By DON AINES
The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown
HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — More than half a century ago, Howard and Esther Kaidanow met on a blind date in Philadelphia, both having traveled long and dangerous roads to survive the Nazi depredations of World War II in Eastern Europe.
Earlier this month, Howard, 83, and Esther, 77, recounted the horrors of their childhoods at the Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration at Congregation B’nai Abraham, which was attended by about 300 people.
“I was 13 years old when my parents were killed” on the same day, Howard Kaidanow recalled before the service. “My mother was beaten to death and shot. My father was burned alive.”
They lived in Belarus, or White Russia, at the time a part of Eastern Poland. Following the murders of his parents, he and his younger brother fled to another city, but the atrocities of the Germans followed and “from there, we went to the woods,” Kaidanow said.
In another time, Kaidanow might have spent those years in school and playing sports, but he wanted to join the fight.
“I was a child, a kid. I wanted to join the partisans … the Russian partisans,” he said.
Kaidanow spent the rest of the war with the resistance group, which carried out a guerilla war against the Axis occupiers.
Esther was born in Dalmatia, a region of the former Yugoslavia. Before the service, she recalled that at first, it was the Italian fascists who occupied her country.
“Life was difficult, but manageable” under Italian occupation, though she remembered her country’s own version of “Kristallnacht,” when Jewish shops were vandalized and burned, as well as her synagogue.
During her address to those attending the service, Esther Kaidanow told how she and her friends were going to attend Sabbath services when she saw Torahs being thrown into a bonfire in front of the synagogue and members of the congregation being prodded with bayonets.
It got worse when the Nazis replaced the Italians, she said.
“That’s when the objective was to kill the Jews, and most of them were killed,” Esther Kaidanow recalled before her speech.
She told those at the service that she had an older sister who joined the partisans in Yugoslavia and, though seriously injured, survived the war.
Eventually, she and her family also found themselves fleeing to the mountains and being sheltered by the partisans, led by Josip Broz Tito.
“We were in the mountains with a resistance group and we did what we could do to help,” she said.
The Baltimore couple’s addresses came at the end of a service attended by people of different faiths, punctuated by readings from the writings of Holocaust survivors and selections from the “Holocaust Cantata” sung by the synagogue choir.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)