Can you tell me where you were born?
I was born in a small village in Tarkay, Czechoslovakia, known as Darkain. There was Klein [Smaller] Darkain and Grois [Greater] Darkain. It was at the border between Czechoslovakia and Hungary, in the area that later became part of Russia. In our part of the village, there were 13 families and, in the second part of the village lived 25 families. We had a Rav, a shochet, a shamash, and a mikveh.
What do you remember about your family?
My father was a businessman. We had an inn as well as a refinery where they cooked strawberries. This is how my parents made a living.
Then my father was called to serve in the army during World War I. He was shot and a bullet went right through his leg, so they sent him home. My parents had four children at this point and we needed parnassah. Since my father couldn’t work, my mother had to run the business. The business was run from our kitchen.
Where did you study before the war?
Each village had its own melamdim. We were mostly chassidishe families. There was no Bais Yaakov; the girls had no formal Jewish education. Whatever we learned, was taught to us at home. We listened, without hesitation, to everything we were told to do. My mother taught me how to kasher chickens.
We did attend a secular school. There were very few Jewish girls in the class. Sometimes they would scream after us “Jew, Jew.” We tried to be a little more reserved, so as not to attract their attention.
Where were you when the war broke out?
When the war started, I was 16 years old and I lived at home. First, the Hungarians came in. Within a week, they took over everything. Then they announced a whole list of new laws. We were required to lock up our inn and the refinery. We were left without a livelihood.
The men were taken to be soldiers, officially, with uniforms and all. But that changed quickly and they were sent to forced labor camps. They had to build roads and chop down forests. My brothers were sent to labor camps as well. The families were left at home to fend for themselves. It didn’t matter if a man had 10 children or two children; everyone was taken away, just the same. I stayed home with my mother and my three sisters.
They kept handing out the tzaros. There were new gezeiros every day.
My father was taken to the labor camps for about four weeks. When he turned 60 years old, they sent him home. My brothers were sent to concentration camps.
How did life change once the Nazis invaded? Can you describe what happened?
On March 9, 1944, the Germans invaded our town. It was right before Pesach. M’hot os’ge’poylt [our prayers were answered] and they did not take anyone away until after Pesach. Right after Pesach, we had to pack up our belongings. We took as much as we could carry.
My mother wanted to bake challos for Shabbos, so she went to a gentile neighbor who gave her yeast. The challos needed five more minutes to finish baking, when the Hungarian soldiers came around to get us. They screamed, “Take the challos out of the oven now, pour water over the coals and let’s go!”
Everyone took their things and went. We put on as many layers as we could wear. A coat, a hat, we didn’t know if we would need summer clothing or winter clothing. Would it be warm or cold? We had no idea what to take with us.
What was it like living in the ghetto?
They gathered people from all over Ujhel and brought them to the ghetto. There were about 10,000 or 12,000 people in the ghetto. They sent away the gentiles who lived in the area and settled all the Yidden in one place.
At first, we were allowed to cook with whatever supplies we had brought along. After a week or two, all of our food was used up and there was nothing to eat. At this point they allowed some of the people to go back home, escorted by soldiers, to bring back large sacks of flour, potatoes and beans.
At first, each family had a separate room. There were two beds in the room. We were four sisters altogether. Two of us slept with my mother and two of us slept with my father. Then they made the ghetto smaller and we were moved to another place. We collected whatever we had left and went. In this new ghetto there were no beds. We laid a coat down on the floor and slept on it.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.