As a senior at Duke University in 1973 to 1974, Charles wrote a history honors thesis about what happened to Tarnopol during the Holocaust. He interviewed 32 survivors in New York City, Olean and Montreal. This is a partial transcript of the two interviews with Sonja. Sonja after the war could not remember the names of many of her family including her grandparents. Through searches on www.jewishgen.org I was able to piece together a geneaology as well.
From an interview with Isaac Weinberg January 11, 1974: Schmerl Eichenbaum had a yeast store on Ruska Ulitza and Herschel had a brewery in Mikolinza
Sonja: My father used to say: ä ©s better that people need you than you need people.×¥å ¢een to hell and back and nobody should have to come back. They should have stayed there. It was too much knowledge, like the apple in Eden. My second cousin told me, æ¥® now I donà¢¥lieve it.Ô¨ere are certain things even an adult shouldnà«®ow because it is too much a burden to carry around.
Charles: Before the Germans invaded the eastern part of Poland where you lived, did you know what was going on in western Poland?
Sonja: We didnà«®ow the whole truth. There were protests and petitions. Jews also subscribed to the boycott of German goods.
Charles: How complete was this boycott in this part of the world?
Sonja: It wasnà£¯mplete for two reasons, first there wasnà´¯o much imported from Germany anyway. Secondly, Tarnopol wasnà³µch a center for this boycott. It was a capital of a Wodjewodstwa [district] but at the same time a provincial city.
Charles: What would be the traditional view of Germany that the Jews had before Hitler came to power?
Sonja: There was in Germany a so-called Kulturkreis. The sphere of cultural influence of Germany was a great deal. First of all the former Austro-Hungarian Empire had occupied large regions where the intellectuals spoke German, read German, including the German newspapers. The educated knew by heart the German poets, especially Goethe and Schiller, not only Heine, who was Jewish. It was a great influence, great cultural influence. There was admiration for Germany. Judaism, in the modern sense such as the reform or conservative movements, all came from Germany. It was called Wissenschaft des Judentums [scientific investigation of Judaism]. The rabbinical seminaries in Berlin for the reformed, in Breslau for the conservative and for the liberals have been centers of knowledge of studies of scholarship. They had been the greatest centers for learning.
Sonja: Because I couldnà¢¥lieve that the Germans could do this.
Charles: Did you know a friend of your grandfather Eichenbaumà®¡med Tover Lwow [Jewish Gen lists a Dawid Lwoï¿½
Sonja: Yes, a prominent family. They had daughters and a son. My orthodox cousin in Israel was in love with the son. She had scarlet fever when she was young and was deaf. She felt he shouldnà¡rry her because of this and left for Israel. The brother of the orthodox cousin was Szymon Eichenbaum, son of Schlome. We all contributed to send him to Warsaw to school. He had one pair of pants which he kept under his mattress to keep pressed. He taught me religion in the gymnasium.
After the war began when the Germans came, my first thought was, é®¡lly something exciting. Finally we are going to live in historical times.t a certain point after the first euphoria, it was stupid. You just donà«®ow realities; but they push themselves on you, people are dying of hunger: First Russians came in 1939 and Germans went in the [western part of Poland] and then in 1941 the Germans came. When they came into Tarnopol, the first day [July 2, 1941] the SS, first troops, immediate made disorganized murder. In this part of Poland Jews wore beards and earlocks, very easily recognized. They were shot at, by the SS, bodies lying in the street, terrible carnage. Even stupid people like me realized what was going on. My mother told my father to leave and he wouldnî ¼/p>
I was born in December 16, 1923.
Anybody talking gets caught. My little sister was ten years younger and it was always a problem with little kids to keep them quiet when you had to hide. So mother said to me, ïµ have an obligation to save yourself.É didnà¥¶en have to be told that because I said to myself, â going to give it a try.Í¹ mother saying that became an additional inspiration; you just donà§©ve up like that. But looking back on itè¥ said to my father that he should leave and try to save himself [by going east] through Russia which some people did because you couldnà¥³cape as a male Jew. I did, but I was a girl, and men were circumcised. He wouldnà¬¥ave. My father was a soft-hearted fellow and his raison dä²¥, the whole courage, to survive by himself would not have made any sense. It would have been too difficult for him. He was a deeply religious man, so in that sense I am sure that he felt his obligation to try to survive. I feel that if he would have lost the emotional security of the family that it would have taken too much starch out of him and he justà ™ou have to really be very intent on surviving to have any chance at all. If he would have left his family, part of his back bone would have been taken away and therefore he wouldnà¨¡ve had enough to survive. . .
Charles: Because of himself or his religion?
Sonja: No, it was his personality. You have to have a certain kind of steely quality. You have to watch that this steely quality within yourself doesnà¢¥come just steel and you donà°¡y any attention to costs, but you canà¢¥ too soft either. For instance with Anne Frank, it is very noble for the family to stay together but you cut down the chance of surviving immediately about 75%. Even for a whole family in Holland, where it was easier to survive than Eastern Europe, the chances of survival were less.
Charles: Mrs. Gunsberg [Sosha Chuven] mentioned that there were 3 people in her familyá´¨er, mother, and her. Her father was killed immediately. Then her mother wanted to commit suicide, which many people wanted to do. But Sosha started screaming. She didnà·¡nt her mother to kill herself.
Sonja: My mother told me nothing about suicide. She said, ïµ’d better not get yourself killed.Ïµr experiences are all alike but are all different. My mother was definite: if youå ¯n a train then you try to jump, you try everything to survive. Those people were transported. My fatherà¶©ew was religious and thus no idea at all of suicide. I never considered it as the war went on. I am going to give [it] a run for the money.
Charles: Why? How did your mother get this view? From her parents?
Sonja: Yes, I think its genes.
Charles: From earlier forms of repression by the Poles? Robert Coles asks the same question, what is the influence of genes versus environment?
Sonja: My mother was not religious, my father was. We were surrounded by religious people. Jews did value life, even with Orthodox Jews. For instance, the Sabbath laws are stringent but everything is dropped in place of health. If someone is sick, you are allowed to drive; the primary reason is to save the life. How much influence [that was], even to non-religious people I canà´¥ll. Whether [I had it] by osmosis [or not] I think it was a really strong fighting family.
Roger: Why didnà¹¯ur mother survive?
Sonja: In order to run by yourself you have to have money. For my father to survive the chances were nil if he stayed where he was and poor if he left. We could have scraped some money for him like watches or gold. For my mother, unless you had tremendous jewelry or a diplomatic passport. . .
Roger: So how were you separated from your parents?
Sonja: On September 21, 1941, after the initial German five-day shooting and upheaval in July 1941, [the killing] settled into organization. The Germans, regular army troops, with the administration came in. A ghetto was formed in Tarnopol and they blocked it off with gates. There were 40,000 people and half Jews. They closed off some streets, gates at the end of the street with barbed wire and sentry. You could only leave [the ghetto] if you had outside employment. If the Germans employed you, for whatever reasons, they needed your skills. I was employed as a maid for quite a while. I was in a very good situation. I was always quite handy at that. I was working for somebody, who was in charge of food distribution, a German. There was one less mouth left to feed and I could always take something home. The women kept the men at home and told them not to go out in the street unless it was strictly necessary. Very rarely was it strictly necessary because everything was disrupted. Periodically, the Germans would give a decree that the ghetto were to be made smaller and a few streets were cut off. In the meantime they were deporting people anyway to concentration camps, so fewer people were there. When this [decree] happened, all the people would come out onto the streets to find a place to stay, going to relatives or neighbors to ask for place. During this the Germans would order an Aktion. All the Gestapo came in and they would round up people on the streets. In November 1942, that happened. We had to move, so mother said, ïµ go and get the papers ready.Ù¯u had to get permission to leave, all red tape which was made exactly to get everyone on the street. At one point the Germans ordered everyone to move out from our street in the ghetto, so I went to look among friends and family where we could find a room. Within an hour, all of a sudden, I heard shots and screams. The Aktion was taking place and I saw a door. Tarnopol was more apartment houses than here. I got in the first door of an apartment house to disappear from the street.
