HAFTLING (PRISONER) NO. 94771
Edited by M. M. Shafir
Translated from the Yiddish by
Miriam Dashkin Beckerman
A publication of
The Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies and
The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies
On Sunday, June 22, 1941, exactly at 12 noon, it was announced on the radio that the Germans attacked the Soviet Union. At the moment when Molotov conveyed the startling news, I happened to be in a restaurant with my husband for lunch. We were all perplexed by the news. A shudder went through us all.
I had been married for three years at that time, had a home with all good things and lead a happy life with my husband. I immediately went to my parents because I knew they were alone. Of our family where there were nine children, only my brother Avrasha was not married. On the way to my parents I already saw bombs dropping and shots being fired. People on the streets scattered. While I went to my parents my husband went to our residence. When I came to my parents I told them what was happening and since my father was a sick old man, confined to bed, I decided, in the heat of the moment, not to leave my parents alone in the uproar, though my husband was waiting for me at home. Maybe I didn't do the right thing regarding my husband, but when I took a look at my father and regarded the position he was in, and at my frightened mother, who won't know what to do under the circumstances, I saw that I have no choice. I mustn't abandon my parents.
It was a long night. There was no question of sleeping. My brother, Avrasha, knew very well that he would have to leave home to join the army, so he also thought that it was my duty to remain with my parents. So it was that we spent the whole night pondering and thinking what might happen, until finally it was day break.
Monday morning my husband came running, all upset, a broken man. I apologized to him and explained I remained here all night. He understood me very well and he promised to remain with the parents all day until I will return from my job. I had to go to work to carry out my duties because I was in a liquor factory as cashier and bookkeeper. While I was on my way to work there was an air raid. People died on the street. I barely got to work alive. I could hardly wait until the day was over so that I could go to my parents immediately. The Monday and Tuesday night the Germans kept on bombing. We calmed our frightened father telling him that these were Russian airplane manoeuvres.
MY BROTHER MOISHE LAUGHS AT ME
On Tuesday, the 24th, there was an announcement on the radio that all those fit for military service should enlist. This was bitter news for me. My husband and my brother belonged to this category. This meant that they had to leave us immediately. My brother started to prepare himself. First, he grabbed a photo of my parents and the photo of his class girlfriend, Sarah Rilevska, then I went with my husband to our place to prepare the military suitcase and other necessities. On the way I told him with a smile, that he will probably be an officer and I - a nurse.... and I encouraged him that with God's help he would return home and we will be happy.
My heart told me that something bad was going to happen in our lives. When we finished packing the few essentials we returned to our parents. There a letter was waiting for us from my sister Shifra from Riga, saying that if my husband and brother go away to the army, I shouldn't, under any circumstances, leave our parents alone. Meanwhile I had to go to work because we were forced to. On the way I met my brother Moishe. I asked him to take my father to a basement but my brother laughed at me and told me not to fear so much because the Germans only aim at military sites.... When I returned home from work I found everyone very frightened because many refugees had arrived from Lithuania. Nobody knows where to run to and it is bitter.
IT'S BURNING, BROTHERS, IT'S BURNING....
On Wednesday, June 25th, I again went to work and I was escorted by an escort of eleven planes that bombed and shot non-stop over city. Everything around was burning. At night, after work, I said to immediately take father to a basement and that we should all wait there until it would get quiet. When we carried father over we saw that we were the only people on the street. We carried father on a mattress. In the basement we met many acquaintances. They received us very warmly and immediately made room for father. It was a horrible night. From outside could be heard loud explosions that deafened the ears and reached to the heart. We shook from fear.
Finally, it was daybreak. On Thursday, the 26th, at 4 in the morning, my husband and I snuck out side to see what was happening. . . a Russian soldier came up to us, and with out letting us finish our question, said:
'It's bad, run wherever your eyes will take you, so long as you don't remain here! Hitler said on the radio that he will get even with the Jews.'
I told him that I have a sick father and I don't want to leave him for my mother to take care for him. I told my husband to run away but he asked me to run away with him.
'No' - I answered. 'You go, and when the war will end, and if it will be God's will, we will be reunited and be happy. But I'm not going. I can't leave my parents alone.'
My husband recognized from my words I would not change my mind so he agreed to remain with us because he didn't want to separate from me. We returned to the basement. My brother Abrasha was sitting, his head bowed, perplexed, resigned, and bit his lips. It was obvious that one problem was bothering him: To run away? But how could he leave such a sick father?
Outside, meanwhile, the shooting becomes so bad that we couldn't even think about running away anymore. A few hours later it got a little quieter.
I, my husband and Abrasha went outside to see what was happening.
We saw that our parent's house is burning and a German patrol is throwing hand grenades on all sides. I was fortunate that our parents were with us in the basement and where the fire, we hoped, would not yet reach. A little later when my mother found out that everything we owned had gone up in smoke, she remained sitting, very indifferent: Where should she go now? Besides, my mother had always prayed that she should not have to depend on her children and that she should die in her own bed. . . but the bitter destiny decreed otherwise.
My husband comforted her and told her not to worry: We'll live together in our place - if it still remains whole. . . and if it also no longer exists, we'll stick together wherever it will be. That's how the day ended in troubles and in suffering.
Thursday evening everything around us began to burn and the smoke reached the basement and started to shake us. We couldn't remain here any longer. We took father on a chair and we exited the cellar. My husband and my brother Abrasha carried father, and I walked with mother. We took only the essentials for father, the flask and the rubber tube on which he lay. It was fearsome outside. Everything around us was burning. The wind was sweeping burning parts of roof over our heads and there was nowhere to run to. When I saw the town ablaze like this I thought that this is how Pompeii must have burned at one time. . .
We decided to quickly go in the direction of Riga St., because we had once lived there and my brother Moishe lived there with his family. We crossed through the old boulevard. My husband and brother were carrying father and I was with my scared mother. Suddenly we lost them. We thought that they had gone to my bother. We also started to 'go' there. In the terrible turmoil the whole town was running, though nobody knew where it was best to run to.
'JHID . . . COMMUNIST . . .'
When reached my brother's place I went out in the yard and saw an old woman making her way in the shambles and doesn't have anyone to speak to. I felt sorry for this old woman. Oy, I said to myself, her children probably abandoned her. All the dwellings were abandoned. My brother's also. I went back from the yard but when I saw that my mother wasn't there an awesome fear struck me. I began to shout: Mama!. . . Mama!. . .
Suddenly I felt (because it was hard to see) that my mother must be lying there somewhere. . . I ran over and saw mother lying on the stones. She had fallen because of the terrible heat while she was waiting for me. The flask that she didn't let out of her hands, was smashed in a few places. I picked her up. Where should we go now? Where is father, my husband and brother?
'Let's run back to the old boulevard' - I said, and we started to run.
Suddenly there was a wild shout: 'Halt! Remain Still! We are shooting!'
A German, armed from head to toe suddenly stood in front of us. I really got scared, but I was thinking of father. I asked if we could ask something. 'Ya,' he answered.
'Perhaps you have seen an old man in a chair, accompanied by two men?'
'Yes, they are in the church,' he informed us. We were frightened: What could this mean? We started to run there. As we approached the door of the church we saw my husband and my brother walking toward us. They had been allowed to go and look for us. We all lay down on the bare floor that was full of shattered glass and somehow got through the night. When daybreak came a German approached me and said quietly: 'Take her now preferably, before they leave the church.'
My husband and my brother once again took my father in the chair, and with my terrified mother we slowly walked out of the church. The Latvians shouted after us: 'Jhid! (Jew). . . Communist!. . .'
We headed for our home. Perhaps not everything was destroyed. Suddenly - once again an alarm and a dreadful shooting, where we were, carrying father and it is still far to our home. What should we do? Will they let us in? We already felt the Latvian population hates us and is just waiting for permission and they will attack us like beasts. All around us we heard: 'Jhid! . . . Communist! . . .'
'Why don't you sing Ã”Katyusha'? Oy Katyusha, ha?'
In such a surrounding we couldn't carry father farther in the chair so we stopped in the middle of the street. The end will be whatever God wants. We were standing thus when a voice called to us to come into a cellar. We rejoiced. In the cellar we found many people we knew. They immediately made room on the floor for father, though it was crowded. My exhausted mother sat down beside my father but I, my husband and my brother decided to sneak into our room. It wasn't far from the cellar. My husband and my brother dragged themselves to our home, crawling on their knees and they brought a few crusts of dried bread from there, and a few lumps of sugar. They also brought a kerosene burner, a primus, to boil some water for father. Somehow the day passed. We knew that our fate was sealed. The Russians were still far off and the Germans with their good friends, the Latvians, are already at work in town: houses were being set a fire and Jews beaten.
We were sitting in fear. What should we do? If the murderers will enter our cellar, God forbid what would we then do with our parents?
Nighttime fell. There were also Latvians with us in the cellar. They began to whisper amongst themselves. We started to shudder because we knew the significance of their whispering. We therefore decided that my husband and my brother should once more crawl over to our home and if there is a place there to hide we should all move there and await our fate there.
Their departure from the cellar scared everyone. Because to appear outdoor after 8 in the evening was punishable by death.
In half an hour they returned, and we hurriedly started to prepare father for the way. We left mother in the cellar in the meantime. Meanwhile everything around us was burning and the smoke entered the cellar through all the cracks. When we brought father to our home there was suddenly such a shot that I was sure that it has caused father to let out his last breath. In the darkness we carried him in, placed him on a sofa and started to pat him to see if he was still alive. Then my husband and brother went to get mother. It took some time. Finally they came, bringing mother. She was shivering from fear. Two other acquaintances, Bainish Zitlman and his wife also came.
The first thing mother did was run to Papa to see if he is still alive. Then she started to tell us what she has lived through all alone in the cellar after we went out. After we took father out, she said, a bomb exploded near the cellar so the Latvians said that the bomb probably struck that old man. . . Mother's joy was boundless when she heard that father was breathing.
All the night of Friday, Saturday, we could hear the bombs exploding but we were 'happy' that we weren't together with the murderers. I thanked my husband for his warm relationship to my parents. At that precise time we were hiding beneath a table. My husband was glad that I thanked him. I never expressed too much love to him because of the troubles I had with my parents, and he used to jokingly complain to my mother that he thinks I don't love him.
'From today on I will love you more' I promised him.
From carrying the heavy chair with my father, my husband's and brother's feet were badly sprained, but they accepted it all lovingly.
Suddenly - it was already Shabbes (Sabbath) by then - two Germans entered and started to shout that we are communists and that's why we're hiding - and they wanted to arrest us. We began to plead with them but to no avail. It's good that the woman guard came in and told them that we're not communists - so they left. The Saturday-Sunday night we kept imagining that we were going to be arrested once more. . .
JUNE 29, 1941
THE MEN ARE TAKEN AWAY
On Sunday, the 29th, early in the morning, the guard woman came in and told us that there is an order that all Jews up to the age of 60 must gather in the marketplace. Those who will disobey the order will be shot. We were all in despair. My brother Abrashe and my husband said farewell to mother and father and left the house. I accompanied them. They didn't take anything with them simply because there was nothing in the house and it was impossible to buy anything because the Latvians no longer wanted to sell us anything.
We had actually prepared food, a bit of food, in fact, but not for ourselves but for our parents, at their place. It was summer time so we packed a full oven with all kinds of preserves of fish, meat, etc. But the whole house got rained into and soaked.
When we reached the marketplace it was already packed with Jews. My bother Moishe and his family were already there also. My heart told me that none would return.
'Go and say goodbye to the parents,' I asked my brother Moishe, but he was so embittered that he didn't want to, nor could he go. I would run home time after time, to have a look to see how my parents were and immediately returned to the marketplace. This went on all day. The Jews stood in their dark moments, awaiting their destiny. They waited this way in anguish the whole day. At five o'clock in the afternoon we heard shouts, commands. Jews were lined up in rows of 5 and we were told to march - in time - to the central prison. There, in the open yard, they were beaten. After a few hours of beatings, they were thrown in to the dark prison cells, hungry and wounded. Now they felt what the Germans were capable of.
Full of tears, I went home. I made up my mind not to tell my parents all that I had seen that day. The more I could hide from them, I hid. I didn't sleep all night. I hardly awaited the morning to go out in the street and find out how my dear ones were. As I was walking I saw a group of men in the distance. I rushed to them. Amongst the dismal faces I didn't recognize anyone. But as I got closer I felt - more than recognized - my husband. He was so dishevelled and dirty that it threw a fright on me. He was probably suffering more than me.
I followed them, though the Latvians hit, with cudgels, anyone who wanted to give something to the tortured ones. They happened to stop not far from our place. In a hurry I took out a flask of tea and, under blows from a Latvian bandit, handed it to my husband. Only the tea; there was no bread.
I'll always remember that terrible appearance of my husband.
A few days later someone arrived to tell me they saw my brother Abrashe working somewhere. I immediately rushed off to there. With great difficulty and fear I handed him a cucumber. His appearance broke my heart. He was so full of despair that he didn't even want to look at the cucumber. A few days later I noticed someone standing all dirty and blackened, beside a garbage pile. I wanted to get regards from him for my close ones, so I ran over to him unnoticed - and in that poor face I recognize my brother Moishe. He rejoices to see me.
'I'm pretty well off,' he said with smile. 'After work I get a bit of watery soup. Some are worse off.'
I was chased away from him. I went to his wife and children and told them that he's working so they took something to him.
MY MOTHER'S BRAVERY
My parents waited every night for their children, but nobody was allowed home after work, except to quickly grab something so eat and change underwear. I kept keeping up the spirits of my parents, that any minute everyone would be freed. My mother couldn't stay calm, however. She went to the commandant of the city, a German murderer, and asked him for mercy, to at least free her children for a few hours. The German received her very politely and promised her that as soon as the Jews will clean up the town her children will come home.
Mother felt a little better after hearing this. She started to hope that maybe this murderer would free her children from this difficult work. But he freed them from - life. We never saw them again.
Meanwhile the Germans had occupied the living quarters above us and I started to do their laundry. For my work they paid me with dry crusts of bread.
'Now I'll have bread for our men' I thought to myself. But it was probably at the same time that I was washing the German lice-filled laundry that they shot my husband and brother.
Time passed. I used to dress not like a Jewess, but with a kerchief on my head and a basket in my hand and I would stand in line and try to buy something from the Latvians, perhaps a piece of bread. They didn't want to sell any bread to the Jews. They recognized that I was a Jewess, but when I told them that the bread is for my paralyzed father, not for me, they sometimes had pity on me.
Once as I was standing in line Latvian police suddenly appeared and started to grab Jewish women to take to prison where they would be shot. They grabbed me also. My kerchief and basket didn't help at all. I saw that the situation was very, very bitter. For a minute it appeared to me that this was the end for me. I wanted to succumb. But suddenly a thought struck me. There was one fellow Simon who used to work in the liquor factory where I worked, who had become a big-shot in town, so I boldly said:
'Simon told me that if anyone will want to arrest me, I should say that he says to free me.'
I said it fearlessly because what more was there to fear? And it helped. The Latvians looked at one another: How come that I should mention such a high-ranking person? And they freed me.
It was only when I got home that I realized in what great danger I was and this thought alone threw me into a panic when I thought about what had almost happened to me.
From then on my mother never again allowed me to go and stand in line for bread. She went herself.
A MIRACLE: FATHER STARTS TO WALK
On July 7th mother went to try to find some milk for my father and remained to do the laundry. Suddenly my father called me over and showed me (because he could no longer speak at that time), that he feels that he can walk. You can hardly imagine my joy. My father would be able to walk around in such bitter times. I helped him get down from the sofa where he was laying like a prisoner, and I started to walk back and forth with him.
My father was overjoyed that he can finally walk a little. One could only see his joy because he rejoiced speechlessly. He rejoiced like a child who has just learned how to walk. We wanted mother to come home all the sooner in order to show her what a miracle can sometimes happen because of troubles.
But God didn't bequeath to us that bit of joy. As I was walking with my father in the room we suddenly heard some loud knocks on our front door. We got very scared. Because of fear my father could no longer walk. I had to put him down. With a trembling heart I went to open the door. I smiled in order not to show how frightened I was.
FIVE MURDERERS AND TWO BANDITS
Five Germans stood in the doorway. With swastikas on their sleeves and with death insignias on their caps. If this wasn't enough, they brought along two Latvian bandits.
All in unison they barked in German:
'Get out, damn Jews. Get out in three minutes. Out. You're going to be shot right away!'
One of the Latvians was one who, under the Soviets, went around recording how much electricity was used. People would pay on the spot. I never let him stand waiting but always offered him a seat, paid him whatever was due and even gave him a few cent tip. Later, in the ghetto, he became chief of the bandits, the right hand of the commander and during the round-up he had one duty - to shoot.
My father gazed at them with questioning eyes as though saying: Why do you want to throw me out of my child's home?
Quietly he asked me: 'What's going on here?' But I had no reply nor did I have time for that. I only asked him to be strong and help me get him dressed.
One of the murderers went up to my father and shouted to his face: 'How many houses did you burn?' and gave him a blow with his pistol. My father started to fall as a result. I disregarded their aimed pistols but I revived my father and said: 'Father dear, be strong. . .'. I put his trousers on. From being confined to bed so long they got big for him and they hung on him like a sack. I looked for something to use as a belt and I grabbed a red belt from one of my dresses. But when the bandits saw my red belt they begun to scream that we are communists, and they begun to treat us even more wildly.
I grasped my sick old father by his trousers and slowly started to go out with him. As I was going out I grabbed my fall coat from the wall-hook and together we went out of my place where I had lived for three years in contentment and happiness with my husband.
Where should I go now with my father on my hands? And what will mother say when she will come home and not find us? And who knows if my mother is still alive? Maybe she has also been taken as a prisoner.
WE ARE ALIGNED IN ROWS
When I went out in the street with my father a terrifying sight caught my eye. Everyone is being chased out of their living quarters and they are being lined up in rows of five. The shouts of the commanders strike like blows.
'Nobody dare step down on the sidewalk! Yudn must run in the middle of the road like dogs!'
One of the bandits saw me with my father so he told both of us - my father and me - to stand in the first line and lead the parade. But I told that my father can't walk and that his shouting is useless. So another one came over to me and told me to go up with my father to the fifth floor - but quickly!
I had to obey. I held my father with all my strength and by nearly pulling him up all the way we reached the fifth floor. I pulled him the way one pulls a full sack: At this point my father started to bother me that he needs to 'relieve himself.' What was I to do? I can't let go of him. I have nowhere to put him down. But I must find a place where the murderers won't see him.
With much difficulty I managed to find such a place. I somehow dragged my father over, but my father, feeling ashamed, said that he had made a mistake. He apologized to him as though he had committed a crime.
I once more took him in hand and waited with a fast-beating heart for what I would next be told to do. I waited thus for a couple of minutes; then a Latvian came over to us and told us to go down immediately and get in line and go in rows of 10 to the Officers' St. There we will, together with others, hear our decree. I didn't heed the murderer's voice but I grasped my father by his trousers and carefully went down and stood in the first rows. But since my father couldn't walk, I asked that I myself should be allowed to go with him. I promised that I would not run away but will go right to the Bais Medresh (House of Study) on Officers' St. I thought that all Jews who had been driven out of their homes were there already. This was the Bais Medresh where my parents and my husband used to pray.
The bandits saw for themselves that my father could not lead the parade so they took me and my father out of the rows and let us go separately. The Jews didn't look at their own misfortune but kept looking at me and my father. Tears flowed from their eyes because they wanted to help but weren't allowed to.
As I was dragging my paralyzed father and feeling that my strength is leaving me, I saw how a niece of mine, Rosa Frankel, a daughter of my brother Moishe, seventeen years old, was running, embittered, so she remained with the two of us and helped me drag my father, her beloved grandpa, through the Dvinsker street. We pulled him like a sack and at every step the Latvians spit in our faces and shouted after us: 'You've lost! Soon all of you will be shot like dogs. You're all communists! You've had it good enough for long enough!'
I was afraid lest they drag my niece off somewhere also, and I started to plead with her to go home to her mother and to her brother who she still had at that time and so avoid our fate. But my pleading was in vain. Her kind youthful heart didn't allow her to let me remain alone with her dear zaidy. She helped me on to carry my father until my mother caught up to us, very frightened. Now, with mother's help, I actually chased her away from us and I told her to tell her mother everything.
She went away crying.
Mother started to tell me what a fear she endured when she came home and didn't find anyone. She had gone into the yard and knocked at the back window, (that's what we had decided, so that the Latvians wouldn't see anyone going in to us and thus realize that someone is still to be found here), and nobody answered. She thought that she would pass out. Breathlessly she set out to find us.
She just returned from the 'creamery' where she got three bottles of milk from the peasants. She carried the milk with joy and with fear.
I ASK 'DEATH' FOR MY FATHER
We both took father to our minyan (quorum) in the community Bais Medresh on Officers' St. where my father prayed since he got married but we were horrified to find that our Bais Medresh had been burnt and horses were stabled there. A passer-by told us that all the Jews were in 'Planov' Bais Medresh, but we were afraid to move father from the spot because the veins on his face were so strained that we thought that any moment they would burst and he would die. I prayed to God that my father should die all the sooner but let it not happen here on the street where the Latvians spit in our face and laugh at us as we carry our father.
But there wasn't much time to think. We had no control over ourselves and of our lives; we are in the hands of the bandits. So we again dragged ourselves on until we finally reached the 'Planov' Bais Medresh.
Here a frightful picture unfolded before us.
IN 'PLANOV' BAIS MEDRESH
I QUICKLY LOOK AT THE WINDOWS . . .
The 'Planov' Bais Medresh was an old building that could accommodate around 50 or 60 people. But now some five hundred people or more had been shoved in. One could suffocate. And that's how people awaited their death sentence.
And yet when we took our father in they somehow made room for him.
Here in this Bais Medresh I could no longer hold back my tears that I had choked back all day. I didn't want the murderers to see me crying because if one of us cried they took revenge on us. But here, in front of the collective Jews, condemned to death, I didn't have anything to hide.
As I was sitting there crying, a German came over to me and asked me why I was crying. I pointed out to him my father and all the crowded Jews and I asked him if I needn't cry. He told me that he was not a Reich's Deutsch and he doesn't have anything against us and if he will remain here all night he will help me. I told this to my mother who had, in the meantime, distributed a bottle of milk amongst the youngest children who were put down, crying and miserable.
My mother listened to me and said that she doesn't trust the German because she heard that the intention is to burn us all in this Bais Medresh.
I convinced her that that can't be. It can't be that a whole house of prayer full of Jews will be burnt, but at that moment I took a look at the windows (old fashioned ones above one's head) and I assessed through which window I would throw my father and through which - my mother, in case the building will be set on fire. About myself I didn't think at all.
Meanwhile more unfortunate ones like us kept being brought in, frightened, some with children in their arms. Some were bloodied - they had probably answered the murderers. Our hearts turned to stone at what we saw and because we didn't know what the next moment could, God forbid, bring.
THE PRAYER-HOUSE IS SET ON FIRE
My mother was not wrong. Around midnight the building started to burn and then we all understood that the intention is to burn us all.
Panic reigned such as cannot be described. But in the panic I suddenly saw the German who promised to help us. He was helping to put out the fire.
The four daughters of the manufacturing-merchant Magid of Petrograd St. were helping him Now I believed the German a little, that he is indeed different from the other Germans. When it started to get light he came over to me and said that if I have somewhere to go with my parents, I should go right now because he must leave. I replied: 'Yes, I have somewhere to go,' and I went out onto the street with my parents, not knowing actually where I was going.
Just then an old Russian peasant came along in his wagon. We promised to pay him well just let him take us on his wagon. He took us on, and in one stretch drove us to the other side of the Dvina where our relatives were living ever since before the war. We didn't know if they were still to be found there, but we had no other choice, so we went there, trusting in God.
It was dangerous to ride through the city. The Latvians were grabbing Jews and it would have been easy to fall into the murderous hands and to be taken back to prison, that was already full of Jews who were waiting for their fate.
Our relatives greeted us with much fear. They themselves didn't have a place to rest their head, because while they had been hiding in the cellars during the air raids, the Latvians robbed them and didn't leave anything untouched. For my father we found a broken sofa, with spring wires protruding. But even with this sofa we rejoiced - and with the premises - certainly, because we would certainly be better off here than in prison. But who knows how long we'll be able to remain here . . .
A BLOW TO THE HEART
On July 10 a law came out that all of those in the shtetl Grive must register for work. With a trembling heart I went to the police and I registered all three of us. I didn't have any documents with which to register my father so I went to the city hall and asked them to allow me to go to my home town in order to search for some kind of a document for my father. From the city hall they sent a peasant with me, one who worked there, to take me there.
Upstairs, in our home, the police had already set up their administrative offices, and below, the bandits had made themselves at home. As soon as I opened the door I got a blow to my heart.
'Scram, you have nothing to look for here!'
But the peasant explained to them my reason for coming. I went into the house. The rooms were tidied up very well, not the way I had left them when I hurried out; curtains were on the windows; glassware on the table; the pictures on the wall - everything as it should be. The family photos, however, were not there.
Downstairs I found nothing, so I went upstairs. There one started to question me.
'How do you happen to be in the Grive? You had previously been arrested?
'No,' I answered, looking him straight in the eyes so that he shouldn't, God forbid recognize that I'm lying. 'We are on the Grive since the bombardment. . . '
He couldn't do anything to me because the peasant was with me.
On the way home, after the shock I received in the door of my own dwelling, it was clear to me that I had lost everything.
When I reached home mother asked:
'What happened to you?'
'Nothing happened to me,' I answered. The end was that I registered my father without a document.
I was sent to work in a farmer's field. Here a new chapter in my life started.
In the morning, on my way to work, I could hear shooting from the side of the prison and my heart grew faint. Who knows if my dearest ones aren't being shot there - my husband and my brother. My work was hard, and the weather happened to be very hot - so that I felt myself burning up at work.
When I came home I would wash the floors and help my relatives in whatever work there was to do in the home so that they shouldn't be angry that my father had occupied the only piece of bedding, the broken sofa. My mother slept on benches and I - on the floor.
MY MOTHER'S TRICK
One day I was returning from work, tired and burnt, with blisters on my hands and feet, when I felt that someone on a motorcycle had stopped near me. I got very scared and I had to stop also. A German soldier sprung up in front of me and asked me if I need any help. I was so frightened that I said, tomorrow at this time I would await his help. Breathlessly I ran home. I felt that once more someone was following me but I didn't turn around. I was afraid, though, lest someone would see me running away.
When I came home mother called out:
'My child, yours I have not given away.'
I didn't even begin to understand what she means thereby. She began to tell me that they had just lived through terror. Germans came and told everyone to strip naked and hand over their money and jewellery. My mother had my whole fortune sewed into her corset and hanging on her neck she had her own little purse with a bit of money. My mother risked her life and begged them not to undress her. She will give them everything she has and she gave them her change purse with the money. She assured them that she doesn't have anything more other than this sick one - this she said, pointing to my father. So one of the Germans took out 50 rubles from the robbed change purse and gave it to her so that she should be able to buy bread.
My mother was overjoyed that she succeeded in rescuing my money but she was risking her life, playing such a heroic role. This she didn't know. And was it really worthwhile? I was no longer interested in the money. My life ended June 29, 1941, when my husband and brothers were taken to prison. The money would not return them to me.
MOTHER SAVES ME
A few days later, late in the evening, when nobody was supposed to be seen in the streets, a German pilot came in to us and without any reservation, he asked me if I'm married. I replied that I was.
'So where's you husband?' he asked. When I told him that my husband is in prison, he said to me:
'I'll be your man.'
My father got very scared and beseeched my mother with his eyes, to do something. I asked the German to go out into the corridor with me. There I wanted to ask him to leave me alone and I wanted to distance him from my parents who were scared to death. But in the corridor he took out a white pistol, put it to my heart, and started to count: one. . . two. . . three. . . and when I still said no he started to say: th - r - re . . .
That moment I felt that I'm going to be shot, and I shouted:
The murderer suddenly lowered his hand and I felt my mother beside me, embracing me and claiming me.
'My child, the soldier already left.'
We went into the house. I threw myself down on the hard floor and I cried all night long.
The following day I again went to work.
On July 15 an order was given that all Jews must put on yellow patches/indicators 12 square centimeters in size. Women have to wear the yellow patch on their left breast and on their shoulder - and the men an additional patch on their left knee. The patch had to look like a Soviet star because the Latvians say that the Jews are communists.
On July 20 we heard that for the remaining Jews living in town, a ghetto is being prepared on the side of the 'Grive.' This embittered us all, because we knew the significance of this. Besides, the Grive wasn't a place where one could live. That was where the Latvian military stabled its horses and there they sent erring soldiers for punishment and communists. Besides, the Grive was half destroyed by the German bombardment.
However, they didn't let us think much nor did they ask us if we like the place or not. On July 25, Saturday morning, all the Jews from the Grive were told to go to the ghetto. At the same time a former maid of ours, one who raised us and loved us very much, a Pole, came in to us, and she told us what terrible things she had witnessed in the yard of the prison: The whole Christian population was gathered and all stood and watched - some indifferently, some with joy - as the Jews were told to dig large pits. And when the pits were ready all the Jews were thrown in and they were buried alive.
