WALK IN MY SHOES
Collected Memories of the Holocaust
as told by Shiku Smilovic in his
autobiographical memoir "Buchenwald 56466"
And now, finally, we would be the chosen ones to accomplish this great dream. We were prepared for the possibility that we would have to join the fighting forces of Israel. Enough of our wandering and enough of the sufferings, keep your head high because, Israel here we come! As we sat at the lectures, we were thinking about the difficulties we were facing to reach Israel. England was opposed to Jewish Immigration into Israel. Boatloads of Jews are taken to Cyprus and put into concentration camps under very poor conditions. Our minds started to wander. Did we not have our share of suffering already? Could we afford new pains? Jack and I were very popular in the Kibbutz. We practically dominated the Saturday services as Balei Tefilahs. Our voices had improved very much since our participation in the choir. We were finally feeling that we belonged. We were only 17 years old and already they were talking to us about marriage. There was a number of girls that we liked, but marriage was way out in left field for us.
Sister Heddy and Arthur were residing in Stuttgart. They left Liberec, Czechoslovakia soon after I left. They also were disappointed in the Czech Government. Communism was very rampant in Czechoslovakia. The Russians are our only true friends.
The Western world had let them down in 1938 Munich Putsch. Russia was the only friend they felt they could rely on. With that in the air, most of the Jews left Czechoslovakia and settled in the D.P. camps of Germany.
Heddy's home was in Feurbach, a township of Stuttgart, fixed very nicely, and very peaceful. Mrs. Pfaffle, the landlady, was very good to them. She served breakfast in bed.
Our date for leaving for Israel was coming closer, we approached our leader Shmulek for permission to go to Stuttgart to say goodbye to sister Heddy and her husband Arthur Spitz. No problem, permission was granted. Jack and I were off to Stuttgart. Since we planned to be back in a couple of days, we didn't pack much of anything, just an extra shirt, and clean underwear. We arrived at the Stuttgart bahnhof, and we were amazed by the destruction of this part of town. There was no building left standing in one piece, just a bunch of rubble. We boarded the streetcar to Feurbach, and, looking out the windows as we were traveling, we saw nothing but devastation. Our hearts were feeling a bit of NEKUME (vengeance); someone handed out punishment for the crimes committed. Too little, too late. After traveling about half an hour, we arrived at sister Heddy's place. To our disappointment, we had the wrong address because I took the wrong address when we left the Kibbutz in a hurry. Luckily, the people knew the new address; it was just around the corner on the next street. Heddy and Arthur were very happy to see us. We received the red carpet treatment. We were very happy to see them, and to our surprise they had immigration papers to the U.S.A. and they were leaving the next week by boat to New York. A very happy day indeed. We sat and talked about our trip to Israel and how nice it would be to meet sister Shari and her husband Hershi who also were planning to go to Israel.
Heddy told the story of why Arthur and her spent five days in jail in Stuttgart a few months before. When they first arrived in Stuttgart, Germany, they met a German Jewish couple in their 60s when visiting the Jewish Congress, looking for a place to live. The old couple offered Heddy and Arthur a nice apartment for a very good price, so they moved in with the old couple and things were going just fine. Then one day, they noticed that some jewelry items were missing and also some money was missing. They complained bitterly, "How dare you steal from Holocaust survivors? Was that the reason you rented us the apartment?" And this happened a few times that they stole money. They found our hiding place in our bedroom and we were watching it carefully. They never took much. But the last time they took $50.00 and that was a fortune for us. So we called the M.P.s, after they refused to give back the money. The M.P.s arrived and they asked the couple to return the items and the money. They denied all the accusations and accused Heddy and Arthur of black marketeering. Check their rooms, and you will see for yourselves.
The M.P.s looked in the rooms when they pulled out a suitcase from under the bed, and found that it contained cigarettes, American dollars and two stop-watches. That was enough evidence for them, they were handcuffed and taken down to jail. Heddy pleaded with them that the suitcase belonged to Jankele Reiss, a friend of my brother Shiku, who had been there just before they joined the Bnei Akiva Kibbutz in Fohrenwald. She never knew the contents of this suitcase. Talk to the wall!! They just listened and said, "Tell it to the judge in the morning." After three days, Judge Schwartz heard the case; after a short plea, he dismissed the case.
As we were listening to story, Jankele felt funny and guilty. But Heddy gave him a big smile and said, "I forgive you. But you have to promise me that you and Shiku do not return to the Kibbutz and stay with us till we go to the U.S. And then you two can stay here as long as you want. The rent for the apartment is paid for a year at a time, and we have lots of food stamps to last you for a long time." We were both shocked with the proposition. Israel? The Kibbutz? Madrich Shmulek? What would they all say? In our minds the battlefields looked too risky. This proposition was full of wonderful days ahead. We were only 17 years old, we had hardly lived yet. We had plenty of time to fulfill our duties to Israel. We had hardly dried out from our pain and losses. Jack and I looked at each other, and in unison we said. "Yes, we will stay". Heddy was very happy, and Arthur nodded his approval. Four days later, Heddy and Arthur left for the U.S.A. and promised to write as soon as they settle down. Jankele and I became apartment dwellers over night, and we immediately started to plan the next move.
