Start of Main Content

Eyewitness to History: Nat Shaffir

Nat Shaffir was born in 1936 in Iași, Romania. In 1942, a local Catholic priest identified Nat’s family as Jewish to the Romanian authorities, who then forced them to leave their large dairy farm. They had to move into the Socola neighborhood of Iași, where they lived in cramped conditions with other Jewish families. When Nat’s father was taken for forced labor, he put Nat, who was not yet eight years old, in charge of taking care of the family. Nat’s father returned in 1945 and the family eventually immigrated to Israel.


Welcome. Thank you for joining us for First  Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors.  

My name is Bill Benson. I have hosted the Museum's  First Person program since it began in 2000. Thank  

you for joining us today. Through these monthly  conversations we bring you first-hand accounts  

of survival of the Holocaust. Each of our First  Person guests serves as a volunteer at the Museum.  

We are honored to have Holocaust survivor Nat Shaffir  

share his personal account of the Holocaust with us. 

Nat, welcome and thank you so much for agreeing  to be our First Person this month. Thank you.

Nat: Thank you, Bill. I'm honored to be here and share with  you some of my personal experiences as to  

what happened to me and my family during the  Holocaust.

Bill: Nat, you have so much to share with us. We'll get started right away if you don't mind.

You were born in Romania in December 1936,

less than three years before the start of World  War II in September 1939. Please begin by telling  

us about your family and your community in  the years leading up to the start of the war.  

Nat: Both my parents were born in small villages  in eastern part of Hungary which is called  

now Transylvania. My mother was the oldest of 12  children and my father was the youngest of seven.  

In 1924, about a year after World War I ended, my  father and two of his older brothers decided to  

leave home and move to Romania where they settled  in a farm community named Bucium and they started  

a dairy farm. Before long they were very successful  because, due to the fact that the biggest customer  

was the Romanian Army. He was the youngest of the  three brothers. He was not married, the other two  

brothers were already married. So he decided it's  time for him to get married at a certain point,  

and the most logical place to find a bride those  days was for someone to go back to a village one  

came from. So in 1930 he went back to Hungary,  found a girl, married her about a week later.  

He stayed in that village for  approximately another eight days  

and then they boarded a train, uh, to go back to  Bucium to the, to the farm. Before long,  

three children were born: two girls and a boy. My  older sister was married, was born in 1934.  

I was born in 1936 and my younger sister which  I still call my little sister was born in 1938.

Bill: Tell us about this picture if you don't mind, Nat. 

Nat: Here we have the picture of myself,  my sister, and my mother, and my aunt.  

My sister, my mother is above me, uh, looks like I  was about two years old there. My mother and her  

sister that was her next in line from the sister  she was the, the, uh, one year younger than my  

sister was. Must have come to visit us at the farm.  And then below that is my younger sister, Sarah. So  

she's in front of my Aunt Channah which by the way,  uh, perished in Auschwitz. What happened to her was  

that she actually could have survived, but when  she came off from a train, from the cattle cars,  

she saw a little baby sitting on the ground crying.  And she picked them up and she hold them in her  

arms, and the Nazis thought that this was  her child, and she was moved from one section of  

the selection process to the other and she was  immediately put to death, uh, in the gas chamber.  

Bill: Thank you for sharing that with us, Nat. Um, your other sister Lily, um, I believe  

was born in what 1938?

Nat: Yes.

Bill: Yeah.

Nat, your, your  brother, your father and his two brothers operated this dairy farm. Tell us more about the farm.

Nat: Uh, it was a big farm a little bit, little bit grown and, uh, it was in a, probably they were the largest farm in that area at that point.

And my mother, my father was able to secure the Romanian Army as a, as a customer.

Now each individual brother dealt with a different portion of the  operation of the farm.

The older brothers dealt primarily with the milk production  and the cheese and the butter production.  

My father was pretty much like the salesperson.  So all in all they, they were very successful.  

Bill: And tell us more about the community of Bucium  itself, where your farm was located and, and  

what was your parents' relationship like with, um,  Christian neighbors in that particular community?  

Nat: Uh, the community in general was a small community  for about approximately 100 to 125 families. There were  

approximately 25 Jewish families in that community.  My father dealt with the Gentile farmers the same  

way as he dealt with the Jewish farmers. He  helped many of them anytime they needed help,  

usually in droughts he always helped them with  some either money or giving them seed for next year's crop.  

So the, the relationship was very, very good. Um, they,  they constantly, they knew that they could always  

count on the Spitzer brothers.

So my father  always went out of his way to help anybody that needed help.

Bill: And if you don't mind, just tell us  a little bit more about your family at the time.

Were you a religious family?

Nat: Yeah, we were  religious as you can see, and from my father  

wearing a black hat and having a beard. My mother  wearing a, what they called a sheitel, or wig,  

because usually religious women do not show  their own hair. And obviously myself having a cap.  

So yes, we were religious. There was a synagogue  there, and we practiced religion as we  

normally would. Especially on those little  villages from where they came from, religion  

was very important to them and they continued  that in that farm and Bucium farm area.

Bill: In 1940, Nat, a new Romanian dictatorship introduced  antisemitic policies restricting Jewish life in  

Romania. The country aligned itself with Nazi Germany, joining the Axis Powers in November 1940.  

Please tell us how this impacted Jewish life in Romania.

Nat: There were terrible things going on in Romania at certain times of the year. 

Uh, the thing is, well, during the, during that period of time in a small village like Bucium we did not feel that problematic.  

We did not feel that antisemitism. Uh, so we were able to continue operating the farm also because my father  

was dealing with top echelon officers in the  Romanian Army, they pretty much put out the word:  

stay away or stay off the Spitzer farm.  Leave them alone, let them operate.

Now that went on for a while and then after that, it was done.  They were completely open.

Bill: In fact in July 1941, Romanian authorities staged a pogrom which was a violent attack against the Jewish population,  

in the nearby city of Iasi close to Bucium. Can you tell us more about this particular pogrom that took place in Iasi?

Nat: There were two instances. One was in June of 1941, uh,  

where people were actually stopped on the streets.  And as you can see in here they've been searched,  

taken away whatever valuables they had. Either they had watches or money with them,  

and then later on probably clubbed to death. As you can see in here on the right-hand side,  

there's three individual soldiers. Really the  middle one is not really a soldier, he's kind of  

make-believe a soldier. He's in civilian  clothes with a cap of a soldier's with a  

big stick. And a lot of people died on that  day. But 10,000 people were killed by neighbors  

strictly for the purpose of because they were  Jews and also to take away whatever property  

value they have. So that's pretty much what we  see in that picture is that people stopped on  

the street and eventually probably most of  these people that were stopped at this day were killed.

Bill: And Nat, of course our next picture  is a particularly significant one. Please tell us about this.

Nat: This happened in July of 1941. It's  important to remember that the weather in Romania  

is very cold in the winter and very hot in the  summer. So this happened in July of 1941 where

a trainload of Jews were loaded in Iasi and  were ferried to Calarasi to the south of Romania

for three days back and forth. Once it  arrived back after three days without  

food or water in these cattle cars, uh, most  of the people in these trains were dead.

Bill: Did you, do you know if your family knew about what had taken place in Iasi at the time

because they were at the farm in Bucium?

Nat: We heard a little bit that was going on about the pogrom but we didn't know to what extent.

News were coming in very, kinda, I would say very slow. Uh, people that went into Iasi going to the market

would come back with some news or some rumors so we knew certain things, uh, are being done against Jews,

but we didn't know to what extent until later on we found out all these pogroms that happened and all these Jews that were

killed by neighbors, or by the, by the government.

Bill: Yeah.

And while that was happening in other parts of Romania and nearby in Iasi, were your fam, was your family

able to continue to operate the farm and do the business that they had been doing at that time?

Nat: They were doing the  business as long the same way. They did not go to Iasi down

there often anymore actually probably after, after July 1941

I don't think my father ever went back to Iasi. He probably would send somebody, one of the, uh, farm helps

to do, to buy feed or do whatever it needed to do with the farm.  So he didn't go back there so that was, that was  

one of the things that we continued to operate the  farm, but we did not go back to Iasi at that point. 

