Interview of Mendel and Frieda Feldman
South Bend, Indiana
November 27, 1986
By Fred Feldman
Schmuel Mendel; born in Sokolow Podlaski April 24, 1917.
Mendel’s Father: Ephraim Yitzhak (born 1886 in Sokolow, married 1910 in Ostrow Mazowiec; died May 19, 1935 in Sokolow. Died of intestinal complications) Mendel was 18 when his father died. He was buried in the “new cemetery.” There was a headstone, but the nazis took them all away and used them for road building. When Mendel went back after the war, all he found was a big hole where all the Jews were buried in a mass grave. Hyman Kawer took a picture of that.
Mendel’s Mother: Chinka Schwarzbard (born in Ostrow Mazowiec 1891; married at 19 years old; died day after Yom Kippur 1942 in Treblinka.)
Mendel’s father’s father: Fishel Jeruchim Felman (the d in Feldman was added when Mendel was in Russia and stayed when he came to the U.S.)
Mendel’s father’s mother: Ruchel Fishel Felman (married before; husband’s last name Loschita); born 1860, died 1932. Maiden name was Bloch. Her brother’s name was Kalmen Shepsil. Ruchel Fishel died in Mendel’s parents house in Sokolow.
Mendel’s mother’s mother: Rose Leszcz Schwartzbard
Mendel’s mother’s father: Baruch Eli Schwartzbard; had a factory, made a wine from honey (mead)
Ephraim Yitzhak and Chinka moved from Ostrow to Sokolow before Mendel was born because Ruchel Fishel was in Sokolow
Mendel’s father Ephraim was a grain merchant in Sokolow after they moved there.
Frieda’s mother: Chaia Brucha Rosenbaum (born 1889; died February 3, 1981)
Grandmother’s (Chaia’s) father: Ysroel Ersch (Irving named after him) Rosenbaum; had two wives – 12 children from one; 12 from the other; Bayla Rechyl was his second wife. She was 18 and he was 52. Of their 12 children, Ida was one; Joseph Rosenbaum, Sara Rosenbaum; Bernard (Baruch) Rosenbaum; Rose; Avrum Yossel; Bernice Rosenbaum.
Grandmother’s mother: Bayla Rechyl (Barbara Lopata named after her).
As a young girl, Chaia left Sokolow and went to Warsaw to live and work in someone’s home, because there wasn’t enough food in her house for everyone. She met Avrum there, married (at about 18), and had 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls (the girls survived). In order of age, the children were: Avram, Leia, Frieda, Avraham (born in Sokolow) (died at age 2), When her husband died, Chaia went back to Sokolow. She was pregnant at the time with Avrahum and hoped her family could help her. She didn’t know that her father (Ysroel Ersch) had died too. No-one had told her. Her mother, Bayla was a very sick woman. All Chai’s brother’s and sisters lived together in a tiny house in Sokolow. Frieda was about 2 years old when they came back to Sokolow (about 1916). Leah, Frieda’s sister was 3 years older; she was then about 5 years old. Chaia’s baby was born 4 months later (Abraham).
Bayla Rechyl died about that time. Ysroel Ersch was a very rich man, had a big restaurant with a big brick building, but the business went bad, and he lost the restaurant and the brick house and everything. It was put up at auction for taxes and he lost it all. Because the Jewish community felt sorry for him, they made him a Shamash in the Schul and they gave him a little room to live there. By then he was an old man (70’s). When Bayla Rechyl died, they all stayed in the one room in that little house that belonged to the synagogue (Bes HaMedrish). Chaia and her brothers and sisters grew up there. Joe Rosenbaum had left to Chicago; he had a stepbrother from the first marriage who was in the U.S. already, who sent him money to come to the U.S. He was inducted in the army in about 1913. Louis Warner’s wife was Joe Rosenbaum’s stepsister (from the first marriage) and was in South Bend. There were Warner’s living in Del Ray Beach in 1986. Aunt Bernice came later, about 1918 or 1920. Uncle Joe brought over Baruch and also Sarah and Bernice. None of them were married until they went to the U.S. Uncle Baruch married in Chicago a woman from Sokolow whose name was Leah Yedlin; they had a daughter named Rosalin.
To raise money for food and to take care of the baby, Chaia became a wet nurse for another family’s child. Frieda and Leah were the baby sitters for the baby. Chaia would nurse her own baby before she left in the morning and again when she came back at midnight.
When the baby was 2 years old, Chaia found a partner, a blind old lady who financed her and she bought live poultry at the market, butchered and resold them as a little business to support them. Chaia was about 40 at that time. They continued to live in the same little house.
Frieda’s Father: Avrum Altman; died in 1916 (in his 30’s) when Frieda was two years old; died in Warsaw; his family came from Mogelnitz, Poland; Avrum was born in Mogelnitz.
Frieda’s father’s father was Moshe Chaim Altman, a Levy. Frieda’s father Avrum had a little factory in Warsaw that made artificial flowers and employed ten people. Chia wanted none of that and sold the factory for next to nothing and went back to Sokolow.
*Frieda’s memory of Mendel’s grandmother, Rucheli Fishel:
“When we had a little room where the Shul was, the local organization wanted the room back, so we went to court. Mendel’s grandmother, Rucheli Fishel, always went to court, too. She had apartments and they didn’t pay their rent, so she took them to court. In the middle, Mendel’s grandmother told the judge, ‘Stop the whole thing. I have to daven Mincha.’ She was so religious, you wouldn’t believe it. She stood in the middle of the court house and she said, ‘I have to daven Mincha.’ I remember this, because we were in court and she was in court. That was about 1925/1928. And the judge wasn’t Jewish.”
Mendel adds, “She cut her hair and wore a “kupkeh,” not a wig, like a yarmulke. I used to call her Kupkelle.” She was red faced.”
Frieda adds, “Sometimes when I came from the market -- Thursday was the market -- my mother was there to buy geese and chicken, so I was there to help my mother to take home what she bought. So I heard always Rucheli’s voice. She was always in the market fighting with everybody. I remember like now. She was a short woman, red faced. Boy, she was hot.” She was a fighter.
Mendel says, “She didn’t have a husband. Her husband died. She was married twice and Fishel died when he was young and she had all the children. Fishel was her second husband. She ran all the business by herself.” From her first husband (Loschitz) she had one son (David Hersch; he was a Rosh Yeshiva; moved away later). She bought the building from an auction sale and she had an extra apartment that she rented to people and since they didn’t pay rent, she took them to court.
Frieda added, we met Yeshia Schwarzbard (Mendel’s mother’s brother) in Bialystok who was going to Russia. He gave them away at Frieda and Mendel’s wedding.
Frieda was born in Warsaw in 1914 (3 years older than father) but grew up in Sokolow and was there until 1938. Chaia was born in Sokolow Podlaski, grew up in Sokolow and was married in Warsaw.
Continuing Mendel’s side of the family. His parents married in 1910 and had 7 children: Fishel (born 1911 in Ostrow) was the oldest then Shoshana (born 1914 in Ostrow), then Shepsil, then Mendel (1917), then Baruch Eli. Baruch Eli was the youngest. Sarah Rifke was then born, then Moshe Velvel (1926). Fishel was married in 1938 in Sokolow (Frieda was at the wedding).
Mendel’s grandfather owned a wine factory, but Mendel remembers his family growing up poor. Mendel’s father Ephraim Yitzhak was a grain merchant. His father was sick as long as Mendel remembers. His grandmother bought a house on auction (tax sale). They got a half a house from a big building in town. The people whose house was sold were in the wagon trade (“balagule’s”). They learned of the house sale, got angry and one of their sons hit Ephraim Yitzhak with an iron bar when he was young. Later this affected him severely so that he was paralyzed. Mendel learned of this from Shoshana. Mendel had to help his mother since he was 5 years old because of his father’s illnesses.
