As a small child, I remember, before the Nazi’s occupied our town, there were pogroms. At night we had to close our doors, have no lights on in our home, and the windows closed. The Ukrainians and the Poles were roaming the streets looking for us, because we were Jewish. If they found anybody that was Jewish in the streets, they would beat them up really bad, many were killed. These murderers were never punished for their crimes.
Poland was invaded by the Nazis in 1939. Poland was not prepared to challenge their monster neighbors. We had no guns or rifles. We lived in constant fear for our lives. Poland surrendered. Hitler’s mass murderers invaded Poland.
When they invaded our town, Rokitno, we had to work in the steel mills and glass factories. We had to get up early every morning. From there, they would bring us to the market, not far from the railroad tracks, and there we saw all the Nazi soldiers standing there. They made us wear yellow bands with the Jewish star on our arms. While we were standing in the market place they told us not to talk, and separated the women from the men. Then they would say “all the girls go to your fathers and all the boys go to your mothers”. They would repeat that several times and then change and say “all the girls go to your mothers and the boys go to your fathers.” Then they would send us home, where we had no food to sustain us. They mixed us up, repeatedly, but this time, they did this to us for a very long time and were really playing with our minds.
The last time they did this, they started shooting at us, and they had soldiers all around, so we couldn’t escape except for one section. This section led to the forest. The Nazis didn’t figure we would run toward the forest because there was a wooden fence there. When my mother started running, my sister and I were with her. My brother was with my father. My mother got to the fence, and other people had tried to break through the fence, but they couldn’t do it. But, my mother, who was only 5 feet tall and young, broke the fence open. If it wasn’t for my mother, I wouldn’t be here today. About 90% of the people that were in the market place, ended up in the boxcars, that took them to different concentration camps, only later to be killed.
We ran all day, because we thought the Nazis were chasing us. When night fell, we had nothing with us, only what we were wearing, a shirt, pants, torn shoes. We used leaves to cover ourselves at night. We lay down, and we were thinking what happened to my father and my brother. We really wanted to know, because my father also knew farmers because they used to buy clothes from my father, and a lot of times, they would exchange food for clothes. He would give the farmers clothes, and they gave us food, and my father knew where the farmers lived. We were so tired, we fell asleep.
We got up the next day, very early. My mother said we couldn’t stay here. We were cold and hungry and there was a bad fog, we couldn’t see anything. It was like walking in the dark with no light. We walked forever, and finally, we came to an open field, and the fog was as thick as soup. As we got closer towards the field, we saw stacks of hay, the size of mountains. We kept walking and the closer we got to the stacks of hay, we heard people talking. In a nice voice, my mother said “Amchu”, which is a Jewish word meaning “Are you Jewish?” Inside the haystack, they answered “Yuh, Amchu”, which means, “Yes, we are Jewish.” As soon as my mother heard the word, she yelled out “Yussel!”, (that was my father’s Jewish name), and he answered “Yuh!”. We went into the haystack and started hugging, kissing and crying. Who ever thought we would be able to find my father and my brother in the forest? And guess what, my father had raw potatoes with him. We were so hungry, we ate the potatoes quickly.
Then my father started to tell us the story, he went to a farmer he knew, and they gave him the potatoes. He warned him to get out, as the Nazis, the Ukrainians, and the Poles would kill us for a pint of salt if they could catch us. The farmer told my father not to come back to the house at all. He could go to
the fields and take food, but only at night, when it was dark and no one was around. Now we were all together, and we felt better that we were with my father and brother. We started walking again, deeper into the forest. We had some potatoes with us, but couldn’t start a fire, as we had no matches.
There were a lot of mushrooms in the forest and we could eat them but we had to find the good ones as some were poisonous. That went on for quite awhile. Months went by and we only had food that my father could steal from the farmers at night. We finally decided to make a tent out of wood and leaves, to sleep in there, and have a little bit of protection from the rain. Then my sister got sick from drinking the dirty water. We all drank it and had diphtheria, but my sister was worse than the rest of us. I don’t know what happened, but I got into an argument with my parents and I ran away. I climbed the highest tree, and I could hear my parents calling me, but I wouldn’t answer them. While that was happening, a bunch of birds flew close to me, over my head, and started chirping. I knew there was something wrong, so I started coming down from the tree and all of a sudden I heard gunshots. I never climbed down a tree so fast in my life, and I ran towards the tent that we made. My mother, father and brother were already outside, yelling, “Come on, come on, we have to run.” My sister was so sick, she couldn’t run with us. We couldn’t go back or we would have risked being killed. We were running and running and running, and I separated from my mother, dad and brother. The next morning, I was by myself and didn’t know where my family was. I started going back to the camp and I was the first one to find my sister. She had been shot in the eyes and killed. I was so petrified; I didn’t know what to do. I was crying all the time. I didn’t know if my parents and brother were still alive either. I was so hungry and had nothing to eat. I couldn’t find anything, except a few leaves to eat. I started walking towards where the shots came from a few days before and I got real close. There was nothing but dead bodies. And one of the families I found were our next door neighbors, the Eisenbergs. I looked and started crying.
I returned to our tent, and a few hours later, my dad and my mother and my brother came back. They thought I was dead. My brother was very, very sick, and he died a few weeks later from diphtheria. We buried my sister, and later, we buried my brother.
Now came the winters, they were so harsh. We were in the forest, for three years. We heard that the war was over, and we started to return to our town. We got to our house and they had taken out the windows, the floor and roof. We only had four walls. Before we left, we had to bury the Torahs (Hebrew Bible) as we could not take them with us. After we buried the Torahs, we left on a train to go to Germany, and had hoped our final destination would have been Palestine.
We were traveling on this train for three or four days and ended up in Vienna, Austria. From Vienna, we were sent to a DP (Displaced Persons) camp in Leipheim, Germany which was an air force base. They housed us in barracks. We were in one room, about 10 by 10, with 6 people. We partitioned off the cots with sheets, to separate the beds. There were no toilets. We had to use outhouses and there were no kitchens. We were in this camp for over 2 years. My aunt and uncle in Detroit found us via a captain in the U.S. Army, Sam Glossman.
In 1947, we landed at New York’s Ellis Island at night. The only thing, besides lights, was the Statue of Liberty. I couldn’t wait to get off the ship. We were yelling “we’re here, we’re here”. I ran over to see people on the other side of the fence, and saw my Dad’s brother, Hershel, with Tcho, my Mom’s sister. We were crying, as this was a very emotional day for us. We stayed with my aunt’s friend in New York overnight,
and they took us to buy clothes in the city the following day. We then left for Detroit by train. We arrived in Detroit about 2 days later. We stayed with Tcho and Uncle Oscar at 3128 Fenkell in Detroit. I learned English at Hutchins Elementary School in Detroit. I then went to Yeshiva Beth Yehuda, a religious school and then to Durfee elementary school. I graduated from Central High School in 1954.