Sonders, Beatrice Gadzuk

Sonders, Beatrice Gadzuk

David-Horodok (Davidgrudek), Sarny, Krakow, Poland (Belarus); Rottach-Tegernsee, Germany; Vienna, Austria

Beatrice Gadzuk was born on November 27, 1924, in Davidgrudek (David-Horodok), a small town in Poland. “Life was normal” for Beatrice, her younger brother Shalom, and her parents Beryl and Reizel Gadzuk. “I had a nice life. I went to a Hebrew school, Tarbut, and I graduated at 14. I had girlfriends and we belonged to the Zionist organization. We went on tours.” In 1939, the Russians took over, and “they treated the Jewish people all right.” Then the war broke out between Germany and Russia and the Germans came on July 6, 1941.

Until now, Beatrice didn’t want her children to hear the terrible things she went through. “I just wanted to live a better life without something like that. But now it haunts me terribly, terribly…. It’s unbelievable, unbelievable what happened. It’s not only me. When I think of my girlfriends from Davidgrudek, the city, nobody is there, nobody. Sarny, nobody is there. All the small towns are wiped out, no Jewish people.” But, Beatrice always said that “whenever something bad happened, like I got away from the farms or from the train, it turned for me a better way.”

“When the Germans occupied our hometown, my father and I were standing on the sidewalk in front of the house. A soldier came over and gave my father a few cigarettes and said to my father, ‘You know Hitler’s aim is to wipe out all the Jewish people. I want to try to save your lives, your young girl. I feel sorry for your young girl. I have a mother in Vienna, and here is the address. Let her go to Vienna, but she shouldn’t tell anybody that she is Jewish.’ I remember his name – Karl Ludwig – and he was tall and slender. I don’t know what he wanted with me. Maybe his wife or his mother needed free help in the house…. The day that they got the orders to march further into Russia, he came with a rucksack, with a helmet, and knocked on the door at dawn to say goodbye…. Nu, some nice people too.”

Then, early morning, of August 10, 1941, the SS came and marched out the Jewish men and boys over 13. “They picked them up from their beds, half-naked, walking without shoes. I happened to see my uncle walking in that line. My father, I didn’t know where he was. Later on, they caught him hiding in the backyard and murdered him and my brother right there…. The rest of the men from Davidgrudek, they took outside of the city, somewhere in the woods. They had the trenches ready for them. They told them to get undressed, to remove all the clothes, and to get into the hole, to lie down, and then they machine-gunned them. Only the men, the women they didn’t touch” … until later.

“It started to rain, a storm like I never saw in my life. The skies were crying, it was lightning and thundering. They were hitting the women with sticks to get out from the homes because they wanted to loot all the stuff…. My mother took me and we walked. We walked and walked. It was pouring all the day. When it got dark, we lied down on the grass outside of the city and we spent the whole night on the wet grass. We walked about three days…. My mother had cousins in Sarny, a bigger city than Davidgrudek. The family was very nice to us. Since food was a problem and also accommodation, I stayed with one cousin and my mother stayed with another one. It was only a few blocks to walk to her, so I used to come in the daytime and spend the days with her.”

Later, they were in the Sarny Ghetto from August 1942 to the Summer of 1943. Twice the Jews were called to a stadium, where they were counted and sent home “to make us think that nothing will happen.” The third time, Beatrice was walking to meet her mother so they could go together, when her cousin’s husband forced her into a hideout he had prepared in the backyard in a cellar covered with dirt, with one piece of wood covering the top. There were seven people sitting there – the cousin and his wife (Victor and Dreizel Frumin), their son (Arnold Frumin), parents, and Beatrice – “no food, no water, no nothing, sitting…. A few hours later, we heard all the shooting. The earth was shaking. For three days, the earth was shaking. They killed everybody. They told them to undress naked and go into the graves naked and that’s where my mother went.… I was talking to my mother and crying, like a child, where should I go? What shall I do? She didn’t answer me.”

