by Leybel Kokhalski, Kholon
Translated by Pamela Russ
At the beginning of 1941, when the living conditions in the Warsaw ghetto worsened and became much more challenging, I returned to Nowy Dwor. I smuggled across the border of the Warsaw government and illegally entered the Third Reich to which Nowy Dwor then belonged. There was no ghetto yet in Nowy Dwor.
My sister, a tragic widow (her husband was killed at the time of the bombing of Warsaw), lived with her five children in cramped quarters in Goldberg's house, and I couldn't even show my face on this street because I had no yellow certificate, so I went to the village of Secymin, 14 kilometers from Nowy Dwor, and began working there for a Folksdeutch. I decided to work diligently so that he wouldn't have any complaints against me. I worked for ten months that way, until I became ill. At that point, the Folksdeutch drove me by horse and wagon to Nowy Dwor.
By that time, there was already a ghetto in Nowy Dwor, stretching from Modlin Street to the train line, from Etel Rajkhman's store until Sliwinski's theater, and again until the train line. (The shul was outside the lines of the ghetto.) This encircled the entire Piasek, and the Jewish police were the ones who guarded the gate.
I approached the gate and a Jewish policeman ordered that I show him my Nowy Dwor certificate. I explained that I worked in the village, that I was sick, and that I had come here in search of a doctor. After a few minutes, the police commandant, Yakov Baranek, came over to me along with his assistant Shloime Sosinski (Morde), each with truncheons in hand. Once again, I told them the whole story – where I was working and what I was doing here, and that I had come to find a doctor. At that point they burst into wild, boisterous laughter, saying: You are no longer a Nowy Dworer. You have no Nowy Dwor certificate and you have no right to enter the ghetto.
My pleas and tears made no impression, but thanks to the beseeching of my sister Ester Bayla, of blessed memory, and her husband Sender Blank, the Judenrat gave me permission to remain in the ghetto for one week.
The ghetto Jewish elder at that time was Yisroel Tishler (Skrobak); the mayor of the town was a Nowy Dwor Folksdeutch, Wendt, who used to work for Skrobak's father, and now he rewarded the son with the job of ghetto foreman. The one accountable to the SS was one of the ghetto foremen, Yosef Gershon – Nieskeles (he was the one who established a Jewish hospital in the ghetto). The secretary was Herman Abramowicz. Nakhman Rajkhman (Ktunti) was the workmen's representative; he sewed uniforms for the Gestapo and for the policemen in Wyszogrod, Zakroczyn, and other surrounding towns.
Towards the end of the week, I no longer was permitted to stay in the ghetto. The police came after me right away, and all my pleas were useless. I had to leave the ghetto.
In November 1941, an order was given that all Jews who worked outside of the ghetto had to return to the ghetto. In that way, I once again became a citizen of Nowy Dwor and, along with the other Nowy Dworers, returned to the ghetto.
By that time, the German government had already assembled all the Jews from the surrounding areas into the Nowy Dwor ghetto, and had sent them all to work. Every day we went to the Modlin dockyard. Each person received a quarter of a bread for his work, and we worked under the supervision of the Nazi …
… guards. The work was very difficult. We had to crawl barefoot across barbed wire, then wrap and prepare it for export to be sent east.
Every day the Jewish police broke into Jewish homes, rushed in and forcefully grabbed people for work, because the Judenrat had to provide 350 workers daily. One spring day in the year 1942, when there were only 300 people provided, and they came late, two rows of soldiers lined up at the gate of the ghetto showered us with beatings and screamed: We'll show you how to be late for work! Blood ran that day, and the Wehrmacht ran to find another 50 workers. Soon I saw how these were brought out, beaten, looking non-human. They were chased across the barbed wire and the blood ran from their bare feet. Many fell faint, and then many of them were thrown into a cell. By noon it was already known that they would be executed.
When the noon hour arrived, I and others from Nowy Dwor saw through a window how they were herding a group of 25 men into a cell where there were already others who were half-dead, and how a group of workers began digging a ditch. The workers that were digging were sent away after thy finished preparing the hole. Shortly after that, 32 naked people were led out of the cell to the ditch. While they were walking, those who had more energy tried to resist, but they were shot on the spot. The others dragged these dead bodies with them to the ditch, and then I saw through the window how the machine guns began working and they all fell into the ditch. Immediately, the workers who had dug the ditch returned and covered the still warm murdered bodies with earth.