This sounded so incomprehensible to us that we didn't understand that with this the Polish woman wanted to tell us the 'good' news about our dear ones who are already laying there in the pit covered over. And even when she told us that she went to the church and lit candles for the dead ones, we still didn't comprehend what she was aiming to tell us. . .
We hurried on our way. In the middle of the Sabbath we put father on a wagon that we provided for him alone, and mother and I, holding hands, made our way to where we were being sent. We went, resigned, without any clothes, without anything. The heat was torturing. We followed the wagon the way one follows a hearse. From the distance we saw the gray, half-destroyed buildings. It was fearful to behold. These were historical buildings of the one-time Romanovs.
From these buildings the ghetto was made.
IN THE GHETTO
On Saturday, July, 10 o'clock in the morning, we entered the ghetto. The ghetto was three kilometers from the Grive quarter that was separated from the town by the Dvina. There were very old barracks there that had served as horse stables for the Latvian military when they were stationed on that side of the river in the 'Krepose.' Now the barracks/stables had neither floors nor windows, nor a roof, only bare walls. At one time there were windows up high, now everything was ruined.
There all the Jews of the town were pressed in. People lay on top of another and it was choking. We barely found a spot where to put father down; on a piece of bare earth. There wasn't even anything with which to hand him a drink of water. To add to our troubles, it started to rain.
Mother strengthened herself and gave me courage:
'God will have mercy. Surely he won't let such a sick old man die in the rain.'
I scurried around like a poisoned mouse, looking for a somewhat better place for my parents. But wherever I looked I was tormented by the sight of the crowded, dispirited Jews who don't even have a spot for their tired bodies. But from simply walking around, broken-heartedly, no good would come. I decided that I must not return to mother bare-handed and tell her that I can't find a spot - I must find a spot - that's all there is to it.
I BECOME A NURSE
Suddenly, I saw our house-doctor, Dr. Rosenblum, who attended to my father for some time.
'What's to be done?' I appealed to him.
He approached another doctor, Dr. Gurewitz, who also knew us very well, and they both whispered a secret to me that if I'm prepared to work amongst the sick, they will provide me with a place for my father. I promised to do everything that I would be asked to do, so long as I would have a place for my father.
We arranged the second floor for the sick ones, and there, on the hard floor, my father also got a spot, but we were happy that he will no longer have to lay on the bare earth, the wet earth.
We dragged him up to the second floor almost over peoples' heads because there wasn't even an inch of empty space.
Mother remained sitting near him and I went off to people I knew to look for a bit of water for them both. Possibly it will be God's will that I'll find more fortunate people than us and they may even give me a piece of bread also.
I was lucky. An acquaintance of ours, Fraida Sher, who owned a bakery, managed to bring a sack of flour into the ghetto as well as a cooking burner and other small items. Besides, her married children worked for Germans. She gave me a glass of tea and a piece of challah for my father and she told me to come again because as long as she will have, she will give us also.
My joy was indescribable that I could bring my father a glass of tea and challah.
In the room with my father were many unfortunate souls. Amongst them there was also a friend of ours, Saul Hellerman and his wife. They were lying on the floor awaiting their fate.
My work was to watch the sick and help the doctors. I worked hard but I didn't mind because firstly, my parents didn't have to lay on the ground and secondly, it was good to help the lonely, unfortunate who - who knows? - Possibly they would yet today, or maybe tomorrow, be sent to their death. With such thoughts, the first night in the hospital passed. For my own weary bones I had no place to rest. But who thought about oneself?
The next morning I started to think about finding a piece of bread somewhere. It wasn't pleasant for me to go every day to our acquaintance, Fraida Sher. Very few people had the opportunity to bring any provisions into the ghetto, other than those who worked in town for the Germans. They sometimes did bring something into the ghetto for their families. But I was working in the hospital and this one was a conspiratorial one. The Germans weren't supposed to know that on the second floor there's a room where sick old people were suffering. Naturally, they therefore, didn't send any food up there. The situation was indeed bitter. Nevertheless, I did manage to get some hot water and a piece of bread somewhere.
There started to be talk about setting up a kitchen; that's to say - a delegation would approach the commandant and ask him that we should receive every day at least a bit of soup and some bread.
THE FIRST 'AKTZION'
On July 27, Dr. Gurewitz came in with the engineer, Yashe Kroin, and started to complete a list of all the old people. That's what the Germans ordered because all the old and sick were to be taken to another camp, not far from the ghetto.
My mother and I got worried. What should we do? Were we to hand over father to the murderers? Who will watch over him there? We were still naive and in no way did we imagine that the old folks and the sick would be shot. So we decided to ask the doctor not to include our father's name in the list. Yashe Kroin said that if at all possible he will do this.
My father was not taken.
In the evening I went to the window and saw drunken Latvians, with cudgels in their hands, chasing with wild shouts, the sick, old and blind into the forest. Dr. Gurewitz went with them. Had to go with them. My uncle, Mendl Snider was also with them together with his eldest daughter Eda.
I looked at the tragic picture and thought that my heart would break.
The next day rumours started to spread that bread had been sent for the old who had been sent away. This was nothing more than a trick so that people would think that it's good there and that if it should be called for, others would let themselves be led there. But instinctively our hearts told us that the other camp doesn't exist and has never existed and that those who were dragged away are no longer alive.
We weren't given a chance to do much thinking. On Tuesday evening we heard cries from the distance. The cries came nearer and nearer until we realized that these were the cries of tortured Jews. The next day we discovered that into the ghetto the remaining Jews had been gathered from all the surrounding villages. From Dvinsk alone, then from Dondo, Vishkes, Krislovke, Indra, Livengoff, Nitzkol and from all the way to Riga. The Latvian population had been told that they will no longer see a Jew, not even in the museum, even if one were to pay two 'lot' (Latvian money) for a Jew there would not be one to be had.
If, up to now, the crowding was bad, it got even worse, unbearable. But the commandants of the ghetto said that it would soon become 'roomier.' A new camp/lager would be established for the newcomers and whoever will want to will be able to go along.
In three days time an order was issued that all newcomers must go to a new camp. Of the former ones, anyone who wants to can go also. First it was necessary to register; and in the evening, line up in rows of five and go to the other camp.
All the newcomers and many others immediately signed up for the other camp because they thought that it's better there.
They were all taken to the road that leads to the spa Pagulonska, eight kilometers from town. But after this 'trickery' no news came from the other camp, and we felt once more, instinctively, that something is fowl here. Soon a Christian woman came into the ghetto and told us that all those who had been led out were shot in the forest Pagulanska and that fresh pits are being dug there. . .
We were gripped with a terrible fear. In this fear we were allowed to 'live' and await our day.
I continued to do my work in the hospital as well as I could, but in addition to this I had to scurry around and look for food for myself and for my dear ones. The number of the sick grew from day to day. The children got contagious diseases and they dropped like flies. Dr. Gurewitz had foretold this about the children and it did come to pass.
My mother could no longer lie on the bare ground near my father and I had to find another spot for her. Beneath our sick-block there were dirty horse stables, so with my bare hands I cleaned out the dirt, and on the hard, cold floor, made a place for my mother. I didn't even have anything to spread out beneath her.
There was no change of clothing so the lice crawled around on everyone freely.
Whenever I could go out of the hospital for a few minutes, I would go down to mother. With a smile and with a joke I would take her aside, take off her rags and remove the lice from her lovely white skin. How long is it possible to bear this? I thought, as I was doing this.
My mother got jaundiced from the stable air. Not only that but she had stomach pains from the watery soup. The raw bread that they threw our way (because that's all we deserve, since sooner or later we would be shot), she couldn't swallow.
Meanwhile we suffered greatly from the Latvians. Every night they would come and seek out some women. God protected me from this because I was in the hospital and they didn't come there.
'SHMA YISRAEL' (HEAR O ISRAEL)
On August 7 an order was issued that everyone must go to bathe in the Dvina. I went there also with my mother. Both of us went into the water, holding hands. The Germans and the Latvians laughed at us, photographed us, and chased us right back to the ghetto.
Wed., August 8, an order was suddenly issued that everyone must line up in the yard and no one was to remain indoors and we were to await further orders. They started to sort: labourers separately and others separately.
What was I to do now? Should I stand beside my frightened mother?
I approached the head murderer and asked him where I should line up since I work in the hospital. He was surprised at a 'farflukhtn Yudn' who has the nerve to approach him and ask him something, and he asked me threateningly:
'Where is the hospital here?'
I got very scared. Why did I have to mention the hospital? Who knows what trouble I caused thereby?
I replied that the hospital is there about, so he shouted to my face:
'Line up with the workers.'
I lined up near the lucky ones. But what was to be with my mother who had lined up with the non-workers? I snuck out from amongst the workers and went after the group in which my distraught mother had been led away. From the distance I saw her head kerchief and I went up to the policeman, a Latvian, and I asked him to hand my mother over to me, because the head man said since I'm working, I'm allowed to take her with me.
After much pleading, he let me have my mother.
I was overjoyed that I had rescued my mother from the hands of the murderers!
I came back with my mother and lined up with her amongst the workers and she told me that exactly when she had uttered 'Shma Yisrael' the policeman took her out of line and brought her to me.
A FALSE ACCUSATION WITH A BLOODY END
We stood in bitterness, clinging to one another. Suddenly something dreadful happened. Voices were heard that in room 23, arms (guns) had been found and that everyone who lived in that room should immediately come out to get their punishment.
From amongst the workers a family by the name of Elkin stepped forward, a mother with two girls (twins four years old) and another few who lived in that cursed room. Right in front of our eyes they were murderously beaten and they were immediately taken away to be shot. (This was the daughter-in-law of the Elkins who had a factory of cardboard boxes on the Alien St.).
After that we stood all night, totally wounded, watching the drunken Latvians choosing new victims, torturing them and sending them to their death.
It began to rain. Only late at night did they lead us 'fortunate' ones back to our rooms and the group of non-workers were led to the forest. . .
That same evening I took my mother to her sister Dina who had also saved herself because her two children were working and they had notes from their bosses. Then I went to my father to see how he was. I found him so scared that he grabbed me by the hand and didn't want to let go. The sick ones told me here also they had been tortured but no one was taken away. Father clung to me and wanted to tell me what a dreadful fear he had just experienced here. I calmed him and said that mother had gone to aunt Dina's place to sleep.
That's how the days passed; every day with bitter news. In one place people were being shot; in another, pits were being dug for fresh victims.
My mother turned gray from the troubles. She looked terrible because she didn't eat anything, just drank. She lay there all day long and looked at me running around throughout the hospital, caring for the sick and always assured me:
'My child, if you had ever sinned, your sins are now all forgiven.'
A few days later mother came over to me and told me that she heard her brother, Shmuel Hellerman had been shot. He had lived on the Lithuanian-Latvian border, in Eglaina-Yalovke, together with his wife and child and their nine-years-old son.
I wanted to embrace her and comfort her, but she said how could she not believe what she was being told, when she sees with her own eyes how death is rapidly approaching here.
It didn't take long and my mother's premonition came to pass.
MY MOTHER DEPARTS
At three o'clock in the afternoon, in the dark day of August 18, 1941, we were all told to line up in the yard because we were being taken to Nuremberg, Germany. Mother just happened to be standing beside father's bed as she asked me if she must go also. 'Of course!' I replied, and we went down into the yard and lined up with all the others. Each one was separately interrogated. When my turn came I said that I have my mother with me because I work here in the hospital.
The murderer asked if I was telling the truth. Then he told me to remain here but mother must go. I began to plead with him, falling on my knees, to allow my mother to remain here, but it didn't help.
'If that's the case, I'm going with my mother,' I said. At this point mother started to beg me to stay here.
'Stay alive, my child. Who will watch over him if not you?' That's how she thought only about father and it never occurred to her that she was going to her own death.
I didn't want to obey her but she embraced me and said:
'Stay here with father, my child. I'm ready to be a sacrifice for you.'
She was seized away from me and I was thrust to a side. I wanted to hand her a piece of bread that I had in my pocket but a German shouted to me that she will have enough bread. I replied fearfully that I know what kind of bread she will be given. . .
So it was, that with the piece of bread that I did manage to give her, my mother went right to the jaws of death. She went like a heroine, with a smile on her eyes so that I shouldn't, God forbid, see in her fearful eyes that she still wants to live and she certainly deserved to live on because she had spent twenty years caring for my sick father who later became paralyzed. Besides, she had also helped us in our store and above all, she had raised a house full of children and made human beings out of us.
But she departed without complaint, content to be sacrifice for me, and even her request to God, that she should die in her own bed, was not granted. No, not only not granted but it is possible that she was buried alive and I don't even know where her grave is.
I followed with my eyes as my mother disappeared from my sight. I wanted to get one last look at her but she didn't turn around to me; I only saw from the distance how she took an old Jew by the arm because it seemed she didn't see where to go. . .
I was once more chased up to the hospital. Full of bitterness, I ran up to the window and I watched the vanishing column. I imagined that the bent-over form of a woman whom I saw, with the white string-bag on her shoulder, is my mother. . . Soon this also vanished.
I approached my father. He saw how embittered I was, so he started to torment me with questioning eyes, without language, using his hands:
'Where is Mama?'
I told him that mother has gone to another camp, and as soon as he will feel better and we'll also go there with him. The next day father again started to torment me, asking where mother was - that he wanted to see her and when will we be on our way to her?
In the same 'aktzion' my mother's sister, Dina Lubotsky, also vanished, together with her two grown children, Fraida Sher and her husband and other relatives and acquaintances.
I MAKE A COMEDY OUT OF THE TROUBLES
Now an additional role was added to my hard work in the hospital: to play out for my father the comedy of pretending that all our dear ones are still alive.
The friends who used to occasionally give a potato for my sick father, were no longer alive so it was doubly hard for me to get something for him to eat. Furthermore, he couldn't eat by himself but I had to spoon-feed him.
Once it happened that a sick man who lay not far from my father, somehow spilt out the news that our dear ones have perished, but since my father knew nothing about this, but believed what I had told him, that his children are in prison, he got very upset, suddenly sat up and in silent anger, wanted to hit the other sick man, as though to say:no! Shut up! My children are alive! When the sick ones saw my father's rage and that from anger he sat himself up, they started to shout and called me. I came running like one not dead nor alive and I calmed my father:
'Don't believe anyone, only me. What they're telling you is about World War I, not about now. . . . '
When he calmed down somewhat, I went over to the sick man and asked him, with tearful eyes, never again to speak of such things in front of my father; never to tell him what's happening around us. MY FATHER IS DISPLEASED WITH THE GUESTS
Meanwhile my work in the hospital had become deathly dangerous because many of the sick were suffering from typhoid fever and from dysentery and I didn't even have a shirt to change and I could easily get sick any day.
