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< Echoes of Memory

From Ashes to Life

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By Martin Weiss

After liberation from the concentration camps in 1945, survivors stranded all over Germany and Austria were able to go to displaced persons camps set up by the Allies to be deloused and fed. Thousands of people couldn’t digest the food provided and died immediately. I got some of my strength back in one of these Allied camps and I was anxious to go home to search for family members. Then I heard that many people who returned to their countries of origin in Eastern Europe were not welcomed—in some cases Jews were even murdered as they returned. As a result many people decided to stay where they had been liberated.

Just before I was liberated I was lucky to meet up with my cousin Jack, who had been in the Hungarian labor battalions but ended up with me in Gunskirchen, a subcamp of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. After liberation and as soon as I felt strong enough, my cousin Jack and I decided to go home to Polana, Karpatska Russia (now part of Ukraine).

When we arrived in the railroad station in the city of Mukachevo, we ran into an old acquaintance whose name I cannot recall now. This man told Jack and me that my brother, Mendel, had escaped from the Hungarians and that he had settled in Bilka, the town where he had lived after he was married before the war. So my cousin Jack and I parted ways. He continued on to our hometown of Polana and I went to Bilka to find my brother.

To this day I don’t know how I managed to get there. I didn’t have any money and I wasn’t at all familiar with the area. But somehow I found my brother, Mendel.

When Jack got to Polana he met up with his brother, Ernie, and two of our uncles. Ernie and I had been together in another concentration camp, Melk, almost to the end. We had been separated at evacuation. I met up with all of them when I returned home.

At first, our group considered staying in Karpatska Russia; after all, this was where we were from. We didn’t look forward to living under the Russians, but we hoped the area would revert back to Czechoslovakia.

We got the feeling very quickly though that the population was not eager to see us back because it meant that we would reclaim our property. While in Polana, my Uncle Zalman and his group experienced prejudice. For example, my uncle’s former neighbor, Tacej Mishka, who was now mayor of the town, had once been a very good friend of my uncle’s. They had played chess almost daily and Tacej Mishka had come to my uncle for advice. Tacej Mishka used to let my uncle listen to Radio London at great risk to himself.

When the war was in full swing, Tacej Mishka ran away to Russia and joined the partisans. When he came back he was a hero and he was appointed mayor. Now this very same man, a former friend to my uncle, was telling the townspeople not to give or sell food to the Jews because, he said, the Jews might stay for good if they did so.

From there, my uncles and my cousins went back to Germany and stayed in the DP camps until they emigrated to the United States. As for me, I met up with my sister Cilia, who had survived Bergen-Belsen, and her boyfriend, Fred. They were living in Prague, where they had married. Fred had been on the Russian front as a Hungarian prisoner, like many thousands of other Jewish men. While there, he joined the Czech legion and returned as a liberator. Because he’d spent time in Russia, he guessed that the Russians would not leave quickly.

Fred, my sister, and I asked for affidavits from my sister, Ellen, who had emigrated to the United States two weeks before the Hungarian occupation. In this way, we were able to emigrate to the United States ourselves. At the time it seemed like a miracle.

©2011, Martin Weiss. 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.

Tags:   martin weissechoes of memory, volume 6

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