Rae Nachbar

"If you see evil, you should not pretend it is not happening. Silence is acquiescence."

Name at birth
Rivka Wygoda
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Pultusk until I was seven years old
Name of father, occupation
Avraham Gershon Wygoda, Candy maker
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Devorah Shrut Wygoda, Homemaker and helped make candy
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents and five children: Leo, Bronia (Bruria), Chana (Ann) , Mark, and Rivka
How many in entire extended family?
About thirty
Who survived the Holocaust?
Parents and children all survived and four cousins on my mother’s side. One year after liberation, my parents were murdered by a band of Poles.
My father was Avrum Gershon Wygoda.  He was a candy maker of mostly hard candy.  We also had a store for the retail and wholesale trade.  My father had one brother and a sister.  Only the brother, his wife, son and his mother survived.  His father and sister died in Russia.
My mother, Dvorah Shrut Wygoda had two brothers in Detroit.  Her entire family of more than twenty people was murdered in the Holocaust.  My mother had little formal education, but she had great energy and much common sense.  She was a great housekeeper and could do almost anything.  She was the glue that kept the family together.
I did not have much of a childhood.  But in comparison to the children who were under German occupation, I had it pretty good.  Our family was intact; this was a great advantage for our survival.
I was the youngest of five children.  We were not rich, neither were we poor.  Our apartment had no indoor plumbing.  We lived a modest, respectable life.  I did not know what I was missing.  I encountered indoor plumbing for the first time in Lodz, after we returned to Poland from the Soviet Union.
I was like a Gypsy.  
I was born in Pultusk, Poland.  I lived there until the Germans expelled all of the Jews from our town on September 26, 1939.  They kept driving us eastward, on foot, until we came to the River Bug.  The river separated the areas of Poland occupied by Germany and the Soviet Union.  We went on to Bialystok, about 90 miles from Pultusk.  We must have gotten there in October, 1939.
My father befriended a local man who helped us find an apartment.  He helped us find medical care for my brother Leo.  Leo had an infected leg caused by the long trek across Poland.  This man also provided my father with some shoe leather which we later sold at a profit on the black market.  My sisters Ann and Bronia crocheted hats and sold them in the market place.  In addition we discovered that by standing in long lines in government stores, we, as a family of seven, could purchase large quantities of scarce goods and sell them at a profit.  This was officially illegal but it was widely practiced and made it possible for us to exist.
Less than a year later, the Russians arrested us in the middle of the night.  They loaded us onto trucks and transported us in freight trains.  We eventually ended up in an internment camp in the middle of a forest.  It was a desolate, G-d-forsaken place, 20 kilometers from Oshta and about 250 miles northeast of Leningrad in the Vologda region.
The Russians had a huge refugee problem.  In order to solve it, they asked the refugees to register to go to Russia or return home—to the Germans.  My parents chose to register to go to Vilna which at the time was an open city.  There was talk that from there it was possible to go to Palestine.  The Russians understood our strategy, hence the arrest. 
My family of seven was housed in a room in a large barrack.  Everybody except for me went to work in the forest, cutting down trees with hand saws.  For me and another young girl they brought in a Russian teacher.
We had adequate food, but it was totally devoid of fruits and vegetables.  We walked to the nearby villages where we bartered some articles of clothing for potatoes or onions or cheese.  These peasants were terribly poor themselves.
About a year later, in June 1941, Germany attacked Russia.  Russia realigned itself, and Poland and the Western Powers became allies rather than adversaries.  As a result the Polish refugees were allowed to leave their penal colonies.  Our family obtained permission to move away from the cold and more importantly from the approaching battlefront, to a town called Mirzachul, about five hours by train from Tashkent in Uzbekistan.
For a while we were able to eke out a meager living by selling textiles on the black market.  My father and my brother Leo worked in a warehouse and could not even have enough food for themselves.  In desperation, we moved to a collective farm, the Kolkhoz Kaganovich, believing their propaganda that we would be paid with food.  
In fact we were starving.  Desperate for food, we resorted to stealing some vegetables and wheat sheaves from the fields.  Most of us came down with malaria.  Finally, we gave up and walked the 15 kilometers back to Mirzachul, carrying our few possessions.
We secured shelter by fixing the mud and straw roof of the mud hut that we rented.  Not long afterwards, Leo and I came down with pneumonia for which we had no treatment.  The rest of the family, my father, Bronia, Ann and Mark had typhus and were taken by horse and buggy to the so-called hospital.  Incredibly, my mother did not contact the disease in spite of our very unsanitary living conditions.  We all recovered eventually.
Our economic condition greatly improved when my father and Leo figured out how to make candy without the ingredients they were used to.  Then Leo secured permission to manufacture and legally sell candy by the piece on the marketplace.  Our economic situation greatly improved.  We even had surplus money to purchase watches and clothing.  The hunger days were behind us.
We were not aware of the full tragedy of what was going on in the Holocaust.  Under the Soviets, you only knew what the government wanted you to know.  Public radio and newspapers were totally controlled by the government.  We had no access to any other sources.
The war ended on May 8, 1945.  We could not wait to leave the Soviet Union.  We secured, at a price, illegal documents to travel to liberated Poland.  We did not trust that the Russians would really let us leave.  We managed to return to Poland and went to Lodz where most of the Jews were settling.
