UNDER PROVIDENTIAL GUIDANCE
Dziunia (June) Steinberg in June 1943 at the Boryslav ghetto.
List of Contents
THE WAR BEGINS
IN THE BORYSLAW GHETTO
IN HIDING AT THE "ARYAN" SIDE
ON MY OWN
IN KRAKÓW AFTER THE WAR
WITH THE FAMILY
AT THE "KIBBUTZ" IN KRAKÓW
DEPARTURE FROM POLAND
THE TRIP TO HOLTZHAUSEN VIA VIENNA
IN THE DP CAMP OF BAD REICHENHALL
IN A "KIBBUTZ" AT THE FELDAFING DP CAMP
GETTING MARRIED IN THE DP CAMP
BEGINNING OF OUR COMMON LIFE IN THE DP CAMP
IMMIGRATION TO ISRAEL
IMMIGRATION TO AMERICA
BEGINNING OF OUR LIFE IN AMERICA
As the war is raging in the Persian Gulf for the second week, and Israel was attacked by Iraqi Scud missiles for the second time, I could not help but remember how war changed everybody's life. I am thinking, of course, about World War II. Doris talked to me about writing my "memoirs" for her and future generations. I don't know; this will not be an easy task. My memory is not as good as it used to be, and I am afraid to open all those mostly healed wounds. Also it will not be easy to write in English; but I am willing to give it a try. Especially when Max told me to do it many years ago.
I will try to remember the most important moments of my life and will try to summarize all the facts to give a clear picture to my children why I am today the way I am.
THE WAR BEGINS
I was born in Lwow, a large city in Southeaster part of Poland, now belonging to Ukraine. My name was Dziunia and my parents were Leon Steinberg and Roza Steinberg née Rakower. Mother did not work. She worked before she got married. She was a bookkeeper. My grandmother was Regina Steinberg, she was a widow and she had a small toy store. I have found out about this from my only living relative, who at 93 was living in Kraków.
I will start with the beginning of the war - 1939 in Poland where I was born, and where on September 1, the blast of sirens and an air raid of German planes started the attack. For months there were talks about war, but nobody really believed it. Hitler took over Austria and Czechoslovakia peacefully, but Poland was promised help from France and England, if the war should break out. But nobody helped. The day was Friday, I was 9 years old and was preparing myself to go to school when the radio announced the war. In the first few days I was excited that something important is happening. How foolish children can be!
Until then my life was very happy, but in my estimate, very dull. School, piano lessons, friends, once in 3 years a visit to Kraków to see my Grandma and aunts and uncles, which was a great holiday for me. I was an only child. I did not see then how very happy and carefree my life was, and that soon everything will turn to ashes and I will be left alone, at the age of 13 and nothing will ever be the same.
The first few days we all stayed home, and after 17 days we were overrun by the German and the Soviet Union, and Poland was no more. Our part of the country was taken at first by the Germans, but soon the Red Army took over. We did not know then that Hitler and Stalin had a pact to take over Poland and slowly destroy the Polish spirit first, and later the people themselves.
After a few weeks I went back to school and my father went back to work. He was then an accountant in the biggest bank, now we could hardly make ends meet and he had to take accounting jobs from a hospital and a restaurant. After a few months, we had to sell some of the silver, jewelry, and pictures just to have enough to eat. We took a Russian officer to stay in one of our 5 rooms and he paid for rent and board. Later, he moved out as they changed the soldiers in our city, and the new group was taking many Polish citizens, arresting them and sending them to Siberia for being anti-communist (rightfully, or not). Even our family was on the list, but they did nothing, as in June 1941 another war broke out between the Germans and the Russians. We were overrun the second time.
This time the Germans took over for good. The first thing they did was to dismiss all the Jews from work and giving the Ukrainians (who were with the Germans from the beginning) free hand to kill the Jews. This was the infamous "Crystal Night", which lasted 48 hours.
We were in hiding in the house and nobody came to kill us. But after this, my father decided to move to a smaller town, hoping it will be better for the Jews there. We moved to Synowodzko Wyzne, near Stryj, a small village. It was indeed better but just for awhile. Father was working in a sawmill as a bookkeeper. So far, so good. We were all together and I had even started private school lessons with some other kids as all schools were closed for the Polish (not to mention the Jewish) population. The life started to feel almost normal when an order came in the summer of 1942, that all Jews from small towns and villages have to move to a larger city and stay in a ghetto. This was a terrible shock. Until now we were independent and even our maid was still with us. She was part of the family. Even now she wanted to go with us to the town of Boryslaw, and stay with us in the ghetto. She was with us for 7 years. I loved her very much and at that time she was 29 years old. She was born Ukrainian, but she felt Polish.
Naturally we did not know what ghetto was as we heard about it only through some people who escaped. My Father's brother Maniek (Maurycy) Steinberg, a doctor, who stayed with us under Russian occupation, and who returned to Kraków, once wrote that: "in ghetto it is a million times better than under the barbarism of the Soviets". Words that will haunt him till the very end when the Germans murdered him in cold blood, together with his wife Tina and some other relatives. But then, even my mother, who was raised in Berlin, said that the Germans are a cultural nation and she can not believe that they are just killing another nation without discrimination. Maybe some communists. How naive people were! But how could they really know? Nobody could foresee what is waiting for us, even in our worst nightmares.
So one day we got up at 4:00 a.m., dressed in many layers of clothing (so we can take as much with us as we can carry) left everything we owned (some valuables we gave to our Polish "friends", never to see them again, and some we took with us, later to give to Filip and Susan) and with a knapsack on our back and a canteen in our hands, we started the 30 miles or so walk to the ghetto, under watchful eyes of a few Ukrainian military policemen. There were maybe 50-60 people with us, and a young woman with a baby who was crying most of the time. The mother had to cover the mouth of the baby not to aggravate the gendarmes, as they threatened to kill the baby. We knew, right there and then, that we are in a terrible situation. After a night's rest in the forest, one of them brought a can of milk for the baby and me. So there were some humans among them too. Before noon our march came to an end and we arrived in Boryslaw ghetto.
IN THE BORYSLAW GHETTO
The mother of the baby invited us to stay in the meantime with her in-laws, where we stayed a couple of days, till we've found our own place. Our host in Boryslaw, his last name was Mr. Holcman, but I don't remember his first name. He was a tinsmith by profession. A wonderful person, this I do remember. He was very kind and helpful to us. His wife was dead and he had 2 grown sons. One of them was married to the young woman who brought us to the ghetto. I remember their faces, but not their names...
The ghetto of Boryslaw was a cultural shock for us. We were Jews, of course, but we were very assimilated to the Polish life and we were always first Polish, and then Jewish. Judaism was only our religion. Now we found ourselves in a part of the Jewish life that we never knew before. Everyone was Jewish. Intellectual life as we knew it was finished. The ghetto brought all kinds of people together. First of all, we had to adjust in a hurry.
Father was very depressed from the beginning of the war. First there was the bombing, we used to sit together then, keeping our heads touching each others, so we could die all together and no one would be left alone. Later on, when the German regime stripped us from all the humanity, and we lost our pride and everything we owned, Father was talking about suicide - all of us - and even bought some cyanide. We talked it over, and decided that there is no use to be degraded till the end and we have to get out of all this with honor. Who knows how long the war will last and what kind of suffering we have to endure? We have to be strong and finish with our lives before this happens. I agreed to it too. But the next day I started to cry and lament that I want to live, and father had to agree and promise that he will not try to poison us. That is how the matter stood when we arrived in the ghetto.
We looked around at how crowded the living accommodations were and the hygiene around us did not look promising. Mother decided right away to cut my beautiful long hair. I was naturally devastated. My hair was my pride and the only thing the Germans could not take away from me. Or so I thought. So here I was, among all those strange people, many of whom did not speak my language (a lot of them spoke Yiddish, which sounded to me like gibberish) food was scarce, rooms crowded, and the future bleak. But there was no time for self pity. We had to find a place to live and fast.
Luckily our "host", Mr. Holcman, knew a man, not far from his house, who just lost a wife and a daughter and lived in a large apartment. He was an upholsterer. We went there, introduced ourselves and told him about our situation and who sent us. He was a very nice man, but most of his apartment, he said, was already rented to an older couple, their daughter and her fiancé, and all he had was a small room 10' x 9' behind his shop if we want that room, we could have it. We could use the shop for storage or to sleep there too. There was a table there with 3 chairs, a cot and a child's small bed. In the shop there was another bed and a stove. A small stove was also in the room. We liked it right away because it meant we can be alone, only our family and Rozia, our maid, (she stayed with us, hungered with us until they closed up the ghetto, about a month about a month since we have arrived in Boryslaw, and only then we "pushed" her to leave us - with great sorrow) who slept in the shop next door. The other people and our landlord, Mr. Pikholtz, lived across the hall. Father found work, again in an office, which was very unusual; as a head bookkeeper in a sawmill like before. In the ghetto there was Jewish government and police, that meant whatever the German wanted to be done, the Jewish police obeyed and did.
Every morning Father was taken to work and brought back into the ghetto in the evening with the other workers. Mother was still at home. The ghetto was large and there were stores and even a restaurant, night club, etc. The people that had money could buy stuff, others went without.
I met some children my age and we used to play together. Today, from all those kids only 3 survived. After a month we got used to the life, more or less. Mother cooked with what she had:
cornmeal bread, sugar-beets jam, potatoes baked on the stove, and whatever we could buy or father could bring from the other side. The other side was the Christian side where people were still treated like human beings. Oh, how I envied them! But we all still lived in peace and nobody bothered us. Once a German officer stopped in our building and wanted something but nobody could speak German, so my mother came out and in her "classic" German she explained what he wanted to know. He was beside himself with joy! He stopped in our room and stayed awhile talking to mother about Berlin. He even drank a glass of tea, which was not a small thing, as no German was supposed to eat or drink anything in a Jewish house. After he left my mother said: "See, I was right, not every German is a monster." The officer's name was Pell. Later on, he was taking part in executions of our ghetto Jews, and in one of the executions, among 500 other people, there were also my parents.
The slow liguidation of the ghetto came in a form of 6 "Actions" ("Aktion", "Akcja"). Operation "Final Solution", which was commonly called just "Action". The first one was done before we came to the ghetto, and the next 2 of them lasted 24 to 48 hours. We always knew that something is wrong a day before when many German trucks (and Germans on foot) were moving around in the neighborhood. In the first few "actions" mainly older people and children were caught, and later killed. In the eastern part of Poland, people were just killed on the field, behind the slaughter house (how appropriate) and they did not bother to send them into concentration camps like they did in other parts of the country.
