MEDINA — He didn’t see them die, but he knows they did.
Holocaust survivor Michael Pupa, of Cleveland, was only 4 or 5 years old when his mother and younger sister were killed when the Nazis invaded his village of Manyevitz in modern-day Ukraine.
“When we were running away, I heard shots,” Pupa, 73, told about 70 people Monday night at the Medina Library. “That’s what they did. They took people, they rounded them up and they just shot them.”
Pupa’s story ended the library’s sixth season of World War II Roundtable events. The events, on the first Monday of every month, will pick back up in March.
Pupa said he, his uncle and two cousins escaped to nearby woods, where they survived for about four years by remaining hidden. He said they lived in holes they dug, and they found food by foraging.
Sometimes, friendly farmers risked their own lives to give them food.
“If they were caught helping, they were to be shot,” he said.
Through the war, he was only a child, but Pupa said he was able to understand what was happening.
“It’s amazing what you get to know when you are 3 or 4 or 5 years old,” he said.
He could not remember exactly how they found out the war ended. Pupa said the group had some form of communication with other groups and with the outside.
He said he remembered Berlin.
“It was in rubble,” he said. “It was total destruction.”
Pupa said he spent time in refugee camps before immigrating to the U.S. in 1951.
He married and had a daughter, but rarely spoke about World War II. It wasn’t until he was featured in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., this summer that his family heard the whole story.
After he finished speaking, Pupa took questions from the audience. He gave few details, but the audience continued to question him for a half-hour.
Karl and Donna Fife, of Westlake, said they heard about the library’s monthly events from an instructor at Cuyahoga Community College.
“I was a little disappointed until I remembered (Pupa) was so young,” Karl Fife, 72, said, explaining he wanted to hear more details about his survival.
His wife said she was hoping to hear about Pupa surviving a concentration camp, an interest Karl and Donna Fife share, having visited Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust Museum in Washington.
“We were expecting something a little more grim,” Donna Fife said.
“It’s still really interesting,” Karl Fife said. “It’s amazing what those people went through.”
Contact Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.