That was a tragic, heavy day; my eyes were swollen from crying. When I returned to the ghetto after work, I saw how the women were standing and waiting. With screams and tears, each was searching for her husband, son, or brother. Rumor had it that the Judenrat foreman had told the main guard that he could do as he wished with the 50 people who had been taken by force … and that the fault of everything that had happened that day lay with the Judenrat foreman.
The following day, I no longer went to work at the Modlin dockyard. I and a group of 15 others were sent to another job – to take apart the foundation of our destroyed shul. Only the foundation remained after the bombing, but it was the stones that remained that the Germans wanted to use for themselves. These were huge stones and the labor was terribly difficult. The boss of this job was one of the whistlers (one of the fishermen of the Narew River). I went to work here every day.
Many people did not want to go to work so the Judenrat put forth an order that whoever doesn't present himself for work will be sent to a labor camp. One of those who was sent off was Shmuel Mikhelberg, who later escaped from the camp.
One day, after we had gone to work, we did not receive our quarter of a bread ration. We were told that the Judenrat did not receive their rations of bread from the German government, but we all knew that was a lie. What happened was that the Judenrat staff was selling flour and was becoming rich from that. We went out to work in a mood of despair – even that quarter of a bread was taken away from us.
When we explained to our supervisor, a Folksdeutch, why we were weaker than usual, that they didn't even give us that quarter of a bread that day, he went over to the mayor Wendt. We heard that after hearing this, Wendt immediately summoned the senior Yisroel Tishler and the worker supplier Nakhman Rajkhan and he beat them mercilessly. They …
… bribed him with a new suit, a pair of officer's boots, and a sealskin coat. All of this was related to us by the people in the ghetto who had come to us to find out what had happened with the bread and with the complaints to the supervisor.
We already understood that we wouldn't get away with this and that they would get back at us, and that's exactly how it was. At five in the evening, the time we usually returned to the ghetto, the chief of police, Yankel Baranek, was already waiting for us at the gate, and along with him was his devoted assistant Shloime Sosinski (Morde) and a whole band of policemen. They took us immediately to the Judenrat where each of us was interrogated individually, sentenced, and then we had to sign the papers. The entire process was in accordance with the rules of the Gestapo. The secretary Abramowicz wrote an official report.
I was the last one to be interrogated. They asked me who told the mayor about the bread, and I answered that I did not know. They began assaulting me with questions from all sides, but my answer remained the same: I did not know. Soon the real chief of police, Baranek, began attacking me. He led me into a separate police room, and began shouting at me hysterically: What are you thinking, that you'll be able to conduct your Poalei Zionist tricks here like your brother Menashe? (My deceased brother was once the head of the Poalei Zion in Nowy Dwor.) All the policemen began beating me until I collapsed in a faint. They revived me with buckets of water. I was completely beaten and bloody, and two policemen dragged me out of there because I couldn't walk on my own. They dragged me into the attic where the police arrest happened and then they threw me down like a sack of potatoes.
When I revived, I saw that I was not alone. A boy from Wysogrod also lay there, beaten up. They arrested him because he missed a day of work. The following day, they sent the Wysogrod boy to another labor camp near Mlawa. This time, my fate was better, since my family pleaded on my behalf and I was able to remain in the ghetto.
After the event with the bread, the Judenrat warned the Jews in the ghetto that those who will talk too much – meaning those who will give details about the activities of the Judenrat – will get their due punishment. And the Jews were afraid.
by Mordekhai Landsman
Translated by Yaacov Dovid Shulman
When the war broke out, the situation of the Jews in Nowy Dwor changed immediately for the worse. German airplanes came every day to bomb the stronghold of Modlin, and with that took the opportunity [to bomb] the city of Nowy Dwor as well. All transportation ceased, trains were bombed, and the bridges and streets were destroyed.
The people of Nowy Dwor began to flee to Warsaw. Only a few people, the very poor, remained in the city.
In addition to the bombshells, artillery also began to thunder, and the entire center of the city was destroyed and went up in flames. Only a few houses remained, from which the peasants of the area despoiled and pillaged the property of the Jews.
When the operations ended, the Jews began to return to Nowy Dwor. But there they found only desolation and destruction. And thus, having no other choice, most of them returned to Warsaw. Only about 1500 people remained, most of them the poor residents of the Piasek neighborhood [(so-called because it was unpaved, and sandy)]. With these, the Germans began their games.
Immediately, on the second day after they entered the city, they took all of the males out to work. The streets were littered with the dead bodies of men and horses, and the remnants of burned houses covered the streets. The workers were forced to sing in the streets, and [the Germans] constantly invented additional torments.
One day they took an old man, shaved off half his beard, placed two young men with shaven heads at his sides, and paraded them through the city streets.
Those who carried out all of these actions were the Germans from the region, who until now had been friendly with the Jews and who were now drafted into working for the authorities.
The situation grew increasingly worse: bringing the wounded from work, every day cars entering into the courtyards of the Jews and taking out everything-to the last bench, to the last shirt.
People began to leave the city en masse-in particular the youth, who escaped to Russia as long as the border was open. In the first winter, only Jews remained in the city. At that time, Russia closed the border and the Germans made a new border [one side between] Nowy Dwor and Jablonowo [(a town thirteen miles from Warsaw)], and on the other side between Nowy Dwor and Modlin. The city was sealed all around, and the situation grew increasingly grim.
That entire winter, people went hungry and barefoot, [and were forced] to clean the snow from the city streets. The Jews were required to wear the yellow badge. They were forbidden to enter the shops of the Christians and to walk upon the sidewalks, and they had to remove their hats before every German.
The Jews' sole source of income was thievery. There was no other way! For an entire year, they did not receive even a cent for their work. It even occurred once that the workers approached the head of the city and asked to be paid for their work-his reply was to pull out a pistol against the 600 people hungry for bread.
At the same time, the situation in Warsaw also deteriorated, and the Jews of Nowy Dwor who lived in Warsaw began to return to their town. At that time, tens [of Jews] fell at the new border with Jablonowo. Others fell into the hands of the Gestapo. And in the course of the summer, about 1700 people arrived in Nowy Dwor … These people were bones wrapped in rags. And all of them were impelled by the power of life … all of them crowded together in the Piasek neighborhood.
There, in the Piasek, these forms without any interest in life wandered about. People there were roused only by the sight of a piece of bread….
In May, 1941, the Germans brought a machine for disinfection and made order in the entire region in which the Jews lived. The few poor possessions still remaining in people's hands had to be given over for disinfection. There everything was destroyed and taken. And the people were ordered to go to the Vistula (Wisla) [River] and wash there naked for half a day-men and women together.
At that time, by order of the police, Jewish carpenters began to construct a ghetto. The mood was terrible. It appeared as though they were building themselves a grave. And the tragedy came one night.
This was three weeks after the war with Russia had broken out. The people in the ghetto were aroused by the sound of shots. No one knew where they came from. In the midst of the confusion, everyone began to run to the square outside the ghetto, because the gate was still open. In the ghetto, guards went about and evicted everyone from the houses. Whenever they encountered a sick or old person in the rooms, they stabbed him with their bayonets.
The people in the square were like a stunned herd. Every family stood together. Many people wandered about and with cries of terror sought their relatives, because everyone wanted to die with his family. They stood there until the morning, not knowing what their fate would be. And around them wandered guards, soldiers, Gestapo, gendarmes, border guards and train officials. It was obvious that they had been mobilized for this action. They were all drunk.
In the morning, [the Germans] began to check everyone's papers, and in accordance with those papers they divided the people into two groups: the 600 Jews who had always been in Nowy Dwor and the Jews from Warsaw. When the entire procedure-with all of its terrible actions-came to an end, they ordered these 600 Jews to return to the ghetto. They went into the ghetto slowly, for among them were people who had been wounded as a result of having been beaten by sticks and bitten by dogs. They were ordered to repair the roads and houses. In these houses lay the bodies of murdered parents and their children. That day, there were forty sacrifices.
[The Germans] organized the rest of the people (about 1700) into a mourning procession and took them to Pomiechowo. There, warehouses awaited them. These were concrete, underground weapons storerooms, about seven kilometers from the city. And there the gehennom began.
[The Germans] brought more people [men] from the nearby cities, until the total came to 4,000. They were held without food and water for the first three days, and only on the fourth day allowed food to be brought from Nowy Dwor. The wagon drivers had to throw the food over the barricade, as on the other side people struck each other in order to get a piece of bread.
For a few days, typhus broke out in the Pomiechowo camp, and not a day passed without an additional fifty dead. At night, the Germans shot those who were feeble. Thus did people live in this camp for six weeks, and the only food was what the people of Nowy Dwor brought (and what could the impoverished residents of Nowy Dwor bring?), until one night the Germans drafted the local farmers who owned wagons, and they transported all of the people in Pomiechowo to the border, in order for them to go to Warsaw. Those who were healthy arrived in to Warsaw, whereas the sick who could not descend from the wagons were burnt on the way. Also, of those who came to Warsaw, no one remained alive. [unclear]
In the Nowy Dwor ghetto, [the Germans] began a new life: they closed the gate, allowed no one to leave without permission, arranged a Judenrat with an office, police and prison. Every day [Jewish] squads went out to work without pay. One day, on which there was payment, the work squad in Modlin was five minutes late for work, and in punishment thirty people were shot.
