we refer to the Holocaust of World War II, the names of
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinca, Majdanek and other mass extermination
camps come to mind.
there are other places, little known to the general population,
where a less automated, less efficient, but nevertheless
very effective and very systematic extermination of Jews took
place with the enthusiastic co-operation of local
inhabitants. An article I wrote on this subject for the "Jewish
Philatelic Journal" in the United States, was received with
surprise by its publisher, a specialist in Judaica matters. If
the 'experts' still do not know or acknowledge this history of
deportations, ghettos, extermination by bullets, starvation, disease,
slave labour, and the silence of still unmarked mass graves, what
history of these places and times will be transmitted?
story is about one of these places: Transnistria.
Transnistria means beyond the river Nistro. (In Russian, Dniester ). This name was assigned to a part of the territory of Ukraine between the rivers Nistro (Dniester) and Bug, and went into effect after the occupation by Romanian and German Nazi forces. It became part of Romania (1941). Transnistria contained the port of Odessa at the Black Sea, in the south and up to the northern province of Bukovina.
As an ally of Nazi Germany, Romania participated full of enthusiasm in the division of the Soviet Union and shared the spoils as the victorious power that advanced to the east.
became part of the new "Great Romania", the dream cherished
by Romanian nationalists.
On October 11, 1941, a decree signed by the Romanian general, C. Calotescu, established the ghetto in Czernowitz . All Jews should be in the ghetto by 18: oo hours. After this hour, those who transgressed this order would be shot. We moved into a house located on the corner of Russischegasse and Morariogasse within the confines of the ghetto.
In November 1941, my family and I were deported from Czernowitz. We were loaded into freight wagons, closed from the outside. Our wagon was stuffed with people, luggage, packages and tools and everything that we could carry to the train. The authorities instructed us that we were being deported and we would need everything to start a new life.
I remember we had journeyed through the night, crossing the Bukovina and Bessarabia and reaching the banks of the Dniester River.
During the night, as the train moved, a person fell and died. My cousin Ani, was also hit by a bullet ( Streifschuss). The worst happened to my aunt Tuki (Sali Schärf). A bullet lodged, by luck, a little above the heart. Tante Tuki came with her son Bruno, a couple of years older than me. Peisah Schärf, her husband, enlisted in the Red Army during the withdrawal in 1941. We never heard any news from him or about him again.
Imagine the situation inside the moving crowded wagon: A lamp hanging from the ceiling poorly lit the inside of the wagon. Screams! The cries for help increased the climate of despair and terror. I was eight. Terrified, unable to understand what was happening around me. Only the panic that invades your being. The cry that explodes in your soul. The atrocious silent scream in your soul.
Bubi, my cousin, was the first who provided help. He was the son of uncle Burech Friedman, Meshulim Friedman’s elderly brother, He was a medical student. His briefcase contained material of medical first-aid kit. Despite the bumps of train and poor lighting he succeeded to extract the bullet from aunt Tuki. Ani became semi-paralyzed. I met her in Israel and she continued the same.
We never knew the reason for these shots. It may have been a subhuman joke. This was a traumatic episode, unforgettable and unforgivable. It started growing in my child's soul, a revolt. The revolt against human evil.
When finally the train stopped and the doors were opened, it was day. The train was stopped very far away from the river Dniester. To our misfortune, the river had overflowed its banks recently and the soil was pure mud. A deep mud. The Romanian gendarmes rushed us off the train. As the train had stopped in the midle of nothing and being very high, people fell into the mud. Some tried to take what was possible. Despite attempts, most left the baggage in the wagons.
Our family had to carry two wounded. My aunt's case was worse because she lost blood. The mud was so deep that walking was very difficult. At each step the foot sank and it was difficult to proceed. Everyone was exhausted. On the way people were dropping the few belongings they could carry. I do not remember how long it took this walk to the river banks.
The history of the Jewish people is repeated. Here is an excerpt written by Don Yitshak Abravanel, a former minister, about the expulsion of the Jews from Catholic Spain in the 9th month of Av in the year 5252 (1493): "They were without power, three hundred thousand of them on foot, the young and the elderly, women and little ones, one day, all the king's provinces, where the wind takes them, they were. "
Finally we saw the first houses of the village Atachi. Residents, standing in front of their houses, were enjoying themselves with our doom. By asking water for the wounded, they said they could offer .... poison.
After so many years, I still can not understand why so much hatred.
On reaching the river Nistru (Dniester) we were transported on a raft to the other side of the river, to the city Moghilev-Podolsk. We had with us only the clothes that we could carry, in addition to our wounded.
Moghilev was a médium sized city and had some Jews, the remaining residents. We were housed in a room where a woman lived with her little baby. They slept in a single existing bed. All others slept on the floor next to one another.
