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Saba Project

by Nitzan Birnbaum

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1.
My name is Ervin Birnbaum. I am now 89-plus years old. I lived through the Shoa, the Holocaust. I want you to know that because of the story that you will hear, I learned to appreciate life and I take every day as a present, as a gift. My name is Ervin Birnbaum and this is my story.
2.
שחקי שחקי על החלומות, זו אני החולם שח. שחקי כי באדם אאמין, כי עודני מאמין בך. My "Garden of Eden" was in a little town where my grandparents lived, Lipani in Slovakia. Early in the morning, I woke up to the chirping of birds before going with my grandfather to the synagogue. I loved listening to the birds there, it was beautiful. And to this day when I hear birds chirping in my home, I think back of these youthful days that were really my Garden of Eden.
3.
We saw that the deportation of the Jews is taking place. My brother, Miki, and I, were alone at home. We went to our grandparents who lived next door. What do you say to your grandparents when you know that you're saying the last goodbye? So before we had a chance to open our mouths, my grandfather stood up, came over to me, embraced me and said in Yiddish: “EICH Bin LEBEN MANKIND” – I want to live my child. But now just “GEI SCHION GEI SCHION”, now go already! go already! So Miki and I took off our Yellow Star, that was very significant, and we struck out, nonchalantly, headed to our hiding place…
4.
Here you are 14-15 year old youngster. Miki was altogether 3 years older, and we are headed for a place that was on the other side of town. Our hiding place: the theater Tivoli. We were in the attic for about 2 weeks. 12 people, 13 people. A woman took care of us by the name of Lebanovich. One day the woman came up to us and she brought a letter which said that we know there are Jews hiding in the building. If you will not deposit 50,000 Peni — a large sum of money in those days — then we will hand you over to the Gestapo The young people decided they will not take a chance. Shloimi, Miki and I decided we are going to leave that evening and we will go by train to Budapest. But Shloimi said “no, I can't use a set of false papers, I look so Jewish, look at my Jewish nose, they will all see that I'm a Jew”. But, no, he didn’t want to stay there. So we went to the train station together. We were just about 1 hour away from Budapest, a place called Hotvan. The police entered, they asked for his papers and they told him "you will come off with us”. I remember his eyes. He was full of despair because he knew that’s his end. And it was his end.
5.
6.
I worked in Budapest half a year approximately by which time the Hungarian Nazi government took over and things became very dangerous for Jews. I began looking for a job outside of Budapest. My papers showed that I’m 17 years old but in fact I was 15. Developments were such that you had to be a thousand years old rather than 15 years old if you wanted to survive. So I became a farm supervisor. every morning at 4:30 I had to be at a barn, then I went out to the fields to supervise the workers cutting the wheat and the barley. I didn’t even know the difference between wheat and barley but I obviously didn’t tell that to anybody. Everything was alright until one day I went too far and I was out too long. The wife of the owner says “you look very red, you seem to have temperature, I’m going to call a doctor”. I didn’t want a doctor because in those days only Jews were circumcised and if they get a doctor the doctor will see that I have a circumcision and that’s my end. But during the night I felt my temperature increasing so I crawled out the window. And from that point on I don’t remember any thing! But I just know that somehow I covered the distance of 5 kilometers walk to the railroad station; I somehow got onto a train; I somehow got into Budapest; I somehow got thru the very strict control at the rail road station and I somehow got to my father’s apartment. But don’t ask me how. I woke up at my fathers apartment about 3 days later I was in a terrible state. But I got over it, and I emerged from it. Thank god.
7.
I was liberated by the Russian Army on January 18th 1945. That day I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how many Jews were killed. It took a few days and maybe a few weeks until we learned that we are talking about a number witch is one third of the Jewish People. Globally. 6 million were killed. Were destroyed. So where was God? I come from a very religious home but when it was over, I became a total atheist. I couldn't believe in God.

credits

released March 27, 2020

Recorded at Bunker Studio NY, 30 September 2018
Engineer: Todd Carder
Piano: Shai Maestro
Bass: Chris Tordini
Drums: Nitzan Birnbaum

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