NEUMAN, SIDNEY (YEHOSHUA, ALEXANDER)
Ciechanów, Poland; Novosibirsk Oblast, Russia (Siberia); Landsberg Displaced Persons Camp, Germany
Sidney Newman was born in Ciechanów, Poland, on March 25, 1929, to Abram “Avrum” Neuman and Helen “Henia” Neuman. Sidney was the second of five children: Gitel “Gitla,” Sidney “Szyja (Shia),” Diane “Divora,” Max “Mendel,” and Sylvia “Civta.”
In 1938, Ciechanów had a population of 15,000 and was home to a large Jewish community of 1,800 people. “The whole city inside was almost all Jews and then around it were Jews too. I know for sure there were two synagogues; but I don’t know if we had a third one. My family was Orthodox.
“Both of my parents were in the grain business in Poland. We also had a tobacco or cigarette business. In Poland, in 1934 or 1935, a Jew could not use their name so we owned it, but the name of it was somebody else’s.
“We very much felt antisemitism. We were in the grain business and the government opened up to compete with us in the grain business just to hurt us because we were Jews…. We went to school together but the minute the bell rang the Jews and the Gentiles separated or we would start fighting right away. If we ever wanted to go to a beach, we had to pick up strong people to go with us because the Polacks attacked us and didn’t let us go.
“In 1940, we were sent by the Russians to Siberia. It was before the war between Germany and Russia, but after the war between Poland and Germany when Poland was split between Germany and Russia. Our part of Poland belonged to Russia and that’s why we were sent to Siberia. I think that my family was sent to Siberia because the Russians didn’t like that we were a little bit better off than other people…. The rest of my family – my grandpa Isaac Neuman, my uncle, and my cousins – were not sent to Siberia and they were all killed by the Germans.
“I think it was a Saturday night when they told us to pack up 50 pounds, that we were going to go around 200 miles away. We couldn’t take any family photos or other belongings; it was more important for us to take food and our clothes. It took us three weeks to get to Siberia by train, by cattle wagons…. We came to Siberia Oblast, north of Novosibirsk city, and all of it was in a forest. There were three barracks, with around 80 or 90 families in each barracks. Every family took a sheet to make a separation…. If we wanted to go outside, especially in summer, we had to put grease all over our body because the mosquitos ate us up. And at nighttime, the mosquitos came into the barracks, so we smoked them out. And then we slept with the smoke instead of the mosquitos.
“In wintertime, we lived in a room something this big… and ice was inside in the walls and in the ceiling. At that time I was 12 or 13 years old, so I jumped on a train to throw down coal and then I picked it up and took it to the house. If you wanted to warm up, you had to sit down on the stove…. Each family cooked for themselves. Because there was no oven, we picked up some little trees and I brought coals and that’s what they had to cook with…. For clothing, we had any rags we could find. Even in school I had rags around my head in the wintertime because it was cold inside.
“We only had potatoes to eat and that’s it. This was our meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We didn’t have enough either, but that’s what we had to survive…. My mother was a business lady. So, she picked up some clothes from the people who were there and we walked to a village to get potatoes. We carried some of the food from one spot to another, 20 feet, 30 feet away, and then we’d come back and get some more because it was too heavy to carry it all. It took us all day long to go about ten miles because we had to come back and carry and come back and fill it.
“There was no synagogue. We didn’t know when Pesach, Yom Kippur, or anything were. We didn’t have any siddurs. We didn’t have anything, nothing…. They didn’t let you leave the city. If you try to leave and they catch you, they put you in jail. Because in Russia, 50% were in jail, another 50% will go to jail.
“My father had to cut down the trees that were all around us. If he was 15 minutes late three times, they would put him in jail, so he had to be on time all the time…. They sent the wood away on the water to different places…. I don’t think my mother had to work.
“I went to school in a small town in Siberia Oblast, so they didn’t put me to work…. Russian school was okay. But if we had to write down something, we didn’t have paper to write on. So, we wrote on top of something that was already written on….
