When did these semi-peaceful times begin to change?
An order was published for everyone to register their names with the police. My father, who had succeeded in making a good connection with the city’s commissar with the assistance of 30,000 rubles, convinced him to omit our family as well as the German refugees living in our house since 1938. Later it became clear that this was a big mistake.
We all became equal. The poor and the rich were equal. Father could no longer show his golden watch chain. Uncle Israel, who won a huge amount of money, could not use it for any reason. We children could not imagine how much the adults were frightened and worried. We didn’t understand what it meant when in the evenings our parents asked themselves, “Will we hear knocking on the door tonight and somebody will come to arrest one of us?”
In the spring of 1940, we got up one morning knowing that many of our acquaintances were in wagons at the railway station on their way to Siberia. My mother was worried that our neighbors, the Sobel family, hadn’t managed to take food with them. She filled a basket with a number of challah breads and packages of sugar cubes and sent me to the railway station to deliver the basket to Mrs. Sobel.
When I arrived at the railway station, the train’s cars were already locked and the train was about to leave. I ran alongside the cars, shouting, “Mrs. Sobel! Mrs. Sobel!” A hand waved from a small window in one of the cars. When I got closer, I recognized Mrs. Sobel looking at me from the high window. I started throwing the sugar and the challah one after the other through the window. I was so busy that I didn’t notice a railway worker who was coming toward me. He caught my hand when I was about to throw one of the last challos. “Go away!” he said. “If the nachalnik (supervisor) comes here, he might put you into the train’s car as well!” I shouted, “Mrs. Sobel, have a good trip!” (I met Mrs. Sobel 22 years later, in 1962, in New York.)
I returned home and told my mother what I saw and that I succeeded in throwing all that she had sent into Mrs. Sobel’s car. My mother cried. We couldn’t imagine that in less than a year we would be jealous of those who were sent on that train.
The next day in school I was warned not to be absent [again] without a doctor’s certificate.
From the moment of the Russian occupation, my father worked as a simple worker in his own tannery.
Rumors came to Bolechow about a ghetto that was established in Warsaw and Cracow.
On June 22, 1941, the Germans attacked the U.S.S.R. Bombs fell again, not far from our house. Father gathered the entire family in our big living room. He included the family from Germany that found refuge in our house. Father presented the situation and the commissar’s suggestion to take all important and valuable things and leave toward the east into Russia, as in one week the Germans might be here.
Suddenly one man stood up and began speaking in German. Those few sentences he said had fatal consequences. “Have you lost your mind? You want to run to the Communists? Can you compare the German civilization and culture to the Russian Asiatic wild one? The Germans will return the factory to you. You will be an owner again and not a wage earner who does not sleep at night, expecting at any moment to be arrested!”
The result was that our whole family remained, waiting for the German ‘saviors.’ After two days the Ukrainians from the area started attacking; they turned their bloody instincts immediately toward the Jews who were next in line after the retreating soldiers.
To be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness