Bunker Diary  of Zelda Liebling

January 17, 1944   Finally I got a note-book. After 200 days in the bunker (place of hiding). Who can understand what it means, “BUNKER”, only the one that sits in it knows what it is. Ever so often, I wonder how should one feel about the person who created a “bunker”. Should we bless him or curse him – the future will show. Meanwhile we are sitting and waiting impatiently. Day by day – counting hours – at this moment 4936 hours from the moment we entered here.

It was 9:30 pm June 25, 1943 when Lolo and I left the Labor Camp (Lager). It happened suddenly, almost without our doing anything, about it. Upon receiving a letter from Hudla – “save your life and I am going to take care of the baby (Lijuchnia).” We ran away from the lager. The situation was very uncertain for Lolo, because they start taking away Dentists, and so we ran like two children without any possessions like to a ball. It was time to go away (run) but maybe we should have stayed a little longer to find out about my family. At the beginning being in here I didn’t feel it or rather didn’t understand what mistake we made it. Today I feel it more and more how foolish we acted. We went to hide in a bunker – burning bridges behind us. We still are children, or rather completely stupid. Lolo is trying to appease me, who could presume that there’ll be a bunker by Rozka and Palanya. I am to blame, because every time Lolo tried to talk to me about hiding I changed the subject. Probably, I thought that the Labor camps will protect us from all evil. An idiot was I – now it’s too late for reproaches, now that Zanka isn’t here any more – there I wrote the words again – after 7 months I still can’t believe it. I live through that moment the hundredth time and see it vividly- the morning of the “liquidation”– “action”. G-d, if we ever live to see the “Jeshiya” (freedom) will it be possible to stop thinking about this? I don’t think so! That macabre scene is still in front of my eyes. Zanka, my sister – smiling sits on a stone ready to die and I am going to live. No, still a few minutes prior to that. June 23, Wednesday morning. Reveille 5 A.M. We all get dressed and something made me turn around to all the girls in the room and say, “I have a feeling that this time it is serious.” I embraced my sister Zanka – for the last time in my life – we kissed and she tried to calm me down – saying, “well, child, there is nothing we can do – don’t cry” and tears came to her eyes. It was a bonding moment for both of us. It was unusual of later days because somehow we weren’t together a lot. This gives me quite a pain now. I remember, after work (lately we worked separately) we were not together. I was mostly with Lolo. I know that Zanka was hurt by it – she never said anything about it, but didn’t hide her feelings. This is why that scene in the morning means to me so much.

         Now we go to the yard where the appeal is taking place. We are immediately surrounded by a lot of German Gestapo. Lolo tried to warn us – “go hide anywhere” –  but we disregarded his warning thinking its just a reveille. When we realized what is taking place Zanka turned around to me and whispered, “You may escape somehow, remember the baby” Oh G-d am I going to remember- please G-d let the child live and I swear to live for her. One more thought is torturing me – when I got up from the ground I just walked away, actually leaving behind me living corpses – I just walked toward life – why didn’t I run to Zanka, embrace her, kiss her, maybe it would be now easier to take the pain. Then when they took us to the building, I looked all through the window and I saw Zanka sitting down among the others. I even remember watching her urinate on a side. Somebody came back and told me that Zanka was happy that I was saved, so her little girl is going to have good care. I am sure that Hudla is taking good care of her, better than I ever could.

         Sometimes I think that maybe I should have pleaded more with those murderers for Zanka’s life –  but I know how I much I tried – crying on my knees, without getting their attention at all. And still I think that  Hudla would have done more.

         Tuesday, January 18, 1944

Again, another day passed. There is nothing else to do here but count the days, hours, everyday I count anew! We walked in here June 25, and now is January 18, in the other place, old, Czortkow section we were hiding for 31 days. That was the time when we were looking around here and we had to run away, All the others stayed – all the other 8 people: October 27, the situation became shaky because they found someplace hidden Jews (killed them) so naturally our hostess became panicky and asked us to leave. Our budget was getting very low, the cold weather on the roof started to bother us, so we left and returned her to the same place. I remember it well as if it was yesterday, though 3 months past by since. It was on a Wednesday 2 P.M. when we decided to go. We waited for our own guide, Victor, until 6 P.M.

