WALK IN MY SHOES
Collected Memories of the Holocaust
My family was very happy to see me alive. They told me that they had no idea what happened to me and that they had also tried to escape on foot, but were overrun by the German army and forced to return to Kovno. On their way back they encountered some Lithuanian vigilantes who took them to the infamous Ninth Fort and questioned them. Luckily my father had his Lithuanian passport on him and a document proving that he was a veteran of World War One. They finally released them. Upon their arrival at our apartment, they found that the Lithuanian “Volunteers” slaughtered all the Jews who remained in our neighborhood. Among those murdered included our landlord Zalman Fin and his family as well as some of my classmates. This massacre (Pogrom), one of many across Lithuania, was carried out by the Lithuanians as the Russian army was leaving in total disarray, prior to the German army’s entrance into Kovno. We later found out that the Lithuanians murdered hundreds of Kovno Jews with axes and clubs in a large garage.
LIFE IN THE KOVNO GHETTO
In August 1941 the German High Commissioner of Lithuania, SA Major General Hans Kramer issued an order that all the Jews of Kovno (approximately twenty-nine thousand) must move into a small section of town called Vilijampole (Shlabodke in Yiddish). We were allowed to bring with us only items that we could carry, or if lucky, those household items which could fit in a pushcart. My family was not able to obtain a cart, so we only brought a few blankets, pillows, and some food. We left behind all our furniture, books and all other household items. Before vacating our apartment, I took a knife and sliced our sofa and mattresses, knowing that we would never return to this place again. We were placed in an apartment, which consisted of two rooms and a kitchen, without any sanitary facilities. There we found two additional families who shared this awful place with us. The Germans forced some Jews to build a barbed wire fence and an entrance gate. Anyone trying to escape was shot on the spot. This was the start of the infamous Kovno Ghetto. Life in the Ghetto was terrible. People were shot for no apparent reason. When a Jew walked past a German guard, he had to remove his cap and walk in military manner; otherwise he would be beaten. Our rations were also very meager: horse meat, margarine, flour, and potato peals. All men and women over the age of fourteen were forced to perform slave labor at the military airfield in Kovno. Being only thirteen, I was not required to work; however, I used to work at the airfield as an “Angel,”(Malach in Yiddish) being sent by someone else to perform his day’s work. For my efforts, I received two slices of bread and some margarine while the man I substituted for got his work card stamped. Thus, we were both winners; I got something to eat and the other person had a day off from slave labor.
One night we heard loud banging on our apartment door. As we opened the door there were several German SS soldiers and Lithuanians asking for me by name. They took me to the Ghetto prison and the next day I was sent to a small town called Marijampole. Other young men my age were also rounded up at the same time. We were housed in the town synagogue. We had to dig trenches for an underground telephone cable. I was unable to communicate with my family to let them know that I was alive. They kept us there for approximately three months. Each day every prisoner was expected to dig one hundred meters (three hundred feet) of the trench. Anyone who did not complete the required task was beaten severely. I remember a German SS guard who was not older than nineteen or twenty. That soldier was the most vicious prutal person I have ever encountered, we called him the snake. He was always yelling and foaming from the mouth. If he did not like someone he just pulled him off the trench, and shot him dead.
There were some Lithuanian laborers at that work site. One day I befriended one of these Lithuanians who told me that we were going back to the Ghetto. In addition, he gave me a little duck, already killed and cleaned, which I brought back to my family and my dear mother cooked us a delicious meal. Upon returning to the Ghetto I was assigned to work in the Ghetto laundry that was part of the Ghetto workshops. My job entailed hand scrubbing and washing German uniforms with bullet holes that were returned from the Russian front. After the uniforms were cleaned they were sent to the tailor shop for repairs and re-issued to German soldiers.
