Part I Part II
Part III - Stormy Sea 4M. High Waves - Memories of My Journey and Arrival In ISRAEL
I am starting this, the third of my three part story on the day after a
very stormy night in January 2013 when memories of my journey returned.
I so often think about WWII when only miracles, hope and not a small
dose of "chuzpe" helped us survive.
As I mentioned before, I came from a non-Zionist home but the war, the
desire to hold on to something which was a light at the end of such a
dark tunnel, made me turn to Zionism and Jabotinsky. The dream I
had was to fight and not be driven by waves of fear and hatred, but to
stand up tall, to be a human being among others, to be free and defend
myself as all other human beings were allowed to do. What a dream!
After the Russian/German occupation, in February 1943, made my mother
decide that the time has come for me to leave home, fulfill my
dream and go to Israel. It must have been a very hard decision for her,
thinking back, as we were very close, and, had for 4 years after my
father's death, been living alone.
My aunt and uncle had booked (payment in gold) on a "ship" to take them
from Tulcea - one of the Danube's 3 arms into the Black Sea - to
Palestine.The ship had "accommodation" for 80 people but "mit Geld und
guten Worten"(with money and kind words) being a minor I was taken as
81st person on board.
The trip, for me, started with tears and promises to meet my parents on
the next ship. Bookings had started for the next ship to leave 2weeks
after ours. The separation was therefore made easier with the "as it is
not for long, see you soon "- but it took 6 years for me to
be held in my mother's arms again!! In those days trains still
had this romantic coal-mist made by the engine (Anna Karenina!) and as
the train moved very slowly, waving and through a veil of tears, our
We had ONE common paper, "the travel permit" with every name on it and,
thus, bound to each other: one for all and all for one -- 81 strangers
bound by fate. I can't remember how long we travelled, I was
still filling my handkerchief with tears, but I do remember our arrival
in Tulcea at night. The ship was supposed to be waiting for us, we were
supposed to board it right away in order to get our cabins and
accommodation. Instead, when we got off the train, Romanian police and
soldiers were waiting for us and we were "escorted" to a miserable
typical provincial travelling salesmen "hotel", which, of course,
included a "lady" for their entertainment. We got the smallest room
where the 3 of us could sleep, my aunt and uncle in a double bed,
and I on our suitcases. Well, good enough for one night, I
thought. There was neither a bathroom nor a shower, but there was
warm and cold running water in a basin in the room. We could "cat wash"
and go to sleep.
Early the following morning a police officer arrived and informed us
that we were held in quarantine till and when a ship arrives. We may
not: 1. leave the hotel under any circumstances; 2. may not speak
or communicate with the people outside; 3. Food can be bought and
will be delivered by army/ police only; 4. We may write letters,
hand them to the soldiers/police watching us; and 5. make a list of
what we want for which we had to pay ourselves.
That, of course, needed an organization. Volunteer leaders were soon
found and we slowly settled into a routine. It amazes me until today
how easily one adjusts in an emergency with the goodwill and
co-operation of all concerned. Pots were bought, the empty kitchen was
soon filled with the smell of cooking. There must have been about 25
women who cooked, never a loud word. We were 7 youngsters, 2 bachelors,
2 babies. How, when and what we ate I simply don't remember. Food was
never of great importance to me nor was how it was prepared for me. I
neither interfered nor volunteered in kitchen matters as long as I
wasn't asked to do so.
What was important to me, at that time, that the 6 other youngsters my
age including Guido another Betar member, could talk, discuss, exchange
views and most importantly keep busy. Anyway now we were six of same
ages, give or take a year. Guido and I had at least one year studying
behind us so we started telling the others, who had no idea why they
were heading for Israel, (they considered it a stepping stone to
freedom-) the importance of our future in the bew country.
We asked Liquornik, the then head of Betar Czernowiz, to send us
books. We got some books on Jabotinsky - Jewish History - OUR
right to the country - and the British Mandate (White Paper
etc.). Life became bearable, reading, discussing, preparing and
talking. We found an unoccupied corner where we "worked". There was
nothing else to do.
