Concordia University MIGS

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Part 7

And now, finally, we would be the chosen ones to accomplish this great dream. We were prepared for the possibility that we would have to join the fighting forces of Israel. Enough of our wandering and enough of the sufferings, keep your head high because, Israel here we come! As we sat at the lectures, we were thinking about the difficulties we were facing to reach Israel. England was opposed to Jewish Immigration into Israel. Boatloads of Jews are taken to Cyprus and put into concentration camps under very poor conditions. Our minds started to wander. Did we not have our share of suffering already? Could we afford new pains? Jack and I were very popular in the Kibbutz. We practically dominated the Saturday services as Balei Tefilahs. Our voices had improved very much since our participation in the choir. We were finally feeling that we belonged. We were only 17 years old and already they were talking to us about marriage. There was a number of girls that we liked, but marriage was way out in left field for us.

Sister Heddy and Arthur were residing in Stuttgart. They left Liberec, Czechoslovakia soon after I left. They also were disappointed in the Czech Government. Communism was very rampant in Czechoslovakia. The Russians are our only true friends.

The Western world had let them down in 1938 Munich Putsch. Russia was the only friend they felt they could rely on. With that in the air, most of the Jews left Czechoslovakia and settled in the D.P. camps of Germany.

Heddy's home was in Feurbach, a township of Stuttgart, fixed very nicely, and very peaceful. Mrs. Pfaffle, the landlady, was very good to them. She served breakfast in bed.

Our date for leaving for Israel was coming closer, we approached our leader Shmulek for permission to go to Stuttgart to say goodbye to sister Heddy and her husband Arthur Spitz. No problem, permission was granted. Jack and I were off to Stuttgart. Since we planned to be back in a couple of days, we didn't pack much of anything, just an extra shirt, and clean underwear. We arrived at the Stuttgart bahnhof, and we were amazed by the destruction of this part of town. There was no building left standing in one piece, just a bunch of rubble. We boarded the streetcar to Feurbach, and, looking out the windows as we were traveling, we saw nothing but devastation. Our hearts were feeling a bit of NEKUME (vengeance); someone handed out punishment for the crimes committed. Too little, too late. After traveling about half an hour, we arrived at sister Heddy's place. To our disappointment, we had the wrong address because I took the wrong address when we left the Kibbutz in a hurry. Luckily, the people knew the new address; it was just around the corner on the next street. Heddy and Arthur were very happy to see us. We received the red carpet treatment. We were very happy to see them, and to our surprise they had immigration papers to the U.S.A. and they were leaving the next week by boat to New York. A very happy day indeed. We sat and talked about our trip to Israel and how nice it would be to meet sister Shari and her husband Hershi who also were planning to go to Israel.

Heddy told the story of why Arthur and her spent five days in jail in Stuttgart a few months before. When they first arrived in Stuttgart, Germany, they met a German Jewish couple in their 60s when visiting the Jewish Congress, looking for a place to live. The old couple offered Heddy and Arthur a nice apartment for a very good price, so they moved in with the old couple and things were going just fine. Then one day, they noticed that some jewelry items were missing and also some money was missing. They complained bitterly, "How dare you steal from Holocaust survivors? Was that the reason you rented us the apartment?" And this happened a few times that they stole money. They found our hiding place in our bedroom and we were watching it carefully. They never took much. But the last time they took $50.00 and that was a fortune for us. So we called the M.P.s, after they refused to give back the money. The M.P.s arrived and they asked the couple to return the items and the money. They denied all the accusations and accused Heddy and Arthur of black marketeering. Check their rooms, and you will see for yourselves.

The M.P.s looked in the rooms when they pulled out a suitcase from under the bed, and found that it contained cigarettes, American dollars and two stop-watches. That was enough evidence for them, they were handcuffed and taken down to jail. Heddy pleaded with them that the suitcase belonged to Jankele Reiss, a friend of my brother Shiku, who had been there just before they joined the Bnei Akiva Kibbutz in Fohrenwald. She never knew the contents of this suitcase. Talk to the wall!! They just listened and said, "Tell it to the judge in the morning." After three days, Judge Schwartz heard the case; after a short plea, he dismissed the case.

As we were listening to story, Jankele felt funny and guilty. But Heddy gave him a big smile and said, "I forgive you. But you have to promise me that you and Shiku do not return to the Kibbutz and stay with us till we go to the U.S. And then you two can stay here as long as you want. The rent for the apartment is paid for a year at a time, and we have lots of food stamps to last you for a long time." We were both shocked with the proposition. Israel? The Kibbutz? Madrich Shmulek? What would they all say? In our minds the battlefields looked too risky. This proposition was full of wonderful days ahead. We were only 17 years old, we had hardly lived yet. We had plenty of time to fulfill our duties to Israel. We had hardly dried out from our pain and losses. Jack and I looked at each other, and in unison we said. "Yes, we will stay". Heddy was very happy, and Arthur nodded his approval. Four days later, Heddy and Arthur left for the U.S.A. and promised to write as soon as they settle down. Jankele and I became apartment dwellers over night, and we immediately started to plan the next move.

Jack has a great idea: to visit the mayor of Feurbach. After all, he deserved to be introduced to his new city dwellers. One morning, we decided to make our visit. As we were walking towards the City Hall, we were amazed by the beauty of this section of town. It looked like the bombs had missed this part of town.

The beautiful hilly streets with the tall willow trees overhanging them and the beautiful gardens with the nicest flowers spread throughout. It didn't look like the rest of the city. The contrast was so great it baffles the eye. We approached the City Hall steps and we were anxious about our reception. We approached the information desk and we asked for permission to see the mayor of Feurbach. We gave them our names and we also told the secretary at the information desk, that we were Buchenwald survivors. She talked on the phone a few seconds, then, she led us personally to the mayor's Office. While walking toward the office, the secretary told us that the mayor had also been in Buchenwald. We entered the mayor's office, a very large room with beautiful paintings on the walls, a large oval desk in the middle of the room with beautiful armchairs facing the mayor's tall antique eighteenth century armchair. It looked like a room in the museum. The mayor, a tall, white-haired conservative looking man in his sixties, stood at his office door and welcomed us with a warm hand shake and a big hello.

"Sit down young men!" I hear that you have been in Buchenwald.

"Yes Sir."

"Well, I also was in Buchenwald for political reasons, since 1943 when I was arrested for speaking against the government during a news writers convention in Stuttgart. I saw many things in Buchenwald during my stay." We told him about our losses and that we urgently needed identification cards to obtain food and clothes stamps. Within an hour, he provided us with identification papers and lots of stamps for food and clothes. He also provided us with free tickets for the theatre, opera, and soccer games. We were thrilled with the mayor's reception and he invited us to see him whenever we were in need of something.

We never went back again; we had enough coupons for years to come. Frau Pfaffle, our landlady, was crazy about us. Every morning she served us breakfast in bed. Not quite in bed, but her attitude was just like you would be served breakfast in bed. She used to knock so softly on our door, just in case we are still asleep. She used to call me Paul, and Jack was Jakub. She talked about us to all her friends in the stores, in church, and all the places she went. People used to come just to look at us without saying a word. One day, she brought home her preacher from church with the idea to convert us to Christianity. After two hours of discussion with us, the preacher got up and said: please let me out of here before I become a Jew. Frau Pfaffle was in her early fifties; she lost her husband and son on the Russian front; she was a very lonely and good soul. She told us about the stories her son used to tell her when he came home on furlough.

"Mother, they are slaughtering the Jewish people like animals, whole villages are burned down to the ground with the people in them: men, woman, and children."

Her son was crying when he was telling her these stories. We didn't know whether to believe her or not. But one thing we managed to find out was that the German people knew what was happening on the Eastern front and in the concentration camps all along; and not like most of them said after the war (Wir Haben Nix Gewust). We didn't know a thing. Jack and I discussed the preacher and Frau Pfaffle's desire to convert us to Christianity. We had a big laugh; they didn't know with whom they were discussing religion. Jack and I came from very observant families. Our upbringing in religion was second to none. Although we did not observe all 613 Commandments at that moment. Mainly because of our misfortunes in the past year, we had not made peace with our beliefs yet. Getting us to join another belief was very far from our young tired minds.

Our daily program was not designed yet, but we went into town to visit the Jewish quarters on Reinsburg strasse, meeting with boys our age, survivors. Most of the Jews were survivors from Rudem (Radom in Polish), we enjoyed listening to the latest new about Israel and also other news about immigration possibilities to the western world.

