For how long was the atmosphere semi-peaceful?
After a very short while the pogroms began and an aktion came to the ghetto of Zbaraz. My mother and my uncle had to think of a way to provide food and shelter for us. My uncle had prepared provisions for us in a bunker. The bunker was large enough for 40 people.
When the whistle blasted, everyone hurried down. The ledge that covered the bunker was part of the floor with three sand pails hanging down. In case the Germans discovered our hideout, they would not be able to pry it open.
After a few hours the people near me began fainting, and some of them just rolled over and died. It was frightening to be in this cold, dark bunker. Overhead we heard the Germans screaming, “Get out of your hiding places! We’ll treat you well; we won’t harm you.”
Fetter (my uncle) explained to us that if we move around we might use up too much oxygen. As it was, there wasn’t enough oxygen for 40 people and that is why many of them were dying. He told us to sit still for another day until the train left; maybe then we would survive.
When the train finally left we were able to exit, but first we had to carry out all the dead bodies and bury them. Among them were our three-year-old friends whom we played with. We learned a lesson: that we must make a hole in the bunker to allow oxygen to penetrate, so that for the next aktion there would be enough oxygen to breathe.
At the next Aktion we thought they detected us; they kept saying, “Open up, we know you are there; we can see your breath coming through the cold air.” Luckily we didn’t open up and they left.
Can you tell us about your uncle’s emunah?
As we were carrying out the bodies from the bunker and preparing them for burial, my uncle said to us, “Dying is not the worst thing because mir gein tzum Tatte — we are going to our Father in Heaven.” He repeated this over and over and over again; we knew it in a sing-song. If Hitler does catch you and you get killed, it’s not bad at all; my uncle taught us that our Tatte is kind.
How much longer were you able to remain in the ghetto?
We survived four Aktions in that ghetto.
One of the Drecher boys belonged to the Judenrat. The Germans promised the Jews of the Judenrat that if they will help them collect the Jews to the trains they will be left alive. This Drecher boy warned us that the town was going to be made Judenrein and they could no longer hide us. He continued by saying, “Who knows if under pressure I will not tell of your whereabouts?”
Although we all point our fingers at the Judenrat, I have to say that because they notified us that the town would be made Judenrein we were able to escape and survive.
At 2 a.m. on Erev Pesach we packed whatever belongings we had, along with a bottle of grape juice and a few matzos. My uncle said, “We are going to the forest.” He knew the forest well because it belonged to our grandparents. It was within walking distance — about an eight-hour walk with three little girls. He said we will go to our town of Zarubince where there are three hundred acres of land, with many gentiles who worked for my grandfather. My uncle was sure they would not disclose us to the Germans. He felt that we could ask them for bread and water.
My mother was reluctant to go along with the plan. She said, “Why can’t we die with everyone else, instead of dying from cold and hunger?” But my uncle was firm and he said, “You really have no other alternative!” So she followed along.
The year was 1943. We began to walk. The sun was shining and it was beautiful outside. For four years we hadn’t seen the sunlight; we were stuck underground in a bunker.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.