R. Mandelbaum (Buenos Aires)
In A Hideout [fragments]
I, our 65 year-old father and my older sister, we were hiding for one year and a half at a peasants farm, not far from Węgrów. In the summer and in the winter, ee were laying in the attic of a barn, suffering horrible hunger and freezing cold. During the first three months the peasant managed to squeeze out all our money and when we had nothing more left – he ordered us out. Each day they pressured us: “Get out of here! How long to you want to stay here? So many Jews have been finished off, but you still want to live?!”. No day went by without them telling us about some Jews getting killed, about their hideouts being detected. “How long do you want to stay here? Go away, to the forest!”. That’s how they tortured us all the time; they gave us no food. The only reason they didn’t kick us out was that we still had a house which we promised to sign over to them, as soon as it will be possible. We promised them, that they would lack nothing, as long as they continued to give us shelter.
When the Germans started to look with renewed urgency for the Jewish hideouts, the peasant told us to leave for a few days, and to go to the forest, until the situation calms down. My father begged him to let us stay at least until May, but to no avail. Having no choice we had to leave – without clothes, without shoes – in freezing cold. On January 25, 1944, in the middle of a dark and freezing night, we left, dragging our feet behind us. We were physically exhausted – literally skin and bones. We moved on with effort. I held my father up, holding him like a small child. He had no more strength to move, he continued practically on all fours. That’s how we moved through the night. When we reached the forest, we sat down to rest.
Dawn was coming, and we all were frozen stiff and covered with snow, we hugged each other in order to keep warm. My father lay his poor head on my knees and I saw tears in his eyes. I was heartbroken but I was unable to save him. He was the last one who survived from our entire family and we had hoped to save him until the end of the war, so that we could see together better days. But now he was dying in front of us. Our pain and sorrow were great – but there was absolutely nothing we could do for him. We each had a piece of bread with us but our hunger died down under the strain of emotions.
In the meanwhile, it became even colder, after the rest we felt the cold even more painfully. Our father turned to us crying: he felt the approaching end and he was afraid that his body would be left at the mercy of wild beasts.
That day, there was a hunt in the forest; we heard shots. Next day, we decided to go back to our peasant. But father had no more strength left. My sister and I, we wanted to carry him but we were also too exhausted. Our father begged and pleaded with us: “go alone, save your young lives! Live to see Hitler dead, avenge our murdered family!”. We kissed him for the last time and we went ahead.
My heart turned to stone, my thoughts were with my father, I had very bad conscience. Perhaps, I should have disregarded his pleas and stayed with him? How can one abandon someone in the forest; your own father at that?! I tried to get back to him, but I was lost. I will never know how did my father die….