The Hebrew Academy - A Yeshiva Day School serving Toddler through Eighth Grade

Sunday, 20 June 2010 13:19

We Have a Winner!

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Mazal Tov to The Hebrew Academy student, Yonatan Ratson, 6th Grade, 2nd Place Winner in Artscroll's WRITE, DRAW AND WIN CONTEST! Yonatan was awarded $350 to purchase Artscroll books. Yonatan's story was chosen from among 2,000 other entries from over 100 schools in United States, England and Israel.

Yonatan's exciting story (reprinted below) dramatized the harrowing and courageous experiences that his grandfather, Nathan Greenstein, encountered during the Holocaust. Yonatan's retelling of his grandfather's experience was written in a very inspiring and moving way.

We are proud of you, Yonatan! May this award inspire you to read many more Jewish books and perhaps even write a book one day!



By Yonatan Ratson

Name: Nathan Greenstein (Grunstein)
Born: February 25, 1925
Country: Czechoslovakia
State: Karpato-Rus
Town: Cinadievo
Father: Abraham (Adolf) Greenstein (Grunstein)
Mother: Gold (Gizella) Greenstein (Grunstein)

Prior to the war, my great grandparents owned a small grocery and tobacco store in the front of their house. In 1939, Germany and Hungary divided Czechoslovakia, the western part going to Germany and the eastern part going to Hungary. Hungary decided that Jews could not have a license to sell tobacco, and they took away my great grandfather’s license. Shortly after that, the store no longer prospered, and the family closed the store. My grandfather knew how to repair shoes, and he was able to earn a living to support the family.

For the next few years, my grandfather attended a Yeshiva in Munkacs and worked part time in a grocery store to earn extra money. His parents needed financial support. My grandfather was mechanically inclined, and he went to work as a mechanic in a furniture factory where he maintained the machinery. He had to commute to work by train. For Jews, it was getting harder and harder to use public transportation. Jews were issued permits to use the trains.

There was a group of friends, boys and girls, who rode the train together. One of them was a German, and my grandfather was friendly with him. One day while riding the train home from work, this “German friend” appeared in an SS uniform. To show his authority, he wanted my grandfather and his friends to move from their seats, which were by the window of the train. A fight started in the train while they were still in the station in Munkacs. The transit police came and removed the German boy from the train. My grandfather never saw his “German friend” again.

During Passover in 1944, my grandfather went to renew his permit and was told he no longer needed one. On April 14th, the day after Passover, the Hungarian gendarmerie came to my great grandparent’s house and gave them a half hour to pack their personal belongings. On the street, a horse and wagon was waiting for them. They were driven to the ghetto of Munkacs, which used to be a brick factory. It was no closed, because it was owned by Jews.

My grandfather’s younger brother, Hetyu, and he were trying to escape when they saw the gendarmerie going to Jewish houses. They had to cross the Latorica River. They knew the bridge over the river was being guarded by soldiers. With the snow just melting, the river was rushing, and they could not cross it. The alternative was to go back home and be with the family.

On May 18th they were loaded onto a cattle wagon train and told they were to be transferred to Hortopagy (Southern Hungary) to work on farms. Two days later on May 20th, they ended up in Berkenau. All that time they were guarded heavily by SS. Getting off the train, the SS pushed each person to the right or to the left. The result of this pushing was known to everyone. (Jewish prisoners, working in the arrival area, told my grandfather that the smoke from the chimneys was that of his family.) He lost his parents, a younger brother and sister and three older sisters, including their four children. He was fortunate to be pushed to the right, so that he could bring his story to the rest of the world.

My grandfather went through the “sanitation procedure” (the body shaved from head to toe), took the famous “shower” (not knowing whether it would be a shower of water or a shower of gas) and was given the blue and gray concentration camp uniform.

The next day he was taken to Auschwitz, where he was put into a barrack and received his tattoo (A-4472). Before he knew what was happening, he was put onto a truck. After a couple of hours, he arrived in Javishovice (a coal mine) where he worked different shifts.

My grandfather said that the camp was kept very clean and that he had to shower every day after his returned from the coal mine. The food was a bowl of grass soup and about a quarter-pound of hard German bread a day. Once in a while the Germans gave them cigarettes, so he took them to the coal mine, gave them to the Polish supervisors of the coal mine in exchange for bread. The Polish supervisors hated the Jews and were trusted by the Nazis. One of them, his name was Kafka, used to stick his hammer handle into my grandfather’s throat if he didn’t meet his quota o f mining coal. (Everyone in the coal mine had a hammer and pick with a long handle, along with a gas lamp.

After work, the workers were assembled on the front yard to march back to the camp (about 3 to 4 mines). It was when he worked the night shift that my grandfather planned to escape. The front yard was not lit. It was dark. He tried rubbing off the number on his arm. He rubbed until it was bleeding. A scab formed in its place. He even managed to get a civilian coat to cover up his uniform.

“Ma’ase Hasatan” – the work of the devil. On the night that my grandfather had planned to escape, lights were installed on the front yard, and it was lit. His plan was shattered. He dropped the civilian coat at the mine exit. The wound on his arm healed, and the “number” came back. He remained at the camp.

January, 1945: The Russian Army was advancing, and the SS wanted the prisoners out of the camp. (The camp consisted of only Jews.) They opened the gates, and the prisoners were forced to leave and march, being guarded on both sides of the road. They had no food and marched in the snow and ice with wooden shoes on their feet. It was very difficult. If anyone fell and did not get up immediately, they were shot by the SS.

After a few days of marching, the prisoners reached a train. They were put in open wagons (not closed cars) that were filled with snow. After a few days of traveling, they arrived in Buchenwald. From Buchenwald, the inmates were transferred to different camps. My grandfather ended up in a camp in Berga/Elster, where they were digging a tunnel in a mountain so that the Germans could hide their airplanes from the Allied Forces.

When my grandfather arrived at the camp, he was lucky to find two people from his home town (Cinadovo), Shepsel Kallus and his son, Moshe. They were “maintenance men” in the camp. They told the “Stuben Fuhrer” (the person in charge of the camp) that they needed extra help and that they knew that my grandfather was a good mechanic. My grandfather did not have to go out of the camp to dig in the mountain. Instead he became a “maintenance man” in the camp. His job was to carry a ladder and “look busy”. Once in a while he had to fix things in the washroom, repair the roof or a window, and sweep the sidewalk. (The camp was an old factory building in the center of town.)

In early April, 1945, the Allied Forces were advancing, and the Germans decided to march the prisoners again. Once again my grandfather thought of escaping. This time it would be easier for him to escape than it had been from the coal mine. The roof in the washroom had a window, a kind of a skylight, which opened, so he left his ladder in the washroom. When it got dark, he climbed up, opened the window of the roof, jumped to the sidewalk, crossed the street, the railroad station and ran into the woods. The clothes he had on were civilian clothes with a red paint stripe on the back. (The blue and gray camp uniform from Aushwitz was exchanged in Buchenwald for these clothes.)

The weather was bad, cold and snowing. He covered himself with leaves to keep warm. Heading east through the forest (to get closer to areas freed by the Russian Army), he passed some farms. He sneaked into the pig sties and took out the food from the containers and ate. It was mostly leftovers from the table, mixed with potatoes, corn and milk. It was better than what he was served in the camp.

There were some roads in the forest he had to cross. On one occasion, just as he was crossing the road, a German soldier was riding on a bike. Without thinking, my grandfather took the stick that he was walking with and hit the solder on his head. He fell off the bike. My grandfather ran and ran as far as he could and then dug himself in under the leaves to hide.

As he was walking through the forests a few days later, he met two men. He recognized them from the camp. They told my grandfather that the SS were not guarding their prisoners as carefully as they once had, and these men were able to escape during the “march”. My grandfather actually thought that the SS realized that they were losing the war and feared for their own lives. Anyway, now there were “three” who were free.

They continued walking along the side of the road. The next day a truck of German soldiers (not SS) passed by. They spotted the three men, stopped and asked who they were. My grandfather knew Ukrainian and said that they were “Russian workers working for the Germans.” The soldiers told my grandfather and his two companions to get on the truck. After riding a few miles, the soldiers told them to get off the truck and stand alongside of the road near the trees of the forest. The three men looked at each other and thought “this was the end”. The soldiers noticed that the men looked scared and told them not to be afraid; that there was an alarm out and the Allied Forces were bombing the area. The soldiers asked if the three men were hungry and gave them some food. Their field kitchen was across the road.

After the air raid, everybody got back on the truck, and the soldiers took the men to a Russian POW camp. The soldiers did not want the men, because they were now POW’s. They took the men to the Burgermeisters’ office in Auer and left them there with him. They were left in civilian hands. The Burgermeister searched them to see if they had any guns. He told his deputy to take them to the next town (Schwarzenbach), a couple of hours walk away. Since the deputy did not feel like walking that far, he gave the three men instructions and a letter from the Burgermeister to give to one of the farmers in town. When he left the men, the first thing that my grandfather did was to throw away his coat with the red paint stripe on it.

The three men went from store to store and asked for food. They ate as much as they could. When they arrived at the farmer’s house, he let them sleep in the attic of the barn, which was filled with hay. The men slept through the night until noon the next day. The farmer came to wake them up and brought them to his home and gave them food. There were two other farmers at his house. My grandfather and his two friends went to work at separate farms.

When my grandfather arrived at his farmer’s house, the farmer let my grandfather take a bath, gave him his son’s clothes (he had been killed in Russia) and took my grandfather to the barber for a haircut. The farmer gave my grandfather his son’s room and treated him as part of his family. The next day, the farmer took my grandfather for a ride to show him his land. (My grandfather never revealed that he was Jewish.) He called himself Ivan Malier, the name of a home-town neighbor. The farmer and his wife were anti-Nazis. Since my grandfather understood a little bit of German, he knew what they were talking about when they sat at meals.

The date was May 9, 1945. The farmer came into my grandfather’s room, woke him up with the news that the war was over, and that he would be able to go back home. They made him a big package of food, drove him with a horse and wagon to the next town to the railroad station. A few hours later the train crossed the border into Czechoslovakia. It was the first train of returnees, and a military band and the Red Cross welcomed everyone with the National Anthem, a parade and lots of food.

When my grandfather arrived in his home town, he found the roads, some buildings, the train station and some houses were destroyed. His house was now occupied by Gentile neighbors. He could no longer stay there and went to Prague to look for some family. Originally there had been 9 children in his family. Through the Red Cross, he found out that one brother and sister were in Sweden and were making plans to go to the U.S. Another brother was in Italy. Some of his family had survived.

The end

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