|Tsivye in Germany|
|Mechel in Germany|
There was no future for Jews in Poland. Fortunately, Poland was happy to close its eyes and let Jews leave its borders, and so there was a vast, informal movement of Jews out of Poland, to Occupied Germany and Austria. The Allies, to their everlasting credit, understood they had a moral obligation to give shelter to survivors of the Holocaust and help them resettle in safer lands. Two months after repatriation to Poland, my family smuggled its way into Berlin. There, they were in the hands of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, UNRRA, whose mission was to minister to the needs of refugees. Not long after that my family continued on to Munich, where we lived until 1951, and where my second sister Betty and I were born.
What follows is Tsivye’s recollections of our life in Germany until our emigration to the US.
We were thinking to leave this horrible country. We couldn’t leave a normal, legal way because the Poles or the Russians – whoever was there at the time – didn’t give us visas. From Palestine there was an organization to help smuggle Jews out. Israel wasn’t in existence yet; this was called Aliya Bet. Aliya Bet went on for two years before the State was established. Others went through Czechoslovakia. We had to make our escape illegally, with help from UNRRA. They arranged trucks. Under darkness of night we went into the trucks with our few things. We were covered by a big green canvas, like goods, and we headed for Berlin. There was a feeling of danger because it happened sometimes the driver would betray the people, kill them for money. We went through woods where the guards were bought off, we traveled all night, eight hours; we almost choked from lack of air, we couldn’t breathe. In the morning we came to Berlin. There we were received very warmly by the UNRRA people. They already had prepared for us a meal and where to live. It was in a DP camp. We’d arrived in Poland before Shveeus, and by Shabbos Hazon we were in Germany.
Berlin was divided by the four powers – there was the French part, the American part, the English part and the Russian part In the first days we were staying in the French Zone. A few days later we were transported to the American Zone. We came to place called Templehoff. This was a suburb of Berlin. This was a place where the former Nazis lived. They were displaced now to make room for us, the returning and leftover Jews coming from all over Europe and Russia. This place was a big complex of houses with playgrounds for the children. This was organized as a DP camp. We had a committee; and there were UNRRA people, mostly Jews, who came to serve our needs, like distributing food, and they also made some sort of school for the kids, and a place where to worship. We started the life of displaced persons. There were three-room apartments, which were divided among three families: one family to a room, and a shared kitchen for all of us. They organized a Hebrew school, and Tsili started school. In the school the language of instruction was Hebrew. The teachers were young people who also returned from Russia or hiding. Everything was taught with an intense feeling, consciousness of our past. Madrichim, instructors, came from Eretz Israel to train the older kids in groups to prepare for immigration to Palestine.
Tsili didn’t participate in those groups because she was too young, under eight years of age. She just went to the school and played with the kids. Once she had high fever and the doctor of the camp came and diagnosed her illness as scarlet fever. She had to be taken away from us and placed in hospital in seclusion. This was heartbreaking for me. I brought her there, we couldn’t part, this strange hospital full of German nurses, and here she was one Jewish child alone. I went to visit her each day. I couldn’t go into the hospital because she was in seclusion, but I looked through the window. I brought her several things, whatever I could. After ten days she was released.
Before she was released something happened that I want to mention. I don’t remember the date exactly. This was the time of the Nuremburg Trials. The day when the verdict came out to hang those Nazi criminals, in Berlin all of a sudden there were no lights in the streets, the movie houses said they had technical problems – that’s how they explained it. There was no theater, no movie house, nothing, like the whole city was paralyzed, in sympathy with those Nazi heroes. The head nurse was talking between her and the other nurses that because of the Jews the best people are going to be hung. They started to talk and talk, and Tsili was very hurt, and cried. The next day I came and she was in tears. I asked her what happened. She said that the nurse talked about the Jews in a very bad manner; everything is the fault of the Jews, because of the Jews they hang the best people. I spoke to the nurse and I said what a nerve she had to talk like this in front of the kids. That they are people without heart and they murdered so many millions of people – this is nothing for them; but when they’re brought to trial and they get a just verdict, this is a tragedy for them. She apologized, but I didn’t take any apology from her.
