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ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST UNDERSTANDING & PREVENTION

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THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING

by Alexander Kimel

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In two short weeks Hitler conquered Poland and gave half of it to Stalin, although for short time only. Our town was annexed to Russia and overnight it changed drastically. Gone were the blue uniforms of the Polish police, gone was Tomaszewski with his Volunteer Fire Department, gone was the Town Crier reading in halting voice the proclamation of the Mayor. Even the Polish Mayor was gone.

Red became the prevailing color; red flags were fluttering in the wind, red banners were strung over the streets, the militia patrolling the streets wore red armbands. A "Red Paradise" was swiftly established.

People were glad that they avoided the German occupation and the expectations run high. The poor people expected that the Communists will take away the resources from the rich and distribute them equally to the poor. An equalization of the wealth. What happened was that the Russian took away from the rich and from the poor alike, and the equalization of the poverty took place.

In some respect's life improved for many people. The establishing an extensive bureaucracy created employment; free education created a cultural boom. Only after the Communists started to drain the meager resources of the poor society, the "Workers Paradise" turned sour.

The rubble, with little buying power, was declared on par with the Polish currency, the zloty, and the town was flooded with Russian soldiers on a buying spree. A Russian soldier walked into a watchmaker store, asked for the price of watch and bought a dozen of watches. A Russian officer that walked in to buy a piece of chocolate, walked out with a half of the store.

After a while, it dawned on the merchants that there must be a shortage of goods in Russia, and the goods sold were not replaceable. Suddenly shortages developed. Merchant hid the goods and a black market developed. The Russians clamped down. A neighbor of ours was sentenced to five years of prison for hiding ten lemons. Stalin believed that all the economic and social problems of a society can be solved with the proper dosage of terror.

Soon the Workers Paradise featured stores with empty shelves, long bread lines and ample terror. Stalin's was a genius in a revolutionary changing of reality. All the problems were easily solved with changing of the meaning of words: tyranny was called democracy, servitude was called freedom, and lack of merchandise was called abundance.

At schools, teachers asked the first graders to pray to God for candy and when the results were negative they prayed to Stalin and got the much desired candy. When you pray to "Batko Stalin"- Father Stalin your wishes are coming true, the scared teachers told the trusting kids.

The dictionary changes were accomplished with a few five-year prison sentences. The Russians introduced a modular justice system. A five-year prison sentence was the minimum base sentence, followed by ten, fifteen or twenty years. People learned to keep their mouths shut.

The ongoing revolution was accomplished by random use pervasive terror, coupled with relentless propaganda and helped with taxation. In an ingenious way, the Communists used taxation to change the society. The so called rich people were simply "Nationalized," that means that they were taken away their businesses and driven out from their houses. The poor merchants were taxed to death and forced to abandon their evil ways of making a living by trading. Taxation without mercy sealed the revolution.

The Communists authorities used the Polish tax records to meter out tax adjustments going back ten years. "You cheated the Polish authorities, by unde3paying taxes, the Proletarian state you can't cheat. We are too smart." They doubled tripled and quadrupled the back taxes, and the small storekeepers went out of business.

Afterwards the Communists adjusted the religious life of the populations by putting a heavy tax burden on the churches and synagogues. Many small synagogues closed down.

Soon, serious shortages developed and Shlojme the Town's Joker used to say we are going to live like on permanent holiday. We will be dressed like for the Purim Carnival and eat like during Yom Kippur fast.

The relentless Communist propaganda declared that people in Podhaitse are living a very happy life. I myself discovered by coincidence that there is a grain of truth in this statement. When shortage developed people started to panic buying of all goods that appeared on the empty shelves, One day I was passing in front of a store when a shipment of salt arrived. Immediately a long line of people was formed, with me at the head of the line. When I was finally admitted to the store, the salesman asked me for the bag. "You have to bring your own bag, we don't have bags."

After a moment of hesitation I pulled down my shirt, and using the sleeves, tied a knot around the collar, and presented my improvised bag to the salesman. Then, I watched with pride how my shirt filled up with white, crispy salt. Elated, I brought home a full shirt of salt . . and I was proud and happy. It looks like shortages of good and foods do created happiness.

Soon, shortages of bread developed. It was unbelievable that in the Ukraine, with is black rich soil, the bread basket of Poland, there can be a shortage of bread. But the shortage were there, and it was real. Lines were forming from 5 o'cklock in the morning. Before going to school, I had to stand in line, to pick up a half of loaf of bread. Fortunately, my father taught me a trick that cut down my early rising to every second day.

There were two bread lines, one in front of the bakery and the other inside the store. My trick was to get the half loaf of bread at the counter , hide it under the arm, and get back to the end of the line, to get another half a loaf of bread. Net day I could sleep longer, and I was happy.