The ship? Nothing in sight and our "jailers" were the 3 monkeys. My
step-father, who was a businessman and clever, registered with the same
people but payment only after we had left Romania, at least that gold
was saved. As we were allowed to write, so it became known that we were
stuck. Mother/Father transferred money so we should not want. The only
people who became, doubtlessly, rich were those who bought things for
us. They were fighting over this prerogative, I guess, because every
week another group of "shoppers" arrived.
Tulcea is a small provincial town with quite a large Jewish community
and, as our room was ground floor to the front, there, suddenly
appeared young faces at my window, stealthily at first, but, as
Baksheesh works, they were allowed to come, as far as the window, bring
us books and fruit - NO food naturally. The community started working
to let us out of quarantine, in order to find accommodation with
families in town. They were responsible for us staying put (as though
as Jews we could have done anything else having one travel paper).
It took 5 months until we were free to walk out (mind you the suitcases
I had slept on for so long started bending too). We were very lucky to
find a one room flat with separate entrance with a lovely warm and
welcoming Jewish family. We were free!!! No one bothered us, no
police or special papers and a great Jewish community. The young always
find friends. There were weddings, dinners, dances and all with these
youngsters - life again. Guido and I started Zionist work. To our
surprise those youngsters, like the ones who travelled with us, had no
idea about anything Jewish except synagogue and the Jewish life into
which they were born. We opened their eyes. When our High Holy days
came we went to synagogue, Guido and his father were Cohanim so great
Kuvet (respect) for all of us. Our landlords were koscher people and
asked us (they had no family) and some of our friends to celebrate Rosh
Hashanah together. The landlady prepared everything according to
tradition. It was an unforgettable meal. Guido's parents and we,
knew some Hebrew and Yiddische songs, my uncle had a beautiful voice,
all singing and laughing as though the world were a happy place.
Winter came and so did the German retreat. Planes overhead from
time to time -- the war was upon us. In June 1944, we were
still at the start of our journey. Although I could easily have kidded
myself that all was well, I just couldn't. I thought, and so did
the others, that nobody really knew about us. Who would remember a
group of 80 in those restless times? It was decided that
someone has to get to Bucarest and shake them up. I volunteered, but,
how do I get out?
Part of our family had left Czernowits in 1940 for Bucarest before the
Russians made themselves at home. I got in touch with them and asked
them to cable me that my grandmother (who passed away 1924) was deadly
ill and that I would have to come for just a few days to see her.
With this "travel document" in hand, being young
stupid/courageous/believing in God, I boarded the train second class
with drumming heart. I never looked Jewish, so that became my
passport and the cable became my travel papers. No one was allowed to
see me off.
Tears, embraces and good luck wishes were at home. I found an empty
compartment, sat down and silently prayed. Suddenly the door opened and
five Romanian officers walked in. They spoke between themselves and
slowly involved me too. My Romanian, by that time, was much better than
the Cz. school language, as I had 1 year in school in Galati and now
nearly 2 years in Tulcea where I had to use Romanian only, so my spoken
language sounded quite acceptable. After what seemed hours?? minutes?
the door opened once more, my dreaded moment!! Ticket check --
there stood a Romanian gendarme and a German!! No one asked for
travel papers seeing me in the company of officers, and one
saying: "I am going home to introduce my fiancee to the family",
no one asked whether it was I or not, thus my life was saved.
They all must have seen the fear in my eyes and the unease in my
behavior, but no one gave me away. They saved my life, knowingly
I think, but I thanked them quietly without giving myself away.
Half an hour later the train stopped in Bucarest, we said farewell and
how much we enjoyed meeting each other. I felt like embracing them and
telling them how grateful I wasm but we separated and I have never seen
anyone of them after the Allied occupation to thank them.
No one came to meet me. I went to the hotel next to the railway station
over night -- it was about midnight by the time I got there, and the
next morning called and met my whole family. I had to rent a room
next to my aunt and uncle's bed-sitter, but not for long.
