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[Page 358]

From the Warsaw Ghetto
through Majdanek and Auschwitz

by Glike Szajnboim, Chicago

Translated by Pamela Russ

 

Between Warsaw, Nowy Dwor, and Pomiechowe

All the terrible problems that we experienced before arriving in the Warsaw ghetto were nothing in comparison to what we saw and what we experienced in the Warsaw ghetto itself. It was horrible to see the distress and pain of our brothers and sisters who were herded together from the surrounding cities and towns into the hell of the Warsaw ghetto.

Thousands of homeless died mainly from cold, hunger, and filth. Now, all in one night, the rich and respected people were left only with what they had on their backs. It was gruesome to see the dead on the streets, as they were covered only with paper, because the clothing had been removed for those who were alive and desperately needed to warm their frozen bodies. Mournful were the cries of the children who wandered in the streets, homeless, begging for a piece of bread.

In the beginning, in our own home, we did not suffer that much. My husband was still working at that time and earned enough for a little piece of dry bread and some watery soup for us and for our children, but slowly our house too was captured by poverty and pain. My husband worked very hard and still didn't earn enough money to satisfy our needs.

We, the older ones, could figure something out to deal with the hunger, but the poor children – they needed a small piece of dry bread to still their hunger and I couldn't give it to them. One couldn't even dream about some sugar or a drop of milk. The rations that we received with our cards barely lasted a few days per month.

The already terrible situation became even more pronounced in the summer of 1941, when the Germans began their war with Russia. There was now a terrible shortage. That bit of food which we were able to buy at a high cost now disappeared. We were deprived of everything and one couldn't even get that little piece of bread. We began to feed ourselves with turnips and with the watery soup that we received from the aid committees, but the hunger became more and more torturous.

At that time, my mother was in Nowy Dwor, together with my brothers who worked very hard for the Germans. When my mother found out what was going on in the Warsaw ghetto, she wrote to me that my children and I should come to her to Nowy Dwor. This was not a simple thing then. I had to steal my way across several Hitlerist outposts, but first I had to get out of the Warsaw ghetto.

I boarded a tramway, dressed as a Christian, holding the hand of a small child, with the other two children at my side. I passed through the guard in the ghetto; then I boarded the small train and rode to Legionnowa (Jablonna). From there I still had quite a way to go, a “stroll” of about another 20 kilometers to Nowy Dwor. This was the worst part of trying to smuggle across the border. It was very easy to fall into the hands of the Hitlerist murderers that guarded the manmade borders between the Reich and the General Government. I dragged myself with the sobbing children, continuously comforting them saying that soon we would have plenty of bread. That gave them, and me as well, strength, until we finally came to our little hometown, Nowy Dwor.

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Here better times really did begin for us. My children and I did not suffer from hunger. My husband, who remained in Warsaw, earned enough to sustain himself and save a little for us. My mother and my brother helped us too, and I too had begun working and earning some money. All this was immediately evident on my children who already looked better.

However, this situation did not last long. The mayor of Nowy Dwor, the infamous Volksdeutch Wendt, and his assistant Bauer began their cruel, Hitlerist work. They saw that too many Jews had run off to Nowy Dwor, that typhus “ruled” among them, so they organized a “delousing” that they implemented in a completely animalistic manner. First, they herded all the men and women to the shores of the Narew River; then they chased them all into the freezing waters. Whoever was reluctant was pushed into the water or shot on the spot. I too experienced and was present at all these random acts at the Narew.

At that time, while they took us to the Narew, they emptied our houses, took everything, and when we returned we had to sleep on the bare floor. (We slept in our clothing, always ready to get up and flee.) And like that, in that position, I heard terrible screams at night, the shattering of breaking shutters, and shooting and abuses of the Jewish police. The Jewish police were under the command of Hershel Mordes's son, one of the Commandants. In his murderous acts, he was indistinguishable from the Nazis. He chased out all the Jews from their homes to assemble them all in the middle of the marketplace. The stampede to the marketplace was accompanied by beatings from all sides. We were surrounded and whoever did not have a pass with permission to be in Nowy Dwor was removed and sent to the Pomiechowe camp. My children and I were sent there as well.

In the Pomiechowe camp we lay down on the bare cement floor, were not given any food, and each day, more people were shot.

The Nowy Dwor Judenrat (Jewish Council) would bring some warm soup, but the hunger was so overpowering that the starving people would throw themselves onto the pot trampling one another until the pot overturned, and the people actually licked the little bit of soup off the bare floor. For the German murderers this was one of the best forms of entertainment that they created out of people's deprivation and pain.

I and my children would undoubtedly have died had I not had a school friend there, a German from Nowy Dwor, from the [cellars], Lydia Boldyn. Her brother, Gutek Wilde, saved me and my children from this hell and smuggled us into the second hell – the Warsaw ghetto.

 

Relocations and Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto:

In Warsaw, after a short time, I lost my youngest daughter because I had no food to give her. Now the real horrors began, the famous “relocations” from the Warsaw ghetto. In the beginning, they evicted all the sick people from the hospitals, all the prisoners from the jails, and everyone thought “they don't mean me! but those who became a burden on the community.… “

Then they took to organizing “shops,” that means work–locations for hand workers and craftsmen. Everyone wanted to secure himself with a work place, and this [cost] many thousands of souls. Because of that, I had to hide myself both by day and by night. I had very little food on reserve, so a double terror began, of deathly hunger …

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… and fear that we shouldn't be packed off to the gas chambers of Treblinka.

The Jewish police in the Warsaw ghetto searched and combed through all the corners and performed well for their German providers as they offered up the “shipments” to send off to the gas chambers. They nabbed men off the streets and snatched children from their mothers, figuring that if they do so, the mothers will voluntarily follow to be with the children. If one of the captives managed to successfully tear himself from the captor's hands, a chase along with major whistling ensued until, in the end, they recaptured the victim. That's how they chased hundreds of thousands from the Warsaw ghetto to the gas chambers of Treblinka, and those captives went as sheep to the slaughter.

A difficult struggle for life began. My brother told me that a cousin of ours was a foreman in a German company that was working in the ghetto, under the name of Mangelzohn. We went to her with great pleas for her to save us. We spent several days with her under the open sky and waited for the “paper,” a type of work permit that the Jewish police accepted. With this paper, my husband could already walk openly on the street. One day, however, the German murderers were short in number for their “shipment” to the gas chamber, so they themselves went on a hunt for victims. They locked several gates, surrounded them with Ukrainians, and whoever just approached, was captured. Work permits did not help here anymore, and they were not accepted. The first of these types of murderous Aktzias [roundup for transport to gas chambers] began on our street. (At that time, we lived on Zamenhof 38.) The entire street was filled with Hitlerist gangs. My husband left at that time to work, taking my dear brother along with him, who then never returned from there.

We stayed in the house, it was already afternoon, and the Aktzia had ended. Through the window of our home on the fifth floor, my oldest daughter saw that the street was filled with SS men, and she began to scream. I just about managed to lock the door when we heard shooting and shouting that all residents should come out of their houses and go into the courtyards, and whoever would be found in their houses will be shot on the spot. I hid the children in the hiding place that had been prepared and I remained alone, waiting hopefully that my husband would come with the papers in his hand and that would save us from the evacuation.

To our great good fortune, the bandits did not feel like climbing up to the fifth floor and in the last minute, my husband did arrive to save us. But tragically, he himself was caught. The Hitlerist gangs, not looking at his working status, shoved him into the large group that was sent off to the so–called “umschlagplatz,” (transfer point – a square where Jews were gathered for deportation to the extermination camps) that was near Muranowska Street, surrounded by barbed wire and encircled by armed Hitler murderers.

