In the spring of 1945, Stefcia told her about two Jewish girls she had met at the mill who wanted to meet her as soon as possible. On another occasion, a Jewish survivor had told them about her presence in Stefcia’s house and they wanted to know her. They talked to her as to a child, something she had not experienced for a long time, and they seemed concerned about her future.
This meeting aroused in little Miriam the desire to look for Jewish relatives outside Europe. She even remembered the little note sewn to her coat to remind her about Brazil.
The two ladies – Judith and Rosa – came to Stefcia’s house several times again, trying to convince Miriam to go spend some time with them. She did not want to go at first, but Stefcia encouraged her, so one day she went – only to spend a few days.
There were six Jewish people in the house: the two young ladies, the mother of one of them, the brother of the other one, and a father with his son. They all treated her in a loving manner, not troubling the fact she only spoke Polish and had Catholic habits. Little by little, she began to remember how to speak Yiddish; she also called Babcia “grandmother” and felt as part of the family.
Many Jewish survivors had now formed a community in that place, and they had decided to celebrate the first Pesach after the war. All members of the community took part in the preparations, talking about the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and about their families in the years before the war. In the last day of the holiday, the prayers in Hebrew made her feel those people were indeed her people, to whom she actually belonged. As the only survivor in her family, she was the only one who could preserve the memory of her loved ones. All of a sudden, she was no longer afraid of being Jewish. The following day, she endeavored to practice her Yiddish, which made her new family radiant: “Dos kind ret idish,” they would ,a (the child speaks Yiddish).
During all those weeks she visited Stefcia and baby Piotrus just a few times.
One day, red flags were hung at half-mast at the death of President Roosevelt – America was still an ally of the Soviet Union. Soon after that, on May 8, 1945, the Nazi Army capitulated. Everybody around feasted on the defeat, both the Russians and the Ukrainian nationalists that had fought them – everybody except the Jews.
All the Jews in that community were eager to leave the land which had been so hostile to them and start a new life somewhere else. One day Rosa arrived home saying she had gotten a cargo wagon. This opportunity meant that they had to leave as soon as possible – there was no time to go say goodbye to Stefcia and Piotrus.
For two weeks they travelled towards Lublin in the open cargo cart, exposed to the sun during the day and to the cold of the night. With them, went Babcia’s inseparable cow, the only good thing she had kept from pre-war times. They intended to go to Lublin, in Central Poland; however, on the way they heard about the recent pogrom in which 150 Jewish survivors were killed in Kielce, which was close to Lublin. So her “family” decided to move on and proceed to Lodz, there was a larger community of Jews coming from Poland and other countries.
After Judith and Rosa managed to convince Babcia to sell the cow, they went into the city, which was a large capital for them. In Lodz they found a well-organized Jewish community: they had a synagogue and an office where people could register in order to find surviving relatives abroad.
They moved into an apartment that had belonged to a Jewish family before the war, which was shared with another Jewish family. The apartment was, howbeit, the best place in the world.
As soon as they arrived, they registered at the Kehilá (central office of the community). Miriam told the officers she had two uncles with the same family name living in Palestine; she also had relatives in Brazil and in the United States, but she did not know their last names. The officers took notes of everything she said and told her they would try to find her relatives and let her know.
In that office, everybody was looking for someone; the walls were covered with notes, signs, and names written on them. Many spent hours and hours reading all those notes. Sporadically, one would hear an outburst of shouting or crying – someone had found someone.
Miriam sent several letters to Stefcia and Piotrus, receiving no answer – later on she was told that Stefcia had returned to her parents’ house, so they lost contact.
At this point she heard for the first time about what really had happened to the Jews who had remained in the ghettos or had perished in concentration camps. She had known nothing about gas chambers or crematoriums and that was for her a shocking disclosure. It was a strong shock for her but she was comforted by Babcia, who told her that despite having lost almost all the members of her family and being too old to build anything, she still wanted to live.
A short time after that, Babcia’s daughter, Rosa, got married to a young Jewish soldier who had fought in the Red Army. His name was Nissan and he also had lost his house and all his family, except for a brother. He brought new life to Babcia, she was no longer sad and bitter.
Lodz was the largest industrial city in Poland, its buildings greyed by the smoke from the chimneys. Although the whole city looked dirty, no other place in the area seemed more scary than the old district where the ghetto was located, with streets full of remainders of the poverty and desolation of previous years.
A Jewish school was opened in 1945. Most of the teachers and students were survivors of concentration camps and forests, alongside those who had been hidden in houses of Arians. Children from Eastern Europe, Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania, all speaking their language, had only one common denominator: the Yiddish. For the first time they could hear about Eretz Israel, their motherland, where they would one day be free from persecutions and discrimination. The school was the place where they felt like brothers and sisters, aiming at a better future.
In the school, the children sang songs composed by the Partisans in the ghettos and in woods; they recited the poems written by Katzenelson, the Jewish poet killed in Auschwitz, who had written that never again Jewish children would sing in Poland. Many adults came to the school to see the children sing or recite.
In the winter, Miriam’s “family” decided to travel to Berlin. In fact, all Jews were eager to leave Poland before the borders were closed by the Soviets, but this was only possible by clandestine means. There were gangs that organized transports in groups. Finally, during a very cold night, their turn to go to Berlin came. They were supposed to travel by truck in order to arrive in the German capital on the following morning. However, a few hours after leaving, they found out that the truck drivers had abandoned all the passengers by a snow-covered road, not knowing exactly where they were.
The next morning, the two young ladies – Rosa and Judith – decided to try to get a ride and somehow get to Berlin. Little Miriam, Nissan and Babcia stayed behind. After some time, they decided go by foot to the railway station; the trip took two days.
It was not easy to go aboard a train bound for Berlin. Soviet authorities interrogated each person before allowing them to go. Nissan was almost hindered from taking the train, being a young ex-soldier; but he boldly told the Russian officers he had voluntarily enlisted the Red Army to fight the Nazis and defend Russian lives, fighting for them with all his strength. Instead of sending him to Siberia, as expected, the Soviet officers allowed the three of them to proceed to Berlin.
Within a few hours, they arrived ,in the Soviet zone of Berlin. There they went to the Gemainde – the Jewish community office – where they found Rosa and Judith. The place was so messy and overcrowded that it looked more like a concentration camp than like an office. They did not stay long; their goal was to reach the American zone of the city before the Russians closed the passage between the two sides.
After a few days of some bureaucracy, they finally managed to cross over to a refugee camp maintained by the UNRRA in the American side of Berlin, in the neighborhood of Schlachtensee. The camp was clean and organized.
Continue reading: As a Refugee in Germany