Two days later, the Soviets had left and the Germans had not yet come in - the town was in no-manís-land. Nobody dared step out of the house for fear of looters, bandits, drunkards. In fact, before the Russians abandoned the town, they emptied the liquor stores and cosmetic stores in search for alcohol. Whoever was not lucky enough to find vodka, took denatured alcohol or eau de cologne; they drank anything. Many drunken soldiers lay in the streets and in the gutters and were taken prisoners, while drunk; some were shot on the spot.
Some war record for glorious red soldiers.
Peasants, in the villages around Czernovitz, massacred the Jews in their communities. In town, looters broke into apartments, that had been left by the Russians as well as by those who had fled with them. In a day or two German troops came and hastened further East, for they routed the Soviet army in an unexpected way.
The initial Russian defeat was due to the element of surprise, of disorganization and partly because many refused to fight and deserted in droves and greeted the Germans as saviors. They had hated communism all along. My professor of Russian at the university and his daughter, who was the leader of the comsomol (young communist league) stayed behind in Czernovitz. They, like many others, hid during the evacuation. Soon after the Romanians occupied the province, the Ukrainian and Russian sympathizers of fascism opted to go to Germany. They wanted to insure themselves to be far away from Soviet territory in case of reverses of the war. How they fared, I do not know. I know that thousands remained behind and later on many joined the Bandera bands, who fought on the German side against communism, murdered Jews pitilessly in Galizia and Bukovina.
The Germans imposed a curfew from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. In the first week shooting went on at random. The targeted victim was the Jew. At first nobody went out for fear of being killed in the streets. We only found out later that the Jewish inhabitants of small towns and villages had been massacred. With no radio and no newspapers, we lived in isolation from the outside world.
The Romanians took over the administration of the conquered formerly owned province. In order to repair the damages caused by the retreating Russians, they forced all able-bodied men to do the necessary repairs. Jewish men worked in the hurried reconstruction of the bridges, they cleared the rubble in the post office, repaired the electric utility station, cleared the devastation from the many explosions. Yuda, his uncle and cousin worked on the bridge; Paul Antschel at the post office. Of course nobody was paid for the work. Once in a while the soldiers, who were supervising the work, would give half a loaf of bread per person, to be taken home. Yet once in a while the soldiers would hit the older men when they could not work fast enough. Yuda told me how his uncle was beaten in front of his son and his nephew. The pain and the shame of the father beaten and the son who could not protect him. A few days after the German-Romanian occupation they burned our beautiful Temple. During that night, they summoned the rabbi, Dr. Mark and the cantor Perlstein, forced them to open the Temple, then the Germans set fire to the Temple. Dr. Mark and the cantor were taken to Rosha, a village nearby with German population. Both were shot there. That night we stood at the window of our apartment and saw from not too far the flames lashing out all night against the clear summer sky. Next morning we saw that disaster.
The Jewish population was ordered to sew on a yellow star, of a prescribed dimension, on every garment worn outdoors. We were permitted to go out in the street for two hours only, from 10 till noon; that was for the purpose of buying food. Those who were doing hard labor at the bridge or the electric station received a permit to go to and from work, at those particular hours.
Whoever went out to purchase food soon found out that most peasants refused to come to market to sell produce. Thus daily life in the summer of 1941 became a matter of grave difficulties. First, the exchange of money into Romanian currency was almost impossible. In case one had dollars, one could exchange them for lei. The fact was that practically nobody had dollars and even if so, where to look for blackmarketeers?
The administration was handed over completely to the Romanian military, General Calotescu became the chief administrator. Some of the former Romanian inhabitants of Czernovitz started to return. However, life was tough, food hard to come by. We could not buy bread, bakeries did not function but we still needed food. We had flour, but could not obtain yeast. Mother tried to make a sour dough and make it rise. The baked result was as hard as a rock. We ate beans with oil, the hard bread, rice and not much else. Slowly, slowly the peasants started to bring some food in exchange for towels or shoes or whatever they bargained for. Little by little people started to sell valuables: a golden watch, a bracelet, rings for Romanian money. Yet, as bad as times were, as limited oneís movements, we knew that it could get worse, we had found out about the massacre of the Jews in the small towns and villages. We only hoped that we would be left in our apartments. Homelessness and hunger were the worst fears and soon autumn was going to set in.
With all my friends gone, I went to see whether any of my former classmates had remained behind. Dorothea (Duschka) Altneu, with whom I did not associate much before, became a new friend. She was highly intelligent, an outstanding student, but never among my group of friends. Lutza, a close friend from former years, married and pregnant, had remained in town, with her husband and family. I had seen Paul Antschel in the ruins of the post office. He lived in a different section of town. Since I could leave the house for two hours only, one could associate only with people, who lived nearby.
I felt like I had been robbed of everything. At the age of 21, alone with my parents, practically no friends, surrounded by enemies, almost under house arrest and all around - vultures; the beginning of a different type of existence, everything bleak. The past-gone; future-none.
At this point, 44 years later, I try to understand how I continued an existence that hopeless. One lived day by day, every day a challenge for survival, as each day was one day nearer to the end of the war. We, the Jews, took it for granted that Hitler would be defeated, that the evil of Nazism and Fascism would be eradicated but whether we would live to see it was problematic. So we tried one day at a time. Property became unimportant, clothes became only important if it could be sold or exchanged for food. The values changed radically. Every day was one day less to the end of the war. It took four long years to that hoped for day, and six million of our own never made it.
We were cut off from the outside world for years. One could buy a Romanian newspaper and read about the German victories. The truth was that the Soviet armies were retreating and the Germans were conquering immense territories. Although we hated to believe in their astounding victories, yet they were frighteningly true. Here and there some Romanians told about the news heard over the B.B.C. and the news travelled incredibly fast, through the grapevine. However, since information was whispered as it spread by word of mouth, it often turned into something different. Some people went out during the allotted two hours just to get news, from an "unimpeachable source."
The war was only three months in its unfolding, when rumors started spreading about a "Jewish Solution." What are they going to do about the Jews? that became the burning question at the beginning of October. In the villages and small towns around Czernovitz all the Jews had been murdered. In Bessarabia there had been devastating pogroms. It seemed that the authorities were not going to leave us untouched. On Simchat Torah, October 11, 1941, on a cold, windy Saturday morning, there appeared notices, ordinances, pasted on buildings and lampposts, to the effect that every Jew was ordered to move into a certain section of town, formerly mostly populated by poor Jews. That section was designated as the Ghetto. By 5 oíclock on that afternoon, no Jew was allowed to reside in town any longer everybody had to reside within the confines of the Ghetto. Noncompliance was punishable by death, execution on the spot.
My Father came home from the synagogue with the news. On the most joyous holiday in the Jewish calendar, we received the most horrifying order. (We found out, after the war, that this order had come from Berlin, from the highest German authorities. Yuda and I saw the document in the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam.) I ran out in the street to read the ordinance and saw the awful instructions.
Anybody who knew a family in that section of town just went there. We put some clothes, bedding, shoes into bags, pillowcases and carried the stuff into the apartment of Mrs. Schachter, whom we had known for a long time. They had a store next to my Fatherís. Her husband had been imprisoned by the Soviets on a trumped up charge and he was somewhere in Siberia. Her son and daughter were with her. By the afternoon barricades were built up to lock in the Jewish Ghetto, to seal our fate.
The situation was mind boggling. In every apartment were ten times more people than could be accommodated. In the two rooms and kitchens, where we had found asylum were 45 people. A few older persons slept in the two beds, the others stretched out on the floor, with the legs under the beds, some were sitting, some on the tables, under the tables. It was just inhuman to be crowded into staircases, corridors and plainly on the sidewalks. The electricity had not yet been restored; some apartments had no running water. It was an unmitigated disaster. My Father said that we will all die of typhoid fever or some other disease will decimate the population in the Ghetto.
Two days later soldiers came into the Ghetto to spread the news that next day certain streets would be evacuated, the people re-settled in Transnistria. Everybody in these streets should be ready to move next day. First we could not figure out what "Transnistria" was. It was part of the conquered territory of the Ukraine, across the river Dniester, East of the river, Soviet territory.
Next day two or three thousand Jews were chased out from two streets and they were walking, taking along what they could carry on their backs. They were chased toward the rail road station. Romanian soldiers chased them to hurry, to fill up the cattle wagons. By the evening, the trains fully packed, sides bolted - they were on their way to concentration camps. On that first day, my friend Lola and her entire family left, among so many others. As we had our knapsacks ready to go, we went to a different location in the Ghetto, because next day was our turn to leave for Transnistria. As we had seen on the first day what was happening, we three decided that it was better to try to leave later. Thus, we made up our minds to go from place to place, maybe a miracle would still happen.
We moved four times, to different locations. In one place, in an attic, there was such terrible fleas, they tortured us all night. We went from place to place with only one sack each, for that was all we could carry. After ten days of deportations, the Romanian administration changed their plan. The town was paralyzed without the Jews. There were no people to run the services after the destruction left by the Russians, the Romanians had not returned yet in any numbers and without the local Jews, the town was paralyzed. Besides, there were Romanian-Jewish intermarriages and the affected families intervened with the government in Bucharest. There may have been some intervention from abroad, but that is not proven. As a result, the general issued a decree stopping temporarily the "re-settlement" of the Jews. By that time three quarters of the Jews had been deported to Transnistria.
