Return to the Witnesses | The Cybrary of the Holocaust Survivors Lucille E.-Interview Helen L.-Interview…
Helen L. Excerpts
Helen L. Excerpts
STORY: Single lines
Well, it’s been a few years since I thought about this or tried not to, at any rate.
STORY: Life in her hometown
I had two younger sisters and there are four of us left, one brother out of four and two sisters and myself out of six girls. All the others were too young. One, my oldest sister was married and had three children. So she went with the kids. Everyone, there was a different reason of course, but the others that are all gone. There are just four of us left.
And the rest of us were very special to my father. He was exceptional. I loved my mother very much. I absolutely idolized my Dad. To me he was God. If he stood next to me I knew nothing could possibly go wrong.
Or when I think it must have been somewhere in ’39 or ’40 that the Hungarians occupied our area. And that’s when Jewish businesses were taken over by Hungarian people that were brought in. They were collaborators with the Germans. And instead of German Nazis we had Hungarian Nazis. It was the same idea. And they took over Jewish businesses.
I: So do you remember the time of being told you couldn’t go to school anymore?
L: Yes, I remember my Dad saying for awhile we’ll just have to do without it. People of that time did not go into details. Like now, our children ask a question and we feel compelled to be very honest and very straightforward, as much as they can comprehend. In those days it was quiet, the kinder are here. Don’t say it. So we just took it. If my father said you can’t go. You didn’t question him.
Passover and her father’s traditional gift of patent leather shoes
As a matter of fact for that Passover, that famous last Passover, my, I used to get a pair of new patent leather shoes. (Cries) No, I’ll leave that one out.
I: Do you have to?
L: My dad, I would get new patent leather shoes for Passover and a new dress. And that last Passover, when things were not so easy anymore, my dad looked and he said in Yiddish, he said “Haichu, I think your shoes from last year are pretty good and you know money is tight for Jews right now. Maybe I just won’t buy it. I said, that’s alright Daddy, my shoes are good.
And my Dad looked. He had bought himself some shoes because he needed them. And he said, “You know, I think you need new shoes. ” And he gave his back.
We only lived in the back of the house until ’41, until the family was taken away and the Hungarians took over.
STORY: Taking away the family and her father
L: First, actually, to begin with my first and clear awareness of it was in ’41 when the Hungarians, there was some of the people, some of the men I should say like my sister’s husband, my oldest sister Goldie, she’s not alive. Her husband went to what was called a Shovel Army. The Hungarians took those young able bodied men to work, to dig foxholes, to work for the Hungarian Army, for the German Army, to do labor. So in ’41 they took all the Jews except the families of those men, which included my sister and her children. And being that my sister was alone with the kids for so long, I was with her alot. I stayed there, helping her with the kids, I always loved children and so that was one of the reasons. And when they came, really without warning, without anyone knowing about it, when they came to my family, to take away my Mom and Dad and the kids, all of them, this boy that I went to school with, our next door neighbor his name was Solly, is thank God. He came running to my sister’s house and he says, Haichu, come quick, come home, they’re taking your parents away. So I ran and they were already out of the house, in the middle of the street, going towards the headquarters, the police headquarters I guess you would call it., and I hung myself on my Dad’s neck. And I…(pause)
I told you he was my ideal. I said no, I want to go with my Dad and this policeman, his name was Tokat, who spent alot of time in our house.
I: He wasn’t Jewish.
L: No, he was a Hungarian, a gendarme or a policeman. And he tore my arms open from my Dad’s neck and says no. And I was left sitting in the middle of the street while they were taken away.
STORY: Hiding out and getting captured
And then as I said my mother and three sisters came back, they were in hiding. My oldest sister Goldie who I stayed with, she and her husband had a grocery store which was closed up of course. It was a dark small room and that’s where my mother and my sisters would be during the day because they were not allowed, I mean officially they were not there. And they stayed there and every now and then the gendarmes, you know the Hungarian policemen, would make it is called a Rosia. I don’t know the English word for it but they would kind of surprise you and come in and search the house for people like that, like my mother and my sisters.