Nat before we go on,  

uh, tell us a little bit about, you're a  little boy, what was farm life like for you?

Nat: Living on a farm or growing up on a farm was  terrific. I mean it's a, it's, it was a, it's a  

open fields, animals. It was actually a  fantastic feeling. It was a primitive life, but  

it was a good life. Most of the time I'd like  to hang out with the farm help, they taught me  

all kinds of things. At age five they taught  me how to milk a cow, to ride a horse which  

usually doesn't happen to city boys, city kids. So  life on that, in that farm for me was great.

I had some chores that I had to do but nonetheless was pleasant to do that. So for me it was a  

great feeling to grow up on that farm. And I still  have farming, uh, things in my blood.

I still do a lot of gardening at this point as well.

Bill: Oh, in fact, if we had the time I would want to the audience to know about

your amazing green thumb that continues to this day.

Nat, in the fall of 1942, Jewish families from your community

from Bucium  were abruptly forced from their homes and told to  

move to Socola, a neighborhood in Iasi. Tell us what  happened to you and your family when that happened.  

Nat: One of our neighbors was the priest of the town.  That priest used to come by once a week to the  

house and ask my father for a donation for the  church and also some dairy products for some of  

his congregants who could not otherwise afford it.  By the time he, that happened my father was already

there for about 18 years. Never once in these 

Until one day things have changed. The same  priest came by but this time he came with a

armed police officers and two armed soldiers.  This never happened before so we didn't know

why this whole group came together. We all came out  of the house and we went over to greet him. When we

came close to the group, the priest pointing at  us and looking at the police officer and he said,  

"Astia Jidans (These are Jews)." Now we were turned into  the authorities for being Jewish by a priest, 

the same priest who asked and received  help from my father every week for 18 years.

The police officer told us we have four hours to  vacate the farm because he has orders for us to

be relocated. My mother both, my father both tried  to convince the police officer perhaps they can

let us stay. My father told them, "Look, I've known  you since you were a child, I know your family."

My mother told them, "Look, this is our home, our  children were born here. Can't you just let us stay?"

And obviously he did not. So after four hours  what do you, what do you take? You have a house,

things that you managed to have. What do you take  in four hours? So the first thing we took,

we took whatever cash we have in the house, my  mother's jewelry. We took some prayer books, prayer bibles.

Bill: And this is one of them, right?

Nat: This is one of them. This is actually a haggada,

which we read on Passover time. And we also took  some candlesticks that my mother lit candles every

Friday night and every holiday. It's an important  story about these candlesticks. These candlesticks

were made in 1745 and was actually  given to my great-great-great grandmother

and she in return passed around to her older  daughter, and the older daughter passed it on

to the next older daughter so, and eventually got  to my mother, which she was the fifth generation, 

and usually they always gave it to the older  daughter. And my mother broke that, uh, mold and  

she gave it, these candlelight, candle sticks, to my,  to my wife which is her, uh, daughter-in-law. And my

wife in return gave those to my younger  daughter as a gift, as a wedding present.

And she is the one that actually keeps  it now, and she lights candles over them.

So these candle sticks are now seventh-generation  in the Spitzer family or they have whatever other,

uh, last names they have.

Bill: And as you noted,  they are almost 300 years old.

Nat: Yeah.

Bill: Yeah.

Nat, um, so you had four hours to gather whatever  you could take with you in that four-hour period.

How did you journey, how did you gather things and  take them with you to Socola, and what was that

journey like to this new community, new place that  you were being forced to go?

Nat: Well, when we heard the news that we have to vacate and, and relocate, we pretty much at that point knew where we were

going. So in addition to all the valuable things, we  also took important things that we needed: pillows,

blankets, cooking utensils, eating utensils. And  after the four hours were over, we were escorted  

to the ghetto area that was developed in July  of 1941 right after the pogroms. Um, so once  

we arrived there, uh, we were turned over to the  authorities.

Bill: Nat, if I can interrupt for just a second. Do you remember what that trip, that four-hour

period in that trip, was like for your parents?