Late at night, the Jewish police bought off the German guard posts, and a trade began to try to buy off some of the victims. Whoever had thousands was able to save himself from there. My husband had no money, but he had a brass watch that, at night, looked like real gold. That's how he bought his way out of that hell.

In my courtyard, the Aktzia began again. At 5AM, after a completely sleepless night, there was another alarm. The house was blocked off by the Jewish police and everyone had to go down into the courtyard. I was helpless and did not know what to do with my children. This time, the police came up to the fifth floor, broke open the door to my house, and they sent me and my children down to the courtyard. As if by miracle, once again, my husband appeared. This time he encountered a more civilized …

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… block Commandant who acknowledged his work permit and we all returned to our home. After that, we were afraid to go out into the street. Even my husband was afraid that they would no longer recognize his work permit. For many days we lay hidden in the small attic without a window, in a hiding place that was obscured by a cupboard where you could squeeze your way in through a small side door. We were all depleted from hunger and cold. I eased my way out of the hiding place only at night to cook something warm so that we could get through the day.

And always – new torments. The terrible day arrived when the order came to assemble on Wolynska Street. It was then called “the kettle” because things were cooking there as if in a kettle [where everything] from small to big, young to old [boiled]. Everyone gathered there for fear of being shot if found in the hiding places. We did not leave our hiding place. We thought it would better to be shot on the spot than be sent out to be gassed. We already knew then where the Jewish transports were being sent. So, we stayed in our hiding place. My brother's wife and her two children hid with us as well, along with a few others from the families of the building's residents. We were eighteen in total in that hiding place. The first day went by peacefully. The murderers were preoccupied with the “kettle” on Wolynska Street.

The second day, the house searches began. We were all lying in the dark, suffocating from the heat and heavy air. Miraculously, the children were quiet. They were not crying and not asking for food, except for my sister–in–law's oldest son who gave us a deathly fright. He screamed that he wanted a drink, just as the searches in our house were in full force. His mother covered up his mouth with all her strength and with that saved us all from a sure death. On the third day, she and her child left the hiding place and went to the “kettle” not wanting that she and her unsettled son cause the deaths of eighteen people.

One day, it was the second day of Rosh Hashana, they removed the guards, and all the Jews assembled in the “kettle” were sent out. After a gruesome Selektzia [selection for work or for death], approximately 50,000 Jews were selected, with over half a million still remaining in the Warsaw ghetto. For these remaining, certain streets were designated where they were crammed in, hermetically locked up.

This time also, we were all lucky and all of us remained alive. Things became calmer; one could think that now – the beast had satiated itself with people's blood and now things would be quiet. After some time, my husband once again received a work position. He began working and soon earned some money. We were now able to go about freely in the house with our children and not stay hidden somewhere. But my cup of problems, it seems, was not yet full.

Like a clap of thunder from heaven, the death of our two children came upon us after they were poisoned by eating some dumplings that my cousin brought from the store. The dough had been kneaded with arsenic, probably for the mice that had greatly increased in number in the ghetto. I had tasted a small bit and had given the rest to the children so that at least this once they could eat to their fill. Immediately, the children had stomach aches, terrible cramps, and there was no doctor to be found. That's how their pure souls expired – my two children, one nine years old and the other six. Life then became depressive for me. I wanted to die, but I had no energy to do that…. I suffered for several weeks until I recuperated. People comforted me, saying that at least the children had died in their own home, in their own beds. What kind of death was waiting for us? I allowed myself to be comforted and continued to live with searing pain in my heart.

The next few months …

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… went by relatively calmly, maybe too calmly. It was the calm before the storm.

Whoever was able, built a bunker somewhere, a place to hide, and gathered food products from wherever they could, with the hope that the war would soon end and all you had to do was get through these few months. We did not build a new bunker because we had no money for that. We stayed in our small room, without a window, and hoped that we would be able to save ourselves there.

But that which we all dreaded, came about. It was Pesach of 1943, on the first seder night. We wanted to conduct the seder as we were accustomed to do for years. But that's when the great battles began in the Warsaw ghetto; the gruesome murders of those few remaining Jews in the ghetto. My husband, cousin, and I who lost everything in the Nowy Dwor ghetto during the evacuation, rushed down into the dark bunker as we already heard the German tanks entering the ghetto.

The ghetto was filled with shooting; the grenades ripped up and burned down the houses along with those who were hiding there. We saw our end; we would be burned to death in the closed bunker or be shot by Hitler's bandits as we left the bunker. We sat in the closed bunker and we heard the steps of the murderers who were going around and plundering the houses. (Before burning down the houses, they first stole everything.) We heard the explosion of a bomb over our house and saw the flames that encircled the house. It was dangerous to go out because the bandits were waiting for us to go out and then they would shoot us on the spot. But I already felt that we were burning and choking on the smoke that was tearing into us from the burning house. I screamed to my husband that even if the worst things were going to happen, he should open the bunker, I didn't want to be burned alive.

At the last minute, we managed to get out of our hiding place. The entire house was surrounded by flames. My husband dragged me into the unknown. You couldn't see anyone around. We got out on the fifth floor and then from the rooftop we tried to get to the next house that was not yet burning. That's how we saved ourselves from death.

We dragged ourselves around like that for a week's time across the half burned houses, across roofs and in cellars. Dirty, drained, and frighteningly starved, until one day, May 3, 1943, they informed on us and we were given over into the hands of the executioners.

We were a large group. We were all stripped naked and set out with our faces against the wall. We were sure that we would be shot, but it turned out in the end that we were taken to the umschlagplatz [transfer or departure point from which Jews were deported to Nazi extermination camps], reassuring us that we were being taken to work. We were packed into freight trains, with 120 people or more in each car. The cars were locked, without a drop of air to breathe, without food, and without water. The people in our car were falling from their feet. We stepped on the dead and I envied my poor children who were finished with all this.…

The train dragged on. It began to rain, and the rain seeped in through the cracks of our car. We tried to quench our terrible thirst with this rain, but it hardly helped. My husband pulled out a ring that he still had hidden with him and for that he got a little gutter water from one of the Ukrainian accompanying guards.

More dead were dropping in the car, the air was suffocating. We heard train signals and then we arrived in the infamous train station of Majdanek.

 

The Welcome in Majdanek

We wanted to get off the train as quickly as possible, no matter what was going to happen, as long as we got off the train that was polluted with the dead! They took us into horses' stalls, they gave us a little …

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… water to drink and we spent the night there, until morning, when the work of murder began.

The first word that we heard was: “Selektzia!” A selection of people. The healthy ones, and those whose appearance was fine, still had some hope of staying alive so that later they could release their souls from the murderously hard, inhuman labor in the camp.

They took us, five in a row, from the train station into the camp, escorted by Hitlerist guards with their huge dogs. If someone faltered in the midst of this, the specially trained dogs finished him off.

As soon as we arrived in the camp, they separated me from my husband. I stayed close to my cousin. After going through the showers, we received thin shirts instead of our clothing which they took away. We were taken to barracks among thousands of women. We slept there for a week on the bare floor. There were no beds or cots in the barracks at all.

At 3 AM, we were already awoken and then we learned a new word of the camp lexicon: “Appel” [roll call]. That means we had to dress quickly, go out in front of the block, and get into rows so that they could count us. The counting took hours, it was cold, and we huddled close to one another to try and get some warmth. Doing this, however, was strictly forbidden and you were beaten for this.

Finally, around six o'clock, we were herded in groups to go do work such as take out garbage, carry heavy stones, etc. My job was to carry those heavy rocks. As soon as I started to work, our foreman, Brigida, hit me over the head with a brick because according to her I was carrying rocks that were too small.