After a few weeks of living in the ghetto, Mr. Pikholtz, our landlord, told us that he has a hiding place under the floor in his shop and his wife and daughter did not have time to hide there in the first action. They were the unlucky ones. This was a hole under the floor that 3 or 4 people could hide. You could not stand up there, or sit comfortably, but we could hide for a day or two. We took down some blankets, a bucket (as a toilet) and we put the table back on the boards, where the opening was and waited. The men who were working, were not in danger, but women and children were. My Father worked with Filip, who said to my father many times that they should let me escape from ghetto and they will hide me. Of course, my parents could not even imagine this. To give away their only child? How could they? So we just lived day to day hoping for the best.
One day the 4th "Action" started. Mother grabbed a pound of cube sugar, a can of water, called our neighbor and her daughter's fiancé (her daughter ran away from the ghetto toward the Hungarian border, we never knew if she made it or not) and we went down to the hiding place. This time the "Action" lasted 4 weeks. The first 3 days we all lived on the cubes of sugar whenever we were hungry. The young man was whining and complaining all the time; he was hungry, he was thirsty, he was cold, we will get caught anyway, he smells smoke, the Germans are burning the ghetto etc. My mother did the best to quiet him down. We heard the Germans upstairs, but they did not find us. Nobody knew about the place, except Mr. Pikholtz. Somehow we survived 3 days. On the 3rd day, Mr. Pikholtz came home and brought us some food, emptied the bucket, we cleaned up a bit and went back down. This routine was repeated every few evenings. At the end of the second week we were at the end of our rope, but we had to stay there another 2 weeks until it was all over. These 4 weeks lasted eternity. After we finally came out we could not straighten up for a long time. We did not know anything about father, if he survived or not. Nobody knew. In our building there was complete devastation. Many children, my friends, were taken and killed. Some women and men too. But mostly children. We were terrified. It took a full day till my father came back. He looked haggard and very worried about us. He was sure we were killed as well. He said this was the last straw, I must run away as soon as possible.
Mother got a working pass and she started watching the entrance gate to the ghetto. She said that the best time is in the evening when the guards are busy taking in smugglers and sharing the money that they took from people throughout the day. They told me what I have to do and one summer evening I departed and said goodbye for the last time to them. I was to see my father one more time, when Filip took the chance in the middle of the night to bring him to see me. This was the day my father told me not to forget my religion, and after the war look up our relatives in Kraków. They told me that last evening to stay a good person, not to worry about them as they had a good life, and save my life at any price. They gave some jewelry to Filip and Susan, but it was nothing compared to what they did for me. How can you pay for saving a life?
IN HIDING AT THE "ARYAN" SIDE
That evening of my escape is mostly a blur in my memory. I know I waited with my mother in the shadows, then I jumped out and ran through the gate, hearing shots being fired after me. I did not look back. I jumped into an oncoming streetcar and after a while I got out and started to walk toward Filip and Susan's house. I looked around, but nobody was following me to my surprise. For some reason I thought that all Hitler's army will be after me. I had to hurry and get there before curfew hours. I had with me a bag with my clothes, that was all. Filip and Susan never asked me anything, they took me in (risking their own lives) and I stayed there, in the attic all night crying and shaking.
From then on, the attic was my home, coming down only to wash. I lived in the attic with mice, and a few times I had to hide behind the petition when the Germans came looking for Jews. After a few months I was coming down more often, and when a German officer used to come to talk to Susan (she spoke German) I was hiding in different places; in bed covered with heavy down blankets, in the closet and once behind a coat hanger where after an hour standing still I fainted just as he was walking out the door. We had a large cat, and when he asked what was the noise, Susan said that the cat jumped down from the table. So, even the cat saved my life. Susan then was a very pretty woman, and the German soldiers used to come and flirt with her. She was also very sly and clever, we never went hungry. They used to bring food and drink alcohol which Susan later used to buy meat or butter.
My metabolism was not functioning properly and still in the ghetto I started having boils on my knees and my forehead. One disappeared and another two came out. It was very painful. After being at Susan's for a few weeks they started to disappear. We always had bread, soup, some vegetables from the garden and fruit. We also raised rabbits which were our meat.
And so I survived there from June 1943 till August 10, 1943 when Filip came from work and told me that my mother, together with many other people were arrested and kept in the Ukrainian Police building. They arrested her at work in the 6th "Action", which was the last one before the ghetto was closed. Father ran to his German boss, Mr. Muller and they both ran to plead and beg the Chief of Police, but nothing helped. Father was at the end of his "hopes" and right there he decided he is going with mother. He could not imagine living without her. I was for many years heartbroken that he did not want to hang onto life knowing that I am alive and I will need him. But after living some years by myself, I understood his state of mind then.
On the 11th of August, 1943, my parents were shot brutally and my life, as I knew it, ended too. I was in shock for awhile. My life was in jeopardy also. I cried nights and days with Susan and Filip, still not understanding the finality of all this. I will never see them again, never hear their voices, never kiss them, or touch them or smell their after-shave lotion or perfume again. All that was left was a letter that father gave to Filip a few weeks earlier, I guess knowing what the future might bring. Mother was only 44 and father was 43 years old. This is the most difficult chapter to write. I miss them even now, after all this time. They were very special people.
Filip and Susan Kowal in the summer of 1943 in Boryslav. They saved my life!
But my life still went on and I wanted to live. Filip and Susan got me false documents and we moved to the other part of town. Now I could live on the open as their daughter. Everybody even told me how Susan and I look alike. I started to work in the sawmill too. I had to, in order to get coupons for food. Susan was even better toward me and started to teach me the catholic religion and taking me to church. This was for me like a balm. I needed something to believe in. One day, after work, I went to town to buy something on the open market place. I was stopped by a Jewish man, (few that were still left) that worked as an informer for the Gestapo, all the others were killed or shipped to working camps around the area. He somehow recognized me. He stopped his bike and started to ask me if I am Steinberg's daughter. I said no. Then who are you? I said my name is Kowal. He wanted my address and I gave it to him. I went my way, but he was standing there observing me. I remember buying something and even haggling with the merchant, so I will not be suspicious, but my heart was in my throat the whole time and I had a feeling he will give me away.
My parents always told me to be careful and never confess about my past life to anyone. After returning home I told Susan about my experience and she said get ready, "they" will be here soon. She was right. That afternoon a man in a leather coat came to arrest me. I was crying and so was Susan, but they took me anyway. Susan said over and over again that I was her daughter, but all in vain. They kept me in a cell for 3 days and 3 nights (with 2 other "criminals" like me - political prisoners, older women who did something against the Germans) they kicked me in the lower back as I was too small to be kicked any place else, I suppose. They came at night with the Jewish traitor, woke me up and talked to me in Yiddish, a language I did not know then, and I used to wake up and start praying in Polish crossing myself etc. etc. All that time Susan was coming and begging to let me out, as I am not a Jew but her daughter that looks like someone else.
On the third day, in the morning, they let me out and told me to go home. I was sore, dirty and tired, and I did not know if this was a trick or they really did let me go. I stood there, outside not moving, and when I looked up I saw they are all standing there in the window and looking at me. This was my luck. If I would start running, they would shoot me right then and there knowing I must be Jewish, but this way, I was just another child being afraid and crying, so they left me alone. After a few minutes I started walking toward home slowly, still crying loudly. After a few blocks I looked back but nobody was following me so I started running home. I ran for a mile or more until I got home. After arriving I was shaking so hard that I could not hold a spoon in my hand. It took me a few weeks to calm down.
Till then I did not have anything to do with Germans, per say. The first time I met a German soldier was a pleasant experience, it was in the beginning of the war. I was in a grocery store, when a motorcycle with a sidecar stopped nearby. A huge man, a soldier and another one bought something and the big man smiled at me and said that he has a daughter my age at home; suddenly he picked me up and gave me a flower that somebody gave to him, (there were Ukrainian people happy to see the German army in Poland) which made me feel that the Germans were just friendly folks. Of course he did not know I was Jewish. I was just a nicely dressed 9 year old, which reminded him of his little daughter.
The next encounter with the Germans was in the ghetto. All Jews from the age 13 had to wear an arm band with a star of David. I was only 12 and did not wear one. A SS man stopped me one day, and asked me where my band is, I pretended I did not understand German (even though my parents often spoke to each other German, I did not understand much) when he started hitting his boots with a rod he was holding to scare me. He was motioning to my arm and I told him that I was only 12; somebody witnessed this and told him in German. He looked at me for a minute, then waived his hand and left.
My arrest was my third encounter, much more severe. But Susan told me and she was right, that this will help me. Even if some people were suspicious before (and some were) now that I was released from the police, they will be sure that I am not Jewish. So much so that a neighbor girl, who was part German, used to knock on the window at 5:00 a.m. and call me to come with her and watch the Jews being shot. Yes, those were horrible times, and you could find monsters everywhere. I had to make an excuse, so she will not get suspicious. Later we heard that the front is coming closer and we even saw some American planes flying around. The Germans were shooting at the planes and we kept smiling inside when they did not get them. Near our house there was a German anti-aircraft headquarters and we could tell when they got beaten at the front. They were mad and did not joke with Susan anymore. We were told that the front is getting near and when the other part of the country was still under a siege, and many people were still dying in the concentration camps, we were getting ready to be liberated by the Soviet army.
My friend Ala and her husband sent me this photograph of the common grave where my parents were shot. Good local people have erected the memorial and keep the flowers and candles.
The front was going back and forth so when one morning on July 9, 1944, we looked out the window and saw a few lonely Russian soldiers pulling a portable heavy machine gun. We could not believe our eyes that we really might be free. But it was true! It took another day till the tanks arrived with Russian soldiers, but for me it meant the war was over. I wanted to run to town and see who survived of my friends, but Susan told me to wait and make sure that the Germans will not return. So I did wait a few days. All that time I was thinking that I am probably the only one that survived the war from all of Poland. I was only 14 years old. All alone, knowing that I will not stay with Filip and Susan forever as my father wanted me to. I will soon look for Jewish survivors and look for my relatives in Kraków.
