Yakov Kreymerman

Memphis, Tennessee

Born: 1933 Mogilev-Podolskiy, Ukraine

Survivor: Chernovtsy Ghetto

“Nothing was ever the same without our parents. I never want anyone to experience what we experienced. To want peace in the world is not naive. It is what we all want and we would know more than most what that means.”

Yakov was eight when German troops invaded his town. He had already lost his mother, and he understood little of what was happening. His father was sent away to the Soviet Army. His sister enlisted as an army nurse. Yakov and his younger brother went to Chernovtsy ghetto with their grandmother. It was bleak and frightening. He recalls, “For whatever reason, we were kicked out of my grandmother’s house in the ghetto, and we had to live in a barn. What I remember about the ghetto is the hunger and cold. We survived on rotten vegetables.

“It was all so baffling. Germany attacked Russia and all of the sudden Jews were the enemies. To our own! Russians everywhere turned against us. Like we were instant animals to loathe.” Yakov learned “dirty Jew,” new words: “My neighbors and teachers called me that all the time.”

In 1944 the Jews in the ghetto heard liberation was imminent. “A lot of people were killed on the last day because as the German soldiers moved out, they shot everyone they came upon in the ghetto. Many who had lived through the horrors of ghetto life died on the eve of freedom.” Returning home, Yakov and his brother and sister found their house completely looted.