Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Bernard & Emery Klein - May 23, 1984


Where did you think these people were going when they were deported? Had you heard of Auschwitz, had you heard of any...?

B: No, Auschwitz and Birkenau we didn't hear of. In those days uh, Lublin was the center where people from the town we got to know were taken and we were told that's a labor camp.

E: And we believed it from the beginning. B: Right, definitely.

E: As a matter of fact, there was an experience where among other members of our family our uncle, Wilmersch Klein was also taken and then one day, we had a visit from somebody who we did not know and who told our father that he came and brought a message from his brother, Wilmersch who was in this labor camp and he can arrange to free him for a sum of 50,000 crowns, which was at that time a substantial amount of money. And uh, there was uh, quite a uh, traumatic day because we had no way of checking this man's credential, or really that he is in any way telling us the truth. I remember our parents and other members of the family were trying to interrogate him and trying to see if he even knows how to describe our uncle, which he somehow managed to do to the point where our father's and the rest of the family's decision was, even though the likelihood is maybe less than 50 percent that he is telling us the truth, cannot take a chance and uh, if there is some percentage of some slim hope that he could bring him home. So, they gave him the money. But, obviously it was a complete hoax. B: See what makes, what made his story...

E: More credible. B: What made his story a little credibility was the fact that when the families were taken in 1941, from the beginning, every once and a while, we would get a postcard from our uncle saying that he is wherever in Lublin and obviously those were force communications. All the card would say, we are fine and hope you are okay, and that was it. So, he knowing where our uncle is and knowing about him, as I say, made it more or less plausible and that's why the family after a big conference decided that we have to do everything possible.

E: As we learned after, naturally, most of the people were killed in very early stage but they retained certain people to help them camouflage this entire tragedy.

When they were carrying out these Aktionen, starting in 1941, you said the first group to go were the single girls, then the single boys. Did you know anyone in those groups?

B: Oh sure, everybody.

E: I mean this was a small, relatively a small town.

How did it happen that they were rounded up, door-to-door, police?

B: An announcement was made that every, all single girls from age, I don't recall the exact age, from 18 and up, I think it was, or 16 and up.

E: 16 and up... B: I'm not too sure...

E: Pack their suitcase... B: You have to register first.

E: Right. B: And then they were told that they have to prepare their essentials that they can carry with them and that they will be picked up on such and such a day.

E: But they report to, to report to certain gathering place... B: Right.

E: And from there they were loaded onto trains and they're never seen again. B: That was followed two or three months later by, with...

E: Single boys. B: The same way. And then, this was in early 1941. And then towards the end of 1941, or early 1942, they...

E: They started to take families. B: Everybody was registered, so nobody could escape really because whoever stayed in town was not only written, he was known. In a small town you can't really uh, just disappear. Unless some people, of course, who had any kind of a thought of uh, trying to disappear could have moved away in those days.

E: But uh, the boys who came after the girls uh, or they had sort of a forewarning and there were many young men who, who escaped, who run into the forest. Some of them joined the Partisans, including our cousins, for this matter. They were first in hiding. In fact, our cousin, I remember the one who eventually became the author, was hiding in our home, because we had a big home and somehow we managed to hide him for a while. B: That's true.

E: But then it was...it became dangerous. He, he, went into the forest and eventually joined the Partisans with many other young Jewish boys to fight, fight the Germans. When you heard a rumor or a warning of an impending Aktion, what would you do then? What would you and your family do? B: As you saw in the film, we had an extensive house with the back of the house having all kinds of storage areas for the farm equipment and the hay and straw and all that. So, we would hide in one of those places, one of those storage areas and we depended on our help.

E: We had servants who were living in the house. B: Very loyal-and we just had to depend on them. And they proved to be very trustworthy because they really, they would lock us in, bring us some food, if we had to stay. Sometimes, the longest we stayed there would be, maybe more than a couple nights. A night, a day, and the next night. And then we would get a signal that it's all clear again until one Thursday later on when there would be another Aktion.

E: Obviously, the first, first rule on a day like this, was that no Jew can leave his house. Everybody must be in their home, okay. But knowing where the danger is, like Bernie mentioned, we did not sit in our living rooms, waiting for them. But instead, tried to find the most safe hiding place in our home and again, having pretty much a large home, we found a place which we felt could be the safest and having the advantage of the fact that we had people living with, in the house, servants and so on, they were able to provide for us some help as far as sheltering us and hiding us.

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