shabbos and Yom Tov we never would have been able to keep any of the halachos.

Can you tell us about liberation?

One night I heard cannon fire right near the house. I looked out through a small window at the top of the attic and I saw Russian soldiers in the distance. They were the first Russian patrol arriving on horses. I waited another day before making any move.

Shortly thereafter, I saw throngs of Russians soldiers arriving. They occupied the backyard of the house where I was staying. The woman who lived there had large fields and a water pump; so the soldiers stopped to rest and set themselves up on the property. The woman came up to me and asked me the following question: The Russians are here; what will you do if the Russians do the same thing as the Germans? She went out and asked the soldiers what they would do if they found a Jew. Would they kill him or her like the Germans? They assured her that they had come to save the Jews and she does not have to be afraid. The Russian soldiers accepted me … and gave me food to eat. There were a couple of partisans in the area whom the Russians helped as well.

Once we were freed we walked to my hometown of Rawa-Ruska, [which was] just seven kilometers from where we were. I occupied an empty house with another girl named Mania, whom the Russians also freed. It took a few days and the Jews began to return. An entire family by the name of Dornberg, who were Belzer Chassidim, returned as well. They had been in hiding as a family together and were lucky to have survived. There was a mill which we used to make flour to bake bread. Mr. Dornberg was able to make a little money by selling flour and loaves of bread, and I tried to help the family.

A while later, when things were just beginning to settle down, an announcement went out that anyone who wants to leave should do so now because Russian-controlled territory will turn communist and no one will be allowed to leave the country. The Jews got together to make plans to leave.

We traveled to Cracow. All the Jews gathered together in a big empty room. We slept on the floors; we had a little kerosene stove but the conditions were far from decent. I stayed together with the Dornbergs and they treated me like a daughter. However, there were so many refugees that it was too much of a tumult for me. I discovered that Sara Schenirer’s Bais Yaakov was in Cracow and a hostel for children was also there. I went there together with my friend and I joined one of the groups. There was one group which was Mizrachi and they were gathering boys and girls to go to Israel. I ended up joining the Agudath Israel group, which worked out well. It was strictly a girls group in a big room and we each had our own bed. They were planning to travel to Germany and from there to Israel.

However, I knew that my father’s brother was in America and I wanted to unite with him there. I was in the Cracow hostel for six months when one day I overheard some girls speaking. They spoke about a Rabbi who was taking a group of children to London. I went with my friend Chana to see Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld. After we waited an entire day Rabbi Schonfeld arrived. He explained to us all the rules and promised to be in contact with us.

I traveled from Cracow to Warsaw by train. We all went to the consulate and got our passes. We all traveled on one visa with Rabbi Schonfeld. We took a plane to get to the port where the boat was waiting to take us to London.

On the boat, Rabbi Schonfeld taught us how to speak English and sang many English songs. We arrived in London in 1946. Once we arrived in London we were welcomed with open arms. There were nurses there to take care of us and we were each given our own belongings: beds, towels, personal hygiene [items] and more.

In London I got a small job helping out in a children’s coat factory. I received four British pounds a week. I gave one pound to the hostel to pay for my food and the other three I kept for myself.

When did you travel to the United States?

Rabbi Schonfeld put an ad in a Jewish American newspaper, describing how I was searching for my uncle. It was Pesach and we were sitting at the Seder when a telegram arrived for me from my uncle with a message that I should contact him. He wanted me to come to the United States immediately but I wasn’t allowed to leave yet. I had to wait patiently until my turn arrived. In the meantime, my uncle sent me packages and called me occasionally.

Since I had saved up some money I decided to visit Israel before traveling to the United States. I was in Israel for six months. I worked six days a week in a store. I had applied for a visa and one day I received a letter that my visa was available and I had permission to immigrate to the United States.

Did you ever return to your hometown?

Oh no, I never wanted to go back.

What message can you impart to today’s generation?

Jews should never forget the Holocaust, always be alert for anti-Semitism, be aware of your surroundings, observe all the commandments and teach people to respect and love each other.

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.