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< Echoes of Memory

January, 1945


By Erika Eckstut

In January of 1945, we came to Snina. We came from Kiev. The reason we came was because my friend Monica told me on the night of December 24 that the NKVD [Soviet secret police] would come and pick up my sister and the old lady, Ms. Diernfeld, whom we had met during our travels in Russia. She referred to my sister as a German spy because she had very blonde hair and I never referred to her as my sister. I never talked about my family or anything personal.

I left my friend’s house as I always did. When I got home I told the old lady and my sister what Monica said. They both said that we had to leave right away. So we left. None of us had anything much to take along. As we were going through the forest, we heard a man’s voice asking us if we knew the military word. Ms. Diernfeld said, “The three women are running.” All of the sudden a flashlight shone on her face. Then the flashlight went to the soldier’s face and it got very quiet. Then the old lady and the soldier embraced. It was the son of the lady. She had two sons and a husband. The husband was killed and she was hoping that her two sons had joined the Czech army which had been formed in 1942 in Russia. Now she saw that this son had joined the army, but she still did not know where the other son had gone.

This son told her that he would go to the officers and ask them for permission to take us along. He came back and told us that he couldn’t take anyone who was not in army uniform. So we didn’t know what to do, we only knew that we had to leave. Then the lady’s son came back and told us that two soldiers would take my sister and me and he would take his mother. So we went and when we got to Poland they took us off the tank in which we were traveling and the lady’s son took us to the first house he saw. He told the woman who opened the door that Ms. Diernfeld was the wife of an officer and my sister and I were her two daughters and that he would come tomorrow to pick us all up.

The woman who opened the door said that was okay and told us that she had a room upstairs and we should go there. So we went and it was very cold and we did not take our coats off. My sister moved around and came back and said that we had to leave by the window. Ms. Diernfeld tried to say that she couldn’t run but my sister did not pay attention and opened the window and said to me, “Just throw her out the window.” My sister jumped out the window first. I asked the old lady if she would go to the window. She said no, so I asked her if she wanted my fist in her mouth. As I looked out the window, my sister was standing there with her arms extended and she broke the lady’s fall. When I looked again, no arms were held for me so I jumped down on my own.

We went to the street and got in some military trucks and we made it to Snina. Snina was the first town we made it to in Czechoslovakia and we found troops of Czech soldiers there. They took us in and the first thing they did was give us food and whatever they gave us we finished and we all got sick. Then they tried to figure out what to do with us. They took Ms. Diernfeld into the army. They would have taken my sister also but I was too young to get in the army. The second thing they wanted was for my sister to get married. We stayed with a peasant and the soldiers and officers came to look at us. Then came a nice officer and he looked at my sister and he said that he would marry her and take her sister—me— along. He was 15 years older than my sister. My sister told him that she did not know him, did not love him, could not cook, and did not want to get married, so he left. The next day the whole army left.

That first night a stone broke our window. When I woke up, my sister was paying the man whose house we were staying in with the one piece of jewelry she had, a charm in the shape of a four-leaf clover. I also had a little charm but my sister said not to give it, that it was already taken care of, and today my little charm in the shape of the sun is worn by my daughter. The man my sister gave her charm to led us to Humene and to a young woman who came out of her house with a baby in her arms and the man told her that we would do for her whatever needed to be done. She asked us if we would wash the floor and take care of her baby because she had to go to her mother or her grandmother. So of course we said yes and she told us that when she returned she would have food for us but for now she had only enough for the baby.

She left and my sister told me to take care of the baby and she would wash the floor. I did not know what to do with the noodles so I asked my sister and she said to put them in water and cook them. I did and after a while I looked and the noodles were one big clump so I started to take some of it in my mouth and chew and then gave it to the baby. The baby must have been as hungry as I was because he ate everything I put in his mouth. All of the sudden I heard someone yelling in Russian “You German spy!” I opened the door and stepped in front of my sister with the baby in my arms and told the men that my sister was not a German spy but a Jewish girl and then I told my sister to disappear. When the men saw that my sister was gone they started to yell. I told them not to worry, that she was still there, and then I started to tell them that she basically knew nothing, that she was not a spy, and then I made up a story about how she was mentally unstable.

All of the sudden a Czech soldier came and I could not understand what he was doing there. He played along with the story I had made up about Beatrice and told them that she was not okay but he made the story so tragic that I started to cry myself and finally they had to leave. Then I asked the Czech soldier how he knew where we were and he said that they got a call from the town where we were and was told that there were 16 Jews and they were all killed, so the soldiers came back to make sure we were okay. Then my sister asked if he knew where the officer was who wanted to marry her. He said he didn’t, that he was fighting somewhere but he did not know where. So we stayed there and my sister kept looking for that officer. In March she found him and she asked if he would marry her. He said, “Sure.” So on March 31 he married her and took me along and that was a very good thing for us. 

©2006, 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.

Tags:   erika eckstutechoes of memory, volume 4czechoslovakiaescapefamilymemory

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