Dr. Felicia (Steigman) Carmelly is a psychotherapist, educator, author, lecturer, and consultant in human relations. She has a Master's Degree from McGill University, Canada, and a PhD. degree from Columbia Pacific University, United States.
Felicia is the founder of the Transnistria Survivors' Association.
The two projects that were most challenging and rewarding to her so far were: interviewing Holocaust survivors for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foudation, Los Angeles and preparing for publication the anthology "'Shattered! 50 Years of Silence, History and Voices from Romania and Transnistria".
She dedicates these memoirs to the members of her family mentioned herein, especially to her beloved parents Isaac and Laura Steigmann. May they rest in peace. They survived Transnistria, but their lives were forever branded by the horrors they experienced.
I still believe that friendship lives,
That I shall find a heart,
That shares my hopes, to which I can
My joy and grief impart.
I still believe a time will come
Although it be delayed,
When nations meet and greet in peace,
Share blessings unafraid.
|Saul Tchernichowsky (1875-1943)|
My Beautiful Home
I was born in Vatra Dornei, a town also called Dorna Vatra, or simply Dorna. The town is located in northern Romania, in the county of Bucovina. This is a beautiful resort town, nestled in a valley about 800 meters above sea level, surrounded by high fir-tree-covered mountains of the Carpathian range. Dusk and dawn spread a veil of mist over the mountaintops and everything seems smaller than during the day when the sun is shining. The location of the town attracts many visitors, who enjoy the fresh air, the therapeutic baths, the mineral waters, mountain climbing, and promenading in the beautiful park.
Rolling down from the top of one of the mountains into the city is a large stretch of forested land beautifully landscaped with roads, flowerbeds, a gazebo, a variety of kiosks and benches. This is our city park. Close to its entrance, a medieval-like tower surrounds the mineral water well. We often go there to fill our bottles with this delicious mineral water and keep them in our icebox. In the nicely carved, dome-roofed gazebo, a military band is playing. It delights the public with lively marches and waltzes. Pretty young girls are walking up to the gazebo to stare coquettishly at the handsome uniformed young men in the band. Lovely young peasant girls, sporting the national dress of Bucovina, sell a variety of freshly picked berries, considered delicacies by visitors and locals alike.
There are thousands of squirrels in the park; they are so tame that they eat the nuts right out of your hand. The beautiful, big building, surrounded by wide stares is the Casino. Many of the resort guests spend their evenings in the Casino, which provides games and entertainment into the late hours of the night. One of the customary pleasures of the people in Dorna is going for long walks in the park with family and friends. While some people stroll, others relax on benches enjoying the music, the green mountain slopes, the delightful gardens, and the fresh, pine-scented air, believed to have special healing properties.
The therapeutic facilities (mud baths, massages, steam baths, etc.) are open year- round. During the winter, visitors also enjoy skiing and ski competitions. I can watch the competitions from the windows of our apartment, which face the ski jump. Only one street beyond our house are the railway tracks which run on this side of the River Dorna, and on the other side, is the park and the mountain. Several bridges cross the river, which separates the commercial district from the therapeutic facilities. In the summer, we watch the log rafts floating down the river on their way to the wood-mills.
The centre of town is inhabited mostly by Jews, like many of the hundreds of other Shtetles.<1> They were mostly middle and lower-income people: merchants, shoemakers, teachers, tailors, doctors, dentists, barbers, bakers, lawyers, wood-mill workers, mechanics, rabbis, bookkeepers, and office clerks.
Our life in Dorna is comfortable, pleasant and secure. My father, Isaac Steigman (Itzie), has a store. I call him Tata. My mother, Laura (Lipzia), helps him out, especially on Thursdays, when it is market day. Mother keeps our house so clean that everything shines like a mirror. We have beautiful oriental carpets in the apartment, and a variety of crystal and porcelain vases and other ornaments. Everything is shiny and sparkly. Mama is a great cook; she makes delicious meals and cakes; the house smells heavenly when she bakes.
My paternal grandparents, Elcune and Beile Steigman, have a store and their youngest daughter, my father's sister, Etty, lives with them because she is not yet married. My grandparents had built this two-story house with four apartments, one for each of their children, when they get married, and one for themselves. Their oldest daughter, Rachel, had died from an infection before I was born. People say that Rachel was an exceptional beauty. I heard stories that my grandparents had worked very hard, and had to be so frugal during the building of the house, that they both ate breakfast from one single egg. The house has a long veranda running the length of the house along each of its two floors. We live on the second floor; that is why we have such a great view of the mountains. In the summer, I like to play with my friends on the veranda, and in the huge attic, which is above the entire second floor.
My maternal grandfather Moses (Moishe) Siegler, died during World War I, as an officer in the Austria-Hungarian army. He had left my grandmother, Rebecca (Rivka Rubinger) Siegler, I call her Omama, a young widow with three small children; all daughters, and all needing a dowry, as was customary in those times. She worked hard to raise Lipzia, Sidi and Mila on her own. Even though she was poor herself, people tell me that she used to get up at four in the morning to bring milk and firewood to other widows. After many years of struggling on a small widow's income, she opened a little store, and my aunt Mila, her youngest daughter, helps in the shop because she lives with Omama as she is not yet married.
My aunt Sidi is married to a wonderful man, uncle Srulik. She moved to the city of Beltz, in Bessarabia, to live with his family.
We enjoy getting together with family and friends for holidays and parties, going to the movies, walking in the park, feeding the tame squirrels, and going to the market on Thursdays to shop for Shabbat<2> as well as for the rest of the week.
In the yard we have a permanent Sukkah<3>, the roof can be propped open with a wooden stick, and on Sukkoth we eat there for seven days. This is a lot of fun, but sometimes it is so cold that we have to wear bulky sweaters during our meals. I love decorating the Sukkah with fruit, vegetables, branches and pictures.
Life has a beautiful joyful routine; every day is meant for a different activity to make the household run smoothly. On Mondays, Saveta comes to help mother with the laundry. She scrubs the linen on the washboard and then they rinse and rinse because everything has to be sparkling white. On Tuesdays, Saveta comes to help with the coloured wash. After each wash they go to the attic and hang the laundry on the clotheslines. On Wednesdays, Saveta comes to help with the housecleaning. She takes out the carpets on the veranda and beats them with the carpet beater. Then she washes the floors and everything else in the house, she even scrubs the veranda floor with a brush. Some days she brings her little boy Peter with her. I play with him, but he is just a little kid, about five years old and I am eight.