They sat there for 14 days with no food and no water, when Beatrice’s cousin told her to go to the neighbors, “Nice people, Polish people; they don’t have any children; a couple. Go and knock on the door and go in and ask for some food. Don’t tell her that I am here too. Just speak for yourself.” Beatrice went and they let her in. “She took a big bowl with water and washed my back and washed me up because I was dirty. After she dried me up, she says to me, ‘We don’t have any children. We would like to, my husband and I, to adopt you. But after the war, you will marry a Polish man.’ When she says a Polish man, it was like she stuck a knife in me. But then I thought to myself, after the war, I can do what I want to do. I’ll be free.” So, she agreed to come back the next day.

Early the next morning, the Ukrainians were searching for stuff that people left behind and found the hideout and the two women. Beatrice heard them say, “Let’s go call the police.” She ran to the neighbors, and as the police came to the back of the house, she ran barefoot out the front door. “So where do I go? My mother was a very good seamstress and she really had golden hands. She had a woman that she used to do alterations. I happened to remember where she lived. She didn’t recognize me because for 14 days I didn’t eat, so I was skinny. She took me in the kitchen and I couldn’t even eat; I was so dehydrated.” She let her stay the night but could not keep her longer because her teenage son was collaborating with the Germans. She told her it would be best to hide in the villages and the farms. She gave her a sack with some kind of vegetable and big potatoes in case someone stopped her so she could tell them that she was going to the farm to dig potatoes for the day.

Beatrice left and passed by German soldiers, practicing shooting guns. When she came to the farms, she knocked on the door of a big, brick house, which was unusual since they were all poor. An elderly Russian lady listened to her story, felt sorry for her, and offered her to stay there and help out. Together, they went to the forest to gather firewood and when they returned, Beatrice happened to see a man, dressed in black, park his bicycle against a tree. The woman told her to go in the house and hide. “Where was there to hide? Nowhere, no furniture in the house, nothing; I walk in one room, two room, three, four, five, six rooms, nothing to even get under a bed or something. The last room was a little dark room with a small window and there was a little table, so I got under the table. I hear him asking her, ‘There is a Jewish girl walking in this area where is she?’ So, she says, ‘I don’t know.’ So, he says, ‘But they saw her here.’ He turned to the kitchen and stood there in the doorway. He was holding a bayonet. I got so cold. I said to myself, ‘I hope he doesn’t kill me with the bayonet. He’s going to shoot me with a gun, better.’ I swear there must be a God. He was looking at the ceiling and passed by me and went into the kitchen and saw the instrument that I carry to dig the potatoes. He says, ‘How can you say she wasn’t here? Here is the stuff that the neighbors saw her walking around with and you say you don’t know?’ She says, ‘I don’t know, I wasn’t home. I was in town shopping. Maybe she was. But I wasn’t home.’ And I saw her feet from under the table; right in the back of him I saw her feet. And I pray to God that he should leave. If he is going to leave, that policeman, now I will survive the war. That’s how I was thinking. Please God let him leave now. He shouldn’t catch me right now…. So, he went a second time and he looked a second time and he still looked at the ceiling and a blind man could have seen me. Then he walked out and said to her, ‘Oh, what a smart Jewish girl. She jumped out through the window in the woods. We will get her tomorrow morning. I am going to get a hundred policemen, we will search the whole area and we will find her.’ And I said to myself, ‘You will never find me.’ The woman, came back in and kissed me and said, ‘I wanted to keep you, but now I am scared. I don’t want you here after what he said.’ I said, ‘Yes. Even if you asked me I would not want to stay here.’”

Beatrice left, barefoot, and ran “like a rabbit” through the cut-down cornfields until she came to a shack where there lived a poor Polish family named Yanacheck. They let her sleep in the barn and fed her potatoes for every meal. She was tired and so she stayed over Christmas. “They taught me all the songs and they wanted to make a Christian out of me.”