There had to be guide lines concerning who was needed, who would be allowed to stay. Since the Jewish community could not figure out what was intended or who was needed, they started registration of specialists. My former elementary school was within the Ghetto area and registration took place there.
Everybody was desperate and lists were made for any kind of specialty. I registered where ever they would accept my name. You did not have to show a document, that would come up later. I was on a students list (who needed students?), on a chemists list, nurse, anywhere. I put Fatherís name on all kinds of lists, Yuda was in the same situation, although we had no contact at that time. He also registered on all kinds of lists and he got a certificate to return home as "factory foreman." The deportations stopped temporarily.
In the meantime, October neared its end, the weather got colder, rains made it very hard to stand for hours and listen for the names of people, who received the permit to return. I went daily to that military station, where the lucky ones received the reprieve from concentration camp. Those returned to their apartments in town and those who remained behind felt more and more desolate. In the meantime the Ghetto shrank because as soon as some went home and tens of thousands had been deported, the area, where we could stay became smaller. They moved the barricades, enlarged the town and shrank the Ghetto. Well, after about 2 weeks, we still had no permit and we became fairly despondent. We had decided that in case only the parents received the permit and not me, they should stay home and I should go alone. If only I could remain, then we should act the same way. If one remained in town, that one could help the person in Transnistria.
One day, the soldiers chased out everybody in the street where we were "Yudengasse" (Jew Street). My parents and myself took our sacks to go to the rail road station. While we were going with the rest of that dayís contingent, half way to the station, a woman walked by and said:
"They called your name at the certificate station." On the spur of the moment, I said to my parents: "You continue going. I am going back, get the certificate and will take you out." Nobody would have let all three of us go back without a permit. Of course, it was easier said than done. The military watched all along the roads and they said that Jews can go only one way - toward the rail road station, not back. I was a young girl, 21 years old and desperate to go look for that elusive piece of paper. I promised each one money on my way back, some I gave a few lei and I ran toward that building, where the military were giving that life giving piece of paper. On my arrival there, I asked insistently whether anybody had seen the certificate for Spiegel, somebody said that a blond woman had taken it, intending to give it to my Father. She was the daughter in law of the people, where we had stayed. She knew that we were on the way to the deportation. Since she could not go any further to look for us, for she would have been swallowed up by that mass of humanity, she gave it to a man, who was going as a deportee and told him: "If you see Mr. Spiegel, he is a man with a beard, give it to him."
When I heard that the certificate was taken to the railroad I ran again toward the station, without the paper. I arrived as the trains were ready to leave. My parents were in a cattle car, some people, were still drinking a last gulp of water at a pump. Almost unable to shout any more, I ran from car to car, asking whether anybody had a certificate for Spiegel. A man called from inside a cattle wagon, asked me for the first name and gave me the certificate for Markus Spiegel. I frantically ran and called my parentsí name and as the trains were about to leave, I got them out. A few minutes later the train left and the three of us trudged back to the Ghetto. We could hardly walk those one or two miles, yet we dragged ourselves back to the ghetto, into the house in the Yudengasse. The house was deserted, they had taken the Feuer family in the afternoon. Mrs. Feuer was the sister of uncle Morris partner, in New York. The entire family perished in Transnistria. We three had almost come back from the grave. On the return from the train, I showed the guards, along the road, our certificate to prove that I had not lied to them. They had, probably, not seen anybody go back.
The house, where we spent the night, after such a nightmarish day, was eerie. We were the only people in the entire street, everybody had been deported on that day. On looking at the permit, it was made out for my Father only. Next morning I went to the military where the permits were handled, forced myself into the colonelís office. I explained to him that my Father had a wife, so he added "and wife"; then I said that I was the daughter. He angrily turned to me and asked whether there were more sons and daughters. I said: "No, I am the only daughter." Thus he added "and one daughter."
Next day we left the Ghetto. The gates had been moved again to shrink the periphery of the Jewish section. We walked about fifteen minutes to our apartment, with our knapsacks on the backs. I had fever blisters all around my mouth. The day before was hell on earth, but we escaped as if by miracle. When I think of that day, I paraphrase Winston Churchill, and say: it was my finest hour. In our apartment, a few windows had been broken, it was bitterly cold and damp on November 11, 1941. We had spent a harrowing month in hell, I mean, in the Ghetto, in Czernovitz. Two more Jewish families had returned to the apartment house: an elderly couple and a widow, the mother of two daughters, the older my former schoolmate. Both had got married during the year under the Soviets and they fled, with their husbands, to the Soviet Union. The old couple, a second marriage for both, formerly widowed; she had a son my own age, he had a married daughter, whose husband had been grabbed in the street and taken into the Russian army. Since we were under house arrest, with only two hours a day permission to spend outside, we were thrown by necessity to spend considerable time together. When one returned from outside, we exchanged information about political news or rumors. We also encouraged one another by dreaming of plans for after the war. Actually, none of us really believed that we would survive.
