ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR
GENERAL - INDEX
PORTRAITS OF SURVIVORS - FRANCES ENGELBERG
by Alexander Kimel
How Did I Survive the Holocaust?
By adjusting, drastically adjusting to the dangerous situations and coping. I survived with two small children, without money, without a husband. I just had to cope. Believe it or not, I was brought up in luxury. Before the war, I never worked. My father, was a rich man, we had a big fur business. He provided for me. He called me his "Princess." When the war broke out I ran away from our hometown, Radom, eastward. I remember how my father gave me a big trunk with expensive furs: minks, muskrat, and even sable'. "Just in case," he said to me.
We settle down in a small town named Ludwipol, in eastern Poland. The funny part of it is, that the Russians almost resettled us to Siberia. One Friday night they came to take us, and .. unfortunately we were not home. They found only the children. The Russian left empty-handed and we were elated, but looking back it was our misfortune. We would have survived in Rusia and my husband would have been alive today.
I often wonder how a small incident can forever change your life and the life of your family. We stayed behind to be herded into the ghetto of Ludwipol. In June of 1943 the ghetto was liquidated and all the Jews were killed or sent to the gas chambers. My husband Naftali was killed in this action. I was told, that he hid at home, but was found and denounced by Ukrainian teenagers. The Germans shot him.
The next day, at night, I took my two small children, and ran to the adjacent forest. I had no place to go. It was dark when we entered the forest and it seemed to me that I heard some voices. They were far and close at the same time. I listened carefully, and discovered, to my relief that the voices came from a potato dugout. In this area, the peasants used to store potatoes in primitive cellars, located not far from the fields.
I slowly approached the dugout, I heard voices. They spoke Yiddish. It sounded like they were arguing. I slowly opened the heavy metal door in carefully descended into the total darkness. The place was full of people. I felt a heavy wave of perspiration and fear coming at me. Everybody jumped on me.
"This place is full. There is no more sleeping room. You'll have to go. The Germans will kill us. You have to leave." They screamed at me.
Shaken as I was, I was determined to save my children. I had to no place to go and so I stayed for the night. In the morning I decided to leave this inhospitable place and move on. We went deeper and deeper into the forest. We wondered aimlessly in the forest for two days, sleeping on the ground. On the third day we found another group of escapees from the ghetto and joined them.
At the beginning life was relatively easy. We collected berries, stole some potatoes from the fields, drank water from the stream and survived. As the winter approached life became unbearable. Although we built an underground dugout with a hole serving as the chimney for the bonfire, we were hungry and cold. To survive I started to beg. Like a beggar woman I moved to from village to village begging for food and clothing.
This was a remote area, where the Germans never set foot. Most people very nice but poor and little food to spare. I remember one Polish family that was very helpful to us. They were poor and had a blind child. They accepted my older daughter, Eva, as a nanny for the blind child. They lived in one big room with a dirt floor, a big oven and an assortment of flies. I remember how happy I was for my daughter. At least she slept in a warm room and had a bowl of soup, hot soup. A luxury we didn't even dream of. I was also lucky to place my younger daughter with a peasant family but I had to take her back when she developed a contagious fungus.
In miraculously survive and after the liberation that dream of survival turned into a nightmare. I was alone, with two little sick children, without the family, without the profession and without means to live. But I was a fighter . Imagine, my father, bless his memory be, he could never recognized his little Princess. I got a job as a nurse in a Russian hospital. And here another miracle happened. I met a nice Jewish doctor, whose wife was killed and I married him. Although he was much older than me he was a good father to my children in a very decent man.
Holocaust Survival Dream.
Of course I had a dream. I wanted to gather the shattered pieces, have a family, educate my daughters. Have a normal life. And you know what? I fulfilled my dream. Ten years after the war I fulfilled my dream. I had everything... and then everything went downhill. In 1956, after the Hungarian revolution, the Polish government opened the borders and the Jews started to leave Poland in droves. Everyday we were losing friends. My husband did not want to leave. He was very assimilated. " I am too old to leave, and start all over." He used to say, and so we stayed.
Then my older daughter, Eva, married and her husband insisted on leaving Poland. "This no future in Poland for Jews. We have to leave." He said. It was a tragedy for me. Seeing the young couple packing, selling their belongings, and preparing for the departure for Israel. This was my first chip from my shattering dreams.
