I returned from the house of my impoverished physician to that of my former neighbor with whom I was lodging. I told him what I had just seen and heard regarding the behavior of the Russian "ally." He frowned and said, "Man does greater harm to man than any disaster nature may send upon him. We live in the war zone here, and the law no longer protects us. Society has disintegrated. No one can hope to be spared; our very clothes may be snatched from our bodies. The lawlessness of the jungle reigns."
He reflected, looked me over, then added, "I feel deeply ashamed when I look at you. I feel guilty for what my fellow Hungarians have done to you. Yes, I feel guilty because everyone is his brother's keeper. You bear on your face the suffering you have been through. Our leaders have disgraced us. I, a lonely individual, feel like burying my face in ashes, like closing my eyes to the devil's work that is being done around us, but I would like to persuade you that there are still Hungarians who believe in human decency, and condemn what has been done in their name.
"The Russians have descended upon us like a cloud of crickets, devouring everything in their passage. They constitute our punishment. We must accept them in that spirit. They will pass, and what has been devastated, we will have to build up again."
He embraced me and offered me money.
"Take it," he said, "with you. This money will serve a good purpose. Perhaps it will help you get back to civilization and retrieve your family. I'd rather give it to you than be forced to give it to some Cossack who may ransack my house tomorrow."
His words moved me deeply. I said to myself, "To condemn all Hungarians is a generalization which may lead us to some unjust conclusions for what a number of them have done. Did not God say about Sodom and Gomorrah: `I will not destroy it for the ten's sake' (Genesis 26:33). To condemn collectively any people is to follow in the footsteps of Hitler. This does not behoove a true Jew nor a true Christian. This Hungarian friend of mine has taught me what it means to be just and wise, which is the same thing as to be an enlightened human being."
I left Cluj for Bucharest by train in the morning of the next day, a war train used mostly by Russian military, with a sprinkle of civilians. For me it was a luxury train. Sitting on the wooden bench, my coat neatly folded in the net, comfortably leaning against the back of the compartment, I enjoyed the pleasant temperature within. I conjured up the vision of that other voyage in a cattle car I had made not so land before. Which one was the dream and which one was the reality, this train or that other one? Can the memory of a real event become a nightmare? Subsequent years answered this question emphatically in the affirmative
I was absorbed in my thoughts. Suddenly, a voice addressed me in Yiddish. How did he know I was a Jew? The question appears to me superfluous. My features, my I eyes, the hesitant anxious moves of my limbs, everything revealed me to a fellow Jew. He wore the uniform of a Russian officer. I was startled. So there were some of our people among them too. So we could not think of the ` Russians either simply as "they," as a formless collective)
He asked me where I had come from, and where I was going. I trusted him and spoke to him openly. I told him that I was a refugee from a labor camp, a rabbi.
"Do not stay in Rumania," he volunteered. "You may be prevented from exercising your profession. You may even lose your freedom again."
"Why? I haven't committed any crime . . . ."
He shrugged his shoulders, made a large gesture with his hands, his mouth twitched a little, but he gave no answer. His sign language spoke, however, eloquently to me. That man wanted to convey to me the truth that as long as I lived under Russian occupation, I as a Jew, had to fear the future, that T was not safe any time. It was a fraternal warning coming from someone who knew. I did not have to be told since the very purpose of my trip to Bucharest was to secure a passport and a visa, to get out into the free world. Nevertheless, the warning constituted an eye-opener for me. It taught me that the Communists were not merely anti-religious, but especially anti-Jewish for the same reason that Hitler was, namely that we are essentially a people living in the spirit. That the only Lord we recognize is the Lord of Heavens, and we are not to be reduced to mere objects. Ever since that conversation I have associated the concept of God with that of true spiritual and individual freedom, provided we accept the God within us with joy, and model our conduct according to His dictates ...
I changed the subject, and asked him to tell me something about Jewish life in Russia. To my amazement, he frowned and remarked simply, "I am a Russian officer."
