From May 8, 1945 to May 8, 2016

I am in Germany with the Russian Army since January. We are advancing westward along the Balkan Sea towards Hamburg. After crossing Germany from Danzig to Rostok all we find is women and children and abandoned villas. As we walk into one of those mansions I am accompanied by a young Russian soldier. The place was so beautiful, something I had never seen in my life, and I’m sure my friend had never seen it. I look around and say to him “How do you like it?” Being a dedicated Communist, he could not say he liked it, so he says “It’s no good!” “Why not?” I ask. “Because there’s no place to spit,” he replies.
After a year of service in Germany we were relocated to Asian Russia, in the Urals, and demobilized. We went back home by train through Moscow. According to an agreement between the Polish government and the Russian government, all Polish citizens were allowed to be repatriated to Poland. I arrived home in 1946, but by the time I returned the deadline for this repatriation had lapsed because my family did not want to leave without me. But the woman who was with us hiding in the forest had returned to her hometown and surprisingly enough the house she had left was returned to her. So we settled with her. And the neighbor to whom she had given all of her belongings before leaving returned them to her.
We had no intention of staying in Russia, so this woman found some way to allow us to join the next wave of refugees moving from east to west. We crossed the Polish border, and when we opened the doors of the freight cars in which we travelled, we saw some people with instruments going to the front of the consist. Ten minutes later we heard screaming and shouting coming from that direction and moving towards us. People were jumping into the freight cars and throwing the belongings of the refugees out. When they got to our car, my mother moved us to the back. But they threw all the belongings of our friend, everything that her neighbor had saved for her and returned, outside. We didn’t know at the time that when Jews returned to their homes in Cheltz were attacked by the local population and the local police and Communist authorities looked on and did not try to prevent it. Forty Jews in Cheltz were killed.
We finally arrived in Lodz, the second largest city in Poland. There we were contacted by the Brichah, the organization that the Jewish Agency gave the mission to move refugees from the east to the west. We were supposed to pretend that we are Greek Jews going home and did not understand the language spoken to us. That was the official explanation for us staying on the train: we had no intention of remaining in Poland where the land was soaked with our blood. We arrived in Breslau and from there we were escorted at night to the Czech boarder. The border guards made sure that any valuables that the refugees carried were removed, and we wound up in the town of Bratislava for a day or two. And then we were legally moved to Austria, arriving at Rothschild Hospital which was then the center of Jewish operations, facilitating the movement of Jews from the east. We were sent to the American Zone in Austria, a former Army base called Wegscheid. 
I soon discovered that someone I knew from before the war was in the same camp, and I went to visit him in Barrack 13. There I met, accidentally, Malka, who was visiting someone else. Many years later, one of the holocaust survivors in Pittsburgh, Harry Schneider, when telling me his story, said to me that he was in Wegscheid too. He was ten years younger, and I didn’t know him there. He brought me a photo of his class from the spring of 1945, and when I looked at it I realized that Malka was the young teacher.  
Meeting Malka was the most fortunate thing that happened to me after the war. We eventually married and stayed together fifty-two years until she passed away in 2007. We had two daughters and six grandchildren. Malka’s love for children was boundless. Right after the war she became a teacher or, as she would say if asked what her vocation was, “It’s helping children grow.” In time she earned a reputation as a very gifted educator from whom parents were getting advice and children were getting a warm relationship. Malka worked for about 25 years as the principal of a preschool in Queens, NY. After we retired we settled near our daughter in Pittsburgh, in Squirrel Hill, which was a place made for us where we felt at home from the first day we arrived. I got involved with the Jewish Community Center teaching Russian immigrants English so they could pass the citizen test, and Malka leading book reviews. After three years we were honored by the JCC for our contributions, introduced by Sheldon Ziontz who said “It is surprising that these people who came here only three years ago have made such deep roots in our community.” In reply I commented “You can only make deep roots where the ground is fertile.” 
Malka’s yartzeit on the Jewish calendar is the 19th of Iyar which this year falls out on the 27th of May. But the secular date is May 7, the day before the May 8 anniversary of the end of the Second World War. This year we mark that anniversary for the seventy-first time, and it is still surprising to me that this date is not marked on most calendars. But my family and I celebrated by lighting a candle in memory of those who fought and died so that we could be free. 


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