The Jews enjoyed their freedom on Reinsburg Strasse. They controled a long street of apartment units. Every family was given a nice apartment equipped with the latest appliances. They had a public kitchen and dining hall. They had the option to eat in the kitchen or take the raw food and cook for themselves. Most of them took the latter option. They had their own police to control the traffic.

They were also responsible for the safety of the camp. They were completely in charge of the food supplies and all other items brought in for distribution. We were told that the U. S. military M.P.s, set up this camp after the war was over, chased out all the Germans, and gave them one hour to evacuate the apartments. Take one suitcase per person and leave everything behind.

They immediately brought in the survivors from a concentration camp nearby and gave them all apartments, set up a kitchen, and a hospital. All the survivors had to go through a medical examination before they were given permission to register for camp. Since some of the first survivors were from the city of Rudem, the word got out to all the survivors from Rudem that a new camp was available in Stuttgart and it spread like wild fire. Within a few months most of the Rudemer residing in Germany came and settled in Stuttgart on Reinsburg Straase. On Saturdays we used to come down for services in the Gemeinde Shul near the camp, where we enjoyed a lovely day with some friends. One day, as we came to the Camp on Reinsburg Strasse, we noticed a sign asking war orphans to register with the U.N.R.A. for the possibility of emigrating to the U.S.A. Children under 18 only. The next day, we got ready and we hurried down to the U.N.R.A. offices to try and register for the trip to the U.S.A.

At the desk, we inquired about registration to the U.S.A. as war orphans. She led us to a room where a very fine looking lady was sitting behind a big desk. She asked us about our past. Jack and I gave her some of our past experiences from the concentration camps, and we also told her about our tragic losses. We also told her that Jack and I were from the same town and that we had been together since we were 6 years old. Together in cheder, we prayed in the same Shtiebel, we sang in the same choir, and we spent most of our time in the camps together. And we were together since the liberation of Buchenwald. It seemed that we had proven to her that we were worthy to be registered for the U.S.A.

She asked us to sing a song for her. Jack looked at me and said "You remember the song I taught you, some time ago, Wi ahin Zol ich Gein?" I wanted to say no, I don't remember, but I thought by singing a song maybe would get to the U.S.A. sooner. The song I sang translated in English:

Tell me where can I go,
There is no place, I can see,
Where to go, Where to go, It's the same in every place,
To the left, to the right,
It's the same, in every place,
There is no place to go,
And it's me who should know,
Won't you please understand,
Now I know where to go,
Where my folks proudly stand,
Let me go let me go,
To that promised land,
No more left no more right
Lift your head and see the light,
I am proud can't you see,
For at last I am free,
No more wandering for me.

The song was perfect, and we got the green light for immigration to the U.S.A. "Don't worry any more, children, no more wandering for you."

She explained to us that we were going to be sent to a children’s camp called Aglasterhausen near Heidelberg. They had schools and we would be able to learn English and all about the U.S.A. and all of its attributes.



November 1946

We received a letter from the U.N.R.A. office to appear the next day at the bus station in order to take us to the orphanage in Aglasterhausen. Frau Pfaffle was very sad and disturbed when she found out about our departure. She thought that since we got our Kennkarte (identification and resident papers), we were planning on staying for good. Little did she know that we hated the soil we walked on and couldn't wait to leave that damned place. We enjoyed the stay with Frau Pfaffle; she meant well and sometimes we felt sorry for her.

The day we left for the bus station, Frau Pfaffle insisted on going with us to the bus station. When we arrived at the bus station the U.N.R.A.representative were there waiting for us, and about 10 more orphans were there with her, also going to Aglasterhausen. We said goodbye to Frau Pfaffle, she cried, and begged us to write. Please, if you don't like it there, please, just come right back. We left all our food supplies, plus some games that we have accumulated; we had no use for them at the place we are going.

We arrived in Aglasterhausen with the rest of the children in about two hours travelling time. It was situated in a small town Neunkirchen, 100 km from Heidelberg. The place we were in had been used as a home for retarded children. In 1937 all these children were put to sleep by injections, as was the custom in the Third Reich administration.

The camp consisted of about 200 children, from 12 months to 18 years old. Most of the children were Jewish from all over Europe: Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, also non-Jews from Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Estonia, Germany, and Lithuania. The surrounding areas around the camp were just like in a dreamland. Beautiful, tall birch trees covered most of our front and back courts. On one side of the home was a meadow with a small river flowing. The most beautiful birds were buzzing all over us.

