I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath, laments the prophet Jeremiah at the destruction of the Temple. I will not exaggerate if I say that whatever was said about that destruction was too mild, too pale, to compare to this last disaster in Europe. No matter how much is told and written, the accounts do not give a clear picture of the great horrendous cruel tragedy and its sad outcome.
Even a person with an exquisite sense of perception cannot describe the frightful nightmare that hovered over every Jewish head, because the one who lived through it himself cannot comprehend how the same beings who called themselves human could have been capable of such beastly deeds.
I am a man who experienced the recent annihilation that the German Düsseldorfisch [Düsseldorf-like] murderous beasts carried out on helpless Jews, at first in the camp, then in the fields and pits and in plain hiding places. I will attempt to draw a few sad pictures that are but a small drop in the great sea of sorrow.
Truly, the good done by evildoers is never complete this is a sad reality that I experienced myself.
The majority of Christians who were willing to let wandering Jews into their stables or barns did it with the idea of extracting their possessions from them, either pleasantly or unpleasantly. They would in no way acknowledge that Jews had a right to live. It was seldom that one of them genuinely meant to save a Jew. There were cases of a Jew giving away his whole fortune of a lifetime to a Christian friend, but as soon as the Christian possessed the fortune, he became a bloodthirsty animal. And when the Jew came to him for a hiding-place, he would murder him in a beastly manner if not with a bullet, he would chop the Jew's head off while he was asleep.
There were many such instances; the Christians gave the unfortunate Jews an eternal hiding-place If someone was able to save himself at the home of a Christian, it was only for a few days. Thus one had to wander from place to place. Often Jews hid on Christian properties a bit longer but without their knowledge. They buried themselves in stables in the middle of hay.
In the winter, during great frosts, even if a farmer was willing to take people in, they were still afraid to risk it. One way or another, death was always staring them in the face.
The third winter of my being in hiding, my two brothers (who later perished) and I were on the lookout for a hiding place. We inquired from a farmer who made a living by taking food supplies to other people's houses at night. Such people were taking the risk of hiding Jews on their farms.
This farmer in the village of Dębowiec (in the vicinity of Kielce), whose name was B., welcomed us nicely. But his facial expression was frightening, and his roaring voice made our blood run cold.
But, as Sholem Aleichem says, B'makom sh'eyn ish, iz herring oykh fish [In a place where there is no man, a herring passes for a fish]. We had no alternative, so we stayed there. The farmer assured us that he would make a hiding place in the barn, but until he managed that, we were to stay in the stable. He gave us a good supper, of a kind that we had not had in months namely, bread and butter and white coffee with sugar. After the festive supper, he led us into the stable, stayed with us a while and listened to our promises for after the war. He was satisfied and showed us where we were to lie down to sleep.
He took our leave with a friendly smile and locked up the stable. It was not more than five minutes later, as we had barely crawled up to where he had indicated we should sleep, that we heard a tiny knock on a board. We looked around and saw in the deep darkness below us a white figure approaching slowly to our side. We stopped moving the straw around and concentrated all our senses on perceiving what this apparition was, perhaps a chimera. It did not take long, and the white apparition climbed up to where we were.
A shiver went through us. A terrible fear invaded us; we almost passed out. We could not utter a word. Suddenly, a thin voice was heard, and yes, it spoke Yiddish.
Brother Jews, we heard.
Who are you?
I am also a wandering, miserable Jew, came the answer.
How did you get here, and how did you know about us?
I live here, I have a hole, and then he was silent.
His last words confused us again. We did not understand what he was trying to tell us, and thought surely that he was a ghost, from a pit, one of the hundreds of martyrs.
The figure watched our silence without surprise and added, I have a hiding place.
He began to tell us his story, in brief, because he was afraid of someone overhearing. How did he know about us? He overheard, he said. He was with his family. Hearing people coming in so late into the stable, he understood immediately that they had to be Jews.
The Jew told us quietly:
The main thing is not to give him too much money in order not to arouse his greed. The farmer is always looking for an opportunity to get rid of us, because we pay him a pittance. We don't have any more, and we have been here five months already. Who knows how long we will have to stay here yet? If you like, come to our hole to talk, because it is dangerous to talk here.Of course, we immediately agreed to what the Jew suggested, because it had been 17 months since we had seen another Jew. The Jew walked ahead and held one of us by the hand, and we each did the same, one by one, in the dark, until we reached the indicated place.
He knocked three times and a board slid away, which looked no different from the other boards, and it was immediately bolted from the inside.
We had to get down on all fours. First, one stuck one's feet and legs through a very narrow passage (it reminded us of the caves of the Spanish Marranos), and thus moving along, we eventually fell into the pit. There we met another man, his brother-in-law, and his wife and three children. The pit was illuminated by an oil lamp. The whole household consisted of a pallet of straw laid out under a sort of makeshift linen cover that at one time had been white. The people, with not a drop of blood in their faces, with protruding eyes and ears, wished to catch even one word of hope.
We looked around and saw a small sack hanging from the ceiling with something round inside. We asked what it was.
It is bread. We have no shortage of bread, because we don't eat it; we just look at it. Only when someone feels very faint from hunger does he take a piece. When there is no moon, for us it is bright. One can go out and look for something to eat. But when there is a moon shining, for us it is dark, and we have to be stingy with the piece of bread.The people had no strength left to tell us about their experiences. We asked them if they perhaps knew of other Jews. Yes, they said, we know other Jews who are out free. How can that be? we asked in amazement.
