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Helen Rodak-Izso

The Last Chance to Remember



Chapter 24. DEPARTURE

The railway station was totally empty, nothing moved and there was nobody who could provide us with some information. The only thing we found out was that the first train which would leave this station, would have to go east. We also noticed that the Russians were pulling out the railroad tracks and all these with other ""fortunes" were supposed to go to Russia. Anything what was worthwhile to take with them was collected and prepared for the long journey.

Many, many local people were waiting there so we joined them and started our waiting, which lasted about three days and nights. The place was full of homeless people and there was no other way but to wait, which was not easy! We stayed on the sidewalk or on the benches inside in the waiting room. This was difficult, not only because of the cemented floor, but mainly because of the Russian soldiers who were constantly after us. What else would they want than to bother women? Once an officer came, walking around with his assistant, looking around, then suddenly pointed in our direction, straight at me. He gave his instructions to his man and I became thoroughly alarmed. In seconds I had a chance to disappear under one of our friends, a mother (Sinai Lenke) who managed to grab a huge coat and covered both of us. Nobody, but nobody, would drag me out of there! This is how it went all the way on our journey.

Watches were also on their list for collection, they wanted as many as possible. Some of them had already four or five on their arm. Watch = casy (time), in Russian.

Finally the first train arrived and the Russian soldiers started to collect their prepared loot. Everything was placed on the flatbed wagon, including the tracks and we were sitting on top of them. On the totally open car we were just holding on to each other, with our legs dangling. The confusion and excitement is difficult to describe because too many people were waiting and trying to get on.

Clara, my sister and I stayed close together and constantly watched each other. We had to change trains a few times, each time trying to hide from the soldiers. Finally we arrived at Cestochova but because of an epidemic in town, nobody was allowed to leave the train. Here we had a very pleasant surprise; we were put into a passenger train. We were sitting like human beings, even at the window.

After a few days we arrived in Katowice. We didn't stop there, just went on with our journey until we reached Cracow = Krakov. Here we left the station and went straight to the Red Cross building where we hoped to get some help.

Instead we were bitterly surprised. It was a bitter disappointment to realize that even after the liberation our long period of trying times was not ended. Everybody was trying to find some place to stretch out and rest their tired bodies. I found a place on the table, which was fine. But at midnight, at 12 o'clock, they threw us out. At midnight, into the darkness, because we were Jewish refugees. So there was no place for us. We didn't hide at all who we are or where we came from and nobody inquired, but their solution was simple and quick.

There was no other place to go in the middle of the night than the railway station. We thought since this was a busy place it must be somewhat safe. There we lay down on the asphalt, on the sidewalk and fell asleep.

Very early next day a policeman woke us. He said this was not a safe place for us and mentioned that there was a Jewish Council Office already open. We got up and discovered bitterly that while we were sound asleep, someone had stolen our meager belongings. Whatever we collected on our journey and had been able to carry, was gone. Olly had some books but our biggest treasure and precious souvenir which we had cherished as a talisman through the whole year, a piece from our dear mother's scarf, was gone. It had to be lost on the last leg of our tour. It was very hard to realize and was a sad discovery and a deep blow to us.

Before we left Muritz, we received some identification papers so we could travel free; this was renewed at every bigger stopover station. The Jewish Council office was already milling with refugees and they really tried to help in every way. Long tables stood down the length of the room and there was food enough. Here we found people who were in the same boat as us so we could talk and share with each other our experiences and about our tragedy. We understood each others feelings. We were not strangers just terribly wounded souls. The questions were always the same. Everybody tried to inquire after lost family members.

There was nothing else for us to do but wait. We decided to go out and look around in the city. Cracow is a very old and beautiful town with ancient civic buildings, churches. Suddenly something pulled us like a magnet. We couldn't believe our eyes! There was a military truck with soldiers from our country and our flag, our colors! The Czechoslovak colors on a military truck just sped by. We followed them and when they stopped we approached the driver and talked in our language with them. What excitement! They were all from our country.

We talked to the driver and all the others came around to listen too. We tried to tell them in a few words about our predicament, maybe they could take us along? They regretted very much that they were not returning yet. After some thinking and discussion among themselves, they must have come to some agreement, because they asked for some papers, that we proudly showed to them.

They seemed to be understanding and trusting and offered to take us at least to the border. This was more than we could hope for and we thanked them profoundly. We explained to them where we were housed and could be found, not believing that their promises were serious. After this experience we went back to the building and told everyone who was interested about our story.

We had hardly got back, when we were called to the front door. To our sincere surprise and astonishment the truck was standing there waiting with the soldiers. Suddenly everybody knew that this truck had come for us. We could hardly believe that they had kept their word.

But there it was, our limousine, our wonder car, waiting for us! It is very hard to describe the celebration because we were the very first lucky ones to be picked up, to be helped to go home. The group which we left behind looked at us with mixed feelings. The air was full of emotion and also fear of reality. We said good-by to everybody and boarded our beautiful car.

We took our seat at the back again and were trying to think and hope against hope. The road was beautiful. It was a sunny day and we were travelling towards home on the country road, which is bordered with fruit trees. This time we were overjoyed to see them in full bloom.

Nearing the border, they let us go and we walked the rest of the way to the station. After a short walk we came close to the border: Cesky Tesin, the Polish-Czechoslovak border. As we were nearing, some local people approached us. They were waiting for people like us. These Czech village people received us with humanity. They were holding a huge, homemade bread; we were reduced to tears, deeply touched, we were simply wordless. No words would come out of our mouths; we just looked at each other. It looked as though our dream had become real. They had also tears in their eyes as they escorted us to the gate which led us to the station, where we found ourselves on our side. We suddenly spotted the city! One cannot forget such a simple yet human, heartfelt welcome.

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