The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Rachel Shtibel

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Born
April 24, 1935 Turka, Poland

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1968 Toronto, Ontario

Rachel Milbauer, a vivacious and outgoing music lover, hid silently in an underground bunker in Nazi-occupied Poland for nearly two years. After the war, a recovered violin, case and photos hidden away by Rachel’s beloved Uncle Velvel became cherished symbols of survival and continuity. Saved by inner fortitude, luck and the courage and caring of friends and strangers, Rachel and Adam met and fell in love, and set about building a new life together. Half a century later, a chance remark inspired Rachel to explore her memories. Always at her side, Adam chose to break his long self-imposed silence in the only way he could.

About Rachel

Rachel Milbauer was born in 1935 in Eastern Galicia and Adam Shtibel was born in 1928 in Komarów, Poland. In the mid-1950s, the Shtibels moved to Israel, where Rachel obtained an MA in microbiology. In 1968, the family moved to Canada, settling in Toronto.

Photos and Artifacts

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    Rachel's parents, Sara and Israel Milbauer, in 1929.

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    Rachel with her mother, Sara Milbauer, in 1935. (Photo found in Uncle Velvel’s violin case.)

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    Rachel in 1936. (Photo found in Uncle Velvel’s violin case.)

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    Rachel’s grandmother, Judith Blaufeld (Bubbie Yetta), with Rachel in the garden in Turka, undated. (Photo found in Uncle Velvel’s violin case.)

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    Rachel's uncle Velvel, wearing the embroidered shirt he often wore for his violin concerts, undated. (Photo found in Uncle Velvel’s violin case.)

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    Rachel’s aunt, Mina Blaufeld (right), Rachel at five years old (back, middle) and Aunt Mina’s cousins, undated. (Photo found in Uncle Velvel’s violin case.)

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    Rachel's biological mother, Nelly (left), and Uncle Velvel’s cousin Minka (right), undated. Rachel’s only photo of Nelly. (Photo found in Uncle Velvel’s violin case.)

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    Recent photo of Uncle Velvel’s beloved violin resting on the kilim rug he made himself before the war. Both survived the war buried on the family farm in Turka.

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    Rachel, back left, playing with her violin troupe in Wrocław, 1948.

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    Rachel playing the piano, 1949.

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    Rachel playing the violin, 1949.

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    Rachel in 1951, with the ruins of Wrocław in the background.

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    Rachel, 1955.

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    Rachel at her wedding, standing between Rozalia and Jozef Beck, the Polish couple who helped save her family, 1956.

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    Rachel and Adam’s wedding photo, 1956.

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    Adam in the Israel Defense Forces, 1967.

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    Rachel working in her lab in Rehovot, Israel, undated.

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    Adam and Rachel in Israel,1967.

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    Rachel and Adam’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, 2006.

The Book

Cover of The Violin / A Child’s Testimony
2008 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Winner

The Violin / A Child’s Testimony

There was no room for standing or moving. When one person had to turn, all of us had to. The deeper we were inside the bunker, the less air we had.…We were not allowed to use our voices to speak. We could only communicate by moving our lips. Turn. Whisper. Turn.

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The Violin / A Child’s Testimony

The Ghetto

On the morning we were forced to leave our home, our farm and our animals, we awoke to silence. We had locked the doors and windows securely the night before and Bobby, our dog, had been sleeping outside. But Bobby was not barking that morning – I never heard or saw him again. At the crack of dawn, the Germans had surrounded our house and were waiting for us to get up. When Bubbie Frida stepped outside, her greatest fear was realized. “Get out, you filthy Jews.”

German police stood in our yard, pointing guns at us and shouting in German. My bubbie, who knew a little German, asked if I could go up the mountain and say goodbye to my friend. Strangely, they agreed. My bubbie whispered to me, “Stay up there. Don’t come back.” So I ran up the mountain to say goodbye. When I was ready to leave Mecio, his mother told me she would come down with me and ask permission to keep me with her family. The answer she got from the Germans was short and to the point. “No. Get out of here.” Hurriedly, my bubbie put a few of her dresses into a small suitcase and we were chased out of our home, forced to leave everything else behind.

As they pushed us into the road, my zeyde, who had remembered to take his prayer book, realized he had forgotten his eyeglasses on the windowsill. He started back to the house to get them. One of the Germans kicked him and he fell to the ground. As he lay on the road, another German pulled as hard as he could at his beard. My zeyde, moaning in pain, began to lose consciousness. With what appeared to me to be enjoyment, the German police continued to pull at each strand of my zeyde’s beard. When they had pulled out almost all of his long beautiful beard, they cut with a knife what they could not pull out with their hands. I closed my eyes and hid myself between my mother and my bubbie.

Hungry, thirsty and stunned, we were ordered to walk in the direction of Kołomyja. As we stumbled toward the town, we were joined by other Jewish families. If anyone stepped out of line or tried to escape, they were immediately shot. My uncles took turns carrying me. At the time, it seemed a miracle that we all made it to Kołomyja alive. There, we were reunited with friends from the surrounding areas and with Aunt Mina and Luci. I was six years old.

The Kołomyja ghetto was located in the central part of the city, near the farmers’ market where peasants from the surrounding villages used to gather to sell their goods. This particular area and some of the nearby houses were ringed by a gate that separated it from the rest of the city. The non-Jewish families who lived there had been evacuated and given the vacated houses of Jews outside the ghetto walls. The Jewish families who lived inside the gated ghetto remained in their homes, but had to share them with Jews who were brought in from elsewhere.

Armed with rifles, the soldiers stood at the gateway, policing the Jews in the ghetto. We were forced to wear armbands with embroidered Stars of David on them. Our shoes were taken away and a strict curfew was imposed. Those who disobeyed were shot on the spot. For the first time in my life I knew what fear really was.