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NOEL HERSHFIELD INTERVIEWS TWO HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS

posted Oct 16, 2019

This is an interview I did with two friends of mine who are both survivors and who found each other and are married for over 60 years. They have contributed much to Holocaust education but did not wish to be named in  this interview.
 
Q. Mrs A., where were you born?
 
A. I was born in a little town in Rudno Poland in 1940. At this time, this area of Poland was under Russian occupation. This was OK for the Jews (laughs). They took away a lot of material things, but they did not kill Jews. Jews were also able to work, much like in the shtetls of the Settlement in Russia.
 
In 1941 the Germans attacked Russia, and the town was occupied by the Germans.  Most of the Jews were turned by the locals-people that had lived side by side with them for hundreds of years-sharing their lives with them.(sighs) .My family were kept alive for a while, because my grandfather had wool machines and the family knew how to operate them In about the middle of 1942, they started killing all the Jews-the Final Solution was now in operation in all the conquered countries. My mother and I went into hiding in a barn owned by a Ukrainian family,Greek Orthodox, who kept us in the barn, without telling anyone, including their children. My father and one of my older brothers went into hiding in another home. They were discovered and tortured, because one of the neighbors told the Germans that there were a wife and one baby hiding in the area. They did not divulge where we were hiding and they were shot on the spot. My six year old brother was put on the shoulders of my dad and shot-I guess they did not want to waste ammunition.(tears).
 
At that time the family who were hiding us told us they could no longer keep us because it is too dangerous,so we were asked to leave. My mother tied me on their back with a big shawl, and we started walking. We were caught with other Jews who were in the area and were forced to dig a big hole in the forest. I am unable to remember a lot of this because I must have been in some sort of shock-I only see images, and it is very painful for me to think about it-even after all these years. My mother told me that a mist rolled in, and she remembered thinking  they were going to die,so she decided to try and escape. and, under cover of the mist, she started crawling, and crawling/with me on her back the whole time. She heard shots in the distance, but crawled for about another hour and finally she reached a wooded area.
 
We lived there for about two weeks, but had to leave because it became very cold. She used to steal potatoes from a farmyard nearby, and we had to eat them raw-we had nothing to start a fire with. We continued to walk for about three days, and came upon a farm-very isolated. There were no workers because all the men were either in the army or dead. My mother was raised on a farm-and she told the women that she was Ukrainian and did not mention we were Jews. I had blond hair, and I guess I did not look like the typical Jewish child,whatever that was(smiles)-and we passed as Christians.
 
For the rest of the war we lived with this family-and we both worked in the fields. We became part of the family and I played with the kids-my mother knitted for them, as well. We were very happy and we said our prayers to Jesus every night. I learned these things as a child and learned to cross myself all day long if necessary.. We lived like this until the middle of 1945, when the war ended. We had no home, no family, no money, no nothing. We made our way back to our little town, to see if anybody had survived, but no one ,as far as we could find out, had survived. The residents of the town, made it clear that they did not want us back, and told us to leave. Just before we were about to go, a miracle occurred. Two cousins of my mother walked into town and saw us. They had been with the partisans in the woods for all these years, and they were armed and had food. They told the townspeople that if anyone even touches these people, they will kill the whole family. They gave her some grain and she used that to survive.
There were a lot of deaths in the town, from starvation and typhus, but somehow, we survived. Shortly after she met a man and they were married. Through the Joint Distribution Committee they were found and there names were published in their newsletter. A family in Calgary, saw the notice, and told my mother that they would bring her to Calgary-but they had to get out of Poland, because the Iron Curtain was falling, and they would not be permitted to leave.
 
For the next two years we walked, mostly at night, and finally arrived in West Germany. We snuck across borders and my stepfather would find work for a few weeks in some town and we survived that way. Any money he had was given to border guards, so miraculously we were not stopped. We ended up in a DP camp called Bomberg where we were fed and sheltered. My mother had a child in Germany, and we finally made it to Canada in 1948. There is much more but I cannot go on at this time.
 
Noel Hershfield:Thanks for this.
 
Mr. A
I was born in Radom Poland in 1940 in the ghetto. We lived there until 1943, when the whole family was shipped out to Auschwitz. We went in a boxcar, packed like sardines, and I remember the trip-it was undescribable.  When we arrived in Auschwitz, my grandfather carried me in, with the guards screaming “Raus Raus” . My grandmother tore me out of his hands. I remember getting the tattoo (shows it to me), and I remember I never saw my Zaida again.
 
Noel Hershfield: How did you survive in the camp?
 
I lived with my grandmother and sister.  There was no food, but my sister did some sewing for this guard and I guess he protected us. We ate scraps from his table. I was too young to remember a lot, and my family hardly talked about it. We were liberated in 1944.I found that my father and mother survived as well. He was shot after the war in Stuttgart.
 
Noel Hershfield: After the war?
 
Yes in The DP camp in Stuttgart.
 
Noel Hershfield: After your father was killed, how did you get to Canada?
 
