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[Page 129]

From the Horrors of the Holocaust

 

[Pages 130-136]

In the Tempest of the War[1]

By Zadok Zudkevitz

Translated by Allen Flusberg

The year is 1938. Fascism is raising its head and is being rewarded with many successes; its influence is growing steadily in Europe. With it anti-Semitism is on the rise as well, obtaining support, encouragement and a “scientific” foundation from Nazi Germany.

The anti-Semitic parties of Poland are no longer satisfied with the economic-cultural war [against the Jews] that is supposedly being conducted by the ND party[2]. Instead, they are making an effort to catch up to their Hitlerite neighbors…The OZN party[3] is endeavoring to uproot the Jews and expel them from Poland—and all this systematically, with a diabolical plan to make the Jews loath their own lives, to bring them to despair. But most terrible of all, there is nowhere to flee to; all the gates are closed to the Jews!

Even in our small town the signs were recognizable, signs portending disaster. Significant changes had occurred in the composition of the city administration: a former general, a well-known anti-Semite, was appointed as mayor. To replace the priest who had passed away—and who had been known for being friendly to the Jews—a new religious leader was sent to the town. This new priest had published in Slovo Pomorskie articles filled with hatred for the Jews, articles in which he tried to blame the Jews for all the failings and shortcomings of the Polish state: the economic crisis, the absence of jobs, the hardship and the poverty[4]. This is how anti-Semites operate, transferring the anger of the masses from those who are truly blameworthy to the Jews…

OZN thugs attack unsuspecting Jewish passersby in the street—they rain down blows, break windows, and scatter the merchandise of Jewish shopkeepers, who stand by helplessly. The situation continues to worsen, with dark clouds gathering in our skies. We are full of trepidation and worry.

But all this was nothing compared to what happened to us on [the day we later referred to as] Black Sunday. That day large crowds gathered in the church, where they listened to a speech of incitement by the priest. Afterwards an incited, aroused mob ran through the streets of the town, going wild and attacking the Jews. A sight like this had never been seen before in our town: the rioters attacked women walking with their babies, tossing them and their baby carriages off the sidewalk; they uprooted fences and broke windows. All this took place under the auspices of the police, who stood by to prevent any attempt by the Jews to fight back.

We were at a loss at what to do. This time [even] the young people—who had previously always stood up to rioters-thugs—were forced to shut themselves up in their homes. [Meanwhile] a speaker who was supposed to lecture that evening in the auditorium of the Peretz Library managed, with great danger, to finally reach the train so that he could hurry back to his home in Warsaw.

The next day all of the Jewish press was filled with horrible descriptions of what had taken place in the town. Another Jewish community had been struck—joining those that had previously experienced the taste of riots, in Paszitik[5], in Mińsk-Mazowiecki[6] and others. All the efforts by the Jewish leaders in Poland for help from government authorities ended with absolutely nothing…The riots continued for several days. Then, even after they ended, the situation did not return to what it had been before…The rift that had opened remained a threat…

Even those Poles who had been friends with Jews (and I, too, had several such friends, who had studied with me in school) now tried to distance themselves and to hide their relationship as friends because of their fear of the anti-Semites, who were accusing them of treason to the homeland. Indeed there were here and there Poles with socialist consciousness who attempted to stand by the Jews and to struggle jointly with them against the rioters—but to no avail. Even they were forced in the end to worry about themselves, their livelihood and their safety…

This situation continued almost to the start of World War II, when the persecuted Jews were joined by members of the “Master Race”—the Germans who lived near us. The attitude of the Polish people toward the Germans was no better than their attitude to the Jews. On the insulting signs, hung in front of cafes and hotels in Torun[7], proclaiming “No entry to dogs and Jews”, the word “Germans” was now added…Jews and Germans were now in the same boat!

The irony of it! How ludicrous it was to see these Germans—the very same Germans from whom the Poles had received their tenets of racism—in their humiliation, as they sought refuge, bowing and begging for their lives…

 

August 14, 1939

Already at dawn Katarzyńska Street[8] is teeming with men. These are the days just before war. Many of the men have already received their mobilization order, while others are waiting to receive theirs. All are conversing and arguing and trying to guess what awaits us…They've just called me to come home to tell me that I, too, have received a conscription order—I have to report to my army unit in Torun in two hours.

