My father died when I was an infant. When the Germans took my family into the Berezno Ghetto, my mother, age of 44, was killed right away. My mother was very sick; the Germans saw that she wouldn’t be able to help them, so they shot her. My sisters and I were 17, 15, and 13 now on our own. In the ghetto, I worked in the coal mine near Berezno.
Ukrainian soldiers took us to work. If we were weak and couldn’t work, we were shot. In 1942, came “the slaughter.” They took 3200 of us from the ghetto. On a Wednesday and Thursday, three large graves were dug. They took us to the police station; they made us open our mouths and used pliers to pull out gold teeth.
I was rounded up with the others to be shot at the outskirts of the town. I saw with my own eyes, babies ripped in half by their legs and thrown into the grave. At the urging of a Ukrainian soldier who told me to run, I escaped to the nearby forest. I got up to run and they started shooting at us. The bullets missed me, my friends got hit.
I fled to a farm, and slept with the horses, cows, pigs in the barn. I went back to the forest. I ate wild mushrooms and spinach-like plants. I thought I was the only Jewish girl left alive in the world. I endured the cold and rain; I was hungry, and barefoot. I could take no more and decided to give up.
There was a road and I decided I would go down it and when someone would find me I would say I was a Jewish girl, kill me, how long could I live like this? For finding a Jew, one would get a pint of salt. Two boys approached. I got scared and changed my mind. The first question I was asked was, are you a Jew? I said no, I said my step-mother was beating me up and my father is an alcoholic so I’m running away. I want to be a maid; all I want for wages is just food. They asked me to say a prayer in Ukrainian to prove I wasn’t Jewish. When I was in school, our school had mixed classes of Ukrainian, Polish, and Jewish kids. I don’t know why, but I was interested in hearing all of the prayers in the different religions in the different languages. So I knew Ukrainian prayers. I started reciting in Ukrainian, “Our Father who is in Heaven… So they said, she’s not Jewish, she’s Ukrainian, and they let me go.
I came to a farmhouse and said the same words; I ran away from my parents, I’m looking only for food. The farmer said I can use someone like you, but I need to see your documents, I don’t want the Germans to burn my house, so he didn’t take me. I went house to house. I took a pencil and piece of paper from a notebook at one of the houses. With my own hand, I made up my own papers. I made up gentile name, Hannah Nasathuk and wrote the name of the mayor to make it look official. I went to a farmer but he said it looked fishy, it didn’t have a stamp. I said there’s war, the mayor was very busy and said the heck with you, and I don’t have time for a stamp. I had an answer for every question; it was like there was an angel standing behind my back telling me what to say. The farmer said ok, stay. I worked on the farm and cleaned the house.
It was Christmas time, and they went to church. I started to clean the house, made it spotless, cement floor. When he came back from church, he seemed different. He went to the police; I have a Jew in my house. At midnight two police came for me. We were walking, one police said to the other, let’s kill her now and go home to sleep. I heard a gun click and I screamed, wait a second, don’t kill me, and he put his gun down. You’re not killing a Jewish girl, you’re a killing your own flesh and blood, you will have nightmares because you’re killing your own people. And they let me go. It was a miracle, I look my kids and my grandchildren and say I’m alive, is that me? Am I a bubby? (Yiddish for grandmother)