On Thursday mornings, Mama goes to help Tata in the store because it is market day. Many peasants come to town to sell their products and to buy in the stores whatever they need. In the afternoon Mama visits the market to buy the fish, the chickens, and everything else needed for Shabbat and for the rest of the week. Then, Mama is waiting at home for one of the farmers to bring big round clumps of butter and cheese wrapped in white cheese cloths. The farmer also brings pots of sour cream and bottles with milk and buttermilk. The big fat carp that Mama bought in the market swims in our bathtub until the next day.
Friday morning somebody comes to kill the carp and clean it. I don't want to see that; Mama goes away too until the fish stops moving. She is very busy cooking and baking for Shabbat. The smell of the hot halah, cookies and cakes is wonderful, it flows like a sweet perfume through the whole house.
In the afternoon, when Tata comes home from the store, we go to the steam bath (the shwitz). Men and women have separate rooms. I don't like the steam bath at all, I hate getting undressed in front of the women and the steam makes me choke, but I have to go with my parents; everybody goes. When we come back home, we get ready for services at the synagogue and then we eat Erev Shabbat dinner.
Saturday is the day of rest; the men go to synagogue, sometimes all of us go, and we meet friends there. The men always sit downstairs. The ceiling of our Temple is rounded, with a pale blue colour like the sky and many little lights, like stars. The walls are marble; round columns stretch all the way up to the balcony, where the women sit. The men wear prayer shawls and rock their bodies as they pray and sing. The women wear nice dresses and funny hats. They smile pleasantly when somebody notices their new hats. I think that some of the hats are quite silly, and so are the women who wear them.
In the fall, Mama takes out the big copper caldrons from the cellar and prepares all kind of preserves for the winter: fruit-jams, honey- butter, goose and chicken fat we call "schmaltz"; it's delicious! The sterilized jars in which these preserves are poured are covered with waxed paper and arranged in straight rows like soldiers on the wooden shelves in the cellar. There are also sandboxes where we store potatoes, carrots and other vegetables for the winter. One day, after Mama had smacked me for not finishing my food, I went down to the cellar and stuck my finger into many of the jars with preserves. Once the air gets in, they must be eaten pretty fast, or else they have to be thrown out. Mama hates throwing out food. "It's a sin," she says. Anyways, when she discovered what I had done, she became furious... Boy, did I get it then! I was black and blue for a few days.
I have a big problem with Mama. She always wants me to eat more than I can; I constantly keep food in my cheeks. Mama gets very angry when I don't swallow and she often smacks me for that. She always yells "Schluk, schluk" (swallow). Many people in town call me "Fella (my nickname), Schluk," and I am so embarrassed. Mama says that I have to eat a lot to have reserves for bad times. She forces me to eat and I hate it.
It is 1940. Life is no longer so quiet and pleasant. The atmosphere toward the Jews in town has become hostile. I am nine years old. I don't quite understand why our life is so changed, but I feel it very deeply. Everyone is nervous, and is listening to the BBC overseas broadcast. They are whispering and waiting anxiously for some sort of scary news.
Mama doesn't even smack me any more when I don't finish my food. She frowns a lot, and doesn't notice when I hide food under the big credenza in our kitchen. I have to make sure to find the right time to throw it away before the house cleaning is done. Tata knows about it, but this is our secret. I like to play dominoes with him, and, as soon as Mama is out of the kitchen, Tata gets the food out from under the credenza, wraps it in his handkerchief and puts it in his pant pockets. Later, when Mama does not see him, he throws it to the birds in the yard. One day, Mama caught us and made me eat the dried-out food. Oh boy, was she ever angry! She chased me with the broom around the kitchen table, and when the broom fell out of her hands, she grabbed the carpet beater instead. Finally, I managed to run out on the veranda. She didn't come after me because she didn't want the neighbours to see her smacking me. While I was outside, she put all the food I had hidden in a bowl of warm milk, and when I came back into the house, she spooned it into my mouth. I cried and threw up. It was awful! She says that she does it because she loves me. I wish she wouldn't love me so much!
It is 1941. I will soon be ten years old. We are only allowed to go out onto the street for a few hours during the day. Evenings and at night we must stay in the house. We have to cover the windows so that the light does not show from the outside. Now, we have to wear a yellow star when outside the house.
The teacher makes fun of me at school. She says I'll never grow any taller because I am a Jew. Sometimes, she hits me over the head with the attendance book. I feel awful standing there alone, in front of the other children. She picks on other Jewish children too. I used to like school. Now I often make myself sick, so I won't have to go.
Life is very different now, and I cannot understand why. We are still the same people as we were before, but now everybody is afraid. I hear Mama and Tata whisper that we may have to leave Dorna. Some people believe it, some don't. My father is well respected and liked by both Jews and Gentiles in town, so there should be nothing to worry about.
One day, there were placards on many buildings in town with the words "Death to the Jews and to the Gypsies". A few days later, all the Jewish men from Dorna were locked up in the big synagogue, our Temple. The Iron Guards ordered that a huge amount of money and jewellery had to be brought to the City Hall, or else the Temple would be set on fire and the men burned alive.
The next day, there is no bread in town because the bakers had been locked in the Temple, so the legionaries released the bakers. Somehow, my uncle Armin, now aunt Mila's husband, managed to get out by pretending he is a baker. After he gets away, he hides in our cellar. Later, he tells us that the men in the Temple have no food and no water.
In the early evening of the third day, Mama put on her raincoat; I put mine on, she takes me by the hand and we walk over to the Temple to see if the men were still alive. We peak through the windows and see them lying or sitting on the benches and on the floor. They look dirty and very tired.
On the way home, it is getting dark, and Mama takes a flashlight from her purse and points it to the ground so that we don't trip over anything. Suddenly, a gendarme appears out of nowhere. He starts swearing at us and yelling that we are dirty Jewish spies, signalling to enemy airplanes with our flashlight. He wants to take us to the Police, but Mama empties everything she had in her purse into his hands and he let us go. We came home very scared; Mama did not even give me supper. I cannot remember a day in my life when she had forgotten to give me supper. However, the next morning, the men were allowed to come home.
One day, Tata comes home from the store with a broken jaw and a split lip. His face is full of blood and bruises. Mama calls the doctor; before he comes, she cleans up the blood from his face with wet towels. They send me to my bedroom, but I am standing right behind the door to hear what is happening. Tata says that a neighbour, a friend of our family, who had become an officer of the Iron Guard, came into the store drunk and told him a secret. He said to pack up some valuables and take the family to Bucharest within the next two days, because soon we will be deported. Tata did not believe him, so the officer hit him in the face with his beer bottle.
