Someone is Watching Over Me
A Memoir by Florence Mayer Lieblich
The Silver Lining
Liberation and Post War Years
The day of our liberation arrived. The Red Army liberated us on March 23, 1944. A new chapter was starting in our lives. A life of freedom arrived, the beginning of building a future for us and a new generation. Until then our only thoughts were how to fight to survive. Here we were- alone, depressed, and missing our loved ones. It felt like after a very long sickness, we suddenly awoke and life was returned to us.
I remember the day of liberation. Palania yelled “You are free. Come on out.” I turned to my Phil and said, “I remember the last time I said good-bye to my mother. She told me to remember her premonition. She was correct. We both survived.” My Phil’s response was, “I never gave up the thought of surviving.” We both walked out after hiding for nine months. Our voices were very low, only a whisper from whispering for nine months. We were trying our voices, they sounded squeaky. We looked around, it was very still. There was nobody around. No laughter, no children screaming, everybody was gone. We were very alone and very angry. The Ukrainians were hiding, they were afraid of us. They knew that the payment for their cruelty and the destruction that they did to our people was waiting for them. Only the Red Army could pay them back. All villagers were transferred to the Siberia. They left everything they had taken from us. The empty villages were filled with the Russian people. The Russians did this to them, because the Ukrainians had been killing them, just like they were killing us.
There were only 80 Jews left from 10,000. My first agenda was to go to the outskirts of Czortkow, to the mass graves where my dear parents and family found their peace. Some of the survivors joined us. Together we walked up to the graves. When we arrived, I was looking around. There were large, medium and small graves. I was wondering in which of those graves my beloved parents were resting peacefully. In my heart, I felt that my beloved parents knew we survived. I came to say a prayer for all the innocent souls that were resting there. We started Kaddish in Hebrew: “Magnified and sanctified be the name of God throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom during the days of your life and during the life of the house of Israel, speedily and soon. Amen.”
Then we said the memorial prayer of the departed in Hebrew: “Oh merciful God who dwelt on high, and yet are full of compassion. Keep in Thine divine presence among the holy and pure, whose life shone as the brightness of the firmament, the souls of our dear and beloved who have gone to their eternal home with thee. Oh, may their souls be bound up in the bond of life, and their memories inspire us to serve Thee and our fellowmen in truth, kindness and peace. Amen.”
After we finished our prayers, I looked around over the graves and I knew that it was the last time I would visit my parents in their resting place. I also remembered my mother’s wish that I leave that bloody city. She was right. Each stone that we passed was soaked with our blood. We promised ourselves that the minute it was possible, we would leave. We walked down to the center of the city. I wanted to see my home where I was born and spent such a loving, happy childhood. When we arrived the shock was unbearable. The whole line of houses, with our house in the middle, were looking like empty skeletons. All the windows were removed, all the entrances to the doors were removed. The stairs were broken. The terraces were hanging broken. It looked like there had been a heavy bombing. We wished it would have been destroyed by bombing. The pain was even worse because the Ukrainians had destroyed everything, and took our lives and possessions, too. My heart was filled with sadness and grief as we walked away. I was very depressed.
Phil had a very nice family house with a tremendous, beautiful garden before the war. They were a string of one family houses. From blocks away, we could see that none of those houses remained. It was a large, empty plot. We came closer and in a very sad voice Phil said, “None of those people who owned those houses are alive. I am the only survivor.” We looked at each other and we walked away.
After the destruction of my house on Rynek Street, the murderers moved into my other house which was over the bridge. Those houses were left untouched. I signed over an apartment in one of those houses to Palania and Ruzka after the liberation. I had made that promise to them if they would save our lives. Today the family still lives in that apartment. When I asked Ruzka for my mother’s ring back, she said that she would rather give up the apartment than the ring. She never owned anything like it. I still gave them the apartment.
We had to rent a small station wagon to go and get back our two Singer machines, men’s clothing, lady’s clothing, children’s clothing, hardware, silverware, china, plain dishes, bedding, crystal and other things. The most important thing to me was to get back my parent’s wedding gift from my grandmother- two painted bed spreads and one tablecloth. That is the only precious gift that I have from my parents. I have it here in the United States with me.
When we came to the house, there were two Russian policemen right behind us. They asked us what we were doing there. We told them everything. Very softly they said, “Don’t worry, we will help you. We came to arrest the woman who is living here and her sons. They were working with the German police, killing and robbing the Jews and Russians.” I was trembling, and knocked at the door. Kasha was the woman’s name. She opened the door, looked at me, and started to tremble. In a very weak voice she started to say, “You are alive.” I answered very calmly, “I walked out from the grave to take back everything that you robbed from us and our family. I have the list.” She started to bring everything out into the middle of the room, beginning with the two Singer machines. She also gave me a roll of silk material that I didn’t know about. It wasn’t on my list. I asked her, “Do you have any more to give back to me?” She answered, “As God is my witness.” I raised my voice and yelled, “Was God also your witness when you yelled to my mother, “Get out of my house, it is mine now. Don’t ask me to help you. I don’t ever want to see you again. We will kill you.” I also remember my mother’s soft voice answering you: “Yes Kasha, you will kill me, and thousands of Jews, but you see my daughter, she will live.” I said to Kasha, “I am enjoying every minute of your suffering, looking at your bloody, murderer’s face. This is just the beginning of your punishment. Those policemen came to arrest you and your murdering husband and sons. Too bad that they won’t kill you and you won’t suffer in the graves, still alive, like my people did. Get out of my house. I never want to see you again.” The Russians transferred them and many other Ukrainians to Siberia. They left everything that they stole from us. I couldn’t move into the house. My mother’s family used to live there and I just couldn’t do it. The next day I rented an apartment to a Russian lawyer.