This Aktion took a whole day and night [November 8-9, 1942]. By the time the Aktion was over I came and my father was gone, and my sister and mother. Some neighbors said that my father and sister were shot, and my mother deported and once you were deported you donà«®ow where she might be: Dachau, Auschwitz, I never found out. [Deportations from Tarnopol ended up at Belzec].
Roger: Were you known by the Germans to be a Jew?
Sonja: Yes, I worked, and had papers. Everyone had to wear an arm band. Second, if you were caught not wearing a band you were shot immediately. I had work outside the ghetto. In connection with Bruno Bettleheim, he brings in the psychology [of the situation]. On that day when I went into hiding in the basement of the apartment house, I couldnà³´ay outdoors. All the people of the apartment went into cellar, and I went with them. It was an underground cellar; they rolled a stone to cover it up. There was another girl who was a year or two younger than I and I knew her. She didnà¬©ve there but I think something similar had happened to her. That cellar was found out during the Aktion. Aside from killing people on the street they also searched houses, and they knew where [people] hid. The Germans said, å´ out.Ô¨ey usually rounded you up on the market place and then they took you either to the river and shot you but mostly to the trains and to concentration camps. But I thought, ï¬ I am not going to go on a train.É justé ´hat timeè¥ Jews fooled themselves. The thing is so enormous, who can imagine that you transport people just to gas them?
[Belzec was initially used as a forced labor camp for Jews and Romany (Gypsies) in May 1940 with horrible conditions but not mass killings. From March 17 until December 8, 1942 more than 200,000 from Galicia, the province where Tarnopol was located, were transported to Belzec and the gas chambers. A total of 600,000 Jews are estimated to have died at Belzec during that time.]
Charles: So at this point they didnà«®ow?
Sonja: Some already. It started seeping through, but people said, ï¬ they take you for labor.É´ was just too crazy to imagine.
Charles: How did it seep back?
Sonja: I canà´¥ll you. I had heard from people by the end of 1942, so people talk.
Charles: Did you know anything specific or have a sense of danger?
Sonja: No, I didnà«®ow I would end up in a camp. There were just stories, vague but not exact. You did hear that the trains themselves were the most beastly things imaginable. So aside from what was on the end, the trip in itself in the cattle cars, no food, no bathroom, terrible things there. So I thought, ï¬ Ià®¯t going to do it.É maneuvered and this friend of the moment came with me so that we were the last ones in the cellar. When my turn came, I said, à¡ not going! You can shoot me right here or you are going to let me go free but I am not going out.É spoke German, é´¨er one or the other. I am not going to the market place.Ó¯metimes, even before they took you to the train they made you stand in the cold, hungry in the damn market place. So he said, à·©ll let you go if you go up the stairs.É said, é´¨er right now or I wonà§¯.É was holding on tight to a pillar. He hit me hard [with his rifle butt] and my head hit a pillar and I was dizzy. He said, å´¡é ³tarted moving out and my friend kept saying, ï¥ on, come on, letà§¯.á®¤ I said, è¥³e are special times. You want to go, go.Âµt she couldnà¡ke her decision, and I started going out, a few steps up around a corner. Whether something in the action itself, the resistance, and saying é´¨er shoot me right here or let me go free because I am not going to get myself dragged for daysà¨¥ said, ì¬ right you stay.Ó¯ the girl and I stayed. All the other people were taken away, about 25 people. When I came back there was no one in the house.
Charles: How did they find you? I do remember that when we heard the steps of the Gestapo and SS [in the street] there was a quick session among the people. á¹¢e we can buy them offà´¨e Gestapo, which often you could, with jewelry. Everyone contributed what you had, usually whatever you had carried around your neck. So families divided it so everyone had a bit, you had to be mobile. I didnà¨¡ve much, I canà²¥member if they did it though. This didnà¡°peal to me. I thought that this was short-lived.
Roger: Buying off the SS could have hurt you?
Sonja: It depends. In these dire circumstances you try everything even if unwise. I had my own ideas. I never tried to save myself in Poland because this would have meant to depend on some Pole. I never trusted them as it was a very hostile environment. I know that you shouldnà§¥neralize and there are some good Poles but it was hostile because it was one of the most anti-Semitic places. You couldnà§¯ to university. There was a strict quota for Jews. The moment Hitler came to power in Germany the Poles embraced this aura. They started knifings on the university [campus]. The church was badâ¥¡ching in the pulpits that this was G-dàªµdgment. That is why so many [Jews] were killed in Poland. I was not going to put my life in anyoneà´²ust.
