Around 6 million Jews were murdered across 22 countries in a genocide that still haunts the humanity 76 years later. Holocaust survivor Malka Levine has talked to Nottinghamshire Live reporter Olimpia Zagnat from her house in Beeston, revealing incredible details of her ‘stolen childhood’ spent in the Nazi ghetto.
Malka was 3-years-old when her dad died in the first mass-killing in Volodymyr-Volynskyi, a border town in Western Ukraine.
It was on the fourth day of the first massacre, and her family were laying down underneath the floor in a tiny house in the ‘Jews district’, while windows were smashed and people shot.
Her mum Rebecca Fisherman, had only taken a loaf of bread, some honey and water before they were sent to the ghetto – not nearly enough to feed all the five members of the family.
Mosha Fisherman, the dad, left the improvised shelter in search for some food for his two boys and Malka before being shot alongside 16,000 other Jews between the 1st and 15th of September in 1942.
“He got up and he never got back”, Malka, the youngest out of the three sibling recalls.
“And that was how he knew that he died.
“We had to hide underneath the floor because my dad did not take a shelter to the ghetto when we left our home.
“He was naive – he never thought that the Germans would be capable of such a monstrosity.”
The Fisherman family was a well-established family in their community before the German troops’ occupation in 1941.
Rebecca came from a family of farmers, owned land in town and was also a mum of three while Mosha ran a bicycle shop.
Malka, now a 82-year-old widow living in Beeston, said: “People do not believe me when I say this, but I do not remember much from my childhood.
“I know we were established, and then we were sent to the ghetto where the conditions were horrible – so it was quite a contrast.
“In fact, I was a child of war – I had no childhood.
“It was a devastation when my dad died because my mum was left with three children.
“My mum was crawling out of the house at night to get food from her land which was not far from the ghetto.
“She would sometimes bring us tomatoes, and because it was dark she could not see whether they were ripped or not.
“For a long time I never knew that tomatoes were supposed to be red.”
During World War II, Malka’s hometown was a battlefield, and the land of many killings between 1941 and 1944.
There were three mass killings, also known as pogroms, that took place across the years.
From a total of 25,000 Jews who lived in Volodymyr-Volynskyi, only 9000 people survived in the first massacre which ended on September 15.
However, just a couple months later on November 13, another pogrom followed – and only 500 people survived.
The imprisoned Jews families were living in tiny houses in district isolated by fences, and were not allowed to leave under any circumstances.
They would have been shot if they attempted to do so, Malka explains, because it was a legal requirement for them to wear a yellow patch to be easily spotted by the German troops.
“Across the district, there were ghettos divided by a fence,” she recalls.
“There was the first ghetto, where well-established families lived including us.
“And then, the other one was known as the ghetto of the dead.
“There were also three trenches in the district, and we were told that those were for when planes will be landing.
“But in actual fact, it was where people in the first pogrom were taken to be shot.
“After the first action ended and things got quiet, we were all ushered to the ghetto of the dead.”
In the second pogrom, Malka said that officers would displace 30 Jews at a time into a lorry, and send them somewhere around eight miles away from the initial location.
Children, men and women would placed completely naked in a truck, and the expensive clothes would be sent to Germany, while the inferior ones would be divided among the local population.
Widow Rebecca was now a single mum of three trying to find a shelter for her family.
“People had shelters, but no one wanted a woman with three children,” Malka added.
“I was only 3-years-old, I was crying – the Germans could have heard it and killed us.”
Malka recalls when they were queueing up to be shot alongside other families with children.
Luckily, they we were saved by a German Wehrmacht Officer, and went back into the ghetto.
But Rebecca knew that the death was imminent, so she had to find alternatives to keep her three children alive.
Malka added: “My mum approached a Ukrainian who had a family living in town.
“Outside the ghetto, we could see people going to work or to do shopping while we were inside.
“My mum knew that the end was approaching and so she did everything she could to keep us alive – she was a very brave woman.”
While the family were shielding in the Ukrainian household in town, elsewhere in the world the Soviets had broken the Wehrmacht’s siege of Leningrad and a tumultuous series of events saw a decay in the Nazi army.
Officers were patrolling across Volodymyr-Volynskyi, looking to set up a special school to co-opt Ukrainian young men and strengthen their troops.
When they knocked on the front door at the house where Malka and her family were shielding, they rushed to the back door and hid into the barn in the backyard.
Terrified by what it could happen if they were found, the family dug a pit in the barn and lived there for nine months until the war officially ended.
Historic archives reveal that most of those 500 who survived the mass-shootings in the Ukrainian town were eventually burned alive on December 13, 1943.
Malka, her brothers and mum Rebecca were part of the 30 people and nine children who made it though the catastrophe.
She added: “Thousands of men, women, and children died – there were no rules back then.
“It is sickening.”
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Rebecca Fisherman was one of the witnesses at the Nuremburg trials, a series of military tribunals held following World War II in 1946.
However not all the Nazi members who caused millions of losses among the Jew community were ever prosecuted due to ‘lack of evidence’. Many returned to their former lives without any type of sanction.
The mystery behind the genocide and the trial that followed have inspired a film that tells the story of millions of Jews who “have never found justice”.
Getting Away With Murder(s), directed by David Wilkinson and co-produced by Nottingham-based Aegis Trust, has been 10 years in the making and will finally be shown at the Broadway cinema on Wednesday, October 13.
This is to coincide with the 75th Anniversary of the end of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg.
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Holocaust survivor Malka Levine, Holocaust memorial co-founder Dr James Smith, director David Wilkinson and hosted by Gary D. Mills, Associate Professor of History Education at The University of Nottingham.
Malka, who has lived in Nottingham for the last 49 years, added: “I think that this film tells exactly the story of a nation who never found justice.
“Everything was brushed under the carpet, and millions of deaths have been wiped off.
“The history repeats itself – and the Nazi people who have never been prosecuted are all across the world.”
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