I guess it was just kind of existing for a couple of years and hiding, hiding from one place to another. Going to the barn and to the hayloft, in my town. And then in ’43 the last day of Passover, my mother had just broken the hummetz, you know they were allowed bread, my mother had just made flour, the beginning, you know when you mix yeast, for bread for after Passover. And at dawn then they came, again the Hungarian policemen and all of those soldiers. They came and just chased, said we’re leaving. We were allowed, I’m not a hundred percent sure on that, but we were allowed just a few things and we went to a ghetto, which was just maybe twenty kilometers from our house. I don’t think it was more than that. And there of course we were given very very small quarters it’s needless to say. My mother and my sisters and myself.
No, no, the name Auschwitz did not come up at the time. But there were rumors that_I had very long hair, very pretty hair too. There were rumors that anyone maybe kids that had very clean hair or very shiny, whatever the rumor was, will be cut short. And they very last thing my mother did for me was wash my hair, and brushed it (cries)…She brushed it and brushed it until it was like a mirror and then she said in Yiddish you know, she said” My goodness, anyone that would have the heart to cut this hair short, has got to be a murderer. I mean, he couldn’t have a heart.” Needless to say, they didn’t cut it short, they cut it off within a matter of days in Auschwitz.
STORY: Train ride to Auschwitz
And while we were on the trains for I don’t know how long, I would venture to say about a week or so, everybody said that you can’t take any luggage with you, just what you have on you. Each one of us put on three, four dresses, whatever you could put on the body.
… so when we were getting off the train, I put on the very last dress that my parents bought me. On top of three others. Little did we know that when we got off the train in Auschwitz, my mother, my little sisters, my sister Goldie and her children, went to one side. And myself and Toby went to the other side.
All the kids my age, like skinny little girls and they did not look old enough or strong enough to work. So in my age group from my hometown, I was the only one, I was the youngest survivor and am. Well they mistook me and they asked how old I was and first thing that came out was 16, and I wasn’t.
We still were not aware of the fact that we were separated and I was never to see my mother again. When I was in Auschwitz about two or three days, I had asked a Nazi lady, I said, “Where’s my mother?” And she being all heart, pointed to the chimney. She said, “You see that smoke coming out? That’s probably her.” And that’s, that was a really the first time that it hit. This is where we are. This is what is happening. By this time of course we were already shaved, our heads and everywhere else that hair grows, and given the grey and blue striped dress, and …
… we were taken to, you know marched, to a place nearby, which was close to where the chimneys, the crematoriums were. We were asked to strip, that’s why it was so ludicrous that we put on two, three dresses, to have them. We were asked to strip, totally in the nude, and stand at, and we stood, waited, lined up, many of us, many of us. You have to understand that now, and now you don’t like standing in the nude while bad people are parading back and forth. But we were so much more sheltered, so much more modest, that even in front of your own Dad I don’t think you would ever go with less than a full slip or anything like that. And there we are standing totally in the nude and all the people that shaved our heads, and as I said everywhere else, were men. They were inmates, most of them Polish Jews that were there already in Auschwitz for several years. And so, as I said, when we got there we were asked to strip and throw everything in one pile. We stood in, naked for hours and hours, and after that we went through a place which was like a shower, but it wasn’t water it was like a disinfectant. And then we were given those striped dresses, with no underwear. The shoes you were wearing you had left. So whatever you wore it better last you for the duration. And then we went to the barracks in Auschwitz.
Seeing myself in the mirror at Auschwitz
I remember once in Auschwitz the barracks that we stayed in had just slats on the windows, not glass, and in one corner there was a little triangle, a little piece of glass left. And after a few weeks there I had walked past that and saw in that little piece of glass I saw my image and I looked and I thought, “My god, who is that dirty, ugly looking little thing.” When it turned out it was me, when you hadn’t bathed for several weeks and you have no hair and it grows in and you know, it was really hideous.