Before World War II, the part of Ukraine where we lived belonged to Poland, so we were Polish citizens. To leave Russia was impossible, but it became possible for us. Russia agreed with the United States, that they would allow the Polish citizens to emigrate to Poland if they wished. They would not be compensated for the properties that they owned. I had to leave everything. The Russians also helped us with railroad transportation. We registered and waited for the notification and approval to leave.
The day that we were impatiently awaiting, finally arrived with the birth of our beautiful, precious little daughter: A sign of our future. The first born child in Czortkow after those dark and miserable times. A sign of life. She was born July 4, 1944. Our happiness was indescribable. New hopes, new dreams, a new life to build for our precious bundle of joy! Our very close friends, Dr. and Mrs. Goldberg prepared a beautiful kiddish for the naming of our darling daughter. Happiness was with us. The atmosphere relaxed. We felt that for all of us, it was the beginning of a new life: to build a future for our children.
The exodus for that new life started. We were leaving the bloody city of Czortkow that destroyed and robbed us of our parents and family. We received the permission to leave and we started to prepare for our voyage. We left Czortkow at the end of 1945. We shared a railroad cabin with our very good friends and arrived in Byton, Poland. There we shared a very large apartment with our friends. Some of our friends started to settle down, but not us. Poland remained a country with hatred for us Jews. The killing continued. They never stopped. There was no future in Poland to build for our precious child. We only stayed a few weeks in Byton.
Before leaving Byton, we heard that the Haganah representatives in Czechoslovakia were organizing aliya to Palestine. The road was dangerous. They walked at night to cross the border, being very careful not to be caught by the police. They went to a special destination where small boats were awaiting them to take them to the shores of Palestine. Not many were lucky, they had to swim to the border. The sabras led them to the kibbutzim, not far from the borders. The English police were watching the borders. When they saw a boat entering the borders they were stopped and transferred to another camp in Cyprus. The suffering of our people continued. The English didn’t kill them, but prolonged their suffering.
After our liberation, our dream was to emigrate to Palestine. We hoped that the day would arrive when we would regain our homeland, Eretz Israel. We realized that for now it was impossible. We decided to try to get to Germany, and from Germany try to get to the United States. I had a brother there and I was sure he would help us. We left everything to our friends. We begged them to come with us, but they wouldn’t. We took very few things for us, mostly for our little Gloria.
My Phil bought tickets to Czechoslovakia. At the railroad station in Czechoslovakia, we met a very nice couple who were leaving for Paris. They liked our precious bundle of joy very much and she liked them. They gave her chocolate and very good food. Our darling daughter was a very lucky star for us. This couple asked us to share their cabin on the train with them, and we could get off in Stuttgart, Germany. They were wonderful people. We were very happy and thankful. We had a good meal for the first time since we left Poland. It was a hard voyage for our child.
We arrived in Stuttgart and left our friends who continued their trip to Paris. At the station in Stuttgart, we were met by a group of people who greeted us: “Shalom, good to see you. Come with us. We will drive you into the city and you will get a very nice apartment. You arrived at a very good time. General Eisenhower visited the concentration camps and saw the hell that the German murderers did to us. He ordered blocks of houses with apartments for us. The Germans are on the streets with their belongings. You will have the satisfaction of watching them. We are concentration camp survivors.” They rolled up their sleeves and showed us their numbers.
While passing through the streets, it was very enjoyable and pleasurable to see the destruction of the city and the Germans running after the American soldiers and begging for bread. We arrived at our assigned apartments and saw the Germans standing outside with their belongings, crying. They were pushed out of their homes. One young lady, a survivor from Auschwitz who lost all of her family, walked over to them and started to yell, “How does it feel to be thrown out of your home? You murderers. You did this to us and sent us to concentration camps and burned us alive. All Germans belong in Auschwitz and deserve to be burned alive!” She spit in their faces and walked away.
After a short time of living in Germany, an announcement was made to Holocaust survivors, that if we wanted to emigrate to the United States, we had to register right away. We were very happy and thankful to God that such a wonderful country like the United States wanted us. We registered. In a few days, we were called to the American Consulate and we received our visas. We left from the port of Bremen and arrived in the United States on the ship named the Marine Perch on May 10 or 11, 1946.
My Phil wrote a letter to our friends, the Pockets, in Poland. He said “I think we are going to the United States.” We couldn’t believe it, everything had happened so fast and we were lucky. We had only been in Germany about two weeks and here we were going to America. When our friends received that letter in Byton, an exodus began, but it was not easy for them. Our friends left for Austria and eventually emigrated to Israel.
On the boat I received a telegram from my brother. This was the first time I had heard from him since 1936. We were the first Holocaust survivors from Czortkow to arrive in the United States.
We were tremendously happy that our traveling finally came to an end. We were very lucky to be able to settle in a free country like the United States; to start to build a peaceful life for our precious child, to be raised in freedom, and have all the opportunities for a successful life. Our lives in the United States were very happy and prosperous.
In 1948, our Jewish state was established. My dear father’s prediction came true. It pains me very much that my beloved father was deprived of the joy and happiness of being alive and seeing our homeland, “Eretz Israel.”
I lost my beloved Phil in Israel on October 25, 1985. While attending the American Physicians Fellowship International Seminar, he was suddenly stricken and died in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Words cannot adequately describe the grief I experienced. Not only was it a great loss to myself and my family, but it was also a tremendous loss to his patients. Medicine was his life and his patients were always his first priority. Philip was a dedicated and compassionate physician who was loved and respected by everyone.