The Testimony of Holocaust Survivor Simon Burstein – Panama


I was born in Bialystok, but my mother and my uncles had always lived in Chernovitz. That is where we hid. I was two and a half years old when the Germans got to the place where we were. That was in 1942, until 1945, which is when the Russians came to our side. In reality, I can say that I was lucky to be born a bit later, because I was only a child when all of this occurred, and when a child experiences those things that happened, he doesn’t know what is going on.

The next part is also lucky, because we were under Russian rule at the time, because Poland had been divided into sectors: there was a Russian sector and also a German sector. So, the war actually reached us a bit later. Germany invaded Poland in 1939, and where we lived, it arrived in the year 1942. In other words, I was two and a half years old when the war came to our place. That is when all of the problems began.

Psychologically, those who truly suffered the most were my mother, an aunt (who also survived along with me), and two uncles. They all made a lot of sacrifices to feed me, they took many risks. It is something unthinkable, and it’s something incredible, but it seems that wars are like that, unbelievable things happen; it is also unbelievable that we survived.

When the Germans surrounded the ghetto, people started running, shots were fired, people ran, people left town; they would leave and leave and leave. And my mother, my uncles, and my aunt started running as well, my uncles protecting them. After we left the ghetto, where were we going to hide? Other problems started there. My uncles, my family was very familiar with that town, so they were always looking for a place to make a hole and hide. They would dig the holes in places near rivers so that we would always have water. And at night, they would go out to steal food. Some nights they found food, and other nights they would not. When they didn’t, they would come empty handed, but hunger is hunger, what can be done? This went on for about two and a half years.

Now, we went through many dangerous situations, especially my uncles, who almost got caught three times when they were trying to steal food. There were people who knew that we were alive, my uncles’ former employees, they would receive them and give them bread sometimes so that they could feed me, other times they would give them pork fat, and with that they would feed me. And well, that’s how life went on, with scares and dangers.

One day my uncles went out to look for bread and they were lost for twenty one days. We were almost dying of starvation, and dying of fear too. They were lost for twenty one days because during those days, there were Germans in the house of the people who would give us bread; they were there for 21 days, so they could not enter, and they had to return with food. They also couldn’t come back because there were more people with the Germans, there were soldiers surrounding the area and they could not leave. So, they waited until the Germans left and then they brought us bread.

On one occasion, the five of us were hiding in a burrow, I don’t know if it was already there or if they dug it, if my uncles dug it. Everyone was asleep, and I was awake. Suddenly, I saw a hand–and I remember that–I saw a hand coming inside the burrow. We were so skinny that a thick hand could not reach what that person was trying to reach. He stuck his hand in, and he wanted to touch something there, because he suspected that there were Jews hiding in that hole, but he could not reach anyone because we were deeper in that burrow. Then I woke my mother up, she woke up, she saw it, she kept me quiet and calmed me down. A few minutes later the man searched and did not find us. The moment he left, when it got a little darker out, my uncles said: “Let’s go, we’re leaving.” We found another burrow; they dug, not too far from the other one, but the following night we heard an explosion. The Polish man who was trying to find the Jews, brought Germans and they took dynamite, or maybe a grenade, and threw it into the burrow and blew up that hole.

It is such a shame, how one person was able to instill all of that antisemitism. We must teach people, teach humanity, to be tolerant and understanding of others. If you are religious, be understanding of other religions, and if you are political, be understanding of different politics.

The important thing is that we cannot allow this to be repeated, and to show that if we are on a path of indolence, it may happen again. We have to try to take these things out by the root, from the start. When you see someone like this, who may possibly be capable of doing something like this, try not to follow that person, cut them off.


Mordechai, Son

To leave my handprints on this plaque, next to my father’s and next to my son’s, means that I did something for him, at least something small. I showed him that it was worth it for him to have survived, that the fight for his life was worth it because not only has he left me as his legacy, but also a grandson, and from his grandson he will have more descendants, that is the first thing. Secondly, in memory of my grandfather who died in the war, a person I never got to meet whom I always missed in my life, a person like him, who fought for his life and for my father’s life, to let him know that I will never forget, and neither will my descendants.