I am one of the group of 131 boys from Kovno. The story of the group from the ghetto and through the various camps until liberation has already been told on this website. I will focus on the significant personal events that I can remember.
I was born in Kovno on
I was the youngest son of a family of seven: my mother Lyuba, nee Gershovitz, my father Yehezkel Galperin, an older sister Frida (now Frida Schein), then Pola (now Pola Zur), Wolf, Feive and I, Shlomo.
My father was a building contractor, and my mother a housewife. We were middle class and had a good standard of living. Two years before the outbreak of war we moved into our own home, which my father had built on part of my grandfather Shachne Gershovitz' lot.
I managed to attend school for three years before the war. I completed the first and second grade in the "Yiddishe Litvishe" [Jewish Lithuanian] school. When I was in the third grade, in 1940, the Russians entered
My big sister Frida, who was already married then, managed to make it to the border in time, with her husband's family. They reached
We fled on foot. My sister Pola hitched a ride and so we were separated from her. My parents and the three younger children were left. After several days on the road we reached a spot about 15 km. from Vilna, where we learned that the Germans had already reached it. We turned back, and at my father's decision decided to return to Kovno.
We slept at the home of a Lithuanian peasant in return for soap and other items we had with us. He promised to take us to Kovno in his horse and wagon, also in return for various items. We set out with him on foot, walked for quite a distance and entered a forest. My father saw that the road wasn't leading anywhere and understood that the peasant's intention was to rob us and perhaps even kill us. He decided that we had to flee. We turned around and began running in the direction of the road, with the peasant chasing us. When we reached the road we saw that the German army was already moving in the direction of Kovno. We walked along the side of the road, with the Gentile following us. In the meantime we saw two German soldiers standing beside the house of one of the peasants. My father went up to them and asked them to help us get away from the Gentile who was chasing us to rob us. One of the soldiers removed his rifle from his shoulder and aimed it at the peasant with the intention of shooting him, but my father stopped him because he feared that the other peasants would harass him as the result of such an act. The German calmed down, called the Gentile over, beat him soundly and we were saved from being robbed.
When we reached Kovno, our new house was already occupied by Lithuanians. Having no choice, we settled in the meager hut beside the house, my grandfather's hut. Within a few months we were evicted from there to the ghetto that had been set up in the meantime. While we were in the ghetto my sister Pola returned from Vilna, at which time we learned that she hadn't managed to get across the border either. She had returned because we had arranged to meet with her in Vilna, and when she realized that we weren't coming, she understood that we had returned to our city.
In the ghetto several families lived in one apartment. Each family had a room, and sometimes two families shared a room, and the kitchen and bathroom were shared by all.
My father worked as a painter for the Gestapo. Because he knew how to draw, he painted pictures for the Germans and in recompense received various goods that helped us live and also survive the roundups. In order to improve the family's financial situation, my father began to produce kerchiefs. He bought sheets in exchange for food, drew the patterns and we all used to cut the patterns and paint the kerchiefs.
My sister, who looked more like a Lithuanian than a Jewish woman, used to cross the fence with the kerchiefs and sell them on the Aryan side for food. For a while, I and my two brothers worked at a carpentry school called Werkstaten.
After two years in the ghetto we were transferred to a labor camp in anc, near Kovno. In this camp we lived in cabins, with the women and men separate. From there we went out to work every day in the German army camps. I used to go out to work with my father – he prepared signs and painted paintings for the officers.
One day when we returned to the camp from work, it was deathly silent there (as opposed to the normal noise). When we entered we understood what the silence meant: the children's Aktion [roundup] had taken place that day, and all those in the camp were taken to their death. Thanks to the fact that we were at work, my brother and I remained alive this time (we later learned that there had also been a children's roundup in the ghetto, and that all the children they found were also taken from there).
When the front drew closer to
The train continued on to
One day all the children in the camp, 130 in number, were gathered together, to be sent somewhere. My father didn't want me, the little one, to be alone, and asked my brother Feive to join us, so that we would be together. My brother cried and didn't want to leave my father, and then my older brother Wolf, who was 17 years old, volunteered to join me instead of Feive, even though he knew we were sentenced to death. I cried and asked him not to come with us, it was enough that I would die; but I couldn't convince him, and that is how our number reached 131.
