November 1947 | Vol. 53 | No. 2
By Mrs. Lydia Feinstein, wife of missionary Isaac Feinstein
Foreword by Joseph Hoffman Cohn
The Stephens are not all dead. Here is proof. The martyr in this case is with the Lord, but the widow carries on. To her six children, Mrs. Lydia Spoerri Feinstein leaves a legacy priceless, a writing down of those memory-seared days when, in the crucible of the Jew extermination orgies of 1941, in Roumania, Isaac Feinstein in his 38th year of life, gave bold testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ, and then cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit!” And we have an idea that the gates of heaven opened wide, that Jesus bent over the ramparts, and that all the heavenly trumpets sounded.
We print this story because we know it will be a blessing to our friends; it was to us. Then, too, because this is one of the families we have been supporting month by month, for now over six years, with your money. And sometimes it is a welcome dividend to our precious friends to behold in vivid image how the Lord honors and uses your treasure and sacrifice. Weep, you may. But they will be tears of gratitude for such a testimony as this. Is not this easily and properly one of the illustrious imperishables of World War II?
In Budapest, in 1938, I begged Mr. Feinstein to leave Roumania and come to New York. But he said he would be a coward to run away from his duty in the face of danger. So, this epic of Christian martyrdom finds its setting in Jassy, Roumania, with its closing scene in Switzerland, where the good wife, with the six children, escaped by miracle. I saw them on my European trip, and I prevailed upon the mother to write this memorial for the children, before it would be too late. So, read on!
The Horror Days of 1941 in Jassy (Translated from the German)
TO MY CHILDREN:
But now I do want to write down some things out of that dark, sad time in Roumania when the war with Russia began and our dear father was taken from us. Probably you have nearly forgotten it, because it was granted us, since October 1942, to exercise laughter and singing once again here in Switzerland, far from those terrible happenings; but just the same, you, my dear children, must know what happened to us and how our family happiness was so suddenly destroyed one day.
OMINOUS CLOUDS GATHER
A few days before the outbreak of war, in the middle of June 1941, I returned from a vacation visit to Galati (our Benni was still there at that time) and Brasvo. Only with extreme difficulty was I enabled to return home from Bucarest. The trains were overcrowded, even the cars’ roofs were densely packed. It was hardly possible to get in and out of the compartments. The air vibrated with war rumors, everyone was talking about the soon-coming outbreak of war, and many had seen all kinds of symptoms of it. I also had noticed unending trains, loaded with soldiers and ammunition; and all through the nights cars rattled over the rough pavements. I realized what a miracle it was that I could return to you; it was actually the last train that reached Jassy.
A HAPPY PARTY
On Wednesday I arrived home; we celebrated a thankful reunion. You had received your report cards from school and showed them to me with pride and joy. To reward you for the good marks Daddy took you to a nearby restaurant, Daniel, Miriam and Ruthy, to eat something good. I was too tired out from the long, irksome travel and stayed home. What you did not all tell when you returned home! A higher Roumanian officer had noticed you, and attracted by your cheerful behavior and looks, came over to you with a plate full of sweets and had congratulated your Dad upon his “coppasa de dragalasi” (so cute children). I am merely recounting this, because even three days later the hard reality became so different; those same Roumanians were then our enemies.
THE TERRORS BEGIN
During the night from Saturday to Sunday it started; cannon-thunder was heard from the Pruth, at a distance of about 20 km. Right afterwards we were bombarded. On June 22nd, Sunday evening, Daddy conducted his last meeting in our auditorium. There were few people present and the dreadful racket and thunder were an awful accompaniment. With a quiet and firm voice Dad encouraged his congregation. He spoke as though he knew that this was the very last time and put his whole heart into his words, “Who knows what is awaiting us in the next days and where we shall be over a week from now, but:
‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.‘”
The following days and especially nights were spent in our air-raid shelter. The harmless exercises had changed to gruesome reality. As soon as we would reach the kitchen upstairs to get us something to eat, again and again we have have to get right back to the cellar. The pounding and exploding was terrific. Every time it would seem that our house also was hit. The windows rattled, and blast followed blast. Our smallest children, a three-year old girl and a two-year old boy, who knew nothing of danger, remained cheerful and quiet and made only surprised eyes over the unaccustomed noise. But you older ones cried and trembled and we in our fear cried to God for help. I shall never forget the attitude of our Ruthy-child, who prayed with a loud voice, commending every one of us, and all our friends, to God, and showing utmost confidence in that hour of terror. Many of our acquaintances had found refuge with us, and in our cellar. How they were comforted and quieted through our faith! Your Daddy was to all of us an example of calm and self-control. Whenever a storm had passed by, he always wanted to get outside with pick and shovel to save others and to help where help was needed. Our pleadings could not keep him back, and he simply said, “Just think, maybe a debris-covered tot is crying for his mama; I must help, God will doubtless bring me back.”
THE STORM BREAKS
It was to be a very sad week. Eventually we had to stay in the shelter altogether for it got worse all the time. Our Petru, the faithful Mission-janitor of long standing, ran home, filled with fear, far outside the town; and he never returned. Daddy had committed to his trust a large sum of money in the event that anything should happen to him, our Papa, we would not remain without financial means. We never saw the money, nor our Petru again; I found out later that he had used everything for himself. Our dear father also had malaria in that first, bitter week of war. He remained almost entirely upstairs in his study and only descended once in a while to look after us. But the night from Saturday to Sunday, June 29th, 1941, he was yet downstairs, beside me on a mattress on the floor. It was the most fearful night of all. Soon after 10 p.m. a dreadful shooting commenced. Fortunately, you children had fallen asleep previous to that and even the continuous cracking and thundering in the closest surroundings did not awaken you. Did the little angels keep your ears closed? You were resting quiet and peaceful in spite of this hell-disaster. We others lay for hours with all our senses stirred, in the darkness, and asked ourselves once and again, “What could that be? It has never before sounded like this. It must be the city itself. Perhaps parachutists?” At 4 a.m. Daddy went up to his office, also Sister Olga, our diakoness, who could not stand it any longer. She had special forebodings and had to put all sorts of things in order. Still under the protection of the fleeing night, Papa and Sister Olga dismounted our large sign at the building front, “Missiunea Norwegiana pentru Israel)” (Norwegian Mission for Israel). They had recognized the danger. A friend came to your father during the early morning hours and pled with him to hide. It had been plotted to arrest or kill all Jews. This also was only told me afterwards, for had I known it, I could have asked him to find shelter with Christian (Gentile) friends. But just that was what he did not want to do in order not to expose us and others to danger.
Slowly morning dawned, the saddest morning in your short life. The shooting and thundering faded out a little, but bombs came over the city again. Papa came down in the morning and told us to stay downstairs all day. I was to keep the children quiet, comforted, occupied. While your lives were filled with little, insignificant things, something most terrible was occurring in the streets outside, in that cruel city.
All Jews were driven together, every house searched for them; and from everywhere one could see long trails of these poor people, even sick ones and children; they were led through the streets, toward the Police Headquarters. Everyone had to walk with uplifted arms; when someone would lower them from exhaustion or could not rightly move forward anymore, he was beaten by the accompanying soldiers with their guns, or struck with the bayonet. Old women who could not continue were simply mowed down and left lying in the gutter. A Roumanian priest for whom this slaughter had grown too much and who tried to intervene, was shot down by his own people. German soldiers and officers stood along the way, derided and photographed with satisfaction that miserable march. I was not able to look at it long—it was almost at the last after your Dad had been led away with one of these sad columns and I followed to notify Sister Olga. We had been without any suspicion, all morning down in our cellar. Though I had well looked once after Daddy in his study and had asked him why he was so pale and whether he did not want to eat something. He only smiled sadly at me and said: “You will know it hereafter.” He still came down to us in the cellar to lead the Sunday devotion. With a calm voice he read the 90th Psalm:
“Lord, thou, has been our dwelling place in all generations.”
How he must have felt when he read the verse:
“So teach us to number our days.”
Then he also read from the Gospel that story where it is told us that Jesus had compassion over the multitude and he added simply: “Jesus is with us now too and has compassion over us.” We prayed also, Daddy kissed you then the way he often did it in those days, but this time it was the farewell forever, he knew it.
THE MARCH OF DEATH
About 11 a. m. I was upstairs again to fetch something. Then I heard terrific rattling at the door and loud men’s voices. As I quickly ran there, I saw my husband encircled by rough types who held pistols in his face and yelled at him. Daddy looked back at me and said to those hangmen, “That is my wife, but she is a foreigner.” Those words stunned them somewhat and they lowered their guns. One of them said, slightly disturbed, “We are not going to do anything to your husband, he just has to come to the Police with us, but he will be back soon.” I foolishly believed those words at the time. Then two men searched the apartment, my husband was not allowed to move from the spot nor to take anything along. They also watched carefully what we still said to each other. He asked permission to see the children once more, but it was not granted. With great clatter and triumph the two men who had gone to search our rooms, came noisily down the stairs. “Here you see, he too is one of them!” For proof he waved a red flag he had found in Sister Olga’s room; a Norwegian flag. Papa tried to explain that this was not the flag of the Red Army, but they wanted to hear nothing. With brutal kicking they drove my husband outside and forced him to carry the flag high above his head. I kissed my dear husband and wanted to hold him, but was brushed aside roughly, and out they went with him. I followed, of course. Outside the door a long column was waiting, he was placed at the head of them all; he walked calmly with uplifted head and turned around a last time, waving good-bye to me. That was the last I saw of him, he has never come back that way.
“WHERE IS DADDY?”
The hours that followed now grew terrible and without end. The children kept asking about the father, and were wondering why he did not come down into the cellar to us when the shooting was too bad and seemed incessant. They had an inkling that something had transpired and wanted to know what it was. Finally I told them Daddy was in town, but he would be back before evening. In my anxiety for him I ran to the hospital to beg Sister Olga to look for him at the Police Station. In her nurse’s uniform it would have been easier for her to get through; but she had so much work and could not be spared. At the same time the bombarding started all over. The children could not be left alone. On my way back I saw some more of the endless columns of those poor people, herded together, whose guilt was that they had been born Jews, and who once again were made to serve as scapegoats. With indescribable heaviness of heart I returned home again. Nobody was thinking of food. The children were silent and looked at me with questions and wonder in their eyes.
But in the afternoon it got active in our shelter; several people came with fear filled faces and asked to be allowed to hide in our place. An elderly lady had a dear little girl of about six at the hand and told us that the entire family of that child had been shot. Naturally, I could not refuse these destitute people. We gave them food and put up emergency cots in the cellar alleys. Sister Olga came eventually, too, and helped to calm and supply this strangely collected society. You children had your minds rather preoccupied due to all that commotion, but when evening came and Dad did not arrive back, a weeping and wailing began where exhorting and comforting seemed vain. Did I, myself, not actually feel the same way? But tiredness got the best over the tears and the dear sleep took you into his faithful arms and chased away all misery for a few hours.
About morning it got a little more quiet in the town. It was June 30th, 1941, a fateful day. Our guests, who had already slept, left us early in order to look after their loved ones and homes. Sister Olga also had to get back to her care of the wounded and promised me to inquire about my husband at the Police Headquarters. How good it was that they had all gone; for during the course of the day there was a strict house searching in our place; and had the strangers, refugee-Jews, been found with us, we would have all been shot without mercy, small and big ones. This is how they raged in those frightful days. But God sheltered us with His good hand and did not let the enemies in where we were until the danger had passed. In the evening Sister Olga returned weary and knocked out. Under extreme danger she had managed to get into the Police Station and had asked for a Commissary of our acquaintance. This one granted her request to search for Mr. Feinstein. He went about everywhere, calling his name out loud, but without success. At the Police Station they regretted very much that Feinstein had been arrested too; they admitted it had been a mistake, but in the midst of the general confusion they had not been master of the situation any more. Shooting continued in the courts and streets around the Police Station. Sister Olga related to me dreadful things she had witnessed. But where had our dear father gotten to? We moved everything immediately to find out. From the highest quarters the assurance was repeatedly received that missionary Feinstein would be set at liberty at once, when found in some camp. So we had another spark of hope, and we wrote to every source from where we hoped we might get information. It was also soon shown how many friends, even among the Orthodox, your father had had. Many attempted to help and deplored wholeheartedly what had happened. But the weeks passed by and we were still without definite news. Though certain persons showed up from time to time who supposedly knew something.
THE GHOULS OF WAR
One told cold-bloodedly that he had seen how Feinstein, together with many others, had been shot! You can imagine how such stories shook us up! There also came a farmer from the nearby district and told in detail that he had seen our father in a camp near Jassy and had been sent to us by him in order to get all sorts of necessities: Money, underwear, and foodstuff. He gave us such certain signs that we trusted him, and full of joy we handed him all the desired articles. Soon we had to learn that he had been a faker. In those days there were many of that kind who made use of the misfortune of others to enrich themselves. How sorrowfully those summer months dragged by! The children ceased to ask where Daddy had gone. The bigger ones bore their share of care and continued hoping with me. We were forced to take in German soldiers for lodging. Our auditorium was cleared out and covered with sawdust for the troops. For the officers I had to put two further rooms at their disposal. With it all, the presence of these soldiers furnished us with a certain amount of protection; for in those days there was much plunder and theft, even murder; and I often felt insecure, so alone with the children. We were still being bombarded and had our nightquarters for well two months constantly in the air-raid shelter. Yea, what did we not go through in that terror-stricken war summer of 1941? You children too, had to wear the yellow star of David on your clothing and with that you were freely exposed to the scoffing and unpredictable moods of the Roumanians. The main street and beautiful parks of the city were not to be used by Jews or half-Jews anymore. On the market and in the grocery stores Jews were not permitted to shop before 10 a.m. and by then all the food was practically sold out. What chicaneries and humiliations were not thought of at that time to torture the left-over Jews! Sometimes it occurred to me that my dear husband might have hardly been able to bear that.
