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Chapter 4: Liberated


I left Pavlo's mother-in-law's house and returned to the hospital, again reopened. This time the hospital was supplied to a certain extent by the Russians with bandages, cotton, disinfectants, and pain killers like aspirin. This, because among the people that came to the hospital to seek treatment, aside from the few surviving Jews that came out of the forest, were also a number of Russian soldiers who were wounded during the battle for the city of Borschow and the surrounding areas. I stayed at the hospital for about 2 weeks and was placed in a room with 12 beds. During my stay there I was treated for the wounds on my legs that I got when walking on that fateful Saturday night, as well as for the gangrene on the tip of my toes. Whereas the wounds got better, the situation with my toes remained unchanged. The tips of my toes were black and for all intents and purposes, dead.

Next to the bed where I was placed, was a young Russian army lieutenant and we started to talk to each other and became quite friendly. We talked about different subjects, I told him my story and he told me his, of the different battles he took part in. Finally, when he was wounded during the battle for Borschow, he was placed in the hospital for treatment by his unit. One day he told me that he is going to leave the next day because his wounds were healed sufficiently for him to be able to rejoin his unit. When I asked him where he was going, he told me that he is going to Czernowitz, where his unit was stationed at the moment. This was big news for me, because I was trying to communicate with some people in Czernowitz. I asked him if he would be kind enough to deliver for me a letter to somebody in Czernowitz. He said he would. At the time there was no mail service available and no telephone. I wrote a letter that I gave to him and as an address I gave him the one of my girlfriend. Her name was Lia Grunberg and I was hoping that she was still there, where I left her three years earlier. She also was a cousin of Jacques's and knew that Jacques and myself left together to run away with the Russians when the war started ion 1941. I gave him the letter and he left. It turned out that he could not find the people - the Grunberg family - at the address I had written on the letter. He was placed by his unit in a room with another family, that happened to have a daughter of Lia's age. He asked her if she knew the people to whom the letter was addressed. As fate would have it, the girl happened to know Lia personally and where she and her parents live. He went to the new address and gave them my letter. When the Grunbergs received my letter, they realized that something must have happened to Jacques, because they knew that we were together. From the letter they found out exactly where I was. Borschow is not very far from Czernowitz in today's terms, only about 100 km, but in those days it may as well have been 100,000 km. It was so difficult to get from one place to another, as there were no buses, no trains. The only way to get around was by bribing the driver of an army truck and then he would usually take you up to the point where he was travelling and not necessarily where you wanted to go. So the Grunbergs in Czernowitz knew where I was.

At the same time something happened in Moghilev-Podolsk, Transnistria, where my parents had been deported and spent the last three years. The Russians, after liberating that city, decreed that all men up to the age of 55 had to register to be drafted into the army, to be trained briefly and sent off to the front line. Most of the survivors of that concentration camp, including my father, who was at that time only 52 years old, left Moghilev-Podolsk in a hurry and by walking and partly hitchhiking, he arrived in Czernowitz two days after my letter arrived at the Grunbergs from Borschow. Since Mr. Grunberg, Lia's father and my father were friends from way back, both being from Seletin, my father went straight to the Grunbergs upon arrival, found my letter there and so found out where I was.

He did not waste much time, found out where Borschow is (he had never heard of Borschow before) and set out to get there. He did not have any money or anything of value except for a pocket watch, a "Doxa" from before the war. He went into town the next morning and exchanged the watch for three bottles of vodka. He asked where the road to Borschow was, walked to that road and stayed there until he saw an army truck approaching. He held up a bottle of vodka and sure enough, the driver stopped. He took him in, asked him where he is going and when my father told him Borschow, he said that he is not going that far, only half way to Zalescziky. My father said to take him there. After he arrived in Zalescziky, he crossed a pontoon bridge over the Dniester River, made out of boats covered with a platform to the other side. He repeated the trick with another bottle of vodka and eventually arrived in Borschow.

He found his way to the hospital and when he arrived there, he saw a truck parked across the street. He approached the driver, asked him where he is going and when the driver said Zalescziky, but only the next morning, he told him his story and the driver agreed to take us along. Only after that did he enter the hospital and open the door to the room where I was lying. As I was lying in bed, I saw a man open the door and immediately recognized my father. I screamed "Tata", he looked at me and at first didn't recognize me, I only weighed about 75 lb., but when I screamed again "Tata", he finally recognized me and came to me and we embraced. It was more than three years since we had heard from each other and four years since we had seen each other and what years these were.

He said to me: now we are going back to Czernowitz. I put on the battered clothes that I had and he wrapped my feet in rags. He tied them up and we walked out of the hospital across the street to the truck. He helped me to climb aboard the truck, then he did, and we slept that night on top of the truck for fear of loosing the chance to get to Zalescziky. The next morning the driver came and when he saw me, he was convinced that my father's story was true and we drove off and arrived in Zalescziky.

It was May 1944. We crossed the pontoon bridge on foot and when we arrived on the other side, there was no truck in sight heading towards Czernowitz. We started to walk, but actually it wasn't a walk, as my father carried me for about 2 km. and when a truck appeared, we flagged him down and he stopped and took us along to Czernowitz. When we arrived at the Prut river, we had to leave the truck as it was not going any further and from then on we crossed the bridge and walked into the city.

Walking into the city, up the hill towards the center, I saw stores selling pastries, something which I hadn't seen for many years. I was so amazed at this sight, that I couldn't collect myself. We arrived at the house where the Grunbergs lived. One day later my mother arrived from Moghilev-Podolsk with a group of others. She had no idea that my father found me, as there was no way to communicate. The reunion was very emotional. My father found a small apartment, quite comfortable, with a small courtyard and so we settled in Czernowitz for the time being. He also found a job working for a Russian company. In the meantime we lived on what my mother brought from Moghilev-Podolsk and that was 3 kg of tobacco leaves, something that was in very short supply in Czernowitz. For a few tobacco leaves you could obtain food at the market and we had plenty of bacon, eggs, bread, etc. I started to eat properly and my wounds started to heal. We also found a surgeon, a Doctor Roth, who came to the house daily to provide treatment for my feet. Eventually he cut the dead portions of the tips of my toes and treated me with soakings and disinfectants. I could not put on shoes and had to have my feet wrapped in pieces of material. My father had a pair of sandals made for me, very big ones, so that my wrapped feet would fit into them.

During my convalescent period many visitors came to see me, people from Seletin and Radauti who survived and also some family members.

One visit stands out in my memory. It was the visit of Berl Neuman, the man I mentioned in the beginning, about when he was drafted into the Red Army at the start of the war to be a truck driver. But not far from Czernowitz, they were overrun by the Germans and he was taken prisoner. At the interrogation he stated that he was a Volksdeutscher (a German born outside Germany) and somehow they believed him. He was tall, had blonde-reddish hair, blue eyes, spoke German and according to his appearance he could have passed for a pure Aryan German. He was taken to a training camp for a while, given a German uniform and became a truck driver for the German army. He advanced with the army deep into Russia and eventually ended up in the Stalingrad area, where a big part of the German army was surrounded. But he managed to get out of the encirclement with a truckload of German soldiers and rejoin the retreating army, before the capitulation of the entrapped German sixth Army under general Von Paulus. For this he received a German decoration. When the retreating German army was not far from Czernowitz, he deserted, abandoned his uniform, changed to civilian clothes and came to Czernowitz. I found the story unbelievable, that a Jew could survive being part of the German army, but he showed me photographs of himself and others in German uniform and of the truck that he was driving, that were very convincing. I think that, for now, he is alive somewhere in Israel.

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