After working at the laundry for a few months, I was assigned to a clothing warehouse where I sorted out clothing removed from Jews that had been shot at the Ninth Fort. One day, I found a pair of shoes that were my mother’s size. I never forget the look on her face when I gave her those shoes. She was happy to obtain those shoes and also very sad that a few days earlier they had belonged to some unfortunate woman whose life was taken by those despicable murderers. I had risked my life in taking those shoes; if I had been caught I would have been shot
I recall a tragic incident, on Novemeber 18, 1942 German guards captured a man trying to escape from the Ghetto by digging a hole under the barbed wire fence. They accused him of having a revolver and gold. The Nazis forced the Jewish Ghetto police to build a gallows and hang that man while the entire Ghetto population watched. He was left dangling like a rag in the wind for twenty-four hours as a warning that no one else should try to escape. Before being hung he asked the Jewish Ghetto policemen to give his love to his mother and sister, who were shot the following day. The man’s name was Nachum Mek. Though many people like Mek failed to escape from the Ghetto, some people succeeded and joined the partisans in the forests fighting against the Nazis.
August 16, 1941 the German governor ordered the Jewish Ghetto administration to supply five hundred intellectuals to work in the Kovno archives outside the Ghetto. My uncle Moshe Nisin volunteered to go, thinking that he may obtain some additional food rations for his family. Instead, they were all taken to the Ninth Fort and shot. That left my aunt Henna to take care of her four small children, yet there was no way they could have survived by themselves without my uncle to provide for them.
26, 1941 the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators rounded up
several thousand people, took them to the Ninth Fort and shot them.
Among those shot were my dear grandparents Joshua Yakov and Genesa
Gruzin. They were the kindest people who never hurt anyone or spoke
a harsh word against others. Before the war they lived in a
storefront, which consisted of one large room without any
facilities. My grandfather used to buy and sell empty vinegar and
soda bottles. That one room served as a living room, dining room,
kitchen, bedroom, and my grandfather's bottle warehouse. they had
absolutely nothing. Why did they have to be murdered by those
October 28, 1941 was the most horrifying day in the Ghetto. An order was issued that all Ghetto inhabitants must assemble on Demokratu Square at 6:00 AM. Once there, we were lined up in columns by work brigades. My father, a World War 1 veteran was assigned to be a Ghetto policeman, yet the Jewish Ghetto Police were unarmed being available just to keep order. We stood in the column with Police and Fire Brigade families. Several hours passed and then the selections began. Each family had to pass SS Master Sergeant Helmut Raucke, as he stood on a wood platform with a riding stick in his hand, motioning some people to the right side and some to the left, separating families and creating total chaos. We were sent to the left. My uncle Chaim, my father’s younger brother, his wife Chiene, and their two sons Icik and Israel were sent to the right side. Suddenly my father happening to see that they were about to be taken out of the Ghetto to the Ninth Fort, ran over to a SS guard and told him that this were his family. The guard slugged my father over the head with his rifle causing him to bleed profusely, but my father did not give up, grabbing uncle Chaim and his family and placing them with us, thus saving their lives by his action.
My father told us later that he tried to find my aunt Henna and her four children; however, it was to no avail, they were already on the other side and were take to the Ninth Fort and shot. On that horrendous day the murderers killed over nine thousand men, women, and children. I still remember the sight of those poor souls walking up the hill to the Ninth Fort with SS and Lithuanian guards at their sides.
In July 1942 the Germans created a myth that the Ghetto hospital had typhus and infectious patients. The German SS guards surrounded the hospital, forced some Ghetto prisoners to dig a wide ditch around it so that no one could escape and set the hospital on fire. They burned alive all those inside including doctors, nurses, patients, and small infants. We could hear the screaming and crying of those unfortunate people After that tragedy there were just a few physicians without medical supplies left in the Ghetto to care for entire population. People died by the hundreds from sickness and hunger.