On the second day, I ran away from the group and hid behind the blocks. They began to chase us and beat us with metal truncheons. We were then over 8,000 women from all nationalities, but our executioners quickly figured out what to do with us.

In the morning, after the Appel, we were ordered to remain in our places. All the Jewish women stood separately. A Selektzia took place. The sick women were sorted out, and many healthy women were included with the sick ones, because they looked primarily at the condition of the feet (in the winter, they looked for frozen feet, and in the summer they looked for burned feet). These people who were not good for work were transported to the gas chambers of Majdanek. I was among the healthy ones because I had brought with me from Warsaw a pair of boots that I had not yet removed from my feet – not during the day or at night, for fear that they would be stolen. Thanks to them I had healthy feet and this saved me from the Selektzia.

That same day, they put about 1,000 women into the ovens, and among them was my 26–year–old cousin, since she had burned feet. I remained alone. I saw my husband only from time to time through the barbed wire. One was not permitted to speak to anyone.

Once, we met while at work, and as he was passing by, my husband said a few words to me. The SS man noticed this and he hit me over the head with his pointy rod. I was immediately covered with blood, an eye became bruised, and for a few weeks I could see nothing. Also, for this “terrible crime,” my husband received 25 beatings with a stick on his bare body.

Soon after this event, slowly they began to liquidate the camp. Transports were always leaving, there were always Selektzias, one after another. Three times I managed to escape the transports, but as I looked around I saw that I remained with only old and sick women who were not being sent out but were shot on the spot.

Because of that, I voluntarily presented myself to one of the transports. They took me on because in their eyes I still looked …

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… healthy enough so that they could use me for work. By chance, they took us over to the “men's place” where I communicated with my husband. There was also a transport of men that left, of which my husband was one. We waited all night at this place. In the morning, everyone was given a half a kilo of bread with a small piece of stinking cheese, and then they loaded us onto the trains.

 

With Nowy Dworers in Auschwitz

After twenty–four hours, we finally arrived at the extermination camp of Auschwitz.

As soon as we arrived, they shaved off all our hair. There we met a few familiar men from Nowy Dwor. Their wives had been burned to death as soon as they came to the camp. These men, meanwhile, remained alive because they were strong and in good health. They began to talk to us and told us the “good news” that no one ever leaves this place. Here you waited sooner or later, to be finished…. We already knew this. Auschwitz was familiar to us just from hearing about it.

What can be worse than Majdanek? But – as was evident – there was yet a worse inferno, and that was Auschwitz.

In Majdanek, the crematoria was disguised, but in Auschwitz everything was open. A few steps from our block – one crematorium. A little farther – another. And in Brzezinka, in the forest – two more crematoria. Yes! Four crematoria in one camp. I saw them with my own eyes and I didn't go crazy in front of this torment. How is this possible?….. But it is possible. Because if you wanted to survive, if you still wanted a chance to live, first you had to look well. If you didn't, then you went directly into the ovens.

The hard labor in the Auschwitz camp began. We were awoken to the Appel at 3AM and then were herded to work at 6AM. I was assigned to one of the most difficult jobs. In the month of October, I stood in freezing cold water, and did my work. That's how I worked for a few months until I became ill and couldn't go to work anymore. They had to carry me out to the Appel. My feet had an infection in the joints, and I couldn't go out to work at all. I had to hide under the straw mattress because if you didn't go to work that meant you were sick, and if that was so, then you had to go to the “reweers” [infirmaries] that were a place for the sick, and from there, it was a direct path into the ovens.

I cursed the years that I had: Why did God give me so much strength, to survive and tolerate such pain, in order to be burned to death in the ovens after that? The people in the camp were falling like flies from the difficult, inhumane labor, from the various, contagious diseases and from filth. The four gas ovens operated in full steam by day and by night. The air was contaminated from the fumes that were carried from the people's roasted and burned bodies.

I was not able to “cover” myself with my illness for long. They took me to the hospital. I lay there for a week's time and the fear of a Selektzia did not allow me to rest. I discharged myself quickly from the hospital and once again I was in my barrack in the camp. An incomprehensible strength built up inside me: You have to remain alive and God does not want to take your soul from you.

I saw my husband at a distance when they herded us to work. We could not speak among ourselves or we would receive murderous beatings. My husband was always looking for all kinds of connections and from time to time he got a little food for me maintaining the feeble hope that we would remain alive. I found myself on the so–called “visitor” block where one did not work so hard, but from here they took you more quickly to be gassed. Because of that, once again I set myself up with the hardest labor, simply in order to prolong my bitter life a little more.

How did I have the energy …

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… to survive all this? Where was this source in me with this steely will to survive and get through this – I couldn't understand. I want now to describe one of my days that I will remember my entire life. I was left with a heart problem as a result of the beatings that I received from the camp Commandant. It was a very foggy day, and on a day like that, they were afraid to take us out to work lest someone use the fog to his benefit and try to escape.

We were standing set out in front of the barracks waiting until some daylight would appear. Then a camp Commandant arrived for inspection. This was a known murderer. If someone fell into his hands, he never came out alive. He found a small piece of turnip on me, and then he started to beat me and kick me, so that I was rolling on the ground for so long until I was left half dead. I couldn't move; everything ached. I couldn't sit, and I couldn't lie down. But I remained alive and continued to suffer.

At that time, they also sent my husband away with a transport to Germany because Auschwitz was beginning its liquidation. The murderers sensed that their end was near. They began to dismantle the chimneys. They stopped the burning and we started to live with the hope again that we would survive.

But my future life did not shine – why? My children were not alive, I knew nothing about my husband, my family had been murdered, I was alone, a broken shard. I could hardly stand on my feet. But the will to survive and live to see the defeat of our enemies, the animals and savage people, to take revenge, this was the root of my will to stay alive.

But until the complete defeat of Hitler's bandits and until our liberation, we had to wait a long time, suffering and struggling, until the long–awaited day of January 18, 1945, arrived.

 

The Eve of Liberation

In an instance, the murderers became our providers…. One of the female Commandants came into our barrack with this information: It seems that the Russians were approaching and they wanted to rescue us. Therefore, we would immediately have to march deeper into Germany. This march of ours went on for three days and three nights.

All those who couldn't keep going on this march were immediately shot. They chased starved skeletons without giving any food. Our only nourishment was the snow on the road, and that's how we dragged ourselves to some sort of railway point where they loaded us on. After that, we went on for another three full days.

Frozen and starved, we dragged ourselves further to Germany to the tragic women's camp of Ravensbruck. The daily food ration there was 100 grams of bread and a half liter of turnip soup.

Not long afterwards, they began to bomb the camp. Again they tried to “rescue” us and took us to another camp by the name of Neustadt – Glewe. According to the way things looked here, they finally would have to finish us off. Here they did not use gas but they used ordinary means, like not giving food, and people would die of hunger. I couldn't move any longer, and there was no one to help. Everyone was exhausted from hunger. There was nothing to cook, so for long weeks we sustained our lives with raw turnips. We received meagre portions once a week, and even that was not every week.

The air raid sirens and the bombing did not stop. We finally saw the end of this gruesome cataclysm. But along with that, I also saw my own end. I was flickering like a light, and was slowly fading. My feet were horrifically swollen and I …

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… lay like stuck down to the boards of the bed. Oy! How I wanted to live to see the liberation! I only want to survive until this anticipated day! But they still dragged us to the Appel. They were not counting us anymore. A terrible bombing attack came on and we were ordered to go into the blocks. But we didn't hear the order and we stayed outside. The camp Commandant was now going around in civilian clothing. He looked like a beaten willow branch [on the day of Hoshana Rabba, toward the end of the Succos holiday, a bunch of willow branches are beaten on the ground and then cast aside].