“We had to study, especially math. We had a professor who was in jail for 10 years or so and then they let him out. When he came in, he’d look at you and he knew that you did your homework or you didn’t. And he picked you right away and took you up to the board for you to write…. If two of us took a test and I finished the same thing that you did, you got a C and I got an A or you got an A and I got a C, I asked him, ‘She’s got the same answers and the same thing, how come she got an A and I got a C?’ He said, ‘I’ll take you to the board and give you some problems and if you do it, I will give you an A too.’ … So, even now I can still do algebra, geometry, trigonometry; I remember all those things…. Later, I also learned English in Germany and I spoke fluently in German. I also knew Latin and I could read and write but I couldn’t speak it.
“We got to school on skis. You could get skis because they were making skis. That was the only thing you could get. It was a little town…. There was one car and it was owned by the mayor of the city. He couldn’t drive it because he couldn’t get tires for the car. So, the car was standing there all the time and he never drove the car.
“When my mother was very sick in Russia, we couldn’t take her to hospital because anybody that went into hospital in Russia didn’t come back alive. So, we kept her and then we were sent from the camp. My mother was still sick and I was sleeping and dreaming to get a glass of wine for her and then she would get better…. I did. And she got better after that.
“In 1946, when I was seventeen, Poland and Russia made a deal to let out all the Polish citizens that were sent to Siberia or elsewhere back to Poland. So, we came back to Poland but we did not go back to our city because we were afraid that they were going to kill us. So, we ran away, I think by truck, to the American territory in Germany…. We were sent to the Landsberg DP camp, where the Jewish Federation, the government, and the United Nations, I think, helped out…. We lived there from 1947 to 1949….
“I went to medical school in Munich, Germany. I was living in Feldafing because I couldn’t get a room in Munich and there was a train from Feldafing to Munich, but not from Landsberg. So, I lived there in a home for our young people for six months and then I got a room in Munich.
“In 1949, we would have gone to Israel but the Jewish Federation brought us over to the United States. I came to Baltimore because I had an aunt there and she was sending me letters about coming over for school…. My parents came six months later to Chicago so I went to Chicago…. My mother was still a business lady, and they bought the three-apartment building where they lived…. My sister’s husband bought a building on Lakeshore Drive and opened a convalescent home; my nephew now has around twenty convalescent homes in Chicago.
“I was in Chicago for about a year and a half. I met and married my wife, Rose [Fineman]. Rose was a survivor. They were Ukrainian. Her father passed away before the war started and she and her mother and her brother ran away to Siberia…. My mother Helen and her sister Diane were going to Munich for training and they became very close friends with Rose. They shared their life stories and were talking about me to Rose…. Later, in Chicago, the Jewish Federation brought over the Jews from Europe and kept them in special hotels until they found an apartment or a house. I went to meet somebody else and then I took out my wife and that’s it…. Rose had cousins in Detroit. So, we moved to Detroit. My parents and brother and sisters stayed in Chicago.
“I did not finish medical school in Germany because I wanted to graduate in the United States…. At first, I did not get accepted to medical school. I figured I was good in school but they sent it back two or three weeks later and I was accepted. I signed that first paper and I sent it on a Saturday and after that I never signed any business papers on a Saturday…. I took classes at Wayne State University in Detroit and, later, they told me I had to do everything all over again. So, I never finished and had to go make a living…. A delicatessen was on sale, so I bought it. It was a small place. Then I changed around everything and that’s the way it is. I had Star Deli in Southfield for 57 years. I never cooked. I never sliced bread. I never sliced any meat. I only watched other people do the work.”
Sid and Rose have two children (Harry Neuman and Miriam Neuman Farber), four grandchildren (Shirah Farber Eurich, Marissa Neuman, Alaina Farber, and Avery Neuman), and three great-grandchildren (Shayne Eurich, Henry Eurich, and Rose Snider). “I wanted them all to go to school and I wanted them all to become doctors. So I have two doctors, four lawyers, and two teachers.”
Sid has not been back to visit, “but I would like to go back to Russia just to see the others there. The only place I wouldn’t go back is to Poland because the antisemites are so bad. We were in business and had quite a bit of property in Poland, in our city. When the Germans came, they picked ten Jews, more affluent Jews, to kill them. My grandfather was on that list. But later, when Russia came over, the Germans didn’t pick him up. We still have property in Poland. We didn’t sell it because if we would sell it, it will cost us a lot in taxes.”
Date of Interview: July 6, 2023
Length of Interview: 47 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Mark Einhaus
Editorial Comments: Miriam Neuman Farber