WALK IN MY SHOES
Collected Memories of the Holocaust
as told by Shiku Smilovic in his
autobiographical memoir "Buchenwald
The trip became complicated due to the strict regulations put in place by the Russian authorities which forbid crossing the border without a special permit. There was no permit available for us. We had to try to get across the border, rain or shine. When we reached the border town of Chopp, we planned to try and avoid the border police. We studied their system of inspections on the individual cars.
We noticed that if we can get on after they
inspected a car without being noticed, we had it made. We tried it once,
but it was too obvious; they threw us out of the train. We waited till the
train was ready to go. By now it was already dark, and as the train
started to move we crawled on our stomachs quickly, and, like in the
movies, we were on the train without any problem. We were finally on the
train heading for Prague, what a relief.
We were on our own in a world where nobody cared about you. Gone were the days when father was the greatest of them all, directing what was good and what was bad.
Dear old mother, how she worried. Did you eat breakfast? Are you dressed warmly? It's so cold outside. For us, all that was just a dream. Our fate was sealed, not so long ago, back in Auschwitz. But it still hurts fifty years later, as I am writing this book, that I started eleven years ago, after attending the Holocaust survivors gathering in Washington.
Elie Wiesel pleaded with us. Let the soul heal. Write down your past experiences! Let your children know! And let the world know. Write it down on paper. Let the Holocaust deniers have one more story to deny. Eleven years is a long time to write a story. But this is a Special Story. Every page is filled with rivers of tears. After writing one page, there are no more tears left in my system, and I am forced to stop. Even now as I am typing these lines, I hope and pray that none of my children walk in for a visit because I am all wet and I can't control my tears which are flowing freely all over me. The wounds are still open, and I hope that they stay open. Until the time when I meet the Lord. And ask: "WHY? WHY? WHY?"
The next morning, we arrived in Prague, and
we headed for sister Rose's place. As always, she was very happy to see
us, and a healthy breakfast was served. We told her all about our trip to
Munkacs, and gave her the silverware I dug up, that I hid for the Zedichov
Rebitzin during the time in the ghetto. She admired the silver
Kidush cups, and the candlesticks. She promised to take them with her,
on the way to the U.S.A. Rose told us about the ad she saw in the
newspaper. England was ready to adopt 200 orphans. Registration was
starting the next day. After breakfast, Jack and I headed downtown and
registered without any problems. We were told to get a medical check-up
and report back in a week. We were all excited. Most of the kids
registering for England were from our part of the country and quite a few
of them were from our hometown. We were planning our future, would we go
back to school? Maybe learn a trade? When we reported back in a week, we
found out that Jack had not passed the medical and was rejected from going
to England. I decided that if Jack could not go I would also skip the
chance of going to London.
Jack and I parted company. I ended up in Liberec, where sister Heddy and Arthur lived. They operated a grocery chain store and occupied a beautiful apartment. I settled down and joined the trade school as an electrician apprentice. The workshop was very close to our apartment; it only took me 5 minutes walking time. The crew in the shop were very friendly; they would sit and listen to my horror stories for hours. You could see their anger on their faces, about the brutal German treatment of the Jews. They heard about the camps and the brutal beatings. But nobody knew about the Final Solution of the Jews by the Germans in the occupied territories of Europe.
Twice a week I attended trade school, and the rest of the week I was working as an electrician's helper. I liked my job. For the first time in my life, I experience working for a living. It was a lot different than attending the Yeshivot or school. I liked it. I was learning a trade.
Perhaps, some day, I might even have my own electrical business. It also gave me an opportunity to exercise the Czech language. After a few months, I mastered the language, and my tests in school were much easier to do, with much better results. Jack Reiss ended up with some relatives in Teplice Shanov and also started school and learned a trade. We were in constant touch with each other, and we were contemplating our next move.
I was very disappointed one night, while attending a movie in town. The whole family was there, Polda and Rose, Heddy and Arthur. I happened to be the first one out since my seat was in the rear, close to the exit doors. As I waited for the rest of the family across the road, leaning against a light pole observing the crowd exiting the movies. All of a sudden an individual showed me a badge. "I am from the secret Police. You are under arrest!" I pleaded with him and said, "What are the charges?" "You are a Shmelinash! (Black marketeer)" With tears in my eyes, I told him I just returned from Buchenwald and I never did anything wrong. I worked as an electrician and also attended trade school. The man insisted I go with him. Wait, here comes my brother; he would vouch for me. I waved to Polda, and he noticed that I had a problem. He quickly approached in full officer’s uniform with all his medals.
"What's the problem?" he said. The man showed him his badge, and said that I was pointed out to him as a black marketeer. Polda tried to use his rank, to let me go. Nothing helped; the man insisted that he wanted to search the place I lived in. Now!
In the mean time, Arthur saw what was happening. He quickly ran home and removed a suitcase full of cigarettes from my room and hid it on the next floor storage room. By the time we arrived, the house was cleared of all the non- kosher items. Since the police couldn't find any illegal items, he picked on a tripod standing in the room. To whom does this tripod belong? I said this tripod was given to me as a Christmas gift from my employer! He didn't like my tone of speech. "Aren't you a Jew?" He said in a derogative way. "Yes," I said, "And I paid for it plenty." He started to say, "Why are you lying to me?"
Brother Polda entered the picture now: in a military-style order, he told the man to get lost and told him, "You are acting like a stinking Nazi!" They got into a hot argument. Polda pulled his revolver out, ready to shoot. The man said you better show me your identification. Polda said, "First you show me yours." They exchanged identification papers; by now the gun was back in the holster. The man issued a summons to Polda to appear in court the next morning. He took off, and was yelling, "See you in court tomorrow!"
I was sick about the whole deal, I
telegraphed Jack that we will meet in Prague, in a couple of days, at
sister Rose’s place.
The next day I packed my suitcase, and without telling anybody, I took off to Prague. Sister Rose was surprised to see me. I told her the whole story, and she agreed with me, that it was the right thing to do. Jack arrived a couple of days later and we both stayed at Rose's place. In the meantime brother Polda appeared in court the next day because of the skirmish he had with the secret policeman the night before. He appeared in front of the chief of the police department. "For goodness sake, what are you doing here, Polda?" said the chief of police. They embraced, like veterans from the paratroopers in Slovakia. "Take your seats gentlemen." The Chief read the report and said, "You are mistaken, young man. This soldier is the highest decorated man in our land. President Benes, in person decorated this partizan fighter twice. He was greatest fighter against the German Nazis and their collaborators in the hills of Slovakia, and he later fought in Moravia, and almost took Prague single-handedly if the Russians would have let him. They insisted to take the credit for the liberation of Prague themselves." "Young man," the chief continued, "you better apologize to Captain Smilovic or else." "I am sorry, I apologize Captain, I had nothing against you. It was your brother Pavel. He was pointed out to me as a black marketeer. Sorry Sir."
As we looked around Prague, seeing all the beautiful sites, and rowing on the river Valdou (Vltava), we felt that we were rewarded a bit for our suffering. We came to recognize the fact, that our place was Israel. Only in Israel would we feel secure as Jews. We completely lost trust in the world. Let our children be secure in a land where a Jew can live with pride, and joy.
We were informed that as orphans, the Mizrachi organization would do all the arrangements to get us to Germany and then the arrangements to be made in Germany for the trip to Israel. The next day Jack and I visited the Mizrachi organization. They provided us with documents as delegates to the Zionist Congress in Munich, Germany. After a few days, we were on the train, heading for Munich. We traveled for about 6 hours and we arrived in Munich, Grand Central station. At the station, we met with the UNRA representatives and they directed us to the Funk Kasernen. The Funk Kasernen was run by the UNRA organization for homeless people. It was an international camp and the place looked shabby. It used to be a German military base. The rooms were gigantic, and were full of people from all over Europe: Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, mostly people that collaborated with the Germans.
They escaped justice. And now they declared themselves anti-communists, giving them the right to ask for asylum. We were all considered D.P.s. We ate together, slept together, partitioned off with blankets. At night, you could hear and see what was happening in your neighbors' beds. Anti-Semitism was out in the open, at the food lines, at the main offices, waiting in line for registration. There were also quite a few Polish Jews who had just arrived from Russia or Poland. The Jews were in the minority. All office and kitchen staff were mostly non- Jews. The situation was very uncomfortable.
Jack and I decided to go to the Mizrachi head office in Munich to seek a solution for our future. We met with the leader of the organization and he suggested the Kibbutz BNEI AKIVA in Fohrenwald as the ideal spot for us. The next day, we took the train to Fohrenwald, and we were there within two hours, fifty km from Munich. We were shown the Bnai Akiva Kibbutz on DiArci street. As we reached the Kibbutz, we had a very friendly welcome by the madrich (leader) of the kibbutz. His first name was Shmulek, a short 5"2 young man, with a most friendly smile. We introduced ourselves and we were quite surprised to find some of our friends among the group in the Kibbutz.
Most of the people in the Kibbutz were from the Carphatian part of Czechoslovakia, among them boys that we studied with in the Yeshiva and public schools. While meeting with the boys, we received a wonderful welcome. Some of the boys remembered us from Munkacz as singers in the GROJSE SHUL choir. This was a big plus in this Kibbutz. While talking to the boys, a fellow classmate of mine from Munkacz, Joseph Klein, gave me a big hug and said, "Smilovicz! I was looking for you all over. Remember in Mauthausen after the liberation, when we went looking for chickens in the villages next to the camp, and we were very successful. Then all of a sudden you disappeared, and I looked all over for you without any results. And now, here you are. How lucky that we meet again." "Sorry, Joseph," I said, "you are mistaking me for my brother Beri. I was nowhere near Mauthausen. I was liberated in Buchenwald in April 1945 and we never heard a word from brother Beri till now." Joseph stared at me for a few seconds, and said, "Now, I remember. You both looked alike, like twins. The same suits, same hats, the same everything; nobody could tell you apart. That's the reason I mistook you for your brother Beri. He was actually two years older than us. Joseph and I became good friends, we talked a lot about the school that we attended together back in Munkacz. To date, we never heard from Berry. We tried all possible avenues, including the Red Cross and the Russian External Offices. No sign of life.
A new life had begun for me! For the last few months since the liberation, I was floating like a bird seeking a place to nest without any thoughts of the real world ahead of me. Finally, there I was in a Kibbutz where we received daily lectures of Zionism, what Zionism stood for, and who were its creators. Israel, the land of our fathers and grandfathers, where, for 2,000 years, they dreamed of returning to our homeland one day.
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