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ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR
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I Almost Killed ...
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The Verdict

   

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PORTRAIT OF A SURVIVOR - LEON KIMEL

by Alexander Kimel

Some people survived the Holocaust because of their looks, connections, money or luck, my father, Leon Kimel, survived because of his innate pessimism and deep mistrust of authorities. My father belonged to the generation sandwiched between the insane violence of World War I and the immeasurable brutality of World War II. It was the "sandwiched generation" that suffered most during the Holocaust: they witnessed the starvation of their children, the burning their synagogues, the destruction of their families, the collapse of their world and vanishing of the shteitl.

Pessimism.
In the Ghetto, my father was known as the "Schwarzseher" the Pessimist. People in the street avoided him, because he mercilessly punctured their survival illusions. He did not trust the vague German hints that the killing is about to stop. Nevertheless my father's pessimism was an active type, always prodding him to look for escape roads.

In his quest for our survival my father developed thousands schemes and tried every avenue of salvation possible: he planned an escape to Hungary, joined an resistance group that finished with a great fiasco when our only carbine exploded, he found my sister a job as a cook for the Ukrainian Police post, found me job as a carpenter for the German Army, he was instrumental in building extensive underground shelters called bunkers….. And always he was on a lookout for a peasant willing to hide us.

Family Man:
Despite his pessimism, my father loved his family and was always ready to sacrifice his life for his children. During the last days of Ghetto (June 1943), when fear of death permeated the air, and emaciated people consumed with abandonment their last piece of bread; we left the ghetto to hide in the forest. My sister Luba, refused to leave pleading:-"There is no hope to survive in the forest. The winter is coming. I rather die here."

We hardly settled down in the forest when a messenger brought us a letter from Luba, pleading - "Please come and take me out. We live here like inside of a volcano, with the Angel of Death above us. Please come."

Without a moment of hesitation, my Father returned to the Ghetto, and twelve hours later hell erupted, people were shot and the houses burned. The liquidation started. My family survived because of the ingenious, double-decker bunker. The first chamber, full of dirty clothing, was discovered by the Germans but the second bunker full of people, stayed intact. The next night my Father forcefully pulled out my sister from the bunker, and disguised as peasants going to a wedding party, they arrived in the forest.

Saved again by pessimism.
Toward the end of the war we were hidden by a Polish farmer and when the Russian Army came close to the village the farmer left with the Germans. We were left with a two-week supply of food. Unexpectedly, the Germans started a counteroffensive and pushed the Russians back a few hundred miles.

Next day the German Military Police took over the empty farm with us hiding in a bunker under the barn. Our starving odyssey started and we survived because our Father immediately introduced a draconian rationing system: half a glass of water and a piece of bread. This was all daily nourishment we got for three months. We lost lots of weight and hibernated like bears, not moving for days to preserve energy. We frequently lost consciousness, but retained the will to live, to see the Liberation Day.

Looking back I often ask myself why did I survived when millions perished. It is hard to believe that I survived because of my Father's pessimism.


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alex@kimel.net

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