Here, also, at the Stawisko, more than one boy endured a belting from his
father on his bare bottom for skipping kheyder. The Stawisko was the sports
center for all of the young people in the summer. The place was always in an
uproar, and one could hear the shouts from a great distance. In winter,
however, the place was covered with snow, asleep, as it were. In the spring and
fall, the Stawisko became a large river.
Summer and winter, in rain or snow, the trade was carried on. After all, Jews needed to earn a living. They would often have a falling out with their competitors and insult each other but make up before Yom Kippur. Day in, day out, month after month, the years would pass and the trade continued and Jews made a living.
The third kind of merchants were the wholesalers. They would buy up all sorts of grains, beans, and dried fruits. They warehoused their goods with the growers and sent wagonloads to Będzin, Sosnowiec, and Katowice. The main consignee of my father's goods was the firm Szajnberg and Buchwajc in Katowice.
My father, zl, ran the business for years in partnership with his
brother-in-law, Lejbl Spokojny. Later he bought out Abuś Granetman's
lumber warehouse. A few years before the war broke out, he left
Działoszyce. But on the third day after the war started, he packed up and
returned to Działoszyce. He sought to earn a living in the old way, but in
the meantime much had changed. There were decrees and assessments aplenty. At
first, the trade could be carried out legally. Later, the trading of grain was
forbidden under penalty of death. But one had to live, so Jews, among them my
father, zl, bought grain, had it milled illegally in the village of
Losowice at Zale Wajnbaum's, and sold the flour in the market square. But this
business did not last. Like all the Działoszycers, we sold our jewelry and
lived in pain and fear but somehow survived.
When the town was surrounded by the SS and Junacy [youth brigade], I was at work and could not return home. I hid among the sacks together with Baruch Popper. All night long we heard gunfire. Baruch Popper decided to go outside, although I warned him not to go. He went out on the following morning but did not get very far. He was shot to death on his way. I lay hidden until 11 o'clock. I asked Tryliński to take me to the kolejka [railway], where I shared the fate of all the other Działoszycers. Together with my parents and sisters I went to Miechów, and I was sent with many other young and strong Działoszyce Jews to Prokocim, where we were assembled together.
Here began the true martyrdom of the Jews of Działoszyce hungry and
chased like dogs. Just for trying to buy food from a Pole, I had my nose broken
by a German with his rifle. The camp was a concentration point for Jews from
the entire region: Działoszyce, Skalbmierz, Miechów, Słomniki,
etc. The camp was only partially built, and winter was approaching. We worked
hard and miserably in the rain and the cold without a flicker of hope, morally
broken and full of sorrow at having lost our nearest and dearest. As if they
had been enslaved forever, groups of Jews would go to the Kraków ghetto
to be free. As I was going to the ghetto with a group of people, I was able to
hide and stayed in the ghetto, where there were Jews still living. I heard
rumors that there were again Jews in Działoszyce. Home, home I
hurried and rode in a truck to Działoszyce and ran, but there was no home.
I want you to know under what conditions the Działoszyce people lived. The work at the locksmith shop was carried on at night also. The SS men often visited us, and every one of the visits involved victims, especially when the head of the camp, [Amon] Goeth, came, may his name and memory be erased.
Once, late at night, he came and asked the foreman, Jerzyk Spiro, how many workers he had. The dutiful Spiro, not being quite sure of the number, said we were 33 and hoped the answer would suffice. The drunken Goeth, ymsh [may his name be erased], ordered everyone to form three rows and count themselves off. As can be imagined, no one wanted to stand in the front row, and everyone sought a space in the second or third row. As it worked out, I ended up in the front, the seventh person. Hurrying to say my number, I called out six at the same time as my companion said six (the number six was used in the camp as a warning to apply oneself to work whenever an SS man approached). The murderer Goeth knew this and shouted angrily, You said six, and pulled out his gun. He aimed at me, and, a heavenly miracle, the gun jammed, and he could not fire the bullet. Meanwhile, everyone kept counting, and luckily there were 33 of us, just as it had been stated. My ancestral merits stood by me, and I was saved. Two minutes later, a drunken SS man brought out two Jews who had been in the latrine. He said that he had found them near the wire fencing and that they had meant to escape. Goeth shot them on the spot. They were not from Działoszyce, but they were Jews like the rest of us. And where were their ancestral merits, dear Lord? We people from Działoszyce lived through such extraordinary suffering in Płaszów until November 1943. Then we were sent to Kielce. I was there with Zale Wajnbaum and his son Kalman. Six months later, I was sent off again, this time to Birkenau, at Auschwitz.
We knew this would be the end, the end of our pain, particularly as we heard
the screams of the gypsies when they were gassed in the gas chambers. They had
prepared the final solution for us also. We were recorded,
everything was taken away from us, and we were being led to the gas chambers
when an SS man, who looked like a butcher, came in at the last minute and sent
us back to the barracks. Thus we were spared. But, irony of fate! Jews from the
Łódź ghetto had already filled our places [in the barracks],
so we were then sent to Buna, to a chemical factory. Here we suffered air
bombardments by British pilots. Many Jews died in the bombing, and I was almost
one of them. I was in Buna until January 18, 1945. I was taken away from there
when the Russian army stood at the walls.
