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TELL THEM:
THE JEWS ARE FIGHTING IN WARSAW

The Story of AVROM FELDBERG

I APPROACHED A modest home on a middle-class suburban street in Toronto. A woman opened the door, introduced herself as Dorothy and led me to a room comfortably decorated with pictures of children and grandchildren. It was a Jewish home, with art from Israel hanging on a wall and assorted items related to the Jewish faith displayed on cabinets and tables. The pleasant aroma of a recently cooked meal lingered in the air. Avrom Feldberg sat on a couch. We introduced ourselves and I sat beside him. We talked about other things without getting into the purpose of my visit. For more than two months I had been trying to interview him, and he had offered many reasons why he didn't have the time, but finally he had consented. I knew my presence was being tolerated because mutual friends had asked Avrom to see me. They wanted to have his story on paper and had not been successful in getting him to divulge his part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. They told me his was an amazing story. What they knew had come out in bits and pieces, and they felt his experience should be preserved.

I had been warned that Avrom was very emotional and had difficulty relating his past without shedding tears. It was not my purpose to open wounds that would cause him new pain, only to hear a story that would highlight the role of the fighting Jew during the Second World War. I had been told that Avrom was one of the few surviving resistance fighters from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I learned he had been honoured twice by the Polish government - as a fighter during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and for his involvement as a partisan in the Polish Home Army during the Warsaw Revolt.

The years have been gentle to Avrom; his physical scars were not as visible as those of others I had interviewed. He sat with his body erect, his face tense, eyes moist, hands on his lap, speaking softly, hesitating often as he tried to find the right words to answer my questions. His mind was digesting his answers in Polish as he answered in English.

After several minutes it became apparent that my probing about his family, their home life before the war and his relationship with his brothers was becoming too difficult for him to reveal. Tears slipped down his cheeks and all that he was able to offer was the pain of his memory reflected on his face - no words. I changed the subject. We discussed mutual acquaintances, strange incidents from the war and traded stories of bizarre and unexplainable occurrences that he had witnessed and I had heard.

I told him a story.

A woman suffering from typhus, her body wasted, feverish and only semi?conscious was forced?marched to a work detail with other prisoners. The woman collapsed on the ground and waited for death. Each breath was an effort, each movement making her body scream in protest, wanting only to stop its punishment, to let go and find peace. She heard the other women bickering among themselves as to who would get her shoes and her dress after she died. She opened her eyes and saw a hill. She convinced herself she could make it to the hill, and if she did she would live. She struggled to her knees and then to her feet. Each step was torture, and like a drunkard, she staggered towards the hill until she reached the foot and collapsed. While lying on the ground, her body spent, she felt a hand on her shoulder and saw her father standing beside her. He told her she would survive. Immediately after seeing the vision, she lost consciousness.

When she awoke, she felt the rays of the sun on her now naked body. She raised her head, not knowing where she was, and saw she was in a field surrounded by thousands of other naked bodies, all dead. She heard the roar of an engine and saw a bulldozer moving towards her, covering the bodies with earth. She weakly raised her arm, hoping she would not be buried alive. The driver saw her gesture, then stopped the bulldozer and approached. He was not wearing a German uniform but that of a Canadian. During the night, the camp had been liberated by the British and Canadian armed forces.

When she awoke again, she was in a hospital. She discovered that after she collapsed at the foot of the hill, the German guard thought she was dead. He stripped her body of her clothes and had her dragged to an excavation site filled with dead bodies. When she was well enough to leave the hospital, she wanted to return to the hill, convinced the vision she had seen was her father. At the site, she discovered it was not a hill but a mass grave. Records later showed that buried underneath was her father.

When I finished, there was silence. Aaron was still staring at the floor, his hands clasped in his lap. Finally he looked up and asked, "Do you believe in dreams?"

"In what way," I asked.

"That they somehow foretell the future."

My answer was yes, and I gave my reasons. I had heard from many survivors' stories about dreams that had developed into fact and could not be explained.

Avrom said, "I had a dream when I was in Dachau, just before the war ended, and it saved an American soldier's life. I don't understand why I had the dream, but it was so clear . . ." His voice trailed off and his eyes seemed focused in another time.

We spent the balance of the evening in a casual discussion about everything in general; Avrom seemed to function well in that situation, as long as we didn't enter into the realm of his own experiences. After three hours, I had yet to hear anything about his past. I told him I had to leave and maybe I could return at another time when he would be able to talk more personally. He handed me a videotape of his experiences made by the Survivors of the Shoah and told me to watch it and get my information from what I saw there, rather than from him. He couldn't find it in himself to relive all the pain by talking about what had happened to him.

I left his house as I had left many others, knowing that although it was fifty years after the fact, the pain was still with him. In some, the pain never leaves, and it wasn't until I gave him the draft of my writings that I learned why in his case.