by Menachem Duhl
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The Outbreak of the GermanPolish War: The Reverberation in Jezierna
Hitler's Germany attacked Poland on the first of September 1939. Everyone believed that Poland was strong enough to not let itself be conquered and that the world would not allow this to happen, that Hitler would not swallow Poland. If the world helped, let Hitler rack his brains.
The Jezierna Jews, in particular the synagoguepoliticians, maintained that Jezierna was far from the German border and close to the Russian one; one did not have to be afraid. The Germans would not come here. They listened particularly to the veterans of the First World War; their opinion was authoritative. However, automobiles full of people immediately began traveling through Jezierna. They were citizens who had escaped from western Poland, among them Jews. They said that the Germans had bombed their places of residence. The Polish Army was routed and was in retreat. Only individual military units were staging a resistance and they were waiting for aid from the western nations.
Civilian officials, small military units, individual officers, soldiers and citizens all ran. A fear fell on the Jezierna Jews, who had been almost calm until now. They also were engulfed by an atmosphere of panic. Many automobiles stopped at the Jezierna marketplace. They were immediately surrounded by a cluster of Jews. They asked various questions, they wanted to learn from them what was happening, hoping to hear joyful news. But what could people who were escaping in panic to save themselves say? Here and there a Jew would stutter something and draw back at once. There was great fear. Almost everyone would exaggerate, although they did not want to spread panic. There was no shortage of stories and exaggerations then. It was said that the French would send help and would march into Germany… English airplanes would arrive in Poland… The Poles have recaptured Danzig, and many other preposterous rumors…
Then two automobiles full of people arrived at the marketplace; a captain, women and children were in each automobile. They came from Jaroslaw; they would surely know something it was said and they began to be questioned. They had escaped with their military automobiles driving their families to eastern Poland, bringing them to a safe place where the war definitely would not reach; they were traveling to Tostobaby, a village in the Podhajce [Pidhaytsi] district, which was inhabited by real Polish peasants. After securing their families, they would return to the war.
There was heavy movement on the main street; it was impossible to go through. Civilians, military men everyone traveled in the direction of Zalischyky in order to reach Romania.
Now it also was clear in Jezierna that the Germans would arrive there in about a day or two. People began to buy whatever they could in the shops: food, textile goods, leather, and merchants hid some goods in order to have things to sell later or even to trade, if it was necessary. The older people still remembered how things were with food during the First World War in Ukraine and with the Petlurawices. [followers of Symon Petlura, commander in the Ukrainian People's Republic, who carried out numerous pogroms against the Jews] The tax office received an order to pay each state official their salary six months in advance; the Jezierna officials traveled to Zborow to receive their money and wanting to make sure of its value, they immediately spent it all. In general, they did not think of the danger; they only wanted to take care of their needs against hunger and want…
That is what Jezierna looked like during the first week of the war. At that time, when there was panic in the western Polish cities and shtetlekh [towns], offices were closed and it was difficult to get food, (whoever had not bought bread from the bakery at dawn, did not have anything to eat for the entire day), there was paradise in Jezierna: bread and food were in abundance; for money one could have whatever the heart desired.
Jezierna Under Soviet Rule (19391941)
On the 17th of September 1939 the Red Army marched into Jezierna; the shtetlele became part of the Soviet Ukraine. The Ukrainians went around full of joy, everyone in holiday clothing. With song and dance they welcomed the Red Army and pelted them with flowers. The Soviet's slogans were that they had come to redeem their Ukrainian brothers from the Polish yoke. Even Kuzmin, the former Polish senator, and other rich Ukrainians celebrated and prepared to take over power. However, they immediately cooled off a little; the Soviets openly said that was not the meaning of the quote… They came to redeem the wretched, the poor peasants, and not the rich, the ‘kulaks’ [rich farmers].
The Poles were again dejected particularly those who belonged to the government circles, to B.B. [Bezbartijny Blok nonparty block, Jozef Pilsudski's party], to Strzelec [paramilitary organization Riflemen] and the Owszem Poles [those taking part in an economic boycott of Jewish businesses]. The Jews, they were disoriented: the fear of the Germans was so great that they welcomed the entry of the Red Army with joy. In addition to this, the antiSemites in Poland everywhere would always shout at meetings that the Jews were communists and the communists were all Jews; if true, of what do they have to be afraid? Killing, as the Germans do, they will not do, and if they do not kill, they would get by.
By then, there already were a large number of Jews in Jezierna. Refugees from western Poland had come here, in addition to the residents. A week after the army's march through, a party secretary arrived and began to organize the administration and the community council. The new people in power in Jezierna were almost all Ukrainians, employees, workers, artisans and small farmers. The Ukrainians considered themselves to be like the ruling Nazis; they incited against the Poles as their former oppressors and here and there also against the Jews, that is, only against the rich Jews, the ‘bourgeois’. This they could still do.
The estate was parceled out immediately. Here a Jew was still the owner, and [they also divided] the fields of the rich farmers, the ‘kulaks ’. They simultaneously also parceled out the fields that belonged to Jews themselves, with the claim that the Jews did not personally cultivate them, but employed nonJews to do so. And although in Jezierna, Jews did work their lands themselves, this did not help, and as they possessed many fields, they were considered as ‘kulaks’. They also liquidated the Jewish shops and thus the Jews completely lost their income. However, when they opened cooperatives for trade, craft and industry, the former owners of the small shops received work as sellers in the state factories; the artisans in their cooperatives. The owners of the larger shops and wholesalers, that is, the ‘speculators’, could only go to more difficult physical work.
Jews who were workers, artisans, had a good social status (satzpakazshenya) they received responsible positions and state posts. On one hand, Jews obtained state posts, many of whom had not been able to obtain them in Poland. On the other hand, however, this eradicated private trade and also destroyed the livelihood of many Jews…
The change in the regime brought with it social and economic changes to the shtetl. The regime strengthened from week to week, from month to month and there was progress in the sovietization. The regime began to carry out a ‘cleansing’. Former political activists, judges, prosecutors, policemen, property owners and landholders (pamyeshtshykes) and also Polish colonists (they called them enemies of the Ukrainian people) were deported to Siberia; to the white bear [polar region of Russia], bili nidshzvidi [unnoticed people picked up by the police and forgotten], as they called it.
Almost all of the deported were Poles and also among them a few Jews. A number of Jews in this category hid and remained in Jezierna. This deportation, and particularly the manner of deportation, created a frightful impression. Winter, at night, in a deep frost, they were taken out of their beds, loaded onto wagons, taken to the train station in Zborow and there they were loaded into cattle cars; this was how they were taken to Siberia (it meant that they made the shtetlekh clean. The counterrevolutionaries and enemies of the regime were taken away). They traveled this way for weeks under guard in these small wagons. Many of them died en route, particularly the old and weak.
Jezierna really was a small shtetele; however, in addition to the small shops here, there were also large merchants, a Jewish property owner, Jewish farmers, a mill owner and also an intelligentsia. Like Jews generally in Poland, they also did not receive any state posts or municipal positions there; they were a national minority that was treated differently than the other two ethnic groups. The Jews played a certain role economically and agriculturally despite the extermination policies on the part of the Owszemnikes [followers of the economic boycott] in both ethnic groups.
The new regime changed the situation. All of the ethnic groups were officially equal, excluding the nonproductive elements. Jews actually felt like equal citizens; some of them were endowed with responsible positions and government posts. They took part animatedly in cultural life. There were Jewish teachers in the schools, as well as directors and inspectors. A Jew could be found in almost all of the offices. This was only one side of the coin.
There was another picture, as I already have mentioned. The liquidation of the Jewish shops led to a situation in which Jews remained without income. In addition, the newly organized shops did not have any goods; there was a shortage of some products. They would stand in line for hours for bread and other articles; sugar, soap in general, were difficult to obtain. The same with manufactured goods, leather, shoes and clothing. The formerly great merchants lived in fear. They sold clothing, shoes and household articles and bought food. Bartering spread. Former state officials and former rich merchants stood in the market and sold alte zakhn [usually old clothes or household goods]. There was great fear of arrest and exile to Siberia. The regime gave the feeling that there was hope, that the war would quickly end and everything would return to the way it was (the merchant would again be a merchant, the official an official, the owner, an owner and the artisan, an artisan). However, before the arrival of salvation the GermanSoviet war broke out.
The GermanSoviet War
On the 22nd of June 1941, the news that the war between HitlerGermany and the Soviet Union had broken out, fell on the Jews like thunder. The Ukrainians again walked around joyfully; they hoped that Hitler would create an independent Ukraine for them in eastern Galicia and with that bring about their dream of 1918.
A retreat, a stampede, a panic began. The civilian administration and their wives and children, the military everyone ran. They wanted to be quickly ‘on the other side’. This also had an influence on the Jews. From towns and villages, Jews in small numbers also fled with the Red Army. Only a few Jews from Jezierna escaped with the Soviets, the majority remained on the spot. Leave their families, their homes, the shtetl where their father lived and run to where? It was not a simple problem.
The Germans entered Jezierna and the great tragedy began. We have no historical source; therefore, we make use of the testimony of the survivors. The era of extermination, the experiences, persecutions and martyrology of the Jezierna Jews we will describe only in short strokes; exact descriptions will be given in the memories of others, individual survivors.
The path of the EinsatzGrupnS.S. [Einsatzgruppen Schutzstaffel paramilitary death squads], beginning in Przemysl, was marked with Jewish blood and tears along the entire march route. Pogroms, the dead in the streets that was the picture. And the neighbors, the other residents of the cities and shtetlekh, the gentiles in Jezierna too watched the Jewish tragedy with pleasure.
Right after the ‘prologue’ the first pogrom in Jezierna the Germans began to organize the administration: a Ukrainian and Polish Aid Committee and a Judenrat [Jewish council]. The names show that the committee had one role and the Judenrat another. Cynics would call the Judenrat Judenfarrat [Jewish betrayal], as a symbol of the roll of the council members. There was a local Judenrat in Jezierna and a county Judenrat in Zborow.
The organization of the Judenrat was the same everywhere: 1) the Chairman was responsible for all of the Jews; 2) the head of LaborSupply had to provide workers at every request by the regime; 3) Welfare and Social Aid; 4) the Procurement department had to provide things of value, gold, money, at the request of the rulers, that is, every German and VolksDeutsch [ethnic Germans]; 5) Postal department a postal branch for Jews; 6) Liaison the only one who had contact with the Jewish camps; 7) Metrical department that managed the documentation of the Jewish population, supplied certificates of identity for those who perished and those who survived; thus, the rulers knew, at any given time, how many Jews were still alive. 8) Absence papers; 9) Ordnungsdienst [ghetto police] Jewish militia; 10) Leichendienst khevra kadisha [burial society]. In addition to this, there were eilboten couriers, a sanitary committee, J.S.S. Jewish social selfhelp. The lumpensammler, that is, the rag collectors occupied a respected place; they were men of aristocratic birth; they had the right to move freely and go into the gentile area.
The Jezierna Judenrat would receive instructions from the Zborow county Judenrat and in them it was emphasized that there must be order! There must be a hierarchy! At the organization of the Judenrats no one will say: What concern for people?! Hygiene, self help, protection, their own postal system, shops with food and even … a burial society!
Jezierna was not an exception. All antiJewish decrees and laws were also applied here. Here too, every Jew had to wear an armband with a MogenDovid [Jewish star], was compelled to do forced labor, was not permitted to travel by train, to walk on the sidewalk, to buy products from nonJews, was not allowed to leave home from evening to sunrise. There was a threat of the death penalty for each transgression of the directives. The nonJewish population was threatened with severe punishment, including the death penalty, for helping Jews and for having contact with them.
The Judenrat in Jezierna
When the Germans organized the Judenrat, no one knew what kind of role they had set for it. It was thought that it would be like the former kehilla [organized Jewish community]. Therefore, there were candidates, even members of the clergy who wanted to be on the Judenrat. A merchant became a speaker, the owner of a leather shop became a postmaster, a shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] a policeman, a student a police commandant (also coachman) and so on.
The Chairman of the Judenrat was named Lander. Originally from Kozlow, he married a Jezierna woman, had owned a fabric shop. As he had been an Austrian corporal during the First World War, he was a most acceptable candidate. The Contact Man was Nunya Paket, also an acceptable candidate. The provisions expert was Nuske Paket. There also was a postal chief, a metrical [vital records] expert, a labor and deployment expert, a finance expert, a storeroom man and members with roles and without roles.
The role of the man in charge of the storeroom was to gather the clothing of the murdered, to sort them after an aktzia [action, usually a deportation] the best was given to the Germans and to transfer the worn out [clothing] to the local administrative official to sell to the peasants. The ordnungdienst [Jewish ghetto police] with the former student Wechsler as commandant was the implementation organ of the Judenrat. They did not have any weapons but whips, with which they would 'encourage' the campJews as well as the locals.
The khevra kadisha [burial society] and the khevra nosay hamita [society of pallbearers] had their hands full with work and particularly after every aktzia. The two who served on the Judenrat were: Judge Tseimer and engineer Steinberg. As I have already noted, the Judenrat was responsible to the regime for the deeds of every Jew, for every crime, transgressions against the edicts (buying bread from a peasant was considered a crime). It also was the only representative of the Jews before the rulers. They alone were in contact with the chairman or the contact man; any other Jew did not have access. The Judenrat had to supply jewelry, gold, diamonds, money, coffee, vouchers, expensive men's and women's furs for each request. This, the Judenrat extracted from the Jews.
Every demand was accompanied by a threat that if they did not provide a contribution in a timely manner, they would be shot. Except for certain individuals, the Judenrat council members in Jezierna as well as the ordnungdienst men participated in the aktzias, seizing Jews and deporting them to Belzec. The members of the Judenrat in Jezierna also considered themselves better than the other Jews, a sort of ‘ruling class’. They had access to the chief of the camp; the chief knew them; they would meet with other Germans, which a simple Jew would not be able to do; they spoke to the rulers without fear. Other Jews would escape and hide from the chief or from other Germans. However, a Gestapoman or S.S.man would often enter the Judenrat office and demand something and they immediately shrank, quickly complying with the demand and, as a thank you, they often received a few blows; this would even happen to the Chairman.
The Hitler regime demoralized the people. A Jew who was known as a respectable person changed. A religious official could sacrifice his family just to remain alive himself… The strong desire to remain alive led a person to act inhumanly without regard for others.
The Methods of Liquidation
The liquidation methods were the same everywhere: forced labor, deportations, imprisonment and labor camps, murder and gassing in the gas chambers. According to statistics, approximately 20,000 Jews were annihilated in Jezierna. The murderers systematically liquidated the shtetl. Heavy physical labor 1214 hours daily without food typhus and other serious illnesses decreased the number of Jews. When the Jews of Jezierna were expelled to Zborow in July 1942, there were only about 1,000 Jews. I will yet write about the methods.
I already have stressed that an order arrived to drive out the Jews, confine them in a ghetto to be able to liquidate them more quickly. The murderers hurried; they had no time. The Judenrat in Jezierna spread the news that Chief Diga would intervene so that the decree would be rescinded, but it would cost 100,000 zlotes. This amount was quickly brought. The gold was taken, but the Jews were driven out. Our family too paid 5,000 zlotes, which were lost. In addition to the Jews in the labor camp of which Diga was the chief, 50 men and 50 women remained in two separate camps. They had paid very well for this.
From that time on the fate of the Jezierna Jews was bound to the fate of the Zborower Jews.
