Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Miriam Brysk - February 7, 2004

Being Separated from Parents

Do you remember what it felt like at the age four under this terrifying cloud? What kinds of things you used to think about or how you used to feel?

Well, at first, at first I had a friend, you know, and we used to sit in the backyard over there and we used to dream about doing things, you know, when the war was over. Uh, we even played a game among the kids; it was a weird game in the ghetto. They had like, you know, like people collect baseball cards in America. The kids used to collect labels from bottles, like, like labels of sodas or, or whiskey--interesting labels from bottles and these were traded--traded the labels, you know. It's a weird kind of game, but--children play, you know. There was a part of them that, that unless they are actively under the gun, they, they, they dream.

How about nightmares?

Yeah. But certainly after, after the big, after the big ??? when eighty percent of the Jews were killed that day. And those who were on the, on the left--those who survived, I mean, they counted us for hours. They, they counted us lying down and sitting up. Then we had to bow to them for thanking them for helping save our lives. And then in the meantime they con...confiscated a lot of the stuff from the ghetto. And by the end of the day you had, I don't know, something like fifteen hundred people, you know, going around looking for relatives. Screaming and crying, and people, I mean, most of the people--there were some who survived who were the sole um, survivors in the family. Everybody was gone. So, so things became different after that because that was the really--first were the, were the Vilno Jews and now were the, were the slaughter there. It became, it became obvious that, that it was a very bad time. That summer there was a rumor--as if they didn't kill enough kids already--there was a rumor while the parents were away they were going to come and kill all the Jewish children in the ghetto. My parents went just wild. Where were they going to hide me? So my father first put me in the infectious ward of the hospital. That was dangerous, but it was dangerous to wait for the--for them to play uh, you know, throw the kid up in the air and shoot them. And uh, but then the, the, the nurses who were not Jewish uh, became suspicious that I wasn't really sick. My father had brought me and told me to sleep as much as possible, even when I was not going to sleep. But it became obvious that it was not a, a solution. So he had operated on uh, the child of uh, of this woman--peasant woman who had a farm a number of miles out of town. She was a widow and this was her only thing in life and he saved the little girl and didn't charge her anything. And, and, you know, he basically contacted her--I don't quite know how--and basically said, "I saved your kid, now you save mine." So, so I was quickly informed that I was going to be sent to--sent out of town. Now my biggest fear of all, in the entire war, was not that I was going to die, but I was going to die alone. That was my--that I was going to be abandoned and die, that was my biggest fear. And this to me was utter abandonment. And standing there at the edge of the hospital and saying goodbye to my parents--and my parents tried their best not to cry--and with instructions, you know, "Play, be quiet, don't speak Yiddish, don't do this, don't do that. Mingle." And so I was taken away--this man had taken me away to uh, to, to the woman's farm. And uh, you know, I spent nights just crying away. I mean, I--they would tell me if I--ask me if I was sick in the morning 'cause I was so--and then my mother had sent a, a letter through this man to me at the farm. This letter, I mean, I cried so much, the words just came off the paper from all the tears. And uh, uh, I mean, they treated me well and uh, I had to--I was always afraid that because I was dark-eyed and dark, you know, dark hair, that, that I would stand out. And that I had to be in constant vigil. And I remember a bee had--I was outside and a bee bit me in the hand and I was so mad at myself because I wasn't vigilant enough and somebody sneaked up on me like that. So, after about two, three weeks, I don't remember exactly how long it was, it became obvious that it was just a rumor, that they weren't going to kill all these kids. And so the man had come and took me back to the ghetto. And I was just so happy. I didn't care if I died, as long as I was with, with, with family.

Was, was the woman like?

Really very nice to me. Very fine, very dignified woman. She had a little girl, much younger than I was, who, who I played with and I helped her run chores, and help her around the farm a little bit. And it was, it was, you know, it was nothing--it wasn't traumatic. The trauma was being separated, the trauma was not living there. And so we reunited again and I was just, you know, first I me...I met my father at the hospital. And I, I was so excited my nose was bleeding 'cause I couldn't contain my, my excitement. Came back to the ghetto and then I, the same thing with my mother and then my aunt. Anyway, shortly after that my aunt Ala, who felt she was the baby of the family, and her parents were in Warsaw and obviously they needed her, they were old and that she and her husband would go back to Warsaw. My mother said, "You're crazy. We survived the, we survived the--at the slaughter. We're, we're, we're here, we're together, how can you go now?" They wouldn't, you know, she wouldn't hear of it. And they, they had a little gold, or whatever, and they had contacted some peasant who said he would, you know, take his horse and carriage and slowly take them to Warsaw, and uh, and they left.

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