Where did you go once you left your grandparents’ home?
I traveled to Prague, where I found work. I stayed in a hotel where the Joint paid for my lodging. In the room next to me lived Harav Yona Shiver. He knew that I was the grandson of the well-respected Chimper Rav. He felt that as the grandson of such an illustrious person, I deserved extra attention.
After a while the communists took control of the city. The Jews began to leave, not knowing what to expect from the new government.
My grandfather made sure I would have proper identification and travel documents in order to get to France, to the yeshivah of Rav Bloom of Kashau. At the border I presented the papers and was allowed to leave for France. I arrived at the Kashau yeshivah, where I remained for a while. Eventually I moved on to the Agudath Yisrael in Paris. At this point I realized that I needed a place to settle.
I had an uncle living in Venezuela. He knew about my existence and sent me papers to enable me to get to Venezuela. At the time, Jews were barred from entering that country. I filled out new falsified details to gain entry onto the ship sailing to my destination.
The ship was loaded with Nazis escaping Europe. I identified one who had received the Iron Cross from Hitler. I recognized him, I knew him and I confronted him. He did not want to admit that he had any connection to anything that would identify him as an officer in the camps.
He had a daughter who was traveling with him. He forbade her to speak Hungarian. On one of the days of the journey, I met her on the dock and approached her. I asked her a question in Hungarian and she replied in the same language. Instantly, her father understood very well that I knew who he was and that if I would reveal his identity he would immediately be harmed. I knew about his barbaric cruelty and his tormenting and murder of Jews. I remembered clearly how they threw babies up in the air for sport. The Nazi warned me that if I revealed his identity he would hand me over to the police and have me arrested for falsifying my identification papers. I still had the fear of Germans inside me, fear that they could hurt me, so I kept my silence and had to suffer looking at Nazis everywhere I turned.
The trip took two long weeks and I arrived in Venezuela feeling sick, both emotionally and physically. My Uncle Shuly was waiting for me at the dock and took me home to his house. My uncle was very sick. Although the doctor did not think he would survive, he recovered and years later he immigrated to Canada, where he settled in Montreal.
After living in Venezuela for some time, I realized there was no future for me in that country. There was a great deal of assimilation, and people were hiding the fact that they were Jews. For that reason I chose to leave the country and find a different place to live. It was a decision that was hard to make because I felt very alone.
I stayed in Venezuela for about nine months, managing a shop for a friend of my uncle. I learned the language and I had an opportunity to go into business in oil and jewelry. Money held no interest for me. I came from a place where, though the Jews generally had little money, my parents provided a good living for our family through their business of wood and trees. I personally saw how little value money actually had.
Although my uncle’s family wanted me to stay with them, I longed for Jewish surroundings and had no wish to deny my birthright. I wanted to live among Jews who learned and appreciated Torah and who kept mitzvos. That was not to be found in Caracas after WWII. There, among the wealthy Jews, the discussions revolved around money, houses, jewels and more money. I wanted to discuss sugyos; I loved learning Gemara and wanted to learn more. I didn’t want to hide who I was. One of the wealthy Jews in Caracas owned a magnificent library that was almost untouched. I spent many hours sitting and reading books; I especially enjoyed reading history books.
I left Caracas and traveled to Toronto.
I constantly wondered how it was possible that an entire generation was wiped out: parents, teachers, Rabbanim, children, my family — gone. This motivated me to teach.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.