Everyone in the ghetto asked: What is going to happen? How are we going to live? Won't we die of hunger? Having no alternative, young people began to sneak out of the ghetto in order to beg from the gentiles. Others began to go to Warsaw, taking with them a few kilograms of flour to sell, because prices there were higher. It was necessary to sneak through the barricade, and not a day passed without people who had been killed being brought from the barricade.
This situation lasted until the summer of 1942. At that time, the Germans began to round up the Jews from the provinces to the large cities and they decided to make Nowy Dwor, which was enclosed on all sides, into a city that would consolidate the Jews, for here they would die of hunger more quickly. Wagons began to bring Jews from the entire area-from Zakroczym, Wyszogrod and Czerwinsk-who had no possessions and no place to live. Five to eight people lived in a room, and they had to take in more people.
Typhus traveled through the ghetto and harvested without mercy, and the funerals were unceasing, until the worst arrived. One day the Gestapo brought seven youths from the barrier and ordered them placed in the Jewish prison. After two weeks, [the Germans] ordered [the Jews] to make seven gallows and set them up in the ghetto opposite the Judenrat. At four in the afternoon, police entered the ghetto and began to evict everyone from the houses, and before the eyes of the entire ghetto and before the eyes of the honored German guests, the Judenrat members were forced to hang the youths. Three of them were sixteen years old. One of those hanged, a youth seventeen years old from Vishigrod, took off his shoes a moment before his death and asked that they be sent to his mother so that she would be able to sell them.
A week later [the Germans] brought another four Jews and hanged them as well. Over the summer the number of those hanged came to eighteen. Besides that, [the Germans] took three girls to the ghetto barrier and shot them-this too before the eyes of all the people. [The Germans] did not allow those hanged and killed to be carried out to the cemetery, and so they were buried in the ghetto.
In general, it was clear that the game was coming to its end. No went out to work any more. Guards patrolled the ghetto barrier and shot whoever came close. In the end, a directive came ordering a roll call all everyone in the ghetto, which had to be handed over to the city hall. This listed the healthy people separately from the sick and the weak. People began to prepare themselves for an unknown destination.
In September 1942, the Germans began to liquidate the ghetto. One morning they demanded that the Jewish police gather the old and handicapped people-all in all, about 700 people-who were taken out to the train [station]. There they waited an entire night, and the next morning they were sent on their way, with no idea of their destination. About two weeks later [the Germans] sent a transport of a thousand people on the same journey.
The Germans assured those who remained in the ghetto that they would remain [alive], because they were healthy and needed for work, but no one believed them any more. Everyone slept in his clothes and waited. In this way, an entire month of waiting passed-which was worse than death-until the day came….
On December 9, 1942, the Germans demanded another thousand people. On December 12, the last 1700 went out. Everyone knew that they were going to die, yet nevertheless they went. They all traveled to the same destination: to the oven of Auschwitz. They all traveled on the same train that they called Der Toyt Tzug-the death train.
I went on the last transport. When we came to Auschwitz, [the Germans] immediately separated the men from the women. Among the men [the Germans] took away the weak and made them stand by themselves. The outcries and the weeping reached the heart of heaven. Immediately cars came to take the adults and children to an unknown destination.
Today the destination is known. From a distance it was possible to see smoke rising to the sky. They were all taken there. Of the 1700 people, [the Germans] took 1160 in cars, and the 540 healthiest people entered the camp. The Germans weren't ready to kill them, because they still had strong muscles…
After four years of sufferings and hardships, about 20 people survived. That was all that was left of the 7,000 residents of Nowy Dwor.
by Yakov Glatstein
Translated by Pamela Russ
And you, sweet young boy, were also there.
You, sketched against the starry, Jewish sky,
Were also there and died.
Sweet as a dove you stretched out your neck
And sang with our patriarchs and matriarchs,
From beginning, to beginning, to beginning.
Close your eyes, beloved Jewish child,
And over the gas chambers
And this is how you cried:
From: Dead Men Don't Praise God
by Yehudit Przenica, Kholon
Translated by Pamela Russ
I was eight years old when the war broke out in 1939, but I grew up very quickly. When I was nine, I already supported myself and also became the breadwinner for the entire house.