We were at Auschwitz, my sister and I and five cousins, for six weeks. For myself, personally just for me, Auschwitz was worst than for most. I became very very ill, days after we got there. I had, my kidneys were infected and you know there in Auschwitz, it wasn’t that you needed to go to the bathroom and you just went in. They took you twice a day to the bathroom and that was it. And of course bathing was totally out of the question, so was a toothbrush or anything else.
We could only lie on one side and in the same direction, all of us, otherwise there wasn’t enough room. I ran such a high fever that on one side my poor Toby was burnt all night. On the other side, the other 11 kept changing off because I was too hot, I was so hot I was burning them. So some of them were my cousins. They kept changing off who would sleep next to me because it was so close and they were like, you know. And of course when we got out every morning we would have to go out and stand at attention for any amount of hours to be counted. If they found out that you were sick, you went straight to the ovens. So however I felt, even if my sister half the time would hold me up in the back, I had to stand there, because if they knew I was sick that was the end of me. So I didn’t for the six weeks I was there, I never touched a bite of food.
Well, we got a slice of bread which most of the time had green mold on it. For a day. A cup of water. For the day. Or was a cup of tea, really, it was a horrible smelling thing. And then you got, which was your dinner as far as I remember, it looked like there was a couple of, a few potato peels, dirty ones.
STORY: After Auschwtiz, Stutthof
Another concentration camp. Alot of TB. Alot of illness, alot of people died there. And from there were alot of Polish non-Jews of course, that were the collaborators with the Germans, I think if possible they were worse than the Nazis.
And the bathroom, you had to go to the bathroom to pass his place and you didn’t do it frequently. You didn’t do it unless it was an absolute must, and one time I just, again my kidney was really quite bad, and I had to, I kind of flew past his place, I ran. And he went right after me. As I was sitting on the toilet, he came in. And I guess he was insulted or whatever the reason was that I just went through so fast or went period I don’t know really. He slapped my face so hard that my face blew up like this and I was deaf on that ear for months and months. And just because I went to the bathroom.
My girlfriend would say, you know, when we get out of here, I will never, when I will be a grown up person, I will never wear a purse. I’ll just put a bread under my arm instead. So if I am someplace and I don’t, I’m not near a kitchen and I want to eat something, I’ll have it. It was so important.
STORY: Death March
We were evacuated by foot and it was in the winter time. We walked, days and days and the only time we rested once in a while and it was usually outdoors in a schoolyard or some kind of yard, or in a barn with a little hay or straw. But it was always smelling and it was cold and we had that gray striped dress _ I have a picture of it too if you want to see it later _ and one of those horse blankets.
There was alot of sickness, alot of beatings, and then when the Russians advanced and we had to walk, retreat, the Germans would be on motorcycles and cars, on horses and we walked, all of us. Whenever a woman or two or three or however many, couldn’t walk any further, because maybe her feet were frozen or she was dying anyway of starvation. If she fell down the Gestapo would just go over there, shoot her, and you walk on. And you just picked up your feet, stepped over her and if it happened..
We literally did that, it’s strange that I can’t look at a dead body now but I stepped over many of them then.
STORY: The First, Attempted Escape
And many, we walked for about two weeks, or maybe longer than that. and it was in January. You know, in Germany and Poland, the snow is the coldest, bad, it is really. I hadn’t taken off my shoes for the entire time we were walking. I didn’t feel my feet either. Then we were walking one day and a Wehrmacht, a German soldier in the green uniform, not the black, on a motorcycle saw us and he came over to me and he told me to fall down. He says, don’t worry I’ll protect you. And I didn’t know quite what he meant. Whatever it was, I wasn’t, and I did. And he took me into a barn, out of the line where all of us walked. I told him, hey I got a sister and I got cousins, and he brought all of them there, to me and the barn, he wanted us to escape.
He, we were let’s see 3, 5 cousins, and my sister Toby and myself, there were seven of us so there was too many. He told us to go from here to there where he could hide us and the Gestapo, that were from our group you know watching us, we were caught. And they of course were ready to shoot us. This green uniformed soldier said, you do and you’re shot. And he put his life on the line for us. And he saved our lives but couldn’t save us. So we continued..
