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[Page 99 - English]

Memoirs

by Leo Fass

 

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There is a time in peoples' lives when they feel it is proper to sit down and write their memories. In my case, now is the time and I will try to the best of my ability to put them in writing.

I was born in Brzozow, Poland on July 13, 1909, and my brother Joel was born in 1908. My father, Izaak Eisig, was a businessman and musician. He played the violin and taught college boys how to play. He was in the Polish army and always had a good sense of humor. My father took care of sick people by collecting money from the rich. He also obtained money from the U.S. “Landsleit” and distributed these funds to the poor.

In a way my father was lucky because he died of natural causes, though still leaving us in sorrow. My mother Giza Korzenik was a wonderful housewife, a good businesswoman who ran the house and helped in the store when it was necessary. Whenever she found out that somebody was sick and in need of help, she was there with good meals, good cheer and offers of hospitality.

When the Germans occupied our city they took away our store and we had to do hard physical labor. The Germans announced that if Jewish young people would register for labor camps then their families would be saved. Instead, the Germans took the young people to the labor camps, and shot the families, throwing them one on top of another in a previously prepared hole in the forest of Brzozow.

My mother was hidden by a Polish family. One evening she went to get something from her home; an anti-semite noticed her and reported her to the Gestapo. She was immediately shot. At one point the Germans gathered all the Jews into one particular area of town; my sister-in-law was among those being gathered. She had hidden her child under her coat and the child slipped out. The Gestapo shot the child instantly. As a result of the shock, my sister-in-law suffered a heart attack and died immediately.

Soon the Germans took over the whole city; they took all our valuables such as furs jewelry, household furnishings, etc. and we had to do hard labor. My uncle was in charge of the Jewish community, but he couldn't help. He was the last Jew killed in Brzozow.

On August 2, 1942 the Germans selected about 250 young men from the city, myself included, and loaded us on trucks to work building railroads in Plaszow. The Germans had prepared primitive barracks for us to live in. Every morning we marched to work, rain or shine. We received very poor nourishment, our diet was lacking in many ways. Late at night after a hard day's work, we were forced to stay outside where the guards kept check on us to see that no one ran away.

Whoever could not work any longer was shot and buried on the spot, and the work went on. One day while carrying a railroad switch with a wooden contraption, I slipped and broke my shoulder. After a short time of staying in the barracks with a little doctor's care, I returned to work. Twice during the concentration camp period I was beaten for no reason by the watchdogs, so that my whole body was black and blue and I was unable to sit.

From Plaszow we went to Skarzysko where the Germans had several large grenade factories. My job was outside, cutting down trees and working with spades and wheelbarrows. Again, rain or shine we had to do hard work with practically no food in our bellies. The last camp was Buchenwald where I changed my name and registered as a Pole named Jozek Materniak. But as a Pole I still had to do all kinds of work outside in my striped uniform and with my feet wrapped up in newspapers so they would not freeze.

One day while I was working outside, a truck arrived with a new batch of Jews. I noticed two

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young men who were very sick. Knowing German, I approached the tender of the truck and said that I would take care of the two men until they recuperated and were able to work. At my advice these two men also registered as Poles. They remained close to me in the bunk until we were liberated in Von Chenwald on April 11, 1945 by the American 8th Army.

One of the two men lives now in the United States. His name is Henry Bisler. The second man went to Israel, and I lost contact with him. When Henry Bisler got married here I the U.S., he invited me to the wedding and the whole family cried as they were introduced to me. Thanks to me he is alive. We still keep in touch with each other.

After the war was over I found out that I was the only survivor from my entire family. My weight was 96 pounds, a body of mere skin and bones and not knowing what to do with my life. I remembered that my parents had mentioned that there was some family in the United States. I started to write letters and it took around six months before my letter was answered. Four sisters on my mother's side lived in New York. After a couple of weeks, a cousin of mine who served in the Air Force came to see me I the refugee camp, and we made plans for the future. Unfortunately the plans never materialized because he became very ill and was taken to a Veterans' Hospital and died within two weeks. My dream was to start a new life by going to the U.S. where I knew I could make a future for myself.

