Warning! The text retains the original spelling of surnames and place names by an Israeli researcher; in many cases it may not be correct. Fragments that could contain current personal data have been removed from the interview.

Name: Sonia Hurgin. Interviewed: Jan. 2008

Sonia Hurgin (nee Ribeizen [Rybajzen]) was born in 1934 in Chełm, a city in eastern Poland. Chełm is located southeast to Lublin, north of Zamość and south of Biała Podlaska, about 25 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. Sonia's father, Yaacov (b. 1903) and mother, Zipa (nee Gust b.1903) were also born in Chełm.

Yaacov's mother was Haya. Sonia doesn't recall his father's name.

Zipa's mother was Sara and her father was Pinchas.

Sonia was one of three siblings.

  • Brother: (1929-6–2006). Pinchas was married to Mazal and they had three children
  • Sister: Sara (b. 1936) married Yaacov Laxman. They had one son, Avraham who died in 1979. Avraham was married to Irit. They had a son, Ofer.

Yaacov, Sonia's father, had two sisters Rivka and another sister whose name she doesn't recall. They all perished in the Holocaust, along with their families.

Zipa, Sonia's mother, had six brothers: David, Mendel, Yehudah, Aharon, Shlomo, Zvi, and a sister – Slowa.

David, who was 19 years old at the outbreak of WWII, escaped to Russia with Mendel. They crossed the Bug River and then separated. Mendel left for Germany.

Yehudah was married before the war. He had two children. They escaped to hide in the forests.

Aharon was a soldier in the Polish army, survived the war, and later moved to England.

Shlomo left for Argentina as a young man before the war. He got married there.

Zvi was married. He had a daughter. He remained in Chełm, since he had property there. Zvi was killed in Chełm during the war.

Slowa left as a young woman for Belgium.

Yaacov and Zipa, Sonia's parents, had their home in the center of Chełm. It was a blue wooden house, surrounded by a yard. The house was connected to electricity. Yet for water, they had to use the water pump that was in the yard. The house contained one large room and two smaller bedrooms. The kitchen was at the entrance of the house in which stood a stove for cooking and a fireplace for heating. The house was always very hectic since Zipa's brothers lived with them.

Zipa's father, Sonia's grandfather Pinchas, died at an early age, and one of his grandchildren, Sonia's brother, was named after him.

Sonia's home was a traditional Jewish home. Her parents, Zipa and Yaacov, kept the traditional Jewish rituals. Her father went to the synagogue on Sabbath. Sonia recalls the synagogue as a small building built below street level.

Sonia's father, Yaacov, was a tinsmith. He made roofs and drainpipes. Most of his customers were local landowners. Mother did not work outside the house.

The house was Zionist oriented. Yet Sonia's father believed in Communism. He was a member of the Communist Party in Chełm and did various jobs for them. For example, since he owned a typewriter with Cyrillic lettering, he did the party's correspondence.

Before Yaacov got married, he attempted to visit Palestine twice. On one of his attempted trips to Palestine, while passing through Iaşi, Romania, he and his friends were caught carrying Yaacov's typewriter. Someone informed the authorities, since Communism was outlawed, and he was imprisoned. In prison he met Moshe Shertok (later Sharet, who became Israel's second Prime Minister after holding the position of  Israel's Foreign Minister as well as other prominent positions.) In prison, Yaacov also encountered, for the first time, the taste of olives, which he had not known before. Yaacov was a quick tempered person up until he met Zipa, his wife who calmed him down.

Yaacov came from a very religious home. He studied in the Heder  (school created in the Jewish world, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic, as a form of public primary school for boys of modest backgrounds, where they were given an elementary education in Hebrew, the Scriptures [especially the Pentateuch], and the Talmud [and Halakhah]. That was meant to prepare them for Yeshiva or, particularly in the movement's modern form, for Jewish education at a high school level).

Zipa came from a religious home as well. As most young girls at that time, she did not have formal schooling. She was taught to read and write at home. She had the talent to acquire new languages easily. She could speak Russian, German, Yiddish and Polish well.

When Sonia was growing up the language used at home was Yiddish. 
As a young child, Sonia attended a Jewish kindergarten in Chełm for a very short time. When the Germans entered Chełm in the winter of 1939, Sonia was a child of five. Sonia recalls her first encounter with the Germans. She was playing with friends outside her home when she saw boots standing next to her. She raised her eyes and saw a bearded German soldier. He looked at her, at the very pretty young girl, and caressed her hair gently. He then turned around and left. Sonia recalls that people in town spoke about a large German army camp that was located on the outskirts of town.

