Pawel Lichter

We Escaped the Germans and Headed Toward Russia.

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I was born on July 5th, 1931, in our home in Rypin, Poland. My life was uneventful, and everything was pre-planned for me, such as my future education and health care, and even the promise my parents had made for me to marry Renia Rosenberg, also from Rypin.

Then on September 1st, 1939, the Germans marched and rolled into Poland, and consequently into my hometown of Rypin – and my life changed forever. Just before the occupation they bombarded the town, and a piece of shrapnel hit just centimeters from my head as I stood in a room in our house. This would be the first of many assaults made on me by the Germans.

Immediately following the German Army was the German Gestapo and SS, and the persecution began. My uncle, Israel Lichter, was dragged out and put in a converted enclosure, together with many single, young Jewish males. They were all tortured and murdered. As for the rest of our family, we were ordered to wear yellow patches on our clothes, and the Nazis repeatedly raided and ransacked our three-story ancestral home. They took all sorts of artwork, all the silver, fur, and a very valuable stamp collection. To aggravate the situation, they ordered my father to carry all of it for them, including a safe, while they repeatedly beat, kicked, and insulted him

In October 1939 the persecution continued. My parents later told me that they and all the Jews in Rypin were obligated to “contribute” money to the Germans, who ordered the Jewish town elders to assess the contributions.

In November 1939, some of the local Germans we were friendly with before the war warned us that the Germans were about to oust all the Jews from Rypin and create a ghetto in Warsaw. They also advised us to abandon everything and head east, to Russia. They gave us “Ausweis” (identification cards) as permission to travel. My father bought a horse and wagon, loaded us up, and we left our beautiful home and everything in it. My father also left behind the movie house “Polinia.” He was a pioneer in the movie industry.

We escaped the Germans and headed toward Russia. Along the way we were stopped several times by German army patrols, each one a harrowing experience. After several days, on November 11th, 1939, we made it to the Belorussian border and were accosted by a German army patrol that threatened and insulted us, searching and taking whatever valuables we had left. They lined us up and were about to shoot us, but at the last moment a German officer for some reason took a liking to my father. He called him “professor” for some reason, and told us to leave. He even pointed us to Belarus. We made one last stop at a Polish farm, and the people there agreed to smuggle us into Belarus if we left the horse, wagon, and everything else. We walked through a forest for what seemed like an eternity, when our Polish guides told us were in Russia and left. We headed for Baranovichi. I don’t recall how we got there, but we did.[1]

A Jewish family in Baranovichi took us to their home, where we lived for some time. While we were there we found out that Renia Rosenberg and her family had been sent to the Warsaw ghetto, as had the majority of Rypin’s Jews. The end results of that are well known. Among those sent to the ghetto were my maternal grandfather, Chuna Bram, and his children, my aunts Rysia, Fela, and Etka.

On a spring day in 1940, at around 2:00 o’clock, Russian soldiers surrounded the house we were living in. They told us we had two hours to pack, and that we were going on a trip. We were taken to the railroad station and packed into cattle cars, along with many other Jewish people, and we went on our way. After many days travel on trains, on barges down the Tavda River, and on horse-driven wagons, we arrived in Kureniovo, somewhere in the Urals or Siberia, where they kept us for over a year.

In 1941 we were told we could go anywhere we wanted because we were Polish citizens and Poland was Russia’s ally. My parents chose to stay as far away from the front as possible, so we went to Bukhara, Uzbekistan. We spent around five years there, suffering from hunger, sickness, and persecution. I ended up with a knife wound, and almost died from the infection.

In 1946, we were told that because the war ended in 1945, we could go back to our home in Poland. They even arranged a train, consisting of cattle cars, to transport us for free. Our return journey was filled with further suffering, a lack of food, and other hardships. It took us over a month to return to Warsaw, and then on to Rypin.

In Rypin we found that all the buildings and the movie house were still standing. It was impossible, though, to reclaim our properties, which had all been occupied. All of the furnishings and film equipment was missing from the movie house, which had been used by the Hitler Youth during the occupation. We decided to leave Poland as soon as we could, and with the help of several organizations and a Mexican family an arrangement was made for us to go to Sweden, with the purpose of further transit to Mexico.

In 1947, thanks to help we received from good Swedish Jews and after obtaining transit visas to cross through the United States, we left Sweden. We traveled on a Swedish ocean liner (Gripsholm), destined for New York. From there we proceeded by train to Mexico City. My father, Isaak Lichter, died in 1953 from all the stress and hardship he’d endured. Following his death, my mother and sister immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts.

I immigrated to the United States using a Polish visa in 1957. I could fill books with the many stories I have of hardship and suffering. Moving was a new start in life for me. I may be inaccurate in some sequences and dates, as I’m relying on my memory and what my mother, father and sister all told me. They are all deceased, so this story is being told by the only living Lichter from our Polish family.

[1] Baranovichi is a city in western Belarus, which was part of the Soviet Union during World War II. The city was once part of Poland (known asBaranowicze) .