The house was a big brick building with an upstairs and downstairs.
Continuing on Mendel’s mother’s parents: Baruch Eli Schwartzburt and Rosa Leszcs. They had 5 children: 3 sons and 2 daughters. The oldest daughter was Mary Gertsman’s mother: Chava Yitka Schwartzburt (Greenberg after she married), who lived in Ostrow, then later moved to New York. Another girl was Chinka (Mendel’s mother). One of Baruch Eli’s sons was Rachmil Schwartzburt’s father, Aaron Tovye Schwartzburt, who lived in Ostrow. (Shoshana and Rachmil were cousins). Another son was Yossel Schwartzburt, who lived in Stok by Vengirov. The last son was Yeshaia who gave away Frieda in Bialystok. He went to Russia and didn’t survive.
Genealogy of Mendel’s father’s parents: Fischel Jerichum Felman and Ruchel Fischel Bloch. Fischel was Ruchele’s second husband and they had 4 children, 2 daughters and 2 sons. The children were Faiga (lived in Mezrich; married name Faiga Felman Silverberg) who had 9 daughters and 1 son (had two daughters who were living in Israel) ; Ephraim Yitzhak (Mendel’s father); Erzka (died in Treblinka); Anna (died in Treblinka).
Fischel Jerichum died in Sokolow and was buried in the old cemetery. Ruchele was buried in the new cemetery. (Mendel has a map of Sokolow that he got from Israel).
Mendel and Frieda married November 12, 1939
Tracing what happened when the war started. September 1, 1939 Germany attacked and took over Poland. By September 10, Germany already occupied Sokolov. Mendel & Frieda still stayed another 2-3 weeks. When the Russians, pushed the Germans back from the river Bug, Mendel & Frieda took the chance to escape. Frieda had already been attacked by the occupying Nazis and wanted to get away. Mendel rented a horse and buggy to get them out of town. Mendel left his mother and sister, Sara Rifka and his brother Moishe. His brother Fischel had been in the army for 2 years, but was mobilized to fight for the Polish army on September 1, 1939, and was captured by the Germans and put in prison. Fischel was a “cavalieri,” with 3 stripes on his shoulder. We have a picture like that of Fischel. Mendel shows a picture of the “family that I left.” Mendel, his brother Moishe, born 1926, his sister, Sarah Rifke, born 1923, his mother Chinka born1891, his sister Shoshana who left Poland for Israel in 1935, and his brother Fischel. Neither Fischel, nor Moishe, nor Sarah, nor his mother Chinka survived the war. “Why does your mother look so mad in the picture?”…”Because she had tsuras (troubles) all her life.” In 1935 my father died. I’ll show you a picture of my mother when she was a bride. She was beautiful.
We left Sokolow during Succas sometime in September or October. We left for Drohczyn na Buc across the Bug River where the Russians were and stayed about a month. From there we went to Bialystok, the big town. We got married in Bialystok. The same night, me and Frieda and Leah and Velvul got married the same night.
We left Sokolow in the middle of the day. The Russians said that whoever wanted to leave, better leave now. They would be there no more than a week. I told my mother I was leaving; I never told her what happened to Frieda. My mother said, “Don’t leave.” She said, if you don’t leave, Mendel won’t leave. Frieda said, “I’m leaving.” Mendel took all his clothes in a box. He had a nice bike that he took with and left. Mendel helped Frieda pack everything in a horse and buggy. Mendel went back to say goodbye to his mother. He kissed her and she said to Frieda, “Up to now I’ve taken care of Mendel. Now it’s up to you to take care of him.” And Mendel left on his bike while Frieda left on the buggy. Frieda said, “My mother’s sister, the older sister, Rosa, she was already on the buggy to go with us. Her husband came, he gave her something and told her to go. He was a furrier, and he gave her a pelt. He said, “Take this so you’ll have something to sell and live off of.” And Rosa said, “I can’t go and leave him,” and she got off the buggy and stayed behind. Both children, a girl and a boy were on the buggy with her and she took them off with her.
Later they went to Bialystok. They were married there in November; his mother’s brother gave him away; there were 6-7 people at the wedding. In January 1940, new years night, they left for the Ural mountains. They signed up for work with Russians and left in a boxcar. They went to Berezniki by train. The route was…from Bialystok, the train (about 20 boxcars of Jews from Poland) went northeast, bypassing Minsk, bypassing Moscow, to Kubishov, to Ufa nach Volga. They stopped there and were allowed to get off and by bread. It was about -40 there. Stayed on the train about 18 days. There were guards everywhere. Mendel ran into Kubishov and brought back bread for everyone (about 15 loaves) and salami for food for everyone. They stopped again at Ufa where they got hot water. They had some money that they exchanged on the black market for Russian money.
From Ufa they went to Berezniki in the Ural mountains. They had no idea where they were going.
On January 18, they signed up for work. They took everyone to a big shower room to delice everyone from 18 days and nights on the train. They gave everyone one meal free and everyone ate, except for one young girl who said she was kosher and wouldn’t eat. She was told, you’ll starve and die here. You have to eat.
They gave us a place to stay, and then they asked us what our specialty was. Mendel signed up as a carpenter and so they put him someplace else to live. Velvul said he was a shoemaker, and they put him somewhere else in a factory to make bricks. They sent him and Leah away about 30 miles away, over the Kura River in the mountains. It was terribly cold there, maybe -50 or -60. We never saw him there. Mendel and Frieda and Ida stayed together. This was in 1940 already. Mendel worked as a carpenter. He made benches, tables, etc. Mendel’s brother Fischel was carpenter all his life and Mendel helped him, so he knew how to do that. He had made tables and chairs, and sleds, etc.
After this, they sent Mendel into the Urals into the big woods to cut trees, trees 50-60 feet high. Frieda and Ida stayed behind. Just men were sent. Mendel worked in the mountains all through the winter. The snow was as high as electricity poles. Later, they put them in another place to work. To build a fence by a railroad. That was already in March. Sand they took out from cars, they put by a big chemical factory that was there. We dug holes to put posts in. When I dug my hole, I saw this hard stuff at the bottom; I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was ice, so I took my lining bar that was laying there and started hitting it. There was an electric cable laying on the bottom. So when I started to hit it, fire went out of it, right in my eye. That cable went to the biggest chemical factory in Russia near Berezniki. I was injured in my eye. The Russian NKVD came right away, put me in the hospital, and put a patch on my eye. That was in April, and then I walked home. As soon as I was home, the NKVD came and took me. As I left, I saw Frieda standing in a food line. She saw me, and I waved to her and said, “Stay, here. I’ll be right back. But they kept me in jail for 4 months and I didn’t return until 4 months later.”
My charge was “article 58,” that I was a spy, and that I wanted to destroy Russia, and they wanted to give me 30 years in jail. Every night they took me out of my cell, 3 o’clock to grill me. They wanted to know how much money I got to do sabotage. I said I got nothing, that my supervisor was supposed to be there to tell me where to dig, and he wasn’t there. He was inside a nice warm hut, warming himself, and not watching us. I learned Russian real fast. They said, just sign the confession that you were doing sabotage and trying to destroy Russia. I said I wouldn’t sign. They said, “What do you want to say?” I said, “I wasn’t doing any sabotage. I was digging a hole for the post. It looked like there was ice there and I went to break it up, and my supervisor was supposed to be there to tell me what to do, and he wasn’t there. I only got 5 ruble a day for the job. He said, “ok sign both papers.” So, I signed both papers. But you knew if they wanted to put you in jail, they would throw away the paper that said you did nothing and convict you on the other one.
So I stayed in prison for 4 months. Frieda used to go every day to the head of the NKVD to plead with him. Frieda said, “They said every day, tomorrow he’ll come back. But tomorrow and tomorrow would come and he didn’t come back. I went there and said, “Is Mendel Ephramovitch there?” They said, he’s here all right and he’ll be hear 30 years from now. He’s a spy. He came from Poland and they sent him to destroy the Soviet Union.” I said, “That’s not true. I want to see somebody higher now.” They said, “You can’t see anyone else.”
The head of the NKVD, his name was Telman; maybe he was Jewish. I said, “I’m not going home. I have nowhere to go. I have no one and I’m pregnant.” All this was in Brezniki.
I was sitting there day and night, crying. They couldn’t get rid of me. They said they’d arrest me. I said, “Arrest me, I have nowhere to go. I want to go upstairs and talk to the head.”
They went upstairs and said to their boss, “There’s a woman sitting there all day and all night, crying and won’t go away, and she wants to talk to you.” The head of the NKVD said, “Let her come up and talk to me.” I came upstairs; beautiful room; red carpet. The head of the NKVD pulled up a chair for me and said, “Sit down.” He said, “Why are you crying? You’re so beautiful. Your so young. You’ll find a better husband.” I said, “ I don’t want anybody else. We dated for 4 years. We love each other. I’m not going away.” He said to his men, “Listen, every time she comes and wants to come up to talk to me, let her come up.” I came every day. He was so nice to me. He said, “I promise you, when the case comes up to me, I’ll let him off free.”
Then the trial started, and I told the head, he didn’t know what was going on. The head of the NKVD told me, I’ll have him out of here the next night. (Mendel says, “There was a trial. They gave the man who was supposed to supervise me a year in jail.” Until then he wasn’t in jail.)
The NKVD man said, “Tomorrow night, they’ll let your husband out at 12 o’clock at night. I want you to come see you there. I’ll let him out in my office.” So I came. It was a long way, at least 5 miles. They didn’t let him out. I waited and waited. So, 12 o’clock, 1 o’clock, 3 o’clock. I went back home crying. I came home, and my mother was sitting there waiting for me. I said, “He didn’t come.” Maybe an hour later, I heard somebody knocking at the window. They let him out later. I didn’t recognize him. He was swollen; beaten up. He had a long beard; no shaving for 4 months. They beat the hell out of him. Night after night, they would grill him and beat him with a gun on the paper telling him he would have to admit he was guilty. But Mendel says, “I was like a stone. I wouldn’t sign.” While I was there in jail, I didn’t know what to do. I had a little piece of paper from some food, so I wrote Frieda a letter. In Yiddish I wrote it. I thought she would get it; I knew she was coming every day. So I threw it out of the window. I wrote in Yiddish, “ Frieda, Ich bin nicht schildig; I’m not guilty. I didn’t know what I did. Go see a lawyer.” I didn’t know, in Russia, you can’t see a lawyer. I didn’t know that there were guards there, and they took the paper and took it to the chief. When he finally left me out, he showed me the little piece of paper and said, “See I got the paper.” I didn’t write anything against Russia.
When I was there during the interrogation, they called other people that worked with me, ten people all like me. They said, we didn’t know anything, but one guy was against me who said, “Yes I want to do it. And he was from Warsaw. Maybe he thought they would make him bigger. He told them, “Yes he told me he would do it, wanted to destroy it, and I tried to talk him out of it.”
I was in jail from April 24 for 4 months. After I was let out, I went back to the place I was working, and they paid me for all the time I was in jail because I wasn’t guilty.
I went back to work then as a carpenter in another place. We built factories in another place, still in Bereznicki. In October of 1940, Abraham was born. We were in Bereznicki until March 1941. Then I went to the place where I was working to release me. We wanted to get away from the Ural Mountains, the -40 winters; we wanted to go back to White Russia. We didn’t know that Germany would attack Russia in 1941.
Fred asks, “Did you know what was happening in Sokolow all this time?”
Frieda, says, “We got one letter.” “How did you get a letter in Russia? How did they know where you were?” Mendel says, “I wrote them one letter telling them where we were.” At the end of 1940
She wrote us a letter that she didn’t live in the same house. They took away the building. They built a ghetto and put us in it. She wrote that Fischel came home from the army.
Mendel says, “When we were still in Drogochin, Chaim Kawer borrowed my bike and said he’d go back to Sokolow; he had left Sokolow a couple of days ahead of us. He borrowed my bike and went back. He saw my mother and came back. I wanted to go back too, and I took the bike and went back to the river Bug, but it was closed already to go back. This was about a week after we left Sokolow.”
Back in Breznicki, they had gotten the one letter.
While in Breznicki, a woman had helped Frieda with chores, laundry and such. She was a Russian woman and she was willing to buy us tickets to leave and go back to White Russia. But she couldn’t get them. The only other way to leave was if you were sick. So we went to a doctor and told him that Mendel was sick and to write that so we could leave. They were glad to write that, because they had lost the trial and they wanted to get rid of me. So we got a “permit” to leave; a release in our working book. We got tickets, around March 1941, and we didn’t know where to go; we went to white Russia, to a town called Orsha by Minsk.
So they left Breznicki in March 1941, with grandmother Ida and Abraham. Leah and Velvul took their apartment and they stayed in Breznicki the whole war. They had no problems with that.
Fred says, “So did you make a mistake leaving Breznicki?”
Frieda says, “Absolutely, we almost lost our lives.” And Mendel agrees.
So from Breznicki they came near Minsk to Orsha (by train) (found on map). Why there? Mendel says, “Because others left from Breznicki to Orsha (not far from Moscow too) and they wrote letters that you get everything there - food ; jobs; everything. We went to Moscow too. There were so many people from Poland too, from Sokolow also. We were in Orsha about 2 weeks. I rented an apartment there. Someone said to go to Crimea. I left Mother and Ida and Abraham and went to Crimea by the Black Sea. I was told it was nice and warm and I could get a good job there. I took a train there. I told Frieda I’d write her and for her to come there. I went to a town called Saki in Crimea, next to Sevarople. I went to a Jewish Kolhoz in Saki, like a collective farm. I worked over there as a carpenter, and wrote mother to come. Take a train and come and I’d wait by the station. All the people were Jewish there. She came; brought a couch, a sewing machine, stuff. When she got to the station, I wasn’t there. I didn’t know when they’d come. There was no telephone. A letter took 3 months. She was sitting at the station. They let my supervisor know that my wife was sitting at the station with her mother and her little boy and they sent a horse and buggy for her. She came back to the Kolhoz; they gave us a little room. She was baking bread. Life was beautiful; not like in the Ural Mountains. Beautiful summer. White flour; butter milk; Jewish neighbors. Everyone had a cow, a pig. Ida became a tailor. She made clothes.
Not all the people there were refugees. They built it up. Money came from the U.S.; maybe Jews from America to build it up. Some had built houses. They gave us a cow for ourselves; Frieda milked the cows. They did good there. Good food; Mendel was working. They were happy. That was from April of 1941.
But in June 22, 1941 Germany attacked Russia. That was our biggest trouble. They came quickly.
Maybe 3 months later, the Germans were already by Crimea. They were in Sempharople and we were 40 miles away. We could hear the bombing already. The Germans came in from the Ukraine side. Everyone was mobilized to dig trenches. We were told to go back to our Kolhoz. Mendel walked back to Saki and everyone was told to leave. To take horses and buggies and go. The Germans already occupied Kiev; they killed a quarter million Jews there (Babi Yar). Mendel didn’t know about that at the time. There was an order for all the Kolhozen, all the tractors to be evacuated.