In town there was a bridge where all the youth used to meet. So one day, I dressed nicely (all my dresses were short as I grew out of them, but the style was short dresses above the knee) styled my hair, now again shoulder length, and went to town to see who survived from my Jewish friends from the ghetto. Sure enough, I met my friend Ala Einsiedler and another boy that I knew. Ala and her whole family survived in a bunker in the forest; parents, brother, cousins and an aunt. They were hiding in the forest and one of the villagers knew about them and brought them food, washed their clothes, etc. They paid him of course. Later on I found out that many people survived the war this way, or they joined the partisans who were fighting the Germans. Soon I found out that some people survived the war in our city and that gave me hope that maybe others also survived and as soon as the war will be over, I will be able to go to Kraków and look for them. Meantime I was happy to see all those survivors, even though many of them were very envious to see me. They said to me "you had it made. Look at you! Rosy cheeks, long healthy hair". Nobody felt sorry for me that I was all alone on this God's earth and I suffered too. Nobody really cared. I did not know then that this was only the beginning and I will have to struggle all alone in the future; listening to other people's stories of survival in the concentration camps, in Russia, and in the forests with the partisans, etc.
My story became unimportant all of a sudden and I was mostly listening to other people telling their stories. Susan was insisting that I convert to Catholicism as she wanted to adopt me. Filip did not say anything. One day she made an appointment with the priest. He was young, but he was very smart. After talking to me for awhile he told me: "you are not a true believer in the catholic religion and you only think you are because of the circumstances and pressure and what you've been through. I would advise you to think about it, so you will not be sorry later. After a few months, if you still want it, I will help you". On the way back home Susan asked me if I am thinking about looking for my relatives, and I said yes. She said some of her friends are going to Kraków and they will look and let me know. I wrote a letter which she never sent. After many years that letter was returned to me, when her son found it in a box, after Susan's funeral. She wanted me to stay with them, but I wanted to return to my roots.
The Post Office where I worked after liberation. The open window is where I lived. It says in Russian: "Post Office". Afriend sent it to me.
I found work in the telegraph office which was in a post office building. A few young girls work there and they lived there too. So did I after a few weeks. I gave my money to Susan and asked her for movie ticket money once a week. My life was very dreary. No fun at all. Once a week I went to visit Susan and Filip and once a week my friend Ala and her parents. The war was still raging on, but far from Boryslaw. I knew nothing about it. All I knew was that I wanted to go back to school but I had to work. Once my boss, a Russian man, told me that in the Soviet Union I could study free and he will help me go there. When I told this to Susan and Filip, they told me not to do it. Susan said: "there is a large gate to enter Russia, but a very small hole to exit". I did not know then what great advice this was!
I would be educated maybe, but my life would be lost, living in the Soviet Union, never to be able to return. God again showed me His care toward me! How lucky that I listened and did not go. A lady doctor (an army doctor) also told me then: "in Russia there is also anti-Semitism" and none of her Russian friends know that she is Jewish. That was very surprising and scary. I always thought that Jews in Russia have it made. In the spring of 1945, when Poland was liberated, I started to think seriously about leaving for Kraków to seek my relatives. When I told it to Ala's father, he said that there is a girl my age who is registered to go with a transport which should be going from Eastern Poland (where we were) to Central Poland with all the people who did not want to stay in the Eastern part, which now was Ukrainian Soviet Republic.
I got very excited and wanted to meet the girl. Her name was Janka and she had heard that her uncle survived the war in Kraków. This was just right for me only there were two problems. How to tell this to Susan and Filip, and how to get papers for departure, as I was not registered to leave. We decided to tell them that Janka knows that my uncle is alive, and we have to go to Kraków and see him. That "white lie" turned out to be the truth as I later found my uncle and a cousin. But meantime we had our work cut out for us as Susan was against my going away. We had to talk to her many times and finally she agreed. I had to go with her and find the woman who had my parents' jewelry, furs and silver and try to take it from her, but she did not have it - so she said. After a few days she had her head shaven for collaborating with the Germans and they (the Soviets) transported her, her sister, and mother to Siberia to a hard labor camp. So much for justice! The Jewish traitor, who gave me away was shot by the Germans at the end of the war. All of the collaborators had their pay and I could not be happier about it.
One day I looked through my window, in my room in the post office, where I lived, and saw Russian soldiers hanging a collaborator across the street. He was all blue, his tongue out, swaying in the wind. My friends had to see it for 48 hours (it was a warning to other traitors I suppose) and we looked out the window with disbelief not venturing outdoors at nightfall at all.
Some of us sat in the window at night, the moon shining at this man's figure, swaying, as we guessed out loud what he could have done with his life. It was a strange game for young girls to play, but we lived in a strange era and nothing was normal anymore. Nothing was like it used to be, and never again will be.
In the first week of April 1945, Janka came to see me and told me to get ready for our trip to Kraków. I panicked. I did not have my documents yet. I wanted to go very much with Janka. What to do? The transport train was being put on a side track and every day people used to fill up all the wagons, waiting till all of them will be full, so the transport can leave for its destination. There was not much time to think about it and I had decided to leave without my papers, which meant, I would be illegal again, and will have to hide from the authorities; this time from the Soviets. So I packed my few things said a weepy goodbye to Filip and Susan and asked them to come and say goodbye to me in a few days, as we would be staying in the station till all the places are filled. Susan was not happy with my leaving and she did not promise to come. I was upset about it of course but there was no other way, I had to go.
ON MY OWN
When Janka and I got to the train we could hardly find an empty space for us. The train was very long and many people wanted to leave for Central Poland. Finally a Jewish woman with two small children, who knew Janka, called to us and told us to stay with her. It was about time, as we were scared and lonely, both of us 15 years old and for the first time completely on our own, going places, not knowing from where our next meal will come from. All this was very terrifying for two young girls.
After sitting in the wagon for two days there was a rumor that in the next 2 days we will be leaving. I was very sad that Susan did not come yet to see me off. When I lost all hope to see her again, I looked up and there she was, looking at me and crying. I jumped down and hugged her for a long while. She told me that I can always come back, but that she and Filip will be leaving soon too. So that meant that I will not be able even to write to them and that from now on I have to be on my own and live day by day.
We left on the 4th day after arriving and settling in the train. For some reason we left at night. I was afraid that I will be caught without my documents and thrown out of the train. The train was moving very slowly. Some days we were standing still for hours or even days. Luckily for me there was only one check for documents on the border between the USSR and Poland. Those were the new borders which were just drawn in Yalta, USSR, between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, which made Poland give away a part of Eastern Poland to the Soviet Union and take a part of East Germany instead. At that time, of course, I did not know anything about it. All I knew was that we stopped suddenly on one of the stations, a very small one, and people were saying that we are in Poland now and there is a checking of the documents going on. I took an empty bucket with me and stood near the well, waiting till the control will be over. The soldiers looked in my direction and one of them said something to me but no one thought that I am traveling alone and nobody bothered to check my papers.
After 2 or 3 weeks we stopped and did not move for days. Nobody knew where we were. One day somebody said that we are on the outskirts of Kraków, maybe 5-10 miles from the center. Janka said that we should not wait anymore and go by ourselves to Kraków. She was much braver then I was. This must have been in the middle of May 1945. We did not know it then, but on May 9, 1945, the war officially ended. In later years, when they used to show in the movies and TV, the great celebrations on the streets of Europe, I was always surprised that I did not see any of this. How could I have seen it? We were standing then on the side rail, in the middle of nowhere, on a train that must have been forgotten by everybody...We all have missed a splendid moment in our history, when Hitler gave up and his staff surrendered to the allies! I always wished I could have been one of the people celebrating the great victory over that evil man and his corrupt nation.
When we left the train and asked some people how to get to the main railroad station, we did not know yet what will be our next step. They showed us a train that was leaving and we took it, without a ticket, but nobody had tickets as people were coming and going. Some came from forced labour camps, some from concentration camps, some from the partisans and some were just moving from one place to another.
IN KRAKÓW AFTER THE WAR
We stood there, on the station, hungry (we could not remember when we ate the last time) dirty and tired. We looked around; all those people rushing, screaming and pushing and we both started to cry. By then we both were very good at that. A woman was looking at us for a long time and after awhile she started talking to us. She said that she came here to help somebody, as people were returning home and finding that nobody was left after the war, or people are coming to Kraków from Warsaw, where the city is completely destroyed from the Germans, after the Warsaw uprising. All this was news to us. We did not know anything of what was going on. She said she was a maid for many years and now she is like everybody else. She did not want to help Jews, because, she said, they are helped by everybody and the Polish people always suffer. When she was done she asked us what we are doing here. We said that we were traveling with an orphanage and in a few days the nuns will come to get us. We did not want her to know that we are Jewish. She said that she will take us home and the next day we can go and find our nuns. She lived with an old mother in a basement apartment , but till this days I remember how wonderful it felt when I took a hot bath (after a month washing in cold water on the train ) and getting in a large , snow white bed, with down blankets!! This was sheer heaven! I felt safe and serene. I don't remember eating anything that evening, but I remember we giggled a long time about our story with the nuns, before we fell asleep. We did not want to lie to her, but this was necessary if we wanted her help. She did not like Jews. She was a common woman, not educated, but she had a good heart.
The next day was Sunday. She bought milk, fresh crisp rolls, butter and eggs and made us a breakfast fit for a king. Later she wanted us to go to church with her. This was nothing new for us and we really wanted to pray and to thank God for His care and kindness. We did not do so badly so far. Going to church, across the street of this woman's apartment (to this day I know only her first name which was Maria) we saw a building with many people in front of it. We asked what's in there and she told us that this is the Jewish Committee. We thought that from then on we will be "home free". Wrong!
After returning home from the church, we went there, telling Maria that we want to go to town to ask about our nuns. In the Jewish Committee there were many, many people looking for relatives, just like us, and wanting help with food and lodging. Many of them just returned from Germany's concentration camps and from Russia. They had short, short hair, and looked haggard and sick. We looked healthy. When the time came for us to ask the clerk for help, he asked us from where did we come. When we told him that we were saved from death by Polish family he said: "Why didn't you stay there? We have here more important people that need help. People that were in hell, in concentration camps!" We stood there in shock. We never thought that our survival was less important than other people... We did not move even though people were moving and shoving us. Finally one of the clerks said: "Here is a coupon for soup. Come again tomorrow maybe then we will be able to do something more for you". We walked the hall in daze. What do we do now? Where do we go?
There were lists on the walls with the names of the survivors, but we could not find anyone of our relatives. The night caught us walking toward Maria's home. We told her that we need another day or two to find the people we are looking for, from the orphanage. She did not say anything. She gave us food and let us sleep in her big, clean bed. Next day we left in the morning for the Jewish Committee to look for someone who has seen Janka's uncle. We knew he was in Kraków, but we did not know where. Sure enough she found him. Somebody told her where he was, but he was living with a family and he could not take us both to stay with him.