Nat: Yeah, it was very sad. My mother was crying. The  uncertainty, we didn't know exactly what to expect.

That pretty much interpreted to us as  children we didn't know either. We saw my mother  

crying, we knew we're not going to a happy place.  So things were pretty, pretty awful at that  

point. It took about three hours to get from Bucium  to Iasi, and that was, that was one of the, the

worst times for us anyway at that point these  three hours. But terrible, uh, feelings about it.

Bill: So what did you, what did you arrive to in Socola?  What was, what were the conditions like for you?

Nat: Well when we arrived there we were turned over to the  authorities, uh, where our names, ages, and gender

were taken down on the list. We were given a  yellow star that we had to wear on our chest

at all times. We were given ration cards for bread  and for kerosene. As a living quarters we were

given one room in a house that already housed  four other families, so there was approximately

house. Terrible, noisy, there was a lot of chaos  

in us when we arrived because on that day, a  lot of Jews were rounded up from the vicinity  

from the small towns from the small villages of  Iasi and brought into the Socola area.

In addition to doing all these things, number one:  we were told what we can and cannot do.

Obviously, we were no longer allowed to go to school. We  were told that religion practices is outlawed.

Each individual person was given a job, a manual job to do while they're there. 

So things, things were very, a lot of it was  a chaos going on. People were crying, children

were screaming, so we didn't know what was going  on. So there was such a terrible feeling about it.

Bill: Once, once you were relocated and living in  that single room with 28 other people in the

small house, what was, what was daily life  like for you and your family in Socola?

You know, how did your parents manage to get the basic  necessities of life like food, clothing, and heat?

Nat: Well clothing, whatever we brought with us pretty  much last us for the entire period of time.

Once they tore, my mother was sewing them up and  keep wearing them. As far as food, we received

rations for bread. The ration card called for a  quarter of a loaf of bread per person every two days

and five liters of kerosene once a week that was  used for primarily for heating and for cooking.

To receive these rations, the  bread rations in particular,

one had to walk out of the ghetto area to line up  at the bakery. To do so, my mother, my father told

my older sister, who was two years older than me, to  go out and get the bread rations. So she'd line up

and receive the rations and come back. One day my  father found out that there were some hooligans

picking on Jewish girls and he was afraid  that something would happen to my sister.

So from that day on he sent me out  to get the rations. The same hooligans

that picked on Jewish girls also picked on Jewish boys.

Bill: Right.

Nat: Many times I would come home

all bloody-faced, beaten up. But that didn't hurt as  much as when these hooligans also stole my bread

which meant for the next two days, we had nothing  to eat. Until my mother realized that this could

happen again, so from that point on she started  rationing us from our own rations. In other words,

when we received the next ration of a loaf  and a quarter she removed one slice of bread.

Two days later she removed another slice, we had  two slices. Until she accumulated an entire loaf of bread.

And when these hooligans took my bread  again, at least we had something reserved to eat.

Bill: Unimaginable. Here you are, I think six,  you know, maybe verging on seven years old.

Your, your father and your, your, his  brothers had done business with  

a lot of people from the community and  particularly with non-Jews at that time.

Did, did your parents receive any help from anyone  they knew once you were in the Socola ghetto?

Nat: As I mentioned, every individual between the ages  of 18 to 50 was assigned a manual job. My mother's

job was to, as an orderly at a hospital, to scrub  floors and clean toilets. My father's job was to

sweep the streets of Iasi and also on Thursdays  to clean the market area. These farmers

would come and sell their products, as you can see  here, with horses and oxen. So his job on Thursday

was to clean that market area. One day an old  farmer that my father helped a lot in the past

came over to him and he said, "I'm really sorry  to see you, that you have to clean after my horse.

Breaks my heart. Is there anything I can do for you?" And my father said, "Some extra food will help a lot."

