Peska Friedman (Part VI)

Where did you go once you left Nowy Targ?

There was no guide available to take me over the border from Poland to Slovakia. The instructions I had were to take a bus. Looking back, I can’t understand how I actually had the nerve to board that bus without a single piece of usable identification.

I sat down all the way at the back of the bus. When we were stopped at the border, the inspectors asked every person on the bus for papers, except me. I left it totally in the hands of Hashem Yisborach.

When I arrived in the Slovakian town of Kaismark, I was met by Mendel Berger, a friend of my brother, who had been instrumental in making the arrangements for my escape. He placed me with a family named Yaeger, where I stayed for about two weeks. Mr. Berger hired a guide to take me on foot to the next stop. I passed in total secrecy through a series of villages whose names I did not know, staying with families of strangers, giving myself up totally to the Ribbono shel Olam.

I was taken at 4 a.m. to a small apartment house and deposited with a gentile family there. The woman of the house quickly hustled me into a tiny room that looked like a walk-in-closet. The door to the room was hidden by an armoire with a false back. She must have been paid an enormous sum to risk the criminal offense of hiding a Jewish girl. I remained hidden in that room for seven days. I had no idea where I was or who my hosts were. I felt as though I were in prison. Occasionally a hand would slide through the opening in the back of the armoire and deposit some food for me. There were no books or newspapers to read; I did not even have my siddur or my Tehillim anymore. There was an outhouse in the courtyard and in order to use it I had to disguise myself in the woman’s clothing and slip out. There were German soldiers everywhere I looked, for miles around.

One day there was a knock at the door of my hiding place; a slip of paper was shoved through the opening. It contained instructions. On the coming Saturday I was to take an empty pill bottle and go down a certain road, as though I were on my way to the local drugstore. Along the road I was to look for a car with a specific license plate number. Someone would be standing on the left side of the car pretending to fix it. This was my contact.

That Shabbos I did exactly as the note instructed. With a thumping heart, I made my way down the unfamiliar path toward the drugstore. I didn’t know if I would make it alive to the end of the path. Just as the note had said, someone was bending down at the side of a car, tinkering with a tire — but the license plate number did not match.

My first instinct was to turn around and head back to the house. It was the wrong license number and I couldn’t take a chance. But what if I missed my ride? I would be stuck in a gentile village, surrounded by German soldiers. If only there were some hint, anything at all that could give me a clue about what to do.

At that moment a small gray sparrow flew overhead and landed on the path in front of me. When I turned, it followed me like a pet, showing no sign of fear. Perhaps this bird was the sign I was waiting for; and then my inner voice told me that something unusual was going on, something I should not ignore. I had nothing to lose by listening to that voice, a seeming message from Shamayim. “If this sparrow goes backward,” I said to myself, “if it goes the other way, I’ll go with the car. The sparrow hesitated for a moment and then hopped several times in the direction of the village. I am certain now that that was how Hashem once again saved my life.

Toward the end of that week, another message arrived. The instructions were the same: I was to look for a car on the path to the drugstore the following Shabbos. Once again I left the house, and once again I came upon a car whose driver appeared to be fixing it. This time the license plate number matched.

The driver was a Slovakian doctor who had received permission to cross the border from Poland to Slovakia in order to bring back patients for treatment in his own hospital. When we reached the Polish border, the car was stopped by guards. The inspectors opened up every single compartment except the trunk. The scene repeated itself at the Slovakian border.

The doctor deposited me at the home of a Jewish family named Malek in Rzepiska — a village in the Carpathian Mountains. I stayed in this family’s house for eight days. They were simple village people, very pleasant and goodhearted. Two brothers named Stern, merchants who had professional smuggling contacts, came to the house a day or two later to discuss plans. They were going to take me with them.


 

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.