Now, we are preparing for Rosh Hashana<4> and Yom Kippur<5>. These are nice holidays, especially the blowing of the Shofar<6> and the Kol Nidrei<7> songs. Tata always hums these beautiful, heartwrenching tunes for weeks before the holidays, and for weeks after. On Yom Kippur, he sometimes faints in the afternoon, because he cannot fast all day, but he refuses to eat.
I like Sukkoth best of all because we eat in the Sukkah and on Erev Sukkoth it is my birthday. I will be ten years old! I wonder what presents I will get from Mama, Tata, Omama, aunt Mila and uncle Armin. They got married on September 3, 1939, the day they say the war started.
Those Bleak Unforgettable Days
We didn't eat in the Sukkah. I didn't get any presents on my birthday. I wonder why. Doesn't anybody love me anymore?
It is a cold, rainy autumn. Many times in the morning, a young member of the Iron Guard, wearing a green shirt, stands at the top of the city hall stairs beating his drums in order to summon the people together.
People are dragging their tired, frightened bodies through the streets; they are worriedly questioning: What next? Announcements are frequent these days: rules and regulations about when the stores should be opened and closed, when the curfew starts and ends, decrees of punishment for those who do not wear the yellow star, when we are allowed on the street, etc. The drummer spouts all kinds of rules and regulations for the Jews almost every day.
Today, all the members of my family, our neighbours and friends are gathered in from of the City Hall building to hear the latest news. I am clutching my Mama's hand. Everybody calls me Fella; only in school they call me Felicia. As usual, I have a mouth full of food. This time, the youth reads out a new order: "Jews of all ages, close your stores, go home, pack a bag, as much as you can carry by hand, take food for three days, and be at the train station at five o'clock. Each person will be counted according to the City Hall registry. Everybody must be there, or else they will be shot!" He yells out the order with a voice full of hatred and sneers at us like he is in charge of our destinies. Then, he disappears into the building.
We can't believe what we have just heard. There had been discussions among people that we may have to leave Dorna, but many did not believe it. Now we have heard it directly from the City Hall, so it must be true. Nobody moves. Nobody speaks.
Everybody is in a panic. But we still don't believe it. I hear the grown-ups say: "Surely we'll be back home in a few days, that's why we were told to take food for three days". "They told us to take just a bag or a suitcase. How long can we live with just one suitcase?" "Since the times are not so safe, we must lock up the homes and the shops really well! Hopefully nobody will break into our homes during these two-three days." "What should we take? Food, clothes, money, jewellery?" "What will happen to my dog? My cat?" "How will we pay our bills while we are away?" "What about school? Will the children have to make up for undone homework?" "My mother is sick in bed. She cannot walk to the train station." "My wife will give birth any day now. The midwife will come, and the door will be locked." Everybody is very scared and confused, everybody is talking, but no one is listening. Now it is starting to rain and we are walking home.
After packing, Mama is cleaning the house and she wants me to help. Why does she do that? The house is clean enough. I don't want to ask her, she is in a very bad mood. We are ready to leave, when Mama notices that I have left my apron on the kitchen chair instead of hanging it up where it belongs. She screams at me and I have to go and put it back in its place. I am warmly dressed, almost double of each piece of clothing. I am carrying my rucksack, which is just big enough for a ten-year-old girl. I have used it before when we were hiking in the mountains, but it was not so heavy then. I am standing with my parents at the train station. Around us are our family, neighbours, friends -- a lot of people -- the whole town.
I've been at the train station lots of times before. Friends were arriving, friends were leaving, but never have I seen so many people waiting for the train at the same time. How come everybody is travelling tonight? All at the same time? All to the same place? All with the same train? Most of the people are silent; the sick are moaning and groaning; kids are chattering, babies crying.
It's almost dark now. The mountain on the other side of the river across from the train station, looks closer than when I went to Omama's store earlier today. It also looks higher and darker, like a giant monster. I wonder if the animals in the forest are already asleep. I am sleepy. I wish the train would come so I could sit down and sleep. This is a hard day. I don't know why it is so hard, but it is. Maybe there will be room to lie down on one of the benches in the train. It's getting colder. In the train it will be warm. I am leaning against Mama and I close my eyes for a while.
Oh! The train is coming. This is a very, very long train and it moves very slowly. Oh, that's too bad. This is a cattle train. I'll just close my eyes until it passes by. Oh, it's stopping! I can no longer see the mountain on the other side. The doors as big as walls slide open.
Suddenly there is shouting, swearing, pushing, pulling, screaming, ordering, crying, yelling, running, slipping in the mud, falling down and getting up -- everybody is moving and yelling. What's happening?
Mama, hold me, where are you? Tata, where are you?
Somebody help me out of the mud! Don't step on me! I have a nosebleed! The warm blood is all over my face, all over my clothes. Mama will be mad that I fell in the mud. I always get a new coat for Rosh Hashanah. Now it is full of mud and blood! Where is my rucksack?
Maybe this is just a bad dream.
We are in the train. I am standing surrounded by big people. They are squashing me. I can hardly breathe! It's warm now, but it smells awful. It's dark and very quiet. Is this Mama in the back of me? Or Tata? or Omama? I can lean in every direction and people are pushing so tightly against me that I cannot fall. I can't lean very far anyway. My feet are so heavy. I am standing in something soft and slippery. The train is starting to move. It's dark and it stinks manure like in the place where Maria's father keeps his cows at night.
Maria is my friend from school. I visit her sometimes. I have even slept over at her place. Her family lives at the edge of town. They have fields with corn and potatoes, cows, sheep, chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys. One cold winter morning, when Maria's father took us to school in his sleigh, the hungry wolves were running after us. He said we should take some straw from the sleigh, light it with a match, and throw it behind us to keep the wolves at a distance. That was a lot of fun!
Oh, how long did I sleep? It must not have been very long -- it's still dark. I hear all kinds of talking, crying, moaning, all around me. I am still standing. It's not hard to sleep standing when you have no room to fall down. I have to go to the bathroom. The train is moving. "Mama,...Mama, I have to go"... "Yes, Fella, I hear you. Go!" "Where?" "Here!" "How?" "Anyway you can!" "Mama, I have to go to the bathroom"... "I know, Fella, go!" "In my panties?" "Yes!" "But I'll be all dirty." "Yes!" "And you'll be angry". "No!"
Beside me is standing a young woman, clutching her baby to her breast. I didn't notice the baby before, but now it is crying all the time and people are very annoyed. The woman unbuttons her sweater and puts her nipple into the baby's mouth, but the baby cries even more. "I have no milk," the woman says with tears in her eyes. People get more and more angry at the howling baby. The woman takes out a pin and pricks her nipple. The blood is squirting out and she quickly puts the nipple into the baby's mouth. In just a few minutes the baby falls asleep and it is quiet.