I started to work for UNRRA and JOINT in Buchenwald and in Landsberg-am-Leih, taking care of the apartments in the camp and in the city until the time came for me to go to Bremen and then on to the U.S.A. In Bremen I waited for four months as there was a coal strike in the United States. The ship “Ernie Pyle” brought me to the United States on April 16, 1947.

My mother's sisters were waiting at the port and gave me a very warm welcome. In fact, they sent me a telegram saying “Waiting for You in Your new home, Your Family”. After a short rest I started to work in a coat and suit factory in the cutting room. I learned the trade and became a cutter, working continuously until my retirement in 1974.

On April 3, 1949 I got married and dedicated myself to building a new life for a future with my wife. On May 29, 1951, we were blessed with a beautiful daughter. Our daughter is an Attorney-at-Law.

In the beginning of this story I stated that 250 men from our town and the surrounding area were taken away. Now there are five of us in the United States, one in Belgium, one in Australia, one in New Zealand and several in Israel. All together only about 20 people are left. What a tragedy!

I always thank God for a miracle of being alive. It was difficult to believe while the war was on that anyone would survive, but miracles happened. I only hope to live long and enjoy life to its fullest.


 

A Jew in the Diaspora

by Szaja (Sol) Filler

 

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In fulfilling a promise to write an article for this book of recollections by fellow Jews who happen to come from Brzozow, Poland, I am faced with the question of what it is to be a Jew in the Diaspora. For me, it began in the Polish town of Brzozow, in the Southern part of Galicia. I suppose my experience there was little different from those of other fellow Jews in the same period, except that I belong to that elite group who happened to survive the Holocaust – the paranoiac madness wrought by Hitler and his hordes.

I am the son of a reasonably successful baker of the small town of Brzozow, which typically involved

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one's being obedient to our Jewish heritage and traditions, as well as being a good Polish citizen. However, I was never really given the chance to be the latter, since I was an adolescent when the Nazis singled us out as a special species to be destroyed.

Before that, I remember, as a small child of three years, going to Cheder (Hebrew School). These were happy, carefree days, playing with other Jewish children, learning and studying, although we had to do this six days a week, from early morning to evening and we often fell asleep from exhaustion. The Rabbi in charge was nicknamed “The Boryslaver”. He and his wife were a childless couple and had an old mother living with them. When it came near to my bar Mitzvah time, I learned my Haftorah portion from a neighbour called David Schechter.

At seven, I started public school in Brzozow, but still went to Cheder – school finished at 1 p.m. and we had to go straight to Cheder until late evening. Public school was for six days a week, including the Sabbath, but as Jews we did not go on Saturdays. I think we all missed a great deal of schooling this way. At the same time, I belonged to the Zionist organization of Shomer Hadati, and have fond memories of happy Saturday afternoon outings. We got together with people from other nearby small towns like Sanlik, Yashinitza, etc.

From there I joined a movement called the Jabotinsky Movement of which I have fine memories of good comradeship. We Jews were acutely conscious of feeling rejected by the Poles and treated as foreigners and aliens in our own country. I suppose that by not attending school on Saturday and by dressing and speaking differently from them, we were singled out as a minority which posed an imaginary threat to the Gentiles. At school there was, in fact, a constant distinction made between us, and the conflict between Poles and Jews ended in many skirmishes. The distinction was not as obvious in grammar school, because there the students were of a more privileged middle class than at the primary school.

My parents, Gedalye and Runia Filler, owned a fairly prosperous bakeshop. We were five boys: Selig (Propper) from my mother's first marriage (her first husband died during World War I), Selig died in Los Angeles in 1965; me, Szaja (Sol) now living in Auckland, New Zealand; Tuciu who perished in Siberia during world War II; Leib who died of scarlet fever during an epidemic in the late 1920's; and Ben now living in Australia. We worked very hard indeed. In my case, as a small boy I used to get up early to deliver bread and rolls to various shops and to nearby villages. Often my mother had to meet me with my school books when I was running late, and take the basket and money from me, so I could be punctual for school. This task wasn't too bad in the summer, but in the winter when it was still dark early in the morning, I would arrive at school with frozen hands and feet.

