A Conversation with Uncle Solly Marcus

Conducted and Recorded by Marc Roffman, his nephew
June 1980 in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.

With acknowledgement and appreciation to Jerry Esterson for the supply of this material

Solly (Shlomo) Marcus was born 25 June 1907 in the town of Kroki, Lithuania. Solly traveled to the United States in the summer of 1980, realizing a life-long dream to see once again, his sisters and brothers who had all immigrated to the U.S., and whom he had not seen for many years since he had immigrated to South Africa. He died on 21 July 1980, three weeks after he returned to his home in Johannesburg.

The conversation presented below was conducted and recorded by Solly's nephew Marc Roffman (Marc's mother Ethel Marcus Roffman is the younger sister of Solly) during Solly's June 1980 visit to Ethel Roffman's home in Baltimore. The conversation is divided into four recording sessions.

An audio cassette containing a copy of the conversation was sent to Prof. Gerald L. Esterson in Jerusalem, Israel, who transcribed the conversation. Unintelligible words or phrases are indicated in the text below by a question mark, (?).


Marc: What year?

Solly: When I was born? I was born in 1907 in the town Kroki.

Marc: In Lithuania?

Solly: Lithuania. At that time, it wasn't Lithuania, it was part of Russia.

Marc: It was part of Russia?

Solly: Yes.

Marc: And, was your family, were your parents from there? From the town?

Solly: Mother was from that town.

Marc: And her maiden name was ...?

Solly: Was Raisel Rabinowitz, Chaya Raisel Rabinowitz.

Solly: ... So when the War started, and when the German army ...

Marc: This is World War One?

Solly: World War One. 1914. So they said the Jews are passing on information to the Germans. (?) about five airplanes (?) the Jews are giving information. That time, we preferred the Germans better than the Russians. So, and the chief of that front was an uncle of the Czar. His name was Nikolai Nikolayevich. So he gave out a ruling that in the frontiers, the Jews must move right from there.

Marc: That means that the Germans move in?

Solly: When the Germans move in, then the front get nearer, so the Jews must leave their places. So we all left our places. (?) remained behind. Not the Christians, but the Jews only. I went with my Grandfather's family, (?) in Wilno, you see.

Marc: When everyone had to move, you went with your Grandfather's family?

Solly: Family, yes. And my father went to a place next, Novoschenchan (?).

Marc: What was that?

Solly: Novoschenchan, a small place. Then he came to Wilno (?)

Marc: And the what?

Solly: My father. (?). And my Grandfather and family remained in Wilno. So, while the front came nearer and nearer, so they sent us with goods (i.e., freight) trains. Sent to a town far away in Russia, called Rumni.

Marc: When was this, after Wilno?

Solly: Pardon? Rumni, yes. Farther down than us.

Marc: So then, you ended up in Wilno ...

Solly: Ended up in Wilno. My father came and fetched me from Wilno.

Marc: Oh, he came and ...

Solly: And took me to that place where they made them go. And from that place, we travelled by a goods train, further to Rumni. And we came to Rumni, so, the Chief of Police didn't allow us to land. He's got enough Jews. He sent us from Rumni to Koltawa, the capitol city of that ... like here, you got, Baltimore is not the capitol city. Rumni wasn't the capitol, it was a bigger city. But the capitol city was Koltawa. Big city. Came to Koltawa, (?). And he came over to us. My father had the t'na'im, but he didn't feel like going (?). It was all in a goods trains. It was no food. The first time we saw tomatoes.

Marc: The first time you shared tomatoes?

Solly: Yes.

Marc: Now, what town was this again?

Solly: Koltawa. In Koltawa, the same repeat was, that we ... that the Chief of Police doesn't allow us in Koltawa. He send us to Pinsk (?).

Marc: So, you couldn't stay in Koltawa either.

Solly: No. We went further on, with that goods train, to Penja. Penja was the border of Siberia, on the border there.

Marc: So, this is ... they're sending you all the way east?

Solly: All the way east, yes.

Marc: You're heading all the way east.

Solly: East. It took us about six or seven days from Koltawa to arrive in Penja.

Marc: Why did you pick that ...?

Solly: We didn't pick it. This where they sent us. We had nothing to say in the matter.

Marc: So, the whole family was travelling, all nine children or whatever.

Solly: Not nine children. At that time it wasn't nine children.

Marc: Right, it was you, and ...

Solly: It was me, and Golda, and Gilbert, and Dorothy -- four children. At that time. Anyway, when we arrived in Penja, they put us in something, in a barracks. Thousands, hundreds of people. And it came sickness, typhus epidemic, so they used to send us to the hospital. At that time, nobody came out alive from that hospital. And at that time, my brother, Gilbert, took ill, and he died. After that we moved out from that ... what you call it, that camp. Moved out, and we managed to get a house, somewhere downtown. Every street was about five miles in length, that street. So we stayed there in that certain street. So my brother Gilbert died. Took him to a hospital. And there was only about a hundred Jewish families lived there. Ex-soldiers -- they had the right to live there. In that part of Russia. They were very nice to us. Hundred families. They called us (?), people that came out from all over.

Marc: They called you what?

Solly: (?). You know, people that being sent out. And we stayed on at Penja. Gilbert died and Dorothy died in Penja.

Marc: What year was this, around?

Solly: That was in the year, 1915. That was 1915, then we got a communication with my mother's father, got a communication. He left Wilno and he went to a town in Crimea, that was (?). In Berdjansk. So, that time, they had so many ...

Marc: They had to move from Wilno too?

Solly: They also have to move from Wilno. Some of them remained in Wilno behind, but the Czar Nicholas says he's not going to give Wilno to the Germans. The Germans surrounded all of a sudden, so some remained behind, and we went back to (?) and some didn't manage, they sent them off, you know. So, my late Grandfather went to ... we got a notice in that time, we got a communication, and then that time, the Jewish Welfare Committee, I don't know how you call it, not like in here, you got the Joint Distribution Committee, but something to that effect. They gave everybody free tickets, everybody wants us to leave Pinsk. They had so many of them, an epidemic started from all this. A matter of fact, people died ... When we came to the cemetery, there was a little cemetery there, for there were only a few Jews. They were lying in a row, about twenty children. And my father asked the one that was in charge, where is my child. So he got up from his place and he showed us, so my father got ill from that. And I was with my father.

Marc: Now, what happened again?

Solly: Pardon?

Marc: What happened?

Solly: He had a look at his child, the way he was lying with twenty children all around. He became nervous ... he suffered from nerves. Anyway, we went to Berdjansk. See, so we had a passenger train (?) . Not a goods train. We had to change trains. There was a certain station, Lublin. We wait for a train to communicate to go to Berdjansk. Anyway, we had to wait in the station about seven-eight hours. So a peasant woman with a little girl went around and the little girl got lost. So, it stays there police, but the police called gendarmes. So they took the father, they arrested him, they put him, they hitted him...

Marc: Took who?

Solly: My father.

Marc: Why?

Solly: For they say he took away that girl. After five-six hours, somebody brought the girl to the station, so they let him out.

Marc: Why did they pick you out, your father?

Solly: Because he was a Jew, with a beard.


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