Read reflections and testimonies written by Holocaust survivors in their own words.

Blog Home > jewish communities before the war

  • Our Poor Shtetl is Burning!

    After the Allied armies liberated Belgium and it was safe once again for us to go out in public, my parents started attending social events here and there in Brussels. Perhaps because they didn’t want to leave me home alone—I was around eight or nine years old—I often went with them to cafés where American musicians played jazz, balls where my parents danced, nightclubs where comedians told slightly off-color jokes in Yiddish, a movie theatre where we saw the movie The Dybbuk, and other social events attended by Jews who, like us, had lived through the war in hiding and who had not seen each other in years. Also in attendance were some of the very few Jews who had survived deportation to the Nazi camps. At the time, the word Holocaust hadn’t yet been coined. In Yiddish, people said: “Wir hoben dus mit gemacht” (We went through that).

    Tags:   harry markowiczechoes of memory, volume 8belgiumjewish communities before the warlife after the holocaustparents

  • My Last Vacation

    Every visit we made to the country of our birth, Poland, ended the same way. We always said, “We will probably not be coming back again.” There seemed no reason for another visit since whatever remnants of my family that survived the Holocaust did not live in Poland any more.

    Tags:   halina yasharoff peabodyechoes of memory, volume 8jewish communities before the warpolandmemorialsparents

  • Closing the Circle

    For most of my life I was not very interested in learning more about our family in Germany. It was my past and it didn’t seem to matter to me. However, as I grew older, I would sometimes be at an event that brought to my mind something connected to my family or to the Holocaust—something as simple as people talking about their mother’s favorite recipe made me feel a need to return to Adelsheim to see where I was born, to know it was a real place. Fred and I visited there in the late 1980s, but I still felt no connection to the place. When we had extended family gatherings there were a few basic stories of life in Germany, before the Holocaust, that were repeated each time. But they seemed like legends.

    Tags:   esther starobinechoes of memory, volume 7jewish communities before the warmemoryvolunteering at the museum

  • Going Back

    My long-term memory is full of blanks. I had hoped that revisiting the places of my childhood would help bring back some of the memories, but this has not happened. Until age seven, I lived in Zaleszczyki, Poland (present-day Ukraine), a small historic vacation town on the frontier with Romania. The town was very picturesque and almost completely surrounded by the Dniestr river, which served as the natural border between Poland and Romania.

    Tags:   halina yasharoff peabodyechoes of memory, volume 7documenting the holocaustjewish communities before the warmass shootingoccupationmemorials

  • The Town I Used to Call My Home

    The town I was born and raised in, Mukachevo, Czechoslovakia, was modern as well as quite old fashioned. There were horses and buggies bringing in wares from the neighboring farms to sell in the very large open market, which was filled with stalls and pushcarts. Cars and trucks also drove around the town. We also had telephones, although not in every house, but as I remember in all businesses. The town also had a theater.

    Tags:   ruth cohenechoes of memory, volume 7czechoslovakiajewish communities before the warmunkacs

  • The Kindnesses

    In June 1941, the Germans occupied Lithuania within three days. Shauliai, the town where we lived, was taken over on the third day. We had heard what had happened to the Jews in Kaunas and in other cities. My brother Jecheskel was a student at the university in Kaunas and he had told my parents that the Nazis and their collaborators were looting Jewish homes. Jecheskel suggested that my parents try to ask some of their Lithuanian friends to hold some of our valuable things for safekeeping. My parents asked a few friends and some agreed to help us.

    Tags:   nesse godinechoes of memory, volume 6ghettosmass shootingsrescuersfoodjewish communities before the war

  • The Diamond and the Cow

    My uncle, Abraham Gruber (nicknamed “Bumek”), was called up for active duty in the Polish army in the summer of 1939. He was a corporal in the cavalry. He was a strong, handsome, and very likable man. I remember him telling me that he could jump over two horses side by side. The Polish cavalry was well known in the world; they fought bravely, but it turned out they were no match for German tanks. At some point the officers realized that the war was lost and disbanded the units. Bumek walked some 250 miles from near Warsaw to our home town of Drohobycz pretending to be Polish or Ukrainian. He knew how to talk and pray in these languages, worked for food and shelter along the way, and made it home to his wife, Blimka, and daughter, Liba. Drohobycz at that time was under Soviet rule.

    Tags:   marcel drimerechoes of memory, volume 6aktionjewish communities before the warhidingmass shootingsrescuerslife after the holocaust

  • Life Changes

    I was born in Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia. My family was a close and warm family. They took care of each other and lived intertwined lives. My uncle lived right next door to us with three cousins. My grandparents lived nearby and after my grandfather died, my grandmother came to live with us. Other family members, living in towns farther away, would come to visit once a month.

    Tags:   ruth cohenechoes of memory, volume 6aryanizationghettosdeportationsselectionauschwitzfamilyjewish communities before the war

  • My Reason for Writing My Story

    My family came to Romania in 1931 from Znojmo in the Czech Republic when I was about three years old. My parents moved us to Stanesti, a town in the Romanian province of Bukovina where my paternal grandparents lived. My father told my grandfather that he wanted to take the whole family to Palestine and my grandfather said that it was a good idea but he would have to find someone who would take the cow, the horse, and the chickens. Father, unfortunately, could not find anyone. My family consisted of my mother, my father, and my older sister. A lawyer by profession, my father became the chief civil official of the town and we lived in the house assigned to him in that position.

    Tags:   erika eckstutechoes of memory, volume 5ghettosmass shootingspogromsromaniafamilyjewish communities before the war

  • Sorrow Follows Laughter

    Whenever my children were having a good time, laughing their heads off, not responding even to my warnings to stop, I used to tell them, “You will see that in the end there will be tears!”

    Tags:   agi gevaechoes of memory, volume 5deportationshungaryjewish communities before the warlife after the holocaustfriendsmemory