I don't remember Nowy Dwor before the war – with Jewish life, a Jewish youth – as those from Nowy Dwor recount. I only remember a Nowy Dwor of tears, bombs, and fear of death.
I remember the wagon that stood in front of the house, and a Christian was carrying out our things; my mother and father were worried, and helped carry out the things to the wagon. My grandmother Yocheved was sitting outside and keeping an eye on things, making sure that God forbid no one would steal anything. I ask innocently: Mama, where are we going? To Warsaw, to a new house, my mother replies. I was pleased to hear that. Like an outing, I thought. I am going to the big city of Warsaw, and I'll be part of the big city life…
But the excitement didn't last long. The tragedy got under way, and we began to separate from one another. After a short time, I, my parents, brothers and sisters, and my grandmother Vita, left Warsaw and went over to Rembertow. My grandfather Srulke and his family remained in Warsaw on Stawki Street.
The conditions worsened. My father was sick in bed and my mother swollen with hunger. That's when I became the breadwinner for the entire family.
With a sack and a letter from my father to Arnold Boldin asking that he help us with some food, I sneaked out in all kinds of ways to Nowy Dwor. Arnold Boldin was a Folksdeutsch, and a good friend of my father. I gave him the letter and he took a great interest in me. He filled my sack with food and then I went on my way back to my parents who were waiting impatiently for my return.
But unfortunately, I did not get to them soon enough. The German guards detained me, took away my sack of food, beat me a few times, and then sent me back to Nowy Dwor. Again, I went to Arnold Boldin. Once again, he gave me another sack of food, and he accompanied me to Rembertow to my father. He felt very sorry for my father, but after that visit the friendship ended.
Since there was no other choice, I became the breadwinner for my family. With the sack over my shoulder I would cut cross the villages begging for a piece of bread. I would gather up old pieces of bread outside the ghetto, some potatoes as well, and bring this all home to sustain the souls of my parents. The guards would detain me many times, take away the pieces of bread, and pour out everything else that was in the sack, and then beat me severely. I would cry, then return to my parents who were waiting for a piece of bread…. For many long months, I moved around from one village to another.
Once, my grandmother Vita said to me: Come back with me to Nowy Dwor because I want to be there when I die. I left my ailing parents and went with my grandmother to Nowy Dwor. The roads were not easily passable, but we arrived safely. But very soon we were all taken to Pomiechowa – my grandmother and I among these.
At that time, I did not yet know nor understand that this was to be the last stop for all those who were here. Maybe all the other adults didn't yet understand this either. By chance, Arnold Boldin found me there. He was one of the important people among the Germans. He said to me: Leave your…
… grandmother here, she's already old, but you are still young. So, I want to save you from this place. At that moment, I didn't have any great desire to go with him; I preferred staying with my grandmother. However, he managed to convince me and he took me out of there. Soon after that, I saw with my own eyes how they were digging ditches and burying people alive, and the moment I saw how they were pushing my grandmother too, I screamed, wanted to run back, but Boldin forcefully dragged me away from there. I don't even remember how I got back to Nowy Dwor.
I went to the priest who had known me as a young child when I would come into the church with our Christian worker. I cried and pleaded with the priest that he should save me. I told him the whole story about my parents. He calmed me down and promised to help me as much as he could. He hid me in his cellar and I went to church with him every day and became one of the best singers in his church choir. With time, he gave me new papers with a new name of Kristina Pawlowska. I began to feel like a native born Christian…
But this didn't last long. A non-Jew noticed me on the street and said: What are you doing here? I became frightened and ran away. When I told the priest about this, he told me to go back into the cellar and stay very quiet.
That same day, two Germans came to the priest's home and ordered him to surrender the Jewish girl that he was hiding. He lied and said that there was no Jewish girl there. They threatened to shoot him, but he maintained his story that there was no girl there.
The Germans tortured him with all kinds of cruelties, but he didn't relent, until he fell onto the ground, gushing with blood. His body was completely torn up and his face – unrecognizable. They finally left him alone and departed. Before he died, the priest told his housekeeper that she should take me out of my hiding place and bring me to him because he wanted to bid me goodbye.
When she brought me to him, I saw only an ocean of blood, and the priest was ripped to pieces. I fell in a faint, and when I regained consciousness he raised his torn and broken hand, patted me, and finally told his housekeeper that she should give me to responsible people and that she should behave like a mother to me so that no one should suspect that I am Jewish. And like that, leaning against him, I felt his body get cold.
Once again, he asked that I be hidden in a safe place, and soon after that, he died. I can't remember the priest's name. He was a parish priest in Nowy Dwor.
The housekeeper took me away from the priest and washed his blood off me. Much of it had gotten onto my clothing. She changed me and took me to Modlin at five in the morning. She left me there and then disappeared.
Suddenly an express train appeared and I immediately went into one of the cars where some drunken Germans were sitting. I walked through the entire car unnoticed and sat down near two civilians. I began to doze off when a non-Jew approached me and began asking about my parents. I replied that I have a father with small children, that we are very poor, and that I was looking for work. He didn't know that I was a Jewish girl. I wore a chain with a small cross on it. This Christian took me away to a village called Parlin that was near the town of Cherwinsk …
… to a farmer by the name of Stanislaw Konja. I worked there until I was liberated.
Once, the farmer's wife sent me to her sister in Cherwinsk to bring her some sheep's wool. I stayed there for a while simply using the opportunity to rest a while from the hard work at farmer Konja's place. When I went out into the street to return to Parlin it was already seven in the evening and I encountered a German patrol officer.
The officer wanted to detain me and I became frightened when he shouted: Halt! I started to run, and the German ran after me, shooting from his pistol. I ran to the Christian cemetery and jumped into a large grave. It was a deep, walled-in grave, and everything that happened to me there I remember like a dream because I felt faint this entire time.
I felt dead bodies under my feet. These were bodies that were thrown in during the war. I felt worms and animals ... and I saw how there were Germans with flashlights searching for me. I pressed myself against the wall and waited. The Germans left but I was still afraid to leave, so I stayed in the ditch for another day until one in the morning, and then I came out of the grave.
How I got out I cannot remember. I only remember that the wall of the grave was very high and because of my size, it was very difficult for me to climb out. I climbed over the tall fence of the cemetery and went in the direction of a small village in that area, and that night I knocked on a window of a house. A Christian answered the door and I asked to spend the night. She soon brought me some water to wash up because I carried the smell of the dead and worms were still crawling all over me.
I went to sleep on some straw, covered myself with some rags, and fell asleep. I slept like that for two days. The farmers thought I had died and they almost buried me alive. When they saw that I was waking up, they were astounded and brought me a doctor who confirmed that – yes, I was still alive! On his order, they took me to a hospital and there, when I regained my full consciousness, I first saw that my hand had been wounded by a bullet, or maybe was hurt from a beating – I really didn't know what had happened to me until then, from the time that I had jumped into the grave in the cemetery. I didn't remember any of it. The Christians told me all of it after I regained my faculties.
After I had awakened from my sleep in the hospital, they wanted to know who I was and from where I had come. I gave them the name of Stanislaw Konja, the person for whom I worked.
In the hospital, they removed a splintered fragment from my wounded hand. The Christian Konja came to see me and then took me back home.
I stayed there with her until the day of liberation. Only one day before that did she discover that I was a Jewish child when the village magistrate came in and said to me: Do you know that you are Jewish? I immediately crossed myself and said that the magistrate had probably lost his mind…
On the day after liberation, when I went to milk the cows in the morning, I gathered up my things and ran away.
by Chaya Litman Perlowicz, Kibbutz Appel
Translated by Pamela Russ
As soon as the great chaos of the war began, my mother decided to take all our belongings and go off to Warsaw, because according to my parents' experiences of the First World War, it appeared that things were always better in Warsaw. As we began to pack up our things we saw that there was no transportation available and that the roads were dangerous. We barely managed to get a small wagon, but all our things did not fit. So our mother decided to stay behind with some of our belongings, and then she sent us, her children, to Warsaw.
After many difficulties, we finally arrived in a Warsaw that was going up in flames. Where to go – we did not know. For the time being, we left all our packs with acquaintances and then went to look for a way back to our mother.
My brother and I managed to escape from Warsaw and went until Jablonna without event, but further on, near the dense Rajzew forest, we already saw camps of Polish military, fleeing civilians, and bombs falling without stop. That's how we got closer and came to Nowy Dwor.
Amid dark destruction, we found those in hiding and in terror. Everyone asked questions anxiously, wanting to know how the situation was in Warsaw. I found my mother in Blatt's cellar and she agreed to come back to spend the night in our home after we pleaded with her to do so. It was a night of terrible bombing. The walls were trembling and with each explosion we thought we were finished. We were afraid to go back to Blatt's cellar.