The Jezierna Jews in Zborow
The Jezierna Jews were housed five to six families in a room in Zborow. That came to about two square meters per person. Illnesses broke out in such density; people fell like flies. In addition, there were aktzias and hard physical labor; this all led to the final liquidation. Diga liquidated the Jews in the camps and from the two separate camps in Jezierna a few months later. Thus, Jezierna became Judenrein [clean of Jews].
The Labor Camp in Jezierna
Forced labor was one of the means of exterminating the Jews. However, it was easier to accomplish with the Jews who were imprisoned in the camps. The conditions created in the camps led more quickly to their objective. Slaughtering of the camp inmates, the heavy punishments, beatings, hunger, being shot for every trifle, all of this quickly brought the liquidation of the camp Jews. The camp was large in scope: the Jews from Borszczow [Borschiv], Czortkow [Chortkiv], Zaleszczyk [Zalischyky], Jagielnica [Yahil'nytsya], Monasterzyska [Monastyrys'ka], Podhajce [Pidhaitsi] as well as from the Jezierna area would be brought here. There were thousands of refugees in the cities and shtetlekh then. Jezierna was widely known.
The camp was a unit unto itself. It had security officers, a cook, a khevra kadisha [burial society], an attic and a cellar and a post for a gallows outside. Diga would place several people in the cellar, others in the attic and they died there. He would hang some on the post and he would place some outside during the winter, naked in the frost, until they froze. And if one had particular merit, he beat him with a whip until he died.
Two groups in Jezierna made use of Jewish workers: the streetbuilding group, Organizacion Tod [death organization] and the railroadbuilding group, whose leader in Jezierna was Engineer Jankowski, a Pole.
Dozens of Jews would die each day doing physically difficult work in the street and with the railroad, almost without food. Every day local Jews, that is noncamp Jews, also would go to work along with the camp Jews. The distribution of this work was done by the Judenrat. Every worker had an arbetausweis [labor identity card], but there was a separate labor identity card for Jews.
Diga, the camp chief, had a good income; he would receive gifts, money from the Judenrat, ransom money from rich Jews, who found themselves in the camp. He would arrange sprees, drinking and orgies. He left the shtetl after the liquidation of the camps in Jezierna.
The Inquisition, the pogroms and pogromists are wellknown in our history. The times changed; the murderers also changed and with them also the methods and the terminology. New words (terms, concepts) were created: Final Solution of the Jewish Question, Aktzionen [deportations], gas chambers. However, the results remained the same.
Typhus, cholera, all sorts of other illnesses, heavy physical labor all of this gave the khevra kadisha a great deal to do. However, the statistics show that the liquidation took place slowly. Jews fell like flies, but there still were many Jews and the murderers would hold aktzias from time to time without explanation: grab Jews on the street and simply shoot them. But there must be order! Therefore, before each aktzia, the murderers would inform the county Judenrat in Zborow as to what kind of consignment they needed, that is, according to the plan, how many Jews they intended to shoot to death, with a pretext that they were taking only those who had become a burden to society the sick, the old, those incapable of work and small children. Then, the chairman or a delegate from the regional Judenrat would go with them, giving official notice to the local Judenrat, demanding that the members of the Judenrat and the ordnungdienst help them. Everyone immediately went out to grab Jews. What happened further is known. When they reached their consignment, they left the shtetl. After the aktzia, the murderers told them to pay for the bullets they had used and also for the trouble they took during the aktzia. Whoever could, and had a place, would hide either in a bunker or with a welcoming gentile, if they wanted to take him in, or ran away to the forest or into a field. There he would wait out the slaughter, not always succeeding. Each unfortunate one who fell into their hands would be shot on the spot or taken to a collection point, lead to the cemetery, where a mass grave had been prepared, stood naked in a row, each one shot with a bullet in the back, given a kick on the backside and thrown into the pit, not looking if someone was still alive or not. Thus, they often threw into the grave people who still were alive.
At the first aktzias, they would carry out selections before the shooting: healthy Jews capable of working, artisans and those protected by the Judenrat were freed. There were no selections at the later aktzias. Everyone who came into their hands was murdered. Here in Jezierna as in other cities and shtetlekh, during the executions, local women would gather at the cemetery to watch as the naked Jews were shot. As I have mentioned, the khevra kadisha would gather the dead in the streets, take them to the cemetery, bury them in a communal grave and then one of them would say Kaddish [prayer for the dead].
The warehousekeeper of the Judenrat would fill the warehouse with the clothing of those murdered. When the murderers fulfilled their consignment, they would stop the aktzia and inform the central [office] by telegraph. There were places where the Judenrat had specific work. It had a complete list of candidates for each aktzia. This truly was precise work. I do not know if the Jezierna Judenrat was completely precise [in their work]. I think not. In addition to this form of aktzia, there was another form. Murderers would come to the shtetl and grab Jews according to a designated consignment with the help of the local Jewish organizations There must be order! and they were sent to Belzec to be annihilated in the gas chambers there. The Jews caught in Jezierna would be taken to Zborow by auto. There was a collection point there for those grabbed throughout the area. At the train station they were crowded into waiting freight cars and sent to Belzec. Many of the deportees died on the way. There also were those who jumped from the trains in the middle of the ride and were either killed by the guard who shot at them or murdered by the Ukrainians. Chaim Steiger jumped out of the vehicle on the way to Zborow and although the policemen shot at him, he successfully escaped and returned to Jezierna. A truly courageous act! However, he perished in a later aktzia.
The final liquidation included all of the remaining Jews, even those who were in the camps. There were places where the Jews carried out a resistance. There also was an attempt at resistance against the murderers in Jezierna during the liquidation of the men's camp. The murderers entered the camp and dragged the Jews from it. They were taken to the cemetery and shot there. No one said Kaddish for them. Jewish Jezierna ceased to exist.
In JuneJuly 1944 Jezierna became an important strategic position, during the great advance of the Soviet Army and during the retreat of the defeated German Army. Difficult battles took place here; the civilian population was evacuated and many Jezierna Poles went to Berezan to the Polish Aid Committee and did not know that Klinger's soninlaw had confirmed that they were Poles who had been expelled from Jezierna.
The group of surviving Jews from the former Jezierna spread to the four corners of the world; several settled in Israel.
(Eikhah) [Book of Lamentations]
All her people are sighing [as] they search for bread; they gave away their treasures for food to revive the soul. [Book of Lamentations 1:11]
My eyes are spent with tears, my innards burn; my heart is poured out in grief over the destruction of the daughter of my people, while infants and sucklings faint in the streets of the city. [Book of Lamentations 2:11]
by Sh. Ch., Hadera
Translated by Pamela Russ
The GermanPolish war had broken out. Many Jews left the Polish western provinces and went east. The eastern cities and towns were rife with refugees. When the Red Army annexed eastern Galicia up to the San River, the refugees stayed in this area. However, soon the issuing of passports began. Every refugee received a passport with a special section, according to which they were sent out of the larger cities; they were only permitted to live in the smaller towns.
Several hundred refugee families also settled in Jezierna. I myself first settled in Tarnopol, but when I was forced out of there, I moved to Jezierna, where a relative of mine, Yisroel Hoch, lived. It was difficult to get a place to live here in town. It was even harder to find work. A large number of refugees moved into the abandoned stores that stood empty, because private businesses were shut down. Dudye Paket gave me his store and it became a home for me and my wife.
Before the war I lived in Krakow, owned a beautifully furnished home and a dentist's office. I left it all behind and went to live in Jezierna, in a small, narrow store, in order to save my life. After the outbreak of the GermanRussian war, the population of Jewish refugees in Jezierna increased. Their living conditions became worse and worse. There was organized help given, but how much could the Jezierna Jews help, as their own lives were not much better after their livelihoods were also terminated. The living conditions of the local Jews helped a little in this, since almost every Jew owned his own cow so he had a little milk for himself and sometimes even a few litres to sell.
