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Polana, Czechoslovakia

By Marty Weiss

My grandfather, Mayer Weiss, lived in Polana before World War I, when the village was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After World War I, Czechoslovakia was established and included the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Karpatska Russ (Carpathian Russ), where we lived.

When Czechoslovakia was established, Thomas Masaryk became the first president and no wonder. He was a professor who had lived in the United States when Woodrow Wilson was president and had lectured at the University of Chicago. Therefore, he was familiar with democracy. So when the Czechs declared independence, he became the first president whom everybody loved. From the very beginning the country flourished because it was a democracy. Neighboring countries were not as progressive. My father, Jacob Weiss, and four of his siblings were in business and all of them owned farmland and acres of forests that produced firewood. Our family consisted of nine children, four boys and five girls; I was number seven. All of us attended Czech school; the schools were similar to the United States. My brothers helped with the business and farming. When I was about ten, my two older brothers left for the city to find jobs so they could earn a wage. My sister Cilia departed for college in the city.

In 1939, Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia. Slovakia broke away, declared independence, and joined the Nazis. Hungary supported the Nazi takeover of the Czech lands and their prize for doing so was to be given Carpathian-Russ, our state. As soon as the Hungarians came, they behaved just like the Nazis. Our world changed forever. The majority of people in our state were Ukrainian, but we got along living with each other. Just like the Germans, the Hungarians looked at the Ukrainians as inferior because they were Slavs.

My oldest sister, Ellen, wanted to immigrate to the United States, but she couldn’t get to the railroad station in the city of Munkács, because it was already occupied by the Hungarians. However, there was a back road to Slovakia, and the only way to travel it was with horse and wagon. Somehow she figured it out, and she got to Prague, picked up her visa, made her way to Sweden, boarded the ship the Drottningholm, and sailed for the United States. To this day, I don’t know how she managed to pull this off. I regret that I never asked her or found out the details.

 My two older brothers returned home and soon after were inducted, not into the army, but into slave labor battalions because they were Jewish. They were under army jurisdiction and were forced to cut down all the trees in the forests so the partisans wouldn’t have places to hide. This was done from the Carpathians all the way to Ukraine and Russia. My brother Isaac was on the Russian front from the very beginning. He was clearing minefields and burying the dead. Eventually, he escaped to the Russian side and they accused him of being a “German spy,” so he was placed with the German POWs who were working in the coal mines in the Ural mountains. After the war, we heard nothing from him. We assumed that he did not survive. In 1947, when the Russians released the POWs, he returned to our hometown, where he found out that most people who survived escaped to the west. One man knew that my oldest brother, Mendel, was living in the Czech Republic and with this information, Isaac escaped, intending to go to the Czech Republic. The Russian secret police were very active there at the time, so one had to be very careful. He managed to escape as far as Slovakia. He got in touch with Mendel, who sent his young sister-in-law with clothing for Isaac that would allow him to blend, as his clothes were in very poor condition. He also needed identity papers, so a friend from our hometown was able to get some using my name, as it was on file with the authorities, even though Isaac was 11 years older than me. From there, he immigrated to Israel, and after living there for a few years and raising a family, my sister Ellen and I brought his family to the United States. My brother Moshe, who was tall, strong, and capable of hard work, did not return home, although we learned that he was still alive at liberation. He simply vanished, never to be seen again. This still bothers me.

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