We were deported to Israel, and lived there between 1947 and 1952. I was there when the state was declared, and helped to smuggle illegal immigrants. My mother remarried, and the man had a tough time getting a job in Israel. I had an aunt and an uncle in Montreal, and they helped us immigrate to Montreal, in 1952. We stayed there for 6 months. My dad was a tailor, and worked in a factory-which really was a sweatshop, and he hated it. We then came to {He then shows me a picture of himself in the “Holocaust Chronicle” (Library of Congress 2001)}. The picture was taken by a Russian soldier on January 27, 1945. He is with a number of other children, all showing their left arms and their tattoos.(He shows me his tattoo.) He has kept it. I have seen him show it to kids in Waikiki-, He says to them” tattoos are nothing new to him”!.The number is still visible-
Noel Hershfield: So you were liberated by the Russians.
 
Yes, and this picture was part of an Allied movie called Liberation, produced in 1948..

Mrs.A-why don’t you show him the newspapers that showed your father’s body in the streets of Stuttgart?
 
Mr. A.-(reluctantly)-OK. (Mrs. A. leaves to retrieve the clipping, which is sealed in protective plastic)
 
Noel Hershfield: .When you came to Canada, how old were you?
 
Mr A.  I was 12 years old. I went to school and I had a Mrs. Robertson. I will never forget her. She stayed after school every day for an hour and taught me English. I had very good marks in everything else except English. I did well and I actually skipped a grade. I worked hard and was an honor student and was on the track team and played basketball. I was the valedictorian at graduation. I was captain of the High School Basketball team and we actually won the Provincial championship.
 
I was admitted to Medical school at Edmonton, and did two years but I hated the dissection lab.It resurrected too many memories of Auschwitz-the cadavers looked so much like the Mussel men(the living dead) that I quit, and took up another profession.
 
Noel Hershfield: How long did you practice your profession?

I practiced from 1965-1988 .
 
Noel Hershfield: When did you folks meet up with other?
 
We met in grade eleven, in 1952-and we started dating then. At first we hated each other-But we got over it! We have been married for 42 years. We have 2 children and two grandchildren-.
 
Noel Hershfield:. Do you people talk about those days much?
 
Mrs. A-we do, but only if it is triggered by something-like a movie, or a play. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about it otherwise. And  my husband has trouble talking about-I really do not-I guess because I was never in those hellish camps.
 
Noel Hershfield:: Well you had some pretty awful experiences.
 
Mrs.  Yes but nothing was never as horrible as Auschwitz-ever, and never again I hope.
 
Noel Hershfield: Let me ask you what you think about the increasing anti-Semitism-what do you think about that? Why is this happening-especially after the Holocaust.
 
Mr: I do not know-I think people don’t believe what really happened. Whether they have not been educated , or they simply cannot believe that such a thing could happen in Christian countries-I simply do not know.
 
Noel Hershfield: But there are even Jews out there, academics such a Finklestein and Chomsky ,and of course some Islamic professors, that do not believe it happened.
 
Mrs. A: I simply do not understand it-they are either very stupid people, or they just hate Jews with such a passion that they will use anything, even the distortion of history, to achieve their goals.
 
Mr. A-They hate Jews-and the Holocaust to them is a triumph.

(He now shows me the newspaper accounts of his father’s murder-) This is the answer to the question How could this happen?
 
(He shows me a picture of the perpetrators-6 men in German uniforms-who raided the camp and shot Jews. There is a picture of his father lying in the mud, surrounded by blood.)
 
The camp was under the control of the British and the Americans. They gave him a full funeral.( corroborated by an article in The New York Times) They also name the street where he was murdered .
 
Mr A.: In Dec 1999 I came home from Hawaii and a friend of mine, also a survivor sent me a copy of a Jewish paper from Miami, telling the story of my father-I have saved that as well. I have also a book called “a guide to Auschwitz’(which he shows to me.)The reason she sent it to me was that in the museum at the camp there is the same picture from the day of liberation. She recognized me as she knew me as a child! That picture is at Yad Vashem In Israel, and also in the Holocaust museum in Washington.
 
It is clear. I don’t know why there is so much hate and indifference in the world. Since the Jewish 6 million deaths, plus 5 million other undesirables slaughtered in the camps by the Germans there has been Rwanda, Iraq,Cambodia,Kosovo,and now Darfur. That is why I wrote a letter to the editor last year supporting Bush-at least he made a stand-after all Hussein slaughtered the Kurds(with poison gas), and God knows how many of his own people. Bush  is the only world leader that has ever acted ,perhaps not for only those reasons   ,since the Holocaust.
 
Noel Hershfield: Thank you for this.
 
Author’s note: Mr A. is now retired. He was an extremely successful business man. Both he and his wife have contributed to the Simon Weisenthal Center, and many other charities, both Jewish and non-Jewish. She speaks at the annual program at Mount Royal University in Calgary during the Holocaust education week which has been in  existence for about 15 years and has been attended by over 15,000 students. She carries her small suitcase which contains her meager possessions, which she took with her during her escape.

They are  courageous Jews who by sheer grit,  believe that their stories should be passed on to all children.
 
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