|"One of the first in my car, I saw a message scrawled in blood on the wall."|
Herta's Viennese mother and Polish-born father owned a successful men's clothing business in Munich when Herta was born. After Hitler's antisemitic Nazi party attempted to overthrow the German government in November 1923, the Jewish Scheer family moved to Vienna, where Herta's grandparents lived.
1933-39: Hiking was one of Herta's favorite activities. She belonged to the Zionist youth group called Gordonia, and at their meetings the members spoke about creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. After the Germans annexed Austria in 1938, Herta's parents decided it was better to leave and they were smuggled illegally, via the Netherlands, into Brussels.
1940-42: The Germans occupied Belgium in 1940. In 1941 Herta married Srulek Krygier, but in 1942 he was ordered to "report for labor in the east." Later, she heard about a meeting where she might find out where Srulek had been sent. But it was a trick: She was arrested and deported. On the train she wrote a letter to her parents, writing on the envelope: "To whomever finds this: Maybe you have a son in the war and will understand the feelings of parents wanting to hear from their child..." She tossed the letter from the cattle car.
Herta sent one postcard from Auschwitz, using veiled language: "Unexpectedly, I met your mother here," implying she had met with death. She perished at Auschwitz.
Benjamin and his younger brother Zigmush were born to Jewish parents in the industrial city of Lodz. Lodz was Poland's second biggest city before the war, and one-third of its inhabitants were Jewish. Benjamin's father, Moshe, owned a candle factory, and his mother, Brona, was a nurse.
1933-39: In 1939, as I began the third grade, the Germans occupied Lodz. Jews were forbidden to ride buses, and were ordered to wear yellow stars. Because the Germans sometimes grabbed Jews off the streets for forced labor, my father wouldn't leave the house. I became our family's "messenger," running errands along with our housekeeper's son. He and I had lived in different worlds before the war--now we were together every day.
1940-44: When the Lodz ghetto was sealed in April 1940, I managed to smuggle all I could from our old house into our new quarters in the ghetto. Then in 1944, when I was 14, our family was rounded up and loaded onto cattle cars on one of the last transports from the ghetto. One of the first in my car, I saw a message scrawled in blood on the wall: "We have arrived in Auschwitz and here they finish us off!" The message was hidden when the car filled up, but now I no longer had any doubts about our destination.
Benjamin was deported to Auschwitz, and later to a forced-labor camp in Hanover, Germany. After the war, at age 16, he emigrated to Palestine with a group of orphans.
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