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My Mother’s Holocaust Memories

My Mother’s Holocaust Memories

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Chava Husz, 1947. 
Poking, Germany.
Chava Husz, 1947. Poking, Germany.

My mother turned 91 on April 3. At least, we think her birthday is April 3. She never had a birth certificate, so after the war she picked April 3. I heard that she and her surviving three sisters all picked April birthdays.

My mother was born to a Jewish family in Ruscova, Romania, a hamlet nestled up against the Ukrainian border. I have seen photos of it on the Internet. In the summer it appears to be very green, with softly undulating hills. It was a small town, just a few streets. I was told that the Jews and the non-Jews got along well.

My mother’s maiden name was Husz. It was, to my ears, a strange name. I found out it is Czech and means “goose.” Jan Hus, the dissenting fifteenth-century theologian, burned at the stake for his reformist views, supposedly said, “Now you kill a goose, but one day a swan will arise whom you cannot kill.” The reference was to Martin Luther.

My grandfather was named Samuel Husz. His family had lived in Ruscova for over 100 years, possibly longer. He had a pottery manufacturing business and made a good living. He traveled all over northern Romania to sell his goods.

His wife, my grandmother, Esther Mallek, was from Moiseu, Romania. I had been told that she was from “Miseve,” and it took me decades to figure out that it was “Moiseu” in Romanian. That is the problem with Yiddish genealogy. Place names and map names often differ.

My mother, Chava, was the seventh of eight children. There were four surviving sisters before the war. She had had three older brothers and one younger sister. They died of childhood diseases.

In our family, my father was the storyteller. His wartime experiences were completely different than my mother’s.

Although he lost nearly 80 relatives—including both sets of grandparents, perhaps 20 aunts and uncles, and dozens of cousins and friends—on the road, in cemeteries (his paternal grandparents were forced to dig their own graves) and in the death camps of Majdanek and Belzec, he and his immediate family fled to the Soviet Union and were never imprisoned.

He secured a safe, even prestigious, job as the bodyguard and chauffeur to the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Tajikistan, Dmitry Protopovov. He was relatively free, as free as one could be under the watchful eye of “Uncle Joe.” He and the First Secretary would visit collective farms, where he was told to fill the trunk of the car with food to take to his family. He was treated well.

Growing up, my father dominated the table conversation. I think that, to some degree, he was protecting me and my mother and sister.

Right after my parents were married in February 1948, and my mother became pregnant with my sister, she took to her bed, convinced that she had a defective heart. My father took her from doctor to doctor until she recovered. I think it was a delayed reaction to all she had experienced. She was 24, with no mother to talk to, share the good news with and ask for advice, and I think that realization immobilized her.

I am imagining this, because we never talked about my mother’s life.

My mother was a gentle, non-assertive, profoundly kind and sensitive woman. She was almost prophetic at times. Nothing made her happier than to do favors for people.

An excellent seamstress, cook and housekeeper, my mother would be asked by all my aunts to alter their clothes—take something in, let it out, fix a hem. She was always delighted to do it, without charge, almost grateful that they had asked her.

This is what I was told over the years.

My grandfather, Samuel Husz, was well read. He was aware that something had happened to the Polish Jews. He told his family that the Polish Jews were auf tsuris, “in trouble.”

Decades later, about seven years ago, my sister traveled to Ruscova and met people, now in their eighties, who had known my grandfather when they were children. They said, “He was a fine figure of a man. He had beautiful blue eyes. He was once nearly beaten to death by the Romanian fascists.” We had never been told of this fact.

In April 1944, on Passover, a young Wehrmacht soldier knocked on their door. My grandfather invited him in, showed him the table settings and explained their symbolism.

The young man left.

Soon after, the Jews were ordered to leave their homes and relocate to “the Vishivitz,” as my mother called it. I later found out the town was called Viseul de Sus.

On Shavuot, in June 1944, my grandparents and their two younger daughters (the elder two sisters were in Bucharest) were transported to Auschwitz.

Upon descending from the railroad cars, my grandfather gathered my mother and her sister and told them, in Yiddish, “Come, let us say farewell.” He used the word geseigunung.

My grandparents were forced in one direction, my mother and her sister in another.

My grandparents were gassed and burned that day. They were 56 and 54 years old.

The sisters were herded into a long line. At the end of the line, they came face to face with a man my mother later described as “the handsomest man I had ever seen. He wore shiny black boots.”

It was Dr. Joseph Mengele.

They were chosen to serve as slave laborers. They were stripped, deloused and shaved, and their intimate body parts were searched for valuables.

Men did the searching, I believe. My mother was always vague on these details.

The humiliation and fear still silenced her, even after a lifetime in America.

