A stone removed (a Holocaust surviver’s story)

Back in 2006, I had the honour to meet Leonid, a Holocaust surviver. I had a school assignment about WWII. Leonid told me the story before the interview which lead to more questions. Please do observe, some details (dates and numbers) are missing: this is a story and a real one.

Fourth of June, 2006

Your name?
Leonid Nachbarra.

Date of birth?
28th of Augusti, 1931.

Place of birth?
Bucharest, Romania.

How many people were there in your family?
My mother, my father and two older brothers.
My mother was a doctor and father owned a bank.

Where were you located when the war started?
The same place, Bucharest in Romania.

How did your home looked like?
We had a beautiful house.

When did the Nazi invade your home town?
In September, 1941.

Did you live a normal life before the war?
Yes, we lived really well, but we were still afraid after hearing the news about Nazi Germany. When the war started, I remember that there was police everywhere.

How did it go for you and your family during the war?
My two brothers left us in order to join the army and both of them never returned. My dad got an infection the same year and died. So it was only my mother and I left.

What happened next? Please, tell me your story.
One day, the bombs from the aeroplanes fell down near our home. We panicked of course and decided to take a train far away from our home. We packed our things quickly and headed to the nearest train station. We did not get that far once a bomb fell down right on it! The train plummeted… I was under some planks and survived! I pushed aside them and coughed heavily. There was a lot of dust and I looked for my mother or even for here body – I think that I was the only one who survived. All around the place, I could see human body parts: hands, heads, legs… the body parts were here and there – everywhere! It was a bath of blood.
I looked without result and I saw a woman on the street who quickly acted by taking me to her home. She was originally from Ukraine. She treated me like one of her children, four of them. Where was her husband, I do not know. She was very kind to me and her children as well.

What happened next?
I lived in the house for two-three day until her neighbour told the Nazis that a Jewish boy lived with her. The Nazis broke into her home violently and asked strictly where I was. She did not want to tell – and she was very scared. Alas, they saw me in the other room where I played with one of her children. They pushed her away, hit me hard in the head with a gun and dragged me to the car. They treated me like a meaningless dog. I could not believe that this was happening! They came only after me since all of them (three soldiers) left, without saying anything more to the family.

How did you transport to the concentration camp?
Firstly, they did not take us to the concentration camp. I was in a car along with 14 people. It was so crowded, 14 people plus soldiers! I could hardly breathe!
The Nazis wanted to take us to some prison, and later to the concentration camp. As we were going, they asked me where my mother was. I was so stressed and all I had in mind was how to escape. They stopped asking after a while. We were next to a field when all of a sudden I saw a women who was walking in the field. I got an idea to tell the Nazis that she was my mother in order to escape. I had no intention to hurt the woman, my plan was to run the fastest I could – so I acted.
The Nazi stopped the car and told me to run after her and bring her over here. I started to run all that I had, away from there! The Nazi started to call me back. I did not obey rather continued to run. Later, I fell down on the ground. I felt so much a pain in my leg, eventually, one of the Nazis shot me. They thought I was going to die any minute and drove away – I was to no use anyway. I must tell you that I was lucky again: the bullet did not hit the skeleton nor the vein. It just ran into my skin, but the blood ran. I started to crawl back to the city. I did not know exactly where I was headed to but just lying on the ground was even worse! “I shall survive”, I was thinking. I had the will to live. I did not manage that far since another car of Nazis with prisoner picked me up.

How long time did it take until your reached the prison?
About half an hour.

How did the prison look like?
It was terrible and I was terrified. It was so crowded, about 40 people in a little chamber. All of them were Jews. The adults took care of my leg.
What we got for food was bread, warm water or fish. We got food three times a day.
All of them were kind to me but I did not understand what they said. They spoke Ukrainian or Russian. I could only speak my own language; Romanian.
All the days were looking the same with no changes.

How long time did it take to get there (to the camps).
We were in prison for two weeks. Afterwards, everyone were taken to a train. They took us to a train station and that train would take us to concentration camp. The train drove for 24 hours.

What happened next?
It was several vehicles on the train, almost 15. As food on the road, we got a little bread and water. Thank G-d that all shared the food with each others: no one was greedy.

Where did they transport you?
During the night, the vehicle opened and we went out. We were meet by many Nazis. They had come with their cars with their lights turned on and their mad dogs barked at us.
We were taking deep into a forest. We walked in three hour. If someone fell down, he or she became stepped on or shot. Another faces of Jews were helping me because I had difficulties to walk with my leg.

Where was the concentration camp and how did it look?
Before anyone could enter, the Nazis asked each one questions. I did not speak German but I understood that they asked questions like: name, age, family etc.
We got also special clothes, easy material I remember. It was light and filthy. Concentration camp was located in occupied part of Ukraine. It was huge, but many Nazis kept cutting down trees in order to make it bigger. The walls seemed big too to me. They buildt barracks that look like stables for horses.
First, when I came to the concentration camp, there were 18-20 barracks that stood in rows. On the top of the wall stood six soldiers who were guarding the camp and watching over the prisoners. There was also a tight house where we could shower.
There were no women nor girls where I was, only boys, men and old man. I was thinking, well today I am sure, there was a concentration camp for women far away from us.
I together with some boys lived in barrack number three. In barrack itselt was pretty ok, we had only beds – nothing more (four upper floor beds).
It all was organized: the youngest lived with the youngest. In barrack number one, lived the most youngest at the camp: the Nazis organized it all.
More and more prisoners came in. After a time, about
10 000 Jews were in the camp. The concentration camp got so big like a city. It

Was it some one that you knew there?
No, I knew nobody. Everybody was from Ukraine, Russia or Poland. I believe that there were some Jews from Romania, but I never saw them.

What kind of work was given to you?
I and other eight boys got to clean toilets. All of the boys, were older than me. The oldest was 16 or 17 years old. I and the youngest one did the easiest work by carring water here and back. The older got to empty and clean both inside and outisde. We worked from 10AM-5PM. At 7PM, we were ordered to be in bed.
We got food twice a day. There were days when we did not receive any food. Every day we got bread, water or soup and porridge. When I took the bread in my hand and squeezed it, water came out from it.

How did life look like at the concentration camp?
It is hard for me to describe with words, but I will try my best. Every day the Jews were shot! If a Jew was tired and rested, a Nazi would tell him to continue to work. If he had to repeat, then the man would be shot!
It was also horrible that you could never look back to see who got shot by reason of getting shot too!
At the camp, there was a cart pulled by two horses. On that cart the bodies were placed on. Corpses were thrown in a special grave that was common for everyone. We noticed it during work.
You could also get hanged, die of diseases that increased their number. Many committed suicide. Jews died everywhere in concentration camp.

Did your work comrade survivde?
We were nine in the beginning, seven died. The oldest died first; he got very sick. He went to the hospital that was in the concentration camp and never returned.

Which of your work comrade stayed alive?
His name was Iza and he was 13-14 years old. Iza taught me German and that is how we understood each other: by speaking German.

How did you survive?
I survived by one of reason: I had a good health.

Did you get any help by surviving?
What help could you get? You could not get help from anyone Yet the same thing in prison and in the train, before I came to the camp: no one stole food from each other.
I was in the concentration camp for 3 years and when I reflect back: if the Red army would only come two month after, then I would fall apart and die.
Iza and I had no flesh on our bodies! We were lighten like feathers, as if the wind could blow us away. You could see the skeleton perfectly on us.

How did you get delivered?
The Nazis knew that the Red army was on its way to rescue us and then the worst happened! They started to put the barracks on fire with Jews inside in the middle of the night.
The Jews slept and had no choice than to run out from the barracks. Outside, they Nazis were shoting expected them on fired at them (shot them).
By that time I lied in my bed. I could hear everything: the screams, the shots… yet I was so exhausted that I fell asleep. I ate nothing that day and worked the whole day without resting.
Next day, I and Iza went to work. When we came out, everything was burned down. The Nazis’ idea was to burn the whole camp. All barracks turned into ashes except the four of them with only children inside.
We intended to go to work, but one Nazi told us not to. Instead they thought to shoot us here and now. Iza and I stood there and were sure that this was the end. They never killed us since the walls of the concentration camp started to fall apart.
I thought that I was dreaming. How could it be true? Is this true? When it collapsed, the Nazi ran away (they got arrested later). Suddenly, we saw cars and artilleries. It was the Red army!

Did someone interview you before you got free?
Yes, they asked the same questions that the Nazis asked in the beginning when I came here.

Where did you go?
The soldiers helped us to get on the cars, we were sitting on the benches. Those who had hard to stand could sit or lie down while we were on our way to the military hospital. I and Iza split, because we were going to different hospitals. I never saw him again.
I was at the hospital for two months with a drip bottle. I had hiccups for a long time and had hard to talk. I heard 2050 of 10 000 survived.

How did you feel after the concentration camp?
First, when I came to the concentration camp, it felt like they put a big, heavy stone on my back and that I should walk and work with it. After the Red army, the stone was removed. I felt free! I started to live!

Where did you end up and how was it?
The decision was to give me to an orphanage, in the USSR. Of course the orhanage was wonderful compharing to the concentration camp! Everyone was friendly, great food and nice beds. I started to go to school there too.

Did you feel that the war was over?
Yes, everything was quite normal yet I can tell you this: if there would be a German boy among us, then the kids would surely kill him! It was a great hatred towards the Germans after the war.

What happened next?
I remember one day, I saw a woman sitting in the waiting room. She had her hair down and looked sad. I stopped and looked at her.
She stood up quickly, looked so shocked and pale, later she fainted. A teacher called an ambulance and took her to the hospiral. After she woke up at the hospital, I was in front of her. My mom told me that she has been looking for me and my brothers for so long time. She found out that the oldest was shot while the other was gone (no trace of him). She had sent a letter to Stalin who wrote back that I was at the orphanage.
We continued our lives in the Soviet Union and did not have the possibility to return to Romania.

What did you do for the rest of your life?
I lived together with mom. Got an education and became a technical chemist. Today, I live in Sweden with my wife and our children have their own children.

How come the WWII got its outbreak?
The Second World War had erupted because of the First World War. Germany lost the war and had to pay. Starvation and unemployment grew in Germany. Adolf Hitler, was going to “stop it”. He hated Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, etc, but mostly, he thought that Jews were responsible for the suffering of Germany. He became a dictator in Germany, started the WWII that lead to concentration camps for the “enemy”. He tricked the German people to have the same logic as him and wanted to capture Europe by force.

Would like to add something?
I am very grateful to the Soviet! I am happy that survived and reunited with my mother, got an education and a life. However, back then I wanted to go to Romania but we could not due to the Soviet Union’s domestic policy after the war. Then Antisemitism arose and spread in the USSR. Jews began to emigrate from the Soviet Union to the United States, Israel, England and other countries. I left my second home country because of humanitarian reasons.

About the Author
Born in USSR, raised in Sweden, made Aliyah from Netherlands. Talia prefers to speak British English. I am an educator and project coordinator at SJD (Swedish Jewish Dialogue). Also does reporting at SJD. We at SJD believe in history where Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people. Our mission: Support the State of Israel and fight against Antisemitism