How long did I sleep? It's still dark and it stinks. Mama did not make me eat for a long time. We don't have enough air. The train has been moving for a long, long time. At one of the stops, Tata begs the Romanian gendarme standing outside to slide open the door of the boxcar for a while. He refuses. Mama says, "Give him something!" Tata takes off his gold watch, a Swiss Schafhausen, and throws it to the soldier. He slides the door open for a while. Mama says it was for only two minutes. Outside, it is cold and it is now daylight. I cannot see out because the people around me are so tall.
Where are we? Where are we going? When are we going to be home? I am so dirty. My legs don't hold me up anymore. I'm sliding down, but there is no room to sit. I put my hand in the manure on the floor to keep from falling. Falling? Where could I fall? Ouch! Don't step on my fingers! It hurts! I pull myself up and lean against a body. Are they all sleeping? It's so quiet. The train is moving again.
How long did I sleep? I am hungry. How come Mama does not push food at me? I remember the train ride when Mama took me to a doctor in another town because I had the whooping cough. That train was so different. There were benches to sit on; it had windows and doors, a conductor came to check our tickets, and Mama pushed a sandwich on me. Why did she push a sandwich on me then, when I wasn't hungry, and not now, when I am? That was such a different train. It had a toilet and it did not stink. I could sit on the bench, on Mama's lap, or walk around. Why is this train so different?
How long did I sleep? It's dark. It's always dark. I am not hungry anymore and I don't remember eating. I wish I could go to sleep in my own bed. How long did I sleep? It's still dark. Everybody is asleep. It's quiet. It stinks. It's very warm and wet. The train is stopping.
When The Dead "Rose From Their Graves"
The door slides open and there is shouting, screaming, crying, yelling, and shooting. The soldiers shout and pull people out of the car. Some people are so deeply asleep. They don't move at all. They don't open their eyes. They fall to the floor when the others get out, and they just lie there. The soldiers order that they be taken out. They look so different than at home. Strange. Do I look like that when I am asleep? How come they don't wake up?
Mama pulls me out of the train. I've lost my rucksack. She doesn't care! How come? She's always mad when I lose things. It's cold outside. The sleeping people lie near the train. The others are lined up by the gendarmes. What does that mean, "convoy"? We have to be in a convoy. There are soldiers all around us. We have to walk. It's cold. We are herded through a muddy road in freezing rain and wind, until we get to a muddy field. There, we meet crowds of other people whom I have never seen before.
What are deportees? Many of these people look much dirtier and even more tired than we do; they have probably been through a very hard time. They wear rags and look very sick. They drag themselves through the mud; they can hardly walk. Mama says they are coming from that terrible camp in Edinets. She says they come from Bessarabia and Bucovina. Vatra Dornei is in Bucovina; I know that from school. My aunt Sidi lives in Bessarabia. She married a wonderful man. He is from a good family and he is wealthy too. Mama says she hopes that some day I will marry a man like that.
A long time ago, Mama and I visited my aunt Sidi and uncle Srulik. They had such a nice house; they were such nice people; all of uncle Srulik's family were nice. The women wore beautiful dresses and hats. One Saturday morning, when we went to synagogue, my aunt Sidi gave me a present -- a pretty hat with a ribbon, just for me. Later, when we took the train back to Vatra Dornei, I was allowed to take the hat with me. I even wore it on the train. That was such a nice train. The people in the synagogue in Keltz or maybe Beltz were so beautifully dressed and were so friendly. How come now those same people are wearing rags and look so sick? When we visited aunt Sidi, she took us for tea to many of her friends' houses. They lived in beautiful homes and they were so elegant and nice to us. I wonder why they left their homes, their elegant dresses and hats? Why are they dragging themselves through this muddy field in the freezing rain? Maybe we will meet aunt Sidi soon, or maybe she decided to stay in her lovely house?
Oh! What was that? Mama says they are shooting those who don't walk fast enough. We must walk fast!
Mama says we were in the train for three days and three nights. "Are we going home now, Mama?" "Be quiet, Fella!" Why is Mama shouting? Auntie Mila is pulling Omama, who can hardly walk. Tata and my uncle Armin are behind them. Why doesn't auntie Mila talk to me? Doesn't she love me anymore? She used to play with me a lot. I love her and my Omama so much!
We are sitting in the mud near Dora's family, friends from Dorna. All of them, the parents and the children, smell awfully bad. They are crying all the time. Mama puts her arms around Dora and after a while, Dora tells us that her husband managed to get a place in the train near the little opening on topside of the wagon. They wanted this place so they would get more air. When the pails used as toilets got full, the men knocked out the metal bars from the little opening to empty the pails. Because of the wind from the moving train, all of it splashed back, right on top of the people standing nearby. This happened over and over again, and Dora's family was getting into hysterics every time the pail had to be emptied.
What was that noise? They are shooting again! People are screaming. We must walk fast! Tata pulls my arm and it hurts. I want to sleep, but we have to walk and Tata pulls me along. Where are we going?
We get to a house in the middle of a field. Mama says this is a house for animals. It has a roof of straw and the walls are made of round logs from trees. It has no windows. It's like the place where Maria's father keeps his cows. The soldiers push us in there. Tata, uncle Armin and some other men take out blankets from the bags that we brought from home. They hang them over the open spaces to try and stop the wind. The people who did not wake up on the train are not here. I don't see them in the animal house. Everybody sits down on the ground cuddled close to each other and some fall asleep. Tata stands at the doorway to watch what's going on.
How long did I sleep? I open my eyes and now uncle Armin is at the doorway and Tata is asleep on the ground. It's dark in the animal house and outside. The wind makes funny noises. It sounds like the wolves when I visited my friend Maria at the farm back home. Her farm was outside of the town and there were many wild animals in the forests around the farm. I used to have so much fun there. What's that? Are there wolves outside the animal house too? They are very loud. Everybody inside wakes up and looks around scared. Then, the people push the blankets aside and crowd at the openings to look out.
