Can you tell me where you were born?
I was born in the small town of Bolechow, located at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. A third of the population was Jewish, most of them religious as well.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
My mother grew up in a very religious house. She strictly kept the Jewish traditions, but she did not wear a sheitel. Her father, Reb Ephraim Freilich, was known in the shtetl as one who, since his bar mitzvah and until he died at 75, never missed a day at shul. In our house everything was kept in accordance with the Jewish religious laws. On Shabbos and Yamim Tovim my father went to shul. I always went along with him.
What kind of education did you receive?
Until the war started I attended Jewish elementary school in the morning and Tarbut in the afternoon, where we learned Hebrew traditions. My teacher was Rabbi Pesach Lew. He continued to teach us privately even when the Germans entered the city and Jews were forbidden to get any further education.
Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at the time?
In 1936 my cousin Jozik’s grandmother was living in Eretz Yisrael. She sent a series of letters to my aunt — her daughter, Luba. They were warning letters that sounded like this: “I see gloomy skies over Europe. You are well situated. Sell all you have and come to live here. What are you waiting for?”
From time to time we children used to hear remarks about Hitler, made by our worried parents, but they were not in the way of the real panic and horror that we faced later.
When did the situation begin affecting your town?
In 1939 there were new government orders; some of them seemingly senseless. We were directed to paint all fences facing the street green and to sweep the dust from the street in front of our property. There was a restriction on shechitah, which our mothers now did in an underground. The Polish government, instead of preparing the country for an unavoidable war, spent their time on anti-Semitic restrictions.
On the day that summer vacation would have ended, we were woken by the sound of explosions. German fighters dropped several bombs on our industrialized shtetl. My parents decided to leave our house until things would be safer. We moved to the house of one of our employees from my father’s tannery in the neighboring village of Dolzka. The next day we got the all-clear signal that it was safe to return to our house and life returned to semi-normal.
Early one morning, a noise broke the silence. It was a noise we had never heard before in our neighborhood. My father and mother peeked through the groove in the latched windows. They found that the noise came from Russian tanks bearing a red star. They were passing our street, heading toward the city’s center.
What was life like under Russian control?
Early in the morning my father decided to go out through the rear door to the courtyard and scout the area to check if it was safe for the rest of us to go outside. My father noticed that several workers who watched our house during the night were standing and watching the parade of the Red Army. On the other side of the street our neighbors were standing and watching without fear as the army streamed into town from the east. Father came back into the house and implied that it would be safe to come out and watch the parading soldiers of the Red Army.
The Jews of Bolechow became calm. The latches were removed from the doors and the windows. To keep order in the city, a militia was established. The Russians didn’t tolerate anti-Semitic expressions or use of the word Zyd, as the Jews were called. They saw this as a word of disgrace and discrimination. Instead, they used the derogatory name for the Jews, “Yewrey,” muddling the Hebrew word “Ivri.”
From an economic point of view, life was not easy. It was difficult to find basic products. Money lost its value and the shop owners were not in a hurry to get rid of their goods. Factories were nationalized and their owners were made to work as simple workers in their own factories.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness