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Chapter 10

The end of 1944 and the beginning of 1945 was a time of profound changes. I was aware by listening to the public address system, that Bocovina was liberated from Nazi occupation and I hoped that my relatives (at least some of them) were well and able to correspond with me. And so, I wrote letters to several relatives (I was not certain that I remembered the addresses correctly). Lo and behold, to my great surprise and delight, I received a reply from Dora Teitler. Eventually I found out that it was not due to my correspondence, my letters were incorrectly addressed. It was due to my mother's letter to Dora, in which she indicated my address as well. The biggest surprise, however, was a letter from my father. I heard nothing from my father since 1941, about three and a half years. My father had exactly the same idea as my mother and as I did, at exactly the same time, when we heard about the liberation of Bucovina. Even though we were separated by huge distances, and had no communication with my father, all of us had the same idea at the same time: write to Dora Teitler. So it was Dora, who wrote a letter to all of us making us aware of each other's addresses.

I opened up my father's letter with trembling hands and read it with difficulty, mainly because I was too excited, too overjoyed and my eyes were clouded by tears. I consequently reread the letter many times (I almost knew it by heart). It was brief and to the point: he was well, in good health, he hoped to help me soon by sending me some money. He hoped to be reunited with us in the near future. He urged me to write to him as often as possible. From the return address of my father's letter which was the city of Magadan, I knew that he was incarcerated in one of the most notorious labour camps of the Gulag, namely the camps of Colima, near the sea of Ochotsk. Not many prisoners managed to get out alive from that hell on earth. On the other hand, the letter sounded quite optimistic, hopeful of a family reunion and puzzling too. How on earth would my father be able to send me money. Where would he get the money? How would he send it? He would get permission to leave the camp, travel to the nearest post office and mail it from there? These fantasies were too preposterous to be even considered. I simply explained the whole thing as a statement of proof of his well being, and as a sign of encouragement for me. I decided to concentrate on Dora and sent her a letter pleading for some financial help, which I desperately needed immediately. I did not want to explain the real reason for the money, which was part of my plan to travel to Tomsk, that would be too dangerous.

So I stated in my letter that I urgently need some felt boots. In January of 1945 I received some money the value of which was about l00 dollars. The most difficult part of my plan, to have some money was now solved. I broke it down into ten parts and hid each part in my boots, in my hat, coat, shirt and pants. It was important, that when I travelled, people should not be aware that I have more than just a few rubles on me, so that I should not become a target for robbery, a very common occurrence in Russia. At the same time, I carefully gathered slices of bread which I earned by doing extra chores, dried them on the stove and then stored them in an old potato sack and hid the sack in the attic by hanging in up on the rafters. My transportation problem was solved by Mr. Taub, my friend, who promised to give me a ride in his truck sometimes at the beginning of April, that was when I planned to go. My mother was to be freed from prison in the second half of May, a birthday present for me. (My birthday is on May 18). I made sure that my clothes were in good repair and warm enough, because April was still winter time, although not so cold any more.

My next project was to convince Igor, by presenting my official story, that I really must go to Tomsk. Igor invited me to his home, so that I should be able to tell his mother my story and plead with her to help me get a pass that will allow me to travel to Tomsk. I told her that I had not seen my father since the beginning of the war, that he was wounded in battle and is now on leave in Tomsk recovering from his wounds, and since I did not hear anything from my mother, I assumed that my father was the only one alive and so it was very important for me to join him. Sometimes in mid-March, Igor's mother presented me with the coveted pass. Of course, it was really her husband's doing. I was happy and ready to go, but I waited until April, as planned.

