|My parents - Shimon and Baila Maryles|
The Holocaust is by far is responsible for the greatest single numerical loss of Jews. I do not believe that any other period in history had such a large number of Jews murdered. While it may be true that other “Holocausts” in history had a greater percentage of the Jewish people destroyed, I think the holocaust “wins” in the numbers department.
I have met many people who - like my parents - are survivors of the Holocaust, each with their own story. All the misery of those who suffered prior to their being murdered, and those who suffered and survived is something that should be seared into the heart of every Jew.
I am a child of the Holocaust. For me it is personal. Both of my parents and brothers lived through it.
My mother’s story is not that well known to me. She talked about it in a piecemeal way. She was not in the camps but she suffered no less. She hid out during the war mostly in the forest. Surviving outdoors during the freezing cold of 2 winters.She ate scraps of food found at night - discarded by townspeople that lived near that forest.
During one chase-down by the Nazis her mother stepped on a land mine and her legs were blown off. She urged my mother to keep running and leave her behind. My mother never saw her mother after that.By the time it was all over she lost her entire family save for one younger brother who immigrated to Israel after the Holocaust. But he too died shortly after making Aliyah. My mother was not married prior to the Holocaust. She met and married my father after the war. She was his second wife.
My father rarely talked about his experiences. Far less than my mother did. Fortunately for me, his story was published in an book by another survivor. That, combined with what he told me personally gives me a more vivid picture of what he lived through. His story follows.
My father survived the Holocaust by hiding out in bunkers. His younger brother, my unlce Aaron was a genius of innovation. When the Drohobycz Ghetto (Ukraine) was established, my uncle Aaron found a way to build an underground bunker in the center of town, right under the noses of the Nazi occupiers. It housed over 80 people, mostly extended family. It had a year’s worth of food stored up. It had running water, showering facilities, heat, a stove, beds, and bathroom facilities that were attached to the city’s sewer system. My father, his first wife, three sons, and twin baby daughters, along with my uncle Aaron and another uncle: Yosef, lived there for a part of the Holocaust.
Somehow at some point, the bunker was discovered. The crowd started to flee through the sewer system. There were many tunnels there and my father and uncle knew that in the rush to get out everyone would scatter through different tunnels. They made up to meet a specific location in the sewers. My father took his sons and his wife took the twins. They separated. My uncles Aaron and Yosef, their wives, my brothers, and father all managed to meet up at the pre-determined place. But my father’s wife and twin daughters never showed up. My father never saw them again.
Where to go what to do next…?
Aaron, had not only built the Drohobycz bunker, he had built another one not far away for some other Jews who asked him to help out. Using his God given talents, well into the occupation of Drohobycz he built a second bunker. This one a bit smaller but with all the “accoutrements” of the first one, running water, a stove, heat, a connection to the sewer system. A kindly non-Jew who lived in the house above it provided food to those hiding there and kept the bunker and its occupants a secret from the Nazi occupiers and the police.
Aaron stopped over at this bunker, and knowing that it was filled to capacity asked if the residents of this bunker could take in his family while he built yet another bunker. He would then later pick up his family after completing the new bunker. They agreed.
The new bunker was located in the forest. Much cruder than the first two he had built it was basically a hole in the ground. It had none of the previous bunker’s accommodations, except for a small camouflaged stove. He dug a hole in that bunker that acted as a toilet. Food would be supplied by the kindly wife of a Ukrainian forest ranger who lived nearby. He then went back to get his family, including my father and his remaining three sons; and my uncle Yosef and his wife. They all moved into the new bunker in the forest. They had also taken another individual from that bunker who pleaded to go with them. All seemed well for a while. But it didn’t last long.
It was the middle of winter. There was snow on the ground. The man who asked to go with them had an attack of diarrhea and was embarrassed to use the toilet in the bunker itself. He wanted to go outside the bunker for more privacy. Despite efforts to stop him, he left the bunker leaving his footprints in the snow. This was discovered by some local farmers who immediately reported it to the police.
The police and Nazi authorities surrounded the bunker, firing their guns all over the place. The fellow responsible for the revealing footsteps curiously stuck out his head from the bunker to see what was going on and was immediately shot and killed. Aaron realized that they were doomed and thinking quickly - told everyone to jump into the hole in the ground that had been used as a toilet. But there was not enough room for everyone. My father’s oldest son, Yehuda, could not fit in.
Aaron also sacrificed himself by covering up that hole with twigs totally camouflaging it. He then decided to make a run for it along with his wife. He was shot in thee back and killed instantly. Aaron’s wife and children were captured by the Nazis and put on a truck to be killed later, as was my father’s oldest son Yehuda who sacrificed himself, so his father and younger brothers could live.
My father told me the last words he ever heard from his oldest son was “Nekama, Nekama!” The Nazis then entered the bunker to take whatever pots, pans and other material possessions there were and later brought back more police to marvel at the bunkers construction… all the while, my father, his two remaining sons, youngest brother Yosef and his wife were hiding in the excrement of that makeshift toilet. A couple of locals were overheard saying that the police had also shot the forest ranger’s wife. Somehow they had traced the cooking pots to her.
Many hours later when night fell they felt safe enough to come out. They found their way back to the second bunker Aaron built. My father, covered in excrement, then told the members of that bunker his harrowing story - sobbing the entire time. Everyone in that bunker remained silent- riveted to the story.
My father, my uncle Yosef and his wife, and (Yibadel L'Chaim) my two brothers, may they live and be well, survived in that bunker until the day the Russian army finally liberated them.