The parting was extremely painful. For the first few days in the village, Berta simply sat by the window hoping that someone from her family would come. From time to time Berta's parents and her older siblings managed to come to visit her, bringing small gifts. On one of these visits her mother brought her a brooch in the shape of a dog similar to her own beloved pet. On that particular day parting from her mother was particularly difficult and both cried.
"I was very emotional, especially when Mother gave me the brooch - the head of a dog. I was so happy…. I had a dog. I had wanted to take the dog with me (into hiding) but I wasn't allowed… and Mother said, 'I've brought you a brooch that's just like your pet dog.' I never saw Mother again."
Berta was hidden in different places in the house of the family that hid her, an elderly couple and a young childless couple. While with them, she was tasked with various jobs in the house and the garden. Over time she got used to life in hiding, but she lived in constant fear of being caught.
In 1943 there were no more family visits.
Remaining in the house became more dangerous for Berta. Her protectors feared for their own lives and worried that Berta would be discovered, so in the middle of the night they hid her in a basket full of sawdust and transferred her to a space beneath the floor of a sawmill where she had to lie completely still all the time. When she was finally able to leave the hiding place she could barely walk.
At the end of the war no one came to collect Berta. Her parents and brother Leib had been murdered and Berta remained with the Polish family. When she turned thirteen she started school and decided to convert to Christianity so that she would fit in with her friends. She didn't know that one member of her family had survived – her brother Abraham.
A year after the war ended Abraham finally found his sister. He tried to convince her to leave the Polish family but she had grown attached to them, and they had begun to regard her as part of their family and refused to give her up.
Abraham took the matter to court and demanded that she be returned to a Jewish home. He won the case and Berta was transferred against her will to a children's home and from there immigrated to Israel in 1948.
"…I kept the brooch for years. Today I'm giving it to Yad Vashem for posterity. I would be very happy if the children of today's computer generation would close their eyes for a minute, think and sense, even for a moment, how children must have rejoiced when they received presents like socks, gloves and other small gifts. In this way, they could learn about the feelings of small children during the Holocaust."
Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Donated by Batya (Berta Akselrad) Eisenstein, Kiryat Ono, Israel