Wednesday, January 19, 1944

         She arrived and we left immediately. A beautiful starlit night, and we (Lolo and I) like lepers- no worse two Jews in a “Judenfrei” town (free of  Jews) – whoever knows what that means – are walking with pounding hearts, not sure if in a moment somebody would flash a light in our faces. We didn’t know how to behave in the streets, how to talk – whisper or speak loud – G-d to look down from the hill of the brewery to see the whole city with the light in the windows of the houses – to think that in these houses people live – behind these windows life is going on – one can eat – one can “live” and we are not allowed. We don’t exist – just like the “Invisible Couple.” And involuntarily the question comes to mind – Why? “Cy bin eich fegn a stein gebojren cy hot mich kein mamy gehat?”- A Jewish saying (am I born out of a stove or am I not a mother’s child?) and at the same moment, the thoughts are turning the other way – and I have to say myself, but I am alive whereupon others are gone. Further on with reminiscences…. And so we walked with pounding hearts, I even tripped a few times until we arrived finally into this dark, dingy, and hostile place! The bed certainly didn’t invite to rest. To make matters worse- the two friends Sara and Hanna right from the start gave us the account of the unpleasant situation in the bunker. Shame – (Fe) such filth among companions of misery- hearing all that I felt like returning to the other place. For two days I yearned for the pleasant attic – to our quiet solitude. I knew that eventually this situation shall effect us, too. We were drawn into a fight – I am trying to keep calm – saying to myself it’s not the worse thing that can happen and still I get nervous with each quarrel which lasts forever – from petty matters to serious ones. We have here characters. Sometimes I think that living 25 years I didn’t encounter as much malice- envy and bad characteristics as much as these people have. They come from all walks of life. The worst one is the refugee from Romania – the scum of the earth – sometimes she likes to play the tune of a defender of the working class-  the proletariat – and knows about it as much as I know about Islam. Another time she was a hot Zionist. In fact she is a big zero – quarrelsome, maybe somewhere there is a warm heart beating. She fought with everyone already and us too. Well, enough about her, because I think I start sounding like her. Lolo and I call her Yatatayatata- she is close to the nasty character who was the komendant of the Jewish police in the Lager- a former salesman, a real cajoler to our two keepers. Behind the little door he plays his fiddle (behind the little door our two keepers Roska and Palama live- and only men go in there from time to time.) He came to us the latest- paid the most, hates everyone here – and naturally is extremely jealous of his woman, as all old men are. He is trying to get her and she plays hard to get. They sleep on the upper bed. On the bottom, another couple – she is a poor ignorant girl in love with this boy who is using her, he a young fellow who filled his pockets here and is quite pleased with it. The other two beds are occupied by the Family – on top the younger brother with his bride, on the bottom the older with that big fat nothing – Characters which could serve as prototypes for Molière’s plays. The older brother is like Harpagon- if he could eat again what came out he would be quite satisfied – his beauty is worse. The other day she called me “this lady”. I really hate her with passion. Very often I am ashamed of the company I find myself in. I am trying to persuade myself I am better than others – I am intellectually above them- but it still gets me.

Sometimes I get masochistic about it- and think good for me I deserved this, for running away to hide, leaving them all behind me.  I should have thought about my family, about tomorrow. I should have- Oh G-d, how often Lolo and I cry about the fact that strangers are here and our families G-d knows where and what is happening to them.  Mama with Lijuchnia, Chaskel and Hudel somewhere looking for shelter and such filth is sitting here in a place that Lolo built for the family.  Let’s hope it is not too far to liberation day.

Today I cried remembering Lijuchnia standing in the window waiting for us.  Oh how it hurts just to think of that beautiful sweet face.  This is too painful to write about.  Maybe G-d will help that soon I’ll see her and be able to kiss her and hug her.  But today’s news aren’t good, the broadcaster didn’t mention Berdyczov or San.  So we have to wait for the next broadcasting.  Our radio news comes from our keeper or her son which I call the Crown prince. Today our keeper told us the magistrate (town hall) was moved where the Judenrat was- if that has any political significance. I have to stop writing because I must pay my dues- play cards with the Crown prince.

January 21

Yesterday I didn’t write.  I slept most of the day.  It was like the first days of our stay here, where to be with Lolo was such a joy.  After all the troubles, all the horrible events it was soothing and reassuring to fall asleep next to my husband.

Saturday Jan. 22, 1944

Again a day passed.  Today I feel very sad. Every time that guy receives the visitor his lady-love I get terribly upset.  I dislike him for many reasons. One he obstructed our steps to try to get in contact with my family- and here he is receiving an outside visitor who brings him dozens of goodies and also gives some to our keepers.  We had an unpleasant situation with them.  One of the keepers understood that whatever we have here in the bunker belongs to her automatically.  Lolo had here a good quilt and now because our budget was low we wanted to sell it and pay her.  Naturally, we were quite surprised to fund out about it, and so we must sell the ring Lolo gave me to pay her and be in good standing with her.  Now we know, why she was angry with us for a while.

It hurts me to find myself in situations like this, but it is all done in order TO LIVE- everything is done just to live, and G-d will help and we’ll have more than we had or just as much.  I get very upset about these situations- and I think, “How would anybody in my family react to this.” Lolo suffers very badly, he looks tired, he lost weight, but he is trying to calm me down- and leave these matters to him.  Oh, how much longer can I endure that frightful situation- wouldn’t it be divine to step outside to breath fresh air- not that hostile air in the bunker where “Homi-homini lupus est.” {Man is a wolf to (his fellow) man.}

With all these nasty events I also am depressed because of this morning’s dream.  As usual I dreamed of Lijuchnia and Mama.  I woke up with a pounding heart and I was sure I called out “Mama.”  God, will I ever yet hug and kiss this child and Mama as I do in my dreams.  Will I live to see this sunshine of a child- the ray of light which is worth living for after all these tragedies.  I still hope to see all of them but mostly I think of the child. Somehow I feel guilty leaving her and running away from the lager before I found out what’s happening to them.  I pray to G-d not to have a feeling of guilt later on.  I love her much more than my own life, and Lolo often says that we feel more love for her than for each other.  When I don’t sleep I think of them all- how could I not? I know that I have a mother, brother, sister and niece- and don’t know where they are, and here I am surrounded by hostile people.  It seems that life in a bunker puts his mark on people (stigmatizes). One’s misfortune doesn’t touch the others.  Everyone has his cross to bear- everyone went through hell- and one doesn’t feel for his fellow man.  I myself am carrying my tragedy around with me, and nobody’s tears move me.  Lolo came back from behind the little door.  Coffee time.

January 28, 1944

In a month Lijuchnia will be four years old, I am trying to fool myself that by that time we are going to be free.  The broadcasting doesn’t indicate that.  The newspapers bring news of big successes of the German armies on the southern front.  We were already so close to freedom and again they went back a few dozen kilometers. Sometimes it seems to be a Fata Morgana (mirage) in the desert- it’s close and then again it disappears.

To make matters worse, the winter is the worst. Rain, mud, a winter like never before, the atmosphere in the bunker is unbearable.   Only couples talk among themselves.  Before we all talked together, we even had a laugh or two- now we have nothing to say to each other.  Even among couples there is tension.  Lolo is very nervous recently.  He has a lot on his mind.  Recently a lot has happened.  Just Monday—Lolo went behind the little door and in a few minutes he came back white as a ghost screaming, “We are lost, Help- fire.” We all thought that somebody saw them and we are uncovered- found out- that means we are as good as dead.  Nobody thought of an actual fire.  But we already smelled smoke- and we got ready to leave. Panic- indescribable. Lolo got the shakes.  A few minutes later the old man comes in, the fire is out, and we are saved- Thank God.  It seems that our keeper kept some gasoline under the bed (in a bottle) when she couldn’t see it she put on a match the better to see it and so it caught fire and the mattress being made of straw burned very easily.  Naturally with the visible flames people from the streets came into the house.  A miracle that they didn’t see our men standing around there, God covered their eyes with his hand.  I can see an omen in it- we are going to live and be freed.  It would be beautiful to live for Lijuchnia the child and make up to her for all the miseries.

Every day I reproach myself for burning the bridges behind me- for running away I acted like a child.  I thought that Hudlah is going to take care of everything.  Now I see how difficult it all must be.  If she got in touch with Wisha and gave the child to her and if God helps she is there- how the poor child must feel alone among them, without shoes.  I remember when the child was there for two weeks how we brought her home with a dirty head, the voice frightened, and now its already 7 months- 31 weeks- how does the child live through all that.  And still I pray the child should be there because that’s her greatest chance to live through all that madness.

The second possibility is that Mama and the child are hidden someplace and this frightens me for two reasons- security measures and financially.  I know that they don’t have much money.  Even if Leon is with them they still wouldn’t have enough.  Chaskel and Pepka are someplace- so I heard and this also worries me, because they are without money.  You can loose your mind thinking what could happen.  And the situation on the front is, “One step forward and two back.”  It’s hard to see an end to it and we want to live so badly.