But then, the Ukrainians started to kill the Poles, because they wanted to have their own country. They didn’t have any ammunition so they were killing with knives. “We ran away from the house into the woods, me and the whole family. In the morning, we went to stay with their woman friend in a different house and they decided to move to Germany for work.” They gave Beatrice the name Anna Kopera, after a cousin murdered by the Ukrainians, and left by train. “The train wasn’t for human beings. It was for cattle. It didn’t have any bathroom facilities, so the train stopped and they would relieve themselves behind the train. I had to go too, so I went out, but it was too late and the train took off…. Oh, my God. What am I going to do now?” The train station manager discouraged her from going on to Germany where people are starving and took her instead to work for his sister-in-law. “She has a big farm and she can use you to work on the farm and at least you will have food.”

“Oy, oy, oy, did I suffer over there on that farm. I had to milk cows and clean out the pigs and work on the farm. I was so hungry and tired, I went to sleep because I was too tired to eat…. While I was working in the field, a young girl working next to me asked me if I was ready to go to confession. This was before Easter. My mind was somewhere else and I opened my mouth and I said to her, ‘What’s that?’ The minute I said that I knew I made a mistake, a Polish girl doesn’t know what a confession is? And I knew all that, but I slipped. Anyway, I knew I had to leave there…. That was the best thing I did. If I lived there, I would have been dead. I was a fragile young lady.” The owner tried to convince her to stay because she had a free slave. “Finally, she realized I am not budging, so she threw at me 10 zloty and a sandwich and let me go.”

It was Winter, 1943, and again she was barefooted, walking on her tiptoes, to the train station. The train went to Krakow. “Standing on the platform, I see a woman looking at me and she is holding wooden sandals, two stripes with material, and the bottom is wood. An elderly woman with a scarf covering her face and, I swear, I thought, my mother sent her to me. She holds it and it’s my size and it cost 10 zloty, all the money that I had. I gave it to her and I put on the shoes and I am a princess! I have shoes. I can walk downtown.”

Beatrice had heard the women on the farm talking about an office in Krakow that found work for people in Germany. “They said the address and the name. So, it stuck in my memory. This was where I was aiming to go. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know where to go. So, I went…. They start asking me questions in Polish and asked me what I am. I am Polish, so I am supposed to know the names. They asked me my father’s, my mother’s name, my name. I had to come up with Polish names and just like that I came up with the names. Until today, I don’t remember how I made it.”

They sent her to work in a kitchen in Rottach-Tegernsee, Germany in exchange for food. “I met a very nice girl, Valla, my age, from Russia. I didn’t have any underwear to change. I didn’t have nothing; not even a towel. And she shared all that stuff with me.” Nobody knew that Beatrice was Jewish. “I wrote her after the war that I am Jewish. ‘Oh, my god,’ she wrote ten times, ‘I am happy for you! I really am happy that you survived. But I cannot believe that you are Jewish.’ She was like a sister to me.”

“Valla had a lot of friends all over. Her friends in Vienna wrote her that they have it not so harsh like in Germany. And she talked so long until I went with her” in the Winter of 1944. They could not find their ausweis [identification cards] but decided to go anyway. “We didn’t know that there is going to be a border and they’ll ask for ausweis. I got straw hats. At that time, it was the style.” As they waited in the train station, all of a sudden opens up the door and the detective goes to every passenger, ‘ausweis, ausweis, show them the ausweis.’ We don’t have any ausweis. We were sitting together next to a window. I motioned her and I stood up to make it like I’m looking out of the window. She got my message. So, we stood up and looking out of the window. And what do you know, the guy was a gentleman and he saw two young girls with hats. He’s not going to bother them. They are looking out the window. They are looking for something. He passed by us. He didn’t ask us for ausweis. Would you believe it? We would have been in Auschwitz if he would catch us.”