Afterwards, the Communists increased the dosage of the senseless, unpredictable terror, through resettlements to Siberia. At night, the victims got a knock at the door and a half an hour later they were on the way to the railroad cars with the chimneys, taking them on a thousand mile journey to Siberia.

The selection process of the victims was totally unpredictable. With the first transport went the Polish settlers and with them the father and the family of the new Communist Mayor - Erde. Moses Erde had an unusual profession for a Jew. He was a beekeeper who bought a parcel of land from a Polish settler. This land deed qualified him as Polish settler, an "unreliable element," to be frozen to death in Siberia.

Our Mayor, his son was, a Communist that served time in the Polish Concentration Camp - Bereza Kartuska. He valiantly tried to get his family released, but to no avail. The whole town watched how he dejectedly accompanied his father on the ride to the chimney wagons. One thing I have to say about the Russian bureaucracy, it was orderly and without imagination. All resettlements took place only on Friday night, and if they didn't find the victim's home, they were safe, no bad feelings. They could assume their regular life on Saturday morning, no questions asked. The "resettled" people were given half an hour to pack their belongings and driven by wagon to the railroad station, to the train called "Echelon". The train comprised of red freight cars equipped with black iron wood stoves. The people called them "Chimney cars." The "Chimney Cars" arrived usually on Friday afternoons and soon it became a habit for people to sneak in to the railroad station to check if the "cars with the chimneys," did arrive. One Friday morning my father asked me to go to the railroad station to look for the chimneys. I found them. I saw a long row of brown cars with the round metal chimneys sticking out from the small windows. The "Echelon" the train was ready for the victims; that night we did not sleep at home.

This night the KGB struck out and hit the refugees from Western Poland, the part of Poland occupied by the Germans. The misplaced and impoverished, group of people wanted to return home to their families and refused to accept Russian passports. They wanted to leave the Red Paradise, this was their crime.

Soon our term came. Our family owned a big store located in the middle of the town, next to the marketplace. We owned a two-story building, one of the few two-story buildings in Podhaitse. The first floor was taken up by the retail and wholesale store sections, and on the second floor were our living quarters.

One day a group of people, forced their way through the closed store and declared that they are the "Nationalization Committee" The group was headed by a neighbor, Josel Shechter. He assembled the whole family in the bedroom and informed us that we are being nationalized, that means that all business and personal property are taken over by the state. Each member of the family is allowed to take two pairs of shoes, two suits two shirts, etc. All other personal belongings, all furniture and the store itself are nationalized and belongs, from now on, to the Socialist State.

My mother, broke down and started to cry. "For twenty years we worked day and night, now we are thrown out on the street like dogs. Why? I ask you why? Aren't we human beings?"

Josel Schechter was our neighbor's son and my mother's schoolmate. He never married, and supported by his old father, he never worked a day in his all life. Now, he was a big shot, advising the Russians how to exploit the newly conquered territories.

My mother turned to her old schoolmate. "Josel, you know how hard we worked. We worked from 5 o'clock in the morning to 12 o'clock at night. Are we entitled something for our labors?"

"You are bourgeois and you are being nationalized," came the stiff answer from Josel Shechter. "And besides, you are slandering the Proletarian State with you insinuations of injustice done to you."

"Josel, I am asking only for my personal belongings, some dresses, underwear and stockings I wore. That's all that I am asking for." Cried my mother.

We started to collect the meager belongings, when Josel observed that my father picked up a wedding ring from the night table and put it on his finger.

"Put the ring back. You are not allowed to take any jewelry," barked Josel Schechter. "But this is my wedding band, am I not allowed to keep my wedding band?" Objected my father.

"You didn't have it on your finger and you can't take it now. . . That's the rule."

"Josel, you know that we were married for twenty years. Your Father attended our wedding. This is s really his wedding ring. Let him keep it," pleaded my mother.

"Nothing doing," answered Josel, "I have to stick to my instructions. Please hurry up we still have other stops to make."

Crying, my mother pulled off her own wedding band and threw it into the drawer. "We were married for twenty years, we don't need golden rings to prove it."

In the middle of the winter we were thrown out of our house without a place to live. "Tough luck," commented Chairman Shechter, "for twenty years you exploited the poor people, I feel no mercy for you." My hard working parents became exploiters and the freeloaders like Josel became the exploited workers. Another adjustment of the dictionary.

Luckily, the Russian officer that took over the apartment, had more heart than the Jewish neighbors. He let us live in an unheated empty store back room, until we find a place to live.

Luckily, the Russian officer that took over the apartment, had more heart than the Jewish neighbors. He let us live in an unheated empty store back room, until we find a place to live.

In a few weeks the whole family left Podhaitse and moved to another city - Rohatyn. There nobody knows us and will get rid of the stigma 'Bourgeois' that is haunting us here.


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