IAMA Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the US in 1951 with my husband and twin daughters. AMA.
I am sitting with my 89-year-old grandmother who is always looking for a new audience. she has a spectacularly clear memory and important stories to tell. Here is her brief self-introduction:
I was born in Tluste, Poland (which is now the Ukraine) in 1923. I was 16 when the war started and the Soviet Union occupied my town. I survived the subsequent Nazi occupation and lived in a displaced person's camp after the liberation. You can find some information about my family and town here, and verification here.
Please ask me questions!
Edit: Thank you so much for the wonderful response. I wish we could answer all of your questions. We might try to answer more tomorrow or do this again. My grandmother is an amazing woman and has a mission to share her stories with as many people as she can.
Edit: I am her granddaughter (ssu22) and will join in with my perspective and hopefully come back tomorrow to answer some more questions with her.
Just to say thank you for being brave and educating us. Not many people would be able to share their experiences.
I am here to speak to people. I tell them the truth to not listen to the deniers. Just to give an example the town I come from before the war had 1,800 Jews and in two days of May, 1943 they killed 500 Jews in our town. The killing was going on all the time but those two days were called actzia. They would surround the town, chase out the Jews from buildings, take them to the cemetery, and make them dig their own grave. Our tow became one of the last Judenrien (clean of Jews) towns.
I have a couple questions
- Have you ever gone back to your home town?
- Did anyone else from the community make it to America?
I went back in 1989. It was the first time I went back. and..well...the Ukrianian priest and the people in town were nice and helpful during the occupation. I returned with my daughter and cousin, so I was the only one who was really from Tluste. They treated me like a queen. That was unusual because usually people would ask "You're still alive?"
Yes, others from the community came to America. Some went to Costa Rica and Argentina and all over. Wherever they had falily and a place they would send them papers. We had to wait a long time because we did not have rich families. To add insult to injury we had to wanter Europe, cross borders, and deal with McCarthyism in the US because people thought we were communists.
I have made contact with other survivors from my town. We have the Tluste Society (see link in original post). We have had wonderful reunions and a lot of people came here before the great wars.
At one point was there any German (officer, civilian, any Nazi really) that seemed to be ashamed or embarrassed by the way you and the other prisoners were being treated?
Yes. And they were helpful. The German managers of the forced labor camp chased away those who would kill us.
During one of the raids of the Gestapo at the forced labor camp when the good Germans were not there, they surrounded the camp and took the workers , some ran a away and they war shot at and killed, and they made the people dig they own graves. A friend of ours was bought with his sister (his parents ran and were killed while they were running), and a young man by the name of Tsvee saw a German soldier about his age gave him a pen knife and said i want you to take this so you remember you killed someone for no reason. The soldier did not want to take it. then the good German came back and stopped the killing. He said he didn't know who was happier, him for not being killed, or the young soldier for not having to kill him. My friend and his sister are still alive today.
Are you a religious individual? If so did faith help you through or did you lose all your faith throughout the experience?
I am a religious person. I made a lot of deals with god that i will keep my faith. one of the main reasons that I will keep my faith and to see that my faith...i believe in the 10 commandments and to spread the teaching of the bible. I am not here to convert other people but I am not going to give up the faith of 4000 year because of Hamens and Hitlers and ant-semites
How did you manage to continue your life after the things you went through and saw?
Having children and the obligation of having children and to raise them you have to do anything you can and being under horrible conditions after we survived in the displaced persons camps and given only a pound of spaghetti and then you had to figure out how to get an egg for your child...then coming to the US and working for 75cents an hour was a relief to not have to be given things and to raise our children and with great perseverance and help from God we achieved what we needed to for our children and educated them. My husband never took a penny of welfare because he did not want to be given.
How are you today?
I'm OK. I have my family.
Hi there! I was wondering what your impressions of the occupying foces were? How did the Soviets compare with the Nazis in how they treated people?
Thank you for doing this! It will surely help a lot of people have a clearer understanding of what life was like as a civilian in Eastern Europe during WWII.
I cannot...even...my family was one that suffered from the Soviets but you cannot compare somebody who takes away your home and business to someone who takes away your life. When the Nazis came I used to pray for the day for the Soviets to comeand liberate us. You cannot compare the Nazis with anybody.
What is your clearest memory of the occupation? What was day to day life like living in that?
I have a family friend from the Philippines who remembers seeing Japanese soldiers during the Japanese occupation during WW2, I find hearing about these experiences so very interesting.
Thanks for the AMA!
the answer for that is what I answered once in a catholic school for girls: in order for me to tell you how I survived I was 33 months under the German occupation and I would have to sit with you for 33 month because any sec on I could have been killed for just being Jewish. If it were not for some good people in the world none of us would have survived. It is a very difficult question to answer.
We had all kinds of horror done to us. Either they surrounded us and made us dig our own graves, or take 30-40 of us and put them in jail and infect them with typhoid and then send them back to infect the rest of us.
No two days were the same. I spent one portion of the occupation in a forced labor camp. The Nazis took over farmland from the owners and forced us to work the land and grow food for the German army. That was the good part.
But once and a while they would come and kill us for no reason because they decided they had to kill Jews. Once and a while the Gestapo and the SS would come and we had to dig our own graves, but a few good German managers of the camp would stop them because we were needed to provide food for the German army.
Do you sometimes have dreams, nightmares or flashbacks about things you saw/experienced then?