I peer between someone's legs. It's dark. What's that? There are people running around in the field. They are dressed in white sheets. The sheets are blowing in the wind and underneath them the people are naked. Aren't they ashamed to be outside covered only in a sheet? Aren't they cold? They are shouting, screaming, crying and howling. Everybody inside the animal house is shouting and screaming, crying and howling too. The gendarmes are screaming, "Stop! Stop!" But those people don't stop running. The soldiers start shooting at them, but they still don't stop. Some of them fall in the mud. I can only see the faces of those who bump into the walls of the animal house, close enough to the opening where I am standing. I am so scared. I have never seen people with faces like that before. Their eyes are glowing in the dark like the eyes of hungry wolves. They don't speak; I don't think they even see us looking at them. They are like people, but not really.Now the shooting has stopped and it is quiet again. The only thing I can hear is the moaning of the wind racing over the muddy field.
It is dawn, the people who were running in the field are lying all over the ground in the mud. Their white sheets are full of dirt and blood. Many people from the animal house are running out into the field, and they too are howling like wolves. Mama pulls my head towards her chest and I cannot see any longer.
It's daytime. Mama says to Dora that one of the gendarmes told her that those people in the field last night were Jews from the mental hospital in Cernovitz. They had been taken out of their beds and wrapped only in the white linen sheets from their hospital beds. Then, they were taken to the train station and shoved into boxcars, which had then been coupled onto the end of our train. The gendarmes pushed them out into the field at precisely twelve midnight. They were hungry, cold and scared. They were like wolves. Everybody in the animal house was hungry, and cold, and scared too. Some thought that those people in the white sheets are the dead, who had risen from their graves at midnight, just like in some stories I'd heard at home.
Who are the dead? Why do they stay in the grave? How do they live there? Why do they go out in the cold with just the sheets from their beds? One of the gendarmes tells Tata that it was just a joke to push the crazy people out of the train at midnight. "Anyway," he laughs, "it was their own fault that they were shot because they didn't obey the orders to stop. We used them for target practice, and it didn't take long to shoot them down! What else can we do in Ataki for fun?" said the soldier. What is target practice?
The Cave In Ataki
We are in this terrible place called Ataki for a few days now. Where is this anyway? How far are we from home? When are going back home?
We haven't washed for so many days. We are wet, cold and full of mud. Mama says that we must find some water to clean up. Early in the morning we are wandering in the field and we see a big river. The gendarmes are still asleep. Mama pulls me by my hand toward the river. When we get there, we wash our hands and faces, then we look around.
Oh, what is that? There is the head of a horse,... a hand of a person,... a Hebrew prayer book all torn to pieces and full of blood,... some rags,... more torn Hebrew prayer books,... old dishes,... a leg of a person,... torn Torah Scrolls,... more prayer books smeared with blood,... parts of people's bodies tangled up with parts of animal bodies... Mama pulls my head to her breast and we stand there for a while. I think Mama is crying.
Then we start walking back to the barn; yes, that's what they called the animal house, a barn. After just a few steps, we hear the gendarmes yelling. Now they are shooting at us. Mama pushes me to the ground and crouches over my body. In this way, we crawl through the mud. Suddenly there is a big hole, like a cave, and we slip in.
It's dark in here! When we get used to the darkness, we see in one corner some big rocks with red Hebrew letters on them. It looks like blood to me. I know the Hebrew letters from my teacher, Mr. Feldman. He used to come to our house to give me lessons. The shooting outside has stopped. Mama tries to read the words on the rocks. Then she covers her eyes and she cries. I am so scared, why does Mama cry so much? After a while, we crawl out of the cave and sneak over to the barn. Mama whispers to Tata that at the shore of the river and in the cave Jewish people had been killed. In the cave, there was writing on the rocks, asking that anybody who reads it should say Kaddish<8> for them. What is Kaddish? Tata makes big eyes and whispers to her not to tell anybody else. But I heard every word. Why did they kill those people? Where are they now?
Later, Tata says that the river where we washed ourselves was the Nistru (Dniester). He says that on the other side of this river is a land they called Transnistria. The gendarmes told him that we will be taken there soon. But how will we cross such a big river? I don't see a bridge.
We are still in Ataki; we are soaked and frozen from the cold rain and the wind; we are hungry, very tired and scared. Tata says that soon we will be taken across the River Dniester. We are being lead to the shore. A wooden barge comes close to our side of the river, and we are ordered to get on it quickly. When someone isn't quick enough, the soldiers swear, push with their rifles and curse with bad words, which I am never allowed to say. Now the barge is stuffed with scared, tired people. Some are holding hands; some are holding wet bundles with clothes; no one is speaking, everybody is looking down at the wooden boards on the floor and at the huge dark waves around us. The barge is slowly moving away from the shore. The soldiers are cold too, they are still cursing, screaming and shooting.
Near me stands the young woman I remember from the train. She is holding her baby in one arm and a bundle of rags or blankets in the other. She stands like a statue; she doesn't make a move. She looks very tired; her face is so pale. The baby is quiet. She stares into the dark water, and her eyes do not blink. We are holding on to a rope stretched out between the four corners of the barge. The roaring waves are big, black and scary. I have never seen such a big river before.
Suddenly the young woman stretches out her arm and lets the baby fall into the dark waves. I think she wanted to drop the bundle from her other arm, but had dropped the baby by mistake. Soon she will start to scream, and call for help, or maybe even jump into the water to save her baby, I think. But she doesn't move. She doesn't scream. Those of us standing beside her do not say a word either. Then, Mama who is standing behind me whispers to Tata "She dropped the baby deliberately to spare the child further suffering. What has become of us in only a few days? Have we become such animals?" she asks my father. Tata says, "Maybe the baby was already dead."
Now we are on the other side of the Dniester. Again, screaming, swearing, cursing and shoving from the soldiers. A soldier jerks out one of my earrings and blood is running from my ear. Mama pulls me to her chest and wipes off the blood.
We are in a place called Moghilev. I don't remember anything about this place. It's like I was asleep while we were there. We are getting ready for another long trip, this time on foot.
It's cold and raining, our shoes are getting stuck in the mud, so walking is very difficult. It is very cold, and I am very hungry. If I could only have one of Mama's sandwiches now, I am sure that I would eat it up very fast and Mama would be so proud of me. We walk and walk; the gendarmes are pushing and screaming. At night they let us stop in a pigsty or a barn. We sleep on the dirty, wet ground.
Omama can hardly keep up with this march. Aunt Milla and Tata are dragging her along, because they know that those who remain behind are shot and left to lie in the mud. Mama says that we are walking for three days. We are so tired, hungry and cold. Tata says that we are close to Shargorod, and this horrible march will finally end. Maybe we can clean up and sleep in a warm bed? Maybe we can have some warm food there. Maybe this will be a nice place like we had at home in Dorna. But even if it is, I really want to be back home! I am so confuse and scared! I want to cry! I want to scream! I want to hide! But I cannot do any of these things. I AM NOT A LITTLE GIRL ANY MORE!