After the completion of the refugee exchange between the Russians and the Germans, Jewish refugees were also able to return to their homes on the German side. There were men who had abandoned their wives and children and ran away from there. And when their situation was no longer tenable and their wives wrote that the situation at home had normalized, that Jews were living and were even doing business, it attracted them back. Here, men were struggling without work, suffering from hunger and deprivation, the families were far away, no friends and no rescuers; and over there were their wives and children, and life continued, so they wrote. How can one not go and register to return home to the German side? So, some of them actually did just that.
And now their real tragedy began. The government suspected them of being spies, enemies of the regime who wanted to leave their Garden of Eden and return to the Fascists, into Hitler's hell. These refugees now found themselves in a bitter situation being neither here nor there; who could have understood this? And still, the refugees hoped that the Soviets would send them home to their families.
One Friday night, the Soviet military visited them in their homes, accompanied by Ukrainians, as if searching for weapons. They told them to pack their most important belongings, and then these men were taken away. Under guard, they were loaded into wagons, and taken to the Zborow train station. Here they were forced into cargo trains and sent to Siberia. Those who had not registered to leave were very happy.
But fate turned out very differently. Almost all of those who had been sent to Siberia actually survived, and of those who remained, almost all were killed by the Fascist murderers.
And when the war between Hitler's Germany and Soviet Russia broke out, we were the innocent victims. The time that I spent in Jezierna, the experiences there, have been strongly etched in my memory.
End of June 1941. The Soviet units retreated, the Germans were advancing, when the first German military units marched in and behind them the SS troops appeared. There was terror in the town. There was shooting heard late into the night. There was a real slaughter in the town. I will never forget this. Many Jews were shot that day. Among them were Dr. Litvak, the pharmacist Mintz, the manager of the estate Klinger. The SS went from house to house and snatched out Jews wherever they found them. It was said that they had a list. Also, the Ukrainians revealed where the Jews lived and how many there were, and even where the Jews were hiding.
A rumor circulated that in each city and town the Ukrainian priest and a few respected Ukrainians had signed an act that they demanded revenge be taken on the Jews. They would find a reason.
Seeing the terror in the city, my wife and I left our home, and ran away to Yechezkel Hoch on Zabramska Street. We thought that the murderers would not come there because there were only a few Jews living there. But we made a mistake. On the second day, early in the morning, the shooting began again. The murderers ran from house to house snatching out Jews. They were shown where to go and where to search. The shooting came closer and closer to us. There were already murderers on Zabramska Street. I went out of the house and into the stable to hide. Soon the murderers went into Yechezkel Hoch's house, dragged him out, and shot him in the doorway. The murderers were already intending to retreat, when their Ukrainian companions told them that there was still a son of Yechezkel's living here and they thought it was Yisroel Hoch, so the murderers went back and demanded that the women give up Yisroel. Even though they demanded this with some shooting, they did not succeed. So they ransacked the house, but in fact they did not find him.
I hid in the stable for a few days and was afraid to leave because the neighbors would inform on me. For one whole day, Yechezkel lay dead outside in front of his house and they were terrified to bring him inside. When the murderers left Jezierna, all the dead were taken to the cemetery. It was only then that I left the stable.
A great sadness enveloped the town. Women cried over their murdered husbands and children, fathers and grandfathers. There were hardly any people seen in the streets. Whoever did venture into the streets, went furtively with great fear.
One day, an acquaintance came to us and informed us that the Ukrainians were looking for my wife, probably because they wanted to hand her over to the Germans because she had been a teacher in a Ukrainian school during the Soviet occupation. We did not know that there was the death sentence for this; so then we decided to leave Jezierna. But it wasn't that simple. Jews were forbidden to go from town to town, and forbidden to have contact with nonJews. All of these things were punishable by death.
We found a Polish peasant, paid him well, and he undertook to take us to Tarnopol. We left disguised as peasants and we reached Tarnopol successfully. Here we tried to find ways to escape and get back to Krakow. In this we were also successful.
In the Krakow area we merited to survive the horrific times and then to be saved.
by Menachem Duhl
Translated by Tina Lunson
Translated by Tina Lunson
Until September 1939 I lived with my family in Tarnobrzeg, where I was a professor of mathematics in the state high school. The war drove us from there; we fled with a great stream of others also forced to flee, and arrived in Jezierna, where my parents-in-law lived. Two or three weeks after the arrival of the Red Army in the town we were transferred to Złoczów, where I continued working as a mathematician in the middle-schools until the outbreak of the German-Soviet war. This is where we encountered Hitler's murderers.
With the outbreak of the war there was chaos in Złoczów. The Soviets arrested the Ukrainian nationalists and a number of Jews were included in that group. The Germans bombed Złoczów; the houses in the center of town burned, people left their apartments and hid in the cellars. I was not at home during the bombing, and started running toward my wife and child. Coals were falling all around, buildings were burning, and the fires kept spreading and I kept running. While running near the home of Dr. Hrastnik, their maid told me that they were fleeing and that their house was burning. When I did not find my wife and child in our home, I ran on to search for them and finally found them in the cellar of a two-story building that belonged to a Ukrainian, Dr. Vania. About 30 people were hiding there, among them about 20 Jews. The Ukrainians were going around with happy expressions and we had a deep sadness in our hearts.
On the first of July 1941, at eight o'clock in the morning, two SS-men with automatic weapons and hand-grenades in their hands, entered our cellar. I was the first one who fell into their hands,
but soon other Jews were standing with me. We had to be the first victims, the 'blood-offering' for the fuhrer. Suddenly there was a noise; the Germans thought that there were also Russians in the cellar, and they shouted Get out Jews! and ran off in the direction of the noise. That was my first encounter with the murderers and I had won. My wife and child, seeing me with my hands in the air, had begun to cry and wail and other children burst out crying. With wailing and tears our children received the Germans that was a sign of the times that had begun for us.
The Germans had bombed with incendiary bombs and on the street lay the burnt bodies of soldiers and, as though they were normal folk, scorched people were also walking around.
When I had heard the shout Out I quickly escaped and along with my neighbor, the dentist Messing, went into a toilet, waited a little while and from there went into a hiding place that I had prepared ahead of time.
The situation got worse; the SS-men started snatching Jews off the street, dragging them out of houses the pogrom had begun. The Ukrainians spread rumors that the Jews were guilty of everything. In the courtyard of the prison, at the castle, the bodies of several hundred murdered Ukrainians were exhumed. These were the people arrested in the last few days, who had been killed. Among the exhumed were also a few murdered Jews who had also been arrested, but that did not make any difference only the Jews were guilty.
The SS-men with their horrible faces, those murderers, those wild animals, armed with automatics and hand-grenades, went from house to house and took every Jew that fell into their hands to the collection point at the castle; there a pit was already prepared for them. Their captors shot them and threw them into the pit.
Some of the Ukrainian population helped them. Peasants came from the villages, and also town folks with sacks, even with a horse and wagon, to plunder the shops and the Jewish homes, taking anything they could. There were even some who beat Jews with shovels and crowbars, while shouting This is for our murdered husbands and children! They killed quite a few that way, with the shovels and crowbars. Dead bodies lay in the street, blood ran, the screams reached up to the heavens. There were new reports all the time, as from a battlefield The two Rattner brothers, high school teachers, were killed with shovels; the teacher Lifschitz was beaten to death. Streams of blood ran in the streets. As I described before, those captured were taken to the castle and shot; without looking to see whether they were alive or dead they were thrown into the pit. People who lived not far from the castle heard groaning and wailing in the night. Those were the voices of those not shot to death, who were dying in the pit. It was also said that two of the supposedly dead crawled out of the pit at night, rolled themselves away, and finally fled. After that rumor, two Ukrainian policemen were posted at the pit day and night, so that no more corpses could run away
My family and I were still in hiding. Our neighbor, Fraulein Gelber, a convert with a big cross around her neck, stood the entire time at the front of the house and told every German who inquired that no Jews lived there. My faculty colleague, the aged Professor Servanski, sent in bread for us every day so that we would not starve. Our child got sick in the hiding place. It was there also that the sad news reached us that my father-in-law Wilhelm Klinger was killed during the first pogrom in Jezierna.
The First Week in Jezierna
In Jezierna, as in all the cities and towns, soon after the troops marched in the SS-murderers arrived and began their craft. Wild animals, horribly murderous faces, ran from house to house and each captured Jew was taken to the common grave near the castle, shot and thrown into the pit. That day in Jezierna some 200 Jews were shot, locals and refugees. Among those shot were Klinger and the pharmacist Mintz. Two of those captured that day were saved: Marcus Marder and Lander. Marder appealed to the young murderer and said, If you have a father and a mother, brothers or sisters, call them to mind and do not kill a father of children. The murderer looked at him and said, Get out of here you damned Jew, and indeed Marder slowly walked away. Lander also showed the murderer a document and a photograph to prove that during the First World War he was an Austrian officer, and he was allowed to go free. But Hitler's decree was not recalled, they were both killed later.
The murderers determined a horrible death for the community activist Dr. Litvak. They cut open his belly, pulled out his intestines, cut pieces off while his was alive until he breathed his last; then they shouted, You damned Jew, you communist, you are to blame for the war!
I have already mentioned the pharmacist Mintz. He, that tall old man with an aristocratic appearance, was in his pharmacy standing at the table in his white coat with a red cross on the arm and preparing prescriptions for sick people. Two murderers came in and took him out of the pharmacy, took him to the pit, shot him in the back, gave him a kick in the rear and threw him into the pit where the dead bodies of Klinger, Falk and others already lay. His wife followed him. When she saw that they had already shot him and that even the red cross had not helped him, she quickly ran home, swallowed a dose of poison and with the words There is no God, died. Soon neighbors came into the house where she lay dead on the sofa and dragged the sofa out from under her, pulled the jewelry from her fingers and ears, took a watch from her arm and left. The poet Schmuel Yaakov Imber, Mintz' son-in-law, and his wife hid and were saved this time.
When mother-in-law let us know that father-in-law had been killed, she sent us a wagon and we left Złoczów. Among the huge military transports that were traveling in the direction of Złoczów-Jezierna we were the only civilians. We heard how the Germans spoke among themselves, that these must be Jews traveling, but no one bothered us. In Jezierna we lived on the estate. I have already written about the Judenrat. It was the only agency that represented the Jews to the authorities. Through it's organs it controlled the whole life of the Jews in town, even checking correspondence. The group that enabled this control was the Ordnungsdienst, their armed hands without weapons. Before each aktzia, the murderers who were to carry out the roundup and deportation of the Jews under the command of Gestapo Chief Miller, who was accompanied by a member of the provincial Judenrat in Zborow, announced their demands to the Judenrat; that is to say, how many victims they needed. That would take a few minutes, and with the help of the two Jewish institutions (Judenrat and Ordnungsdienst) the work would begin snatching Jews and shooting them. After the aktzia, when they had obtained their quota, the Judenrat paid them for their trouble, gave them gifts, paid for the bullets fired and they left the town, satisfied. The number of Jews in the shtetl shrank. They would conduct those 'actions' from time to time and the number of Jews in Jezierna became smaller and smaller.
Contact with my Brother in the Pluhow Camp
In the spring of 1942 I received a letter through the Judenrat from my brother who was in the camp in Pluhow. Then the rumor spread that the Karaite's brother was in a work-camp in Pluhow; in Jezierna I was known as the Karaite.
My brother was an attorney in Czortkow, a community activist, chairman of the Revisionist Organization, taking part in the local and national conferences. In 1942 he had lived with his family in Stanislaw, in the Jewish quarter. There the Gestapo killed his wife and two children at the Rudolf Mill. He alone escaped and was caught along the road to Podhoretz, was brutally beaten and taken to the Jews' camp on Janowska Street in Lemberg. Here he was beaten again and when he fainted, they revived him and beat him more. They kept him there for two weeks then sent him to the work camp in Pluhow in terrible condition with wounds oozing pus, unrecognizable as a human being.
In the Pluhow camp there was a secret organization under the leadership of the Revisionists; they knew him and protected him. But soon he came down with typhus, with a high fever, and in the heat of it cried out Rozie, Rysiek, Neutka (the names of his wife and children), where are you? It seemed to him that they were calling for help. He could not reconcile to their fate. After that crisis with the illness he was very weak and could not go out to work. The friends protected him, and finally he obtained a task in the camp he became a night-watchman.
He sent a message to Dr. Ritterman in Stanislaw, asking about the fate of his family and did not receive any reply. Now he was turning to me, so that I could ask Dr. Ritterman. I did so and received the sad news that the Gestapo had killed them. We corresponded for a while from Jezierna and also from Zborow. I wanted to draw him into my plans, but he did not come. The situation worsened; we could not wait; we left Zborow and disconnected all contacts; our illegal life on false papers did not allow for maintaining contact. In one of his letters he wrote that Petra Vandzura, a former school friend from Borszczow who lived in Stanislaw, had denounced them. He even asked that I remember it.
(After the war the number of saved Jews was small and the number of criminals large. The judges in the courts demanded witnesses and from where could I have known names? Those who could have given testimony were no longer alive. So a former friend, a fellow townsman, a denouncer, who delivered three Jewish souls into the hands of the Gestapo, he was able to walk around free.)
Aktzias in Jezierna
As I have already indicated, a great army with artillery, tanks and trucks marched through Jezierna. The roadway was destroyed, full of holes and it had to be repaired quickly; for that they needed a large number of workers. Also, the railway needed workers to build a second line Jews had to do all of this work. They were a great unpaid labor force. The Germans established labor-camps for Jews along the whole length of the Zloczow-Skalat road, in the towns of Pluhow, Zborow, Jezierna, Borki Wielke. Each camp had a camp chief a Gestapo officer and his helpers were Ukrainian policemen.
The camp in Jezierna was in Dom Polski. They fenced it around with barbed wire two meters high. This was intentional, because the Polish and Ukrainian churches were nearby. When the non-Jewish population went to church on Sunday, they could look upon the tattered, miserable, filthy Jews, now hardly comparable to living human beings, and take joy from it.
The first chief was Muller, the second Minkos, and the third, until liquidation of the Jews, was Richard Dyga. He was from Bytom, in Upper Silesia; he had been an overseer in a coal mine, and was a Wasserpolak [pre-war German resident of Polish descent], who spoke good Polish. His family lived at number 2 Palatgasse. His wife visited him often and took home gifts that the Jews had given to their 'good Chief Dyga' as an expression of their gratitude. They were expensive gifts: the finest fabrics, leather, gold watches of the best brands, rings set with cut stones and diamonds, expensive ladies' coats, and the like.
The camp was opened in November 1941 and the first Jews in the camp were in fact from Jezierna, but almost all refugees. Next they brought in other Jews from camps and later finalized the area of the whole enclosure. There were Jews from Kozlow, Kozova, Borszczów, Chertkov, Monasterzyska, Podhoretz, Zaleszczyki, Tłuste, Jagielnica, Kopycznce. Thanks to the camp, Jezierna became famous The living conditions in the camp, the hard work with hardly any food, quickly liquidated the camp Jews; the forced roundups and shipment to the extermination camps quickly liquidated any Jews who lived outside the camp. Dyga went around with his whip and struck Jews left and right, for no reason, more than once beating them to death.
Dr. Liebling writes in his book that in the Jezierna camp about 20,000 Jews were killed. Dyga was a typical murderer; he would beat and shoot Jews with a grimness, with a special satisfaction. I present a few facts:
In the center of town, in a lovely little house, lived the family of Mosche Heliczer, a respected family, wealthy people. The house fell to Dyga and he had it decorated for himself. He allowed the Heliczer family to live in the kitchen on the condition that his cook could cook there. His Gestapo fellows always came over, and wild parties often took place there, drunkenness, shouting, and more than once wanting to give his guests an attraction to make them happy he paraded out a Jew who had been held for hours, terrified by shooting, and his guests had a good laugh. Several times he called Mrs. Heliczer in the middle of the night, stood her against the wall and shot 10 or 20 centimeters over her head, threatening her with death. This spectacle went on for 2 or 3 hours. Then he released her, saying, Go, you lousy Jew. Shocked almost to death, drained, trembling after such a scenario, she turned back to the kitchen.
