Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alfred Lessing - January 26, 1993

Daily Life at the Cottage

What would a typical day be like in the last year and it was also the hunger winter that you went through?

Yes, the summer months were wonderful. It was for me an idyllic place, I was with my brothers, I was with my father, the four of us were a team, uh, the work of that year was survival, it was like a permanent boy scout camp. So to speak. [he laughs] There was wood chopping, there was no running water, there was no electricity, in this cottage, we had to carry six buckets of water to fill a tank with sort of a faucet on it. There was an outhouse connected to it and that had to be emptied regularly. There was wood to chop, there was clothes to launder, there was food to gather, which got more and more and more difficult as the winter went on. It is known as the hunger winter of 44. It was extremely cold, long and there was no food, especially in the cities. It was true, what my brother and I... stories we made up dramatic, terrifying stories that we made up to tell the farmers, when we went around begging food from the farmers... turned out to be true. They would say, we would pretend that we were from Amsterdam, and they would say, how are things in the city?, and my brother and I would say, "oh, it's terrible, it's awful, and oh you can't believe it, there are corpses lying everywhere, people are dying falling out of street cars, the roads are littered with corpses," and.... well, we were exaggerating, but it is only a little bit exaggerated... people were starving in the cities, in the cities were walking with jack, pocket knives cutting little bits, chips of wood from the railroad ties, any little piece of wood, cutting trees, of course was illegal, but most of them got cut anyway, any piece of wood, any bit of fuel, any morsel of food. We were luckier, we were in the country and the farmers had food. They had lots of food. And they ripped off anybody from the city coming begging for it. Or sure, we'll give you a loaf of bread, how about that tea service, or how about your wristwatch, and of course, people traded jewelry and, so I don't have much good to say about the farmers either. There is a lot of emphasis these days on righteous Christians and yes, those few who took those risks to hide Jews or take in Jewish children, to risk their own lives and families, God knows, they deserve all the praise and recognition, but let's not forget that they were very, very few. That they were balanced by all kinds of people who made money and who betrayed Jews and Jewish children and who ripped them off and the farmers were among them. It was hard to get anything out of the farmers. But we begged.

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