Compilation begun by Faithe Gottlieb, May-June 2002;
prepared for web by hm, July 5, 2002
The answers provided here are verbatim transcripts from answers Nina gave, taken from tape recordings (which ones?).
List of topics: religion, survival, ghettos, present effects of the war, Nazi sentiments, camps, after the war, comparisons.
Work to be done: figure out from which transcripts these answers came; add more answers from other transcripts; find other questions.
Were you religious before the war, and how did the Holocaust help to shape your faith today?
I was raised in a pretty orthodox home. I never paid to much attention to it because we didn't go to temples like him. We celebrated bar mitzvahs but it was not celebrated like here. But I do enjoy very much the traditional holidays, especially Passover because we always had a lot a lot of guests and is still something that I remember. I didn't like Yom Kippur so much even I because we had to fast, that wasn't the best part. Talking about during the war time naturally didn't have any all the synagogue or temples were burned very badly and I said in my letter incident I didn't see the flames but I saw how it looked after, and this was a point when my religious commitment was just going down. I just couldn't understand how God could allow how they treated the little babies and children. I said to myself many times that if I were beated up after or killed for it at least I can say something. This little child can say nothing; can not defend itself in no way. Why abuse it in such a terrible way, and that part of me --- and I said to myself, I don't know how god allows something to happen like that, and if I have to be very honest I don't know if I know the answer even today, but I when we had the family I decided to give the kids some kind of Lieden ?life and I decided to keep the tradition as much as possible, my husband he didn't care, but he said if you want it this way we will do that. My younger daughter keeps a little tradition, my older daughter doesn't. She does just not really structure religion; she said you have the religion that is in your heart. And this is the way she raised her own daughter, and my granddaughter and my granddaughter we talk about these things and we have conversations quite often. I do feel that she is missing something. And feel very sorry about that. And this is a different part of my life, I didn't go into it why it happened and now I tell her she is a big girl, and if you to really want to spread your beliefs in a different way, you are big girl and I am not going to tell you what to do you have to decide on your own. If you want to be Jewish, if you don't want it's fine with me too.
Do you blame God for what happened?
Thats a good question and I will answer very honestly. During the wartime, I wanted to be anything, but not Jewish. Anything, you just tell me things, animal, whatever, I dont want to pick, whatever. But after the war, it changed, it changed tremendously. If you asked me if Im very proud to being Jewish, I would have to think about that. Why? Because I went so much being Jewish. It was the only reason. I was prosecuted but I lost everybody who was so dear to me. So I just would think about that, but I wouldnt be able to turn to anything else. I am Jewish and Im going to die Jewish. And I stay Jewish. I was extremely angry. But my anger wouldnt do me any good.
What do you think enabled you to survive? Luck? Fate? Will? Strength?
I considered it much more as individual, individual case. I believe strongly in this and because I saw that so many times in front of me, and I, and somehow, someway, completely unexpected from people that are from Germany, that I didnt know any of those people, I cant at the moment (unclear) and I couldnt, I didnt have the power, I didnt, I wasnt smart enough, I wasnt aware of something like that I could allow myself to do it, nothing because this happened. Or my (unclear) ideas, what I decided to do and happened because I thought that I was forced to do it that way, and it was like a spur of a moment. Do it, or you lose. I didnt know that I had did it too, you know, because how would I know better than that. But I, you had to try, and I want everybody here, dont give up so easily just try, because you might win. I dont hope there is any in my situation, but its a part of it. Other people do it (unclear) it had to be like I said before, destiny. If I did something, I did subconsciously, maybe the survival was in me, but I was definite that I would not survive, you know. In one classes, you know I am survived and boy asked me you know if I write book about my experience. And so I said, I dont know maybe someday, Im getting too old for a lot of things. And so he says he has title for my book. And so I ask oh will be interesting I didnt even start and you have already title for me. He says "Ready to Die" is the book, and that was so true that if I ever would write book that would be the title.