The second time Sonia encountered the Germans was when they started to abduct men off the street. Yaacov, Sonia's father along with David (he did not have distinguishing Jewish features) Zipa's brother, and other men escaped eastward. The Germans caught them and the escapees were sent on a death march and were killed.

David managed to escape that march. When he returned home he told them that every few kilometers, someone was singled out of the line and was killed.

David said upon his return, that he had realized that if he did not escape, his destiny would be death. He and a friend escaped to a wheat field. His friend was detected and was killed. David managed to hide and escape. He returned home at midnight. His socks were covered in mud. Mother used scissors to take the socks off his feet and helped David to hide.

At home at the time, were Zipa (Sonia's mother), Sonia (age 5), Sara (age 3), and Pinchas (age 10).

After some time Yaakov, Sonia's father, returned home. He came riding a horse pulling a wagon. At first the family joined other city members who decided to escape. Zipa decided to escape without taking anything along. They headed towards the wheat fields that had been cut shortly before. The soil was frozen. The Germans started to shoot at the running people. The children fell on the ground and parents lay over them to protect them from the shots.

Sonia's family saw the situation and returned home. Then, Aharon, Zipa's brother, who was a soldier, took the family to one of his Polish friends. That friend agreed to hide the family in his cellar. The family stayed there for a few days and then returned home.

At that point, Zipa and Yaacov decided that the family should try to head east again.

Yaacov and Zipa loaded the wagon with feather duvets, pillows and some others items from home. They headed towards the Bug River. Father hired two small boats. On one they loaded their belongings and they all sat in the second boat.

While crossing the river, one of the oars fell into the water and sunk.

When the reached the bank on the other side of the river, they saw many people standing there. It was a snowy night. Mother took out the feather duvets, covered the children, and let them go to sleep. Father meanwhile, went to arrange their stay in Russia. After his return, the family boarded a train. Sonia recalls that every four families shared a train car. Each car was divided into four sections; two lengthwise and two on top of each other.

The train stopped on the way every so often to allow the passengers to look for food and water. They stopped at public bathhouses to wash. They traveled for days. David, Sonia's uncle, was a barber. He had large bottles of perfume which mother took along before leaving home. Those bottles she wrapped in with their coats and furs. Sonia recalls that one time, she gave some of those bottles to a woman after that woman lied to Sonia, saying that Zipa had instructed her to do so. The journey ended when the train reached a forest in Russia – Komisar.

Sonia recalls that once her sister Sara went to the forest to look for food. On her way she encountered two local police officers that enquired as to her direction. The eight year old Sara responded that she was looking for her lost hen.

The families got off the train and were sent to houses. Sonia's family was sent to a small house where a woman and her two daughters had lived. Sonia can still smell the odor of baking that was in that house.

The family lived in that house for a while until Yaacov, established a small workshop for himself. The family moved to live near that workshop that was part of a factory. They received a house from the Russian authorities and they had to share it with a political prisoner who was already living there.  

The children stayed home with mother. When father returned home from work, he took the children with him, and they all went into the forest to gather wood for heating the house. Once a photographer took a picture of him carrying the wood and printed the picture, displayed it on the board in the factory under which was written: "The admirable worker carries wood home". Father was very insulted and tore the picture off the board. As a result, Yaacov was imprisoned for two years in Siberia.

After her husband was sent to prison, Zipa had to find work to support her family. She was hired to pull logs of wood from the river. Those logs were sent from one place to another down the river stream. Once the logs were pulled out, they were placed on the ground to dry. Only physically fit persons were accepted to do that work. The workers at that place used some of the logs to light a fire for heating themselves as well as for cooking fish. One day, a log fell and pushed mother into the fire. Zipa was badly burnt. She was hospitalized for a very long time.

Before her mother was injured, she received food coupons to buy 100–200 grams of bread. She used to save those coupons and buy a whole loaf of bread once a week.

On Sundays mother used to take Sonia and Pinchas along with her to the forest to collect forest fruits and mushrooms. Sonia's mother, Zipa, knew the forest well. She navigated there by the sun. She used to return with many fruits and vegetables, which she swapped in the village for bread and flour. The bread she used, at times, to swap for cigarettes that she sent to her imprisoned husband.

After her injury, when Zipa was in the hospital, she saved some of the food she received there and offered it to the nurses in exchange for soap and water. When Zipa was hospitalized and Yaacov was imprisoned, Pinchas, Sonia's eldest 12 year old brother, had to prove to the authorities his ability to care for his two sisters. Otherwise they would have been taken to an orphanage. Therefore Pinchas started to work in a welding workshop to support himself and his sisters.

One evening, the three siblings were sitting by the window and staring out. The house was bare. A short time before Zipa was hospitalized, burglars had broken into the house and taken everything except for the feather duvets. Suddenly one of the children screamed: "Papa". From a distance, they saw a man, lighting his way with a lantern, holding a large loaf of bread under his arm. Sara, Sonia's sister never forgot the taste of that bread. It was the best bread she ever ate.

As soon as Yaacov entered the house after returning from prison, life improved dramatically. Yaacov started to work in a flourmill. He brought flour home daily. He cooked flour porridge and exchanged flour for other necessities.

Meanwhile, Zipa's health improved. Although she was still in hospital, she worked there in a workshop that produced dolls. The dolls were made of old newspaper that were mixed with flour and water. The flour they used was leftovers received from the hospital kitchen. Before the flour was mixed, Zipa sifted the flour, took out noodles and cooked them.

Before Yaacov returned home the situation was difficult for the children who were alone. Sonia used to join her mother at the workshop. However, that experience was not good for the young child and she often fainted, partially due to anemia.

After Yaacov's return home he started to work and earn money. He brought Zipa back home after two years of hospitalization. One day the children suddenly saw Yaacov carrying Zipa in his arms from the carriage to her room in their house.

The room was on the second floor. Every day he took her down to the porch, to warm in the sun. Slowly she gained her health and strength back.

In 1943–1944, the Germans retreated and Jews were permitted to return to their homes.

The family gathered all their belongings and boarded a blue boat that took them over the river to Ukraine, to Gorkiy district. The family lived in a beautiful village called Shebekino. The family received a two-room apartment from the authorities, which they shared with another family. One room led into the other. The Ribeizen family lived in the inner room. The other Jewish family lived in the outer room. A local Russian family greeted them when they arrived at the village. The family had three very handsome sons. Although all young men were drafted into the army, those boys were not. They welcomed the Ribeizens with cucumbers. Sonia recalls that all the roofs in the village were made of straw. German bombarding destroyed the sugar factory that was once in the village. Nearby was a Germans prisoners-of-war camp.

Yaacov started to do business there. He traveled by train to Charkov to sell goods. On his way back, he brought sacks full of potatoes and other vegetables, which he later sold in the village.

In 1944, traveling by train became dangerous. Russian veterans were terrorizing passengers, injuring them with knives. Yaacov stopped traveling and started to rebuild the sugar factory, assisted by the German prisoners that were in the camp outside the village. The financial situation at home improved. Sonia had Russian friends with whom she liked to go to the river and watch the geese. The neighbors were good to the Ribeizens. The Jewish community there was quite large. Sonia's parents hired a violin teacher for her.

In 1944, the villagers heard on the only radio they had in the village that the war had ended in the east. They were permitted to return to their homes.

The family boarded a freight train and started their journey back to Poland. Whenever the train stopped, Yaacov left the train to ask for food. Once, when the train reached a town at nighttime, locals started to shoot at the passengers. Another time, when the family got off the train to ask for food, the train left without them. Sonia was seized by fear and became paralyzed for a short while. The family later managed to get onto a coal train that was in the same direction. That train trip which lasted for an hour was in open cars. Sonia's blond hair became black and stiff. Before the family climbed onto a regular train, Zipa managed to wash Sonia's hair.

At each train stop, Zipa and Yaacov searched for relatives who may have survived the war. No one was found.

The train journey ended when the train reached Łódź. Zipa did not have the strength to get off the train. Suddenly, she raised her eyes up and saw a tall man. She saw her brother Yudel. He had hidden in the forests and survived along with his two children, his wife and his wife's sister.

While in a bunker in the forest, Yudel's wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby cried and the people that were hiding  with them insisted that the baby be quiet. The baby was intentionally suffocated.

Yudel met his two brothers David and Mendel in Lodz. The three lived together. Sonia joined her brothers and lived with them for a short time. Sonia recalls that it was very crowded there.

Before the war, Yudel was a rich butcher. While in Russia, he worked as a shoemaker. His Jewish customers requested him to make hollow heels for them in which they could hide gold coins.

The living conditions in Lodz were very difficult. Sonia's parents arranged that she and her brother Pinchas would join Ha'Shomer Ha'Zair, a Zionist youth movement. Through that organization they joined a kibbutz, a commune that was on its way to Palestine. The eleven year old Sonia, along with that group of pioneers, crossed the border from Poland into Czechoslovakia at midnight. Sonia, being alone, cried all the way.