I could never remember how I actually came to the decision of going on that train, trains on which the Germans were moving Poles and Russian Christians for labor to Germany. I thought I had no one as there were about only 500 people left in the end of 1942. This was the rock bottom and shortly after I left I heard that the last ghetto was burned, in one year it ended [July 1943]. I thought that I better do something. It is not a question by how long you make it, it is making it. Nusia [Freund Borgen] saved herself the same way. I met her on the street and I asked her where she was going. She said that she was going to catch one of those trains going to Germany. She said she was never so amazed because I immediately said à¡ going with you.Ó¨e asked me if I had to go back and get something. She told me that I made that decision right then and there; I already knew her in my high school. She was my own age, but we were not friends.
Charles: Why then and there?
Sonja: It struck me that it was a good idea, and why go back to drag more clothes? We went to the train station. The trains were not running regularly. On the third day, we had to make three tries. We couldnà·¡it [longer] because of the Germans. You either had to wear the band, which made you conspicuous when you were outside the ghetto, or you had to take the band off, which was illegal. I think I wore it until I came in the neighborhood of the train station. There was a sixth sense expected in those times with danger, knowing your own kind, recognizing the certain look, and I said to myself on the third day, æ ´he train doesnà£¯me, I know I am not going. I am giving it up, too much to go back.n enormous train pulled up far away on the tracks and I crossed the tracks. It was dangerous there. These people were divided from others waiting for trains because it was far off [from the main station]. It was a whole cattle train but not so crowded as those with Jews. It was a stop and the Russians could get down. They had bottles where they could get water at the faucets. I went and grabbed a bottle from someone. I didnà«®ow what to do. Somebody was screaming at me and I didnà°¡y any attention. There were about 20 cars. Then it was time to climb aboard. Guards shoved people in and I climbed in. We rode and rode until 24 hours or two days and then came to Chemnitz, Germany on the Oder-Niesse Line [present day border between Germany and Poland]. That was the last station of delousing and you could go to the bathroom, enormous open pits. At a certain point somebody, looking like a Russian peasant, looks at me and said something in Polish. It was Antoinette [Tusia Klein]. She saw me going to the bathroom and I was wearing silk panties, which the Russians didnà¨¡ve. She said, é´¨ those kind of panties how can you come here? Besides that, I donà·¡nt to know you.Ó¨e had menà³¨oes, size thirteen, menà¨¥avy jacket sewn with white thread, a scarf. She was tall. I couldnà²¥cognize her. She was not a friend but someone from the town. We kept in touch during the war; they assigned her to work for a farmer.
Sometimes people might be ready to talk one time about the war depending on their mood. I consider it psychological. About Mrs. Gunsbergà¨“osha Chuven) family, they were from an extremely assimilated background. They associated more with Poles than anyone I knew and this area was full of orthodox Jews. Both of her parents were teachers and for a Jew to be a teacher in Poland, that was practically impossible. They were teaching in a Polish school which was the height of security, namely two people regularly receiving salary for 3 people. That didnà¥¸ist at the time. To be employed as a Jew by the government as a postal clerk was a big deal. But now I notice that nevertheless it seems to me as if she has becomeî¯´ religious. She asked me why I was at all making a deal over Judaism. It is part of my heritage, like the color of my eyes. There has been a change of awareness on my part, more of an identification with Jews. Nusia in Minneapolis, both her parents were religious but unobservant. She goes to the temple and she is married to a non-Jew.
Somebody mentioned to me that 120 survived. With me the decisions seemed not to be so logically thought out, just a gut instinct.
Charles: But you said to yourself beforehand that you thought it out, not go on the train, not trust Poles, get out.