September 12, 1942 my brother Charles got close to the Ghetto fence. A German guard beat him severely, but he somehow managed to get back to our apartment where he collapsed. I will never forget the look in his eyes, as he lay there begging for us to help him. He kept on saying in Yiddish Ratevet mir meaning, “save me, please save me”. On the last day he was stricken with dysentery Three days later on September 15, 1942 my dear brother died. He was only seventeen years old. No one can comprehend the pain I felt for him, seeing him gasp his last breath and not be able to help as I sat by his bedside. Had there been medicine in the Ghetto, maybe he could have been saved. We buried him in the Kovno Ghetto Cemetery and placed a wooden marker on his grave. After the war, I was planning to travel to Kovno in order to place a permanent monument stone on his grave. But I was informed, that after the war was over, the Russians destroyed the cemetery, moved some of the remains to another place and built apartment houses on the cemetery site. This action by the Russians was an unforgivable inhumane act. They did not even have respect for the dead, even though the Russians lost twenty million people during the war.
March 27, 1944 the Nazis ordered all inhabitants to remain in their apartments, but leave the doors wide open. The Ghetto was aghast with fear. We had no idea what was going to happen. The German SS and their Lithuanian collaborators searched each apartment for children under the age thirteen. They took the children to the Ninth Fort or Auschwitz Concentration Camp and murdered them all. The SS went from door to door and dragged those innocent children and infants out of their parent’s arms, including two small children from our apartment. That murderous operation took two days. Being a youngster of fifteen, I could not imagine the despair the parents felt to have lost their children in such a brutal and tragic way. After that horrendous day a decree was issued that any woman who becomes pregnant will be shot. Most women who were already pregnant had to go into hiding in order to avoid discovery.
Life in the Ghetto became worse daily. The Nazis converted the Ghetto into a Concentration Camp, reduced our rations and continued rounding up people for deportation. Out of the twenty-nine thousand Jews who entered the Ghetto in 1941 only two thousand five hundred remained. To place this in perspective, ninety-five percent of Lithuanian Jews did not survive the Holocaust.
As the tide
of the war turned against the Germans and the Russian Army
approached Kovno in July of 1944, the Nazis began to remove all the
remaining Jews from the Ghetto. Many attempted to find refuge in
underground hideouts, but the Nazis flushed them out with killer
dogs, grenades and dynamite. The murderers set the Ghetto on fire
and burned it to the ground. No one could have survived such an
inferno. All that was left standing were smokestacks.
The remaining Jews including my family were herded into cattle cars, approximately fifty to a car, with no sanitary facilities. There was one bucket in each car for people to relieve themselves, which was filled very quickly. The stench from urine and human excrement was almost unbearable. We traveled for two days without food or water, not knowing where we were being taken. My older brother Zachary having worked as an electrician in the Ghetto had a pair of wire cutters on him; he managed to cut away the barbed wire on the small window of the cattle car and attempted to crawl through. My dear mother pulled him back stating that we should all stay together, no matter what our future would bring. Other young men managed to jump from the moving train, however, the SS guards were on top of the cars and we heard some shooting. I do not know if any of the escapees made it to freedom.
The train stopped at a place called Tigenhoff, near Danzig which was then occupied Poland The guards opened the cattle car doors and shouted through bullhorns that all women should come out to be fed first and the men would follow. They always used deceptive tactics, to avoid arousing any suspicion among the prisoners. My mother hugged and kissed us and said that she would never see us again. She was right. She was murdered in Concentration Camp Stuthoff in late 1944.
After all the women were chased out, the Nazi guards locked the car doors without feeding us. We traveled two more days in that filth not knowing where we were being taken. It seemed so eerie; everything had suddenly changed, a few minutes ago we were still a family and suddenly they had torn us apart. The only thing my dear mother wanted out of life was to be a devoted wife to my father and loving mother to her children. The inhumane cruelty is indescribable; they did all those unspeakable atrocities without blinking an eye. To them it was a job to destroy the Jewish people. We had heard tales of concentration camps and gas chambers in Germany, and we all prayed that none of those places would be our final destination. Some prisoners got very sick from hunger and thirst. I recall one elderly man just lying there and begging for water, a few hours later he was dead. Had we traveled another day most of us would not have survived. A person’s body can take just a certain amount of hunger, after that it is only a matter of time before death occurs.
finally stopped at a small railroad station, named Kaufering in
Southern Germany. Of course we had no idea where we were and what
our future would bring. They lined us up in columns and marched us
through the small town, where the townspeople stood on the sidewalk
staring at us. They did not speak or make any gestures. After an
hour’s march we finally arrived at Concentration Camp Kaufering,
camp number one.