The next day, a tragedy happened in Blatt's cellar. Everyone who was there was killed. My mother decided that we should go back to Warsaw, right back into the fire, without food or drink, without a friend or acquaintance. That's how we suffered until Warsaw was defeated, until the Germans came in and we saw the first swastika.
I meet my relative Rifka Zukor (Litman) – a broken and sick woman. She keeps saying this is the end … and she bemoans Chaim who has not yet returned from the army. Her brother's words of comfort are futile, and Rifka's nerves are torn apart. Then, one morning, she commits suicide. She jumps from the fourth floor of her brother's courtyard.
The situation in Warsaw worsens, with a mob of refugees. People are living in cramped quarters. All the schools are packed with people. Food is scarce; prices are steep. Fate sends us back to Nowy Dwor.
The Wendt brothers, Folksdeutch (lit. German-folk, refers to ethnic Germans living outside of Germany), are in charge there. We have only just entered the city when we immediately are visited by a Jewish messenger from Wendt who wants clothing and bed linen, understandably on his account … and soon another customer comes who has to supply his daughter with things. She takes pillows and covers without questions or accounts, and calmly leaves with these things. The situation becomes clear to us. We see that all our belongings will be stolen from us, and so we decide to hide our things. Some things we hide in our friend's house and some things we hide under the floor in our own home.
Many who have come back from Warsaw begin to leave Nowy Dwor and go over to Russia. My brother also leaves with this group and I remain alone with my mother. Soon, my brother returns from Russia and after many difficulties and much pain we decide once again to flee to Warsaw.
In Warsaw we rent an attic and I begin to get involved in smuggling.
My earnings come from the roads to Jablonna, the forests… I know each stone and each blade of grass and the bark of each dog. At night I run back and forth between Warsaw and Jablonna. Under the lining of my coat is sewn in the merchandise that I will sell in order to get food products. Sometimes I also go on trains, disguised as a non-Jew.
Meanwhile, they snatch up my brother in the Warsaw ghetto for work in a camp near Lublin in Lipowa. The burden of helping my hungry mother falls on me alone. Once again, in the most difficult times, I have to begin earning from my smuggling activities. I climb on ladders, on roofs, over walls – anything, to bring some bread for my mother. There is terrible hunger, typhus is rumbling and takes my cousin Avrom Litman. And how awful it is when we are waiting to get the clothes from a dead person….
My energetic brother Shaya'le, manages to run away from the forced labor camp in Lipowa and comes back to the Warsaw ghetto. He goes to work in a mill that belongs to the Jewish community in Warsaw (under the management of Korn, Langetke's son-in-law), and I also benefit from a little flour. My brother tries to help many other needy people, and not only once did he return so broken from all the tears and pleas for a little flour….
Because of the terrible scarcity in Warsaw many Nowy Dworers return from Warsaw to Nowy Dwor, despite all the news of the tragic events in the Pomiechowa camp. I saw what they did to the Jews in the Pomiechowa camp when I was disguised as a non-Jew and was on my way to Khotomuf. The picture that I saw was horrific.
The murderers started a fire at the edge of the forest and were using sticks to chase the elderly and sick Jews who already looked like skeletons. All these were chased to Warsaw, and many of these who were chased died very soon. Among these were Shloime Korcowicz and his daughter Perele.
In the Legionnowa ghetto were Dvora and Batya Riba, Leybele Skszidlo, Hendel Blank (Goldberg) and her family, Chonon Zajdenberg and his family, the old man Rajchman with his wife and his youngest daughter Perele. All these managed to sustain themselves and the old man Rajchman even managed to set up a bakery and live from that.
I take my mother over to Legionnowa because the evacuations have begun in Warsaw. Also Frayde, Ondzha, and her son Eli, and Rifche Czinamon, whose family was taken away, each find a roof over their heads in Legionnowa.
Terrible news is coming from Warsaw about the evacuations. One evening, again I go over to Warsaw to my brother and I ask him to leave his work at the mill and to come with us, but he doesn't agree. The following morning an SS man recognizes him as a fugitive from the camp in Lipowa, and he sends him back there.
I tell my friend Shayndel to run away with her Chana'le, but she doesn't want to do so because her brothers asked her to watch their things. And here she feels more secure … her Menashe (Kochalski) was running a bakery with a group of chalutzim – that's what Shayndel had explained to her, and they did not yet know what was waiting for them. But one day, when her Menashe leaves as usual to distribute bread on the train platform where the Jews are rounded up, they snatch him up with the others, and in a later deportation they take Shayndel as well.
It was calm in Legionnowa and we thought it would remain that way, that the storm would pass over. But on Simchas Torah (last day of Sukkos) they surrounded the ghetto in Legionnowa. With the last bit of strength, I took my mother and her niece, a one-year-old girl who was with us since they had shot her mother when she tried to escape from the ghetto, and we …
… ran away and crawled into a stable near Zegzhe. The non-Jews tortured us, demanded money, but we had nothing to give. We did not know what to do and once again we left for Warsaw.
In Warsaw, I went to look for some friends who were still left and I met a group of Jews who were going to work on the Aryan side. From them I learned about how difficult it was to get into the ghetto, so with great difficulty I remained in Warsaw, mainly on the Aryan side.
My mother and the little orphan girl became sick with typhus. It was impossible to find a doctor, there was no medicine, and even a lemon for a cup of tea was just a dream. I also become very sick, and only miraculously remained among the living.
All my neighbors were talking about the approaching clouds and they began building a bunker. The work was done at night, with some of them digging and some guarding. They were preparing food and water and everyone was very afraid.
We completed building the bunker, and just managed to go hide. It was Pesach eve, 1943, and there was a shooting. We sat in the bunker and waited for miracles, but they didn't come. On May 2, our bunker was discovered because of someone's denouncement. We evacuated the bunker motivated by grenades and gas. SS men set us out in line and took us to the train station. Here we had the opportunity to see that all the houses where we had lived before the uprising were now destroyed completely; everything was burned, and dead bodies lay in the streets. There was no one to bury them. We were taken to Majdanek.
In Majdanek, I found my relatives Hodel and Chaya Litman. Zalman Litman died before the evacuation and those two were together with the family Vermoos in a bunker on Mila. Hodel was sick, and Chayale's face was burned from the gas. About Yosef Litman they only knew that he was among the resistors in the ghetto. They took Hodel to Majdanek, also Chaya and my mother. The little girl was thrown roughly into a car where there were many other children, and I remained alone.
Depressed and broken, I began to take on the routine of Majdanek. Every day, I go to work which consisted of dragging and moving rocks from one place to another, then bringing them back. We did this mindless, monotonous work and we were beaten for not being perfectly in line or for turning your head to have a quick look elsewhere.
Walking like that in a tragic group, I met the fleeting looks of my friends – Fishel Litman, Chaim Vermoos, Chaim Lichtenshtajn, Dovid Kalwariski. Everyone was broken, with tears of dejection in their eyes, but not only once did I hear words of comfort from them. Very often, Chaim Vermoos also tossed his portion of bread over to me. Once, he told me that they had killed Kalwariski.
One fine day, they took 800 women from Majdanek, and I and Chava Sklanke's sister Brazilia were among these. We did not know where we were being taken until we disembarked and saw the signs Skarzhisko.
There we were told that we had to be hard workers. Among the three types of work in the munitions factory, the most difficult was the third type, where we, the Nowy Dworers, were placed. The barracks were managed by the Jews, some of which were no better than the SS. They treated us to taunts and beatings in the most brutal ways. Also, regarding the food that we received, these Jews who were responsible for us took a large portion. Because of this, they lived in the camp in good condition, and always ran a business with the bread they had taken at the expense of hungry mouths. Later, many of these thieves, our Jewish overseers, received their due punishment and were killed by the secret …
… uprising groups that evolved there in association with the Russians.
From Skarzhisko, they took us to Leipzig, with the same regimen of hard labor and roll calls. But the hygiene conditions were a little better. We had water for washing and we were able to keep ourselves cleaner. This alone changed the mood, and we became more hopeful.
The end of the war was approaching. Our work was often interrupted because of airplane attacks. The confusion of the SS was evidence that the day of liberation was coming.
Suddenly, they closed the factory and began to chase us into the forests, without sleep and without food. No one went out of line for a small bite of food because he would be shot, but still we used all our strength to keep going through this final test because we felt that liberation was close.
Today, I still see Majdanek before my eyes – and today it still hurts to know – as was witnessed, that among the Jews that were taken to Lipowa – to their death, with music, was my brother Shaya'le. He screamed to those watching that they should remember the day of his death – November 3, 1943.
I was liberated on May 7, 1945. I was able to go and see what remained of Nowy Dwor and I quickly went away from there, wandered around, and went to Israel almost completely on foot.
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