Growe, Rachel Wohl
Leordina, Vişeu de Sus Ghetto (Oybervisha, FelsÖvisó), Romania; Auschwitz, Stutthof, Danzig Lager, Poland; Feldafing, Germany
Rachel Wohl Growe was born January 2, 1924, in Leordina, Maramureş County, Romania.
Her father, Alter Shmuel Leib Wohl, worked for his family business, cutting wood to ship to papermills. “He had an accident and broke a hip and was home, jobless for a while. My mother, Minga Dawidowicz Wohl, was a very smart woman. She was a money lender and if they didn’t have the money to pay it back, they gave her a piece of property. So, we had property in a lot of places.”
The Wohls had five children – Rosa, Miriam, Menachem Mendel, Rachel, and Leah. Their grandparents, Pesach and Elka Wohl, also lived in Leordina, a “Jewish-oriented community. We were strictly Orthodox. We took Hebrew lessons privately; my mother made sure that we learned a little Hebrew.”
As a young child, Rachel felt anti-Semitism at her Romanian public school. “Even my teacher used to make fun of the Jews. We were really killed and put down everywhere. Sort of embarrassingly…. When I was growing up, we had no television, no radio, nothing. We didn’t know much about was going on the world. But we knew there was a terrible war going on and we knew Hitler was coming. So, it was not a good situation.”
Yet, the family did not think of leaving. “Leaving where? There was no place to go.… Palestine was not Israel yet, so people didn’t want to go there…. But my sister Miriam made her mind up and said she is going to Palestine. She’s not staying there to wait for Hitler. So, in 1934, she left for Palestine. She married a chalutz. She had to have a dowry to pay for the certificate to enter Palestine. I think it was a couple of thousand leu. It wasn’t much…. In 1932, my oldest sister Rosa went to Belgium as a housemaid and she married into the family.”
Rachel continued to go to school until 8th grade. “It was such a small village, we only had up to 8th grade. No work. A very, sad, dull life.” When she was 18, “I asked my mother to take me to the city. We had family in Grosswardein. She took me there to learn photography, but I wasn’t good enough in photography, so I ended up learning how to sew…. I ate my meals with different families, different days. They call it day eating. It was not a very pleasant thing, but they were very nice. They were all very religious….
“Then I came home just in time to go to the ghetto. Jews were not allowed to travel anymore. They kicked us off the train in every station and as the train started to move, we jumped back on and we went to the next station and they put us down again. By the time I reached home it was midnight and I was hysterical from so much being abused on and off the train…. I arrived in Leordina in the middle of the night before Pesach. And then the trouble started. They were talking about the ghetto. Sure enough, after Pesach, they put us in the ghetto in Vişeu de Sus, (also Oybervisha or Fels?visó), 10-15 miles away. They didn’t allow us to take too much belongings. We stayed with the Kahana family, the family into which my sister Miriam had married…. We were there from April through May, 1944….
“Then they put us on the train and shipped us to Auschwitz. We went with families and friends. We arrived in Auschwitz and it was very scary. Very threatening. My parents went to the crematorium. So, my sister Leah and I were alone….
“Before we know it, in July, 1944, they sent us to Stutthof, where they did the selection and then sent us to the labor camp, Putzing by Danzig Lager, where we were supposed to build the airport…. At first, they didn’t allow Leah to come with me because she was too little; and then they allowed it, so we wouldn’t be separated. She was wonderful. She made sure after a day’s work that we have some warm water to wash up…. The food of course was horrible. A piece of bread in the morning and some black coffee. A little soup at noon. I don’t even remember what they served us for dinner…. We lived in barracks. With straw mattresses. Hardly any blankets to cover. But it was summertime. It didn’t matter too much….
“There were a few hundred girls. They counted us every morning before we started out to go to work. They made sure we were all there. Like where was there? There was no place to go. We were all there. They counted us and then we went to work. Heavy duty labor. We were digging in the ground. We were breaking stones to make cement and pouring the cement. Every hundred feet or so they had holes and they put in bombs, so that when the Russians will come, they could tear up the place. Which probably happened. I don’t know what happened after the liberation….
“At the beginning of the summer, the Russians liberated us. They had to come from the east, because the Americans and the British were too far in the west…. But one thing the Russians did. They raped a few of our girls. They were so sex hungry I guess. They didn’t care what the girls looked like. We were skeletons. I personally wasn’t attacked, but a friend of mine was. But you really can’t blame them too much because they were away from home for so long. They didn’t know how to behave…. But still they liberated us and they put us in rehab hospitals because we had typhus. We all ended up in sanitariums in Poland….
“Then they sent us to displaced persons camps in Germany. Because we couldn’t go home. The Romanians didn’t want us back. There was no place to go. So, Germany opened up a lot of D.P. camps.”
Meanwhile, their brother, Menachem Mendel, was in forced labor, zwangsarbeit. “It was like a military kind of thing but only they were excluded. They were Jewish. They were not treated humanely…. We had no idea where he was and he had no idea where we were. We were not connected. We didn’t correspond. I knew he is somewhere in Polish territory or Czechoslovakian territory, but I didn’t know where… After the war, he found us. My sister Leah had gone back to Romania and was there at my uncle’s house. I was in another uncle’s house in Budapest. He picked us up and took us back to the D.P. camps, including Feldafing, where we spent most of the time.” Their cousins (Rose Newman Sabo and Margaret Newman Kind) were also in the Feldafing D.P. camp. “Rose got in touch with some cousins we had in New York and they sent us papers to come to the United States. It took five years…. After the war, we were just waiting. UNWRA provided rations. It wasn’t too bad…. There was a time we wanted to go to Israel. Somehow it didn’t work out. They wouldn’t let us in. They refused. I guess the Arabs didn’t want us. And I don’t know why the British Mandate couldn’t have handled it….
“We came to New York and got jobs. We were working in a millinery factory, sewing hats…. Leah got married first, to Max Moskowitz, and she had a baby, Phyllis…. Then I married Abraham Rosen. He was a very good man. We had a son, Steven, and then Abe contracted cancer and passed away at the age of 39…. So, my cousin Rose sent me a ticket to come to Michigan to visit and I met Charlie Growe. We got married and settled in Oak Park, Michigan. Charlie adopted Steven and made him our own.” They had three more children, Ronald, Michael, and Marilyn, and now have 5 grandchildren (Marrin, Candice, Taren, Seth, and Jacob) and 8 great-grandchildren (Adina, Brody, Charlie, Sloane, Ruby, Isaac, Avram, and Archer).
Rachel guesses her survival was “All meant from God. He doesn’t give you anything more than you can handle.” She hopes that, “It should never happen again. People shouldn’t do this to other people. There should be no wars. People should live in peace and in harmony.”
Date of Interview: March 7, 2018
Length of Interview: 32 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Mark Einhaus