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 journey began.
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 near Sevastopol.

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, today's Istanbul.

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 thinking.
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.

We 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 talk 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 suffering 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 didn't 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 gentle).

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 generations.