The women were discussing among themselves how all the executioners were all ready and packed up, just waiting for the chance to leave. They locked us in the barracks, but we broke open the doors and did not allow ourselves to be locked in. We felt that now we were the rulers and we controlled them.

The general sense of joy caught me too. One forgot that he was weak, sick, and starved, and a new life force began to flow. We would live and see their miserable end.

First, we threw ourselves into the food storehouses. To eat – that was our most urgent desire. The storehouses were no longer being guarded. All the guards and the Commandant had run away for fear that we would kill them. We stormed the gates of the camp. Freedom! The long desired and dreamed of freedom had finally come. Everyone was singing and dancing. There was no limit to the overall joy.

And for me, I always cried: Why? Why did my children and dear ones not survive? Why am I so lonely and alone? Where should I turn and to whom shall I go?

Yes! I lived to the most beautiful moment of my life. With my own eyes, I saw the end of those murderers. In the greatest moments of the excitement, they ran off, half naked, just to save themselves from our revenge.

The American tanks were entering the camp. They showered us with all kinds of food stuffs, chocolate, and other luxuries that we hadn't seen for many years.

I was now free, I was now satiated, and now what? First I wanted to find my husband. Maybe he was still alive? I and a friend of mine from the camp took to the road. Our goal was to get to Poland. The journey took us just two weeks. We went on foot, we went on the rooftops of the trains, and we went by wagon, until finally I came to my former home town of Nowy Dwor.

 

Amidst the destruction of Nowy Dwor

Here the great destruction awaited me. I did not find any of my close ones, and did not find my dear husband, which had been the greatest hope for my future life. Nothing! No one! Only strangers, Christian faces of unfamiliar people, and if I did finally meet a Pole that I knew from the town, then he looked at me in wonder: “What? You're still alive? You, such a weak one, you survived?”

In the town, the few Jews who survived got together. We created a committee among ourselves, we got some help from Warsaw, I regained some energy, and began to work.

After staying in Nowy Dwor for a few months I received wonderful news that my husband was alive and was in Germany, in Bergen Belsen. My husband did everything possible. He sent me a special messenger, and after being apart for a year and a half, we met again on accursed German ground, but now under completely different conditions.

The agony was still terrible that we were left alone, without our dear children and without any close family. We found our comfort in the hope that we wouldn't stay long on this cursed, bloodied ground.

Our road was to Israel.


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In the Warsaw Ghetto and in the Wyszkow Forests

by Penina Papjer, Tel Aviv

Translated by Pamela Russ

 

Before the War

From my Nowy Dwor home, and from my childhood and younger years, I was not accustomed to the ways and to all the changes that I lived through during the course of the Second World War. It wasn't even in my imagination that I would experience such horrors and live through such events. In my school years, I would go through a quiet side road, far from any social activity. My parents did not permit me to participate in any social events. When I was already in the seventh class of the Jewish public school, I still had these restrictions in front of me. I wanted to continue my studies in Warsaw, but even with this request I was denied, and all because I was the youngest in the house.

When I completed the Jewish public school in 1937, I entered the “Maccabi.” But even then, they did not permit me too much, and they kept me, as they say, tied to their apron.

 

With the Outbreak of War

What the word “war” means, I only knew from what I heard about the years of the First World War. I heard about difficult years, about smugglers – how the Jews of that time were able to find small pieces of bread, and how they existed and how people lived in better times and – so I believed that also this time, such as it was in the past, we would endure and live through it. But very quickly it was apparent that this was very different. In terrible conditions, I began to feel that I was growing up and getting older … It was already different than it used to be, when my parents would tremble if I made a trip to Warsaw. I now went alone onto the frightful roads.

Nowy Dwor was filled with terror, and was connected by proximity with the Modlin Fortress. We had reports of terrible things, and whoever was able, went over to Warsaw. In September 1939, my whole family went to Warsaw to my oldest brother Dovid. We took along emergency supplies from Nowy Dwor. We were all crowded into his home during the bombing of Warsaw and hoped that the war would end very quickly…

When the Germans marched into Warsaw, the refugees immediately began fleeing from the surrounding cities and towns. Mobs began crowding themselves into terribly small places and the hunger grew greater and greater. We began waking up in the middle of the night in order to get a place in the lineup outside the bakeries, and then fought for a piece of bread.

Caption: Penina Papjer

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Also by us, in my brother Dovid's home, the emergency food supplies were running out. I too ran to stand in line for bread, but my family did not permit me to do this. They still considered me to be a “young one.”

Caption: Dovid Papjer, of blessed memory

Hunger did its work. The dream, that it would be better in Warsaw, came to nought, and a chapter of wanderings began, [with us traveling] back and forth between Warsaw and Nowy Dwor.

In October 1939, part of my family tried again to set themselves up in Nowy Dwor. The city was in ruins, and the houses that remained standing had all been robbed. Our house was still standing, but had been emptied, and starting anew was now impossible. The Volksdeutsche were wild in the streets, along with the Polaks. They were beating [people] murderously as they grabbed people for work. So once again, my family moved back to Warsaw after a month of challenges and sufferings in Nowy Dwor.

In those times, many people left to the Russian territories. My parents also encouraged the children to try to save themselves on the way, but we agreed to stay together with my parents, and so once again we all crowded into my brother Dovid's home. But the big crowd – the parents, five brothers, three sisters and their small children, could not stay together. There was also no earnings to be had, so the family spread out with everyone going separately to search for some means of earnings and a roof over their heads.

 

With the Liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto

With the liquidation [sic] of the Warsaw ghetto at the end of 1940, the situation became much worse. We had to wear the white ribbon with a blue Star of David. In the streets, they cut off beards and they beat [people] murderously. Epidemics erupted and typhus [flek–typhus (spotted fever)] began festering. My youngest brother Zishe was infected with typhus and was taken into isolation for quarantine. The rest of us, all the family members, were taken into isolation and to a different place for sanitary control.

And once again, half of our family returned to Nowy Dwor. My sister Malka and her daughter and husband and his parents were already in Nowy Dwor from earlier on. Now my father, my two brothers Moshe and Matis, and later my third brother Zishe as well, all went to Nowy Dwor. I remained with my mother in Warsaw. From Nowy Dwor, my family insisted that I and my mother should come there as well, because they had set themselves up there fairly well. My brother Dovid opposed this, but my mother wanted to go to Nowy Dwor, and I couldn't allow her to travel alone.

My father sent several smugglers from Nowy Dwor so they could smuggle us into the Nowy Dwor ghetto. These were Jews who had a “good face,” meaning with an Aryan appearance, with …

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… whom several non–Jews collaborated for the sake of making good money. The first thing we had to do was to quickly climb onto the train in the direction of Nowy Dwor, and to do so quickly so that they wouldn't notice we were Jewish.

The train stopped for just a few minutes at the station. I boarded quickly with the intention of getting my mother on as well. But the train left too fast and my mother remained behind. At the closest next station, I got off the train and went back on foot to the Warsaw train station and found my mother still there. Soon we boarded a second train – to Legionowo. There the smugglers were waiting for us, took us across the border of the Reich to Nowy Dwor, and brought us to the Nowy Dwor cemetery. We waited there all night and then in the morning we were taken to the Nowy Dwor ghetto.

 

Nowy Dwor, Pomiechowo, Legionowo

In the Nowy Dwor ghetto, everyone had to have a permit (“schein”). The Judenrat required this, but my father arranged something with them and they left me alone. But soon they again demanded a “certificate” for sanitary reasons, which we received at the hospital. Volksdeutsche worked there, and when we arrived there they immediately shaved off everyone's hair. I was afraid to go there. My father also arranged everything there for me, and I received a certificate for sanitation and health. Now I was legally in the ghetto.

