I was born on June 12, 1937 in Krasnobród-Lubelski, a small town near Lublin, Poland. At birth, my name was Shmuel Rind and I was later called “Mila” (in Russia) during the war. My parents were Yosef Yechaskel Rind, born in 1904 and Kresl Walter Rind, born in 1912. I had one brother, Nathan, born in 1939.
In Krasnobród, we lived on the same street as our shul, where many of our relatives also lived. We shared the home of my father’s sister. My aunt and father owned and worked in a bakery. My father also had a horse farm. In 1939, the war began. Our town became crowded with refugees; food became scarce and soldiers began fighting in the streets. Consequently, we left Krasnobród and fled through several towns, ending up in Pechora, Poland.
Pechora was essentially a holding place until authorities shipped the people elsewhere. Upon our arrival, two of my father’s brothers and their families were taken from the camp and never heard from again. My parents, brother and I were the only members of the Rind family remaining at this location. Although it wasn’t a death camp, it became like one, as food was very scarce and the inhabitants had to dig ditches.
From Pechora, my parents were forced to go to Rachney, a small labor camp in the Ukraine. At that time, I was about 6 years old. When my mom worked, she left me with other children. From Rachney, we were sent back to Pechora. In Rachney, we had become sick from eating horse feed.
From whatever camp we were in, my father would leave at night to get food or goods that could be exchanged for food. One night, my father did not come back. At Pechora, I also lost my baby brother. A Ukrainian guard bludgeoned my brother to death while he was in my mother’s arms. He had been crying.
In early 1943, we escaped to a ghetto in the Ukrainian city of Zhmerinka. My mother and I stayed with my aunt and uncle as well as my cousin who was 12 years older. Together, we all lived in the home of a wealthy Jewish man named “Kuzenko.” Our lifestyle improved considerably. Although Zhmerinka was a ghetto, the adults could work within their respective professions. I could attend a Jewish day school. After about a year, we learned the Germans were retreating and the Russians (soldiers from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) were coming. People were escaping to neighboring towns. We hid in Kuzenko’s secret cellar with our relatives and other families. After ten days of hiding, we were liberated by young soldiers from Uzbekistan. It was March of 1944.
Upon liberation, my mother and I took a train back to Poland. At that time, many Jewish people had created a kibbutz. We all lived as if in a commune, concentrated as a family in a small area. However, when we saw Polish people killing Jews, we left the kibbutz. Most members went to Cyprus and were smuggled into Palestine. We, on the other hand, joined a few other families traveling through Czechoslovakia to get to an American Displaced Persons Camp in Austria.
Through Jewish organizations, my mother tried to arrange for us to emigrate to the United States to join her brother in NJ. Because of the strict quotas for Polish citizens, this was not possible. Next my mother tried to arrange for us to emigrate to Bolivia where another brother lived. In 1947, we arrived in Bolivia where we passed the required medical exams. Mom and I became involved in my uncle’s business; he was a peddler and later became a money-lender.
In 1957, I started working as an optician in Bolivia. In 1960 when I was 23 years old, I came to the U.S. to study in an opticianry program at the Erie Community College in Buffalo, NY. In 1962, I graduated and returned to Bolivia. In 1967, I married Gabriela and together, we moved to Rochester, NY where I continued to work as an optician. In 1968, we had a son, Joseph, named after my father. Joseph now lives in Steamboat Springs, CO; he is married with two children and has a career in property management. In 1971, we had a daughter Brenda, who now lives in Rockland County, NY, with a career in retail management.
My mother moved to the U.S. in 1992 and lived with my family for a short while before moving into the Jewish Home of Rochester where she lived to be 93 years old. She died in 2005.
Biography written by: Janet Goldman as told by Sam Rind