Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The march passed through almost without interference. A spirit of combat reigned among the soldiers. The blood in the veins gurgled and [we were] full of expectation of a clash with the Germans.
During the evening we finally arrived in the German village. A voice, drunk from aroused blood, echoed from the forward rows:
Attack, brothers Hey Ha!... Charge, Brothers!We ran, ran into the night and nothing happened. A cannonade of fiery, exploding shrapnel and artillery shells poured in the darkness of the night with flaming rain and concussed the air and the earth. We saw nothing and ran, ran.
I ran just like the others. The fire of revenge flared in me. The insulted and persecuted Jews of Zbaszyn were before my eyes, all of the Jews from Germany and Austria who Hitler had driven from their homes like mangy dogs. I felt the menace that he brought to the Jewish homes in the Polish cities and shtetlekh [towns] with the attack on Poland. I did not think then of the possibility of such horrible death for millions of Jews. But I felt in the Hitlerists the greatest enemy of the Jewish people and I felt joy at the opportunity to strike at their wild, twisted faces and feel how they fell at our hands.
I did not remember how long this lasted. Suddenly the order came to withdraw. We again crossed the border and began to go through the dusty roads. No one knew exactly how the situation looked on the other fronts. We only knew that the Germans were far away and that fighting was taking place deep in the country. It was possible that already we were completely surrounded.
During the day we lay in the forest in order not to be noticed by the German airplanes that flew across the sky and scattered their fire, lighting fires in village huts. The entire area was
agitated and confused. Thick clouds rose over the fields. Peasants from burned huts packed their things, pulled their horses and cows out of the stalls and went to wait in other villages.
We found ourselves in the Golasze Forest. I knew the area well. My parents lived in a village not far from there. I took a moment and I went to see them. Their joy was great. Everyone began to ask that I remain in the house. But I could not convince myself to become a deserter. I did not want to admit the idea that everything was lost.
My parents' situation deprived me of my rest; I could not find a place for myself and volunteered for the most difficult tasks, went on intelligence [missions]. Once, I again dropped in to my parents, sat with them for the entire night and talked. We did not talk about me remaining. They saw that they would not convince me. My sister, who lived with our parents, also sat at the table and comforted them that a soldier feels the changes less, is accustomed to wandering and does not think about what tomorrow will bring.
My father sighed that a Jew is a Jew everywhere and it is always worse for a Jewish soldier than for another one. Who knew what the Germans would do with the Jews?
When day began to break I untied the horse and rode to my two comrades, with whom I had gone out on patrol at night and had left to sleep in the forest. They were well rested and were sitting under a tree. Instead of answering my greeting, one of them, the plutonowy [sergeant], looked at me like a wild cat:
Where were you the whole night?He sprung quickly onto the horse. The second soldier did the same thing. The plutonowy pointed his hand imperiously at me: You take your horse by the bridle and you will go in front.
I was with my parents I pretended not to understand his anger and offended tone they live not far away.
Do not confuse me the plutonowy hissed between his pressed lips.
You are a spy, a German spy.
I did not understand exactly what this signified. Perhaps he meant to punish me in this way. However, going several steps I heard suspicious whispers behind me. I turned my head. The plutonowy's eyes shone. His head stretched out belligerently in front, as if he was ready to throw himself on me. His free right hand manipulated the lock of his rifle.
In the blink of any eye I understood with painful clarity that my minutes were numbered and that I must quickly defend myself with all of my strength. I held my gun in front, with the barrel down. As if in a trance, I stopped, standing face to face with him. He was visibly surprised by my sudden stop. His hands stopped manipulating the rifle and in the same blink of an eye, I shot.
His brown, boney face immediately became wax-like; some kind of stale, threatening roar tore out of him. His hands moved in all directions in the air and he fell off his horse, like a crow that had been shot down.
His horse began to run wildly among the trees. The other soldier, who
I had almost let out of my sight, suddenly turned his horse and began to go back at a gallop.
I was frozen stiff from terrible fear for my own deed for several minutes. Simultaneously I was engulfed by a strong joy that we had succeeded in saving ourselves from a sure death. I rode away in the direction of headquarters.
For several days, large German forces drove through on the Czyzewo-Dambrowa highway: tanks, motorized infantry, heavy artillery and mine launchers, horse encampments, sanitary battalions and military engineers. The noise of the wheels and the deafening noise of the motors filled the forest where we were hidden and we looked with eyes red from lack of sleep at the highway over which hung thick clouds of dust that did not conceal from our eyes the order in the ranks of the German military.
Even a civilian who was not skilled in military matters felt and saw the immense strength that was descending on Poland. The hopelessness of our poorly armed resistance was clear. Yet, when the Germans caught us and there was a fight, we hit them relentlessly and did a great deal of damage to the Germans. We withdrew to Bialystok in the evening; outside the city we learned that the central regiment already had been imprisoned by the Germans.
