Note: For the first time since I embarked on writing David’s story, I have no corrections to last week’s narrative! Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this.
The Soviet army continued its march into Germany. David’s unit was trying to establish a strategic position on an island in the middle of the wide Elbe River in Magdeburg. The Germans and Russians exchanged continuous machine gun fire across the river, as the Germans tried to hold the line on the advancing troops. The Soviets, having successfully gotten some soldiers to the island in the middle, needed to establish communications with the beachhead. Many soldiers attempted to bring communication wire across to the designated spot. They each failed, many died in the attempt. Though his commanding officer was reluctant to assign David the job since he liked and valued David, he had no choice. It needed to be done.
David waited until dark. He lay down flat, on his stomach, in a small wooden row boat. He set up the spool of wire at the back of the boat so it would unroll as he paddled. He propelled the boat with his hands and kept his head down, as best he could. He looked up every so often only to make sure he was heading the right way. He heard bullets whizzing by. He kept going. He made it to the island successfully, and connected with the others. Mission accomplished!
Now he just had to make it back. He still had the cover of darkness. He got back in the boat, laying as flat as he could while still able to paddle with his arms. Machine gun fire continued to be exchanged. David prayed as he paddled. He made it back to shore and emerged from the boat.
When he got back to the trench, he took off his heavy overcoat. He looked it over and saw that there were bullet holes through the pleat in the back. His coat had a gathering of material that ran down the back. Bullets had passed through it cleanly, leaving him unharmed. David believes that God was looking out for him.
The war grinded on, with the Soviet army making slow progress. They crossed the Elbe but were still in Magdeburg when David heard the sound of artillery fire and the rumble of tanks. As a communications officer, he was about to call in an air strike. He was told, though, that it was the Americans. American troops were closing in from the other side.
David described the joy of the two armies meeting. The soldiers did not share a common language, but they communicated effectively enough. The Americans supplied the chocolate, the Russians brought the vodka and they celebrated. Chocolate never tasted so sweet. Words were not necessary. David recounts this with a broad smile on his face. The long, arduous, painful war was finally at an end.
Rather than wait for everything to get sorted out, David took fate in his own hands. He didn’t know what plans the Soviet army might have for him and he didn’t want to find out. Though he had managed to survive the ordeal to that point, he was well aware of the anti-Semitism that ran rampant in the Soviet army, and Soviet society as a whole. He just wanted to get back to what was left of his family. He went AWOL (absent without leave). He rode the rails back to Lodz, where Berl and Batya were now located.
David and his father had devised a method for coding letters so they kept each other informed of their whereabouts. David knew that Berl and his sister were now in Lodz so he made his way there. Since he was AWOL, he needed to keep a low profile, and the trains were packed, so he rode on top of the train, only coming down to stand between the cars when a tunnel approached. David had an address for his family, and he found his way to them. Though they had endured many losses, the three were relieved and grateful to be reunited. Other survivors had no one.
Berl gave David a pair of pants that were too big for David’s lean waist. Fortunately, he had a belt. Berl took David’s uniform and stashed it under the window sill in their apartment. David put on civilian garb and tried to escape notice. Today he wonders if his uniform would still be in the hiding spot.
Now they had to make plans. Where were they to go? It wasn’t an option to stay in Poland, there was nothing for them there. Berl and David wanted to go to the United States. Two of Berl’s brothers, Ike and Willie, were already established there, having left Iwie long before the war. Berl had been a successful businessman before, he looked forward to the opportunities America offered.
Batya had met a fellow partisan who she planned to marry, and they wanted to go to Palestine (in 1945 the state of Israel had not yet been created). They wanted to be part of establishing a Jewish homeland.
Of course, getting to either of those destinations, the United States and Palestine, was not a simple task. Their first stop on their respective journeys was a displaced person’s camp.
Next week: The DP camp experience and meeting Paula.
4 thoughts on “The War Finally Ends”
In 1939, my father was a happy 16 year old enjoying a good life and friends and family before hell was unleashed upon him. His brother and then his mother and younger sister were killed. His older sister was taken to and rescued from a concentration camp. He had endured inhuman conditions, had fought back and killed enemy German soldiers. Almost everything he knew had been destroyed. His former friends, relatives-aunts, uncles, cousins-were almost all dead. He would never get to see their graves. His home, hometown, country, nearly the entire civilization he had known no longer existed. He had to find a way to somehow overcome what he had been through.
But he was alive. Somehow, none of the bullets or artillery shells had found him. He emerged with a strong faith in God, believing that God had kept him alive, that he was supposed to have lived. He still had his father whom he so admired and his dear sister Batya.
David was now 22 years old and it was time to start life over again.
Linda, thank you for documenting this story. You have done this with skill and love and I know how much work it has been to document all of the details that time tries to hide away.
When I was a little girl dad would tell me these stories in just tiny bits at a time and in no particular order. When I was old enough to really get it he wasn’t talking about it. Your blog has helped me to put it all in a timeline that makes sense- thank you for that. I’m so glad that he is still able to recall it all and is willing to share. His survival story is truly remarkable and it still amazes me how he has his faith and such a positive outlook on life despite it.
I’m glad you are finding it helpful. It is a remarkable story and it amazes me that he was able to keep faith and remain positive.
I remember these stories well, I heard them all as a young child…although some of my recollections may differ from the reality. The story of my dad on the boat is a special one for me. It was an example my dad shared of his belief in miracles…and it cemented mine. Believing in miracles is a gift…thanks dad.