By Marcel Drimer
I was seven years old when the German army entered our town, Drohobycz, in Soviet Ukraine on July 1, 1941. Immediately they started persecuting Jews by indiscriminately robbing and killing us, forcing us to wear armbands with the Star of David, and confiscating our arms, radios, gold, etc. They encouraged Ukrainian thugs to enter Jewish homes, beat up the inhabitants, and take whatever they wanted. In fact, it did not take much encouragement. My maternal grandfather was one of the victims of the beatings and died a few days later.
In August 1942, in our small apartment lived nine people: my parents; my sister and I; Aunt Ryfka, my father’s sister, and her two small children; my maternal grandmother, Sara; and my paternal grandfather, Isaac.
Ryfka’s husband had been drafted into the Soviet army. Sara’s husband was killed by the thugs in June 1941. None of these people could fend for themselves and fully depended on my father for food and shelter. The apartment was crowded and food was rationed and scarce. My father bartered items for food, including his wedding ring for a loaf of bread.
My Gentile nanny, Jancia, who loved me very much, would visit us from time to time and bring some bread and milk. She offered to take me with her for a few days to feed me and give me a bath and then bring me back home.
After a couple of days my sister, Irena, who missed me a great deal, cried and begged my mother to bring me back home so she could play with me. Mother took off her Star of David armband and walked with Irena to Jancia’s place. When they came, they found me sitting in a corner crying and Jancia on the bed in labor. Mother helped her to deliver the baby, which turned out to be stillborn. We stayed there overnight. The next morning, Jancia’s husband came from his nightshift and said that there was an aktion in town—Germans were killing and gathering Jews for deportation. He was very upset seeing us there and said that if the Nazis found us in his home they would kill all of us. He gave my mother, Irena, and me some food and told us to hide in the forest.
We started walking through a wheat field toward the forest. My mother noticed a hole in the ground and decided we should hide there. She wore a raincoat the color of ripe wheat. The three of us lay down and covered ourselves with the coat. There were other Jews hiding in the fields and the forests.
When the Germans found a group of Jews hiding, we heard shouts, the dogs were barking, and people were begging and praying for mercy. Children were crying. The Germans escorted the group out and there was silence. A deadly silence. After a while the Germans returned to find another group of Jews and the sounds repeated, like a leitmotif. We lay horrified, expecting to be next. My sister and I cried. Mother tried to keep us quiet and covered us with her body. This lasted for three or four hours. Then the horrific noise stopped. We waited until dusk and then Mother decided to walk back to Jancia’s house. As we approached the road, a German soldier with a big dog came toward us. We were terrified. He looked at us for a few minutes, which seemed like hours. Then he turned around and walked away. To this day I don’t know why, but perhaps he noticed my blond, blue-eyed pretty little sister.
After spending another night in Jancia’s house, Father, who had stayed in a workers dormitory overnight, came and took us home. Our place was empty and in terrible disarray. Feathers from torn bedding were everywhere, the furniture was broken, and all the valuables were gone. A neighbor told us later that when the Germans and their helpers missed our place, a ten-year-old Ukrainian boy, whose name was Koziol, ran after them to show them where our relatives lived.*
If Jancia hadn’t taken me to her home, if my sister hadn’t convinced Mother to go, and if the German soldier on the road had been accompanied by another soldier, I wouldn’t be here to tell this story.
*In that aktion about 600 Jews were killed and 2,500 taken to Belzec, including my relatives.
©2011, Marcel Drimer. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.