As told to Mrs. Chaya Feigy Grossman
After surviving Auschwitz and the slave labor of Nazi factories, you and your father were liberated when the Russians pushed the Germans back from Silesia. What happened to you then?
We had been working in a factory near the town of Friedland, on the German-Czech border. One morning, we saw that the S.S. had abandoned our camp and the gates were open. We walked to Friedland, where we met the liberating Russian soldiers.
The town was deserted. Wherever we knocked, we found the houses empty. The German residents, fearing for their lives, had gone into hiding or fled. I stepped into one of the houses when a Russian soldier came up behind me, yelling something. I motioned to him that I did not understand, but he took out his gun and pointed it at me. I certainly understood that and ran out of the house as fast as I could. Those Russian soldiers behaved like barbarians and had absolutely no pity for us. We looked like miserable skeletons and yet they called us names and seemed to enjoy the sight of us in pain.
I wandered around town with my father, who was extremely weak, until I found an empty house that seemed to have belonged to a high-ranking German official. I told my father to rest there while I looked for food. I found an abandoned bike and a broken handgun and went from house to house. In one house, I found a group of women hiding. When they hesitated to help me, I pulled out my gun and ordered them to slaughter a chicken and cook a meal for us. I brought this back to my father, and we ate it. Although it was treife, it is impossible to describe the feeling of eating a good meal after the starvation we had endured.
We were hoping to get home as fast as possible. As soon as I felt stronger, I tried to find some means of transportation to the nearest city on a train line. I found a horse and wagon. I lifted my father onto the wagon and, together with another young boy, we started on our way. On the road, we met some girls who, like us, were trying to get to the nearest train station. They were in terrible physical condition so we helped them climb up into the wagon and the boy and I walked behind. Exhausted, but happy to be alive, we reached the station. When the train came in, everyone jumped on. It filled up within minutes. Those who had no seats climbed up on the roof or just hung on, determined to get out of that accursed place no matter what.
Did you make it home?
My father and I disembarked in Pressburg where we found total devastation. The authorities informed me that I had inherited my family’s very large house, which had been situated in a great location. But there was only a heap of rubble where the house had once stood. It had collapsed during the bombings. The once beautiful, thriving community was desolate. There were no more homes, no families, just an eerie emptiness. My father was in no shape to continue traveling, so he checked into the hospital to recuperate.
I took the next train to Nitra to search for the rest of our family. Nitra, like hundreds of other cities, was the same as Pressburg: empty streets, shuttered stores. I felt truly alone in the world. I went into an empty shul and stood by the amud, crying and davening.
In a daze, I made my way to my grandparents’ home. There was no one. I continued on to the place where Uncle Mendi had been hiding and, to my great joy, found him alive. When he heard that almost our entire family had been wiped out, he went into a deep depression. He shut himself in a room and did not come out for a long time.
Over time, I found a few cousins who had survived by hiding or had come back from the camps. We got together in an apartment and tried to give each other moral support while waiting to find other survivors. Late in the summer, I received the good news that my sister Miri, shetichye, was on her way home. I went to the train station to wait for her. When the train arrived and she appeared in the doorway, I was shocked to see how emaciated she was.
I tried to help her off the train, but she cried, “Don’t touch me! You’ll break my bones!” It took weeks to nurse her back to health, but the emotional scars stay with her to this day.
Uncle Mendi, who had reopened our textile business, gave it over to me and left for America. My father, zt”l, remarried and left for another city. I tried to run the business as best as I could. I knew, however, that there was no future for me if I stayed in Nitra, so I put all my efforts into getting a visa to America.
It is more than 70 years ago that this terrible destruction took place but the memories of it are as vivid as if it happened yesterday. Although the world would like to forget, it is the sacred duty of every survivor to tell his story, so that future generations will remember all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, to sanctify Hashem’s name.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.