CONCENTRATION CAMP KAUFERING
This was a satellite camp of the infamous Concentration Camp Dachau, one of eleven camps in the Landsberg area. SS guards pointed to the electrified barbed wire fence, with signs “Hochspannung” (High Voltage). SS Lieutenant Johann Viktor Kirsch greeted us, calling us “you filthy swine Jews” and lectured us on how to behave in our new “home” and warned us, if the clock should strike twelve for Germany it would be past twelve us, meaning that if Germany should lose the war, we the prisoners would not be alive to see it. We knew then that no one could ever escape that horrible place.
The SS guards ordered us to strip naked and turn over all our valuables. My father had his wedding band on him, he told me that he would never part with it and I managed to bury the ring for safekeeping. Some prisoners had some German money on them that was outlawed, disposed of the money by throwing it into the latrine that consisted of a long pit with a wooden plank across. The latrine was full of human excrement and white worms. The SS guards noticed the money floating in that filth and ordered some prisoners to undress crawl into the latrine and retrieve the money.
We were issued a blanket and a striped prisoner uniform, which consisted of trousers, jacket, cap, and a pair of wooden clogs. No socks or underwear were provided. To keep warm in the brutal winter of 1944 we took some empty paper cement bags, cut a hole in the center for the head and two corners for the arms and put in on like a vest under our thin jackets, although if a prisoner was caught wearing one he was beaten severely for destroying German property. In addition, we were issued a number, which served as our identity. They took away our name, pride, and dignity. We became objectified as sub humans and felt totally degraded. Life as we know it now did not exist in that place. For this I could never forgive those tyrants. If a prisoner had to be located, they would announce his number over the loud speakers and he needed to appear immediately or he would receive a terrible beating or worse.
Our housing consisted of filthy huts; no mattress or bedding was provided. We used our wooden clogs as pillows. We were cramped approximately forty prisoners to a hut; one door in the front and a potbelly stove in the center, which we used to kill the lice from our clothing. The infestation of the lice was so severe that we could reach into our clothing and remove it by the handful. No bathing facilities existed. However, there were a few cold-water faucets above the urinal trench.
Every morning at 6:00 AM there was a guard by the door chasing us with a whip to make us run like cattle. Before being marched off to work we had to assemble in the (apelplatz) courtyard for a roll call head count. That head count had to be done with precision. First came an order “Achtung” to snap at attention, then another order “Mitzen up” for prisoners to take off their caps. If a prisoner did not perform that order quickly enough or out of unison, he would be punished beeing placed in a kneeling position on a punishment stool, which resembled a large step stool, another prisoner was selected to beat him with a wooden board until he stopped screaming from pain. If that beating was not to the satisfaction of the commandant they would beat the other person to show how the punishment should be done correctly. Another form of punishment was, placing a prisoner near the electrified barbed wire fence with a raw potato in his mouth. There he had to stand at attention, if he fell against the fence, of course he was electrocuted. My brother Zachary was placed by the fence on one occasion, Thank God he survived that ordeal.
We had to perform slave labor in twelve-hour shifts. Our work entailed building an underground Messerschmidt aircraft facility. Our trip to the worksite was a daily death march; prisoners fell and died by the hundreds. Our daily rations consisted of one slice of moldy bread, a little watery soup, and a potato. There were no gas chambers or crematoriums in that camp. They were not needed for prisoners died by the hundreds from severe hunger, beatings, lice, typhoid fever and other diseases. It was not unusual for me to talk to a prisoner next to me in the hut one day and the next day that person was carried off in a pushcart to the burial pit. There were dead people lying all over the place. We could not bury them fast enough. It did not faze anyone, for this was the way of life in that hellhole.
I was assigned to operate a crane to unload gravel from railroad cars. There was a German worker inside the car guiding the crane. Being inexperienced in operating such large machinery, I accidentally hit the German with the crane shovel, injuring him slightly. As a result, the guards took me into the construction shack and began beating me, accusing me of trying to kill a German worker. I thought that my life was over. After a short while, however, they pushed me out the door. Of course I could not work in that capacity any longer. Instead, I was assigned to unload cement sacks from railroad cars.
My brother Zachary was transferred to another camp. One day I saw him in a column of prisoners. As the columns passed each other I managed to give him my slice of bread, which I was issued that morning. He looked so emaciated though I failed to realize that I looked as bad as or even worse than he. Of course, that day I had nothing to eat. Upon returning to camp I started crying like a child. My father shared his rations with me that day. It would take another twenty-eight years before I would see my brother again. When I was working the night shift I used to sneak past the guards in the potato field to dig up some potatoes and bring them into camp, then boiled them on the potbelly stove. I was risking my life if I were caught. My father was becoming weaker by the day, his body swollen from hunger. His body was so full of fluids that when I touched his hand or other part of his body it left an indentation like raw dough. I did not expect him to live much longer. He was infested with lice and barely able to walk.
On April 26, 1945 as the U.S. Army advanced, the SS assembled the population of the entire camp and forced them to undertake a death march. My father, myself and other prisoners who were too weak to walk were left behind. The next morning we saw that there were no guards on the watchtowers. It seemed so odd to us. Since I was one of the stronger ones who were left behind, I started walking around the camp; there I came across the kitchen, which was used by the SS guards. I stepped inside and saw bread stacked in neat rows. I immediately grabbed some loafs and stuffed them into a flour sack, then took them to my father and told him to guard it. I returned to the kitchen for a second time to obtain more bread, however, some other prisoners took it all except for some crumbs on the floor. I gathered all the bread crumbs and took them to my father, fearing that we would not have enough for the future. During the entire four years of my incarceration I had two wishes: one, to be free and two, to have enough bread to eat. My wishes came true on that miraculous day.
On April 27, 1945 we heard some artillery and small arms fire. We knew then that our suffering was about to come to an end, thinking that either the Nazis would kill us or we would be liberated by the advancing U.S. Army. As the shooting stopped, we saw American troops enter the camp. The joy of the prisoners was overwhelming. At first we could not believe that we were really free. However, as more and more U.S. soldiers and their tanks entered the camp we knew then that our suffering was over. I will never forget the white stars painted on their trucks and tanks.
At this time, my father asked me to get the ring, which I had buried upon arrival. I found the ring and returned it to my father. This ring was our sole possession at the time of our liberation.
I noticed a captured SS officer who was wearing shiny jackboots; I walked over to him and ordered him to remove his boots in exchange for my father’s wooden clogs. That Nazi refused to obey my order. An American soldier pointed his rifle at the Nazi who subsequently granted my request. Twenty-four hours ago I would have been beaten or shot for just looking the wrong way at that murderer. To everyone my father must have looked so odd; a man worn down to skin and bone, wearing those shiny boots with a sack full of bread on his shoulder.
