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[Page 979]

In the Circle of the Agony of Death

Simcha (Seymour) Moncarz / New York

Translated from Yiddish by Dr. Jerry Sepinwall

Edited by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

From Czyzewo to Gross-Rosen

The first of September, when the Second World War broke out, the Nazi airplanes had suddenly hailed bombs down upon Czyzewo. Several friends and I came to the decision to flee from Czyzewo. We ran to Ciechanowiec.

On the eighth of September we heard that Czyzewo was burning. Together with Eliahu Wisocki, two others and I returned to Czyzewo.

Entering into the town we found everything in flames and one could not see any living persons; everyone had gone away to the Brak River, near the orchard [of a wealthy individual]. By backroads we were successful in getting back to that place, and there we already saw the tragedy of the Jews of Czyzewo. Mothers searched for their children, children sought their parents, old and young mourned for the destroyed town.

Until today I still hear the voice of the wife of Moszele the teacher, who lost her mind from fear and she ran around and with a wildness cried out “Shma Yisrael.” [1]

I, Chaim Visotsky and the Rav, Rabbi Levinson, Jakob Plicker, Chaim Judel, his brother-in-law Ben-Cjon, Surowicz's's son-in-law, and still others entered into the town, while we were hearing that there were many dead who needed to be buried. We began to look for the ones killed by the bombardment. The first victims were: Lejbisz Kac, Symcha Roczkowski, Abraham Josel Maslo, his father-in-law and his wife Doba, Arke the baker's wife and Bluma Kitajewicz.

 

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Symcha Roczkowski,
among the first victims in Czyzewo

 

Night fell.

Those who knew gentiles ran away to them and the others ran away to the fields.I searched for my family and we divided up; I and my sister went away to thestation and we went in to Melech Rotman's. My parents went away to Rusz to aChristian they knew.

Sunday, the 10th of September, the Germans entered Czyzewo. The only building they found that had not burned was the synagogue. There hundreds of families had sought shelter.

A short while later, when the Russians entered Czyzewo, the Jews breathed a bitmore freely. This did not last long, however, and the fighting flared up –Russians against Germans. Once again, bombs fell on Czyzewo, again [there were]corpses and we were once more under the rule of the Hitler murderers. Now therebegan the great calamity.

A Judenrat was established consisting of the following people: ZebulonGrosbard, Alter Wolmer, Szmulke Wengorz, Jakob Kitaj and Jehoszua Lepak.

A decree was soon issued that all men had to go to work at the train station.The work was extraordinarily difficult and, moreover, the workers were beatenviciously for no reason. However, everyone had to put up with all of this.While everyone feared that when the work at the station would be completedthings would take a turn for the worse, and that is indeed the way things went.The work lasted for three weeks. And when it had ended, the Judenrat let it beknown that all people, craftsmen and women had to come out at 4:00 a.m. thenext day and to assemble in the town square. This was the 28th day of the month Av, 1941. There was a great turmoil; people could not sleep that night. Everyone had the premonition that a black fate was about to befall the Jews of Czyzewo. A small number fled from the town. With broken hearts and fright, everyone came at the appointed hour, and to whomever did not come, the Judenrat came around to awaken them and to beseech them, “Everyone should come in order not to provoke the Germans, which might then, God forbid, bring a greater sorrow upon the town.” Children and people who were sick or too weak to work remained in their homes.

We had to stand in rows and the Official-Commissar selected out craftsmen, such as tailors, shoemakers, cabinet makers and blacksmiths.

 

czy979b.jpg [7 KB]
The school in Sember where the Jews were kept.
From there they were taken away to be murdered.

 

The “selection” lasted until about seven o'clock. Gestapo forces from Lomza came with trucks and machine guns and ordered: all persons, women, children, old, sick, must come at once to the square.

I still feel today the horror and the pain from the sight when our great Tsadek and Gaon [2], the Rav Zawlodower, was thrown unto a truck. I still hear today the wailing which broke out from the women who had seen this then. It is impossible to describe this horror. All the trucks with the packed-in people drove away in the direction leading toward Zambrów, via the blacksmith's street.

At three o'clock in the afternoon, the street was already cleared, save for us, the group of chosen craftsmen [were] still standing.

It was announced that for the craftsmen, among whom could be found several women, a ghetto was being made ready. This consisted of several houses fenced in by barbed wire. Everyone had to remain there until a subsequent order. The next morning, Polacks already began to tell us that all who had been taken away yesterday were shot in Sember.

