Can you tell us about liberation?
In the third week of April 1945, the war was nearing its conclusion. The Allies were closing in on all sides: the U.S., Britain and France from the west, the Russians from the east. With bombs falling all around, the third train from Bergen-Belsen — The Lost Transport — rambled along on its way north, then eastward, in spurts. Having wound its way through Celle, Soltau, Luneburg and Lauenburg, the train arrived in bombed-out Berlin on April 17. At the Berlin station, it turned to the south, passing through Schipkau, near Finsterwalde.
The hunger was overbearing. Wherever the train stopped, those who were able to do so searched for anything edible — grass, potatoes, anything. The train, in essence, was a Bergen-Belsen on wheels, although the SS guards made little attempt to prevent anyone from escaping. However, the train was a safer haven than the middle of hostile Germany, where anyone found was immediately turned over to the Gestapo.
Every day when the train stopped, the dead were carried to the side of the railroad tracks, to be buried in mass graves by those healthy enough to perform this last act of kindness. On April 18/ 5 Iyar, near the village of Schipkau, south of Berlin, our father succumbed to typhoid and starvation. My mother was very ill, too. The train remained at that railroad siding for three days. Three mass graves were dug for the 40 or so who died on those three days.
The train continued on westward in the direction of Torgau and Leipzig, to avoid the oncoming Red Army from the east. For some reason the train reversed its course, coming to a halt outside the tiny village of Trobitz on April 23. The engineer abandoned the train outside the nearby village. Those who were still capable, immediately made their way towards the village.
A few Russian soldiers appeared on horseback and told all the people to evacuate the train and occupy the houses in the village. Many villagers, terrified of the Russians, fled to nearby villages, leaving their houses empty. The war was over for the survivors, although not many people were in condition to celebrate.
The Russians were eager to get the people off the train, claiming they needed the train to further the war effort. Those people who had the strength got hold of wooden carts and wheelbarrows and hauled those who were too weak to walk up the hill to Trobitz.
In the houses, we got our first taste of what it was like to eat real food and have a bed to sleep in.
For several months we stayed in Trobitz; initially no one knew of our existence — hence the name, The Lost Transport. Then Menachem Pinkhof and his future wife, Miriam, bicycled in to Leipzig, where they informed the British of the group of people who were languishing in Trobitz, as well as the nearby village of Schilda, where some of the survivors took residence as well. The British sent in some soldiers and thereby the outside world was informed of our existence.
For how long did your family remain in Trobitz?
We remained in Trobitz for several months. There were no organized activities. Much of our time was taken up with trying to recuperate, searching for food and burying the dead. My family had to move a number of times for one reason or another, as did many other families. Sometimes we were forced to move by villagers who were returning to their homes.
My sister Judith, my mother and I remained there until my aunt and uncle were well enough to travel. After four months in Trobitz we left on the last transport in August of 1945. We made our way back by truck to Kassel, Germany, where we remained in an American army camp for a week. The Americans then transported us to Maastricht, a border town in Holland. From there we returned to Amsterdam, which we had left two and a half years earlier, and where we now began to rebuild our shattered lives.
We spent several months in De Joods Invalide, a recuperation home in Amsterdam. There were other families there, as well as a number of war orphans. At the age of two years we were the youngest in this home, and among the youngest of the survivors of Holland’s Jews, as well as probably the only surviving Dutch twins. My family finally settled down in Amsterdam, where we remained for the next six years.
What message can you impart to today’s generation?
People always asked me, “How did you survive?” It is only through hashgachah pratis and nissim. It was obvious that Hashem needed us to survive and grow up in order to bring up families who are all bnei Torah, yirei Hashemand baalei emunah.
Information in part was taken from an article by Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum: “A Lost Tranport.”