Jewish physicians and lawyers who had hid themselves during the pogrom were made to clean the streets, and later in the winter they had to shovel the snow from them.
“NOT HERE ANYMORE!”
Again and again folks on their march to Russia, predominantly soldiers, passed through Jassy and wished to visit the missionary Feinstein. They had read his writings and were looking forward to meeting and greeting him. How confounded they were at the message I had to convey to them! I shall never forget how one of them was so shocked by the news that he cried, disconcerted, like a baby and said, “How long have I anticipated this hour with joy, and now this beloved brother is not here anymore!” Many a time we even received help from unexpected parties. Persons whom we did not even know brought us nourishment, sometimes just when we had nothing left. Our Mission-Board could not look after us any further, but God knew of our distress and He took the care upon Himself. We were allowed to experience miraculous assistance. I gave music lessons, as much as I was able to do, and thus we got by in spite of dearth and the taxes we were compelled to pay. There would be many incidents to tell out of those days, but you doubtless want to know first what become of our Daddy. The worry about him accompanied me step by step. We searched in all directions, but in vain.
A VOICE FROM THE GRAVE
One day, a nice gentleman came to me, introduced himself as a mathematics teacher, Dr. X. He told me that he, together with my husband and several hundred Jews, had been locked in the cellar of the Police Station on that fatal Sunday. Mr. Feinstein had preached with a loud voice and appealed to the hearts and consciences of his fellow prisoners. They were not to have illusions about a soon deliverance, but rather should they prepare themselves “to meet your God.” His words made a deep impression, many talked individually to him. In the afternoon German soldiers came down the cellar and wanted to shoot down all Jews. Feinstein stepped in front of them, addressed them in German and pleaded for his comrades. They went out again and all were amazed at the effect his words had had. This story was later confirmed to me by others who had also been present.
THE BENUMBING SHOCK
Toward the end of September 1941, hence 3 months after the abduction of our father, it was reported in the city that a number of Jews had been freed from concentration camps to be used here, in town, for “Raumungsarbeiten” (clear-away rubble jobs) . The same evening two men reported to me. They had much to tell me. I recognized them as former attendants of our meetings and knew I could believe their words. What they told me left me nearly benumbed with shock. They related the following:
“We were with your husband that very Sunday. In the cellar already he was a help to all. In the evening they led us out into the yards of the Police Station. There were so many of us that we lay on top of each other like sardines. Our tormentors were doubtless hoping we would be hit by bombs. But regardless of the blasting around us, we were spared, alas! During the early morning hours we were led in long lines to the railway station. It was said that we were to be brought to Concentration Camps. Feinstein was in the same car as I. We were penned in until we could not catch a breath and no one could move, about 140 men in one cattlecar in which there would have been normally room for only forty men. Then doors, windows, all holes and cracks were sealed tightly and steam was introduced from below. It was a horrible holocaust; many went insane, and the screaming of the tortured was harrowing and heartbreaking. From time to time the freightcar was left standing for hours in the boiling heat of the sun. Terrifying scenes occurred and those of us who got away from it are haunted daily with the memory.
“Perhaps your husband did not have to suffer very long. He soon started to recite Psalms with a loud voice and his face was like that of an angel. He begged the other victims to make their peace with God, and to seek Salvation through the blood of Christ before it was too late. And some did so. Then he dropped to the floor, and fell asleep never to wake up again. During the night, at a small station in the Moldau, the cars were opened and the bodies fell out. It was supposed that all had been suffocated on this mortal journey. But six of us men who had only been unconscious were injured when our bodies fell out, and recovered consciousness. We were revived with hypodermics and some nourishment was given us; then we were forced to bury our dead comrades in a mass grave. At that occasion we found our beloved Mr. Feinstein. We digged a special grave for him. Previously to that, we searched his pocket to send you, if possible, his papers or anything else; but he had nothing left, not even his watch. Everything had been taken from him before. After that we had to do hard labor in a camp with many others, and endured a pitiful existence. Many times we regretted that life had been restored to us. Now we have been brought back into this city, but no good is awaiting us.”
So far the awful tale of those friends. A few days later they did me the favor of witnessing in court of what they knew about my husband; so I was enabled to receive the death certificate. Without that paper we would have never been granted a passport and would not have been able to leave the country. In that way the death of your beloved father made possible your salvation, my dear children. It had always been his wish to bring you to Switzerland, to safety; only for that expensive price it was made possible. Oh, that you might never forget that precious life and sacrifice!
After all we must understand that God’s ways, which seemed so inconceivable and cruel, mean love and mercy in the end. Only eternity will tell how much fruit and blessing have resulted from that tearful sowing.