My mother and her sister were given sack-like dresses and wooden shoes.

She called, “Charna! Where are you?”

Charna was her sister.

Charna shushed her. “Quiet! I am right next to you.”

It was not the last time Charna saved her life.

They went outside the barracks, and my mother looked off into the distance and saw a heavily laden wagon.

“Look,” she told Charna, “fine white pigs.”

“Those are not pigs," Charna said. “Those are people.”

Years later, I read that Zyklon-B blanched the skin white.

The terror, slow starvation and death continued for three months.

During this time, my mother especially suffered from the lack of food. She told me that she had been a big eater.

She started to give up.

Charna gave my mother her bread and said, “Here, you take it. I am not hungry.”

“She could have eaten it with her eyes,” my mother later said, referring to her sister.

My mother developed a high fever and a painful sore throat.

She went to the infirmary.

Charna saw her standing in line and pulled her away, saying, “You’ve waited long enough. If they haven’t seen you by now, they are not going to see you.”

If she had gone into the infirmary, there is a good chance she would have been sent to her death.

In October 1944 they were transported to Wustegiesdorf, Germany, a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen.

They worked in an I.G. Farben factory, inspecting hand grenades. The girl working next to my mother lost several fingers when a grenade exploded.

One time, without provocation, a guard hit my mother in the temple with a rifle butt. There was a depression in her skull for the rest of her life.

On May 8, 1945, my mother and her sister were liberated by the Soviet forces.

“One more week,” she told me, “and I would not have lived.”

She weighed about 80 pounds (at 5′5″). Her gums completely covered her teeth.

For the rest of her life, my mother celebrated May 8.

After they were liberated, my mother and her sister went back to Ruscova to look for family. Their two older sisters arrived around September.

They sold their house and fields for a pittance to the people whom they found squatting there, and with the money they paid smugglers to transport them to the occupied zone of Germany, where in 1947 my mother met my father.

My father’s parents made their wedding, his mother walking my mother to the wedding canopy. It was outdoors, at night, under the stars.

Elaine Rosenberg Miller is an attorney living in West Palm Beach, Fla. Her essays, memoirs, poems and short stories have appeared in Allgenerations, Jewish Magazine and numerous other publications.
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Beth Gopman Crecent City, Florida via chabadvenetian.com May 28, 2016

Life My husband lost 49 family members to the Germans.
I do know who I was named for in Yiddish as the pain of loss was so horrible.
The pain families experience is worn as a belt that holds up life . Reply

Cindy Halpern Centerport May 25, 2016

Thank you for sharing your stories of your family. Reply

Edith Pollack New York , NY via chabadgn.com June 8, 2015

Raizy Rella Pollak-Czarny Dear Elaine!
Thank you for awaited answer! I just read the wonderful piece you honored my aunt "Raizy" with. I missed your visit by a day it seems. We lost her on March 18, 2014, and I hope that she is at peace, surrounded by the family that she so missed and talked about so lovingly... Reply

Poola Villarimo Honolulu, HI June 8, 2015

Thank you for sharing your story. Not long ago, I finished reading Hitler's Furies by Wendy Lower. I am not Jewish, but grew up Catholic and not well versed about the Holocaust. It is a subject that is very difficult to deal with, but I am learning more about it and the constant struggles many survivors have had in their lives. I know I did not live during that period, but after meeting two Jewish survivors, you never forget the look in their eyes. Something nothing can describe. We pray for a better world. Thank you. Reply

Elaine Rosenberg Miller West Palm Beach, FL June 8, 2015

Dear Readers, Thank you for reading my memoir and for taking the time to write your comments. Ms, Pollak, I met your aunt, OBM and wrote about her. It is on Bangalore Review. I called the piece Raiza. I have always heard the name Pollak in my maternal family. Vere veist? Perhaps we are related. My maternal grandmother was from Moiseu (Miseve). Her natal name was Mallek. Thank you, Reply

Edith Pollack- Cedarhurst, New York via chabadgn.com June 6, 2015

My mother's Holocaust memories Dear Elaine:
On June 4th, 1998, 28th Sivan, I lst my father, a survivor of forced labor, whose first family was deported to the Cluj, Romania brick factory, then forced into cattle trains to Auschwitz. My dad was born in Moiseiu, he was called Eugen Polak. ( Yaakov-Sruli.two sisters survived Auschwitz, one just passed away in century village Boca, Rella Czarny.
Upon coming back to Cluj, my dad remarried, and my mom's name was Lilly Solomon from Alba Julia.
I lost them both. I was born in Cluj, after the war, lived through communism, escaped o Belgium, then to the USA in 1962, and today my grandchildren are named proudly: Jacob, Sophie (Lilly), Emily ( for Erika my father"s first child, murdered at the age of 4) and Jaron (Mechel) named after my father' s father murdered in Auschwitz at the age of 52.
Never again!! Reply