We were expecting some higher-ranking murderers who knew that we have a hospital in the ghetto. So I asked my father that when the 'good friends' will come, he should, for God's sake, stay calm. Father was the oldest one in the hospital and I was dreadfully afraid lest they take note of him, but I was destined to endure fear. Just when the murderers were doing the rounds, inspecting the sick, I was standing beside my dear father, guarding him; he suddenly started to stammer and point at the bloody guests and at my eyes, and he wanted me to tell him at exactly that moment why I'm so frightened and who the guests are. Dr. Domya himself also got scared and thought that our end had come. I thought I was finished. The murderers didn't wait long and they went straight to my father's bed. My heart stopped beating. One of the inspectors asked Dr. Domya:
'Who's this sick one?'
But I interrupted him and said:
'This sick one is already better. He will soon be able to return to work.'
They both looked at me quizzically, wondering, and went away.
'Well, good you've saved your father.' Dr. Domya was pleased. But as for me, I asked myself: How much longer will I succeed to protect him from the murderers' hands.
YOM KIPPUR 1941
Meanwhile Yom Kippur 1941 arrived. There was nothing to eat before the fast except for some tea and bits of bread. We fasted the day of Yom Kippur. Father felt very bad because of fasting, so Dr. Rosenblum asked me what I intended to do now with my father, whether to give him an injection to keep him alive or let him expire. It was only a matter of an injection.
I was devastated and I didn't even have anyone to consult about what to do. I decided to give him camphor in order to revive him a bit and to lengthen his life.
What sort of a life is this? I thought to myself at the same time. Wait - until one fine day the murderers notice him and take him away to be shot. What kind of a life is that! But I thought: if my mother was here now with me at such a decisive moment of father's life, what would she tell me to do?
With such thoughts I stood near my father and watched him start, slowly, to breathe more easily. And when he returned to normal I felt lighter in my heart and I rejoiced that I would still have someone to care for and that I am not completely alone in the world.
Possibly, if my father had died then, I also wouldn't be alive now because the hospital guarded me from many dangers.
A few days after Yom Kippur father called me over and told me to have a look under his blanket and tell him why he's so itchy in a certain spot. I took a look and I saw what I expected to see: lice.
I understood very well at that time my father's shame, mixed with regret, that he has to show his daughter his naked body and ask her to free him from the ugly parasites that torture him. Under normal conditions mother looked after him.
Somewhere I got hold of a fine comb and I carefully combed his body. Then I washed him with Lysol, a kind of disinfectant. My father's joy was indescribable. He was like a new person. He embraced me with his left hand with which he was able to move slightly, hugged me and kissed me, with tears in his eyes, thanked me for making him clean.
I told him that he doesn't have to be ashamed with me because I am his daughter and I told him that the moment he feels itchy he should let me know.
That's how the days passed. The hospital was full with around 150 sick ones, mainly very sick. Many had typhoid fever. I ran around, hungry, from bed to bed, both daytime and nighttime and I sometimes felt that I was passing out. At such moments I would sit down at the foot of my father's bed and rest my weary feet when the sick ones would ask me very much, or when I would be relieved for an hour or two. But this would rarely happen because everyone was embittered and didn't think about the other person.
I had to work harder than anyone else because my unfortunate father had a bed here in the hospital and I imagined that as long as I will be needed they'll let me keep my father with me, I therefore wanted my work to be important and indispensable.
The commandant already knew about our hospital and in the first murderous days they did indeed leave us alone. After Dr. Gurewitz left with the first 'aktzion' slowly, all the doctors, therefore, signed up with the hospital.
THE STAFF OF THE HOSPITAL AND OTHERS EMPLOYED THERE
Following is the staff of our hospital, as far as my memory serves me:
Fanariyov - a barber surgeon
Dr. Chanuch, a gynecologist
Dr. Damya, a surgeon
Dr. Damya (his wife), a neurologist
Dr. Doneman, a radiologist and gynecologist
Dr. Wofsy, internist and son-in-law of the well-known official of Dovinsk
Dr. Rosenblum, internist
Dr. Botzianu, a Gruze
Dr. Landau, from Riga, a surgeon
Dr. Seminovich Wofsy, skin specialist, brother of the famous actor Michaels
female Dr. Chatziantz, wife of Dr. Chatziantz
Toder Gurwich, a midwife
and I myself
The pharmacist was Eli Wolfsy; eye doctor, Dr. Kroin (maiden name Fein, from Libon, Latvia)
Those on the Committee (Judenrat) were:
Berl Rapaport of the furniture factory.
Dr. Doneman, head of committee
Policemen (other than the Latvians, obviously):
Dismond (from the cinema Grand Electra)
His brother from the paper factory
Pasternak from Kreslovka
In the Burial Society:
Strikovich, a Jew from the old city
At the supply depot:
In the kitchen - Frau Rapoport (of the furniture factory):
In the warehouse where bread was distributed:
From the stationery depot:
Frau Levine (of the confectionery factory) and others
There was also a tailoring section and a shoemaker section.
Those doctors who had relatives went to spend the night sleeping in the barracks and I used to remain alone in the hospital with the sick. When anyone needed a doctor right away, or when anyone was about to die I would go in the dark, throughout the ghetto to get a doctor, though I knew that the Latvian murderers our 'guards' are around, with guns in their hands. More than once I thought that one or another of those Lats was aiming at me from the distance and is going to shoot me. In that kind of fear I went at night to get a doctor for Frau Wofsy, who was the pharmacist and had the key to the medicines.
MY STRENGTH IS EBBING
I still didn't have a place where I could rest my weary bones and I suddenly felt such exhaustion that I knew that something was going to happen to me. I changed a lot, both in my appearance and in the tempo of my work, and the doctors asked me to find a place where I could sleep amongst people whom I knew, because if I will lay down sick, who will take care of my father?
I didn't want to, nor could I wait for strangers to do me favours; the doctors and all the hospital staff were tied to the hospital only because they knew that for the time being nobody is being taken from the hospital to be shot. But nobody really thought of curing the sick because today or tomorrow all will be shot anyhow.
My father needed the kind of attention that no one, only I, could give him, but I felt that I was losing my strength and I was falling from my feet. I started to look for a place where, at least a few times a week, I would be able to rest my bones. I found such a place at my aunt's Musia Kellerman. She was still alive at that time. The place consisted of three boards, nothing more.
When I told my father that I was going to my relatives to sleep, he got very frightened. With his sad eyes he asked me pleadingly:
'You're leaving me here alone? Who will even want to come near me?'
He thought nothing other than that I would never again return to him. I calmed him and told him not to call upon anyone. I'll come in the morning to clean him up.
I didn't want to ask any of the nurses or any of the sick, in spite of the fact that they all told me to go and have a rest and they will look after my father in the meantime. I said goodbye and went to my new 'bed.'
IN BARRACK 71
I went into barrack 71. Everyone was already lying on their hard 'beds'; some asleep, some unable to fall asleep because they were tortured by hunger or dark thoughts. I lay down to sleep. For the first time in four months I permitted myself to stretch my weary bones out a bit. But I couldn't sleep. I lay, looking at the people who were lying there like judged ones who were awaiting their day.
I heard Frau Zyer call out from her sleep, or not from her sleep, and calls her two shot children. Another one was crying out cursing herself for not having gone away with her parents. Another one could be heard whistling the song 'Mein Shtetaleh Beltz.'
I looked around in the dark and listened: Who is that singing. That longing whistling awakened in me all the wounds that were not yet healed at that time and, indeed, they will never heal.
The barracks were something new to me. I had acclimatized myself in the hospital to have to do only with the sick and to run from one bed to the next. I didn't know how the people in the barracks lived. I then used to once a week go out into the yard for a few minutes when I had to beg for a potato for my father. I never delayed because I knew that my father was awaiting me.
Once, as I was lying thus on the boards, I saw Basia Kling, a young intelligent girl, who had already lost her parents and her brother, put her head in a broken oven and looks for burning coal to warm herself. While doing so she was whistling a sad melody, quietly so as not to disturb the 'sweet' sleep of those asleep. The melody of that lonely child who was wandering around here in the ghetto, hungry and embittered, awaiting her judgement day, that might come any day, tore at my heart.
Because of such, and similar scenes, the night passed without sleep for me. But at daybreak, it was still on the dark side, I went to father. My father's joy, when he saw my arrival, was boundless. Only now was it clear to me that he really thought that I would never return to him. Only God knows what dark thoughts plagued him all night.
I cleaned him up with even more devotion than normally, thankful that he didn't bother anyone at night. This must be my work only. That, after all, was what mother wanted.
In this manner I went off to sleep a few times a week. It was bitter for me that when I cleaned up my father I didn't have any fresh clothing for him, because he only had the one set of underwear with which he arrived in the ghetto, so that until his underwear dried he had to lay naked, covered up just with a coat that I had managed to grab off the wall while I was driven out of my house.
There was never a night without a death in the ghetto. Children used to die more than adults. I had a great need to pour out my heart a bit and cry but I had nobody, so I would sometimes ask to be allowed to accompany the dead because at the Grive cemetery an aunt of mine was buried, Sara Shneider, a sister of my mother, so I wanted to find her grave and pour out my aching heart. It didn't take long and I found her grave. I poured my heart out to her and I asked her to help me overcome my troubles, not so much for my own sake, but because of my sick father who needs me and other than me has nobody who even wants to have a look at him.
I was at the funerals very often, though a dead one was not supposed to be accompanied by more than 10-12 people, but Herr Nachum Apter, head of the Burial Society, knew that a daughter of Frankel's is in the hospital, and her only pleasure is to go to the cemetery to cry her heart out, so he would often list me with the entourage.
When I returned from the cemetery I always put on a smile because I didn't want my father to catch on where I had been.
THE BITTER NOVEMBER 9.
The 9th of November was drawing near. We awaited this day with great fear because that was the day when Hershel Greenspan shot, in France, the German minister Vom Roth and the Germans, because of that, would on that day, cause great trouble for the Jews, both in Germany and in the conquered countries.
We anticipated troubles and knew that something dreadful would happen. Our premonition came for what we saw around us, and what we saw was that the murderers were preparing for that day quite openly.
An order was issued that we must deliver all our valuables such as gold, diamonds, expensive coats, furs, etc. so that nothing will remain in our possession. Otherwise 300 Jews will be hung. We started to give all our things away, whatever we owned and we were happy to do this just so as to avert a greater misfortune. Things were collected from everyone. Nobody was bypassed. I gave my marriage ring and another ring that mother had given me as a gift when I turned 20 and of which I swore that I would never remove it from my finger as long as I live. I took off both rings, kissed them and threw them into the large box that the murderers placed at the Jewish Committee for us to fill up with our antiques. Father couldn't understand why I was removing my rings and where I was off to on such a cold day.
Then documents were distributed for all who worked for the Germans in town and all who worked in the ghetto as tailors and shoemakers and in the kitchen and also those who had documents that they were doctors or dentists.
I didn't have anything to show, except for my father on my hands. I didn't even have anyone to consult, because mother had long ago gone.
I did have two cousins Roza Blumkin and Eda Kritzer, and they knew of my troubles very well. They couldn't help me though because they themselves were in danger, even though their husbands were lucky to have documents. So they got the following idea: they found a man who was willing to put me on his document. I simply had to change my name to Donion. The idea didn't appeal to me, though it was a matter of saving my life. I had faith that God would help me some other way.
And that's what actually happened. A woman from Kovno came to me, Riva Malarska, and proposed that I should go over to the workers' barracks to hide out and there is a possibility that one of the workers will be able to save me.
From beneath father's cushion I took out a watch that I had hidden there for an hour of need, handed it to her, in case she has to bribe someone and I went into the workers' barrack to see how they were preparing for the dark yomtov. That was on the night of November 7. I went in and waited to see what would happen.
I didn't have to wait very long. The commandant from the ghetto came in, a murderer, a Latvian, who found shooting a delight, and he began to call out the names of those who work for Germans outside of the ghetto.
I thought he looked at me and I thought that I would be a lot better off if I was at the hospital at that time. I sneaked out of the room and quickly went upstairs, back to the hospital. Father thought that I was running around like that to save myself, so he started to press me to himself as though to want to calm me. Then night passed in great fear and the black Friday came, Nov. 8. It was both raining and snowing outside, and it was just as dismal as in our hearts. I shuddered lest the commandant should spy me and remind himself that I'm the one who tried to hide amongst the workers, and for such an act there was only one punishment: death.
Right in the morning my cousin came in and started to plead with me, with tears in her eyes, to have pity on myself and father, and change my name. Again I didn't want to hear of this and I again put my faith in God. She left, embittered, and thought that today I surely wouldn't escape the murderer's hands. Then my other cousin came in and with a cry also pleaded with me to change my name but I refused her also.
'Maybe you have,' she pleaded with me, 'some poison for my mother. She has no documents and they will probably take her away today, God knows where to.'
I didn't even have any poison for myself, so she left, thinking maybe that I did have some but I don't want to give any poison for my dear aunt Musia.
Around me some people were saved because of a document and others had prepared morphine so as not to fall into the hands of the murderers, and I myself occupy myself with the sick. I do what they ask of me and I don't think of the great danger that I'm in myself.
Suddenly I got an idea: I'll go to the Jewish committee and ask for a document there, since I've been working for over four months in a hospital where they are pleased with my work. No sooner said than done. I went down into the yard. The yard was packed with two categories of people: those with document in their hands, who were secure in their lives for the time being, and those without documents. They were desperate. I shoved through the people and went into the committee. I had to talk to them a lot and assured them that I'm asking for the document not for myself but my father.
'Imagine for a moment that it is not my father, but yours, and he's left, confined to bed, without any help,' I argued.
They promised to give me a document just so as not to have my father on their conscience. Besides, they valued my work and liked me a lot.
So time marched on and we were occupied with only one thought: When will the day of judgement be, today or not today?
Soon I had new guests. Roza Zaltzman, a sister-in-law came to me together with one of her sisters, Fanya Marina. They told me joyfully that a cousin of theirs, Laizer Morin, included them both on his document - one as his wife - the other as his sister.
'Only you haven't let anyone include you on their document, and who knows what your end will be.'
They said goodbye to me. We kissed and cried. Then they went in the room of the 'lucky' (ones) workers, and I remained closed in with my father who had no idea what sort of danger we were in.
