Living History Lesson Noted Author Endured Holocaust in Romania

Article excerpt

Romanian Holocaust survivor Felicia Carmelly remembers watching a young mother prick her breast with a pin and feed blood to her starving infant.

It was 1941. Carmelly was 10 years old. She, her parents and the young mother were among hundreds being herded from their homes in northeastern Romania by rifle-bearing Nazis. Not a word was uttered, Carmelly said, when that young mother later dropped her baby in a river.

"We were like stones," she said. "All our emotions were killed."

Carmelly is now a 69-year-old psychologist in Canada who in 1994 wrote an award-winning book: Shattered! 50 Years of Silence, History and Voices of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria.

To the thrill of Jewish community leaders, Carmelly is speaking in Mandarin this month in honor of Yom Hashoah, a day of Holocaust remembrance.

Beth Fleet, adult services director at the Jewish Community Alliance, was trying to organize a Holocaust program for some Fletcher High School students studying prejudices. Her friend, Dereen Murray of Mandarin, mentioned that her mother-in-law -- Carmelly -- was visiting and would enjoy speaking.

"I was blown away," Fleet said. "Here's this huge opportunity."

Carmelly, who speaks seven languages, spent more than three years in a concentration camp with her parents and grandparents in Transnistria, a 16,000-square-mile territory in the southern Ukraine where there were hundreds of concentration, transit, labor and death camps from 1941 to 1944.

Carmelly said she never planned to surface the painful Holocaust memories she had buried for decades. She never spoke about it.

But when cleaning house one day, a book about the Holocaust fell off her bookshelf -- an act of God, she said. Her husband had purchased the book without her knowledge.

Though she'd avoided Holocaust literature her whole life, for three days, she sat on the floor engrossed in this book. She recognized names of people from her hometown, Vatra Dornei in northern Romania. She also recognized names from the concentration camp she suffered in, in Shargorod, Transnistria.

It was there she survived on scraps of bread in a dirt-floor hut with no running water or restrooms. Carmelly, her mom and grandmother knitted coarse wool with bleeding, infected fingers in exchange for crumbs. Her grandmom's finger fell off from gangrene.

Her father was forced to chop up and bury dead frozen bodies in mass graves. He never recovered emotionally, Carmelly said. One woman in the camp poured scalding water on her husband's feet so he would no longer have to work at the mass graves. People around her died daily of cold, hunger, disease or Nazi gunfire. Their bodies were stacked outside the huts after survivors had taken their ragged clothing to keep themselves warm.

When Carmelly started telling friends and co-workers about her past, many had never heard of Transnistria, Carmelly said.

"And these were well-educated people," she said. …