From: Avital P.
Sent: Sunday, January 13, 2008 5:00 PM
To: Rozell Matt
Subject: A Train Near Magdeburg
Hi Mr. Rozell,
First, on behalf of my mother Ariela Rojek, I would like to wish you and your family a very Happy and Healthy New Year….
Several weeks ago my mother received a copy of your DVD and we all sat down to watch it with her. I must tell you we had chills up and down our spines. It is mind boggling to even imagine what transpires in our survivors’ and liberators’ minds when such a reunion takes place.
My mother was inspired to put her memories down on paper regarding the liberation and I have attached it in this e-mail. She has also asked me to include a couple of pictures that she took when she went back to visit the site a few years ago. Please add her story to the few that you already have and if you would like to share with the rest of the group you may go ahead.
Please continue to stay in touch and send us any other news that you may have in the future.
Thanks again for the great work that you have done.
Avital P., on behalf of Ariela Rojek
Dear Mr. Rozell,
After speaking with you in October and watching the reunion DVD, I decided to write down some of my memories and send them to you. I hope that they will contribute to the research that you have done.
I was born in Poland, where I spent time in the ghetto and a prison. I then spent two years in Bergen-Belsen.
When told to prepare ourselves for the departure in the train I was already very weak and sick. Two weeks prior I had very high fever. I was with my aunt, my father’s sister, as by then I had lost my entire family.
The Germans let us know that all those who could not walk would have to stay behind. My aunt wanted to stay because she knew that I was already very weak; however, I insisted on going. I said to my aunt, “You know that they kill the weak and the sick. We will go with the healthy people.” Although I was only 11½ years old, my aunt listened to me. I probably had a very strong will to live.
Although this might not be relevant, I would like to tell it anyway:
Before we left, they gave each of us a raw potato, and somehow we managed to bake them over wood. My aunt then said to me, “You know that now is the Passover holiday” – we barely remembered what day of the week it was, let alone the date. “On Passover, according to the story, our forefather Moses took us out of Egypt. Maybe G-d is bringing us to freedom, and maybe we will live.”
We walked a few kilometres to the train, and out of weakness we dropped most of the things that we still had with us. We reached the first car in the train, and there were a few women who saved us a spot. The train slowly moved but stopped every few kilometres because the tracks were destroyed from the bombings.
In one of the stations we saw a cargo train carrying beets. A good friend of mine convinced me to go steal the beets, and with my last strength I went. (I am actually still in touch with her today. Her and her brother are in the same picture as me, and she is the one who confirmed that I am the girl sitting on my knees on the right side of the picture). The beets tasted like the Garden of Eden, and my aunt said they tasted like melon. Of course, I didn’t remember how melon tasted.
The train continued to some place and stopped – on one side there was a forest and on the other side the Elba River. I remember the place exactly as it looks in Dr. Gross’s photograph.
After awhile, some Germans rode by on bicycles, and when they heard it was a train full of Jews they ordered the German guards to kill us. In the meantime, American planes flew low above us and apparently took pictures that showed people and children. The German guards that were still there to watch over us started to shoot with machine guns at the planes. Our people asked them to stop shooting, but they refused. We got off the train and hid under the wheels.
I would now like to add something personal. My aunt sat with me under the wheels and took out a little notebook that contained the names and addresses of our relatives in America. She told me to learn all of this by heart because you never know who the bullet will hit – and when the war would end I should contact these relatives and ask them to take me in. I listened to her and learned everything by heart. Until today, I remember some of these names and addresses.
As you know, the Germans didn’t get a chance to kill us, and you, the American angels, came on time. The children started to run to the small village to ask for food, and again my good friend dragged me with her and we managed to get some milk and bread.
After a day or two, the American army asked us to get on trucks and go to a village called Hillersleben. We were all afraid because we had learned from the past that every transport means death. In the end, they found a Jewish American soldier who announced in Yiddish over the loudspeaker that we had nothing to be afraid of and that we would be moving to nice and clean houses. And this is how the chapter of the train ended. But for me, on a personal note, my story continued…
I want to point out that in 1995 I went with my husband to Bergen-Belsen for the 50th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. From there we went to Hillersleben. The place looked very different from what I remembered, probably as a result of the Russian influence for 50 years. We managed to find a Jewish monument in the yard of a church. On it was written: In memory of 138 Jewish survivors of Bergen-Belsen.