Can you tell me where you were born?
I was born in Petrowa, Romania. Petrowa was a very frum, chassidishe town where Yiddishkeit flourished.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
My family was Vizhnitzer Chassidim. Although the Rebbe did not live close by, my father, Berel Kasirer, traveled to Vizhnitz many times for the Yamim Tovim. In addition, the Rebbe would come for visits to Petrowa.
My paternal grandparents lived in our town, as did many of our relatives. We were a family of eight children; two girls and six boys. I was the third child with one older brother and one older sister. My father worked as a skilled blacksmith.
What kind of education did you receive?
Attending the Romanian school was compulsory. In the afternoons we went to cheder.
Did you feel anti-Semitism in the town?
We did not feel any real anti-Semitism. On the whole, we managed to get along with the gentiles without any problems. However, there was one incident of anti-Semitism that I clearly remember.
When I was in the third grade, the teacher was an anti-Semite, but for the most part he kept it to himself. However, one day after the first snowfall arrived he allowed all the children out of class to play in the snow. One gentile boy came to report to the teacher that I threw snow in his face. The teacher sent him back outside to continue playing while I was told to remain inside. Then the teacher said to me; “It won’t be long before a man named Adolf Hitler will come from Germany and kill all of you Jews!” I was just a young kid and I didn’t know who this man was. We didn’t have any radios or newspapers and I had no access to outside information. I went home and I asked my mother, “Who is this man Adolf Hitler?
About two months later the Romanian government fell and Poland became fascist. The situation became so bad that Jews could not go out on the street. We were constantly threatened. In the afternoon, when we went to cheder, the gentile children would wait for us to pass and bother us.
On a Sunday afternoon in 1939, on my way home from cheder, I found myself surrounded by gentile children. They threatened to beat me up because I was Jewish. I picked something up from the floor and threw it at one of the boys. It hit him in the face and he fell down. The other boys did not stay behind to help him; they ran away. I, too, ran home, crying, to my house. When I arrived home the boy was there, too. He was the son of the mayor who had a close relationship with my father and helped him out a lot. He begged me not to tell his father what he did and he promised me the same; he would not tell my father, either. The incident was forgotten and we became best friends for the next couple of years.
Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe, prior to the onset of war in your town?
The situation in our town, in the neighboring towns, and all over the country was worsening rapidly. The mayor of the town, who was a very, very good friend of my father, saw that my father was extremely worried about being drafted into the army. He promised him that he would see to it that my father remained safe.
Anti-Semitism was at its peak. My father warned us all not to leave the house. Each day the Germans sent in their men to seek out those people who were most capable of doing work. My father was extremely sought after, being that he was a very capable blacksmith. The mayor hid my father in an attic and warned him not to come out until he was called for. Anyone who was arrested was taken to an unknown destination; most likely they were killed and they never returned.
In 1943 my father came home and told my mother that the Jews of Germany and Poland were being murdered by the thousands and we were not very far from Poland. I was scared. I made up my mind that no matter what, I would try to survive; I would not give up. There were so many occasions when I narrowly came away with my life — escaping and dodging the German soldiers.
Since your family was aware of the situation, what plan for escape did they make?
They didn’t plan any route of escape, because they didn’t have a plan to make. They had nowhere to escape to and nowhere to go. My parents tried many times to flee to Palestine but their efforts proved impossible. There were 10 young men from my hometown who tried to make an escape to Palestine from the port city of Constanta in Romania. For three months they remained there trying to get exit visas; one of them succeeded.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.