They are partisans in the woods. Their aim is to avenge the blood of our martyrs. They stand with weapons in their hands to fight against the cursed, strong, and brutal enemy. They have taken care of more than one murderer.We listened to this with bated breath, not quite believing in the reality of what they were telling us. A fantasy in their desperate Jewish minds, they were giving themselves courage and hope and faith that there were other Jews who had the power and the ability to bring down a murdererous dog.
That's what we thought. But they assured us, in secrecy, that they had themselves seen these Jewish heroes. Actually, they had been visited by them twice.
As soon as they find out about a Jew, they come to help in whatever way they can. The first time, there were 18 of them who came at night, understandably, riding horses. They brought all kinds of wonderful things and gave us some money, which we are using to help us along even now. The farmer did not lose anything because of them. They spoke to him about what a great deed he was performing and what projects awaited him after the war (this influenced the farmer greatly to treat us kindly).We would not have tired of listening about such Jews forever. As we had no possibility of fighting, it was a great comfort that such Jews existed, whom we would want to join, hand in hand, and together accomplish our sacred duty.
They are all young, strong, well brought-up young men. They come from various towns Działoszyce, Pińczów, Wolbrom, and others. They took off their shirts and left them here for us.
The second time, to our heartfelt sorrow, only five of them came. The others had fallen heroically in the village of Pawłowice, near Pińczów. Their hiding place was denounced, and hundreds of Nazi bandits appeared and surrounded the house, and a slaughter ensued.
Four of the murderers were killed and one seriously wounded. But 13 Jews lost their lives. The rest saved their lives heroically; they sprang down from the roof, and, as they were escaping, they were able to shoot at and kill the four Nazis. It was these survivors who recently came. They brought us good provisions and said that as long as they were alive, they would remember us.
We were happy and fortunate that in the cemetery of Dębowiec (the name of the village), there were living Jews; and we rested easier considering that these people had been at the farm for several months already, a sort of proof that one could trust the farmer.
We had a worry, however; the fear that our arrival there would endanger them. We decided, though, that we would stay together and help and support one another.
The farmer did not let on, but once, seeing it might not do any harm, he told us that there were other Jews in the village. We attempted to guess, Perhaps in your farm, Sir? He smiled.
From then on, we saw the other Jews openly. We told each other of our pains, heavy personal losses, and bitter experiences. But the main thing was to know what awaited us in the future. Our own experiences were nothing compared to theirs.
Here is what they had gone through:
His name was Chaiml Smolarczyk, from the village of Łabędź, between Działoszyce and Pińczów. From his entire family, he had, thank God, his wife and three children, and his brother-in-law, Zalman Gerszonowicz, and they were sticking together. The worst thing that had happened to them was the last incident. It was when in all the villages there were strong raids and every farmer threw out whatever Jews they were sheltering, fearing for their own lives. Even hiding among the high sheaves of grain did not help, because even there, the murderers found them. They [the murderers] went on for a certain time, sweeping through the grain day after day, and shot whomever they found. Dozens of innocent Jewish souls were murdered and left lying there until after the harvest, when the farmers buried them.
During this time, the previously mentioned Jews walked through the mountains, found a hole there, and stayed four weeks in it. They hardly showed themselves in the village, except at night looking for some water. They grabbed what they could from the fields beet leaves, beans, carrot tops. This sustained them for several weeks. But their hideout was discovered there also. It was the search for water that gave them away.
One night, after they had gone to sleep, they heard someone trying to enter the cave, although it was well fortified. But the seekers had made a provisional side entrance. There were flashlights shining in their eyes, and they heard wild shouts, Out, leave everything!
They had to leave the cave.
They were stripped completely naked, and even the insides of their mouths were checked. Then the bandits went into the cave. Taking advantage of the moment (the murderers did not expect them to run away naked), they escaped. When they realized that the Jews were escaping, they shot in their direction. Happily, no one was badly hurt. One bullet hit Zalman in the back (he showed us where the bullet was; when one touched it, it moved from one place to another).
In that condition, naked, they ran to a farmer they knew, who gave them some clothes. Then, after inquiring further, they were led to this farmer where we now were.
Even then, they had no clothes. They wore torn rags, and their feet were wrapped in rags also. Their faces were pale, not a drop of blood in them, shrunken. They were still young but had aged markedly. Young old people. To this day, they don't know who those people were German murderers or just plain bandits, robbers.
We spent four weeks in these new quarters, but we had no place to hide. We didn't mind sleeping in the stable, even near an open wall, since, so that no trouble would come, one had to have a hiding place. Meanwhile, one slept wherever one could, though it was a bit cold. Bedding, forget it; our coats covered only half our bodies. We huddled together, the three of us, and the night went by
But one night, our sleep was interrupted by the loud barking of dogs. We realized it was neither early at night nor near dawn. It was still very dark.
The dogs wouldn't stop their barking. It was not a good sign. Not far away, there must have been strangers, and the dogs sniffed this out immediately.
I could not lie still and moved quietly to the boards that faced the village street. I looked through the grooves but saw no one. The whiteness of the snow gave off sufficient light to notice a person. Everything was quiet. The dogs stopped barking. I lay down again and fell asleep. We were so accustomed to all this, that we paid no attention. Besides, we were ready for whatever might come. Our sleep was again interrupted by steps that we heard below us, in the stable. In a short while, we heard someone trying to climb up to us, but the sound was familiar. Yes, Chaimke was coming. But, why in the middle of the night? Important news, otherwise Chaimke would not have been waking us up. We didn't wait for him to come nearer, but called quietly to him,
What is the matter, Chaiml?
Not bad news, thank God, he answered. The five Jewish partisans arrived half an hour ago.