While I stood in line for soup a girl, my age, told me that my uncle has returned from Germany and lives in the same apartment he lived before the war. I had all the addresses written down in the last letter from my parents. So I told the clerk that I need a place to stay for a couple of nights and that I have found my uncle. Somehow that helped and he gave me an address to a run down hotel (which we used to call "Bedbug Hotel") where I could stay in a room with 10 other women. I wanted to leave Maria's apartment, now that Janka left with her uncle, as I was afraid that Maria might find out that I am Jewish and throw me out. So I told her that we found our orphanage, thanked her for her kindness and disappeared. I took the streetcar to the address of the hotel and I was shocked with the conditions of the hotel and the people in it. They showed me a public bath and took me to the soup kitchen and I was getting ready to go and meet my uncle the next day.
He lived in the better part of the city. His wife and daughter did not survive the war. He was a gynecologist, age 42, and was getting married again to a very pretty woman of 26. When I arrived he was not home and the landlady told me to wait. She also told me that she saved for him all his clothes and furniture. There was even a piano in the living room. On the piano was a photo of his first wife and 8 years old daughter, and nearby his fiancé's picture. This looked strange to me as the war just ended and he was already getting remarried. When he came I introduced myself to him and told him about my situation. He listened, asked me if I need anything, put some candy on the table (not food knowing that I did not have anything to eat that day) and told me that he can not take me in, as it would not look good, him being a bachelor now, but he will find me a place soon. He gave me a few pennies for the streetcar and asked me to do him a favor and take a letter to one of his patients. When he opened a drawer there was a lot of money there. The whole drawer was full of money, probably left by him and saved by his landlady. He never offered me a few dollars (in Polish money, of course) for myself. I did not have clothes, nor did I have a place to live or anything to eat. I went back to the hotel and cried my eyes out.
But I had no other choice, so I went back to my uncle next day again, as he said he will find something for me and he promised to ask around about my other relatives from my mother's side. He was from my father's side. I could not believe that from all those relatives (over 100 people before the war) nobody was left. I hoped to find somebody that would be more soft hearted and helpful than this uncle. So I had to swallow my pride and go and see him again. When I arrived the landlady was taking out dirty dishes from his room. That meant that he was eating at home. Why didn't he think that I had to eat too? He offered me only a candy. When he saw me he seemed genuinely happy to see me. He told me that he has found two more people from my family. One (still alive today, 80 years old now) was a cousin, still young then (35 years old) but I was embarrassed to go and see him and to beg for his help. I even went to his apartment, but did not ring the bell. I just turned around and left. The second address was my mother's cousin and I decided to go and meet him. All those people returned from various concentration camps, had lost all their families and were now alone. Before I left, uncle Steinberg told me that the best solution for me would be to get married to somebody that returned from the camp and now makes good money and is looking for a wife. I was 16 years old then! Otherwise he did not see any future for me.
So much for one of my relatives...
WITH THE FAMILY
That same day I went to see uncle Tulek. He was very happy to see me. He had his leg in a cast, (I can not remember what happened to him) and we talked about my mother, which made me feel better right away. He was living with his wife's sister, Jadzia, and her daughter Ewa. His wife was dead. When Jadzia came back and found me there she told me to go right back to the hotel and bring my stuff to their apartment, because I will be staying with them. I will be taking care of Ewa and cleaning the apartment, maybe helping them with some other odd jobs. My uncle even said that I will be going back to school for sure, very soon. I was very happy and thought that I have won a prize. When I came back a dinner was waiting for me, the first hot meal since I have left Susan six weeks ago. Meat, potatoes, vegetables, even a cake! I was in heaven, with a family again and being taken care of! What else could I want?
In the next few weeks I was doing all the housework, taking Ewa everywhere... and taking bags of smuggled cigarette cartons. The black market flourished everywhere. It was illegal but that was where I came in handy, because I was young and not suspicious looking. Some dollars were transported from place to place but they told me not to worry about it because they are responsible for me and the merchandise. For the first few months I was content. I had a place to live, good food and I was hoping that soon I will be going back to school, or maybe a professional school, like a beauty school. But the months flew by and the winter was coming and nothing was said about my clothes. I needed a winter coat and boots. When I said something about it to Tulek, he said that he will talk to my uncle Steinberg and they will pay for the coat and boots together. They never paid me anything for my work and my risk with the black market stuff. Still I was quiet. I was still looking for my other relatives and hoped to find my father's brother, but as the months passed, my hopes had diminished. I met Janka and basically she did the same thing that I did and waited for her uncle to take her to Munich, Germany, where he now lived. She even cooked for the people she lived with. I only prepared the food and Jadzia cooked. Jadzia survived with Ewa on Arian papers, and even now nobody knew that she was Jewish. Tulek though looked very Semitic.
I met some young people and sometimes we went to see a movie, but I did not like any of those boys and I never went out with them more than once. I used to go with Ewa for walks in the park. There was a military hospital not far away and I met young Russian soldiers who lost their limbs in the war. They were only 2-3 years older than I was! Now they were invalids and I talked to them and gave them courage for the future. Their faces still stay with me. Those were the heroes of our times. They fought so fearlessly to save Kraków from the German mines, as the Germans wanted to destroy that historic and beautiful Polish city, like they did to Warsaw. General Koniew with his army surrounded the city and the Germans had only enough time to run away without doing any harm to the city and its population. Thank God!
In the late fall I finally got my coat and boots after asking Tulek and uncle Steinberg about it many times. In the meantime I met some Jewish children (between the ages of 13 to 18 years old) who came from Russia. They were choosing to join the Kibbutz even though some of them had parents, brothers and sisters. They all wanted to go to Eretz Israel, as they said that there is no future for Jews in Poland. They tried to talk me into joining them but I was still waiting and wanting to return to school.
One day in the beginning of 1946 I asked Tulek how long I will have to wait for a sum of 200 dollar so I could sign up in the beauty school. He looked at me strangely and answered: "You can not expect strangers to pay for your schooling". I was dumfounded! .All at once I was a stranger. I got real angry and told him that I did not know that we were strangers but if we are I don't want to be a burden for him and I don't want to be a maid my whole life. I decided to move out that day. Now it was his turn to be dumfounded. He said: "there is no hurry", but I was already getting my stuff together, thanked him for helping me till now, told him not to worry about me and was out the door. There was no other way to do it but to join the Kibbutz. I did not want to join and did not want to leave Poland or go to Eretz Israel (then still Palestine) but the dice were tossed and there was no other way.
AT THE "KIBBUTZ" IN KRAKÓW
I arrived in the Kibbutz and right away I disliked everything and everybody there. There were 80 people in the kibbutz that I had nothing in common with. Everything was done as in the military and the food was bad. I mean nutritionally bad. We were all growing children or young adults, but we did not eat any meat, vegetables, butter, cheeses nor did we drink milk or fruit juices. All we ate were thin soups, herring, and potatoes and drank substitute coffee. With this food we had to work for 80 people. All of us had our duties: cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, laundry etc. The duty was 3 people at a time. On top of all this I had to sleep with another girl in bed (all of us slept in twosome, as there was not enough room for everyone to have their own bed) and she had an ugly problem left from the war, I guess. She was a bed wetter! It was sheer hell! I felt sorry for her but I could not stand it anymore than a few days (today she is still my friend, she lives in Israel and is a grandmother) and that's how I met my friend Danka.
Danka and I we both hated every minute in the Kibbutz. The boys were short and ugly and the idea of going to Israel made us both very unhappy. She did not talk to anybody and always sat in the corner and I sat or would lie on bed all day long, if I did not have to work. One day we were both on duty and we started talking. We liked each other right away and from this moment on we were inseparable for a long time. I have found a kindred spirit in her. She survived Auschwitz and her mother died two weeks before the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz. We talked all that day till late at night and I told her why I dread to go to sleep at night. She told me that her roommate just left (she found a brother) so she told me to take my things and move to her room. This saved me from going out of my mind.
Slowly we started going out with some of the boys to the movies or for a walk. Then we found a job in UNRRA ("United Nations Refuges Relief Agency") which sent us food and clothes (but I learned later that our Kibbutz leaders sold in on the black market, that's why our food was so poor). Our job was to sew button holes in coats which were given to other needy people. I was very happy about the job because it meant I could stay all day out of the Kibbutz. As I was sewing coats for others, my own pretty coat was stolen. The coat that 2 uncles had to get together to buy for me... A girl stole some things and ran away with a Russian soldier. Luckily, it was getting warm and I could use some other people's jackets as we were supposed to share our clothes with each other. Some of the girls had a large wardrobe and, naturally, nothing was stolen from them.
My uncle Steinberg got married and sent me an invitation to the wedding. That was laughable as I did not have anything to wear, not only for the wedding, but for every day. I did not answer and did not go. One day someone came to my room all excited and told me that a very elegant gentleman wants to see me. I went down and there he was. He said that he was disappointed in me that I did not come to the wedding, or answer his invitation. He wanted to know what do I think I am doing, joining a Kibbutz? Do I want to marry a shoemaker? Take a look what kind of class of people is joining the Kibbutz! This was more than I could take. I gave him a piece of my mind. I mentioned everything that bothered me about him: the candy, the exact change for the streetcar, the hotel I had to stay, letting me be a maid and not giving me money to study, and even the dreaded coat and boots were mentioned. He looked at me in disbelief and then said that he is sorry I feel this way and left. I was so upset that I went to see his first wife's family who were strangers for me now, since his wife did not survive and he had a new wife. There was a mother of his first wife and sister with a husband. They were always very kind to me. They would invite me for Sunday dinners, and more than this, I could take a leisure bath in their bathroom. This was a big luxury for me as we went from the Kibbutz to a public bath. When I arrived that evening and told them about my meeting that day with my uncle, they told me that I was right to put him in his place, as he is and always has been, very egocentric. They gave me a pair of sneakers because my shoes were very beaten up.
That was the last time I saw my uncle Steinberg. He moved to Israel in the sixties and in the seventies he died from an old age. He had a son I've heard. As for uncle Tulek, I don't know what happened to him.
It is a pity that my expectations about my family and relatives has never been met.
