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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:               RACHEL WISE

INTERVIEWER:         UNKNOWN

LOCATION:               ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                        UNKNOWN

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Rachel Lager was born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1913. She was the younger of two daughters born to a successful grocer, Israel Lager, and his wife, Chassa. Her older sister married and moved to South Africa, where she died from an illness. Rachel married Isaac Wise (Izchak Visgardiski; also Weiss) in 1936. The couple had one child, Chaim, in 1938 and enjoyed a happy life.

When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the family was forced into the Kovno ghetto. They survived multiple actions until Chaim was taken away during the “Children’s Aktion” and murdered in March 1943. As the Russians approached in 1944, the ghetto was liquidated. Isaac and Rachel’s father were sent east to the Dachau concentration camp while the women were sent to the Stutthof concentration camp. Rachel’s mother died in the camp, but Rachel and a few of her cousins managed to survive the terrible conditions until the Russians liberated them in January 1945. After recovering in a Soviet hospital, Rachel returned to Kovno and found work in a factory.

Rachel later learned her father had not survived, but Isaac was recuperating in Germany. She risked crossing the border into Poland with false identification papers and the couple was reunited. Rachel and Isaac then joined his brother, Sam, and sister-in-law, Ida, in Munich, Germany.

Rachel and Isaac soon welcomed the birth of twins—a daughter and son. In 1949, the family came to the Untied States and began a new life in Atlanta, Georgia. When Isaac’s brother and his wife joined them later that year, Isaac and Sam opened Wise Brothers Grocery. After 66 years of marriage, Isaac died in 2002. Rachel died in 2011.

Scope of Interview:

Rachel begins by introducing her parents and recounting how they met. She talks about her childhood and her sister who died from an illness in South Africa. Rachel explains that she was happily married, living a comfortable life, and had a young son when the war began. She recalls being sent to the Kovno ghetto in 1941 and witnessing the murder of over 500 intellectuals in an action. Rachel shares how a Jewish policeman saved her family in one action, but she lost her son in the Children’s Aktion of March 1943. She describes being sent to Stutthof with the other surviving women, while her father and husband were sent to Dachau. Rachel talks about being forced to work long hours with little food, the unsanitary conditions, sleeping on dirty, wet straw and losing her mother. She recounts liberation and recuperating in a hospital, where she later worked as a translator for the Russians. Despite physically recovering and finding work in a factory, Rachel reveals her loneliness after returning to Kovno. After learning her husband survived, Rachel explains how she made the decision to risk crossing into Poland with false papers. She describes her reunion with her husband and the decision to have more children after settling in Germany. Rachel discusses how filled with disbelief survivors and liberators were at witnessing the Nazi atrocities. The interview closes with her determination to remember the Holocaust victims and share her story.

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