Friday, March 11, 2005

My Great-Aunt, a Holocaust Survivor

Seeing as there has been some discussion about the Holocaust, I thought I’d tell my own family story. It is about my Mom’s aunt, a very nice, kind woman who is now in her eighties. She does not really like to tell her story, but some fifteen or twenty years ago my Mom finally got her to talk, and wrote everything down. I read Mom’s notes back then, so I will tell them the best I can remember.

Our aunt was the youngest of six or seven kids, born in the 1920’s in a Jewish family in a small Belarus village. When she was in her late teens, the war started. She was the only one still living with her parents. The parents were old and my great-grandma could not walk anymore.

Very soon, the Germans came to the village. First, they set up a ghetto. They selected one street to be the ghetto and moved all Jewish families to that street, several families in each house. They lived like that for a while.

Then, in spring of 1942 I guess (not sure about the year), it was announced that on Easter morning, all Jews were to report to a certain place for some sort of registration. Rumor quickly spread that it wasn’t going to be for registration. The Germans were going to get everyone together and shoot them. They planned to do it on Orthodox Easter as a gift to the Russian families living in the village.

Auntie talked to her parents about it, and asked them if they wanted to run away. They said they couldn’t. They were too old, and, like I said, great-grandma could not walk. They told Auntie to go alone. She ran away with a friend of hers. She was 19 years old at that time. Her parents went to the registration and were shot, as was everybody else. Auntie also said that great-grandpa carried great-grandma in his arms, since she could not walk. They knew they were going to their death.

Auntie, in the meantime, spent several months in the woods with her friend. I don’t remember the details. At some point, she bought a passport from somebody with a Russian name in it, that also said “ethnicity – Russian”. I think she said she traded it for a dress, but I’m not sure.

Eventually, she was caught by the Germans, showed them the Russian passport, and was sent to work in Germany. She worked at a farm, and returned in 1945, barely escaping the Soviet concentration camps. She lived a decent life, went to college, worked at a plant, raised a son, gave him a good education. I saw a lot of her in the 80’s, when I was in college. She is truly an amazing person, very kind, very trusting, always ready to help.

Once we were talking and I was telling her about the campus life, something about the foreign students we had there, that came from the Middle Eastern countries and treated women horribly. I was in my late teens myself, and just a tiny bit hot-headed, so at one point, I said, “God, I hate those Arabs”. For the first time in my life, I saw Auntie get mad. She gave me a long lecture about how wrong it is to hate large groups of people as a whole.

Need I say that she didn’t hate the Germans? When we asked her about the three years on the farm, she used to say that the food was good, the work was hard but she managed, the owner treated her well, and that she met her first love there at the farm, also a boy from Russia.

My Auntie is the only Holocaust survivor I know. Should I listen to her? Sounds to me like she has good credentials. She told me not to place the blame on any large group of people. I think I’ll do just that.

The Goldie has spoken at 8:31 PM

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