Ilja Altman worked all his life as a music teacher in his native Moldova, but now struggles to pay for medications for his heart condition. Claims Conference compensation payments and social welfare aid helps Ilja and his wife with basic necessities.
Ilja, who lives with his wife in Potsdam, Germany, receives financial support from the Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland, the central Jewish social-service organization in Germany, which is supported by Claims Conference grants. Ilja, who has a pacemaker in his chest, also receives €320 a month from his Article 2 Fund pension. His only other income is government assistance from Germany, where he’s lived for the past 15 years.
He was born in a small village in Moldova in September 1932, and fled in 1939 with his parents and two brothers to Ukraine. In 1941, when Ilja was 9, the family was forced into the Mogilev-Podolski ghetto, near the northern border of Romania. The Altmans shared their one room with another family, and everyone slept on the bare floor. Ilja’s family lived in the ghetto until March 1944, when it was liberated by the Soviet Army.
Ilja remembers the cold, hunger, terror, lice and bugs in the ghetto. Above all, he remembers a Romanian officer named Bucur, who had a whip that he used to beat the ghetto inmates.
One day in 1943, young Ilja’s father, along with several other men, was selected for a work assignment; the boy was terrified, knowing that anyone taken away never came back. Ilja pleaded for his father not to be taken away. He cried and prayed all night.
The next morning a ghetto officer came to the barracks where the men were held, and asked: Who was the father of the child who had pleaded so hard? His father was then set free. Ilja, now 81 years old, still believes that his prayers saved his father’s life.
The family returned to Moldova after the war. The post-war years were hard, and Ilja often went hungry. “We had a saying: Hitler kaput, Ivan comes,” said Ilja.
Now, Ilya enjoys attending social activities and seeing friends at the Treffpunkt, a special community organization for Holocaust survivors supported by the Claims Conference, where he plays the violin and sings.