The recruiting office is crowded with men who have streamed here from both near and far. There is an atmosphere of disorder and panic; things are not organized. Rumors are going around about German espionage taking place from within our ranks.

We are already in our uniforms, carrying arms. Since the barracks are too crowded, schools and public auditoriums have been commandeered to house the conscripts. On that very same night we go out for maneuvers near the German border.

 

August 30, 1939

Everyone senses that war is inevitable. The men are called up to again take an oath of allegiance to the homeland…At night we are stationed near the border, in a state of readiness. Suddenly the air is pierced by the sound of sporadic shooting…As morning approaches the firing becomes steadier. The attack is joined by machine guns and cannons, and heavy bombers make their appearance. The attack is now at full intensity. The Second World War has begun! The Nazi army is piercing our lines and enveloping us with all its strength. It is trying to deliver a heavy, overwhelming blow by using the blitzkrieg method that had been talked about all the time. We, who have trained with antiquated tactics, following the rules of the First World War, are beaten back and are caving in under their powerful strikes. After only two hours of standing up to the enemy, our front is broken through, and a panicky, disorganized retreat begins.

 

September 15, 1939

We are near Lubicz[9]. Three divisions in this vicinity have surrendered. White flags are fluttering over the houses in the towns and villages. Here and there some attempts at defense have been made, but with no success. The Germans are scattering fliers that call for the Polish army to put down its weapons and surrender.

On that very day the Germans transport about 20,000 prisoners of war on the road leading to Lubicz. Among them are several fellow townsmen: Avrohom Yizchak Schlachter, Avrohom Kuzak, Leib Ulstein and others.

 

September 20, 1939

After much wandering and unending suffering, we reached the city of Kalisz[10]. Here we were brought to a synagogue. The synagogue, the adjoining beit midrash[11] and the orphanage were transformed into a prisoner camp, surrounded by a fence, with machine guns stationed at its corners. (This orphanage was large; the contributions for maintaining it had been coming in from all parts of Poland and even from outside it; there had been about 400 orphaned children living there.) Even though prayer verses were still fluttering here and there, it was hard to imagine that there had ever been a synagogue and beit midrash in this place…

How terrible the spectacle! Whatever the Germans had left intact, the Poles had completely finished off: they tore up the parochet[12] to use as rags for shining shoes; tallitot[13] were employed as towels…Only the Torah scrolls, which the Jews [of the town] had managed to take out early enough, were saved from the unclean hands of the desecrators.

Every now and then we peeked outside from the Ezrat Nashim[14], and our hearts sank seeing the torment of the Jews of Kalisz as they were being pursued by the Germans, who were humiliating them beyond words and cruelly beating them senseless.

 

September 30, 1939

After being freed from the prison camp we arrived in Torun in freight trains. From there we set out on foot to our homes via roundabout ways, fearing the Gestapo. Although we were carrying release documents, these had no value in the eyes of the Gestapo; they tended to destroy such documents, in many cases together with those who were carrying them. Leib Ulstein was in the group walking with me; the others in the group were Poles from Golub.

At dusk we reach Golub. We are careful to make our way quietly. We meet a Polish woman and ask her what has gone on in the town. Is it possible to cross the bridge?[15] (The original bridge has been blown up by the Germans; in its place there is now a very narrow temporary bridge.) The woman reveals to us that incidents have already occurred, in which captured Polish soldiers who had been released have since been arrested. What she is telling us is not very encouraging…We decide to make our way to one of the Jewish families living in Golub, the Fein family. It is a lucky decision—they are still in their house. We now realize that most of the Jews of Golub have been expelled to Dobrzyn.

There is an atmosphere of depression in the house. Everyone is fearful, not knowing what will happen next. Shmuel Hersh Riz is sleeping in one of the secluded rooms, but they are not letting us go into that room. They say he has suffered a nervous breakdown after being held for several hours by the Gestapo. Leib decides to spend the night here. But placing my trust in the darkness of the night and in the rainy weather, I quietly make my way to my house, making sure that the enemy does not detect me. I reach my house. But is it still my house?

 

November 9, 1939

We still don't know about what is actually taking place in the town. We work at dismantling the bridge that had been blown up—labor that has been imposed on all the Jews, five days a week. Our group consists of ten Jews of various ages.

