Part I  Part III

Part II  -  Anny Matar's Story of the German Occupation of Czernowitz

In the last part of my life story I wrote about the words mother said when we heard German boots replacing Russian ones. Mother's hope for the "great German culture" soon proved a pipe dream. Was it a hope at the end of the frightening 12 months? Was it her Austro-Hungarian upbringing? Naïveté? Or was it just wishful thinking? How could anyone think of the Germans as BRUTAL?

After all a people like them couldn't possibly change to such an extend just because they now had a Fuehrer? Although we heard many rumors and there was a part of the family who fled Berlin as late as 1938, we met them, I still remember my aunt having a nervous tick after she escaped but no one could or would believe. Anyway, for us, with my mother's broken foot badly set and most painful, we couldn't have done anything and so we sat and waited. It seemed that anyone who had met the Russians couldn't think that things could get worse, how wrong they were!!!

In hindsight, I can't say who were worse, we were hated (are and will always be hated) by one and all and everyone was willing to destroy us no matter where we were.

My first creepy feeling  was that no one dared leaving their homes as the streets were taken over by scum. THEY became masters, were  roaming the streets looking to beat up Jews. I never knew how much we were hated although, I well remembered the same picture when Goga-Cuza (a Rumanian party allied to Hitler) came to a short lived power. The streets were then as dangerous as they were now. Liquor, shouting and boasting, what did they shout? Death to Jews and Jidan (Jew) to Palestine. ( NOW that we ARE HERE they shout back where you came from, we just can't be right and have to learn to live with it)

The first thing I remember best was that there was no water. Luckily  we lived in the neighborhood of a well, (which I hadn't known about till then) in a yard which was opened to the neighborhood. People used to say that however much money (wealth) you might have, if you squander it – one day you'll find that you've emptied it, just as a well which can be emptied of water if used carelesssly.- Well, I thought Bobe Manses (old wives tale) this couldn't  be. It took but three days, the whole neighborhood fetching water and there was NO water in the well!!! 

No shops were open and there was no bread. A neighbor who had some old bread and by adding water produced some sort of yeast for the whole house and so I was able to make something similar to Challe. Luckily, my mother had a sack of flour which (we later took to the ghetto as security/survival) the Russians hadn't found and scattered so I could bake my first bread? Sooner than expected it wasn't enough and I wasn't Jesus. We suddenly had the saddest and most unexpected guests

My father's family, two wealthy farmers living in Rosi (Rosh) (where he had hidden during the Russian deportations) who had horses, cows and a lot of land. The Germans, Ruthenians and Rumanians soldiers? Scum? Who knows? appeared in their yard.

The one family had 3 daughters, the youngest was at home with her mother when they forced their way into the farmyard and demanded that they hand their cows and horses over. The mother, who was a real "Mother Earth", faced them and shouted "no one takes MY animals. Shoot me but take nothing else" –well they did, they shot her. The daughter, who was in the house, came running out when she heard the shot and, luckily, they shot and didn't rape her. She was a beautiful 19 year old girl who just dreamed of starting her life,(she just got engaged and was incredibly happy – short lived happiness.) 

Her father, who was handicapped and couldn't walk, was in the fields when this happened heard it all but was unable to help, he just stood helplessly watching his life being taken from him. He had nowhere to go at that moment, until the funeral and needing to overcome the trauma of this incredible loss, his second daughter brought him to our house to stay a while and recover. He sat by my mother's sick bed, cried and smoked. That's all he could do.
An hour later the second family from Rosh arrived, a couple with a baby. They just ran, as soon as they saw the Germans and Co. coming towards their farm. They ran  through the fields surrounding their house. Luckily their neighboring farmers didn't denounce them. So, they knocked at our door and came to stay.

Seeing all that terror and sorrow around me I realized how incredibly naïve my mother had really been. I started catering for 7 people. I can't say I remember what we ate, but we survived that's all I can say. Mother had potatoes and eggs in the cellar which, surprisingly, the Russians hadn't found, I managed (age 15) with a sick mother, a crying baby –whose parents went to and fro  saving whatever they could carry of what was left of their "household"- and I looked after them, cooked, and fed all. I remember making potato latkes, grating the potatoes by hand, NO Magi Mix!! 