The old neighbor had a number of Yiddish books by Sholem Alechem and I.L. Peretz. He and my Mother would take turns reading aloud. That was the time when I learned to understand Yiddish very well. My Mother used to read beautifully.
In the apartment, the windows were fixed, we bought some fire wood, food became more easily available. We could not afford to heat the kitchen and both rooms, so we moved the parentsí beds and my sofa into the living room-dining room. It was more sheltered than the bedroom, that had three windows-a kind of bay window, too much exposure and too costly to heat. We lived in one room and a kitchen.
About a week after our escape from the Ghetto, the military stopped issuing permits to return and there remained about 3000 Jews in the confined area. The mayor, Dr. Dori Popovici, a decent man, who had lived all his life in Czernovitz and was friendly toward the Jewish population, got the consent from Bucharest to dismantle the Ghetto and everybody to receive a permit signed by him. It later turned out that we, who had permits signed by the governor, were in a different category than those, whose permits were issued by the mayor. At the time we did not know that the Popovici permits would turn out to be almost a death warrant.
We had barely settled in when, by the end of November, the governor issued a decree, summoning all permit holders to have them reviewed by a military commission, to have everything documented. That threw a new scare into everybody, especially those whose name was not exactly the same as on their papers; the profession was not correct, names added, like on ours. Since life depended on a signature, many people were scared to go, for fear that they may lose that valuable permit.
The commission was made up of officers, each one reviewed one or two letters. There arose people, who knew officers whom they could bribe. The bribe assured the signature and thus the validity of the permit. I looked for an influence peddler, who could get assurance that the officer, who examined letter S would pass us. I could not find a way. We decided that we had to go by ourselves because they may stop the procedure altogether. On a Friday afternoon, without any possible help, I asked Father to come with me, to have the paper validated. The paper was in his name; Motherís name and mine were added.
My Father knew no Romanian and by that time I had become the mover and shaker in our family. I took along a Waterman fountain pen, covered with silver filigree, which Uncle Morris had left us on one of his visits to Europe. That was intended as a "thank you" for an officer, if needed. All the way from home to City Hall Father was mumbling, talking to himself. When I asked what he was saying, he said:
"Nishmas" (Hear, oh God ... an appeal to God to hear his prayer in this hour of need.)
We came into a big hall. About 20 officers were seated along a table. The officer at the letter S looked through the identification papers of all three of us. As I was showing him what he was asking for, I tried to talk lightheartedly, to cover up my fear. Without asking many questions, he signed the certificate, stamped it and wished me good luck and added: "Youíll need it."
As we were walking home, on that moonlit, clear, cold, bright early evening, Father said: "God answered my prayer." We returned home elated. Mother was standing at the window and saw me wave my muff, as if in triumph.
Next morning, the commission announced that they would stop reviewing the Jewish permits. Everybody, who is in town, will reside in Czernovitz on the strength of a paper signed by the mayor, Dori Popovici. In July, 1942, the Romanians deported on one night, from Saturday to Sunday about 2000 Jews with permits signed by Popovici. During the night, the military took entire families for "resettlement." Horror spread among the rest of us, since nobody knew what criterion they were considering. Everybody packed a knapsack and held it ready. The following week the same thing happened. We realized that they took only families with Popovici permits. Paul Antschel and his parents were in that situation. After the first deportation, he hid on the weekend in a factory building, which was closed of course, on the weekend. The Romanian owner gave someone the keys for the purpose, while his parents remained at home. His parents were deported and were killed within a few months. They did not want to live in hiding, while Paul never gave up trying to save himself. He was a devoted son, especially to his mother. I think that he could never forgive himself not having insisted that his parents join him in hiding on that fateful weekend. That pain followed him to the day in April 1970, when he ended his life in the Seine river, at age 49.
Coming back to the events of the summer of 42. Those deported were sent to the area along the river Bug, further east of Transnistria, an area administered by the Germans. Out of a few thousand deportees, a handful returned to tell the story of that utter tragedy. Friends and neighbors of ours found their bitter end there. Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger and her parents, two young girls, students of mine, granddaughters of the Gottliebs and their parents, all met a most horrible death there. Some were shot as they were too weak to work; others weakened from starvation, died of typhoid fever, others who almost survived, were mauled and killed by dogs let out by the Germans, so that nobody should survive to tell of these horrors. My friend, who had asked me to take care of his parents, could not foresee, nor could anybody envision the horror that would take place. His family died there, too.
