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July 12, 1991 - Image 26

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-07-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Elkhonon Yoffe,
center, with his
family: "We knew
only that the train
was taking us east,
away from the

Elkhonon Yoffe today.

with graves of thousands
who had not been able to
endure the area's deadly
Martin walked several
miles to work, starting his
day with boiled water and
one small piece of black
bread. "We chewed it like
candy," Mr. Ryba says,
"because we didn't want to
part with it."
For lack of fresh
vegetables and fruit, many
in the camp quickly
became infected with scur-
vy. Martin Ryba believes
he survived because of his
Uncle Moshe, who had
never recovered from a
wounded elbow he suffered
as a child.
Because of his arm,
Moshe could not work in
the forests like other men.
He was assigned work car-
ing for the horses that
dragged in the heavy loads
of branches from the
woods. Moshe brought in
hay from nearby collective
farms, where he also did a
little business for himself.
At the farms, Moshe
traded sheets and jackets
from home for carrots and
onions. "That saved us
from scurvy," Mr. Ryba
says. "Maybe that (Moshe's
injury) was done so we
wouldn't get sick. I want to
believe that."
The camp did have a
store, but nobody shopped
there, Mr. Ryba says. "You
could never buy anything
because you didn't have
money." And if one did
have money, he was im-
mediately under suspicion
because inmates were not
When the Soviet Union
joined the Allied forces, life
at the camp changed con-
siderably. "Suddenly,
everyone was 'comrade' in-
stead of 'citizen.' "
Inmates were told they
were free to go, "but the go-
ing was not so easy," Mr.
Ryba recalls. With no
transportation nearby,
Martin, his Uncle Moshe
and his mother set out on
foot. Martin's shoes, made
of wool, were so big they
gave him blisters. They
walked east, helped along

the way by Soviet women
who gave them temporary
housing and hot water.
Sometimes they hopped a
freight train.
Martin Ryba believes he
survived because of his
mother, whom he said was
"like a lioness" with her
tenacity and devotion.
"Lionesses would die to
save their young," Mr.
Ryba says. "My mother
would go hungry and let
me eat her ration. And I
was stupid and naive and I
used to take it. I still have
a guilty conscience."
Martin, Golda and Moshe
found a new home just out-
side Samarkand,
Uzbekistan, in Soviet Cen-
tral Asia. There, they join-
ed a kolkhoz collective
farm. Houses were made of
clay and straw; 13 people
lived in each room. Malaria
and typhus were rampant,
and many residents sub-
sidized their meager ra-
tions with turtle eggs.
Martin, too, became ill
with typhus. "We were like
dead but still breathing,"
he says. At one point, he
was certain he would die.
That night, he dreamed of
his grandmother, Sarah.
The next day; he awoke
feeling well.
When the three left the
kolkhoz, they settled in
nearby Guzar, where Mar-
tin was temporarily con-
scripted into the "new
Polish army," a force that
would serve the Polish
government-in-exile, under
the wing of the Soviet
Union. Martin and 40
other Polish nationals were
shipped to Moscow, where
no sooner had they arrived
than they were sent back.
The "new Polish army"
was not interested in Jew-
ish soldiers.
Martin returned to
Guzar, where he learned
his mother, Uncle Moshe


and Moshe's new wife had'
left for Samarkand. Moshe
had gone into hiding, chas-
ed by Soviet authorities
who believed he was a
Zionist sympathizer.
Martin followed the fami-
ly to Samarkand, where he
found work in a factory.
Authorities eventually
caught up with Moshe, and
threw him in a prison
"hospital." He was con-
stantly beaten and inter-
rogated. When he returned
home 18 months later, his
face was sallow, his feet
bruised and swollen.
The war ended in May
1945, and Martin and his
family were determined to
make it back to Poland.
Mr. Ryba remembers one of
the first greetings he
received when he stepped
back on native soil. An el-
derly Pole muttered, "I
thought you were all liqui-
dated. Look how many of
you are still around."
After the July 4, 1946,
Kielce pogrom, in which
Poles murdered 42 Jews
who survived the war,
Moshe and his family,
Martin and Sarah Ryba
opted to leave. They trav-
eled through Czechoslo-
vakia to Austria, then Vien-
na and finally Bavaria,
where they stayed in a
Displaced Persons camp.

On July 4, 1949, they
arrived in the United
Today, what haunts Mar-
tin Ryba most from his war
years is the unknown, such
as the fate of his Uncle
Chaim's family, who he
last saw just days after his
grandmother Sarah died.
"Every time I see a Jew-
ish face I look very, very
intensely," Mr. Ryba says.
"Maybe it's Chaim's chil-
dren, maybe his grand-
children. Miracles
happen." ❑

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