Oh yes. In the beginning I dreamed of hiding my babies and then it was hiding my grandchildren.
This will get buried and most likely not answered, but I saw recently that young Jews are getting the same tattoos as Holocaust survivors - the numbers on the arm. They are doing it because there are fewer and fewer living survivors and the tattoo acts as a reminder of the Holocaust. As an American Jew, I was thinking about getting one but I feel it would be misconstrued by way too many people. As a survivor yourself, how would you feel if you saw a young Jew with the numbers tattooed on their arms as a sign of remembrance?
I was not tattooed because I was not in a concentration camp, but my mind is tattooed forever. The only thing I am trying to do is not to give Hitler a posthumous victory. I don't need a tattoo to remember. I try to tell my stories and spread the good word of the 10 commandments.
If that is the only way you can remember, it is your arm and you can do what you want. I am tattooed all over. Maybe that would be helpful to you, if you want to...why should I be offended by something to remember? But I don't need it.
Are you still angry at the people who hurt you and the ones you loved? Is "anger" even the right word to describe what you feel towards them?
I cannot forgive. Those who were murdered have to forgive, I cannot. I just have to say is that God guides me. I visited Auschwitz after the war. The road to it is paved with pebble and each pebble represents a life. There was a woman from Philadelphia with a walker so I went with her. At the end there are all different markers in Latin Hebrew and Syrillic so I was reading and all of a sudden a group of young people came and a girl came and asked if she can help. I was so full of pain I said no! If the war went on anymore I would be one of those pebbles! She apologized and walked away. What did I do to this nice German girl who just wanted help? She didn't kill my family. I went to her and apologized and told her you did not kill my family. Go home and be good to people and don't feel guilty. As I spoke to her I saw tears in her eyes.
Instead of being angry at the grandparents for what they did or did not do, go do and see good in the world. Holding onto hate helps no one.
Thank you so much for doing this. I can't imagine the atrocities that you witnessed during WWII, yet I wonder if you have any memory of acts of kindness from the same period? I always find it incredible, and encouraging, to hear about the bravery needed and exhibited by people just by showing someone humanity in the most inhumane of times.
Oh yes, if not for the kindness of people none of us would have survived. My biggest hero was a Ukrainian priest in Tlustle. The night after the Soviets left there were no Germans there yet and some people robbed and killed people who lived in the surrounding villages and were going into Tluste to do the same. When Anton Navolski heard what was going on he said he won't let that happen in our town. We are all children of one God and he gathered the intelligentsia and young boys and they decided to put all of the boys around town. I would have not lived to see one German if it weren't for this man and the people who listened to him.
And because of that in '89 when I went back to my town I told them that he saved not only my life but your honor and that was the action of a God fearing man and the people who listened to him.
Did you know the Spinner family when you were in Tluste? My family traces part of its roots back to Tluste (another side was Mogilov-podolsky) and we've been trying to trace others in the area. So wonderful of you to share your experiences with others.
Mogilov-podolsky is another town and not so close to Tluste. I do not know the name Spinner. Few people in a small town knew family names. We would refer to people by profession or nick-names.
Thank you for the response. My mother is a genealogy fan so to be able to ask a question to someone from our ancestors hometown is appreciated.
If you send me a PM I can get you in touch with the Tluste society.
What is the best advice you would tell a stranger?
Be good to each other. Follow the commandment "love thy neighbor as thyself" and don't let ANYBODY poison your mind.
What camp did you go too? Or did you go to multiple camps? Did you manage to keep anything from the camp or all the way through? And how did you get out did the war end, or did you some how escape?
I never went to a concentration camp. I worked in forced labor camps.
In a small town they used to call a "feigaleh" a little bird but it wash;t very important to discuss it. But now after the Holocaust I know that everyone has the same right to life however he wants to and is he is doing a sin he will answer to god, not to me or other people on earth.
There is a lot of Holocaust literature out there.
- Have you read books by other survivors? (Night, Anne Frank, et cetera)
- Which book would you say best captures the horror, the helplessness, and the feeling of living through it?
Oh yes. Each and everyone is good and everybody has a story to tell. I admire them for doing it and the books should be taught and it is good for the family and the population at large. the main thing is that there was no recipe for survival. It was fate.
What is your view on love, and how can we continue loving even in the most trying situations?
First of all, it depends on whom you love. I fell in love with a very handsome boy but that was not the reason I loved him so much. The reason was that he was a very very good human being. I always prayed to God for him and his health I just wanted the best for him and he was just a good person and his goodness helped me to love him even more.
How were you able to stay with/reunite with your husband and children?
Yes. I was never separated from my children. They were born in a displaced person's camp after the war ended. I was separated from my then boyfriend after we were liberated from the Nazis by the Soviets.
I am the only survivor of a family of 83 people. I come from the small town of Tluste. My parents were born there under Austria-Hungary. I was born in Poland, and now the same little town is in the Ukraine. When WWII started Stalin and Hitler divided Poland in two and we lived under the Soviet rule until 1941.
For two days I was a Communist. The commissar who came to Tluste said they came to liberate us from the land ones, capitalists, and the bourgeoisie. Life in the Soviet Union is paradise. Everyone is provided for according to his needs and everybody works. Being young and gullible I liked it. Well, it didn't take long to see the paradise fall apart. They threw us out of my home and took away my father's business and moved in and took on maids. The poor people were even worse off. If they had made us share our house with the poor, that I would understand, but they kept everything for themselves.
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