This was an answer that was no answer which, however, I understood completely. It still further completed the line of my previous thoughts. I again changed the subject, spoke of trivial things and we parted in a friendly way.
It was the end of October or maybe the beginning of November of the year 1944. Bucharest was beautiful in the fall. The sun illuminated the wide boulevards, the ornate palaces of the inner city. It felt good to see that apparently the war had not brought about the same chaos, the same disorganization there which I had seen in Cluj and the territories I had left behind. It was clear to me that the Rumanian government was still in control, in spite of the Russian occupation. The Rumanians were still masters at home, but there was the ominous and ubiquitous presence of the Russian military. Immediately after my arrival I could observe Russian soldiers, including officers, standing far many long minutes in front of the show windows of shops, admiring the abundance of merchandise displayed there. I noticed that the majority of them were not of European origin. I saw Kalmucks, Tatars and other Asiatic types with jutting cheekbones and small, sometimes slanted eyes. Most of them were of small stature, but a few were giants. They looked awkward and moved clumsily, suspiciously-so it seemed to me. They were particularly attracted by the sight of dishes in the windows of restaurants. They could hardly tear themselves from the spot. Of course, only their officers dared to enter.
In view of the occupation, the city was overcrowded and the hotels were full. In vain I searched for a room all evening. Finally, despairing, I put dawn my small bundle in the lobby of the Hotel Continental and told the porter that I was incapable of moving on; he would have to put me somewhere. I related to him part of my adventures of the recent past, and asked him to do what he could for me. Thereupon, he had a bed placed into one of the smaller drawing rooms of the hotel and put me up.
During the night I was frequently awakened by shootings, I found out later on that the Russian soldiers amused themselves by shooting in the air. They went on a rampage under the cloak of darkness, raping any woman they encountered, looting stores and taverns, breaking into homes, and stripping people in the streets of everything but their shirt and underwear.
As I had a hard time falling asleep after such interruptions, I reflected on what I would or could do to sustain myself and to work toward the aim I had set for myself. I remembered the names of a few old friends of my family who had known my father and grandfather, and who had held the name "Glasner" in great respect. Many had remembered my grandfather, who admonished the Jews of Europe that a time would come when they would wish to leave for Palestine. "The time is now," he used to say, "while the doors. of Palestine are still open." He predicted that one day the Jews would be prevented from settling in their promised homelands. My grandfather himself had followed his own advice and emigrated to Palestine in 1920. Many of my coreligionists were able to leave northwestern Transylvania before its annexation to Hungary; same settled in Bucharest where the authorities showed a more tolerant attitude toward the Jews. From the distance of long years past several names suddenly re-emerged in my memory. I knew that mast of them had done well, and I had no doubt that they would help me in my present predicament. Also, I was hopeful that from Bucharest I would be able to contact my sister, Esther, married to Daniel Lewenstein before the war, who was established in Switzerland.
Thanks to the Jewish congregation of the city, it was not too difficult to find the people in question. I was not disappointed. The name "Glasner" still exercised the old spell on them. I was received with open arms and was given financial aid. Thanks to them, I found lodgings and was put in a position to concentrate on efforts to get in touch with my sister, and through her, to retrieve the traces of my family in Switzerland.
Bucharest, in fact the whole of Rumania, constituted at that time the last refuge for Eastern European Jews, offering them a degree of security. In 1941 and 1942 the Rumanian government, yielding to Nazi pressure, had consented to the deportation of some one hundred eighty-five thousand Jews from the northeastern provinces of Bucovina and Bessarabia to primitive camps in the Ukraine, which was then occupied by the Germans. However, at the very time when Hungary wholeheartedly and ferociously cooperated with the Nazis in the work of exterminating her Jewish population, Rumania changed her attitude toward the Jews. Not only did she refuse to deport more of them, but she even brought back forty-five thousand, returning them to their former homes. She also received those who had escaped from Hungary to Rumanian territory, did not intern them, and helped them in every way.