Everyone soon left and we were alone again. I had an incredible feeling of frustration and hatred that we were all so helpless before scum who could destroy and kill while we stood helplessly by watching it happening and having no means of revenge. But the Germans had only started!!! Soon orders followed.

First German orders:

2. THE GHETTO and Deportations
3. Jew may walk the streets between 9-12 AM ONLY                           
4. All young men aged 18  till- ?, were sent to hard labor camps (all my friends were recruited). They called it "Munca the falos abstesc ( "work for the good of the people, another version for "Arbeit macht Frei"?) Luckily all my friends came back., that was a blessing.  One  asked for was so little – just life.

The size of the yellow star had to be 6cm., (mine was 9cm.,) and had to be worn visibly. I thought this was an honor not a shame and wore it with great pride although everyone said to me that I looked more Goyish than the Goym, I flaunted it with pride AND THEN, one day I went to the cinema (Savoy I think in the Herrengasse) with a friend and as we sat down a German officer behind us got up. Soon the manager / owner of the place came to us and asked me to leave because the German doesn't want to share the film? the air? whatever, with a Jewess. I walked out of the auditorium, my then "friend" who refused to wear a yellow" stain" on her clothes, stayed behind. I went to the cashier and asked my money back. The manager came, most apologetic, asked me to wait and go back in. Although I protested, he refused to return my money so, not out of stinginess but "DAFCA !!!", went back after the lights went out.

As soon as I sat down far away from where the German sat, he got up and walked out but not before he got me out of my chair. As we left the auditorium he turned me around (about 2 m. tall, or he seemed so to me as I was still small) and said: If you don't respect me you should respect my uniform" and I promptly: "Except for the uniform I can see nothing TO respect" BOOM a blue eye (no broken teeth) as big as my face. I was too young, too sure of myself and – I suppose- too stupid to realize the danger I put myself in, stupidity is no excuse, I guess.

If my mother had been informed of my death she wouldn't have given me a hero's funeral, It really wasn't as funny as I thought it was. At least I felt THE Greatest (then), I did SOMETHING. I vented my a tiny bit of my frustration.

There were a few "funny" episodes in my life as well and I was still very young, very much in love so everything was, for me, hanky dory as long as I closed my eyes and was in my dream world, a world no one knew about, no one could forbid or take it away from me; my own world.

The ghetto

One bright morning, (can't remember the date as dates seem so irrelevant to the events that followed. 

Tonight Memorial Day; Holocaust Remembrance Day year 2009 and I'm still here. Memories flooding my mind. For those who WERE THERE memories are always there. What is  ONE DAY?

Still it's good that the next generations remember it all. It must remain alive and must never enter the dust covered books of memories. Every Seder night I think "when will everyone get bored reading THE HOLOCAUST???

While I'm still here and others like me it's a living, touchable person, we can still tell and be witness to the truth what next?? I can't say "après moi le deluge", because I was IN it and my children and grandchildren can still talk to me before visiting HELL ON EARTH, -Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau with their schools, EVERY YEAR-THE MARCH OF LIFE - it's called but, as we well know they see only part of it, they don't go to Eastern Europe, they just get the tip of the iceberg. Until Menachem Begin became Prime Minister no one wanted to remember THOSE places!!!

Another day, Memorial Day for the fallen; soldiers in Israel's  wars (we had 6 of them until now) Diplomatic Corps; Intelligence; Police, secret services all those who were killed or murdered.
As every person is a whole world in his or herself, We (toi toi the lucky ones) watch parents, wives, brothers, sisters, children in short A WHOLE WORLD gone, remembered for ONE SINGLE DAY by a whole nation.

Both these events are "just" for one day but the whole nation remembers six millions (I have to write it in letters because I don't know how many zeroes to add in numbers) and 20.000 of THE BEST who fell for love of a country whose existence so many question. Israel's survival means the survival of the Jewish people here and in the Diaspora. I don't know whether the Jews (second / third generation in any country) remember what their position within those communities were before Israel came into being. Today, Israel is equated, or a reason for, "modern" Anti Semitism, but without Israel, a Holocaust could and would happen any day anywhere. Today the hatred is spread by Moslems instead of Hitler, tomorrow another leader. Anti Semitism is not extinguishable.