Withdrawing, we regrouped in the village Hryniecwiczwe that lies on the Lapy-Bransk highway.
German motorcyclists patrolled the highway without stop. Large
trucks carried supplies and ammunition.
In the evening our patrol reported that the road was free and we began to withdraw from the village. When we arrived at the last hut, fire that came from the highway began to rain on us. Our ranks began to break. Horses and men fell. Groans were heard in the darkness . It appeared that those remaining would very soon give in. I was mainly afraid of that. However, it happened thus, that we staged a stubborn resistance all as one and suddenly we noticed that the Germans were beginning to withdraw.
Chase them! came the order from our officer and we started off after them in a gallop with a wild shout of hurrah. Suddenly everything stopped. Shooting at us started from all sides. Everything swirled together, moaned and wheezed. My horse fell to his knees. I bent down and felt the hot horse breath from his nostrils. Foam remained on my fingers. His large eyes looked at me with fear and regret. Later, when I would find myself in great danger, face to face with death, this equine look would appear before my eyes, which tore my heart with sorrow and pain.
A small group of us remained from this struggle; with its last strength, it barely forced itself through to the woods and started for Volkovysk on foot.
In quiet Volkovysk there was an uproar from the soldiers running in, who were reorganized and sent to Lithuania. Arriving in Styczyn during the day, a major greeted us and informed us that we were being hit on both sides. The Russian army was also going into Poland.
He now spoke to us not as subordinate soldiers, but as to his own, his friends.
We have lost the war he spoke with clear pain not only the buttons that [Marshal Edward] Rydz-Smigly boasted he would not surrender, but we have even lost the land. Yes, my brave soldiers, you are freed from your oath, save yourselves as you can I will remain here, whoever wants can remain with me.The news had a crushing effect on the Jewish soldiers. Several hours later we were surrounded by the German Army, which took the city without resistance.
Now I had only one purpose: to reach Czyzewo even more quickly, where I expected to find my parents.
The roads were full of danger. White Russian bandits attacked and murdered Poles, Jews; the Polish uniform was hated by them. After Skidel [Skidzyel, Belarus], I fell into the hands of such a band, which began to carry out the death sentence over us. We were saved by chance. Out of one danger and into the second one. The Russians, who could not figure out what kind of people we were, held us under arrest. Again a chance occurred and we succeeded in freeing ourselves and after great hardship, came home to our parents who were still in Dąbrowa, a quiet village seven kilometers from Czyzewo.
We already felt winter in the air. Therefore we stopped moving into the city. We remained living in the village and did a little trading. There was turmoil in Czyzewo. The Reds raised their heads. Denunciations flew. Some Jews were taken away to Siberia. It was quiet in the village.
We did not stop talking in the house about moving into the city for the entire time. Although the peasants in the village had a good relationship with us, a strange unrest was in the air. The peasants told various stories. When the first spring sun began to dry the winter dampness of the earth and of the nearby fields, we in the house decided that we had lived long enough in the village and one morning my father finished eating the dark village bread, drank up the sour milk and left for the city.
Perhaps we will be helped my mother said half to herself, half to me. I looked at her dreaming eyes in which lay all of the tempests of the village and it pressed against my heart. I understood how much she wanted to live in Czyzewo and it hurt me that I could not help with this.My father returned late at night and said that there were no apartments to be had in all of Czyzewo and there was no other solution than to build our own house with someone else. He even had discussed this with Shmuelke Wengocz. He should start building immediately.
My mother looked at us and was silent. I saw now she had wiped her damp eyes and smiled to herself.
Our own apartment in Czyzewo Will our luck also brighten?Poor Mama! She was not destined to live in her own apartment in Czyzewo. They did start to build the apartment but in the midst [of the building] the war broke out between Hitler and Russia.
The war began Sunday morning. The buzz of the airplanes flying began to rustle in the village and a distant echo of rapid, dense cannon-fire and explosions of bombs. This lasted three days. The German military already was in Czyzewo on Tuesday night.
The news was brought to us by the peasant, our neighbor, who looked us in the eyes with an overwhelmed face, wanting to read the answer to his silent question: What will happen to you, Jews? What will you do now?
The first days passed quietly. Everyone sensed that it was not good. However, no one dared to say anything. The fear of the Germans was greater than the terror from the bombs.
My mother was the first to decide to go to the city to look at what was happening there.
This was Friday, the sixth day after the outbreak of the war.
My mother did not remain in the city for long. When she returned, her face was darkened, covered with wrinkles even deeper than before. Fear remained in her eyes of a corpse that she had seen lying near the train tracks. This was Leyzer Bytner. Shabbos in the village was a sad one, a melancholy one.
We all left the village on Monday on the road to Czyzewo.
Many German autos and motorcycles rode along the road. None of them bothered us, did not look in our faces to see if we were Jewish. From time to time an auto stopped, or a motorcycle, asked the way to Szepietowo and traveled further.
We were near the village of Dmochy when three Polish militiamen on bicycles drove by us coming from the opposite direction. I recognized them from afar. Michalczik and Kaczimierczak were familiar gentiles. Pawel Dmochowski was an agent with Yakov Litwak. They stopped. They did not answer our greeting, only asked why we were not wearing bands on our arms and, before we had a chance to answer, they began to beat us over our heads, hands and backs with sticks. They were tall, sturdy and hit with cold-calculated fury; when one of us bent to avoid the stick, they were ignited with fury and began to hit with more fervor.
Now you have yours Michalczik finally said and turned to the comrades Come, they have enough for now.Calmly, they sat back down on their bicycles and left.
The sufferings of this day did not end with this. We met German soldiers near the city who were singing as they marched. Seeing us, one of them sprang out of the ranks with a scissor in his hand, ran to my father, grabbed his beard and cut it off.
My father stood for while without speaking, with closed eyes. These sufferings were
probably more difficult for him than the earlier blows with the sticks.
The soldiers rolled with laughter.
We barely managed to reach the shtetl. The streets in Czyzewo were empty. We did not see a living soul. I looked at my father he was as pale as the wall. I sensed a strong pain in his heart.
We did not know what to do. All of the doors were bolted. Fear hung in the air.
We knocked at the door of Josef-Mendl the baker. It took a long time until the door opened. He looked around carefully on all sides.
Inside he welcomed us, quietly looked my father's cut beard, at our swollen faces and after a long time sighed:
Thus, they have mistreated you?!My father said quietly:
It probably would have been better if I had stayed in the village. It is quiet there.After a long search, we met Shlomo Cziwice, who agreed to let us into his house.
It is a quiet before a storm Josef-Mendl said one way or another, here we are among Jews . It is not good, perhaps a miracle will occur.
But where do we find an apartment? My father moaned.
We immediately got a small wagon, loaded it with a few things, said good bye to our neighbors; the older peasants looked up with sad eyes from under their dusty eyebrows. The wives of the peasants crossed themselves.
We sat closed in our homes for entire days then. Rarely someone furtively approached and told us something he had heard from someone else about the war, about new murder victims shot by the Germans.
At night, we left discreetly for the village through the back roads to gather something to eat.
Thus, the despairing days passed. The shtetl looked as if it was without an owner, subjected to the whim of the murderers.
Suddenly, information reached us that the German field commander had settled in Banucke's building and that he was beginning to make order in the shtetl.
The Russians had begun building a secondary train line a short time before the war, but were not successful in completing it. The Germans resumed building it and gave an order that all Jews in Czyzewo from 13 years of age and older had to report to work to build the train line.
Everyone went on the first day. The work was difficult and there was no payment for it. Little by little the people began to escape and not go to work. Simultaneously, the Germans became stricter from day to day; they invaded the houses and whoever was caught was taken to work. They invaded our house several times, but we succeeded in hiding in the courtyard in a pile of wood. Every day my father went to work alone.
Several days passed and something new again happened. A commissar arrived in Czyzewo.
He immediately sent for several people. Sender the miller, who until the last day remained his right hand, became his closest crony.
Before long there was a Judenrat in Czyzewo into which entered Shmuelke Wengocz, Yeshaya Lepak, Alter Walter and Dovid Lubelczik. Zebilun Grosbard was the chairman.
At first, no great changes took place. The Jews continued to go to work and did not receive any payment. German soldiers again went through the houses to look for those who were hiding. Those caught were subjected to various suffering.
It dragged out like this for the entire summer until the building of the railroad was finished. However, the capturing of [people for work], which was a daily phenomenon, did not end with it. There could be no talk of earning a livelihood. No Jew dared to open his shop. Only the Polish shops were open.
A gendarmerie was created under the leadership of the national commissioner, Sadowski. A commissioner arrived named Heyman. The commissioner for the noble courts was Bibow.
The torture of the Czyzewo Jews now became more organized. Despite the need that reigned in the shtetl, demands began for contributions. The commissioner summoned members of the Judenrat and demanded large sums of money, furs, silver candlesticks from them, providing short periods of time to gather them.
Seeing what was being done, Zebilun Grosbard immediately resigned. His office
was taken by Alter Walter, who became chairman of the Judenrat.
Czyzewo received its first Jewish militiaman at that time Ruwin Mlodz, who kept watch on the social fabric that was set by the commissioner.
Meanwhile, driving Jews to work continued, to clean the streets, to various labor in the noble courts, to blowup the bunkers that the Russians had built on the Bug [River] and to load the scrap iron in the wagons.
Panic began in the shtetl. The members of the Judenrat went through the houses endeavoring to calm the mood, saying that no one should escape, not run away, because they knew precisely that this was only about work.
Actually, at the new synagogue building stood Wehrmacht [Defense Forces German armed forces] soldiers and weavers, cabinetmakers; they took them away to work where they even received food. As for those remaining, an order was issued that everyone must appear at three o'clock at night. The Judenrat then informed everyone of this. The turmoil in the shtetl grew. Even more people believed that they must save themselves; that they must find a way to escape.
That day, Sender was seen busily going through the houses, where he asked everyone not to run because, God forbid, a calamity for the Jewish people could come. The Germans could be made angry and it would be worse. Other members of the Judenrat did the same thing. They assured everyone that this just was about work for the Czyzewo Jews.
My brother worked with the carpenters at the Wehrmacht on that day. My mother and my father and my sisters left for the village. At night I saw the panic; I could not wait for my brother and I also went to them in the village.
The shtetl became agitated that night. Men said goodbye to their wives and children. Grown children said goodbye to their old parents and to young brothers and sisters. Crying was carried through the streets: May you return soon. No one slept without their luggage with them. They were uneasy and, yet, believed that this would not affect them. They would not be sent away. The market was covered with security police, members of the Gestapo, Polish militia as well as members of the Judenrat.
All of the assembled Jews stood in long rows; they followed every movement of the Gestapo men moving around with stress and in great anxiety. The Polish military men ran around the houses and dragged out whomever they found. They dragged the old Wengerke in a wild manner through the street. Disheveled, he wrestled with the gendarmes, fell, stood up on his knees and implored them. The gendarmes pushed him, dragged him and threw him among the Jews at the market. The same was done to others, who had foreboding of the threats of death and clung to life with all of their strength.
This lasted until seven o'clock in the morning. Then soldiers and an officer of the Wehrmacht suddenly appeared at the market and removed the woodworkers from the rows. My brother again was among them.
The Jews were anxious. They did not know what was better, to go with the Wehrmacht, to remain waiting for their individual fate. When other soldiers came several minutes later and demanded locksmiths and other artisans, no one made themselves known. Everyone was afraid to step out from his row. There was dead silence. The angry voice of the Wehrmacht officer, who turned to those who stood closest to him, was the only thing heard; What are you by trade?
When everyone's answer was evasive, the commissioner himself began to choose: You, to the right, you right, right, right He counted out 108 young people in such a manner and placed them on one a side.
Black covered automobiles immediately arrived, in which the wives and children were loaded. The remaining men, surrounded by the Gestapo, went on foot. Where? This no one knew.
The rain poured down the entire day. The policemen and Gestapo were dressed in rubber coats. All the while, their loud laughter at the soaking wet Jews was heard, which reached the ears of the broken, moaning. The weeping of the children, who had been torn from them with such frightening savagery, still rang.
Yet, there were those who made use of the strong rain, which did not stop whipping the face and forced the policemen to pull the rubber visored caps deeper over their eyes, and they escaped to the empty field, hiding in the pits
in mud, waiting until it would get dark.
The policemen pointed out many of them to be shot. The road was spread with the murdered. Dead also lay at the market in pools of blood. These were the sick who could not walk faster. Shprinca Kszanczka, the cripple without feet who scraped along the ground, also was murdered. The policemen chased her from her house. When the Germans noticed her, they immediately shot her.
The murdered lay in the street all day. The 108 people, who the commissioner had chosen, went to work at the Wehrmacht and returned at night. The commissioner waited for them and allocated houses for them to spend the night.
One hundred and eight people were led into three houses, into Sana Stuczinska's, Shloma Cziwice's and one other. On the same evening more people who had saved themselves appeared among them. Shlomo Feywl Cukrowicz, the son of the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] was also among them. The number saved increased. However, none of them dared to enter the street to see what was happening.
The rain stopped late at night and I ran into the city to learn something about my brother. I moved near the wall of the emptied houses and wanted to hear some kind of rustle. But a dead silence reigned everywhere. A frightening terror hovered everywhere, from every corner. Fear and despair shook from the thrown open doors and windows. A white, half-torn curtain flew out of a window in the courtyard, waved in the wind. Torn
like the lives that were now being torn.
Suddenly I heard a choked murmur from Shlomo Cziwice's house. I knocked quietly. However, no one answered. Someone opened the door when I began to call my name. It was quiet for a while, like in a grave. Everyone was silent. I stood frozen and could not say a word. With frozen wonder, I tried to bore through the darkness. My lips whispered something of which I myself was not aware.
When I had recovered a little and spoke with the people, it appeared that my brother definitely had not returned from work. He had remained overnight in the workshops.
Trembling completely, I left the house and began to go through the dark, empty alleys. Heavy thoughts bored into my brain; what will happen next? How can my parents be saved? Somewhere near the mill, I remained standing without strength. Everything in me cried from desperation and helplessness.
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