When Dyga left his house with his whip all the Jews trembled, each letting others know and warning them. Whoever fell into his hands got a beating and more than once he confined them in the camp for a few days. When Dyga encountered a group of camp Jews who had been sent to the delousing shed Jews who were weak, worn out, sick, shadows rather than people, who were dragging their feet, he would shout Quickly, lousy-Jews! and began hitting them until someone fell dead. The dead one was left lying where he fell and the group shuffled on.
In the winter, when there was a big freeze, Dyga would stand some naked camp Jews outside until they froze.
A book could be written with an endless range of Dyga's prosecutable murderous acts, but I will share just a few characteristic facts:
About 200 Jews went out of the camp under guard every day to work on the highway; about the same number went out to do rail-line work. The sick and those incapable of work, Dyga shot. Only he had been given the right from the fuhrer to shoot Jews it was really a great honor!
Once, when my wife was passing near the camp at night during that time, when the workers were returning from their labor, she heard a voice: Mrs. Hania, don't you recognize me? I am Magistrate Teiber from Tarnopol. See what the murderer Dyga has made of me. He has starved me, beaten me, sent me to work without food.
It was he, Magistrate Teiber from Tarnopol, but unrecognizable: hunched over, swollen, his feet wrapped in rags, barely able to stand on them. Dyga had him confined to the attic without food or water; he shouted, banged on the door of the attic and it did not help. The murderer kept him like that until he expired. Dyga ordered that his body be dragged out of the attic and given to the Judenrat to bury in the Jewish cemetery. Thus was murdered a good jurist, a father of children. Dyga drank a toast to the occasion and struck another name from the list of camp Jews. Order must be maintained!
From a shtetl near Czortkow they brought a group of Jews, among them a 'hekht' [slang for 'big fish']. Dyga was happy, and the Chairman and liaison personnel from the Judenrat were also full of joy: they would get a large sum of ransom money for him, it was said as much as 20,000 zlotys. Dyga maintained that was not enough, that 'the fish' was worth more. They did not send him to work, they handled him like a fragile egg. But suddenly oy vey! the bird had flown the coop! They had believed him; he only slept in the camp, and spent all day sitting in the Judenrat chancellery; he ate in private, and this is how he pulled off the stunt, he just left! Incensed with anger, Dyga came into the camp and called together everyone who had any function in the camp and the Judenrat complex. He chose twelve youths 18 to 20 years old from the camp and ordered them strung up with their heads down and their feet in the air. One of the Judenrat members, who related this, wept. It was a horrible execution, he said. Twelve young souls perished under horrible conditions, and Dyga stood there enjoying it and shouting, So there, Jews!
The Jewish doctor, Tenenbaum, an outstanding person in the town, was Dyga's house doctor. More than once he called him up in the middle of the night, and he sat with him all night. But when the liquidation of the camp began, Dyga before all else, shot Tenenbaum's daughter, and when Tenenbaum reacted to it Dyga shot him too. In fact Dyga was greatly in his debt, since he had saved him many times.
This very same murderer Dyga, who with such satisfaction shot and beat Jews, was a good and loyal father to his own family. In order to keep them secure, he had assembled a lot of possessions. He had to be concerned that he would have what to live on if Hitler lost the war. He received a weekly delivery from the Judenrat; wealthy Jews, who found themselves in the camp, gave him large sums of money to redeem themselves. Every two weeks he requested from the Judenrat, according to a list, gold-jewelry, diamonds, expensive textiles and other valuable things. He shipped all this to his family in Bytom. From time to time, when his wife Magda and their daughter Jaga came to Jezierna to visit, everything went off on wheels. Dyga. the good man and father, used to organize a nice week-end vacation for them. The Judenrat bought him a pair of handsome horses and a small open carriage on rubber wheels, and every day they drove out of town for an outing, and their coachman was none other than the honorable and respected commander of the Jewish police, the university student Weksler. He had merited being the driver for Mrs. Magda Dyga! Magda would come with empty cases and travel home packed full of gifts from the grateful Jezierna Jews.
Dyga made friends with the former mayor, the dentist Kowalski. He used to tell his friend what he did with the zydkes in the camp, how he tortured them. Once he arrived at Kowalski's and reported with glee, The zydkes will have a good lunch today, I found them a dead horse.
The director of the firm that was building the rail line was a Pole, a certain engineer Yankowski. Once I went to him, presenting myself as the former professor at the vocational school, and asked for work. His response was brief: for Jews I have only physical labor laying the railway. Yankowski and his family lived near the train station in Kastner's house. His wife went in to town to buy goods, accompanied by two Jews who carried her baskets; one of them was Kastner himself.
The assistant director at the firm was Kazimierz Argasinski. When the firm furnished its offices in November 1941, Argasinski went around the Jewish residences and requisitioned furniture. He came to us, too. With his whip in his hand he looked like a Gestapo man. He requisitioned a few things from us, tables, benches and armchairs. When my wife asked what right he had to do this, he answered, Sit still, Jews, we will throw you out of this house too.
The furniture requisitioned from us was designated for engineer Yankowski's own office. A month later Argasinski stopped me, not far from the estate and asked me where my Jewish armband was. Argasinski used to beat and kill Jews. I saw such an incident myself: it was on the plaza near the train station, where he beat and killed an old Jew, a refugee from Tomaszow Lubelski. The reason a day earlier he had missed work. Another time he had ordered an old Jew to climb up in a willow tree and tear off some branches; and when the Jew told him that he was old and could not do it, he beat him bloody.
The Last Weeks in Jezierna and the Expulsion
Conditions went from bad to worse and I saw that there were certain documents necessary for me to show at any time without fear and terror; no longer would I be able to move around so freely. That feeling in me was bolstered by my above-mentioned encounter with Argasinski. I soon found an opportunity. The Germans had a grain storehouse near the train station. The construction work had been carried out by the firm Suka-Silo-Construction. I did forced-labor for them. My boss was a German master craftsman who was not very intelligent. Once a week an engineer came to inspect the work. My chief had a seal and had a permit to travel every week to Tarnopol to collect provisions for the workers but no one ever received any. He ate some of them, and sold the rest. The Judenrat had assigned Chana Katz as his cook and he would say, That Chana is a good cook.
One fine day he shouted an order at me, You, Jew-pig deceiver! Thief... You stole my seal! It was no help that he threatened to turn me over to the Gestapo. Without the seal he could not receive the provisions.
In sadness I walked around, and could not even tell my wife what had happened. I could not get a new seal in Jezierna. I could not travel to Tarnopol and the chief was threatening. While standing so worried, I hardly heard someone calling me: Herr Professor! It was the ticket seller calling me. He was a Pole who often gave me the news from the English radio and from the secret Polish radio station. He saw that I was depressed, asked what the reason was, and I told him the whole story and the danger I was in. He told me that just three kilometers from Jezierna, in a village, there was a peasant who could make seals and he sent me to him. The peasant made the seal for me. Two days later I gave the chief the new seal along with a gift to beg forgiveness. He accepted the reconciliation and I was out of danger.
That incident suggested the idea that the peasant could make me a round seal from a Karaite birth registry, and with that I could make a Karaite birth certificate. Among the gentiles in Jezierna it had been rumored for a long time that I was a Karaite. They did not even know what it meant, they said Ukra-aimer. The communal secretary Petrischen even said that he thought exactly as they said, that Klinger's son-in-law was not a Jew, although our wedding was performed in Jezierna and the canopy ceremony and blessing was performed by the Jezierna Rabbi. I gave the peasant the form and the text for the seal; he brought the seal to me in three days; I paid him 25 zlotys. It was hard for me to check the text of the certificate, but I took my own advice. The only person to whom I could show the certificate was Markus Marder. He was an expert in certificates, and I wanted to hear his opinion. He held the opinion that it was in order, and that encouraged me. It was July1942. A decree arrived, stating that the Jews of Jezierna would be 'transported' to Zborow. The last date for evacuation was the 15th of July, 1942. Until that date people were allowed to travel alone or in groups.