The beginning of December, less than half a year from the start of the Russo-German war, the Germans were deep inside Russia. Thousands of prisoners of war, entire regiments, armies were encircled. Some regiments openly surrendered to the fascists, in the vain hope that their lives would be spared. However, the Germans despised the Slavs to such an extent that even when they deserted, professing their hate for communism, it did not endear them to the conquerors. Prisoners of war were mistreated, thousands killed, their golden teeth pulled out, their uniforms and boots stripped and their bodies left to rot in the fields.
Here and there a person from Czernovitz returned, helped along by a German or by a Romanian, since all local people spoke both languages. Whoever heard these stories from a returning soldier became despondent, thinking of oneís own husband or father or brother, who was in the army or had fled and may have been caught.
Our neighborís daughter became extremely disturbed about the news, her husband was in the Russian army. On December 7, 1941 famed Pearl Harbor Day, the young woman jumped out of the window of their fifth floor apartment. It was a frosty Sunday evening. My parents and myself were eating dinner, when somebody hammered at our door. When I opened, Mr. Nachman carried his daughter into our place - we lived then on the first floor - and put her on my sofa. She looked asleep, but she was dead.
That scene, to this day, makes my heart race. An hour before, she spoke rationally and in a controlled manner; her despair was never openly expressed.
We all seemed to be in the same desperate situation, yet most of us kept going being each otherís support. She must have expired on her way down, there were no signs of injury. Her Father heard the scream. He saw the open window. No doctor came. They carried her upstairs. On my sofa remained a spot where her head had lain. Next day was her funeral. There were just a few people. Nobody was openly crying; some must have envied her peace then. At the end of the war, her husband returned and married her younger cousin.
Next day we heard that the USA has been attacked by the Japanese. This event seemed to complicate the war situation even more, to spread to other continents: America and Asia. We could not receive mail from the family even before, but now it would become an impossibility. We could not know whether Eli, Bernie or anybody else in the family was affected. We only knew that we, ourselves were in a hopeless situation, with no end in sight.
The winter of 1941-42 was severe and we suffered great deprivation. Mother had a gold chain and rings, Father always carried a gold pocket watch and a chain. Every now and then we sold a piece of jewelry in order to buy food and pay rent. Bread was often hard to get and yeast, for breadbaking, not easily obtainable. We consumed a lot of beans and peas and potatoes and waited for the elusive salvation to come.
What kept people in such circumstances going? First, we never tried to realistically appraise the plight we were in. Magic thinking took over. Miracles were expected imminently. What if Hitler got killed? What if the Russians reorganized their troops and started routing the Germans? What if the Western powers revived their strength? The United States entered World War I in 1917 and a year later, the war was over and the Germans defeated. Perhaps, the involvement of the USA would shorten the war. After all, the U.S. was an ally of the democracies and at war with Japan, an Axis power. From day to day we lulled ourselves into believing that a miracle might still happen, as it did often in our own history.
While the Soviets proved to be a grave disappointment and the month before the outbreak of the war brought such despair with the deportations to Siberia yet it made us long for a return of the Russians. They sent you to Siberia but they did not outright shoot you. It seemed like the lesser of two evils. Thus, we hoped for German defeats and Russian victories. We learned geography daily - Orel, Gomel, Dniepropetrovsk were lost or held or about to fall. They crossed or, didnít cross the Don or Dniepr. The same went on with North African geography. The fate of Tobruk or Tunis or Bizerta were bandied around daily.
When our elderly neighbor, Mr. Nachman, went out at 10 a.m., we hoped that he would bring the newest battle reports from the synagogue. I will never forget that at one juncture in the war, the two fortified cities Tunis and Bizerta were critical for the fate of North Africa. General Rommel, the famous desert fox, brought Germany victory after victory. Strategists considered the recapture of these two cities from the Germans as critical, otherwise, if the Germans broke the allied defenses there, they could advance all the way to Cairo. One Saturday morning, Mr. Nachman returned from the synagogue, knocked on our door. When I opened, he said "Both" and rushed upstairs to tell his wife. I knew that Tunis and Bizerta had been recaptured from the Germans.
In 1942, a Romanian family, who had taken over an apartment from a deported family, on the fourth floor, demanded to swap flats with us. We could not object, we could have been sent to Transnistria, on their say so. We moved up to the fourth floor and had to climb 100 stairs. Later on, when there was no water, we carried pails of water from about ten blocks away and up the 100 steps. Life was an unending string of hardships. Yet we were glad that we could still remain in the same house and sleep in our own beds.
