Can you tell me where you were born?
I, Hinda Fischer, née Kleinman, was born on February 13, 1930, in the town of Chust, Czechoslovakia. Chust had a population of about 30,000 people, of which a few thousand were Jewish. Chust was a very frum town, with all Jewish store owners. Rav Shea Greenwald was the Rav of the town at the time.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
We were a family of 10 children: six boys — Yechezkel (Chesu), Moshe, Aryeh Leib (Leiby), Dovid (Dudi), Aaron Tzvi Hersh (Hershi), and Yissocher Dov (Bery); and four girls — Dreizy, Lolly, Beily and myself. I was the youngest child.
My father, Yisroel Meir Kleinman, a Belzer Chassid, was an insurance broker. He did a lot of traveling for business and came home mostly for Yamim Tovim. Once the war started, my father remained home with us.
My father was a big talmid chacham; at one point the askanim in the city wanted to make him the Rav in the town but he declined the offer. My mother, Leah Kleinman, née Steinberg, took care of our home. We had a large house; we were not rich but we lived a good life.
My mother gave birth to me the day after her mother passed away. My father did not tell her, for she was showing signs of labor and he did not want to put her under more stress. Telling her that he had to travel for business, he left her with the midwife and traveled to another city for the levayah of his mother-in-law.
When giving a name to his newborn daughter, my father added the name Hinda after his mother-in-law. However, he did not inform my mother until after the sheloshim.
What kind of education did you receive?
My sisters and I went to a Jewish private school where we studied Jewish and secular subjects. Three of my brothers learned in Yeshivas Chasam Sofer in Pressburg; they came home before Pesach when the war broke out in Hungary.
There was a very large yeshivah in Chust. Rav Dushinsky was the Rosh Yeshivah and then the grandson of the Arugas Habosem, Rav Shea Greenwald, took over. My father was a talmid of the Arugas Habosem (Harav Moshe Greenwald).
Did you know what was happening in Poland and other parts of Europe at the time?
We had heard but we didn’t believe. We had heard that they were killing Jews in Poland, but my father, along with others, thought that maybe these people had gotten involved in politics and were therefore being punished by the regime.
When did you begin feeling the pressures of the war?
For five years, from 1939 to 1944, the Hungarians occupied our city and we were under their rule. I was 14 years old when the Germans entered our town in March of 1944, right before Pesach.
Two soldiers parked themselves in our house and we had to give them a room to sleep in. It was very scary; although we were home in our house we knew that the Germans were in our city and we understood that the situation was not good. They stayed in our house for two days, during which my father conducted the Sedarim.
Stores had already been closed; schools were shut down and we were all ordered to wear a yellow star. My two older brothers were taken to forced labor camps, but my father was considered too old to go.
Did you experience ghetto life?
The day after Pesach we were ordered to gather our belongings and move into a designated area called a ghetto which was comprised of a long street. My father had a cousin whose house was situated in the ghetto and my parents, four of my siblings and I moved into their house together with them. We slept on the floor. We were able to buy bread and milk from the Germans. The boys were taken during the day to practice for military service. The women stayed home and cleaned the house.
My brother Moshe, who was 20 years old at the time, had a non-Jewish acquaintance. This man snuck into the ghetto right before we were told that we were going to be transported, and gave my brother false identification papers. He then dressed him up to look like a non-Jew and gave him all the information he would need to escape.
Together, they went to the train station and escaped to Budapest, thereby saving his life. My older sister Lolly also escaped and hid throughout the war. She had false identification papers and lived like a gentile.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.