Interview with Sali Glaubach Regenstreif, April, 1998
Published in "Rom-Sig News," Vol. 6, No. 4
I was three years old when they sent us to the camps. My mother and I went together. First we had been sent to the ghetto in Czernowitz, but now we were told to pack a few belongings and that, like at Auschwitz, work makes a better life. There I was with my little suitcase, in my white fur coat and my hand muff, and we were sent to Transnistria. When we came back, they wouldn’t even let us in the house. Russian soldiers had taken it over.
When they sent us to the camps, we started walking. They didn’t give us transportation. And we came to the Dnestr River. We had no way to cross, so the people started making rafts out of branches. And my mother carried me on her back. Another woman had a baby who was crying, and it upset one of the soldiers. She was carrying the baby in front of her, so the soldier took his bayonet and ran it through the child and on into the mother, and then he threw them into the water. After that, my mother carried me, but she always carried the suitcase out in front.
The soldiers set out barrels, and we were told to put all jewelry in the barrels. "If we find anyone with jewelry, we will kill you." If people couldn’t get their rings off, they would cut off their own fingers.
The people marched for miles and miles, and Mother got tired and fell. The others kept walking. A Ukrainian woman who was Jewish took us in and put us above the mantle of the fireplace so we could keep warm. But she took from my mother everything.
Then the Germans came with a loudspeaker and told us that all the Jews must get out of town, and that if any Jews were found, the family that was keeping them would be killed. So the lady threw us out at night. She was afraid for her life.
So we started going but we didn’t know where. They didn’t even give us transportation to the camps, and when we got there they gave us nothing – not like in Auschwitz where they gave you soup. Here you had to provide for yourself. And if you wanted transportation to the camps, you had to pay. There was a truck with people on their way to the camps, but they wouldn’t let us get on because we had no money. But an SS officer saved our lives. We were standing outside in the cold, and the officer said, "Junge Frau, warum sind Sie draussen?" [Young woman, why are you outside?] And my mother said, "We have no money, and they told us they had no room." And he said, "You have no money?" And my mother said no. So he said, "Come back in the morning; we’ll have room."
The next morning, the officer told the people in the truck, "You let her up or I’ll take you all down." My mother, all she had left now was a bar of soap. A bar of soap was very valuable. And she offered it to the officer. But he said, "No, you keep it. You need it more than I do." So my mother said, "What then shall I wish you?" And he said, "Wish me well so I shall come back and see my wife and child." So, even there, there was a human being. That SS officer saved my life. He told the driver of the truck, "You stop in Murafa." It was easier than the other camps.
In the camps, there was a little shack where they took out my mother’s teeth. She had beautiful gold caps – it was very fashionable then. They had no Novocain. So the whole war she spent with no teeth.
My mother used to work for the Germans doing their laundry and their black boots. I’ll never forget their black boots. The camp was run mostly by Ukrainians, with a few Germans. And the Ukrainians wanted to show the Germans they were better even than the Germans. When I would cry, if I didn’t feel well, my mother would put her fist in my mouth that I shouldn’t cry because the soldiers didn’t like it. And she would go through the garbage to take out the potato peels to make a soup, and this is how we stayed alive.
Most of the parents in the camp died. So the others made like an orphan home. The children were lying on straw which was used to make a bed. A pair of twins – five years old – died, so a lady brought candles to place by their heads. But the candles started a fire, and most of the children died. I ran out.
One day, there was a man lying and begging for a little water. Someone got him some water but soon he died. My mother put me to sleep on his body so I wouldn’t be on the hard cold floor. In the camps, they were fighting over the bodies and sleeping on them till they began to stink.
My mother was Rosa Halprin. She was born to Leb Halprin and Sure – I don’t know her last name. She was from Kitov near Kolomea. Sure was an orphan by the time she was two years old. She was raised by her Tante Malke [Aunt Malke], who owned a hardware store. Leb was a widower, 50 years old, and they were married when Sure was 12. Imagine such a young girl with the alte kacker. They had ten children, and my mother, Rosa, was the youngest. They all died in the Holocaust except my mother.
My father was Tobias Glaubach. When he was eight, he was apprenticed to a bookbinder, and he worked as a bookbinder all his life. During the war, my father was a Russian soldier. He was taken for five years by the Russians – before they left Czernowitz, they took all the men for the army. After the war, he had been wounded with a bullet in his lung and he was in Siberia. He wrote a letter to the postal worker in Czernowitz to ask about his family. The postal worker said no, his wife and daughter were dead – they never returned from the camps. But later he heard from someone’s wife that we weren’t dead – that we were living in Czernowitz. So he took a train to come back. He had no money to pay for a train, so he rode on the roof for six weeks, all the way from Siberia, and whenever the train would go through a tunnel, he would get black like a Negro from the smoke.
Finally, he arrived in Czernowitz and he came to find us. One day, this old man who had no teeth asked me, "Maideleh, du veisst vu die Glaubach voynt?" [Little girl, do you know where the Glaubach’s live?] I was scared. He looked awful without teeth. He had only his Russian army coat and he carried a wooden suitcase. And in the suitcase, he brought me a present. It was two red pomegranates. I had never seen one before.
After the camps, we went back to Czernowitz. And we made a living selling salt to the Russian soldiers. We would scrape paint and mix it with the salt to make it seem there was more, and then wrap it very carefully in paper like it was diamonds. But it was illegal to sell to the soldiers and I would be chased by the police.
Then the Russians told us we all had to leave Czernowitz. They took us to the border and we started walking. We went to Sibiu. One day, I heard someone say there were oranges in Palestine. At that time, if you saw someone with a chicken or an orange, you would ask, "Ver is krank?" [Who is sick?] So one day, at eight years old, I got on the bus to Bucharest. I didn’t tell my parents. And when I got to Bucharest, someone took me to an orphanage. My mother went looking for me everywhere crying. Someone had seen me get on a bus to Bucharest, so my mother went begging for money to get a ticket for the train. My mother left early in the morning. She didn’t speak Romanian, but she had the address of a cousin in Bucharest. When she got there, this cousin didn’t even offer her a glass of water. And when my mother asked her to help her, she said, "I can’t help you to find your daughter, because a lady is coming to do my nails."
I was at an orphanage managed by a rabbi. We stayed in a stall, and there was a horse trough where we could wash ourselves and drink. I was washing some underwear when my mother arrived. She had brought me a present: she brought me five or six dried prunes. I didn’t want to go back with her to Sibiu. I told her I wanted to go to Palestine. So she left me at the orphanage with the rabbi.
The rabbi started getting documents for the children at the orphanage to go to Palestine, but because of the British, the children were being sent to camps in Cyprus instead. Then he heard that the Queen of Holland was adopting 500 kids from different orphanages, and I was one of eighteen from this orphanage who were adopted by the Queen.
A week before I could leave, I had to write my mother, in case she didn’t want me to go. I was now nine years old, and I mailed my postcard at the train station as I was leaving – I didn’t want her to come and get me. By the time she got the postcard, I was in Belgium.
I remember we would stand with our hands out the windows and the American soldiers would throw things into the train. I remember the chocolate and the canned milk. We went to Apeldoorn, and the religious relief organizations provided schools for us. So I started school in Holland in 1946. I had never been in school before.
From the Joint [Distribution Committee], I got clothing and care packages. There was a room with lots of clothes hanging from the walls, and shoes. You could pick whatever you wanted. Some were lucky and found a dollar or some chewing gum in the pockets, or an address of some people who would come to get you. But I wasn’t so lucky. But now whenever I give to the Salvation Army, I put something in the pockets so someone should get it.
I was in Holland from 1946 to 1948. One day the Queen came to visit. She brought everyone a present. I got a shawl from her. Then the British left Palestine. Some people got a ship, the Negba, to take the children to Palestine. But they wouldn’t let any children go who were under twelve because of the war with the Arabs. So overnight we all became twelve.
So I went on a ship and came to Palestine, which was by now Israel, on the 10th of October, 1948. It was during the Succoth holiday. They couldn’t take us off the ship then, so at night they took us on a brown bus with curtains for windows, and on top of the bus lay soldiers with guns. The soldiers were 16 or 17 years old.
How I brought my parents out from Romania to Israel – that is another story. What a twelve-year old child can do.... And in spite of everything, and in spite of Hitler, I have a wonderful family, wonderful children, wonderful grandchildren. This I would want people to know.