Friday evening SS men came in with cudgels in their hands, armed with revolvers, and drunken Latvians with eyes bloody from murdering. With wild laughter they started to pull people out of their hiding places and those who didn't have documents. The tumult was indescribable. Shooting was heard. We were all struck dumb. Thinking very little of ourselves because the scene changed so quickly, like in a film and they captured us completely. I was quietly informed that my sister-in-law, Roza and her sister Fanya had just been taken away to be shot after they had been badly beaten because the Latvian commander had issued an order that they were not Morins but Zaltzmans.
So it was that one, two, three, I lost my two relatives who, just a few hours before, were so happy with their document that would permit them to live. They had bemoaned my troubles but not their own. . .
Those who were found in hiding were shot on the spot. In the great panic people had run to hide in the hospital, but since not everyone could immediately be registered, because the murderers were there, their hiding didn't save them.
For instance, a Jew by the name of Zeligman came running in from the Grive, and asked for a place. I placed him on a board near my father, half undressed, and wrote down his name so that he was overjoyed that for the time being he was saved.
Outside, meanwhile, a devil's dance was taking place. There was shooting from all directions and nobody knew whose hour would strike in a minute or two. Suddenly, a nurse ran in out of breath and told everyone in the hospital that the commandant of the ghetto was coming here with some bandits to search for people who were hiding, and he has a list of who can remain here and who must go with him. My heart started to pound. I went over to father and gave him a kiss. I took my leave from him in that way in case I would be taken away because I didn't want the murderers to see that I have an old, sick father. I stood, awaiting my destiny. I stood not far from father's bed like a wild beast. The Latvian commandant came in with a gang of Lats and Germans who had long ago been prepared for one job only - to torture and shoot us. His shouts could been heard from a few rooms away. He threw the sick ones off their beds and looked for victims and tells his gang to take them down into the yard. Those who can't walk are immediately shot in the yard. He was able to do this. His hand didn't even tremble.
Father was lying there, looking at me with tears in his eyes, terribly frightened, asking what was going on. I calm him and tell him to lay with his face to the wall and not speak to me nor calm me, so that nobody should notice him. Suddenly he saw a girl, a friend of mine, Pesia Trok, runs in and hides beneath my father's bed. He indicates this to me as though one says: What's this? I winked to him that now one must be quiet so he kept quiet, frightened as he was.
They finished with their work in the nearby rooms. Those sick ones whom the commandant wasn't pleased with, were dragged from their beds and taken out to the yard to be shot.
And now the murderer came in to the room where I was standing and waiting and he began to read out loud a list of the doctors and nurses in the hospital. My heart stopped beating and I couldn't think straight. I stood dumbfounded and watched and saw how those not on the list were preparing for their last way. Suddenly, as though in a dream, I heard my name called amongst those who remain to work according to the agreement of the district commissar.
I waited until the murderers went out and I started to cry bitterly. My cry was one of joy and also the terrible fear I had lived through. Now father understood that something terrible had just taken place here and he also begun to cry dreadfully so that I could barely calm him down.
That is how that dark night passed. It cost us a few thousand lives.
SHABBES, THE SECOND DAY OF SLAUGHTER
The next day, Shabbes morning, I saw, through the window, a band of SS men, accompanied by Latvian bandits, approaching, with guns and truncheons in their hands. Their thirst for Jewish blood had not yet been satisfied. An order was issued that everyone must assemble in the ghetto yard.
With me in the hospital, there was a nurse, Breen (maiden name Lapidus), from Nyick-Dvinsk. She had once taken lessons from my brother, Shaul (presently in Israel). Since then we had become very close friends and always stuck together. So now we decided not to go down into the yard come what may. We would not wait to be led off to be tortured, to be beaten over the head like a dog and then be led away to be shot. Meanwhile, a new Aktzion began in the yard. Out of breath, a Jew ran into the hospital. His name was Shalman. His wife was lying here with typhoid. She herself was a nurse right here in the hospital. He asked me to let him hide here beneath his wife's bed. How could I refuse his request? So he lay down beneath her bed and I covered him with some old things that I took, for his sake, from a woman acquaintance. I did not even manage to tell nurse Breen that under such and such a bed a Jew lays hidden - because immediately a few Germans entered, and a few civilian Latvians, with pointed guns in their hands and they howled:
'Raus! Shnell raus fun hir!'
The nurse did not lose herself, and she replied that we were ordered not to leave the hospital, but to stay and guard the sick. If so, they took the list of the sick from us and began to count, to see if everything was correct. But first they let us know that if they will find more people than are on the list, they will shoot us immediately.
At that time we had 150 sick, including the children.
I BRING FATHER A 'GOOD MESSAGE'
- WITH AN INTENTION
Suddenly I heard one Latvian say to another, in Latvian, that the sick must be loaded on autos and be taken away. I got so scared that I felt I was collapsing. Does this mean that all my struggle on behalf of my father was in vain - and that my father will soon be taken away and shot? And I, myself, may be the one who will turn him over to the hands of the murderers to be shot. And since he's incapable of walking - I myself may have to lead him to Kiddush HaShem (his death as a martyr). I felt my head splitting. As I was standing and listening to what the murderers were saying to one another, not able to shout in their faces: 'No! I won't hand my father over to you! He deserves to die a natural death!'
I don't wish on anyone what I had to live through at that moment. And no one can understand this, except for someone who had lived through this themselves.
What was one to do now when both our lives were hanging by a thread?
I went over to my father and told him simply:
'Father dear. You should know that of ours, no one remains alive, only you and I. Mother, the children and my husband have already been shot. Now the murderers have come after the two of us, and perhaps this is our day of judgement. There's no more I can do for you. And about myself, I am not thinking. If you can, pray to God for both of us.'
I spoke to him in such a way that he could understand every word, and he should realize that this is the end for us. I really wanted him to get a heart attack from the 'good message' and die on the spot so that I would not have to hand him over to the murderers.
My father began to cry bitterly and pressed me to his heart. We kissed one another heartily, with the thought that we are now saying our final goodbyes. I turned him so that he would be facing the wall, so that the murderers would not notice him so quickly, and I left the room. Father must have said his final confession both for myself and for him. And perhaps, in his mind, he already saw all his beloved ones of whom I have just told him that they are no longer alive. . .
The murderers spoke to nurse Breen. I approached them. They warned us once again now that they are going to check, and if they will find here anyone hiding, the two of us will be the first ones to be shot - and as they were speaking, they shoved the golden guns into our faces.
The check started. They went into the room where my father was lying. I approached my father's bed. I concealed him and bent down, looked under the beds as though I was helping to search. Because of this, the murderers did not go over to my father's bed. One of them looked at me with his murderous eyes, pleased that I was helping him to search, went into the next room where Herr Shalman was lying beneath Frau Shalman's bed, listening to the noises of the murderers and was afraid to even breathe. He probably heard their threats also, and probably feared for himself and for us. I was sure that at any moment he would be found and that all three of us would be shot. My heart nearly gave out because of regret that because of me my good friend nurse Breen who was innocent, would fall into the hands of the murderers. Why did I allow someone to hide beneath a bed without even telling her?
The Latvians poked at the packs under all the beds with their guns, including Frau Shalman's bed, but they found nothing. Meanwhile, I looked at the sick. In their faces I could see that they were all holding their breath. . .
A MIRACLE HAPPENS IN FRONT OF OUR EYES
We went into the kitchen. Once again we assured the murderers, and we tried with all our strength, not to show that we were trembling with fear. We let on that everything was correct. Suddenly nurse Breen noticed that a Lat wants to raise a turned-over bath, and from beneath the bath something red was showing. As though with a leap she suddenly stood beside the Lat, swatted him on the hand and in correct Latvian said:
'If we tell you that everything is one hundred percent in order here, you should believe us.'
He let go of the bath.
From the fearlessness with which these words were spoken, he, miraculously, remained baffled and confused and he left the room. However, the others, it seems, could not part from us so easily. They stood there looking at us with their murderous blood-thirsty eyes. We understood very well what they were thinking and I'm saving myself the trouble of telling you.
One civilian Lat pierced me with his two eyes and I saw in him that any moment he was going to take men and immediately I thought of my father.
'What's your name?' he asked me.
I told him my name. Then a second one asked me:
'Are things very bad for you now?' (Zihobn yetz shlect?)
I answered that he probably knows how good things are for us. He told me not to worry, because this time the hospital will not be harmed. That will be another time.
With this promise they went down into the yard to help others in the slaughter.
In the yard the execution was carried with outmost speed. The victims fell like sheaves. The cries and wails reached to heaven but did not penetrate. In heaven no one heard them. A few hours later when all were slain a deathly silence again prevailed.
It was only now that Herr Sholman came out from beneath the bed, started to kiss my hands, and thank me. But who wanted his thanks? I went over to nurse Breen and I did not know how to excuse myself for putting her in such danger, and all because of me. She did not let me excuse myself very much but simply led me to the bath, lifted it up and we saw a woman in a red blouse, lying all curled up, half dead, half alive. This was Frau Alperovich who used to sew children's clothing from her shop on Peterburg Street opposite the cinema 'Grand Electra.'
At this point Dr. Domya entered, and started to shout at us, asking why we weren't down below in the yard where our names were called out. We told him what had happened here, and we explained to him that perhaps it was better that we did not go to the yard, because if one of those who were hiding here would have been found, that one would have been the first one to be shot as an excuse. He understood us and went off to his wife and child and I remained in the hospital with the sick.
I went over to my father's bed. We kissed and had a good cry. I asked for his pardon for telling him the truth, that our dear ones are no longer alive. I meant it for the best. . . and perhaps it is better that I told him, because on account of this God had seen his sorrow and saved him from death. That's how I spoke to my father and I felt good that there is still someone to talk to him.
I went off to see if any of my relatives were still alive. I found my aunt Musia. This was the second time that she had saved herself. She hid amongst rags somewhere amongst the packs. The murderers looked for her, poked through the packs with their guns, but she was destined to go on living. After every slaughter we would meet once more and rejoice a little that we are still able to see one another, and we would mourn the slaughtered ones.
'Maybe they are now better off than us,' we comforted ourselves. After all, we'll have to go the same way as they went and feel what they felt, if not today, another time.
That's how the second day of slaughter passed. It had cost us thousands of victims.
My aunt was destined to remain alive. She saved herself by hiding amongst packs of rags both Friday evening and Saturday.
SUNDAY., NOVEMBER 10, 1941
THE THIRD DAY OF SLAUGHTER
The thirst for Jewish blood was not satisfied. The murderers came once more and surrounded the ghetto. We looked out the window and saw them approaching form the distance, SS men and Latvian police, drunk, with cudgels in their hands and with revolvers.
An order was given that everyone must immediately assemble in the yard. Once more I, and the Breen sisters decided not to go out of the hospital, but to remain here and see what the day would bring.
Many of the men went off to work while many remained in the yard, with the documents in their hands, because they thought here they are safer with their lives. With these thoughts they waited to be allowed back into the barracks. But woe was us. Now the hour had struck for those who did have documents. Those who as much as made a move to rescue themselves were dragged by the hair, whipped mercilessly and shot.
I went to a small window and saw how a woman all beaten up, was being carried down the stairs that lead to the hospital ward, her hair dishevelled, bleeding. Her name was Gutkin. She wanted to hide but she was caught. (She had once had a jewellery shop on Riga St.)
I went again to a window and looked out. I saw the rows of women of the workers and their children starting to move, not towards the barracks but towards the gate. We shuddered. We understood immediately that they are being led to the forest where so many of our precious souls were already lying dead.
I went down to the room where my relatives 'lived' to see if any of them survived. My intuition didn't fool me. In the empty room my 70 year old aunt Musia was walking around, all by herself, tearing her hair and mourning her children. She had hid beneath packs and the children had gone to look for poison for her. They had documents, but the devils caught them and shot them. Death wasn't enough, though. They were first struck blows on the head. That's how everyone was murderously beaten before they died.
This went on for three days during which thousands of innocent people perished. I went down to the yard to look for someone I might recognize, but all I saw was a yard full of people who could no longer walk so they were shot on the spot. Amongst them I also saw the old Saul Hellerman, a relative of my mother. He was amongst the last old people who lived downstairs in the barracks, that had been slaughtered. In the three days of slaughter I lost 11 relatives. From our large family only five remained. I was one of the five, though I didn't change my name.
Around four in the afternoon the mail workers returned from work. How bitter it was for them when they didn't find any of their close ones alive. Many of them wanted to commit suicide that same night. My cousin, Mendl Hellerman grabbed a knife and wanted to kill himself. It was with difficulty that he was held back from doing this.
From this and other similar scenes I felt that my hair had suddenly stood up on my head. This is a strange indescribable feeling. I felt that I was dying. I had no grip on myself. Dr. Rosenblum noticed this so he calmed me down and promised me a tonic in a few days - if they will let us live that long.
From our large family there now remained my father, my aunt Musia and her son Mendel and her son-in-law Paulye Blumkin and I.
From several thousands of people in the ghetto there now remained approximately 900. This was the result of the three days of slaughter. To celebrate November 9, when a Jew dared to shoot a German, the Minister von Roth.
SACRIFICIAL (HOLY) BABES
A few days before Nov. 9 around 30 babies, younger than a year, were gathered in the ghetto. These were infants who had been handed over to Christians, hidden, or left in churches at God's mercy. People hoped that maybe God would help and the ghetto days would end - then the children will be redeemed. If not, perhaps the babies will survive and Jews will have mercy on them and redeem them from the Christian hands. But the peasants and the priests and the nuns obviously couldn't stand the crying of the children, so they turned them over to the Germans hands.
Immediately on Friday the babies were murdered in the first day slaughter.
IT'S STILL NOT ENOUGH FOR THE LATVIANS
For a few days rumours were abounding that the Latvians are not yet satisfied that a few Jews are still left alive in the ghetto. They started to demand from the Germans that they should eliminate us all so that there would remain no sign of us. They wanted the Germans to carry out their promise that even for two Lats one won't be able to see a Jew unless in a museum. Some old Lats conveyed this news to some of the labourers, (the 'good' news, that is), who worked in the city. They did this with joy and they were sure that the Germans would fulfill their request and that there won't even remain any witnesses to say a bad word about them; the Latvians, that is. They even gave the date when they will finish off the few Jews in the ghetto: November 20.
From such 'good' tidings we all were tormented, but we definitely wanted to remain a witness, to tell the world what the Latvians did to us.
'RUN, RUN. . .
