By: Rae (Wygoda) Nachbar, Holocaust Survivor –
Was it luck?
I am a survivor from Pultusk, Poland. On Sept 26, 1939, the entire Jewish population of over 3,000 people was driven out without warning by the Germans. They would not allow us to turn back and on foot, we ended up in Bialystok in the Russian occupied area of Poland.
In the spring of 1940 the Russians arrested us and sent us by train, barge and truck to a penal colony in the forests of the Volga region. I am the youngest of five children in my family and was the only one not engaged in cutting down trees manually.
When the Germans broke their Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact on June 22, 1941, a short time later we were released and ended up in Uzbekistan till the end of the war in 1945. At the end of that year we returned to Poland and at last learned the tragic truth about the Holocaust. So, with the assistance of the Bricha (an underground organization that helped Holocaust survivors escape Europe after World War II), my family of 7 was attempting to leave Poland in May 1946.
The family was divided in two groups. Two siblings successfully crossed the border into Czechoslovakia and were waiting in Vienna for the rest. On the eve of our departure I came down with a high fever and the leadership forbade me to participate, fearing that I would endanger the group. When my sister Ann offered to stay with me and the leadership promised to send us along at the first opportunity, my parents consented.
My parents, Abraham and Dwora Wygoda, traveling in a truck with 23 others were ambushed around midnight of May 2, 1946 near the town of Kroscienko, as they were approaching the Czech border. The murderers, posing as Polish soldiers, after asking for documents opened up with their automatic weapons and in the darkness some people managed to run away. My brother among them, but my parents were among the 13 victims.
A few days later my sister and I were notified and we traveled by train to the funeral in Krakow. My parents were buried in a mass grave at the Krakow Jewish cemetery on Miodowa street. Thus, having survived the war in the bosom of a loving family, at the age of 14 my world changed. I was an orphan. We had expected that with Germany’s defeat our life will be different. Hatred of Jews was not defeated.
My family was spared annihilation when the Germans drove us out without any warning within a month of the war’s beginning. We thought this was tragic. Actually, it was a blessing in disguise. Our relatives living a short distance from us were not so lucky and were murdered. But our luck ran out on May 2, 1946, a year after the end of the war. This was hard to accept. So was it luck that saved me and my sister when my fever kept us from that fateful attempted crossing the Polish border? I will never know the true answer.
Learn more about Rae’s story by clicking here.