Rifka (Glatter) was born in 1930, in Bucovina, Romania. In 1941, she was deported to Transnistria, where she lost both her parents. After having spent four months in an orphanage, in Moghilev, she was taken back to Romania with a group of orphans.
From there, the children were taken to Palestine, and Rifka was taken to live on a moshav (a cooperative agricultural village). There, she continued her schooling and joined the "Palmah", a commando style military youth organization.
In 1950, Rifka married Joseph Yaldor. They had two children.
In 1967, due to an illness she incurred in Transnistria, the couple decided to move to Cape Town, South Africa. They lived there for 23 years, before moving to Toronto.
Before preparing this testimony, Rifka never talked to her husband or her children about her traumatic childhood.
It is the individual who is not
interested in his fellowman
Who has the greatest difficulties in life.
|Alfred Adler, 1939|
I was born on May 3, 1930, in the city of Radautz, in Bucovina, Romania. I am the only child of Paula (Wenkert) and Sami Glatter. The Jews from Radautz, like those from most of Bucovina, spoke mostly German, since prior to World War I, the area had been, a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
My father had a jewellery and watch-repair store. His business required him to travel quite often. My mother was very active within the community; she was a member of the Jewish Community Council in town. Amongst a variety of assistance programs my mother was involved in, she also helped as an interpreter and translator. People, who had to deal with the Romanian authorities, needed translations and she was fluent in both the German and the Romanian languages.
My parents had a very active social life. Mother was very fashion conscious; she would take her dressmaker to the movies, in order for her to copy dresses of famous actresses. I often felt quite lonely, since my parents seemed to be very busy most of the time and I had no siblings.
My father used to attend a somewhat liberal synagogue, where high-class cantors would be hired for the holidays. My mother used to attend the more orthodox Viznitzer shul, where she had been going since her childhood. I preferred joining my father, since I enjoyed cantorial music.
Since my parents were so busy, I spent a lot of my time with my paternal grandparents, Yaacov and Ghita Glatter, who had a business similar to my father's. After school, I would go to their store, and grandpa would let me play with dismantled watches. That was a lot of fun!
The Wenkerts, my maternal grandparents, passed away long before I was born. I only knew about them from family stories. My grandfather's name was Isaac; my grandmother's, I cannot even remember.
I attended Romanian public school, until some time in 1941, when Jewish children were expelled. I then went to a Jewish school. At about that time, I heard my parents and their friends talking about a "resettlement" of the Jews "to the countryside, for a better life". I knew the meaning of "the countryside," since that was the place where we would usually spend our holidays. There, I enjoyed running around in the woods and meadows, or playing with farm animals. However, I had no idea what "resettlement" meant. I did not dare ask; yet, it never occurred to me that it might mean leaving home for good. The adults seemed to be excited about leaving the congested shtetl, and I felt myself being taken in by their enthusiasm.
It was in the fall of 1941, when we were actually ordered to gather at the train station and to bring with us whatever we could carry. To my surprise, we were pushed into a crowded cattle train. Those who had boarded the cars first unpacked some of the white bed linen and blankets that they had brought with them. They spread them out on the dirty floor getting ready to sleep. Minutes later, the car was filled up with people who had no choice but to trample on the neatly laid out bed linen. Everybody was stepping on and tripping over each other. The sight of the people lying on top of each other amongst their scattered belongings must have been such a shock for me that all I remember is wearing a new, fancy coat, which had just been delivered by our dressmaker. Everything else about that journey is blocked out of my memory.
Only as an adult did I realize the deception and brainwashing, which fooled those naive Jewish people into believing that "the resettlement" would be for a "better life". Had the Fascists called it deportation, the deceit would not have been so readily accepted. Anyway, there was little we could have done to stop the course of those events! I remember us reaching the western shore of the River Dniester. We were transported across on a wooden barge pulled by a rope from the opposite bank. There, in the territory, which the Fascists called Transnistria, stood the war- torn city of Moghilev. It was a cold snowy day. I remember the soldiers marching us into a barn with wet straw on the ground. Hundreds of others had been shoved into that barn before us.
Community-minded as she was, my mother immediately proceeded to check a list of names she was carrying. Since she couldn't find some of the people on her list, she went out of the barn to look for them. She was wearing a lovely winter coat, adorned by a rich fur collar, and she had thrown a blanket over her shoulders to keep warm. Unfortunately, that was the last time I saw my mother! My father and other men went out looking for her, talking to the soldiers, but every person who did notice her seems to have seen her walking in a different direction. A few days later, someone found the blanket she had worn. I was only eleven and my entire world was falling apart.
Some time later, my father managed to rent a furnished room from a local Ukrainian woman, Dzana, a former teacher. My dad started selling some of our clothes in order to pay the rent and buy food. My mother's clothes were sold first.
I was wondering around aimlessly in the room since I had nothing to do all day long. Sometimes, dad would let me accompany him to the market. One day, a young Ukrainian woman was so delighted with one of my mother's nightgowns that she offered to pay any price for it; she yearned to have that pretty, pink- satin, frilly nightgown for her wedding dress! Once my mother's clothes had been sold, my father began selling some of the jewellery and the watches he had brought from home.
In the winter of 1941-19 42, my uncle, Avram Wenkert, his wife, Coca, and their two children, Fredy and Medy, arrived in Moghilev. My uncle had been promised work at the Moghilev Foundry. Before the deportation, uncle Avram was a forester. However, in Transnistria people would change their profession overnight to whatever the situation required. So, uncle Avram became an engineer. To save money, we rented a larger room and we moved in with my uncle's family. Shortly after we moved, I fell sick with typhus. For ten days I was delirious, burning up with a high fever. On the tenth day, I heard screaming: "It broke! It broke!" Apparently, if the fever breaks, it signals that the crisis is over and the disease is subsiding. However, the complications caused by the high fever can have life-long effects.
During the winter of 1942-43, my father went to the local market to sell some jewellery, and he never returned! The winter blizzards were raging; our shoes had worn out. We would make footwear from thick potato bags, when we were able to obtain them. Some people would wrap their feet in papers.
My aunt and uncle were constantly making inquiries about my father's whereabouts. Eventually, they found out that someone had seen him at a court trial in Tiraspol, a city further east. I resolved to find him. Being a spoiled and naive twelve-year-old, I had no idea as to the degree of risk my plan entailed. I went to see a Romanian commander, begging him to help me in my search. He took pity on me and arranged for two soldiers to escort me on a train to Tiraspol. There, we found my father in jail. I never found out what he had been charged with or whether he had been charged at all. Upon my return (escorted by the same two soldiers), I was so grateful to the Romanian commander that I would often go to his room in order to iron his shirts or shine his black boots.
Realizing that my uncle could barely support his own family, some people from Radautz felt compelled to look after me. In retrospect, I guess they must have felt indebted to our family for the various services my mother had provided for them. They took turns in supplying me with two slices of bread every day. In 1943, those kind people ran out of items they could trade for food, and they could no longer help me. That is when my aunt had to place me in one of Moghilev's Jewish orphanages. At first, I thought she wanted to get rid of me. Later, I found out that, at the time, negotiations with the Romanian government were underway to get permission for the repatriation of the Transnistria orphans to Romania and subsequently to send them to Palestine. My aunt wanted me to have that chance. She warned me to hide the fact that my father was in prison, as only those children who had lost both parents were admitted to the orphanage.
The orphanage was swarming with children of all ages; all were skin and bones. We were fed a kind of porridge made from potato peels and corn meal. Most of us suffered from malnutrition and had the scabies, which caused terrible itching. The constant scratching resulted in suppurating wounds all over our bodies. At times, when the itching became unbearable, we would just sit on our narrow wooden bunks, scratching and rocking back and forth in a stupor. Some children had been sitting in this position for so long that their muscles weakened and they could not even straighten their legs to get up and walk. Other days, when we felt a bit better, our caretakers would tell us stories about the land of ancient Yisrael, and would teach us lovely Hebrew songs in anticipation of our life in Palestine. Those days filled us with hope and courage.
After four months in the orphanage, we were told to prepare for departure. We were given some decent clothes, and some of our very handy caretakers managed to "convert" our bed sheets into shirts for the boys. We were also given "valenky" (boots made from heavy felt, with a leather rim, commonly worn in the Ukraine). The older children were allowed to choose the city they wanted to go to in Romania. Some of them had relatives in those cities from where the journey to Palestine was being organized. I chose Bacau, where we had some cousins. We travelled by cattle trains from Moghilev to Bacau. The first evening of our trip, I noticed my valenky had stuck to the open wounds covering my legs, but I had to keep them on for the ten days, the duration of our journey. Upon my arrival in Bacau, I was taken to the hospital where the nurses had to cut my boots off with scissors. My feet and legs were covered with painful, infected wounds. Upon my discharge, my mother's cousins, Eva Wenkert and her husband took me to their home. Eva lovingly took care of me until my wounds healed.
Shortly afterwards, a group of us was gathered in a school dormitory in preparation for our travel to Palestine. To my great disappointment, I became very ill. I was diagnosed with scarlet fever, and was again taken to the hospital, where I had good medical care. Two weeks later, I was able to return to the school dormitory. There, I found out that our group had already left for the port of Constantza, where they were to board a ship called Struma. That ship was sunk in the Bosphorus. As far as I know, there were no survivors and I had lost many of my friends.
Eventually, I was sent to Constantza with another group of Transnistria orphans. We boarded the Taurus and we were quite frightened, since the ship was in very poor condition. One day, upon hearing my name being called out on the deck, a man approached me and told me he had been detained in the Tiraspol prison with my father, and they both had managed to escape. My father, he said, had gone to Moghilev to look for me. The first thought that crossed my mind was to find a way to return to Moghilev, but soon enough I realised the futility of such an idea. We disembarked in Lebanon. From there, we travelled by train to Palestine, and we arrived in Atlit in December of 1944.