Sonja: I remember a girl in my class in high school. Her father was a dentist. There was a father, mother, and 2 daughters and it was a rich practice with select clientele. They were well off. Even though Jews were close-knit families, they were gregarious. This family, however, were sufficient unto themselves and within the first week of entry of the Germans they all committed suicide. They lived across the street from an uncle of mine. The younger daughter was in my class. I thought, ï¬ Ià®¯t going to give in.ï°¾
Sonja: I think I am generally a fighter from my background, the Eichenbaums. My idea was always, I have to do everything in my power to achieve what I want. If I fail after that, by bad judgment etc or lack of capacity, I have tried what I could. If I didnà³µcceed in life, I gave it a good run for its money. Maybe there could have been something more I could have done but I didnà«®ow it. If I would have ended in camp, or if they discovered me in Germany and shot me, I would have gone to my grave thinking, à¦¥lt it wasnà¦¯r lack of trying.ï°¾
Charles: How many suicides were there in Tarnopol?
Sonja: I donà«®ow. Things were terribly crowding in. I remember a guy from a very religious family and he was very religious himself. He might have been studying for rabbi. He was married maybe two or three years and had a child, and he was deeply in love with his wife and baby. In one of the Aktions she and baby were taken and he was beside himself. I didnà¥¶en know him well. He was just ranting against G-d, like Wiesel wrote. He didnà³µrvive. He wasnà©® ordinary despair, a fantastic despair. It made such an impact on me. He didnà£²y, just raving [Sonja starts crying]. There were people losing their minds. That was why it was so powerful.
Charles: What does religion say? Was it blasphemy?
Sonja: I donà«®ow what it says in the books. I do know that for some deeply religious people, this was terrible. It was a terribly powerful thing to witness, losing the religion altogether. My father remained religious to the moment he died. There was no acceptance. There was some purpose. There are certain things which we canàµ®derstand. The reason, he said, we canà¬¯ok up at the sky doesnà¥an there is something wrong with the sun. It means that your eyes canà³´and that type of power. I have seen some of the rabbis go to their deaths after being captured with their flock, caught a glimpse of them, with tremendous peace, untouched as if they stood outside the events. How this happens? I donà«®ow.
Charles: Why does religion stay or go? Why does someone fight or not?
Sonja: I was brought up not to give up. The whole family, father and mother, the fighting spirit was from my motherà¦¡mily. My father instilled that you have obligations as a human being. For him it was obligations as a human vis a vis G-d. Even though I battled him on religion, and went through my stage of unbelieving, he felt that you should expect certain things from yourself. Not that you should feel frustrated if you couldnà¡£hieve. You have a certain dignity and you donà¤¯ things without thinking them over. I might have decided not to fight but that too would have been a decision on my part. It would have been a choice, not something that just happened. I was brought up that you think over things that you want to do. As it happened, my mother said you donà§©ve up. Suppose I had asked, ï ‰ want to live in this world?É´ would have been my decision. Wiesenthal describes how the Germans, if they captured you, didnà¬¥t you commit suicide. They felt that they should decide when you die.
I took a positive stand. At that time it never occurred to me and I never thought why. I am now thinking about it only because you put the question to me. The dentist family was Hecht. I was thinking, ï¬ I am not going to do thatâµ´ it never occurred to me before that. This was because it was someone I knew. There was no time to pay attention and discuss things.
Charles: Talk to me about religion in your family.
Sonja: My father drove my mother crazy. My grandfather, Schmerl Eichenbaum, was an elder of the community. My father was deeply religious. When the Russians came in [September 1, 1939], the official line was atheistic and all the jobs were government jobs. He refused to work on the Sabbath and kept slowly eating away our resources and selling our things. He absolutely refused to work on the Sabbath and drove my mother crazy. How long can you sustain the family without him working? They used to have arguments. Of course now, it makes not one bit of difference. It was not easy for my mother. My mother was compassionate; my father was too compassionate. Every schnook took him for a ride. He was a patsy for everyone who begged. He would have given two kopeck when someone asked for one. The Jews from the German part of Poland were fleeing to Tarnopol. When winter came they had nothing and we had all sorts of warm clothes. Somebody came and my father gave him all sorts of things, even our overshoes. My mother was furious and half hour later she goes to the market and the guy is selling it on the black market. She came back and yelled at him. He said in a typical saying for him, å¬¬, I would rather be the giver than the taker.É used to get so mad at my mother because how could she say such things? He was such a nice man. But what do you do with a man like that?