Monday was market day in Brzozow and that was our busiest day. I had to work and help in the bakery on Sundays when other boys were out playing or relaxing. On Mondays the flour merchants would come for their payment to our bakery and on the following days various Jewish families borrowed from my parents “Gemilath-Hessed”. The following Monday, my brother or I would be sent out to collect these debts, in order that we, in our turn, could pay for the flour once more. Everyone trusted one another and helped each other wherever they could.

Life was very hard and anti-Semitism was rife, especially in the late 1930's, when gentiles often picketed Jewish businesses. When the Germans occupied Poland, the worms really came out of the woodwork, and many a Jew was betrayed by his Polish neighbours.

In the 1930's, some, if not all, of the Zionist organizations folded and three separate cultural movements remained: Peretz, Beth Yehuda and the ZKS, which was strictly a sporting club. I belonged to the latter and mainly remember the football team. In those days too, there were many dances and balls staged on the ZKS premises. The orchestra consisted mainly of my 6 relatives – Max Larner, Samuel Propper, Yoske Just, and my own brother Tuciu, who played the saxophone. The last ball was held a couple of weeks before the outbreak of the war and was entitled, “Let's dance before we fight.”

After the war broke out, in September, 1939, many of my friends and relatives escaped east to the Russian zone, but I stayed behind with my parents and my younger brother Ben. Shortly after, the Germans came into Brzozow, and Jewish men were forced to sweep streets, especially the market place, and do other types of forced labor. A little later, a Judenrath (Jewish Council) was formed and it was responsible for supplying Jewish labor for any work required by the Germans, such as chopping wood,

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shoveling snow, scrubbing floors, cleaning the barracks, etc. The leader of the Jewish Council was M. Knebelbard.

All of the Jewish shops were requisitioned, but we were lucky because our bakery was necessary to feed the German army and we were recognized as the “official” Jewish bakery from whom the Jews in Brzozow could buy one loaf of bread per family a week for a coupon,

A curfew was imposed on all the Jews and we had to wear white armbands with a blue Magen David on our right arms all the time. In the beginning of 1940, I was ordered to go to Dynow, a nearby town, along with several other men, to dispose of the corpses of Jews murdered in that town a few months previously. We had to rebury them in a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery in Dynow. There were many Jews shot by Germans at that time, for no apparent reason, Still later, Jews were not allowed to be in the streets of Brzozow or in the market place at all.

In July, 1942, the Jews from all the neighboring villages were brought to central Brzozow, so that these places were entirely clearly of their Jewish inhabitants. On August 4, 1 942, all males born between 1907 and 1928, had to assemble in the early morning at the “Kleine Spaziergarten” (small park). People without a trade were placed on trucks and taken to a railway station on route to Plaszow, some of these people jumped off and ran back home. All those with trades were allowed to stay behind. These were murdered the following Monday, August 10, 1942, in the forest near Brzozow, together with all the rest of the remaining Jewish inhabitants. My brother Ben and I were among those taken to Plaszow and only later learned of the murder of our parents, relatives and friends.

In Plaszow we worked building a railway and many of us, including my brother and me, escaped to Cracow ghetto, where conditions were terrible. We slept in cellars and were forever starving and dirty. However, I was fortunate to find work in a bakery which kept us from going too hungry. On March 14, 1943, the ghetto was entirely liquidated and we were transported to Auschwitz (Birkenau) where quite a number of Brzozowers were immediately selected for the gas chambers. Ben and I were taken to Yawiszewitz, with others from our town, and some of us were lucky enough to survive. We left Auschwitz on January 18, 1945, and were liberated by the Russians in Theresienstadt – those last few months were the biggest ordeal of all the war years.

