Kandel recalls that life before the war was happy. His family lived in a large home with his grandparents and an aunt and uncle. He remembers little anti-Semitism in Berezno, which he describes as having a large, active Jewish community.
When Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, Kandel’s family moved to his grandfather’s farm outside Berezno. He recalls living there with many family members who all felt that the farm would be safer than living in town. Kandel remembers seeing the Russians retreat and states that some of his family talked of going with them but all remained on the farm. When the Germans marched through, his grandfather was beaten by soldiers who had asked neighbors where the Jews lived.
Eventually all Jews in the surrounding areas were sent to the ghetto in Berezno. Kandel remembers living with his entire extended family in a small room but recalls little else from this period. He was sent with his younger brother, parents, grandfather and uncles to work in a nearby labor camp. Here they lived in barracks and worked digging and stacking soft coal. Kandel states that women working in the camp commander’s quarters overheard an order that the camp inmates were to be sent back to the ghetto in Berezno for extermination, and they warned the other prisoners. Most of the inmates escaped into the forest.
Kandel’s family, led by his grandfather and uncles who knew the woods, back roads, and local farmers, survived. Kandel states that many others were captured because they were unfamiliar with the area. Kandel recalls frequently running from Ukrainians and Germans who staged sweeps of the forests and marshes. He remembers one farmer in particular who often risked his life to help the Jews in hiding. He recalls that many Ukrainians were anxious to turn Jews in to obtain sugar or salt from the Germans. Kandel’s family survived in the forest by begging and stealing food and clothing and building well-camouflaged shelters. They spent much time near the Russian partisans, who were parachuted into the woods, and he recalls feeling safer knowing that they were nearby.
Kandel was liberated in 1944 and his family went to a town near Kiev, where they lived in a bombed-out building and endured many air strikes. Eventually they moved to Lodz, Poland where they found several other surviving Jews. The family continued on to displaced persons camps in Austria and Italy and later emigrated to the United States in 1948.
Date: May 25, 1983
Interviewer: Donna Miller
Length: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Format: Audio recording