In Jezierna Dyga laid out two camps a men's camp and a women's camp, with 50 people in each. He himself selected the people, of course, and each one paid a large sum of money. It was said that he received 5,000 zlotys from each one. It was said, as everywhere, a tale, that the fuhrer himself did not want to kill all the Jews; a certain number, the best of them, he would keep alive. They, these 100 people, would be among the lucky ones, who must go on living (perhaps as the nucleus, so that the Jewish people would not vanish).
Our family was cursed. The Judenrat tried another trick: a rumor was spread that for 100,000 zlotys the chief Dyga would repeal the decree. The Judenrat certainly did collect money unfortunate, naive Jews gave; we also gave 5,000 zlotys how could one not give when everyone was giving, for calling off such a terrible decree? The money was taken, and the Jews were driven out.
Before we left Jezierna I prepared my documents. I needed original and current papers. The communal secretary Petrischin who himself thought that at my wedding it was acknowledged that I was an Ukra-aimer gave me a paper, written in German, in which he established that I was a Karaite. The statement carried the date of April 8, 1942, sealed with a big seal with Ukrainian text: Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee Jezierna. In the center was a 'trizov', the emblem of the Ukrainian 'Republic' from the year 1918, when eastern Galicia was a 'Samasteyne Ukrainia' [province]. The Ukrainians used the seal from 1941 to 1944 for internal relations as a vestige of those times and as a symbol of their ambitions for the future. He also gave me two blank forms with a round seal and a swastika with the German text 'Collective Community Jezierna, Galicia District'. On one of the forms I attached my photograph and using a typewriter, I wrote an identification permit for myself and on the second form made one for my wife. It looked like an authentic document, although one given out by the town office. Eventually I had three new documents. After living under the Nazis for a year in Jezierna, we left the town.
Facts about Surviving in Jezierna
It is difficult to describe everything that we experienced. I will simply provide a few fragments:
It was August 1941. I was chopping wood in the yard when I suddenly heard the steps of soldiers and voices speaking in German; they were Germans. The terror was great then, a few weeks after the slaughter. I went into the house and they followed me. Seeing that it was narrow, I went out through a window. They went into the building. At first they did not realize that they were in a Jewish home, but once they were oriented to where they were, they asked about the Jew who had been chopping wood outside. They continued through the whole building, searching for shnapps and creating havoc. One of them, a sergeant, put his revolver to my wife's head, threatening that he would shoot if she would not give up the Jew who had been in the yard. My father-in-law had also fled and only my wife and our child remained. The child was crying and they were shouting and threatening. They searched every corner. They found a bottle of 'batishe-visky' [home-brewed] liquor and they drank it and continued to shout and threaten. It was simply hell. That went on for about two hours. In the meantime I ran to the regional commander and came back with a junior officer by the name of Heinz Lege. The junior officer requested that they leave the dwelling, and soon they did actually leave.
My wife remained standing, half dead, with the child in her arms. Lege directed the two sergeants out and came back alone to calm us down. He commiserated with us and regretted our fate. He sat with us for almost three hours, to protect us in case they tried to return. He visited us almost every day, ate with us sometimes and protected us.
When the troublemakers showed the sergeant the Omega watch which was left to me by my blessed father-in-law, he took it, laid out two marks and said, Here is money for the watch. We Germans don't take things without paying. (I will write separately about the history of the watch.)
A week later I told Lege that they had taken the watch. He was very upset but could not help because the sergeant was on leave. A few days later Lege came to us as usual. During dinner he took out the watch, placed it on the table and related that by chance the sergeant had come back, he had forgotten something, and Lege used the chance to take the watch back.
Years have flown by; terrible events have altered the world map; we changed our residence several times, and more than once I have thought about Lege whether he was alive, or had he been dragged down by the war. In December 1959, when we were already in Israel, I wrote to him even without an exact address. I remembered just one thing, that he was from Hamel, on the Vezer, and I wrote to him there. He received my letter and we began a correspondence. He wrote a lot, mentioning those terrible times, and he sent me his photograph. I have included the story of those two Germans as well as fragments of our correspondence in an article, The Fate of Watches and a Photograph.[Yizkor Book P. 293]
In the first stage of the Soviet-German war, many Soviet prisoners fell into the hands of the Germans. At the end of November 1941 they brought about 500 Russian prisoners to Jezierna, as workers for the rail line. They were quartered in the estate, not far from our residence. Every day, when I went out to the well to get water, I encountered them tattered, withdrawn, half naked, exhausted, their feet wrapped in rags. They also came to the well for water. They asked for a little salt. They worked very hard. Their keepers, the SS, beat them to the death for no reason, and shot them without mercy. More than once I heard them pleading, Mr. German, have mercy, I have a wife and children, I want to live! The SS-man would scream, Swine! and shoot him. One could also see that among the prisoners themselves, who came from various lands within the 'Red Union' Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Tatars, Mongolians and so on there was no harmony or brotherhood. Every day they brought 10 or 15 bodies of shooting victims, lay them out in the yard, telephoned the chief of the camp to send a couple of Jews. He would send two or three Jews to dig a hole for the shooting victims. Afterward they would shoot the Jews too and throw them into the same hole. And so every day you could find in a common grave Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Georgians, soldiers of the 'Red Union', and two or three Jews a real fraternity! They covered their common grave with fresh earth. The same thing was repeated every day. After a month only about 30 remained of the 500, and they were transferred to another camp.
Our neighbor was the Falk family, a mother and daughter; Falk himself had been among the first victims. From time to time I would visit them, and almost always I would encounter SS-men there, who were guards for the prisoners; I heard the names Franz, Willi, and I memorized the physiognomy of the Germans and their names. This came to be useful for me.
It was December 1941, the snow continued to fall, piled more than a meter high. Our home was almost completely covered, and contact with the neighbors was almost cut off. In the middle of the night we heard a loud banging on the window: we heard Open up! in a German voice. Torn from sleep, we opened the door, full of fear. Two SS-men from the guard, wrapped in fur coats, came in. Jews live here!, they began to declaim; Jewish criminals! You are responsible for the war! I recognized one of them it was Franz, one of the regular visitors of the Falk family. I called to him, Mr. Franz! What do you need? Franz said to his partner, These people know me, and they both quickly introduced themselves. Franz said, I am Franz and this is my colleague Krulikowski. We are SS officers, the furher's elite! and then they began the well-known song again: Jews! they shouted and threatened. But suddenly Krulikowski saw the photograph of my God-fearing father-in-law, in the uniform of an Austrian officer with many medals on his chest. He studied the photograph for a while and then asked who it was. We explained that it was Hania's father, just after the First World War, 1914 1918. He had fought against Russia and Italy along with the Germans, was commended and then was murdered by the SS upon their invasion. Krulikowski became sad, stood in salute before the photograph, apologized to the photograph in the name of the furher for the fact that he had been murdered, lowered his hand, and continued to shout, But you are Jews ! and the rest of the repertoire. Franz wanted to calm him, and took a flask of whiskey from his pocket. They both began to drink. After each glass Krulikowski saluted, turned to the photograph and offered his respect, then ranted on at us again. He repeated the scene after each glass, until four o'clock in the morning.
Who knows what would have happened if I had not kept appealing to our acquaintance with Franz and he had not tried to quiet Krulikowski. The night was horrible, with snow all around, cut off from our neighbors and from people in general, trapped in the house with two drunken SS-men who threatened to shoot us every few minutes.