In another day or two Tsili was released from hospital. We’d gone through so many places, but I never saw the child in such a bad condition – so many lice in the head! I just couldn’t handle her. We cut her hair short and then from the UNRRA there came a nurse and she brought kerosene. It took weeks and weeks, until I got the child’s hair clean.
She had many Jewish friends. There were all kinds of activities in the camp. There were weddings. Life had to go on. People came back. As in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, people married, multiplied. There were britot when a boy was born. We went to each of them. Each child who was born to our people was a miracle. They were received beautifully. We didn’t have a home, we didn’t have a place to live, but we kept in our consciousness how so many of our people went, in the concentration camps, in the ghettos, six millions went, and here we are alive, and we are trying to build up again our nation in numbers and in strength.
We were also discussing about Eretz Israel, about the future. Everybody hoped that someday we would have a State. This was 1946. We hoped very much, this kept us alive.
We were thinking how we could make a living, especially Mechel – he didn’t want to be dependent, he didn’t want to live off the dole. In order to survive and to get clothes and other necessities we used to trade. We used to receive from America cigarettes and sell them to people who resold them. We earned some money this way. We decided to go from Berlin to Munich. We didn’t want to go to a DP camp there, but to take an apartment and to start an independent life. We moved to Munich in February.
|Germany. Places mentioned in Tsivye's narrative underlined|
|Ruins in Munich after the War|
From Berlin to Munich was a long voyage. It wasn’t possible to do it in one day or two. We had to stop off in another DP camp which was located at Schwarzenborn. What State in Germany this is I forgot, but this was previously a Nazi camp and we could still see traces of this, like barbed wire around the camp and also in the woods. The little village was surrounded by beautiful forests. We went for walks in the forest. It was very strange. We saw children’s shoes and all kinds of things which were left over. Our people said that there are graves here someplace. But when we asked the Germans they didn’t want to tell us anything – they don’t know. There we were stuck for a few weeks. Meanwhile they gave us a small room. Mechel and my brother went on to Munich to search for an apartment, and I was left alone with Tsili. I sought out friends, and Tsili had some playmates. I remember we even went to a Jewish show, and we enjoyed it. People started to live, to try to live again normal lives, to plan the future. We had some people there whom we knew from Semipalatinsk. I visited them and they visited me. I remember it got colder and colder, but we had a stove in our room so we were really lucky.
After a pretty long time of waiting in Schwartzenborn and feeling pretty cold and lonesome, Mechel came to pick us up. He’d found an apartment where a Nazi lived before. My brother Moshe was there already. The voyage was hard, we had to wait in different stations. After a night of travel we arrived in a grey morning in Munich. This was in the month of February. In Munich there were still traces of the war, like bombed houses; but still there were plenty of living quarters. Our apartment had some furnishings; we could rest on beds after our voyage. After a few days we began to look around for dishes and other necessities. The apartment had a coal stove. Mechel had to look where to buy coal, and it was stored in the cellar. We had to go down five flights to bring up the coal in order to warm our room.
Munich had a good number of Jews: survivors of the camps, people who’d come out of hiding, or Jews who returned from Russia. There was already an organization of communal life whose task was to serve the needs of the people. First they organized a school for the children. After a few weeks Tsili was already registered and went to school. Mechel went with her every day, she was nine; but after looking around for some neighbors we found a girl around our corner, an older girl, and she used to take Tsili along. The first grade she’d finished in Semipalatinsk; the language there was Polish. In Berlin where we’d been for a few months and also here in Munich the language of instruction was Hebrew. The trend of the surviving Jews was to go to Israel. Besides Hebrew they also had some German and English.
The first Pessach was very hard. We didn’t have any table cloths, we didn’t have with what to clean the house and to change things, also dishes and food. But as I said, Mechel was very, very good at getting things for his family, he always got the best he could get. We had a Pessach, really nice, in the sense that we could tell about the Exodus from Egypt, and our exodus from our own Egypt, Russia. We were not established yet; we were still in a land in which we didn’t want to stay, which we hated, which was soaked with blood. We didn’t think that our future was in Germany. But still we were on the way out. We were thinking and dreaming of either Eretz Israel, or America.
