Twenty-six days after the war began; the Germans rounded up all the Jews in our town, and forced us all into a city park in the center of our town. We were refugees and everything of value was taken from us before we were forced to leave the town. We marched on foot into Bialystok, in the Russian ruled portion of Poland. Later, we were all arrested and put in cattle cars to Russia.
Next we were placed on boats, and we were taken to an area about 200 miles east of Leningrad. We lived there, in a forested area, and worked as lumberjacks for the next fourteen months.
In 1941, when the Germans attacked Russia, they made an agreement with the Polish government-in-exile to free all of the Polish Refugees. We ended up in Uzbekistan in a town called Mirzatsul, where we survived the war. In the beginning, we earned money by smuggling cloth to sell on the black market. This was too dangerous, in part because we had to travel by train, which was forbidden to us.
Next we tried farming on a communal farm, but after working for a full season, there was no pay. For a time, we stole what we could, just to survive, until we found a way to move back to the town.
Next, since we had a history in candy making, but could not find the usual ingredients, we decided to try to make our living by selling candy. First, we sold black market candy from jars in the marketplace. This was dangerous, too, and my sisters worked as lookouts when we were selling it. Eventually, we returned to our original vocation as candy makers, and actually made a fairly good living.
The money that we earned was needed to buy our way back to Poland. We had to buy passports, and papers, and bribe officials in order to get out of Uzbekistan. It was very complicated, and even with the bribes, we were arrested during our attempt to leave. We had to buy our way out of prison, and make our way to Poland. When we finally got there in 1946, we found out that almost all of the Jews were dead. Than we realized that, as bad as we thought our situation was, it was nothing compared to the experiences of those who had been in the camps.
We decided to go to Palestine, and an Israeli group working out of Cracow was helping Jews to escape. They divided our family into three groups to make it safer, and we proceeded to make our way out of Poland by crossing the Carpathian Mountains into Czechoslovakia. From there we went to into Vienna and on to Germany. My sister and I crossed first and waited for the rest of the family.
After a while, when my mother and father and brother did not arrive, we had to go to Vienna. We waited there for two weeks, but then we had to go into Germany. We were in a Displaced Persons’ (DP) camp there. There when I was reading a Jewish newspaper and I saw an article about a group of Jews in Poland that had been shot down by members of the Nationalist party in Poland. This is how I found out that my father and mother had died in that attack. Their bodies were buried in a mass grave in the cemetery in Cracow.
(Pictured: monument marking the mass grave where 13 survivors were murdered after the Holocaust by Polish antisemites on May 2, 1946. Mark’s parents and Jerry Flam’s brother are buried there).
Once we realized that we could not get to Palestine legally, we decided to use our visas to go to the United States. We got there in 1948, just about the time when the state of Israel was founded.