Shulem Ber Winter (Part II)

As told to Mrs. Chaya Feigy Grossman

What happened to your mother?

After we left in 1942, my mother remained in Bratislava with my sister, who was only 2 years old. My mother had a first cousin, Reb Shlomo Stern. Harav Michoel Ber Weissmandel, zt”l, came every week to Bratislava to the home of Reb Shlomo Stern. He would stay there from Sunday through Thursday every week. From this house he took care of all his business — meaning his dealings with the police and saving as many people as was possible.

There were many people in the house at the time, including my mother. Suddenly someone screamed out “Chaparrein!” It was unexpected. Had they known that an invasion was imminent the people would have been in bunkers or in hiding.

There was a Yid there named Reb Chaim Miller, whose wife had already escaped. He was also waiting to go to Hungary, and he already had reservations and registration to leave. Rav Michoel Ber looked around, saw my mother and said to her, “Say that you are his wife.” When the authorities began questioning the people, my mother said she was Reb Miller’s wife and they let her go. Whoever didn’t have the correct registration was taken away to Auschwitz.

When the officials left, Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandel said to my mother, “Take your daughter and you need to go with this man now.” She remained near him for three weeks until she received passage to Hungary. I don’t have any information on Reb Chaim Miller and I don’t know what happened to him afterwards.

In March 1944, although Budapest was still intact, the Jews from all the surrounding cities were deported. Rav Michoel Ber knew what was going to happen. He realized that all these Jews in Hungary were going to Auschwitz. He wanted all who had traveled from Slovakia to Hungary to return to Slovakia. After the people in Slovakia had been deported in 1942, it was quiet. For two years it had been quiet already. He was planning to hide them all in bunkers.

What happened to your brother?

Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandel sent a gentile woman to get my brother along with the Stern boys and another cousin. As the train was arriving in Slovakia, a Nazi boarded. He began to question my brother, who was only 11 years old at the time. My brother began crying. The Nazi dragged him and the Stern boys off the train and beat them and tortured them terribly. They kept them for four weeks before sending them to Auschwitz where they were murdered.

After this, the gentile lady came back to get me. My mother refused to let me go. I remained in Budapest with my mother and sister. My sister and I hid in a protected house. There were about 300 children there. My mother was taken from one camp to another, yet with chasdei Hashem she survived and we were reunited.

My grandfather, Reb Shaul Stern, was with my mother in the protected houses. Two weeks before the Russians came — Yud Ches Teves — he passed away at the young age of 68. My uncle (his son) wrapped the body in a tallis and put a chain on him, identifying him. My mother, grandmother and uncle were all taken away and my grandfather’s body remained wrapped in a tallis on the floor.

In January of 1945 the Russians came in. Eventually they buried the bodies in different parks all around. Then the newspapers announced that these bodies were being removed from the parks and anyone who wanted to was welcome to come identify a body. My uncle spent days going from one park to another. Then one day he was notified that the body of his father had been taken to a park far away. My uncle traveled and was able to retrieve the body. He was still wrapped in a tallis with the chain attached to him. I was there at the time of his burial in a frum cemetery, along with four or five other people. I am the sole survivor of the people who witnessed this.

How did your mother survive?

On October 15, 1944, soldiers came into town and ordered everyone who lived in the high-rise building to come down — the old, the young, the sick, it didn’t matter. Men and women, ages 16 to 60, were separated. Everyone else was sent back upstairs.

My mother, who was only 40 years old at the time, was taken away too. After walking for hours and hours they arrived at a stadium. They were separated again. This time they announced that anyone over 42 should stand to one side. Someone suggested to my mother that although she was only 40 years old, she should join that group. She stepped over to the other side.

She didn’t look her age so the soldiers approached her and questioned her. They asked for her ID papers, but she calmly replied that they had already been confiscated. Imagine! They let her remain there. All those young people were taken away to Vienna and never returned. My mother returned home in the evening and that was the biggest nes. My mother was able to get papers from Raoul Wallenberg and she was sent to the glass houses — the protected houses.


 

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.