Bearing Witness: Stories Behind the Artifacts in the Yad Vashem Museum Collection

Six chess pieces from the game that the Freiburg family took into hiding

Chess pieces that the Freiburg family took from home when they went into hidingChess pieces that the Freiburg family took from home when they went into hiding A chess piece that the Freiburg family took from home when they went into hidingA chess piece that the Freiburg family took from home when they went into hiding A chess piece that the Freiburg family took from home when they went into hidingA chess piece that the Freiburg family took from home when they went into hiding Shulamit Freiburg (at the top, second from right), Czernowitz, 1945Shulamit Freiburg (at the top, second from right), Czernowitz, 1945 Shulamit Freiburg with her parents Aryeh and Shoshana (right) en route to Israel, 1950Shulamit Freiburg with her parents Aryeh and Shoshana (right) en route to Israel, 1950

After the German Nazis murdered the inhabitants of Monasterzyska and it was declared Judenrein (free of Jews),the few Jews who remained, among them Shoshana and Aryeh Freiburg and their eleven-year-old daughter Shulamit, were sent to the ghetto in Buczacz. The family managed to avoid capture in Aktion after Aktion by hiding in different places. "I used to plan how I would survive…" relates Shulamit in her testimony. "I imagined that if we were caught, I would stand in the middle, not on the edges and I'd hold my parents' hands and when I would see that they were shooting those near us I'd pull them down with me as if the bullets had hit us…"

During the fourth Aktion the Freiburgs hid in the cellar of a storeroom in the ghetto. Someone had left a pile of junk at the entrance to the cellar. "Not long after" relates Shulamit in her testimony, "we heard footsteps above us; heels banged the floor to hear if there was a cellar to the room or not; a shot fired into the air to scare the children if there were any hiding… and then we heard them throwing things on the floor above us. After we came out it turned out that Shimshon Kreitner had camouflaged [the entrance to the cellar] with just a few items… the Germans or the Ukrainians had come… and seen a large pile of junk on one side and a small pile on the other. They figured that the entrance to the hiding place must be well-hidden by the big pile so when they looked there, they moved all the junk to the other side, thus making our camouflage perfect."

After this near miss, they heard that Buczacz had been liquidated, and that surviving Jews were to be sent elsewhere. The family decided to go into hiding in a neighboring village.

In exchange for money, they managed to find a hiding place large enough for eight people – Shulamit and her parents, two uncles, a cousin and another couple who were able to contribute their share to the villagers who hid them.

When they left the ghetto they took with them what was essential for survival and  for protection from the cold, a pail for water and a pail for toilet use, a prayer book, a pack of cards and a chess set. "…When we went to the bunker we took the cards and the chess set in the hope that there would be somewhere to play and that they would help us pass the time."

Throughout the nine months between June 1943 and March 1944, the family had to change their hiding place sixteen times. They managed to avoid arrest even when the shelter was discovered by locals who intended to hand them over to the authorities. Chess was a way to take their mind off the fear, the hunger and the cold but in most of the hideouts there wasn't enough light to play.

As time went on, their possessions dwindled, as some were taken by their rescuers, while others were left behind when they fled because their hideout was discovered. On one of their moves from place to place some of the chess pieces were lost. "…We wandered from place to place, without suitcases, things were in sacks, we put all our belongings into the sacks, Father went first with Mother and I followed behind, wandering, walking… We escaped from danger and suddenly I saw pieces of a chess set just like ours on the road, so I picked them up thinking, if we misplace some of ours we can use these, and then I understood that they were ours."

After the war the Freiburg family lived in one of the DP camps in Germany until they were able to immigrate to Israel.

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Donated by Shulamit (Freiburg) Averdam, Israel