April 28 marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, with events honoring the six million Jews who were killed by Hitler’s Nazi regime during World War II.
The East Meadow Jewish Center hosted a Yom HaShoah service on Sunday. The synagogue has a number of Holocaust survivors, including Alex Konstantyn, who spent years as a refugee in his own country with his family, roaming the Polish countryside while evading Nazi persecution, and Ruth Mermelstein, a native Romanian who spent time in several concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
The East Meadow Herald recently sat down with Konstantyn and Mermelstein, who told their stories of survival.
In 1941 the evil of the Nazi regime touched Konstantyn’s family. Now 76 years old, he was 3 when he fled his home in Varenz, Poland. The East Meadow resident of more than 30 years said he recalls much of his journey, and the rest was passed down to him years later by his mother, Hannah who was in her mid-20s when they left home.
German troops were en route to the Soviet Union, moving northeast into Poland. Though Konstantyn’s small, predominantly Jewish village remained untouched, Jewish refugees wandered through, “scared and hungry,” he recalled, sharing horrifying stories. They said that the German police, known as the SS — short for Schutzstaffel — were rounding up Jews and loading them on trucks. “And they disappeared,” Konstantyn said.
His father, Baruch, and Hannah opted to flee their village, risking starvation and cold.
They brought as much food with them as they could carry. “To me, I recall that it was an adventure,” Konstantyn said. “We had food with us, like we were going on a picnic.”
They had another important item with them — gold. Konstantyn said that his father, a successful grain merchant, would trade whatever money he earned for gold, because he did not trust Polish currency. It was a detail that would play a vital role in Konstantyn’s survival.
For months they slept outdoors, which Konstantin said was fine as long as it was warm. But winter came. “And then it became a problem to survive,” he said.