So he went back and says, "I'm going to go back and  see what can be done." The next week when he came

back to the market area he told my father  that he spoke to a few farmers in Bucium

and they're all willing to help. Keep in mind that  helping Jewish people at that time was against the

law and they could have been punished very harshly. So he told my father that they got together and

they decided to help us and he said, "Here's how  we're going to do that." He said, "All the farmers

from the Bucium area get together in an open  field and leave at midnight in the caravan

to go to the, to the Iasi market. That caravan passes  the outskirts of the ghetto between two and three

o'clock in the morning." He says, "Be at a certain  spot and look out for the last three wagons of

that caravan, and then we'll throw something your  way because now we know where you're gonna be

hiding." Because he told them where to stay. The next  Thursday my father woke up, he didn't say a word to

my mother what he was planning to do. My mother was  the sensible person and she would have realized

that he's taking a chance to go on out to meet these  farmers, because anybody caught outside the ghetto between

two and three o'clock in the morning only  meant that this individual is trying to flee the

area and would have been harshly punished  either by imprisoned or probably even shot.

But he took the chance and go out to get  a little bit extra food for us to survive.

So that morning when he came back, he watched  out for the three last wagons, and an individual

threw a sack his direction. He waited until they  left, he looked around to make sure there's no

police around. He picked up that package and he  came back to the ghetto. That morning, he told us

what happened. My mother was furious with him that  he actually took, took such a risk with his life.

But when he opened the sack and he took out some  eggs and some cheese and some apples and they saw,

my mother saw the smile on our faces she mellowed, and she said, "Well, it actually was worth it for

him to go." And from that point on, he used to go  out and meet the farmer every Thursday morning

and these farmers would always throw something  our way. And sometimes we would trade some of the

stuff or some of the things that we got from the  farmers on the black market because there was

active black market in the ghetto and so  we were trading one thing for the other and

so on. So that took a long time, uh, until one  day in May of 1943 the caravan never stopped  

and it kept going. So my father  realized there's something wrong.  

When he saw that farmer in the market again, the  farmer told him that he can no longer help us

because there was individuals who told the police  that some of the farmers are helping Jewish people,

and he was afraid for his family and he couldn't help us anymore. My father thanked him and he realized he

couldn't take a chance anymore, and that was the end of the extra, extra food that we got from the farmer.

Bill: And, and Nat it's important  to underscore what you said. That the risk, both

for your father and your family, as well as  for those farmers, was great for doing that.

Nat, you mentioned earlier that of course  practicing your religion was banned. You were

no longer allowed to do that. Did you still find  a way to practice your faith at all?

Nat: Uh yes, we practiced our faith in secret. We were meeting sometimes in different rooms from different houses,

to make sure that the, if policemen  would follow us, we wouldn't, they wouldn't know where

we had, where we hold our next meeting. Uh, but this  was, that was a problem for, for a lot, for a lot of  

us to practice, to practice religion especially  in the high holidays in particular.  

Also was very important for us that we could no  longer go to school.

Bill: Right.

Nat: And my mother was very much a fan of the children being educated.

So there was an old rabbi in the ghetto with his wife, and she

kind of hired him to teach us religious studies  and hired his wife to teach us secular

studies. And for that at least we got some, some  kind of education.

You know we think of, you know, just a little boy

trying to have a normal life. What was it like for you as you recall?

Nat: Well first of all, this little boy no longer had a, a child, childhood. Childhood was taken away from me.

Things for what we did was pretty much try to do whatever we needed to do. Stay in line to get our bread rations,

stay in line to get our kerosene rations, and kind of be in a  mode, a survival mode, to survive one day at a time.

Bill: And along those lines Nat, you, you have a really  important story to tell us about standing in line  

for that kerosene ration. Tell us about that.

Nat: Uh, originally my father told me to get the kerosene rations and told my sister to get the bread rations because kerosene

was a little heavier to bring home. The kerosene rations was  for five liters of kerosene, which those who do

not know the metric system, it's approximately 1.3  gallons that would have to last us for the entire

week. So to receive these rations we had to walk  out again outside the ghetto and line up early  

in the morning. And we started to line up after 5am. The attendant that gave us this, these rations,  

used to come sometimes between seven and seven  thirty, and the way they distribute that  

is, was like pretty much like today we have  this, uh, gasoline stations and a booth that the  

attendant would be in it. Uh, so he would, there was  a line in front of this booth and he would  

motion five people from that line that lined  up to come forward. He would remove the ration,  

the ration coupons from that ration card, and pump  up the kerosene. The way it was done was not like  

today: you press a button and you get all the  gasoline. There was a handle in front of a box

and when you move the handle back and forth, that  would bring up the kerosene into a cylinder.