In the summer of 1942, since nobody could figure out how long deportations would continue or start again, everybody kept a packed knapsack, in case. About that same time, a Romanian informer reported to the police that we are in possession of a radio and that we listen to the news. One day, two men came to our house: one tall and lanky, artistic looking, with longer hair, worn by poets or actors. He was about 30 years old, mannerly. He showed his badge, he was from the Siguranta (secret police). The other man accompanied him.
The commissar looked around, saw the knapsacks, looked at the books, saw German, French, English and Romanian books. At his request, I explained that I had been a student of languages and literature. After looking around everywhere, he asked Father to come to the chief police station, at five oíclock. I told him that I would come along, since Father didnít know Romanian. He gave us a summons to appear that day. We were greatly alarmed as it was during the deportations.
Although we were terribly scared, yet my optimistic side thought that nothing could happen, since we really had no radio. My optimism was a kind of defense, a negation of the evil that loomed all around. On the way to the Sigurancta, it was a very long walk, Father was saying his prayer. I took again the Waterman fountain pen, in case of need, as a small bribe. The commissar, Mr. Andreescu arrived after five (they enjoyed a siesta from 2-5 p.m.), called us into his office and told me that he would write a declaration, which Father should sign. I told him that, in case he would write that we have a radio, he wonít sign. The commissar told me to let him write it and if I donít agree, then I should write another one. It sounded good. He typed a statement and handed it to me. In it Father declared that he had never had a radio. When I told him that we had had one, but the Russians had confiscated it, he retorted: It is better to say that you never had one.
Greatly relieved by the outcome of the confrontation with the Secret Police, I asked him who the other gentleman was. He told me that the other man was an informer, who came to report to the police that in the evening we pulled down the shades, proof that something unlawful was going on. Of course, if a crime would be discovered after an investigation, we could be deported and the informer could claim the apartment and the household within. Mr. Andreescu told me that he knew right away that it was a false charge, because people, who live with a packed knapsack next to their beds would not try anything that dangerous. He said that he saw my books and asked me whether I would teach him and his wife English. I thought that was an entrapping offer and I replied that I would gladly teach them German. He insisted that they would rather learn English. I offered to teach them as soon as he and his wife were ready.
Father and myself walked home elated. He did not understand the long conversation, however, he realized that it was a very friendly chat. We got rid of a threatening charge and we even made a friend in the Secret Police, for he had warned me of that informer. Should that man try to threaten us, I should get in touch with him and trouble from that source would stop.
We came home and shared the great news with Mother. Besides, Father and myself had taken such a nice walk through the town, on a pleasant summer day. The house arrest had been going on for over a year. Except for two hours daily, we spent all the time indoors. We pulled down the shades, for we used to sit around the table and one or the other were reading aloud Jewish stories. The informer lived across the street, in the Ippen apartment, vacated when they were sent to Siberia.
As fall approached, Jewish men were taken to labor camps, run by the army. It became apparent that in every family, at the very least one person had to work, in order to be entitled to remain in town. Yuda, whom I did not see much at that time, was sent to dig trenches or hew stones in a quarry in Paltinoasa, Alexandreni or other locations in Moldova. Every few months he would come home to his mother. Then they would call him up for a different assignment, at a different location. During one of those stints in a labor camp, his mother died of a stroke. Her daughter-in-law, who shared her apartment, was with her. Yuda came home way later. I never knew my mother-in-law Esther, but I know that the last few years of her life were pure hell. Her husband died on the operating table, during that fateful last week in June, 1941. Her older son Munju (Michael) was somewhere in the Soviet Union and Yuda was in labor camp. She didnít live to know that both her sons survived the war and the holocaust.
The call-ups to labor camps was the work of the Jewish Community Council. The military would request a certain number of men, to be sent to a certain location. Within a few days the Jewish Council provided the number of men. As soon as a group returned, some weeks later they would be sent again. It was hard labor, but people were not killed there.
Rumors spread that everybody would be deported within the next few weeks. The chances of survival were uncertain from day to day. It was assumed that those who converted to Christianity would be spared. Here and there news spread about a pastor, in a certain church, who would give a certificate of baptism if one went a few Sundays to church and then approached him about the matter. Whether he knew that it was just a paper to save oneís life or whether he considered it a genuine conversion - I donít know. Talking to the only friend I had at that time, Duschka, we decided to talk it over at home. Neither her parents nor mine objected to our trying that road. For my parents, to know that I went to church to seek baptismal papers was no light issue, yet they would not stand in my way, if that could save my life.