Uncle Yacob Friedman (my father's brother) became ill. He was placed in this bed, covered with his gray coat The collar was also a gray Astrakhan fur to combine with the coat. He was a bachelor. He was an officer in the army of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. He fought in the First World War, was wounded and decorated. It seems he received a salary at the time. After a few days, he died.
One day appeared aunt Frieda (Shlima's sister) with her husband Talic Sudak and their daughter Léa (about 13 years). The girl screamed all the time. It seems it was meningitis. She was also placed in this bed. The screams continued incessantly for several days. Finally she died. The screams still echo in my ears.
Frieda never recovered from this trauma. She lived repeating that she was grateful to my father for having been able to bury her Leah. Even that was a feat.
One day came uncle Moisei Kuperman, (older brother of my mother), his wife, Shlima (neé Weinberg), and their son, Dorian. He was always in the lap of his mother chewing her collar. Moisei chewing a piece of “xicoria”. It was the only thing available to eat. It was the hunger. They had lost their Iosale , a little genius. At age three years he read the newspaper in the Romanian language and Hebrew in the prayerbook.
Romanians and the Germans started arresting men fit for work. The contingent was transported to the city of Tulczin, deep inside Transnistria. They inspected each house. My father managed to hide in a false. Moises and Tzalic with their women and Dorian were taken to Tulczin. In Tulczin there was a bridge being built with slave labor. Moisei had a lumber yard in Nouã Sulitza in Bessarabia, so he was a useful man. He was lucky to work in his profession. Initially, they recovered a bakery. This was where he was allowed to have some BREAD!
An unusual case, if not unique, happened to my uncle Froicic Kuperman (younger brother of my mother, Genia). One day appeared Froicic. He was thin and hungry. There was only a soup made of one beet, I will repeat, a white beet. This soup was the final incentive to think seriously about an exit. Froicic together with his friends began planning a way to escape from Transnistria. The plan consisted of an almost innocent lie: that he escaped from a Soviet prison camp.
The physical appearance of Froicic was very similar to an Arian. In Bukovina we had many of these German descendants called Schwaben. He was blond with smooth hair, blue eyes, spoke German and had an appearance of a “sheighitz” (A non-Jew, in Yidish). However, he had a minor defect that was actually a benefit: He did stutter.
This may sound unbelievable, but it happened to me. It has nothing to do with Transnistria but with Froicic. I worked in a multinational company in Rio de Janeiro. Sometimes I ate lunch near the factory. One day I stopped to light a cigar, and a voice behind me called me: 'Froicic'. I turn around and saw an elderly person. In profile, the appearence made me look really like Froicic when he was young. In short: this man was one of Czernowitzers Schwaben. He and his wife supplied vegetables to Meshulim Friedmans restaurant, and he knew Froicic and other relatives. Imagine the unexpected happening: after nearly forty years, one Schwab from Czernowitz, in Rio de Janeiro, confuses me with Froicic.!
Finally, when the Soviet Union, after the agreement with Hitler, they seized the Bukowina and started immediately the communist regime. Uncle Meshulem was considered a capitalist and deported with his wife and children, to Siberia!
A clarification may be necessary. Part of the province of Bukovina was part of the Austrian Empire (later the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and there people spoke "Austrian", I mean German.
Froicic changed his clothes with a farm worker, typical of the region, called “kufaica”, padded clothes, because of the intense cold. Armed with a "matchless courage" entered a German army unit, and told the following story: He had been arrested by the Soviets but managed to escape. His mother was German, an elderly and sick women, his father, a Schwab already dead, and he wanted to go back to revisit his mother before she died. A simple and compelling story!
They believed him and gave him clothes as for a German soldier and money and a pass and food. From Froicic Kuperman he became Franz Kupfer, sounding much more Aryan. This "crazy" had the courage to return to our home to bring the bread .... a white bread ... an undreamable dream.
Once adventurous, always adventurous. Instead of simply looking to cross the river Dniester and catch the train that would take him back to Czernowitz, he thought it would be more advisable and more convenient to join a Romanian official with his mistress, who were crossing the river. He offered himself as an orderly, carrying the belongings of the couple. An additional protection.
Despite the stuttering Froicic had a voice out of common and very potent. It is known that stuttering does not interfere in singing. On the train full of soldiers, he began to sing and entertain the passengers. This resulted that the officer inviting him to sing at the officers' club in Czernowitz. Froicic gladly accepted.
For some time, Froicic continued to sing at the club, until one night a drunken Romanian official has recognized him. He never more appeared at the club. .
The first winter of 1941 was extremely severe, reaching temperatures of minus -40 degrees Celsius.
I remember not being able to throw a bucket of dirty water due to its almost instantaneous freezing while it was poured out.
Many died of cold, frozen, in addition to hunger and disease. Their bodies were piling up in the cemetery waiting for the spring, when, with the thaw it would be possible to dig new graves, or rather, new mass graves.
