The war started in our area on June 21, 1941. German planes were bombing the railroad station in Rovno about ten miles away. Then the German army came about a week later. The first line of the army did not bother us. The native Ukrainians organized the new city administration in Gruscwice and administered the new rules over the Jews.
One day they rounded up all the Jewish men eighteen and older in KGB style, between 12 and 3 AM, any action took place at night. They threw them into a cellar after a severe beating. In the morning they prepared two wagons to take the Jews to the ghetto in Rovno. Two of the women contacted the elders of the village and a compromise was reached, the Jews will not be shipped to the ghetto because the two women told us that the ghetto was a death place. The deal was that the Jews would work the farms for free and the Ukrainians could keep the money for themselves. We did all of the farm work for one and a half years, all the able body Jewish men.
Then we found out that a date was set for the liquidation of the Jews. Upon hearing this information, we went into hiding. We did not talk to each other about where we would go for fear of being tortured and revealing others.
Each family did their own thing. My father took my younger brother with him, Robert, who was 6 years old, to a Ukrainian friend. My mother went to a Czech family in Dombruwka. I had a free choice about where to go. I went to Ukrainian friends that I trusted.
After two weeks, I ran out of hiding places, I was told to leave. I went to our Ukrainian contact who knew where my father was located. I was 11 years old at the time. You could only travel during the night so as not to attract attention.
I found my father and brother who were hiding together. They were staying without permission in a storage barn in the middle of a field. After two weeks, my Uncle Chaim came and a little later, my mother came. I didn’t hear what they were discussing. Apparently my Uncle Chaim already sacrificed his two kids, he thought to have my father and he hide together and my brother and I to hide somewhere else together. My mother was enraged with my uncle.
In winter, 1941, on Christmas day, the man who owned the farm, Vasily, found us as he came into the barn to get some of the crops. He closed the barn and said not to worry, that our secret was safe. His son who had been a POW (prisoner of war) in the Polish army was with him. We learned from him that the German army had been defeated at Stalingrad, Tobruk, and Al Alamein. That night, however, we abandoned that barn, as my parents were afraid of Vasily. Vasily had a big mouth and was politically active as a pro-German but he was nice to us. My father prepared for us to go to another place, a big farm estate in our village.
A man, Mr. Stach, who suffered from asthma, was in charge of a herd of about 100 pigs. They had their own stable; we stayed up in the attic of the pigsty. Uncle Chaim left after two weeks; we, my father, mother, Tante Chayka, my brother, and me, were there for seven months.
He fed the pigs boiled potatoes and dry clover. He would dismiss the help toward the end and say that he would finish feeding the pigs. He brought a pail of potatoes for the pigs and another pail for us. We stayed in that attic with straw for six, seven months. I couldn’t stand up because the roof was very low, but we had potatoes and water.
It is very difficult to hide five people in a small area the size of a garage. We had no water; there was no toilet, no bathing facilities. We didn’t bathe for 650 days!
The Ukrainians were going to burn down the farm. We then went to a farm owned by a Czech family. There were two houses, one was unfinished and had a lot of straw. Ivan, a friend of ours, found us accidentally. The five of us were always together. We said we come there by accident. Ivan was known to be a big gossip in the village but he never told anyone about us. We stayed there till evening and then left. We were afraid he would tell. He was the village clown, but he was nice.
Our cousin Manya was at the killing pit with her mother, grandmother and a baby cousin. They were going to be shot. Ivan was hiding in the bushes watching the massacre. Manya was naked and the man who was doing the shooting told Manya to run. Ivan was observing all of this. Ivan gave her his winter coat and told her to run to his house. She survived and at the time of this writing lives in Israel.
Our parents found a new hiding place in the Czech village, Dombruwka. There was a Mr. Zummer who let us stay in his pigeon cove. My father had business dealings with Mr. Zummer. There were pigs below us. It was June, 1943 and it was hot as hell. His wife used to bring us a pail of vegetable soup, once a day, which was it. We were six weeks there. We left for another place as my father found out that had Mr. Zummer had betrayed the Chayit family and they had all been murdered.
We then went to the Czech village, Martinuwka. We hid in a stack of straw. It was a very cold and drafty place. We were there two months, during the winter of 1942-1943. At night we used to go to the people in the village that we trusted and ask for food.
A dog found us in the haystack. A Ukrainian man came. We were ready to fight him. He got a pitchfork, we lined up with clubs. It was one against three. He ran away and then we ran away and we found a new place.
There was not enough snow cover in the fields. I was in charge of helping Tante Chayka, who was a big woman. Every time she fell, she fell on top of me.
We ended up four houses away from our own house. Mr. Szczasny, our neighbor, made a shelter for us under the floor of the pigsty. The Czechs were quality farmers, their pigs didn’t wallow. They had wooden floors, it was clean. It was a seven by seven by four feet deep, the room under the pig floor that housed us, two kids and three adults. He had to move about 200 cubic feet of dirt to create the space. What did he do with the dirt? The house had an angle to the barn where the pigs were, the dirt went into the manure pile.
We were there for seven months. We were in solitary confinement, we had no other choice. We didn’t take any chances that would risk our being caught.
We could hear artillery fire getting closer to us. On February 4, 1944, the Russians came. At first I felt no feeling; it took a while as I realized that we will have food and water. We got out of our hole. We then went to our own house.
Our house was full of Russian soldiers. A Ukrainian family had moved in. She said you can’t come in here, it’s my house. My father was a diplomat and said you can stay here. The soldiers said that we should go to Rovno and that once the Army leaves, it wouldn’t be safe for us. Rovno would be a safer place for us.
We walked to the highway and hitchhiked to Rovno. 75 percent of the city had been Jewish. When we got there, we saw the houses all smashed up. People had taken the doors and windows and used it for firewood. There were no Jews left in their houses. We eventually found a house that was a better shelter.
My father had a sister in Detroit who he didn’t dare write. America was considered to be a mortal enemy of Russia. We received a letter from America from my father’s sister. It was a registered letter with a five dollar bill inside. My parents didn’t answer right away. We wound up going to the American zone of occupied Germany. Bluma Frumin, my father’s sister in Detroit arranged for us to come to the United States.
We came to Detroit in June, 1947. Later, the rest of the family was reunited.
I was 16 ½ years old; my brother Robert was five years younger. I went to Northern High School. Going to school helped “Americanize” us. My father became a furniture salesman working at a store on Michigan Avenue in Detroit. The majority of his customers were immigrant Polish and Ukrainian people from Europe.
I later went to college. I attended Wayne State University where I learned to be a pharmacist. I was a pharmacist at Farmer Jack supermarkets.