Soon, my daughter arrived in Israel, settled down in Tel Aviv and was very unhappy and homesick. Life for them was a struggle. New language, strange country, new culture. Tremendous adjustments. I read her crying collectors and I cried myself. My world was falling apart and I was helpless.
When you get hit in the life, you are shocked. Little did I know that the worst was still to come. Soon another shock came my way. My younger daughter Regina finished medical school and married out of faith. I had difficulties in accepting this fact. It was a great heartache for me. I experienced sleepless nights fool of nightmares. Fortunately, life brings the aggravations and brings the consolations. Her husband, Janusz, turned out to be a very gentle man and a decent human being. Slowly, I accepted to the situation, and even became fond of my son in law. But as soon as things settled down a new disaster struck. My husband got sick.
My husband, Mieczyslaw, was such a nice fellow. He was a physician, a gynecologist, with extensive interests in life. He painted, loved music, played bridge. He was a devoted father to my daughters. When he was diagnosed with the Parkinson' disease I was devastated. There was no future for me in this world.
The disease advanced quickly and was very tough for me. I achieved my dream, and life made a mockery of me. He was so helpless, he could not walk, could dress himself. It was hell. After a few years my husband died. And little did I know, that the worst was about to begin.
Liberated from the daily chores I faced a big emptiness and loneliness. By now, all my friends left for Israel. My daughter had to two children and a nanny, felt threatened by me, and did not like me. I was lonely. One daughter was in the United States and the other daughter very busy with two children, her professional life and no time for me. But I was a survivor. I survived by learning to adjust, to accept the new situation. I lowered to my requirements and made new friends and somehow I settled down.
For me the worst was over. I adjusted and life became bearable but God thought otherwise. "Your ordeal is not to over." As soon as I started to breathe freely another blow came my way. Each blow was worse than the other. My daughter Regina got sick. Cancer, this dreadful disease got her and after a short illness she succumbed to cancer of their liver.
Where is justice in life? Why he does this happened to me? My daughter died at the very young age. She was all the 42 years old. She was young, had a loving husband, beautiful children, she was a noted physician. Life for her was worth living.
"Why he me?" I cried to God. " What else do you have in store for me? Could it get worse?" I lost a husband, a child, all my friends left. I was very lonely. Can it get worse? Life is cruel. When you are young, you are beautiful, and have everything: a husband, children, and health. All those things you lose when you are old and really in need. But our . Was a survivor, I accepted my fate and moved to the next disaster.
My older daughter, Eva, moved to America and I went to live with her. There I had my own room, my own television, and a small garden... But I was very unhappy I did not know the language, I had no friends and no money. In America without money you are nobody. In Poland I was somebody, because everybody knew my husband Dr. Engelberg. He delivered thousands of babies and I was his wife. In America I was nobody.
It was a strange situation. I had everything and enjoyed nothing. I was lonely and longing for my grandchildren left in Poland. What can be worse? With my luck things got to worse. I went back to Poland where I still had an apartment and a small pension after my husband. I went to my granddaughters wedding and disaster stroke. I fell from the stairs, detached my retina and lost the vision in the right eye. In addition a cataract lowered the vision of my left eye.
My daughter brought me back to America and here I underwent numerous by operations with limited success. Even in America they could not fix my detached retina. And each operation was a painful experience with little improvement to show for. I was losing my eyesight. I never thought aught did I will be so helpless. The same litany of complaints: no friends, no language, no money, plus no sight. I really reached the bottom.
Soon I received a letter with good news. My younger granddaughter Ivona was getting married. Despite my poor eyesight, my poor physical condition I decided to attend the wedding. Everybody was against it. I went anyhow. I was excited to return to Poland, to see the grandchildren, to participate in their happiness. I enjoyed every moment of it.
P.S. My mother-in-law never returned from Poland. She left with limited supply of medication, especially a heart drug Cardizem. When she decided to extend her visit we send her by mail additional Cardizem. At the border, looking for drugs, all the capsules were slit open and the contents spilled out. Panicking, my mother-in -law obtained a Polish substitute medication and died from overdose. She was buried in the Jewish cemetery of Legnica, adjacent to her husband. She was a survivor who took many hits the life, and succumbed to a trifle difficulty- lack of medication.
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