One of the Lucky Ones
As the war raged around us, we heard on the BBC that the Germans were losing ground and in retreat. We were overjoyed. One would have thought that the Germans would concentrate their efforts on ways to shore up their strength. Instead, they continued to obsess about annihilating Jews. They went door to door, searching houses for hidden Jews, Jews who had gotten away. They searched our apartment building and went as far as the third floor.
A widow whose late husband was Jewish lived on the third floor apartment, located directly below ours. She knew about our presence upstairs and was sympathetic to our situation. After the SS searched her home, she said casually, “Don’t bother going upstairs. There’s nobody there.” Fortunately, the SS listened to her and didn’t search any further. That was a narrow escape. The kind widow had risked her life and saved ours.
At the end of March 1945, the bloody conflict of war exploded in Slovakia as the Soviet Red Army pushed its way toward Vienna to attack German strongholds. Sirens blared in Nitra, warning the population to take shelter as a blitz of Soviet bombs fell all around. Airplanes carrying their deadly cargo shrieked above us, but we had nowhere to take cover. During the bombings we were afraid to flee; as Jews, we had to remain hidden. But at the same time, it was too dangerous to remain in the apartment. So we realized that the time had come to abandon our hiding place. We were terrified that we would be identified as Jews, but we had no choice. We dressed as unobtrusively as we could and left the apartment, never to return.
People streamed out of Nitra, carrying what they could, searching for shelter from the bombs that were mainly directed at urban areas. We were a mass of moving humanity. Jews and gentiles alike ran for their lives, travelling on foot in the direction of Mount Zobor.
My father was understandably nervous that we would be spotted and singled out as Jews. I remember that I wore a blue kerchief and he shouted at me, “Take that off! Don’t you know blue is a Jewish colour?” How paranoid one could become under stress.
We trudged all day, trying to escape the bombardments and devastation that had enveloped Nitra. Houses and buildings lay in ruins all around us. Explosions and the sounds of gunfire and sirens accompanied us. We three fugitive families stayed together on this long and painful trek that led us to the mountain. As night fell, we found a deserted cave. Damp and cold as it was, it had to do as our shelter. I slept on my mother’s lap all through that long night. Grateful for her love and protection, I still recall her selfless, tender loving care and self-sacrifice. I knew how uncomfortable she must have been and how little sleep she got in that God-forsaken place.
In the morning, we continued our long and difficult journey, although we didn’t know our destination. All we knew was that we were fugitives trying to stay alive, avoiding the bombs falling around us and hoping we wouldn’t be shot by the Germans. Suddenly, deep in the forest, we came upon a large, wooden building that we soon realized was a monastery. There, on the mountain, in the middle of the forest, we had come upon the Zobor monastery, a potential safe haven. We were bone-tired and in desperate need of shelter, food and respite. What kind of reception would we get?
We knocked on the large front door. A monk in a long, brown cassock appeared at the entrance. When he saw our dishevelled and exhausted appearance, he kindly let us in. He must have realized immediately that we were Jews on the run. He ushered us upstairs into a large, comfortable room with enough beds for all of us. He explained that because we were Jews, he would allow us the privacy of these quarters. Apparently, there were also many non-Jewish refugees from Nitra on the large ground floor of the monastery. We gratefully lay down to rest, relieved to have been given sanctuary.