Bombardment of Ploesti started and the whole family moved to Colentina,
a village close to Bucarest, and from there we could watch the
Americans bombing by day, and the British bombing at night. There was a
streetcar from Colentina to Bucarest and I often met with my friends,
Heidi- from Betar- and many boys from home. Boys I only heard of
as they were 10 years my elders: Lullu Hornstein, Sigi Trichter, Erwin
Koerner and many others. As soon as I got to Bucarest I got in touch,
through Heidi, with the Jewish Agency and Betar and recounted the
plight of the 80 forgotten people. I was right, no one knew or paid any
attention to the letters they must have received from our group, but
facing me did make and impression on them. My name was put down for the
next Betar ship to Israel.
Then the waiting started. All the Tulcea people came to Bucarest by
August, and towards the middle of September Heidi and I started our
adventurous journey. Heidi's mother entrusted me with looking-after
her, being one year older than she. We decided to take care of each
other and that we did all the way to Israel. We were allowed one
rucksack 10kgs. weight and that was that. Luckily enough my aunt
and Heidi's mother gave us two shopping baskets (woven straw as we used
at home to go to the market) with crackers, sweets, and fruit.
Again a train trip, and tears. My aunt and uncle stayed behind
with Heidi's mother. I don't know when we left, but we arrived in
Constanza at night. We left Romania illegally, different names, and in
the dark of the night, silently, boarded a dark hole. The stench hit
us. No lights, just a tiny light, eyes watching us. All full up
upstairs, we walked down stairs and found planks with a little straw,
like we see in pictures from Auschwitz this was our "sleeping
compartment". Next to us a wooden barrel with water which
smelled. We put all our possessions down and quietly started
crying. The "ship" was probably a Turkish sheep transporter and
thus the smell and the sleeping compartments -- we were the sheep to
the slaughter. It was to take one and a half to two days to get to the
Bosphorus --bearable -- and if not, who were we to complain to?
The ship started moving. It sounded like an old sewing
machines. Sounds, smells, feelings -- all unforgettable. As
I am writing, 70 years later, I feel as though it had been
yesterday. All my feelings are awakened, I am there
now. We entered the Black Sea and Heidi and I ran upstairs for
air, and to think with joy about our next stop. To think of
bed seemed unbearable, but the icy wind drove us inside. At the
end of September, the Black Sea's waves made the ship
violently move up and down. Waves so high water penetrating into
the ship. Most people were sick and it was all coming down on
us! The only sounds I heard was people crying and spitting.
Suddenly at dawn utter silence the ship's engine stopped.
Panic!!! We were being driven by the wind and the waves.
Down bellow where we were, were some 8 boys with brown jackets and a
yellow stars on them the size of their backs, easy targets, just
released or escaped from the camps. They and others got up trying to
find out what happened. Daylight, boat flying through the air on
the waves, no one knew where we were, and what did it really
matter? We went out on deck, water hitting us but at least out
away from the stench. Our clothes, the ones we wore got wet, but
we could help trying to empty the deck of water. Then we had to
get back freezing. We poured the barrel of soapy not drinkable water
onto, the floor trying to wash it clean.
Still deadly silence -- no engine. The ancher torn off in the
storm, sails flying in the air and we are driven on the Black Sea. We
tried to get upstairs again but when we opened the door water hit our
faces, people inside shouting in different languages COLD, but we were
outdoors. The "ship" was tilting left and right as though flying. It took
some time until the storm subsided. All the men were trying to
understand the Turks, but no one could. Polish, Hungarian, Romanian,
Yiddish NOTHING! So, sign language. One of the boys in the
leather jacket knew something of engines, and others helped
working all day and by evening, the sound of the engine started again.