The American Army started to distribute white slices of bread. I ran to get some, but upon receiving one slice two prisoners jumped me and took it out of my hand, We already had a sack full of bread, but I wanted more; I could not have enough bread after all those years of hunger, abuse and starvation
American military ambulances started to evacuate the most severely ill prisoners. Being close to death, my father was placed on a stretcher and carried to an ambulance. There I saw two prisoners with pink spots on their bodies. Having seen prisoners die from that disease, I immediately stopped the American medics from putting my father into the ambulance, but they kept on pushing me away. Not being able to speak the English language, I climbed on the hood of the ambulance and would not allow the driver to move. I kept on pointing at the prisoners inside the ambulance. They finally put my father and myself into another ambulance and took us to Bad Woersihoffen near the Swiss border. We were deloused with DDT and placed in a villa that had been converted into a convalescent home. What a change in lifestyle from a lice infested dirt hut to a luxurious place with a dining hall, nurses, doctors, private bath, and clean sheets. At this time, my father weighed thirty-four kilograms (seventy-five pounds). I weighed forty-one kilograms (ninety pounds).
The American military quarantined the villa due to concern that some of the liberated prisoners may have typhus, typhoid fever, or other communicable diseases. I used to sneak out after dark and go visit the farmers in the area to beg for food. I just could not get enough food into my stomach. Some of them were very kind and gave me some eggs and bread. The eggs I used to put under the hot water faucet in order to soft boil them for my father. Other Germans kept on telling me that they knew nothing of any concentration camps and that they were “forced” to join the Nazi party. The American medical staff was very careful not to give us too much food, fearing that we may get sick from overeating. Some prisoners did die after the liberation; they were far too malnourished to recuperate. Among them were two brothers and friends of mine from Lithuania, David and Ruven Grinstein. Unfortunately, they survived the Nazi Genocide, but died before they could enjoy freedom.
After several months in Bad Woershofen, as we regained some of our strength, we tried to find a way to travel back to Lithuania in order to be reunited with my mother and my brother Zachary. Of course at that time we had no idea whether or not they survived the war. We finally found a transport, organized by the Russian army to repatriate their citizens to Lithuania, which was then part of the Soviet Union. We boarded military trucks and they took us to an assembly point in Munich. There, a friend of my father hitched a ride on the truck in which we were riding. He told us, that he recently returned from Lithuania, and for us not to go back, because the Russians were sending all the returnees to work in the coalmines. They considered us traitors to the “Soviet Motherland” for spending the war in Germany. My father was not very strong yet, so he told the Russian officer that he was unable to undertake such a long journey. An ambulance was called in order to take my father to a convalescent home. The Russians wanted me to go back home. I made it clear to them that we spent the entire war years together and that I was not about to be separated from him. After a short confrontation and intervention by American military police, I went into the ambulance with my father.
The American military government started placing Jewish refugees in Nazi homes, as a punishment for the Nazis. I was placed in one of those homes. Living there was not pleasant, for me, the Nazi family did not speak to me. They used to walk by and stare at me. Yet, I had a private bedroom and bath. I could see in their eyes the hatred toward me. Later, I discovered that their son had been killed on the Russian front and I occupied his room.
After another six months in the convalescent home, my father was finally released and we both obtained an apartment of our own. I attended ORT (Organization for Reconstruction and Training) school and learned to become an office machine repairman. My father became an inspector overseeing the tailoring workshops, which were established in the Displaced Persons camps, all across the American zone of occupation in Germany. He became a “Big Shot,” having both a car and driver at his disposal. My father’s transformation was unbelievable. Here was a man who several months ago was near death and now was a respected citizen. How time changes when a person is alive, free, and treated like a human being.
It did not take us very long to find out that my dear mother was murdered. After the war I tried to find out the date my dear mother died, I wrote to The International Red Cross Tracing Services, The Stutthof Concentration camp archives and other agencies, all I could find out was the date of my dear mothers arrival at Stutthof and her prisoner number, no other information is available. This is extremely painful for me not known when to observe her Yahrzeit (date of death) and to recite the Kaddish prayer in the Synagogue.
It took two years for us to find out that my brother Zachary survived the war. He had returned to Lithuania in order to search for me, my father, and my dear mother, not knowing whether we survived the war. The Russians put Zachary in the coalmines in Ukraine. After spending four years in Ghetto and various concentration camps, he was stuck behind the Iron Curtain for another forty-seven years.