One Sunday morning, the two of us walked to the church, without the star, with hats on. When we came to the yard and were supposed to enter the chapel, we looked at one another and both of us could not do it. I could not lie to the pastor and I could not stay behind in case they would take the parents away. The same applied to my girlfriend. We walked home, sure that this stratagem was wrong for us. When my parents saw me return and I told them that I did not even go into the church, we all had tears in our eyes.
There was also another incident and chance for change for me, yet I could not do it. When I was a student in the first year (1938-39), I joined a sports club, where most of the members were workers. We were a liberal group of students, who tried to make contacts among workers and help educate them. I was teaching two girls and a non-Jewish worker French. That young man, Andrei, was a very handsome, athletic Ukrainian, who became part of the student group. He started to court a former classmate of mine, the daughter of a Hebrew teacher. She was deported from the ghetto. Later on Andrei started to come to our house once in a while. He was an artistic fellow, played the balalaika well, sang, was a terrific sportsman and a very decent person. In the winter of 42-43, I remember him coming on a winter evening and he brought me an orange. During the war it was an absolute rarity and very expensive. We sat down, I peeled the orange and offered to share it with my parents. Since it was a present for me, Andrei refused to taste any. I ate a half and my parents a quarter each. Well, this man proposed to marry me and take me along to Romania and thus escape the imminent danger, Just as before, I could not try to save myself and leave. It seemed that the day when I said the fateful words "what happens to you will happen to me" that had decided the course of my life for the duration of the war. I had become the active one, the doer. My conscience has never bothered me in that respect. I refused Andreiís offer. He understood.
Since somebody in the family had to work, I volunteered to labor in a big workshop, which employed about 200 women dressmakers, a few tailors and upholsterers. No Jew received any pay for their labor. All the clothes confiscated from the deportees were cleaned and remade into childrenís coats, smocks, etc. Capable professionals did the cutting and others did the sewing.
A student, of course, was not needed anywhere. My cousin Silva, two of her friends and myself pretended that we could sew. The real dressmakers made us feel like intruders, like cheats, but it gave me a "work paper" and a card showing the times when I could walk to and from work. The shop was almost an hourís walk from home. In the winter, I left at 6 a.m. in order to start work at 7. The place was poorly heated and we labored hard for ten hours. Of course, nobody received any pay or food. I worked there for ten months.
The dressmakers looked down at a lowly student, who needed her help when setting in a sleeve. Once, one looked at me and asked with scorn: What are you? Not one of us, a student, a no-good. She felt it below her dignity to accept a student within the "needed" workers in the needle trade. That same woman, Miss Lenz, made a living as a fortune teller, yet she didnít let on about it in the shop. People knew that she was reading palms, tea leaves, cards. Every end of the week, fear spread about deportations on Saturday night to Sunday. We used to work six days. On a particular Saturday rumors persisted about the approaching night. This woman whispered into my ear the question whether tomorrow would be a calamitous day. I looked her straight in the eye and asked: "Are you asking me?" with emphasis on the you. She looked at me and answered: "Aha, you know" meaning that I knew that she was predicting the future, for money, yet she knew about the future as much as anybody else - nothing.
The winter of 1942-43 was the coldest winter of the war. The Germans will never forget that winter either. The defense and siege of Stalingrad and Leningrad are highly documented historic chapters of the war. The fierce winds and diabolically low temperatures plagued all of Eastern Europe. That was the winter of our deepest despair. The people in Transnistria died by the thousands, be it of starvation or frost or sickness. Once in a while Romanian soldiers or civilians came from there and brought news from the desperate Jews. Some Romanians would accept, for remuneration, to bring some clothes, or money or food from relatives in Czernovitz. Some had no relatives left in town. In some villages, they could not find anybody who would take a message to relatives. They succumbed to typhoid fever by the thousands.
The governments that inflicted such inhuman existences and deaths on defenseless people, those same governments inflicted great suffering on their own soldiers by forcing them into a war, a no-win situation, far from home, in frigid weather. All of Russia became a mass graveyard for soldiers on both sides and for tens of thousands of defenseless deportees, whom they sent to their deaths. The intention was to let them expire, without Germany spending money for bullets. Prisoners of war suffered similarly, for Jews and Slavs were considered by them as sub-human "Untermenschen."
The conditions at work were tolerable but the real dressmakers made our life unpleasant, because girls like myself could not fulfill the quota; we could not keep up with the majority. Nevertheless, they did not betray us for our shortcomings. After about 6 months I transferred to the bookkeeping, where three older men, accountants, had chosen three former students to help out. That made the circumstances at work easier.
