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Chapter 2

The next few days were very hectic. Many family conferences took place to discuss the new situation and what action to take. In addition to uncle Jacob and aunt Frieda there were the Shapira family (my father's cousin) and their daughters. Jetty, the eldest who lived in Chernovitz was not involved, only Dora and Meshel, her husband (they were recently married), and Mitzi, the prettiest of them all. She was the youngest and still lived with her parents.

This was 1940 and the war in Europe was felt by all of us even though it did not affect us directly, as yet. For the last six months there was a constant stream of refugees going through our region. Often my parents, as well as other members of our community, would invite some refugees to stay with us for several days, simply to rest and recover their strength. These were mostly young families with children my age. The stories they were telling me sounded quite horrible and frightening: The words "war", "refugees", even "travelling" became synonymous in my mind with death, hunger and suffering. So when my father said to me a day or two after that fateful radio broadcast, about the coming of the Russians, "Berti my dear, I have decided that it would be best for us to move to Bucharest," I was not thrilled. In my mind we became refugees travelling to a far away city with all the connotations that those words implied.

My father completed the arrangements very quickly. The management of the business was handed over to uncle Jacob, some gold coins and some dollars, money which my father kept in the house as a precaution, were now buried in the ground for safekeeping. Our immediate relatives were aware of the amount and the location of the hiding place. My father hired a farmer's wagon with a pair of strong horses. We loaded into the wagon some valises with clothes, bedding, utensils, and the driver, my parents and I climbed on top. We said our good-byes to our friends, neighbours and relatives and off we went. This was not the first time that such a decision was taken. In 1938 my father had prepared, following a great deal of effort, money and time, passports for us to emigrate to Canada.

Why Canada? Because many local farmers, mostly Ukrainians, have been emigrating to Canada for several decades. Many of them became successful farmers in the west of Canada. Canada welcomed newcomers who were willing to become farmers in the west. My father was a farmer as well (besides all the other things mentioned before). He cultivated extensive fields of sugar beets, which were bought and processed into sugar by a local mill. He had good relations with the local farmers. His bank extended substantial credit to the farmers who wanted to emigrate. These were mostly poor people who could not make a decent living in Bucovina and were hoping for a better life in the New World. Most of them paid back their debts, either in person when they came to visit their families, or by sending the money through a bank. My father was in touch with many of them for many years and so it was fairly simple to be sponsored by some of those farmers who were by now Canadian citizens. Hence our visas to go to Canada. However, it was not to be. My mother simply could not part with her beautiful house and the furniture which was so lovingly bought and placed in every room, the beautiful rose garden and all the comforts of life. Even though my father was convinced that war in Europe was inevitable and therefore it would be wise and prudent to be out of Europe, mother, who did not see other members of the Jewish community move out of the region, adamantly opposed my father's pleas and so, in the end, he gave in to her. It is very tempting to speculate as to what kind of life I would have had, how much suffering could have been avoided, but I shall not do so. On the other hand, I would not be sitting here by my table writing these words, because my story would not be worth telling.

So now we were traveling on top of the loaded wagon on a pleasant country road, fast approaching the main highway leading into Rumania proper. Already from afar we could see a tremendous amount of activity on the main highway. Many different vehicles, mostly horse driven wagons, were converging at this junction onto the main road. As we approached the junction we realized that it would be a very slow going since the entire surrounding area was congested with traffic. The bulk of the traffic consisted of Rumanian functionaries, gendarmerie, army personnel and other Rumanians who were transferred by decree or voluntarily to Bucovina between 1918 and l 940. These people were anxious to return to their homeland, hence the extraordinary amount of traffic. Many vehicles turned off the road and spilled into the adjacent fields turning them into rest areas. After being stuck for a long while at the approach to the junction, by being more stationary than mobile, my mother went into action: she pleaded with my father to turn around and go back home. The thrust of the argument was: whatever will happen with everybody will happen to us as well and I don't believe that it will be that much worse under the Russians than under the Rumanians. Maybe my father became annoyed with mother's arguments, or maybe convinced by their logic, but I think that travelling as a refugee was just as much hateful to him as it was to me. In any case, sometimes after lunch he ordered the driver to turn around and go back home. We arrived home in the evening and so ended my first big adventure as a wandering refugee.

