Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Alfred Lessing - January 26, 1993

Begging for Food

You would go door-to-door, or farm-to-farm?

Yes, it is one of the most powerful memories, it's as low as I got, I suppose. Eight years old, freezing to death, blue... it was a joke... it was good to have me along, because I always turned blue in the cold, my lips were blue and I looked terrible and evoke sympathy and they would give us food. Little bit of grain, a sandwich.

You and At would go together?

Yes, my brother Attie and I, my father did not tell us to do this, it was our invention. We would sit out in the morning across the snowy fields and just wander up to some farm, and again, tell them all these lies, you know, we are from the city, and I don't know where the parents are, they are somewhere in this area, we got to find them, but we are so hungry, could you please give us something to eat, and they would say, "oh, yes, come in, come in, we'll give you something," we would say, "no we can't come in, we got to find my father and mother, and they are somewhere here, and well, can 't you give us something to eat on the road..." "okay, I'll make you a sandwich." And they would get out these huge loaves of bread, slice off a couple of thick slices put butter on it and maybe cheese and give us a sandwich, and we would say, oh thank you and we would pretend to bite into it when we were leaving and when the door closed we would quickly put it in a little bag and take it home, and we had gathered enough, we would to home and have lunch with my father and brother. Once in a while they would insist on us coming in and then we would come in and have some food with them. Yes, begging.

You were...

It was very important. Begging. Um, not long ago, a gypsy couple came to my door and wanted to know if I wanted to have the dent in my van fixed. And, everybody I have talked to since them, says oh, yes, they come around and you know... and I couldn't turn them away. And I said yes, and they did fix it. You know, they did kind of a shitty job in a way, and I ended up giving them 200 bucks or whatever for it. And I kind of knew, it was scary to me, I thought I was going to get ripped off. And this man was begging, [voice quivers] you know, he had his kids, two little kids right there in the truck with him. He was just driving around the neighborhood looking for work, they had nothing. And I could not say no. Cause I had been there, I know what it is like. It's... you have nothing, nobody wants you, you're in danger everywhere, and there is nothing left but just to go up to a doorbell and beg. I'll never forget that... [he cries] yeah we did that. And we lied, and we stole, Mr. Hamburg was into organic foods, I mentioned, he had a little shed with hundreds and hundreds of canning jars which you couldn't buy during the war and the farmers, of course, did canning... so we would take his canning jars and go off and trade them with the farmers... by the end of the war, there was nothing that's left in his shed... we stole and sold all of his canning jars... and anything else that you could steal or cheat or lie... that's how we survived... Um, so a typical day was survival work.

Your father and your oldest brother, did they ever do any of this?

Oh sure, it took all four of us, they did the lion's share of course, my brother could chop wood, and we could and we could carry buckets of water, we couldn't empty the um, the outhouse containers, it was too big and heavy, so my parents, I mean Ed and my father did that. Ed and my father, after curfew, after dark, went out at night dressed in dark clothing with a saw to cut down trees in the State Forest. [he laughs] Every other night, we'd hear my brother Attie and I would lie in bed waiting for them to come back, because we were always worried that they wouldn't come back. We would hear them come back and they would say, one, two, three, and they would drop the tree, we would hear, thud. And At and I learned to judge how thick a tree it was by the loudness of the thud. And if it was real loud, we would say, oh shit, that is going to be a hard one to chop up the next day, you know.

Wasn't there an occasion when you and At were invited into a farmhouse?

There was one occasion where we all were out begging, you see, Attie and I begged, my father and Ed would just go and eat at the farmers, and these people said to At and I, oh, come in, we are just having dinner and there are some other people that we are feeding, come on in we are just sitting down, we said, no, no, we have to get on the road, please help us, please give us something for the road, no, you gotta come in! So, they just literally dragged us in and said go in there and there in the dining room were all of these people having dinner and at the table was my father and brother. [he laughs] They were sitting there having dinner, and we had to all pretend we didn't know each other. [he laughs] It was crazy.

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