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There was one event that had an everlasting effect upon me, and since it occurred when I was only nine years old, it had a very powerful and pervasive influence on every phase of my life's journey.

School was out. My best friend, Dickie, who attended the same schools as I did, invited me to his house to spend the afternoon together. This was indeed a treat, not because of the invitation itself; but because we had free time to play. We attended Hebrew school from 9 to 12 every morning, except on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. Every afternoon between 1 and 6 we attended public school, except for Sundays and Christian holidays. With homework and some chores, yes, we were quite busy and the summer vacation was a most welcome season.

In our games, we liked to imitate our fathers' businesses. They were exporters of grains and seeds. My father had other businesses as well: construction materials like stones, sand, lime. He also had a partnership in a small bank. We lived in the center of a small town called Zastavna, which had a substantial Jewish population. This last fact was very important because it enabled us to develop a strong Jewish communal life with its autonomous institutions: Jewish schools, from the ultra orthodox to the liberal (I attended the latter). Synagogues, burial societies, charitable organizations and, of course, the Zionist movements of various political persuasions (my father was a loyal supporter of the liberals).

Our house bordered on a large empty field, which served as a market place. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it was bustling with a multitude of activities. Farmers from the surrounding villages would come with their horse-drawn wagons, loaded with produce to sell to the town population. The merchants, mostly Jews, would set up their stalls and the farmers who managed to sell their goods would become eager customers. The market place was also a center of entertainment, frequented by traveling circuses, by gypsy tribes, who were among other things skilled musicians, dancers, fortune tellers and metal workers. My mother issued strict warnings twice a week, which could be summed up in two words: don't go! The circus came only twice every summer and it was impossible to resist. Somehow, accompanied by an adult, we children managed to attend most performances. The gypsies were there every week and, from time to time, we managed to leave Hebrew school an hour earlier by inventing some very "plausible" excuses which were invariably accepted by our understanding, good-natured Hebrew teacher.

Next to our large house there was a beautiful rose garden. In one corner of the garden grew a huge ancient pear tree. The tree was surrounded by fixed benches, which served the adults as a place to relax and enjoy the sight and smell of the blooming roses. For the children it was a delightful playground. I was really the only child, my parents never decided to have any additional children, which aggravated me to no end. However, I did have friends who often joined me in my games, especially during the summer months.

Parallel to our house, on a large lot, my father erected several structures. There was a summer kitchen and a laundry, to eliminate the clouds of steam and the cooking odours from the main dwelling. Next to it there was a stable, where one or two beautiful horses were kept. In the mid-1930s, life in Zastavna was quite simple, motorcars were still a rarity and transportation by horse and wagon was the rule, hence the need for horses to travel to the quarries to inspect the work done there, to visit the farmers in the villages in order to buy grains, seeds and beans, to go to Chernovitz, the capital of northern Bucovina, a province which presently belonged to Rumania. This means of transportation was also used to visit my grandparents. My mother's parents lived in a little town called Viznitsa, the place of my birth (my mother insisted that she give birth in her parents' home). My father's parents lived in the village of Kisilev.

Life in our Zastavna home was simple, there was no running water in the house, but the air was clean and sweet and so was the water which was drawn from a well in the yard. Electricity was finally installed in 1936, but only in the more affluent households, such as ours. The largest and most important building erected on a parallel lot to the main residence, the pride of my father's achievement, was the warehouse. A two floor, solid brick structure, the upper floor was divided into many compartments, containing a large variety of grains, like wheat, barley, oats, and rye. Many seeds like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and many different kinds of beans and nuts. Each compartment had an outlet, or chute, descending to the first floor for shipping purposes. The first floor was where all incoming and outgoing goods were temporarily stored. There were two huge scales, one on which a completely loaded wagon, including the horses hitched to it, could be weighed and then weighed again after it was unloaded.

In the center of this floor there was a large office, the upper part of the office's walls were made entirely of glass, so that the manager and the accountant were able to see at a glance all the goings on in the warehouse. This warehouse often served as a playground for me. It was fun to jump into a bin of wheat and let myself sink into the mass of grain. It was fun to eat the sunflower and pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds and soya beans, walnuts and other nuts. And when I became older, I was allowed into the office to "help" calculate the weights and the money to be paid to the farmers.

So now, let us return to this lovely afternoon at Dickie's backyard, where we were all set to play "warehouse", an imitation of our fathers' businesses. We collected many cardboard boxes of different sizes. They became the storage bins for the various grains; with some imagination and work they turned into wagons with horses and railway cars where eventually all the goods ended up on their way to be exported to far away lands. We were quite absorbed in our "work", making deals with the farmers who had to be addressed in their language, Ukrainian. Our mother tongue was German. Since up to 1918 Bucovina was part of the Austro Hungarian Empire, the strong Viennese cultural influence persisted, especially among the affluent segment of the Jewish population. In any case our ears had to be attuned to many languages. Hebrew and Rumanian in school, Yiddish, which my father used in his business dealings with other Jews, as well as in his conversations with relatives and friends, Ukrainian, with the farmers, the workers and the servants in the house. German was the language I used when communicating with my parents and friends. So that in our games, that afternoon, we used some of the other languages: Ukrainian - to the farmers, Rumanian - to the railway station master, Yiddish - to some other Jewish merchants and German - to the buyers, who were mostly from Germany, and of course, to each other.

In the evening, Dickie's mother invited us into the house for supper. When we finished our desserts, she said to me casually: "I assume, Berti, (that was an abbreviation of my full name - Norbert), that your mother knows where you are and that you'll be coming home late?"

"Oh yes, she knows where I am, but I am not sure when I am supposed to be home."

"Well then," said Mrs. Zwecker, "we better not cause her any unnecessary worry."

With this decisive admonition, I said my good-byes and was on my way.

Although Dickie lived at the other end of town, it was not more than a twenty minute walk, along the same main street where I lived. After walking for about five minutes, I began to feel quite uneasy, almost bordering on fear. The darkness did not bother me, there was no one following me, it was a pleasant calm evening. What was causing my anxiety? Then it struck me: the street was completely deserted. True, our town was not particularly famous for it's night life, but there were always some people going about their business. It was as though the entire population was expecting some kind of disaster and locked themselves indoors. Yes, I remember, last year we had to lock ourselves inside the house a few times, in the afternoon and in the evenings. The "Iron Guard" organized several demonstrations which usually resulted in direct attacks on Jewish homes and businesses. There was some loss of life and property and some injuries. My friend Zigi told me what happened to their small bakery which was located on the other side of the market place, right across from our warehouse. They broke the windows and destroyed everything inside. Zigi's family was lucky to escape with their lives. (It was 1940 and anti-Semitism was on the rise).

These thoughts went through my mind with lightning speed, magnified my fear, and turned my walk into a run. I arrived home in less than a quarter hour and breathed a sigh of relief I ran up the stairs leading onto the verandah, which practically surrounded the house on all sides except the front. From there I entered the kitchen. Our housekeeper, Maria, was not there. I went into my room, then into the living room, no one came to check on me. The fear, which had subsided upon entering the house returned with a paralyzing force. I stood there in the semi-darkness, leaning against the tiled stove, immobilized for a while. Slowly my senses began to function normally, although my anxiety was still there. Then, I heard voices coming for the direction of my parents' bedroom. When I opened the bedroom door, all the people in the room turned their faces towards me and they all expressed a deep concern. There was Doctor Sommer, our family physician, who lived across the street from us. The Sornmers were childless, and they loved children. They always treated me like a prince and I often enjoyed listening to Mrs. Sommer play the piano. There was Doctor Bader, our lawyer, a bachelor who lived in a wing of our house. It had a separate entrance and consisted of a bedroom, living room and kitchen.

Mr. Diver, the owner of a large hardware store and a friend of my father, was there, as was Dr. Shif, a dentist, who lived next door and whose daughter Lucy was often my playmate.

Uncle Jacob was there too, my father's favorite brother. My father helped him build up a similar business to his in Zastavna.

My aunt Frieda, a widow, the wife of my mother's brother David, who passed away a few years ago due to a severe case of pneumonia. My parents, of course, were there too. The people were sitting on my parents' double bed, on the sofa at the foot of the bed and on some chairs. The center of their attention was a powerful radio receiver, which was broadcasting some news that commanded their undivided attention and resulted in a worrisome expression on their faces. There were some other people there, some friends from the Zionist movement whose names I did not know, but whom I saw previously on other occasions. All of them tried to put on a more cheerful expression, for my benefit, but it was a lost effort. My mother came over, took my hand and led me to my bedroom. She busied herself with the bedtime routine and tried to behave in the usual manner, but I could feel that she was nervous and more abrupt in her answers to my numerous questions. "Our neighbors," she said, "know that we have a good radio and they wanted to hear some important news, about things that are happening in the world." She finally kissed me good night and returned hurriedly to the master bedroom. I remained lying in bed, but I was very restless.

Not long after, I was on my way back to my parents' bedroom. As soon as I opened the door, my father came over, took my hand and led me to my room. "Berti," he said, "you are nine years old, so you are old enough to know exactly what is happening. There is an agreement between Russia and Rumania. (One of the consequences of the infamous Stalin-Hitler pact.) So in a few days we will be a different country. You will have to learn Russian in school instead of Rumanian. Who knows, it may be safer of us Jews, we will not have to worry about the Iron Guard anymore." He told me some words in Russian, which were similar to Ukrainian words. His calm voice, slowly restored my sense of security. He told me some stories about his encounters with the Russians during the First World War. When I finally fell asleep, he returned to his guests.

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