When the cylinder was full this was the five gallons,  and then he would put it down and let it go,

put it into a can. So one day when I was waiting  in line, I decided to approach this individual.

His name was Gregory. I approached him and I  said, "Domino Gregory, I would like to help you." 

I specifically called him by the title "Domino." "Domino" is really reserved for somebody  

very intelligent, a person with power, but he  was kind of uneducated and a lazy person.

So I said to him, "Domino Gregory, I'd like to help you." And he's asking,

"How are you going to help me, you little Jidan?" You little Jew.

I said, "Well I see you might be sick. Perhaps you  let me do your work for you and for that, if it  

pleases you, give me a little bit of extra kerosene  because I have a little sister at home. She's sick  

and a little bit extra warmth will help us a lot." He didn't say anything. The next week when he came  

back, he looked around the line where we were all  lined up. When he saw me, he motioned for me to come  

forward. I came forward and then he said to me, "Okay  little Jidan, let me see what you can do."

And it was not a big deal for a seven-year-old to move that  handle back and forth. So I did remove, gave him the  

the ration cards, he removed the coupons, and I did the filling of the kerosene.

And that day after the, my day was, job was over, he didn't  do, he didn't give me anything. But he told me,  

"Next time you don't have to wait in line but just  come to the booth and wait for me here."

Which I did, and I did his service. I did his work, his job  that particular day. Didn't get anything in return.

For three weeks he never gave me anything. Finally  he said to me, "Little Jidan, next week bring an extra can."

And from that point on, he used to  give me an extra liter, a liter and a half.

It depends how drunk he was. Sometimes he's giving me  twice so, which you know worked out okay for me. 

But then little by little we developed a little  friendship between Domino Gregory and myself  

and sometimes when he had anything over, left  over from his lunch, a chunk of cheese or a  

piece of cornbread, he always used to give me  that and said, "Take that to your little sister."

And he knew very well that probably I will  share that with the rest of the family.

Bill: And Nat I have to believe that that became  even especially important when the arrangement

that your father had with those farmers had come  to an end as you described a little while ago.

So when the farmers quit providing the food  because they were fearful of the risk, how did  

your family then manage to get the food that you  needed to eat?

Nat: Well from that point on, we still have some money and what we brought with us.

And we always thought, I always said to my mother, "Why don't we buy certain things?"

because there was  a big black market that you could buy things.

And my mother always used to say, "We save that money for a rainy day."

And I was going to tell her, "Mom, it can't rain any harder than it's raining right now."

So, but nonetheless, whatever we were able to get, that's pretty much what we had.

Nat, life continued in this way,  um, that you've described for about seven months

until June of 1943 when your family was no  longer able to remain together in Socola.

Tell us what happened to your father.

Nat: In June of 1943 big posters were posted in the ghetto that every man between the ages of 18 and 50

must report to a certain spot in the center of the ghetto to be shipped for labor in a different area.

That night before he, my father was deported we couldn't sleep. We cried, you know.

That morning  when he was ready to leave the room, I asked him  

if I can walk with him to the area that  he was supposed to report, and he allowed me.

While we were walking he said to me, "Nat,  things will get worse before they get better

but don't ever give up." And repeated that, "Don't ever  give up." And I remember those words.  

We continued walking and when we got closer to the area that he was supposed to report he stopped and he said to me,

"Nat it's time for you to go back." At that point  he turned to me, put his hand on my shoulders, and  

he said five words to me that I will remember the  rest of my life. He said, "Nat, take care of the girls."

I could have said, "I'll try" or "I'll do my best."  Instead I said, "I'll take care of the girls, Papa, I will."

I was not yet eight years old. You can't  imagine the weight of these five words that  

I had to carry on my shoulders this entire period of time that my father was deported to a forced labor camp.

Bill: No, I truly, and I think  it's true of everybody who's listening to you,  

can't imagine that sense of responsibility that  you must have felt at that particular moment.