They sang and acted like they were happy, welcoming us to the new home. When I felt lonely or blue, I found myself sitting beside the river with a pencil and paper scribbling a poem or a song. Once I wrote a poem, I really thought that it was something. I showed the poem to Jack. "Excellent," he said,"why don't you send it to the New York Jewish newspaper The Morning Journal? Maybe, you might get some money for it." I was so proud that Jack gave me the approval. After all, he was the greatest critic this side of Heidelberg. With difficulty, I found the Journal address and mailed it Air Mail. A letter came back Air Mail. "Your poem is heart warming, but since we do not print poems in our daily papers we are sorry to disappoint you, and hope that you keep on writing, maybe some day you will succeed. We cannot return your poem. Since it is against our rules, and regulations. Good Luck." I never wrote another poem, since I preferred to concentrate on my singing.

Next to the river was a soccer field where we played soccer daily. I perfected the game of soccer and became a good player.

Our daily routine consisted of breakfast at 7.30 then at 9.00 we started school till 1 p.m. Lunch; after lunch we carried on with our sports activities and some of the older girls did their assigned chores: helping in the kitchen or caring for the small children in camp. 6.00 p.m. was supper. We all ate in the large dining room, and we had a chance to chat with the girls that were interested in chatting. There were some stuck up girls that were out of reach. One of them was named Chanka, the girl I married four years later. And we are celebrating our 46th Happy Anniversary this year. After supper, we did our homework, read, and relaxed till bedtime. There was definitely no courtship allowed in camp. Our camp head, Mrs. Green, was a single American lady in her late 40s. She was a real Mama.

The kids were scared when she entered the dining room. She always had something up her sleeves. And nobody wanted to be on her bad side. She would threaten the kids that if they did not observe the rules, they would stay right there. The U.S.A. was full of undisciplined children, and they were not in need for more. Yes Ma'am! We read you, loud and clear. Friday and Saturday nights were the only exception. There was dancing, both nights. We had our own camp band, and sometimes they brought in professionals from town. Mrs. Green was in full control of every move, or touch, on the dance floor.

Our teachers were very strict and we had to learn everything by heart such as history, geography, and poems. We learned every subject in English; in the beginning it was very hard, but within a few weeks we learned very quickly, especially English was the most rapidly absorbed.

The boys also had chores after school, the heavy work in the kitchen, and also some cleaning in the courts. We had a pretty good drama group. Jack was the director, producer, and writer. We put on a production that Jack and I put together. Story: Czech family, taken to Auschwitz, father was dying in Buchenwald, played by Jack. The son was evacuated to London, England, from Germany in 1938, played by Sam as Captain in the U.S. Army liberating Buchenwald. Finds his father, very sick and dying. Sam, the son, prays for father’s health, and sings the camp’s famous song, "TELL ME WHERE SHALL I GO, THERE IS NO PLACE I CAN SEE." The play was a success, we were invited by the U.S. military officers from Heidelberg who were present at our original presentation. We were taken to Heidelberg by bus. It happened to be Chanukah. The play was just marvelous, we even sang a few Chanukah songs. After the show, some officers came over and introduced themselves, as they enjoyed the show. They also enjoyed the Chanukah songs since they were also Jewish.

We were treated to a party; we never experienced Coca Cola before. For the first time in our lives, it tasted like something from heaven. We wanted more and more till our stomachs were ready to explode.

There were a lot of outings, to the country side, and some times we were taken to Heidelberg, swimming in the river Neckar. Heidelberg was a beautiful city to visit, the boys just loved to go to the outings because Mrs. Green was not there to watch over us and we could enjoy talking to the girls freely.

We made new friends within the group, and some of them are still considered close friends. Like Eugene Schonberger, whom I see once or twice weekly. Teddy Schwartz belongs to the same lodge of Bnai brith since its inception. Barbara Weingord is a very good friend of the family.



January 1947

A number of children had already left to the U.S.A. in the past six months. We were looking forward for our turn to appear at the U.S. consulate for a visa to the U.S.A. Being impatient, we approached Mrs. Green to see if she could tell us when our turn to visit the consulate would be. Of course, you just did not approach Mrs. Green so easily. We made an appointment to see her since we had another play in mind and needed her advice. At the same time, we asked about our visit to the U.S. Consul. Very soon, was her reply. Jack and I were happy now.