Jack has a great idea: to visit the mayor of Feurbach. After all, he deserved to be introduced to his new city dwellers. One morning, we decided to make our visit. As we were walking towards the City Hall, we were amazed by the beauty of this section of town. It looked like the bombs had missed this part of town.
The beautiful hilly streets with the tall willow trees overhanging them and the beautiful gardens with the nicest flowers spread throughout. It didn't look like the rest of the city. The contrast was so great it baffles the eye. We approached the City Hall steps and we were anxious about our reception. We approached the information desk and we asked for permission to see the mayor of Feurbach. We gave them our names and we also told the secretary at the information desk, that we were Buchenwald survivors. She talked on the phone a few seconds, then, she led us personally to the mayor's Office. While walking toward the office, the secretary told us that the mayor had also been in Buchenwald. We entered the mayor's office, a very large room with beautiful paintings on the walls, a large oval desk in the middle of the room with beautiful armchairs facing the mayor's tall antique eighteenth century armchair. It looked like a room in the museum. The mayor, a tall, white-haired conservative looking man in his sixties, stood at his office door and welcomed us with a warm hand shake and a big hello.
"Sit down young men!" I hear that you have been in Buchenwald.
"Well, I also was in Buchenwald for political reasons, since 1943 when I was arrested for speaking against the government during a news writers convention in Stuttgart. I saw many things in Buchenwald during my stay." We told him about our losses and that we urgently needed identification cards to obtain food and clothes stamps. Within an hour, he provided us with identification papers and lots of stamps for food and clothes. He also provided us with free tickets for the theatre, opera, and soccer games. We were thrilled with the mayor's reception and he invited us to see him whenever we were in need of something.
We never went back again; we had enough coupons for years to come. Frau Pfaffle, our landlady, was crazy about us. Every morning she served us breakfast in bed. Not quite in bed, but her attitude was just like you would be served breakfast in bed. She used to knock so softly on our door, just in case we are still asleep. She used to call me Paul, and Jack was Jakub. She talked about us to all her friends in the stores, in church, and all the places she went. People used to come just to look at us without saying a word. One day, she brought home her preacher from church with the idea to convert us to Christianity. After two hours of discussion with us, the preacher got up and said: please let me out of here before I become a Jew. Frau Pfaffle was in her early fifties; she lost her husband and son on the Russian front; she was a very lonely and good soul. She told us about the stories her son used to tell her when he came home on furlough.
"Mother, they are slaughtering the Jewish people like animals, whole villages are burned down to the ground with the people in them: men, woman, and children."
Her son was crying when he was telling her these stories. We didn't know whether to believe her or not. But one thing we managed to find out was that the German people knew what was happening on the Eastern front and in the concentration camps all along; and not like most of them said after the war (Wir Haben Nix Gewust). We didn't know a thing. Jack and I discussed the preacher and Frau Pfaffle's desire to convert us to Christianity. We had a big laugh; they didn't know with whom they were discussing religion. Jack and I came from very observant families. Our upbringing in religion was second to none. Although we did not observe all 613 Commandments at that moment. Mainly because of our misfortunes in the past year, we had not made peace with our beliefs yet. Getting us to join another belief was very far from our young tired minds.
Our daily program was not designed yet, but we went into town to visit the Jewish quarters on Reinsburg strasse, meeting with boys our age, survivors. Most of the Jews were survivors from Rudem (Radom in Polish), we enjoyed listening to the latest new about Israel and also other news about immigration possibilities to the western world.
The Jews enjoyed their freedom on Reinsburg Strasse. They controled a long street of apartment units. Every family was given a nice apartment equipped with the latest appliances. They had a public kitchen and dining hall. They had the option to eat in the kitchen or take the raw food and cook for themselves. Most of them took the latter option. They had their own police to control the traffic.
They were also responsible for the safety of the camp. They were completely in charge of the food supplies and all other items brought in for distribution. We were told that the U. S. military M.P.s, set up this camp after the war was over, chased out all the Germans, and gave them one hour to evacuate the apartments. Take one suitcase per person and leave everything behind.
They immediately brought in the survivors from a concentration camp nearby and gave them all apartments, set up a kitchen, and a hospital. All the survivors had to go through a medical examination before they were given permission to register for camp. Since some of the first survivors were from the city of Rudem, the word got out to all the survivors from Rudem that a new camp was available in Stuttgart and it spread like wild fire. Within a few months most of the Rudemer residing in Germany came and settled in Stuttgart on Reinsburg Straase. On Saturdays we used to come down for services in the Gemeinde Shul near the camp, where we enjoyed a lovely day with some friends. One day, as we came to the Camp on Reinsburg Strasse, we noticed a sign asking war orphans to register with the U.N.R.A. for the possibility of emigrating to the U.S.A. Children under 18 only. The next day, we got ready and we hurried down to the U.N.R.A. offices to try and register for the trip to the U.S.A.
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