The group reached Hoff and stayed there. While they were there for several months, Sonia was taken, for the first time in her life, to the circus.

From there the group moved to Bratislava and boarded a train to Austria. When Sonia was in Vienna, she was in a train station when she suddenly saw in the opposite train her sister Sara who had come with another group of Jews.

Sara was with her parents. They were on their way to Badreichenhalt. Sonia was on her way to Ulm. Mother wanted Sonia to leave her kibbutz group and join them. She sent messengers saying that she was sick.

Sonia joined her parents in Jurdenbad, a place that had been Hitler's resort area. There were a monastery, a church, a cemetery, and a guesthouse. The nuns in the place helped the survivors. They washed and ironed the survivors' clothes that the Americans supplied.

From there they moved to Ulm where, Sonia recalls, they received chocolates that the JOINT supplied.

One day Zipa received a message that some of her uncles were in Displaced Persons' (DP's) Camps in Reidenhaim, on the American side. She was refused a pass and cried. The authorities permitted only children younger than 13 years old to cross the barriers between the regions that were held by  the Americans, French and Russians. Realizing that she could not pass the barriers, Zipa decided to send Sonia there along with another boy. The two blond-hair blue-eyed children reached the train station in the evening. Although they spoke no German, the young boy reached the ticket window and asked for two tickets "for two persons". The clerk stood up to see the "two persons"… He sold them the tickets.

The two traveled the whole night. The following day they got off the train, hired a wagon and went to see the uncles. Afterwards, they traveled all the way back.

In Reidenhaim, Sonia's family received a two-room flat. The children attended a Hebrew school for two years. Mendel, her uncle, was the school's secretary. He met his wife-to-be, Orka there, who later converted to Judaism. They remained in Germany.

There was a branch of Ha'Shomer Ha'Zair, a Zionist youth movement in Reidenhaim. They held activities for the youths and taught Hebrew. Life was comfortable for Sonia's family. Her father earned his livelihood in commerce, Sonia had many friends, and her uncle had a butcher shop again.

One day, the camp was under curfew. The Americans found out that people were dealing in the black market, selling goods illegally. Children went to school, but adults that did not obey the curfew, were shot. Pinchas had an arms cache hidden under Zipa's hen-house.

In the early part of 1947, Pinchas left for Palestine. He took his hidden arms, and boarded a boat that carried illegal immigrants to Palestine. When he came to the country, he wanted to join the army, but he was not accepted because he was underweight.

Sonia was still in Reidenhaim. She, along with others, was vaccinated before leaving for Palestine. In the camp, they heard the proclamation of the State of Israel.

From Germany, the family went to Marseilles where they boarded a boat to Israel. They reached Haifa on 27/11/48. From Haifa they were taken by bus at night, to Raanana, to an absorption camp. However, there was no room there and they were returned to Haifa. The following morning they were taken to Hadera. On their way there, they heard shooting.

They reached Hadera at night. They received a tent that was already occupied by a woman with her daughter. Sonia, her parents and her sister all joined the woman and her child. Pinchas was at that time in another camp in Gan Shmuel.

In the morning, the two families that shared the same tent got acquainted. The woman and her daughter were from Turkey. Sonia saw that the woman was feeding her daughter with something she was not familiar with. She gave her plums with bread. Since Yaacov was not familiar with that fruit either, he explained to his daughter that they were eating olives…

Since the family came in wintertime, they were housed in an immigrant tin hut. In the rain and windstorms, the hut shook. The new immigrants were disinfected with DDT upon their arrival in Palestine, and so was Sonia's family.

Pinchas, Sonia's brother, joined the family while they were living in that hut. Pinchas, his father and Sonia, worked in an orchard in Hadera.

After the family saved some money, Yaacov, hired a truck, loaded the family's belongings and headed towards Jaffa. They entered a deserted house that had been deserted by Arabs during the fighting of Israel's War of Independence. They stayed there for several nights until one night they felt that the house was shaking. The family left that house. They reached a vacant room located behind a store in Jaffa. The family was allowed to stay in that room, on the condition that Sonia would make coffee for the store's customers. Yaacov was also hired to work there. Zipa worked in a restaurant.

After a while, Sonia found a better position. She was hired to work in the Jewish Agency as a switchboard operator. Sara attended a religious day school and Sonia attended evening commercial school.

In 1952, the family finally received their own apartment in government housing in Ramat-Gan. In 1953, Sonia married Binyamin Hurgin. Sonia and Binyamin have two children, Haya and Gideon and six grandchildren. Sonia and Binyamin live in Ramat-Gan. They lead an active social life.