We sat up immediately and went toward Chaiml. We wanted to see them at last. Where are they?
They are very tired. Had to walk many kilometers, so they are sleeping now, but their commander stands guard.
Hearing us talking, the Jewish hero, with his weapon in hand, came over to us quickly. In the darkness, he found our hands, embraced us and covered us with warm kisses.
We stood as if electrified. A stream of tears fell without end from our embittered eyes.
We asked him to tell us about their life. He was happy to do so and told us about their collective existence. His own experiences were not to be thought of at this moment; time would not allow it.
Every moment is important. We don't sleep. We've forgotten what it means to undress. But I will tell you some things that will bring you satisfaction.And he choked on these words with tears, but he calmed down and continued:
We have already rid the world of a few murderers or traitors to Jews. The leader of Szyszczyce, Ludwig, who pointed out where eight Jews were hiding, we sent him where the Jews are I acted as best man at his wedding When we knocked on his door, he refused to open. He must have sensed the angel of death. So we broke down the door and found him in his bed. We demanded that he show us the way to a second village. He knew what was waiting, so he offered that his son-in-law go instead. I am afraid he said. Why are you afraid? we asked, surely you must have sinned greatly. We forced him out of his bed as he was. Seeing death in front of his eyes, he said good-bye to his wife and children. His family did not react, knowing that he deserved the verdict.
As soon as we stepped away from the courtyard, there were some shots heard, and the bandit fell dead. There was a note pinned to his back, listing his guilt and the death sentence, and there he was left. The bestial Działoszyce policeman, Madejski, who made all Jews in that town tremble with fear, is also no longer among the living. The house he built in KsiąŻ with Jewish money is now standing orphaned, like us.
In that last battle we fought with the German bandits, where our 13 comrades perished, I was gravely wounded in my left hand. The bullet went in one way and came out the other. Despite this, I did not lose hold of my gun. On the contrary, I was able to shoot and kill a German beast. He washed himself in his own blood; blood was gushing out before my eyes. That was satisfying blood!
And what comes of that? It is not enough. I am very thirsty for German blood, to cool my soul for my one-year old darling Szymele, my dear wife, my sweet innocent Tajbele
My treasure! Whom did that little baby hurt? I swear, as long as I live, their blood will not rest, I will not forgive!Dawn was approaching when his words ended. We saw facing us a proud Jewish fighter, a hero. There was a vengeful flame in his eyes. This is how our old historical heroes must have looked, the Maccabees and the Hasmoneans. We felt like nobodies next to this hero with his great soul. This man lived with a mission to revenge all innocent Jewish victims so as to allow our near and dear ones to lie in peace in their unknown dark grave pits.
Afterward, the rest of the group appeared. One of them had lost five brothers, heroes in the partisan group, not counting his parents, sisters, and other relatives. The gun is all he had. They could not find recompense except in the automatic pistols which they immersed in the German beasts' blood. Oh, they said, If our group had survived, things would have been different. We had already achieved power and strength.
We listened with bated breath and were hypnotized by their vengeful deeds over our bloodthirsty enemies. We bowed before them with respect and awe.
Unfortunately, only one of them survived. My two dear brothers also perished
with them, and not at the hands of the German cannibals, but at those of our
own Polish murderous Narodowcy [Nationalists].
I was born in Działoszyce in 1919 to my parents Mendel and Bajla. My father was a merchant, and I was an only son with four sisters. My oldest sister's name was RóŻa, and the three younger ones were named Sonia, Hela, and Lola. Until I was 16 years old, I lived with my parents in Działoszyce. In 1932, I moved to Katowice, and there I worked in different companies. In 1937, I left to go to Łódź, where I worked as a representative for three textile companies from Bielsko: Rapaport, Fisch, and Rotenberg. This continued until the outbreak of the war.
The war found me in Łódź living at 17 Piotrkowska Street. I would like to make note of the fact that from my family that remained in Działoszyce, my oldest sister, RóŻa, together with her husband, Rolnicki, came to live in Israel, and they are still living there.
In the middle of October 1939, I returned to Działoszyce. In November and December of that same year, the Germans decreed that all Jews must wear arm bands on their sleeves that would identify them as Jews. The Judenrat [Jewish council] that had been organized at the beginning of the German occupation was obligated to supply a certain number of Jews for forced labor.
I myself didn't register for labor and occupied myself with any type of business that came my way. Again, I lived with my family. The Germans confiscated my father's entire inventory of textiles along with all his money. They totally destroyed him financially and economically. My father stopped doing business, felt totally useless in the world, and became a broken man.
In 1940, the situation in Działoszyce wasn't at its worst. The Germans mainly occupied themselves with sending hundreds of Jews for forced labor. During that period, the German's luck prevailed on the war front, and their treatment of Jews was reasonable. In certain situations, they had business dealings with Jews. It was only on February 8, 1940, that they forbade Jews to travel on trains.
Prior to the war, the Jewish population in the town amounted to 7,000 inhabitants, and during the war, when the Germans started chasing them out from different places Kraków, Łódź, Posen [Poznań], and Warsaw the Jewish population in Działoszyce rose and reached an estimated 12,000 inhabitants. In Działoszyce, there was never a closed ghetto, and because the Germans treated the Jews better here, many many Jews flocked to Działoszyce.
The situation worsened on June 22, 1941, with the advance of the Germans into Russia [Russian-occupied eastern Poland]. After that, the relations of the Germans toward the Jews took a drastic turn for the worse. During that time, the Germans started rounding up Jews and sending them to different concentration camps. The first camp was a fortified establishment in the suburb Kraków-Kostrze, and afterward, Płaszów and Prokocim.