The next day was particularly exciting for the youngsters of our town. The Russians were coming. The soldiers were marching through the streets singing Russian songs. There were tanks rolling along on their chains, and various military vehicles. It seems that the entire population was lined up along the main street to view this unusual spectacle. The entire column came to a halt and then soldiers were trying to talk to the local citizens. Some people offered the soldiers drinks and food, which they accepted without exhibiting any gratitude. They were also asking (or demanding) to be given watches. The bigger the watch the more they liked it. I was amazed to see that quite a few soldiers had torn boots with their toes clearly showing. There was an officer sitting on a tank who called me over in Yiddish and asked me the usual questions: my name, my age, my grade in school. Before long, he was surrounded by several Jews anxious to find out what would happen to them under the new regime. They hoped to get some instructive information from a fellow Jew. He told them that "everything will be wonderful; since we are all Soviet citizens now, comrade Stalin will take good care of us." There were quite a few citizens, especially among the Jewish population, who welcomed the Russians wholeheartedly. Some were true communists, others had only leftist or socialist leanings, but the majority regarded the newcomers with suspicion and apprehension.

About a year later, when the love affair between Hitler and Stalin came to an abrupt end and Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Bucovina was placed again under Rumanian administration (since Rumania was an ally of Germany). The Rumanians exhibited such horrible cruelty towards the Jewish population that even the Nazis were pleased with the results. Many Jews were murdered; those who remained alive were driven from their homes to Transnistria into concentration camps. Large numbers of Jews perished either during the long marches to the camps or in the camps themselves. Both of my father's brothers (including our beloved uncle Jacob), both of my grandparents, the Shapiras, my mother's brother and many more; too numerous to mention them all. The Rumanians later justified their extraordinary viciousness towards the Jews by claiming that only the Jews welcomed the coming of the Russians. The fact is that the majority of the Jews were very unhappy and very apprehensive about their future.

The Russian column turned the market place into a huge campground. The curiosity of the local population began to wear off as soon as the newcomers started to demonstrate their Soviet style administrative talents.

There were daily announcements of a number of decrees which had to be strictly complied with under the severest penalties. Every citizen had to be registered, many were questioned about the peoples' social and economic status; identity cards were issued, money was exchanged, and long lists of forbidden activities were issued.

Almost immediately everyone was affected, including the children. My father's business, every part of it, was confiscated. Our house, the pride and joy of my mother, was taken over by the state and turned into a bank. They allowed us to move into Dr. Bader's apartment, without taking with us any furniture, just our clothes. Dr. Bader fled Zastavna before the Russians came, to Rumania. It was easy to do so for a bachelor with few material possessions. Hebrew schools were strictly forbidden. My parents, and many other Jewish parents as well, could not accept such a decree. The spiritual survival was as crucial as the physical one. So it was not surprising that numerous Cheders, home made schools sprung up in the Jewish community. I attended such a Cheder clandestinely, every evening for two hours. It was my first act of defiance against the Soviet regime.

My parents were constantly on the run, arranging our new living quarters, buying food on the black market (the free market place was a thing of the past); standing in endless lineups to receive their identity cards. Our family's status as a respected and valued member of the community was overturned instantaneously. Officially we were addressed as "Bourgeois (pronounced Boor-Jooy) the exploiters and enemies of the people". The officials saw it as their duty to make our lives as miserable as possible. My father, who by nature was a "survivor", a courageous fighter all his life, was one of the first people to learn that in order to survive one has to defy as many rules of the new regime as possible while appearing to be a model citizen. His background, as a self-made, very successful businessman, was very helpful. At the age of thirteen he started his first business, selling eggs in Chernovitz, which he bought on credit from the farmers in Kisilev. That was in 1920 and he never looked back. He was an excellent judge of character, knew how to get along with people, and was well liked by his associates. Above all, he was very honest in his business dealings. Everyone knew that Shiku Sharf could be trusted one hundred percent.

My father worked very hard to create that kind of reputation and sometimes at great financial cost to himself However, the present situation was very different from anything he had encountered before. There were many obstacles to overcome. In addition to all the difficulties, my father became quite ill. He developed an infection on his neck. There were no antibiotics in those days. Although Dr. Sommer took care of him devotedly, his temperature went up and his condition worsened. Despite his poor health, he never stopped his struggle to improve our lives.

Exactly three weeks after the Russians took over Bucovina, another disaster hit our family, like a bolt of lightning. I distinctly remember going to bed in our new apartment (the Bader apartment, as we called it) that evening and waking up the next morning in Aunt Frieda's house. I was quite confused, to say the least, and very scared. Even though Aunt Frieda did her best to comfort me, she simply couldn't (or wouldn't) give me a reasonable explanation for my mysterious nocturnal movements. I did not stop pestering her until she finally agreed to take me back home. When we finally arrived at our apartment, I was met by the following scene: my mother was sitting on the bed holding a large handkerchief in her hands, her eyes red from crying. Many of our relatives were present in the room. It was very quiet except for the occasional sobbing of my mother. Then she beckoned for me to come to her, put her arms around me, held me tight and whispered in my ear: "They took him away, in the middle of the night, like robbers. They arrested your father." Then she dried her eyes, looked directly at me and added: "You are now the man of the house, we have to be brave and strong and fight to bring you father back home."

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