There was unbearable over–crowdedness in the ghetto. People were ripped out of their houses and grabbed off the streets for work. The tightness of space tortured me as did the walking around aimlessly in the ghetto, until I alone, voluntarily, went to work in an airfield in the Modlin Fortress. When I went through the guarded gate, after a day's work, the guard detained me and honored me with a slap because the Star of David ribbon was at a slant and not on the exact place that it should be. After my parents found out about this episode, they no longer permitted me to go to work.

And once again, emptiness, without any way out. And soon, there was a strict decree, an order to clean out the ghetto, and then again the [threat of] quarantine. All the ghetto inmates would have to go to the Vistula River, and wash themselves in the freezing water. A terror befell me [in regard to] this bath in the Vistula and I said to my family that we should leave immediately to Legionowo. They did not agree and so I alone left the Nowy Dwor ghetto and with the help of the smugglers I left for Legionowo.

That night, they rounded up the Nowy Dwor Jews and sent them to the Pomiechowo camp, and only some of them were left in the ghetto. Among those who remained were also my two brothers and my sister Malka's husband. My father and mother, my brother Zishe, my sister and her child, and my grandfather, all were taken to Pomiechowo. I found out about all this in Legionowo. My two brothers, Moshe and Matis, who remained behind in the ghetto, let me know that I should not return to Nowy Dwor.

 

Once More in the Warsaw Ghetto

With the help of the smugglers, once again I went into the Warsaw ghetto and again to Dovid, my oldest brother. Also in Warsaw at that time was my brother Mendel with his wife Nami Wajnstok (also from Nowy Dwor) and their two children, and also my sister Adela with her husband Yitzchok Erbstajn.

About the fate of my own family in Pomiechowo, I found out that my mother contracted typhus there in the camp, that my grandfather lost his mind there and then was shot, that my brothers Moshe and Matis who remained in the Nowy Dwor ghetto, tried to help them by sending provisions into the camp. They also managed to get my father, my sister and her child, out of there.

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When the camp in Pomiechowo was liquidated, among those who were transferred to the Legionowo camp was my mother and my brother Zishe. My mother and brother Zishe came to Warsaw from there and my father remained in the Nowy Dwor ghetto.

My brother Mendel was working in Warsaw at that time in a carpentry shop, in Landau shop at Gensha 64 (they prepared furniture for the Germans there). With his help, my brother Zishe was taken to work in the Landau shop as well.

At that time, I was working with a child in a Jewish family, but this job did not last long. Soon I became sick with typhus and my situation became frightful. As a sick person, I was not able to give myself the luxury of lying in bed in my brother's house. I greatly feared a visit by the commission that would take me into quarantine and I was also afraid that I shouldn't infect the older people and the children in my brother's house. I no longer went to work with the child but I also did not stay in bed. I wandered with fever in the streets. I would come home at night and slept in one bed with my mother. Since she had survived the horrible typhus disease in the Pomiechowo camp, I hoped that she would survive it here too and that she would not contract the disease from me again.

Meanwhile, I contracted pneumonia as well. My brother called a doctor, but I was terrified and ran away to my sister, and then when I passed the crisis, I returned to my brother's house and to my former work.

Meanwhile, my father in Nowy Dwor set himself up as best as he could. We heard that he had opened a restaurant there. With the help of the smugglers he sent us food packages. My brother in Nowy Dwor asked again that we come to Nowy Dwor. My mother went there and Zishe and I remained in Warsaw.

 

In and around the Landau Shop

With my brother's help, my relative Yosef Litman of Nowy Dwor, was taken into the Landau shop. After that, I too was taken in to work in the Landau shop. I was the only woman there, and learned how to work the carpentry machines.

In my work at the sheet machine, I “merited” a visit and observation of the two best known [Jew] hunters and Jew snatchers in the ghetto – Klostermeier and Bemsher. (Both of these men were sentenced by a German court to life imprisonment, as if they had only shot nine Jews…)

Belonging to the shop enabled me to acquire a work permit. Every day we received half a bread and each week they distributed food products. I also took to distributing the products in the shop.

In the streets, going to and from work, I saw people swollen from hunger, and bodies covered in paper. You also encountered “khappers” [“snatchers”] in the streets, who attacked you and tore packages out of the passerby's arms. When I left work with the half bread, one such khapper attached me. I fought him off and managed to bring the bread home. Another time, a khapper tore a bag of salt out of my hands, and immediately put it into his mouth to eat…. It was tragic to see this bitter joke that was played on this starved attacker.

 

Attacks and Selections

The streets were always locked up, people were herded out of their houses, and then they were set out in rows for selection. Along with my sister–in–law, I stood in line as we awaited our fate. A familiar Jewish policeman let it be known to the German commissar of the Landau shop that I was in danger, and he came and took me out of the lineup. My brother went over to my sister–in–law, thinking that he could save her too. But both …

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… were taken away. Their child remained with the grandmother.

According to the orders, that everyone must live close to his workplace, I had to move to the central part of the ghetto. My brother Mendel and his wife were sent away at that time, along with their children. In the small ghetto, there remained my sister Adela and her husband. She always came to us to see how we were, until they took her away as well. The selections also occurred nearby us in the factory.

When I ran away onto a rooftop during one selection, a German caught me and put me in the lineup. I found my brother Zishe there.

As I was standing in the lineup, I saw how a Rav, Rabbi Blumenfeld, was pleading with a German to leave him alone because he was sick. The German shot him on the spot. This was a very painful experience for me to see, that in front of just a few Germans, hundreds of Jews stood in silence … With the heaviest of feelings, I thought about our powerlessness.

 

The First Meeting with Secret Resistance Groups

In the Landau shop at work, I encountered a group from the “Shomer Hatzair” [Zionist youth movement]. A daughter of Landau, Margalit, belonged to the Shomer Hatzair, and she tried to bring her friends into the shop. Among these were Yosef Kaplan and his girlfriend Miriam Hajnsdorf, Yosek Farber, Shimek, and so on.

About Yosek Farber, I heard that he was no longer with his parents, but he was now with his friends, and that he didn't sleep at night, and that he was as if in a tunnel. I saw something secretive in him, that he was protective of himself and hiding from me. He spoke to me about that which also hurt me so very much – the Jewish powerlessness.

In the shop, there was also Hersh Berlinski, who was close by and overheard our discussions and always remained….silent.

Meanwhile, the intensified situation in the streets around the shop became sharper in the shop itself. Because of the ongoing raids and selections, the workers in the shop went to the commissar to ask that they be allowed to bring their wives and children to the shop. Soon, women and children crowded into the shop, and they were hardly able to silence the children with sleeping pills. It became harder and worse, and thoughts about our fate and resistance did not let us rest.

They came from the Gestapo to arrest Kaplan. There were already sharp indications that an underground organization was in existence.

Once, Hersh Berlinski asked me if I was free. I answered that I and my brother Zishe lived in one house with Litman. Hersh came to my house and spoke openly with me, asking if I was prepared to participate in the resistance and about setting up a secret room – a fifth.

I, Zishe, Yosef Litman, and two others from the shop – Wloclowski and Blumshtajn, formed this group of “five.” Hersh Berlinski always came to us to talk things through. We did not have any guns at that time. From this group of five, we remained a group of three: Litman, Zishe, and me.