When they came to Vienna, they went to the Arbeitsamt and got work. After two days, every morning at 10:30, the British and American airplanes bombed the city. “So, the alarm, everybody runs to the shelters. I see a waiter goes to look, the bombs zshzshzshzsh like that. It was stupid. I wanted to see. The fumes threw me back. If it had thrown me forward, I would have been dead like the waiter who died, because it threw him forward…. I was unconscious. I found myself in the cellar with the rest of the people who were hiding. I was spitting out for months with the fumes.”

They went back to the Arbeitsamt and the ladies there in the office felt sorry for them and sent them to a place in the country where there were no bombs. They went to work in the kitchen of a camp for young boys, ages 16 to 18, who were learning how to become officers. They were there until the end of the war in May 1945, when it closed and they were taken back to Vienna. There, they met some Russian soldiers, who opened a department store for them and told them to take what they wanted. “I was trembling, I was not used to it. I took maybe a coat, a few dresses. And the soldier even put it in a sheet and tied it up…. Then Germans start shooting at us from the attic across the street. One of the Russian soldiers broke the window and we started climbing inside away from the shooting. I heard one soldier yell, ‘Oh my leg! My leg!’ And I look down and there is blood. The bullet hit, instead of me, hit him in the foot. I couldn’t believe it. The coat I was wearing and the lining were cut by a bullet and it didn’t touch the dress but went into his leg.”

After the war, Valla went home to her mother and brother. “I didn’t know where to go and I didn’t have a home, nothing. I volunteered to work in a hospital for wounded Russian soldiers; 6000 soldiers were wounded in Vienna. So, I volunteered to work in the hospital. After a few months, they got the names of the people that worked there and paid for them to go home. “I told them I was from Davidgrudek. We went on the train, but before it got to Sarny, it stopped. We sit an hour, two hours, five hours. It started to rain, and I think to myself why should I sit here? All of a sudden, I got an idea that in Sarny, my cousin has a big house, a new house, I’ll go there. I know how to walk there; it’s not too far; and I did. I came in the house; there is no furniture, no nothing. There were a few older Jewish people from the villages that occupied the house. I told them I came from Germany. They took off the door and put it on two chairs and that was my bed for the night. I slept on the door with no blanket, no sheets, no nothing.” In the morning, there was a butcher, an elderly man, who told her story to a younger man, Harold Perlstein, who turned out to be Beatrice’s third cousin. “He says, ‘I cannot believe, a young girl, she did not know how to get out from the city, how did she end up in Germany? I’ve got to go see her.’ So, he came and he saw me and he took me and we got married.” He had lost his wife and baby and survived the war as a partisan.

A few months after they married, they went back to Germany to the Bad Reichenhall DP camp, where “I was in a kibbutz Betar. We were definitely going to immigrate to Israel, but my husband didn’t want to go to Israel. He wanted to go to America because a lady that he knew in America wrote him about life in America and advised him to go first to America and then to Israel. So, he said, ‘You know what, we go first to America. If we won’t like it, we can always go to Israel. But from Israel to America it is going to be hard.’ So, I saw it made sense and said okay.” In addition, they both had close family in Detroit – Beatrice’s mother’s sisters and Harold’s uncle and a cousin.

Beatrice has three daughters, 10 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. Her message for the younger generation is that “First and foremost, they should have education. When you have education, you can complete other things. Second, they should cherish their families because there is nothing like family.” She remembers that when she was liberated in Sopron, Hungary, “All the people from Hungary were dancing, holding each other, men and women together and children together and dancing. I was standing at the side and crying, where’s my family? I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to be Jewish anymore. If God permitted to happen something like that, I don’t want to be Jewish anymore.’ A split second later, I answered myself and said, ‘No, no, God was with me every minute to make me survive, I have to be Jewish! Because goyim are plenty, but not Jews, we lost six million, I have to be Jewish.’ And I never asked myself anymore. It’s impossible what I went through not to be caught. I don’t know how I did it…. But there must be somebody that watches over us. All through history, we always fight wars, plenty of wars, we’ve lost people, but we are still – we are here.”

Date of Interview: August 27, 2015
Length of Interview: 97:29 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Kevin Walsh