We were sent to
Two weeks later we were loaded onto a train with three cars, with two armed German guards seated in each car. We traveled this way for three days. Only 129 of us reached
When we got off the train, Wolf arranged us in threes and we began marching, with him ordering "Eyes right!" in the direction of the Germans, "Hats off!", etc. Our appearance apparently impressed the Germans (as opposed to the masses of Jews who got off the trains confused and depressed, and were taken off with shouting and blows).
To this day there are those who think that our orderly descent from the train impressed the Germans and that is why they did not send us directly to the crematorium.
We were brought to Lager A. Several weeks later numbers were tattooed on our arms and we became a number. However, we had the impression that we were nevertheless becoming permanent residents of the camp and that we would apparently not be exterminated (we were grasping at straws). My number is B-2815.
In the meantime, there was a scarlet fever epidemic (for the second time) and we were closed up in the Block [barrack] for four/five months, only being allowed to leave to use the privy.
During this time my brother Wolf was taken from Birkenau to a different camp, and I remained without anyone from my family.
We were transferred to Block D. The High Holidays were drawing near. The first selection took place on Rosh Hashanah. We stood naked in threes, in open rows. Mengele (may his name be effaced) walked between the rows and pointed at each one – who would live and who would die. He reached me and asked me how old I was. I answered that I was 14, even though I was only twelve and a half.
Luckily for me, he decided to let me live.
On Yom Kippur I decided to fast. I put the bread that I had received for the whole day back into the bag, and began fasting. Suddenly we saw that the camp was filling up with SS men and we understood that there would be another selection. Then I decided to break my fast so that I would look better, and stuffed the bread I had into my mouth.
And we weren't mistaken. There was a selection according to height. Whoever didn't exceed the determined height was sent in the direction of extermination.
I was short and didn't reach the required height. All the little ones, including me, were placed in a hut to wait to be taken to the crematorium. In that hut there were Polish children who had been brought to
Before the war, my mother had a dream connected to me that frightened her. Because she was traditional, she went to the rabbi to ask what to do about it. The rabbi told her that she should bring me to the synagogue every Friday, and we would light two candles together, until my Bar-Mitzvah – and that is what we did
When the war broke out and there were no synagogues or candles, my mother asked the rabbi how to carry out the mitzvah [good deed], and he said that we should give alms to a poor person every Friday. My mother continued doing this until we parted, and in Birkenau I also continued giving some of the minuscule portion of bread I received to someone who looked especially miserable. I continued thus until my Bar-Mitzvah, which was on
When the front drew near to
Afterwards we moved to a tent camp, and several weeks later we again continued wandering. It was already the end of April; the weather was rainy and cold. We walked for three days. At night we slept outside and on those days didn't receive food either. At this season, after the winter, the weeds have not yet sprouted and we didn't even find roots. We found snails and that was my food. On the way we passed the city of
We reached Gunskirchen camp, which was the worst of all the camps from the standpoint of sanitary and other conditions and the food. The camp was in a forest. We were placed into huts. We were so crowded that there was only room to sit on the floor. We received a very thin soup and in addition, there was a rumor that it was poisoned, so that hundreds of people died every day in the hut. Leaving the hut meant walking on the corpses that had died the previous night. Luckily for us we were only there for 6 days until we were liberated – on May 4.
That morning we heard artillery explosions. In the afternoon all the guards disappeared from the camp. Only the next morning did I leave the camp with several boys. We walked freely on the road, with no one chasing us and telling us what to do. I will never forget that feeling – the feeling of freedom and lack of fear and terror.
We reached a German air force camp, where the Americans gathered the refugees from the camps, and then I began to search for my family and attempt to discover what had befallen them. Post facto I discovered that we were all alive. My entire nuclear family had survived the Holocaust. They all met in
For three years I lived with the Lider family in Moshav Beer Tuvia. I attended school there with the children of the moshav, until I completed the eighth grade. From there I moved to Mikveh Yisrael [agricultural school], where I studied for another three years, agriculture and general studies. When I finished school I enlisted in the army and for two and a half years served as an agricultural counselor in the cadets in Beer Ora. When I was discharged from the army I joined Kibbutz Neve Eitan, the kibbutz for which the core group of my classmates from Mikveh Yisrael was intended. There I met my wife, Yehudit Shimoni, from Tel Aviv. We were married on
About my family – I only learned about my parents and siblings more than a year after liberation. During that year my family in
Over the years most of the family came to