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[Page 1029]

My Experiences during
the Years of the Second World War

Mirl Walmer-Biderman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Eight days after the outbreak of the war in 1939, Czyzewo, our shtetl [town], shuddered during a frightening bombardment of incendiary bombs. Very few houses remained undamaged. The Jewish population ran wherever their eyes led them, to the nearby villages and forests. Or even to the fields, under a hail of bullets that the German murderers endlessly shot from machine guns. This continued until night, when we no longer saw the blazing sky and mourned the shtetl, our Czyzewo, which had become a ruin.

The German military entered the city. People slowly returned to the shtetl, which had been turned into a large mountain of ash. Many families traveled to the nearby shtetlekh, which fortuitously were not burned. Several families along with ours moved in with Motl Szczupakewicz, whose house had remained undamaged. With the little food we had hidden, we lived meanwhile in fear for what the future would bring us.

The German murderers immediately on their arrival began their terror against the Jewish population. Young and old were grabbed for heavy work, with beatings without reason. We were quickly broken physically and emotionally. However, deep in our hearts a weak hope smoldered that the war would end quickly and we would all survive. The situation changed quickly. Poland was divided between Germany and Russia and our shtetl became a border city between both parts.

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We lived under Russian rule over the course of 20 months. It was a strenuous life, but yet we lived. We worked in various cooperatives. People returned to Czyzewo. Building began again a little on plots divided by the government. It appeared that things were beginning to be normal.

One morning, we again unexpectedly heard the thunder of artillery guns and saw how the Russian military was running in haste. The Germans were soon in the street. A panic broke out among the Jewish population. The German murderers immediately gave an order that the Jews must put on yellow patches and bestowed murderous blows just for sadistic pleasure.

A Judenrat [Jewish council] was chosen that consisted of four people. They were responsible for carrying out the German orders exactly. The order that a sum of money and gold had to be provided came immediately. People saw a bit of a consolation in this; perhaps

[Page 1031]

our lives would be ransomed for money? However, time revealed that this was only an illusion and disappointment came quickly.

On a certain day, an order came: “All people without regard to age and type should come to the market.” No one could imagine that this was the call to the death camp. They consoled themselves that they were again being taken to work.

The S.S. men took the sick from their beds and small children from their cradles and, with the help of the Polish police, searched for all of the hidden Jews and brought them together to one place; my sick grandmother was among them.

Only those who were considered capable of work were chosen. All of the others were loaded in autos, driven somewhere and we do not know what became of their remains.

Those remaining were taken to several houses outside the city and they declared:

– Only those capable of work remain here. Later, the areas will be fenced in as a “work camp.”

I, Ruchl Kachan, Horowicz's daughter and several others (I cannot remember their names now) worked in the Czyzewo courtyard near Sokolowski. In order not to have to endure being bothered by the hooligan policemen who would come to visit the work camp every night, we received permission to remain overnight in a house in the courtyard. Ruchl Kachan and I lay on a small bench.

The bad news about the annihilation of the Czyzewo Jews spread quickly to the surrounding shtetlekh. It also reached Sokolow. Although the Jews there also lived in a ghetto, they had nevertheless

[Page 1032]

convinced themselves that they would avoid the misfortune because they had better conditions. Therefore, my uncle sent a special messenger that we should all come to him in Sokolow.

My mother, sister and I traveled with him. However, my father in no way wanted to go because he bore a certain responsibility. He was afraid that because of his departure others would suffer. The Germans would punish them for his disappearance.

After several months in Sokolow, we returned to Czyzewo. We could not remain there calmly, not knowing what was happening to our father. Therefore, we decided to return and whatever happened at least we would all be together.

We imagined that we would live because we still belonged to the labor camp. But on a given day the commissar's Christian cook secretly told us that the alarm clock was set for 12 midnight. This was a bad sign.

Returning to Czyzewo, I was registered for work with the German commissar. Two men also worked there, Feywl Niewad and another one, whose name I do not remember now. My mother and sister worked on the highway.

Returning to the labor camp at night we saw all of the Jews in great despair because they had learned the Poles would carry out their orders very early.

The question was in everyone's mouth:

– What do we do?
But no one could answer. Some ran to the forests, others

[Page 1033]

ran to hide with Christian acquaintances, but what Christian wanted then to hide a Jew? Others ran to their work, thinking that they would not be taken from their work. My mother and my sister also ran to the highway work. Alas, I never again saw them among the living.

My father did not want to hide at first. He said that wherever he hid they would find him and shoot him. He was then in the Judenrat. What would people say if he also hid?

He went around and recited Psalms.

It was very difficult for me to leave my father and escape. I sat with him until he actually forced me to escape. Perhaps I would succeed in getting Polish documents and as a Christian perhaps I could survive.

These were the last words that I heard from him.

My thought was that I would hide somewhere overnight and in the morning we would be able to see each other. But the two men with whom I worked at the commissar came in and convinced me that I should go with them through the camp fence and we would go to the courtyard of the commissar where his beloved animals were located. From there we would be able to observe everything that was happening in the camp.

It was dawn, still dark, when the wild S.S. members surrounded the camp, gathering everyone there, loaded them into wagons and took them to Zambrow. We here, in the commissar's courtyard, waited for a miracle.

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We sat in the animal garden. When the Christian servant brought food for the animals she also brought a little warm food for us. But none of us could swallow a drop. We had a premonition of what awaited us.

When the S.S. finished their work in the camp they came to the commissar, found us hidden in his garden and they reacted like animals. We were sure that they would shoot us at once, but the commissar arranged that meanwhile we would be taken to jail.

This was on a Sunday when the pious Christians went to church. Two policemen took us with loaded rifles the way criminals are taken. The two men were led into a cell and I into another. I counted the minutes the entire day, knowing that these were my last hours and the end would be at night.

Around five o'clock at night the keys in the door of my cell were heard. The policemen reported to me that more hidden Jews were found; they would all be placed in jail.

This was true. All were actually crammed together in the jail that was near the gmina [administrative district office]. Now we knew that everyone was being brought together in one place and we would be sent to Zambrow.

But in the morning we received an order to go the work camp. There we were shown three small houses in which we were told to remain. Whoever dared to go out would immediately be shot. Everything that the Jews still possessed was taken out to a clearance sale to the neighboring Poles.

[Page 1035]

There were about 15 people in the camp then, women and men. We were sure that we would soon be taken to Zambrow. Several decided to escape into the forest. Others hid with Christians. I was never brave, but my will to live was so strong that I decided to escape to the Christian world.

Before going away I learned that my mother and my sister Faygl were hiding somewhere. I sent them word that they should go with me, wherever fate would determine for us. But my sister ordered me to go alone because their faces could betray me. They had decided to return to the labor camp.

Before leaving the camp I heard that Ruchl Zilbersztajn was hidden in one of the small houses and when she wanted to quickly move to a second house she was murdered by the police.

Due to the provocation of the Poles, it became more difficult to find a hiding place anywhere. We, therefore, made peace with our fate and waited to be taken to Zambrow.

Making use of a moment when there were few policemen, we succeeded in going over to the other side of the camp. Wrapped in a thick peasant-like shawl, I went in a wagon to a village near Zambrow where I had a Christian acquaintance. I could not travel too far. I did not have any documents. Despite this I hoped that perhaps I would be able somehow to help my parents who remained in the Zambrow camp.

[Page 1036]

Alas, I no even had a chance to try to do something because everyone had been sent to Auschwitz from which no one returned.

I succeeded in acquiring Christian documents under the name of Janina Zarczicka. I worked in the village and hoped for a miracle, a redemption.

But fate wanted something else for us and one day Czyzewo Christians, who I knew very well, traveled through the village. They noticed me; they did not say anything and I thought that they would not denounce me. But at night, Marcziniak, the Czyzewo policeman, arrived in the village with an order from the commissar to shoot me on the spot.

The peasants in the village had a little heart and they let me know that they would ask the murderer that he not do it.

The order was that I must come out at four o'clock in the morning into the garden in the courtyard where the murderer would need to carry out the execution.

I strongly doubted whether the good peasants would convince the murderer and, therefore, I spent the night in a nightmare between hope and doubt. I asked myself: is it possible that people would watch a person being shot without asking why and not providing any resistance?

At the chosen time, four o'clock in the morning, I came to the garden where Marcziniak, the murderer, was already waiting. I also saw some Christian acquaintances walking there who assured me that for appearance's sake, Marcziniak would shoot into the air so that it would be known in the village that he had exactly carried out the

[Page 1037]

commissar's order. They told me that a wagon was ready with which I would go away to Lomza immediately after this.

In no way could I believe my ears; was it possible? Were they successful in convincing the well known “murderer!”

But it happened as the good peasants promised me. I immediately left for Lomza.

I was also afraid of the bright light of day. Each day it became more difficult to hide. Several Christians from the place where I was staying volunteered for work in Germany. I joined this group.

After going through various inspections I sat a lucky one on the train that took the workers to East Prussia.

After arriving in Interburg [Insterburg], the labor office sent us to various areas for field work.

I toiled hard for two years with the German peasants. But I lived with the hope that it would end some day.

The day finally came. We heard the Russian artillery fire. The German peasants became very frightened, left everything and ran to the American side. They took us, the workers, with them because they were sure that they would quickly return to their estates and it was a shame to lose the slave workers.

A heavy battle with the Russians took place in the city Keslin. Finally the Russian tanks entered the city where a great number of Soviet prisoners, as well as all of the foreign workers who had wrested themselves from their German overseers, waited for them.

[Page 1038]

Taking their rucksacks on their backs, they immediately began to march back home.

There were no train movements then. So they went on foot.

I traveled for two weeks in this way.

I arrived in Poznan with many other Polish woman and men where we found trucks on which to travel.

On the entire road back I still had hope after everything that perhaps there had been a miracle and I would meet someone from those closest to me.

Arriving in Czyzewo, I went up to an acquaintance in the suburbs of the city in order to learn how the situation appeared in the shtetl. As soon as she saw me she ran into the city calling the several Jews who had miraculously survived.

The two Szwarc sisters, Dina Frydman and Grosodzin's sister came. They asked me to come to them to spend the night where we would tell each other of our experiences.

We did not say one word going through the paved streets of Czyzewo. A great pain pressed on our hearts. I felt as if everything was drenched in the blood of those closest to us.

I took out a document with my correct name at the gmina and went back to the Christians to spend the night and in the morning to drive through the cities to look for someone from my family, because I already knew that I had nothing to look for in Czyzewo. Everything was lost.

Avraham Iglo and the girls accompanied me to the Christians and calmly returned home. At night I heard shooting. I asked the Christian what this can mean. Her answer was:

– The Russian like to shoot at night.
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But I had a bad premonition and could not fall asleep.

I left very early for the train station. There, a Christian acquaintance told me about the misfortune that had happened to several Jews from Czyzewo who were miraculously saved from the gas chambers or from other dangers and who had barbarically been murdered at home this night by the Polish bandits.

[Page 1040]

I left with the first train for Sokolow, with the hope of finding a trace there of our many branched family.

But here, too, the brown death killed everything that had the name, “Jew.”

Also here, I did not find anyone.

As it appears, the fate, the blind fate preferred that I survive in order to be able to tell about those who can no longer speak.

May their memory be consecrated.

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