* * *
Having been a sheltered child, the only granddaughter to my grandparents and the only niece to my aunts and uncles, I was very načve, pampered and completely unprepared for the perils that were facing me. After surviving the forced abandonment of my home and birthplace, the atrocious deportation train, the terrifying episodes in Ataki and the forced march from Moghilev to Shargorod, I no longer felt like a child. My childhood was robbed by evil people who had complete power over our lives. However, that malicious world could not destroy our will to survive, our hope that good will eventually prevail.
Life In Shargorod
Once in Shargorod, we had to find a room with one of the local Jewish families. In a few hours Tata found a place for us. In this family there was a young woman, Beile. Her husband, Sioma, was taken to the Red Army; most of the man in Shargorod had to go into the army. Then, there is Tosia, her ten-year-old son from a previous husband, a five-year- old son, Moosia, from her present husband, and her old mother-in-law. We didn't know her name, because everybody calls her Babushka. She looks very, very old with lots of wrinkles and pale skin, thin like paper.
Beile was a stately, tall, beautiful woman. She had big black sad- looking eyes, her thick black hair framing her high strong cheekbones. She had a good figure and carried herself with grace and determination.
Tosia was a big boy for his age. He had black hair and beautiful eyes, like his mother. He used to gaze at me for hours with affection and curiosity. Tosia was the most handsome boy I had ever seen in my life, but I don't think he was very smart. We seldom talked because in the beginning we, the deportees, spoke neither Yiddish nor Ukrainian, which were the languages used by the local Jews. We spoke German at home and Romanian in school. Later, when we learned to speak yiddish, Tosia and I just had nothing to talk about. But we sure did talk to each other with our eyes; for many hours; every day!
Tosia looked very interested when my mother would brush my thick long dark hair. He would sit there in a corner on a stump and watch me with longing eyes. But he never came close to me. Tosia's admiring looks both embarrassed and exhilarated me. At night, I would often dream about him, but I kept this hidden as a closely guarded secret. Even later, when we were all full of lice, Tosia continued to admire me.
My parents had to exchange clothing or pieces of jewellery for naphtha (liquid fuel), with which to wash my hair. The naphtha temporarily got rid of the lice but it was very unpleasant because it irritated my scalp and smelled awful. Tosia was full of lice too. Later, when we could no longer afford to "buy" naphtha because we had to exchange things for food, my hair had to be cut short. Still, Tosia continued to look at me lovingly.
Then, the time came when we had nothing left to barter. So, in the winter we were knitting scarves, gloves, socks and sweaters, in exchange for some potatoes, beets, corn flour or beans. The farmers would bring us very rough semi-processed homespun wool and coarse wires, which we used for knitting needles. The wool was so rough that after a few minutes of knitting, our fingers would bleed. But we couldn't stop the knitting because we needed the food.
In the spring, summer and fall, we were "mobilized" to work in the fields, in the surroundings of Shargorod. We were planting, weeding and gathering crops. In exchange, we would get some produce, so we could survive. I particularly remember one fall, when we were cutting tobacco leaves from their stocks and, in the distance, we saw a group of Ukrainian youngsters working in the fields while singing beautiful Ukrainian folk songs.
How I worried that Tosia would stop liking me when I had to have my beautiful long hair cut short! But even when my fingers and hands were full of sores and calluses, he continued to send me his affectionate looks. Tosia was the only joy in my life. He was, after all, my first admirer! When Mama became paralysed, Tosia would send me caring messages with his eyes, which told me that should anything ever happen to my mother, he would take care of me - - or at least that's what I thought his eyes were saying.
The other times when I felt joyful were those when I would sit, close my eyes and daydream that I am back home. Then, I would remember how I would go to the attic with my friends to play. We would take out old clothes and hats, which had been stored in a trunk, and play dress-up. Usually, we pretended that we were someone's wife. One of us was the wife of the King. Another was the wife of Antonescu; she had to be really mean. Another girl was the wife of God. But the most important one was Hitler's wife; she could do anything she wanted!
Moosia, Tosia's brother, was a freckled redhead, with light brown small, shifty eyes. Although only five, he was smart enough to make all kinds of deals with children and adults alike. He was never at a loss for words. He always brought news about one thing or another, and he always had some kind of deal on the go.
Babushka looked very old and frail, but, in fact, she was quite strong. When some of her Ukrainian friends brought a few logs of wood, she would chop them up with the axe and carry the firewood into the hut. When there was something to cook, she would do it on the "pripichik", a big, funny kind of an oven, made from mud-bricks and dried manure. Babushka seemed to have more lice than any of us, and she was very proud of that. She used to look at us with disgust whenever we complained about the lice, explaining that we should be happy to have them, as this was a sure sign that we were still alive. "Lice do not stay on a corpse," she would say with pride. Little did we know how right she was. Soon we noticed that after a person had died, droves of hungry lice would immediately leave the corpse in long rows, like little black roads running off in many different directions. Since there was no more blood for them to feed on in the dead body, they would crawl off in search of a new live body. We knew that the lice made us sick. Mama said that they were the biggest carriers of diseases and epidemics.
Before the war, Beile's husband had worked for a food cooperative. That's why the family had lots of connections with farmers who owed them all kinds of favours from that time. Sometimes, they would bring some food for Babushka. When this happened, she would not allow anyone around the big stove on which she divided the food, but only for her own family. Anyway, there wasn't enough to share with us. When they received some flour, Babushka would make a dough, and knead it on a dirty piece of wood. As if this were not enough, she had the disgusting habit of blowing her nose between her fingers, and then without wiping them, she would continue to knead the dough.
Nevertheless, sometimes we were "lucky", and she would give us a piece of her bread. We were so hungry that we didn't care much how it was made. Mama, however, never touched it.
Babushka would often tell proudly about her trip many years ago to Vinnitsa (the regional capital), where she had seen "water running out of the wall " and women wearing "shliapas" (hats). She repeated the story of this adventure at least once a day. It was clear to us that this trip had been the highlight of her life. Talking about it made her feel very important. One day, Beile told us that the real reason for Babushka's visit to Vinnitsa was to visit her son, Sioma, in jail. He had been caught with "rendleh" (gold coins) in his possession and was arrested as an enemy of the Soviet State. Babushka did not like Tosia very much because his father was Beile's first husband, not really her own grandson. Moosia, however, she adored; he was her real grandson. Among other virtues, Babushka liked "samagonka" (home-made vodka). We never discovered who supplied her with the booze, but she always had a supply stashed away. One bottle of vodka was standing high up on an old wooden shelf. She felt her bottle was safe there. She had to climb up on an old, broken stool to reach it, but this was no problem for her.