Across the street where we lived was an orphanage. Daily passed the gravedigger with his wagon. Piled the bodies of children who died during the night. They were actually skeletons covered with skin. The man had to work the bodies in the wagon to fit them all. Although many years have passed, this macabre picture is alive in my mind.
Moisei, Shlima, Dorian, Talic and Frieda succeded to survive in Tulcin. Many times I asked Shlima and Frieda to tell me how was their life there. They allways changed the subject.
Only Mania (my aunt, older sister of my mother), her husband, Isiu Engler, Rachilia Kuperman (mothers sister) and my grandfather, maternal side, Joel Kupperman, remained. All the relatives of my father's family were deported.
When the Soviet forces entered Tulcin, Moisei and Talic enlisted in the Red Army. They wanted to join to avenge the death of Iosale and Leah. They could speak Romanian, Russian and German. Moisei became part of an intelligence group whose mission was to obtain information about the enemy, before the advancing troops. The group used to infiltrate into the enemies camp, grabbed an officier and interrogated. When they conquered the place, the captured officers were subjected to new interrogations.
Sometimes Moisei remembered these interrogations. You could see the expression on his face changed. He remained in the army until the conquest of Budapest (Hungary's capital). Helped many Jews in the meantime. The end of the war was imminent. When the longing to revisit the family reached the limit, he decided to disappear.
Even in the most precarious situations I had a "teacher" who taught me Hebrew and mathematics. As payment he received a bowl of soup and a slice of bread. I cannot forget the lamp made from a tin can, kerosene and a rag. This was our source of light. He appeared only at night. The so-called "teacher" was actually an undercover partizan. When the Soviets liberated us we came to know the truth.
Whole waves of German soldiers, Romanians, Ukrainians, Cossacks (who fought alongside the Nazis) and other sympathizers were to withdraw beyond the river Dniester, toward Bessarabia. Soon their numbers grew, and more they grew, the more nervous they became. The retreat of passing tanks made the houses tremble, guns of all types and sizes, combat cars, carriages and all kinds of vehicles were used to flee the advancing Red Army.
The exhausted soldiers, ragged and dirty walked on foot, the highest ranking in the vehicles . The Germans considered themselves the most important and demanded the right to get ahead of others, including threatening, firing their weapons into the air. Through the cracks of the windows could be seen the despair. It was the defeat.
Even so, the enemy resisted. Snipers continued to fire until they were killed. A Russian soldier on a horse was killed when he passed in front of our house. He was very young. He looked like a boy.
An unprecedented event occurred when an elderly German soldier came to ask us to give him shelter.! My father accepted him, obviously with the consent of the other villagers. We shared with him some of our food. When the situation began to stabilize he was handed over to the authorities .
The liberating forces started entering the city. There are no words to describe the joy that exploded in the hearts of the survivors.
The Rio's O Globo newspaper reported: "Crossing the Dniester a distance of 30 miles (48 kilometers), Konev's troops fighting in the suburbs and within the city Moghilev-Podolsk
"March 20, 1944" is officially regarded as the day of liberation of Moghilev-Podolsk.
We started planning a return to our home, my hometown, Czernowitz.
My mother, Genia (neé Kuperman) was a born leader. She was much younger than my father, Izchak. My Mutti joined a small group of people, including aunt Tuki, my cousin Bruno Schärf, friends and other relatives. She got a cap from a Russian soldier with the red star emblem, This cap came to be our "passport", very useful in our journey through Bessarabia. We packed our belongings and started walking. First we crossed the river Dniester.
Mom spoke several languages including Russian. This helped a lot, because the inhabitants of Bessarabia spoke Russian. In places where we went or we stayed, we were regarded as being part of the Soviet army. This facilitated finding a place to stay overnight, and meals by the inhabitants of villages.
The walk started early and continued to pursue as long as possible. Without a map, we tried to gain information about the next village in order to plan the walk so that at night we could arrive in time to a place to sleep.
We walked at this pace for about ten days, when finally we approached the outskirts of Czernowitz. We were exhausted, but alive and happy with the return.
It was the first of May 1944. When I arrived at the corner of Russischegasse (Strada Romãnã) I started to run to the house that was my home and where I spent my first happy eigth years of life. The anxiety increased the pace of the race, and when I finally reached the gate, stopped and started crying. Windows and doors destroyed, unroofed, bush everywhere, the rooms dirty. The picture of the war.
I still cry. The dream of coming home broke my childhood. I turned into a rebel.
Czernowitz was not the same. Many of my family died. Reportedly, 60 percent of Jews in this city died in Transnistria.
Other persons of my family died in Transnistria but I do not have the information.
Rabbi Moses Rosen of Romania reported: These martyrs were murdered twice. They were killed once during the Holocaust of the Jewish people and again for our forgetfulness!