March 1947

We were told to get ready to go to the U.S. consulate. We dressed in our best clothes and we set out for the final move. Our group consisted of about 20 boys and girls. We were picked up by a bus that took us to Stuttgart to see the U.S. Consulate. The route we took was through the most beautiful countryside we had ever seen. The trip lasted for about four hours and we enjoyed every minute of it. The most interesting part of the trip was how some of the older boys had a problem with their beards. Since they reduced their age to enable them to go to the U.S. as children under 18 years, the beard could give them away at the consul's inspection office. Therefore, they shaved their beards, and were constantly asking around: "How does my beard appear to you?" "Just fine, fine." It was the most entertaining part of our trip.

Finally, we arrived at the consulate in Ludwigsburg, in the outskirts of Stuttgart. We were all directed to a large waiting room. We were taken one by one for a medical check up. As we were walking towards the medical inspection room, our U.N.R.A lady was waving to us. Jack and I ran over to greet her. We hugged, after all she was responsible for our trip, and we were really thankful. We said goodbye, and she said. "See you in the U.S.A."

We took our medical and then we went in to see the Consul in person. The question of the Consul: "Why do you want to go to the U.S.A.?" The answer was plain and simple: "I want to live in a country where democracy is on top of the order and freedom is what we seek. The U.S.A. fits our dream," I said. "Very good young man. Consider yourself a U.S. citizen." Welcome to the U.S.A. Wow!

We all met again and took protocol of the Consul’s questions and answers. Everybody was happy, we were all practically U.S. citizens. Within two weeks the good news arrived. Get ready, we are going to Bremerhaven for a trip to the U.S.A. But, my luck ran out. I was not on the list to travel to the USA. I ran to Mrs. Green's office and asked her, "Why am I not on the list? Why?" And I broke out crying like I hadn’t cried for a long time. Mrs. Green was trying to console me. She was patting me on the back, and saying, "Don't worry, Szija", that was my official name in that place. Most of the kids call me Sziku, the name I was called in Munkacs. She said that she would call the Consul first thing in the morning and ask him the reason why I was not on the list. Meanwhile, my friend Jack was packing, getting ready for the long trip. Jack and I were very close (so I thought) and now it looked like I was losing another brother. Fate would part us again.

Jack and the rest of the group left the next day, and I was left holding the bag, all over again. I talked to Mrs Green daily and she gave me a different answer every day: "They can't find your file. The Consul is away for the day. Come back tomorrow." I stopped going to her, and concentrated on my studies. I had mastered the English language pretty well. I corrected the teacher writing on the black board. His spelling was wrong. He was no Professor, just an Estonian school teacher who learned English while in Germany as a D.P. person. I was liked by him since I played well in soccer and I was the best in class. We learned mostly about U.S, History, Geography, and Mathematics. Our tests were very hard. We had to know all 48 states, their capitals, their size, their raw materials, population, and their most famous commerce. I studied hard daily, and managed to get honourable marks. The teacher put me in charge of conducting the tests, while he was also in the room marking the papers. Some of the students asked for easy questions, and some did get them, especially the girls.

The first letters from Jack arrived. He found an uncle, also by the name of Reiss. I never knew he had an uncle in New York. Perhaps, he was a distant uncle, and Jack adopted him as his uncle for now. He was looking for an apartment of his own, it seemed that he was not very happy there. It has been a year since my sister Heddy and Arthur left for the U. S.A. and I didn't hear a thing from anybody in the family. No correspondence was possible, since we were supposed to be all alone, with no family left. Therefore, no mail could be had by any of us if you wanted to stay in the orphanage. Mrs. Green would kick you out of the home if she found out that you had family of your own.



October 1947

The time of decision has come: next February I would be 18 and all my privileges as an orphan would be diminished. I would have to leave the orphanage and go on my own. I had a message that Mrs. Green wanted to see me. By now, I was the senior of the camp: one and a half years in Aglasterhausen. Since I was the program director, I thought that she probably wanted to discuss some new programs. I was wrong. She told me that a new chance had arisen for the Jewish orphans to immigrate, but this time to Canada.

The Canadian government had finally agreed to allow 1,000 Jewish children to immigrate, providing that the Jewish Congress would take the responsibility for the caring of the orphans for the first two years. Mrs. Green continued, "I thought, Szija, that since you will be 18 next February your best bet would be to go to Canada, and maybe you can find a way to go to the U.S. in a few years."