There was, however, another problem. When Babushka was outside of the hut, Moosia would climb up on the stool and raid her vodka. He enjoyed both the stealing and the drinking of the stuff. The times when Babushka would catch him, there was a tirade of swearing and cursing lasting for hours. She would scream at him; "Your tongue should get sores and blisters, your hands should rot, your arms should fall off, you should break your legs before you ever get up on the stool again, you should grow like an onion with your head in the ground!" and many other funny words. By that time, I could speak enough Yiddish so I understood what she was saying. I had never heard such bad language before. However, nothing deterred Moosia from stealing a few swigs from time to time. With mischievous eyes he would continue his raids, totally undisturbed by her tirades. Today, Moosia should be in his early sixties. I think of him sometimes, and I wonder if he became an alcoholic.
We were not the only family of deportees living in this filthy hut. There was a family from Dorohoi, some people from Iasi, and a family from Cernovitz. At the time they were deported, they had two young cousins visiting from Bucharest (where there were no mass deportations), and the youngsters had been caught in the deportation. They were not allowed to return home, and ended up in Shargorod. The people from Dorohoi were the last ones to get "settled" in our hut. There was no more room on the wooden bunks the men had built, so they had to sleep on the floor right by the door. The winter was so cold that one morning, we found this couple with their hair frozen to the dirt floor. In order to free them from the grip of the ice, their hair had to be cut off. They had a six-month old baby boy, and to keep him warm and protected, his mother never let him out of her arms. The baby seldom cried. I guess he was too weak.
For me, all these tragic happenings were somehow softened by the presence of Tosia and his admiring looks. Many years after our ordeal in Shargorod, when I actually started to date, I would compare my suitors with Tosia. But no one ever lived up to my memory of him...
The Mass Graves And The Newlyweds
In Shargorod, there was no school, no games, no movies, no gifts, no holidays. Now, there were only lots of lice and bleeding fingers from knitting the rough wool. I was cold and hungry all the time. Mama was mysteriously paralysed from the waist down, and she could not move from the low bunk, which the men had built for her.
Omama got gangrene in her finger, which was slowly rotting away. It looked horrible and must have been very painful. She used to look at it and quietly cry. From time to time a piece of her finger would fall off, until she was left with just a little stump.
The winters in Shargorod were bitterly cold. Thousands of people perished from starvation, freezing, dysentery and typhus. The dead bodies were placed outside in front of the dirty little huts. Once or twice a day, depending on how many people had died, the bodies were thrown onto a horse-drawn cart to be taken to the cemetary, but not before they were stripped of their rags so that the living could have an additional layer to keep warm. At the cemetery, they were piled up by deportees who were barely alive themselves. That is where they froze together in a huge heap, waiting for the mass graves to be dug when the ground thawed out in the spring. Many of the men who did this work awaited their own death with a detached resignation, perhaps even relief. There were dead people everywhere, in the huts, outside of the huts, on the icy roads, everywhere you looked. And yet, what kept some of us alive was the hope that this nightmare would soon come to an end.
Our "toilet" was the little piece of land behind the hut. When the ground became too messy, we had to go to the pond, where many others went to relieve themselves. The crouching in front of others was very embarrassing for me, but I had no other choice.
When spring came, many men were "mobilized" to dig the mass graves. My father, may he rest in peace, was one of them. He used to come back in the evenings with his frozen hands full of calluses, an aching back, and broken heart. He would bring back a piece of black bread, which he would share with my mother and I -- payment for his work. Before putting the bodies in the enormous graves, they had to be separated with axes from the huge clump in which they had frozen together during the winter. My father used to tell Mama how the bodies had to be placed in the graves; children between the legs of the adults so that more bodies would fit into the hole. I can imagine the agonies Tata, such a gentle, kind man, had suffered having to do this horrific "work". Every day he would look more drawn and forlorn. His rich black hair turned white in only a few days. He survived the ordeal in Transnistria, but only physically. His spirit was broken and he never fully recovered.
Among the people living in the hut across from ours, there was a young couple, who had been married shortly before we were deported. They knew that Herman, the groom, would soon be mobilized to work at the mass graves too. Irma, his wife, could not handle this, but what were they to do? They decided to make a secret plan, a desperate plan.
One day, very early in the morning, we noticed Irma carrying two pails of water from the pond. This was the same pond, which served both as a source of drinking water when the well was dry or frozen, and as a communal toilet since the little backyards were overflowing from too many people using them to relieve themselves. Irma was carrying this filthy water with an expression of firm determination on her face.
Suddenly, about an hour later, we heard loud, agonizing screams coming from their hut. There was horrible wailing, lamenting and whimpering. We rushed over to see what had happened. Looking into the small hut, we saw Herman lying on the dirt floor writhing in pain with both of his feet severely scalded from boiling water. Irma supported his upper body with the strength of a surgeon performing an operation without an anaesthetic. Her face was pale beneath the stream of tears; her bloodshot eyes were filled with love for her husband who was in agony.
After a while, Irma was able to compose herself enough to tell us what had happened: they had made a plan to disable Herman so that he would not be forced to work at the mass graves. Irma had filled a big caldron with water and brought it to a boil, then, she dumped the boiling water on Herman's legs. "Now he is saved!" she sobbed. "But would he ever be able to walk again?" we asked ourselves.
Herman's wounds never healed. It was a miracle that he had survived at all considering the squalor that we were living in. Eventually, Herman lost the use of the lower half of both his legs. From this time on, Irma took care of him like of a baby. During the second winter, Herman died of typhus. But he never worked at the mass graves!
The winter of 1941-1942 was a particularly brutal one. Our clothes, worn both day and night for many months had become rags and could no longer keep us warm. The typhus epidemic was raging throughout the whole Transnistria region, and Shargorod was no exception. Almost everybody in our hut was infected and suffered from high fever; some were even delirious.
