German Soldiers entered Chmielnik in 1939 when I was 9 years old. They quickly enforced strict rules on Jews, including that children could not go to school; we were not allowed to conduct business, we had to wear a Star of David, and follow a curfew not to leave our homes from 5 PM to 8 AM. This led to a situation of extreme lack of food for our family. I had fair hair and didn’t “look Jewish” so I was often sent to buy goods for the family. This was a confusing time for me. At such a young age, age 9, I did not understand most of what was going on, I remember that nothing was ever really explained to me.
When I was 10 years old, my parents sent me to live on a farm with a non-Jewish family. Living with strangers and pretending to not be Jewish was difficult. I would go home on Fridays to see my family. I remember that my mother explained to me that she needed me to stay on the farm because then there would be more food for the rest of the family. This made me feel extremely guilty. I remember throwing up during my walk back to the farm because I was so upset. Eventually, I came home on a Friday and refused to return to the farm.
In addition to the strict rules, there were many violent actions taken against the Jews living in Chmielnik. While walking home from synagogue, German Nazis grabbed my father, beat him, and cut off his beard. This was extremely upsetting to both my father and our family. This hurt my family very much; he was never quite the same again.
In September of 1942, the Germans ordered all Jews, 16-40 years of age, to report to town for work assignments. At this time Nathan was 22, Bela 21, and Sonja 19. However Bela stayed home due to sores that she had on her arms and hands.
After Nathan and Bela left, my mother sent Helen to give a package of food to Nathan. When she did, the Germans forced her onto a truck despite her age. Luckily, this was the same truck that Sonja was on. While my siblings were being deported, I snuck out of the house to watch. German soldiers saw me and chased me with their dogs when I ran. When they caught me, they flogged me with a whip, tearing my clothes and cutting my back, and then told me to go home. I then remember going home and pretending to be asleep while my parents looked at the wounds on my back.
The rest of my family was later forced into a smaller ghetto within Chmielnik. One afternoon, while I had left the ghetto to get bread, Nazis came and separated all of the people in the ghetto into two groups. Bela was put in one group and Sara, Kalman, Rachel and Fishel were put into the other; their group was then put on wagons.
When I returned to the ghetto I saw my parents on a wagon and tried to get on, telling the Germans that my parents were aboard. However, the Germans didn’t believe me. I remember them telling me I wasn’t Jewish and to leave. A Polish acquaintance saw me and let me come to their home until that night when I was able to go back to the ghetto and find Bela. The wagons that my mother, father, and two younger siblings were on were sent to Treblinka where we believe they were sent to the gas chambers.
Bela and I were then sent to the Kielce Labor Camp. I worked making bullets, often working over twelve hour days. Knowing that I would be killed if the Germans found out I was only twelve years old, Bela and a Jewish policeman in the camp helped me to look older and blend in. They found me heels and scarves and had me stand behind Bela during selections.
One day while working, my hair became tangled in the wires of a bullet-making machine. Moving parts battered my skull and cut my scalp before the mechanic turned off the machine. This caused bleeding and swelling and even after the wound healed, I suffered from headaches for months. I am amazed over the fact that I did not get an infection from this. This was where I began to work and think like a “zombie.” Not thinking or asking questions was my way of surviving.
In the summer of 1944, Nathan, Sonja, and Helen were shipped to a camp in Czestochowa. Shortly afterwards, Bela and I were sent to the same camp where we were all reunited. Despite the extremely horrible situation, being reunited was a happy time for us. The fact that we were able to all find each other was close to a miracle.
Unfortunately that camp was evacuated and Nathan was sent to a different camp from us. My sisters and I were then sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. To get to this camp, my sisters and I were packed into train cars like animals, and had to stand in the freezing cold for the entire 500 mile journey.
When we arrived at the camp, we were forced to bathe before entering. We were lined up naked in the freezing cold and had to go into a large tub and wash ourselves. I remember stepping one leg into the tub and then realizing that my other foot had frozen to the cement floor. I remember having to pull my foot from the floor. Bergen-Belsen was so horrible that most of it was a blur for me.
At this time I was very ill, and was barely conscious for most of the time. I recall waking up on a cot in the Bergen-Belsen “hospital” next to the body of a dead woman. I then remember seeing my sister’s face in the window of the half-basement and then remember them pulling me out through the window.
Bergen-Belsen was then evacuated and my sisters and I were taken on a death march. I was so sick that I could barely walk. My sisters had to take turns supporting me, at times dragging me. I recall that people were shot if they could not continue walking. I believe that if it were not for my sisters’ help, I would not be alive.
Since the war was near ending, when I reached the point where I could no longer move, the Germans did not shoot me. Instead, I was placed on a wagon that took me to Dachau. I remember waking up on a basement floor the next day. This was when the Americans had come to seize the camp. I was liberated on April 29, 1945, at the age 15.
I was still very sick and I remember waking up on a cot in a hospital. I was so ill that a Catholic priest came and began giving me the last rites, not realizing that I was Jewish. This was upsetting for me and I began screaming, “I am Jewish, I am Jewish!”
My sisters and I were then assigned to a Displaced Persons Camp, first to Funk Kaserne, then to Ainring. This was where I very slowly began to adjust and realize that we were free. I was so young when the war began that I had just accepted the things that happened as “the way things were.”
I finally began to understand what had happened and the fact that what I had been put through was wrong. This was also where I met my husband, Saul Muskovitz. We were married in 1949.