An FHBS client, whom we will call B to protect her privacy, was a Holocaust survivor we had assisted since 2016. B was a beneficiary of our Emergency Aid and Emergency Response Programs. Sadly, she passed away this year. Her survival story is amazing and we are honored to have been a part of her life.
I was only 11 when the war started. We lived in Pultusk, Poland. The war started in September, 1939. The Germans invaded our town that was not far from Warsaw. I remember how they killed my Uncle’s family. Young children, girls in particular, were afraid of the Germans because we knew some facts that when they took girls away, they raped them and then killed them. We were scared to go out, and had to constantly hide. Finally, we decided to flee the city because of bombing and the fear of execution. There were nine of us: myself, six siblings and my parents. We left all our property and personal belongings at home. We went on foot, and it took us a full day to get to a small town ofSrotsk, near Warsaw. On our way my father broke his leg and could not walk fast any more. We stayed in somebody’s apartment for only a day before the Germans took over that town too. They took away my father together with all adult men who were able to work for them in labor camps. My father was a carpenter. They put all the men into a Synagogue and made them watch as they burned all the religious books and relics in that Synagogue. After that, they split all the men into groups, belonging to different towns, and sent them to their home cities. My father was sent back to Pultusk. We were not aware of that until someone from our town told us that they had seen our father in Pultusk. We returned to our town and stayed there for two weeks. We did not know at that time what the Germans were going to do with us because it was just the beginning of the war, and nobody knew about the atrocities the Germans would carry out on the Jewish population.
After a few weeks the Nazi SS replaced the regular German army and started chasing all the Jews, including our family, out of their homes and gathered us in a city park. I remember how they kicked my mother out with rifles, and did not even give her time to pick up our baby sister. Afterwards, she risked her life, and saved the baby. We found out that as we were waiting in the park, the Nazis were waiting for instructions whether to kill us or let us go.
Finally, that night, the order came that we had to leave the city. Our final destination was to be Byelostok. We were walking all the way to Byelostok, and were trying to hide our men because Nazis selected all the men of certain age to work at their labor camps. We would stop in different barns where we stayed with the animals. At last we met our father’s cousin who had a horse and buggy. We went to a small town where we heard on the radio that in order to get to Byelostok we had to walk through a forest. We had limited time. We were supposed to pass the forest to a bridge to Byelostok by 12 noon. It was mentioned that ifwe did not manage to do this, the Nazis would not be responsible for the consequences. That night our horse was stolen and we could not make the deadline. We were caught by the Nazis in the forest. They demanded money from us, but we had no money, so they tied my father to a tree. My mother was nursing my baby sister at that moment and did not see what was going on. The Nazis told us to keep walking without my father. When my mother saw my father tied to a tree she said “Either shoot us together or let us go. I will not leave my husband”. By a miracle the Nazis let us go.
We were hungry and tired and were walking for months, and had nothing but the clothes on our backs. We looked like skeletons. Suddenly, we found ourselves near the Russian border. After many days at the border, the Russians opened the gates and let us in. We were decontaminated and then taken to a village where we had to work for only flour.
My mother was able to bake bread from the flour. My father looked for work and finally we went to Byelorussia, a city in Orsha, until 1941. I got sick there. It was a stomach virus. They had no medicine to treat it, but they gave me mercury from a thermometer instead. My feet were swollen, and I could not walk.
In June 1941, when the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out we, again, had to leave the city, and walked as far as we could to Urals a city of Magnitogorsk, where we got only one loaf of bread and a herring, a day, for the whole family. This is where my baby sister died at the age of only 2 1/2 years old.
There I got tuberculosis and was isolated for three months. I nearly died. I also had a scalp disease, along with my brother Sol and sister Ida. All of our hair fell out. We were starving.
We lived in Russia until we were able, in May 1946, to leave. We came back to Poland but we had nothing left there. We could not find anything of our property. Everything was ruined. We decided to walk to Austria, and then to Italy, so we could immigrate to the United States. We came to the United States in 1950.
My husband was in more than one concentration camp during the war and died, in 1974, at the age of only 52 from stomach cancer before receiving any compensation for all of his suffering. I never received formal education greater than second grade. I have always been sickly. I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis and have survived cervical cancer.