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[Page 298–303]

In the Polish Underground

by Szlama Leszman (ben Jakub)

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


The lives of people on this earth are generally difficult; however, the lives of the Jews in Poland were incomparably more difficult even in normal times. And when World War II broke out, waves of hatred engulfed Europe, and the seeds of anti-Semitism found fertile soil in Poland, although the main thrust came from Nazi Germany. A very strong anti-Semitic movement blossomed in Poland. Polish workers, who officially opposed anti-Semitism, were not excluded. Jews, especially the progressive youth, were active in certain of the labor parties, the PPS [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna – Polish Socialist Party] and the PPR [Polska Partia Robotnicza – Polish Workers' Party] [Communist]. With the outbreak of World War II and the defeat of Poland, these same Jews began fleeing to the territories occupied by Russia. The idea of living under the Communist regime fascinated them, and they also saw this as an opportunity of making their dreams become a reality. I did not belong to those parties. Their thinking was strange to me, and I did not cross over the border from Poland to Russia. I remained in Poland and in Działoszyce, and here events began to unfold.

Influenced by my cousin, Szlama Leszman, who was a member of the Polish Socialist Party, PPS, I drew closer to this party, since the idea of engaging in underground activities against the occupying Nazis attracted me. This was in 1940, when the cruel and depressing decrees of the Germans were escalating from day to day. Jews were put into ghettos and marked with yellow patches. Dire poverty and widespread epidemics befell the Jews in the ghettos, who dwelt in dense, overcrowded, and abhorrent circumstances. Equipped with Polish identification papers under the name of Władek Dobia, I began my underground activities around the area of Kraków. I worked together with my cousin, whose first and last name were exactly like mine. We were both blond, and in our appearance, we looked more like Aryans than Jews. We kept our distance from Działoszyce, since the locals knew me well, and I was accepted into the Socialist Party as a pure Polish Aryan. In this party we went through certain training that emphasized the use of light arms and materials of destruction. As I already mentioned, our activities were carried our around Kraków. I don't want to prolong and describe all our activities, as this is not my purpose at this time. I just want to describe the lives of the Jewish partisans in the Polish underground and the three times I was saved from certain death. Only one for whom life is decreed and signed in heaven above will live. And I, myself, as I already mentioned, was saved from certain death three times.

Once in a while, when I got permission from the underground, I would visit my home. My entire family remained in the town – my parents, sisters, and brother. All who were dear to me were there – my extended family, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Most of them were young people, bubbling over with the joy of life. The town itself appeared to me like a beehive, noisy and abnormally overcrowded. People were living in every attic and basement. The refugees dwelt in each available corner, and people were placed in every hole. The emigration from the big cities, and especially from the territories annexed to the Third Reich [western Poland], was great, and everyone looked for a relative he could count on. This is how all of those who had relatives there returned to Działoszyce. In the beginning, they thought it would be easier for them to find some sort of livelihood there. However, after being unable to make a living, they started selling off their possessions. For starters, ornaments and jewelry, then clothing, etc. The poverty was dire and was accompanied by malnutrition, and this brought about an escalation of illnesses. The town was transformed into a huge Jewish ghetto. No one could go in or out, and, as a result, worries of how to earn a living mounted. All of these conditions forced people to risk their lives and travel secretly to the nearby villages and farms to attempt some type of trading that would enable them to bring home some means of sustenance. People lost their lives on the roads to the villages when they encountered a German official or Polish police, whose primary activity was to capture such Jews.

I visited the town in the summer of 1942. I did not fathom that this would be the last time I would see my loved ones. Many rumors were widespread throughout the city. The worries gnawed at me, and who could predict the future? I still planned to save my family and to disperse them among the cells of the underground. To my misfortune, I didn't manage to do it. What I feared the most suddenly came to pass. On September 2, at dawn, the Jews of Działoszyce were deported, and among them were my mother, father, and brother, of blessed memory. There remained in the city only about 2,000 dead, half of whom were buried alive in the ravine behind the cemetery. And this was the end of the Jewish town that had existed who knows how many generations. It passed away from life. I didn't have anyone to visit any more, no parents, no brothers or sisters. All of them I lost at once and forever. With a heavy heart, permeated with grief and sadness and feelings of revenge, I continued my activities in the Polish underground. A Jew posing as a Pole (in the underground they weren't aware of my Jewish origins) by the name of Władek Dobia.

In the first months after the deportations, my soul could not find peace, and once in a while, I would return to the Działoszyce area, and I even passed by there when it became dark. I searched for my loved ones. I thought that in spite of everything maybe someone had managed to escape. And when the Jews again started to reassemble in the town, I thought maybe, maybe, I would discover my relatives and take them with me. To my deep anguish, no one from my entire family remained alive in the town.

When we entered Działoszyce, we would pose as farmers, and sometimes, we would arrive on wagons so as not to draw attention to ourselves. And so it happened that on one of these visits, right after the second deportation, we passed by Działoszyce. No Jews were left there anymore. Every one of the few Jews who had regrouped in the town after surviving the first deportation had been killed by the Germans.

Not far from this large mass grave in the ravine behind the cemetery, an additional holy tomb was added by us two “Poles,” Władek and Stefek. We left Działoszyce with sadness and sorrow in a wagon going up along the road that leads to DroŻejowice. The road was filled with dirt, and due to the mud and the steepness of the hill, the horses were going slowly. We only managed to go a little further from the valley when we noticed, on the side of the road, a woman walking, wrapped in a sweater, walking and stumbling. After a fall, she would get up, continue walking, and again fall, and this would repeat itself. I got down from the wagon, went over to the woman, and in Polish, with a farmer's accent, asked her, “What's with you? Are you not feeling well?” I couldn't recognize her face at first, but the fright in her eyes told me everything. In front of us stood Pifa. I knew her for a long time as the saleslady from the fabric store. Her blond hair peeked through the scarf that covered her head, and she was trembling extensively. Without thinking too much, we hoisted her onto the wagon and continued on our way. The story that I heard from her I will never forget in my life. This has stayed with me all my days, in spite of the fact that I went through many hardships afterward.

She was among those who had been assembled at the time of the second deportation, and the Germans had taken them, as I already mentioned above – for the purpose of a final annihilation – to the ravine, to the open grave where they were all shot by a machine gun. She herself got hit with a bullet. The mass grave then got covered with earth. Meanwhile, night fell. It seems that she was lying on top, and being that she had only gotten wounded (the bullet entered through her mouth and exited under her chin), she came to after a while from her faint, shook the earth off from herself, and dragged herself out of the grave. And now, here she stood in front of us, wounded and bleeding. And this is how we discovered this woman who arose from the dead. In spite of the great danger, we brought her to the ghetto in Kraków, where she received treatment and lived. However, did she survive all the rest of her hardships, troubles, and sorrows during the two and a half years that the war continued? I wasn't able to discover whether her luck held out.