BACK TO 1941

Any time young people ask: Why did you go to the Ghettoes and slaughter? Why didn't you resist?

How can anyone who knows about or lives in our FREE JEWISH COUNTRY, understand that, Jews had neither weapons nor means of fighting. Even the Zionist movements were split into particles, as always,

3 Jews – 4 opinions – we had the "Zionim Clalim" (Chaim Weizmann's party,  then we had The Left-Socialist Party- (they joined the Communist Party
and even denounced some of the Betar members - one member one of my group was deported to Siberia in 1944 due to that and came to Israel  in the 70's only. And Betar, this was the only party which spoke about the right to fight and defend ourselves (that was my niche) but we only had dull kitchen knives. The majority of young people belonged to none of the parties and…. Maybe, like in Israel today, forgotten ideals, lots of infighting too many parties, no more modest living, running after money. That isn't really what we wanted – then.

Those who weren't with us there and grew up in freedom in Israel can't understand that  there was no way to escape. The only thing we could do was, what my Mother did, treat it all with disdain.

Our walk into the Ghetto.

Father got a cart, man drawn, to pick us up and wheel "our saved" fortune into the Ghetto. Mother didn't "bother" to pack carpets and other futile things she packed 4 changes of bedding, summer and winter warm clothes ( she didn't think they'll send us to the South of France) and the sack of white flour (that was our insurance against starvation) soaps towels and hair shampoo.

When the hour arrived the boy with the cart arrived and loaded our four large leather (heavy) suitcases (leather which could later be used to repair shoes, my parents were actually quite reasonable and practical, this time not even mother kidded herself about the future) odds and ends (can't remember).

All I remember was Mother dressed in an elegant suit, a beautiful white blouse, white gloves and suitable hat, I was dressed in my new suit, blouse and white gloves. Before we left our home, which Mother thought she'll never have to leave, and now, in the end, she became rather indifferent to all her riches, HER HOME silver, crockery, furniture, carpets all that suddenly meant nothing to her. It was only I who out of frustration, threw the only thing that was handy, my brother Cello's (my step brother) great gramophone record collection across one room through the other until they broke against the rear balcony door. These were the only "disorderly" things we left behind, all the rest was clean and proper so no one could say the house they found was disorderly (that, who knew my mother knows it to be so) Mother took Picky (our beautiful Pekingese dog) on its delicate lead and……

When we opened the door to the street!!!. The picture was frightening, people's eyes so empty so hopeless, "schlepping" suitcases, children (whenever I see the picture of the old Babzie schlepping 3 grandchildren into Auschwitz I see this picture in front of my eyes) sick people in bathtubs with wheels, carts, carriages, prams with  or without babies in them, anything you can think of, anything which could be loaded with humans and/or goods, all converging  from different parts of the city, ONE WAY, into the Ghetto.

The picture of misery, poverty, hopelessness -UNFORGETTABLE.

We arrived at the Ghetto gates, all that misery around us, EXCEPT MY  Mother. Her foot already crippled, walked as tall as she could the dog in front of her and I beside her, heads held high looking down at our jailors, Rumanians and Germans. We looked at them with utter disdain, BUT followed the others. What could anyone do? When we entered the Ghetto I had a funny feeling "nice to be together all the Jews in town", strange, somehow it felt like a small Jewish homeland. It is not something I feel in retrospect, I know, when I told Mamma so, she probably thought I was mad, maybe I was too young to realize how silly it must have sounded to her.

Max's family, those farmers who stayed with us, arrived  before us, took (literally) over my elementary school, the MEISLER  SCHULE building. It was a small building, a private school 4 elementary classes and the headmaster's Direkzions Zimmer. We and another 20 people got the Direkzions Zimmer, which was dominated by a double bed for my parents and T.Gusta and Lazar, my mother's sister and husband, the rest had narrow mattresses on the floor. Mine, I quickly chose the one by a wall. I chose it because all my thoughts and dreams became pictures on that wall. I did have many dreams of breaking the walls around me and flying into freedom. It was my own dream world, a world I had built for myself, thoughts and dreams no one could take from me. They, neither wars nor occupying forces destroyers of my youth, could break through; MY WORLD.

