While an adherent of Zionism, as a member of the working proletariat I also believed in communism. It didn't occur to me then that the two ideologies were incompatible. I had no inkling that Zionism was banned in the Soviet Union. The information on Stalin's bloody rule, the interminable purges, executions, the unspeakable suffering of countless millions in the gulags, wasn't available to me. I had no idea of the vast economic disparity between the privileged classes and the downtrodden, struggling masses. I only knew the theory of communism with its doctrine of true equality, and saw it as a salvation of the poverty stricken oppressed working class. It was only during and after the war that I learned, to my immense disappointment, how this ideal was perverted in the Soviet Union and the barbaric inhumanity that resulted. There existed a flagrant inequality in fact.

In 1935 or 1936, Sarah left for the U.S. and soon after Dachel and her family moved in with us (Grandfather). Sarah and Joe had met in the early thirties, a courtship developed and they fell in love (with each other). Joe was related to Dachel's husband -Moishe. Joe lived in Mukatchevo and made frequent visits to Verecky. Sarah's plan was to become established in the U.S., come back home, marry Joe and then both would leave for America. She returned in 1938, married Joe, left and Joe left Europe for the U.S. in the spring of 1939 and thus narrowly escaped becoming a statistic in the Holocaust. At the time of his departure from Prague the Germans were already there. I was fond of Joe. He was a decent, kind and honest person, a man of unimpeachable character .

My grandparents had seven children, three male and four female offspring. They were, in age order: Harry, Lewis, Anne, Malkah (my mother), Mayer, Dachel and Sarah. Uncle Harry, Lewis, Aunt Anne left for the U.S. before I was three years old and Aunt Sarah departed in 1935 or 1936. Grandfather was offered the opportunity to come to live in the U.S. which he was reluctant to do as he learned that his children deviated from the orthodox tradition. Another reason was his hesitation to leave the place where Grandmother was buried. Nevertheless he asked the rabbi for his opinion and was advised not to leave and thus he declined.

Aunt Dachel's family consisted of her husband, Moishe, daughters Bashia and Chayah. Chayah died at age three or four from pneumonia. Uncle Moishe was a traveling salesman. He had a partner. They owned what passed for a car. It was an old, broken down jalopy which worked fine downhill. It functioned well uphill too, providing it was pushed. I can't recall what it was that they were selling.

In 1938 Grandfather was compelled to retire as standing on the scaffold made him dizzy. Uncle Moishe at the same time quit traveling. It seems his business was no longer profitable and so both men were deprived of income. Naturally, this resulted in a lower living standard. As the American relatives helped out with a few dollars every now and then the food, although poorer in variety, was adequate but not abundant. The fact that I had a powerful appetite didn't help matters. More often than not I walked away from the table only partially satiated. This was mitigated to some extent by tips I received from customers enabling me to augment my diet.

Our American relatives also helped by sending clothing parcels once every year to my parents as well as to Grandfather.

Young men of military age, prior to appearing before an army commission to determine their fitness for army service, went into an all night rampage just for fun. Among the mischievous pranks they played was waking people in the middle of the night to suggest that they go to take a leak. One old Jew had been observed going to the outhouse located in the back of the house at midnight to urinate. To make it more convenient for him, the boys picked up the outhouse, carried and placed it next to the front door of the house. I can imagine the amazement when upon opening the door he found himself in the latrine.

Like a few other enlightened communities, we had our own village fool (mentally retarded). As a form of amusement, some of my peers taunted him. In vain did he plead to be left alone. It was to no avail. One day I witnessed such a scene. It was sad to watch. My attempt to persuade them to quit produced no results. This poor man was too retarded to have the sense to just walk away. What finally did produce the desired result was the good, well-deserved thrashing one of the taunters, the worst offender, received from the retarded man's brother.

One day, when I was about eight or nine, while we were bathing in the river, some peasants brought their horses to be washed. One of my peers, who was naked, asked for and received permission to sit on the horse and lead it into the water. As soon as he mounted, the horse turned around, took off, ran at a fast gallop through the main street and into its stable, with the poor naked boy holding on to the mane for dear life, with super human strength. His embarrassment was such that for a long time afterwards he refused to leave the house.

When Hitler assumed power in Germany in 1933, we had a sense of foreboding. While no one could possibly foresee the catastrophe that ensued, it was clear from the ideas he promulgated in his book entitled "Mein Kampf" (My Fight) as well as in his harangues. We felt uneasy. It was obvious that he hated Jews, Gypsies, colored peoples, homosexuals, socialists and the handicapped. Nor did he display any great affection for the Slavs. They too were considered a subhuman race. Before he came to power, he and his followers were seen as an innocuous lunatic fringe. No one in his right mind would have expected that Hitler could turn so many millions of his countrymen into bloodthirsty savages. The Germans were considered a civilized people. It was deemed infeasible that a nation that produced so many luminaries in the fields of science, literature and art could sink into the unfathomable depths of depravity which so many of them did. Hitler openly declared his aim to rule the world, and we knew that if he wasn't stopped, Czechoslovakia would be one of the first victims. However, in our naivete we were firmly convinced that our friends would not allow the realization of his dreams. Besides, we were well equipped militarily, our defense industry providing us with an abundance of modern armaments of the latest vintage, and our borders with Germany were well fortified. We were part of a so called "Small Entente" being bound in defense treaties with Yugoslavia and Rumania. We also had an understanding with Britain and France which we believed provided that they would come to our aid if our security was threatened. Our friendly relations with the Soviet Union, the ancient enmity between Russia and Germany, plus the fact that the two ideologies were so antipodal led us to count on the help from that quarter as well. And so we were lulled into what later turned out to be a false sense of security.

     PREVIOUS PAGE                                                                                                                                    NEXT PAGE



1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12    13    14    15    16    17

Grandfather, Boris, Dachel, Moishe and Bashia


Boris Segelstein