 

Other Nowy Dworers in Warsaw

In the Landau shop, there was also Chaim Vermoos. I met other Nowy Dworers after I found out about the liquidation of the Nowy Dwor ghetto. I met Rajchman–Ktunti, and from him I heard some details about my family in Nowy Dwor – that during the liquidation, Pleczer, the Volksdeutsche, wanted to take my brother Matis down from a wagon, but Matis did not agree unless all the family would be taken off together. So, he remained in the wagon with them.

I also met Yakov Evanson …

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… with Chava Sklanka and her husband Frajman, and also Ahron Baranek. None of them knew about the underground, that these sorts of small rooms exist, and for sure not about my connection to this. Later, after the events of January 18, I also saw in the umschlagplatz [place where the Jews were brought, literally a “reloading point”] lineup the Nowy Dworer Herman Abramowycz from the Judenrat. He was standing in line, beaten down, with his child.

 

After the “Small Resistance”

At the time of the roundups of January 18, 1943, the groups from Dror and Hashomer Hatzair began a volley of shooting. That's when Margalit Landau of the Shomer Hatzair was killed. Those from the resistance who were caught were taken to the umschlagplatz. I, Yosef Litman, Yosef Kaplan's girlfriend Miriam, and Tosiah Altman, all kept close to Yosef Farber, in whose resourcefulness we all had faith…

The umschlagplatz was filled with people – their screams and cries, shooting, and wagon loading. There was great chaos, and we managed to get out of the lineups and go to the cellars. I and Yosef Litman went down into a cellar on Nizka, and there met up with the group from Hashomer Hatzair.

The group decided to climb up to the highest level of the building and from there to go over to a different house. We intended to get to the nearest house of the “verte erfassung,” [literally a “place of registration for things of worth”], this was a kind of store where they collected furniture for Jewish homes to give to the German officers. At night we managed to get to the sixth floor. We tore a board off the door, used it as a bridge to a window of the next house, and crossed over with the goal of preparing the route for the morning, and in that way, be freed from the umschlagplatz. As we were crossing over the narrow board between the windows on the floors high up, the Germans began to shoot up at us. Those who crossed over into the verte erfassung hid among the furniture until morning, and then were taken out with the help of the “werkschutzler” [factory guards] – people from the Shomer Hatzair who came to save us.

As we were coming back, I met my brother Zishe and the Nowy Dworers Chava Sklanka and Yakov Evanson. In a few days, Hersh Berlinski also came over and spoke to us about joining up for the “job” of the fighting organization. I, Zishe, and Yosef left for the fighting group, and were put up in barracks on Swietojerska 34, in the brush–making section. By that time, Zishe and I had no family left. Yosef Litman still had his mother and sister. He received help for his mother from the fighting group.

When I would come from Swietojerska to meet my Now Dwor friends Yakov Evanson, Chava and Esther Sklanka, Ahron Baranek, understandably, when I tried to say a few words about what I was doing in the brush–making department, I mixed it up with the excuse that I was working with the brushes. But they were already able to sense what I was involved with.

When I commented on Ahron Baranek's beautiful leather jacket, he asked me if I was coming that night to take it from him … and those nights we were already completely on the move. We were busy getting ammunition and we bothered the rich Jews by asking them for money, saying that if they wouldn't give us the money they would end up taking it with them to Treblinka. There were also times when some bandits would use our names and presented themselves as messengers from the Fighting Organization.

Our undercover activity was very strict, but our Nowy Dworer Yakov Evanson already understood what we were involved with. Once he asked me to please allow him to become part of this fighting organization. I explained to him that I had no connection to this. But in honesty, I spoke to Hersh Berlinksi about this and he agreed to take him in at the time when …

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… a second group would be organized in the central ghetto. Then, there were the Aktions [literally “Actions” actually roundups] in reprisal for the April resistance, and I never saw Yakov Evanson again.

That night, our group's job was to explain to the Jews of the ghetto what the deportation to work meant. On the posters that we would put up we explained that work meant death.

 

In the Bunkers after the Uprising

April 18 – The Germans have begun their infiltration of the ghetto with tanks and military vehicles [“Panzers”]. And against this heavily armed army, were our fighting groups with handguns and grenades that we had made ourselves. April 19 and 20 – Jewish fighters in their positions are on guard and shoot the German units, and soon the large German blockade is set up. The area of the brush–making unit is burning; everything is destroyed in fire and smoke, and the last fighting groups of the Jewish resistors find their places in the bunkers. It is impossible to describe the fighting in the area of the brush–making.

Yakov Prasker's fighting unit remained in the brush–making area and was burned there in a bunker. The groups of Marek Edelman, Chanoch Gutman, and Hersh Berlinski escaped to a bunker on Francziskaner 30. There was a contact there; Zivia Lubetkin and Mordechai Anilewycz, and Koszyk (Simcha Rothauser) were sent to the Aryan side to make contact with Antek (Yitzchok Zukerman).

In the bunker on Francziskaner 30, I became very disoriented. Everyone left this place of chaos and went over to another bunker. There I met Aryeh Wilner from the Shomer Hatzair along with Zygmunt Frydrych from the Bund, and other fighters. Zygmunt recognized me. He was a friend of my brother Dovid and he saved me.

At that time, Aryeh Wilner described how the Gestapo tortured him so that he would disclose those in the fighting organization. When I heard this, I trembled in fear of falling into the hands of the Germans. Every time the Germans discovered another bunker, they forced out those who were hiding with explosions and gas, and that's how they wiped out the last fighting groups. After that I returned to our previous bunker on Franczyskaner 30.

A Bundist group that had escaped from another place, came to us in the bunker. It became very crowded and we decided that two people of each group would go elsewhere. On the first of May, at night, when we came to the other bunker, they did not want to allow us in. But when we did go in, we found it was very crowded and there was great animosity towards us, and so we decided to return to our own bunker on Franczyskaner 30.

As soon as we returned, on the second night, we saw that something had happened. During the time we were gone, the Germans and their assistants (Kapos) had discovered the bunker on Franczyskaner 30. There were four fighting groups there at the time: Chanoch Gutman (Dror), Marek Edelman (Bund), Jurek Grynszpan (PPR [Polish Worker's Party or Polska Partia Robotnicza]), and Hersh Berlinski. When the Germans advanced to the bunker, everyone went out to fight with them. Staszek and Berek of the Bund were killed in the fight. Yosef from Dror fell wounded as he was fighting, and was taken by the Germans and then shot by them. Chanoch Gutman, Yakov Grynszpan, and my brother Zishe were wounded. When we returned to the bunker we found more murdered and wounded.

At that time, messengers came to us from the bunker of Mordechai Anielewycz (Mila 18), Pawel, Chaim Grynszpan, and so on, and they carried out the heavily wounded.

The Germans returned to the bunker, dug and searched for a closer road …

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… to explode with dynamite. But they did not succeed. We sat locked in silence, except for me who coughed incessantly. That was because of having a cold or maybe because of nervousness – but either way, I couldn't overcome the coughing, and I heard that one of the people in the bunker said that for this I should be shot…

At night, we tried again to take the lightly wounded to another bunker. Among these was my brother Zishe. But again the Germans came quickly. One of our group, Shanon Lent, began to shoot. The Germans began to throw gas bombs, and the entire group, along with the lightly wounded, was killed, among them, my brother Zishe. By inheritance, I was left with his pistol.

Caption: Zishe Papjer, may his memory be blessed

All those in our bunker who remained, went over to another place, a bunker of garbage cleaners (“szmieczaszes”), on Franczyskaner 22. From there, there was a pathway through the sewer drains. We decided that through this route we would send people who would connect us to the Aryan side. At that time, from the bunker on Mila 18, Zivia Lubetkin and Chaim Grynszpan (Frimer) came to us.