Often, when I am in better spirit I dream of the future making plans with my family.  Seeing a beautiful life and only pain there is missing Zanka.  Why did she have to go and I remained?  What an injustice.  She a mother to a child and a much better person than I.  How often I see how mean I am.  At home they talked into me that I am smart – I can’t see it, just the opposite – I act very stupid often.  Lately there are little misunderstandings between Lolo and myself about minor things.  There is now less to eat.  Just bread.  Only the family has more because of the Visitor.  Lolo thinks that I am jealous of their good fortune.  It isn’t that.  Its just that I can’t stand that “Nothing” looking down at me and considering herself something of a better person because she eats better.  It hurts for Lolo to think so or to feel that I blame him for having less.  If he would only understand.  Hudel would understand me, she always did.  Lolo is much too touchy.  I never pay attention to food it doesn’t bother me at all.  I cried feeling bad that we are treated so badly because of lack of money.  We just gave the ring so we have two weeks to go.  The watch money is gone.  We just have to pray for it to end.  The money and everything else is coming to an end.

Monday, January 31, ‘44

Today we had a very unpleasant situation.  The old man lost his watch and we can’t find it.  We looked everywhere and it is gone.  The situation is doubly bad – first of all the finger of suspicion points at any one of us and second our hostess threatened to throw us all out if the watch is not found.  That is all we needed to make our misery here worse.  I have now such a deep feeling of despair that I would like to break through the walls and run – where to?  That is the question.  I think that jail is paradise in comparison at least in jail every torn out page from the calendar means one day close to freedom.  For us it doesn’t mean a thing, its only a day that passed without any meaning or a future.  I count days, hours – yesterday was 5,280 hours – 318,800 minutes – this is what I do when I am not asleep.  And so, since we are here summer is gone, fall is gone and half of the winter and we hear the winter is an unusual one -rain and mud and often winds which we hear howling upstairs in the empty rooms.  Sometimes it sounds like a far away shot – the best sound one can hear.  Wishful thinking – oh how we would love to hear shooting sounds – cannons or artillery it would mean so much to us.  But nothing it’s much too quiet.  The only sound is the whispering of this idiotic couple and the sound of peeling potatoes until it drives you out of your mind.  Potatoes that is our daily menu, but I am still thinking of that watch and what is going to happen to all of us.  Somehow I can see better today, maybe it is lighter.  Usually it is much darker in the bunker, because the only light comes from a part of a window — the whole window is covered with board except of twenty cm. on top, the glass is covered with paint so no one can look in from the outside.  As bunkers go ours has enough light as for pigs enough for former human beings, which keep alive memories of a better life – that is not enough.  I said pigs because this place reminds me of a sty especially the exit – the trap door on the bottom of shelves 40 cm high – that is our connection with the outside world.  I am very distracted today – I’ll write more tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 1st, 1944

The watch is gone.  We didn’t find it.  It caused a lot of fight between all 10 people.  He suspects everybody and he got our hostess on his side the atmosphere here is unbearable.  I am glad I took hold of myself and I keep quiet like a church mouse.  While it is dark today and I can’t see.  The evening potatoes are ready.

Saturday, February 5th, 1944

Two days of duty kept me occupied and I didn’t get a chance to write.  This is the time that I can wash myself and my few things.  Yesterday we had very bad news – they caught four Jews in a village.  It seems that they still hunt those running in fear.  I thought that they forgot us – that after 7 months of “Judenfrei” they let the case rest.  We think that with the front nearing slowly maybe but still weaving, those gentiles will have a heart and stop point out the Jews to the murderers – but no this case never rests, it seems that the Almighty doesn’t want us anymore. Just to think – people are suffering for such a long time and when they think that salvation — freedom is near – that the salvation is coming that’s when the worst is happening.  How terrible it must be to be discovered by the Nazis – what does one go through those moments of looking them in the face.  I saw people going to death.  I saw Zanka how indifferent she was – almost calm.  Most probably facing death one becomes indifferent and loses the will to live.  I remember lying on the ground to be shot soon, I saw Lolo fighting for my life – I was just very calm.  Now sitting here I think of it ever so often.  Today I was thinking of all of them and especially Lijuchnia.  G-d I rather wish to be dead than to be left alone.   I dreamed of Lijuchnia last night – she was in Zanka’s arms – smiling with rosy cheeks – in one moment she was trying to get away from a German officer pleading “Ich will nicht” – and so Zanka and I got her out of his hands.  Then I saw her among horses and I interpreted it as a good sign – she is among friends.  As far as Lijuchnia is concerned I became a great believer.  Since I am here I believe more than ever in  G-d – every night I say a pray for Lijuchnia, G-d should watch over her.  I think it’s very natural for people with little hope to turn to religion for support.  I always believed – my religion was implanted into me from childhood on so now after all these experiences it became stronger.  Though looking around me I often want to cry out in blasphemy and ask if a G-d exists how could He look on – see all these horrors, let these murderers do their killing?  How could He be so indifferent to all that?  But then I pray and ask Him for forgiveness and pray for the safety of my dearest ones.

