The Germans entered Drohobycz June 30, 1941. Some of their first published orders deprived the Jews of their civil and legal rights. They confiscated items of value, such as fur coats and jewelry, as well as radios and guns that would help the Jews to be informed or resist the Germans. The Nazis used this loot to support the war effort. As a result there were no taxes imposed on German people during the war.
In their systematic efforts to exterminate the Jews and take most of their possessions they organized extermination and Raub Aktions (looting actions). In one such Aktion, the Germans with their local helpers entered our home, filled up a wardrobe with crystals, dishes, candlesticks, etc., and left with them. Mother watched helplessly holding my crying sister, Irena, in her arms. On his way out one of the German soldiers looked at Irena and complimented her on the pretty “Aryan” looks and said, “Don’t cry, little girl; this time we came for your things only, not for you.”
After that Aktion my parents dug a hole under the mattress to hide our belongings in case of another Aktion. There were no beds—they had been looted earlier.
The other kind of Aktions involved murder and deportation to extermination camps. To survive these Aktions we would hide in the lumber factory where my father was working, or in the woods and farms. During the three years of German occupation we hid in 19 different places. One such hiding place was an unfinished basement on a farm in Modrycz, a small village near Drohobycz. The basement was dark, cold, and full of water. Mother lay down in the water placing my sister and me on her body. We hid this way for a few days.
Usually, before an Aktion we had a day or two warning. Often it was a false alarm; we would hide for a couple of days and then return home. One day my uncle Bumek became sick with a high fever and did not go to work.
The Aktion came without any warning. As its noise came closer, Bumek lifted the mattress and several planks off the floor, and we all scrambled into the hole. At that moment, a neighbor with a small child came and asked us to take them in. She must have seen my parents removing the dirt from digging the hole. When told that there was no room in the hole, she threatened to tell the Germans about our hiding place and we would all perish. They joined us. The hole was not meant to hide people; there was no air to breathe, the dust was choking us, and there was no room to move. Bumek, who had a high fever and also suffered from claustrophobia, lifted the mattress every hour to provide some relief.
We heard the door broken in, heavy boots, and loud voices in German and Polish. They fired several shots into the walls and floor and listened for children’s cries. We were terrified but did not make any noises. After a few minutes we heard the door shut and it was quiet. We thought that they had left. Bumek had an anxiety attack; he lifted the mattress and faced a German soldier with a gun pointed at him. The soldier ordered Bumek to get outside. We expected the worst and thought that this was our end.
One of the local helpers was a Polish or Jewish policeman, my uncle’s former classmate. Bumek begged him for help. After talking with the soldier and the others the policemen asked for money and jewelry. Bumek lifted the mattress and asked Mother and the other woman for their rings and jewelry. After getting the loot, they left. How did they know that we were hiding in the house? Someone had inadvertently locked the door from the inside and that was a sure sign that we were there.
Some incidents of hiding did not end as well. Before that Aktion a woman with a pretty little girl walked every day by our house. Mother befriended them and sometimes shared food with them. A few days after the Aktion the woman was walking alone. Sobbing, she recounted that during the Aktion her little girl started crying, endangering the lives of all in their hiding place. She had to smother her own child so others could live.
Once again we had survived, but we never knew for how long.
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