This story of my life is dedicated to my children.
And now here is my story:
I went to a German kindergarten and then to a German highschool. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, anti-Semitism flourished in Europe, and my schoolmates began to harass me by calling me "dirty Jew", my parents took me to a Hebrew school "Ivrit" in Riga. After graduating in 1939, I went to the Jewish Vocational school.
In 1940 the Soviet Union took over Latvia. In June of 1941, after the war broke out, I left Riga for Russia with my school. My older brothers assured me, that they would be given a truck from their work place to evacuate their families and our parents to Russia. We all were so naiv and thought, the war will be over in a couple weeks, and we will return to Riga safe and sound. This came as a result of the Soviet propaganda that was telling the people, that the Soviet Union is the strongest country in the world and they will defeat Germany in a couple weeks. Unfortunately, my brothers never got the promised truck and all our family (10 people all together), except my two older brothers and myself, remained in Riga. Later, approximately in October 1941, they all were taken to the Riga ghetto and killed during the actions in the Rumbula forest by the German Nazis and their Latvian collaborators.
I had to go through many difficulties, such as hunger and extreme frost. My Russian was very poor then, since I spoke only Yiddish, German or Latvian and almost no Russian at all. A train brought my schoolmates and me to a place not far from the city of Yaroslavl in Russia. From the railroad station we walked about 30 – 40 miles to a kolchoz, a collective farm, where we had to work in the fields without any payment, for food and shelter only. And the food was mostly milk and potatoes. It was our luck that a lady from Riga in our group was an excellent cook and she prepared for us many different dishes made out from potatoes.
In the fall of 1941, while working at the farm, I became very sick with dysentery (gastroenteritis) and was taken to a local county hospital. There I met a doctor from Riga whom I new earlier, and thanks to him and a new medicine, just discovered, I became well. But I was so week that barely was able to walk.
Before the winter of 1941 – 1942, I was sent to vocational school in the city of Kostroma. I was 17 years old at that time, without any experience in life. At my parents home I was a very "sheepish" boy and did not know much about life. Suddenly, being torn away from the warmth of a carrying home and loving parents, I felt lost in life and did not know what to do and how to survive. And I was very lucky to be surrounded by good people. These good people gave me their warmth, so needed in such an extreme situation. They tried to help me in any possible way and by giving me good advice on how to survive in such extreme situation. In the cafeteria of the Vocational school, they gave me a little extra to eat, at the dormitory and the school, they gave me a little better closing to keep me warm. It was a very cold winter with a lot of snow and it wasn’t easy to survive in the pure closing we were given.
When in 1942 I was mobilized in the Soviet Army, several nice women from the schools staff prepared some food for me and even baked some pastries to take with me. When saying good-by, they shed some tears and wished me good luck. They knew I had no one to see me off and to say good by to me in a moment, when I went to war. No one could know who will survive and who will not. Unfortunately, I do not remember the names of these nice Russian women anymore, but their warmth will forever be in my heart.
When I arrived in the Latvian regiment, I was very lucky to meet my oldest brother, whose whereabouts I had no knowledge. This came as a surprise to me and I was very happy to meet him. But he was the one, who passed to me the very sad news, that he could not get the promised truck, and that his wife and child, our other brothers wife and child, our parents and grandma remained in Riga. This was bitter news for me, because I understood, that they could not survive and that I was unable to do anything to help them.
I saw my brother only once and for only one hour. The very next morning he was sent to the frontline and was killed in a battle a few weeks later.
In the army I also met many people from Riga, some of whom I knew before, who gave me good advice how to survive and go on.
After treatment in a hospital and recovery, I was sent to a unit behind the front line. Then, while serving in the army after the war, among other duties, I was responsible for overlooking the cemeteries of fallen soldiers as well as the Rumbula cemetery of Nazi victims in Riga. There Jews, prisoners of war, other victims of the Nazi regime, and my family members among them (7 people out of 10), where killed. I’m often thinking, what horror went through the minds of these poor innocent, unsuspecting people, when they were taken and forced to march to the forests of Rumbula and Bikernieki to be shot to death, only because they were Jews. That was a crime against humanity, which barely can be forgiven.
Now their names are in the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and our family’s photo is in the US Holocaust Museum in Washington. That’s why I often went to the cemetery, put down flowers of remembrance and felt closer to my loved ones.
I served in the army for 30 plus years and was discharged with honor in the rank of lieutenant colonel. For merit in battle and irreproachable service, I was rewarded 1 order and 14 medals. I was the only Jew in all the recruiting offices of the Latvian republic, and during all the years of my service was never offered a promotion, despite of being one of the most experienced and knowledgeable officers in my field. Many of my colleagues and even my superiors often were asking my opinion and advice on different issues regarding our work. Some of them used to call me "a walking encyclopedia". Only when the department I was working at, was split in to two, and we were only two officers there, I was promoted to the position of head of the new department.
For 3 years we were attempting to leave the Soviet Union, but were refused permission, without giving any reason. We wrote many complaints (23 all together) to officials of different offices about the refusal, but without any success and explanation. When after tree years of struggle, we finally were permitted to leave, we had the right to take with us only two suitcases per person and to exchange 117 dollars per person and were deprived our pensions. And so we came to the United States with $ 351 for three of us. These were all our assets. And thanks to wariest Jewish organizations in Vienna and Rome, we were able to make it. And here, in the US, we were able to survive thanks to the help from the government and Jewish organizations. These memories of a soldier and survivor should remain for many years to come, so that the future generations would know, what their predecessors had to go through in life.
Now, since 1984 I, together with my lovely wife for 50 plus years, children and grandchild reside in the US. I worked very hard to learn English and was lucky, that was able to learn the language quick. Now we are helping newcomers from the former Soviet Union to adjust to the new life here. We volunteered as interpreters and translators for the Jewish Federation and for the Jewish Family Services as well for the newcomers. We also used to drive these people to college tests and doctor appointments. And we tried to help them in any way we could. For several years I was on the board of directors of the Jewish Federation of our County, representing the new Americans. Now I’m a member of the advisory board of the Housing Authority and a volunteer-interpreter for the Police Department.
And we all are very happy to be citizens of our new country and are enjoying our active lives here.
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