Except of bad news about the four Jews we still have the case of the missing watch.  The situation is unpleasant but at least our hostess got over it and she is okay.  Good, we must be grateful for that.  Today she brought her nephew into the bunker to show him how these creatures who were once people live.  Crawling in she said, “I could never live like this, I would choke to death.”  She looks at this from the heights of freedom.  She is a human being we are nothing – less.  Sure she wouldn’t sleep in a whole where every one of us has 80 square cm to live and the air is coming through a chimney in which the basin is for us to use.  This thing is very shaky – and quite often turns over.  And then I am ready to die because the smell is unbearable and everybody is putting the still sensitive nose under the cover – and only the poor doer has to clean up the mess.  Every time I walk out of the chimney (“the toilet room”) I think of what could take place and I shiver of the possibility.  That stench is just awful.  But that isn’t the only one- there is another one just as bad.  Right in the middle of the “Room” there is a pail for slops (dishwater) everything goes into this pail – its sometimes even serves as a substitute for the chimney if the other one gets too full and can’t be taken out.  In seven months those pails weren’t dry for one second.  Nobody washed it because who would put a hand into it, but if a spoon or fork falls into it – its being taken out – just slightly rinsed – and used again.  Slightly rinsed because water is scarce.  There is one little pail to wash the floor 2  square m.  of it – this we do with water from washing ourselves.  The pail in the chimney is covered with a rag to diminish the stench.  Ha – ha – this rag is always wet and smells worse.  To make the air heavier somebody relieves himself from time to time from gas produced by eating those dry potatoes.  That’s enough about those sensitive noses.  The other plague is the tremendous amount of bed bugs which are everywhere and also lice.  These bother me most because a bite from a louse leaves me with a rash for quite a while.

Sunday,  February 6th, 1944

The days are getting longer – 6 am in the morning is bright and 4 pm it gets dark.  I can’t sleep and wait for the morning light to start the day.  Actually what for – the days are like ages, and to live one through is very hard.  So many thoughts run through my head in these 18 hours a day, because I live through again and again the macabre scenes.  Today we discussed the final liquidation of the camp with its death.  And naturally I thought of Zanka and I saw in a grave full of other bodies and again the reproaches came back to me, why did I let her go by herself, why didn’t I stay with her.  Maybe its easier to go to death with someone dear beside.  She went to the truck holding Libcha’s arm (our cousin).  I can still see the open truck with a chair in front of it for everyone to step on it in order to get into the truck.  What perfidy!  They take people to slaughter but they give them a chair to make it easier to step into the truck – that’s “western culture” humanity.  I could scream – howl from pain – call to heaven for revenge.  Until the liquidation I didn’t know so much hatred – such strong desire for revenge.  I swear I am going to instill upon Lijuchnia hate to all that’s German.  Maybe Mel with G-d’s will is going to come home and he’ll revenge Zanka’s death.  But with all that, we’ll never get Zanka back, and the wound is never going to heal.  I remember the little girl who jumped on the truck.  She lost her mother before (they shot her before the liquidation) and the Aryan who kept her didn’t want her anymore and brought her back to the labor camp from which they were now taking her to be shot.  I keep on thinking how this little girl was going to meet death completely unaware of what’s going on.  I connect her with the phrase which was told to us by our hostess, “do I have to take off my little chemise too?”  The Aryans are repeating this question among themselves with sorrow, now how can we take it!  I can’t stop thinking about it.  I must admit that no death pains more than a child’s.  It’s such an innocent being – so little, it didn’t have a chance to live – it didn’t harm anybody – so why does it have to die?  You just can think about it.  It’s a typical slaughter of the innocent.  I hope that the blood of these innocent one’s shall fall on their and their children’s heads – amen.  This doesn’t ease the pain at all.  G-d please spare Lijuchnia!  Let me be able to be with her together.  I think I sinned, so please G-d forgive me and let me sacrifice for her.  The days go so slow.  Yesterday we had a good news broadcast.

The diary ends here.

*Zelda brought the diary to the United States after the war and used it in talks she gave about the Shoah.  Sadly, she lost half of it;  she then translated the remaining half into English, this is her translation.

Zelda Finkleman Liebling was born March 24, 1918 in Czortkow to Eli and Lipka Finkleman.  She attended Polish gymnasium and graduated from the Lvov Teacher’s College the day the German’s began bombing.  She married Joel (Lola) Liebling and they survived the war together. They were liberated on March 24, 1944. They were each the sole survivors of their families of origin, Lijuchnia did not survive.  In the U.S. they had two children Mordechai and Linette.  Joel died in 1988 and Zelda in 1998.