Janka would come sometimes to visit me in the Kibbutz and she would invite me for delicious crčme cakes in a Cafe house, from the money she would save. She would go far to buy meat to save and would buy vegetables and fruit on the open market, because it was cheaper. The money she saved was our money and we would sit and pretend that we have no worries in the world, that our parents are waiting for us at home. Empty dreams! Those things could never happen again. Sometimes we felt so bad that we would go to St. Mark's church, the one Maria took us on the first Sunday in Kraków, and we would pray hard, for God to hear us and bring some hope and change to our lives. We did not care that this was a Christian house of worship, as long as God will hear us out. It used to bring us a great relief and that was all we needed.
My fainting spells got worse and I would faint for no apparent reason in the most unlikely places; the streetcar, waiting in line for a movie, in the public baths, etc. It was very embarrassing and also dangerous, as I did not know when it will happen. Finally, the Kibbutz made an appointment for me to see a doctor. The doctor told me that I was in the developing stage and my neurosis is connected with my experiences from the war and my present situation. He said that many people find it difficult to cope now, that the war is over. He told me to do the best I can. There was nothing else to do.
Later in life my unhappiness brought me other anxieties and physical problems but then, in my youth, I felt healthy except for the fainting spells. When you are young, you can endure many struggles. This is why the older people perished so easily in the war and the young survived.
DEPARTURE FROM POLAND
A few months after I joined the Kibbutz there was an announcement from the leadership to get ready as we are leaving Kraków to go to a southern part of Poland (closer to the Czechoslovakian border) where we will join other people from other parts of Poland , from other Kibbutzim. All of us will be taken over the border, on our way to Israel. As I said, everything was done hush-hush, as we would be going illegally (again!) as Greek survivors from the camps, who are returning home to Greece.
I was not really ready to leave Poland for good, and I was very sad and upset to leave my beloved Kraków. I never thought then, that it will take another 30 years till I will be able to see "my" Kraków again. But in the meantime the reality took over. Even this kind of life could not last forever. Here, at least, I was in my homeland , among my own people, but soon I will be a stranger in a strange land , without a language, missing and longing always for my homeland.
The fateful day came and we left for Opole. I left my past behind. We boarded a train and in a few hours we were there. Opole was a small town, before the war belonging to Germany, now given to Poland by the Allies, (after the war) for a part of Eastern Poland, which went to the USSR. The town was pretty but turned out even farther from the Czech border than Kraków. But there were some deals made and we were supposed to leave from there. I did not understand much about it, and frankly, I couldn't care less. I was indifferent to what will happen to me next. I did not expect anything good to happen to me anyway. I was glad to have Danka by my side, as it was easier not to suffer alone
The building was large and the apartments roomy. But, of course, if it was nice it could not last long. Soon all the people that had to cross the border with us were assembled and we were ready for the trip. Our leader explained to us what is waiting for us. We will be walking to the Czech border at night, in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, a guide will be waiting with trucks and he will take us to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, by trucks, where we will stay a few days and from there by train we will go to Vienna, Austria, for another stop and then to Germany. In Munich, Bavaria, we would change trains and go to a farm in Holtzhausen, near Mainz, where we will take schooling on how to farm.
In the wartime I worked in the fields and dug up potatoes and other vegetables. Farming was not my cup of tea, to put it mildly. So I was not overjoyed with this idea at all. But in the meantime I had to do what I was told. .The worse part came when they told us that we have to destroy anything that we have written in Polish. All photographs where people wear Polish uniforms were to be destroyed, because if we would get caught 200 people will be arrested or sent back never to be able to immigrate to Israel again. This sounded very ominous.
I had my last letter from my parents which kept me going even though it was smeared a bit from my hands and tears, as I was reading it over and over again. But I had to comply with everyone's wishes and with a heavy heart I tore it up. This was the last souvenir that I had from them, except for 2 small passport photos of mother and father. I did not have time to dwell on it too long, as we were leaving the same night. It was early summer 1946 when we started our journey toward Eretz Israel.
THE TRIP TO HOLTZHAUSEN VIA VIENNA
The trip was very strenuous as we were walking or rather hiking through the Sudeten Mountains. First we had to climb up and then to come down. It took us all night. My feet were hurting and I had blisters on my feet as I did not have a good pair of shoes, and I walked in my tennis shoes, which tore completely on this trip. Finally we arrived in Czechoslovakia, without any incident. The trucks were waiting and we climbed in (maybe 50 people in a truck) they put the canvas down (those were military trucks) and we were on our way. In a few hours we were in a run down hotel in Bratislava. This once was a capital of Slovakia and the city was beautiful. But we did not think much about sightseeing. We stayed a few days then took train to Vienna, Austria.
The trains were very crowded all the time. People going from place to place after the war. Danka and I almost got lost in the train, but somebody found us. When we arrived in Vienna, we could not believe how gorgeous the architecture was there. We walked again from the station to an empty Rothschild Hotel. No more and no less! But it was not as good as it sounds. The Germans occupied the hotel and when the war ended they destroyed most of it inside before they ran away. Now, there were many empty rooms with cots in them and we did not even have warm water in the bathroom. Some rooms had baths completely destroyed and, of course, 10 of the girls (among them Danka and I) got one of them. If we wanted to wash, we had to wait until dark and when the men were asleep we washed in the yard, with cold water from the well, while one of the girls was standing guard and another was holding a blanket as a screen.
One day I have found a broken desk in one of the rooms and in the drawers German money. The drawers were packed with money. But it was the Third Reich German money and Danka and I thought that the money will be worthless now. Wrong! If we would know better then, we could throw away our things and take the money with us and in Germany we would be rich! But who knew? Nobody took it. Germany exchanged their money in 1947 so for a year we could buy many, many things.
After a few days in poor (moneywise and foodwise) Vienna, we moved toward our destination -- Holtzhausen. It was a small village with rich farmers and we were supposed to work on their farms and learn about farming. Some of our people were really upset about working again for the Germans, but our leaders assured us that only Jewish people will tell us what to do and if we don't want to see any Germans we don't have to.
Our work was the same as before, all the same duties, but now we added 40 more people and now we also had to work in the fields. But the food was very good and there was plenty of it. The American-Jewish Organizations took care of this. All kinds of food (some we never ate before, like peanut butter) and fresh milk, butter and cheese. We all felt well physically and gained weight. They finally gave me some used clothes that they received from the U.S. and my first bra, which I had to ask for. I started to wander in the forests picking wild flowers and raspberries. Life got better for awhile, but not for long. The leaders told me that I am not participating in their games and meetings, that I am much to aloof for a member of their Kibbutz and if I don't change my attitude soon I will have to find myself another place to stay, as I will be a bad influence for the other members. I told them this is fine with me. They did not like an individual thinking and wanted a robot, which I did not want to be. Of course, those remarks changed my good mood for the worse again.
One evening we went to Mainz to see a Jewish play. We did not have any entertainment for months. They told us to sing ourselves, Hebrew songs, which we did not understand, before each meal, and this was our entertainment. When we got to the theater our leader had the tickets and they started to count us at the door, like livestock heads. In the theater there were many rich Jewish people from Frankfurt and other cities and our group was behaving so loud that I was humiliated and embarrassed. I did not even want to sit with them, so I stood alone near the door. Danka had a headache and did not want to come with us. But one good thing came out of this outing. In the intermission I met a lady that I knew in Kraków and she told me that Janka and some other people from Boryslaw live in a DP camp (Displaced Person Camp) near Munich, which is called Föhrenwald. She said: "Why don't you go and see her?" That was what I did. I told Danka that I will send for her when I am settled and in the meantime she should stay in the Kibbutz, in case I will not find anybody.
I took a train to Munich (without knowing the German language, which was foolish) almost missing my train to Wolfratshausen and walked from the station 4 miles to the camp. Sure enough, I met people I knew and later I met Ala with her parents and brother, and finally Janka. They were both going to high school in Munich, where Janka's uncle still lived. She came often for a visit to the camp and stayed a few days. When I told her about my present life, she said that she can register me in town and find me a room with a German family for awhile. Later on we would see what to do. She did register me and found me a room with a widow and her unmarried daughter and her 2 year old child. The Jewish Community paid her for letting me live there, but she didn't have to supply heating or food.
I was supposed to get coupons for food and clothing. When I went to the place that was in charge of those things the man there told me that a girl who looks like me should not have any problems with getting room and board, and all the pretty clothes my heart desires and he himself would volunteer for this position... I was 16 years old and he was probably around 40 years old! As for the coupons for food I will get them, but it takes 3-4 weeks till the registration will start.
In the first week I visited Ala's parents, her mother always had something on the table for everybody. After a week the school vacation ended and both Ala and Janka left for Munich, going back to school. The next 2 weeks were pure hell for me. I was starving, too proud to ask my landlady for food, and also knowing they had very little food after the war and couldn't bring myself to go to Ala's parents and tell them that I am hungry, so I was stealing carrots from my landlady's garden and this was my only food for a couple of weeks. I met some new friends and they invited me a couple of times to a German restaurant and one of them gave me a coupon for a pair of shoes. Again the shoes! It seemed I never had any shoes. After a month I received my care package and my coupons for food. My hungry days were over! When I told my friends about my hungry days they brought me extra food. I was hungry no more!
I wrote to Danka 2 letters as soon I got registered and asked her if she would like to come because we could register her here too. For a long time I did not have any answer from her. Suddenly I received a letter from her that she can not stand to stay in the Kibbutz any longer and she is coming soon. In the meantime the weather got colder as it was the beginning of autumn and I started to freeze in my room. If not one thing, it was another. Janka came for a weekend and gave me a winter coat, but many days I just stayed in bed all day long to keep warm. Luckily warmer days returned and Danka arrived finally. She did not like anything. The only thing that she liked was a coffee-house, where a band was playing every evening and you could stay there all evening and listen to the music for a couple of cents, drinking lemonade, and nobody bothered us.
IN THE DP CAMP OF BAD REICHENHALL
In November it got really cold and we could not stay in our room anymore. We had to do something. After selling some things from our care packages we had enough to buy a train ticket and join another Kibbutz, in Bad Reichenhall DP camp, on the German - Austrian border. This was a large camp and the Kibbutz was in a large block, with showers and even a library. We had a cook now and we had to help him only. One day I met Ala's fiancée who came there to play soccer or to find soccer players and he looked at my bare legs seeing that I am wearing short socks in winter and gave me heavy knee highs which were warm and nice. But I was coughing all winter anyway.
