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.
I arrived in the village late, after midnight. Everyone lay in bed in darkness with open, watchful eyes. I told them how the shtetl looked. My mother moaned quietly:
And will we be able to save ourselves in the village? This misfortune will not pass us by in the village. It is better to be among Jews.
Yet we all remained in the village for eight days. The peasants showed us mercy. On the eighth day, my mother could not bear it and left for the shtetl.
She returned late in the evening and told us that it was a little calmer. She saw her brother there. Everyone was working for the wehrmacht. Ruwin still was a policeman.
We were in the shtetl again. The national commissar announced that he was creating a labor camp in Czyzewo, in which no child must be found. Everyone would receive a half-kilo of bread a day and was placed under the decrees of the Judenrat.
The feeling of deep pain began to wither little by little. More Jews, who had been hiding in the villages and furtively smuggled themselves back in the shtetl, arrived everyday.
The commissar knew nothing about this and did not say anything. The opposite, it seemed that he was satisfied with it. He once sent for Sender and confided in him that men were needed for work near the train and Sender immediately traveled to Ciechanowiec to recruit Jews for Czyzewo.
The commissar then permitted five houses to be added and they all were fenced in with a wire fence. A gate was erected and nearby a post on which a bell was hung that rang as a signal for gathering all of the Jews in cases when the commissar would come to visit the labor camp.
The fencing created a bit of panic among the Jews and many Jews began to escape. However, eight days later
they again returned. Death lay in wait on the roads and in the villages.
Large groups of Jews were driven daily to work, where they had to endure various hardships. They had to do the heaviest work until late at night under blows from rifle butts and whips, in the rain and later in the snow.
There was no information about the Jews who were taken on that Thursday. This day entered the history of Czyzewo as the bloody Thursday. When someone wanted to describe the time of something that happened, he would say: this was before 'the bloody Thursday' or this was after 'the bloody Thursday.'
For a long time, Bloody Thursday was the day of terror for the remaining Jews in Czyzewo.
Little by little the fate of the deported Jews, women and children became clear. Peasants brought the news about the place and the last days of their mass death.
The Jews were held all of Thursday in the school of the village of Szulborze, eight kilometers from Czyzewo. On the second or third day, they were led out in groups to the wide anti-tank pits that had been dug out long before. The pits were a meter deep and three meters wide. The party consisted of 40 people; up to 20 were shot in the pits.
The gates of the school were opened the entire time and new groups, new victims were pushed through them.
The peasants, who drove past later, saw the earth rise. They
crossed themselves and quickly drove away. Various versions about frightening specters were spread in the surrounding villages.
At the beginning no one wanted to believe this. Later it was confirmed by Moshe-Ahron, the lame one's son, from Zaromb. There, an order went out at the same time that the Jews should be sent to Czyzewo, but they were stopped on the road and they were murdered in the same way. Only he managed to jump down off the wagon in time and he crawled to the field on his hands and knees. From there he watched everything with his own eyes. He lay in the field for several days and was afraid to leave.
Autumn passed with grey fogs and rains. Snow and blizzards arrived. The roads, the roofs of the inhabited and abandoned houses became covered in white. Only the spirits remained dark, somber.
Yet, there still were those who did not believe in the story of Szulborze. Sender, who still was an intimate of the commissar, took care of the matter of contributions and lived outside the fenced in camp, received permission from the commissar to travel to Szulborze. He wanted to show everyone that the story of the murder of an entire congregation of Jews was a lie. The commissar himself had told him that they were working somewhere in a camp.
He returned from Szulborze with a lowered his head and sorrowfully distracted eyes. We could barely get a word from him. He said, It is not good. I found nothing there, only a sleeve from a shirt, a shabby man's jacket, a bone from a hand that stuck out of the ground .
Jews went from house to house, again and again repeating the unbelievable thing. We were lightheaded from knowing the bitter truth. If there was still a hope it disappeared. If someone had pity for oneself it disappeared. If the thought of saving oneself arose again and one asked: why, because of what, because of whom? This also was dulled.
The winter was frosty, biting, with angry winds. We went to hard labor every day. Our tired feet hardly lifted tired heads barely held up. There were days when we actually lost the feeling that we were alive, that we were going to work and returning. We thought that we were standing up to our throats in thick, muddy water, that we would drown, be covered, be flooded.
And then many days and weeks passed, we again had the strength to cling to life. We sneaked into the villages, traded something for bread, bought a little from a Polish baker. The Germans looked away, did not even insist that everyone wear the yellow patch in the street. If they caught someone in a sin, they could be bribed. Hershl Mond was caught slaughtering a calf that he had procured somewhere in a village; Sender went to the commissar and arranged for him to be let out immediately.
The terror of waiting for news eased a little. The wives and children of several members of the Judenrat began to return. This opened the people's wounds and brought out bitterness.
In the middle, Moshel Zilbersztajn, another Jewish policeman, arrived in the shtetl.
Someone once asked him:
Moshel, is it appropriate to be a policeman? He had a ready answer.
Do I have a choice?
There was no lack of work. There was after all a lack of workers. In addition, many people avoided going to work. I was one of them. Pity for my parents, for my sister, was a weight on my heart and I went through the villages every day to find them something to eat.
However, Shmulke Wengocz had an eye on me. Once, at night, the Germans demanded 20 new people to clean a field of stones brought by the Russians. You will not escape now, he said to me.
Do not be stubborn, my sister begged me, we could pay with our heads
You will work for several weeks. Perhaps things will calm down Mainly, let us be healthy and endure.
It was erev [the eve of] Passover. The sun again rose over Czyzewo, a spring-like one, but it was not bright in the shtetl and it also was not joyful. Only the Germans stood more erect and even more harshly chased the Jews to work. I could not endure carrying the stones and after several days of work I escaped from the village.
This was repeated several times. The entire burden of providing food for the house lay on me. Therefore, I ignored the warnings that I would be arrested. Once, Marcziniak, the Polish policeman, even came to look for me.
I learned of it earlier and hid at Riba's [house] under a bed and when it got dark I sneaked out of the ghetto and for two months no longer came to my parents to spend the night.
I worked the entire day in the field with the peasants, gathered the sheaves like everyone else and when it got dark I sneaked into the shtetl, brought some food for the house and ran back to the cut fields to spend the night in a haystack.
New Jews, individual people from other shtetlekh, began to arrive, bringing new information about liquidated ghettos and death camps, about Treblinka. The people, who had survived death in various ways, were emaciated from being hungry for so long.
Once, standing at the point where Alter Walmer distributed the bread, a woman returned. The nightmare of pain and deadly fear, which she had lived through in that other place from which [people] were being sent to Treblinka, still appeared on her face. She asked for bread that cost 20 pfennigs. However, she did not have anything with which to pay.
The woman remained standing and at a loss began to look around for some kind of salvation. Her eyes became damp and I thought that blood would soon begin to flow from them.
I took out 20 pfennigs and gave them to her.
It was Sukkous [Feast of the Tabernacles] time, 1942.
There was a renewal in the shtetl. The commissar ordered us to dig mounds
of potatoes that we had to prepare for winter. We immediately [created] five piles of potatoes. This gave us the security that we would be allowed to survive the winter. This provided courage and we went to our exhausting work with more enthusiasm.
The commissar's right hand now became Shmuelke Wengocz. Sender died in a mysterious manner. It was said that he was poisoned. The commissar regretted his death and gave a speech at the cemetery, saying that he was a capable and loyal person.
The commissar became even more hostile and stricter.
One night, we suddenly heard the ringing of the bell that stood in front of the gate. A frightening panic broke out in the house. Shouting was heard: They are going to take us away, to kill us. The end has come.
There were those who dared to jump over the wires, running away from the shtetl. The commissar himself shot after them. Enraged, the Polish policeman Marcziniak ran after the people. He immediately shot one who he caught right on the spot. He split Kosower's head and he led him covered in blood, shouting:
One does not run away from us. We are the ones who send people away… to the other world. But first you have to finish the work.
It appeared that the commissar only wanted to see if everyone was here in the house and that everything was in order. However, that night left a heavy feeling among the people that something terrible was coming closer with each day.
The 1st of November 1942.
It already was dark. The people had begun to come together from work. Suddenly a bit of news was distributed that the Germans had arranged for wagons in the surrounding villages. There was great turmoil. Some saw the end in this; that they were going to take us away. Others consoled themselves that the vehicles were needed for the planting of new trees. There were those who knew for sure that new work of chopping wood in the forest was beginning and, therefore, the vehicles were needed.
It was clear to everyone that something new was going to happen. And even those who had consoled themselves felt a painful unease in their hearts that took sleep from their eyes.
The group that worked building the new highway outside the city, feeling the unease, went back to working on the night shift. Others left discretely outside the wire fence.
Shmuelke Wengocz arrived. He walked in the middle of the street and his face did not seem as hopeful as earlier. He first went to the commissar who denied the whole story about the wagons.
The denials strengthened the suspicions even more. My mother and father now allowed themselves to be persuaded that I should leave the shtetl. My sister ran into the house, tore some clothing from hangers and threw them to my brother and me to carry and she herself began to make a small pack for her and our parents.
When we went outside into the dark night, my mother turned around all of the time and sighed, with her head cast down to the ground:
Woe, woe, is me…
We were not the only ones my father reassured her.
And there were frightened whispers carried in the air. Bent silhouettes crept through alternate roads. Hearts raced with unease and fear. As if ashamed, the sky donned dark clouds.
At one thirty at night, the policemen and members of the Gestapo suddenly surrounded the few fenced in houses and they started shooting at the houses. This was a warning that no one was permitted to move from this place. Those who attempted to jump out of the windows immediately were shot.
The sound of the shooting reached the places where the Jews were working on the night shift, but before they could determine what was happening, uniformed S.S. members and policemen appeared there and took them to the ghetto. Here there also were those who tried to jump out of a window and they were murdered immediately. Ester Ganszor also was murdered then. There was no way to escape, nowhere to run. Gendarmes and policemen stood watch on all roads and fields. We, too, had to return to the ghetto.
At seven o'clock in the morning, a member of the S.S. informed us that everyone was being taken to a special labor camp and we needed to take food and cooking pots with us.
The hour that we were given to prepare lasted as an eternity, difficult and terrifying. No one tried to pack his bag with anything, not with food, not with clothing. Everyone was convinced that we were going to be taken to Szulborze where the same fate of the earlier transports awaited us.
The wagons into which we were loaded were waiting outside. Polish policemen searched every corner until they brought out the last Jews.
They left on the Zembrowa road guarded on all sides. Choked sobs were heard. Children clung to their sobbing mothers and burst into tears. Adults drilled holes in the ground with their looks. It was a weight on their minds and it blunted every thought.
Hundreds of people knew that they themselves were the corpses and they themselves were going to their death, mourning themselves.
No one noticed how we arrived at the barracks in Zembrowa. There was a tumult of thousands of Jews running to meet us. People recognized each other and broke into tears. Others laughed and joked with the humor of one sentenced to death, who in the last moment had not lost their connection to life.
Captured members of the Red Army, who had all died of typhus, had been held earlier in these barracks. Large wooden toilets were located in the courtyard of the barracks that had been remade by the Germans into barracks with three story plank beds. The Jews were pushed into these.
There were Jews from Lomza and Lomzyca in block numbers 1 and 2 and in the third from Zawada, Wizna and Zembrowa. The Czyzewo Jews were driven into the fourth block; the Wisoki Jews were located on the lowest plank beds.
There simply was no air to breathe in the barracks.
Stifling smells, like stale meat, floated from the people… [Lying with one another's] heads on shoulders, feet and hands on [each other's] stomachs; they created an impression that piles of human limbs had been thrown together. Women and children were mixed with grown men. There were those who sat like hens over the packs that they had succeeded in smuggling past the gendarmes who had taken everything at the entrance. They stubbornly clung to the belief that they would survive their fate. Others destroyed everything that they had saved and hidden up to now.
We were not given food on the first two days. No one looked at us, as if someone outside was waiting for us to die off.
On the third day we noticed a commotion. They began to organize field kitchens in the courtyard. A loaf of bread was given for every 10 people. Peasant wagons brought potatoes, beets and wood.
Despite this, dozens of people died day after day. Various illnesses spread. My father also became ill. There was no one to determine the illness and no one to cure it. The Germans only permitted all of the sick to be taken to one barracks.
No one knew how many Jews were in the barracks; it was said that there were approximately 16,000, [the number of whom] became smaller with each day. People fell like flies.
When the cases of death increased, the gendarmes assigned a small wagon to carry out the dead and bury them. The gun barrels of machine guns looked down from the observation towers
ready to shoot at every attempt to escape.
Hunger, illness and death did not cease to rage. Pain and dirt was the daily bread here.
There was nothing with which to sweep the dirt. We persuaded the gendarmes that several people be permitted to go to the nearby words to cut branches to sweep and clean the barracks and the courtyard. In the bundles [of branches], they smuggled in bread and fats that they had bought from the peasants.
Moshel Rajczik, who brought the kettle of food and divided it among the people who stood in line with their cups, quietly with shaking knees, bent, hungry, was chosen as guardian of order.
ZelikLeibl, the shoemaker, stood in line with his [cup] in his boney, outstruck hands that shook like an old man's. When Moshel Rajczik poured in [his portion of food], [ZelikLeibl] at first brought the cup closer to his eyes, then gently shook it only water, not one piece of potato…for the children. He poured it out in Rajczik's face.
Rajczik, pale, did not say one word.
The camp elder arrived at the same moment and called to him.
ZelikLeibl barely moved. We saw that it was difficult for him to move his own limbs, but he did not release the empty cup from his gripping fingers. His children cried: father, father…
The dogs sprang on him with a wild fury as soon as he appeared in the courtyard; they began to tear his clothes from him, pieces of his body, fingers, arms.
ZelikLeibl's frantic screams tore through the entire courtyard. He did not hear someone call to him from a corner that he should lie down on the ground. Then the dogs would withdraw from him. However, the camp elder heard him and the dogs were set on him, too. He did not even try to throw himself on the ground. The dogs did not let them catch their breath, tore pieces from their half naked bodies. Their laments split the heavens.
The 24th of December 1942.
I decided to escape from the barracks. Others had done so before me. The way was simple. One had to make one's way to the group that went into the forest to cut branches. There, one bribed the watch and escaped.
Yet here the danger was greater. One could be noticed by the guard and shot on the spot.
I passed through all of the dangers. It was a cold winter day, dark clouds covered the sky and I ran through the dark forest in great haste. My foot somehow got caught in a branch and I fell. For a second I thought I would catch a bullet. I lay for several minutes with my face to the ground and I did not hear any shots, any steps. I crawled on my stomach, continuing further and further. I did not know the time of day. It suddenly became more overcast. I was afraid that they would notice in the barracks that I was missing. They would run out with bloodhounds to seek me. The dogs would tear me apart…
I finally arrived at the edge of the forest. I remained standing for a minute and a
frightening question began gnawing at my heart: Where to?
I looked into the cloudcovered sky that hung heavy on the naked fields as if it was absorbing the grief and pain of the Zembrowa barracks and searching for where to pour it out.
Suddenly I heard the hum of a motor. There was a machine somewhere not far away. Not yet, I was not yet free. Death still hovered on all sides. Where does one go? Where does one hide?
I knew the roads here well and I decided to avoid Czyzewo and to go to Dambrowa, to the village where we had lived. I did not tell the peasant whose house I entered that I had escaped from the barracks or that I had been in Zembrowa. I learned from the peasant that there again was a ghetto in Czyzewo. With enthusiasm, the commissar had started to bring together the scattered Jews who had avoided the deportation and after a short time they again were sent to the barracks. Those closest to the commissar were now Moshel Zylbersztajn and three other Jews, among whom was a furrier who had escaped from Ciechanowiec during the deportation.
I remained in the village over the Christian holidays, regained my strength and began to think about how to help my parents and my sister and brother who remained in the barracks.
I packed several loaves of bread in a small sack and left for Zembrowa.
Finally, after a difficult journey, I arrived at the gate of the barracks. I was surprised by the calm manner with which I began to think about how I would smuggle in the food.
Suddenly I heard someone from inside call me by name and I saw my mother and my sister. A painful despair poured from their faces. Other women with wrinkled coats and dirty hair approached. They came closer to the wire fencing. I heard voices: Run away…come inside…run away!
I stood, soaked by the wet snow and sweat from going such a long way through the fields and I did not know what to do. My mother's quiet eyes pulled me. I approached the gate.
The shouts of the gendarme woke me from my immobility, but my mother's eyes still pulled me. I let him take the bread from me. Only the fats remained with me. When I was inside, my mother fell on me crying and I felt as if a vise clung internally to my neck.
The situation in the barracks had changed completely, become stricter; no one was allowed to go out to the forest to gather branches. A boy who had tried to sneak out in a peasant wagon was shot in the presence of all of the Jews who were driven from the barracks to watch the execution. Something new, bitter hung in the air.
It was the 2nd of January 1943. Deportations of Jews from the barracks to Auschwitz, to the death camp, began on a frosty night. The German chief of the barracks had made an announcement about this earlier. He said that we were being taken to work. He ended his short talk: Whoever does not believe this should step out and say so.
The deportations took place at night. Each night up to 2,000 people. It took place under heavy guard, furtively, secretly. We felt the breath of death.
For now, they were taking [people] from No. 1 and 2. We lay entire nights with open eyes. The orders of the German gendarmes who were administering the deportation rustled in our ears. I heard how dogs were set against people, desperate screams of weakness and fear that cut into the soul like sharp knives. This was death, death. In my brain were tangled thoughts of how to get out of this hell.
I was not the only one who thought of this, but we did not hear of anyone who succeeded. Those who tried to escape through the wires at the change of the guards, using prepared shears, all were shot. Three young Kosower young people bribed a guard who took their money and, when they left, shot one of them. The two remaining managed to draw back in time.
And yet a hope awoke in me that I would be able to escape.
The Czyzewo block was taken during the course of two nights. The first transport began on Friday night. My father gladly agreed that we should avoid this transport and go the next day at the end of Shabbos [Sabbath].
A strange delirium now trembled deep in my subconscious. We must escape I said to my parents who sadly shook their heads in agreement. My sister pointed to her two children, one three years old and the other one eight months old. Perhaps they will let us live. Where will I go with my babies?
I felt guilty and came to an agreement with my brother that we will take the children. But she remained categorically against this. I will not run anywhere. She became stubborn.
During Shabbos I tried to convince others from Czyzewo that we need to escape. I told Ester Riba that if we succeed in escaping, we would be in Dambrowa at the Drengowski's.
It began. We were placed in rows. Warmly wrapped S.S. men sat in sleighs and we, a group of 800 people, went on foot to the train station where there already were train wagons prepared for us.
I did not wait long. At the first small bridge we passed on the way, I nimbly shuffled down and lay with my face to the ground.
I heard people walking over my head. I did not know if my brother had noticed in the darkness that I had left. My mother and my father remained slightly behind me with my sister. I felt a strong desire to draw them to me. But, I was afraid to raise my head.
The frost was very strong, burning, searing. The air stuck us like the tips of knives. It was difficult to raise the chest and to breathe. However, the footsteps over me and the voices of the Germans who shouted, Laus, schneller! [Louse, faster.] rang with a sharp metallic echo and poured into my ears like buckshot. The blood in my veins became as heavy as lead. My eyes began to stick and I do know how long I slept. Suddenly I felt a stabbing
in my toes that penetrated through my entire body.
I quickly stood up and listened in the frosty night. It was quiet around me. No breath of air, no people, still and dark, blue snow and a black night.
I started to walk, dragged myself, stepped on the frozen ground, wobbling, shaky. Later, I began to crawl on my stomach, on all fours, to the forest that was at most 100 meters from me.
It was quiet and dark. I walked for an hour [or] two and felt that my strength was leaving me and then I fell down on the ground. The frost was still burning and searing. A shiver penetrated my bones. I bit my lips from the cold and shivered, shook, and my teeth chattered.
The night lasted for an eternity. I had to sit down to rest after every [few steps]. A fever banged in my temples. My eyes halfclosed, stiffened: my body shook. Do not fall asleep!
Things became worse for me when night had withdrawn from the forest, from the sky. A burning pain lay heavily on my head and tired, weakened, without strength, with dried lips and leather gums, I could barely drag my feet.
Alas, if I could warm my body somewhere!…
A little warmth to thaw my frozen blood…
Nothing more, just to warm myself a little…
I arrived in the village at six o'clock in the evening and went to the Drengowskis.
Woe, woe! The peasant women commented See what the bandits have made of a person.
Her husband said to speak quietly and both of them began to rub my nose, my feet. My stiff, frozen limbs began to defrost. They broke the ice from my limbs with experienced hands and warm hearts. Finally, I began to feel the warm trickle of my blood.
In the morning at sunrise, Ester Riba and Zeylik Gramadzin sneaked into the cottage. The peasant woman wrung her hands. Their appearance evoked compassion from her. Simultaneously, she was afraid that someone would learn of their arrival. [Things] were very strict then and there were threats that one would pay with their life.
Every once in a while she went outside to see if someone had noticed their arrival. When they revived a little, she said with a worried face that we would not be able to spend the night in the house because the police creep around and search in every hole. We could go into the barn. If we were caught, let it seem that we entered without their knowledge.
We remained sitting helpless. Our limbs, our toes still hurt us from the frozenness. The peasant woman turned around and sighed. She went to the door, listened to the noises that carried from the village street, the normal noise of an ordinary Monday. She was somewhat calmed.
People have large ears and long tongues she quietly said some misfortune could to us and for nothing…
Her talk pressed into our hearts like pliers. Ester Riba let out a sobbing cry. Her entire body began to shake.
Tuesday, in the morning, my mother suddenly turned up unexpectedly. I barely recognized her. She stood over us shrunken and bent. Her blue lips murmured quietly:
We forgot about the cold and sprang out of the straw, crying and hugging each other.
How, Mama, how did you succeed in escaping?
My mother shook her head.
At the train, I saw that you were not there, so I also left.
Her forehead was even more deeply wrinkled; her eyes looked sadly worried as if she was considering [our] great misfortune.
What will happen to father?
Drengowski came in and asked us to talk more quietly. It would be better if we did not talk at all among ourselves.
In hiding, we listened to every rustle. However, we only heard the beating of our own hearts. It was quiet. From time to time, we heard the passing of a fast sled with a jingle of bells that hung on the wagon shaft, on the manes of the horses.
My mother could not restrain herself:
My heart tells me that we will not survive here. I am afraid…
I took her hand to calm her down. Her hand was as cold as a piece of ice.
On the fifth day of our lying in the barn, in the evening, Drengowski came in. He remained standing with his head down and looked for a while with blind eyes, as if someone had taken his ability to speak.
What has happened, Pani [Master] Drengowski? I asked. His appearance awoke a sleeping fear.
It is bad… Police are maneuvering around the village… You have to leave from here.
We held our breath and listened more carefully. However, it was quiet outside, so that the stillness rang in our ears.
The peasant became impatient.
Now is the best time to get out… You must go.
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