The merit for this humanitarian and courageous attitude must be ascribed to young King Michael. He was opposed to any deportation of Jews from Rumania. It was related to me by well-informed men in Bucharest that Prime Minister Antonescu would have refrained from the deportation of Jews in the first place if the Allies had made a strong appeal to him to that effect. Indeed, Antonescu, a general, was aware of the military potential and military reality, namely of the overwhelming superiority of the Allies in manpower, raw materials and technology. He realized that it would bring about their final victory. He feared reprisals on the part of the Allies for any war crimes committed in his name. One decisive appeal by a determined Allied statesman, and one hundred eighty-five thousand Jewish lives would have been saved.
I relate the above to describe the atmosphere that I found upon my arrival in Bucharest. The officials were ready to help me willingly if not ostentatiously. Still another fortunate circumstance greatly favored me. The former prime minister of Rumania, Tatarescu, knew me personally, for he had visited Cluj some years before, and on behalf of the Jewish community of the city, I had extended our welcome to him. Moreover, the renown of our family was known to him. I presented myself to him and he received me cordially. He recommended me to the Foreign Ministry I without the help of which I could not establish contact with my sister in Switzerland. The Ministry transmitted a telegram to her, informing her of my presence in Bucharest, and inquiring about my family.' A few weeks later, the answer came which also was transmitted to me through the Foreign Ministry. My brother-in-law advised me that my parents had safely arrived in Switzerland, but my wife and son had been retained in Bergen Belsen, Germany. As to my other sister, Naomi, married and residing before the war in Oradea-Mare, they had no information.
Anyone can imagine my feelings when I read the telegram: joy to learn that my dear father, mother and sister were safe; immense worry about my wife and little son who still remained in the clutches of the Nazis.
There was nothing I could do further except contact the Rumanian and International Red Cross. I hoped to be able to leave the country as soon as possible, but since this was not an easy matter, I decided to use the time of waiting to do something for my fellow refugees.
Most of them were destitute, demoralized, physically weak. They needed help. I volunteered my services to the Jewish organizations to bring moral and material relief to these refugees. It was immensely satisfying to me to be on the giving, on the helping side after having been helped myself. Each piece of bread that was handed out, each lodging secured, each medical examination given, each piece of information concerning dispersed members of the families obtained through my intermediary services, constituted on my part an act of thanksgiving for my own and my parents' survival, a prayer for my eventual reunion with all my beloved. Again, I must emphasize, action and praying were one and the same for me.
In the course of my contact with refugees freed by the advance o£ the Russian armies, I learned what I had feared from the beginning: the battalion of labor campers who had been with me in Jaramce, Poland, perished almost to the last man. As the Hungarian guards were replaced by Germans, the latter, impatient with the slow advance of the battalion, liquidated it and left with their wagons lest they be overtaken by the advancing Russians. Once more, I asked what force made me escape from the marching column, and what made my escape succeed? The word "luck" certainly does not give a satisfactory answer ...
I was lodged with a Jewish family who had a daughter, about twenty years of age. Living with them gave me an insight into the indoctrination of youth by the Communists. ( Communist influence grew as the victories of the Red Army over the Germans became known in the country.)
One day the daughter informed her parents that she had joined the Communist Party. In vain the parents objected, but she coldly rebuffed them, telling them to mind their own business. Subsequent to joining the Party, she became increasingly estranged from her family. In fact, the Party replaced the role of her family in her eyes. To the Party she transferred her emotions and loyalty. Still the daughter refused to leave home as her father repeatedly asked her to do, because she tried to impose her own views upon her parents. It was interesting for me to hear her opinion about her own government and about the Allied leaders. She condemned General Radescu, the prime minister, for his "bourgeois" and "reactionary" attitudes in his relations with the Soviet Union. As to the Allied leaders, she spoke in derogatory terms of Churchill and praised President Roosevelt. She voiced the opinion that after Malta, Churchill had been reduced to a secondary role, that he and the British in general no longer had much influence. There was a feeling, she said, that if any Deed arose to intervene with the Russian Military Command, this should be done through the American mission, not through the British, for the latter were disliked by the Russian authorities in Rumania. It was rumored that something had happened in Malta that had offended the Russians, and the fault was Churchill's. She, and I understood the Communists, favored Roosevelt as the man to deal with on the side of the Western Allies; he alone had the power to make binding decisions.