We knew we are in Germany just in transit, waiting to go to Israel. We tried to make our lives as normal as possible, but it was very far from normal. The shadow of the past hung over our heads. Our neighbors the Germans reminded us always of this. They were very sweet on the surface, very polite. But they hated to see there are still Jews alive. I couldn’t stand living among them; they constantly reminded me of what they did to us. We tried to make a nice life for Tsili, but I cannot say she was a happy child. She was very intelligent and felt very much what she’d gone through. I was pregnant then with our second child, my daughter Betty. Besides school I went with Tsili to the movies, and shows like Chanukah and Purim parties. We had some visitors and we went to people. I wish I could remind myself of their names, but I hardly remember their names.
Mechel looked around to make some money to feed his family. The times were very irregular. There was no chance for a Jew to establish himself in business. Everybody turned to the black market. The American Army was in Munich in great numbers. Trade went on with them and through them. Mechel made friends with an American Jewish sergeant, who had originally come from Germany. His name was Berman. He was in the film industry. But besides this he had all kinds of things to sell: cigarettes, chocolate, whatever was available in the PX. He had the right to sell in larger quantities. Also, he brought fruit not usually available in a normal way, like bananas or oranges. The children called him Uncle Bananas.
A few months passed, and school vacation approached. The children had a chance to go to the mountains for ten days, paid for by UNRRA, naturally. Tsili also went. It was a very beautiful place in the Alps called Kochel. We brought her there and we went home.
My time for giving birth approached. I was due in July. Here I must mention an obstetrician named Doctor Klebanow. He was also a survivor of the camps. His devotion to us women was remarkable; he took a very personal interest in all of us. He worked in the May Clinic in Munich. I went there to give birth. It was a nice hospital, where all the nurses were nuns. In the delivery room we had only midwives; they called in doctors for very serious cases.
My very dear friend Malka Schubin (originally Weisblum) came to help in the household while I was in hospital. She lived in a DP camp waiting to go to Sweden, where her husband was already. She was and still is like a sister to us. Our friendship comes down from our parents and grandparents, from our shtetl Lezhensk. This was a very touching event: after eight and a half years, my second birth. Also, after what we went through, it was like sunshine coming through clouds. A child was a new life not just for my family but for the entire Jewish community. Each newborn child was received with such enthusiasm! Betty was born the Twenty-first of Tammuz in the Jewish calendar, in the secular calendar July 9. This was a big event in our lives. I had a very hard labor, but she was born naturally. When I came home with her our whole house lighted up.
We had a problem getting things for the child. This was after a war and everything was scarce; even diapers were hard to get. We had to prepare them from old sheets. The rest Mechel somehow got, I don’t know how, but he was special for getting things for his family.
Tsili came home from vacation and she was sort of surprised. I didn’t prepare her really. On the surface she was happy but I don’t think she was happy inside. Malka was still with us, cooking, cleaning, everything. This was very nice of her, and I’ll always remember it. My sister was then in Berlin, she wasn’t with me. We were pretty lonesome: no parents, aunts or uncles around, just good friends.
As I said before, we lived on the fourth floor, under the roof. The summer was very hot. When she was nineteen days old Betty almost choked. We were lucky; we had a doctor living on ground floor. He came; he took her by the feet head down and shook her until she came to herself. There was no fan or air-conditioning; we had to hang out wet bed sheets in the window all the time so the child could have fresh air to breathe. It was very hard for me. When we went out we had to carry the carriage down, to carry the child down. Mechel wasn’t always there to do it. I did it. We went to the park, which wasn’t far away; we went there twice a day.
We had guests from all over. My brother Arvum lived in Ulm Donau, in a DP camp. When Betty was four weeks old, my sister-in-law came with her child, who was one year old, and we made for him his first birthday party. It was a strain for me, but we didn’t understand otherwise, we were so close. She stayed for Shabbos. Later on my sister arrived with her husband. She’d had a miscarriage with her first child. In Munich she became pregnant again. It was a very hard pregnancy; there was an inflammation and she had to lie in bed. Also this good Dr Klebanow (who afterwards moved to New York, and still lives here) he took care of her. We lived all together. We had three rooms and a kitchen: my brother Moshe in one room, my sister with her husband in the second, and we in the third. Then Moshe got engaged.