There was constant gunfire to be heard in the town of Działoszyce. You were not allowed to leave your house after six o'clock in the evening. Only people belonging to the Ordnungsdienst [Jewish police] were allowed to be out on the streets after six.
In this regard, I am reminded of the following incident: One evening, at 6 pm, I went out into the garden that surrounded my house in order to get some fresh air. I lit a cigarette, and all of a sudden, I noticed a couple standing under a tree, a man and a woman. At that precise moment, the man made a movement toward me, and I saw a German pointing a gun at me. The girl, who was with him, was Jewish, however, and she held onto his sleeve and prevented him from shooting me. The German put down his revolver and asked me what I was doing outside at this hour. I lied to him and said that being that my father was a religious person, I went outside in order for him not to see me smoking on Shabes. This excuse saved me then from death. At that time, there were murders occurring under a variety of circumstances. For instance, in connection with the restrictions against ritual slaughter, a few butchers were murdered, among them a woman. I remember the names of three of the murdered people: Moszek Cudzynowski (19 years old), Rachel Cudzynowska (60 years old), and Pintel [Pinkus?] Drobiarz (60 years old). Some people were murdered because they left the town to go to neighboring farms in order to buy food. Generally, it was permissible for farmers to bring food products into town and for Jews to buy it. One time, ten Jews (whose origins were from Działoszyce) were captured in Racławice. They brought them to Miechów in order to kill them. They were shot in spite of the great efforts made on their behalf by the Judenrat.
In 1941, a census of all the Jews residing in Działoszyce was conducted men from the ages of 1260 and women from the ages of 1555. This registration was conducted by a gentile from Silesia by the name of Górniak who supervised the labor force in Kraków. I met this Górniak, who was an architect, in Katowice in 1945. I stopped him and led him to the headquarters of the UB [Urząd Bezpieczeństwa Security Office]. In the end, he received a jail term with 15 years of hard labor. Based on the registration that took place, transports were sent to concentration camps where Jews were subjected to the most horrific imaginable beatings, conditions, and sufferings. This Górniak rounded up 100 elderly Jews, took them to the cemetery, told them to turn their backs to the gate, held them in suspense for a few minutes, and, in the end, fired ten shots into the air. After this soul wrenching experience, he told them they could go back home.
December 15, 1941 arrived. It was the day on which America declared war on Germany after the invasion of Pearl Harbor. From that day on, terrible troubles for all Jews began. The Germans turned into wild animals. A Jew didn't know how to behave with a German. If he greeted him on the street and removed his hat, he got beaten immediately, since no Jew could be the friend of a German. And if he failed to remove his hat for him, his verdict was death, since this showed total disrespect. In this way, Jews were caught between a rock and a hard place.
The year 1942 arrived. The first decree to emerge was for Jews to hand over all their furs to the authorities (to be used at the Russian front). Those who did not give up their furs were immediately sent to the death camps or killed on the spot. In the beginning of the year, there were widespread rumors that Jews were being sent to the east, as the Germans had declared. After that, they transferred all the Jews living in the surrounding villages to Działoszyce. The population of Jews in the town then amounted to approximately 15,000.
In March and April, and until September 3 (on this day they took all the Jews of Działoszyce to the camp at Bełżec), they rushed all the young people off to labor camps.
On August 31, 1942, we received news from the nearby villages about the total banishment and extermination of Jews from their dwelling places, also from Słomniki. Upon hearing this, the entire Jewish population still remaining in Działoszyce gathered together and went to the cemetery, where they beseeched God with prayers and cries to save them from destruction and annhilation.
On September 2, SS officers arrived with the Junacy [youth brigade]. They sealed off the entire town, preventing any exit or entry, and announced that all Jews had to present themselves in the market square. In addition to the written order, the SS officers, together with the Junacy, strolled along the streets and alleyways of the town, shooting and killing any Jewish passerby found trying to escape from the town.
In the morning, when they had gathered a few thousand Jews in the market square, they brought carts, and in each one, they loaded ten Jews. We, in our innocence, thought that these people would be transported to the train station. Instead, however, the Germans took them to the cemetery, where the Junacy, the day before, had dug three huge ditches. In these ditches, 1200 Jews were shot and buried. We were able to determine the number of dead by the amount of clothes that the martyrs had taken off before their deaths. This clothing was later transferred to the synagogue. The Jewish carriage drivers, who had transported the clothing and then returned it to the Germans, were also shot in their carriages. I remember the names of two of them: one was Szmul Goldkorn and the other, Pałasznicki. As I had been convinced that they would take us all to the train station, I had tried to convince my father that he, too, should get on one of the carts, but he completely refused. At the same time, the Germans were invading Jewish homes and residences and helping themselves to gold, jewelry, and any other valuable items they found this in order to cover the expenses of transporting these Jews to the east. In the market square, at the same time, they started selecting Jews in groups of 100 in order to take them to the trains. Suddenly, we started hearing gunshots coming from the streets. Dozens of sickly and weak people who had been trying to save themselves by hiding in basements and attics were now being viciously and mercilessly shot to death by the Germans.
After that, we were put into open train wagons, and the train took us to the town of Miechów. When we arrived in Miechów, the police greeted us with murderous beatings. The chief of police, whose name was Rittinger, rode on a white horse and directed the entire action [roundup and deportation]. At the end, they took us to a large open pasture and surrounded us with many machine guns. All day long, the Jews from the market square kept arriving. After they were all assembled, it became dark, and they used searchlights to illuminate the area. You were not allowed to stand up but had to sit in one place without moving. The earth was damp. This is how they kept us, approximately 12,000 to 15,000 people, until the next morning at seven o'clock. At seven o'clock, we saw a transport of Jews arriving from Miechów, and in their lead was the rabbi of that town who appeared to be carrying a sack on his back. (Our elderly rabbi from Działoszyce, Rabbi Staszewski, about 90 years old, had been murdered in his bed by the Germans. They had entered his room and ordered him to get off his bed, but he refused, saying, Kill me in my bed. I will not get up, and the Germans fulfilled his request). After this, they combined us with the Jews from Miechów. Also the Gestapo men from Kraków arrived along with the people in charge of the Arbeitsamt [employment office], and they ordered us to get up from our places. They formed us into rows, and the Gestapo selected the younger ones, those still able to work. We all stood with raised hands, and they selected those they wanted by pointing with the sticks in their hands. In this manner they chose 800 young people, who were placed to one side. I stood with my father, mother, and three of my sisters. Before the Germans approached us, my mother gave me all the treasures that she had hidden on her body, knowing full well that she and her daughters were going to a certain death. My mother was then 60 years old, my father 64. I was young then, only 26, and was selected for the work group.
I still managed to see my parents when they were put into the closed railroad wagons. They put us into the open wagons, and at 6 pm, they attached our wagons to the closed ones, and we were on our way.
Our train traveled to Płaszów, but the closed cars continued on to the death camp in Bełżec. In the Płaszów camp, we were under the supervision of the Vlasovians (Ukranian soldiers who had surrendered to the Germans near Leningrad). They brought us to the Prokocim camp, which was two kilometers further than the camp in Płaszów. En route, they beat us with whips and smashed bottles on our heads while they ripped off our watches, rings, and anything else that we possessed.
The next morning, they took us out to the camp yard, and in a short while, a Gestapo man by the name of Müller arrived and addressed us with this speech: You will have it good here. You will have work. This Müller only requested one thing from us, that we should hand over all the moneys in our possession except for 20 złoty, which he would allow everyone to keep. Whoever refused would be shot on the spot. As for myself, I didn't agree to do this. I want to note that one of my sisters, Sonia, had gotten married in 1942 with someone from our town, Izrael Skóra. They took my sister Sonia from the town of Miechów to Bełżec, and her husband was taken to the Prokocim camp. After Müller's speech, my brother-in-law wanted to hand over all of his money, but I, however, stopped him. In the blink of an eye, the Vlasovians came over to us with open suitcases and demanded that we add our money as well. Near us stood a German Jew. On his way over to us, Müller took out a man from the line and asked him, Do you have more than 20 złoty on you? He answered in the negative. Müller went up to him, put his hand into his coat pocket, and withdrew a 100 złoty bill. He took away the bill and ordered the Jew to sit down in his place. Immediately afterward, Müller shot and killed him on the spot.
The elegant and clean Müller, wearing white gloves on his hands, would perform these murderous acts with ease, as though he was extending his hand to someone. Afterward, he addressed the shocked spectators, Now hand over all that you have in your possession. A very big commotion ensued. People ripped open the soles of their shoes, tore open their sleeves and rid themselves of all the money they possessed. However, my brother-in-law and I, as well as some other young men, hid everything in the dirt, right beneath our feet. The Germans, who suspected that money was hidden in the dirt, combed the entire area afterward. They found some of the money but not all of it. My money was saved, together with that of some others. I stayed in the camp another few days, and afterward, we decided to escape to the ghetto in Kraków. Our camp was enclosed with barbed wire. A group of 18 men slipped away from the camp, and we hid among the people marching to work at that time until we were outside the gate. The morning was still dark. Jewish police were supervising the group, and in the dark, no one noticed us. After we entered the ghetto gate, in Zgody Square, we encountered the Jewish police (Ordnungsdienst) with the Junacy. We bribed them and entered the [Kraków] ghetto.
Inside the ghetto, we started to reorganize, and one of the Junacy, who had received a handsome payment from us, got us transferred to Nowy Korczyn (Neustadt) [New Town], via a boat that was traveling along the Vistula River. The town was located 80 kilometers from Kraków, in the direction of Sandomierz. We were informed that there a Jew was still allowed to breathe.
My brother-in-law stayed in the ghetto. There he heard that the Germans were allowing Jews to settle again in Działoszyce. We only stayed in Nowy Korczyn two or three days, since we also heard the news regarding Działoszyce. Eventually, we reached Działoszyce by foot and discovered some of the things that had happened. After the first deportation of Jews, the Germans had rounded up all the remaining Jews, who were scattered about town, into the synagogue, and a small-scale Judenrat was created. Under its control were a few hundred Jews. I did not return to my apartment, since by now a blue policeman (a Junak) was living there. This policeman looted and stole everything that he found in my apartment. So instead, I lived together with my brother-in-law, whose apartment was untouched, until November 9, 1942. During those nine weeks, the Germans organized clean up squads whose purpose was to put in storage all the goods robbed from Jews.