My one grandfather [Schmerl Eichenbaum] on my motherà³©de died shortly before the war. He suffered from asthma. My grandmother on my motherà³©de [Schifre Silberman Eichenbaum] died a natural death shortly after the beginning of the war. My fatherà®¡me was Teichholz. I had motherà®¡me because they were married in a religious ceremony and that was not recognized by the Polish Government. I am officially illegitimate. The Jews lived such an isolated life that there were all sorts of different codes and rules of behavior. Outside, it was an alien environment for Jews. Anything more than life was a luxury.
My name is Chaja (Chaiï ¬ive), Clara, Chayusha, Clarje. I adopted Sonja at the onset of the war. I never had any doubt that I would survive.
The girl I was with in the cellar during the Aktion is living in Poland. Schleiner was her name; she is not living in Tarnopol. You hear from others. Edek Jamand is a psychiatrist now, as kooky as can be. I couldnà²¥member but all of a sudden a face of a boy with blonde hair, wavy hair, is living in Israel now. I feel that there is not anything left in me to do it again. I wouldnà¨¡ve the strength anymore. Twelve to sixteen is a difficult age. I wasnà´¨e easiest child, argued a lot with my parents. My father was deeply religious and I argued with him against religion. My mother felt that I should go to the best school, and I felt like goofing off. And I said, è¹ spend the money? I am not interested,ä¨¥ usual things of a teenager. Later on, the moment they were killed, somehow I behaved the way I knew I should.
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Sonja van der Horst, March 15, 1974 in Olean
Sonja: These are all morality questions which people have to sort of resolve for themselves. In order to think and talk about these things you can only do it after. While it goes on, you canà¤¯ it. There isnà¥¶en time.
Charles: Mr. Pasternak mentioned that people were paying to get in the Jewish militia?
Sonja: I wouldnà¢¥ surprised.
Charles: Did you know anyone or any personal friends of your family who were in the militia but didnà´¡lk about it?
Sonja: No, but I am sure nobody did. You needed twenty-four hours to just breathe. Everything was a problem. You see, questions of morality were not thought about. If you have a conscience Ià³µre you go to bed and you kind of wonder or so, but youå ªust too beat even to think. Off and on I remember my father as the eternal optimist. That's the only thing I remember about him. He said, å¬¬, this is going to be all right. At the end they are going to lose.Í¹ mother was much more cynical than dad and also, I wouldnà¢¥ surprised, annoyed at this eternal faith cum optimism of my fatherì ©n view of everything which was happening. It sort of strained peopleà°¡tience, certainly somebody like her. She said, å³¬ but weå ¡ll going to be long dead. It wouldnà¡tter whether they win or lose because we are all going to be long dead.Âµt you know, to sit down and philosophize was not done.
Charles: Now, this is the question I hoped you would talk about for a long time. What was the reaction of the Jews to all this killing?
Sonja: I would tend to say, in a general sense, a sort of sense of deja-vu, already seen. The only thing I would say that even they, with their tremendous experience in these things couldnà¦¡thom the enormity by sheer numbers.
Charles: So it was to a certain extent deja-vu?
Sonja: Right, just the enormity of it.
Charles: But what about when you had five hundred people left in the ghetto?
Sonja: Already after the first week five thousand people were dead and never before had that happened, since 200 years before. So the first thing you reacted like you have always reacted, to try to save yourself.
Charles: And why didnà¶©olence ever come into it?
Sonja: Here and there was some violence. I suppose that violence could have brought here and there a noble death, thatà¡¢out all. Whether the chances for success were there?
Charles: Well, this is what they thought but violence would have done something.
Charles: You know there would have been noble deaths, but when you constantly have partisans you can succeed. Thatà·¨y in Yugoslavia the Germans could never succeed.
Sonja: Yes, but in order for that you need the support of the country. Can you imagine Jewish partisans needing help from Poland? What youå ´alking about, your need for partisans for guerrillas, thatà·¨at the backbone of the guerrilla is. Thatà·¨at Castro had,; thatà´¨e support of the masses.
Charles: In the first chapter I pull out certain things from history and I put them in order. I say that when the Germans came in, the Jewish community continued to react in the same manner as they had previously. Do you agree with what I said about that?