We were made to put on yellow patches and herded to work. The craftspeople, who worked at their trades, had somewhat better conditions. My brother Izrael and I found strong favor with the Commissar because of the good furniture which we worked to make for him. In recognition for all this, he freed us from having to wear the yellow patch and ordered that we should be given better food.

On a certain evening, a rumor spread that there were covered wagons that would be arriving the following morning. There was a stampede. Anyone who knew of it ran away. My brother and I took the families and we remained in the cellar, there where we had worked. Remaining in the ghetto were people whose despair had made them indifferent to everything. They said: We do not wish to struggle any more for a life which has, in any case, no worth. At night, we heard a shooting in the street. Everyone was loaded onto wagons and driven to Zambrów. Whoever was found to try to run away was immediately shot. We remained in the cellar two days and nights. We resolved to flee to Sutik to a well known farmer named Andrzejtyk.

We gave him money and promised more if he would shelter us until after the war. We made a bunker at his residence, under the floor of a small room. There eighteen persons were hidden: I and my friend, Raizel Brukowski (eshet hayil [3]), my brother Izrael and his wife and children, Mosze Kuzmacher with his family, Mashel Zylbersztejn, Feiwel Niewad, Eliahu Wisocki, Zelig Gromadzyn's wife and children, Rochel Kachan, Rochel Lichtensztejn and Brocha Kirszenbojm.

Our food every day consisted of a bit of watery soup. Only two times a week did he also give us a piece of bread. It is hard to convey how our existence was in the filth. In the barn there were also hidden three youngsters: Judel Wengorz, Szmulik Lepak and someone from Zambrów. One can also imagine the farmer's situation. The hardship he had in supplying food to us, even the little insignificant food; however this was also to come to an end.

After laying up in the filthy cellar for 21 weeks, it was on an early Shabbos morning March 20, 1943, the house was suddenly surrounded by police and gendarmes. The first to be found were the three youths and they were immediately shot, and right after them the farmer was shot. They then went to his daughter, they said to her: if she would reveal where Jews could still be found, she would continue to live: but if she would say only that she knew nothing of any more Jews, she would be immediately shot exactly like her father. Trembling and tearful she disclosed our bunker. We were all led out of the pit and we were sure that this was the end.

The chief of the gendarmes was one of those for whom we had made furniture. He recognized us, looked at us with strong pity. After a brief conference he ordered a wagon to be brought and we were all driven to Czyzewo to the Official-Commissar. We were all stuffed into a dark cell. We were all certain that these were our final minutes. Mosze Kuzmacher already had made the final confession with us. We bid farewell to one another. The women and children cried bitterly. The only one who did not cry, rather who comforted everyone, was Rochel Kachan. She said: this is our our greatest good fortune, as we will soon be freed from our suffering. [For a long time already, we should not have been able to endure all of this.]

Around 12 o'clock noon the door to our cell was unlocked. The Official-Commissar appeared with his subordinates. After a brief silence and staring at each face, he turned to me and my brother and asked: “Why did you flee!” I replied: “We are sorry, but we are once more ready to work for the Official-Commissar.” After an exchange of words with his people, he decided that I and my brother should be placed into a special cell; all the remaining ones were taken away to Szulborze and there they were shot. Only Mosze Zylbersztejn outwitted the gendarmes and they brought him back and placed him in with us in the cell. He explained to us that the outer garments were stripped off of all of them, they were placed at the edge of a pit and they were all shot with machine guns.

The Official-Commissar from Czyzewo, dressed in a brown uniform with a black-white armband and a swastika on his left arm, had taken over the house of the General in Czyzewo together with a servant staff of ten people. It was continuously swarming with SS officers and gendarmes. There in the same building, in a room on the second floor, he decreed that we should work. I, my brother Israel and Mosze Zylbersztejn worked there for a whole year from March 1943 until March 1944.

 

czy979c.jpg [14 KB]
Second from left, sitting Moszele Zylbersztejn. Standing on the right, Berel Melamen's grandson

 

Sunday the 21st of March, in the morning, the Commissar was still asleep. Gendarmes came into our room, chained us one to another and took us to prison in Lomza. We were taken out into the yard each day and beaten viciously. The dogs were incited against us and they [literally almost] tore pieces from us.

This is how it was for three weeks, and how it ended up was arranged by the Official-Commissar in Czyzewo, that we should be taken to the cabinetmaker's shop; there we worked for some seven months, our living conditions became a lot better and easier. Germans used to come to stare at us and couldn't believe that we were Jews and could not understand why we were allowed to continue living, while in Lomza and in its surrounds there was no longer a single Jew.

 

czy979d.jpg [11 KB]
Israel Monczrz and wife

 

Finally this too ended. The Russians having entered into Lomza, the prison was liquidated. About a 1000 Polacks and we three Jews were packed into wagons and transported to Germany to a concentration camp, Gross-Rosen.

The bitter life and the torment that we suffered in the camp is impossible to write down. Hunger, filth, sickness were there and people were literally trampled underfoot, experiencing various “tsoures.” [4] After this we were taken down to the Krupp ammunition factory. We worked there until the month of December, 1944 and then were returned again to Gross-Rosen. Only Mosze Zylbersztejn remained in “Funf-Teichen” [i.e. Five Rivers]; he was sick and could not walk. We were subsequently taken to Buchenwald; there I was separated from my brother. I worked after this in Bissingen and in Dachau. Later, in the camp “Allakh” we were liberated by the Americans.

 

czy979e.jpg [8 KB]
My sister Doba with her husband

 



Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The foundational Jewish prayer: “Hear O Israel, The Lord Our God, The Lord is One” return
  2. Righteous person and great rabbi return
  3. A women of valor return
  4. Kinds of suffering return


 

[Page 989]

In the Ghetto and On the Way to Auschwitz

by Shmuel (Wajsbart) Ben Zahavi

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

Bela from Janczewo came running to Czyzewo and said that all of the Jews, women and children, old and young had been shot there. Sender told her to disappear so that a panic would not break out.

Similar messages came from the area, but they were all suppressed. One morning it was learned in the shtetl [town] that Alter Walmer had received a letter from his brother in Zembrowa who wrote: “No one should appear when an order comes to go out into the street.” We first learned of this after the great slaughter on the 28th of Menakhem Av. [1]

What would have happened if we had known earlier?

 

The Tragedy Begins

A cruel order was issued by the Angel of Death on a dark night of Wednesday going into Thursday: “All Jews onto the marketplace.”

The Angel of Death in the uniforms of the S.S. under the leadership of the murderer Obersturmbannführer [S.S. paramilitary Nazi rank] Getsler appeared in the streets. All of the Czyzewer Jews were assembled at the market, loaded into vehicles, driven on foot and brought to

 

czy989.jpg
The mass grave at Szulborze

[Page 990]

Szulborze from which no one returned alive.

Two large mass graves were created on the field.

There was a heavy rain that day with thunder and lightening. It was as if the heavens were also crying at the mass destruction. Only the murderers carried on their trade calmly and they finished it with the well-known German precision.

The remaining Jews who stayed alive in various ways were divided among several houses behind Jatszak's mill and this was called the Czyzewer ghetto.

They went to work not knowing it they would return home. If yes, they wondered if they would find alive those they had left in the house. My son who had succeeded in escaping from the market during the aktsia [deportation] was still alive. Leaving every day for work I would prepare something for him to eat for a day and he would wait for me to return.

Ten days later, after the aktsia, the Hitlerist murderers again entered the ghetto and took about 30 children [and] Altke Sura, Misha's [daughter] and her grandchildren and took them to Szulborze and murdered them there. After this it was quiet for a long time.

The only Jew in Czyzewo who had contact with the commissar was Sender. After his mysterious death, the three members of the Judenrat [Jewish council created by the Germans], Alter Walmer, Yehoshua Lepak and Shmuelke Wengacz, became acquainted with the commissar. There was a certain relief in the ghetto.

[Page 991]

Several carpenters and I worked for the commissar and for the gendarmes. We received a salary of 10 marks a week and had permission to bring food products into the ghetto.

The Judenrat also extracted permission from the commissar to open a bakery in the ghetto and bring in meat. A shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] would come from Ciechanowiec once a week.

One day an important S.S. officer was supposed to come from Łomża. The commissar warned that people should be at their work and that they should be cleanly dressed. Neat. During the visit he actually told the officer that he needed all of the people for work and it all passed peacefully.

All three of us, Fridman's son and Moshe Rajczik and I worked for the commissar who had moved into the general's house. Once the Polish policeman Marcziniak came bringing a father and two children with him. We were sure that their death sentence had already been signed because they had come across the border from the other side, a crime for which the only sentence was death.

The commissar appeared on the terrace and Marcziniak asked him if he should shoot the three Jews.

– Quiet! – The commissar thundered at him. He remained quiet for a while. It appeared as if he was devising some kind of death with which to punish the “criminals,” but a few minutes later Yehoshua Lepak and Shmuelke Wengacz fortuitously arrived. The commissar turned to them:

– What should I do with your Jews?

– There is no room for them in the ghetto.

They answered:

[Page 992]

– If it is this way then I will give them a permit so they will be able to go to another ghetto.
He said that they should be given five marks and bread to take with them.

Later there was another case:

A Jew who had slaughtered a cow had been caught. This also was one of the crimes that was punished with nothing less than with death. Here the Jews again received a fine of four hundred marks.

Life in the ghetto already was seen as normal. The older Jews would come together every Shabbos [Sabbath] in Yankl Rajczik's [room] to pray; the young ones went to work. In they evening they would come together in a house where Lojbeltszik and his two daughters lived [with] Sura Mishe's son Hershl and his sister Yehudis. Her husband and his brother had been killed. Utshe Malcman and her family and Fridman also lived there. They would spend several hours behind draped windows. Shayna Riba and her sisters Mirl and Ester and still others would also come in.

One day they began to say that ghetto would be closed and all of the Jews understood from this information that 40 train wagons had been ordered to take out the Jews.

But it was not believed that this was true. However, people began to escape from the ghetto, among them my sister and her child.

The news came on Thursday, but it was calm until Shabbos. On Shabbos night the ghetto was besieged by members of the Gestapo and Polish policemen with machine guns.

Those who attempted to escape were mostly shot on the spot. They were many of them.

[Page 993]

In the morning we were all taken to barracks in Zembrowa where they had placed the Jews according to their shtetlekh. We were together with the Wysok Jews. We shared the kitchen with them.

They began to liquidate the camp in January. Łomżer were taken on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Zembrower on Wednesday and Thursday, Czyzewer and Wysoker on Friday and Shabbos.

We arrived at Birkenau on Sunday at 9 o'clock in the morning. We were told to leave everything in the train wagons as we got off.

We were 2,400 people. Two hundred and fifty were chosen for work. This was permission to live for a while.

We were led away to barracks close to the gas chambers. We were led with music and Moshe Rajczik immediately received a blow to his face and he became covered with blood when he said, “What is this? They are taking us with music?”

We were led into barracks where a table covered with a blanket stood. A kapo [prisoner in a concentration camp assigned to carry out various tasks], a Jew, said:

“You, Jewish criminals, may your fathers be cursed, take our your gold things!”
Everyone emptied out everything that they had. Then we were led to change our clothes.

They gave an order:

“Take off your clothes!”
The shaving began after the undressing.

The shavers actually were Jewish, but the pains that we suffered during the shaving were unendurable. They did not shave, but simply plucked the hair. At first

[Page 994]

it was under the arms and in other parts of the body.

They took our winter clothing and gave us: a shirt, underpants, a man's jacket and a pair of pants, shoes and socks. Then we were taken to a second block.

There they began to break us physically and mentally. They beat us without a reason and we were not permitted to sit down.

This lasted until Wednesday. We were not given any food.

One of us grabbed a little food from a barrel. This was noticed by the block-elder; he told him to lie on a bench and he began to beat him with club on his bottom. The one who was beaten kept quiet, but when he received a blow over his back, he jumped up from his spot with a lamenting shout. Two porters immediately grabbed him and threw him on the ground. One stood with his foot on his chest and the other stopped his heart with his boot.

They suffocated him.

This was the first victim from our transport. The dead were laid out, crammed like cords of wood in the courtyard – four wide and four across.

Such piles were in the hundreds.

In the evening they put numbers on our arms. From then on we no longer had names, only numbers. Here Avraham Igla and his brother were torn away from us. Moshe Rajczik, Yankl the carpenter's son, Chaim the carpenter and his son and I remained together.

We were taken to Auschwitz.

[Page 995]

When we left Birkenau, the S.S. man said to us: “You are fortunate that you are leaving here.”

However, this “good fortune” did not make us happy because we already knew that the “Garden of Eden” named Auschwitz awaited us.

We were taken into a courtyard and immediately a hail of blows on us began. This is how we were taken to the bath. There our clothing was taken away and exchanged for camp clothing. From the bath we were taken to a block where remained for three days without any work.

During the fourth week we were sent for carpentry labor. During the three weeks many people had died. A selection took place every few days. The weak were sent to the gas chambers and to the ovens.

The selection was always done at night. We had to take off all of our clothing even during the greatest frosts. A drunk S.S. man would stand leaning against an electric pole with a thick cigar in his mouth and as we passed by him he would indicate with his hand – go right, or – go left. Right meant “gas chamber.”

Left – work.

I met Yehoshua Lepak there. He

[Page 996]

looked very bad. A week later I no longer saw him.

I also met Ganszar. He was sick with dysentery and he disappeared several days later. The same thing happened to son of Chaim the carpenter.

One day Moshel Rajczik became ill. I did all of his work then and he received his portion of food. None of the kapos noticed this. I did everything so that he would quickly become healthy. To our great joy he succeeded.

Here I also met Leibush Fridman and his son, who quickly disappeared. Leibush fought for his life until July 1943.

On the 18th of May 1944 another transport left for Gleiwitz [Auschwitz sub-camp]. On the 16th of January 1945 the so-called “death march” began.

We were marched out in a group of 4,500 people to Gross Rosen. Only 2,800 arrived there. The others were mostly shot.

We were taken to Buchenwald from Gross Rosen. I remained there for five weeks. Later we were taken to another camp.

On the 13th of April 1945 I was liberated by the Americans.

 



Translator's Footnote:
  1. Menakhem Av – “consoling and comforting” Av – the period after Tish B'Av, the day on which the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed – a time of consolation return


 

[Page 995]

I Escaped from Auschwitz

by Sara Ben–Ari. Camp number 33740/Haifa

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I was still a young girl at the outbreak of the war in 1939. Therefore, I remember little of the hardships and tortures that Czyzewo Jews endured from the Nazi murderers. However, what I myself survived and saw is enough that

[Page 996]

I am horrified when I remember and imagine the terror that I experienced.

Avraham and Fruma Masle, as well as the grandfather, Mordekhai Frydman, fell during the first bombardment.

[Page 997]

Right after the bombardment my parents went from Czyzewo to Bialystok where my father rented a spot for a chemical laundry. Life was difficult in general and for a new person in a strange place in particular.

On a Friday in 1941, the Germans drove as many Jews as could be stuffed into the city synagogue and set it on fire.

Avraham Landa and Yosef Mendl, the baker with many children, were there and they were all burned in the synagogue.

When the entire area around the synagogue began to burn, we ran to Pesakh Masla, who then lived in Bialystok.

The Germans quickly organized the ghetto. We entered the ghetto to visit Golda Baliender.

From Golda we learned that our uncle, Yankl [Yakov] Baliender, had been shot. My aunt immediately wanted to go to Czyzewo. We did not permit her to go. However, I went there as a Christian girl with a cross around my throat. In Czyzewo I did not meet any of my family. The shtetl [town] had been burned.

 

czy997.jpg
Yakov Baliender, his wife, children, grandchildren, sons–in–law, Motl Smolowicz and Peskha Zisman, standing on the left

 

[Page 998]

I then put on my “Star of David” patch and went to the Czyzewo ghetto. There I learned that my brother, Yitzhak Frydman, his wife, Szayna–Bayla, their two children, Fruma–Ruchl and Sura–Laya, already were no longer in Czyzewo with my aunt, Enya Baliender. Her daughter Zisl and her children and her son Sender and his wife all perished in the sadly famous village of Szulborze.

I learned that my brother, Yitzhak, and his family were in the village of Rosochate. I went again with the “cross” around my neck with great effort and arrived in Rosochate with swollen feet.

The joy was very great. However, we did not know what would happen tomorrow.

I left to return to Bialystok and brought the news to my mother that everyone was alive and healthy. I gave her the signs exactly as my brother had given them to me. But I told my sister Chana–Etka and Golda Baliender the sad truth. Golda Baliender had her father, Ziska, and her sick mother, Zelda Baliender, in Bialystok. They all perished in a terrible death.

Our entire family was driven away to the Pruzany ghetto and from there to Auschwitz.

We traveled in closed wagons, burning with thirst. Many people died en route.

The women were immediately separated from the men and children in Auschwitz.

Going in the ranks to death, I was separated from my beloved and dear ones forever.

[Page 999]

I met a friend of my sisters named Dina Farber and I went with her to the Auschwitz camp.

They took our clothing and shaved our heads. My number on my arm is: 33740.

Instead of food or drinks they gave us blows without cause. We were chased barefoot, without shoes, in the snow. There they treated us worse than cattle. Death would have been better than such a life.

[Page 1000]

Alas, I lived in these conditions for a year and a half. I was saved thanks to a Czyzewo Jew. His name is Chaim Berl Wifrawnik, may his memory be blessed.

He worked in the sonderkommando [death camp prisoners forced by the Germans into work units whose primary job was to dispose of the bodies of the victims]. He wanted to take revenge against the Germans for the death of his wife and children. He organized a group and they chopped down the barbed wire so the [prisoners] could escape. However, they were caught immediately and shot on the spot. I succeeded in escaping then.

 

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