Can you tell me your name and where you were born?
My name is Rochel Tauber née Rehbun. I was born in Neimark-Novikark, Poland — a section in Galicia, where my maternal grandparents lived. When I was still very young my family moved to a small town in Poland called Mishana Dolna, where my paternal grandparents lived. My father had a brother living in Mishana Dolna, too, and we lived together in the same complex. Mishana Dolna had a chassidishe community.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
I was the oldest. I have one sister who was 14 months younger than I and my mother was expecting my youngest sister at the time the war broke out. Growing up, I had a best friend named Tzesha; I recall playing with her in the sand.
My parents owned a store which sold practically any item that one would need. My paternal grandmother was a very smart woman and the gentiles would often come to her for advice. My father often traveled to the Shineve Rebbe in Cracow.
Where were you when the war broke out?
The war broke out on Friday, September 1, 1939. My father’s two older brothers lived close by in the city of Rabka. Shabbos afternoon they came to our house and informed us that the situation was not good and we have to try to escape. They realized how grave the circumstances were and although it was Shabbos they took along money; however, they did not tell my father nor did they tell my uncle who lived with us, for fear that they would not allow them to take the money.
How and to where did you flee?
My grandparents were in their fifties, but they were considered too old to travel; they remained home. I held on to the baby carriage which the gentile maid Hanka was pushing and we all headed toward the east. Towards evening, the other gentiles advised Hanka to go home and leave the Juden right there; and that’s just what she did.
My uncles hired a horse and wagon for the women and children and the men walked alongside the wagon. The Polish military was right behind us. Whatever they needed, they stole from us. Bombs were flying overhead. A wheel of their wagon broke, so they took a wheel off our wagon. Whenever the situation seemed particularly bad we would dismount from the wagon and kneel on the ground with our heads down. When it quieted down we would get back into the wagon and continue our journey.
When we arrived in the city of Brod, the Chichora Rebbe was already there. He had a beis medrash in Brod and that is where we slept. In the morning we continued on to Lemberg. My father’s three brothers settled in one apartment and we were in another one. During our stay in Lemberg my mother gave birth to a little girl.
We remained in Lemberg until the summer of 1940. During these months we corresponded through letter-writing with my grandparents. My grandparents wrote that back home everything was fine; they were able to remain in their homes and operate their businesses. The only trouble they were given was the German order that all Jews must wear a yellow star. At the time it didn’t seem so bad.
One day the Russians announced that anyone who would like to return home must register in their office. This was their tactic to find out where all the Jews were. During the night the communists arrived and announced that we would be going away from this area and leaving the Germans behind. They promised only glory in Siberia.
What happened upon your arrival in Siberia?
It was the summer of 1940. We were given one room inside a barrack as our living quarters. My father was immediately sent to work in the forest to chop down trees. However, my father was part of a whole brigade of people who did not want to work. All winter long they fooled around so that when spring came along and the officers came around to check out the work of each brigade, they found that this group had lazed around and hadn’t gotten any work done. Now in the springtime they forced them to do the work quickly.
My father refused to work on Shabbos. He would make himself actually sick, eating things which were raw and things that would cause him to have high temperature. Those in his group reported this to the officers in charge. My father was thrown into jail.
The jailhouse was situated atop a hill with beautiful scenery around it, where the children of the barracks would spend the day picking flowers. We children never went all the way up the hill for fear of being sent to jail. In the meantime, my mother thought of a way for my father to save himself and she taught me a little song with those words. She instructed me to go all the way to the top of the hill and sing this song. I remember to this day how frightened I was; I was shivering, but I did as my mother told me. My father heard the song that I sang and was able to follow my mother’s advice; he was released.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.