Centuries later, my son 3 years old turned his bicycle around, turned the pedals and when I asked what he was doing he looked at me in surprise and said:" Can't you see? I am watching a Micky Mouse film!!" JUST LIKE HIS MOTHER!!(Wie die Mamme) only in Israel!!!

Ghetto life was not as miserable as in other parts of the world. We still lived in Rumania and money had a certain value. Baksheesh, that was something they understood and we paid. I can't remember ever being hungry, not with Mamma and Max about. What we ate, where, on what I don't remember at all, it probably has no meaning for me as I had all I needed.

Life, well we had our Betar and we did a lot of learning and reading Jewish History, Jabotinsky, Pinsker, all the old timers no one reads any more, but of course a lot of Jewish heroes Betar, Mezada, Maccabeans etc. There lay our hope.

Every morning I went into the bathroom before others woke, I was very agile then, got a huge pot of hot water into the bathroom and washed from head to toe thus washing the misery away.

THEN, the deportations started. I walked to the train station at the bottom of our hilly city and watched my friends cramped into cattle carts leave. They all said with tears in their eyes, we'll have the better housing because we'll be there first, but don't worry you'll always be able to sleep with us!!! (Galgen Humor)We kept a stiff upper lip and tried to smile between tears knowing that, meeting again is doubtful. Still we smiled and waved good byes.

Our Rumanian city Mayor got, for some humane or political reasons got release permits from the Ghetto. The Mayor's wife, a most beautiful and charming lady, fell in love with Picky and always wanted to take her from me whenever she met me promenading in the Herrengasse before the Ghetto, when we could still meet and walk. She came to Mamma and told her if she gave her the dog we'll get our papers. Well mother did, in my absence, and although I still feel cheated by the world and for years betrayed by mother but Picky did save our lives.(I know that Mayor Popovici saved thousands from the ghetto but if it hadn't been for the dog, Mrs. Popovici could have signed our death certificates with the same beautiful smile with which she signed our lives.)

Tears never stopped but then, well then my love came took me in his arms and the world was all music and pink. That's what love does to one, I guess.
When we got out of the Ghetto we weren't allowed to return home, they had taken it over with ALL OUR furniture, books, linen everything in it, so we moved in with my mother's sister Gusta, whose 3 room flat housed us all with love and again we were together. NO complaints, we were alive and out of barbed wires, free to move around town from 9-12 a.m.

But there was no rest for the wicked, so another period, another kind of hardship. That was the time the boys were taken to their "volunteer work". I can't remember where they were taken to but I remember writing and getting 5 page letters. All the parents and the teenagers hoped for was that they'll all return and thanks God all came back and my love was home too.

The boys of 16 were taken to work for the municipality. Winter 1942, bitter cold -18 degrees or more. Even we, at home had neither coal nor wood to warm our tile stoves, and froze. Mother used a baking stove made of iron which was put onto the primus (ein Wunderofen) and putting either food or cookies /cakes into it we always had the most wonderful food and  bakeries (mostly Kleingebaeck because it went a long way. Mother loved eating and baking and with very little she made a lot.
One of my friends Willi Badian (aged 16) in Betar, a boy with a great sense of humor, came to the meeting with the following story. (again I'm getting side tracked. At that time in Czernowitz we didn't use toilette paper as we know it today. AFTER BEING READ!!!, newspapers were cut into squares and, in our house, were put into a bag made of material and words in Kreuzstiche (embroided) said: Hier liegt Papier wer es braucht der greife hier (Here lies paper whoever needs it take it from here). He was taken to clean the municipal sewage. He said he got as far as WWI with his digging . The day was bitter cold but his mother dressed him in his tight, short school uniform, old shoes and coat – he said he felt like a clown -. His mother, a wise woman, didn't think they'll take him to a tea party (NO ONE knew where they will be taken). When he came home, frozen stiff his mother opened the door, smelled him from afar, made him undress and naked he ran into the bathroom and warm water – according to Willy the water froze??!!under him;
that was Willy. We had a good belly laugh, which always was the best medicine.

