Rebeka-Beka HARA

Rebeka-Beka Hara, (neé Baruh at school she was Baruhovic) was born in Jerusalem on April 4, 1927, to Isak and Tamara (neé Rubin). She married David Hara in 1948. They have two sons, Isidor and Leonard and two grandchildren.


My parents were born in Pristina and moved to Palestine in 1925; they lived in Jaffa where they had a grocery store. This house was knocked down but my older brother showed me the site where it once stood. I am the sixth child, after me another child was born but it died. Therefore, my parents, being very religious and superstitious, adopted a child, my aunt's daughter.

Rashela was born in 1915 and was the oldest child. She was killed in the Bergen-Belsen camp together with her husband and one of their children. The other child died after the war. The adopted sister Klaia (who on marriage became Kamhi) was born around 1915 had seven children and one in her belly when she was killed with her entire family in Treblinka together with the Skopje Jews. Emmanuel, born in 1919, was in Bergen-Belsen, then in Mauthausen and Dachau. When he came to collect us, he found only me. Baruh, the first boy was born in 1917, and had attended high school before the war. He was killed while with the Partisans near Danilovgrad during the Allied bombing. Joshua Jesha, born in 1921, was in Albania, and stayed there in hiding, he was later captured and imprisoned but managed to escape and hide in the woods, managing to save himself. He is a dentist by profession. After the war he traveled to Belgrade and was immediately sent to the army, but was released from service in order to look after his sister. He went to Israel with the first Allya and continued working as a dentist. He now lives in Mexico where I have visited him several times. He has three children and three grandchildren, his daughter (married as Frenkl), has two children. Jakov died when he was two years old and was buried in Jerusalem. My brother took me to visit his grave.

Estera, born around 1929 died in Pristina from typhoid fever. This was the sister who died and due to whose death my parents adopted my aunt's child.

My parents returned from Israel where they had made a good living, as their elderly parents and my father's unmarried sister were still in Pristina. Also, they claimed they couldn't get along with their other son.

They were well off and had two houses with a large yard; my grandfather had a textile store. When they returned to Pristina, my father and my uncle took over the store. I was around one year old when they returned. My father was very religious and went to the temple every morning, and when he had time, he also went at noon and in the evening. We spoke Spanish at home and it was the first language I learned to speak. I remember my grandmother telling me the story of Ali Baba in Spanish, as my mother had no time for storytelling. I remember various Sephardic dishes such as pies and the like. I liked polenta with cheese baked in the oven in a special casserole the most.

All the children completed high school and my brother Manojlo graduated from the Faculty of Pharmacy. Before the war started, a refugee Jew from Poland came to live in our house and spent around a year with us. When the war started, refugees from Belgrade started to arriving as well.

With the onset of the occupation, the Jews in Pristina were forced to wear bands, and all our property was confiscated. The young men were interned in Kavaja and Berat in Albania. Then the Italians came and it was much easier under them; they kept saying they didn't want the war. At this time my mother, father, sister and I went to Berat and were there from 1942 until 1943. My grandfather died before the war started and my grandmother went to live with their daughter. In Berat we lived in private houses and paid rent. As far as I remember, Berat was a town with many windows. We lived with the Orthodox priest, a very kind man. We had to report to the Carabinieri every day.

When Italy capitulated, the bombing started and the Germans arrived. My father found a truck and we fled to Skutari where we hid with some Christians. Later, the Albanians started to blackmail us for gold; therefore, we decided to return to Pristina. After a month all of us were caught. We lived at number 60 Kralja Aleksandra Street. It was 10 o' clock in the evening when they came with trucks, not allowing us to take or wear anything. They forced us onto the truck hitting us the whole time. My mother had her housedress on and I was barefoot on the snow, which fell in Pristina that April of 1944. Out of my family, there was my father, mother, brother Manojlo and I, as well as approximately another 300 Jews from Pristina in the group. We were close to the barracks where they immediately confined us. They collected all the Jews in Pristina and kept bringing them to the barracks until eight o'clock in the morning. An Albanian in SS uniform threatened slaughter and in this way collected all the jewellery, there were others who also robbed and stole. Some took only rings, some took bracelets, and I threw my watch out the window deliberately, not wanting them to take it from me. We were stripped searched and deprived of everything. A bizarre episode happened when they brought in a woman who searched all the women, stripping them naked. A Jewish woman put her jewellery in her sanitary napkin and said that she had her period, and there- fore could not be examined. However, the woman doing the searches took the sanitary napkin and found the jewellery.

They had collected us on the evening of May 14, 1944, and the next morning they loaded us in cattle wagons, and thus a month long journey begun. We first stopped at the Zemun Sajmiste camp where we spent several days. We were so hungry in Sajmiste that my brother took my earrings and tried to sell them for some bread. I had had these earrings since I was four years old; no one had noticed them as my hair covered them. I took them off only several years ago when I went to a doctor in Toronto, There was no one to offer us bread for my earrings. During our journey we got a barrel with some kind of slop made from corn flour and each of us got two spoonfuls. Then we stopped in Hungary in order to pick up more Jews, when the train finally stopped, we didn't know where we were. We heard someone speaking in German. When we got out the Germans were astounded by our wretched and ragged appearance, not knowing who we were. They thought we were Gypsies, but they were confused because we were white-skinned. The Jews from the Netherlands and other countries would arrive with their suitcases, nicely dressed. We were in Bergen-Belsen.

