Suzanna Eibuszyc

A Harsh Exile in Russia Proved to be for Polish Jews the Answer for Escaping the Catastrophe that Engulfed Europe During WWII

At the end of November of 1939, after traveling separately, my mother from Warsaw and my father from Lodz they had arrived in Bialystok. From Bialystok they traveled once again, after signing up for mandatory work inside of Russia. My mother lived in Saratov from May 1940 until February 1942. In Saratov my parents became close, they tried to survive together with only one hope, to return home to their families.

While in Soviet Russia, my father kept sending food packages to his family in Łódź. However, he never once got a reply. His parents lived at Rauch-Gasse 1, Flat 18. This street became part of the Ghetto in February of 1940 when the Germans limited Jewish residence to specific streets in the Old City of Łódź and the adjacent Baluty Quarter. It was after my father’s death that I found out how his family died. Icek Dawid Ejbuszyc, his mother, Ita Mariem Grinszpanholc, and his older sister, Sura Blima, were deported from the Łódź Ghetto to Auschwitz in September of 1942. They were murdered. A hospital record, I discovered, shows that his younger sister Dwojra died of Unterernährung, of malnutrition, in June of 1942. She was thirty years old. The USHM in Washington DC acquired the actual gate of the Jewish hospital inside of the Ghetto.

As the war moved closer to my parents they were forced to run again. They joined the Polish army that was taking volunteers. In February of 1942 they travel east with the army to Uzbekistan and arrived in Guzar, in April 1942. My father was a recruit his head shaved he wore a uniform. However, my father and many like him were dismissed, many reasons were given. Some like my father did not pass their medical evaluations. Food rations, supplies and traditional antisemitism played its role here too. The Polish army did not really want Jewish soldiers. Polish officers saw the Jews as “morally indifferent to the Polish cause,” seeking an opportunity to get out of the Soviet territories. At the same time it is important to point out that it was Anders, General of the Polish army who was among the first to say that the Jewish Polish soldiers arrived at home when about 4000 of them defected in Palestine. When there was a call for their court martial, he refused.

In Guzar, my father found work as a mechanic at the train station. My parents could hardly sustain themselves on the allocated food rations. As the final transports of soldiers left, Guzar become a dead village. Their life was plagued by hunger, malaria, extreme heat or cold.  They left after six months of their arrival. For the next four years they looked for work and food, passing through places like, Kamuszyn, Gitap, towns along the railroad tracks. They stayed in Kamuszyn from August 10 until September 5, 1942. There were no jobs here. There were hundreds of homeless people at the train station, and every one of them was hungry. Many were living out in the open. Many just out of Stalin’s Gulag, discharged from the army, without jobs and hungry. They paced the train stations day and night. Stealing was the only way they could stay alive. Gitap was their next stop. My father got a job at a wine factory. My mother’s malaria attacks that started in Guzar left her unable to stand on her feet for weeks on end. The river’s edge where they went to get water was thick with clay and swarmed with mosquitoes. They had no way of protecting themselves. In Gitap, the factory director taunted my mother by saying, “You’re eating Russian bread and you’re not working. Just wait until I go to the N.K.V.D. They will take your husband away to the army and you will have to work.” A few days later, my father was summoned to report to the army. The Russians wanted to draft men like him, but the Russians had no right to draft Polish citizens who came from that part of Poland that was under Nazi Germany occupation. After four days, they had no choice but to let my father go. He came back and went to work. They left Kamuszyn, October 25, 1942.

In Karsi my father found a job in a tractor factory.  My mother would write about those days. “For 3 months, it would rain, but when I went outside the smell was as if someone spilled a thousand bottles of perfumes. It always gave me optimism.”

On October 25, 1942, my parents purchased train tickets, full of hope that their luck would finally change. Their greatest wealth at that time was a fifty-kilogram bag of wheat; they could not leave it behind. That wheat my mother took to the mill to grind into flour, which she then made into galuszki, dumplings. As soon as my father gave up his job at the wine factory in Gitap, they had to vacate their room and give up the card for food rations. They slept out in the open as they waited for all the papers to be finalized by the town’s officials. In October, the weather was still like summer. The trip to Karsi took two and a half hours. The train was packed with people carrying all kinds of goods from Gitap to Karsi, presumably to sell on the black market. Russian government officials could take any passengers off the train, search them, and take away anything they deemed illegal.

My father told my mother not to worry. He said that they would be fine, since his papers showed he had a job waiting for him at the factory manufacturing heavy equipment. But things turned out differently. The police officers boarded as the train approached Karsi, and they began to check everyone’s identification papers and personal belongings. When they reached my parents, they immediately focused in on the suspicious looking bag of wheat. They barked at them, accusing them of carrying too much wheat, of intending to sell it on the black market. My father took out his papers and showed the officers he was on his way to a job in Karsi. The police officers ignored him and told them they were being detained at the next stop. At the train station in Karsi, two menacing Russian officials met them. My father had to carry the bag with the wheat. My mother dragged most of the other packages behind her. Fortunately, the police station was close by. The officials looked over their papers and asked them about their departing city and to where they were going. My father explained, showing the papers indicating that a job at a factory was waiting for him in Karsi. The officials then took the bag of wheat to weigh it. When they saw it weighed fifty kilograms, they said it would be confiscated. They measured out twenty kilograms, the legal amount and gave it back to them. My mother could not bring myself to make the smallest sound, not even a whisper. My father, on the other hand, broke out in a loud cry. This was the first time my mother had ever seen him cry. She always saw him as the strong one, the one who keep them alive. It broke her heart to see him like this. My father kept repeating, “The wheat is ours, I worked hard for it, I am hauling it for us so that we can have a little flour, so we won’t go hungry. We’re not selling it.” The police officers once more accused them of being involved in the black market. They said wheat was much less expensive in Gitapu than in Karsi and that they were profiteers. They told them to take the twenty kilograms of wheat and go, or else they would put them in jail. My parents knew that the Russians had the power to do whatever they wanted. They took their twenty kilograms of wheat and left. They hauled what was left of their possessions behind them, now thirty kilograms lighter.

Eventually in Karsi life for my parents became more bearable, by now they spoke fluent Russian and my mother started to participate in the illegal black market in order not to starve. Trading with the passing soldiers and Uzbeks. This is how the Russian people were surviving, trading illegally among themselves for basic foods and other items not available in stores.

Before the war ended the Russian government issued a new edict; they wanted the refugees to become Russian citizens. The Polish citizens living in Karsi were a large group. Rumors were such that whomever becomes a Russian citizen would have to stay in Russia forever. In the winter of 1944, in Karsi, my father was arrested yet again. He did not want to die in a Russian prison, for not accepting a Russian citizenship. Held in a cold, wet cell, with the only food my mother brought to him once a day. By the end of the week he was exhausted and ill. On the seventh day, he gave in; he said “I need to stay alive, this way I have a chance to do something. I will sign their papers just to get out of here.” He signed a promissory note to become a Russian citizen. My mother did the same.

My parents were allowed to return to their homeland after communism was established in Poland. They were part of the group that came back in the spring and summer of 1946, almost one year after the war had ended. They were made to settle in forty-two towns in the spring and summer of 1946 as part of repatriation. 124 transports with 86,563 Polish Jews left Russia for southwestern Poland, a region that belonged to Germany before World War II, they were not allowed to return to their birth cities of Warsaw or Lodz.

About the Author
Suzanna Eibuszyc, born in Communist Poland, came with her family to the US in the late 1960s. A graduate of City College of New York and UCLA. While at CCNY her path crossed with Professor Elie Wiesel at the department of Jewish studies. He inspired her in making sure the dark period in the chapter of the Jewish history is not forgotten. Suzanna worked in business but for the past decade has dedicated herself to ensuring the remembrance of Jewish life in Poland. Her essays and stories have been widely published; her book chronicling her mother’s story and their life in Poland after the war. “Memory Is Our Home”, was published in 2015 in English, and “Pamiec Jest Naszym Domem” in Polish in 2016.
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