|Moshe ("Monye") Ringel|
|From right, Avrum and Monye|
|Ben-Gurion declares Israeli independence|
That same year there was a big event in the life of our nation. Palestine was divided into Jewish and Arab states by majority vote at the UN on November 29. The English occupation had to withdraw from Palestine on May 5. There was big jubilation; everyone was very happy; a lot of young people went to Israel to help build, and also to prepare for fighting. By us I remember how we were listening to the radio with great tension, until we were sure we have it. Luckily, America and Russia, who never agreed about anything, in this matter did agree; in matter of fact Russia accepted us de facto, before the Americans under Truman recognized us de jure. The name of the new state was not Eretz Israel but just Israel, because the territory we got was not the whole territory of the Land of Israel, just part – we didn’t have places like Samaria. So “Israel” was just the right name. And so the country began its birth pangs. This was just the beginning. Great men were fighting for years to prepare this, but later the real fight started.
This was for us the most beautiful event in our lives – in our private lives also, because we were always dreaming about an independent State. We all felt like picking ourselves up and going, but this was easier said than done. After all we’d been through, nobody had the physical strength, especially me and my sister; we were very down. We started to plan. We knew that at the moment a Jewish government would be established we would face a bitter war; not an even war, because the Jewish population was very small, and here against us we had millions of fanatic Arabs. Until this day their only aim is to eliminate us. A lot of youth went there, there was some sort of preparation, but this wasn’t much, Jews had to beg and to go and buy some weapons, but there was no money. Jews in the Diaspora started to collect money. Czechoslovakia was on good terms with us at this time and from their Skoda Works they sold us a lot of weapons, but still it wasn’t an even battle.
May 15, 1948: Israel was supposed to have complete independence. The English were supposed to withdraw. There was great tension. The British withdrew from Palestine in a very unfriendly manner. They gave all their equipment to the hands of the Arabs and left us Jews helpless, without rifles or anything to defend ourselves. Ben-Gurion was the Head of State. The Hebrew date was Fifth of Iyar, the secular date was Fifteenth of May. Ben-Gurion made the declaration on Friday although the withdrawal was to be on Shabbos, but since there were religious people on the committee, like Rabbi Maimon, he decided to declare the State on Friday.
Many thousands of people went to help establish the State. It was an uneven, bitter battle. After the ceasefire many people who went to Israel didn’t stay. The living conditions at the time were terrible; there was no housing or food. People lived in tents. Not everybody could stand it. But I have greatest respect for the people who stayed on and worked and fought and sacrificed themselves.
In the meanwhile life went on. We started to dress ourselves, and also to go to seamstresses, in order to look like people. In Russia, from the camps, we came in rags. Tsili did very well in school. She picked up Hebrew very nicely. I would go to the school for parent-teacher meetings, and I had good news from Tsili’s teachers, she progressed. She appeared in Chanukah and Purim plays. Betty grew. The house was a full of life. We always had guests, it was like Grand Central Station, but nobody understood differently. And I always wanted Betty to have fresh air, so we’d go down the stairs and up the stairs twice a day. Betty looked beautiful, with blond curls, beautiful face, blue eyes. My husband and myself were very happy parents. But I began to suffer physically. During the day I was out with Betty, and at night I’d be up until two in the morning, washing diapers and cooking. Also I had to take care of my brother Moshe who was a single man… his shirts, cooking. I suffered from my gall bladder. Mechel had to find help for us; we got a woman, and then it was a lot easier.
In March 1948 there was Moshe’s wedding. My older brother Avrum was in a DP camp in Ulm Donau; he and his wife, my sister-in-law, went to the wedding, and left their nineteen-month-old boy with us; also Meyer went. Betty was nine or ten months. Betty took sick with high fever, angina. We were two women alone, my sister and myself. We didn’t know what to do. It was terrible. We called the local doctor who gave her some pills. I called my husband, I sent him a telegram, to the place where the wedding was, and instead of staying over for Shabbat there he came back.
