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Escaping the Nazis
1650 Miles with Seven Children

by Ida Belchatowski ©2017, Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-935232-99-5, 116 pp
 

An incredible journey! Ida Brandspiegel, age five, her parents, and six other children, ranging in age from fifteen years to two weeks old, were expelled by the Nazis from their hometown, Pułrusk, Poland, in late September of 1939. They walked or took trains on their journey to the U.S.S.R. Along the way the family slept in barns with the horses, cows, and chickens and staying temporarily—only steps ahead of the Nazis—in Bialystok, Poland, and Orša, White Russia. Eventually, in October of 1941, aided by the Soviets, they reach Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in Siberia—the end of a two year journey. The family had journeyed over 1650 miles to reach safety.

 

Escaping the Nazis: 1650 Miles with Seven Children tells the story of this journey, their five years in the U.S.S.R., and another journey, one from Siberia to the U.S. Settling in Philadelphia, despite coping with language, job, and school ordeals, ever resilient, the family prospers.

 

Ida Belchatowski’s memoir—part comedy, part tragedy—will be appreciated by readers of all ages.

One: Pułtusk, My Hometown.............................................3

Two: My Family...................................................................6

Three: The German Occupation..........................................9

Four: The Soviets................................................................12

Five: Operation Barbarossa...............................................14

Six: Magnitogorsk..............................................................16

Seven: Going Home...........................................................25

Eight: Italian DP Camps....................................................29

Nine: Settling in.................................................................32

Ten: American Education..................................................34

Eleven: Working.................................................................36

Twelve: Dating...................................................................38

Thirteen: Max.....................................................................41

Fourteen: Houses and Children.........................................46

Fifteen: Epilogue................................................................49

Sixteen: A Reflection..........................................................52

Acknowledgments...............................................................53

Works Cited........................................................................54

Endnotes.............................................................................56

Maps...................................................................................74

Documents.........................................................................81

Photographs........................................................................91

One

Pułtusk,

My Hometown

I was born Ita (Ida) Brandspiegel on December 10, 1934,

in Pułtusk, Poland. My parents, Jakob (b.1895 or 1899) and

Rosa (neĂ…Le Wischnia) (b.1895 or 1899) Brandspiegel, had seven

children. I was their fourth child. My brother Gershon (1924)

was the oldest, followed by my sisters Sarah (1928) and Bela

(1931), then me (1934), two younger brothers Szlomo (Sal)

(1936) and Berys (Bernie) (1938), and finally Ruhael (Rachel),

the baby (1939).

Pułtusk, Poland, where we lived, is on the western bank of

the river Narew and 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of Warsaw, the

capital of Poland.1 It is surrounded by mountains on three sides.

According to the article “Pułtusk,” Pułtusk is one of the oldest

and most beautiful cities in Poland, called “Little Polish Venice”

because of the gondolas on the river Narew. Its location on the

river and its proximity to Warsaw gave it strategic importance.

Since the tenth century when the town was established, it changed

hands a number of times. In the eighteenth century Pułtusk was

annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia. In the nineteenth century

after the fall of Napoleon, Russia annexed the town. When I was

born, Pułtusk was a part of Poland.

Jews did not settle in Pułtusk until the end of the fifteenth

century; however, by the end of the eighteenth century they

were about 50% of the total population (“Pułtusk”). Rawicki

explains that Pułtusk Jews developed trade in grains and wood.

They also processed agricultural products; there were thirteen

flour mills in the city and the environs (Rawicki). In addition

to the main trades, Jews operated tanneries, lumber mills, and

soda factories (Rawicki).

The rate of development slowed down in Pułtusk with the

development of the various rail lines. According to Rawicki,

the opening of the railroad of Warsaw – Bydgoszcz that was

connected with the railway of Warsaw–Częstochowa – Vienna

affected Pułtusk’s economic development (2).

The new railway that also became known as the Wisla

railway led to the West, to the developed and industrial

Germany that was an excellent market for raw agricultural

produce and materials. With its opening the value of the

waterways depreciated and the nearest railway station was

far from Pułtusk, at a distance of twenty-two kilometers. It is

obvious that the dealers and manufacturers could not compete

with their counterparts whose towns and villages were close to

the train tracks. (Rawicki 5)

The Jewish economy suffered even more after WWI

with the rebirth of Poland. Pogroms and economic boycotts

impoverished the middle class (Rawicki 5). Rawicki contends

that this antisemitism paved the way “for Hitler’s armed thugs

and prepared the hearts of the masses of the Polish people to

be active or passive participants in the murder of millions” (5).

Refael Moshe Sach wrote a tribute to this lost Jewish

community of Pułtusk:

The years have passed, an entire world

was destroyed but Pułtusk, the city of

my youth, still stands before my eyes,

with all of its love of life. I remember

the main thoroughfares, the roads and

little byways. . . .

We lived in a Jewish atmosphere,

but we were still connected to the Polish

landscape, to its ends, spaces, to the

rivers and forests. In this kaleidoscope

of wheat and grain, rich fertile earth,

windmills and factory chimneys, our

town had a particular charm about it. It

was considered to be unique, and one of

the most beautiful places in all of Poland.

(54)

For Jews, those bonds of fellowship and landscapes

of beauty were devastated in 1939 with the invasion of

the Germans.

Escaping the Nazis

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