Politics were rather confusing at that time. Rumors were constantly afloat. The defeat of Germany had become a foregone conclusion, admitted by everyone except the most fanatic Nazi sympathizers.
By chance I met the father of Anna Pauker during my stay in Bucharest. Anna was a well-known Communist leader, one of the earliest and staunchest supporters of Stalin. She had gone into exile in Russia at a time when
Rumania, her native country, still enjoyed its independence; she returned with the arrival of the Red Army. From her exile she sent clandestine instructions to the Rumanian Communist Party. After her return, her influence in the Party was predominant, even though, officially, she held no position therein. Her job was, as subsequent events proved, to prepare the Party for the take-over of the state. Afterward, when that became an accomplished fact, she was named Foreign Minister in the Communist government. She was responsible far the forced abdication of the King, but her services, like those of so many members of the initial General Staff of international communism, were ill-rewarded. In 1952, Anna Pauker was implicated in the mass trials ordered by Stalin. She was arrested and jailed. Like other Jews, such as Slansky and Loebl in Czechoslovakia, she was accused of being an agent of international Zionism and Israel. Her fate constitutes a further proof of what is today common knowledge, that Jews who had adhered to the Communist parties and acceded to high positions, never were immune to suspicion and religious prejudice on the part of their comrades. Anna Pauker's name does not even appear in recent Communist encyclopedias, in spite of the important role she had once played in the building up and strengthening of international Communism. The Communists punish those they repudiate by making of them non-persons, trying to delete their memory from history and certainly from the minds of the people.
Anna Pauker's father was a religious Jew who deeply deplored the activities of his daughter. He complained to me that he had tried to see her after she returned to the country, but she refused to receive him. Anna was thus demonstrating that she had broken with her family, because family ties and religion represented reactionary sentiments in her opinion. However, it takes two to be assimilated anywhere, with any nation and any movement: one who wishes to be assimilated and the others. The Communists, particularly the Russian Communists, and today the Communist parties obedient to the Soviet Union, are, we repeat, far from free from religious prejudice.
Meanwhile, I continued to be active in humanitarian and religious enterprises. I was instrumental in the formation of a union of refugee rabbis, who were saved from destruction by Hitler. Throughout these days, while awaiting a new decisive turn in my own fate, I was guided by an anecdote told me once by my late father (may he rest in peace). A sainted rabbi was approached by a man who had strayed away from religion. The man said, "Rabbi, I repent my sinful past and would like to atone for it. What shall I do? How shall I begin?"
The Rabbi answered, "Remember three things. First, there is only one man to do a certain job. Second, there is only one job to be done at a time. Third, there is only one day to do it."
This little story acted upon me the way the pragmatic philosophy of Seneca or Schopenhauer's maxims for the conduct of life would act on a receptive reader. I said to myself that a certain task was incumbent upon me every day, that it had to be done on that particular day, and that I alone, not anyone else, was responsible for carrying it out. As things evolved, there was a great deal to do. Our primary problem was: what could we do for the safety and welfare of the refugees who had come to Bucharest? Further, we had to turn our attention to the refugees who had been freed in Eastern Germany by the red armies. Reports received from those regions indicated that these unfortunate people were not aided by the Russians, and as a result, many died after they had regained their freedom. In fact, we learned that as a matter of policy, the Russians were disinterested in the fate of the former inmates of concentration camps. The giant who, with one hand, dealt hard blows to his staggering enemy, was not dealing out bread, shelter, medical aid and other necessities to the victims of the same enemy.
