How did you come to the United States?
My mother had a cousin in America by the name of Baumel. We wrote to him, letting him know that we would like to come to America, and we requested that he send us papers. I recall that my parents bought a very expensive Polish crystal lamp which we carried along with us.
It was Friday. We had to travel to Prague to pick up the visa. We arrived at the consul’s office and our papers and passport were examined. Everything was good besides the fact that the picture was not a forward pose. The man in charge instructed us to leave and have a new picture taken. We were told to return on Monday with the new picture. When we returned with the picture they began questioning us. They wanted to know if my father was a Rabbi or a professor. My father wasn’t sure what to answer. He chose to say that he was a Rabbi. The one in charge said, “We have enough Rabbis in America.”
We remained in Prague for a while and then continued on to Karlsberg. Here my father built a sukkah. Word reached the police that we had built a sukkah and we were given exactly seven days to take it down. This was an obvious miracle.
Food rations were being distributed. We were able to get a little bit of food. My food ration card was stamped with the letter O. I was only 12 years old at the time but I was like an experienced businesswoman. One day I had the courage to ask what the O stood for. I was told that with this stamp I was entitled to receive a lot of extra food.
From there we traveled to Austria. A hospital built by the Russians had been turned into a refugee center. There was an organization there that took all the children and sent them to Switzerland for three months. We stayed in a hotel. There were other guests at the hotel besides the children.
When we realized that we would be at this hotel for Pesach we spoke to the managers of the hotel to ensure that there would not be any chametz at the hotel over Pesach. However, on Pesach I found a slice of bread. The Rabbi was notified and he brought from Zurich kosher salami, cheeses and matzah for me, my sister and one other girl. When other girls heard about this they came along as well and we were able to divide up our rations to share with everyone.
After Pesach we moved on. We were told to change our names and say that we are refugees so that they would not accuse us of being communists because we were holding [Russian] passports. We changed our family name from Rehbun to Hun and then we tried again to go to America. This time they accused us of being communist spies and refused us entry to America.
At this point we were together with our parents in a camp called Shteir. Not too far away was another camp by the name of Eibensburg. In Eibensburg was the Tosher Rebbe. My father went to see the Tosher Rebbe and poured out his heart to him.
A while later the Tosher Rebbe went to Canada; we remained in Eibensburg. My father wrote to him explaining that we were denied entry to the United States. My father then requested that the Tosher Rebbe send us papers to go to Canada. The Tosher Rebbe wrote back that he would send us papers to Canada but, “You will go to America.” The papers that the Rebbe sent stated that my mother was a seamstress. My mother was a very wonderful person but sewing was definitely not her strong point. She was called down to take a written test and she sent someone else in her place. But then she was called for an actual test to assess her capabilities. Here she had no choice but to go herself. She was asked what type of sewing she normally did, commercial or custom. My mother didn’t know the difference so she just responded that she was used to sewing custom clothing. She was told that in Canada no one needs custom clothing; everyone buys from the store ready-made.
One time there was a Jewish consul in the camp headed by a man named Ashkenazi. At the time I was almost 16 years old. I said to my father, “I will dress up and go to the consul and try to obtain an audience. I will try to convince him to speak with you personally and from this meeting he will be able to ascertain that you are neither a communist nor a spy.” My father never even read a newspaper. He knew nothing about world politics. He would sit with a sefer all day.
I did just that; I arranged for an audience with the consul. I explained the situation to him and he agreed to meet with my father. After their encounter he was convinced that what I was saying was true. He sent a letter to the main office of the consul in Linsk, stating that he interviewed my father and he was clearing him of all connections to communism. We were given an appointment with the head and a few days later we were notified that permission was granted. We traveled to America.
What message can you impart to today’s generation?
Have emunah and bitachon and you will get where you want to be.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.