International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Shahar's Family Story

Today is International Holocaust Day, a day to remember and honor the memory of the millions of innocent lives lost during this dark period in history. On this day, I would like to share a love story of my great-grandparents - Bronia and Lova, whose memory is forever blessed.

My great-grandmother - Bronia, wrote her entire life story by hand. She also gave her Holocaust testimony at Yad Vashem. This is a very small part of her life story and her journey. My dream is to one day publish a book from those notebooks.

My great-grandmother - Bronia, was born in 1922 in the town of Livni in Latvia and lived there until the age of 8. It was a small town with about 4000 inhabitants, all of them Jewish. The only people who left the municipality were the businessmen or people with money who could afford it.

In 1930, my grandmother's entire family moved to Riga, Latvia's capital. They did this with great difficulty as the house they lived in was passed down from generation to generation. Upon moving to Riga, my grandmother entered the third grade in a nationalist school, a school not for Jews (many anti-Semitic' students studied there). After a while, in going to that school, she realized that she was the only Jew in the school. In June 1941, World War II started. At that time, my grandmother finished high school and worked in a bank that the Russians had nationalized. Many people worked at the bank. They felt that the Germans were getting closer and were fighting with Russia over the annexation of Latvia. Every time the Germans shelled Riga, the Balts in the bank clapped and sang nationalist songs. Chaos began in the streets. The Russians blocked the roads. On the way to the bank, Jews were caught and beaten to death. My grandmother's mother gathered the whole family and announced they would leave the house and sleep in the forest for a few nights until the bombing stopped. At that time, my grandmother was working at the bank and received a call to return home immediately, or they would leave without her and leave her behind. She ran home, but it was too late. The streets were all blocked, and no one was allowed to pass. She cried and begged, but they just told her to leave and threatened her with guns. My grandmother knew the streets of Riga well, and she started running around in hidden ways. Eventually, she got back home on time. They left the house - her mother, two sisters, her brother, and her. On the way, there was bombing everywhere. The street wasn't a safe place. They ran fast until they reached a train station. A train was supposed to take the Russian officers' wives home to Russia. Everyone rushed to the box office to buy tickets. In the end, there was terrible shelling, and everyone just entered the train through the windows and doors. There was awful overcrowding on the train. People started throwing out suitcases and packages to make room for people.

After a long journey, my grandmother's family arrived in Uzbekistan. They arrived at a Sovkhoz which was a kibbutz. They were given a shack with two rooms - one bedroom with a wall-to-wall bunk bed and a second room with a small bunk bed. In the small bed slept a newly married couple they hadn’t met before. My grandmother's family stayed in the bedroom with the big bunk bed with two other girls from Poland. Her sister Rebecca married shortly before the war and was given a separate room in different barracks. My grandmother and her sister worked in the field, picking cotton. They did not know the Russian language. My grandmother could read but didn't understand much. Near Soubhuz, 6 km away, there was a cotton factory with many workers. One day a guy from Poland became the manager there. He oversaw distributing the pita bread portion to everyone. Every now and there, he came to the restaurant in Soubhuz. Around Sobhuz, there were lonely boys and girls from Poland. Their parents decided to send the children to Russia until the end of the war without them, and later on, they were killed by the Nazis. Since he was also lonely and all his family stayed in Poland, he looked at my grandmother's family with envy. He and my grandmother talked, and each told his story. He invited my grandmother and her sister to his office to sell them cheap soap, a costly commodity back then. And so slowly, my grandmother and grandfather met and fell in love, as much as it was possible to love during the war. They got married. After the marriage, they were together for two weeks, and then all the Polish boys were recruited to a Red Army labor camp. They were sent to Siberia. My grandmother's husband (my great-grandfather-Lova) was also sent there. The job was to dig graves in a cemetery for the dead. Everyone who worked there ended up being buried there too. My grandfather knew some guys from Poland who traded all kinds of goods on the black market and included him. He sold salted fish and earned very well until one day. The police caught him. He was in prison but managed to escape from there. He got to a company that included a sick young man who had been released from the labor camp because of a terminal illness. My grandfather bought his release papers from him, changed his name (last name) from Zuprik to Gura, and became a new person. He traveled by train back to Uzbekistan but did not return to his former workplace because he was known by his old name there. He settled in the city of Kokand. There he announced that he had lost the documents with his identity card, and they gave him a temporary identity card. He worked for a truck driver as an assistant and learned to drive. He wanted to meet my grandmother as soon as possible and called the office in Subhuz and asked her to come to Kakund city, where he was staying, in the only hotel. My grandmother was happy that her husband was back and immediately went to the city. She arrived happily, running to the hotel, and asked about a guest named Zuprik. They announced that no guest or person with such a name had arrived at the hotel. My grandmother didn't understand why he breezed her after he called to meet with her and sent her all the love letters. Meanwhile, it was getting dark, and she had nowhere to go. There was no room to stay in the hotel. My grandmother begged the manager to let her sleep in the hotel, and he took pity on her and put another folding bed in a room with six girls. My grandmother returned home the next morning sad. After a week, she heard knocking on the window in the middle of the night. It was her husband. She opened the door for him, and he told her the whole story. He said that he changed his name and waited for her at the hotel, but he saw several police officers enter and was afraid that they would come to arrest him, so he left quickly, that's why he also arrived at night so that no one would recognize him. My grandfather went back to work in the city and occasionally visited Sobhuz. My grandparents corresponded all the time by letters. My grandmother's entire family returned to Riga after the war. In exchange for a bribe, they received permission to return. Riga changed a lot during the war. My grandmother heard from her husband only half a year after the end of the war. Ultimately, they had two children: my grandfather Israel and his brother Shimon. They immigrated to Israel only after living in Poland for two years because it was impossible to immigrate from Russia. My great-grandfather Lova had a Polish identity card, which made it impossible for them to live in Poland. All my great grandfather's family were murdered in the Holocaust. We didn’t know his story before he met my grandmother because he was never willing to talk about it. He is the only survivor of his family. A few years ago, my grandfather's brother (Shimon) found in Yad Vashem a picture of my great-grandfather's entire family standing in front of the shooting pit a few minutes before they were murdered. I didn't get to meet my great-grandfather Lova. My gran- grandmother used to talk about him a lot and describe him as the knight on the white horse who sent her love letters and whom she would look forward to meeting. My grand - grandmother was a phenomenal storyteller. Every time she told this story, everyone was mesmerized, like it was their first time hearing it. I was moved to hear about the love between my great-grandfather and great-grandmother during such a challenging period and that, against all odds, they formed a warm and loving family.

Bronia and Lova's love story is a reminder of the resilience and humanity that can be found even in the darkest times. Their memory lives on and serves as a reminder of the atrocities of the Holocaust and the importance of never forgetting.