I wrote my mother that I will come to visit her in prison, before her release, so she knew that I would somehow end up in Tomsk, but she had no idea of how I was going to do it. Mr. Taub told me that he was planning a trip to Tomsk for the second week of April. I was very excited and happy that everything worked out so well according to my plan. I said my good-byes to Igor and to Dickie. Dickie was quite upset, even though she was involved in the preparations and in the planning all the

way and knew exactly how important it was for me. I checked my supply of bread, which was calculated to sustain me for at least two weeks, the money properly distributed into various hiding places, my mother's diamond gold ring sewn into the lining of my old, well-worn coat, and my all important pass which I kept in the pocket of my shirt.

I met Mr. Taub on the road outside of Bakhchar, so that no one would see me leave the village. I carried on my back a regular potato sack, about half full. I had no other baggage, I had only one set of clothes which I was wearing, so I was a perfectly normal sight, there was absolutely nothing suspicious about me. Traveling by truck in Siberia was a pretty strenuous affair. The chauffeur had to provide enough cubes of wood, which was the commonly used fuel in those days. He had to stop quite often in order to feed his furnace which was located behind his cabin on top of the loading platform. He had to replenish his supply of wood in every kolkhoz, which was about every twenty to twenty five kilometers. He had to be lucky not to have a breakdown during the trip. Mr. Taub, who was a professional mechanic, made sure to maintain his vehicle before setting out on a trip. There was also the unexpected, the element beyond human control, the weather. Unfortunately, strong winds were blowing and the skies were covered by massive, threatening black clouds, by noon it began to snow and within a short while we had a complete white-out, visibility was zero. The roads were very "natural". The hardened ground, from traveling by wagon during the summer, was now covered with snow and hardened with time, by numerous days' traveling between the villages. When a major snow storm struck the area, traveling became impossible by any means.

Fortunately, we were right in the midst of a village, and Mr. Taub quickly turned off the road and stopped in front of the village inn. This very useful institution was available in every village on the way to Tomsk and was open for people who travelled on government business. It consisted of a large room with several beds with straw mattresses, some blankets, and the ever present stove. Payment was made with vouchers which entitled the traveler to a bed and one hot meal. It was not unusual to receive such services by people who did not have vouchers, but had money. In any case, tonight I was Mr. Taub's guest and he made sure that I had a bed and a hot meal. Mr. Taub, who was an experienced traveler on this route, came prepared for all kinds of eventualities. Unfortunately, he would be stuck there longer than I could afford. Not only did he have to wait for the storm to pass, but also for the road to harden, probably at least a week. He therefore made arrangements with a farmer who would leave as soon as the snow storm stopped, to take me along in his sleigh.

This took place some twenty four hours later. The first day, with Mr. Taub, I covered some fifty km. The next day, fifteen km. For the next three days we covered 25 km per day. In five days I covered 140 km. It was hard going after the snow storm. Every night we stopped at the farrners' inn. I was not a welcomed guest, even though Mr. Taub provided the farmer with some "incentive" to look after me. Often there were no beds, but I was not refused shelter. I was allowed to sleep on the floor behind the stove, which was quite warm. I was always very tired because during the day I had to do a lot of walking, so as to keep warm. When I was too tired I jumped onto the sleigh and rode until I became too cold. If the innkeeper had some extra food he would give me a hot meal (usually potato and cabbage soup). Sometimes I would have to "buy" the meal, but mostly my "story" made a favourable impression, so that the guests and the innkeeper would share the meal with me. The farmer with whom I travailed for the last four days had reached his destination and I had to find another farmer going my way.

That caused about a two day delay and so on the eighth day since I left Bahkchar I was ready to resume my trip. Although my supply of dry bread was good for another week and I had only used up less than half of my funds, I began to feel the effects of my trip. The daily physical exertion, the poor diet, lack of hygiene, the infestation of lice, the constant itchiness which forced me to scratch my skin, all these things made me realize that I must get to Tomsk as quickly as possible. Fortunately the weather became noticeably warmer and I could spend much more time riding on the sleigh, which was a big help.