Did you know where your father was  sent and what he was forced to do?

Nat: Uh, we didn't know exactly where he was sent.  We only knew when he came back where he was.

He was sent actually to a forced labor camp  between Moldova and Ukraine to lay the railroad  

tracks, new railroad tracks as you can see in  here. This is a photograph of individuals  

laying the railroad tracks and if you play it, you  see on the left-hand side in the ditch there's a armed  

soldiers is watching over them. On  the right-hand side there's another  

individual that also is watching the workers.  In front you have two horses and a wagon.

In the front of the wagon, there's two individuals,  soldiers, ferrying a officer in the back probably  

trying to find out how the works was continuing. We  also see in the right-hand side one individuals

in the shirt with a sledgehammer, and what they did  at this point they were bringing in big boulders  

and these individuals were cracking these boulders  into smaller pieces of rock. And then the smaller  

pieces of rock were later on broken up by smaller  pieces. These individuals were on their hands and  

knees breaking these rocks. Where these rocks were  put, in front on the bottom of the railroad ties  

where the railroad tracks would go on. So this  was very hard labor and these individuals were  

working 12 and 14 hour days, seven days a week  and a very limited amount of food. So a lot of  

these, uh, people in my father's group passed away,  died of starvation and exhaustion.  

Thank G-d my father was a strong individual  both mentally and physically, so he was able to  

survive this kind of a treatment, but this was  very harsh labor.

Bill: For any of us who've ridden or walked on railroad tracks understanding how important having stability and the amount of

rock that it takes, can appreciate the  extraordinary amount of labor that that must have taken

to break up that rock to lay that  bed. Um, incredible amount of work. Did, while your  

father was away doing that, did your mother  hear from him? Did you know that he was alive?

Nat: When he was there we didn't hear anything  from him until the war was over.

We didn't know if he was alive or dead,  so we were just praying and hoping that  

eventually he's alive and eventually will be  reuniting with us.

Nat, the war ended for you when the Soviet Army took  control of Iasi in the summer of 1944. What was  

it like for you and your family leading up to  liberation, and what was that period of liberation

like for you when you knew that you were no longer  in this same kind of danger that you had been in?

Nat: Well, to live through all this period of time,  especially from the time my father left in

June of 1943, it was very hard. You fall into  a situation where they call the surviving mode:

you do robotic things normally, you try to survive  one day at the time. So all of a sudden we are here

in July of 1944. The end of July the city  is starting to get bombed every night and the  

longer it went into August, the city was bombed  again at night until approximately the middle of  

August, towards the end of August, where the city  was bombed constantly for three days and then  

the bombs stopped and all of a sudden we realized  that the war is over for us at this point, and we  

were liberated, and we were liberated by the, by the Russians.  Uh, things in Iasi didn't improve that much  

better because at this point, you know, we had more  food but that's pretty much what it was was an end of it.

Bill: Yeah.

Before you go on, I want to go  back to the bombardment. Here you're being bombed

sporadically, then daily. Uh, just imagining  the terrifying experience of having bombs dropping around you.

How did you find safety or refuge during that?

Nat: Some people remained in their homes, but very few.  The outskirts of the ghetto of Socola, there was a  

river, the Bahlui River, and then between the Bahlui River  and the Socola area was open fields. So people were  

running to these open fields. They had trenches  dug up, and that's pretty much how we survived.

In the trenches because the, the bombers  were looking primarily for buildings  

to bomb, not open fields. So that's how most  of us were able to survive the bombardment.

Bill: And you would, you would continue under the  Russians for a while longer before your  

father returned. When, when did your father return  from the forced labor that he had been enduring?

Nat: Well during, once the Russians liberated  us, you know as I mentioned, we were able to

go back to school. Uh, the Russians, once we were  under Russian rule, the communist rule, it

was still, they were still antisemitic. Uh, we went  back to school. We were ridiculed by the children

that we were older children and yet still  did not, still have to be in first and second grade.

And eventually my father came back or  reunited with us in the spring of 1945.

Bill: Tell us about this photo.