Mrs. Green, I pleaded with her, I don't even know where Canada is located. All my friends immigrated to the U.S.A. But, I will think about it, and I will let you know soon. I walked out of the office and I was dizzy from all these suggestions. I felt sick. I was all alone again, nobody to ask for advice. I pondered as to what to do. I felt I was going to be sick. I got into my bunk and cried my heart out. I couldn’t fall asleep. What was I going to do? In the meantime, I found out the boys that were also refused immigration to the U.S. were all registering for the trip to Canada. Among the group that registered for Canada was a very good friend of mine my age. Teddy Schwartz, he played on our soccer team as an extra. We used to call him Tartalek. In Hungarian that meant replacement. He was a gem of a fellow. Since he had already registered, we knew that there was going to be another transport going to Canada in about two months, he promised me that he would inform me about the Canadian story in detail, as soon as he found out about the situation. I was a bit relaxed now, I felt much better now, and I returned to my studies, tomorrow we were having a lot of tests.



November 1947

The group left for Canada and I was waiting anxiously for the information from Teddy that I needed so badly so I could make my decision. Mrs. Green kept reminding me, "Your time is running out. Have you made your decision yet?" My replies did not please Mrs. Green, she kept telling me, "Szija, you missed your chance."



December 1947

A five page letter finally arrived from Canada. Teddy outlined all the possibilities that were made available for the orphans, like schooling and finding homes, some kids were even adopted. Also enclosed were a number of maps indicating the borders of Canada and the U.S. Toronto was only 2 hours away by car, he continued. The Jewish community of Toronto welcomed the children with open arms. Every child was placed in a Jewish home in a very nice district of town. Every child received new clothes and shoes.

Every night they were invited to a different home for dinner. After dinner, the rest of their friends come to visit and to see the Holocaust children survivors. We were telling them about our losses and also about life in the concentration camps. They just sat there stunned, listening to our horror stories, and at the end they always ask: "How did you manage to come out alive?" The answer: "Just by a miracle." Every Holocaust survivor that made it out alive had a story a mile long, and miracles how he or she was saved. The letter gave me a new picture of Canada and its possibilities. I immediately went to see Mrs. Green and told her about the letter I just received from Teddy, and that I wanted to go to Canada if there was another chance. Mrs. Green smiled and said, "Don't worry, Szija, we have another group in January going to Canada, and you can be its leader." I thanked Mrs. Green and walked out from her office crying. Oh, God, how much more will I have to suffer to have a peaceful existence, like any other teenager? Well, by now I thought my suffering and pain had made me tough as a rock, nobody could hurt me anymore. The world was not worth my tears. But I continued to cry in my sleep, and asking, GOD WHY? Why?


January 1948

About 60 boys and girls were picked to go to Canada from the orphanage. We were told that we could select the cities we wanted to settle in. The option cities were Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. Most of the kids wanted to go to Toronto since we had the information that most of the kids settling in Toronto were well looked after. Mrs. Green called me to her office and handed me the list of the kids, and said to me, "Szija, from now on you are in charge of the list, and since you are the senior of the group, you will also be in charge of the complete trip till you land in Toronto."

I accepted the job, and thanked Mrs. Green for having great faith in me to carry out her order. Since I was in charge I figured I could rearrange the list to ensure everybody's satisfaction. A problem arose with the list after it was finished. Some of the kids changed their minds. Child politics entered the picture. Boys wanted to go where their favorite girls were going, which required changing the list again. Since we were all busy packing, the list was not discussed any more. I promised to look into it when we would be on the train to Bremerhaven. In the meantime, I have no way to inform my family that I was leaving for Canada. My sister Heddy was in New York with her husband Arthur Spitz. Brother Leo and his wife, Ruzsena Rose, as we call her now, were in Liberec, Czechoslovakia. The other sisters, Shari, Rivczu, and Florcza, I had not heard from for the past year. It was impossible to receive any mail in the orphanage. You faced expulsion for having family alive somewhere. Shari was the only one that I knew was on her way to Israel with her husband, Hershi Mermelstein, whom she married after I left Munkacz. She once wrote to me while Jack and I lived in Stuttgart, saying they were in Linz, Austria, on the way to Israel. I hadn't heard from her since. At night I dreamt about the first meeting with brother Leo in Banska Bistricia, Slovakia. How we all talked for hours about the old home. Mostly about the things that I was not aware of, since Leo was 14 years older than I. He remembered how, in the year 1918, World War One was over and Leo was 4 years old. He remembered how father and one of his cousins came riding on two white horses down the road and gave him the ride of his life. They were still in their uniforms and the whole village of Packenov was out there to greet them. After all, father was still mayor of town. Also, the stories about his violin lessons when he was 10 years old after mother bought him a violin. Feri Baczi, our steady Gypsy band leader in our dance hall, was teaching him to play. After one year with Ferri Bacsi, mother found a more sophisticated teacher for Leo on the violin, but it ended very shortly soon after. One day, while Leo was playing his violin, the teacher smacked him with a stick over his fingers because he played a false note. Polda took off in a hurry and smashed his violin to pieces as soon as he stepped out of the teacher’s place. That ended his violin career for good.