From Saki, they left, walking. Mendel was driving the horses; grandma Ida was riding in the buggy; Frieda was walking. They went to Kerch, got a boat and crossed the stream. By then, the Germans were already occupying Crimea. They walked to Krasnadar to a little town called Krimskia where they got the train. The supervisor from the Kolhoz said, “there are too many people to take care of; give up your cattle and horse and buggy and take the train.” We took the train, bought tickets to Baku, and went to Mahachkala. Those people that kept going with the buggies and cattle, the Germans got. They sent paratroopers who caught them and killed them all from our Kolhoz. The supervisor from the Kolhoz, had fast horses, he turned around and escaped. After the war, when we went back to Crimea, he was there. He was in another Kolhoz.
So we went to Mahachkala. We were told we couldn’t go on to Baku because it was a military city. The baggage went to Baku and we went to a school where we were all refugees, sleeping on the floor. One night the KGB came and looked for our documents. They said, “No good.” They wanted to see my military book. “No good.” They said, “come with to the station; they took lots of people and said tomorrow you’ll be back.” “I don’t know how long they kept me there, maybe 3 months. In Mahachkala, in Jail. Mother, grandmother and the baby stayed in the school. They kept me in jail and accused me of running away, of being a spy. After 3 months, they didn’t make a trial, and they let me out. In the meantime, the little boy, Abraham died. Frieda had moved to another school. I found her. I asked, Frieda, “Where’s Abraham?” She cried. She said, “Abraham died.”
Why? Because there was a children’s epidemic going around (diphtheria?). The children weren’t allowed in hospitals; they wouldn’t take care of refugees from Poland. If one child died, all of them died. Mendel says, “While I was in jail, I had a dream that he died.” That was in 1942 when he died. Maybe in February.
Frieda says, “We were all sleeping on the floor. There was no room. One child had a bench he was sleeping on and he died. When he died, I was glad to put Abraham on the bench, so he wouldn’t sleep on the floor. The second day, he got sick, too. He couldn’t swallow. I stood in line with 3000 people to get bread. I carried him with me and got a bread. Then I tried to help him by going with him from hospital to hospital. They wouldn’t take him.” Mendel says, “They wouldn’t take children. There were millions from all over. You don’t see the television? You don’t see wars all over and refugees on the road from everywhere? People run like a hell; that was me and mother and the children running.”
So, … after I got out of jail in Mahachkala, they sent me to be in the military, to see if I’m good in the army. I went for tests, but I didn’t pass. I couldn’t see nothing. I didn’t have glasses. So they gave me a book that I’m no good for the army. Those three months they kept me in jail accusing me of running away from the army when I’m no good for the army.
So after I got out, I got a military book and we got back the baggage from Baku, and later the government said that all the people that came from Crimea, go sign up. We want to send you to Tibliz / Hiaschura. We went to a town called Hiashura (in Azerbaijan). We went from Baku to Georgia (Tifliz/capital of Georgia) to a town called Hiashura. (found on map) We didn’t go; they sent us there from Mahachkala. They were there about 2 months; couldn’t get a job. Found people there from Sokolow who had a store there too (name: Hende; had a boy and girl). Mendel left mother in Hiashura and went with another woman to a sofroz in Azerbaijan to look for someplace better. There they started working, got cards, etc. Not far from Iran border; on a river. Fred was born not far from Baku, maybe 50 miles.
When they went back form Hiashura into Azerbaijan, they stayed a long time. We were Crimeans there, so the government tried to save us and they sent us to Arachazo, right by the Kura River to get a little healthy because Mother had malaria. She had malaria bad when Fred was born. Frieda says to Fred, “You know you have a big spot on your foot? That’s from the malaria. They gave me a shot to survive the malaria. They said, you need the shot or you’ll die. You want the baby, then you’ll die. If you don’t want the baby, then it’s the only thing for survival is to get the shot. I already didn’t know anything, lying there sick. Fred was born there by the river Kura at sofros Saiear in Azerbaijan.
