This past week was Remembrance Day. The day we set aside to thank those who have fought for our freedom… those who have survived, and those who have sacrificed. As Canadians, we are living in a free, democratic society, as a result of what others before us gave up. When I think about Remembrance Day, my mind automatically goes to World War II. As the granddaughter of a holocaust survivor, the atrocities of the past weigh heavily on me. The holocaust was something that robbed us of our heritage. It took away family members I would never meet. It put scars on our hearts as we heard stories as if they were movies. I am part of the last generation who will hear, first hand, what occurred. They say that the most powerful way to learn of experiences is to hear from the mouth of the person who experienced them. My children will never have that. Generations after them will never have that.
I understand how those who have family members who went through earlier wars must feel. First-hand accounts of those experiences are few and far between. We must rely on books, movies, and second-hand stories. It is important, but never the same. This is even more prevalent for me as I raise my own children. I want them to understand their history – the events that shaped their ancestors. “Lest we forget” means we must remember what has happened. It cannot be forgotten in hopes that history will never be repeated. It isn’t about holding a grudge, but about honouring what our ancestors gave up (willing or not) in order to give us a better life.
Part of honouring that is allowing their voices to be heard. Years ago, before his death, my sister interviewed my grandfather for a school project about the holocaust. I am forever grateful to her for doing this. At the time, I don’t think we understood the true gift she was giving us. So today I wanted to honour his memory by using this space to share his story, unedited and in his own words.
How was your family affected and where were they sent?
I don’t know where they went. The last time I saw them was in 1942 right after Yom Kippur night. My father got up in the middle of the night and he saw guys in black uniforms standing. In the morning everybody had to go out. We went out and I remember this was my cousin Morris’s sister, my brother my sister and myself. My mother divided us and she gave a few bucks to everyone to put away because we were thinking that we were going to a camp. There were standing there Germans from the German S.S. and they were directing one to the left and one to the right. I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t know where my father and sister were going or where my brothers were going. We went and they sent us to a factory and this was the last time that I saw my parents. This was the day after Yom Kippur. Later on, we went to an ammunition factory. When I was there it was 1942. They took us in some cars or wagons. They put us in and they disinfected us. Later on, they sent us to a garage on top where everyone was sleeping together- all the men. I hardly ever saw a woman at this time. What happened next was I had been there for about a month and a half and I didn’t know anything and I met another guy. We decided we were going to run away. We ran out and it was at night and the doors were open. This was a big factory and we came in. Trains were going out slowly. Later we jumped off one of the trains. We jumped next to a small ghetto. As I went in there were barbed wire fences and Polish police.
So, later on, I started going to a place where they were making iron. I got a job there and I was working, coming and going every morning. I started to get restless and I was trying to run out of this ghetto. On the way back there were forty people in an ammunition factory called Hemro. When I was coming, the guy started checking and he saw forty-one people. They started asking everybody but nobody wanted to say anything. He said that if the person who shouldn’t be there didn’t come out because there were forty-one, he was going to shoot ten! So, I went out. There was a butcher shop over there. So the guy kicked me and he threw me into the butcher shop, didn’t ask any questions, this German policeman. He kicked me and he let me go.
On the sixteenth of January 1945 they took us all out and they sent us to Germany. To Buchenvald. And I wound up there and on the way in I was looking and I saw my cousin Leon on the other side. He was going out already and we were going in. I said, “What’s doing over there?” He said it was nothing, they just put powder on your arms and they shaved your head and they let you go out. But without clothes. At this time I lost all my pictures and everything from my father and mother and my sister and brother. So they let me out and I had to throw away everything. They gave me new clothes, clothes that are like pyjamas. They are with stripes. My number was I think 150 505.
From Buchenvald they sent us to a place called Ranenbook. This was a gas chamber. They didn’t gas anyone over there while I was there. They led us all into a place like a shower. They crammed about 500 people in. We were there for only a couple of days and every morning they would grab a lot of people and they would just take them. There weren’t only Jews. There were Germans, and Polish, I think. It was a place where they were making rackets. Every two feet there was a German soldier, an S.S., with a machine gun.
Next, they sent us to Dorey. From there they sent us to Rockleh Barodeh. There were camps wired around, and bunks. In this camp, we stayed for six to eight weeks. We were working in a mountain. We were digging, making factories in the mountains. We were breaking up the stones. It was terrible. We were there in couples. When you were pushing out the stones, there were pieces of wood sticking up. The stones and wood were hitting you! If they didn’t hit your head, they would break your legs. Or your arms. We were there for quite a while.
One morning they took everybody for a march. The march was going right down the road. I think I had my father’s cousin there and he got sick. They took away all the sick and I think they killed him. We were about 30 000 people, but most people died on the way because there was no food and they were pushing us and taking us to side roads. Those people from the S.S. with machine guns and dogs. German Shepherds. They took us and we were walking for a month and a half, I think. I remember one time we were going to the water that was running on the side road. We went to drink it and they shot half the people. We were less every day. I was losing weight constantly.
Then there were fighter planes coming down and we got shot. I got shot in the leg. After this, I dropped down to about 80 pounds. I had no food. So, the Red Cross came around with wagons and they were going to give out parcels. I grabbed a parcel because I hadn’t eaten for weeks! I started eating and I got sick. I almost died, because if it had been only bread, it would have been okay but there was meat and all kinds of things inside. I hadn’t eaten for three weeks! They only had given me a little piece of bread. So when the Americans started hitting the Germans, we were sleeping and we heard them. Leon and another guy were carrying me. They ran out and got a couple of Americans. They took me in their jeep, they took me to the hospital and they took out the bullet.
After one or two days I woke up and I was in a white bed! I went from the mud to a white bed. We had nurses over there in the hospital. This was, I think, May the first or the second. I was in Shvarim, and I got better and I left the hospital.
My hope in sharing this is that his words will forever be remembered – engraved in this social space. We will always remember. Lest we forget.
This is life. Love, Mom.