It was before dusk when we first went to meet Polina and Yafim. They opened the door and let us in. As we sat and talked it was getting darker in the apartment. The translator eventually asked them if they wanted to turn on their lights. Hesitant, they looked at each other and somewhat reluctantly turned on a light. We wondered, what is wrong here? But then they began to speak of their own war experiences.
During WWII some of the people were not caught by the Nazi soldiers and put into camps or ghettos. Many of them were constantly running and hiding, some for the entire war. Polina and Yafim’s family were one of them. In fact, their entire extended families were in hiding together, in a vegetable cellar in the middle of a field.
Polina (age 5 years) and Yafim (age 3 years), their mother, several aunts and uncles and more cousins were all staying hidden in a large vegetable cellar located not far from the house. During the day they all slept and stayed quiet. At night they would go to the house to wash, stretch, talk, make meals and use the toilet. So far they had all been successful in their endeavor to remain hidden. But one night was different as Polina indicates,
“This one night Yafim was quite sound asleep and their mother decided to allow him to continue sleeping while they went in the house. Everyone was happy to be out of the cellar and enjoying the time in the house. I needed to use the toilet and my mother took me to it. After we were in we heard shouts and screams and shooting. My mother and I stood on top of the toilet staring at the door, expecting it to open any minute. I was praying for the soldiers to not open the door. We heard them going through the house, slamming every door open. We no longer heard any family, just soldiers checking all the rooms. Then it was quiet. We stood on the toilet for awhile longer, then my mother quietly looked out.
“The soldiers had come in and shot some of our family and taken the rest of them away. Everyone was gone. My mother took me back to the vegetable cellar and Yafim was still sleeping.
“From that day on, for two years, Yafim and I never left the vegetable cellar or saw the sun. Our mother went out at night to get food and brought it back. I was terrified every time she left, not knowing if she would return.
“At the end of the war we finally went out in the sun and walked to the nearby town. There we found out all the rest of our family members had been sent to a concentration camp and all were murdered. We were the only ones left.
“You see,” Polina said, “You asked us to turn on the lights. We were so used to the dark during those two years we are used to it now. Besides that, electricity is so expensive we can’t really afford to pay for lights or TV.”
Now that we understood, we knew there was something we could do. Not wanting them to remain in the dark, we arranged to give them food vouchers for their groceries, thereby freeing up shekels to pay for their electric.
Recently we worked with Saxon Friends of Israel, a group of German craftsmen who do renovations for Survivors. With much gratitude, Polina and Yafim accepted a new bathroom and a new kitchen that were very badly needed in their apartment.
Today Polina and Yafim seem to have left a lot of their traumatic past behind and appreciate friendship and kindness.