Sonja: Yes, but I am not at all sure that there was any other good reaction aside from giving money to someone who would shoot a German. Then we could see other people shot [in reprisals], totally annihilating the idea, well, at least I shot a German. There was not the slightest chance of something to develop as in Vietnam or in Cuba. I know a friend of mine, a close friend of mine she said sheà§¯ing to the woods [to join the partisans]. To me it was futile. It was just like using a machine gun against an airplane. You need the support of the masses.
Charles: Yes thatà¯®e way if you want to continue to live but what about the idea of taking a life. If you are going to die you are going to take one German with you.
Sonja: Yes, there is something to it.
Charles: Could you say it is because of the religion?
Sonja: No or maybe it is. It's difficult for me to see. I can tell you, in my own case, I am one of these people, I donà«®ow where it comes from or whether it would be classified as a sort of optimism or whether it would be classified as, what my father says, that I never take no for an answer. As long as one lives there is hope.
Charles: And where would that come from?
Sonja: You donà«®ow but as long as Ià®¯t dead, something can happen I donà¦¯resee. When Ià¤¥ad, Ià¤¥ad. And therefore this taking one with you wouldç¨¡t happens when you do?
Charles: Now this sounds maybe naï¶¥ but after 17,000 people have been killed did you ever consider joining the partisans?
Charles: Why not?
Sonja: Because I wasnà©®terested in being dead, I was interested in coming out alive.
Charles: It seems to me that that is unrealistic. Could a hypothesis be that the survivors just lost all sense of reality after a while?
Sonja: No, I donà´¨ink so. I think their only reality was to try to survive in the best possible way.
Charles: When everyone is being killed?
Sonja: Yes, I donà´¨ink there is anything wrong with that, namely, to try to survive even when everybody is getting killed. As a matter of fact, I think you have an obligation to try to survive. Why would it make more sense to you to say that you want to work on this for posterity yet according to your theory you would have liked it for a noble gesture for all to go. What would you have for posterity?
Charles: No, Ià®¯t saying for noble gesture.
Sonja: It would have just been a gesture. There was no question of Jewish partisans operating. After all, in Holland percentage wise and everyplace else, there was such a greater amount of Jews who survived because the environment wasnà³¯ hostile. Part of the reason why so many Polish Jews in the east were killed was the hostile environment. So obviously there was no chance of even doing any worthwhile damage at all. It would be literally here and there a German killed [and the response would be that] they might have slaughtered the last thousand Jews for that one German.
Charles: Well what about the Warsaw ghetto where twenty people held off the German army for three weeks?
Sonja: Well yes, ità¶¥ry difficult.
Charles: Ià®¯t saying this to bring anguish to you. Ià¤¯ing this deliberately because I want to be the devilà¡¤vocate and to get your thoughts.
Sonja: Yes, I realize that. Well, I donà«®ow.
Charles: You donà«®ow?
Sonja: I donà«®ow about the role of the despair. If you want to do it, you do it. Was there anybody left to tell?
Charles: What do you mean, from Warsaw books and diaries?
Sonja: You see, Ià³´ill somebody who holds out for life. You could say, å¬¬, would you want to live under any circumstances?Î¯, I suppose not. My father was like that. No, Ià®¯t saying under any circumstances. Ià³¡ying, when you see the odds, simply statistically, in reality, the odds were against you. At first it was 5000 dead in seven days and 12,000 were alive and then it became 10,000 were dead and 5,000 were alive and then you know? But that didnà³µrprise me. I never even remember thinking about it. I had always the feeling having been brought up that way by my parents and the environment. So maybe for your own self-protection, even though the odds were always against you, you knew it and periodically as a kind of perverse thing, I tried to turn the odds to my advantage in a sort of psychological way. Well I have to be stronger. I have to be wiser because otherwise I would not survive mentally or physically or otherwise. So the only thing what happened is that the odds were multiplied against you. I agree, if you want to call it shock that the enormity of the thing didnà°¥netrate. I suppose you are right. I am now trying to kind of analyze it and think aloud about it. Going back, you just sort of instinctively reacted going about trying to save your life without really perceiving the enormity of what was happening until later. And if you want to call that shock, then ità³¨ock. I donà«®ow what kind of name as I told you previously. I suppose that the first moment where I kind of sat down and thought out or stood up and started thinking was when the war was over. I thought the ledger would have to be added up. Until that time you were constantly in motion surviving.
