Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sonia Bajcz Diamond: Hiding in Plain Sight (Part 6: 1943-1944)

This is the sixth in a series that summarize an interview of my grandmother, Sonia Bajcz/Beitch Diamond (then Sara Bajcz), from about 20 years ago.  This continues her story of survival after the Senkevychivka Ghetto's destruction until the Germans were retreating from the area.  Previous posts in this series are here, here, here, here, and here.  

But then we were requested to go somewhere else nearby--to Ostrov.  It was surrounded by water, and there were Ukrainian people there who were Seventh Day Adventist.  But we were on the outskirts in one room, with a bit of storage.  These people were nice to us; they thought we were Ukrainian like them.  We worked, but they fed us and treated us well.  One day my husband was working, and a horse kicked him in the stomach.  The Ukrainian workers came in with a wagon and wanted to take him to a hospital.  I knew he could get caught, so I told them he needed to stay still, and I'd take care of him until tomorrow, and then we'd see.  Since in Europe only Jews were circumsized, we needed to keep him out of the hospital.
Then they asked him to fix the horse and buggy and take the manager somewhere.  At that time, the Ukrainians started to kill the Polish people--by chopping them up.  They did this to the lady who had been praying and helped me.  And then they gave away all of their belongings to everyone else.  Everyone was killing everyone else.  I thought I'd never seen my husband again.  There were so many rumors.  But he came back.

One night I woke up, and the window was red.  There was fire!  I woke up my husband, and he didn't even know where he was he was so confused.  We grabbed what we had, and the whole frame from the door was on flames.  There was one window without flames, and we jumped down, and then the window caught on flames as well.  We heard people talking about this young couple, innocent, working so hard--why did someone have to burn them down?  It was us they were talking about!

We went to the Seventh Day Adventist village, and they welcomed us as holy people who had been saved, since we came from the house that had been burned down.  We heard that in the Nowe Dwor village all the Polish people had been chopped up with axes, and they were giving away land and cows from those people.

We'd gotten close to a Ukrainian man who was a Seventh Day Adventist.  We told him that we had people to hide--a brother and sister (who now live in Argentina), two sisters (who now live in the Bronx) and a non-Jewish Polish man.  We asked him to help us to build a place for them to hide.  We dug deep into the ground and put in straw.  Then we had to feed them.  They gave us some flour, so we baked bread, and we gave it to them.  We gave them a fur coat which we had, since they were in the ground.  When it was snowing, it was bad because there were tracks.  So we wrapped our feet with rags to stop the tracks.

It got really bad.  The Poles and the Ukrainians and the Germans were all shooting at other groups.  And we were caught in the middle.  We had made stacks of wheat.  They kept shooting and burning the stacks.  The only stacks that weren't destroyed were ours.  So the Seventh Day Adventists said this proved that we were holy people.  They were very religious people.

One day my husband found that there were a number of Jews who were not in hiding.  The Ukrainians had work to do and spread the message that anyone who had a trade should come and help them.  Many people came since they had nowhere to go, and the Ukrainians said they would give them places to live and food.  My husband met with them, and they invited him to come for Yom Kippur.  He went, and I pretended I was sick that day and couldn't eat, since no one knew we were Jewish.  The lady thought I was sad because I was missing my husband (they thought that we were married) and that's why I couldn't eat, and she kept trying to get me to eat.  When he came back from the minyan, we broke our fast together.  The lady thought I could eat again because I saw that my husband was safe.  He said that he had gone to make boots for me.

Soon we overheard the Ukrainians talking and saying that on a certain day they would kill all of those Jews.  Their work was over, and they were no longer needed.  They also were saying that they were going to burn down the passage out of the Ostrov island that we were on.  My future husband ran to warn the Jews, and everyone on our island was trying to convince me to flee with them, but I had to wait for my husband to come back.  When my husband tried to warn the group of Jews after walking 15 kilometers each way by foot, most of them told him that he was jealous that he didn't have a nice place to stay like them, and it was a lie.  they did not leave.  Only one couple (the Katzovers) listened, and they survived (their son lives in Israel today); the rest were killed.

From there, we went to another village that was closer to our home.  At night, they took out all of the men and young boys to dig trenches for the retreating Germans.  The women and children, along with the cattle and possessions, they tried to chase us to the trains which I found out later went to the concentration camps.

There was a lady with me who had 2 young children; her husband and my future husband had been taken to dig trenches.  We'd heard rumors that the Germans were taking unmarried girls as mistresses, so I knew I had to do something.  I offered to help with one child, as it would make it easier on the other lady and make it look like I was a married woman with a child.  We were several thousand people, going through the forests and villages.  I saw another lady who had a young boy (her older sons and husband had been taken) in a nice house with a fenced-in yard on the other side of the ravine.  She was pretending to weed her garden.  I heard the whistle of the train, and I had heard the rumors that the trains were to take us to concentration camps.  So I ran to the garden, leaving my small bundle of ragged clothing, and I hid in the ravine.  I saw people on the main road taking bottles of milk to the market.  I saw some empty bottles and took them and pretended that I was a local.

I met up with others who had run away from the train and the trenches.  I asked if they had seen Vasili (my future husband's fake Ukrainian name), but they said he had not run away from the trenches.  We all went into the forest, and we saw lots of Ukrainians who didn't want to help the Nazis.  Everyone shared whatever food they had with everyone else.  They had rabbit grass, which is light green clover, and we ate that along with sap from the trees.  We drank from puddles left from the rain.  I was there for a couple of days.

More rumors started of people who ran away, but still no sign of my husband.  I wanted to go find him, but it wasn't safe to go through the Sadova Forest. by myself.  But there was a young man who wasn't quite there in the head.  I asked him if he wanted to come with me since he looked strong, even though he wasn't.  He said, "Sure!"  Every time he was afraid, I said, okay, I'll leave you myself.  But he didn't want me to leave him, so he kept following.

As we got to the other part of the forest, I heard more and more names who ran away.  One family who took me in, who had dug a deep hole in the forest lined with fur coats and let me sleep there.  I heard, "Marusia?  Marusia?"  (This was my fake Ukrainian name.)  He met up with the family, and they told him where I was.  We went back to where I had been before.  We made a shelter out of branches and leaves.  That first morning, there was a snake in between the branches.  We slowly snuck out, leaving the snake.

We then left and tried to get closer to our original home to see what had happened to my mother and his siblings.  We heard a group of men and kids who were heading in that direction and asked if we could join them.  A man said no, so we followed them.  We didn't know if the way was mined, so that way we could go a way we knew was safe.  The man who wouldn't let us join him got his leg blown off by a mine.

This was already in Spring 1944 when the Russians were pushing back the Germans.  We met up with the Russian army, and they thought we were spies.  They interrogated each of us separately.  My husband told them everything he knew about where the Germans were and their plans--but they still thought we were German spies.  They gave us no food the entire day.  But then my husband was interrogated by a Russian lieutenant, and my husband proved he was Jewish--and the lieutenant said, "Shalom Aleichem!"  He was a Jew as well!

Coming up: The war comes to a close

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