STORY: The Second Escape
Toby is a few years older than I am, she knew once I took those shoes off I could never put them back on. And if I couldn’t put them back on I couldn’t walk in the snow barefoot and they’ll shoot me and she’ll have to watch. So she says, No. I said, I don’t care what you’re saying, I have to take these shoes off, I’ve got to see if there are feet in those shoes because I don’t feel them. Of course, as Toby feared, I took my shoes off and my feet were totally black, frozen, and they just popped out like a balloon. There was no putting those shoes back on. So we were faced with, either Toby watches me die or we take a chance or both of us die or survive.
At dawn, before we got going, Toby and I, we didn’t even tell our cousins or anybody. In the schoolyard where we were there was a big field full of snow. At the end of that field were two houses, one on one side and one on the other side. Before it was complete daylight, Toby said, we’re going to there, go into one of those houses and seek help. If we get caught, both of us get shot and I prefer that to watching them kill you. I do not want to live without you. And sure enough we did that, barefoot, I could never get those shoes back on, barefoot in the snow the two of us in the dark, ran away. And Toby says, should we go to the left or to the right. And I said, you know what? I’m left handed, let’s go to the left.
Fortunately for us, on the left was a house where we went in, there was a Polish family, quite sympathetic with us, not Jewish but sympathetic with the Jews. On the right side the house were Nazis, a house full of Nazis, which would have, needless to say what our fate would have been. And the man, we went into that house, he absolutely got petrified. He says I have nine children. If you are caught in my house, we’re all shot, my children, you, and us, we’re all killed immediately. But, he says, I also have God in my heart. I cannot put you out just the way you are. He says I’ll give you some clothing, I’ll do something about your feet, I’m going to give you some food and before it’s daylight you have to leave. And he took my black frozen feet, and he bathed them in hot and cold water, hot and cold, until I had a little feeling in my feet. And he gave us food, what he had, it was very little but he shared it with us, and he gave us some clothing that wasn’t a striped dress and with tears in his eyes he says, I am so deeply sorry. But I have nine children and I cannot…And we didn’t blame him, we perfectly understood. We started walking, he says walk in that direction, you’ll be going away from the Jewish camps, from all of that, and you’ll be going towards the military and if you can lie well enough who knows, you may survive.
STORY: After escape
And so we did. We walked and walked, Toby and I, all day long. And when it came at dusk, we were very hungry, and very cold, and very tired, and really didn’t give a damn if we lived or not and didn’t know where to turn. And Toby remembered the story my Dad used to tell. When he was in World War I, in Russia or some place, in a cold place, he said that once of the most easiest deaths was freezing to death, because once you fall asleep, you just don’t wake up. And Toby said, that’s what we’re going to do.
As we were laying in the ditch, trying very hard _ and I still can’t fall asleep that must be, maybe it’s something to do with that _ a German soldier, one of the green uniforms as I said before, came over and looked at us and he says, for heaven sake’s what are you girls trying to do, freeze to death? And Toby said, well we have no place to go. And he said who are you? And she’s a very clever lady, my sister, always was, very brilliant, so she immediately decided on the lie that we’re going to live if we’re going to live. She said well, we’re Cryianians, that we’re Gentile. Our parents were pro-Nazis and they were killed by the Russians because they were pro-Nazis, and I have this little kid who is a mute. She says, I don’t know what to do with her, I don’t know what to do with me, she’s sick, and she says, I’ll guess we’ll just lie here and die.
Well, the thing is that if you got me here and someone got Toby on the other side and every step on our way had to be a lie, we wouldn’t tell the same lie. Bingo. You know; so there was only one way.
And he says, I wouldn’t let a comrade like you, that your parents were one of us, die, you come with me. And he took us into a house, which were, in Poland, was Nazi occupied. And he said to the man, the owner of that house, he says, do me a favor, put these two girls up for me, just until I find a better place for them, just for hours. And this man took us in and it was warm in there and first thing he did is put me in bed, because I was running a very high fever. I was very sick and lo and behold, I fall asleep and started not only talking which I’m not supposed to be able to, but talking Yiddish. And Toby, my poor Toby, she stuck her hand on my mouth, she almost killed me, she almost suffocated me, and woke me up.