Suddenly one of the children comes over and tells us that they are about to expel all the Jews from the town. Only when we return home for a lunch break do we find out all the details. On that very morning several of the Jews, among them Hershel Linet of blessed memory, were invited to a meeting with the occupation authorities, where they were told that an explicit order had come down to expel all the Jews of the town to Warsaw. Nonetheless, if the Jews would prefer that the expulsion should take place in an orderly, proper fashion, they must bring valuables—gold, silver and jewelry—as payment.

The representatives of the Jews naively believed that this order was nothing but an excuse to extort money, and that with sufficient ransom they would have it within their power to cancel the expulsion decree. They therefore worked quickly and brought two buckets filled with silver and gold jewelry to City Hall. But their hopes were dashed. All the Jews were ordered to gather in front of City Hall. Here documents were distributed to them, and they were categorically ordered to leave town within two hours.

And in fact, within only two hours armed policemen made their appearance in the streets. They stood there, urging the Jews to quickly vacate their homes and depart. They accompanied their words of encouragement with blows.

The Jews abandon their homes and set out in one convoy after another, carrying on their backs the few possessions that they could manage to bring along. Most go on the main road leading to Rypin[16]. They take one last look toward their town…Is this a nightmare? Many generations lived here, experiencing joy and grief—one generation following another…Here their days of childhood and youth passed, here they grew up and became adults…But the end has come! They are being chased out like dogs, as curses rain down on them, “Away from here, you leprous Jews!”

The sun has set, and darkness descends on the world. Jewish families find spots for themselves in the ditches along the edges of the road, and sprawl down there on the ground. It was only yesterday that they still had a home, a bed and a slice of bread…The men are at a loss. The weeping of the children and of the women weighs heavily on their hearts. A hell on earth!

We continue to march to Rypin in the darkness of night, some of us in vehicles and some on foot (there were some who manage to rent wagons from farmers). I, too, am able to rent a wagon together with David Pienek. We seat members of our families in the wagon. With me is my wife and her relatives; I have lost track of my own parents and my other relatives along the way, just as we were leaving Dobrzyn. There is not enough room for everyone in the wagon. I take our baby carriage, fill it with some possessions and march on foot, pushing it along in front of me.

In one of the ditches along the way I found my mother, may she rest in peace, and my sister-in-law, Zelda Krajank (my brother Aharon's wife), together with her little children. I discovered that my father and brother Aharon had gone on ahead to one of the villages to look for a wagon [to rent]. I followed after them, but was not able to find them. I have never had the privilege of seeing them again. In the end they apparently managed to get to Plock[17] — while I wound up instead in Warsaw.

*

On November 30th I crossed the border into Russia…I went through many hardships there, getting a taste of Russian prison and of an internment camp in the remote north…Only after joining the Polish Anders army[18] and then, after much wandering on the byways of Russia and in the Arab countries, did I reach Palestine in the year 1943. Of all the members of my family I am the only one who survived.

 

Yehuda Rosenwaks, representing the Jews of Dobrzyn, lights a candle in the Chamber of the Holocaust[19] in memory of the martyrs[20]

 

On the ploughed—up earth of the Jewish cemetery (of Dobrzyn)[21]

 

Zadok Zudkevitz (author of this article) together with his friends [22]

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn-Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn-Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 130-136. Return
  2. Narodowa Demokracja = National Democracy, a well established Polish political party Return
  3. Obóz Zjednoczenia Narodowego = Camp of National Unity, a Polish nationalist party founded in 1937 Return
  4. The new priest referred to is probably Father Charczewski, who in 1938 wrote an article in the periodical Chronicles entitled “Was There a Ritual Murder in Dobrzyn?” In it he accepted the blood libel against the Jews as historical fact, although he also concluded that the Jews of Dobrzyn were probably not guilty of the 1926 incident in which a Gypsy girl was found near death in the Jewish cemetery. Return
  5. A town in Poland where anti-Jewish riots had taken place in March, 1936. See Abba Kovner, Scrolls of Testimony, translated into English by Eddie Levenston, JPS, 1993; reproduced in the following link: http://www.worldcat.org/wcpa/servlet/org.oclc.lac.ui.DialABookServlet?oclcnum=44681771. Return
  6. A town 40 km east of Warsaw (about 250 km southeast of Dobrzyn), the scene of a series of anti-Jewish riots in April-May, 1936 in which many Jews were wounded and some killed (see: http://www.sztetl.org.pl/en/article/minsk-mazowiecki/5,history/?print=1) Return
  7. A city in Poland, about 40 km southwest of Dobrzyn Return
  8. A street in Dobrzyn, running northeast out of the main square Return
  9. A town located 30 km southwest of Dobrzyn. Return
  10. A city in Poland, about 200 km south of Dobrzyn. Return
  11. Study hall Return
  12. Curtain, usually elaborately embroidered, hung over the door of the ark that houses Torah scrolls Return
  13. Prayer shawls Return
  14. Women's section of the synagogue, usually in a balcony Return
  15. Golub was connected to Dobrzyn by a bridge spanning the Drevęc River. Return
  16. A town 25 km due east of Dobrzyn Return
  17. A town on the Vistula River, about 100 km southeast of Dobrzyn Return
  18. The Anders army, named after its commander, Władysław Anders, was the “Polish Armed Forces in the East” that was organized within the Soviet Union after the Germans invaded it. After filling its ranks with former Polish prisoners of war, the Anders army made its way to Palestine via Iran and Iraq. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders%27_Army. Return
  19. Martef haShoah, the first Holocaust museum established in Israel (1948). It is located on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Its walls are covered with hundreds of plaques, each of which memorializes the Jewish victims of a European community. The plaque at the lower left is a memorial to the Jews of Dobrzyn-Golub. Return
  20. From page 132 of Ref. 1. Return
  21. From page 134 of Ref. 1. Return
  22. From page 136 of Ref. 1. Return


 

[Pages 137-138]

The Men Left and Didn't Return[1]

By Yehoshua Flusberg, 1969

Translated by Allen Flusberg

It was now two weeks that the Germans were in our town. First, even before they entered it, we had fled, following the retreating Polish army, and we had reached Skempenu[2]. But then the Germans also came there.

I remember that it was the time of Selichot[3], and my uncle, Mr. Getzel-Meir Horowitz, poured his heart out in prayer, asking Almighty God to have mercy on his people And there was at that time a special meaning to his request.

I was very young then when the first German soldiers appeared, only 13 years old, but to this very day I have not forgotten the fear that seized us all. We felt that the Day of Judgment was indeed near Those days outside our town were very hard on us, particularly with Rosh Hashanah[4] approaching. So we decided to return to our home in Dobrzyn, and we got back on the eve of the holiday.[5]

We were afraid to pray communally in the synagogue, and so we gathered on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in the home of the Moreh Horaa[6]. But the next day we discovered that a communal service had taken place in the shtiebel[7] of the Ger Hassidim, and all had passed quietly. My father was filled with courage, and he decided to that he, too, would pray in the shtiebel, come what may This walk to the shtiebel had become an expression of great devotion and a kiddush hashem.[8]

Even in ordinary times a great fear enveloped those praying on Rosh Hashanah. But this time the fear was even greater. A heavy silence descended on everyone at the moment Mr. Yehoshua Rosenthal, who had a chazaka[9] on leading the shacharit[10] service, raised his voice in prayer.

Suddenly an alarmed whisper swept through the congregation: the Germans had surrounded the shtiebel. The great silence was torn by a sharp command: “Come out!”

We were surrounded by German soldiers. A light rain began to fall. I slipped away from the Germans and ran home to bring coats for my father and my brother David. When I returned as quickly as I could to the shtiebel, all the women of the town were already there, carrying coats and bundles, and trying to press close to their loved ones and hand over to them what they had brought them. I, too, pushed my way through and was able to hand the coats to my brother. Afterwards I got away from there and began, for some reason, to walk through the streets of the town.

After some time had passed I found myself again standing near the shtiebel. The sight that revealed itself to me was shocking: the Holy Ark was broken into, and the Torah scrolls were rolling on the floor, torn and defiled. With tears in my eyes, I gathered the books and put them back in the Holy Ark.

That day the men were ordered to assemble for muster. The order was brief and concise: “Every Jewish man who does not appear in the next ten minutes will be shot!”

How sad was the look of the men who began to come out of their hiding places to obey the order. I remember how my aunt Chana pleaded with her husband, Mr. Mendel Gurfinkel, the shochet and bodek[11], that he should not put his life in danger, God forbid, but rather that he, too, should hurry to appear. And Moshe Rudzink ran as fast as he could after the buses, begging that they should agree to take him, too

On that day, Jewish Dobrzyn was emptied of all its men.

A period of anxiety and anticipation descended on us. When it became clear that the men were in Bydgoszcz[12], Mrs. Stoltzman gathered up her courage, rented a wagon and went there, carrying many packages with her. But when she got there she was unable to find them.

The men had indeed been there for about two weeks, but then they disappeared. The (much later) investigations and the requests for information from the Red Cross turned nothing up.

The only one who came back from there was Mr. Yisrael Miller, who was freed by the Germans in return for a huge sum of money, and was brought home ill in an ambulance. But the Reaper descended even on him: after several days the heads of the 35 wealthy families, with him among them, were sent to a place from which they never returned

A single “regards” from the heads of the families reached us via a German newspaper that was published either in Torun or Bydgoszcz. In the newspaper there appeared a picture of Jews who were quarrying stones. The picture was accompanied by the headline “Jews Being Trained for Work.” In the group of four Jews, all with beards and peyot[13], and appearing to be holding each other up, was my father.

Except for this “regards,” no additional information on their fate ever reached us. They disappeared and are no more.

But the forests of Bydgoszcz hide the secret within them, a secret of days of terror and atrocities.

Family of Eliyahu Flusberg[14]

And cursed be he who says: Avenge!
Vengeance of this sort, blood revenge for a small child
The Devil has not yet created…
— H.N. Bialik[15]

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn-Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn-Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 137138. Return
  2. Skępe, Poland, about 40 km southeast of Dobrzyn Return
  3. Late-night prayers for forgiveness, recited in synagogues on several nights before Rosh Hashana Return
  4. Jewish New Year Return
  5. Wednesday, September 13, 1939 Return
  6. A distinguished rabbi and expert on Jewish law, probably serving as the head rabbi of the town Return
  7. Small synagogue, usually Hassidic Return
  8. Sanctification of the Name of God by fulfilling a commandment in spite of risk Return
  9. Priority, i.e. he had led this prayer for many years Return
  10. Morning Return
  11. Ritual slaughterer and inspector of meat for kashrut Return
  12. A larger town, about 80 km west of Dobrzyn Return
  13. Side-curls Return
  14. Yehoshua Flusberg (second from right), his father Eliyahu-Mordechai (far right), his mother Esther-Leah (nee Lesznik), and his older brother David (far left), circa 1938 Return
  15. From Hayim Nachman Bialik's poem “On the Slaughter,” written in 1903 in reaction to the pogrom against the Jews that had just occurred in Kishinev, Bessarabia (presently in Moldova). Return


 

[Pages 140-144]

Fleeing for Our Lives[1]

By Yitzhak Ryż

Translated by Allen Flusberg

When the war broke out on the 1st of November [sic][2] 1939, I was in Dobrzyn. I recall that from the moment the German forces penetrated into Poland, a universal flight began: everyone was running away, fleeing for their lives from the enemy. On that very day all the Jews of Dobrzyn escaped to Sitno[3], but even there we stayed over for only a single night. On the next day we continued to run away, trying to get as far away as we could from the foe. After several days we reached Wloclawek[4]. When we had just crossed the bridge over the Vistula River, the Poles blew it up to try to prevent the enemy's progress.

We rested for a few hours in Wloclawek, but rest was actually well beyond us. We continued our flight day and night until we reached Sochaczew[5], which is near Warsaw[6]. By then bitter battles were taking place there, as enemy planes swooped down in one wave after another, dropping destructive, fiery bombs.

Fleeing with all our might we managed to get far away from the combat zone, running with all our strength without any clear destination…seeking to escape from the inferno of gunfire pouring in from every direction. The people who had come from Dobrzyn scattered in all directions as each of them tried to save himself.

The villages of Gostynin and Gąbin[7], which we finally reached, were already in the hands of the Germans. Everything had been consumed by fire; the enemy left nothing behind. I lost track of my brothers, who had been with me until then, as each of them looked for a hiding place for himself. We tried to hide in the cellars of houses or in bunkers—anyplace a person might be able to crawl into…

But all these attempts were futile. The Germans located those who were in hiding and ordered everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike, to come out into an open field. Tens of thousands of people were there with me. We were ordered to move arms and heavy equipment from some other place to the field in which these tens of thousands of people were being held.

We did the work, our knees buckling and our thoughts full of fear that these were to be our last hours. And when we completed the work our nerves were completely frayed, as if we were on the brink of a breakdown. Alas, many times we were to experience terrifying moments like these, as we stood at the edge of an abyss, seeing death in front of our eyes, and struggling, even at such moments, to escape with our lives…

To our great surprise the Germans ordered all of us to return to our homes. We turned away from there with great trepidation and began to walk, without knowing where we were going. We didn't ask any questions…We walked without any destination, with our last strength, as if there was a way that this trek could somehow rescue us. When we reached Wloclawek we found signs of destruction everywhere: the houses were in ruins and the bridge had been destroyed. Knowing we could not stay there, we searched for ways to continue on towards our town. After a great deal of effort we succeeded in crossing the Vistula, and finally we reached our town, Dobrzyn.

How depressing and frightening was our return to our home town, the place where we had spent our childhood. And how shocking were the stories that we heard from those who had stayed behind in Dobrzyn—those that the Germans had so far not harmed. We heard that all the men who had not been able to flee had been taken by the Germans and transported somewhere, a place from which they had not returned again. We didn't know what exactly had happened to them, but beyond the shadow of a doubt they had been executed…The cantor of the town, together with Avraham Makowski and Frenkiel had been executed by the Germans near the Golub fortress on that very same day of retribution, when all the men had been taken away from the town and transported to a place from which they never returned.

We stayed in town for 3-4 weeks, sustaining ourselves by selling some of the few items that were still in our houses, until a Nazi arch-murderer, accompanied by some officers, appeared in the town, and proclaimed that all the Jews must vacate the town within three weeks. Three days later the son of a Dobrzyn German came by, explaining that he wanted to let us know that the Germans were going to expel all of us in two days. He advised us to hurry and leave even sooner.

We left our homes again and set off, leaving behind my mother, who was confined to bed, together with my youngest brother, who would take care of her while she was ill.

When we arrived in Węgiersk[8] at dawn, most of the Jews of Dobrzyn were already there. We continued going, walking with no destination, desperate and weary…Among those who were walking I met my uncle Yisrael Asher and his family. I told them I was returning to Dobrzyn. I couldn't go on walking while knowing that my mother and younger brother were left by themselves in the town, at the Germans' mercy.

I returned along back roads. I was actually risking my life, but I was propelled by an overpowering force. Finally I was in Dobrzyn again, in my very own house. And there was my mother, still lying in bed, ill, with my brother at her side, tending to her.

I knew that we had to leave this place at any price. After a great deal of effort, I managed to buy a horse and wagon, and we set out on our way—my ill mother, my brother and I—traveling without any food or water; I struggled to obtain at least enough food for the horse, so that it would have the strength to continue dragging the wagon loaded with its passengers.

We wandered along roads for weeks, hungry and tired, just a few refugees fleeing among thousands of others. Finally we reached Ostrolęka and Łomża[9]. Here my mother, brothers and sisters parted from me. And I have never seen them again; they shared the fate of all our other Jewish brethren…

In Łomża I met up with Yechiel Lipstadt. We decided to make our way together to the Russian border, which was not very far from Ostrolęka. Near the border we conducted some business to sustain ourselves, until we managed to cross the border. We stayed there for a while, waiting to see what would happen.

After several days an announcement was published, ordering all foreigners to have their passports available and to register, indicating where they were headed. We, together with many others, stated that we were on our way to Israel. Well, we were much too naïve: instead of Israel, they sent us deep into Russia, to labor in the forests. We joined tens of thousands of others who were sent to do this work—approximately 300,000 men, women and children.

We were sent to Murmansk[10], but along the way more than half of the men died of hunger, while those who were still alive were sent to Midozh-Gorsk[11], which is near Finland. I didn't see any trace of Yechiel Lipstadt there. I remained in this place about one and a half years, working as a mechanic. Then war between Germany and Russia broke out, and another period of wandering, suffering and hunger began for me.[12]

We were sent to Ural in a large boat that sailed along the Onega, Volga and Kema Rivers until we reached our destination. I will never forget this terrible journey, five thousand of us men crowded together with no food and no water for about forty days. It seemed to us that this journey would never end and that only a small number of us would survive it. And indeed, many perished along the way. Those who survived were helped a great deal by Russian citizens, who were also sent along with us on the journey to Ural.

Even in the Ural camp our situation did not improve very much. In order to keep ourselves alive, I and another fellow I met there became entertainers—he played the violin as I sang along. And so, by making an effort to bring a smile to the faces of the other residents of the camp, we were rewarded with a few crumbs from our brothers in misery.

When the Polish Anders army[13] began to organize, new possibilities opened up for us. The Jews were released from labor. We were now free to travel anywhere we wished. We chose to go to Uzbekistan, where we managed to find work mixing concrete. Although the work was difficult the compensation we received was enough for only a slice of bread. From there we were sent to Kazakhstan. To my great delight I met up again with Yechiel Lipstadt, and together we began planning our future. We decided to jump off a moving train. After innumerable hardships we were able to get to Samarkand.

And again we began looking for a way to keep ourselves alive. We started trafficking in bread, but very quickly we were caught and jailed. The verdict, 10 years of prison for bread trafficking, was not considered a very harsh sentence in that period. After I had been in prison for three years, I sent a written request to the government in Moscow, asking for a pardon; in my defense I claimed that everything I had done was done only to keep myself alive. I was given the pardon.

The war was ending. After I was freed from prison I began planning my return to Dobrzyn. Finally, after several months of torment—utmost suffering and agony—along the way back, I reached our town. There, to my delight, I found Yisrael Yitzhak Nussbaum, Shmuel Rebi, Shemaya Frum, Yehuda Kopland, as well as Manya Kowalski.

I did not stay in Dobrzyn very long, however. Thoughts about my parents, sisters, and brother hadn't let up for even a moment during all my hardships and wanderings. Now I decided to try to follow their trail and find out what had become of them. After several days of searching, I was able to find only my brother Yaakov in Szczecin. We decided to cross over to the American-occupied part of Germany. From there I later immigrated to the United States, where my brother Avraham Moshe was already located. Another brother, Leyb Shmuel Hirsh, had immigrated to England before the war. All the others—my parents, my oldest brother, my youngest brother, Meir, and all five of my sisters—were exterminated by the Nazi foe.

These recollections are just a tiny fraction of the heavy burden of memories that I carry from the period of the Holocaust. I have successfully established a home and a family in the US, but I can never forget those horrific days that have been engraved deep into my heart.

Can there be any balm for this great pain? We can draw a small bit of consolation from the State of Israel, seeing as we recently did here—during a trip in which we traversed the country from one end to the other—our brothers and sisters laboring to build the country up and to watchfully protect our people's existence.

And I will return the captivity of my people Israel,
And they will rebuild desolate cities and settle them,
And they will plant vineyards and drink their wine
And they will cultivate gardens and eat their fruit.

—Amos 9:14

 

A memorial service in the Chamber of the Holocaust[14][15]

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn-Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn-Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 140-144. Return
  2. This should read “September”. Return
  3. Sitno is a village located 9km southeast of Dobrzyn. Return
  4. Wloclawek is a city 60km south of Dobrzyn, on the Vistula River. Return
  5. Sochaczew is a city 150km southeast of Dobrzyn, a bit south of the Vistula. It can be reached from Wloclawek by going eastward along the southern bank of the Vistula. Return
  6. Warsaw is ~50km east of Sochaczew. Return
  7. Gostynin and Gąbin are two villages 20km apart and south of the Vistula, about 50km northwest of Sochaczew. Return
  8. Węgiersk is located about 5km south of the center of Dobrzyn. Return
  9. Ostrolęka lies 220km east of Dobrzyn, and Łomża 30km further east. Return
  10. Murmansk, Russia, is near the Barents Sea, some 1300km north of St. Petersburg. Return
  11. The reference is probably to Medvezhyegorsk, which lies along the Murmansk railway at the northern end of Lake Onega; it is about 100km east of the Russian-Finnish border. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medvezhyegorsk. Return
  12. During the second half of 1941, shortly after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Finland also invaded the Soviet Union and occupied Medvezhyegorsk and the surrounding areas, pressing the Russians to evacuate the region. Return
  13. The Anders army, named after its commander, Władysław Anders, was the “Polish Armed Forces in the East” that was organized within the Soviet Union after the Germans invaded it. After filling its ranks with former Polish prisoners of war, the Anders army made its way to Palestine via Iran and Iraq. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders%27_Army. Return
  14. The Chamber of the Holocaust, a museum established in 1958, is located on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamber_of_the_Holocaust. Return
  15. From p. 141 of reference cited in Footnote 1. Return

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