Mrs. Ostreicher – Part II

From 1939 until 1944, you and your family lived in Revuca, Slovakia, where your father, Rabbi Avraham Klein, was the Rav.  Your brother was sent to yeshivah in Hungary and did not survive. What happened to you and the rest of your family?

The Slovakian government in Revuca took orders from the Germans. It began deporting Jews from Revuca. Jews were gathered in the public school yard for deportation. They were forced to sign documents stating that everything was wonderful and that they were doing everything to help the war effort.

After my paternal grandfather passed away, my grandmother moved in with us. On Tishah B’Av 1942, soldiers came knocking on our door with instructions that anyone who had parents living with them would no longer be allowed to live together.

I was a little girl, but I remember clearly how my father ran from one office to the next, trying to save his mother. The only response he got was, “Rabbi, don’t drive yourself crazy over this because shortly you, too, will be deported.” Later, word reached us that my grandmother’s transport was taken to Auschwitz.

Around Purim of 1943, the Germans issued a new announcement that all men between the ages of 18 and 28 had to report to be registered. A few weeks later, it was the young girls between the ages of 15 and 18 who were deported. There was not a single Jewish home that year that was not missing a child at the Seder.

When did you leave Revuca?

When my father heard that the Germans were closing in, he decided we should leave. We packed up whatever we could take and left. A few days later, the Germans occupied Revuca.

We arrived in the next town on Erev Shabbos. We went to the home of a Jewish family who invited us to stay in their basement over Shabbos. My mother cooked some potatoes and my father made Kiddush on bread.  After Shabbos, we decided to move on because the war was coming closer.

We went to Banska Bystrica, a city where many Jewish people had gathered to decide what their next move should be. Most people had reserved bunkers in the woods to hide in. We had nowhere to go. My father had a friend, Rabbi Wintner, who said, “I have two hiding places, one in the woods and one in a little town called Riecka. I have a horse and buggy coming to pick us up and you can take it.”

We all had false papers but my father had a beard, and so could not pretend that he was a gentile.  The Nitra Rav was with us and he and my father cut off each other’s beard. It was very traumatic. I was crying hysterically. I practically did not recognize my father; he looked awful.

In Riecka, we hid in a house. The house had three doors; ours was the middle door. On both sides of us lived gentiles. Soon after we had settled into this house, we heard that the Germans were coming and they would search all the houses, looking for ammunition, partisans and Jews.

My father had us gather together as he said Viduy with us. I recall my mother holding our screaming baby.

The Germans arrived, went into the first door and ransacked that apartment. We heard it all as we stood trembling in our apartment. Unbeknownst to us, my sister was outside, talking to the landlady, and she witnessed an open miracle. The Germans came out of the first door and walked to the second — ours. As he put his hand on the doorknob, the landlady said to him, “Why are you going in there? You were in there already.” She confused him and he went to the last door instead.  Afterward, my sister said, “I saw G-d.” When retelling this story, we always compare it to Mitzrayim, where Hashem skipped over the Jewish houses.

After this, the landlady told us that her children were coming for the holidays and she needed the room — we would have to leave.  My mother went from house to house, crying and pleading for a place to stay. A woman named Mrs. Spivakova overheard her. She went over to her and whispered in her ear, “Come with me. Even though you are Jews, you are human beings.”

These people were malachim from Shamayim. She gave us a tiny room, including a very small kitchen. She had a sick husband and two children, a daughter and a son. The children constantly had friends over to play cards, but when my little brother would come in, they would stop and play with him. Luckily, he didn’t know how to speak yet, or the friends would have figured out that we were Jewish.

Before their religious holiday, the husband brought a tree into our room. The wife arranged with my mother that they would go together to prayer services, so no one would suspect we were Jewish. Hashem protected my mother and arranged such a huge snow storm that no one was able to open the doors of the house to get out that day.

Mrs. Spivakova and her family risked their lives for us. After the war, my father said about her, I’m jealous of her Olam Haba.” 

To be continued.

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.