Manuscript of Helen Rosenbaum

I have no memories of my childhood in my birthplace-Lublin Poland, we left before I had the chance to make any.  I was only two years old, but I have kept notes of everything. As my father spoke, I wrote, and thats how I am able to tell my whole story.

My family decided to leave Poland and flee to the Soviet Union. Before we left, my father and uncle went over by themselves to see what they situation was like. They crossed over the book river illegally. The reason my father originally felt obligated to leave was because he was walking on the street when he had seen a Jewish man’s beard being cut, which was soon followed by a beating. Antisemitism was on the rise in Poland, and my father was more than aware of it. Thats when he had decided that it was time to go, and he soon left with his brother to scope things out in Russia. He came right back for me and my mother, and we were gone within a number of days. My father saved my family, in sparing us from the horrors of experiencing life within ghetto’s and camps. We could starve and be hungry, but at least our lives were not constantly threatened like others who had remained in Poland.

The packing process was very hard, as its impossible to pick and choose which parts of your life you would leave or bring with you. But at the end of the day, it came down to the basic necessities, anything that could aid in our survival. My mother packed her Persian lamb coat, which she later sold in exchange for food. We brought comforters which kept us warm. We brought clothes, but obviously not enough of them due to the fact that our future was nothing close to predictable.

Upon our arrival in Russia, the men were being separated from the women. Men would go to work in various places, and the women and children would be sent to others. My blond hair was in two little braids and were bouncing as I ran, skipped, bounced and fooled around, seemed to have gained the attention Russian guard who was in charge of this selection process. He startled me by asking “where are you going,” in Russian. I spoke polish which is pretty similar to Russian, so I understood him. I then replied “to Russia”. He asked me where my father was, and I pointed to him on the opposite side of the crowd. He called over my father and told the three of us to go. That may as well have been the last time I ever got to see my father, but by some twist of fate we remained together as a family.

After the selection process, we approached a booth. The man inside asked my father if he planned on becoming a permanent Russian citizen to which he replied no. Thats when they sent us to Siberia as a “punishment,” but little had we known, it was a blessing in disguise. By sending us further away, it created a larger barrier between us and the Nazi’s. Since we were deeper in Russia (geography wise), it didn’t effect us when the germans invaded the boarder towns. Considering that is where we would have been living if we hadn’t been sent to Siberia, it astonishes me to think something meant as a punishment turned out to save our lives.

My first solid memory was really when Hitler had attacked Russia, and we were let out of Siberia. But I did have little glimpses of hunger, which were later completed with my parents testimonies. In Siberia I would knock on our neighbours door and beg for a piece of bread, because they had three working sons and could afford more. But I clearly remember our journey out of Siberia, it is still vivid in my memory. My uncle had arrived in Siberia only a couple weeks before we had to leave, but he managed to find us after being “punished” too. He left his wife and child in Poland, because she refused to leave. There was a wooden cart with two wheels and two carrying poles (like a horse drawn cart), and my father held one pole as my uncle held the other. I sat atop the wagon with the couple belongings we had left, with my uncle and father pulling me and my mother walking beside. i realized that we had always been walking next to water, and when I asked my dad why, he replied “as long as we follow the river, we know where we are going.”

We soon settled in a very small quiet area, where my father found work in a town nearby as a tailor for Russian soldiers and fixed uniforms. He was fair haired and didn’t look stereotypically jewish, compared to my mother who did. He was able to barter with work for food, and bring it home to us in the outskirts of the town. Although the Russians saved our lives, he was still very careful. There were always a couple soldiers each day that stopped by to ask him if the knife they carried is good to kill jews with.

One specific time on a freezing cold stormy winter night, my mother heard a bang at the door. She opened it to find my father lying there, he was cold and frozen. He later told us that on his way home he would see people stop to rest, and they would just freeze to death. So he didn’t stop for a break, he just kept on walking. And when he finally reached the door he collapsed, and that is what the bang was.

This is around the time my brother was born, and I remember helping my mother with him. The floor was made of mud, so my father dug a hole and put wooden panels around it. That is where I would help bathe him, and such. I also had the fortune of going to school for a tiny bit. There were classes for people from Poland, so that they could continue studying Polish rather then Russian. That is also where my uncle re-married a jewish woman, and had a baby with her.

 

I must have been around 7 years old by the time we were liberated. I remember my parents telling me that we couldn’t stay in Russia anymore, which I later understood considering we were aliens there (not citizens). We left on Passover, by cattle train. They added an extra level on top to fit more people in one car. We had to climb up a ladder in order to get in. We went through Poland because it boarders with Russia, but we were only there for a little while. It was a part of Poland that I didn’t know and we were strangers to, and there was nothing there for us. So we left to Germany.

In Germany we lived in DP (displaced person) camps, where the Americans would supply us with food and other basic necessities. My father had been elected within the community to divide the food coupons equally, because he had always been considered an honest person.  Due to the job my father had, our room had a little more space. This is also where my family had found out what happened, and the horrors that occurred while we lived in oblivion.

My uncles family had perished in Poland, and my mothers whole family did as well (other then one uncle). She still doesn’t know what happened to them exactly, all that is known is they were exterminated within one of the camps. The one uncle that survived, had moved to Canada well before the war. This is how my family ended up here.

We came to Canada and tried to adapt to daily life. I remember going to school with my older cousin who always lived here, it was hard at first. I recall a time when I had been eating a snack when someone asked me something in english that I couldn’t understand. So I walked away, and they followed me and hit me. I started crying and a girl came up to me, she tried talking in English until she realized I didn’t understand and then switched  to Polish. When she asked why I was crying, I told her they hit me. She asked them why they hit me and they said it was because I wouldn’t share, and that made sense because I later found out that they were asking if I wanted the bits or bites. I am still friends with that girl to this day.

I guess this all made me grow up faster, then anyone would now. When I came here I was 9, and I had been more mature because I had been forced to grow and had to adapt to circumstance. Through helping with my brother, and other experiences it helped it mature. I came here and went to school, camp, and danced to Hebrew songs. We have never gone back to Poland, nor do I want to. I feel as if the Polish people could have done more, there were some who did (my husband was saved by a pole)  and were very good but not enough. 3 million of the Jews who died were polish, and they could have done more to help. If I had to leave your generation with a message or lesson it would be to be very careful in monitoring hate and discrimination. We have to remember this and learn from it. We have to value our Israel, and which is another reason why our government today is amazing because they understand. They tolerate, rather then discriminate. And it shouldn’t be any other way.

 

 

 

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