They put us in quarantine for three weeks, and afterwards, they separated us into wooden male and female barracks. I was with my mother, my sister and my cousin. The older people and mothers with children didn't go to work. I first worked in the kitchen chopping carrots.

Roll call was the worst. We would assemble at five o'clock in the morning and wait for hours to be counted standing in snow up to our knees. Then we would go to work. I stayed in the kitchen around 2-3 months, and then later, the Polish women came, big and stout.

The hunger was terrible. We ate animal fodder, beet, kohlrabi; a piece of potato was a delight for us. Once they gave us a cooked sour beet, I said I would eat such beet every day, but even today I can't stand the sight of it. The clothes from women who arrived with their suitcases could be purchased for a piece of bread. I once bought a tracksuit and was even hungrier.

I worked in the military command's shoe department until the end. We took overcoats apart, having to separate the whole pieces of cloth from the torn and burned pieces. We didn't dare damage the material - they would kill us. I was so thin and I had to disassemble eleven over- coats per day. Sometimes, someone would give me a Gillette razor- blade, which was real luck, but if I had been caught, I would have been beaten until exhaustion.

One day I fainted and was taken to the hospital with a serious infection from all the dirty materials. I had a temperature of 41.8, which spared me from work for three days. I survived severe complications, and after the liberation it was diagnosed that I had cancer. However, Dr Papo operated on me in the military hospital and it turned out that I didn't have cancer.

I stayed in the Bergen-Belsen camp for almost a year, from May 15, 1944, the time we left Pristina until April 15, 1945, when we were liberated. The Yugoslavs were kept until August 29, and only then we were released, as they didn't let us go due to the crisis around Trieste.

My mother didn't have to go to work, but she had to be there during roll call, which would last longer and longer as they kept counting us over and over again because the figures didn't stack up. They kept killing us and people died of exhaustion, they would claim that some- one had escaped and that was why the figures didn't correspond to the roll. There was no possibility of escape, something that we became assured of on numerous occasions, including whenever we would go to the forest to fetch wood and were surrounded by five or six dogs.

A month before the capitulation, the Germans behaved as if they were crazy, We didn't know when it was day or night, They realized it was the end of the war and they wanted to empty the camp, to burn the barracks and not leave any traces. We just waited to die. Allied planes would fly overhead, and we had to stay in our barracks. We prayed that a bomb fall in order to end our sufferings once and for all, as we could no longer bear the hunger, illness and torture.

When the war was coming to an end the Germans organized a long train of wagons, put it on the nearby tracks, and loaded all the Yugoslavs into the wagons. Only the immobile remained in the barracks, among them my mother and I. The two of us slept in a bed 60 cm long.

The worst day was the day my mother died. She was only 54 years old, she was thin, all skin and bone, I weighed only 24 kg. I saw her open eyes and called "mummy, mummy" but there was no sound from her. I was so ill that I couldn't even walk. We had some sort of bed sheet in which we wrapped her, I couldn't see her off. A friend of mine came and when she saw that everyone was leaving and I was the only one left in the barracks, having no strength to reach the train, she took me in her arms and carried me out to the road. She believed someone would see me and carry me to the train, for she couldn't stay with me as she had an ill father. However, everyone stepped over me, no one even turned around. When everyone left, she returned to see what had happened and found me in the same place. I begged her to carry me back to the barracks, but she was afraid that the Germans would burn the barracks before they left and she didn't want to carry me back. I was persistent in my request to carry me back to the barracks, even if they burned them down, and she did this. Two days later, the Germans came with a truck into which they loaded the dead and the living. They brought us to the train, which was still standing there, but it was overloaded, so we stayed in the truck. I was so ill I don't know how much time passed. From the truck I saw a pile of guns and the Germans fleeing.

I crawled with another woman to a house where we wailed "brot, brof”. The people from the house inquired who we were, and we didn't know what to say. We answered "Hungarians" considering this would be the best. Then, they unleashed their dogs on us. Later, we exchanged the belongings of those who had died for bread. The British Army needed 20 days to cover the ten kilometers to the camp. We were left alone with the SS women who were in the watch- towers. The Americans arrived on April 15, and forced the Germans to carry out the dead, but there was only a few of them as the "top" ones had already fled. They put us into the accommodation where the Germans used to live.

The British then gave each of us a whole loaf of bread and a piece of bacon, which made many people die. By then I already had typhus and dysentery, and I couldn't eat which saved me. No one could reach the toilet; there was just a huge pool.

I was put in the hospital. Until then I had had no camp number as we were among the last convoys, but in the hospital they recorded us according to numbers given to us by the Americans. I still have my traveling document from the camp with which we were transported back to Yugoslavia. I arrived in Belgrade on August 29, 1945.

Beka Hara in Belgrade, 1947.