On a beautiful morning on April 30, 1945, standing in the railroad cars on a
siding in a field near Tutzing, we suddenly sensed that the Germans were no
longer there. With our last bit of strength, we climbed down and went to beg
for food from the local Germans. The civilian population, very frightened, told
us that the Americans were there. They suddenly became kind and gave us some
food. But now, in the first moments of feeling free, we could not, alas, feel
happy. Choking on our tears, we at last felt in our hearts the pain, the great
tragedy. We were broken, physically and spiritually. An illness rescued me from
the spiritual grief. Typhus [spotted fever] rendered me unconscious for four
weeks. I did not know who or where I was or what was happening to me, but I
survived. However, when I woke up, I had no one near me whom I knew, no friend,
no relative, nor anyone from Działoszyce.
Działoszyce was a special Jewish town, but even more unique was Jankielówka Street. It was a little street, unpaved, with small low hovels, one small house connected to the next one, holding each other up so that, God forbid, they would not fall down. It was enough to catch just a glimpse of the little street, even from afar, to realize that very rich people did not live there. If a wealthy Jew (wealthy according to Działoszyce standards) already lived here, he lived in a house built of stone or bricks. Jankielówka was hidden behind the cemetery hill, as if it were seeking help from the merits of its ancestors to alleviate its poverty. When water from the rains or from the snow melting in spring flooded the street, the resulting mud was no small matter. The street's inhabitants, therefore, wore high cowhide boots and, many an autumn, found the street barely passable. More than one poor child became stuck and, unable to pull his foot out, would burst into loud sobs, or they fell and their clothes became covered with the sticky mud.
The street's official name was Garbarska (tannery). It seems that many years
earlier, there were tanneries there. I know that Chaim Przybnik's in-laws had
been tanners, but by my time, there were no longer any tanneries there. There
were tanneries in Działoszyce but in a different area of town, not a very
wealthy quarter either. The Jews of Działoszyce did not call the street
Garbarska, however, but Jankielówka. It was said that the name came from
Symcha Hupert's great-great-grandfather, who was the first inhabitant of the
street. According to a different story, its first Jewish inhabitants settled
there in the fourteenth century. Supposedly, the gentiles called all Jews
Jankiel, and so the name of the muddy street became Jankielówka.
The first one, Ayzykl, zl, with his yellow nag who did not know him? We children called his horse Gilgul [Reincarnation]. It had always been a sorry nag, a gilgul of previously dead nags, a ruined worn-out mare. He sometimes used to carry small amounts of wood to the olejarnia [oil mill] or would make some other short trip, depending on Gilgul's endurance. He lived at Ezriel Klajner's in an attic in great poverty.
Wolf Stempel, zl, a good shoemaker. He made handsome and good shoes for the Jews of Działoszyce, but often too tight. They will stretch out, he would say. With a house full of children, he lived in stressful conditions.
Szaja Bejski, zl, was a tailor, a quiet and honest Jew. He worked day and night, mostly for the farmers in the area, who knew him and came from far away villages summer and winter to order clothes for their children.
Lejbele Ptasznik, zl, was a jester. Always with a smiling face, he did business with aristocrats. He served as an agent for the Maszkowskis in Łabędź. He bought and sold horses. He had no children, unfortunately, but was very fond of goats. We just had to pick on one of Reb Lejbele's goats, and Jankielówka would erupt. Of course, we children took every opportunity to stir things up, even knocking on Reb Lejbele's shutters at night to tell him the goats had run away. By all means, let it be lively on Jankielówka.
At the very end of Jankielówka lived the Chilewiczes. Once, after a strong downpour, their stable collapsed. Chilewicz was hurt and became lame afterward. The family eventually left Działoszyce and sought its fortune in the big city.
Who was there in Działoszyce who did not know Chaim Aron, zl? A well-known coachman, he took passengers from Działoszyce to Pińczów his whole life. In later times, when he was old, his son, Fajwel, became partners with Ezriel Klajner. And they carried the passengers. Like all Działoszycers, he inherited his trade. On the long stretch to Pińczów, all the gentiles recognized the vehicle and would yell, Here comes Aylum Baylum! And Fajwel would curse, just as his father, Chaim Aron, had cursed.
My father, Josek Boruch Frajman, zl, came from Neustadt [Nowy Korczyn],
my mother, zl, from Jędrzejów. My father, zl, was a
small boy when he came to Działoszyce. He worked in agriculture at my
grandparents' in Czajęczyce. He later learned tailoring and lived as a
tailor his entire life. He took great care of his shears and suffered from the
smoke of the pressing iron. In town it was said he was a good tailor, but
unlike the other tailors, like Bencion Bejski, zl, or our neighbor, Szaja
Bejski, zl, and other tailors in town who worked for the gentiles in the
area, my father's clients were all from among the Jewish population. He clothed
the business owners and their children with long coats, chałats [kaftans],
and silk fur-lined coats, or he made striped trousers, vests, and jackets for
the more progressive ones. He worked very hard, together with his children,
toiling from early morning to late at night. He came by his income honestly.
Unfortunately, he never experienced any joy. In the year 1941, walking to the
judge's to pick up some work, he suddenly felt ill, sat down, and never got up
again. He just died without making a sound, like a saint, without suffering.
But for us, his children, it was a great heartache, as we became orphans. May
his memory be blessed!
It did not take long a few months before we heard rumors of the
deportation. Worries about the family we had left behind were harrowing. After
a brief period of time, I found out the terrible truth. My mother, zl,
together with my sisters Frajdl and Małka, zl, and my brother
Kalman, zl (Szlama [another brother] had previously escaped to Russia and
survived, thanks to this), ran away to the fields during the deportation, but
the police caught them and brought them back to Firemen's Hall. My mother and
my sisters were sent to Majdanek, where they died with other Działoszycers
who had been sent there. My brother Kalman, zl, was sent to Prokocim,
near Kraków, and there I found him a broken man and took him back with
me to Kostrze, where there were a lot of young men from Działoszyce.
This grave is the only one that I have of my entire family. Year in, year out, my tears run and water this grave, a grave that is a reminder for me of those long years of pain and sorrow, of friends and family who perished and never received a Jewish burial.
Let their memory be blessed forever and ever.
In the morning hours of September 2, 1942, we were thrown out of our homes and ordered to assemble in the market square, where all the Jewish inhabitants of Działoszyce, a few thousand people in all, had gathered. At first, there was a rumor that a few privileged Jews would be allowed to remain, but later, those rumors turned out to be false, started by the Germans to be used for various purposes, such as to gather money, gold, jewels, and such. This came to light later when they were told to join everyone else. It was then that the Germans announced that those who did not feel strong enough to walk to the railroad should be seated in carts that were prepared for this journey. Around two thousand people went to the carts, and they were taken to a site near the cemetery, where an enormous pit had already been dug, and there all of them were shot to death. They covered the pit over while a lot of people were still somewhat alive, and for two days afterward, the communal grave shook with the convulsing and trembling bodies.
They then took the rest of us, under heavy guard, to the train and shipped us off. At a certain place before Miechów, we were taken off the wagons and led to a point of assembly. The whole way was lined with Polish policemen, among whom were also the policemen from our town. If they suspected that someone had brought money, they pulled him out of line, dragged him to the woods, took everything he had, and topped it off with a murderous beating.
At the assembly point, we lay all night on the wet ground in the middle of the field. In the early morning, they brought the Jews of Miechów to where we were. We were all made to line up, and of course we tried to stay together with our families. Then they started making us march under the watch of an SS man who separated the young men from the women, children, and older people. I was holding my eldest son, who was 12, by the hand, and as I passed the SS man, I tried to walk by him, but he noticed, tore him away from my hand, and placed him with my wife and the two younger children.
Then they led all the able-bodied people to the train and jammed them in, more than a hundred people in each wagon. On the other side, they jammed in the women and children into closed wagons, and we all started together in the direction of Kraków. After several hours of travel, we came to a place not far from Kraków.
The Germans left the cars with the able-bodied men there and sent the cars with the women and children farther on. In all probability, very few of them arrived at their destination. Almost all of them were asphyxiated during the journey in the closed cars.
After a brief time in Prokocim and Kostrze, we heard the news that in Działoszyce a group of escapees from that town, as well as some Jews from surrounding towns, had returned there. There were some people among us who, without asking any questions, started on their way home immediately. Others, I among them, had doubts and asked many questions. As to whether they would permit us to go, no one had an answer, but an intermediary intervened, and my brother and I were allowed to leave. For this permission, we paid 40 dollars in gold.
Arriving home, we found our house sealed up. During the time we were at the camp, the Poles and the Germans sealed up all the Jewish houses. To go into one's house, one had to pay the Judenrat [Jewish council] a large sum of money. Inside the house, I found on the table the unfinished meal of weeks earlier. It broke my heart. Everything in the house had remained untouched.
So that my Christian neighbors would not suspect that I had hidden anything, I broke a window in one room and spread a rumor that while I was gone I had been robbed. At the same time, I began to create a hiding place in the house with my brother, and we placed all our possessions in it, everything that was still there except for the furniture. According to what I heard, my Christian neighbors indeed suspected that I had made a hiding place, because right after the second deportation, my neighbor Kobrzyński moved into my house so that he would have the time to look for traces of the hiding place by day and by night. He was not successful, and everything remained where it had been until after liberation. I was in the catagory of one whose work is performed by the hands of others the gentile Kobrzyński wound up watching over our household possessions.
After sustaining ourselves for a few weeks in town, every day we felt that the situation became more suffocating and unbearable. The ground was burning under our feet. So I decided, on the last Friday before the deportation, to begin by sending my brother to a village farmer with whom I was acquainted. We arranged that in the morning I would also arrive at the farm. At dawn on Shabes, when my house was full of people, acquaintances and strangers alike who slept there, I told them that I was abandoning the house because I had to leave town. And this I did. When I reached the farm, the owner took me straight up to the attic where my brother was. Throughout all this, we did not really think of what we were doing and what the result of it would be. Meanwhile, we stayed in the attic all day. At night, when we finally fell asleep, we suddenly heard someone climbing the ladder, and we were very frightened. There was no reason to fear. It was the farmer, carrying a lantern, who came to tell us that his neighbors had reported him for hiding Jews. Therefore, if we wanted to save our lives, we should run away. This seemed almost impossible to us. First of all, we would not know where to go, and, second, the weather was terrible. It was a cold dark night and raining hard, and the field was covered with mud. We were left for a while perplexed and helpless.
Then I had a sudden idea and made a suggestion to the proprietor that if he wanted to be rid of us quickly, he should grant us a favor for which I would reward him handsomely. He should drive us to another village where I knew another farmer, because we did not know the way to that village nor did we know where that farmer lived. But when we reached that place and I knocked on the door, he should leave and stay out of sight. In this way, the other farmer would not know that anyone else was aware of our coming there. He agreed to our suggestion. The new proprietor took us immediately to the barn, and there among the sheaves of wheat, we slept the first night. In the morning, the man came over to the barn, brought us food, and at the same time let us know that there was a great deal of shooting in our town and that they were assembling all the Jews to send them away. Should they find a Jew after this action, they would shoot him on the spot. It is easy to imagine our deep depression and resignation upon hearing this.
In short, we awaited death every minute. We hid the whole week at this farmer's. On Thursday night, the proprietor came over to the barn to tell us that on the following day, Friday, they were coming to inspect the pigs, and it was possible that they would decide to check out the whole place and might find us. We could imagine what would await us and the farmer. I begged him fervently that he find us another safe hiding place, since it would only be for a matter of a few hours. But he insisted that we had to leave. He wanted us to just go anywhere and return at night. We could not fall asleep the whole night, waiting for the unfortunate day that was coming. We got up quite early and went out, not knowing where to go, death hovering over every step. The hunt for Jews went on without measure; we sought places away from the road to avoid running into Germans or bloodthirsty Poles.
As we were walking, we ran into a farmer who was working in the field. He noticed immediately that we were Jews. He told us that the day before, on Thursday, he was in Działoszyce and saw with his own eyes how Germans and Poles were leading a group of people who had hidden in Abram Rozenek's house, among them the Szulimowicz family, the Zylberberg family, and others. They shot them all in the cemetery, and an hour earlier, in this field where we also now stood, some local farmers found three Jews and killed them on the spot. As it turned out, the proprietor knew the peril we were in, but he wanted to get rid of us in a humanitarian way. Thus, this day that we had spent in the open fields, under an open sky, seemed to us a lifetime. I decided to try to get to a neighboring village, where a teacher I knew, who had been a client of mine, lived. Knowing him to be a liberal person and friendly to Jews and thinking he would help me, I told him the reason I was calling on him and asked him to provide us with a hiding place until nightfall. He told me that there were strangers in his house and he could not, therefore, help us. After dragging ourselves here and there for another few hours, we went back to our old refuge in the evening. How disillusioned we became when we saw the expression on the farmer's face when he saw us and when we saw how troubled he was by our return.
During the night, the proprietor invited us to come into the house and declared that for us to remain in the barn throughout the winter would be impossible. He decided to dig a hole in the middle of the field where we could hide until summer. The problem would be when snow fell, because it would be impossible to bring us food without leaving footprints, and the Germans could easily discover us. He then came to the conclusion that we should travel to Kraków as soon as possible. There were many Jews assembled there, he said, and he thought that we should get going as early as Sunday morning. To ride in a wagon was out of the question, a certain death. Seeing in what a situation we found ourselves and with no time to spare for further thought, I asked that he go back to my previous host and ask him, on my behalf, to come and see me. When he returned with the proprietor's wife, I proposed a greater sum of money for her to be our guide to Kraków. She told us she would be ready to do that, but instead of to Kraków, to Kościejów, about 10 or 15 kilometers from Kraków. Her parents lived in Kościejów, and they would take us to Kraków.
On Sunday before dawn, the woman came. We changed into farmers' clothes and left our own belongings. We started on our way. The woman walked a bit ahead of us; in case we were discovered she would not be connected to us. Although we were dressed as farmers, we were very scared the whole way. We walked on side roads only so we would not run into other travelers. Despite this, we ran into people who were coming back from church. They addressed us, Jews, what are you doing here? They barred our way, and with our last bit of strength, having nothing to lose, we ran away. After much fright, and worn-out, we arrived in Kościejów at our guide's parents' home. She explained to them who we were and what we wanted. Her parents were completely taken aback. They not only refused to give us any kind of help, they practically threw us out because we were a threat to their lives.
We were in a very perilous and helpless situation. Not seeing any other remedy, we started walking toward Kraków on the main road, because without a guide we could not attempt to use side roads. At last, we arrived in Kraków at night. Knowing that on Kobierzyńska Street there was a work camp run by the Strauch firm, where many Jews worked, some also from our town, we boarded a streetcar and went in the direction of the camp. On the way, a few Gestapo types got on, and we got off at the first opportunity and barely made it out with our lives. We got to Kobierzyńska on foot and went into the aforementioned work camp.
The camp consisted of three rooms. We did not receive a particularly hearty welcome there. The first question we were asked by those who were closest to us was, Where were you the whole time we have been in the camp? Only after much wear and tear and invented excuses were we able to buy ourselves into their trust as brothers in misfortune. After we were there for a time, we heard that there was another work camp run by the same firm in Kraków, by the name of Cementownia [Cement Works] and that the working conditions were better there. Again I had gotten close to the leaders, who happened to be old acquaintances, but easier working conditions trumped old friendships. I tried every which way to get out of this camp on Kobierzyńska. At last, we were able to go over to the Cement Works, where we worked on cement water pipes. My brother, with some other Jews, worked outside the camp. We were there for a while, and suddenly, out of a clear blue sky, there came a decree that the camp would be closed down and we were to move to Płaszów.
In Płaszów we had a taste of hell. Every day there were new demands, all difficult and unbearable. We were there until May 1944. Then we were sent to Gross-Rosen. Life there was dreadful. We had Ukrainian guards who beat us almost to death trying to get whatever we still had with us because, as they said, we were on our way to annihilation.
At the Gross-Rosen camp, we were greeted by an orchestra, and we were led into the camp with music. As soon as we were inside, the musicians were transformed into wild beasts. They put down their instruments and picked up sticks with which they beat everyone with murderous blows. There came an immediate order to undress completely and for those who had money or other items of value to place their possessions on a table, where SS men were sitting who took our names and assured us that we would get our possessions back when we left the camp. I was really afraid to approach the table, so I left my money, almost 300 dollars, in my clothes. We stood naked like that for many hours in a very cold place. We were then sent to the baths, and there our bodies were shaved completely in a rough way that tore our skin. Nearby was a barrel of sharp disinfectant, which burned like fire, and everyone had to wash the wounds made by the razors in that liquid. Afterward, we went to the showers, and coming out, we found the striped uniforms we were to wear laid out. We had to dress in a great hurry. Tall people had to put on clothes they barely could get into, and short people got clothes they were lost in.
Coming out of the bath, I did not recognize my brother nor did he recognize me. We kept looking but could not find each other.
After a few days in Gross-Rosen, a group of about 100 men, including us, were sent out in trucks in absolutely inhumane conditions. Barely alive, we arrived at Wüstegiersdorf [subcamp of Gross-Rosen] in Lower Silesia.
This camp, and others in the vicinity, were under the supervision of SS Oberscharführer Lidke Meyer. The camp commander at that place was an SS man by the name of Schwarz. Compared to the murders we had seen in Gross-Rosen, this place felt like paradise to us, even though they also hanged people here and beat them with murderous blows. Here the pain was milder.
We worked there for a few months. The Russian army was approaching. We received an order at that time that the camp would be liquidated and we would all be sent on our way; we did not know where.
We abandoned the camp in January 1945, and one day later, the Russians marched in there. Each one of us had received half a loaf of bread and a few grams of sugar. We thought we would get such a ration every day, so we ate everything up the first day. But we got nothing during the following 13 days and had to eat grass and leaves of trees. Many paid with their lives trying to tear some leaves off the trees, and they were shot down.
In short, we endured 77 levels of hell. We made it through the camps of Buchenwald, Flossenburg, and Crawinkel, where more than 90% of the transport perished.
Only in May 1945, when we were in Theriesenstadt, were we finally liberated.
As soon as the war broke out, the Jews of Działoszyce felt the German oppression become tighter and tighter. In the surrounding villages, the Germans oppressed the Jewish inhabitants even harder, and Jews were moving out in great numbers to places where they could still breathe a little more easily. They tried to find even the most distant relatives so as to have a place to which they could escape. Meanwhile, sources of income in Działoszyce became ever scarcer, and the crowding in the houses grew beyond measure. There were people even staying in the bes hamedresh. The Germans kept stepping up their decrees. They took all kinds of goods and money from the Jews and completely emptied their stores. They soon instituted forced labor. All men, young and old, were required to dry up swamps, build roads, and do various railroad-related work. Jews hoped at the beginning that these decrees would be temporary measures. In no way could people grasp that the rulers had prepared a plan for annihilation. But the German police soon began to inflict great suffering. A few merchants who were moving goods from one place to another were shot dead. They also shot a butcher who was slaughtering a cow. In short, things were getting worse all the time.