I never was thinking that I would survive, never. I was taking chances. I wasn't taking chances just to survive, maybe sometimes I was I really cannot tell you exactly. The only thing I was thinking how to get out of this particular situation and this moment. And how whatever I decided to do it changed my situation, I didn't think about that. Whatever happened happens, that all. But I was living underground and I didn't have to think only about myself but I was committed to all this what they was trying to do. that was very difficult because I said to myself, okay I'm a ----, there was a question that was going on with my work, and didn't care even what was going on I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't caught because if I was caught they would find out. Not from me because each time not praying for anything just give me the strength I shouldn't be able weak, they shouldn't touch me. I said to this situation that in order to help myself I will say something, I said no you have to be strong strong strong, not to say anything you don't know anything whatever happens happens but you don't know anything about the underground because it was very dangerous when they find out. I decided definitely to escape by then because not only so much for myself anymore but for the underground because it was the only thing it this short period of time I had the purpose to live for and to do something. Because you know when you get to this situation that they then make that you don't care anymore as a human being you know so they treat you as a human being, you don't have anybody, so what is that? So here I had something left so I cherished this and if I had to give my life for it I was ready to do no question about.
How do these factors relate to the night that you almost died in the mass grave? Can you expand on that incident?
They put us in a row one after one and I really dont till today what happened to me that time, they was probably were thinking that I was shot to death but somehow when I hear the screaming yelling blood running around I fainted, and I really dont know how was I laying there and didnt realize what happened to me. When I realized already, and I still dont know if I am alive or I am dead, because everybody around me is all completely dead or still not completely dead by moaning by even sometimes some screams you know, but not very strong anymore because these people. And I started even to pinch myself, and to ask, to talking to myself whats going on with me now, but when I realize and I said to myself is this a death if you can feel something, if you can smell something, you can hear something, that was, so I realized that something is wrong with me, but what is wrong with me I have no idea and then I the smell of the blood is so strong, that I just woke me up or whatever you could call say and I said I have to run away from this place, I have to run away from this place. But I just couldnt, and I tried to stand up and I couldnt so I sat and I crawled in there some of them completely dead some of theyre still alive and suffering until they die eventually and I am just running Im just get for the longest time I couldnt run I couldnt stand up so I just crawling angainst these dead bodies I assumed that most of them were already by this time dieing or completely dead. And Im finally I got up and I started to run I dont know how I got the strength to run but I start to run and I have no idea how long I was running at that and it was okay. Then day and night and I was still moving trying to move away from the place. And should I go on but or what are we going to stop?
Did they think that you were dead?
They did assume that I was dead they assumed because they didnt went through these through the people and make sure that they were already dead like I said or you know some of them are not dead and if you call 911 like we do today most probably could be survived you know buy they didnt take that, they were glad when the job was over. They were shooting one after another and then the job was over they just walk over and left the place because they didnt get anymore because other people, Jewish people, they came and they had to throw them away to the ditches or places you know and burn the bodies, whatever, they were doing thats it, this was the system you know. Because they give it before we had to do it, but it was not done and they wanted to destroy and close this concentration camp completely. But this, what they did this time it was their idea was just, their plan was to close it completely and just empty it. Because they were afraid that when theyre losing the war and they retreating so fast so they would be all evidence and they didnt want to leave any evidence you know. And when the people are just burned or theres nothing left is nothing happened here, never existed never happened. But they couldnt because there were still so many evidence you know, but that I think that their idea their plan.
What were the conditions like in the Lvov ghetto? Sanitation? Food? Education?
Was it a sealed ghetto like many of the others?
What was the role of the Judenrat of Lvov?
Were you able to find bunkers or hiding spots?
What happened if you were caught without your armband?
Is it difficult for you to maintain trusting relationships?
Do you believe there is an answer to explain what happened?
In retrospect, what would you have done differently?
Do you feel guilty for having survived the war?
How are you able to forgive and move on? To lead a normal life?
Now a live a normal life as you could say, and this time I couldnt. I try to have it here. I try to speak at schools. Im very much interested in young people, and love all, I wouldnt say all of them, but theyre very important to me and I get along with them very nice I must say. Because not only because I am so nice, they are so nice. And I enjoy them very much. And I think, this is our future so in much as much invest in this, we can only gain by it.
How do you feel about present acts of genocide?
What are your sentiments regarding the Germans today?
Do you ever dream of revenge against the Nazis?
How do you feel about Holocaust deniers?
It was a lady who said, oh it was like to make them famous and important, and that was one of the way get importance. And you know for a moment I just freeze, I didnt know what to say and I said to myself, gosh if I could strangle I would do it you know, I really mean it, I got so angry that I really had to get hold of myself. And I said I dont want to see her anymore because she wanted to be friends with me or something, I dont want to see you any more I dont want you to come next to me because you know what you told me right now after all this evidence after all these things, if you cannot respect the memory of all these dead people, you're not a human being. And I walked away. Because after I think I would beat her up. It was terrible experience, it was just terrible. And then when I came home I was so shaken I sat and cried and cried and cried and say how is it possible that somebody could think that this didnt exist, that we made up a story just to be famous. To make a story by killing and these things, and you see the pictures and you see the books and people like me. I'm a holocaust survivor and when I tell you about that I hope you know thats true.
How do you feel about former friends who collaborated with the Nazis?
What were the conditions like in the Janowska camp? Was it a labor camp or a death camp?
When I came to Janowska I was completely alone much for a long, I was completely alone in the ghetto too so my feeling was what are they going to do now with us, was very very insecure it was almost from the first moment the Germans took us over. And whatever they will do they will do, theres nothing I can do about that just to follow their orders. The orders were a little bit, it was a chaos already going on, because we dont know absolutely anything but in 1942 on Stalingrad deep deep in Russia where it was you know the Winter time But we dont know anything naturally so we lived like we were living before with very unknowing of the next minute not next day but next minute would happen to us and taking to work, again very heavy work and very abuse and but every day look at me and they dont like me the way I look this morning and I was probably didnt look good at all so they take a gun and shoot me. So but one day, shall we get go to the killing already. They call separations so bad, and I personally was hoping that this, everyday, everytime, every moment is the last one, but somehow it was not the last one for me it was the last one for a lot of lot of people, especially elderly people they were some kids too some baby children, anybody who was not able to go to work or do something and maybe they felt they would still be able to work or do something it was guilt. But someday they came out with a different idea, not idea, a final solution, and as I mentioned before we absolutely dont know anything about that, the Final Solution is to kill the Jews as quick as possible and as many as possible because he Hitler said once that after Stalingrad, "I know Im losing the war, political war but I definitely wouldnt lose the war against the Jews." So they, one morning, very, very early in the morning they take us on the fields and they start to shoot.
How about daily life?
We don't have any regular schedule. Were getting up as very very early and theres like appel, how would I say it in ? roll call or something, and theyre counting us. And they put on one side and another side this one and they pick it out who can still go to work and then they changing their mind. It was a chaos like I said before, it was not very, back in the very first beginning when we were in ghetto, they were more organized here its, this one says something, (acting dialogue) oh this group goes to work, after they said now let them do something here, I mean around the place over there. And somedays they used to send us back to the barracks, you know, clean the barracks, you know even we had separate people who cleaned because that was already easy job compared to something else. And then the sickness already were going on, so go and see who the people who have to be taken out like typhus or something, take it out completely from this place. Because they dont want it to spread. So its, its, you never know, and then suddenly they got angry about something lets say, so they start to shoot, and I dont know how many people, five, six, ten, fifteen whatever they want. For them its like a game So we dont have any program or like today we will get up and say I hope I will do this and this and this and hopefully work some. Oh they stack us up and they put like herring together, you know. And its were all suffering terrible, but we dont communicate, because whatever we have to say to each other we would be repeating all what were going through. Once in a while, once in a while you could hear that somebody would say, Oh my God, how could it happen so this situation and I had it so good, or whatever. And whatever they had before even they didnt have good. And compared to this situation it was like a paradise, so the interaction was not at all. I just didnt talk at all, because I didnt know what to say. Any some of them had a mother, elderly mother, some of them had a child you know Yeah, some of them yeah, not too many. But they didnt know when it came to protect yourselves, they didnt know to protect the baby, the child, to protect the mother, and to protect themselves, they didnt know which way to go. So between these people because some of us just had good sleep you know, and when we were ready to fall asleep we were just woke us up and had to go to the appel. So its, its we were not treated as like as a human beings and by the same, by the end, I personally, I cannot say so much about somebody elses feelings but myself, I just started to feel that this way that maybe its happened something in our life that, that was coming to us. If we can be treated in this way, inhumane way, maybe it was something that we deserved. I started to think of a way to blame for the people who were doing to us, to myself. In all that I guess not to get completely crazy or whatever the reason might be.
Why did you and your husband decide to come to the US?
