I escaped from Poland during the Holocaust

NOTE: This story is the testimony of a Holocaust survivor named Jona Goldrich, courtesy of USC Shoah Foundation, to whom he gave a video recording of this testimony in 1995. These words were made into a public sculpture by Nicola Anthony in 2018. See it here.

My name is Jona Goldrich, I was born in Poland in Galicia, in a small town called Turka, September 1927. The population was half Jewish. My father Alexander was considered a wise man, he taught us to be independent. I learned a lot from him.  He told me the only thing they can’t take away from you is what is inside your head. My Mother Elza was very observant and worried about her children; we were three brothers. She headed The Women’s Charity. We always had an open house for poor people. My 17 year old brother didn’t survive; his name was Isaac.

There was always antisemitism in school; calling us names, even throwing rocks at us. Jews were considered second class citizens. In June 1941 the Nazis marched in and made us put on white arm bands with the Star of David; we were not allowed to go out at night. They took the old people out into the forest and dug a big grave and shot them all: 300 people. My rabbi and his wife were shot. Our family hid in the attic for two weeks, with barely room to lie down. My father decided it was time to do something else.

I left my home in July 1942, just me and my younger brother Avram; I was 14. There was no hope in our city, there was no chance of surviving there. My father decided that we shouldn’t go as a whole family, it was safer for kids, and the family wouldn’t get caught at one time. He hired a guide, Michael, who took us through the mountains at night. We walked four days through the forest. I felt a little bit scared that I would never see my parents again. The guide took us to Munkatch, Hungary. My Father sewed some diamonds into our clothes so we would have money. It felt very bad to be so dependent on other people. Anyone that got caught hiding Polish Jews got arrested. It’s hard to tell a 12 year old how dangerous it is. It was tough on me, the responsibility that something might happen to my brother. That was my biggest fear. There isn’t a day in my life that I don’t think about what happened.

I went to the Palestine office every day, they were going to let 50 children in. It was the only safe place from Europe to go. We left for Palestine in December 1942. We had just enough to carry on our backs. The trip lasted almost a month by train. The train went from Hungary to Romania to Bulgaria to Turkey, then Syria to Lebanon to Haifa (Israel). When we crossed the border everybody kissed the ground. We didn’t know what happened to our parents until the war ended; we hoped they survived somewhere.  They made it to Hungary but they got caught by the police. I felt guilty that if I had stayed with my family, maybe they would have survived too. If you don’t have a childhood, then you don’t know exactly what you’ve been robbed of.