Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Tola Gilbert - July 25, 1983

Receiving News of the War

Um, becau...before the war ended, for a long time uh, Breslau was cut off and the coal was coming from this part of the country. So the factory stopped going. And at that time they took us out of that little town into the mountains to build, to build uh, Panzer ditches. This was January, February, March, April; 'til we were liberated. I told you before how terribly cold the winters were there. But in the mountains you had the sun too. So it was like this: either it was raining, snowing, or we were burnt by the sun. So we used to come sometimes with blisters that big, like a, like nuts. Uh, at other times our clothes were so wet and there was no coal and no wood. So we would uh, put on the following morning the same wet clothes and go to work. Uh, it was also quite far and at noon time they would uh, bring some soup. This was the dinner, I want you to know. Uh, and we were working, the work was very hard. I don't have to tell you to dig uh, ditches is not uh, for young people like we were at that time. Uh, and even the older ones had to do this kind of work and the young ones too. We had seven children uh, uh, the youngest was seven years old, who was working just as we were. There were no differences uh, and no favors. Uh, this was the hardest time of our life when we were working at the ditches because we lost completely connection with other people who at time would and did help us. Uh, and you know how it is, we used to share. If you got something, I got something from it, and if I got--somebody else got something. But at this time we lost completely because we were always under the SS and uh, we weren't completely--we were working completely separately. The only lucky thing for us was that one day we were standing and digging ditches and suddenly some, two men were passing by and uh, we heard they spoke Polish, our language, and we got very excited. But uh, the SS was standing over us and we couldn't do a thing. So the only thing I remember we did, we start to talk very loud to each other and uh, meaning them and we asked for news they should give us, every time they pass by lunch time, they should tell us what's new. So, one day we're standing there and working and suddenly leaflets are coming. First we thought it's birds and then we saw leaflets are coming down. And we're so anxious to see what's, what's in these leaflets. But when they were coming closer to the earth uh, the SS gave an order, "Heads up, achtung" and we were not even allowed to look down. But at noon these people were walking by and we told them please leave under the big stone where we have our coats, leaf...leaflets so we'll know something too, because they were telling us already what's in the leaflets. And our happiness was so great I can't describe to you. It says in the leaflets that uh, at that time uh, was uh, Stalin. Stalin, Chamberlain and Truman make the whole Jewish population responsible for every person in a prison camp, in a concentration camp, and uh, in the uh, prisoners of war. For every prisoner of war they make responsible the whole Jewish population. And uh, we felt that the war is nearing an end. Uh, by April we could hear from far away ptttttt [gunfire sound], you know. Our happiness was so great, I can't tell you. And I remember that one day we were walking and we heard four mens who were Austrian people, they did wear German uniforms but they were not bad people. Uh, as a matter of fact, they--these were not the people that were sent to the front. Uh, and I remember a man who was very nice to us uh, and he came--the Austrian, and he came and he says to me "Tola, don't turn around; I have to tell you something. Pretend that uh, I'm not telling you that news because the SS, see her? She's watching me." And he says, "The freedom is behind our back." And you know that I stopped working, I was so shocked at that time and many other girls too. So she started to scream, "Go on with your work." And we did. And then I know that she asked him, what did he tell us. And whatever he told her, he lied, of course. But we were at that time really working like horses. We were so afraid, you know, that by not working they can do something to us and here the freedom is coming. And after the war, we went in different directions. And I remember to prove only one point how anti-Semitic Poland was, that I don't care if they ever come and see it because this is my feeling and this is what I lived through with them. Um, when we came to--naturally where would we go, all we do know is to go back home. But there was no home. And as soon as we came to the station, some of the Poles says, "So many of you are still alive!" This was the greeting that we got. Naturally I think that this was the most painful time of my life. I came to my hometown and there was no home anymore, nothing left. Uh, some people were living in our apartment. I went through the streets and through the yard and through the house and I remember the stone and I remember every little thing. Here was my father, here was my mother, my sisters, my brother; there was nothing left. Nothing; not a mark. Strangers lived in our apartment. It was so painful that I thought at that time that I will never, never again go back. I will go away and I would never want to see my home again. Thank you for listening to me.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn