b. Suceava, Romania, 1926
We had been gone from home only eight weeks, but it seemed much longer.
After twelve days of marching through the fields of the Ukraine, we had been put in former military barracks by some Romanian officers who promised us that the orders to move us to a better location would arrive soon from the German command. And so we were sitting in these barracks in a godforsaken place in the middle of a vast field in Transnistria, toward the end of November 1941. We were over four hundred people—men, women, and children. Most of the old people had died on the march.
As the days turned into weeks and the orders never came, we realized that we were left here to die. My father had died last week, and my mother was sick with a high fever.
One day she called my name. She was so weak she could hardly speak. “My child, ” she said, “you must promise me something. You must run away from here.”
I put some snow on her hot forehead to cool the fever. “Mother, ” I said, “how can I run? My feet are frostbitten. The snow is a meter deep. There's a snowstorm out there and the roads are all covered.”
She didn't listen. “I am dying, ” she said. “But you're only fifteen. You still have a whole life and a future ahead of you. The new orders will never come. You must run away and save yourself. There are good people out there and someone will help you.”
She continued: “And when the war ends, as all wars must, you should go to America. Your father and I have brothers and sisters there and you will not be alone. You must promise, so I can die in peace knowing that you will survive.”
And so I promised. That night my mother died in her sleep. She died in peace. I cannot remember the next three days. I was in shock, expecting to die too. But death didn't come. Eventually I got up from the corner where I was sitting and tried to see what was going on in the other compartments. In the beginning, it was crowded—over four hundred people in seven or eight rooms—but now there were only a few. A mother eating some dry bread and breastfeeding her baby, both looking weak and pale, probably their last meal; a newlywed couple, married a week before the deportation, lying on the floor with high fevers; a neighbor of mine, the only person over forty, who had lost his entire