What a sweet sound. The captain said we had been driven back to
It took us 14 days to get to the Bosphorus, but we got there and
stopped. Slowly we saw the people around us. First a woman who was 9
months pregnant was taken off the ship by the Red Cross and gave birth
to a son. To her good fortune it happened as soon as she
boarded the Red Cross boat, we were told. The Red Cross came abroad to
tell us we were in 48 hours quarantine. They brought us tins of cold
bully beef. My god, after so many days who could eat all that
fat! And no utensils -- just our dirty hands! Luckily our
baskets still had some food in them and SERVIETTES -- we could eat some
food from home, while all the others we saw had to enjoy what they
got. At last we were offloaded. We were in Constantinople,
I stood swaying on dry land looking at the "nutshell" which brought us
there -- INCREDIBLE! I wonder if they would have "loaded" us
into it during the day, would any of us done it? Although we had
nowhere to return to and we DID want to get to Israel. The noise
around us was unbelievable -- people shouting in a language no one
understood, We were left standing and waiting, but waiting was
something I had learned to deal with. Suddenly ORDERS which we didn't
understand, but Turkish soldiers around us and we are pushed towards a
train. As we were boarding third class carriages (the train was for us)
I spied a WC, but we were forced to sit down until our whole 3rd class
wooden benches were filled. As soon as we were permitted to get up, I
found my washing bag, whispered to Heidi to get her toothbrush out and
follow me. I first, Heidi in tail, went in to WASH HANDS AND BRUSH
TEETH -- after so many days. incredible. We felt like new, and smelling
of roses. We went to our seat and opened the box of food provided
by the Jewish Agency, in whose hands we now were, what a relief.
First smell of HOME. People who spoke Yiddish -- we could
communicate. Each food box contained a tin of sardines with key, a
hard boiled egg, a triangle of cheese and some halva -- a sweet made of
sesame seeds, delicious. All that food was so well meant. All of us
know what food means when nicely packed by people who cared enough to do it,
For a while we just looked at it Now we were waiting for bread,
crackers, mazes anything to eat this with when the door was opened a
big sack with 6 loaves of black bread was thrown onto the floor by the
Turkish soldiers! My God the sight of bread! Everyone was eagerly
looking at the bread and looking for a knife. Always those boys in the
brown jackets, whose names we learned now Stacheck, Tomash, Leib,
Moishe, Osia, Fred ( I don't remember the other 2) ready for any
emergency, had a pen knife and cut the bread while we were
watching. And, -- it was terrible -- with tears in our eyes, we
watced as out flowed a black goo from the loaves . Unbaked bread -- just the outside
was baked. "Hunger ist der beste Koch (Hunger is the best cook)
We held the goo over the sack and ate the baked part swallowing without
The luxury of a third class wooden bench was soon over. At the border
to Syria -- transfer into box cars: a few sticks of straw on the
floor, about 80 persons to a box, doors open, we could breathe.
Of course no toilettes, no water and what we later learned,
toilettes standing only, no water to wash hands, some people don't
believe in it I guessed. I thought - fresh air - so, poor Heidi
had to suffer all my meshugasim (idiocincracies, in good English) I
decided not too far from the open door to find our "bed room"- no bed
no room just a piece of floor. As the train sped through the desert at
night we snuggled into each other covered with the only warm thing we
had our coats, one for top one for feet. Those further inside the box might
have been more comfortable, but the smell, so, one can't have
"everything" in life. There is a saying: Noch niemand
erstunken so mancher erfrohren (no one ever died of stench, but
certainly of cold).
Day time, we woke to heat -- at last warmth. We all
sat at the open doors, doors opposite each other, melted and basked in
the sunshine. The first stop, evryone running to toilets. No paper of
any kind, but, as always our kind mother/aunt thought of everything --
we had toilet paper which we handed over to the next, and they shared,
not CZ. newspapers. We thanked God, as we could wash our hands
with boiling water coming out of the engine. The train announced our
departure and we all ran to our boxes helped each other in.
could talk to each other but not all that much. The Polish boys
spoke a little
Yiddish, but not much, they had spoken Polish - Chech-Hungarian as we
spoke German at home. Sign language helped but they were not avid to
except to each other in their own language quietly, looking
suspiciously around. With the others we spoke either Romanian or German
to those who wanted to talk, not many did, everyone had fear and
hope. But what was
there to talk about? Home, parents. the life we left
behind? We were on a journey into the unknown. Many faces showed
and the boys' arms where they came from, although so little was known
at that time about the horrors they had lived through. The thing we
did together was sing. We sang as loud as we could, they sang Polish /
Hungarian we German or Hebrew, the songs were the same; the words
matter, and what you didn't know you hummed.