The route to Palestine required first an escape from Poland, which was illegal itself, then passage through Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany, and then another illegal passage to Palestine.  The British were not allowing many Jews to enter legally.  Israel did not exist yet.
The Bricha, a group of courageous young Jews, most of them Palestinian veterans of the Jewish Brigade in the British war effort, provided the leadership of guiding the escaping remnant of Jews.  They organized us in kibbutzim.  They taught us Israeli songs and dances.  They were the ones who bribed the border guards, arranged for trucks to take the Jews to the border where they assumed it would be safe to cross.
Our family was moved to Bielsk.  They took first Mark and Bronia along with other young people who crossed successfully the rugged Carpathian Mountains. 
Five of us remained.  I came down with a fever and it would not be safe for me to undertake this strenuous journey.  The leadership promised that as soon as I was better they would arrange for me and Ann to join the rest of the family.  Ann was going to stay with me; my mother finally agreed to leave. 
On May 2, 1946, my parents and Leo along with twenty-two others boarded onto two trucks.  Under cover of darkness, they headed toward the Czech border.  At around midnight, a man in a Polish army uniform stopped the trucks near the Polish town of Kroscienko and ordered the twenty-five Jews out of the trucks.  
With floodlights trained on the passengers, machine gun fire opened up on them.  My parents along with most of the others were murdered in the early hours of May 3, 1946.  Miraculously, Leo survived.  This took place almost a year after the war had ended.
Ann and I were notified and came too late to Krakow to attend the funeral.  We joined Leo and together we departed back to Lodz to await an opportunity to leave Poland.  We returned to the Gordonia kibbutz.  
After some time we crossed the border successfully.  We were sent to a Displaced Persons’ (DP) camp near Ulm in Bavaria.  Eventually we were reunited with Mark and Bronia.  Bronia met her future husband, Eliahu Melman in the kibbutz.  In 1947, they married and went to Palestine.  The rest of us decided to go to the United States.
Mark and I moved to Feldafing, near Munich where there was a school for people our age.  I began to study Hebrew for the first time in my life.  The other subjects were more neglected in this school.  
I was approached by the chief teacher, Engineer Szelowicki, who informed me that in Munich there was a review course of the gymnasium (high school) curriculum.  This was for survivors who graduated before the war and who must have forgotten much.  The Germans were now demanding that new college applicants pass a test.  This would be impossible for them without a serious review.
My future husband, Joachim Nachbar, had just finished his engineering studies in 1947.  He decided to enlist the other students to offer their knowledge to tutor these applicants.  He was lecturing in mathematics.  Medical students were lectured in Latin and biology, others in chemistry, physics, and literature.  They were moving at a very fast clip.  
Of course this was not aimed at me.  I was too young to claim high school matriculation before the war.  My teacher knew that, but he felt that I could profit from this experience.  I did as he suggested and I took the train to Munich every morning and returned every evening.  I never had a chance to find out how well I kept up.  
In March, 1948, I was informed that my chance to go to Canada arrived and within days, a chance, also to go to the United States, where we had relatives.  I told Joachim Nachbar that I was dropping out.  Little did I know that a very short time later he, too, was informed that he could go to the United States.  
He arrived to the United States on May 22, 1948; I arrived on June 13, 1948.  In February, 1949, I ran into him at the end of a Marlene Dietrich movie at the Detroit Art Institute while on a date.  We were married two years later. 
In 1949, after we arrived in the United States, I had my first birthday party, my first birthday cake, when my Aunt Lottie arranged for that.  Before the war, this was not the practice in my family.  Nor did I ever receive any presents until I came to this country.  Quite seriously, I say that my life really began in 1948 in America.
Where were you in hiding?
Germans took Jews from Poltusk to Russian occupied Poland
Where were you in the Former Soviet Union?
We were in an internment camp 20 kilometers from the nearest town –Oshta, 250 miles northeast of Leningrad in the Vologda region.
What DP Camp were you after the war?
Hindeburg Kasserne near Ulm.
Where did you go after being liberated?
We went to Mirzachul, near Tashkent in Uzbekistan. After the war, we returned to Poland.
When did you come to the United States?
On June 13, 1948
Where did you settle?
Detroit, Michigan
How is it that you came to Michigan?
I had relatives here
Occupation after the war
Math teacher, High School Guidance Counselor
When and where were you married?
February 3, 1951 in Detroit, Michigan
Joachim Nachbar, Mechanical Engineer
Ann Dorothy is named after her two grandmothers. Ann is an attorney who worked for the government in Washington, DC. She now teaches history at a Jewish Day School in Virginia. She and her husband, David Frenkel, have three children. James George is named after both grandfathers. Jim practices ophthalmology in New Jersey. He and wife, Renee Heyman, have three children.
Daniel, Sam and Rachel Frenkel; Leslie, Danielle and Jordan Nachbar
What do you think helped you to survive?
A lot of luck in being driven out of our town and into Russian-occupied Poland. We were a close, dedicated family and that was helpful. Either I blocked it out or we were angels, but I don’t remember any infighting.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
If you see evil, you should not pretend it is not happening. Silence is acquiescence.
Charles Silow
Interview date:
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