EVEN THERE YOU'LL BE CAUGHT'
A woman by the name of Dunievske, who worked together with me advised me to run away from the ghetto and not wait for death. She'll look after my father. At that time there was only one place to run away to. Not far from Vilna there was a small town/village Breslau where the few thousand Jews had not yet been touched. It was possible to escape to there if one was not caught on the way. Some thought they had nothing to lose and they ran off to there. They later sent a letter via a Russian that whoever can get away from the ghetto should leave. As far as I remember the following ran away to Breslau: Gitte Shneider, (had clothing store on Riga St); Chayim Shlossberg, who had lost his wife and two children on Nov. 9; his brother-in-law, Laibeh Dritz; Shiff with his daughter, (had a vursht-factory on Missnetzke St); Lok, (owner of shoe store) and others. Oh yes, also the Rabbi of Vienna who had been our rabbi for a few years before the war when the Rogachov Rabbi died. Also the Ragochover Rabbi's daughter, a single woman who lived in the rabbi's house.
What was I to do now? Run away or not? Before my eyes were my mother's last words, that I shouldn't leave my father all alone. I just took one look at him, how he was as helpless as a child, and looks only to me, because more than me he does not possess; nobody understands him, only I - so I could no longer think about running away. No, I will not run away. I don't want to have on my conscience that I had left my father alone with no one to look after him in the last moments of his life. Besides, who knows if one stays safe in Breslau. The Latvians can reach there also. The commandant noticed that people were running. He even knew where to. So once he said:
'Run, run, . . . but your running is in vain. You will be caught there too.'
So once again I stayed with my father and trusted in God.
QUARANTINE IN GHETTO
THE TASTE OF HUNGER
A few days later the ghetto was closed and we started to suffer from hunger. Until now those who worked in the city would bring something into the ghetto - a bit of soup, a piece of bread. Now this ceased. Now everyone felt the pains of hunger and I amongst them.
My father lay there starving. I no longer had a source of a potato for him. He would show me, with tears in his eyes, that he's hungry, but I had to pretend that I don't see. Suddenly he got so angry at me for not giving him something to eat, that I thought he would hit me if he could, though he never hit me or any of his children all his life. His glance was enough.
We got one kilo of bread per week so I would cut the crust off for myself and the soft part I would divide up for father for the whole week and hide it somewhere near his bed. He wasn't allowed to see where the full ration was. Old stale cabbage was the mid-day meal, slightly heated because there was no wood for cooking. Besides, everyone got a litre of sour water. From the cabbage 'soup' I could take out the thick part and spoon by spoon, feed it to my father, and the watery remains I would drink myself.
This was the whole 'sustenance' in the ghetto. From such 'meals' we, naturally, couldn't quiet our hunger. From hunger I was so faint that I couldn't stand on my feet and father couldn't lie peacefully on his bed.
MY FATHER STEALS . . .
Once I was in another room attending to a sick one when I suddenly heard someone calling me in my father's room: 'Pesia! Pesia!' a few voices all at once kept calling me. I immediately understood that something had happened to father and I came running. When I came to father's bed I saw him choking on a piece of bread which he apparently snuck out of my hiding-place. But since he was in a hurry to swallow the piece of bread, so that I wouldn't catch him at the 'theft,' he started to choke and asked the sick people to save him. The sick ones got scared and started to shout and called me because who else, other than me, could they call.
Frightened, but with a smile, I took the too large morsel out of my father's mouth, and I scolded him:
'Father, you've already become a thief?'
He looked at me with guilty, tired, prayerful eyes, asking that I not be angry at him and he asked me to put the bread farther away because he can't help himself when hunger overtakes him. I calmed him, laid him back in his bed, and bitterly I returned to my work. I didn't even have anyone to whom to tell of this incident or to cry my heart out. I already had no relatives and strangers were too embittered to listen to me.
So it happened more than once that father would take his ration of bread in his mouth, choke, and ask me to help him. With my fingers I would take the bread out of his mouth and he would excuse himself with such childish, pleading eyes that they follow me to this day and never leave me.
November 20 passed and it turned out that our fear was in vain. We weren't touched. We understood that for the time being the Latvians didn't get from the Germans what they wanted.
Meanwhile hunger ate away at us. Every day there were people who died of hunger. I felt that my days were numbered, so I took, from my father's pillow, a bracelet with three precious stones that I kept hidden there and, through a middleman, Pakerman, a tin smith, gave it away for a pound of butter and a loaf of bread. My father's joy, when I brought him the bread and butter is indescribable. He asked me to hide it under his pillow and he indicated to me that I shouldn't divide it amongst the sick, but keep it for the two of us. He knew that I didn't feel good eating when others were hungry. But this time he watched me lest I give a crust to someone from our 'treasure.' When I would cut the single slice for us he would look me straight in the eyes and ask me to immediately hide the bread again. As long as the bread lasted things were bearable, but when I cut the last slice of bread father's eyes got saddened.
'What will happen now?' he asked me with his hands. It tore at my heart.
I started to vomit from hunger. I could no longer take the sour water in my mouth. I vomited green bile. In addition, it was a cold winter and we froze. Many froze to death in their beds. Father indicated to me that he is bitterly cold. In the hospital there were only a few hot-water bottles and I didn't know to whom to give them first. I got around this by making sure that everyone got one for at least half an hour during the day, my father included.
When I would sometimes come across an empty glass bottle and fill it with hot water and hand it to my father, he was so fortunate, but it happened more than once that the water spilled in the bed because the bottle was not securely closed. At such times father would have to lie wet in bed and wait until I dried his only set of clothes that he owned.
Father was cold, so I covered him with my summer coat and I myself would go about, in the cold, with only a summer dress with short sleeves and shiver from the cold that my teeth chattered. But I felt good that my father had a coat as a cover. Others didn't even have this.
A STORY OF A NEEDLE
That's how the days passed, in misery and in hunger, without hope, that things will get better, until once, December 25, 1941, a fellow by the name of Laibe Antirol came to the ghetto, accompanied by a German soldier and in a normal way began to distribute pieces of bread to the Jews who stood at the ghetto gates waiting for someone to have pity and give them a crust of bread that was left over. This fellow - who worked in the city - had the opportunity, from time to time, because of his blondness, to come to the ghetto and help in any way possible.
He didn't feel that the needle on his left breast where the yellow patch generally hangs, entered his arm. He stood, handing out the bread as usual, and returned home quite content, just knowing that thanks to him a few people will have a morsel to eat.
On the way to and from the ghetto he would go without the yellow patch and on the sidewalk, and nobody had an inkling that this was a Jew, but as he approached the ghetto he used to fasten the yellow patch with a tailor's needle.
One evening around 5 o'clock, he came to the hospital, together with the German soldier, and he complained that he fears the needle with which he fastened the yellow patch has penetrated his arm. Perhaps the doctors can have a look and see where the needle is and get hold of it.
So he was placed on a board, the so-called operating table, Dr. Domya called me over and let me know that I will assist.
We boiled the instruments. I held the patient and assisted. There was no anaesthetic. In general, there was no medicine except when a labourer got something from a German, not God forbid, from a Lat, that had mercy and would bring it into the ghetto. Meanwhile, another few surgeons came in, such as Dr. Landau from Riga and Dr. Doneman. They were all interested in helping the patient.
Dr. Domya, with bare hands - without gloves that is - made a cut with the knife on the spot where the man felt the needle must be. I heard Herr Antirol say something quietly and I thought he was saying his confession, but the needle wasn't there where the cut was made. So the barber-surgeon, Fonariyev, suggested making the cut a little deeper. They listened to him, as they were cutting, and I was watching something shine in my eyes. I couldn't hold back my joy and I called out:
'Here's the needle!'
I immediately regretted this because how could I, a simple unskilled one, show such a good surgeon as Dr. Domya where the needle is? But it was too late. I expect some comment from the doctors that during an operation one must control oneself. Herr Antirol was bandaged up. Then I again washed and boiled the instruments, and so that the doctors should notice me less, I went to the room where father lay.
I sat down on father's bed and started to tell him the story of the needle. As I was sitting there talking, I suddenly heard Dr. Domya calling me. My heart started to pump faster, and I was prepared to defend myself. But much to my amazement Dr. Domya handed me a whole loaf and assured me that I had justly earned it.
'That's from the patient,' Dr. Domya said. 'And he asked me to tell you that while you held him during the operation he felt that a good angel was holding him. He regrets that he didn't bring anything more along and why you never come to the gate when he distributes bread.'
From now on, Herr Antirol ordered that he will send me extra bread whenever he will have any. My father rejoiced greatly at the good message, because it was true that I never went to the gate to ask for bread.
I cut the bread into small pieces and divided it amongst everyone, but even more than with the bread I rejoiced at the compliment Dr. Domya gave: that for my work, which he incidentally values highly, I'm worth something better than to have to suffer so much.
Herr Antirol kept his word and several times sent me a loaf of bread. I used to give something to the one who brought it and the rest I gave to my father, for myself and for the other sick ones.
A MOTHER IN THE GHETTO
It was very bitter when the labourers were no longer allowed to come and apportion bread at the ghetto gate and when the ghetto commandant issued an order that no longer were we allowed to exchange anything with the Lat police for bread. What was a mother of six young children, such as Frau Solmon do, for example. Her oldest daughter was then 14 or 15 and the youngest boy three or four. The unfortunate mother wanted to protect her children from a certain death through hunger, so she disregarded the order and would secretly sell a garment or some other item for a piece of bread. She had lost her husband the same way I lost mine and my dear ones and she was always busy with one thing only; guarding her children who, by now, looked like corpses. Even when there were 'Aktzions' she managed to rescue her children because she worked at tailoring.
But one mean morning she went out to the gate to exchange something for bread and the same murderer who had given her some bread for a blouse snitched on her to the ghetto commandant. The commandant told everyone to come out in the yard and line up as though in readiness for a parade. Then Frau Solmon was brought and two bullets were shot into her head.
At that time I didn't go down to the yard. I stood near father's bed and covered my ears so as not to hear the shots for which I was prepared. Besides, I felt that I wouldn't be able to stand it. Father didn't know what I was thinking about in those moments, nor what was happening in the yard.
The first one who brought me the 'news' was the barber-surgeon Panariyov. He highly valued my work in the hospital and my devotion to my father. Often he would let me in on the secret that they don't want to keep my father here in the hospital much longer and he helped me work things out so that my father would stay longer.
When Frau Solmon was shot they didn't even let her children accompany her to the burial and for that reason she was buried in the ghetto, in the yard.
That was the end of the mother who before everyone's eyes, sacrificed her life for her children's sake. Now they remain alone looking around for someone to throw something their way.
Slowly every source of bread vanished from the ghetto. It became so bitter, that it couldn't become any worse.
Once I went up in a room where a few rotten potatoes were being cooked. The odour of the potatoes nearly drove me insane. I felt that if someone were to give me a small piece of potato at that time, they would save my life. But how could I ask for a piece of potato from strangers who are just as hungry as me. So I returned to the hospital and had a good cry. Frau Dunaievsky saw me crying so she was very surprised because I was never seen crying. They always saw me going around from one sick one to the next, doing what I was told to do. This was the first time that I was seen crying. Sometimes I did cry, but only at night, when I would go around amongst the sick, or when I was able to sneak away to the Grives cemetery.
Frau Dunaievsky begged me to tell her what happened, so I told her; I can't stand the hunger any longer. She understood me very well because she was just as hungry as me. . .
'When will our miseries be over?' she asked me.
I didn't want my father to see, however, how troubled I was because what kept him alive was my good mood. I washed my face and went to him with a smile. He felt, though, how embittered I was and that I'm fooling him. He even looked at me with eyes that questioned why I was crying. I wanted to brush everything aside with my hand but my father didn't smile. He showed me that we are both equally hungry and he himself began to cry. Though he cried himself he asked me not to cry, but how could I not cry when I saw father dying of hunger and of cold. I promised him though I wouldn't cry and I went to attend to my sick ones who had no one in their loneliness and all of whom loved me because I never deserted them, neither by day nor by night.
On the night of Jan. 6, 1942, Dr. Domia was called out and from that day forth we never saw him again. That's how people disappeared every night. Everyone thought that perhaps tomorrow their turn would come.
One doctor, Rosenblum, now became the director of the hospital. Once he said to me that he can no longer keep my father in the hospital and he no longer wants to be responsible for him. He will have to be taken down to the men. I answered him that his talk is in vain. I won't put my father there where he can be seen, besides, I can't work there because men and women aren't allowed to live together - who will pay heed to my father? And let him not think - I said to him - that because he is director, he can do whatever he likes. Here it's a ghetto - and the only reason people want to be assigned to the hospital is because they believe that as long as they are sick the hospital will not be harmed and nobody will be shot. Nobody is tied to the hospital, and if he likes I can tell him that which he himself knows, that other than me, nobody stays here at night; everyone goes to their families to sleep and I'm left to care for the sick, like a dog. People gather here only when there is a danger, that and they hope they can be saved here. I'm at least worth that my father should remain here.
'If they should, God forbid, want to take you away to be shot, because you're keeping my father here, I will ask to be shot in your place. But if my father were to be taken downstairs to the open rooms, where the commandant always comes in to mock us, that I won't allow.'
I got my way. My father was not moved. He didn't even know in what danger he had been. Once more it was proven to me that if I weren't here my father would already long ago be taken downstairs and the commandant would have shot him immediately, even without an order from the German.
I WANT TO STEAL FROM MY FATHER
I grew weaker from day to day and my face swelled up from hunger and the cold. One night I wanted to steal the bread from my father - the piece that was prepared for him for the following day. I approached the bed but remained standing, should I do it or not? I stretched out my hand toward the piece of bread but - I controlled myself. I hid the piece of bread even better so that my eyes shouldn't see it, and I ran out of the room as though I was escaping from a fire and busied myself with some kind of work, just so that the night would pass. From that time on I even came into the room where my father lay less often.
That's why I was doubly grateful the following day when I could offer my father that same piece of bread without father even beginning to know that I, his own daughter, wanted to steal his last bit of bread.
People started to die like flies. My heart had already turned into stone at the sight of the dead who used to be carried on to a pile every morning down to the ghetto yard where they were buried. The ghetto was sealed and even the dead were no longer taken out.
A mentally ill man once grabbed me by the arm, thinking that I was his wife who had been shot. I shuddered from fear and I felt his hand getting colder and colder. . .
As the days passed and the hunger ate away at us, my father became so thin that he no longer had any skin on him on which to lie. I had to move him every five minutes on another side. He stopped asking me and he dirtied himself as he lay. I had to clean everything but I saw that I wouldn't have to suffer from my father much longer. Soon I will no longer have anyone to whom to give a piece of bread and a piece of sourkraut. Soon I will be completely alone. . .
From such thoughts I was feeling very bitter because I so much didn't want my sick father to leave me.
