Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Mark Webber - December 13, 2004

Life Under the Russians

Uh, your whole family--your, your immediate family was there?

We were all together with my aunt and uncle from our town, with their baby. Uh, we rented a place, they had another place. Um, it was--we couldn't get a place for nine people, for ten people--the number of our family was seven, so um, um...

So your, your grandmother was--she, she...

No, no, my grandmother was not with us. My grandmother was with my uh, uncle from my father's side. We, we had no idea where they were. Subsequently I found out that my uncle was not even in Pułtusk at the time, that he was in Warsaw. But there was no communication between uh, my mother's family--be...between my father and his family--and our family.

What, what was it like? I mean, you must have been terrified.

No, by the time, by the time, you know, people--a human being gets used to um, uh, conditions like this here uh, in no time. The main, the main uh, concentration and worry was, of course, what are we going to eat today? And if you got some for today, what are we going to eat tomorrow? We did not have a base; we did not have any people we knew. There was a significant Jewish community, obviously, in Białystok, and I don't know if there was organized uh, help from the Jewish community there. But we were all resourceful. Um, Jewish people for the most part are, and um, we, we found a niche--how to go and uh, sort of make a living or earn a living. Um, there was no jobs available as such, that you could go and apply for this, and besides, what skills did anybody have? Uh, we were candy makers. To go and open up a candy shop? We didn't know if we're going to stay there a month or two, or what was going on, because the Russian authorities wanted the refugees to leave Białystok and to go to the interior of Russia and to Belarus and to the Ukraine, but not to stay in these occupied territories. So some people signed up to go but within a short time we started hearing that they're very dissatisfied. They were sorry that they went. Uh, my aunt and uncle and their child, they decided that they had enough already of this uh, insecurity, and they decided to go. And they went and they settled in Vitebsk, of uh, Belarus--it's a city there. And um, uh, they found a job of doing something, and we stayed on. Most of the people stayed on, and we didn't want to go to Russia. Uh, but the Russians insisted; they wanted to get rid of us. So they decided to have uh, every--all the refugees register. And at the registration they ask you, "Where do you want to go? You don't want to go to Russia, where do you want to go? Tell us where you want to go." So people were ask...telling them they're going, they want to go to United States, to Canada, to Australia, to Brazil, to Palestine. Um, we decided we're, we're not gonna go--they're not gonna send us anywheres, so we picked to go to Vilna, we put down. Vilna was at that time like a free city, because it was Poland, but it actually belonged to Lithuania and uh, Lithuania was still independent at that uh, time--for a short period of time. So some people managed to get out through Vilna, to get out to the west and to run away and to save their lives that way. But it didn't really matter to anybody that registered uh, they--seems to me that they were only trying to get the addresses where people lived, because on one night--I don't exact--I don't remember the date--that they knocked, like midnight at--on the door, and uh, three soldiers or four soldiers--Russian soldiers or actually Mongolians--I could--I knew by then already what the Mongolians looked like--and um, and they ordered us--to give us ten minutes' time to come down. We looked out the window and there was a truck waiting downstairs already waiting for us. Uh, we grabbed again whatever we accumulated in possessions, and they put us on the truck, and took us to the, to the train station. And on the way, we saw the same thing going on throughout the city with trucks, with horse and buggies, and all kinds of means of transportation. They seem to have organized everything on that one day, and they took us to the trains, and putting us into uh, freight uh, wagons. Uh, similar to what those cattle cars--the cars that they had--that the Germans used. And they shut the doors after a while, and the train took off. And we didn't know--there's still no word about you're going here, you're going there, or what your needs are. The next morning uh, we stopped, and, and they opened up the doors, and we saw a sign on the, the train station that said "Minsk" on it, so we knew that we were already in Belarus. And they asked us to--they give us a couple of pails, and um, they took two people off, and they filled them up with some soup and some hot water, and this was the food for, for the people in the uh, in, in the uh, car.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn