Rubin (Rubintschik), Sol (Solomon)
Kaunas (Kovno, Lithuania), Aleksotas, Stutthof, Leitmeritz
Solomon Rubintschik (later Sol Rubin) was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, in January 1923. He was the son of Abraham and Ethel (Fish) Rubintschik. He had a brother, Mates, who was eleven years his senior, and a sister, Freida, who was five years older than him. His grandmother lived with them and died in the early 1930’s.
Sol’s father owned a factory that made cartons, shoe and candy boxes.
Their town’s population was approximately 70,000 people of which only five per cent were Jewish. There were three synagogues in town, one orthodox, where his father was active, one conservative and one reform.
Sol went to private and German High schools, but no Jewish school. He went to cheder after school. On Friday night, they went to the synagogue then home for a Shabbos dinner. His father attended services twice daily.
He had dreams of becoming a captain of a ship, but not many Jews did this. His mother wanted him to be an optician, so he became interested in science, but this was also impossible for a Jew. His brother went to France to become a textile engineer.
In 1933, changes started happening. In school, his teacher announced that Hitler had become the German chancellor. They knew who he was. His relatives in the United States begged them to come, saying that Hitler was a real threat. After 1938, Jews were leaving Germany and Austria. The Rubenschiks refused to leave, fearing the unknown. They sat back and waited.
Life changed on March 22, 1939. The Germans took over their city and they were forced to leave with only what they could carry on their back. They took a train and moved into a rented apartment, returning in a short while to Kaunas for economic reasons. His father bought a small factory where he was the bookkeeper. His sister was a nurse and his brother worked in textiles.
When the war broke out, they lived in a suburb, close to the airport, which the Germans bombed and later occupied. Sol was put in jail with his father and brother. Sol’s mother and sister were sent to an outside fort. All Jews were then sent to Ghetto Kaunas.
There were about sixty thousand people in his ghetto which was two miles square. This was the Small Ghetto. Eventually they moved into the Big Ghetto. They lived in a space, one room measuring about ten by ten and a kitchen that they shared with many other families living there. One of their leaders was Dr. Elkes, a Jewish aristocrat and even the SS called him “Herr Doktor.”
Sol worked as a “forced” laborer, enlarging the airport for the Germans.
There was a shortage of food and the old and sick were ordered out and shot. Sol described his life in the ghetto as “hunger and harassment.”
In 1942, Sol’s job was stacking suitcases, the clothing was removed and sent away and there were no valuables. He was heavily guarded. In 1943, his ghetto began to be liquidated.
He then went to the airport camp in Aleksotas. He ate with his family, mostly potatoes and water, twice daily. In the morning they had hot water and a slice of bread. He stayed there one year.
In 1943, his mother disappeared.
In the spring of 1944, the Russians were approaching and his sister returned to the ghetto in an exchange and later married there.
Women were sent to Eastern Prussia and men to Bavaria. Sol was sent to Stutthof Concentration Camp by train with sixty in each boxcar. There was neither food nor sanitation. He was with his father and brother. They traveled for one week.
When they arrived, everyone had food and survival on their minds. They were now like robots. The SS were hit and beat people. At this point, some still had hidden valuables, in shoes or in their teeth.
In Bavaria, he and his fellow inmates ate dandelions in the fields. He worked building underground factories. The old were removed once again. He was awakened at 5 a.m. for the count, wore striped uniforms, but were not tattooed. They had coffee for breakfast, potato peels and hot water for lunch and dinner. People became like animals, only thinking about food. It was very cold, but they no longer felt anything and disease was rampant. His feet were covered in sores and luckily, his brother found him a pair of leather shoes. One day his father went to the hospital where he died shortly thereafter. He asked to bury his father and was given permission to do so.
Sol was often beaten, for no reason. He stayed there until 1944 when he, his brother and about 600 others were shipped to Leitmeritz, where they built tunnels through the mountains. This camp was run by Poles who treated them much worse than the Nazis and gave them the worst jobs such as carrying bags of cement for miles.
Sol got typhus and was sent to the sick barrack where he remained for two months until the end of the war. A Czech doctor gave him sulpha that he took from the SS guards. He was told that he was amongst the last Jews in Europe to survive.
The Russians liberated him, but he was so ill, he couldn’t walk until the summer. He was told that his brother died in Theresienstadt camp.
He went to a hospital in Prague and discovered that his sister and her husband were alive.
He studied chemical engineering for four years in Munich and his sister and husband left for Israel. Sol came to the United States in 1950, through a DP program, settling in Buffalo, NY, where he got a job as an electrician’s helper. He could speak English which was helpful. He relocated to Detroit in 1953. He met his wife in Newark and they became citizens in 1955.
He has a son, Brian, who is a computer analyst and a daughter, Denise, who is an attorney.
Sol Rubin never talks about the Holocaust to anyone, not even his family. He has bouts of depression and takes medication.
In 1948, he was shocked to find that his brother was still alive.
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Format: Video recording