In 1927, he had his Bar Mitzwa at the Zedichover Klazel the same place I had my Bar Mitzva 14 years later. It was a Saturday affair after the services, his long Dvar Torah Pshetel was prepared by his Rabbi from the Wisznitzer Klous Reb Elje Strier. He was destined to become a great Bal Torah (Pious Learned Man). After his Bar Mitzva, he attended the Yeshiva in Dunaszerdehely, Slovakia. After he attended the Yeshiva in Kezhmarok Slovakia.

During the Second World War, while fighting the Germans near Kezhmarok as a partizan in the Paratrooper 2nd Division in General Swoboda's Czech Army, an old lady came looking for some food to the base; she heard that there were some Jewish boys among the partisans. This was in March 1945, the lady was liberated in Auschwitz by the Russians and they just got back home, finding no one, no food, no furniture. All houses were destroyed, just bare walls. He helped the lady with sacks of food and some straw for the house to sleep on. As it turned out, the lady was the daughter of his Rabbi from the Kezhmarok Yeshiva. He also attended the Munkaczer Yeshiva where the Minchas Eluzer was the Rosh Yeshiva. He was also the Famous Rabbi of Munkacz. I kept dreaming about these stories and more and re-living my family’s past and their stories.

We were finally on the train heading for Bremerhaven, the kids on the train were full of life. Everyone was telling stories, what he or she would do, once we got settled, what schools they would attend, what kind of clothes they would buy, and on, and on. They dreamt of things to come.

Thoughts were flashing through our minds as the train kept going faster and faster, and we looked out the windows and the sunset was so pretty. Reality was a major worry in our little heads. Who would support us? What was in our future? In what kind of home would we land? Would they like me? Would I be able to attend school? While I was breaking my head with all these questions, the train keeps klaking away, klak..klak..klak. I fell asleep, and again I dreamt about Leo and his growing up stories. He finished with the Yeshiva studies at the age of 16, and was enrolled in business school, which he attended for 2 years. After his graduation, he took a job at one of the most famous hotels in town the Czilag (The Star). He worked as a bartender in the large dining room. The job was very interesting, but they insisted that he works Saturdays, which was out of the question. After six months, he became head waiter, but had to quit the job. "No problem," said father, "you can take over our tavern and run it like the Czilag."

He was pleased with the offer from father. It was the first that he trusted him with the job. Second, the pay was very interesting and appealing. It was a very hard job since our tavern and dance hall were very popular in town and were very busy. Other tavern owners were very jealous and tried to create trouble by sending in special people to upset the peace in our establishment. They created fights and other disturbing incidents. Our customers were mostly military men in uniform. One night, two soldiers were creating disturbances, the bouncer approached them and politely asked them to leave, knowing what they were up to. They started to resist, and started to throw beer glasses and ashtrays into the crowd. One ashtray hit father on the side of his head and he was bleeding badly. As Leo had always the metal club in his apron, he attacked the troublemaker from the back with two solid blows to the head. They managed to run out the side door and were chased by Leo and the two bouncers, removing the tree supports lining the street supporting the just-planted trees and beat the two disturbers to a pulp. We never had any trouble after that fiasco.

"Bremerhaven...Bremerhaven!" yelled the conductor. We were awakened; the train was slowing down; we saw one of the largest port cities in the world. Train tracks as wide as your eyes can see. We could also see the ocean, with hundreds of boats anchored to the port.

Wow, we are sure going some place! No more camps, no more orphanages. Canada, here we come!