On the night of November 9, we were at a flour mill, one and a half kilometers from town. All of a sudden, we heard shots being fired. We heard that the action had begun, and we were determined in our hearts to escape from the town. Not far from the mill was the road to Miechów. Each one of us had a gun and 60 bullets. We harbored no illusions; we knew that our end was near. We remained three days at the mill, and when we left there, we had no choice but to remove our armbands, since we could not venture forth openly as Jews any longer. The director of the mill gave us food to take along for the journey. He was a friend of Moszek Rozenfrucht. However, we were suddenly seized by fear of the unknown. On the third night, we hid in a nearby stack of straw. The next morning at dawn, the miller, Jan Kałat, found our hiding place and yelled in our direction, Moszek! Slabonik (the commander of the blue police) told me to tell you that you are supposed to go to the cemetery to be killed. We understood that this man, a Silesian, was coming to warn us that we must escape. We came out of our haystack and from that moment on, we organized our heroic escape route among the villages in the area. We entered the first farmer's home. We had money with us, and for a very handsome fee, he let us hide there. This is how we wandered from one village to the next. In each place, we stayed only a very short time, because the farmers were afraid to give us shelter due to their fear of the Germans. After weeks of wanderings from village to village and from house to house, we split into two groups. My brother-in-law and I went in the direction of the village of Sudołek, and we hid with a farmer by the name of Jan Mikuła. Wolf Skóra and Moszek Rozenfrucht were hidden in the village of Łabędź with a farmer by the name of Winnik. After half a year, the Germans killed this farmer together with his family, because he was a Communist. However, Wolf Skóra and Moszek Rozenfrucht managed to escape and find a hiding place in a bunker. Prior to this, they managed, through this Communist farmer, to establish ties with the AL (Armia Ludowa) [People's Army], and entered the forest. There they joined the partisans and fought in the woods until they met their deaths.
My brother-in-law and I spent a long time at Mikuła's in various hiding places. His behavior to us was not consistent. Some of the time he treated us well and provided us with food and other needs. At other times he made believe he didn't know us due to his great fear that the Germans would discover us and burn down his house and murder him together with his family as a punishment. In the end, Mikuła put us in the barn. We dug a hole that was two meters deep, three meters wide, and four meters long. We covered the hole with boards, and on top we put bundles of hay. This is how we lay during the day in the hole, and at night we would venture out in order to breathe some fresh air. One time, a strange man was approaching our hiding place, and Mikuła's son, with great cleverness, managed to detract his uncle from finding us. (This man was the brother-in-law of Mikuła, by the name of Belski). Several times the visits of unwanted people would surprise us near our bunker, but we always managed to escape the danger. During the last weeks, we received horrible food, and Mikuła's relationship with us totally disintegrated.
Our sufferings finally came to an end on January 15, 1945. The Russians arrived, liberated us, and brought us out from darkness unto light and from slavery to redemption.
(From testimony that was given at Yad Vashem)
On September 1, 1939, World War II broke out, and with that, very big troubles began, particularly for Jews. On Friday, German airplanes came and dropped bombs, and on Sunday morning, a neighbor of mine, Symcha Jurysta, zl, along with some other people, went to construct shelters near Stara Rzeka [Old River]. A bomb fell, and Symcha became the first casualty in our town. There was great sorrow; he was such a wonderful person, a philanthropist, and also a dozor [overseer] of the gmina [Jewish community].
The first German decrees were that all Jews must wear armbands with Stars of David on them, they must not walk on the sidewalk, and all men must shave. The Polish police cooperated with the Germans, and they dragged Jews into my barbershop to have their hair cut and their beards shaved.
In 1940, the Germans ordered all single unmarried men and also childless men to report to the [Jewish] community office. They sent off crowded transports of young men. Afterward, men from the Arbeitsamt [employment office] came and nabbed everyone they could find on the streets and shipped them off to work camps. Their parents cried and complained, but there was nothing to be done. The Germans conducted searches in merchants' shops and took away wagons full of goods. A peasant girl who had denounced the gravedigger's daughter accompanied the Germans. There were also many Jews who bought the goods that had been taken from the merchants. Everyone's life was in danger, but they did not realize it.
In 1941, the situation became much worse. Every morning, upon arising, we heard bad news. On a certain day, the Germans killed four butchers. They caught them slaughtering a calf. On the following day, they shot two Jews Hilel Skopicki, zl, and Szulim Aszer Zelikowicz, zl, who had had business dealings with the commissar in charge of Jewish property.
It also happened that some Jews were afraid to keep their goods in their own possession and thus passed them over to others. The informers had their work cut out for them, and the Germans immediately performed searches. Afterward, a commando group from Kazimierz came and began to search private houses. One time they searched the house of our rabbi, Reb Eliezer Epsztajn, ztsl [of blessed righteous memory], and found a bag of silver. They forced the rabbi to walk to the market square with the bag on his back and stand there all day, until the community was able to get him released from his punishment. Thus they humiliated everyone. Each day brought new problems.
The Germans gave an order that Jews could not leave town. They could only go up to the highway but not beyond it. Anyone found on the other side would be shot on the spot. There were cases where they killed a number of people at the same time. They also took ten proprietors in the town as hostages and stated that if anything happened to the Germans in town, the hostages would be shot.
One Friday, the Germans blocked off Kraków Street and rounded up all the Jews there. There happened to be about ten people in my barber shop. They took me, my workers, and the ten customers to the town hall. All together there were about 80 of us. The town hall was in Szental's building, and the building had a large shed. They sat us all in the shed. They then led us over the river, near Moszek Beker's bridge. We thought surely that this was the end for us, but a miracle occurred. They led us into the synagogue, and there they took all the single men and sent them away to a work camp. They set us, the married men, free. On another day, the leader came to the community office looking for a young man by the name of Rafałowicz. It seems they did not find him, because he was not in town. They actually gave an order that everyone by the name of Rafałowicz come to the office and also bring with them the young man they were looking for. The Rafałowiczes came, about 13 people, unfortunately without the young man. The Germans took all of the assembled Rafałowiczes to the Szczotkowice meadow and shot them all to death.
The chairman [of the Jewish community], Moszek Josel Kruk, ran after them and
shouted at the Germans, Let the people go, and one of them turned
around pointing his gun at him. He came running into my house, and I hid him.
The Year 1942 The year 1942, the year of the annihilation of the Jews, was the most horrible of all.
During the deportation week, we were still prostrating ourselves on the graves. We beseeched the heavens; day and night people recited psalms, praying that we would all be able to bear our sorrows. According to the decree, we were supposed to present ourselves on Wednesday evening. Meanwhile, on Wednesday afternoon, a whole train full of Junacy [youth brigade] (Ukranian collaborators of the Gestapo) arrived in town, and they were set to dig large pits the whole night. There were two immediate victims: Izrael Lokaj and Akiba Zyngier. They were shot trying to escape. The orders from the community office were that every hour residents of a different street had to report to the market square with their belongings. All night long, Jews from every street moved toward the market square. The square became overcrowded from one side, all the way to Chmielowa Street, and on the other side, all the way to the pharmacy. One was not allowed to stand but had to lie down on the ground, like sheep.
In the early morning, many carts arrived. The orders said that old or sick people who could not walk should get onto the carts. Alas, they were all taken behind the cemetery and put to death. The pits had already been prepared. Then came an order to line up everyone with their families. They placed Polish policemen on both sides, with us in the middle. They stood about ten meters apart. There were four Germans in brown uniforms: the district chief [of the Gestapo], Schmidt, and two others on horseback. The district chief was named Beyerlein. We walked in rows, pushed by the police. Whoever could not stay in line or keep up was shot on the spot. We kept hearing shots and screams. The whole way from the market to the train station was full of dead people. The streets were bloodied. It was not the Germans this time who were shooting but the Polish police. I myself heard the German commander order them not to shoot people inside the town. But the police commander, called Calowan, with the crooked legs, a dangerous murderer, kept shouting in Polish, Tylko strzelać [Just shoot]. I heard this several times. We were thus hounded, the first transport, until Miechów. There they selected 500 older people, took them into the forest, and shot them. All day long they led the transports. By evening, there were 2,000 dead people in Działoszyce, murdered during the deportation. We lay next to the train in a meadow. The heat was horrendous. Jews from Miechów brought us bread and water, and they lamented, Who will bring something for us tomorrow? And they were right. In the morning they brought the Jews from Miechów.
On Thursday, they ordered everyone to take their bags, but this caused great problems, as the bags had gotten mixed up. So some people took two, and others had none. Furthermore, they ordered us to line up by families, and they chose 900 of the strongest (I was among them) and pushed them into nine open wagons, one on top of another, 100 to a wagon. All our families were packed into closed wagons. The train had two locomotives, one in front and one in back. Thus we moved ahead, hearing the whole time the cries of our wives and children in the closed wagons. We left Miechów. Between the railroad cars stood SS men. They gave orders that no one stand up in the wagons and that those who did, or didn't hear the order, would be shot. We arrived in Płaszów at 11 o'clock that night. There, the Ukrainians were waiting for us, in their black uniforms. The nine wagons were detached from the train, and the rest went on to Bełżec. We got down from the train, and the Ukrainians began to push us toward Prokocim over a side road. Along the road they beat us mercilessly and took our watches and our money. It was a dark night, and the dust was terrible. We arrived in Prokocim beaten and bloodied, half dead, around two o'clock in the morning. Our boys were already there, having arrived earlier. They brought us food and had us lie down in empty barracks on boards.
Dawn came very soon, and they pushed us out to the inspection area. They pulled out three Jews right there and shot them in front of our eyes. Two were from Miechów, and one, Gutman Richter, zl, from Działoszyce.
The Germans then brought out some barrels and made us put anything we had of value into them. The order was that whoever did not give everything over would be shot like the previous three people. The barrels were filled immediately with various coins and other money dollars, gold, złoty, etc.
As soon as the inspection was over, they rushed us off to work. They took us to BieŻanów. We worked at laying a train track and knocking down the houses that were in the way. This was on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. I did not stay in this camp very long, barely eight days. I had protection, and they sent me to Kraków, to a camp called The Waffen-SS and Police of Grzegórzki, where there were 400 Jews.
I was the SS barber and porządkowy [orderly]. It was an exceedingly bad camp. There were hangings and shootings.
Every Sunday, Icek Kołatacz, zl, from Działoszyce, drove by with a wagon full of bread that he was carrying to the ghetto, and he would leave me 20 loaves. There were 20 Jews from Działoszyce in the camp. There were some Jews still left in Działoszyce who had hidden there. They were being used to liquidate Jewish possessions. Their gathering place was in my house. Icek Kołatacz drove several times to Kraków to get bread for the ghetto. On the way, he drove by Grzegórzecka Street and never forgot to leave 20 loaves for the people in our camp. Later on, when those who were left in Działoszyce had finished liquidating those possessions, they were themselves liquidated. And also, later on, when they liquidated the ghetto in Kraków, they also liquidated all the camps around Kraków, including ours. The survivors were taken to the large camp Płaszów, on Jerozolimska Street. In this camp I was also the SS barber, thanks to protection from my assistant, Dawid Reisman. He was the barber of the head of the camp, Goeth, and I was the barber of Landesdorfer, Hujar-Striewski, Kowalski, and the Wachtmeister [guard chief] Glazar. At the Płaszów camp, we suffered greatly.
In my barracks there was a group of 70 people. They often would leave the camp to go to work, One day they found one of them with a loaf of bread, and they shot them all. The situation was horrendous. It is simply too difficult to describe. Every day something new happened. The commander would ride around on a horse and peer through a lorgnette. Whenever he felt like it, he got off his horse and shot people. The camp was known as Płaszów Hell.
In the meantime, I acquired a new client. He was the head of the community, and
his name was Ebner. I shaved him twice a day. He was a very mean man. He always
carried a dagger and a revolver. I was once a bit late getting to him, and he
punished me I had to leave Płaszów. I was very happy about
this, and on May 1, 1944, there was a transport going to Gross-Rosen, so I went
with it. We were about 1,000 men. When we got to the new place, we were
welcomed at the gates with music. The inspection area was up a number of steps,
so the block elders received us there with such beatings that two Jews fell
dead right there. We were bathed and given clothes to wear. I went to work with
the barbers. Within a few days, we were sent around to camps near Breslau [now
Wrocław]. I reached Wolfsberg and again became the SS barber. I stayed
there until the Russians were approaching Breslau. We were evacuated to
Bergen-Belsen, then to Stetin [now Szczecin], and from there to Barth and to
Rostock. We were liberated by the Russians and the Americans on May 1, 1945.
After Liberation A few days later, I went to Działoszyce. I found some people in my house: Bencion Czarnocha, Chaim Jurysta, Eli Ostry, and Berisz Jurysta. I took out the possessions that I had hidden. Besides them, the house was occupied by the Dalesubes, the family of the woodcutters.
I would like to describe for you how Działoszyce looked after the war. Half of the houses were in ruins. Groswald's house had disappeared, and all the small dwellings were gone. When I passed by the synagogue, I saw a horse and carriage entering it. I went into the bes hamedresh and had a great shock pictures of Jesus and Mary were hanging there. The guards and the lumbermen were living in the Jewish houses. On Berl Zajfman's balcony stood the district watchman, the storekeeper Koniecki, at Moszek Drobiarz, the woodcutter Figiel. The peasants from the villages were living in the houses around the market square. When they saw me, they shouted, Avramcze, ty jeszcze Żyjesz? (Abram, you are still alive?) I went to the town hall to secure documents, and it turned out that the bailiff was the man who was in the labor union, Adamski. His representative was Rak, the shoemaker, with the scar on his face. They gave me whatever I asked them for, and at the same time said, You want to settle in Działoszyce? We don't advise it. I went out to the market square. It was frightening. There was not a living soul to be seen. The people who were living in my house had many goods there fabric, clothing, radios, sewing machines, etc. They had come three months earlier than I had and brought the goods from Upper Silesia. I was in Działoszyce for just eight days. I went to Kraków to sell some gold, to have money to give to the Christian woman who was staying in my house. She wanted 50,000 złoty as a dowry for her daughter to get out of my house for half an hour, so that I could recover all that I had hidden before I went to the camps.
During this same night, more trouble came. The AK (Armia Krajowa) [Home Army] attacked my house at midnight. They broke in forcefully and beat us up. They demanded that we give them watches and money. We handed everything over. Then they lined us up against the wall, with one of them watching over us. They brought a horse and wagon and emptied the house out. The wagon was full of radios and sewing machines. They assaulted all the Jewish houses, but in ours it was much worse. One of them gave the order shoot everyone like dogs. In front of me stood Bencion Czarnocha, Berisz Jurysta, and Eli Ostry. They were shot with a machinegun. They all fell instantly, but they missed me. Bencion was dead. The AKs returned after a while, and I told the wounded to be quiet. But they moaned in their great pain.
The murderers threw a grenade and tore off half of Jurysta's body. As I was trying to stem the flow of his blood, I was hit by a bullet in the toe, but this did me no harm. Early in the morning, the police commander, dressed in civilian clothes, appeared. He was a young gentile from the village of Słupów, a client of mine. He had apparently been notified, and he ordered the wounded to be taken to Miechów. Chaim Jurysta died on the way. Eli Ostry and Berisz Jurysta were taken to the hospital in Kraków. I remained with the dead man, Bencion Czarnocha. In the evening, a delegation led by Dr. Grębowski came and decided to send for a handcart to remove the corpse. Since I was wearing a bloodied shirt, Dr. Grębowski and the notary, Jasieński, both of them clients of mine, sent two suits of clothes, but one was too large, and the other one too small. So I put on the smaller trousers and the large one over a shirt. Until that day, there had been about 30 Jews in Działoszyce who had returned from the camps, but they all ran away. I was left, the only one. With the help of the gentile who had brought the handcart, we laid the corpse in the cart and took it to the cemetery. At the cemetery, I discovered that there were no gravestones left. It was a plowed flat field of grain. One lone grave had remained, that of Hilel Skopicki, zl. I dug a grave next to his for Bencion Czarnocha. Afterward I went to Chmielowa Street and found out that they had also shot Szmul Piekarz, zl, so I buried him also in a Jewish grave.
Meanwhile it had turned dark, and the police wanted me to sleep at their headquarters. I was afraid and went on to Dr. Grębowski's and slept there. In the morning, when I started on my way, I ran into my tenant, who asked me to take everything out of my house. But I did nothing. I walked to the railroad and took the train to Sosnowiec. There I worked as a barber for a while to earn some money. I was there one month.
I will not exaggerate when I say, out of my innermost pain, that when I remember the little town of Działoszyce, my heart bleeds to this day. What dear people perished. My heart cries. How did they deserve such severe punishment, such a tragic end?
Afterward, I went to Germany and worked there for the American army until 1949.
From there I made aliye to Israel.
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