Next day we arrived in Allepo and there, the sight took our breaths
away: a table covered with white cloth, glasses (not modern throw
away foam), white sliced bread (what is known, I found out much
later, as English toast bread). No sandwiches, just sliced bread and hot
(not English but watery) tea. Behind the table stood ladies in dark
blue uniforms, white gloves, snow white blouses, blue hats looking so
cool and clean in the sunshine, tears just ran down my dirty face. I
cried -- for the first time since this journey started.
Such an orderly
reception! In my poor English I said 'thank you', and the tears just
flowed. They thought something was very wrong with me and so they
offered me another tea (British cure for all ails) and another slice of
bread, I tried to refuse but they did it with such sweet smiles that I
couldn't refuse them. When we got onto the train I gave the extra slice
of bread to a child my age who shared it with another one right
away, force of habit where they came from.
I don't know how long it took, I guess another day. During the day,
while still in Syria some Arabs came with a branch full of banas. They
were still green but I, like most of the others, couldn't
stop eating and BOY, was I waiting for the next train stop! Luckily
for me we soon arrived.
HOME! Palestine/ISRAEL! WE ACTUALLY ARRIVED! The train came to a
standstill and we started disembarking. Horror of horrors: A cordon
of British police surrounding us! Incomprehensible: WE WERE HOME were we not? If I
felt so lost for an answer at that sight of police/army how did our
companions feel? We weren't shoved, but politely driven into a camp
surrounded by barbed wire and police with rifles everywhere.
ATLIT, was the
name of the camp where all illegal immigrants were legalized and papers
issued at the end of internment. Those with tattoos on their arms were
taken to have a shower. The horror showed on their faces but here the
people looking after us spoke German, Hebrew, Hungarian and
Polish, and they knew about the people on the transport -- the
Jewish Agency had taken care of this. We, and the others, were shown to
barracks. Beds -- real beds with mattresses, pillows, woolen blankets,
towels-soap WHAT A SIGHT, just the thought that we'll sleep in a real
bed and cover with a blanket made us feel at home at last.
First of all
Heidi and I had a HOT SHOWER WITH SOAP: we washed each other, had
shampoo for hair, we stood and let the water run over us. What joy!
Now, Heidi had thick long braided hair and after the people we had met,
lice were to be expected. Somewhere someone once told me that to get
rid of lice you have to use kerosene. I took Heidi into a room
asked the lady working there whether I could have some. I rinsed
her hair and then poured kerosene over it bound a towel tightly over
her head and let it dry in the sunshine. Ever since then I thank God,
she never lost one hair, that's how far "looking after" her went but I
did mean well, and she didn't have any lice! Months and years later
we met and she still had all that thick hair, so I did her no harm.
Two weeks or more (time had no meaning then, survival had) we were held
there. Our friends and Heidi's brother came to "visit". Two gates
away we could wave to each other but couldn't speak. Still, good to
know that we had really arrived. Many, I saw, envied us for having
someone to wave to.
The time of "leaving" arrived. Strangely I felt a pang of fear, I felt
somehow settled here, irony of life. Towards the end of October, the
night before we left it started raining/hail the rain beat so hard onto
the tin roof we woke thinking there was shooting but realizing it was
rain listening to it made us relax and I fell asleep again. The
following day we had to stand in line, queue, until we reached
the officer who issued us our ID (identity cards). While standing we
were given our farewell, an injection by a British nurse (not too
At the officer's desk: name, Fleischer (why do you need so
many letters for a name?) place of birth -Czernowitz, now you spell
this to a British officer not really knowing English -- well I said it was a
town in the Bukovina "Ah why didn't you say so to start with! "VIENNA"
was the verdict, born 28. 5 26 on my documents 28.6.26 much easier. So
from then on I have to think when and where I was born!
At last all nightmares over -- I got to Tel Aviv on November 2nd
1944! It took a long time but for me it was worth every moment.
It's my/our home ever since then sharing it -- thanks God -- with my 2
children, 6 grand-children and our first great-grand-son! Three
AM ISRAEL HAY!!!