The winters in Germany were very cold and here I was going all through the winter with naked thighs. Nobody offered a pair of stockings and slacks were not yet in style. Danka had to fight with the leaders to get me some orange or grapefruit juice so I will get some vitamin C and maybe I will get out of the sickness. Finally they gave me some. Of course, they sold most of the stuff that we were supposed to get. With this nagging cold and cough I got again very unhappy and did not want to do anything.
At the end of winter Janka came to see me and she told me that there are American Jews who are adopting Jewish girls and she already has a sponsor and she can get one for me too. I told her that I could not go without Danka. This was a problem because those people were taking girls not older than 17 years old (I was under the wire as I just turned 17 years, two months ago) and Danka was already 20 years old. So I did not leave with Janka. Who knows how my life would unfold if I would go with her then? My fate was always showing me the way and I have no regrets.
IN A "KIBBUTZ" AT THE FELDAFING DP CAMP
In the beginning of spring I met some people from my hometown and they wanted me to come and visit them in a different camp. I told Danka again that I will go and if I like it I will send for her. I stayed there 2 weeks and when I returned the Kibbutz had left for Israel and Danka left with them! Now I was again all alone not knowing where to turn. I bought a train ticket to Munich and thought that I will decide there what to do next. Janka already left for the United States, Danka was on her way to Eretz Israel.
What to do, what to do?
On the train I met a man who told me that a part of my Kibbutz did not leave and that they are in a Kibbutz near Munich, in a camp called Feldafing. Again destiny played a part in my decision. If I would not decide then and there to go to Feldafing, I would not meet there my future husband and my whole life would have been different.
But I met this man on the train, and the rest is history...
When I arrived in Feldafing the first person I saw was a boy from our Kibbutz from Bad Reichenhall. I told him about my predicament and he said that they have another leader now but he saw no problem with me joining again with their Kibbutz. But it was Passover and almost everybody had left to join their relatives for the holidays. He was right, there were 7 people there. These people did not have anywhere to go. The boy's girlfriend told me to take any bed and when the leadership will return, in a week, we will talk about finding me a steady place. So I stayed. Walking through those empty rooms and thinking if they will accept me here or am I here living on borrowed time, and where will I go if they will not take me in.
When everybody returned from the holiday my friend Ely and I went to see the manager. He listened and said that it will not be easy to register me in the Kibbutz or in the camp as they are not accepting new people anymore but I could take somebody's place, somebody who left already for Eretz Israel., but was still registered. I did not have any choice so I agreed.
I was illegal again! My name was now Gita Weitzman, born July 4, 1930 instead of Dziunia Steinberg, born December 6, 1929. Later on I changed the name, but the date of birth I could never change, as I could not produce my birth certificate, which, of course, was lost in the war. Now, officially, I was 7 months younger and that has been how I stayed till today. I never liked the name Gita, but that's how I was known to many, for many years and now that is still my middle initial.
My life in Feldafing, in Kibbutz, was not very eventful. I met new people, some of them boys, but I still was not interested in a relationship. I liked some of them as friends. One of the boys was Hilke, a nice young man from Lithuania, who used to come and visit me. I stayed mostly in my room but sometimes I used to go out on the hill, near our building, and swing from a swing that was hanging there. I did not even bother to put shoes on when I walked to the swing and I walked in my house shoes.
GETTING MARRIED IN THE DP CAMP
One day Hilke went with me and we saw a tall young man sitting on a stoop of another block, playing the accordion. I did not pay much attention to the young man at all and Hilke spoke to him in Yiddish. I understood a little of Yiddish, but could not speak. All the Lithuanian Jews and many Polish Jews spoke Yiddish, but I knew then only 2 languages: Polish and Russian. After awhile Hilke left and I stayed on the swing. The swing would calm me down and also I could see from the hill the entire camp. At the time I was very lonely and depressed without my friend Danka and all I wanted from everybody was to be left alone. My daily walks to the swing provided me with solitude. I tried not to think about my future.
The next day Hilke came and told me that Motke, the guy he was talking to yesterday, would like to meet me and that he told him that I am the girl he wants to marry. I started laughing, but Hilke said that Motke was serious about it. I told him that I am not interested in meeting anybody now, and even less a Greek. For some reason I thought that he was a Greek, not a Lithuanian. The Mediterranean men (and all people) have different mentality and temperament than the Slavic people and those of Baltic States. Most of the men were hot tempered and womanizers. I was not to be driven into other troubles. I had enough of my own already. But Hilke, and later also Ely, told me that Motke is from Lithuania and finally after a few weeks I have decided to meet him. He seemed not to be my type. But he seemed a very nice guy. Even though we could hardly communicate, as he spoke only Yiddish, German and Lithuanian and I spoke only Polish and Russian, we both understood a little of each other's languages. We used to go to the movies, for walks, to sporting events, but always with other people.
As the time went on I liked him more and more. He always made me laugh and feel good and he had a good heart. All my friends liked him too. Once he came in the late evening with a car to take me for a drive, but I was already in bed and did not want to dress again. So few of the girls went with him and came back all excited about how nice and funny he is. But he still was interested only in me. Slowly we started to go out by ourselves and after 3 months he asked me to marry him. I was 17 and a half and the last thing on my mind was to get married. He told me that he is 26 years old and after the hell of concentration camps and the war, which took his best years, he wants to settle down. He was dating in ghetto and later after the war, but, he said, he knows that he wants me to be his wife and he does not want to date me if I am not serious about him.
That night I did not sleep a wink. On one hand I was too young to get married and on the other hand I did not want to lose him. He gave me an ultimatum. When I asked a girl, that I was friendly with at the time, she told me not to do it. That we are from different worlds and that I am much too young and if I will say yes, she gives us 6 months of marriage. The last word was mine, of course, and I said: "yes"...
This year we will be celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary, still happy and content.
Max family came, after the revolution, in 1917, from Russia and settled in Lithuania in Šiauliai (Schavli). His father's name was Icchak and he was a blacksmith and had a shop together with his brother. Max' mother name was Doba and she died before the war when Max was only 12 years old. Max had an older sister, Chajke, who left for Palestine, in 1935. The older brother Joske, was in the Red Army in the war, and got killed in The Soviet Union. Max had other two younger brothers, Abke and Mikie, who died in the ghetto. Max himself survived some of the German Nazi concentration camps.
At that time I received from the Kibbutz 2 dresses and 2 blouses, which made me very happy, even though I did not get any shoes as I was "not long enough in the Kibbutz to deserve it "... Now, that I was getting married, they took the clothes away and I was left again with my 2 blouses, a skirt and a light jacket. My coat from Janka was too short again. Motke (or Max , as he will be known from now on) went in into the office and had a talk with them and got me some clothes and even some furniture. Nobody wanted to start with him. You had to be tough to get everything that was yours in the first place. Even the place that we were to live in Max took by himself as the camp's government did not want us to have it, although it stood empty.
I was under age so Max's friends stood up for us when we got married and they had to sign that they will take care of me if he would leave me, or treat me wrong. We all had a good laugh about it from then on.
BEGINNING OF OUR COMMON LIFE IN THE DP CAMP
We lived in a barrack, in one room. The window was broken which we had to fix and there was a table, 2 stools, a bed, a cot and a stove. In the summer it was very hot and in the winter it was so cold that the water inside was frozen. When we got up, Max used to get up first, make fire in the stove and in few minutes the room was warm. Max was working as a truck driver for the camp. Before this he was taking the immigrants to the French border, by way of Germany where the people used to leave for Palestine. All of this was done illegally and without pay. Now he was driving for the camp, bringing heating coal, bread, beer, etc. The pay was hardly enough and we had some hard times in the beginning. Also we had some period of adjustment, but all in all, we were much happier together than apart. I learned Yiddish and met some people that we were friendly with. I started to read German movie magazines, as I was interested in the movies and the actors, and I learned some German this way. Also I was an avid reader for many years, reading world literature and I read all the world classics writers, in Polish of course, which helped me to educate myself and to mature. That is how our life was going for a couple of years. We were young and carefree. We did not worry what tomorrow will bring.
On May 1948 Israel received its independence and right after this the first war broke out between the Israelis and the Arabs, as both claimed the same land. The Israelis received the land through the United Nations and the Palestinians had to vacate the towns and villages they lived in, as the new immigrants from Europe and Africa started to arrive into Israel. Many Palestinians did not want to move and they stayed under Israeli rules, but the majority left and since then there is a bitter fight for the land they once occupied with the Jews. The struggle goes on even today. Since Israel was created in 1948 there were four wars between Israel and the Arabs: 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. In all of them Israel was victorious. It is difficult to imagine peace and security in that part of the world, but stranger things have happened and we have to hope.
In 1948, in Germany, most people in the camps started to leave for Israel, United States, Canada and Australia. Max wanted to go to Israel (he had a sister there) but I wanted to register and go to America. We did not do anything in the meantime as Max started to earn more money and for the first time we started to feel comfortable. We made some new suits, dresses for me, coats and bought other things we needed or wanted, and life seemed great. Of course, this could not last long. After 6 months of this "easy" life, Max came home one day and told me that we have to get ready and prepare ourselves to leave the camp. Ready or not. We have to immigrate to Israel as the camp is being closed and all the Jewish people have to leave. A short but happy stage of my life was over and now, willing or not, I had to move on.
IMMIGRATION TO ISRAEL
On September 19, 1949, we boarded a train on our way, via Italy, to Israel. We traveled for 48 hours on that crowded train, through the Alps, and all I can remember is that I had a terrible toothache and Max gave up his seat so I can lay down on both seats. He stood all night in the corridor, near the window. My pain was so bad that when we arrived in Italy in the camp, the first thing I did was go to see a dentist. It was a wisdom tooth that was very infected and had to be pulled out. We stayed in Italy a week and being young we even had some fun. But this time I was not alone. I had a husband who loved me and took good care of me.
After a week we all went to a port city, Bari, and from there we boarded an Israeli freight ship "Komemiyut", for Israel. There were more than 1,200 people on board, people from different countries and walks of life, young and old, all looking forward to start a new peaceful life in a Jewish country. We sailed for 3-4 days. Even I started thinking that maybe it will be all right to live in Israel and to be in a country that everyone is Jewish and everybody is treated the same. I did not know any better then... It had to take me years of experience to understand the politics, the social injustice, the clicks, that helped only each other, and the difficult climate that we had to deal with.
In the meantime we arrived in Haifa and they transported all of us to a transit camp where we would be distributed to different immigrant camps and we will be waiting for housing and work.
When we arrived in the camp we saw a field with large tents where we were supposed to live. The place was called Saint Lux (I am not sure about the spelling). We lived 8 people to a tent. I looked around and for the first time I saw Jews from North Africa: Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Libya and also from Asia: Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. They all spoke only Arabic, a few of the older ones spoke Hebrew, or English. They all looked like wild people, sitting on the ground, eating with their hands, dirty and loud. We were so bewildered! It was a culture shock for all of us. Max started to talk to them in Hebrew. He was the only one from our group who knew Hebrew, and later, when he went to the food stand to buy something, I was so proud to hear him speak Hebrew! He was going before the war to a Hebrew school, hence the knowledge. He bought then (I still remember) bread, oil, and sardines - other meals we were getting at the camp kitchen. I knew then that somehow we will be all right. I always felt very protected being with him.
After a few days Max's sister, Chajke, came to visit us in the camp. We were corresponding with her from Germany for a while and she did not want us to come to Israel, because of the war in 1948, but now the war was over. Still when she came, she told us that we made a mistake coming there. This was not what we wanted to hear from her. She promised to look for work for Max and a place for us to live. She and her husband were working for years, in good jobs, but they still rented a furnished room from somebody and they lived like a single people, not like a married couple should live, so they could not take us in to live with them.
A few weeks went by and some of our friends moved on to different camps from where they would be given permanent housing. Chajke came back and told us that we should not go with the others, because the life in camps and in the tents is not for us and winter is coming and in these conditions I might get sick. She said that she has found a nice hotel room, in the middle of Tel-Aviv and paid the first week and told us to take our stuff and move in there. We did not know that leaving the transit camp on our own, we were forfeiting all help from the Israeli government and from now on we will have to manage alone without their help. We were young and naive and we believed that Chajke really wanted to help us.
After few days in the hotel, which was more than we could expect or afford, Chajke found a job for Max as a maintenance man in a soap and oil factory. Max was driving his motorcycle, that we brought from Germany, to work and I have found nearby a library and lost myself again in books. At the end of the second week the hotel manager said that we owe him for the last week rent. As it turned out Chajke paid for the first week only and the rest we were supposed to pay. Max did not get paid yet and we were hungry most of the time, eating sardines in tomato sauce, because it was cheap. We found ourselves in a terrible predicament! We have not found yet a place to live, could not afford the hotel and could not return to the camp. Somehow we managed to live in the hotel for a month and in the meantime Max was looking around frantically for a place to live. His boss took him to Lod, an Arabic town (now abandoned in most part by the Arabs) to find something. One evening Max came back and told me that the house his boss found is not a house but a shack, with the kitchen and toilet outside, but this was all we could afford.
When we arrived the house was one room and the building was square, built with cement blocks and no electricity. It was clean and there was a little garden with a palm and a fig tree. It was removed from the center of town and from both sides there were living two farmers and their families. At night it was dark and scary as there was no street lights. In the house it was common to find scorpions and outside snakes and lizards. We did not have any furniture except for a bed and a wooden box, that we used as a table, and a suitcase which we used as a chair for me and a motorcycle seat that Max used as another chair. As usual, the good humor did not leave Max even in those conditions. Whenever I used to lug the suitcase, to sit on it and eat, he would ask me:"are you taking a trip somewhere?" and we would start laughing forgetting for a minute our problems. On the outside there was all around the house a fence made of cement blocks, so you felt like being in a prison in this fortress, never to be able to see anything through the window. This was a difficult time, but worse was still to come.
Chajke has her own plans for us. First of all she was not too happy that Max got married so young. Never mind that he was now almost 29 years old and although, she said, that she liked me, she was sure that we both could have done better. That was the first dissonance between her Max and me. Then she wanted me to go to work, but Max was against it from the beginning. He wanted a wife at home not a tired, angry woman that had to toil all day and come home and start work there. He was from the old school. Next, Chajke wanted us to buy cheap furniture in the meantime, put our savings into one pot (theirs too) and we would buy first for us and then for them furniture, as they wanted to finally move out on their own. Fine nad dandy, but our furniture could be cheap as we are just starting, but theirs had to be the finest quality because they are older and they have a prestige to uphold. We were still young so anything would be good enough for us. This did not sit well with Max and he said that everyone will buy their own furniture. She did not like this. I was very disappointed with her behavior because I liked her in the beginning very much. She was a role model for me and finally, I thought, I have found someone to be close to. I wanted very much to have some relatives, but this time was again a big disappointment, just like with my relatives before. After awhile and many unpleasant situations between Chajke and us, Max had decided that enough is enough, so again we were all alone and had to depend only on ourselves. That is how it had to be.
Max and me in 1953, in Lod, Israel. We've been married for 6 years by then and this is our "wedding picture".
One day I met a man I knew in Kibbutz in Holtzhausen and he gave me an address where Danka lived. She was married now and had a 3 year old daughter. We renewed our friendship but she lived far from Lod and I had to make special trips to see her. She could not yet come and see us as we did not have where to put her and I was then ashamed to show any of my friends how poor we were. Later on, in a different apartment, she used to come many times and I visited her often. I also took a correspondence course in German. I spoke now only Polish, German and Yiddish everywhere I needed and I refused to learn Hebrew. I was in a place that I did not want to be and this was my protest. I missed Poland terribly and even though I had some friends with whom I spoke Polish, this could not replace my longing for my homeland.
In the meantime Israeli's government started a program of austerity. Everything was very expensive, some foods and clothing were on coupons and inflation raged. Israel was a new country, there was a lot of work, but you had to have connections to get a good job. God only knows how Max tried to get a better job some place else as we could hardly make the money last to the end of the third week every month. Many times there was not enough, even money for food.
Once we met a man in our friends' house and he said that there is an opening for a welder and farm machinery mechanic in the Negev Desert, in a Kibbutz. Max went there and got the job. He had a place where to stay and food and was earning twice as much as before. He was driving the motorcycle to work and it was too far to come every day, so he was staying there all week and coming home only for weekends. We were not too happy about being apart and Max did not want to leave me alone at home, so I stayed with friends at night. At that time the Arabs underground killed both of our neighbors (the farmers). Luckily I was not home at that time.
We started to buy some furniture and life, at least in the material sense, started to look up when the Kibbutz started having some difficulties and they started to give Max "rubber" checks. I had to pay bills and until the checks cleared we were falling more and more behind. I even charged food and had to beg the grocer to wait till I get the paycheck, to pay him. This was going on for awhile. We still went to the movies but money was very tight. This and my loneliness got to me and in 1954 I started to get sick. I just felt worse and worse every day. The doctor, and later other doctors, told me that I am anemic. Nobody knew what it might be from. They sent me to a heart specialist, gave me iron and vitamin B shots, but I was getting weaker and weaker. I also had stomach cramps often but they said it is from the anemia. The last doctor suggested that maybe I should have a baby as we were married for 8 years now. We did not think that our situation is a good environment to raise a child, but the doctor and everybody else thought it is a very good idea.
I got pregnant and in the beginning I felt a little better and I was under doctor's care. At the end of the pregnancy I was again very weak and when the labor pains came I went to a private clinic hoping for a better care (and not to a government hospital) which was a big mistake. When we arrived at night, the nurse checked me and said that the heart beat of the baby is very weak. When I told her to call the doctor, she did, but he said that he will be there in the morning and there is nothing to worry about. My pains in the meantime subsided. In the morning the doctor checked me for a long time and then said that my baby is dead. I panicked. What can be done? He said that nothing can be done and the baby will be stillborn. All day my pains came and stopped and in the evening they gave me something to induce labor. After 11 hours of labor I had a stillborn baby boy. The day was January 11, 1956.
The number 11 is for me very unlucky one. Now I see it. First my parents were killed on the 11 and now this. I felt numb. I felt terrible for Max and he felt terrible for me. We cried and cried. Max even brought another doctor to see what went wrong, and the doctor screamed that in my condition I should not have babies. When we asked if something can be done against the first doctor he said no. They always stick together and we did not have the money or the sophistication to take him to court. After I returned home my health deteriorated completely; mentally and physically. I could not even concentrate on reading, I was depressed all the time and I was so weak that I could not walk across the room, do housework, or even dust. When I looked outside on a sunny day I saw darkness. This scared me very much.
At that time we moved to another house near town and another family lived in the same house. When I told my neighbor about the darkness she insisted that I go and see another doctor. Even though I had enough of doctors in the past 2 years, I went which shows how lucky I really am. This doctor just looked at me and before I could tell him the whole story he said that he wants me in the hospital right away. Max was at work but I left a message with the neighbors and I went back to the doctor and waited for Max. We did not have telephones then. At the hospital they started all kinds of tests for 2 weeks. Even a very painful bone marrow test. They gave me blood and told me that they will find out what was wrong with me. A patient told me that when they come for the same test twice, this means that they found out what was wrong. Sure enough that is how it went. They checked my bowl twice and they took barium and x-rays twice and the doctor told me that I have a bleeding wound on my colon and I am losing blood in my stool every time I go to the bathroom. They had to operate at once. Also they told me how lucky I was that I came now, because in a month or so, I would be dead.
This surgery was mostly successful now, but 30 years ago people died from it. All those stories did not make me feel any better. The doctor told me that I will have a scar through my abdomen, but I did not have any choice in this matter. I was only 26 years old and I will be scarred for life. But this was the least of my problems. They gave me many pints of blood and prepared me for the surgery. On April 8, 1956 I had my surgery. Thank God everything went fine. They took out 12 cm of my colon and I was "as good as new".
I could not eat for several days and had an IV but my veins were so damaged that I had to have an IV put through my vein in my left leg. They pushed the IV by force and they damaged my artery and since then my left leg is always swollen. Later in life, in 1973, I had a surgery on my varicose veins but the artery could not be repaired and my left leg is always swollen. It is never the same as my right leg. After the surgery I went to recuperate in Jerusalem for 2 weeks and Max's insurance paid for it. At that time, in the hospital, I learned Hebrew. I was happy just to be alive.
On my follow up visit to my doctor he asked me what was wrong and what is bothering me, because this sickness was mostly caused by anxiety and unhappiness. I told him my life story (he was a Jew from South Africa) and he told me that this must be a reaction from the experiences from the war. I asked him if I will be able to have children and he said yes, but wanted me to wait one year and see if everything is all right. Also I should be checked after 5 years to see if anything else comes back, but I never did .My life took a different directions and I got caught up in it.
