By Erika Eckstut
I remember the time we left Russia and we fled to Poland. We had to leave Kiev in a hurry in 1944. My friend Monika told me that the NKVD secret police were coming to get my sister and the lady we were with, Mrs. Dirnfeld. Monika didn’t know that Beatrice was my sister. I never talked about my sister and who she was, or the lady, Mrs. Dirnfeld.
So it was that we left through the forest, Katarinovka. In the forest, we came upon a group of Czech soldiers, one of whom happened to be Mrs. Dirnfeld’s son. They tried to take us along but were told it is against the rules to take civilians along. After a while Mrs. Dirnfeld’s son returned and said that two of his friends would take the girls, and he would take care of his mother. He planned with his mother where she should go and told her that he would come and pick her up later. Everything went according to the plan and we met up again in Poland with Mrs. Dirnfeld.
When we arrived in Poland, we went to a house and Mrs. Dirnfeld told the lady of the house that she was the wife of an officer and that my sister and I were her daughters. She said that her husband would come to pick us up later. The lady brought us to a room upstairs where we could wait. When we arrived there, it was January 1945. It was very cold, so none of us took our jackets off. All of a sudden, my sister came in and said we have to go out through the window. Mrs. Dirnfeld started to protest and my sister did not listen, she just ran to the window, pushed it open, and told me to just throw Mrs. Dirnfeld out! Mrs. Dirnfeld had been trying to say that she could no longer run and that she would stay with these people. My sister said that she heard the lady say that she has three Jews and if you want to, come and get them. So I asked Mrs. Dirnfeld if she would go out the window and she said no. Then I showed her my fist and asked her if she wanted it in her mouth. She said no, so I pushed her to the window and then shoved her out. Outside, my sister was already waiting, and with her hands extended, she broke Mrs. Dirnfeld’s fall and she was okay. I looked out, but there were no hands held out for me, so I jumped and we all ran.
We found military trucks when we came to Snina, a place in Slovakia. There, we found a whole brigade of Czechs. They were happy to see us. They could see we were hungry so they gave us food and we ate and ate, until there was none left. At that point we were all three very sick. Then it became a problem of what they should do with us. Mrs. Dirnfeld was able to join the army and my sister was ready to join too, but I needed to be 21 and I was only going to turn 16 in June. That was not enough. They thought we should get married. One of the officers came to see us and he looked at my sister and saw how beautiful she was. He said he would marry her and take me along too. My sister did not agree. She said she did not even know him or love him and she did not know how to cook. She did not want to get married. The officer left and when he went to his friend, his friend asked him how the girls were. He said the older one is beautiful and he would like to marry her, but the younger one, me, was not worth a mention. The army left and again we were alone. We were staying in the home of a peasant.
That first night, someone trying to hurt us threw a rock through the window where we were staying. During that night, 16 other Jews were killed. When we woke up, we knew we needed to change our location, so my sister gave the man a four-leaf-clover charm as payment. She used to have the charm on a chain but had already given it away. At this point, she had been holding the charm in her mouth. I also had a charm that I was hiding in my mouth but my sister did not need it for the payment. I was actually able to hold on to mine and now my daughter wears it.
The peasant took us to Humene, where the army was. He left us with a young lady who he said she would help us. She came out with a little baby in her arms. She told us that she had to go to the village to do something for her mother and she needed to have the baby fed and the floor needed to be washed because the soldiers had slept there the night before. So she left and my sister told me to take care of the baby and she would clean the floor. There were noodles to feed the baby, but I didn’t know what to do with them, so I asked my sister. She said to just put them in water and boil them, so I did. I did not know how to get the water hot first. I just put it all in a pot and cooked it. After a while, I looked into the pot and what was there was a big lump, all stuck together. I couldn’t feed it to the baby like that, so I took it in bites, chewed it up to make it soft, then put it in the baby’s mouth. The baby was very good and did not mind at all. She ate whatever I put in her mouth.
All of a sudden, I heard guns and yelling “You German Nazis!” So I opened the door with the baby in my arms, went in front of my sister, and told her to disappear. The soldiers started yelling “Where is she?” and I told them that she was not away, that she is here but she is not a Nazi but a Jewish girl who is married to a Czech officer. Then I started to make up a story that she was crazy and he did not know it. When I let her wash the floor she did not know who was who and they were yelling we are brothers. I said I know that, but she does not.
At that moment, a Czech soldier came in and I could not understand what he was doing there. I started to tell him that the Russian officers thought my sister was a spy. He took over and made such a tragic story of it that I started to cry and the Russian officers had to leave. They told me not to worry, that they would come back and marry me. When they left, the Czech soldier told me that there were 16 Jewish people there and they were all killed the night before and they were worried that we were there too. So they sent out soldiers and they went to the farmer we stayed with. They asked him what happened to us and he told them that he brought us to the house with the baby during the night. My sister wanted to know where the officer was who wanted to marry her. The soldiers told her that he was fighting somewhere. This was January 1945. My sister found him some weeks later and on March 31, 1945, she married him. And that was very good for us. He took me along with them.
©2011, Erika Eckstut. 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.