My father’s older brother Charles had come to the United States in 1912, at the age of nineteen. He settled in Baltimore, Maryland, establishing himself as a businessman and also raising a family. After we located his address, we began corresponding. After four years of waiting he finally arranged visas for us to immigrate to the United States. This was a very difficult decision for us to make. We were embarking on a new life in a great country but we were also leaving my brother Zachary behind the Iron Curtain, not knowing if we would ever be reunited with him.
My father and I left the blood soaked earth of Europe and arrived in Baltimore on July 7, 1949. My father and his brother Charles had not seen each other in thirty-seven years. This was a very happy and emotional reunion. We then tried to locate my mother’s sister Vite Malka, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1905. It took us about six months to locate her family. She had passed many years ago, however, her husband Jacob, daughters Elsie, Muriel, and Ann, as well as her son David were still living and we had the privilege to meet some of them. I established a very close relationship with my cousin Muriel and Muriel’s daughter Barbara who currently resides with her family in New Jersey. After all these years in America we still correspond and see each other as often as possible.
Upon arriving in the United States, with only seven dollars in my pocket and a heart full of hope and dreams, I never envisioned the amount of opportunity that I would find and accomplish things that went far beyond what I have imagined. I had worked at an office machine company located in Baltimore, Maryland for forty-seven years. My starting salary was $25.00 per week. I had to disassemble and wash typewriters with chemicals. Eventually I was sent to schools where I was trained by IBM and other large companies to repair many makes and models of office equipment. After a while, I became service manager of the company, overseeing a large group of technicians. I retired in 1996.
In May of 1950 my father met Sarah Simkin in Baltimore, where they both worked in a clothing manufacturing plant. My father became a shop foreman after several years of employment. Sarah was a very lovely lady and they married a short while later. They maintained a very religious household, observing all the Jewish religious laws and holidays. For Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover we always got together at their house. They were also respected citizens in the community, belonging to many organizations and having a large number of friends. My father became an officer in a synagogue in Baltimore. It is amazing how life can change when a person is given freedom, respect, and opportunity.
In 1955, my father and I arranged visas for my cousin Israel, his wife Adela, and their infant daughter Jeannie to come to the United States. Israel established a custom cabinet business in Baltimore, Maryland. His mother Chiene who miraculously survived Stuthoff concentration camp and his brother Icik both died at an early age do to health complications from the concentration camps, they are both missed dearly by our family.
In 1951, during the Korean War, I was inducted into the United States Amy. It is impossible for me to describe the honor and pride I felt in wearing the uniform of the Army that opened the gates to freedom and gave new life for my father and me. When off duty we were allowed to wear civilian clothes, however, I always wore my uniform, since for me it was a great privilege. I met Major General Harry Collins, the Commanding General at Ft Jackson, S.C. At our meeting he told me that he was Commanding General of the 42nd Infantry Division liberating Dachau concentration camp. How ironic to meet the same General under such different circumstances. Whenever there was need for the General’s flag to be present at a parade, graduation or other function, I was always selected to have the honor of carrying that flag. The pride I felt was indescribable.
I was very much surprised that anti-Semitism even existed in the U.S. Army. When I was inducted and began basic training, we were sent on maneuvers. No one asked me what my religion was and I did not find it necessary to tell anyone that I was of the Jewish faith. A directive came from Headquarters that all Jewish personnel were authorized to take leave in order to attend religious services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Of course I packed my duffle bag and returned to base in order to observe the High Holidays. After returning to my unit I started hearing comments like “Jew Babe” and “where is your hooknose?” I tried to ignore those remarks; several soldiers approached me and stated that I smelled like the rest of the “Kikes.” They told me that they were going to give me a GI shower, to scrub me down with heavy brushes, which were used to clean the latrine. Here I was, just five years out of Concentration camps, eighteen months in America willing and able to fight in Korea for my new country, and being degraded in such disgusting manner.
