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Lea Weinrath Zukerberg Remembers

I was born in 1919 in Wielkie Oczy as the fifth and youngest daugher of Moshe and Yentl Weinrath. My father, son of Josef and Bila, came from Oleszyce and was born in 1882. My mother came from Wielkie Oczy, from the Feuer family and was born in 1888. Our family was well-off and we lived in an eight-room house in the Town Square. My father was a tailor and had a store with fabrics [and] men's clothing. In the store he employed David Strassberg, who had left for Lwów before the war. Our house was religious: my father wore a shtramel whenever he was going out and my mother shaved her head and always wore a wig.

My older sisters were: Dvora, born in 1912, who married Eisbruch from Jaworów and moved to live there; they had two children; Chana, who married Natan Hoffman and left with him for Przemyśl; Ettel, also married, but I don't remember her husband's name; and Bela, born in 1918, who married Lejzor Bauer, the son of a local distiller.

I had a good childhood. At school, I was in the the same grade as Freda Hoffman and Chana Strassberg, my best friends.

When the war began in 1939 I left for Przemyśl. The husband of my sister Chana  enlisted in the military, but he soon fled and was hiding in Przemyśl. My father then hired a peasant with a horse cart and asked him to go to Przemyśl and bring [Chana's husband] back to Wielkie Oczy. I too returned, because it was already dangerous in Przemyśl, while in Wielkie Oczy it was still peaceful.

Bela was then pregnant and went to Lwów to the hospital to give birth to her child, but she perished during the bombing of the hospital.

After Wielkie Oczy had been taken by the Russians, a politruk1 was lodged in our house. He occupied three rooms. He was good to us. I was in komsomol2, [whose local branch was] led by Lejzor Bauer, husband of my sister Bela. Lejzor survived and lived in Kiev after the war. In komsomol we organized meetings and lectures. I remember a festive May Day celebration, we all sang together.

Together with a group of young people I volunteered to travel to Russia for one year to study there. My parents were against the trip, but I didn't listen to them and thanks to that I survived. My sisters and parents remained in Wielkie Oczy and perished there together with the inhabitants of the town.

August Majer, Szwarc, and the daughter of Baruch Bleiberg went also with me to Russia. In 1940 I left for Kerch in Crimea, but instead of studying we were sent to hard labor. All of us were starving. At the beginning I worked in the port, but later I managed to sign up for a course for telephone operators and started working in this capacity in Kamýsh Burun, also in Crimea.

Later I was sent to Bijsk in Altayskiy Kray [Altai Krai] in Siberia. There I worked in conditions of slavery in a match factory. Hunger prevailed everywhere, but I was able to take out  some matches, which I could exchange for food, from the factory hidden in my kufajka3. Thanks to that I was able to survive. One day the shift supervisor noticed that matches had fallen out of my kufajka and when I was leaving the factory, I was searched. I was arrested. After the interrogation, before which I managed to throw away the matches in the toilet, I got a relatively mild sentence: one year. I served the sentence in the labor camp in the town of Jaja, in Kemerowo Oblast [District]. When I arrived at the camp I was ordered to undress and cold water was poured over me. I tried to cover myself, since I felt ashamed by the men who poured water over me, but they said that now there was nothing to be ashamed of, since I wasn't ashamed to steal.

In the camp I had to pull carts loaded with wood, like a draft animal. The work was too much for my strength. Often they beat me, and my fellow prisoners stole everything from me. After eight months I had a shoulder injury and was put in the sick ward. It turned out that the doctor in the sick ward was a Pole. When he found out that I too was from Poland, he promised me that as long as he was there, nothing would happen to me and he kept me in the sick ward, where the conditions were much better.

Unfortunately, after two months the doctor was called to the army and I was immediately thrown out from the hospital. When I returned to my place, all my things were completely stolen away. I had nothing. Since I was physically exhausted, I was declared a disabled person and was employed in a doll factory until the end of my sentence. The manager in the factory was a Jew, who helped me to fulfill the quota and thanks to that I lived in acceptable conditions.

After I had served the one-year sentence I returned to Bijsk, where I remained until 1945. Since I had no documents of my own, I used the name of a young man from Warsaw whom I met in Bijsk and whose name was Gontarski. When the war ended I went by train to Szczecin, where I found myself in the kibbutz "Hashomer Hatzair", preparing for departure to Palestine.

In summer 1947, together with Gontarski, I left Szczecin for Germany, first to Ulm and then, already by myself, I got to the UNRRA4 camp in Schwäbisch Hall (Baden-Württemberg). In the UNRRA camp I was employed as a nurse's aid and then as a nurse. I met my husband there and our daughter was born there too. In 1948 we arrived in Israel.

Lea Zukerberg
Bat-Yam, Israel, July 2002

Translator's notes

1 politruk — Russian: short for politicheskiy rukovoditiel, political leader. In the Soviet Army, a person in charge of political education of the military; a political official in the army.

2 komsomol — Russian: short for Kommunisticheskiy Soyuz Molodiozhď, Communist Union of Youth, an organization serving as the youth wing of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

3 kufajka, actually fufajka — from the Russian fufayka: warm padded jacket, very common in Russia until today and still used in some Eastern European countries.

4 UNRRA — United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, an organization providing economic aid to European nations after World War II and assisting the refugees under the control of the Allies.

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