Nat: Yeah, here we have my mother on the left, my father as you can see very skinny, uh, because this is about

two months after he came back from this extremely harsh labor force. We had my older sister Sarah,

myself in the middle, and my little sister Lily. Now,

(clears throat)

when we went back to school under the  communist rule, the best children in class

the best ones were best in class, were able to  join the Pioneers, which is a communist youth group.

My younger sister was the top of her class,  and she was never asked to join the Pioneers  

and neither was I. And that's because  we were Jews. So Jews pretty much were not  

allowed to participate in any form of being  part of the community, of the regular community.

Bill: Nat, in that photo that we're just looking at, you pointed out how skinny you said your father  

looked. In fact when you look at the photo, he looks, his face looks narrower than your own face which  

which, says a whole lot, I think, about what he  endured. Did he talk much about what he experienced?

Nat: He talked very little but almost, almost none.  From time to time, he spoke about various things.

Uh, he spoke for instance, what makes  people do what they do? Why would a priest,

who's supposed to be compassionate and  make sure that everything is okay with us, turn  

us into the authorities because we were Jews? And  why an old farmer risked his life and his life of  

his family to help us out? And we realized  one does it from the heart,

and one does it for monetary reasons.

Nat: Eventually, my father was reunited  with us, and after we were reunited, he told me,  

"Nat, it's time for us to go back to the farm and  try to set everything up to bring the family back."

And while we were walking to the farm he  said to me, "Let's stop at that old farmer and  

thank him officially for all his help with all  the extra food that he gave us." We stopped by  

there and the old farmer was very happy to  see us, and he invited us to a meal. And after  

the meal was over, he asked us where we are going,  and we told him that we're going back to the farm.

Then at that point he told us, "That farm no longer  belongs to you. That farm was divided into three  

sections. The priest received one-third of that  farm and the police officer received another  

third of that farm." So what happened to the priest, now we know.

Bill: Yeah.

How long did it take you to get out of Romania  and finally be able to leave?

Nat: We stayed in Romania until 1947. At that point, my father realized there's no longer a future for us in Romania, so  

he tried to leave. The only place we were able  to leave at that point was Palestine. So we filed a

petition for an exit visa for Palestine, and a few  months later they came back with a big stamp on it.

Denied. We filed another petition, and another petition,  another one. So about three or four different times. 

And that took about four to five months  to get back the results, and the results were  

always the same: denied. Until my mother was  able to bribe the chief of police of Iasi,  

and what she did, whatever money we  had left, whatever jewelry she had,  

she came to him and put everything on his desk and  said, "That's all we have. Please let us leave."  

And he said, "Come back a week later." And a week later  she came and we were able to get our exit visa  

to Israel at that point. We arrived in Israel in  April of 1950, just about a week before Passover.

(clears throat)

Bill: Wow. And...

Nat: And I...Go ahead.

Bill: No, go ahead, Nat. Please.

Nat: And I stayed there, you know, until later on and eventually made it after serving three years in the elite fighting unit in  

the Israeli Army. I came to visit my uncle  in the States and I married here. I have 12  

grandchildren as you heard earlier. So it was  a big change from, from what we had in 1940.

Bill: Nat, I have just, in the remaining time we  have, I have just one more question for you.

In the face of rising global antisemitism,  please tell us why you continue to share  

your firsthand account of what you experienced  during the Holocaust.

Nat: It's very important for people to hear firsthand testimony

as to what happened during the Holocaust

from a live person, a survivor, one who was there.  All the survivors are getting older and are dying.

There are many survivors who no longer have  a voice because these individuals have their  

families murdered by the Nazis and they have no  voice. It is now our duty to speak for them and to  

make, to make their voice heard by us telling their stories, what happened. And I hope these things never happen again.

Bill: Nat, I wish we had  more time. There's so much more you could share.

Um, that sense of responsibility that you felt as  a little boy that you've described so eloquently  

is evident in you today as you are that voice  that you, that powerful voice that's needed  

and that you're offering to the world quite frankly. So thank you for being our First Person today.

Nat: Thank you very much for listening.

This conversation has been edited in length for educational and classroom use. View the full First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors program here.