Pinsk (Poland), Airtau (Siberia, Russia)
This is the story of Mr. Sam Biegun as told to Mr. Arthur Kirsch on 02/15/1983.
Sam Biegun was born in December 1932 in the city of Pinsk, Poland. He was the youngest of three children and along with his parents and siblings, he also lived with his grandparents. His father was a cabinetmaker and worked in a carpentry shop. Pinsk was a town of around 50,000 people of which 35,000 were Jewish. He lived in a very religious home and was in close contact with his cousins and parents’ siblings. He remembers hearing anti-Semitic comments and incidents of violence against Jews at a very young age, even before the Nazis arrived.
In the summer of 1940, Russian soldiers came to Pinsk and informed Sam and his family that they would be transported to another place. They were not told why but that they would only need to pack a few things because the place they were going to had everything they needed. They were put on a freight train and traveled on that train for four weeks. They were given stale bread and hot water and were not allowed to leave the train and if they did, they would be shot. After four weeks of being carried around like cattle, they arrived in a small Siberian town and from there they were taken another 100 miles by truck to another town by the name of Airtau. The soldiers told them to get off here and then the soldiers left, without any directions or help. They later found out they were sent there due to Sam’s cousin being a political “enemy”. The people of the town were also not native residents but sent there right after the Russian revolution. The Bieguns stayed with one such family for close to a year
After about a year or so, the Bieguns got their own one room home in which seven people stayed for four years. They planted potatoes on their land and would store them in a cellar and eat potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday during the winter. Also around this time, they wrote a letter to the government asking for their freedom to leave. After a long time, they got a letter back saying they were free to go but they still needed money for the passage home. Sam’s father and mother wrote to their brothers and sisters asking for help. They started a collection fund to try and raise the money for the family to come back to Pinsk and before they could collect enough money, the Nazis gained control of Poland. Shortly after this, the Russian government came to Airtau and took Sam’s father away to a labor camp 2,000 miles away. They were allowed to write letters to him and Sam stayed in contact with his father during the war. Sam, his brother and sister, his mother and grandparents stayed in that little Siberian town during World War II. The last letter from Poland told Sam and his family that they were better off there and Sam’s parents’ families knew they were going to be killed.
They did not receive much news about their families during the war but after the war, they received news that all of Sam’s relatives had perished during the war. When Sam’s grandmother heard the news about her family, that her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren had all been killed, she had a stroke and died. Sam’s grandfather died shortly after in 1945 at the age of 95.
In 1946, Sam’s family was told they had to go back to Poland. As soon as their train entered Poland; Sam could feel the hatred and felt like they had to hide again. The Polish people were very anti-Semitic and even after the Nazis left; many Polish citizens went searching for Jews to kill. During his travel, Sam and his friends met a man. He asked them what they were and Sam replied that he was Jewish. The man told him to never say that or “they” would kill him.
Sam and his family stayed in a polish town under the protection of the Russian army for around six months. Sam was separated form his mother and stayed in an orphanage during this time. He felt like he was in nazi Germany due to the strong hatred of Jews, still prominent among the Polish people. Also during this time, Sam continually searched for any news of his father and asked about the passengers form the incoming trains. One day, he saw from a window in the orphanage out in the city wearing a white suit. Sam ran out and met his father and for the first time in three years, he was able to finally hug and kiss his father.
Shortly after, Sam and his family were smuggled, with the help of a Jewish agency, to Berlin where they entered a displaced persons camp. When he entered the camp, he had never felt that free before. After moving with his family to Israel, Sam had immigrated to the United States fourteen years ago, the longest he had ever stayed in one place. Now, Sam can experience that feeling of freedom he first felt in 1946 for the rest of his life.