Poverty was immeasurable. Many people walked around all day with nothing to put into their mouths. A few fortunate ones managed to engage in trade and eke out a living for their families.
On a certain day, the skull-emblazoned Gestapo came to town to prepare the inhabitants for deportation. As soon as I saw this, I left my store and ran away. They, the Gestapo men, went to Pincze Fornalski's and battered down his door. They took Zalman Fornalski and beat him mercilessly with a wooden plank. The suffering was hard and unending, until one day in 1942, on 13 Av, they took 22 men from the Rafałowicz family to the community hall and interrogated them as to the whereabouts of a Communist named Herszel Rafałowicz. During all this, I kept thinking that they had the power to do as they wished with us because they were the ones with weapons. We all argued with them that there was no such person in our town.
A week later, on Shabes, there was sudden chaos. Everyone was saying that the deportation was to take place soon. There were also rumors that they were digging pits on the outskirts of town. Suddenly, on Wednesday, when I was at work with 20 other Jews in Szarbia, where we carried sand for the Racławice Road, we heard that the Jews from Skalbmierz were being evacuated to Działoszyce. We ended our work in great fear, and when we returned to town, the Germans had already surrounded it. I went immediately to my mother's to say good-bye. My brother met me there and told me they had shot Akiba Zyngier, the tinsmith. All night long we heard cries from people who had been gathered from all areas of the town and thrown together by the Germans. My mother and my brother's children hid in an alley behind a wall. The Jewish militia promised us they would take them out of the hiding place after the chaos subsided. I myself crawled under the roof of the year-round suke. Later, I gathered up my brother and RóŻa Karmioł, and we all hid there for two or three days. On Friday afternoon, RóŻa went down to check if we could leave, and she ran into a Christian, Kobzej, who wanted to take her to the police station. RóŻa managed to turn the shaft of the wagon to the side and escaped. A few hours later, we all left town, and, seeing no alternative, 15 of us hid in a village. We also stayed for a few days in the fields. We endured all this burdened by great pain and sorrow. We then heard from the Christians that Jews were again gathering in town. Despite all the peril, we decided to go back. We were gathered together in the courtyard of the town hall. Jewish policemen from the Kraków ghetto were there also. As it turned out, we worshiped there during Yom Kippur. It often happened that when someone needed to go out, he would step on other people, we were that crowded. During Yom Kippur prayers, the cries and sobs reached the seventh heaven. We lamented our fate, our pain and sorrows, not seeing any light at the end, only horrendous darkness. We trembled when we thought about our situation. The misery grew and dragged on, day after day, until the second deportation came, in November.
On a completely dark Sunday evening, the Germans gathered about 600 Jews, took them to the forest of Chodów, beyond Miechów, and there shot everyone to death. We managed to escape, my brother and I, to Słupów. Mother, with another brother, escaped to Podgaje. At night a gentile came and frightened us, telling us we had to leave. Desperate, we ran to the Chroberz forest. When we got there, they told us that a gentile named Krzyształ had killed five members of the Jurysta family. Some time later, Monas Rzeźnik, one of the partisans in our area, caught the murderer and shot him as a lesson so that others might learn and fear.
Monas and his group of partisans also killed a gentile by the name of Przenysław from Dębowa Zaga [Zagaje Dębiańskie?]. For his good deeds collaborating with the Germans, he got his head chopped off. From that time on, the gentile murderers were fearful of Monas Rzeźnik and his partisan comrades, and they relented a bit. They also told us that a train carrying weapons was expected to come through the tunnel, so a few of the young men, such as Wolf Skóra, Moszek Hersz Rozenfrucht, and Binem Skórecki prepared explosives to blow up the tunnel when the weapons train came through, but that did not work out.
In the forests of Chroberz, we came across Jews from Pińczów and from other towns. We built bunkers and hid there for a while until the police came and tried to capture us. We ran away again toward Działoszyce to a village named Słupów. My brother and his children were already there, and my sister-in-law, who originally came from the Grundman family in Miechów, was also with them. In the end, the Gestapo captured them all, around 50 people, and shot them to death in a pit in the fields.
The massacre occurred on 11 Adar 1943. Among them were Abuś Granetman, Jakub Mandelbaum and his wife, Izrael Platkiewicz and his wife, and Szmul Rafałowicz.
Afterward, there were still nine of us Jews hiding in the home of a gentile, Maciek Konieczny. This gentile man was sheltering a boy, Zelig Frenkel, without being paid a cent. This man was a friend of Israel and one should remember him and praise him, because he did many good deeds for Jews and saved their lives from certain death, putting his own life in peril of death. He was one of the righteous among the gentiles.
The pit we were hiding in was a living grave. It was so low that we could not stand up in it and so narrow that we could not turn around. Very little air came in. It was very difficult. At this man's house there were also Russian partisans in hiding, but in a different pit, at the other end of the courtyard. The man would not allow us to come near the partisans, for our own sake, and did not allow them to come near us. This was on account of conspiracies and for everyone's safety.
On January 22, 1945, we heard the Russian army marching in. It is impossible to
imagine our joy when we heard our liberators approaching. At last, after five
years of sorrow and persecution we could breathe easier. It is possible that
the partisans had clandestine ties with the Red Army and knew a few days ahead
of time that they would be marching in. Finally, the gentile man brought us
together with the partisans, and the joy of liberation enveloped us all.
Działoszyce was a small town, and until the outbreak of the war, 95% of its inhabitants were Jewish. During the war, the town population increased greatly, and it was practically transformed into a city. This was by no means a natural development but the result of the many Jews escaping from Kraków and other big cities in order to find safety and refuge in Działoszyce. The concentration of the many refugees now in Działoszyce caused tremendous overcrowding. In my grandmother's apartment, where before only two persons had lived, seven were now squeezed in. We did not have any money. My mother was widowed even before I was born. The burden of earning a livelihood fell upon the shoulders of my elderly grandfather. My grandfather, Chaim Szymon Szulimowicz, was then about 70 years old and very religious. The Germans decreed that Jews must shave off their beards; my grandfather, however, totally refused to obey. He covered his beard with a kerchief with the pretext of a toothache and, with this cover-up, would circulate among all the villages in the area. He traded back and forth and did business with all the farmers and managed to bring home basic food supplies to sustain our entire family.
In Działoszyce every Jew was forced to work for three days a week for the
Germans. In addition to my own forced labor, I would also substitute for those
who did not want to work but had the money to pay for a substitute. I
continuously spent time at this type of work and other difficult work until we
received an order that the Jews of Działoszyce were to send 50 young men
to work in Kraków. I was a refugee in the city, so, understandably, I
was put on the list of those to leave. Together with the other men from
Działoszyce, we arrived at a company by the name of Richard Strauch, whose
business was construction, especially sewers and canals. I worked, along with
about 50 others from Działoszyce, in an open camp at 5 Kobierzyńska
Street. From time to time, we were also able to visit the ghetto in
Kraków that still existed. There I met up with my eldest brother,
Gerszon, may he rest in peace. For about a year we continued working for this
same company. Suddenly, there appeared on the small campgrounds the
Ordnungsdienst [Jewish police] headed by Chilewicz. They piled us into vehicles
and took us to the Płaszów concentration camp, a camp that was
erected on the grounds of the Kraków cemetery. That's where they brought
the remnants of the Jews after the liquidation of the Kraków ghetto.
In the Płaszów camp there were 20,000 or more Jews, among them about 2,000 prisoners from Działoszyce. The area of the camp was very large. In the heart of the area was a hill, and next to it, a very deep body of water. Near this hill, they would shoot prisoners of the camp and Jews who had been caught on the Aryan side, as well as Polish insurgents. The corpses would roll down on their own into the deep water. The job of certain groups of Jews was to burn these bodies, but prior to that, they had to extract the gold teeth of the victims. The veterans at this type of work would be exterminated, and a new crew would replace them.
In Płaszów, I first worked on various construction jobs. After I met up with my brother, who was brought to the camp after the liquidation of the ghetto, I was put to work in a shoemaking place thanks to his efforts. However, because I was not a shoemaker, I couldn't stay in this comfortable place very long. Again I started shifting from one work commando to another and was engaged in grueling work. For quite a while I worked in the commando Westbahn [West railway company]. Our job was to put wooden ties under the steel train tracks, as well as to reinforce them in order to strengthen the ground under the rails. Working along with me in the commando (we worked in groups of 2530 men), was a young boy, maybe about 16, by the name of Jurek Lokaj. Jurek did not look like a Jew. He was a very nice young lad who was very well liked by everyone. One day, my friend Jurek turned to me and asked me to lend him 25 złoty. I thought that perhaps he had the opportunity to buy some food products. Generally, the supervisors weren't too strict with the railway workers for such sins and looked the other way. However, Jurek clandestinely escaped from among the workers and never returned. We only noticed his absence when it was time to return to camp.
We returned to camp and there was huge chaos. They took attendance and
determined that a person was missing in our commando. The commander, Goeth,
appeared with his dog. We knew full well that if Goeth and his dog were here
together, the situation was not good. Ukrainian guards immediately surrounded
us, and Goeth, without saying much, took two people out from every group of
five, and they were shot on the spot. I was standing in line in the center of
the second row, and this saved me. In this roll call, 19 people were shot and
I remained in Płaszów until 1943. At that time, they assembled about 1500 Jewish prisoners, myself among them, as well as many others from Działoszyce, and sent us to Gross-Rosen. Gross-Rosen was considered in those days as a model camp. They would send delegations and various observers there to show them the inside organization and life in the camp. During these visits, they would play lively music in the form of marches. The horrible atrocities that were administered, not only by the Germans but also by the Poles and Ukrainians, were hidden from everyone's sight. A model of a camp, indeed! To my good fortune, I only stayed in this hell of a camp for two weeks. From there, we were sent to the Buchenwald camp. My eldest brother and I left together. My mother, may she rest in peace, had not wanted to leave her elderly parents and went to her death together with the rest of the people of Działoszyce.
The road from Płaszów to Gross-Rosen and then to Buchenwald was strewn with torture and pain. I traveled it together with my eldest brother, Gerszon. The fact that we were together eased our ordeal. Being among so many strangers, it was comforting to know that there was a brother and friend near me. In Buchenwald, each of us received a striped uniform, a pair of warm underwear and an undershirt. However, they told us that we were not allowed to wear the underwear or the undershirt. If anyone were to be caught wearing these undergarments, his sentence would be immediate death. They made inspections twice a day. We were constantly outdoors in freezing cold. One day, the SS officers appeared and ordered us to work. My brother Gerszon decided to declare himself ill and not work. Some instinct motivated me to encourage him to go out to work with me. But due to his great weakness and stubbornness, I was unsuccessful in persuading him to change his mind, and he stayed behind. When I returned, I didn't find my brother alive any longer. During the time we were busy working, they made an inspection in the blocks [barracks] and took out all the sick people who remained. My brother, zl, was also caught in this selection, and he was lost to me forever.
After two weeks, we were sent out of Buchenwald to a new camp, Taucha, that was close to Leipzig, to work in an armament factory, which was a branch of the firm Hasag. We worked in daily 12-hour shifts. The food given to us consisted of 120 grams of bread, a liter of coffee, and a half-liter of soup. The work was crushing and beyond our strength. Prisoners from all over the world were gathered in this camp. Jews were in the vast majority. In addition, there were also Frenchmen, Poles, Belgians, Gypsies, Ukrainians, and Russians.
We could sense some imminent changes in the air. However, we were totally isolated from the outside world; we had not seen a newspaper or listened to any radio. In spite of all this, we were able to surmise from the behavior of the Germans and from snatches of conversations we overheard during the bombings that something was happening. Our work was often interrupted due to the fact that they could not supply us with the raw materials needed to continue our jobs. Toward the end, the work in Taucha stopped altogether. In March 1945, the Nazi commander of the camp appeared before us and delivered a short speech telling us that due to the fact that the enemy's planes were bombing arms manufacturing plants without cease, and since he was concerned about us, he had decided to transfer us from Taucha to Dresden. However, since there was no transportation for us, we would have to go by foot. According to his estimate, he said we would be en route for three days. They gave each of us 700 grams of bread, a piece of margarine, and a slice of salami. The journey lasted not three days, as promised, but 33 days. We were 1200 persons when we began; the majority succumbed, fell, never to get up again. Anyone who weakened for a second and couldn't keep pace with the march was shot on the spot. We slept in open fields. We had no warm coverings whatsoever for our bodies, and the ground was still covered with melting snow.
While traveling, we ate vegetation that was fit for animals and leftover crops that we found in the fields. I remember walking along the footprints of a horse that had traveled on the road, and I collected, one by one, wheat kernels that had fallen from the sack on his back. I felt that my strengths was leaving me, I was a total Muselman. According to the situation on the road, I surmised that the Russian and British forces were approaching and freedom was very close. The roads were full of refugees who were escaping by foot to the west. The possessions carried on their backs were very familiar to me. But this time, these refugees were Germans. This sight was the one thing that gave us encouragement and strengthened our resolve to overcome our hardships. In the meantime, we continued our death march. The SS men who guarded us were older men who were not fit to serve on the front. The going was very slow. From time to time we were stopped either by the army or by refugees. We had no idea where they were taking us or where the last stop would be. For a quarter of an hour we would walk and for half an hour we would stand, and this was repeated again and again. One day, at dusk, we again stopped on the crowded road. I was the first person in one of the rows of five. I sat down exhausted near the stream on the edge of the road and leaned against a telephone pole. I sat and sat. Around us, it grew dark. Suddenly, the idea popped into my head that I should immediately make an escape.
I started crawling toward the stream. From the stream I continued crawling toward a hill surrounded by trees. I lay transfixed and bewildered, as though in a dream. I heard footsteps growing fainter and fainter. The marchers went on their way. At the end of the marchers rode the Nazi officer on a motorcycle, and alongside him ran his wolf dog. It seems as if the dog noticed me and started barking. The commander shot a few bullets in the direction of the hill where I was hiding. After that, the noise of the motorcycle grew fainter until there was total silence.
Around me there was a deathly silence; everything was empty. The Germans had abandoned their homes and escaped to the west out of fear of the Red Army that was approaching and closing in on them. I stayed in this forest for three days. There I encountered German soldiers who had lost their units, as well as other refugees. They asked me what was I doing there, and I told them that I had lost my detachment. They didn't harm me in any way.
After three days I heard horses galloping and human voices from afar. I heard
them calling in a language that seemed to be Russian. I recognized it even
though I didn't know the Russian language. With my last bit of strength, I
crawled toward them. I fainted at the feet of the Russian soldiers. The main
thing was that I was a free person. This was on May 8, 1945.
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