restricted access 22 Human Again
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144 THE WAR AND POSTWAR YEARS My recollections of the first months after liberation are hazy. For the first time in four years I could let down my guard. I felt cared for and was completely relaxed. After a few days in the military field hospital, I was transferred to a hospital for Soviet civilians where most of the patients were former slave laborers and concentration camp inmates. I spent several months in this hospital. Although the food was adequate, it was of poor quality: a lot of soup and potatoes and very little meat or protein. It was just as well. I was severely malnourished, and large amounts of rich food may have killed me. The ulcerated sores on my legs healed extremely slowly. The doctor was exasperated by my lack of progress and was particularly bothered by a persistent wound on my knee. To better promote healing she threatened to immobilize the knee by putting it in a cast. Regardless of whether the therapy was responsible, by July my condition had improved markedly. Among the patients were several fellow inmates from the Polte camp. One was a dentist from Riga, Monya Zahl, with whom I became friendly. He was exploring the possibility of escaping to the western zones of occupation by way of Berlin. He even made a reconnaissance trip to Berlin and when he returned gave me detailed instructions on how to manage an escape. The hospital was soon to be closed, and all patients well enough to travel were being returned to their homes in the Soviet Union. Their departure was arranged on very short notice, and I did not have a chance to say good-bye to Monya. To my surprise, Monya decided to return to Riga. By this time the prospect of returning to Riga no longer excited me. In the euphoria following liberation, I would have returned immediately had my health permitted it. The three months’ period while I recuperated had given me pause to consider my future. I was certain my parents had been killed. The world I had known in Riga was gone, and Latvia appeared likely Human Again  HUMAN AGAIN 145 to remain under Soviet control. There was nothing for me there. Not just Latvia but all of Europe seemed like one vast cemetery, hardly a place in which to start a new life. Of all the possibilities, the United States seemed the most attractive, but refugees seeking to go there needed an affidavit from someone living in the States pledging financial support. My uncle Leo was living in the United States, but I was not sure how to find him. So far as I knew, my aunts Clara and Thea were somewhere in the West. As it turned out, Thea was in Birmingham, England, but Clara was dead. She had been killed in Auschwitz after having been deported from Paris by the Vichy government. I also seriously considered Palestine in spite of the fact that the British did not permit immigration there. Most survivors of the Holocaust had few choices; for them, Palestine was the only real option. Sooner or later Britain would have to yield to world pressure and open Palestine to the surviving Jews of Europe. Until then, for the younger people there was always Aliyah Bet, illegal immigration. Being penniless did not bother us. We assumed, and were later proven correct, that world Jewry would pick up the tab for our travel. Although I did not yet know where I was going to go, I knew I did not want to go back to Latvia. Accordingly, I needed to delay my return to Riga long enough to set up and execute my escape. I decided that a transfer to a tuberculosis (TB) sanatorium would suit my purpose. It also offered a chance to get some better food and rest, which I still sorely needed. To set the stage for a diagnosis of TB, I started to complain of night sweats and chills. I was told to report to the nurse on three consecutive afternoons to have my temperature checked. The first two days I surreptitiously warmed up the thermometer by rubbing it against my wool sweater. On the third visit I was watched closely and did not have an opportunity to raise my temperature . Still, I may have had a slight fever, and the decision was made to transfer me to a German sanatorium. It was a pleasant, quiet place, somewhat like the sanatorium in Thomas...