Jeanne Iowa June 5, 2015

When I was 10 my Grandmother took us to Germany and we were able to visit Dachau. I stood in the "shower', trying to imagine a girl my age standing in that very spot. We were not allowed to leave by the door from which we entered, only another door. After a few minutes I could bear it no more and fled through the assigned door. I found myself in a room lined with ovens. I am 52 now, but I will never, never forget that experience. That was the day a child witnessed first hand man's inhumanity to man and vowed to be a better person. Reply

Jerry NYC June 5, 2015

Holocaust Survivor In 1944, my mother was only 14 years old when she ended up in Aushwitz along with her mother and three younger sisters. Upon arrival, she was separated from her mother and sisters who were sent to the gas chambers. That evening, my mother asked someone in her barracks where her mother and sisters could be. That person pointed to the black smoke shooting out of the crematorium chimney and said, "there they are." May G-d avenge the blood of the Six Million Kedoshim. Reply

Beth Alswanger Gopman Florida via chabadvenetian.com June 5, 2015

A walk Through Time
As I read this story I felt needed to tell that all of us can go back in time to our history. If not share you today history for your family and those to come after you are gone.
I am fortunate that my mother wrote a book about her life for the family. Through Nu, What's Nu, a site of which I am a member a long time, I found a person who spoke several languages and sent me videos, current and past, about the city and the graves of my ancestors. This was a walk through time with me in the streets of life where my mother was born. What an honor to belong to such an organization.
Choose an organization and have your own walk through time. My walk was amazing!!!! Reply

andrea June 5, 2015

Thank you! I think your grandparents may be possibly of Czech (jewish) origin - becouse both names - Hus and Málek are typical Czech names and there was a group of Czech migrants who left for Rumania..Well I have to be honest - your text is one of the strongest text I have ever read - and I am an experienced reader and journalist. Thank you again! Reply

Muhammad Umar Chand Auckland June 4, 2015

A well-researched and well-narrated tale of family sufferings and staying firm and patient with certitude and dignity and finally receiving bliss and blessings all-- how meaningful in these days of suffering of all the nations (!) at the hands of warmongers and salesmen of weapons of wars! From one war to the next, from one holocaust to the next, 'man' the best and the worst of His creatures never learns to be meek! Hawks are around us profiting .on 'other' people's sufferings! Reply

Robin Rosenblatt Redwood City June 4, 2015

Here is a small gift of the sacred words of a Jewish Warrior Here is a small gift of the sacred words of a Jewish Warrior

Blessed Is The Match

Blessed is the match consumed
in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns
in the secret fastness of the heart.
Blessed is the heart with the strength to stop
its beating for honor’s sake.
Blessed is the match consumed
in kindling flame.

Hannah Senesh
Sardice, Yugoslavia May 2, 1944 Reply

Feigie Broner Brooklyn Ny June 4, 2015

My mother was an Auschwitz survivor My mother and father also survived the holocaust. My mother was in Auschwitz in lager B. She was on a march. They woke up in the morning to find the war over. She saved her younger sister from the gas chambers by taking her out of the bunker ( for those selected to be gassed) through a window. She passed at the age of 92 a year ago. Her name was Gittel/Gizzi Koplovitz. She was from a small town in Czechoslovakia near the Hungarian border. She returned to her home town to marry my father who lost his wife and 2 children. He was in labor camps and survived many atrocities through miracles. Reply

Catherine USA June 3, 2015

Thank you for sharing. Pain. Great sorrow. The stories must be told. My prayers and deepest respect to all of you. Reply

DJ Denver June 3, 2015

I, a grown man, am left in tears. Thank you for sharing! Reply

Anonymous USA June 1, 2015

My Mother Holocaust Memories This is a sad story, but also very beautiful. I hope that all of your relatives have found peace with the Almighty, as well as all my relatives from the Spanish Inquisition. I often wonder about their lives, and pray that some day we will all be togeather again glorifying our G-d in unity. You my dear are bless to have kept your paternity, I losft it, but thanks to Hashem, blessed be He, after He revealed to me who I am, I live for Him and will die for Him. B"H Reply

Anonymous Eretz Yisroel June 1, 2015

He used the word “geseigunung.”
It means a blessing.
May you and your family be blessed. Reply

Cher maryville, Tennessee via chabadknoxville.org May 31, 2015

Great story It is very sad and emotional. I am actually from Tajikistan and my grandparents are Jewish, too. Thank you for sharing Reply

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