I started working for the Jewish Agency, thanks to a family friend, I took a book of permits which allowed us to be on the street after curfew for all my friends. We could meet again. Chanukah approached.  My friend Claudia and I started preparing black ties, we got from somewhere, and we sewed our Menorah with silver thread on them. We found a cellar, painted it, and Chanukah was celebrated with a hand sewn flag, a Menorah, candles and even some sweets. I remember us singing "Ma'Oszur, and the Hatikvah loudly and everyone knew its meaning. Every word means FREEDOM!! We knew that somewhere in the world free Jews lit their candles just like us and the world did not stop her. That gave us hope. Believe it or not for me, this was the greatest Chanukah I ever celebrated, it was the one of real hope = TIKVA =HATIKVA.

News came from Trans Nistria. There was nothing but misery and lack of everything. Betar decided that we go from house to house and collect clothes, toys, blankets anything anyone could and would give. We went, rang bells collected things, carried them to a center packed and sent them.

We always walked in twos, so, one Friday early morning we started our walk into the Jewish quarter. I never knew that part of town –we lived on top of the hill, the upper part of the city-. Anyway we got there. There was SO much poverty!!! I never knew how many poor Jews were living in our city!!!. Still here we were given some things everywhere, these meant more to us than those from wealthier houses.
As we were walking we didn't notice the time and didn't watch the dusk. We came to a wooden shack, saw a Mezuzah on the doorpost, knocked on the door, which was ajar. No answer. We thought maybe someone in the shack has been murdered, not a rare thing at the time, we silently opened the door; everything plunged in darkness only a tiny light shone through a small glass window. We stood in a bedroom with freshly covered beds above the beds on strings hung snow white laundry. We didn't dare leaving the house before making sure that whoever lived there was alive (thinking back I don't know what we would have done had we found Schkuzim there!!) so, we opened the door through which the light shone and, THERE STOOD A LTTLE WOMAN her head covered in a black lace head cover, LIGHTING HER SHABBES CANDLES. I think we, as anyone else could have murdered her, she wouldn't have moved, she didn't. 

When she finished her prayer, a moment later, she turned and faced us smilingly – she greeted the guests, offered us some wine and cookies and asked us what we wanted. After we told her she said; "I brought my children and grandchildren to the train this morning –they took them and with it all I ever had".

We didn't know how to apologize and to leave as quickly as we could. I never knew the woman's name but I never forgot her. The candlesticks I use every Shabbat has a thick accumulation of wax; every Friday I collect her tears in the wax, I just can't forget this picture.

More shocking things happened – Polish refugees – I was so young and NO ONE had prepared any of us "spoiled" girls for these continuous shock waves.
Rumania was better than Poland deportations "ONLY" to Trans Nistria no crematories, I don't know what made people run to find a safer place? A shelter?  Hope?  or just trying to do SOMETHING!!! not willingly go to the gas chambers like trapped mice or rats. Anyway they tried to swim across the Prut,(a river flowing through Czernowitz which was a fun bathing spot long long ago) rather wide but maybe not too wide??? Polish Jews just jumped in and swam. Most people were shot by Poles, Germans, Rumanians, those that survived dispersed. Children watched helplessly their parents die. 

Five children came to us. One boy, never leaves my memories, he was a well  known prodigal violinist in his town or province, I don't remember where he came from, the Germans found out about it and, instead of a toothbrush he was made to scrub wooden floors with his bare hands. The floors which were made of coarse wood the wooden splinters entered his hands. By the time he came to us his hands were double normal size and stank terribly – there was nothing but puss -!!!!.Luckily enough I knew a Physician, who was working in a Polyclinic for Jews. I took him there and, I must say, out of the kindness of his heart, soaked the hands in warm hyper magnate – the only disinfectant we had – and then, with the patience of an angel he and I, sat for an hour or more and one by one with pincers took the wooden splinters out of his hands. The Dr. then bandaged them and we went back. It took a long time to heal.

When I told my mother about the 5 children she told me to bring them home, MY MOTHER!!! No Zionist, being against my spending so much time THERE, was suddenly ready to endanger her life??? Well she did, not only that, but some of her friends had papers to emigrate, she contacted them and 4 of the 5 were saved they emigrated I know not where.The fifth one stayed with my mother replacing me as I left soon after. This girl who stayed with mother, later married an American and stayed in touch with mother beyond mother's grave (a letter arrived from her to mother after the funeral while I sat Shiva) I answered her asking her to stay in touch with me now that mother is dead –But I have never ever heard from her again.