Unfortunately, when the war ended, all attempts made by my uncle to locate my father were unsuccessful. In Palestine, the placement of the children was
organized by the Alyiat Hanoar (an organization assisting in the settlement of immigrant youth). The orphans were placed into "kibbutzim" (collective agricultural villages) and "moshavim" (cooperative agricultural villages). The placements were made considering both our age and our religious background. I was placed in religious moshav - - Sde Yaacov. We were 15 boys and 15 girls, all orphans from Romania. Each family in the moshav took in one or two children. I was placed with the Baranovsky family. In the mornings, we would work in the kitchen or in the fields; in the afternoon, we would go to school. On weekends, our host families would take us on trips meant to familiarize us with the country. After two years, some of us were sent to a special training camp, where we learned the basics of establishing new moshavim. Eventually, we were given a piece of land called Tkuma, in the Negev desert, where we settled. All those new preoccupations were very interesting, and we felt excited participating in the building of our own country.
At that time, Palestine was under the British Mandate. They constantly attempted to curb Jewish immigration by setting immigration quotas. A variety of organizations and movements sprung up to fight the British. One of them was the "Palmakh" (a commando-style military youth organization). Their members came to Tkuma to recruit young people into their ranks. I was thrilled to join them. We started our training with "Kapap" (face to face combat with a rod). Then, we trained in the use of weapons. Those of us who did particularly well during the training were assigned as instructors to a mobile group which travelled to other settlements throughout the Negev.
In 1948, with the establishment of the Jewish state, the Palmakh became part of the regular Israeli army. During my two years of army service, I specialized as a communications officer. I loved my life in the army and might have made a career of it, had I not met and fallen in love with Joseph Yaldor.
Joseph had come from Poland with his parents, in 1936, when he was nine-years old. They had been spared the Holocaust. Joseph proposed to me in 1950. I asked for one day to "think it over".
I had to consider leaving the army, which was not an easy decision. Army life provided me with an outlet for the anger I had accumulated during my traumatic childhood years. The army empowered me and gave me a sense of freedom, of confidence and of wellbeing. Yet, I was tired of being alone. I felt a deep yearning to "nest", to build my own family. Part of my inner conflict pertained to the fact that I felt stigmatised being an orphan of Transnistria. Despite the fact that Joseph's mother liked me, I thought that she would have preferred her son to marry a girl who had a family. Being an orphan from Transnistria, nobody knew anything about me.
After a whole day's deliberation between me and myself, I accepted Joseph's proposal and we got married. Our son, Shmuel, was born in 1952; our daughter, Pnina, in 1956. We have been married for almost 50 years, and I have never regretted my decision!
After the birth of my daughter, I was diagnosed with chronic heart problems, apparently from the high fever I had when I had typhus in Transnistria. Both Joseph and I loved life in Israel, although, at times it was quite difficult. In an attempt to offer me an easier life and, hopefully, ameliorate my heart problems, Joseph accepted an invitation from his uncle who lived in South Africa. We moved to Cape Town in 1967. One year later, Joseph became the owner of a candy factory. Life was good to us, and we lived there for 23 years.
In the 1980s, both our grown-up and married children decided to leave South Africa for Canada. We found it difficult to live so far away from them, and we applied to emigrate to Canada. In 1990, we settled in Toronto.
We are the proud grandparents of seven grandchildren. Our son, Shmuel and his wife, Martine, have four children: Tamara, Ryan, Daniel and Jonathan; our daughter, Pnina (Yaldor) Berger, and her husband, Steven, have three children: Talia, Joshua and Gabriel.
I have never talked to my husband or to my children about my life in Transnistria. First of all, I have never really understood the immensity of the tragedy that had happened there. Secondly, I had always felt stigmatised by that traumatic experience, as if I was somehow handicapped by the guilt of having survived, while so many others perished. Only after being persistently encouraged and prodded by Felicia, the author of this book, did I agree to provide my testimony for the Visual History of the Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles. Felicia was the interviewer for the foundation, and only after that experience was I ready to provide my testimony for this book. I felt compelled to do it as I realized that in the near future there will be no survivors left to testify to the terror of Transnistria. I am glad that my own silence has finally been shattered.
* * *
My name is Joseph Yaldor, I am Rifka's husband. For many years, I knew only that she was born in Radautz, Bucovina, Romania, that her mother tongue was German, and that her parents were killed during their deportation to Transnistria.
When our friend, Felicia, undertook the exhausting project of writing a book about this unknown chapter of the Holocaust, we encouraged her in every way we could. We were very proud when her book Shattered! 50 Years of Silence, History and Voices from the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria was published. This book is an eye-opener for our family. As a child, Rifka did not realize the broader picture of what really happened to her and her family during the war. I believe that it is a miracle that anybody survived under those circumstances. I can fully understand why many survivors would rather not talk about their ordeal. However, after 50 years of silence, Felicia opened my wife's heart and prevailed upon her to share her experiences.
Our children often asked questions about their mother's past, her home her parents, about Moghilev and Transnistria. My wife always found it too difficult to answer. Felicia's book helped our children and grandchildren understand, and talk about Rifka's background and her suffering. I am very happy that the first edition of this book was published while some of the survivors are still alive; now, they can be sure that their terrible anguish will become known to the rest of the world.
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