STORY: Working with the German Army
We stayed there quite a bit, quite a bit, I would say the entire evening and then this soldier came back. Proud as can be of himself, he says I found you the best place. He says, I spoke to my officer, my superior, and I told him about the unfortunate plight of the two of you. And he said we don’t have _ every battalion of German soldiers were allowed two women to wash their underwear _ he says, we don’t have those two women and my superior officer says that you can come and stay with us, with soldiers, with German soldiers. And I was all for it I have to tell you, immediately. One I was very tired and two it sounded very good to me to just be someplace and Toby being a whole lot smarter than I was at the time she says, My god. He says, no I’m not going to take no for an answer. You’re coming with us.
But anyway the following morning this German, I think whatever his rank was I don’t really remember, but he called his entire battalion of soldiers together. He said, he explained who we are, and why we are orphans, and why we are in the predicament that we are. He says anyone that lays a hand on these two kids would be shot immediately. And so fortunately they did not touch us because of that.
We never never spoke to each other even because we were afraid, suppose someone hears us.
One time I, we did everything, anything they wanted us we did, and one time I was sitting on the floor and I was cleaning this officer’s boots. And that was one of the last speeches Hitler was making and he was still saying, we will win we will win, you know, all of this stuff. And this officer looked down at me and he said, you little dummy, you don’t even know what I’m talking about. But he said, you know something, if I had here one Jew I would take him and just tear him into two pieces because they are the ones responsible for this war and the predicament that we were in. And I looked up at him like, I don’t know what your talking about.
My biggest pleasure was because they would take from where we were, the kitchen, took food to the front line, German soldiers and in turn they brought back the dead. And so first thing in the morning we would raise the shade a little bit and count the feet, how many Germans were dead. And that was a good thing.
Our choices were to remain behind and hopefully be liberated by whoever was fighting, and it was the Russians I wasn’t for it. I really and truly was feeling more secure. It the not talking, the going to bed, the just living in total silence and darkness, somehow was a more secure feeling than I had had for years. And I couldn’t think beyond that.
As much as Toby wanted to stay back, I never believed that it would really ever be liberated or that there is anything else left for us or any future. I just wanted to be secure in that little hole of ours.
I just, I never thought beyond tonight anyway, I never cared beyond tonight.
As a matter of fact when the shelling from the tanks became so intense, Toby and I when we were in our foxholes, we always laid down on top of each other. Because we wanted, whatever hits one should hit the other. Our main pardon me our main concern was one shouldn’t have to watch the other, whether it be hurt, wounded or dying, that was our main concern that whatever happened should happen to both of us.
And after the bombing stopped for a few minutes, we were completely covered with blood. Toby would go and say, is that your blood or somebody else’s? No, no, it’s not mine it doesn’t hurt. So as long as it wasn’t yours, fine. By the next morning there was us, Toby and I, and I believe one soldier remained alive. Everyone else was dead or wounded or you know.
Toby said, she said to him, my sister and I will go into the town, to the Russians, and we’re going to tell them a lie. That we are Jewish and that you, the Germans, that you saved our lives, and all of this whole big story and we’ll come back for you. He showed us a rope that he had and he said, if you’re not back by noon or whatever it was I’ll hang myself. And Toby having a heart as big as a barn, you know, when we walked away she said, maybe we’ll come back for him. I said, you are crazy. All I’m going to wait for is the time that I can tell that he is dead.
And then our problems began. We were liberated by the Russians.
STORY: Between Liberation and Home: The Russians
Sure enough, came in the evening, two soldiers with rifles and bayonets on the rifles, came for the two Jewish little girls from the Carpathian mountains, which was us. Me, I was delighted, I thought they were coming to get us, to give us dinner, to liberate us, they were really going to celebrate with us. That was not exactly what they had in mind and my sister is crying and crying and protesting that she is not going and I don’t know why. And I’m saying, Toby, what’s the matter with you, why are you crying and she’d say, shut up you little kid. The soldier said, look ma’am, I was told to get you, no matter what it takes, I’m going to get you. You come with me. If you have any complaints, got any protests, you tell it to my officer, the one that sent me for you.