Koszyk (Simcha Rarhauser) was passing through the sewers at that time, looking for a contact with us. A group of people who had been gassed in the bunker at Mila 18 found their way to us.

 

Through the Sewers

We decided to send ten people into the sewers. I was among them. We went down on May 8.

Gas bombs were secured to the walls of the sewers. We walked carefully, with flashlights in our hands, with anything being able to happen at any moment. And then we heard steps… We thought they were German. And then we heard a voice call out: “Jan!” And we replied: “Jan!” Then suddenly we saw Koszyk. Such joy and such darkness, and all in the filth of the sewers! Along with Koszyk there was also Rishek Muselman (from Hashomer Hatzair). For several nights, Koszyk had wandered in the darkness of the sewers looking for us, accompanied by the Christian sewer workers who knew the passageways. Midway, they wanted to go back, and once again they had to be coerced to continue under threat of being shot, until finally they found us. It was a discovery of terror mixed with joy…

The passageways were very narrow and we had to use the crossing points of the sewers to find a place to hide. Wounded, starved, and thirsty, we crawled without finding a way out. It was painful to see how the wounded Yehuda Wengrod drank the filthy sewage water. We were exhausted, resigned and prepared for this to be our last day…

The meeting up with Koszyk and Rishek revived us. We let everyone know in the bunker that they should all come down into the sewer. Koszyk and Rishek went to the Aryan side to prepare our exit from the sewers. In the morning of May 10, they took all of us out. We had no strength left to do this, and they had to pull us out. In the daylight, we couldn't recognize each other. The physical pain and the filth removed any human semblance from each of us. At the exit point of the sewer, there were two cars waiting and we scrambled in. We were chased by police but we left behind Warsaw and went to Lomjanek.

[Page 375]

There were already other fighting groups there from Tebenz Schultz's shop. These were groups that had saved themselves several days earlier through other sewers. Many of those who had tried to get through the sewers, remained there. We knew of 30 such people who had remained there. Koszyk went down again into the sewers to search for those who were lost there.

In the Lomjanek woods we suffered from starvation and thirst until we made contact with a Christian who offered us food. From there, the pathways led us further into the woods, to the hideouts of partisans.

 

In the Wyszkow Forests

Kszaczek, a Christian from the underground, and Koszyk, again brought two cars and took us over to the Wyszkow woods. It was discussed that there the Russian partisans would take us in. But it turned out differently than what we thought and imagined. Russian soldier prisoners, who had escaped from prison, were roaming around in the woods and didn't have any arms, which they demanded from us. They stole our guns and then ran away. This made us very upset. We were torn away from Warsaw, and without the Russians we had no idea about the ins or outs of the woods. Even Koszyk was not familiar with those woods.

Once, under his guidance, we went to a police–guard station to carry out a holdup and take their guns. But it failed. The following day the Germans began with their roundups and there were many murders. Many tried to find safety and went over to the Aryan side to hide. But the majority of the time, this did not work, and half these people were killed.

In the Wyszkow forests I also met other Nowy Dworers – Lyuba Shindler and Bolek Kowalski with his Jewish wife Chana Lubelski. Lyuba Shindler was killed when she went out on a spying mission and was caught by the Polish police. Bolek and Chana Lubelski were with us. After that, Bolek went to Warsaw and never returned.

All of us were looking for a contact in Warsaw and according to the suggestion of our commander Dovid Nowodworski (from Hashomer Hatzair), it was decided to send a messenger to Warsaw. For that job, it was decided to send Dovid's girlfriend Rivka (Rebecca). A Russian among us was assigned to take her across, but he did not do this willingly. She left with him and with Yosef Litman, and Yosef Litman was killed on the way.

The Russian said that he was going to see the forest–keeper for a while, to find out the best way to cross the Bug River. Yosef Litman remained on guard outside with the Russian's machine guns. The Polish police shot at him and he ran into the field, badly wounded. He lay there the entire night until he saw a shepherd in the morning and begged him to let the forest keeper know that there was a wounded partisan lying there. The forest keeper, one of the people who was in contact with us, came into the field and followed through on Yosef's request to let our partisan group know what had happened. Dovid Nowodworski, Hersh Berlinski, Elek Erlich, and Michalek, went to him with one of our doctors. They found him in terrible condition. Under those conditions, the doctor did not see any possibility of operating as needed. The friends from his group eased his final pains with one shot… They did not take me with them so I should not be there and watch this… From the field there, they brought back Litman's photographs, his pistol, the machine guns from the Russian, and the secret of his death.

During that time, our entire group fell apart, and was taken in one by one into different partisan groups. A group from Hashomer Hatzair went to the groups from the AK [Home Army (Armia Krajowa)] and then were killed …

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… there. Chaim Grynszpan (Frimer) went with a group to “Chervoni Bur” [red forest] and we lost all contact with him. On the roads, the Russians did theirs, attacked and stole the guns. We did not know the forests and by the time we became familiar with them, 14 out of 60 of us remained.

As a small group we did our share, got rid of the German helpers, destroyed telephones, and ran all kinds of messages, in order to find a contact with Warsaw. We also planned to get ourselves to Treblinka to blow up the camp. But the situation became more and more difficult. We were wanted by the PPR [Polish Worker's Party], we were wanted by the AK [Home Army], but both were incriminating us and trying to destroy us. We wanted to be independent as a fighting group in the Warsaw ghetto, and being removed from all others – we saw another way out – to get back to Warsaw, and first of all – through messengers, we would find a contact there, even though the nights in the forest were more secure and freer because the night was ours …

 

From the Wyskow Forests to Warsaw

I went with the commandant of our group, Dov Snipper (from Hashomer Hatzair). They got the appropriate clothing for me. My gun was ready to shoot in presence of danger. I did not take any documents with me. A Christian and a specially sent liaison, a Jewish woman from Warsaw, brought us to the Ribjenka station and then left. We, Dov Snipper and I, were not able to jump onto the train. The Jewish woman, the liaison, came back to us and then we got onto a second train. While we were travelling, a Christian recognized us. We got off on the station before Warsaw, the liaison with us. She went ahead of us and then directed us to Warsaw ….

Caption: A group of Jewish fighters in the Wyszkow forest
From the right: Janek Bilak, Gavrish Frishdorf, Chana Frishdorf, Jurek Kiryat Sefer, Czelemenski, Pnina Papjer, Yakov Putermilkh, Dov Snipper

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…. to Rakowjeczka 64 to a Christian woman's house. From earlier on there were already two others from our fighting group – Janek Bilak and Chana Frishdorf (from the Bund).

As they told us, this was the place of Ringelblum's bunker. It was a small room with an oven, and below, where they shoveled in coal, there was a flap to open with a path down into a bunker, and from there a path to the sewer from which in times of danger one could exit into the field. But we felt as if fenced in.

The following day, Antek Czukerman came to us with the liaison Marisha and they brought us money. I asked Czukerman to send me back into the forest, and the others asked that as well, but it was impossible to do. The road was already blown up, and the front was getting closer.

The same liaison also planned to bring Chaim Grynszpan (Frimer) from the forest, but there was already no way to get to him, and he remained in the forest.

 

During the Polish Uprising

Our landlady, the Christian woman, no longer prepared food for us, so we starved. Chana Frishdorf was pregnant at the time, in her eighth month, and her difficult situation moved us all very much. The Christian woman came over to me and said: “Franko (my name at the time), go out into the field and bring some potatoes.” My friends were against this because this was linked to danger. But I went, gathered potatoes, and came back safely. I immediately prepared to cook the potatoes but right away I heard the landlady's banging, warning us to run away quickly because the Germans were preparing to set fire to the house. There was chaos and we didn't know what to do. We ran out of the house and mingled with a crowd of Polaks that the Germans were leading. Soon, while on the road, we wanted to go back, but it was impossible, so that's how we went with the Polaks that were herded until Szucha Alley, to the headquarters of the Gestapo.