Very little of the underground's activities were of such strategic importance as to affect the course of the war. We limited ourselves to terrorist activities or sudden attacks on the SS or the Gestapo. The majority of the Poles didn't come in droves to the ranks of the underground. This was not a movement on a national scale. The loss of their liberty did not matter to the Polish nation as a whole. The Poles were accustomed to living under the rod. In addition to this, the Germans had implemented and were carrying out all that the anti-Semitic Poles had schemed to do in the depths of their hearts. Now, many of them could enjoy the abandoned possessions that were left in their hands after the Jews were driven away or put to death.

The underground activities continued their course. On the night of December 4, 1943, we bombed the steel railway in Płaszów that the German army used to transport military supplies to the Russian front. This was the most important mission, because we wanted to disrupt these supply lines, even if only for a few days. This same dark night, a battle broke out between us and the Germans. We lost four of our people, and my cousin and I were captured alive.

Of course, we were captured as members of the Polish underground. After the first beatings, we were brought to the well-known jail in Kraków on Montelupich Street. There we were put into cells that were designated for those awaiting death. The question of when we would be executed depended only on when they would conclude their investigation. It should be known that the interrogations conducted by the Gestapo of prisoners who belonged to the underground fighting against the Germans wasn't a simple matter. Those interrogated had to go through such torture that even Ashmedai [the king of demons] could not even begin to imagine. For the duration of months, day in and day out, they took us from the Montelupich jail to be interrogated at the Gestapo headquarters that was located on Pomorska Street. In our defense, we claimed that we were not members of the underground at all and had absolutely no connection to them. All we had done was just steal some coal (this is what the prepared agreement in the underground was). And in spite of the beatings, tortures, and the constant hunger, I did not break down, and I did not reveal my identity or the identity of my friends in the underground. The results of these interrogations are apparent on my body to this very day. I knew that my final verdict would be death. I just prayed that my stay would be short. It cannot be put into words, the emotions of one who is sentenced to die. The first few days are especially difficult. Thoughts of imminent death fill the brain without letup, not even for a fraction of a second. After that comes apathy to all one's surroundings, even to those cellmates who are sentenced to death like yourself. I was totally starving yet unable to swallow any food. What more could I expect in this situation? The interrogators were waiting for other convicted prisoners so that they could execute us all at one time. On May 24, 1944, my cell opened, and my name was called. How I came down to the yard I do not know. I only remember that I found myself standing, the last one near the wall, my hands up and my knees trembling and leaning against the wall. This is how we stood for two and a half hours, until a car arrived. The women were ordered to go inside and bend down so that they couldn't be seen from the window. And they loaded us into the car, laying one on top of the other. Since I was the last one in, I was on top of the pile. The car moved and traveled through the streets of Kraków, which were familiar to me. They transferred us to the camp in Płaszów and took us up to the hill of Hujara Górka.[1]

Exactly at seven o'clock, I was ordered to go down and move forward to the ditch that was to be our grave, apparently my final resting place on this earth. I do not know what the thoughts of others who are sentenced to death are, but as for myself, I only know that one doesn't take stock of one's life in these last final minutes. Heat and choking in the throat and the blurring of all the senses – and the senses die even before the body does – one functions only from inner forces over which a person has no control.

Surrounded by the SS and the Ukrainians, led by the Hauptsturmführer [captain] the well-known Heinrich[2], we jumped into the ditch. We started getting undressed, and Heinrich was going from one to the next and asking each one his profession. I was in the middle of disrobing when he came to me, and for some reason that until today I do not understand, I disclosed the fact that I was a Jew and that my trade was boot making. It is strange that all through the years I had concealed my Jewish origins, since I operated in the Polish underground. And here, as I was standing at death's doorstep, in the last few seconds of my life, I divulged this secret that had been hidden within me until then. I believe that an inner drive that a person does not control dictates to him what to do in this critical moment. I wanted to die as a Jew. And here a miracle occurred. When Heinrich heard that I was a boot maker, he told me to get out of the ditch. The fact is that this mistake saved my life. By profession I am a tailor, which in German is Schäftenmacher. But I didn't know how to say this in German, and at that moment, I told him Stiefelmacher (boot maker). This is just a play on words, but here it was a game of life and death. The word Stiefelmacher was the thing that saved my life.

I was unable to climb out of the ditch by myself. A Ukrainian took hold of my arm and pulled me out into the car. After a few seconds, the sound of many weapons was heard, a command was given to fire, and 35 people were murdered. The only one that was saved was the Stiefelmacher, who was returned from the field of death to Helclów Street in Kraków, to the workshops of the Gestapo.

In these Gestapo workshops, all the very best Jewish craftsman selected from Kraków were concentrated together, including seamstresses, tailors, shoemakers, stitchers, etc. They were busy producing orders for the Gestapo members and their families. This is where I was stationed, a blond lad swollen from hunger, beaten, and in shock, disoriented, with the look of a crazed man. For a number of hours, not even one person approached me, since they suspected that perhaps I was sent as a spy to see what was going on. It couldn't be otherwise, they thought to themselves, that a Polish gentile from the underground should now be revealed as a Jew. The roll offered to me by Mr. Jozek Szulimowicz, the only person who dared come close to me, couldn't find its way to my stomach, and despite the tremendous hunger I was suffering from, I could not swallow it. It got stuck in my throat. Only after some time, I tried swallowing some soup that remained in the pot. At dusk, Mr. Dawid Garten returned. He was the administrator of this division, a Jew who was a shoemaker from Kraków, and he asked me my trade. I told him, of course, that I was a tailor and not a boot maker. And when the truth of the matter was revealed to the Hauptsturmführer, Mr. David Garten put in much effort to train me as a boot maker. And with this, he saved my life a second time.

I remained among these craftspeople about half a year. Slowly, slowly, the suspicions about me started lifting, and my appearance as a human being gradually returned. I worked during this time as a boot maker. The Jews and their families who were on Helclów Street seemed to be, more or less, living under favorable circumstances in comparison to the people on the outside. The Kraków ghetto was liquidated, and thousands of the ghetto's citizens were killed and murdered on the spot. The largest concentration of Jews was in the Płaszów camp, which was truly hell on earth. During the time that I was in the workshop, it became clear to me that if I succeeded in establishing contact with the people in the PPS underground, they might make an effort to save me. However, my workmates' initial suspicions weren't yet totally alleviated, and they wouldn't allow me to go out to the city (understandably, even under guard), since I might run away. They did consent to take a letter from me and forward it to my Polish friends. As is the custom of the underground, they assigned two lads to take me out of the workshop and whatever happened would happen. They took advantage of the Polish nursing home that was located in the basement of a building at the side entrance of Helclów Street, and here they made contact with me. I was again armed with a revolver and bullets, and I started planning my escape. To my sorrow, this didn't happen. Suspicion did its work. They revealed their doubts about me to the Germans who decided to get rid of me. This time a Gestapo agent, dressed in civilian clothes, invited me to accompany him. It seems as though he was pressed for time, and when we stood in front of the exit gate on Montelupich Street, he asked an SS person for information about whether people were being sent to the camp. When he received an affirmative answer, he hurried to leave me in the care of the person who had given the information and left. And sure enough, very early in the morning, they sent out a group of Poles to Auschwitz. I joined them as a Pole. Actually this was the irony of my fate.

This happened during the summer of 1944. The Russian armies, after they had succeeded in breaking through the eastern front, made rapid advances to the west. The Auschwitz concentration camp was liquidated of its prisoners, and this is how I arrived, after a long and arduous trip, filled with countless great sorrows and tribulations, on the other side of the Flossenburg Camp to the camp at Karwinkel, which was not far from Buchenwald. This was a very special camp indeed. Special in that not a soul survived who could stand as a witness to what actually took place there.

Thousands of people found their deaths daily, some by starvation, some from the plague of typhus[3], and some through the murderous Nazis. My luck was to contract typhus. When I felt my temperature rising, I hurried to the hospital, even though I was well aware that every three hours they emptied out the sick rooms. The patients who were unconscious, while they were still alive, were thrown into the city dumpster. It is realistically impossible to comprehend. Can a person actually believe such a phenomenon in history, such incredibly unbelievable atrocities, sick people being thrown into the garbage dump?

I presented myself to the Polish doctor who knew me as an activist in the underground, and I appealed to him, “Save me, Doctor!” I cried. And immediately after he accepted me into the sick room, I lost consciousness. I do not know what happened to me after that, how long I was unconscious and how I overcame this condition, and, generally, how I arrived at the shower in Buchenwald. All this was hidden from my awareness.

I came to for a moment due to a stream of cold water in the shower at Buchenwald. Somebody threw a blanket over me, and again I sank into a deep sleep. I was beset by dreams and visions of many strange and unusual scenes. After them came momentary flashes of full awareness and again the sinking into a hallucinatory sleep. This repeated itself again and again. When I finally regained full consciousness, I was lying on a bed and under the care of a German nurse – this was already after the end of the war.

I recovered from the typhus, but then its complicated aftermath began. My feet had contracted polio. I will never forget the treatment and unyielding perseverance of the people who cared for me in order to put me back on my feet. And so, my young body gradually overcame the polio, and I slowly, slowly regained my health.


My Return to Działoszyce

With stumbling feet and a weakened body I returned to my town, looking for my dear ones. I had just disembarked from the train, when an old lady warned me with these words, “Don't venture into town. Escape. They're killing Jews.” I continued on a side road to our empty house. I didn't go in. People of the anti-Semitic AK (Armia Krajowa) [the Home Army] surrounded and grabbed me. Here my merits served me well, the merit of my being a member of the Polish underground. I was ordered to leave the town immediately. Otherwise, they threatened, the Poles would complete the murdering that the Germans had started. And then I left Działoszyce, it seems – forever.



[Page 304–306]

The Deportations from Działoszyce, Skalbmierz, and Miechów

by Abraham Tennenbaum

Translated by Zulema Seligson

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


Many, many years have passed since that sad Thursday, 21 Elul 5702 – September 3, 1942, the day of the first deportation of Jews from the towns of Działoszyce, Skalbmierz, and Miechów.

Approximately 20,000 Jews lived at that time in these three towns, among them great scholars and well-known Zionists. Ever since the German occupation of the region of Miechów on September 7, 1939, the Jewish inhabitants suffered cruelly from the decrees of Hitler.

To get some idea of the condition of Jews at that time, it is worthwhile to note just what the murderers carried out in Działoszyce.

A group of five armed SS men violently broke into the home of the Działoszyce rabbi, Reb Lejzor Epsztajn, a man in his sixties with a large family. The excuse was that a “comrade” of theirs had been shot and killed, and they needed to search for firearms (meaning gold). While they were searching, they subjected the rabbi and his family to murderous blows. Then they went into the neighboring room, which served as a bes hamedresh, and there they cut up the Torah books with their bayonets, ostensibly to see if there were any arms hidden in the books. After their search, they cut one of his [the rabbi's] side-locks and half of his beard sideways, turned his coat inside out, and dragged him around town for a few hours.

This happened on one uneventful day out of the 810 days that brought many other such, and even worse, “scenes.” But despite all the sorrows and pains during those 27 months, the German's beastly instincts could not destroy the Jewish hope of a better tomorrow, because everyone was still in his own home with his own family.

The situation changed, however, at the beginning of 1942. For the beasts and their cohorts, it was no longer enough to rob people of their fortunes, work people mercilessly, and beat innocent people in murderous rages. The smallest offense by a Jew caused him to be shot.

The people who carried out these atrocities and were responsible for them were the Germans: Beyerlein (the Gestapo chief), Schmidt, Kozak (a deputy), Rittinger, Facht, Dachauer, Schubert, Robert, and Bibi; the Volksdeutsche [ethnic Germans]: Kowalski, Mucha, and Górniak (the work overseer); and the Poles: Madejski, Kamerdyniak (policeman), and others.

Thus passed long dark days and weeks from January 1942 until August 25, 1942, the day on which Beyerlein and Schmidt decreed that by three o'clock the following morning, enormous sums of money and gold had to be contributed in all the towns.

This decree brought despair among the people, because it was not the first contribution demanded from the Jews. But by then a great many people understood the irony of their fate: it was a prologue to the “dance of demons.”

“I will not pay for the murder of my wife and children.” This was the sacred and sorrowful cry of my father, may God avenge his blood. When the officials came to our house to demand the sum he had been assessed to contribute, he took all his money and jewelry and sent them up in smoke.

While everyone became aware that the ground under their feet was burning, the Judenrat continued to carry out the German decrees in Miechów and in Działoszyce.

I witnessed the final terrible tragedy in Skalbmierz. On Wednesday, September 2, 1942, in the evening, there suddenly appeared in town dozens of light and heavy armored SS personnel and gendarmerie. Led by Kozak and Dachauer, hundreds of armed Polish policemen circled the town in a few minutes with a large group of Junacy (Polish youth work brigade) carrying spades and axes on their backs.

This horror scene brought together a mass of strangers and Polish neighbors, and thus our family also sought refuge in the house of our neighbor, Rogowski. A frightful silence reigned in the whole house. It was broken by the heart-rending cry of a small child, and by a brief burst of machinegun fire from the street. Later, we heard that two members of the Judenrat had been the victims of this shooting outburst: Szyja Maur and Aron Lida.

In the morning around 6 am, the regular soldiers, together with the SS and the gendarmerie, who had been drinking all night long, ran to all the Jewish homes and gave orders that within 15 minutes everyone should appear, carrying no more than 15 kilograms of bundles with them, at the market square in the center of town. The sick and the old, who could not get ready so quickly, were shot in their homes. By 7 am, all Jews were assembled in the square. There the murderers left them standing for hours.

In the afternoon, the requisitioned farmers' wagons arrived to take the young people to Miechów. The old and the sick were led by the SS gang to the outskirts of the town and shot there. The same fate befell the Jews in Działoszyce, but at the hands of a different SS gang, under Schmidt and Beyerlein. There, too, thousands of sick or old people were led out into the valley outside of town and shot there.

When our transport from Skalbmierz reached Miechów about 8 pm on Thursday, we found the Jews from Działoszyce already there, and by early Friday morning, the people from Miechów had arrived and assembled in the square near the train station where we were. On Friday evening, the murderers again carried out their selection. Around two thousand young and healthy men were separated out, and later, in groups of one hundred, they were sent to various work camps. Older and weaker people, as well as the women and children, in total about 18,000 people, were pushed by the sadistic German executioners with the butt ends of their guns and penned up in hermetically sealed wagons; and then they were taken to a place from where no one can ever return… ever…ever.



[Page 307–323]

My Own Experience in the Holocaust

by Dov Bejski

(See English section pp. 25 – 31)






[Page 324–328]

All Alone In Hiding

by Eliyahu Rozdział (Raziel)

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


I was a boy of eight when they announced the deportation of the Jews of Działoszyce by the Germans. We were six children in my parents' home when our parents gathered us together and we started our wanderings, traveling to farms in order to find a hiding place. The going was extremely difficult for us, since we were laden full of bundles and household items. After a march of very many hours, we arrived at a farmer's home near the village of Dębiany. It seems that it had been agreed beforehand between my father and this gentile there that he would give our entire family a hiding place. We were put into a pile of straw in the yard. In the beginning of our stay, the farmer and his wife supplied us with our needs and fed us all types of food. All of this was done, of course, for substantial sums of money. However, after a while, when our money ran out, the farmer demanded clothing of us and other things for the food.

After a certain time, news arrived from town that Jews were allowed to return. Of course, we also returned home. We found a ruined house without furniture and without essential household items. However, we somehow started to reorganize ourselves anew. And here again came a deportation, but this time, it was the last and final eviction…

Like the time before, we escaped again to one of the farms near Stradów, and there we hid at the home of a gentile for a very short time. The gentiles' fear of the Germans escalated and increased time after time, until it was very difficult to find a villager who would be willing to take us into his house, even for payment of money. Thus started our wanderings in open fields, in caves, in bundles of straw, and any other place where we could find some hiding place. In the beginning, we lived on the food that we bought from the gentiles in the area. My father was known in the entire area, since he was always traveling among the farmers as a wheat merchant, and the villagers had full confidence in him. I would like to note that the gentiles, due to the cessation of business during the war, were left owing my father large amounts of money, and they now wanted to cut off all contact with my father's family and close their eyes to our difficult predicament.

The first tragic incident happened on March 16, 1943, at night. My mother and five of us children sat in a hole two kilometers from the farm in Stradów. That evening my father had gone out, and with him, my eldest brother, to bring food from the farm. Suddenly, a few youths appeared, probably inhabitants of the farm, armed with weapons and, without notice or warning, starting shooting into the hole at us. In this ambush, my mother and one of my brothers, of blessed memories, were killed. The minute this gang saw from afar that two people were approaching, they got scared and ran away. Their flight saved the rest of us remaining in the hole. Afterward, it became clear to us that these two people were my father and brother who were returning from the farm. This incident took place late at night, and my father didn't even get to hear the cries of his children. The remaining children were taken out of the hole, and my mother and brother who had been shot were buried on the spot, right in this hole.

We immediately transferred to a more distant place and temporarily hid in wooded areas. So began our wanderings from one place to the next – and a place that served as a cover by night couldn't hide us by day – until another very bitter anguished day arrived for us. On Monday, July 18, 1943, when we emerged at dawn from our hiding place in the area of a village, we were surrounded by German soldiers and the Polish police. We ran away from the place, but they pursued us and caught my father, z”l, and two of my younger brothers and also my sister.

My eldest brother and I escaped in different directions. Neither of us knew about the other, and neither knew what had happened to the rest of the family.

That same evening, when each of us had run out of breath, we met by chance on the edge of the woods. This meeting was very emotional. We looked forward to the moment when we would find out what happened to our loved ones.

The next day in the evening, we went to a gentile. Perhaps we might find out from him what had happened on this cursed day. We heard that our father with his three children were caught by the Germans and brought into Działoszyce. After a few more days, we heard that, together with other Jews caught hidden in farms owned by gentiles, they had been taken out to be murdered in the ravine behind the town.

The two of us continued our wanderings. During the day, we hid from the Germans, and at night, we would come out to look for food to break our fast. After much searching, we found a hiding place at a farm in Stradów, underneath a wheat granary of the property owners.

In this spot we lay many months. One of us used to go out stealthily several times in the hours of darkness and bring back something to eat. In this manner, we were able to live, and we continued lying underneath this wheat granary.

The place was very low, about 60 centimeters under the wooden floor and the earth. We could not sit in any manner and also could not stand. We could only lie in one of three positions – on our backs, on our stomachs, or on our sides.

After we had been in hiding for a few months in this same place, my brother and I came out one evening, on May 11, 1944, to the center of Stradów to obtain food for a while. While we were walking, we met up with two lads from the village whom we had known for some time. When they saw us, they stopped to chat with us about this and that. Suddenly, two shots were fired from the side, and my eldest brother fell dead on the spot.

And so, I remained totally alone in this stormy and murderous world. Right after my brother was murdered, I ran into a yard and into an outhouse that was standing in the yard, and I sat down inside. I sat on the cover of the toilet, trembling and shivering from fright that they might catch me. Suddenly, the door opened, and a man asked me if I had seen someone running. From excitement I couldn't respond, and the man disappeared just the way he came. After I sat a quarter of an hour in this outhouse, I realized that this would be of no help. I went down into the latrine and exited from it on the other side. Crawling approximately 400 meters, I arrived at a burned-out barn that the farmers had filled with straw. I bore deeply into the straw, and I lay there the entire night and also the next day.

After a while people started coming into this yard and into the barn where I was lying. I heard them tossing bundles of straw from one place to another, hoping to find me. It seems that it was clear to them that I could not have escaped very far. The next day, at dusk, the farmer's wife went to take down bundles of hay for the morning, and while doing so, she bumped into my arm. I became frightened but decided to dig in deeper. After a while, when it became dark, she appeared again, saw me, since I had come up to breathe some fresh air, and told me, “Now it is dark outside, and you can escape.” I didn't reply, as though I did not exist. I lay in this place another two days without food or water. Actually, the only thing I ate was straw. And after two days, I left there at night and departed from this village.

I went out to a place still further and found a hiding place in an isolated bundle of straw in a field. I hid there during the daytime, and at night, I would go out to search for food. How did I do this? I would search for a yard in the village that didn't have a dog. I would enter the barn and suck out milk from a cow's udders. And for my provisions along the way, I took some of the mixture of potatoes and porridge in the pig's pen. This food would sour after several hours and was not fit for consumption in normal times even for pigs. However, having no choice, I ate it with much gusto, since nothing else came my way in those days.

As time passed by, I saw that I would not be able to continue in this manner any longer. I decided to return to the hiding spot under the wheat granary where I had hidden together with my brother a few months earlier.

That evening, I snuck into the shack of a gentile and took out a whole loaf of bread, weighing approximately 6 kilograms. I also took along two empty sacks and two single socks, and again I hid under the flooring of the granary.

I didn't know what was awaiting me and how long I would have to remain there; I was all alone, isolated from people and from God. Twice daily, the wagoners would come into this warehouse and would take seeds or hay for their horses. From the conversations that they would conduct among themselves, I was aware of what was happening in the world. Naturally, all this didn't help me much, since I had no one to exchange a word with regarding the situation.

I lay in this spot during many months and took small slices from the bread so that it would last me a longer time. During this time, the bread got covered with mold. In the beginning, I would take off small pieces of mold from the bread and bury them in a small hole that I dug near me. And this is how I saved food for the longer duration.

A long time elapsed, and the bread was completely gone. I had no other choice but to take out of the earth the moldy bread that I had previously buried. I shook it out well from the mold, and I ate the spoiled food, which actually tasted like a delicacy in my mouth.

I took apart the two socks that I had stolen, and they served as sewing threads. From the sacks, I sewed a shirt and pants, as best as I could, and with the remaining pieces I covered my feet. I did not possess shoes, and winter was outside the walls.

After a certain time, members of the AK [Armia Krajowa – Home Army] started living in the yard. Of course, I did not know what these armed people were all about. Only from the conversations that the wagoners conducted, I understood that these people were my enemies and that they posed great danger and threat to me.

During this time, I reached a situation where I had to go out of my hiding place and look for food; otherwise, I would have died from starvation. Thirst didn't bother me, since once a week, I would bring in water from the water they gave the cows in the area nearby.

The moment I went out in order to look for food and tried standing on my feet, I immediately fell backwards. It became clear that my legs were not responding to orders. After lying so long, my muscles had weakened, and, having no choice, I started crawling on all fours.

In an area further from the place, I found a field planted with beets for animals. I collected some of them. Some I ate on the spot, and the rest I shoved into my pants and started going back to my hiding place.

When I was about 200 meters from my place, I suddenly heard someone yelling, “Stop!” I remained motionless on the floor, and the AK people there started searching the entire area with flashlights, looking for me.

This is how I lay for several hours. After that, I turned around and started to crawl in the opposite direction from my hiding place. I arrived at a road and found two sticks that helped me walk and distance myself from the pursuers until I arrived at a haystack. For approximately two weeks, I hid there, and with me were the beets that I had collected in the field.

The winter started tormenting me, and the cold became very intense. Many Germans started circulating in the area, searching for partisans who were situated in the nearby woods. This restricted my movements even more. During the winter, my feet froze due to the extreme cold. The possibility of moving to look for food in order to combat my starvation was next to impossible. In this condition, without any possibilities and the constant starvation, I noticed that the army front was approaching closer to the area.

*

On Friday, January 12, 1945, many airplanes appeared in the sky, and long lines of disorganized German soldiers, some even without carrying arms, were running away toward the west. The big retreat of the Germans had begun.

That day the area I was in got shelled by machine guns of the German army and also bombed by Russian planes. Of course, I myself had no idea what world I was in, and I didn't understand anything of what was happening in the area around me.

The next day, Shabes, everything quieted down. None of the soldiers nor anyone else could be seen.

Sunday morning, a day of rest for the gentiles, the people from the area flocked to their local churches in the nearby village. Suddenly, I noticed that on the nearby road there were rows and rows of soldiers, horses dragging canons, and so on, on all the roads and side roads. At first I could not distinguish who the marching soldiers were, and, instinctively, I picked up my feet and, with the support of the sticks, staggered as I tried to distance myself from the place that slowly, slowly became filled with a large army.

At a certain moment, I sensed that a few hundred meters away, I was being followed by two soldiers accompanied by a gentile whom I knew well from the area. The gentile yelled at me from afar that I shouldn't run away, that these were Russian soldiers and, coincidentally, Jewish as well. He tried to explain to me that these soldiers wanted to help me. To start with, I didn't believe him, with my bitter previous experiences, and I continued to further myself from them. However, when my strength left me, and they came closer to me, the soldiers picked me up in their arms and brought me to the home of the farmer. To my great surprise, the farmer treated me in an excellent manner, fed me the best foods, and even offered me clothing to wear. I couldn't converse with these soldiers, since they didn't know any Yiddish, and I couldn't speak Russian. The conversations between us were carried on through the gentile who was somewhat familiar with Russian.

The soldiers suggested that I join them. They explained that their unit had its own hospital where they would restore me to health and meet all my needs. Since I had no other options, I agreed to go with them.

When we arrived at the point where they were supposed to find their military unit, it became clear that this unit had already left. So they turned me over to a Jewish army doctor who, to my good fortune, also spoke some Yiddish.

In the evening, the doctor sat down with me and listened to all of the bitter episodes, trials, tribulations, and the torturous journeys that I had experienced throughout the war; a lone youth who lived in constant fear and trepidation from his persecutors and tried to hide in different places. The doctor saw to my complete recovery. The people in the sanitarium took me and washed me off many, many times, again and again, until I was cleansed from all the insects and lice that had adhered to my body in the places of dirt and filth where I had lain for approximately the past two and a half years.

Afterward, they dressed me in an army uniform and took me along with them. However, I couldn't withstand the hardships of this journey as they advanced, and I was forced to take leave of them.

Eventually, I arrived at my town of Działoszyce. There I met some local Jews who had gathered from all sorts of hiding areas. I stayed in the town for two days but could not find a resting place. I started wandering from town to town and from village to village with the slim hope that I would find someone from my family.

While traveling thus, I arrived at a small German town in Lower Silesia. Once, while I was wandering in the town, rows of Russians stopped me and took me into their unit.

After a short interrogation, they verified who I was, and the commander of the place suggested that I stay with them as long as I wished.

I stayed with them a good few months; one day I heard, that in the nearby city of Gliwice, Jews were assembling to go to Eretz Yisroel [Land of Israel, then Palestine].

I notified the commander immediately that I had decided to leave this place and go to my homeland, Eretz Yisroel. He gave instructions to supply me with clothing and also to give me some money for the journey's expenses.

I traveled to Gliwice and joined a group of youths making aliye [immigration], and, together with them, I went to Eretz Yisroel at the end of 1945. In Eretz Yisroel I entered Kibbutz Gazit, which was in the Lower Galilee, and there I built my stable and permanent home.



[Page 329–335]

Memories

by David (Gustav) Rajsfeld

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


Before I unfurl my memories of the town of Działoszyce, I would like to relate a story that happened to me in 1942. It was when the Polish General Anders arrived, together with his soldiers, in the Palestine of that time[4]. I had the opportunity to meet in a coffee shop with the Polish consul, Mr. Henryk Rozmarin. When I arrived at the appointed hour, I encountered a stranger who was with him. When this man saw me, he got up from his seat and asked me if, by chance, my name was Rajsfeld, from Działoszyce. He declared on the spot that he had never seen me before in his life and he was sure that I had never seen him either. However, I looked very much like my father, of blessed memory, and the speaker said his father knew my father, z”l, very well.

This man was a Catholic from the Działoszyce region by the name of Osuchowski and was from the area around Pierocice, approximately three or four kilometers from the town. This gentile was very happy to meet a person from the vicinity of his hometown and was especially happy to find a person here whose father had been a friend and advisor to his father as well as being this person's friend. The village of Pierocice had been the estate of his forefathers, who were of noble descent. In the presence of Consul Rozmarin, Osuchowski expressed his amazement, and this is what he said:

In Poland, I was a member of the Endecja[5], the party of Roman Dmowski's point of view, the publisher of many national newspapers. I was also an ideologue of the economic war against the Jews, and I was successful to a certain extent in removing Jews from businesses in such areas as wheat, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products, businesses that were the main staples of livelihood for the Jews, in general, and especially in the smaller towns and villages.
However, Osuchowski stressed that he had never met a Jew like Rajsfeld and never knew any other in his life – such a decent and honest person who behaved justly in all areas of his life. One could not find many others like him.

Consul Rozmarin was very surprised that such a prominent person, with such an influential and high-ranking position in the economic life of Poland, who was so respected and held in such high esteem by the Polish government in London, and one whom so many admired, that this individual should respond in this manner to a Jew living in Eretz Yisroel [Palestine].

After this initial meeting, I met many more times with Osuchowski during his stay in the Land of Israel. He used to come to my house very frequently, and I entertained the hope that through his connections with Poland and with the village of Pierocice, I might succeed in making contact with my father, brother, and sisters. During the war years, they had come, together with their families, numbering approximately 30 persons, to my father's house in Działoszyce.

To my regret, it is difficult today to ascertain whether Osuchowski succeeded in doing anything on behalf of my family. But the thing he used to emphasize at every opportunity was that since I was the son of Rajsfeld, whom he had known since his youth and who was close to and respected by his parents, this awakened in his heart a degree of closeness toward me as well, and that is why he tried to visit me frequently and also to help me out in any way he could.

And now I will try to refresh my memories of the impoverished town of Działoszyce. I knew almost all of its Jewish inhabitants, beginning in the year 1897, about 15 to 18 years before World War I.

I was familiar and knew every street and alleyway; I knew each house, who it belonged to and who lived in it. I am trying to go back to a period that was 50 years ago and more and to compare the present with the past. I recall my good friends with whom I studied, together with whom I went through the different phases in the kheyders, and also the teachers. I am reminded of the people who prayed, some in the bes hamedresh [house of prayer/study] and others in the beysakneses [synagogue]. I remember the shtiblekh [small Hasidic houses of prayer] of all the many and varied courts of the different rebbes, as well as the Hasidim who used to come during the winter nights to the bes hamedresh to learn and teach their students free of charge – which means, to give them a lesson in Talmud.

Until this day I can hear their voices and the singsong of those learning and the pointed arguments of those debating a topic on the Talmud. It is not my intent to single out the praises of the Jewry of Działoszyce. After all, that is where I was raised. I am only trying to point out the Jewish experience that existed in those days.

All of the heads of households that I mentioned were modest, honest, and friendly; all of them without any exception, the rich and the poor. What always surprised me was the character and quality of the synagogue in Działoszyce. The building of the synagogue was big and very beautiful looking, and in it were many artistic drawings that had been drawn by a professional artist, such as the pictures of the 12 Signs of the Zodiac, the 12 tribes of Israel, the vitrage [stained glass], etc. Generally, in this synagogue, only the “common” people prayed: butchers, shoemakers, horse traders, and others.

The higher class of householders prayed in the bes hamedresh that was located right near the synagogue. The wealthier people and also the Hasidim prayed in their own shtibl [small Hasidic house of prayer] to which they belonged. The shtibl was mainly housed in a small room, without bathroom facilities, without hygienic or sanitary accommodations. Not so the synagogue. There, everything was prepared with proper accommodations in the finest manner.

More than once I asked one of the elder congregants, “By whom and when was this beautiful synagogue built?” And no one knew the correct answer to the question. However, one can be certain that this was one of the most beautifully decorated synagogues.

In the same vicinity of the synagogue and the bes hamedresh was also a building that contained the mikve [ritual bath] and the steam bath. On each Friday, on a weekly basis, most of the men in town would congregate there. I would like to portray the scenario in the steam bath. Here no one was embarrassed to disrobe in public, and they would “revive their souls” with a brush and a pail. The brush's purpose was to kill two birds at the same time: to cleanse the body and also to beat it. All the while, the steam that spewed out from the giant stove that was constantly burning flowed generously. The pail served both to pour water on the steam and also to cool off the body after the warm brushing. After all the beating and the sweating and cooling with the pail of water, the men went down and immersed themselves in the cool mikve waters. This was truly a revival of the soul.

The cantor of the synagogue also lived in the same building. He was a Jew who was a liturgical musician and whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had been cantors. The cantor's sons constituted the choir. The town's choir also included the cantor and the well-known singer, Ignacy Mann, who later appeared in Polish and Czech operas. He was born in Działoszyce, and the cantor Reb Szyja śpiewak was the one who discovered his great talent and sent him into the wide world to learn singing and to become a cantor. In the same house also lived the gabe [treasurer/trustee] and shamas [sexton], and along with them, the tombstone engraver, old Moszele, who was assumed to be at least 100 years old.


*


I left Działoszyce to go to Łódź even before World War I. For a short while during the war, I would return to the town; however, generally, I didn't have ongoing contact with the town. I used to go to the town only at certain times to visit the gravesite of my mother, z”l, and during these infrequent opportunities, I came to realize how much the situation of its Jews had deteriorated.

During my visits to the cemetery, my father, z”l, used to point out several graves of my forefathers that were near my mother's grave. One could barely decipher the inscriptions on these tombstones. According to estimates, they must have been standing there a few hundred years in the cemetery. My father also indicated that he had prepared a plot for himself near my mother's burial place. He used to sigh deeply and say, “I don't believe any of my offspring will continue to do so.”

As I had mentioned, the town had totally deteriorated. We tried with all our might to convince my father to pick himself up and come with us to Łódź. He wouldn't hear of it, since he felt that his responsibility was to stay in Działoszyce so that he could give support, in a spiritual and material sense, to the Jews in decline. He was attached to his usual place in the bes hamedresh that he had inherited from his grandfather's grandfather. All in all, he was very connected in mind, body, and soul to this town and its people.

At a later period, my brother, Karol, purchased large parcels of fruit-bearing orchards in the [British] Mandate of Palestine. His plan was to get our father – who was a very experienced farmer and also served as an advisor to land owners in the area with farming problems – to change his mind and be willing to come with us to the Land of Israel. Finally, finally, he consented.

When the idea took hold, my father started taking the first steps to make this plan materialize, for instance, selling the house that he had built on the property of his father. (On this land were the homes of his father's forefathers in which they had lived and had established splendid beautiful families). Suddenly, on a certain night, my father saw his deceased father in a dream (he couldn't remember any similar episode in which he had dreamt about his father), appearing before him as a young man full of energy and demanding that he not take this step of abandoning the place of his ancestors. He got up from his sleep in the morning, frightened, agitated, and nervous from this sudden vision. When he could not find any explanation or hint about this strange dream, my father turned to the local rabbi and to his [Hasidic] rebbe to ask their advice and counsel. Their advice was to fulfill his obligations to his deceased father and stay in Działoszyce. And so, to my great anguish, my father was shot and murdered, when he was about 81 years old, in the ravine near Działoszyce. The German murderers killed him together with the rabbi of the town, along with the elders of the Jewish community.


*


These are the memories that I actually remember from Działoszyce. However, at the start of the horrible war, when the Germans came closer to Łódź, where I lived, the population heard the false Polish propaganda that the Polish army's planes were bombing Berlin. On the fifth day of the war, they announced a call and warning over the radio. Since the Germans were nearing Łódź, all the men who were supposed to serve in the army were ordered to report to their units encamped along the road to Warsaw. I also heeded this command and took along my eldest son on this journey of wandering, since I was afraid to leave him in the area being invaded by the Germans. Also wandering together with me until we arrived in Lemberg [Lwów] was my brother Janek and my brother-in law. We found that the Russian army was already there.[6]

In Lwów, I was able to make contact with my wife and daughter, who had remained in Łódź and who had continued to run the factory and my business there in my absence. My single goal was to return as soon as possible to Łódź to my family and to remain together with them in these difficult times ahead.

My wife, as well as my senior office staff, tried to discourage me from fulfilling this idea. Their reasoning was very simple. About 100 Polish Volksdeutsche [ethnic Germans] worked in the factory, and it was difficult to foresee their reaction to my return to Łódź – in spite of the good relations that had always existed between them and me. They therefore expressed their opinion (which coincided with my son's, who was together with me in Lwów) that it would be best that we try in any possible way to reach Romania and from there to find a means of saving them as well.

I took their advice, and in December 1939, I was able to cross over the border to Romania. From there I made contact with my family in Poland, with my brother Karol, who lived in the Land of Israel, and my brother who was younger than he, Judka, and with my sister Ruchel and her family, who had settled a few years before the war in the Land of Israel.

As I mentioned, I arrived with my son in Romania, and from Chernovitz, I made contact through letters with my wife and daughter. As a result, I received a letter from my home in response, and in it was a true and vivid description of the events they were experiencing during that time. Using the best of the educational talents with which she had been blessed, my daughter wrote as follows:

In the month of January 1940, I was forced to leave Łódź because the Germans established a ghetto for the Jews, which was situated in the predominantly Jewish area of Łódź. We were afraid that this fate would befall us as well, and therefore Mother decided to escape to Warsaw. At that time Warsaw didn't have a ghetto yet, and we were hopeful that we could obtain documents for us to leave Poland. Our cash and jewelry that we had given to our Catholic housekeeper were lost, since the Germans searched her on the road and took everything away.

In Warsaw we were greeted by our agent, Kagan, who took us into his spacious apartment. Also living there at the time was Munia Kwiat with his wife and children, all from the Rotenberg family from the side of my mother, z”l. Although it was difficult to obtain food, we somehow managed. All our efforts to obtain passports and exit permits amounted to nothing. Our only hope is that you will send us, from Romania or Palestine, the formal documents that are necessary so that we can leave Poland and join you.

My daughter wrote further:
During March 1940, a man by the name of Dudi Król arrived from the Land of Israel and brought along with him 20 certificates and train tickets to take us to Trieste. This had been arranged by Mr. Weinberg from the Wagonlit Company [travel agency]. You can well imagine the great happiness and impact that this knowledge made on our family, that we had obtained certificates on their behalf. We informed the entire family that we were in possession of certificates and train tickets for them to Trieste and that there was a man waiting here who is being paid to take care of these arrangements and that everyone is to come to Warsaw. Immediately, they came to us – Uncle Janek with his family, Uncle Mietek with his family, Aunt RóŻa with her daughters and sons-in-law. They arrived with great expectations for the designated moment to leave cursed Poland.

To my great regret, just then, Grandmother became ill, and Mother was compelled to delay the trip. Meanwhile, the international relations between Italy and the Allies had deteriorated, and it was not possible to make the trip to Trieste. And here another incident which was even worse took place: Mr. Weinberg had been in touch with a Gestapo agent and had given him a substantial sum of money in order for him to accompany us on our journey to Trieste. But when he was informed about this change of plans, he threatened us and extorted all the money we still had with us. Dear Father! We then lost all our hopes of ever being able to escape this hell, and Uncles Janek and Mietek took us to Działoszyce. So then the entire family left – all those who were prepared for the journey – for Działoszyce, to our grandfather. They thought that it would be easier and more secure to live through these difficult times there.

My aunts, daughters of Grandfather – RóŻa, Szyfra, and Sima – together with their families, went to live with Grandfather and some of them with neighbors. Mother and I took a room – if you can call it that – as second boarders with a poor family. During that time very many Jews arrived in the town, those who were escaping from the ghettos in the large cities, and this caused terrible crowding in living accommodations, and the sufferings were inhuman.

My daughter describes in her letter:
The town of Działoszyce made a depressing impression on me, what with its dirty alleyways, houses, and shacks that seemed to be falling apart, and the complete lack of basic hygienic facilities and accommodations. They were without water, without bathrooms, and without toilets in their apartments. The poverty and primitiveness that was etched on the faces of the inhabitants seemed inconsistent with the fact that you, my dear father, were born and raised in this place. Your aristocratic bearing, your education and knowledge, didn't make it possible to believe that your origins indeed are from this place.

Dear Father! When I am lying on my makeshift bed at night and cannot fall asleep, whether it is because of the hunger pangs that I am suffering or due to the thoughts that are disturbing me – because in my imagination I see you sometimes as a flying eagle and on your shoulders is perched my brother, Alfred. And then I get the disturbing thought: Why aren't my mother and I sitting, like Alfred, under your wings – are you not supposed to protect us as well? Dear Father! The way I see it in Działoszyce, the darkness and grayness, because of the rain, seems like a curse. It seems that in this place the sun never shines. I'm sure that you don't recall any longer the foul dirt and mud in the streets and the great darkness in the alleyways. We don't have anything with which to heat our small room; nor do we own any warm clothing that can keep us warm in this bitter cold. My shoes are torn and worn, and although Grandfather promised to give them to the shoemaker, who is an acquaintance of his, to put on new soles – this is one of the big luxuries in Działoszyce – in the end, they didn't mend my torn shoes. I am lying here and listening to my mother's deep sighs in her sleep. Most of the time she dreams about you and about her son, Alfred. And to be truthful, she does not reveal her anxieties in front of me. I hear how in the next room the rain is dripping, drop after drop, into the room, and I am thinking that very soon the rain will seep into our room as well and will reach my bed. During these moments, I bring forth in my imagination the beautiful mansion of Uncle Król in Łódź and the landscaped garden in the house's yard that grew grapes, pears, and tropical fruits that are very rare in the cold country of Poland. On the other side of the garden was the modern factory, and in it were employed several hundred employees, officials, and clerks. Everyone knew in Łódź that the factory belonging to Uncle Król was one of the most modern establishments in Europe. Not only among the Jewish business people but also among the German enterprises, this establishment was known as one of the biggest manufacturers of silk in Łódź. I can still see the two erect officers dressed in uniforms standing on either side of the entrance to the two gates, two men with very personable appearances, dressed spotlessly and shining till the last button. They used to check with Uncle about anyone who wanted to gain entrance, and only after he gave permission would they allow the person into the mansion. And now I am in a forsaken room in which the rain is coming in through the roof and the cold seeps into my bones. So the situation is very sad and the winter very harsh. Only thanks to Uncles Mietek and Janek, who support us and share with us each piece of bread, do we continue to exist, because otherwise we certainly could not survive. Don't take this, dear Father, as a reproach that you went away and left us alone and destitute. I know that this is the hand of Fate. And I am certain and sure that if only you could, you would have returned to us – since all your wanderings were thought and reasoned out in order to save us. What I wrote above were only impulsive reactions to my dreams, a weakness that a person feels when one is suffering inhumanely and without any solutions.

And here among all these dark happenings taking place, the sun rose a little for me. In these darkened days I met a young man, and so that this shouldn't sound so strange, he is of German culture, since when he was still a young boy, his father took him with him to Germany. There he studied, grew up, and obtained a university degree and only by chance came back during this war to Działoszyce. And this is how I got to know him, and we became soul mates. His name is Jakub Nifkier, and I could write very much about him. Don't make fun of me, dear Father; I believe that mutual love is binding us together. Even though I'm aware that I'm only 16 and a half years old, this short period of the war has added to all of us, including myself, another few years of experience and maturity. And what I expressed with my poor lips, that we're in love with each other, is not a figment of a childish imagination or self-deception but a simple and real fact. This young man invited me very frequently to visit with his family. And it is interesting to note that in spite of the foul dirt and the mud, and in spite of the dilapidated houses that look as though they are about to collapse, there existed in this family's home a most joyful atmosphere. I started liking not only Jakub but also his surroundings. We have decided to get married. However, this decision was difficult for me to make without your consent and without your physical presence.

Father! Believe me. My talents are insufficient to express the conflicting feelings that I went through in order for me to take this step, to march onto the path of a future life without you and without your accompanying blessings. But as you are well aware, no one can predict what is awaiting them and what tomorrow will bring. For only this reason I have decided, with the consent of my beloved mother and the agreement of my dear grandfather and the other members of the family, to take this very step. And I am very happy that I have chosen such a wonderful partner – honest and decent, a cultured person. I am certain that if you would get to know him up close, you would agree with me and my decision, and you would get to love him like a father loves his son.

My daughter continued further:
In the meantime and during this time, this horrible Shoah descended on the Jews in Działoszyce. The murderous Nazis started to act and, on a nice day, gathered the elders of the town, including the local rabbi and all the prominent citizens – among them also dear Grandfather – and in a most brutal, cruel manner murdered them all in a place that is called the “ravine.” It is not my intention to describe and cry here over this horrible scenario and the feelings that this murderous action evoked in us all. We also knew that the remaining Jews in Działoszyce would be liquidated in the same manner. The motto became: “Every one should find their own way to save themselves according to their own possibilities and understandings.”

After a short while, it was decided at a family meeting with my husband, Jakub, together with my beloved mother, that we escape and hide in one of the villages until this wrath blows over, in other words, until the final deportation. And so we wandered from village to village and from one farmer to the next, constantly accompanied by the combined fear of the Germans and the Poles. Our situation got worse and more critical by the threat posed by the Polish citizens, and in the end, we were forced to return to Działoszyce. To our grief and dismay, we found an empty town. No Jew was left in Działoszyce. Under these circumstances, we could not stay on in the town and decided to wander further. This is how we wandered and got farther away until, on a clear day, we arrived in Kraków. My husband got taken to a labor camp in the vicinity of Kraków, and I, together with my husband's niece, managed to get Aryan documents. In Kraków I tried to establish contact with Mother and the entire family. But to my great disappointment, I could not find their dwelling places, and I didn't know where to search for them. I succeeded in finding Uncle Janek, who was mourning the death of his wife, who had died a natural death. I found Uncle Mietek, as well, and neither of them knew where the Germans had taken their children. I was very careful and cautious not to meet with the uncles too frequently so that people would not notice that I was Jewish. And in the meantime, everyone was smiling at me and behaving nicely toward me because I am pretty and developed like a real woman. The German murderers also follow me, smile at me, and want to get to know me better, since they are sure that I am a German or else a Swedish woman.

For all these reasons, it makes my going out into the street very difficult, since the Germans, together with the Poles, have ganged up on me and want to see me stumble. It seems that I will have no alternative but to enter a labor camp, as my husband is there, and, in addition, I have the desire and patience to share this most difficult and cruel fate together with my husband…

Here I am forced to stop. I am reminded of my daughter's last words in her last letter: “Save us, dear people. We are drowning… The tears are choking me, alas…”

I, also cannot continue any more…


____________

  1. The hill was named for SS Oberscharführer [Senior Squad Leader] Albert Hujar, an assistant to Amon Goeth. Return
  2. The head of the camp at Plaszöw was SS Hauptsturmführer [Captain] Amon Goeth. Perhaps Heinrich was the SS Hauptscharführer [Master Sergeant] Heinrich, a lower-ranking SS man. Return
  3. The word typhus is used in Poland for both typhus (spotted fever) and typhoid fever. The more common of these diseases was typhus, spread by lice, which were rampant in ghettos and camps. Return
  4. When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Polish so-called political prisoners who had been deported from eastern Poland were released to form an army under Polish General Władysław Anders. This army, known as the Anders Army, left the Soviet Union and came to the Middle East, including Palestine, before becoming part of the British Eighth Army and fighting in Italy. Return
  5. Endecja is derived from the abbreviation of the National Democratic Party [ND-eks], an anti-Semitic party in prewar Poland. Roman Dmowski was the co-founder. Return
  6. The Soviets invaded Poland on September 17, 1939, and occupied Lwów on September 22. Return


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