In the meantime, in order to survive, we sold anything that had any value: a good coat, all the jewelry, a nice woolen dress, some linens, a warm housecoat - anything that could be sold. Since little merchandise was available in the stores, because of the war, Romanians bought whatever they could buy cheaply from desperate Jews. I remember, I had a Japanese long house dress, with a zipper. That was a very exotic-looking dress in Europe. I had worn it at the masked ball on New Yearís eve in 1940-41. Yet during the war years that was sold too, we needed food daily, we needed fire wood for cooking and heating.
Before working in the "Consiliu de Patronaj," where I spend 12 hours daily, I used to tutor Jewish children during those two hours, when one was permitted to leave the house. Parents were afraid that their sons and daughters would miss too many years of education. Thus Erna and Sidi Gottlieb, Mrs. Gottliebís granddaughters, came to acquire some education. All too soon, the two girls took theirs to the grave. Others came once a week for an English lesson. All the remaining hours, I used to knit sweaters or mittens or scarves for Romanians. It was almost impossible to buy woolen winterstuff. The Romanians bought roughly spun wool from the peasants in the villages and had Jewish women like myself knit for them. Although it did not pay well, yet we needed that bit of money desperately. When I came back from work around six, I would eat and sit up till midnight knitting. Sometimes, the wool was so rough, it would cut into the skin and bloody my fingers. That winter, we had no electricity and the knitting was done by the light of an oil lamp.
In 1943 the curfew was partially lifted and Jews could walk in the streets for longer hours. One day I met Yuda in the street and during the conversation I asked him to come to visit. He really came up and visited more and more often. We became quite friendly but he was summoned to a labor camp again. He promised to write. In the meantime, the situation on the Eastern front changed and he never returned to Czernovitz. After the Russians came back, a friend who worked at the post office found in a sack of mail a card from Yuda to me, where he expressed his deep affection for me. About two years later I found out that he was alive, in Palestine.
At the end of 1943, the Romanians became aware that their German protectors were slowly approaching defeat. The siguranta commissar and his wife came to our house and requested me to teach them English. I used to go after work, for an hour, to teach them. They turned out to be intelligent, well-meaning people. His sister was married to a Jew, in the Old Kingdom. (The two original Romanian provinces were: Muntenia with the capital Bucharest and Moldova with the capital Iassy). These two provinces were called the Old Kingdom or Regat. All the other provinces were attached in 1918, after the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Andreescu family had always had dealings with Jews and had few prejudices.
Somehow, the captain, who was the head of the Consiliu de Partonaj, where I was working, found out that I was a foreign language student. One day, when I was called to the main office, to see the captain - my scare knew no bounds. Once there, he asked me to teach him English. As much as I advised him that German would be more helpful, he insisted on English. I taught him just a few times and then, they began to evacuate the enterprise and he was busy with his own problems.
At the beginning of 1944, the fate of the war seemed to be decided. Romanians started to send furniture back to the Regat. High officials, who had enriched themselves by robbing and stealing all Jewish property, wanted to insure and secure their ill achieved gains. Once we saw them panicking, we knew that another upheaval was ahead of us, namely the abandonment of the territory by the Romanians and Germans and the return of the Soviets.
Nobody could foresee whether the Germans would defend the area or abandon it, once the Russians advanced North of us, around Lvov On March 10, 1944, on my 24th birthday, the sigurancta commissar Andreescu and his wife came to congratulate me on my birthday. They brought me a bottle of French chocolate liqueur. It was a matter of weeks before they would run away and the Soviets would return. They offered to take me along to Romania when the time for evacuation came. I thanked them for their thoughtful concern for me but I declined. We were three people and we had nowhere to go in Romania. We embraced and I never saw them again. That bottle of liqueur played its part later on.
The panicky Romanians left and German troops filled the town. They suddenly descended like locusts: masses of gray uniformed men, endless trucks, tanks, cars. We were petrified by what was going to happen. We had made sure to prepare bread, candles, gasoline for the petrol lamps, some food and wait for the convulsion. Again, like almost three yeas before, one power would leave, another take over. Nobody could foresee whether the Germans would hold the line, whether the Russians would bomb, whether an artillery battle would take place - everything was fate.
The Germans gathered to reorganize their units, on the flight Westward, after crossing the river Dniester. They did not resist along the river Prut, but fled. We were again in no-manís-land for a day or two, until the Russians returned. We survived a second time the retreat of the defeated army and the return of the soon to be victors. On April 4, 1944, the town had a red flag atop City Hall instead of the swastika and the Romanian tricolor: blue, yellow, red. At this juncture, the German army was in retreat, but by far not yet defeated. The Russians were advancing but by far not yet victorious.