Mrs. Rivka Herbst (Part IV)

Did you know what had happened to the Jews of Poland?

We heard a little from the Russian officers who returned from the battlefront, about the barbaric killings by the Germans. However, we didn’t really believe it and we definitely never believed how massive the destruction really was. But the closer we came to the border between Russia and Poland, the more we realized that what we had heard was not an exaggeration. When we passed the towns where hundreds of Yidden lived before the war, a terrible picture was painted for us. We sat on the wagon which was high up and we could see down on the ruins of the city. Those who were with us and had seen first-hand were left speechless.

When we realized that this was not a dream, all those present had to face reality. They were left without mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives and children. All hopes of finding their relatives were shattered. The screaming, crying and sobbing of the survivors will forever be embedded in my memory. We stood at the entrance to the town, imagining that someone, even a distant relative, would come to claim us, but we were told by the gentiles living there that not a single Jewish soul would be seen on these grounds again.

When I realized what this meant for me personally — that I would never see my beloved father again — I became hysterical. Throughout the years I kept strong, imagining the time that I would greet my father again, along with my siblings and the rest of my family — and now what? It is impossible for those who did not suffer through these horrors to imagine, visualize and understand my feelings; it has never left me my entire life.

We continued traveling until we arrived at the entrance to Warsaw. There, a Jewish organization gave us kosher food. Then the Shomer Hatzair organization announced that they would take under their wings anyone who was willing to learn a trade. They promised to feed, clothe and house them, and then take them to Eretz Yisrael. I was alone and I decided that I had nothing to lose; so together with another girl around my age, we got off the train to join the group. When Mottish’s father– in-law realized that I did not plan to return to the train, he quickly grabbed hold of me and shouted at me to return to the train immediately!

The train continued on to Germany where we had heard that most of the survivors were already gathered. On Erev Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach we arrived in Breslau. Here my uncle Leizer found out that his two daughters had been killed al kiddush Hashem. We also met a cousin who told us that my father’s brother Reb Mordeche and his sister Draizel had survived the war. They were in Reichenbach, Germany. I desperately wanted to meet up with them.

My uncle did not allow me to travel alone, so he sent his son Herschel to accompany me. I’m sure you can imagine what it was like when we arrived in Reichenbach to the home of my aunt and uncle. The tears flowed freely. My aunt and uncle insisted that I remain with them until I would find a suitable shidduch.

When did you get married?

My uncle Reb Mordeche acted as Rav of Reichenbach after the war. He arranged for a mohel to come and make a bris milah for all the children who were born under the Russian regime and therefore did not have a bris. Together, Reb Chaim Herbst and another mohel went around to the areas where there were groups of Yidden and performed eight or nine brisos a day.

After some time, my aunt Draizel approached me with the idea that Reb Chaim the mohel would be a suitable husband. Soon after, we broke a plate for our engagement.

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.