Oh that was, I did not want to go to America, I dont regret now. I was immigrating to go to Palestine because this time we dont have the (unclear) there. But on the way I got very sick (unclear) because we didnt have any papers, but on the way, and we are already in Austria, on now on the trains now to Salzburg, and then to Vienna, from Vienna we went to Salzburg, I dont know if we ever talked about this, this quite famous place in Austria (unclear) and I got very very sick, I got scarlet fever, I got meningitis, and one after another its almost year and a half now Im in the hospital. The group, they were ready to go. When not, I dont think of every one of them being stuck in Italy (unclear) so maybe they came to America. Not with us, because they went ahead of us because they were able to go and I wasnt. So when after, when I was recovering, we got the papers to America and I didnt want to go again, so my husband said youre not strong enough, we have the papers already (unclear) and this is the way we came to America.
Was the transition difficult?
No I didn't' actually experience anything, after the war I was very sick most of the time. I had meningitis and when we came to this country and it was very hard to establish ourselves because no language no special skills and my husband couldn't' get a job for a long time a couple month and we had to live on something.
What was your life like here?
I got through some collections I got a job, I was only three weeks in this country, it was something in the candy business. And I told them, they wanted me to handle the money, and I said know I couldn't' speak and I couldn't understand, nickel, dimes, and all this silver make and naturally I make mistake and the register wasn't good after so after three days they let me go. And that was very terrible experience, but then I got another one again in a candy business and then I stayed on the job for 12 years, and finally I managed the place. So it was difficult in the very first week the ----was much bigger and much more accommodating, they were doing a lot of beautiful baskets, and the baskets were very expensive. So I was anxious to learn how to make the ribbon, how to make the basket and all this, and somehow I was lucky probably, because I made it. So finally I became a basket maker so that was good. And from now on, as I said I was 12 years in this, it was the only work that I did, it was in New York City. And my husband got a job too, it was very very hard in the beginning, very hard and we didn't have a social life at all just work, work, work. My husband had to go to New Jersey it was like 2 hours one way and he had to get up at four o'clock in the morning in order to get there at six clocks in his job and then leave 4. So we hardly saw each other because I had different schedule. the place that I worked it was often from 9 to 10 so I had my schedule was going from 9-6 or from 1-10 so on Saturday we ---- because it was Jewish business and Saturday then were closed but after the sundown they used to open it so I used come in the winter time and 5-12. So I was trying to get all these hours, 50 or 55 a week to be able to work some extra money. But I was young and I was eager and ambitious and try very hard.
Was there still anti-Semitism here as well?
What was the experience like returning to Lvov?
Oh no no it was very little Jewish population because most of the population was killed. And some people didn't have even the chance to get there in time and died after the war, because some people were much further in the different places in Germany. because when I was in Russia so I was liberated, not completely liberated yet you understand, but I was liberated ahead of the rest of the people because the rest were still fighting and I was already liberated, they were still fighting and bombing and fighting, but we felt already the Germans are losing the war. So what impression can I think now this part of Ukraine has made on you? It was a beautiful city before the war, we had culture, opera, and museum, and universities, beautiful parks. But I think how it looks now. But I am very anxious to meet one of these days my brother in laws. It was bombed, it was terrible just terrible, for three weeks before Germans took it, when the war start, and after when the Germans took it completely then we were devoid -----1941 these bombs began all the time, and we met all the time because when were-----Germans. Were you ever in the Janowska part? We had the ghetto and after we had the concentration camp, Janowska, I think they destroyed it completely; they don't want to leave any trace, yes.
Why have you not gone pack to Poland or Russia, are you planning on it maybe?
I was talking with my husband many times, and he always say why why would you want to open your wounds again and again? Whom did you leave there, you don't know your own ---, you dont know even anything, all that youd like to do. And another thing, why would you like to leave this extra dollars that you have to spend there to these people that killing us? So he was pretty smart, and he had always proper answer for everything. And I said yes hes absolutely right. But now I dont know maybe because my daughter she thinks maybe would like to see the roots of where I grew up. So we talk about it but personally im very undecided. One way when I would love to go, I would love to see how it looks now, and how people live now, it would be something left yet this from what I remember. And then I said to myself, I dont know, maybe I would be even more hurt that I can realize. I really dont know. There so many questions that I many times ask myself and I dont have any answer. It makes me mad, you getting so old and so stupid.
Did you have confrontations with Poles after the war?
How do you feel about the repercussions that the Germans were left with after the war?
Do you believe that they were properly punished?
What do you think about the stories of other survivors?
Do you approve of the materials used to teach children about the Holocaust today?