There was a minimal amount of food available. I felt bad that my relatives had to support me. I begged them to find work for me so that I could help out with the parnassah, and they did. I was given the job of painting the walls of the shoe factory.
I knew nothing about painting, so I had no idea that the paint needed to be mixed with water and I used it as it was. The walls sparkled and everyone was very impressed. One day a doctor from a different neighborhood came into the factory. She was so impressed with the way the walls shone that she inquired as to who had done the painting, figuring that this person must be a very talented, hard worker. She approached Mottish and requested that I work for her and help her in the house; her husband had been sent to Siberia for eight years and she was all alone.
What kind of work were you given?
I worked mainly in the fields and taking care of the animals. I clearly saw yad Hashem guiding me. There was an important general who lived near the doctor for whom I worked. His wife was not capable of doing housework and whenever I had spare time I helped her out. In appreciation, the general had me choose fabric and he hired a tailor to sew clothing for me.
Were you able to keep Yiddishkeit at all at the home of the doctor?
On one hand it was hard for me to be the only Jewish person in the city; on the other hand, I knew that I was making it easier for my relatives.
At the beginning, when I first moved into her house, the doctor prepared non-kosher salami for me. When I refused to eat it, she tried forcing it down my throat. I was so disgusted by the thought of eating non-kosher meat that I threw up from it. After this incident she never tried again.
I never ate chametz on Pesach. I ate potatoes that I personally cooked and I drank water from the well or milk from a cow which I milked myself. (I used separate buckets to milk the cows for fear that the regular ones may have once been used for chametz.)
The doctor allowed me three vacation days during the year: two days Rosh Hashanah and one day Yom Kippur. However, she insisted that I stay at the home of a friend so as not to arouse suspicion.
For how long did your remain at the home of the doctor?
At the end of 1946 I had an appendix attack and I was very sick. I was in the hospital for a few weeks. As usual, my Mottish and his brother Shaul came to my aid, visiting me each day. When I regained my strength I returned to the home of the doctor. However, not long after, the daughter of Shaul saw from a distance how I was struggling to carry the bark of a fallen tree and she reported to her father and uncle that I was overworking. One day, when the doctor was not home, they came to me, insisting that I come live with them. I did not want to leave my work; I was concerned that I would not have money to support myself. Their answer to me was, “However we will survive, so will you.” I felt that I had to show hakaras hatov to them by following their advice.
With tears in our eyes, the doctor and I waved good-bye as I took leave to go and live with my relatives. Mottish’s wife got sick with a disease from an insect bite. She was not able to care for her two little children, ages four and five. I bathed them, did the laundry and the cooking. When her condition worsened I called upon my former boss, the doctor, and asked her to come to Mottish’s house, which she did. Immediately she intervened and had her admitted to a hospital.
For how long did you remain in Siberia?
During the winter of 1946, we heard that in the coming weeks the Russian regime was going to allow all the Polish citizens to leave. We immediately began preparing to leave and we eventually ended up in Lemberg, a city that was originally a part of Poland but changed hands and became part of Ukraine.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.