In the meantime Max found another job in Nethanya, a pretty town near the Mediterranean Sea. It was a vacation spot and we have found a small house for us. A room and a half with bath and a small kitchen and a hall. The rent was high and we had to pay a certain amount of money to get in, but Max got some restitution money for his suffering in the concentration camps and we happily moved into the house.
Now Max worked nearby and we lived like a regular family. We still did not have enough money to make a living and Max worked 2 and 3 jobs sometimes, but it was a big improvement. If something tore or broke down we could not afford to replace it. When we thought that this is the way we must live for the rest of our lives, a "guardian angel" came, in the person of our friend Hilke.
IMMIGRATION TO AMERICA
The year was 1957. Hilke immigrated to the U.S. in 1948 and was working for Spidel which was big watch company. He lived with his parents in New York, where all the Lithuanian Jews were living, including Max's aunt Golda and his cousin Mejshke. Hilke was sent by his company to Europe and Israel on business. His arrival was a high point in our dreary life and we invited him to stay with us for a week. To our great surprise he agreed. Maybe it was not a fancy hotel but he liked my cooking, going swimming in the sea, and our company. One evening Hilke and Max started talking about life in the U.S. and our meager existence in Israel. Hilke said that Max wouldn't have to work 2-3 jobs in U.S. and we could live much, much better there. They were talking till 3:00 a.m. (when I woke up) and Hilke talked Max into writing to aunt Golda and ask her if she could help us. We kept in touch with her since we left Germany and she knew about our situation. She inquired and wrote us that we need a blood relative to make all the papers for us and the only one who could do it was Max's father. We did not hear from him since he left Germany, in 1950, and we did not know if he will be willing to do anything for us, but he was our only chance. Max wrote a letter, then a second one and a third. All the letters were unanswered. Finally came a reply from his wife, whom we met in Germany, that he is willing to help but he is in the hospital sick. We answered and there was a pause till they replied again that they are making our papers with a lawyer and they need our marriage certificate and other papers. We started to prepare all that was needed and our hopes were high when his father stopped writing again, for 3 months!
We were terrified as we went through medical tests, consulate visits and we were ready but nothing was coming from Max's father till he got sick again, and had to go the hospital again. He was 68 years old, with 3 small children and if something would happen to him, there would be nobody to take care of his wife and children. This saved us. God does work in mysterious ways.
At the end of 1957 I was pregnant again to my great joy but also apprehension. The doctor said that everything is all right but understandably I was scared. Luckily we were busy with preparation for our trip to the United States and also taking evening's English classes for 6 weeks. In that time we found buyers for our furniture and other things, but everything moved very slowly with the affidavit and other papers that we have lost hope that we will be really leaving. The time was going by very slowly from one letter to another. This was the longest two and a half years in my life!
On August 21, 1958 our son Eric was born! Everything went fine and after a 12 hours labor we had a healthy little boy. Life started to get better again for me. I had a baby to take care of and this was now a center of my existence. I was not alone all day long and somebody depended on me now. I was 28 years old and by now I really wanted to have a baby. The days were filled with work, walks in the park and play. Max was working now nearby, where he could come for lunch home, and ended his work at 4:00 p.m. which gave us enough time to be together.
This went on the whole 1959 and a part of 1960, when the affidavit finally arrived and we were called back to the consulate to confirm everything. We started to look for a travel agency and started selling our stuff. The tickets were so expensive that the money we had went for the tickets, passports, photos, and luggage. We did not have any choice and we had to ask Max's father for $50, so we could have few dollars pocket money, if we needed it.
On November 25, 1960 we left for the United States, on a luxurious Israeli ship called "Zion". Of course, we stayed in the third class, which was below. Men and women were in separate cabins. I think, six people to a cabin. Eric was with me. I had the upper bunk and he was below. He was 2 years and 3 months old and was a very good traveler. The food was delicious on the ship, with elegant waiters for each table, fancy surroundings and, oh, so much food! The first time we sat down to dinner and saw all the meat, vegetables and fruit, Max and I looked at each other and smiled. We did not see all those things for years! We could not afford most of them. From then on we knew somehow that our life has to be much better and less difficult than it has been. We have also seen a typical American dishes for the first time like: waffles and pancakes, and ketchup. It was great fun while it lasted and we were looking with hope to the future.
BEGINNING OF OUR LIFE IN AMERICA
On December 9, 1960 we arrived in New York. After customs and other formalities, Mejshke, Max's cousin, took us by car to their apartment in Long Island. He lived with his mother (aunt Golda) in a small apartment. They invited all our friends from near and far to meet with us. The winter that year was very cold in New York and they had a lot of snow. We came in light jackets from Israel, where is hot, and only Eric had a warm coat. Mejshke right away bought me a winter coat. When I went with him to the department store and saw all the clothes there, I was amazed. The coat was costing 21 dollars, which was even then not that much. Later we all went to buy groceries with aunt Golda and the packed shelves and the variety astounded us. This astounded me more than the skyscrapers or even Broadway, which seemed to be not as wide as I always imagined. Maybe because there was so much snow all around. We were impressed with life in the U.S. and happy to be here.
We visited our friends and everybody wanted us to stay in New York. We were not too keen about this idea. New York was much too crowded, loud and dirty. Anyway Max's father sent us an invitation and we were obliged to go to Council Bluffs and see him. We stayed in New York 2 weeks and right before Christmas we left by train for Iowa. We were undertaking a big step as we knew only a few words of English and the trip was taking us through half of the United States. I remember ordering coffee with milk and the porter kept saying that they had only cream and I kept saying: "no cream, milk". Cream to me was something you put on your face... But all in all it was a pleasant trip. Everybody kept talking to Eric and he, of course, could not understand anything, and kept saying "no" to everything.
After 36 hours we arrived in the evening in Council Bluffs. We did not know what to expect. Max's father was waiting in the railroad station for us, with a friend and a car. He seemed to be very happy to see his son again and his new grandson. He was even crying! So far, so good. The town was different than it is now. Even before Christmas, there were very few street lights on Broadway and it looked small and depressing. Not because we just came from New York, but even Nethanya was brighter and bigger town than this. We were a little disappointed. But we were glad to be in a permanent place, anywhere, just some place we can call our own and start our lives anew.
When we arrived at our destination the house where Max's father lived was dark and only in the kitchen was some light. His wife and three small children were all waiting for us. After dinner Max's father finally showed us to our room and in a gracious mood he told Max that the house from now on is his, as they have bought another house and they will be moving there January first. Max told him that, of course, we will pay him slowly, whatever the house is worth, which he did not want to hear about. The house was old, neglected, but it was a house and we did not have to worry in the meantime where to live. Or so we thought...
In the next few days they showed us the town, their new place and they told us to buy left over food in the grocery store, and second hand clothes, from the rummage sale. When we returned back home I was crushed and started to cry. For this we came here? We had better in Israel, where we did not have to eat stale food and wear second hand clothes! Max took me aside and told me that we don't have to do any of those things and he is going tomorrow to work so we will not be dependent anymore.
At first he worked at Katelman's Foundry, because Katelman sent us the work affidavit, but soon he saw that he has to work as a laborer and not in his profession as he was hired, so he quit that job. The old man was scared that Max will not find another job and he will have to support us, as he promised in the affidavit. But in a few days Max found another job. The pay was $1.50 an hour. It was a start. After 2 weeks Max's father moved out and we were left alone, or so we thought. At the end of the first month the old man came and said that we have to pay him rent - $50.- a month. We lived there a month and were in the country 6 weeks! He wanted from the first day we lived there alone. What happened to "the house is yours"? We paid for 3 months, when he came and wanted us to pay also property tax and insurance, to which Max told him that when he will transfer the house on Max's name we will pay it all, in the meantime we are only renting the house and we will not pay for tax and insurance, as this is the landlords duty. From then on nothing between Max and his father was the same and the relationship between them got worse and worse until finally it stopped completely.
In March 1961 Max had a bad accident at work and he cut his hand badly. This was all we needed! But God was with us and the hand healed pretty fast and he went back to work. At that time we met our first and only real good friends, the Tituses. They introduced us to the American way of life (which is so very different from the European way of life!) and gave us many valuable lessons about customs with which we must live here. Even now I remember what Mr. Titus told us and we wonder how right he was and how smart he was about many things.
After the relationship between Max and his father deteriorated to the point of no return, we started looking to buy a house. This decision was not easy as we needed everything, from silverware, to a bed and table with chairs. We came only with 2 suitcases to the United States and now, for the third time in our married life, we had to start all over, completely on our own, without anybody's help. We knew it would not be easy. We bought a car, a 1953 Chevrolet for $300 and we had to pay it before we could think about borrowing more money for the house.
Max worked long hours so we could save money. Sometimes till 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. I was all alone with a small child all day, without the English language or any friends. This was not easy either for Max, nor for me. The money was tight, most of it was put away for the house. I was watching TV and learning English by just listening to people talk on TV. Max was talking to people at work and Eric was playing with children. He was the first to know the language, after 2 months.
By 1962 we were talking about having another child. Eric was 4 years old and I was 32, so it was time to think about it if we wanted another child and we did. In June 1962, I found out that I am pregnant to my great joy. In July aunt Golda came for a visit. She stayed through Eric's 4th birthday and we were going with her looking for a house. We could not find anything till the end of September, when we found a nice house, a small one on 8th Street. In October we moved in.
Again reparation money from Germany helped; this time I got a little money which with our savings was enough for a down payment. We did not have any furniture in the living room, but we bought a used TV and some other furniture from the people who sold us the house. Also we bought a refrigerator, and a bed for my room. We had to wait with other things for the new baby. This time I had a good doctor and to our great joy on March 2, 1963 we had a baby daughter. We named her Doris. Everybody, even the doctor, was saying that I will have another son, but God was kind and He knew that we wanted a girl and he granted us our wish. Only Eric said from the beginning that he will have a sister, but nobody else thought so. My labor lasted 13 hours this time but everything went smoothly and now I had 2 wonderful children, a good and loving husband and a successful life in the United Stated.
After a long struggle my life was complete. If somebody would offer me my youth again but I would have to go through all me experiences again (the good and the bad) I would, without any hesitation, have to refuse the offer.
My life was not easy, but I survived, never to be ashamed of anything I did and I came out on top.
Finally the end of our journey... Peace at last - in Council Bluffs, Iowa, U.S.A.
Eric 5 years old and Doris 7˝ months
June Friedman: „POD OPIEKĄ OPATRZNOŚCI”
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June Friedman: Translation of Halina Birenbaum's Poems Book: Sounds of a Guilty Silence
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Last updated June 6th, 2006