I recommended to our rescue committee that we urgently seek an audience with Andrei Vishinsky, deputy foreign minister of the Soviet Union. He was a frequent visitor to Bucharest, as well as to other capitals in the Danube Basin, actually traveling from one to the other at the time. Future events proved that the purpose of Vishinsky's travels was to implement a plan, worked out after the Yalta meeting of the Allied chiefs, which was to transform the countries in that region into Communist states in order to maintain them within the Russian sphere of influence.
At the end of December, 1944, I received a second telegram through the intermediary of the Rumanian Foreign Ministry. My wife and son had safely arrived in Switzerland. This was the most exalting moment of my life, reward for the suffering I had undergone. Overwhelmed with joy, it freed my mind from a constant preoccupation; it was now much easier for me to devote my efforts to the immediate tasks ahead of us.
My proposal was received by the Committee. We secured the services of a Jewish attorney raised in Russia, who was to function as our spokesman and interpreter. He prepared a detailed memorandum concerning the problem of the refugees in the Russian-occupied territories, as well as our suggestions as to how to lend them urgent assistance. Rescue squads would visit those regions, bringing with them food and medicine which we offered to provide. This was a first step in the relief program.
Mr. Vishinsky was noncommittal. He declared that he would take the memorandum to Moscow for study and would advise us. We left his office rather depressed. I personally was convinced that nothing would come out of our efforts to get relief to our coreligionists in their plight through the help of the Russians. My pessimism was justified. Vishinsky's answer is still pending.
An important meeting of Jewish religious leaders of Transylvania was held soon after in Bucharest. The subject discussed was the rebuilding and revival of Jewish life in West Transylvania, The survivors from Nazi camps returning home were in need of spiritual guidance. Both the rabbis and lay leaders pledged their efforts to further this aim. They agreed to call a convention in Cluj, and asked me, as the former deputy chief rabbi of that City, to open the meeting and to extend the greetings to the convention.
A few months had passed since my arrival in Bucharest after having escaped from a Nazi labor camp. Personally I had every reason to be satisfied with the results of my efforts during those months.
I had succeeded in obtaining information regarding my family. From a human wreck, I re-emerged a man solidly planted in the soil, able not only to take care of himself, but also to join in the rehabilitation of others. I was of course deeply grateful to Him who had preserved me during the cataclysm of the recent past and preserved those so dear to my heart. And above all, I was bathing, as it were, in a new light that is difficult for me to explain. In the midst of the general chaos, while war was still raging, when destruction caused by men was universal, I perceived inside me a strength of will, a joy and happiness that had nothing to do with earthly considerations. I had gained an insight into the divine in man, into the greatness that exists in everyone of us, but which is concealed by the shortsightedness of our daily existence, by our struggle for material goods and for power.
Truly, I can say that I was a new man, matured by suffering and the sight of suffering, as I was back in Cluj in May, 1945. The city where I had spent my childhood, where I had returned in search of my past, had been extraordinarily transformed during my short absence. New people with new, mostly confused ideologies had seized the levers of command, eager to transform the existing institutions in a hurry. They were insulting, intimidating, bullying, browbeating those whom they deemed to be too slaw in adopting their new ways. Irresistibly I was reminded of the Nietzschean phrases of "God is dead" and "the reevaluation of all values."
The local Communist Party had a Jewish section, a contradiction in itself, for Communism professes to ignore religious distinctions. The leaders of that section opined that I was a reactionary; consequently they decided that they would not permit me to deliver the welcoming address to the Assembly. I insisted, on the other hand, on my rights as deputy chief rabbi, head of the Jewish community in the absence of my father. I was threatened with violent demonstrations, even with violence against my own person, if I did not step aside. I refused to yield to these pressures. My position was supported unanimously by the delegates from eastern Transylvania, and I prevailed, opened the meeting and was in command of the convocation till the meeting was turned over to the permanent chairman.
