WALK IN MY SHOES

Collected Memories of the Holocaust

THE GHETTO

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The Munkács Ghetto

as told by Shiku Smilovic in his autobiographical memoir  "Buchenwald 56466"

 

 March 1944 

Orders were given that all Jews must leave their homes and move to the ghettoes. The ghetto consisted of two long streets located near the Latorca River at the edge of town. One ghetto street was the Yidishe Gass and the Munkaczi Mihaly Gass, both streets were mostly occupied by Jews, therefore those who lived in these streets were lucky they didn't have to move, just stay put in their homes. But for the rest of the Jews that lived outside the ghetto walls, a new misery entered their lives, since there was very little room in the ghetto to accommodate an extra 8,000 people. Money helped a bit to find some better accommodation for a few lucky ones, but that also ran out after an influx of so many thousands of Jews into the ghetto. Our family was in good shape since we had moved to the Yidishe Gass before this catastrophic occurrence. All the family moved in to our place, and we had lots of room, since we had a gentile tenant who was forced to move from the ghetto, giving us an extra apartment, where my sister Golde and her son Lajzerku stayed.

The situation was dehumanizing; five families were moved in one apartment. Food was running out for most of the people that had to move, children were looking for food in garbage piles. Wood for cooking and heating was also running low. Water was in short supply. For the first time in my life I felt hungry and mad. I hated everything around me. Why were we being punished in this way? Nobody had an answer; only father walked around and kept saying: have hope, don't give up!

Within me I felt that there was no hope. I realized the warnings of our Rabbi were really happening. By now the Germans had occupied all the government buildings in town, and we heard that Mr. Eichmann was in town to get things rolling.

Brother Beri was an auto mechanic and he worked for the German military on their cars and trucks. He managed to bring home some extra food from the stores outside the ghetto, which was a great help to our families.

Rumors were flying around that in a few days we would be taken to the brick factory and then to our new destination: Western Hungary. Our rebbe the Kliver Rov lived across the road from us in the ghetto. We prayed in his house, but there was very little room inside, so most of us stayed outside. They opened the windows in order for us to hear the prayers. Father performed as the Bal Tefilah (Cantor) I never heard him pray like that before. Everybody was covered with the talis (prayer shawl) and you could hear the sobs loud and clear from each and every one. The Rebbe aged very fast; he looked like an angel ready for heaven and did not say a word, just kept banging away with his fists on the Omed (lectern) while the service was going on. No one dared to go close to investigate his actions. The actions were clear to every one. Even I, at 15 years of age, could tell his argument with Hashem (G-D). Things were so bad, no one talked anymore. After the services, his mother, the old Zedichov Rebecin, called me into her room, handed me a bundle of silver Kidush cups from the great Zedichov dynasty silverware, and two silver candle holders. She must have been 90 years old. "Take these silver items," she said, "and bury them in a good place. And with G-d's help you will live through this hell. Please give these items to my grandchildren to be able to carry on the family tradition."

She kissed me on my forehead and said, "G-d be with you, Shikale."

As you can probably assume I survived the hell, and found all the silverware, which I gave to my sister Ruchel. She brought these items with her when she emigrated with her family in 1946 to the U.S.A. and was able to present these items to Avruhom Eichenstein, grandson of the Late Mnashe Eichenstein, the Great Rebbi of Zedichov, known for his great works. Alphe Menashe and Mateh Menashe.
 

 May 15, 1944 

One early morning we noticed that the ghetto was surrounded by the gendarmes with fixed bayonets and dogs barking, held by SS German soldiers, they were in the hundreds, maybe thousands. Things looked very bad, a chill went through your bones, you were frozen stiff, you could hardly breathe, waiting for the next move. All of a sudden, large trucks filled with SS troops arrived; they jumped off the trucks with whips in their hands, holding on to wild dogs that were ready for the kill. Everybody was given 15 minutes to pack and be ready on the street. But the soldiers did not wait; they entered each house and forcefully chased every one out: Raus, Raus, (Out, Out), they screamed on top of their lungs, and, with the butt of their guns, they hit people to get out faster.

Sister Rivczu was slow getting out when the SS hit her in the back breaking a glass jar with oil in her rucksack. She screamed! And when I looked back I saw liquid running down her back. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was not blood. As we reached the street I noticed our Kliver Rebbe lying on the sidewalk with his head bashed in. Blood was all over the sidewalk. Nobody even cared. I ran over to him and said, "Rebbe can I help?" He just waved with his hands, "Go, my child, go." We were all standing in the middle of the road. Sister Heddy was cutting father's beard off. Father looked devastated. I looked up to heaven and begged for some help. Please open the skies! Let the floods destroy our enemies. Let the sun burn them alive! It looked like everybody was out for lunch, and the suffering did not stop. Lost children were screaming their heads off, "Mommy, Mommy!" Mothers screaming, "Where is my child?"

The streets were getting filled quickly. Shots were heard in the distance. People said some sick people were being shot on the spot. Within a few minutes the order to start walking was given. People fell over each other; the dogs were running wild. Mothers with broken-down baby carriages were slowing down the march. The SS went wild; they beat every one with whips, "hurry up, hurry up!" We walk through the city where we once walked as free men to our Shul, to cheder. And now the people who lived with us for hundreds of years were standing on the sidewalks, some of them laughing. "Good for you Jews, finally we are rid of you," they said. Policemen that used to come into our tavern to drink, and many times they didn't bother to pay. Now they don't even want to know you. We felt degraded like dirt, and maybe even worse.

We walked for about one hour and we reached the brick factory. We were chased into the storage area of the factory and each family was given a space 10 x 20 on the bare floor. Most of our friends kept close to us, especially the Spitz family, where sister Heddy worked for years as a wig maker. They were a wonderful bunch of people. Their son Arthur was going steady with Heddy, since she started to work for the Spitz family 4 years ago at the age of 16. They had two daughters, Livia, brother Beri's age, Gretchen, my age, and their youngest son, Walter, my youngest sister Eva's age. It seemed as never before, being together with Mom and Dad and with friends around us for days, talking about everything possible, and we all sat around and listened to the grown-ups talk. It didn't make much sense to us because, for the first time in our lives, we felt a different atmosphere around us, family love, and friends sharing their food with us, really caring for each other. In the factory, a different painful tragedy was happening.

The police were recruiting young men for work, cleaning the latrines building additional living spaces. There was very little room for the people in the brick factory, and the police were very rude. They beat the workers with whips; some of the Jews were killed during this painful ordeal. After a few days in the brick factory, the food was running short. They were not providing any food whatsoever.

After about a week in the brick factory, we were told that, starting tomorrow, we would be resettled to Hungary. The fascist lies were again brought out to relax the Jews. By now, people were very confused, but they would rather believe the big lie.



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