Charles: One last question for you to put in your mind. If you think of something you can write me or Iì ·rite you: What would you say, Ià®¯t writing about this in the thesis but Ià§¯ing to mention it at the end, what is the difference between those who survived and those who didnï Is there a difference or is it random?
Sonja: Well, thatà´¨e sixty-four thousand dollar question. I have asked myself about that an enormous amount. If you want a clear cut answer then no. It would be very flattering to oneà¥§o to be able to think that it was due to oneà¯·n wisdom or soul. Well, I suppose certain things stand out. Neither my father nor my mother could have survived as well as I, first, for practical reasons. At the age of 17 and 18, a child can much easier miss their parents than vice versa. At that time your reserves as a youngster with the desire to live are not depleted. The death of your parents, especially if they admonished you to try to save yourself, can act as a sort of extra injection, a moral sort of injection. See, for instance, obviously I couldnà¨¡ve said to my mother, ïµ know if dad and I get killed, now you go on to save yourself.Ð²obably, she might have gone on but her heart wouldnà¨¡ve been half as in it as mine by virtue of youth energy and therefore resourceful. You lost your bearings. Look, if this kind of thing happened to me now, do you think I would have the resources, even being the same person. Youå ®ot the same person you once were. You are too tired. If something happened to my children or my family or so, do you think I would have the stamina at this age to go the way I went originally when I was 18? I certainly wouldnî The same goes for the man, the family.
Charles: You know this would be interesting to know how many middle-aged and older people survived without their families versus the young.
Sonja: I know the Kenners survived but they survived with the family. But it would be interesting to know whether there were any middle-aged who survived while their children were killed. I would take a guess that the majority who survived were people my age whose parents were killed but they kept on going.
Charles: Most of the people I interviewed survived between the ages of 12 and 24.
Sonja: There is then your answer.
Charles: I have interviewed Dr. Schorrman, he survived with his wife. I interviewed Isak Weinberg and he survived with his wife or Grossinger, who never had a family.
Sonja: Letà´¡ke a hypothetical question. We are a Jewish family in Poland, father, mother, four children. What do we do? Looking back I would break up my family and say sort of as the French say, á¶¥ who can save themselvesà ‹nowing back then, although I didnà¨¡ve that experience, breaking up the familyá® you imagine the pain and where that would leave dad and me? We would let the kids go because we would think thatà´¨e best for them but that would be basically the ultimate injusticeî¹¯u tear [up] the whole purpose [of life], the wholeá¹¢e then you can say as I said before, well, as long as you live, there is hope. I can see my father and I can see myself. . Now if everything was gone then no, that kind of life I donà®¥ed anymore.
Charles: So then you would say maybe in other people there was resignation?
Sonja: Maybe for instance, I am now speculating, ità¯¢viously academic. Maybe I would have taken to the woods only after I have lost my family. But I was young and I wanted to survive. Itàªµst like Mrs. Gunsberg.
Charles: But Mrs. Gunsberg, she was young, she didnà·¡nt to go [Sosha Chuvenà¯ther].
Sonja: To her, already just her husband gone was the end. So I think that the ones who had the best chance were the young ones because they werenà¢µrdened by families. They had families obviously but these were not their own families. And youå ¹oung, questioning G-d a little more maybe.
Charles: Would you say thatà¡ reason too, a little less believing in God was the saving grace [for you] or something like that?
Sonja: No, no, no, I think just not having other people to think about, just yourself. No matter how you think about your parents you just donà´¨ink.
Charles: So you think there were two ideas among the Jews in Tarnopol after the Germans came in. You would help them walk quietly to their death: resignation in many people until death.
Sonja: I just canì ®o, I canà´¥ll you that. Thatà·¨at was in everybodyà³¯ul, in the soul of these people. What they felt when they were going to their death, I couldnà°²esume to even guess that. No, I can just tell you what kept me going and that was simply that I felt, you know, Ià®¯t going to give an easy victory.
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