MY FATHER FREES BOTH HIMSELF AND ME MYSELF
On Feb. 19, 1942, the workers returned form the city very scared and they all remained overnight in the ghetto. We thought at that time that this was the end and we started preparing for our last way, from which no one had ever yet returned. I went to my aunt Musia to sleep that night, because my face was so swollen that my eyes hardly showed.
That evening, more than usual, the workers went around looking for relatives or close ones. One of them, Abrashe Zweigorn, greeted my aunt and my aunt indicated to him that I am Pesia Zaltzman Frankel. He took a good look at me, and when he saw what had become of me, one of his good acquaintances, he started to cry bitterly and since his shot wife had been a good friend of my aunt, and he himself always enjoyed himself with our family, he promised that from this day forth he will help me and my father - provided that it would still be allowed to go to the city to work. He gave me a piece of bread with which I went off to share with him, and I told him who gave it to me.
I noticed, however, that this time my father wasn't so happy with the piece of bread. I looked closer and I saw that he was expiring. The next few days he grew weaker and weaker and I saw that he wouldn't be suffering much longer, nor would I have to suffer from him much longer. I called over nurse Breen and asked her to take a look at my father.
'You must be prepared for this, which is best for him,' she said to me. 'For him death is much preferred instead of further suffering, and the suffering of you yourself, now you are at least sure that he won't be shot, but he will die by himself.'
I still wanted to give him something. I ran into someone I knew, Glika Maggid, and I told her of my father's condition. She was laying languishing, but she took out from somewhere her last spoonful of sugar and gave it to me for my father.
But when I dissolved the bit of sugar in hot water, and spooned it into my father's mouth, the bit of water remained in his throat and he started to wheeze. From minute to minute life left him. That was the night of Sunday, Monday, February 23, six days in the Hebrew month of Adar, two o'clock in the morning. I put my ear to his heart and asked him if he knows who is beside him. I told him it was me, his daughter Pesia. He embraced me with his last bit of strength. In half an hour he was gone. I held his hand up to the last minute.
I sat beside his bed until 6 o'clock in the morning until someone came into the hospital. In spite of usual self-control I now lost it all, as I sat there beside my dead father. I felt that only now was I completely alone, as alone that it couldn't be worse. Finished. I have no one to fear for, and no one will cause me to suffer, and no one will any longer hear my father's sounds. My father had no voice so he used to speak to me with a kind of grunt.
The old sick Zeligman and another few Jews lifted my father, and when the doctors entered they carried him off to the purification house. Frau Strekovich gave me candles which I lit there. She also gave some sheets. I took them, the four sheets, into the tailoring and from them shrouds were made. I paid ten rubles for the work. I also gave 30 rubles for Psalm recitations, and I started to prepare for my 'simcha' (joyous occasion), for my father's funeral. Of all eight children God wanted me to be the one to bury my father and go through it all. The pious Jews told me that on account of this I won't have to suffer in the world to come and they wished themselves to also die a natural death.
The doctors congratulated me at my 'luck' that had happened: My father had died a natural death. He wasn't shot. At the same time they shook hands with me for my devotion to my father during his whole period of illness in the camp.
Dr. Doneman expressed that he, the head of the committee, couldn't save his father, a healthy, not very old Jew, and I did manage to keep my father away from the hands of the murderers for 8 months.
'But,' he continued, 'this way only because of your great effort and because you worked like a horse night and day in the hospital, so that no one will be able to say that they are not satisfied with your treatment.' That's how Dr. Doneman went on speaking to me. 'And you yourself suffered from your father's fear and hunger and cold, more than anyone, and because you worked without pay, without even a good word.'
At one o'clock in the morning a Jew came to tell that the grave is ready. I didn't have any shoes so I borrowed a pair of felt boots somewhere, grabbed a kerchief on my head and I went down together with aunt Musia to see my father put to his eternal rest.
When I realized that of five sons there was no one to say Kaddish at their father's open grave, I felt that my heart was tearing apart, the pain was so great. But at the last minute my cousin Mendel Hellerman came and said Kaddish. Afterwards the 'Malei' was said and then it was over. That's how my father was relieved of his great suffering and that's how the earth covered that which was so dear to me and that gave me courage to endure endless difficulties for eight months.
I put a flask in the grave beside my father and in it I put a note with my father's name in Yiddish and in Russian. He was 71 years old.
When I came home from the funeral and lay down in the barrack on the three boards, where I used to sleep, near my aunt Musia, the good woman Strekovitch came over to me and handed me a hot cup of tea, sweetened, with a teaspoon. I realized that for eight months I hadn't seen a sweetened cup of tea, nor a teaspoon and the tears started to choke me.
With such thoughts I fell asleep. I slept through the whole night. There was no longer anyone to call me. I remained like a broken branch of a lovely large tree. I LEAVE THE GHETTO AFTER EIGHT MONTHS
In the evening Herr Abrashe Zweigman returned from work and told me not to lose faith. He would try to get me out of the ghetto. At that time he was a pharmacist for the Germans and he didn't lack food. He gave a German gold for three tooth crowns so that the Germans should request that I come out of the ghetto to work.
The seven days of mourning passed and I was told to go back to the hospital, but only at night. The first night in the hospital without my father was terrible. All night long I imagined that I heard my father calling to me from his bed, and he's asking me for something. I went to the bed a few times. Someone was asleep there.
I felt that I couldn't work here any more; here where every corner was full of memories of my dear father who had just parted from me.
Somehow the night passed. The next morning I was called to the commandant and was told to go to get ready to be on my way. I was being sent to the city where I had not been for the past 8 months.
Frau Strekovitch gave me a pair of galoshes and I set out on my way to the field-command that was located in the city on Chaussaines Street, near the former Jewish hospital. There 40 Jews worked, in two groups at various jobs: shoe makers, tailors, saddle makers, and two Jews in the garage.
Making my way to the city, in this way, like a horse, I went past the place where I had spent three happy years with my husband. Now Latvian bandits live there and they have everything that I achieved with my own hands, and I continued on my way, embittered and mournfully in a terrible frost in February, in my galoshes, without home, without future, without a present.
Almost completely frozen, I finally reached my place of work. The Jews were awaiting me. My friend Abramche Zweigman had told the well-fed ones to await me and feed me well also. When I arrived it happened to be lunch time. The Jews got fairly good soup from the military kitchen so they told me to get undressed and sit down to eat with them. They all looked at me in wonder and I heard them whispering:
'So this is Frankel's daughter? Wow, look what's become of her!' Each one wanted to be friendlier than the next one, and each of them wanted me to eat with them.
After eating they introduced me to a higher-up, but when he saw on my document that I'm a nurse, he said that they need a woman who can wash the floors and laundry. I assured him that I can do these two jobs excellently, so he registered me and told me I can sleep in a hall on Moscovske Street.
THE PLACE WHERE I WAS SENT TO SLEEP
It's interesting how a person's past sometimes springs up in front of one's eyes and how pictures of the past suddenly take a living form because it is so destined. I say this because in that hall where my parents had led me to the wedding canopy, and where my life started to blossom, that was where I was now led to sleep, a lonely person, exhausted, lost. That's how the devilish destiny wanted things.
Amongst the workers I found an acquaintance, Motl Sher.
My work was 'normal.' Every day I did laundry and washed floors and I was satisfied that I have somewhere to rest my head and not only that I'm eating enough but I was even able to help the Jews who worked in the city all day and used to pass by us in the evening when they returned to the ghetto to sleep.
A JEW IN THE GERMAN ARMY
One evening, on the way to the place where I used to sleep, I was walking along through the quiet streets so as not to come across any of the murderers who used to amuse themselves by mocking us - when I suddenly saw an auto standing at the corner of Pastoyala and Petrograd streets. Soldiers were busy around the auto and they were taking things into a nearby house where soldiers were stationed. Unintentionally I looked at one of the soldiers and I got the impression that he looks like a Jew. But I quickly rid myself of this thought because how is that possible that a Jew should serve in the German army, particularly now when Jewish blood is random, like water, so I continued on my way not noticing that someone was following me and wanted to talk to me.
I went into the room where we slept and in a minute someone knocked at the door. Who could it be? When the door was opened it turned out that it was that Jewish-looking soldier. He told us immediately not to get scared - that he's a Jew.
He came from Riga to look for his wife and a child. He told us that in Riga, on December 8, 1941 an 'Aktzion' took place that at one stroke killed 25,000 Jews. They were let out of the ghetto under the command of the Gestapo chief, Yekl. The German helpers, the Latvian officers, shot left and right, murdered and robbed. If a child as much as uttered a sound, it was shot together with its mother. And if an older person didn't seem 'fit' while in line, they immediately put an end to him.
(Amongst the piles of shot ones, there probably were, in the Riga Street, my brother Aaron's wife and his two children.)
Yes, the Latvians were great participants in all the murderous acts. All they needed was a wink, and there they are - that bastard people, the slaves of the Baltic barons. What joy and what efficiency they demonstrated at these killings! The German Gestapo immediately knew what kind of friends these Lats were.
All in all an independent Latvia had only existed for 20 years, but what an inheritance they are leaving behind!
When the Riga Jews were being led to be shot, the 'German' soldier continued to tell, they were told that they were being taken to Dvinsk so he begged us to now tell him the truth as to whether or not we have seen any Jews from Riga here.
The 'German' soldier's name was Shatz. What could I tell this faithful unfortunate father who had dressed in a German army outfit and set out in search of his loved ones who, it appears, were no longer alive. I told him that we are living so secluded here that we don't know anything that's going on in the city.
I gave him a letter to the Riga Jewish Committee in which I asked them to look through the Riga Jews who are still alive to see if my brother Aaron and his family are still alive, as well as my sister Shifra and her husband or anyone at all from my family or from my husband's family. I wrote clearly who we are and gave our names.
I GET REGARDS. . .
Herr Shatz promised that he would find out everything for me. In ten days time he again came running to us with the news that my brother Aaron is alive. He even had a letter from him for me. True, he did have a letter, but there was no good news in the letter. My brother Aaron let me know that in that dark 8th of December in Riga, he lost his wife and his two children. He wrote nothing about my sister. He only said that he was saying Kaddish for father and mother and that I should remain strong.
Herr Shatz told me furthermore Dr. Gurewitz who was led away on July 27, 1941, to be shot, was saved. A Christian brought him in a sack to Riga and the Jews smuggled him into the ghetto. It was he who told them that I and my parents were in the ghetto and that on the evening when Dr. Gurewitz was being led to be shot, he didn't list my father amongst those who were to be taken away.
Naturally we were very happy that Dr. Gurewitz had been saved, still we pondered - for how long was he saved?. . .
BAGS OF FOOD
TZEDAKAH FOR FATHER'S SOUL
My brother still hoped, at that time that we would yet meet again sometime. I used to spare whatever I could from food and sent it to the ghetto. I still had a suit of my father so I sold it to a peasant for 50 kilo of bread and 9 kilo of pork. From a pair of men's underwear, I made sackettes for myself and on the sackettes I wrote the names of the Jews to whom I wanted to send something and every day I had someone who would smuggle these sackettes into the ghetto. There they were awaited the way one waits for the Messiah. One, a former yeshiva student, Alter Oken, was the messenger for these good deeds. He went with these little bags to the ghetto and distributed them, giving them directly into the hands of the ones to whom they were intended. For this reason I always used to fill his bag more than all the others.
In this way I distributed everything that I had received in payment for my father's suit. I was very happy about this because right after his death this was what I had decided to do with his clothing.
When the bread and the pork were all gone, I used to go to the workers' places of work and gather potatoes in a large pail, as well as pieces of bread. I used to do this at lunch time when I was supposed to rest. . . When I got home I dumped everything on the ground and counted and divided everything according to how many bags I needed. I used to make around 35 bags. I used to divide everything equally so that no one should say that I gave one more and him less.
On Sunday I would get dressed and take the sack with the food on my shoulders, as well as a few containers of soup, and head for the ghetto with this, no matter what a bitter frost there was out doors. This was a distance of some 8 kilometers.
It broke my heart to see the starving people stretching out their skeletal hands for the packets and pouring their blessing upon me. Their thanks cut me, as with knives, because I hadn't come so that they would thank me. I would have been happy to carry heavy packs of food into the ghetto day and night and satisfy everyone's hunger because who knows, better than I, what hunger is. And I also know what an extended hand means, though I never stretched out my hands on my own account: only for my sick father.
When I returned from the ghetto I always had more and more names on my list and always new requests and I didn't rest until I had fulfilled all the requests. It wasn't easy because at that time I didn't have a 'pass permit.' If I would have been stopped on the street and asked where I had taken the food from, I would have been finished. I wouldn't have revealed the Jews who were helping me in such 'crime.'
A WOMAN IS HUNG IN THE GHETTO
Those who used to come to the city to work and returned to the ghetto to sleep, brought us some 'news' one cold morning: a day before a woman had been brought to the ghetto, Mina Gitleson, (maiden name Gets), whose father had a shoe factory in Dvinsk. She had been brought to the ghetto where her death sentence was to take place. She was accused of race-disgrace, but she was a pure soul like everyone else who was accused of this sin.
This is what had happened: Someone asked her to give a letter to the Lats for whom she worked. This was in the 'Continental' restaurant in Dvinsk. The Lat found out from the letter that the woman Gitleson knows how much stolen Jewish property this Lat has stashed away and this wasn't worth his while. So he called the police and accused her of race-disgrace.
She was brought to the ghetto after she had been tortured and everyone was told to line up in the yard. Then the Jewish policeman, Pasternack was called (he was from Kraslovske) that he himself should carry out the punishment of the victim. She was a young, blossoming woman, three years ago married (she married in July, 1938, a week after my wedding). She lived happily with her husband but she lost her husband the same day I lost mine and my brothers. Now she was going to be hung not because she was a Jew but because she wanted to help others and she fell into a trap.
Pasternack was a good man by nature. He was a policeman in the ghetto because he had no other choice. No one ever heard a bad word from him. When he sometimes had to give an order issued by our Latvian commandant, he did it with such a sad _expression that it was obvious it was painful for him. And it was this Pasternack, a father of 5 children, who now had to, with his own hands put the rope around the neck of Frau Gitleson. Surely his heart must have been torn apart in pain, just as by everyone, who had to witness this.
Ever since then, Pasternak would more than once, grab his head and chokingly cry:
'Oy, if I will survive this, my children will always throw up to me that I hung a Jewish woman.'
It could be seen that this pressed on his conscience, like a dark cloud.
This tragedy made a terrible impression on me, though I was far from the place where it had taken place. The woman, Gitleson, was someone close to me. She had studied at the university in Yuriev, Estonia. Summertime she used to come to us and we would enjoy ourselves together. Besides, both of us had on that Black day, June 29th led our men and brothers to the marketplace, then to jail from whence nobody returned. That black day she went out of my house together with my husband and my brother Abrashe.
