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Tactics Saved Holocaust Child

holocaust 1941-1942 Deportation of Romanian Jews to Transnistria (Photo:United States National Archives and Record Administration)

My mother and grandparents survived a murderous pogrom in Stanestie, Romania on July 3, 1941, with its survivors being sent by foot on a death march crossing the Dniester River into Transnistria. "J", the young infant in this story, born in 1940, and his family, were from Czernowitz, a larger city 30 kilometers from Stanestie. In 1941, most of the Jews of the city were forced out of their homes. "J" was carried in a sack on his mother's back onto crowded trains to Ataki, near the Dniester River, and from there, they too crossed the river on small wooden rafts to Transnistria with many people drowning along the way.

This is where the two stories diverge; the baby and his parents are sent across the Bug River to the German side of Transnistria to a slave labor camp, Cariera de Piatra, to assist the Nazi's in building roadways for heavy machinery headed towards Oman in the Ukraine, replacing German men who had been conscripted. Of the 2000 Jewish families, who were sent to Cariera de Pietra, nearly all died. Thirty-five Jewish families were selected for transfer to a work camp in another small village named Ladjin. In this Nazi-run camp most Jewish men, who were taken to work on the roads, were never seen again.

Early murderous "selections" carried out by the Nazis were done in order to rid the camp of unwanted populations, the sick and elderly and especially young children, who disturbed the adults at their work. "J"'s parents became aware of this, and developed tactics for hiding their son from these selections for nearly three years, one after the other, through means, which "J" would not discuss in detail, although was aware of the facts. Most of the Jews who were in this camp were eventually killed which makes the survival of this infant-turned-very young child that much rarer. Nazi soldiers would continually look for children and after capturing them would throw them alive into pits of acidic lime. "J"'s parents managed to hide him in horrific and indescribable places in the camp from all selections and searches. One can only imagine what massive determination it took on their part and the effect it had on the developing behavior of the child to make his survival succeed.

This reminds me of my mother's experiences in Transnistria, although quite different from "J"'s. After spending some time in Mogilev, surviving a bout with typhus, she and her parents were 'bought' by a Ukrainian farmer and taken some 40 or 50 kilometers away to a hidden farm where they survived until 1944. She was never allowed out of doors while her parents worked from dawn until dark. She had no friends, no toys, no books, nothing, and as she describes this period, she was almost completely cut-off emotionally. Years later, when I tried to get her to discuss some of what happened during this period, she could or would not tell me any more than I already knew. Similarly, of the time that "J" was hidden during the Nazi selections, he too would not discuss in detail what happened to him between 1941 and 1944, and how his parents had saved him, and had explained it to him when he was old enough to understand.

This way of life, if it can be called such, continued on until sometime in 1944 when rumors began that Jewish organizations, assisted by Itzhak Artzi and his perilous, yet free movements from Bucharest to Mogilev, were planning to take Jewish orphans up to age eleven to Palestine. Since the Jews in Ladjin had no way of knowing when their suffering in the camps would come to an end, most felt it would be better to send their children to Palestine, where at least they might have some chance of survival. However, many of the children were not exactly orphans.

"J"'s parents decided to send him to Palestine and so the brain-washing and indoctrination began; by teaching him the names of real people who had died, such as an "Aunt Sarah," his mother's name, who had died from typhus and an "Uncle Jacob," his father's name, who had been shot by the Germans. In this way, when asked what had happened to those people according to their names, "J" would answer truthfully, so to speak. "J" was sent with an "older" cousin, aged seven, by horse and carriage to Mogilev. There, he was placed in an orphanage, and soon after they were sent to the train station in Mogilev to travel on to Romania. In Ataki, the train was stopped by Nazi investigators to see if the children were really orphans. Each train car contained an old Jewish woman who was assigned to watch over the children. In this transport there were approximately 2,000 children.

"The woman said later that they took me to be interrogated, and the Nazi soldiers placed me on a table and began to ask me questions about what had happened to my parents. I responded as I had been instructed, afterwards I turned towards my cousin and asked him proudly, 'Cousin, did I say the right thing?' The Nazi soldier apparently found this quite amusing and gave me, for the first time in my three-year-old life, a nice piece of chocolate."

The children were returned to the train and arrived in the village of Botoshani, where the Jewish community received them and the children were examined by two Jewish doctors, a husband and wife, the Lazarovitch', who had no children of their own. "J" had been taken ill with typhus and the Drs. Lazarovitch took him to their own home to cure him. But "J" refused to go with them unless his cousin came as well, so they returned to the orphanage in Botoshani and got him. They lived in a large villa and "J" was bathed and washed, covered at first in tics and fleas. His old clothes were taken by a servant to be burned. Somehow, she noticed in the lining of his little jacket, a piece of old cloth with a note written in ink-pencil with his name and birthdate, his parent's names, names of family members not located in camps in Transnistria; some in Bukovina, some in Palestine (Israel).

The Lazorovitch' were honest people and once they had found the note, one of the names they found was of his aunt, his mother's sister, who still lived in Czernowitz. They sent her a letter with a formal request to adopt him and after some time, the aunt responded, saying that she would not agree to the adoption because if "J" was all that was left of her sister, she wanted him. The Lazarovitch' then sent "J" to Czernowitz by train with a farmer to his Aunt Rosa's home. He had been in Botoshani for about seven or eight months, and was now around four years old, close to the end of 1944. After the Russians had liberated the area of Transnistria, the Jews, who had been there, made their way gradually back across the Bug and the Dniester Rivers, attempting to return to the areas where they had lived before WWII and the Holocaust. Eventually, "J"'s father made his way to his brother's home in Czernowitz and after searching for him the entire time since they had left Transnistria, they found out that he was alive and well, at his aunt's home in Czernowitz.

"One Saturday morning, Aunt Rosa dressed me up and said that we were going to see my parents. We arrived at the home of my uncle and went inside. There I saw two people who looked more like skeletons than people and was told that they were my parents. I said, "She is not my mother, my mother is a pretty woman." Words that I would regret all of my days. I did not want to go to them and then my father took me onto his lap and began to tell me a story, the story that he used to tell me when I was a very, very young child, "The Blue Bull", an old German fable. As he began to recite the tale from memory, I recognized it, his voice, and knew my father once again".

[Author's Note: ] My mother and "J" were two of the half million Jewish children from Bukovina and Bessarabia who were caught up in one of the lesser known but no less horrific episodes of Holocaust history, the pogroms, forced evacuations, deportations, destruction and near extermination of the Bukovina Jews, a cultural and religious-based group living in Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and Bessarabia for half a millennium. According to varied statistics over 400,000 Jews from Bukovina who had survived pogroms were forcibly sent to Transnistria in 1941, a site adapted for use by the Nazis, assisted by the Romanian regime, for the sole purpose of capturing them and starving or working them to death; less than half survived until 1944. My own mother, born in 1932, was nine-years-old when the Holocaust reached her village in Bukovina, the "land of the beech tree". The main character of this biographical story was born in 1940 in Czernowitz, making him one-year-old at the time his family first encountered the Holocaust. A large proportion of children under the age of five did not survive the Holocaust, whether it was in the Nazi-run concentration/extermination camps, or in the Romanian Holocaust, less organized but nevertheless deadly and horrific in its scope and outcome. Our main subject, for his own personal reasons, chooses not to reveal his identity. 



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Wednesday, 21 February 2024

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