We reached Tomsk about four and a half days later, with the usual stops in the farmers' inns. By now I had very little money left (maybe for a day's food) and I was standing in the middle of a large city with an almost empty potato sack on my back, completely lost and bewildered. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and I prayed silently to G-d to help me. Then I asked a passerby to direct me to the farmers' inn. When I arrived at the inn, in late afternoon, I was almost completely exhausted. My skin was not only itchy, but also painful. I went into the outhouse and checked my skin by lifting the layers of clothes that I was wearing, and noticed that I had numerous boils on every party of my body. I removed the diamond ring from its hiding place in the lining and went back into the inn. The innkeeper happened to be Jewish. I heard her say a few words in Yiddish to another person. That discovery had an immediate positive effect on my mood. I approached her and asked her in my broken Yiddish if we can talk privately. She beckoned me to follow her into her room. I told her my "story". I was waiting for my father to come. It could be in a few days, it could be in a few weeks. I needed a place to stay and one good meal per day. I had no money, but I had this, and I showed her the ring. I could see that her eyes lit up, she was definitely interested. I also told her that during my trip I had developed this skin problem and I needed to go to the hospital for treatment. She accepted my offer and agreed to let me stay in the inn, but not more than for one month. r knew that my mother has to be free in three to four weeks, so that suited me fine. She checked my skin condition and told me to go to the hospital right away. "They will probably keep you there," she said, "for a few days. When you are well come back, you have a full month from the day you come back." I felt a lot better already. I followed her instructions and went directly to the hospital.

I arrived there just before closing time. The doctor on duty decided to admit me into the ward of infectious diseases immediately. My clothes were removed for disinfecting, I was washed with a disinfectant too, my skin was treated with a cream that smelled like rotten eggs, and I was issued a hospital shirt and robe. Then I was shown to my bed. Supper was brought in, not much food, and I remained just as hungry after eating my supper. I stayed in the hospital exactly one week.

Twice a day, my skin was treated with the cream and I could see daily that the condition of my skin was improving. However, I felt weak, I lost a considerable amount of weight during my trip and I certainly did not gain any weight on my hospital diet. The other patients were just as hungry as I was. One of them suggested that they collect enough money to buy a loaf of bread in the market place, which was not too far from the hospital, and that I should be entrusted with the job, in return for which I would be rewarded with two slices of bread. One of the patients had a pair of boots, which he stuffed with newspapers so as to make them usable for me. They collect three additional robes for me. The weather was getting warmer, it was the end of April, the snow melting everywhere. It was a beautiful sunny day when I stole out of the hospital to satisfy somewhat my constantly nagging hunger. I must have made quite a sight, wearing, four white hospital robes and a pair of boots that were twice my size. I am sure that some people looked at me as though I escaped from an insane asylum. I went about my business as quickly as possible and everyone was happy to see me back with the loaf of bread. The three partners kept their words and I received my share of two slices, in addition to a lot of back slapping and a generous amount of praise for a job well done.

Many patients in my ward were infected with venereal diseases and the doctors considered education as important as medical treatment. There were daily lectures on prevention and transmission of various venereal diseases, how to recognize the various symptoms, what kind of treatment was available (there was no penicillin yet), what happened to the patient if he or she neglected to treat the disease. I must say that it was quite an education and it was very useful to know. I was glad, just the same, when I was discharged and walked out of there rested, free of skin problems and lice, and felt good knowing that I had a secure place to stay with some guaranteed food. I was also very hopeful that I would be reunited with my mother.

In my last letter to Dora from Bahkchar I asked her to send me some more money addressed to the main post office in the city of Tomsk. I was now on my way to the post office hoping that in the four weeks since my letter to Dora, there would have been enough time for the money to arrive. So it was. After showing the clerk my identification, I was handed over some 50 rubles.

The lady innkeeper welcomed me back. She prepared for me a meal of cabbage soup with fish, cooked potatoes and bread. For the first time in a very long while I got up from the table completely satisfied. I felt proud of myself. At the age of fourteen I took the first step towards regaining my freedom and I won.


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