Bits and Pieces
My first encounter with Nazi cruelty came very soon. I was standing near the window of our apartment watching my father cross the street to get to a store to change some money. To my horror, I saw two German soldiers approach him, push him and order him to walk in front of them. I immediately ran out and begged the soldiers to let him go. I pleaded with them, telling them that he was my daddy and that they could not do this to him. They laughed, pushed me away, collected a few more Jewish men and marched them off toward the city centre. I marched beside them, together with my mother and some other Jewish women. The men were forced to dig trenches in the middle of the city until late that night. When my father was released, we ran home through the empty streets. My sister, Chava, was waiting for us with a hot meal. From that moment on, my father never left the apartment. We were constantly on the lookout and when we would see German soldiers rounding up Jewish men and dragging them from their homes, we would run home and lock my father in the apartment. They never took my father again.
On the ground floor of our house was a bakery owned by an elderly German couple. During the first days of the war, they would sell loaves of bread to their neighbours. They did it before opening the store, so that neighbours would not have to queue up a whole night in order to get bread. This helped us a lot. We would buy four loaves of bread and could exchange some for eggs and butter. Food was already scarce, and what was available was quite expensive. Even before the war began, people were discussing food shortages.
My father told us that he had taken our winter shoes to the shoemaker to make hiding places in the shoes’ heels for money and for my mother’s golden watch, her only valuable piece of jewellery. He wanted each of us to have some money in case we were separated. I do not know how much money we had, but I am sure it was not a lot. Nor did we know how long the war would last.
After a while our German neighbours stopped being generous to their Jewish neighbours and we had to line up like everyone else. The store opened in the morning, but people began to line up the evening before. One evening, we went down to join the line. My father stayed behind, locked in the apartment. I stood behind my mother, with my sister, Chava, behind me. Early the next morning, the doors opened and the line advanced in a slow but orderly fashion. I was not far from the door when suddenly a German soldier appeared with a little Polish boy not more than five or six years old. The little boy pointed at me, telling the soldier, “Jude! Jude!” (Jew! Jew!) The soldier kicked me out of the line. I ran home and said nothing to my father. I threw myself on the bed, tears streaming from my eyes. I could not stop crying. My world was collapsing and nothing was the same anymore. I was bewildered and could not understand what had just happened. I was humiliated and angry. I could not control my rage. My mother came up and tried to console me. “Don’t cry. You see, I have two loaves. I took one and hid it under my shawl and then went to the other salesman and got another one, for you. Don’t cry.” The finger of that little Polish boy pointing at me, telling the German soldier that I was a Jew, pierced my twelve-year-old heart. To this day, I still feel this hurt.