I am asking myself how come that about of the Russian occupation I had to write so little, although it was THAT occupation which changed MY and my parents' whole life and there's so much to say about this one?  I think that the Russian occupation was a personal "tragedy" the German a National one. It is only now that I'm in touch with people from Czerowitz that so many memories come back, memories locked away for so long!! We have so much in common and when I mention a place everyone knows where it was/is and there's so much one can share!!

Childhood memories

For instance my long summer breaks from the end of the school year – Mid. June till end of August- with mother, and the whole clan, about 30 people. I often told my children about it. We always left town for that whole period, Sommerfrische (summer vacation) to Eisenau. Our flat went through an enormous change. All carpets were rolled up and bags of naphthalene poured onto them, (thinking back, mother must have feared a moths invasion while we were away.) All furniture covered with sheets and everything spick and span for the maid got some time off too.

The night before departure WE TOOK MONEY from the coachman to make sure that we'll be picked us up at 06.00. The train left at 8.00 but we had to be so early so that we could occupy a whole train compartment just for the family. By 07.00 everyone was there, everyone in special Eisenau outfit – simple dresses, (easy care, no ironing,) hair bands of the same material and white gloves. Why gloves??  Well the smoke from the engine was black, the water in the W.C. just a trickle so, when we took our gloves off we could eat –FOOD- all home-made and plenty of it as we, the children, were supposed to get fat, like stuffed geese, the older generation, to lose weight. The train ride 5 hours, as we approached our destination. The train stopped for just 1min. The last stop before Eisenau all the suitcases were taken off the rack and stacked in one doorway.

The children waiting  in the other doorway for the train to stop. We jumped off the train and a rainstorm of suitcases followed from doors and windows and then the Mammas descended just as the train whistled. On the station stood the lame porter / station master / post man, with his horse drawn wagon. Everyone told him how to load the suitcases as each one lived in different houses. He drove his poorly looking old horse and we started walking. Ours was the first house behind the church and we started our summer holiday, What fun we had !!!!! swimming, walking through the woods up and down the mountains, fetching ice cold mountain water from its source and sleeping on straw mattresses. Mammas meeting every morning at 6 o'clock for their constitutional walk, on the way back meeting the baker's cart with the freshest bakery, passing the house where honey was made from home grown bees, buying some just for the "slim line", fresh butter, milk, cheese and all things made or grown on the farm.- WE did gain some weight, \Mammas didn't lose but looked well and rested. Homecoming. The smell of Naphthalene greeted us. Although the maid had returned a few days before us and the floors were freshly waxed, the beds made, the carpets unrolled, beaten and aired, the anti moths smell was the strongest. Still, home sweet home. 1 week later back to school, "those were the days my friends I thought they'll never end"……

As for the Prut, before it became red with Jewish blood, was a summer beach. I just enjoyed it for one Summer in 1940 although the Russians were in town already and we had lost all, I joined my friends and we went swimming. The place we went to was called "gaenseheufel" (something to do with geese = Gaense) My uncle, who by then lived in England already, left his gramophone (record player) behind. It was something beautiful!! A black small suitcase, inside a strong pocket for records and a Manuela, that was the toast of the town.

Of course, "simple" records many had but such a treasure, a portable record player!!was unique.  We bathed in the Prut, there were cabins where we could change clothes and a pavilion with a wooden floor where we could dance and dance we did when it rained and when we got tired of swimming. Life was good and friends were many, Mamma knew how to make MY life as good as possible. I will always remember those days and smile.

In February 1943, 80 people bought a ship passage (with gold coins) to, then Palestine, and my parents decided it was time for me to leave. My aunt and uncle had booked on that ship already and I was to join them. My dream was about to be fulfilled! I was, at last to go to FREEDOM, home. So, after baksheesh was paid and I was added to the already closed list . We needed specially authorized papers to travel to Rumania. The "ghost ship" was to leave Tulcea (a port at the Black Sea) in Feb. 43 (I arrived in Palestine Nov. 1944 only The journey was long and bidding fare well to mother was bitter/sweet. I remember and still feel her salty tears saying good bye although my parents were to leave one month later March/April 43, we felt that our separation will be longer. I saw my mother again in l950!!!