In the following months, Yisrael faced danger almost every day. He felt like a hunted animal, always on the run, always looking for a place to hide or escape.
TESTIMONY: “CONSTANT DANGER”
“I heard them looking for me all night.”
Though Yisrael knew that it would be safer for him not to enter the towns and villages that he saw along the way, he also knew that in order to survive, he would have to approach the local farmers, looking for work. He took up various jobs along the way, but was always nervous about being discovered as a Jew. More than once he found himself in real danger of being caught.
At one farm where he worked, Yisrael found himself boarding together with a visiting Nazi commander. Of course, neither the farmers nor the commander knew that Yisrael was Jewish. The commander had Yisrael shine his shoes in exchange for chocolate. Then, one day Yisrael was out in a field with the cows when he saw a gathering of Jews on the horizon. From a distance, he saw the Nazi commander shot the Jews one by one. Once again, Yisrael realized it was time to move on.
In the fall of 1942, Yisrael found his way into a forest where he noticed a German patrol. He realized that he had reached the border between Poland and Slovakia. Of course, the patrol stopped him and asked where he was from and where he was going. Yisrael pointed, explaining in Polish that he was on his way to help one of the local farmers. Then, he just continued walking. Apparently, the soldiers believed that the boy must really be on his way to work.
When night fell, Yisrael made his move to cross the border. He realized that he would have to cross a river in the dark and cold. The river was the Dunajec, a tributary of the Vistula River, that runs between Slovakia and Poland. He managed to jump from rock to rock, but inevitably he became wet before he made it safely to the Slovakian side. Exhausted and soaking wet, Yisrael curled himself up in a ball to keep warm and fell asleep on the forest floor. When he awoke, he felt the warm sun rays, and the hope of a new day in a new country.
He did not know where he was going or what language the people spoke in Slovakia. But, he found a house on the edge of the forest and asked for help, thinking that anyone who lived on the border must know Polish. Indeed, Yisrael was fortunate to be able to communicate with the family in the house. They told him that there were still some Jews living in a nearby town. They told him how to get to the town and that he should look for Mr. Shapiro, who owned a factory. When Yisrael found the factory, he learned that a non-Jewish owner had taken over, but Mr. Shapiro was still employed, indispensable in instructing the new owner how to run the business. Yisrael hid with Mr. Shapiro for nine weeks.
Yisrael moved on to other hiding places, and in 1943 even tried to cross the border into Hungary. At the border, however, he was picked up by the Hungarian police guard, and taken to a police station where he was interrogated and brutally beaten. Then, he was taken to a labor camp in Slovakia, called Novaky.
With all the hardships of being a wanderer, Yisrael always had his freedom. Now, imprisoned in the Novaky labor camp , he had to live in barracks surrounded by a barbed wire fence. This camp, like many others in Slovakia, was along the route of the deportations to Auschwitz . Yisrael witnessed several transports of Hungarian Jews passing through Novaky. He later learned that they were on their way to the notorious death camp .
Yisrael spent 18 months at this labor camp . Though he still feared for his life, for the moment he had food, clothes, and shelter. The prisoners in the camp had various duties in the production of materials for the government, police, and army. Yisrael was assigned to an upholstery workshop.
In the summer of 1944, rumors began to spread about a revolt in Slovakia. In August, the prisoners of Novaky were freed during the Slovak National Uprising. Although ultimately the revolt was put down by Nazi Germany, many of the prisoners, including Yisrael, used this opportunity to flee to the forests to join the partisans.
Yisrael was 16 when he became a partisan . He joined a partisan group, trained with them for several weeks, and then went into the fighting. Soon, he was injured and separated from his original unit, but he found other groups of partisans to join, both Jews and non-Jews. When he was with partisans who were not Jewish, Yisrael was careful to hide his true identity.
Yisrael traveled with the partisans into Soviet territory through the spring of 1945, until the Allies arrived and the war ended.
TESTIMONY: “NO RETURN”
“I had absolutely no rights.”
At the end of the war, Yisrael began to meet other survivors who were originally from Poland. Many of them spoke of the violence that met Jews when they tried to return to their homes. Instead, these Jews were talking about going to the ancient Jewish homeland in the area that was then known as the Mandate for Palestine . Yisrael decided to join them.