The following Sunday when I carried pieces of bread and some soup into the ghetto for the hungry, it happened that I passed the place where Frau Gitleson was hanged, like on a gallows, so that everyone could see. She was hanging in a black coat, with a hat and high boots on her feet.
I'll never forget that image.
THE FIRST PASSOVER WITHOUT A HOME,
ONLY MEMORIES. . .
Meanwhile it got closer and closer to Pesach. Memories of the near past came to mind. It was only one year ago that all my beloved ones were alive and we were preparing for Pesach and for the Seders and everything sparkled with tradition and with warm Yiddishkayt. My youngest brother, Abrashe, used to ask the Four Questions at the first Seder, and my husband at the second.
And now? Now I see all around me only living dead and they are walking around with who knows what thoughts.
MATZOS ARE BAKED IN A GARAGE
Two religious Jews worked with us: Yudkovich from the old city, and Elerin from the Grive. They didn't eat the food from the military kitchen. They would cook themselves a bit of soup and the rare potato. They got a few kilos of flour and wanted to bake Matzos by themselves. But where?
They worked in the Field Command; in the garage. And since they had to heat up the garage, they were allowed to stay there overnight. After eight in the evening no one came in there other than the two of them. So they asked me and the other four women that one of us should sneak into them and help them roll the matzos. I couldn't, nor did I want to refuse. I hid in their garage and when it got quiet outside we started to roll the matzos, listening lest anyone should be hearing. As we were standing and working this way we suddenly heard a dog barking outside, and we thought: Aha! We've been caught, but it was an unnecessary fright.
The night passed in peace and in the morning we had matzos. For my help I got 12 matzos. The next day others went to help with the baking.
The first day of Pesach I went to the ghetto and took along nine of my matzos. I broke my matza into tiny pieces and distributed them amongst women whom I knew, who wanted to feel the taste of Pesach.
I gave one whole matza to my aunt Musia Hellerman.
The three matzos that I left for myself sufficed for me for all of Pesach. I didn't eat any 'chometz' not so much for religious reasons as because there still lived within me memories of my kosher mother and father's Jewish home, full of traditional beauty.
I felt very uplifted thereby, that at such a critical time I could give people a symbolic piece of matza to taste so that they would at least know that today it's Pesach around the world. But besides this we also distributed bread and potatoes in the ghetto during Pesach.
WE NEARLY FELL INTO TROUBLE
In the Field-Command there were five women whose job it was to do the laundry. At five in the evening we had to leave the yard. I no longer remember the names of the women except for Nina Azbel and Perlman.
It once happened that we didn't finish the piles of laundry that we had to wash that day so Perlman and I decided to stay overnight so that the following morning we could finish the laundering and the ironing. We were sure that no one would notice this. Two older men also used to spend the night there; so they made a bed for us on one of the two beds and they slept on the other bed.
As luck would have it, there was a patrol at 3 a.m. and there just happened to be a new soldier, a bandit.
'What are you doing here?' he wanted to know.
I showed him the pile of laundry that was on the floor and I asked him not to cause a scandal, but he became enraged and right away woke up the commandant, in the middle of the night, and informed him that two women, without permission, had remained overnight at their place of work with two 'cursed Jews.' The commandant immediately came to us and started to shout at us.
Once more I explained that it had gotten late yesterday evening, and that then we were afraid to go home because after five we mustn't be seen outdoors. He went away boiling mad, and we couldn't fall back asleep because we were scared. What would happen next? I very much didn't want to go back to the ghetto.
In the morning I saw the 'higher' one for whom we did the laundry and he was not like the others. I went up to him, told him our troubles and asked him to take an interest and make sure that we don't get sent back to the ghetto. Well, thank God, we weren't sent back to the ghetto.
THE LIQUIDATION OF THE GHETTO
It happened before May 1, 1942 and for that day we had great fear because the previous year we had celebrated May 1 under the Soviets, and since the Lats say that all Jews are communists, we were afraid lest they remind themselves and take revenge on us.
The Lats joked with us that once again pits are being dug for us. From such talk we were very despondent. We were prepared that we would soon all be finished off. In the city and at this fortress 400 Jews were working, and the rest, also around 400 were suffering in the ghetto.
It is worth noting the following: The only water-tap in the ghetto froze at that time. It drew water from the muds/swamps, where all sorts of insects were found. It didn't harm anyone, though the water was contaminated.
One day before May 1 all the ghetto Jews were taken to the city, to the bath house. The first time to the city and right to the bath house? What did this signify? Maybe the devil has stopped his murdering and wants to treat the exhausted Jews or the living dead better?
The Lats were thrilled with their power as they saw the Jews marching in the middle of the street in the direction of the bath house - for the last time in 10 months of suffering and hunger. Not a drop of mercy could be detected amongst them. Just the opposite. They demanded that we should once and for all be annihilated.
A freilin, Ema Slivkin, a pharmacist, came over to me, so I gave her my ration and she took it to the ghetto with another few packets for a few Jews. We still didn't have an inkling of why the Jews were being taken to the bath house, so we said goodbye to her, as always, and she went away, not hungry, and even took along food for tomorrow also.
The following day, however, was a dark day, one that couldn't possibly be any worse. At ten o'clock we found out that all the sick ones in the ghetto had been shot in their beds, and all the rest were taken to prison.
That was how the 1st of May ended in 1942. The reason that the Jews were taken for the baths first was that the Lats wouldn't otherwise have been able to touch the dead, full of lice Jews otherwise. That's why they were first cleaned up.
When they were being chased from the hospital the frau, Eli Wofsky, hid in a pit. The murderers searched for her but they didn't find her. She was the only one who survived the 'aktzion' in the hospital.
Afterwards we found out that many didn't wait for the last word of the 'Aktzion' but they committed suicide by taking poison.
The murderers themselves brought us this news.
In that slaughter I lost my only aunt, aunt Musia, and all my 'clients' to whom I used to bring food.
Now I'm free of worries, I said to myself. Now things are good for me. . .
I NO LONGER HAVE MY JOB
The first of May fell on a Friday. Saturday evening 20 people were told they no longer had work. I was amongst them. If we had been 'fired' ten days before I would no longer be alive. I would have been shot dead, together with the other ghetto Jews. Still, my lot is not much better. Where am I to go? - Back to the ghetto? There is no more ghetto. To prison with the other unfortunate ones? I would be shot. So where was I to go?
I headed for the outskirts of the city. There lived a Christian man, Shaligin, whom we knew. This Shaligin came to the ghetto a few times, on a motorcycle, a journey of 8 kilometers. He used to call me outside and give me a pound of sugar, sometimes a potato, some lumps of sugar or something else.
It was my bad luck not to find Shaligin himself at home, but his wife. She advised me to run off to the forest. But to whom? Secondly, the forest was far off and I certainly would have been caught on the way. So where was I to go? I wandered through the streets where Abrashe Zweighorn worked as a tailor together with 15 other Jews.
Of those 15 Jews I remember a woman Perlman, Dimant (from the cinema 'Grand Electra'; two brothers, Bor; a young boy, Ratz, Charmatz, Ichlov.
When I arrived Zweighorn was standing in his tallis (prayer shawl) davening (praying). They all got scared at the sight of me. That's how 'lovely' I looked. I told him my troubles so he gave me a platinum watch of his wife's, and asked a girl, Luba Barbakova to go to the fortress where other Jews work and there she should bribe a soldier with the watch, just so that he will give me work, because if I don't get work by tomorrow it's as bitter as death.
We went to the chief, but even this wasn't so easy for us. The shikse (gentile) who worked for the chief didn't let us in. She didn't want to announce us so Luba promised her that she would give her the kerchief that I wore on my head, so she let us in. This was on a Sunday, a rest day. Even on a work day one couldn't go into the chief.
The chief of the unit listened to me and told me to come to work tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. When I heard this I got a little more courageous and told him that I'm not alone but there are 20 of us in the same position. So he told us all to come.
I was overjoyed. We didn't even have to rely on the watch. I returned it to Herr Zweighorn. And as for my kerchief - we 'forgot' to give in to the shikse when we came out from the chief. I claimed that we should give it to her but Luba said not to.
'She deserves nothing.'
Going there and back wasn't easy either because from there it was more than 6 kilometers; but I hastened to tell the unfortunate Jews the news that they can sleep peacefully. We have work.
The following day we did indeed start to work. The work consisted of unloading the bloodied things that arrived from the front, clean them, sort them and count them. I did a hard day's work, then I went to the commandateur to get a note that I am 'discharged' because only then can I go to work somewhere else.
When I returned I found my cousin, Mendl Hellerman. Two days before he had lost his mother. He had, at his chief's place, a work spot for a woman Entzia Apto. The place was already paid for, but since this Apto was shot the first day of May, and since he knew that I don't have work, he took me to his chief and I already remained there. I didn't return to the other fortress. (Frau Apto was too lazy to go to work the first day and just that day there was the 'Aktzion' and she was shot.)
I was very happy that I wouldn't have to go to that other fortress. I was exhausted, and if I would have had to go back and forth as far every day I wouldn't have survived. Here, though, I'm in the middle of the city in the commandateur of previous days, near the Old Boulevard. Two girls, Rosa Zeligman (a 16 year old from the Grive) and Marie Shapiro (a 20 year old) did the laundry for 158 soldiers. Mendl Hellerman and another one of my cousins, Paulye Blumkin, chopped wood all day long. But they had what to eat and where to rest their heads.
WE HELP THE JEWS AT THE FORTRESS
We used to get the same food as the soldiers, so we asked the cook to save for us whatever is left in the pots because we want to take it to the people at the fortress who are starving. The cook did as we requested.
After work I and the two girls together with Mendl Hellerman used to take everything that we had accumulated during the day to the fortress. A soldier whom we bribed accompanied us, so it appeared that we were taking it for the military. . .
They used to wait for us at the fortress as though we were angels of mercy and they used to wish us all the best, but we had only one thing in mind: that tomorrow also the soldiers will leave some remains of food, then we will once more go, like horses, and carry food to the fortress. The more the better.
In the 'unit' there were around 180 soldiers. They didn't eat the heads of the fish, for example, so the shikse in the kitchen used to chop off the heads together with a piece of fish, and sometimes throw in a whole fish as well - I kept it all for us. In this way we collected around 40 pounds of food a day. At night we would immediately carry it to the fortress so that it wouldn't get spoilt. No salt nor onions.
THE BOSSES CHANGE IN THE 'UNIT'
This continued for some time. But on the 15th of June the 'unit' was changed. Those were from elsewhere, these were from Bavaria. We were told that they were mean Munichers, from Hitler's home. The 'top officer' really was a brute, a killer, a party man, a Hitlerite.
So, with Rozitchke Seligman I went to him and asked him to let us continue working here, because we have nowhere to go. Everyone in the ghetto has been killed. The only other place is the prison.
'Judn - and gut arbeiter' (Jews - good workers) the murderer was surprised.
So we told him to give us a chance. And that's how things remained. The men chopped wood day and night, and we, women, washed clothes and the floors. And once more we got close to the cook and again carried fish heads and bread and soup to the fortress. A while later the 'head officer' passed by and asked me:
'How do you like the work?'
I told him that we like it, and I thanked him for letting us carry food to the fortress.
'I don't see,' he gruffly replied, and went on his way.
THE LATVIANS DEMAND THAT WE BE KILLED
June 26 was approaching. That's the date on which the Germans captured Dvinsk. We knew that the Latvians were demanding that on that date the rest of the Jews should be finished off. It was still bothering them to see us alive.
Suddenly an order did come that all workers, both from the city and from the fortress, must report at the ghetto on June 26. We understood the significance of this, and we started to beg the German chiefs, our 'friends,' not to turn us over to Latvian hands.
The chief of the fortress, Kandor Lukenwald, in which there were around 200 people, told the regional-commissar that his Jews work better than 3000 Latvians, and he won't let the work day be disrupted by letting them go to the ghetto. (It is perhaps worth mentioning that the fortress Jews had previously 'bribed' him with material for a coat. Here and there the Jews still had some cloth hidden with goyim for just such a need.)
'Let the Lats come here to the fortress if they want to register the Jews,' Lukenwald said. The regional commissar replied that he'll give a reply. All that June 25th day we waited for his reply, because if the chief will be able to save us, the other chiefs will have more courage to ask on behalf of their Jews as well.
I GET A GIFT: POISON
Saturday afternoon Abrashe Zweighorn came to me and asked me to accompany him to his villa in Stropi, far from the city, and hide there by one of his peasant acquaintances.
I didn't like the plan, because who knows if the peasant will want to hide us, and if so - for how long? And maybe the peasant himself will turn us over and then we will certainly be shot. Here, however, I can wait for the regional-commissar's answer which, even if it will be a negative one, with what am I better than my mother, my husband, sister and brothers?
I told him to do as he understands, but I did not go. I trusted in God, as I did in the ghetto when I still had, on my hands, my old sick father.
Upon hearing my decision, he handed me, with tears in his eyes, a small flask: 20 tablets of veronal (a kind of poison) and morphine, so that if it should come to the end, I should be able to take my own life.
We said farewell. I thanked him for his friendship that he, more than once showed me in the dark times, and he left. And we five remained, awaiting our fate.
My cousin, Mendl Hellerman, reprimanded me for not wanting to save myself, but my heart told me that what I am doing is good.
I went into our chief and asked him to put in a good word for us to the regional-commissar. 'The chief of the fortress also takes care of his Jews' - I told him. He listened to me, phoned the regional-commissar, and told me to go to sleep. But who amongst us could sleep? We were awake all night, talking and we had no doubt that tomorrow at this time we would all be covered with earth and with chlorine - so that our flesh should get eaten up and no sign of us remain.
Anyhow, how are we better that all the others? Why would more of a fuss be made over us than with others? No sign will remain of us and the Lats will no longer have anyone to torture. There won't even remain any after the war to tell the world what happened to us.
My sister from Canada will write and write and there will be nobody able to answer her about our whereabouts. The same applies to my brother in Jerusalem. A whole family will be wiped off the face of the earth - a family that was once like a tree, with roots, branches, twigs. . .
With such thoughts we, as well as Jews in other 'units' and at the fortress, awaited the dark tomorrow.
It was a very dark night, just like our thoughts, but we wanted it to go on and on so that 'daytime' would never come . . . For the rest go to;
HAFTLING (PRISONER) NO. 94771
Edited by M. M. Shafir
Translated from the Yiddish by
Miriam Dashkin Beckerman
A publication of
The Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies and
The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies