WALK IN MY SHOES
Collected Memories of the Holocaust
as told by Shiku Smilovic in his
autobiographical memoir "Buchenwald
At the desk, we inquired about registration to the U.S.A. as war orphans. She led us to a room where a very fine looking lady was sitting behind a big desk. She asked us about our past. Jack and I gave her some of our past experiences from the concentration camps, and we also told her about our tragic losses. We also told her that Jack and I were from the same town and that we had been together since we were 6 years old. Together in cheder, we prayed in the same Shtiebel, we sang in the same choir, and we spent most of our time in the camps together. And we were together since the liberation of Buchenwald. It seemed that we had proven to her that we were worthy to be registered for the U.S.A.
She asked us to sing a song for her. Jack looked at me and said "You remember the song I taught you, some time ago, Wi ahin Zol ich Gein?" I wanted to say no, I don't remember, but I thought by singing a song maybe [we] would get to the U.S.A. sooner.
The song I sang translated in English:
The song was perfect, and we got the green light for immigration to the U.S.A. "Don't worry any more, children, no more wandering for you."
She explained to us that we were going to
be sent to a childrenís camp called Aglasterhausen near Heidelberg. They
had schools and we would be able to learn English and all about the U.S.A.
and all of its attributes.
We received a letter from the U.N.R.A. office to appear the next day at the bus station in order to take us to the orphanage in Aglasterhausen. Frau Pfaffle was very sad and disturbed when she found out about our departure. She thought that since we got our Kennkarte (identification and resident papers), we were planning on staying for good. Little did she know that we hated the soil we walked on and couldn't wait to leave that damned place. We enjoyed the stay with Frau Pfaffle; she meant well and sometimes we felt sorry for her.
The day we left for the bus station, Frau Pfaffle insisted on going with us to the bus station. When we arrived at the bus station the U.N.R.A.representative were there waiting for us, and about 10 more orphans were there with her, also going to Aglasterhausen. We said goodbye to Frau Pfaffle, she cried, and begged us to write. Please, if you don't like it there, please, just come right back. We left all our food supplies, plus some games that we have accumulated; we had no use for them at the place we are going.
We arrived in Aglasterhausen with the rest of the children in about two hours travelling time. It was situated in a small town Neunkirchen, 100 km from Heidelberg. The place we were in had been used as a home for retarded children. In 1937 all these children were put to sleep by injections, as was the custom in the Third Reich administration.
The camp consisted of about 200 children, from 12 months to 18 years old. Most of the children were Jewish from all over Europe: Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, also non-Jews from Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Estonia, Germany, and Lithuania. The surrounding areas around the camp were just like in a dreamland. Beautiful, tall birch trees covered most of our front and back courts. On one side of the home was a meadow with a small river flowing. The most beautiful birds were buzzing all over us.
They sang and acted like they were happy, welcoming us to the new home. When I felt lonely or blue, I found myself sitting beside the river with a pencil and paper scribbling a poem or a song. Once I wrote a poem, I really thought that it was something. I showed the poem to Jack. "Excellent," he said, "why don't you send it to the New York Jewish newspaper The Morning Journal? Maybe, you might get some money for it." I was so proud that Jack gave me the approval. After all, he was the greatest critic this side of Heidelberg. With difficulty, I found the Journal address and mailed it Air Mail. A letter came back Air Mail. "Your poem is heart warming, but since we do not print poems in our daily papers we are sorry to disappoint you, and hope that you keep on writing, maybe some day you will succeed. We cannot return your poem. Since it is against our rules, and regulations. Good Luck." I never wrote another poem, since I preferred to concentrate on my singing.
Next to the river was a soccer field where we played soccer daily. I perfected the game of soccer and became a good player.
Our daily routine consisted of breakfast at 7.30 then at 9.00 we started school till 1 p.m. Lunch; after lunch we carried on with our sports activities and some of the older girls did their assigned chores: helping in the kitchen or caring for the small children in camp. 6.00 p.m. was supper. We all ate in the large dining room, and we had a chance to chat with the girls that were interested in chatting. There were some stuck up girls that were out of reach. One of them was named Chanka, the girl I married four years later. And we are celebrating our 46th Happy Anniversary this year. After supper, we did our homework, read, and relaxed till bedtime. There was definitely no courtship allowed in camp. Our camp head, Mrs. Green, was a single American lady in her late 40s. She was a real Mama.
The kids were scared when she entered the dining room. She always had something up her sleeves. And nobody wanted to be on her bad side. She would threaten the kids that if they did not observe the rules, they would stay right there. The U.S.A. was full of undisciplined children, and they were not in need for more. Yes Ma'am! We read you, loud and clear. Friday and Saturday nights were the only exception. There was dancing, both nights. We had our own camp band, and sometimes they brought in professionals from town. Mrs. Green was in full control of every move, or touch, on the dance floor.
Our teachers were very strict and we had to learn everything by heart such as history, geography, and poems. We learned every subject in English; in the beginning it was very hard, but within a few weeks we learned very quickly, especially English was the most rapidly absorbed.
The boys also had chores after school, the heavy work in the kitchen, and also some cleaning in the courts. We had a pretty good drama group. Jack was the director, producer, and writer. We put on a production that Jack and I put together. Story: Czech family, taken to Auschwitz, father was dying in Buchenwald, played by Jack. The son was evacuated to London, England, from Germany in 1938, played by Sam as Captain in the U.S. Army liberating Buchenwald. Finds his father, very sick and dying. Sam, the son, prays for fatherís health, and sings the campís famous song, "TELL ME WHERE SHALL I GO, THERE IS NO PLACE I CAN SEE." The play was a success, we were invited by the U.S. military officers from Heidelberg who were present at our original presentation. We were taken to Heidelberg by bus. It happened to be Chanukah. The play was just marvelous, we even sang a few Chanukah songs. After the show, some officers came over and introduced themselves, as they enjoyed the show. They also enjoyed the Chanukah songs since they were also Jewish.
We were treated to a party; we never experienced Coca Cola before. For the first time in our lives, it tasted like something from heaven. We wanted more and more till our stomachs were ready to explode.
There were a lot of outings, to the country side, and some times we were taken to Heidelberg, swimming in the river Neckar. Heidelberg was a beautiful city to visit, the boys just loved to go to the outings because Mrs. Green was not there to watch over us and we could enjoy talking to the girls freely.
We made new friends within the group, and
some of them are still considered close friends. Like Eugene Schonberger,
whom I see once or twice weekly. Teddy Schwartz belongs to the same lodge
of Bnai brith since its inception. Barbara Weingord is a very good friend
of the family.
A number of children had already left to
the U.S.A. in the past six months. We were looking forward for our turn to
appear at the U.S. consulate for a visa to the U.S.A. Being impatient, we
approached Mrs. Green to see if she could tell us when our turn to visit
the consulate would be. Of course, you just did not approach Mrs. Green so
easily. We made an appointment to see her since we had another play in
mind and needed her advice. At the same time, we asked about our visit to
the U.S. Consul. Very soon, was her reply. Jack and I were happy now.
We were told to get ready to go to the U.S. consulate. We dressed in our best clothes and we set out for the final move. Our group consisted of about 20 boys and girls. We were picked up by a bus that took us to Stuttgart to see the U.S. Consulate. The route we took was through the most beautiful countryside we had ever seen. The trip lasted for about four hours and we enjoyed every minute of it. The most interesting part of the trip was how some of the older boys had a problem with their beards. Since they reduced their age to enable them to go to the U.S. as children under 18 years, the beard could give them away at the consul's inspection office. Therefore, they shaved their beards, and were constantly asking around: "How does my beard appear to you?" "Just fine, fine." It was the most entertaining part of our trip.
Finally, we arrived at the consulate in Ludwigsburg, in the outskirts of Stuttgart. We were all directed to a large waiting room. We were taken one by one for a medical check up. As we were walking towards the medical inspection room, our U.N.R.A. lady was waving to us. Jack and I ran over to greet her. We hugged, after all she was responsible for our trip, and we were really thankful. We said goodbye, and she said. "See you in the U.S.A."
We took our medical and then we went in to see the Consul in person. The question of the Consul: "Why do you want to go to the U.S.A.?" The answer was plain and simple: "I want to live in a country where democracy is on top of the order and freedom is what we seek. The U.S.A. fits our dream," I said. "Very good young man. Consider yourself a U.S. citizen." Welcome to the U.S.A. Wow!
We all met again and took protocol of the Consulís questions and answers. Everybody was happy, we were all practically U.S. citizens. Within two weeks the good news arrived. Get ready, we are going to Bremerhaven for a trip to the U.S.A. But, my luck ran out. I was not on the list to travel to the USA. I ran to Mrs. Green's office and asked her, "Why am I not on the list? Why?" And I broke out crying like I hadnít cried for a long time. Mrs. Green was trying to console me. She was patting me on the back, and saying, "Don't worry, Szija", that was my official name in that place. Most of the kids call me Sziku, the name I was called in Munkacs. She said that she would call the Consul first thing in the morning and ask him the reason why I was not on the list. Meanwhile, my friend Jack was packing, getting ready for the long trip. Jack and I were very close (so I thought) and now it looked like I was losing another brother. Fate would part us again.
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