Renia: A Holocaust Memoir

Table of Contents

When we came to the city of Torun a few hours later, I can remember seeing Germans with machine guns shooting at the train. I was scared and stayed close to my sister and my parents. Our plan was to get off in Warsaw; we’d sent our things there and had family there. But when the train pulled into the Warsaw station, bombs were exploding. The platform was full of boxes and crates and everything seemed to be flying through the air as a result of the explosions. There were fires everywhere. The train didn’t stop; it just sped through the city.

Hours later it came to a halt and officials told everybody to get out, that was as far as the train went. My father ran ahead and hired a horse and cart. They charged us a fortune for it. I remember sitting in the cart with my sister and a few others. My parents were walking beside us. Other people with small childen and carts full of belongings were also on the road. So were bewildered-looking soldiers, without guns and wearing torn uniforms. Abandoned army vehicles could be seen here and there. As we travelled, we saw bombs exploding. I remember seeing cattle hit and flying through the air. Once when the bombing seemed very close, we stopped the cart and hid in the forest. Everybody was frightened. My mother wanted us all to huddle together; my father thought we should hide separately so we wouldn’t all be killed at the same time. We ended up huddling together.

It took a long time but finally we came to Chelm, the small town in southeast Poland made famous in the stories of Sholom Aleichem. Chelm wasn’t where my parents had wanted to be; they just knew they wanted to get as far away from the Germans as possible. My father, I think, knew what the Germans under Hitler were capable of.

The five of us, including Aunt Sala, got a room in Chelm over a Jewish tavern. Because we were hungry, we went downstairs and they gave us some bean soup. I still remember how good it tasted. We stayed in Chelm for a few days. But bombs continued to fall; we could see abandoned army vehicles. We kept sitting in our room and waiting; suddenly it was quiet and there were no people in the street. My father said, “I can’t wait here any more; I have to see what’s going on.” We all started to cry. We didn’t want him to go out. But he wouldn’t listen.

Hours went by and he didn’t come back. By this time, my mother was a nervous wreck. She took my sister and me by the hand and said, “We’re going to look for your father.” We started to walk. From a distance we could see tanks and near the first tank we could see my father, talking with a soldier. At first my mother was sure the soldier was German. But as we got closer, we could see a Russian flag on the tank. The Russians and Germans had divided Poland between them and my parents had no doubt that they preferred to be in Russian hands.

I don’t remember how long we stayed in Chelm. All I remember is that we were informed that the Russians were turning this part of Poland over to the Germans but would transport Jews by truck from there to Rovno, which was then still a part of Poland and under Russian control. (Now it’s in west Ukraine.) A lot of open trucks made the trip. The Russians provided us with some food and some sweets. Because we were now away from the war zone, everything was quiet.

When we arrived in Rovno, my mother started to look for a place to stay. Finally, at 71 Peres Street, a family named Weinstein gave the five of us, including Aunt Sala, a single room. I don’t remember whether we ate with the Weinsteins that first day. I do remember standing in line for bread; it was the first of hundreds of times I would do that. Everything was lines, lines — there were so many refugees. After a week or so, things started to settle down. My mother checked around and enrolled me in a Jewish high school. Rovno was a big city with a large Jewish population. My aunt’s husband and children soon joined us and for a time there were eight of us living in the one room until they found a place of their own.

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