Thinking of that, my first brush with the Communists, I say to myself that at no time had I reflected on the possible reprisals my inflexible attitude toward them could have entailed. Looking back, I realize why they had yielded on that occasion. They were not yet sure of their strength. They could not declare themselves openly; they had to bide their time. Nevertheless, from a number of facts, from hints given to me by my former friends and followers, I realized that they were out, to get me and that my life was in danger. This was an additional factor that prompted me to seek the opportunity to leave Rumania as fast as possible. This was henceforth a constant preoccupation with me. My other grave concern was to get some information concerning the whereabouts of my sister, Naomi. I tried to get in touch with refugees who had returned to Oradea-Mare after the defeat of the Germans. I was informed that almost no one had been saved there, because the deportation of the Jews from that city had been carried out with particular cruelty by the Hungarian gendarmerie. Under Hitler, Oradea-Mare, like Cluj, had been returned to Hungary. As this disheartening information was imparted to me, I had to reach the painful conclusion that my beloved sister, Naomi, along with her husband and child, were to be counted among the martyrs of our people. With sorrow I remembered her, a shining example of valorous Jewish women, young, resplendent in her beauty, gentle in her manners. Truly, the wards of King Solomon in the Book of Proverbs (31:25), "Strength and dignity were her clothing," were applicable to her. I prayed for her soul, mourned her memory. She had never ceased to be with me in my affection; I have never ceased to include her in my prayers.
Political events were precipitated in Rumania. Vishinsky's long-range plans were coming to fruition. The government of General Radescu, labeled "conservative," was forced to resign because of violent demonstrations and strikes instigated by the Communists. It was replaced by a more liberally oriented regime that included a few Communist members.
It is appropriate to explain at this point that the plan of the Russians concerning the take-over of the countries that they judged to be in their sphere of interest was everywhere the same. First, force out the existing governments, organize new ones, even if they had to allow for honest elections supervised by international teams, provided that the Communists be on the ballots with other parties. Once a single Communist succeeded in being admitted into the cabinet, he would successively eliminate all other members, replacing them with his fellow Communists. A modern Archimedes, he only needed a small corner of the political universe from which he could lift out the rest of the globe. His dynamics were operating according to rigorous laws. They were successfully applied in Hungary and in Czechoslovakia.
Fortunately far me, the Foreign Minister of the new government was the same George Tatarescu about whom I spoke before, and who I knew would help me leave the country. I had to act in a hurry for there was no doubt in my mind that this new government would be shortly replaced by an all-Communist one, in which case my flight would become impossible.
One day I read in a newspaper an item, reported by the official Rumanian news agency, that a rabbinical convention would be held in New York in the summer of that same year of 1945. This gave me an idea. I hurried to ask for an audience with Tatarescu, in the hope he would make it possible for me to leave Rumania under the pretext of attending the New York convention.
Tatarescu showed himself as benevolent toward me as he had been in the past. As I submitted my request to him, he remarked, "No citizen can obtain a passport until further notice. No one but the diplomats can travel:"
Seized by a bold inspiration, I asked, "Sir, would it not be possible to issue a diplomatic passport for me? That convention in New York will be very important in view of the tragic situation of the Jews of Europe. I should really try to attend it."
He seemed to be pleasantly surprised by my request.
"You are right," he said. "It is important. I will give instructions that a diplomatic passport be issued to you. My services will get the visas of the countries which you will have to transit. I will also ask the Russian military command to provide you with an exit visa."
He gave me his hand and added, "Good luck!''
I was impressed with his swift decision. I knew he would keep his word, but I was worried about obtaining the consent of the Russians. Would they allow me to depart? They may judge that there was no sufficient reason for me to do so, that I was not an important person, just a small rabbi. I could only wait and hope.