From the train, we were taken by bus to the transit camp in a place called Diepholz. The camp was very neglected and we feared that a new camp life was upon us. There was practically no supervision and everybody was on his own. We were housed on a second floor dormitory with two large rooms: one for the boys and one for the girls. Since we were supposed to leave in a day or two, we didn't care very much about the appearance of our new home. In the morning, we found out that we were having a handler’s strike on our hands. We were worried, since the food that we had on us was gone and we had to find new resources for food. We looked around and we found that there was one soup kitchen in existence. Most of the kids depended now on my orders. Since I was the man in charge, I went down with some of the older boys to investigate the soup kitchen below. We were disappointed to see the primitive ways of handling the food and the type of food they were serving, mostly pork: pork chops, pork soup, ham, and mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes looked like somebody forgot to peel them, and everything smelled awful. We returned to the kids and reported the situation in the kitchen.

Half of the kids lost their appetite and the brave ones followed me to the kitchen. When we entered the kitchen, we discovered most of the people running the kitchen were Polish. Their faces were not the inviting kind, rather they were sarcastic and welcomed us by saying, "Zsidky prijechali." (The Jews are here). We were shocked to find ourselves in such a predicament. But, we were all hungry and we had to take what they were dishing out.

The next day, none of the kids wanted to brave the kitchen again. I had to find another way to feed the kids. I invited David Aptovitzer, one of the senior boys, now head cantor for the last 40 years in an orthodox Synagogue in Ottawa, capital of Canada. We both headed for the office of the Joint Organization that was situated in town.

As we entered, we were invited in by the Director of the Joint organization. We explained to him that we were a group of 100 orphans, survivors from the Holocaust, and we had no food and no bedding. For the last three days we are fasting, fearing the people running the kitchen. We needed help badly. The Joint Director assured us that within 4 hours he would have lots of food and blankets delivered for the children. Dave and I were very thankful and grateful. We returned to the group and told them that help was on the way. Within a few hours, two large trucks arrived with lots of food and blankets. The kids were very happy and ate with a very good appetite.

A new group of children arrived from a different orphanage in Germany, with a Dr. Klighoffer as their leader. I was very happy that I had a partner looking after the welfare of the children, Dr. Klinghoffer was willing to undertake the leadership of all the children. Since he was a gem of a person, I was very glad to give up my leadership and work very closely with him for the welfare of the children.

While waiting for our departure the children were busy playing all kind of games provided by the Joint Office. The most popular game were chess and checkers; a lot of the older kids played rummy or gin.

There was a few love affairs starting between Regina and Monyek, and between Celina and most of the boys. She was a very nice, good looking individual, liked by everyone. Small fights started between some of the group, nothing big, just a few loud words. It was getting to be a little too much, sitting around inside these rooms, day in and day out. Everyday we were told about the ongoing strikes; it should end in a couple of days. Then we were told that the workers rejected the company offer, which meant another few days or weeks.

We were all getting impatient and jittery. Why can it not go smoothly for us for a change? The only thing this place had given us was close friendly feelings to each other. We became melted into one big family. We felt like brothers and sisters, which remained with us for a long time. Dr. Klinghoffer was a very great help. He was the real Pappa, and all the kids with troubles turned to him and he treated every one like his own. The day of departure finally arrived. We were told to pack and get ready to board the General Sturgis military boat for our voyage to Canada.



January 31, 1948

We finally boarded the General Sturgis vessel and we were stifled by its appearance. It was a hulk, the bunks were hanging from the ceilings, and the ship appeared to be all one big room, except that the girls were separated from the men on a different level. But what the heck, who cares? Nobody knew what a real boat was supposed to look like anyway. Within minutes we were on the deck meeting our friends; we were all huddled together since the air was real brisk and that's one way we knew to keep warm. We really felt close, we sang and talked about our trip and our future.

Due to the strike we were on the boat sitting around for a full day without moving an inch. They fed us on the boat every few hours; we felt well taken care of. The crew on the boat seemed very friendly, but the general passengers were very hostile and anti-Semitic. The passengers were Ukrainians, Polish, Estonian and some Yugoslavs.

We had a lot of chutzpa and courage: those anti-Semites didn't bother us at all. "Hey! We are moving!"

"Yippie, Hurray!"

"We are moving! Goodbye Europe! Farewell! Farewell!"



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