Part I - Anny Matar's Story of the Russian
Occupation of Czernowitz
MY LIFE STORY
FOR MY CHILDREN AND GRANDCHIDLREN
Although I was born in Czernowitz in 1926 my life there started on
January 6th.1940, when my lifelong friend Vicki Gedali invited me
to her birthday party. No one forgets ones first party and
neither can I for there I met my lifelong friends. Earlier that year I
joined BETAR, the right winged movement which saved me and lit my
way to hope where there wasn’t a flicker of it anywhere. I learned
Jewish History, I read Zeev Jabotinsky and I learned that one day we’ll
return to Israel, now Palestine, and we’ll fight FIGHT for our right to
live freely, just like all human beings BUT till then be proud of what
you are, carry your head high and believe that THERE IS A FUTURE
AND A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL. Pick up arms and stand up
for your life !!! Here, in Israel you can’t imagine that, and so many
teenagers accuse us of not resisting, They can’t imagine us standing by
and doing NOTHING!!! How can anyone imagine the dark reality which
HERE IS THE BEGINNING OF MY STORY
In 1940, when the Russian army occupied, "peacefully", my city. which
was Hitler's gift to the Russians for signing “The German –
Russian "peace treaty". We couldn't run away as my mother was
still recovering from Rheumatic fever and couldn't walk yet. So we had
to stay put and that was the end of the part of my life called "youth".
It took but one moment and all our lives changed, and youth
forgotten. The Russian boots resounded in the city in June (don’t
remember dates) in the early evening. I WAS NOT THERE. The following
morning we were woken by our doorbell ringing without stop until the
door was opened by me (that was the first but not the last time I heard
that sound) . Someone in Russian uniform accompanied by a young Jewish
communist boy, strutted into my parents bed-room and asked my
step-father for the keys to his business.
The business was his whole life. He had worked himself up from a
delivery boy at 15 to boss at 53. After 28 years of devoted hard work,
putting all his time into it,NOW he was asked to hand his life’s work,
his raison d’etre away. He explained all this to the Jewish boy who,
smilingly repeated it in Russian and COMANDED (as cool as a
cucumber) the keys be handed to them. Father did with tears in his eyes
and, within the blink of an eye, WE WERE POOR. What could I have
Life, except for the fact that there was army everywhere and we spoke
quietly,life continued normally. My friends and I met. We went swimming
to the Gaensehaufel in the summer, went on excursion to Zezina with
rucksacks and Gaeuserer ( heavy walking boots with nails on the soles),
In winter I went ice-skating walking through the beautiful snow covered
Volksgarten, met my friends, danced on the ice, walked back laughing
until I came to my front door HOME. Mother always fearful wrapped
in a thick shawl, with our lovely dog on her knees, tried to keep home
as normal as possible. Father (forced to work) still at work cutting
sausage in a Russian food store could bring some little pieces of
sausage for the dog …. and I ? Well I was young, I had my friends and
Betar and I WAS IN LOVE!!! (being 14!!)
In September we went to school. We could even choose either Russian or
other schools, my friends and I chose "Moldavska scoala" in which we
learned Rumanian in Cyrillic writing, we also had Russian as a subject
as well as, surprisingly, German Literature.
In the summer, immediately after the Russian boots and songs were heard
everywhere there were the most amazing "displays" in the streets, like
in a comedy–RUSSIAN WOMEN. –.
They appeared on Sundays in long shiny, elegant nightgowns which they
had found in the houses which they had been allotted to. These
they wore with either silken bedroom-slippers or their army boots but a
red rose in their décolleté; their hair freshly
tinted all in permanent waves, (our hairdressers must have had the time
of their lives!!!). We stopped and started at this incredible
picture. It was taken as a compliment, of course
As we were capitalists we were under constant harassment and waited for
the bell to ring for either an "interrogation" or just a house search.
I mostly remember the trembling of cold fear in our house. Just before
the beginning of June 1941 when the "treaty" signed but a year ago, was
broken by the German invasion, the "deportations" to Siberia started.
We went into hiding. The GPU were very interested in my activity in
Betar, which, of course, was forbidden but its members were of great
interest to them.
The morning the deportations began, I went to school, as though nothing
was happening, it was most important to keep up appearances. We had
"moved" to my aunt's flat, thinking that thus we'll have enough advance
warning by one of our neighbors were they to come to look for us in our
No one did and my mother was caught in my aunt's flat. My step-father
had gone out, my mother had just started to bake the Challe for Shabbat
when I left home and I had just arrived at school when I heard, through
the Y.P.A. (Yidishe Plotke Agentur- translated- the Jewish rumor
agency- which, sometimes were news of wishful thinking, but the fastest
means of transmitting news ) when some youngster came to my classroom
and whispered into my ear that the Black Mary known as the GPU later
NKVD police car was standing in front of my aunt's house.
I ran home, had my finger on the bell !! when, by a miracle, or God's
hand, I heard my aunt, who could speak neither Rumanian nor
Russian, therefore spoke German loudly, " What do you think I'm sewn to
my sister, I don't know where she is ". When I heard these words I ran
away, back to school. I was totally puzzled as I couldn't understand
where my mother could have gone to! There was one door only into my
A few hours passed, I in my classroom in my usual place while a plot of
how to save me was conceived.
The information reached school MOTHER WAS ALIVE! but badly injured and
in our neighbor's flat (nothing worked better at that time than the
YPA.) I ran home, kissed mother but could barely embrace her as
every bone was out of place.
Never do tears taste as bitter as when tears are mixed and kissed off
my mother's face (I can still taste them) and with the uncertainty in
my heart that I will ever see her again. As we were in each other's
arms, I kneeling at the foot of her bed, the ambulance was heard and I
had to run. I was a good runner but never before did I have to run for
my life, when you run for your life you run differently than when you
train for a competition.