We came in there, the table was set for a feast. Food, drinks, and two beds were made up very nicely like this, you know one was this way and one was this way (indicates), and there was this Russian officer, the Jewish one, and another one, also a Russian officer, a non-Jewish one. And guess who was the prize? My Toby and I. That was what they sent for us for. I didn’t know why Toby was crying, but that’s why she was crying, because they sent for us so they can sleep with us.
She said, look she’s only 11 years old, she’s a child, you can’t want to sleep with a child like that. He says, are you kidding? In Russia, children like that already have children. So that didn’t matter. At any rate, my sister has the gift of gab and she talked and talked until he said, you get the H out of here. I’ll find someone who will be happy to come here. So we ran out and we spent the night in an armoire, standing up with other refugees, men, sleeping in front of it, closed, and we stood up in that armoire all night long. Just to be safe from other soldiers.
Just running, we didn’t know where to we were running to. Just trying to run away from the fire really, that was our main concern, and we did and I cannot tell you how long it took. It seems like weeks and weeks and weeks before we got to which was the capital of Poland, Lodz, and there was a Displaced Person’s camp.
STORY: Displaced Person’s Camp
See, it was a constant battle with the Russian soldiers. The minute they saw a female, whether you were young or old, whether you were 8, 80, 18 or 28, they didn’t care. They raped you whether you were pretty, ugly, fat, skinny, it didn’t matter. It was a female. And so with us it was like a matter of, can we outsmart them in that department. Our survival as far as eating or sleeping was almost secondary.
When Toby and I were going from Grösmollen, from where we were liberated, to Lodz, to the Displaced Person’s, I told you we walked, we took a train, we walked, anyway we could. At one time we were on a train and Toby put on her little babushka to look like an old lady, she kind of covered me up I should look like a baby. And we were on this train and a Russian soldier came. He said, you two, with me. And Toby said, oh come on, I have a baby here, we can’t go with you. And next to us was a Russian soldier, which looked, older man, plain soldier’s clothiers, we did not see a rank anywhere, and this Russian young soldier in leather uniform kept at us. Come on, you come with me. And Toby says no, come one we’ve gone through so much, you know she’s a child, always made me younger maybe, that didn’t help. And this older soldier said, leave them alone. Very quietly, very softly. Leave them alone. He says, why, you want them for yourself? He says, come on, just leave them alone. And he did not, and kept saying what’s the matter old man, you want them for yourself, or something like that. And in turn, this older soldier took out something, we never saw what it was, and showed it to this soldier. And man he went away within seconds. Saluted him, he must have been an officer. Big wheel.
And he was the one that took us to Lodz, all the way, to the Displaced Person’s camp. There he got to the superior officer, whoever was the overseer, and he said, I brought these two kids a long way. You asked me before, earlier in the story how we go there, and I didn’t remember. I remember this. He said, I brought them a long way, unharmed, and unless you can give me your word they will remain here, unharmed, and you will do the right thing, I cannot _apparently he was on a secret mission of sorts_ I cannot do it but I will if I have to. That was a beautiful thing of a Russian soldier, so there were all kinds.
Yes. There was, I believe there was one girl that, she said that the Russians who liberated her kept her in a room for something like 8 days and nights. The Russian soldiers stood in line and just raped her continuously, night and day. It was tough. So after awhile Toby had heard that there was a transport going to out part of the world where we were born. If we could manage to get to the station, they would take us. They didn’t really want to. So we did.
STORY: The Train Ride Home
For the duration of the trip, I was his girlfriend, believe it or not. And there was one lady on that train that I would love to find. He decided that I was going to be his, he was going to sleep with me, oh my, he was going to sleep with me and he was going to marry me, and he was going to take me home to his parents, whatever. This lady, a Jewish lady who was in the concentration camp and who had been married before the war. She wasn’t old, I don’t think, oh God maybe she was late 20’s early 30’s or thereabouts. She slept with him, I can’t say made love because that’s not what I would call it, but had sex with him so he shouldn’t touch me. And while he had sex with her he held my hand. And he definitely decided that when we got to where we were going, and we were supposed to get off, he wasn’t going to let us off.