Since we didn't want to go back to Poland after the liberation we stayed on in Theresienstadt and volunteered to go to Israel. However, after travelling by train through many countries of Europe, we finished up in a displaced persons camp in Landsberg-am-Lech, near Munich, where we stayed for four years. This camp consisted of approximately 4,000 people, all Jews who were either survivors of the concentration camps or former partisans, or some who had been hidden during the war. A number had come back from Russia. All different nationalities and all ages were there. One of those who returned from Russia was my brother Selig Propper, who had been in Siberia and who had fought with the Polish army together with so many others of our compatriots. Although these men had fought for Poland in the Polish army, they could not get out of Poland quickly enough after seeing how their countrymen had treated the Jews.

At this stage most of us had only one thing in mind and that was to go to Israel, then Palestine, which is where the majority of us ultimately went. At the beginning, we still lived in very confined conditions. Although the war was over, we were still surrounded by armed guards, of the occupational forces, and we could not move about freely without an official pass. Once a person was shot in the leg when he tried to disobey these rules. Gradually things became more relaxed, the guards were removed, and slowly we picked up the broken threads of our lives once more. There were some touching reunions and romance blossomed too. We had our own orchestra, stage dances, ran our own food and clothing stores, our own kitchens, and we even had our own police, courts and prisons so that we could dispense justice ourselves.

Zionism was very strong and Aliyah Bet (illegal immigration to Israel) flourished. Although some were caught trying to get into Palestine and put into camps on Cyprus, many still risked everything just to go to Eretz Israel. After a little while, we even started to mix with the German population. We went into their shops and attended concerts, etc. However, in one incident, some of our young men were put into prison for two years because there was fear that they might harm German citizens or property in retaliation for something which occurred in a small town near Landsberg. This sentence was imposed by the Occupational Forces administered by the Allies.

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There were many other DP camps in Germany at that time of a similar type and we used to communicate with one another in cultural and sporting activities. Gradually, as people left for other places, the camps became smaller and Landsberg was closed in 1949. My brother Ben had left for Sydney, Australia in 1947, and I followed him in 1949.

I now live in Auckland, New Zealand, with my wife Ruth and we have two daughters, Deborah and Esther. We have gone on two separate trips; the highlights of each were to meet up with people from Brzozow and KZ and DP camps. I hope to see them all again one day.

 

Crossing of the River San in Occupied Poland

by Fela Einziger

 

The crossing was very difficult and dangerous. We hid in every passing village to avoid the German patrol. Every step was in jeopardy. Our guide instinctively, like an animal, avoided danger.

Icek rushed me so that we would reach the River “San” before daylight and cross to the other side of the river. We were forced to pass by the German and Russian guards patrolling on the other side of the River “San”. We waited for a suitable moment to arrive, in the meantime hiding in the bushes on the edge of the shore. Our guide was diving and looking for a suitable place to cross the river. Suddenly he gave a sign and we went to land.

It was in the late fall days, the water was frozen. We heard from afar the sound of shooting. The water reached my arms and my shoulder; a fear gripped that I would drown because I did not know how to swim. I whispered top Icek that I was out of breath and could go no further and that I would certainly be drowned.

The two boys took me by the hand and literally pulled me out half alive to the edge. God protected us. In the bushes on the shore we sat down quietly, soaked with water and shaking from the cold. Now came the time to cross an open field in order to get to the village and to avoid the Russian guard. In heavy soaked clothing we dragged through the fields and came across the Russian patrol we took us to the police, but luckily they released us immediately. We rejoiced together beyond measure. I was laughing and crying by turns.

My husband, Monek was very disappointed that his parents and no one from the family had arrived. Later we discussed this problem and came to the conclusion that they would not be able to hold out under the suffering and pains of homeless life. I came to the village and got shelter from a Jewish family. There I took off my wet clothing and fell into a stony sleep. The following day we left because it was dangerous to remain on the border.

We intended to reach the city of Lwow by any kind of transportation by rail if possible or even on foot. On our journey we came upon human bodies not yet buried. The air was full of gun powder resulting from the fighting. Crosses had been put up hurriedly on the fresh graves. I cried by every lonely grave on the roadside until I fell short of tears.

This was my first experience. The really difficult time was yet to come. The city of Lwow was crowded with escapees. Everyone grabbed whatever he could just to stay alive and to keep going.

Monek applied to engineering school and obtained a scholarship and impressed the faculty as a very talented student. I was working as a cashier in a luncheonette for post office employees. The “kielbasa” which I got for lunch I did not eat but saved for my husband and his friends, as I was eating only kosher food. We lived on a day-to-day basis, with only a small bundle of clothing and to a certain extent without anxiety. We were also without the family obligations which we would have had if my husband's family had been with us.

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Well fed, without specific cares, Monek was very happy with his studies. Yes, positively, this short period of time had its sort of charm.

Also Etka Feingold-Alster my neighbor from Brzozow I remember with love. When I had a cold with high fever she brought pieces of wood and made a fire in the oven; she also brought a thermos with hot tea. Fuel was as costly as gold in this hard winter of 1939. The peasant sold a cord of wood and received a fur coat, a pair of shoes or materials for clothing. Money had no value whatsoever. There was a shortage of everything. We struggled to have a roof over our heads and a minimal existence. We did not ask for more.

A real bright light in these days of Soviet occupation was professor Bartel. He helped the students, calmed the high-spirited and called us to endure. The Germans killed him when they entered the city of Lwow.

Our good time passed quickly. They found out that Monek's older brother, who had finished Politechnikum, was a Zionist, a fascist and God knows what else. Friends of Monek, my husband, let him know in advance that he should disappear from the school. He didn't want to leave because he had always dreamed of being an engineer, not a lawyer. He was called to the N.K.W.D. and miraculously escaped. Monek took some belongings and went to the town of Tysmienica, east of Galicia in Poland. With great sorrow he left the city of Lwow forever.

In Tysmienica Monek had several well-known friends who used to work there. He found a bookkeeping job in a shoemaking cooperative. He came to take me there. I also said farewell to my good friends and with a broken heart left with the impression that I was saying good-bye forever. We left the city of Lwow without giving anyone our present address, for security reasons only.

At this time Benio was with mother in the village Polana and from there the Russians took him to a camp in Siberia. Hunger, terrible weather and hard work broke him. He died there.

Icek, fearless, young and easily influenced, crossed the border several times against my husband's will, until they caught him and he died in a Russian jail. We do not know the details. God bless them all. I often think of Benio, lying lonely in his grave in the alien soil of the Soviet Union. In the last moments of his life among these beastly criminals, I console myself and believe that our grandmother who loved him so dearly was with him and took with her his oppressed soul.

(Translated by Fela Ravett)


 

Brzozow

by Natta Weiss

 

My memories of the shtetl go back to my childhood. In 1939, when the war broke out, I was still a child. Like all the Jewish children at the time, the pressure of tragic events forced me into an early maturity; I was prematurely old.

There are many memories of Brzozow, sad and happy, and it is difficult to put them in order. They all center around the old Beit-Midrash which looms, tower-like, over everything else and to which many of my past experiences are tied.

Why, of all place, the Beit-Midrash? The reasons are many. First of all, proximity. We lived just a few houses away from it, in a side-street called “Piastowa”, in Polish “Ulitza Piastowa”. Going to Heder, to school, or just into the village, we always had to pass the Beit-Midrash. In my childish conception of the universe it was the holiest place on earth and whenever I passed it I always trembled with the fear of God.

The Beit-Midrash also stood in an important crossing. Upon emerging from it one went straight up from it to the shtetl, the Rink and all the other alleys and streets where all the institutions, the shops and other important points of the shtetl were con-

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centrated. From the left-side exit turning to the east the way led to the ritual bath, the fowl slaughter house and the Borkovka. The way to the right led to “Rendzinis”, to “Pansky Kzhakis” and then to Yeshenitza – thence to the whole wide world.

Galloping down the incline from the shtetl in the direction of the above mentioned “Rendzinis” one would often forget to make the left turn and would go right into the Beit-Midrash.

There was one unforgettable case of a crash into the wall of the Beit-Midrash: A boy called Yehoshua Schweber was bicycling down the incline, remembered too late to make the left turn and crashed at full speed into the wall of the Beit-Midrash. He fell, was wounded and lost consciousness.

I was terribly upset by this accident which to me, as a child, seemed the worst thing that could happen to anyone. It haunted me for many months.

It was the will of Providence to cut my childhood sort at one fell blow with the German occupation, when catastrophes and atrocities became daily occurrences and even those who were not their immediate victims lived in the shadow of imminent death. The case of the boy's crash into the wall, so mild and meaningless, was soon forgotten.

Personal and individual disasters followed upon each other's heels, culminating in the final grim tragedy of the destruction of the whole shtetl, when the whole Jewish population was destroyed, men, women and children.


 

Escape

by Ely Weiss

 

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On the 1st of September, just as the war broke out, news began arriving about the Germans' enormous conquests and the defeat of the Polish Army, its collapse and the flight of its soldiers in the ensuing panic.

The shtetl Jews were in turmoil and everyone who could do so joined the escape route to the east and the south, in the direction of the Roumanian border. Families were broken up. The aged, the woman and the children remained at home, too weak to undertake such an arduous journey. Yung men left their homes and, armed with a rucksack, set out on their way. “Utziknieres”, “escapees” was the name given to these masses of people with which the roads of Poland overflowed. In their fear they had no idea where it was they were running.

One of a group of youths from Brzozow I, too, was going “eastwards”. We heard a rumor on the way that the Red Army had crossed the Polish border and was taking over Eastern Gallicia. Weakened as we were, we accelerated our pace, hope to evade the Nazis.

I witnessed many episodes of which the following is one. Passing through one of the villages we found a typical, primitive Polish well and we all stopped there, tired and dehydrated. Each took his turn to draw a pail of water, drink his fill and wash his face. A group of Polish soldiers who had been cut off from their units and were wandering around just like us, without any fixed destination, joined us at once. They, too, stood in line at the well. Having drunk their fill they gave a good look around and, cursing roundly in Polish, threw their bayoneted rifles into the well. They then proceeded to take off their uniforms, covered themselves with whatever rags came to hand and joined the refugees…

My group of Brzozow men made it to Drohobitz,

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but just as we arrived there, the town was taken by the Germans who straightway issued a proclamation ordering all refugees, regardless of nationality (!) to return immediately to their homes.

Lacking any conveyances we set out on foot. The terrible strain and fatigue which were our lot as we went from one village to another, trying to keep one step ahead of the enemy – these prevented us from realizing the futility of our situation, nor did we have the slightest premonition of what calamities the future held in store for us. The way back was full of dangers and we had no conception of the changes that had taken place at home since we left.

Of the journey back two events stand out in my memory, in both of which we confronted the Angel of Death face to face and bested him by what was virtually a miracle.

The way to Ostrick was filled with Ukrainian peasant gangs proliferating like mushrooms after the rain, who had organized themselves into gangs in order to rob the refugees of their rucksacks, shoes, money and watches. They armed themselves with sickles, scythes, pitch-forks and iron bars, falling upon the people who sought to rest in the fields. Luckily for us we were encamped deeper within the territory while they chose to attack those in front. Some of the refugees, mainly Poles, who still maintained a remnant of courage from the time they were in power, put up a fight against them. A murderous struggle ensued as the robbers used their tools viciously, like wild animals tearing whole limbs from the bodies of living people, and leaving the field strewn with bodies.

Later on, during the Nazi occupation, these murderers became the accomplices of the S.S., and the “Einsatzgruppen”, forming the nucleus of the “Banderovtzi” of ill-fame.

When the killers finally left the survivors turned to their homes.

The second miracle took place when we stopped in a small wood not far from Ostrick. Suddenly a group of girls, looking like Jewesses, appeared and looked all around them cautiously. Somehow we introduced ourselves to them, only to find out that they had risked their lives and come to warn us from continuing on our chosen way. The Gestapo, aided by Ukrainian hooligans, had posted themselves upon a bridge built high above an abyss. They demanded identification papers from everyone and if he was a Jew would throw him down into the ravine where another group of robbers stood waiting for the victims, and murdered them with cruelty. The Jewish girls offered to show us an indirect route through the fields, bypassing the bridge. It was difficult for us to decide which way to choose – the one they suggested was also highly dangerous, with assassins lurking at every corner, and we didn't want to endanger the girls. We were at the end of our tether. Worn out with fatigue and sunk in despair, sweaty clothes clinging to our bodies, we began our careful approach to the village, seeking some way of crossing the bridge. Just as we were nearing it the second miracle occurred, saving us from certain death. Suddenly a terrible storm broke out, thunder and lightning increased every moment, a heavy rain poured down and everything was covered with darkness. The fury of the storm increased, earth and sky seemed to be falling apart, and the world was about to come to its end. A cloud-burst had flooded the whole area and the frightened German patrols left their posts, seeking cover elsewhere.

Exploiting their panic we exerted ourselves to the limit of our powers and crossed the bridge of death in the terrible deluge. The Jewish girls met us outside the town and found us some Jewish homes where we managed to dry our clothes and lie down for a night's sleep. Early next morning we made for home…

We hoped to get there before Yom Kippur.

Many were the dangers encountered on the way and I shall not speak of the troubles we suffered before we finally saw our beloved homes.

W arrived on the eve of Yom Kippur, before Kol Nidrei. Our sorry appearance was in complete accord with the atmosphere of foreboding which dominated the shtetl. Together with the despairing congregation, heavy-hearted and funereal, we went toward the approaching “Day of Judgment”.

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Photocopy of the postcard

 

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A Postcard from Brzozow

by Y. Y. Salz

 

The postcard (photographed above), was written on Tuesday, August 29, 1939, t here days before the outbreak of war and was sent from Brzozow by Reb Ya'akov-Itzhak Salz and his wife Sarah, may God avenge them, to their daughter Gittle in New York. It was actually the parents' letter of farewell to their daughter; as if their hearts told them that it was the last they would ever write.

To spare their children, the parents try to hide their fear of the oncoming war. The postcard gives a short description of the situation and the atmosphere in the shtetl in those tense times.

“Be it as it may, you know more than we do how things are in Poland now. Last Sunday there were “great doings” throughout the night, with call-up papers for immediate enlistment being handed out all around. Those enlisted were: Ha'im Shlomo Feingold (Ha'im Bank), Rafa'el Lanner, the son of Shmu'el Rafael's, Trintsher, the grandson of Israel “beber”, Bunik Seiller and very many Poles. Many Jews were recruited in the Sanok region. It appears that in the predominantly Polish areas fewer Jews are enlisted than in the towns of mixed Jewish and Ukrainian populations.

May it be granted us by the mercy of God that we be permitted to stay in our homes together and that there will be no war. People are laying up some foodstuffs. This we cannot do, not because, perish the thought, we cannot afford the money, but because we have no room for storing flour, nor do we have a stove for baking bread. We did our best with 5 kgs. Salt and 1 kg. sugar…

Never mind, there is no lack of staples such as potatoes, butter and eggs in the vicinity.

Today Yutta, the daughter of my late sister Sheindel Haraz, is getting married. Last week I was still worrying about how to get to the wedding. Today I am exempt from such worries --- as things are; it is inadvisable for Jews to travel. Everywhere soldiers, and civilians too, show the Jews no mercy, I was satisfied with just a “Mazel Tov”.

I am honestly not too certain that the wedding will take place at all or that it is possible to go from Lantzot to Krossnow – the trains are full of soldiers. May the blessed God provide us with joys. As it is, we are living as is described in “Tokheha” (reproof): “In the morning you will say – who will give us evening; ad in the evening you will say: who will give us morning”. Every moment brings new fears. Each man looks at his companion – perhaps he has some lie to tell him…

I nevertheless hope that everything will blow over and there will be no war. May the blessed Lord have mercy on all Israel, including ourselves.

Keep well. We send you our regards and wish you a good year, and a Ketivah Vahatimah Tovah.

Your father, who wishes you the best always.

Y. Y. Salz
His wife continues the postcard in Latin letters. Her writing is emotional and her tension is expressed in her love of her children. She is profuse in her expressions of affection, hoping that it will all go away and that their fears will be sufficient penance for the evil which she prays will not be visited upon them.

Joseph, their son (killed in Auschwitz) completes the postcard with the reassuring words: “There is no fear of war and all will end well…”

From what they wrote, as well as from what is known from those days of tense insecurity – they were dominated by the fear of the expected war with all the shocks and bloodshed it entailed.

No one had any idea of the actual power balance between Poland and Germany. What they feared was mutual bombings, poison gas and fighting in the areas close to the borders, followed by shellings and some penetration of enemy forces. No one dreamed that Poland would crumble within a few days, to be swamped up by the German monster. The sequel is well known. The Jews were subjected to persecution – gradually at first, with the suffering increasing daily till it reached the almost total annihilation of Polish Jewry, including Brzozow, our shtetl, among the rest.

(Translated by Herzlia Dobkin, Haifa)


[Page 109 - English]

A Letter

by Sarah Levite

 

The following letter was written by my sister, Sarah Levite, my God avenge her, to my cousin Esther Honig, and in it she tells about the last days of our aunt, Sarah Gittel of blessed memory – Esther's mother.

The letter, undated, written in the summer of 1941, was sent to occupied France, where Esther was living at the time. The letter, describing my aunt's sufferings from her illness, is highly sensitive and speaks for itself. Between the lines one can feel the general air of despair, though this was a relatively “quiet” time compared to the terrible tribulations and oppressions that were in store for them before the future bitter end.

Because of the censorship the letter was written in German.

A.L.
Dear Esther,

Thank you very much for your letter about which I can say, like you, that it both gladdened and saddened us.

We also thank you sincerely for the small parcel. It was most useful, from the dress to the shirts and stockings.

And now, dear cousin, you want me to write about your dear mother, for, as you so sadly put it, you wish to know, whatever the painful cost.

Well then, after the children went away, Mother suffered greatly. She longed terribly for her children and had nothing with which to occupy herself, for at that time she had liquidated the store in which she had worked all her life and to which she had devoted all her energies.

It was then she began complaining of ill health and consulted a doctor. But he didn't know much either and we never guessed that she was harboring a dread disease.

The first winter was not so bad. She managed her household and visited us and Aunt Hava often. She was worse in the spring and all that year, up till the following spring, her suffering increased progressively. We did all we could. She spent three weeks in Ivonitz, and then went to Sanok and Krakow. We looked after her and took care of her as much as possible.

We didn't want to deprive her completely of all her household cares. We baked once a week and sometimes did some cooking. No money was spared when it came to her health and when necessary we took a loan.

We visited her every day to make her feel less lonely. It often occurred to me that I couldn't take the place of her absent children; I was just a “stand-in” for them. How, for example, could one inject a little joy into her Friday nights about which she complained so often?

As to her physical suffering, for all its harshness, she bore it with indescribable fortitude, clenching her teeth and saying nothing. We saw her pains more than we heard about them. It was only her longing that was insufferable and could never or anywhere be alleviated. Te only pleasure she had was in receiving a letter.

She was always on the lookout for the postman. Once she even wanted to write to you: “Why shouldn't my children know how ill I am?” She said.

Her greatest hope was to see her children again and no suffering was too great if it could bring about such a consummation. She said she wanted to complain to them – to joyfully recount all that she had suffered.

But, to our grief, she was to die uncomforted!

She never wanted to stay in bed and inconvenience anybody.

In her last days we never left her alone – not for a single step. Her mind was clear to the very last and she asked us to go away as there was nothing we could do to help her.

Again and again she reiterated that she wanted to live in order to see her children's return home, though she realized this was impossible. Her torments were beyond description and finally she had only one prayer to God – that he would not torture her too long.

We became extremely close in time; I suffered with her and shared her feelings. All my worries centered on her and her feelings were the measure of my own.

As to uncle, you need have no worries. He is well, thank God, though he does look older, now that he has shaven off his beard. He is a very clean person and keeps his house in order, though we sometimes come in to give it a thorough cleaning. He takes the midday meal with us; changes his underwear as usual. When he calls in a washer-woman we come in to help and afterwards do the ironing.

Sarah

 

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