A Ukrainian friend had brought a few logs of wood to Beile, but she also had such a high fever that she couldn't get up. The wood was lying in the front of the hut, and I decided to try and chop it up with an old rusty axe. It was too heavy for me, but I wouldn't give up. I wanted to warm the hut. I thought that maybe this would help the people get better... My hands were freezing cold, which made the axe feel even heavier. After several unsuccessful attempts at chopping the wood, I cut my finger. The blood came gushing out onto the white, fresh snow at my feet. I started to cry. Suddenly, I saw a Romanian officer standing right in front of me. I was very frightened, but, to my surprise, he smiled at me and peeked into the hut. He seemed to understand the situation. Without saying a word, he picked up the axe from the snow where it had fallen and started chopping the wood. I was overjoyed but I still didn't trust him, after all, he was "the enemy". Later that night, he returned with a bag of food and some medication. For about two weeks after that, he returned every second day with supplies. When some of the adults were over the worst of the typhus fever, he told us that he had been married to a Jewish girl, and that they had a four-year-old son. His wife and son had been taken away to a concentration camp, and he did not know of their whereabouts. He spoke with sadness in his voice and with a sincere desire to help us. His name was Peter, a truly good human being.
In the meantime, four of the people in our hut had died. The corpses were put out in the snow, and when the cart picked them up, the shapes from their bodies remained indented in the snow for a few days.
Then, Peter mysteriously disappeared. After about a week, we began to wonder if he had been caught helping us and had been punished. Perhaps, his unit had moved on. We never saw him again, but his help probably saved some of our lives. Peter will always remain in our good thoughts, he risked his life for people he didn't even know.
I often ask myself how many more people could have been saved with just a little kindness and compassion from those who were in a position to help. Sadly, only a very few were willing to assist.
How Did The Baby Get Back?
I was twelve-years-old when I noticed that uncle Armin was trying to learn a few words in Russian. He did not have a great talent for languages, so it was very difficult for him. He kept repeating the same words over and over again, and by the next day he had forgotten them. One day, I asked him why he needed to know these Russian words. He said he would tell me when I got older. However, the next day he asked me if I would do something for him and to keep it a big secret. I promised him that I would.
One day, a saw uncle Armin building a wooden carriage with which to walk the baby that was in our hut. Somehow, he had managed to find four little wheels and some wooden boards for a box. After a few days the "carriage" was ready. That was when uncle Armin, my parents, and the baby's mother gathered around me and asked if I wanted to take the baby for a walk, on the days when the weather was not too bad. The camp had a few streets on which we were allowed to walk. I was to push the carriage to the other end of the camp, a walk of about twenty minutes. There, I was to meet a man with a brown cap, and I had to leave the carriage and the baby with him.
In the beginning, I did this every few days. It was always the same routine. Each time, I would leave the baby and the buggy with this strange man, and a few hours later, they were somehow back in the hut. I never saw who brought them back.
Some months later, I would take the baby for these walks almost every day. I had promised uncle Armin not to ask any questions, and I was happy with the extra piece of bread I got when I returned from these "walks".
One day, just before my birthday, Tata asked me what I would like as a present, and I said "A big slice of bread." He got it for me!
Only one year after we had been liberated, did I find out that the carriage had had a double bottom, where uncle Armin would hide all kinds of things that he had managed to steal: salt, grenades, gun- powder, dynamite, etc. Unknowingly, I was passing these goods on to the man with the brown cap, who was a partisan and partisans were good people. I was very proud about having "helped the partisans".
The Days Of Liberation
In 1944, when I was thirteen, my uncle Armin told us that the Soviet Army was not too far away, and that soon we would be free. However, he warned, the retreating Germans would be very dangerous, as they would try to kill every Jew they could find before they left.
There was a hole in the ground underneath our hut where Babushka used to keep potatoes before the war. At night the men would dig to make this hole bigger so we could all hide. Now, there were twelve of us including the baby. The other four had died. The men had barely finished digging the hole, when my uncle said that we had to go down there, baby and all. It was miserable musty and dark all the time. There were mice and rats scurrying around between our feet. From time to time, someone had to climb up into the hut to get water, which we had prepared before we went into the pit. Sometimes, the baby would cry and his mother would put a rag on his mouth to muffle the sound.
Uncle Armin was not with us in the pit. We didn't see him from the day we went down there. I don't remember how many days we were in that hole, but I do remember that it was almost impossible to move. While in hiding, we heard all kinds of noises outside: shots, stomping of heavy boots, and loud German voices. We were terrified. Mama, who was no longer paralysed, said that we had struggled against death for so long, and now, when the ordeal was almost over, we could still be killed if the soldiers found us.
Finally one day, we heard Russian songs coming from the outside. Tata said we could not move or make a sound, as this could be a ploy by the retreating Germans to lure us out of our hiding places to murder us. A few hours later, uncle Armin came and told us that it was safe to come up. "The partisans are here!" he yelled. It took a while for everyone to be able to climb out of the pit. After stretching our tired and stiff bodies, we walked out to the centre of the little town to breathe the air of freedom. The partisans were young boys of about fifteen or sixteen years of age, running around singing Soviet songs of victory.
The last German unit to leave Shargorod was the SS kitchen staff. The partisans had managed to catch the cook. He was a tall, blond fellow in his twenties. With his hands tied behind his back and his head hanging down, he was walked between two partisans who were even younger. Suddenly, we saw German airplanes flying over our heads, spraying machine gun fire. A few people were killed. The German cook raised his head to the planes and cried out, "Es kommt doch deutsche Hilfe dort!" (German help is on the way!). His words had hardly passed his lips when the partisans opened fire on him. He fell to the ground in a puddle of blood. Later, every time a partisan passed by his body, he shot another bullet at him, even though he was long dead. A few hours later, the regular Soviet Army entered the town. It was the spring of 1944.
Some weeks later, we started on our way back home. We were on the road for months, walking most of the time just behind the front line. When we reached Chernovitz, we saw the Soviets rounding up men to do labour in the coalmines of Dombas, deep within Russian territory. We rented a truck and escaped to Kishinev, where we stayed for about five months. Then we continued on our way home again. We reached Vatra Dornei at the beginning of May 1945.
We were allowed only one room in our former home. Nothing was found of what we had left behind at the time of deportation. People told us that our house had been used as a German hospital, and then a Soviet hospital. When we got there, it was being used as a fire station.
* * *
There are many more gruesome memories, so many nightmares! There is so much pain, which has been buried inside me for the past fifty years. All of us survivors have become experts at hiding this pain in order to be able to go on with our lives. Each one of us could write several books, and still we would never be able to cover all the happenings we experienced in Transnistria.
Now, as I get older and look back on my life, I feel compelled to tell about our unimaginable suffering. I need to let the world know about our loved ones who lie buried in ditches, forests, and in mass graves, planted over with beautiful wheat fields, under fruit orchards. At some of these graves, the soil has eroded and the bones of our dear relatives are sticking out of the ground. May their souls rest in peace! We must speak for them as they cannot speak for themselves. We must do it now, because we are the last generation of eyewitnesses to the murderous acts that happened in Transnistria during this black time of human history.
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