Being appointed a squad leader for my outstanding obedience, I had access to the rifle rack which was normally locked, I unlocked the rack and fixed a bayonet on my rifle and dared them to come closer; of course those cowards backed off. I would not have hesitated to use my weapon in order to defend my honor as an American soldier and a Jew. I stated to those thugs if we were sent to Korea, they should be careful to watch from which direction the gunfire came. After that incident all harassments stopped. After basic training I attended Combat Leadership School, mastered the English language, attained the rank of corporal and became an instructor at the Infantry school at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, teaching reserve officers the art of modern weaponry. The pride and honor I felt standing on the podium in front of 80 students, is indescribable. The two years of my service to my new country was the most rewarding period of my life. I became a US citizen after my honorable discharge from the Army in 1953.
In 1972 my father, his wife Sarah, and I were permitted to visit my brother Zachary in the Soviet Union. The Russian Government allowed us to stay only for four days. At first, I did not recognize him after all those years of separation. When I saw him last, he was an emaciated prisoner in a concentration camp at the age of nineteen and now he was a forty-seven year old man with a family of his own. After that brief visit I did not know if I would ever see him again.
It took another twenty years before my brother and his family could leave Russia. They arrived in the United States in 1992. When we meet at the airport my life felt fulfilled. It was indescribable the happiness and joy we felt for each other at that moment in our lives. Unfortunately, our father did not live long enough to be part of that unbelievable reunion; he had died in 1988 at the age of ninety-two. My brother now lives in Owings Mills, Maryland only five miles from my house and we see each other very often, frequently reminiscing about our life.
of last Year I had the honor of being invited to speak at the
annual reunion of the 103rd Infantry Division
Association in Arlington Virginia, there I met some of the U.S.
Soldiers in person who liberated me from the Nazi tyranny. I
received a standing ovation and a plaque of appreciation for my
service in the US Army. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate the
US soldier who ordered the Nazi to trade his shiny boots for my
father wooden clogs.
CLOSING THOUGHTS, BUT NO CLOSURE
Sixty years have passed since my liberation. I did not speak in detail to my family about the war years. This is the first time I have I have opened my inner thoughts and I wrote these 26 pages, in the hope that it would ease my pain. However, there remains no closure concerning my life of incarceration, hunger, disease, and the loss of my dear family members. The Holocaust stays with me day and night. The nightmares never stop. On many occasions I wake up in the middle of the night soaked with perspiration, my wife tells me that she hears me scream in the my sleep. When I see a group of children at school playgrounds or at any other gathering, it always brings back those terrible memories that one and a half million children of that age were ripped from their parents’ arms and murdered. I ask why, but there is no answer. The world was silent. Those unfortunate children had not even begun to live; a bullet or the gas chamber ended their future. People often ask me how I survived. I have no answer. Maybe, God was with me so I could bear witness and tell my experiences to others.
I hoped that the civilized world would never forget the evil genocide done to the Jewish people of Europe during World War II. I wished that future generations would learn that such atrocities could occur again, unless they learned from the past. However, today the storm is brewing again. In France and other European countries anti-Semitic acts are on the rise. Head stones are being desecrated in Jewish cemeteries and swastikas are being painted on synagogues all over Europe. In Buenos Aires, Argentina terrorists bombed the Jewish Community Center, inflicting many casualties. The entire Arab World is preaching to their children to hate the Jews, even urging them to wage a Jihad “Holy war” against Israel. Iran is developing a nuclear capability. The Iranian President keeps on saying that Israel will soon be wiped of the map, Palestinian suicide bombers have taken the lives of more than one thousand innocent men, women and children in Israel. Some European Countries are boycotting goods manufactured in Israel. Even in The United States, some people think that Israel was responsible for the attack on The World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. even question the authenticity of the Holocaust, stating that the number of Jews killed by the Nazis is exaggerated.
The last portion of this page I left purposely blank as a symbol of the emptiness I feel to the loss of my dear mother, brother, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins who did not survive the Nazi onslaught.
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