I was born in the town of Wegrow in north-eastern Poland in mid-1938. Not a propitious time and place for a Jewish child to be born.
One memory that has been etched indelibly in my mind is the sight of the Nazi army marching toward Russia. Our house was located on the main road leading to the Russian frontier. Day and night they marched – soldiers, trucks, tanks, and more soldiers, in a never ending line – an invincible force. I remember my father, holding me in his arms, saying to my mother, “Who is going to stop them? Certainly not the Russians.”
One night, my father had a dream. In this dream he saw what he had to do: where to build the bunker, how to build it, and even its dimensions.
He would build a bunker under a wooden storage shed behind the house. It would be covered with boards, on top of which would be placed soil and bits of straw which would render it invisible. In order to camouflage the entrance, he would construct a shallow box and fill it with earth and cover it with straw so that it would be indistinguishable from the rest of the earthen floor. Air would be supplied through a drain pipe buried in the earth. This was to be our Noah’s Ark that would save us from the initial deluge.
It took my father about three weeks to finish the job. When he was done, he took my mother and sister into the shed and asked them if they could find the trap door. When they could not, he was satisfied.
My mother prepared dry biscuits, jars of jam made out of beets, some tinned goods such as sardines, some sugar and salt. We placed two buckets in the bunker. One bucket was filled with water, the other bucket was empty and would serve as the latrine. We also took down some blankets, a couple of pillows and some warm clothing. We were ready.
For three long years, starting in 1941 when the Nazis started the deportations and mass killings, we hid in secret bunkers, dug in fields, under sheds and houses, or constructed in barns. It seems that the only way that a Jew could survive in wartime Poland was to become invisible. So we became invisible Jews.