And once again, we were in trouble.
(HOME) We were hoping, we were hoping, we were hoping someone would be there.
Everybody went there first, where they were born, hoping to find somebody. And this Russian soldier started asking why are we not getting off. And we told him our sad tale of woe. That we would like to and he won’t let us. And he said, you know, he is a superior. And Toby said, we’re not even legally on this train. On that note, he came and came to the officer that was in charge of our train and he said, I do believe that you have illegal people on this train. And he says, no no no no, he started denying, however. He says, well I just want to see your papers and we are going to count these people.
After the long battle of words and whatever went on there, we got off. And it was, believe it or not, I think on a Purim. And we celebrated in a Jewish home, whoever the people were. This Jewish Russian officer got a little bit tipsy and he said, you see? You see? Do you want to know why this child was punished? Why she was in a concentration camp, and her hair was cut off, and her parents were killed? Only because her name was Haika. Because Haika signifies a Jewish name.
STORY: Max and meeting him after
L: Yes, I know what happened, believe it or not. My oldest brother Max came back literally from the dead. When they left in Horodenka and went to Kamenets Podolsk the place called, to a mass grave. They of course made them dig the grave. And they ran machine guns where my Dad and my four brothers were. And my father and three brothers got killed. And my fourth brother Max fainted as the machine gun ran and they all fell into that grave. During the night, when he came to many hours after that, he pulled himself out of that grave from under all the bodies. This was close to the Russian border. Moving only at night in the fields of high wheats, grass, whatever they had there, not to be seen, he crossed the border into Russia and spent the remaining of the war there. And of course we never knew about that until after the war, when my sister Toby and I, we were together and we came back and we saw him and he saw us. He thought we were dead and he fainted that away and we thought we lost him. And that was, to retrack, the beginning of it all.
At any rate they told my brother Max, don’t get your hopes up too high, we believe Haiku and Toby are dead. And so when we got into town, because there wasn’t exactly the phone system or anything to let anyone know if we knew anyone was there. My brother took one look at us and fainted so badly we could not revive him. And I don’t have to tell you how we felt, oh dear God, we went through all of this and now we’ve lost him. When we finally got him to and he looked at me and he says in Jewish, “Haiku, is that you?” And he faints again and oh my God, it was frightening, really frightening. Thank God he did revive, he came to, and needless to say I had enough hugs and kisses to make up for all the years.
STORY: Seeing my sister Ruth
The interesting thing was, when I got off the boat from crossing the Channel and I was standing in Belgium. My sister was waiting for me and I got off and she said, Helen, and I didn’t pay any attention. Mademoiselle, it didn’t go for me and then finally as I was walking past her my sister says, Haiku. And I turned around and I see this lady who is not at all familiar to me and I say, Rifkula, is that you? She says, oh my God yes. So I gave her my cheek, let her kiss me, and I continued walking.
And you’d be surprised, a person wants to live so badly, that you never think about it on a daily routine, you know, thank god this morning I woke up and I’m on my feet. You don’t really think about it as much except when it is you’re biggest gift from God that you did wake up this morning and that you did survive the day. Living is something you really want very badly, under any circumstances.
Or when we were in the working camps and we never never bathed. We used to just takeoff our clothes and brushed off the lice and all of that, and there was a lady who was a nurse. She was from Latvia and she would take a pail of snow and she would say, Haichu come here, I’m going to show you how to clean your body. That’s important. She’d take the snow and rub me all over. She said it’s not only going to make you feel better, you’re also going to be cleaner.
And I think _ I’ll will retract that I don’t think, I know 150 percent for sure _ that if it wasn’t for Toby, if I survived, which I would have never survived the camps, I would have never survived the liberation. I just wouldn’t have.
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