They were there when the Russians started pushing the Germans back from Stalingrad and pushing them back from Crimea. So they sent us back to Crimea again. Went from there to Baku; from Baku to Mahachkala, from Mahachkala back to Crimea to the same place – Saki. Before they went back to Saki, Mendel left them back in Azerbaijan and went to Goro odjonikidji (found on map). It was bad by Baku, so I went there (stole a ride under a bench on the train) and started working. I stayed there a month. There they taught me to learn how to work with tractors. It was good there. I went to get a pass to bring mother, Ida, Fred and they gave me 2 breads. I ate one almost myself. The other one mother ate.
When I got to Goro odjonikidji I sent her a telegram that I was ok and would come. The telegram came to her 3 months later and all that time she didn’t know what happened to her. When I came back to take her, the telegram came a month later.
Before going back to Crimea, the government sent them for 2-3 months to recover from malaria to Archazor (good place). Mendel says to Fred, that’s where you used to throw things down for grandmother to pick up. From there they sent them back to Crimea. The government sent those that survived back to Crimea and paid for them. When they got back they were sent to a sofroz. Mendel came back to Crimea at the end of 1944. Irving was born in August of 1945 in Saki. They stayed there until March 1946 when they went back to Poland by train.
The whole time, they had no idea what was happening with Leah and Velvul or Chaim Kawer.
At the end of the war, the Russian government tried to get them to stay. But things were difficult in the sofroz and the war was over and they wanted to get away. They went back from Crimea from Saki by truck to Semforople. At Semforople, there were maybe 30 train cars, all Jewish people going back. From there they went to Kamienia gura (not far from Roslov; not far from Walbzik – found on map). They wouldn’t let people go back to Sokolow. Went back after the war. Mendel went back alone to Sokolow to look.
After he was back and worked for the government as a tractor operator, he asked permission to go back to Sokolow. He went to Lodz, to Warsaw. Leah lent him money. Leah was not far from Walbzik. He didn’t know that. Leah told Eli that she had a sister and didn’t know where she was. Leah met Eli in Berezniki (Mendel doesn’t know how) after they left. Eli was from Lemberg on the Russian side so he must have come later. He met Leah who told him that she had a sister and wanted help finding her. In the camp there were lists of names of survivors after the war. Eli took Velvul and went to Walbzik; it was the capital to register. Registration was under the Bricha. We saw Velvul; we didn’t know Eli/Eli didn’t know us. Eli was skinny/beautiful. Right away we found each other in the school. Frieda’s version, Eli found someone who had seen Mendel and family and told them that. Eli took Velvul and came to us in Kamiena Gura. (The picture of Fred and Mendel was in Austria in San Gilgal).
When they were back in Poland, they got an apartment, but Polish anti-Semitism was awful; they were afraid for their lives. They went from Walbzik to Austria; they walked. Why did they go? Because to go somewhere, you had to sign up with the Bricha.
Leah was right by the Poland/Czech border. They were told to go there. The Bricha was already telling them where to go. They went from Poland to Hungary to Czechoslovkia to Hungary. From there they walked over the border and were taken by train to Vienna. There they were kept 2-3 days, were given shots, food. Vienna was a transition place. From there they were taken by trucks to Steier, Austria to a DP camp near Linz. From Steier they went to Welz, still in 1946. Fred went to school there. They were in Steier 5-6 months. There were about 300 people in one military barrack. The picture of father in a police outfit was in Welz where they stayed until they left for the U.S. From Welz they went to Salzburg; waited 3-4 days and went by train to Bremerhaven. Took the boat and that’s all.
The picture of the buggy of Fred and Barbara and Irving and Loretta was the buggy while they walked form Poland to Austria. The Bricha helped them; it was organized by the Jewish Zionist group.