Well, much later I learned what had happened; The Russian were at the
door. NO ESCAPE!!! Only the window. Mother stood there, (her
words) thinking "I'm 1.69 M. tall, the distance to the ground approx.
3.m. if I don't throw myself out but glide along the wall I have a
chance". Well, mother did" glide" herself from my aunt's first
floor window hoping to survive when reaching the ground. She did, my
aunt really didn't know where mother was when she heard groaning
outside her window. What was discovered was a bundle of bones.
The neighbors couldn't move her except picking her up in sheets and
carry the bones into a neighbor's flat on the ground floor, from there
she was taken by the Russians to the Jewish Hospital in the
"Judengasse" (Jewish Quarters). Her whole body was black and blue but
miraculously "only" her leg was splintered to bits, I was informed. In
hospital she was under constant surveillance, where did they think she
could have run? (her foot was somehow put together and she was
handicapped to the day she died).
My friends,were the only ones willing to help, not anyone whom I, till
then, had called family, where willing to see or hear about me. When I
went to see someone I had called "aunt", till then, saw me coming,
leaned out of her balcony and shouted "go away and don't come here
again" (I never did). Only my friends from school and Betar were
willing to help, knowing full well that it was punishable with
deportation if caught.
My best friend Edi Werber, and everyone around me, started a hiding
campaign. Every night I slept in another house of complete strangers.
Of course, I could never see my mother unless I was willing to give
myself up, which I certainly wasn't.
My father lived in fields,( which belonged to his cousins who
were wealthy farmers in Rosi (Rosh)) luckily it was June and warm,
nights he spent in cow sheds. After 2 weeks he couldn't take the
hardship any longer and gave himself up (he wasn't that young at
the time, today I think, he must have been "a youngster" then of about
54; age "does" lie in the eye of the beholder", and the older I get the
younger I think he must have been).
The GPU were delighted and allotted him to leave the very next day. He
spent the night in, what used to be, our town's sports gymnasium (I
think) before, in the "good old days" my friends and I spent
afternoons gymming or playing Volley and Basket ball. Now it became a
pre-deportation, a waiting, room to death.
My father cried bitterly throughout the night and in the morning, the
man who had tried to sleep next to him and who had heard him cry
started asking him his plight. Through a stroke of luck or God's hand,(
you can call it anything you like, but as I am a secular strong
believer in God, I call it God's hand) that prisoner spoke and wrote
He told my father that he'll write a letter in which he'll explain that
my mother is in the hands of the police already, all he asks for, is
that he be permitted to wait for her to join him as soon as
she'll be released from Hospital and then he, his wife and I will
be deported to Siberia together.
My father couldn’t really tell what the man wrote in that application
with but he knew that the application was written on toilette paper as
no one had any letter paper. The Russian speaking man took the letter
over to the Commandant and asked him to read it. Again God
intervened and he read it. That's all.
A few hours later they were all taken to the train station,
driven into a cattle carts and another wait started. Night came, as
father told me, and doors clanked shut when, that same man, said to him
they're calling your name!!! Father told him who'll want to talk to a
dead man? Still he answered and…God's hand?, he was taken off the train
and saved. Not only didn’t we go to Siberia, but, according to my
mother's old Austro Hungarian Empire ideals were "saved" and thought
that nothing could be worse than Russian.tyrany
As soon as father was released, I was released from hiding in cellars,
cupboards, anywhere big or small, because, understandably, the people
who hid me didn't think they had to endanger their lives too!! And so
home we went. It was unbelievable. What, whoever lived there, could
damage in such short a period of time.
Everyting was heartlessly vandalized. All our sardine tins were opened
onto the parquet floors (one of mother's pride), all her eau de cologne
was used up (Mother had bought 1 Liter of it so she shouldn't have to
change it during the war!!??) They must have bathed in it how else
could they have used up such a quantity??, all the wardrobes contents
were lying on the floor.
It looked as though they had prepared things for packing but had no
time to do it. Mother, we were told will be coming home the following
day. I worked all that day putting the house in order and, before
mother was brought home, lay on the floor and scrubbed it so she
shouldn't be distraught by the sight of oily parquet. Mother, who was
such a free thinking jolly person, used to be a tyrant where her home
was concerned and I did respect this, maybe I took it more seriously
By the time mother was brought home on the stretcher (medics threw her
onto the bed) but by then it was freshly covered, clean carpets on all
the floors, just the way it should be. Although Mother's foot looked
terrible, and she was still black and blue in places, and in terrible
pain all over but worst of all her fragmented foot. She cried and
looked around and, hardly believing that she's back in her own bed and,
would you believe it, she didn't even notice one spot of oil near the
Never mind we were absolutely mad with happiness kissed and embraced
whenever I passed the bed. Max brought food from somewhere in the
eveving and we went to sleep, each one in a cloud, to be at home, in
our beds and all together!!!! Heaven couldn't have looked better!!!!
Sleep of exhaustion came easy to me. Sometimes during the night I heard
mother calling me, I tried to get out of bed and couldn't find a way
out, no wonder, I was on the floor !! I must have fallen off my bed and
didn't even feel it.
At last I was in her bed, that's when the bombardment of the city
started. There were no bombs, I think, just explosions and Mother next
to me, spoke in a voice full of joy, "the Germans are coming,!!!!
German papers, German theatre, German "Kultur!!
That was the end of MY Russian Chapter.
Wilhelm Busch in Max and Motitz said "Das war der erste Streich und der
zweite folgt sogleich" (this was the first misddeed; the second follows