Born Zguritsa, Bessarabia (Moldova)
Interviewed In: Edmonton, Alberta
Medals Awarded: Victory over Germany In The Great Patriotic War
Survived Romanian pogroms, Death Camps, and Bershad Ghetto.
“As soon as July 7th the Romanians and Germans invaded our shtetl. We didn’t know but the surrounding shtetls were full of farmers ready to start pogroms. The farmers entered our house taking all they wanted, starting with furniture sets and ending with food – all they wanted. We were dead silent hoping they’d better take everything and let us live. I can’t say for everyone, but in the room we stayed… one woman entered and started talking to my sister. She said “I like your dress. Take it off!” My sister had to take the dress off and give it to her. And on and on “I like this… I like that… take it off!” All our men were left with their underwear on, all our women were left without their dresses and footwear – goes without saying… That was an appalling humiliation! Soon, in the afternoon, soldiers came running in. All of us were fluent in Romanian. They started turning us out of the house and to the river to kill us by shooting”.
“We learnt that short period of time more than 200 people had been murdered in our shtetl. The most dreadful fact was this. If a shooting squad had shot at us we’d understand that it was done by the new authorities. Unfortunately, most of murders were committed by people armed with axes, knives, sticks etc. Those murderers were farmers who killed those who stood in their way not letting them to do their looting and robbing. There had been few men in the shtetl as it was. After that only old people, children and women remained. All of the younger men were murdered”.
What remained of Fira’s shtetl was burned. She and the survivors were marched to a death camp near Ublentsy. Fira and her family were quickly transferred to a smaller camp in Ukraine, near Rublentsy, that was converted from an abandoned farm. She was forced to live in a pig cage.
“ To make the story short, in Ukraine we reached a farm, it was a pig farm. There weren’t pigs there already. There were 15 sheds there with pig cages. Each cage became a home for us. Our family of 6 occupied such a cage. After the Romanian soldiers left, local polizei took their place, and our lives became absolutely unbearable. They would lock the shed gate from 5pm to 10 am. But aren’t we human?! We needed to go to toilet. And water was on the outside too. And there were people dying of typhoid in every cage!”
The family escaped and eventually found shelter in The Bershad Ghetto in October 1941. Though better than the pig farm, living conditions in the ghetto were far from humane. Fira credits her mother for her survival.
“Families would perish. Dead bodies were lying around, there weren’t anyone to bury them! How did we manage to survive? All of us except our mother were sick with typhoid. My mother was a hero! She did everything in her power to save our lives! My mother took on herself getting firewood, potato peels thrown out by neighbours – so that we had something to eat”.
Fira’s sister was placed on a list of people to be transferred to a nearby extermination camp. Her parents decided “we were all to go, either we all perish or we all survive”. When they arrived at the camp, two of Fira’s sisters were taken with three other girls to speak with the commanding officer.
“To make my story short, the colonel came back; those 5 girls, including my 2 sisters and 3 more girls, all of them speaking Romanian, my elder sister explained to him the situation. You are not going to believe! The only question he asked was “How come your Romanian is so good?” She said “We are from Moldavia, and I graduated from a Romanian gymnasia”. He stopped. A minute that passed was like an eternity to us. He said “I am going to send you back. I don’t need you”. Such a miracle! When we returned… oh and he gave us some food, but that’s not important…when we returned our committee leader said “This is the first time I see someone coming back from the dead”. Nobody expected us to survive with their Romanian and allowed them to return to the ghetto”.
Fira grew up to be a math and physics teacher. She raised 2 daughters in The Soviet Union before immigrating to Canada with her family.