You were describing your year in the forest.
It was Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We didn’t know what these days meant, but of course my uncle did. He asked one of the gentiles to prepare mashed potatoes and hard-boiled eggs so that we could fast on Yom Kippur. When the mashed potatoes were set out with their delicious aroma, my uncle told us all to eat. When I asked him why he wasn’t eating, he simply stated that he had noticed some fat in the potatoes which may have come from a non-kosher source. We decided that if it wasn’t good enough for my uncle to eat we wouldn’t eat it, either. The gentiles couldn’t believe the amount of emunah my uncle had and how much Yiddishkeit he was able to instill in us, just by being an example of a Yid. This was how we learned about Yom Kippur and kashrus.
Since there were gentiles who knew of our whereabouts, my uncle was afraid that under pressure they might reveal our bunker. Therefore, we were constantly on the move.
Winter arrived and we suffered terribly. We were stricken with terrible lice. My uncle and my mother were busy all day long picking lice. They tried to rub our extremities, our fingers and toes, to prevent them from getting frostbitten. We spent most of the time underground because it was warmer.
We met up with another Jewish family and they told us that Auschwitz and the Germans were destroyed and we were going to be liberated by the Russians. My uncle begged them not to rush into town because the gentiles who live near the town have been brainwashed to hate Jews. “Stay in your bunkers until the Russians subdue these gentiles,” he said. But these Jews couldn’t contain themselves any longer. When we walked out three weeks later, we found their bodies at the side of the road, butchered.
Can you tell us about liberation?
By the time we walked out, the Ukrainians who were living in the town had been put in their places by the Russians. Communism ruled this area now.
We continued walking until we reached the same ghetto we had left. Before leaving, we had buried some of our belongings that were dear to us, in the bunkers. We anxiously dug to see if these objects were still there. We found my mother’s candelabra and a little bit of jewelry, along with two sifrei Torah which had been written by my grandparents. One sefer Torah is in Lakewood and the other one is in the Amshinover beis medrash in Eretz Yisrael. We also found many family pictures.
Fetter tried hard to resume a semblance of Jewish existence. He kept looking for a minyan on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The shul of Zbaraz was destroyed. Unfortunately, the few Jewish families that survived the Holocaust were not observant. One Friday afternoon my uncle handed us (three girls) a list of 10 addresses to approach, notifying the people that a minyan would take place in our home, Friday evening.
“Fetter, why don’t you go?”
“Those people won’t listen to me. Maybe if three little girls request…”
Reluctantly, we knocked at our first address. It was difficult for us to explain about a minyan, for we ourselves had never seen a minyan.
The person at the first home said to us, “You expect me to come pray after losing my family? My prayers weren’t heard; I no longer pray.”
The three of us were caught off guard. We certainly didn’t know how to answer his questions or how to relieve his pain and anger. We just listened to his outpouring and then he said to us, “Tell your uncle that I will come to his minyan.” The same scenario occurred at each address.
After mother lit the candles, the minyan took place. We learned about a minyan for the first time and it convened in our house until we left Zbaraz in July 1946.
What message can you impart to today’s generation?
Our brethren who perished in the Holocaust are kulam kedoshim.
Presently we have more talmidim and talmidos than in pre-World War II years.
The achdus among Klal Yisrael is felt much more. We are heading towards an era of v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha. We witness miracles each day. Hopefully, soon we’ll see our complete Redemption.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.