Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Hilma Geffen - February 15, 1985

Mother's Arrest

In '38 everything changed. In '38 Jews were not allowed to emigrate. Or if they did emigrate they just barely could take things out. Most of, at that time a lot of Jews who left then bought goods. They took out goods. So that, that was the fatal year. That uh, from then on it was impossible to go out and uh, evidently whatever my father tried, it did not materialize anymore. Um, in uh, '41 when we uh, we started uh, to wear the star. All the restrictions, Jews were not allowed to shop at all unless it was between four and five in the afternoon. Uh, Jews were not allowed to use public transportation. If you lived uh, seven kilometers you had to walk to work. Anything above seven kilometers you were allowed to take the subway and you had to get special permission, subway or a train, whatever mode of transportation. Otherwise, no transportation was available to Jews and uh, there was nothing Jews were allowed to do or go. Uh, up till '30, up till 1940, or 1939 we still had uh, entertainment for Jews in Berlin. The Jewish Kulturbund, actors and actresses, we had symphony orchestra. Of course, all that was uh, disbanded. None of that was possible anymore; it was prohibited, so there really was nothing except going to work in the morning and coming back at night. There was curfew for the Jews at nine o'clock in the summertime, in the wintertime at eight. If you were caught, unless you worked, and if you were caught you were of course arrested immediately. Jews were not allowed to have any cars, any telephones, any radios, all the jewelry had to be given up. You could not keep anything except your wedding rings. Uh, Jews were totally stripped of anything that was of any value. In '41, the first transport to the east started. Uh, we had uh, first it was rumors, but then soon we knew it was reality and a lot of people first went to the east before eventually being transported to Auschwitz or Majdanek. My aunt and her husband, my aunt and uncle were transported in October or November of 1941 and they had to go to a synagogue which was standing. That synagogue could not have been burnt because it was between houses. Row houses. But it was now used for, as a gathering place for Jews to be transported. So they went to uh, the synagogue and then they went and they were transported to the east. Of course, we never heard of them anymore. Uh, people...

When you first heard the rumors, what was your reaction? Do you remember? Did you believe them?

Well yes, we believed them very soon because there was some correspondence came, come back. Some uh, we had some uh, communication. I did not know that person, but a cousin of my mother uh, wrote us a postcard from one of the places she was sent to. Piosk in Poland. P-i-o-s-k, and uh, she wrote after 50 hours of being uh, in a car, in a train they arrived there and nothing but naked floors and they are eleven people to one room and cold. They get 100 gram of bread and one soup a day. They uh, the prices, if they want to buy food, one egg is one mark fifty; a bread is ten marks, a totally unrealistic prices. And she wrote her husband speaks Polish, so he could get some food from the Poles. And she said uh, "I'm over 50, I'm 65," she wrote, "How come I deserve this?" And uh, she also wrote, "If it comes to this, don't take your aunt along." The old aunt of my mother who lived with us. "Don't take her along. Let her die where she is now, she's better off." So there was some correspondence and then we received another card from, from these cousins. From that branch of my mother's family that remained in Poland. We suddenly, we never were in contact and then suddenly we did receive a few postcards. One wrote that she and her girl wrote that she and her 10-month-old child is all alone. Her husband and her brother were shot. And somehow the postcards did come through. One of the children, I think he's the youngest, he was the youngest, sent us a card from one of the labor camps he was transported to. Sent even a uh, photo. But soon after that everything was quiet. Nobody knew; we never heard anything further. So about three or four postcards told us enough. The rest you surmised. We were under the notion that they gassed the trains. They sent the trains to the east and then someplace in the east they just gassed the whole trains. We did not know there were gas chambers that they had built. Gas chambers.

But you had heard of the gassed cars?

We heard that people were gassed. And we surmised that the trains in which the people were transported, that they were gassed inside the trains. After the war, I learned that there were to be gas chambers. In Auschwitz and Majdanek. But it was pretty clear that once you left, in our case Berlin, and you were transported, you would not return. And my mother was very clear and it was very fixed in my mother's mind and she always started to think and she said, "I have papers for you, keep them in a safe place, you may need them. I also have put money away," and she told me where she gave the money to and, "What I want you to do is to run away. Don't com...if we have to go, don't come with us. Stay here if you can." Because there were also rumors that some people lived underground. What we called underground. That means they had false papers, they had assumed a different name, they assumed a different identity. "I cannot do anything for myself and I'm old," and my father's old, "but you should survive." And she planned. She, she contacted some people and said if something happens to us take care of Hilma. And she gave money to some people. These were non-Jews. And uh, of course we did not know anything. The usual process was, the usual rule was, that you got a postcard. Report to on such-and-such a date to the synagogue. And you knew that was your date of transportation. We had about three or four days notice. It was different in our case. We had no warning whatsoever. I was out, my father was still away working, and I was still at work, and I come home and as I opened the door to our apartment my mother met me in the hallway. She says, "Run away! There are people are here to pick us up. Run away!" And I turned around and it was the last time I ever saw my mother. I didn't say goodbye, I didn't say anything. I just turned around and ran away.

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