Winter went by, the spring came. Betty was almost a year old. It was time for Esther to be born. My sister gave birth to her daughter Esther on July 15. This was again a big, very happy event. For my sister’s husband this was a second marriage, he lost all his family, so this was something tremendous. Scheindl gave birth normally, but she was weak. A month after the birth I was away overnight in Ulm Donau at a cousin’s wedding. That night my sister started bleeding. They called a doctor, a Nazi doctor, and instead of giving her something to stop the bleeding, he gave her something so the bleeding should continue. If not for this good doctor of ours, Dr. Klebanow… My brother-in-law went in the middle of the night to him and brought him. He right away saw from where the blood is coming, and stopped it. She was almost gone. Again I must recall Dr. Klebanow with appreciation and thankfulness to him.
When Betty was fifteen months old I became pregnant again, this time with Louis. Mechel had to look around for bigger quarters, because the house was already very crowded. We were in three rooms with three families. There was one kitchen for three housewives. It was very hard. We found an apartment in Riebenstrasse [?]. This was on the ground floor and it was a lot better. We were on our own. Tsili was closer to school. All the Jewish life was concentrated on Muehlestrasse – the school, the committee headquarters, and also the business went on there. This was black market and we were from time to time very afraid: although we didn’t do anything wrong against the American Government, this was forbidden. Often we were afraid.
|Tsivye at Bad Mergentheim, with friend|
The year went by. In 1949, during vacation time, I gave birth to Louis: a son after two daughters. There was a brit mila, it was a big party. It was very hard to get things, but for this my husband got things. There were women in the house cooking and baking. I was breast feeding him, as I did the girls. But after his birth I didn’t feel too good; the birth itself was very easy but the afterbirth was very hard. The doctor gave me a needle which the midwife was against. It looks like the injection affected my gallbladder. All my digestive system was bad. I was sick, with two small children.
Tsili went away for vacation to Switzerland. Because we had help in the house, my husband decided to go to Israel to tour and see for himself if we should decide to go there to live or not. He was there over the High Holidays. When he went away he left me with help, but the help didn’t like the arrangement and she went away. I’m a mother stuck with two kids. Then Tsili came home from vacation to discover that her father isn’t home. She expected to find good things, because where she was in the mountains the food was very bad, but instead everything is meager, no meat, the milk is scarce. The two kids broke out in a rash, eczema. It was very painful for them, and for me too. They were itching and crying, and I had to carry them at night. I didn’t know which one to lift up first. It was a very difficult month.
Mechel stayed over Sikkes, and came back with a decision. I didn’t like it, but I had to accept it. He cannot go to Israel with a wife not too well, and with three small kids. It would be very hard to make a living there. So we decided to wait for some affidavits from the States. My brother-in-law had relatives who sent them.
The illness of my bladder continued. In 1950 I went for a cure to a resort named Bad Mergentheim. That was for bathing, and drinking the waters. I stayed there four weeks. Meanwhile we had a girl who took care of the children. Also my sister looked in. I was so sad when I came home: Louis didn’t recognize me; it was terrible. But finally he decided that I must be somebody he knew before, his mother. He came to me and hugged me and kissed me. He was quite a boy.
Betty and Louis liked each other, but Betty was a little jealous and she used to do all kinds of things to him. I had to stand between them to watch them. When she was three and a half years old she started to go to a nursery. She liked it very much. She didn’t want to go home. Once they had to drag her home.
Meanwhile we did preparations to go to the States. We received affidavits. We had to go to the American Embassy to register. The summer of 1951 Louis was almost two years, Betty four, and Tsili thirteen. All this getting ready to go to the States hurt me very, very much, because in my mind I dreamt we would go to Israel. In my youngest years I used to dream to go, and it was never realized. And now that we have a State I have to go to a strange land and start a new life. But this was the situation. My husband said that it’s impossible in a country where there is no peace. How can we risk taking three small kids there?
We started out on our way. First we stepped into Paris, where Mechel’s sister and mother lived. We stayed with them four days. Then we continued to Cherbourg, and there we boarded the Queen Mary for the States. The crossing was four and a half days. This was the most luxurious vessel for ocean travel, but I wasn’t feeling well, despite the excitement of being on our way to where we hoped we establish our lives again. I was very, very sick for four and a half days, just lying in the cabin and unable to go up on deck.
|Tsivye with her children in Germany, around 1950|