Dov Snipper began to shoot, and he was killed in the fight with the Germans. All of us went into the courtyard of the Gestapo. I still had my pistol with me that I had wrapped in a bunch of pictures that I had, so I hid it quickly in a tin (?) of beans that by chance I had found lying in the courtyard of the Gestapo. I had something else with me, something very dear to me, a chain watch that my mother gave to me for the way. I had it with me in the sewers. Once I lost it in the forest and then carried it with me as a holy reminder of my home…

Caption: Pintche Papjer and Chana Frishdorf in the Wyszkow Forest

The Gestapo men questioned and searched everyone. They found guns on Janek Bilak and shot him immediately. We were all ordered to place our packages on the pavement outside. Afterwards, they ordered us to take back our packages. I used the opportunity to leave my pistol on the pavement wrapped in a piece of my pyjamas. The other piece was with me, and if they would have paid attention to what I left on the pavement, they would have easily figured out to whom the package belonged. The tin with the pictures I took with me, and that's how I went into the Gestapo's kontrol [investigation office].

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I had already passed through the kontrol when a Volksdeutsche gestured to Chana Frishdorf and me, that we both looked Jewish, but in the end I remained a shiksa (non–Jewish girl) in their eyes, and I, together with two other Polaks and three Polish women were ordered to carry out another job, that was, that we should go to the rebels' barricades on Mokotowska and bring back the German murderers from there. The Gestapo warned us that we would be shot if we tried to run away, and for doing the job we were promised to be dealt with well if we would carry out the mission and come back.

We approached the barricades. We did not see any German murderers, but we saw a murdered carriage driver and a murdered horse. Soon we heard a shout from the rebels: “Hands in the air!” We begged them not to shoot and to bring us over to them. They took us over the barricades. Frightened by this experience, first we tried to tear off our white aprons that the Gestapo dressed us in before we went out to take care of our risky mission. The commander of the rebels saw something useful in our aprons and took them away immediately. They let all the Christian girls go except me; the Jewish girl without documents, they detained.

They interrogated me and asked who I was. I tried to tell them that the Gestapo had captured me, that I was a fighter in the ghetto and in the forest, and it was only a week that I had returned from the forest to Warsaw and had landed in the Gestapo. I mentioned Yitzchok Czukerman, Zivia Lubetkin, but none of this helped.

They started sending me from prison to prison, along with the Volksdeutsche and other suspicious elements. A chapter of painful interrogations began, with demeaning, low, sanitation work that left me completely unnerved. Even the wounded in the hospital whom I serviced and whom I washed, insulted and taunted me saying that I was repulsed by Polish blood. Between the interrogations and the insults, my life became unbearable.

In one of the investigations, I came in front of an officer who had once served in the Modlin Fortress, and he knew my brother Mendel, and so he had a different attitude towards me. During the investigation, another person, a soldier, someone from the AK, confirmed that my information about the fighting group, to which I had belonged, was correct. The officer also interrogated me about Nowy Dwor, about sports teams and popular players. This was all for my own good. Then, with another soldier, he sent me to a Jewish family. It was my greatest joy to see another Jew again. The soldier requested that the family treat me well, and he came every day and showed interest in how I was doing. Actually, he was really monitoring to see if I was still in the house and was not trying to get my freedom… I was still suspect.

But even with this Jewish family, it became uncomfortable for me. Their son was arrested by the AK as a collaborator with the Gestapo. So, the family was afraid that I had been sent by the AK as a spy.

A close friend of this family, someone from the PPR, began to interrogate me – who was I and where did I come from, and whom could I use as a reference. When I told him that I knew Stakh from the PPR, and that he was my commandant in the forest, he immediately went to get Stakh. When Stakh first heard from my PPR investigator that my name was Franko, he didn't know who I was. But as soon as he saw me, he grabbed his head in amazement. He asked me how I had come here and why, in these chaotic days, had I come to Warsaw, since there, in the Wyskow forest, everyone had already been freed by the Russians. Only after this did this Jewish family change their attitude …

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… towards me and they asked forgiveness and that I ask Stakh about their son. Stakh, however, warned me not to mix into these issues. In the end, they shot the son.

From the Christian girls with whom I had been together in the Gestapo, I learned that my friend Chana Frishdorf, with whom I had been in the forest, was now at meeting place. I also met Bernard Goldstajn (from the Bund), and so on. Slowly, we began to get together from all kinds of hiding places. Later, it became evident that many Jews had been killed during the Polish resistance.

 

In a Bunker before the Liberation

It was after the Polish resistance in Warsaw. The Russians were already in Praga. The people had to leave Warsaw and go to Pruskow. I stayed behind.

Through Bernard, I connected with those who remained. We, a group of fighters from the forest, went down into a bunker to wait there for the arrival of the Russians. But we were quickly discovered and the Germans killed half the people in the bunker. I and two other friends went over to another bunker. Over there were Yakov Putermilkh (Hashomer Hatzair), Masha Glajtman (the Bund), Borukh and Chaike Spiegel (the Bund), and a sister of Seppner, the Bundist writer, Wolkowa and her son, and a woman named Mali.

Bernard and Wladka knew about this bunker, and it was decided that they would let us know right away when the liberation would happen. This bunker was in ruins from the bombings of 1939. We let ourselves down, dug out a well, and prepared provisions. We settled in there and tried not to show ourselves outside so that there would be no traces leading to our bunker.

Meanwhile, Warsaw was taken over by the Russian military. We in the bunker did not know about this. Wladka came to tell us about this as she knocked on the bunker, but all this did was create chaos and fear.

I was then on watch (I was always the guard out of fear of falling alive into the hands of the Germans). With the greatest care, I slid to a spot from which I could observe what was going on around us among all the destruction. Suddenly, I heard banging. There were Wladka's warnings, signs, that the Russians were already in Warsaw and Warsaw had been liberated. But all of us, I and the others in the bunker whom I woke up, thought these were footsteps of the Germans, and we left immediately to another bunker.

This was a cellar, and we buried ourselves even more deeply afraid that the Germans were on our tracks. Afterwards we decided to leave that bunker and go into a sewer and from there to exit into a free area in order to be able to look around again. But there was the question of how to get such a heavy woman as Mali into such a narrow sewer! She told us to go and leave her behind. But we did not want to leave anyone behind. We tied the heavy woman up tightly with rope and dragged her behind us through the narrow sewer. I was the first to get out of the sewer and then helped everyone else out.

As we were going down into the sewer, two Christians saw us and said: “You are Jews? Ha! Jews with guns? But you're already free!” We thought these were the ones who had banged on the bunker and that they were German messengers. We actually shot one of them.

We were all tense and very much on guard. Some said that they heard Russian being spoken. I said that they knew they were being watched and spoke Russian intentionally. We also heard music coming from the sewer, a sign that something was going on around us. At night we came out again and then we found out that we were free. Our messengers encountered one Jew…

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… Bolek. From him we found out that Wladka was looking for a way to reach us, and had knocked on our bunker to tell us the news of the liberation. She had knocked and then assumed we were all dead. It was even a thought to bomb that area with dynamite and at least have us buried…

Five days after the liberation, we were still in the bunker in fear of the Germans and of death. Later, when I went out into the glare of the light, it shook me up completely. I went back down into the bunker and did not want to go out. I lost my speech and did not speak for a time. I felt that no one of my family was alive and inside me were still the forest and the fear, bunkers, sewers, and darkness.

 

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