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Oral history interview with Avrum Bichler

Oral History | Accession Number: 2011.177.17 | RG Number: RG-50.677.0017

Dr. Avrum (Abraham) Bichler, born February 23, 1933, discusses growing up in well-to-do Jewish family in Krylow, Poland; family’s charitable endeavors; Jewish community’s superstitions; Hebrew school; antisemitism from Poles in the late 1930s; shock of German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (1939); seeing airplanes flying over and the family packing up everything; crossing the Bug River and hiding in barns that belonged to his father’s customers (from the peasantry); German tanks rolling in, then rolling out; Russians moving in (Jewish communists feeling more comfortable since Russians were feeding peasants); his family leaving once the Russians moved out; going to Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Ukraine, where Russian soldiers arrested his family as "illegal refugees" (this included 11 persons: his father, mother, sister, uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandfather); how the remainder of his extended family were never seen again; being shoved into cattle cars and waiting on the tracks for three days; encircling a blanket around a floor cutout for bathroom privacy; the atrocious stench; a peasant owing his father money and bringing two sugar sacks so his father would have something to barter; receiving only soup (mostly water) at night; the screams from those getting caught under the train when it started to move again; doing six weeks of forced labor in a camp near the Arctic Circle; his four-year-old sister dying from malaria; Jews not being allowed to bury their dead (in the evening a wagon would pick up corpses in streets); his father sneaking into the forest and digging a shallow grave for his daughter (his family always worried an animal had gotten to her body); suffering from illness (malaria and pneumonia) and being treated with superstition (giving away children’s clothes to cure him), suction cupping on body, and the family picking bed bugs off of him until he healed; the family being transported to a Siberian brick factory; working 12 hours a day, six days a week; the temperature getting to 50 degrees below zero and wrapping wet rags around bare feet to insulate inside the frozen ice; eating potatoes three times a day; doing forced work on Jewish holidays (his father was able to obtain matzo); his whole family living in one room; enduring communist propaganda; wealthy individuals being imprisoned, including anyone caught with a gold watch (his father had buried his); being transported by cattle car to Central Asia; being taken to Kyrgyzstan by truck; their realization that they had been dropped off to die (the family ran after the truck to be let back on); doing forced labor for a brickmaking operation in Turkistan, Kazakhstan; the blinding of his cousin’s daughter, who died at age two; his uncle’s wife dying at age 27; hundreds starving; eating leaves off trees; a child in town biting off his own fingertips for food; deaths in the streets; the importance of stealing to survive; his father becoming a master builder and being able to improve their living conditions; moving into a mud house; Communists interrogating school children on their parents’ black market activities and religious practices; the KGB circumcising boys; kidnappings by Russians (the victims were sent to the front and no one came back); the Turkestan market; the beatings of people caught stealing; vendors carrying sticks to defend against desperate starving people; going to the market area after it closed to search for crumbs; his grandfather’s death in 1944; the birth of his sister in 1945; his parents’ desire to return home after the war ended; Russian soldiers sneaking his family on a military transport train; traveling for 6-7 weeks on a dangerous journey West; witnessing the decapitation of a policeman; arriving in Kona, where everything was bombed out; being told that Jews were being killed by Poles; his family learning about the ghettos and concentration camps; going through Lviv, Ukraine and then Lublin, Poland; being threatened by Poles when he spoke Yiddish; receiving assistance from Jewish organizations; seeing the Majdanek concentration camp; witnessing his father’s realization of what had happened in Poland during the war (his father gave up hope that he would find their extended family alive); seeing a Polish girl from their hometown and her warning to never return because their families’ homes were now being lived in by others and they would be killed if they returned; seeing the Łódź ghetto; still feeling vulnerable; living in a kibbutz, which was heavily guarded; details about life in the kibbutz and later in Leipheim displaced persons camp; leaving Poland and staying for three days in a forest in the Russian zone; his excitement seeing Berlin for first time; openly singing Hebrew songs; marching constantly in the kibbutz but finding happiness there; going to Augsburg, Germany and being physically assessed for entry to the United States; the language barrier when they arrived in the US; experiencing hunger; seeing a movie for first time (his shock at Americans eating popcorn while watching shootings on the screen); seeing girls play soccer; his enrollment at Yeshiva University and receiving assistance from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; his appreciation of the US; and his message to others to never give up hope and draw strength from ones past. (He shows artifacts from his boyhood illness, the cupping set, as well as family photographs.)

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
Dr. Avrum Bichler
Dr. Henri Lustiger Thaler
interview:  2015 February 15
1 digital file : MPEG-4.
Credit Line
This testimony was recorded through a joint project of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Amud Aish Memorial Museum Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center.
Record last modified: 2023-08-24 13:46:47
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