It was about that same time that thieves (it was probably neighbors) stole our whole supply of flour, plus the grain, and we had to begin buying bread from the Judenrat. The apparatchik-aide N.P. said that we were not on his list, and so he could not sell us any bread (200 grams a day for the whole family 5 people). My wife went every day, literally in tears, to beg him for the 200 grams of bread.
From time to time the Germans organized aktzias. In the beginning, the local Judenrat concerned itself with the small villages around the town, first reducing the number of Jews there. They determined who would be in a contingent. Ranked first were the ill, the old, those unfit for work and the children. During the forced roundups they also killed people in the street. The streets ran with blood. Younger people were loaded onto trucks to be 'resettled' what they called the shipping of Jews to the extermination camps. There was no limit to their cynicism. When one of the murderers saw how a daughter, whose mother was being transported, gave her a package for the journey and wept, he told her Give her gold things and diamonds, they will be useful there, knowing well that the captured Jews were going to an extermination camp. He spitefully mocked the daughter. Naive people did believe this, and gave them valuables, all of which the murderers stole from them along the way.
These constant roundups of Jews, transporting them to extermination camps, opened the Jews' eyes. They began to understand clearly that the 'solution to the Jewish problem' meant complete liquidation. Indeed a few looked for ways to save themselves and their families. Some forged Aryan papers and set off along the roads, but almost none of them survived. Others joined up with 'trustworthy' gentiles who were supposed to provide them with safe hiding places. But many of them fell victim to denouncements, or perished from hunger in hiding because the 'reliable' gentile had not given them any food in the hiding place. The apparatchik-representative of the Judenrat, N.P., who doled out 200 grams of bread per family to the unfortunates, himself died of hunger along with his family. The 'reliable' gentile took his money but did not give them any food in the bunker.
The situation this created, the conditions, the striving to save oneself even at the expense of other unfortunates, demoralized and broke down the characters of people who had previously been known as upstanding, solid citizens, good Jews, community workers. They believed that possessions would save them; that drove them to immoral deeds. A rich Jew, a respected man, often called upon to read Torah, formerly a Gemeide-Ratnik [city-council member] and Kultus-Ratnik [cultural committee member], and now a 'JudenRatnik' [Judenrat member] saw a woman lying dead in the street during an aktzia, and took her jewelry from her and hid it. Later the dead woman's brother learned about this and demanded his sister's jewelry from him. The respectable Jew first denied it and then gave up the jewelry at the Rabbi's; and 'it was said' that he had only turned in a part of it.
As I already wrote, we were 'resettled' in Zborow. This was a difficult experience for us and especially for my mother-in-law, may she rest in peace. She had lived in Jezierna for more than 20 years, every corner of it held its history for her, every thing was dear to her, she remembered the effort it had taken to absorb it all, and now she had to leave it all.
The last days were unbearable. Women with their families, as if in a procession, would walk from house to house, look around the home, view the furniture, evaluating their inheritances. Each of them had already decided where they would live and what they could take. We were standing there and our hearts were breaking; we almost wept. Our sorrow was great and our pain unbearable. There were moments when we paradoxically said that the living were envious of the dead, who had not lived to see this.
Life in Zborow
We were in Zborow until November 20, 1942, until the Jews were confined in the ghetto. We left Zborow before dawn. A deep snow had fallen and we traveled in a sleigh. We traveled without knowing to where to martyrdom in God's name. Our wish was only to run away from there as fast as possible, not to let ourselves be enclosed in the ghetto. It was a dangerous undertaking. Traveling in those times, not knowing where to or to whom, was a suicidal plan. But we were convinced at the time that we were saving ourselves from death.
They had driven the rest of the Jews from the villages together in Zborow, organized them in a ghetto and planned ways to liquidate them quickly. No aktzias took place during that time. I had used that time to procure my own papers and also to get some documents for my wife and child. I knew that we had to have 'good' papers now, for if not, we would very quickly fall into the hands of denouncers and 'shmaltzniks'. We knew that many had been caught with false Aryan papers but no one knew where they had been taken and killed.
The surviving widow of Dr. Litvak and her son Lesia had settled in Lemberg [Lvov]. She was caught and shot and the son was beaten to death on the street by his Ukrainian schoolmates. The Master of Science and pharmacist Spindel and his wife and daughter, who had been living in the Lublin area on Aryan papers, fell into the hands of the Gestapo in April 1944 and were all shot. Polish collaborators had denounced them.
In Zborow I met with my colleague Waraszinski, a former high-school teacher in Złoczów. He introduced me to the Roman Catholic priest, Jan Pawlitzki, from whom I received documents for my wife and child. From now on my wife would be called Maria Konisz and our daughter, Janina Konisz. They both had Catholic birth certificates. Maria Konisz was a little older than Anna Duhl, but that is how it had to be. On the blank forms that I had from Jezierna, I attached an identification permit with a photograph of my wife with the name Maria Konisz. That, along with the birth certificate, were her new documents. I had to translate my birth certificate into German and have it authorized by a notary. I could not get that done in Zborow because the notary there was a Ukrainian; one could only get it done in Tarnopol with a Polish notary. The priest Pawlitzki sent one of his people to Tarnopol and he delivered it to me. I burned the original.
My wife had a lot of friends in Zborow as she had worked there for two years in a pharmacy. Besides that everyone there knew my father-in-law of blessed memory. Zborow and Jezierna were like a house and a side room. Also, the head of the Judenrat, Janek Fuchs, former community activist, was an acquaintance and his wife was even a friend of my wife's. We certainly had 'protektzia'! [special connections] So of course we were given a location near the Fuchs family, in a room in which four other families were quartered, and we were the fifth. For our five souls, we had about six square meters of space. That is what the 'protektzia' looked like. Fuchs and his wife and one child lived in a nice little house with several rooms and lovely furnishings; we five people, in an area of six square meters. We slept on the floor (at least, not in hell). Our good friend Sanie Auerbach, the contact person [for the Gestapo], lived in his previous apartment, that had fine furniture and everything up to 'hummingbird's milk'. We looked at the contrasts with sadness: Jews walking on the street were deathly pale, starving, tattered and torn, in fear that a murderer could shoot them at any minute, shuddering with every passing German. Once they were wealthy, honorable people and now? Mrs. Fuchs stands in her apartment ironing the laundry, and probably her husband's shirts, puts them into the chest, prepares a good meal for her husband and daughter with meat, a compote, better than in the pre-war times when everything in the town was normal. Sanie Auerbach's wife stands in her kitchen decorating a big chocolate cake with a swastika in the middle and the initials of the SS-man who heads the Jews' camp in Zborow. He would receive the cake on his birthday from the grateful Zborow Jews. In the town, among all the Jews sadness, poverty, fear, tragedies, and here a life of luxury: ironing shirts, making a cake for the murderer of the Jews in the camp.
For repairing of the sidewalks, the Germans used the tombstones from the Jewish cemetery. Once they grabbed some Jews, among them the Rabbi, and led them to the cemetery and ordered them to knock down the stones and load them onto wagons. The gentiles were standing and waiting by their wagons. The Ukrainian police gave the order, Work! Pull out the stones and load them! Not one Jew moved a muscle. Eventually the Rabbi, may his strength continue, stepped out of the line and went to stand by a tombstone, the stone of the old Rabbi, his grandfather, may he rest in peace. He recited Kaddish and El molle rakhamim [God full of mercy prayer]. The fields and forests echoed with that Yisgadal v'yiskadash and when he concluded with the words and may they rest in peace in their resting-places, and let us say Amen! he wept and the Jews answered, Amen. He begged forgiveness from the dead for interrupting their rest, turned around to the Jews and told them to begin the work. While the rabbi was praying, the gentiles knelt and crossed themselves, and the guards stood at attention. They started screaming soon enough and dealing out blows, but the work had already begun. The work went on all day. The tombstones were carted away and the sidewalks of Zborow were repaved with them. The Jews were forbidden to use the sidewalks and the religious of the non-Jews avoided the sidewalks in order not to tread on the tombstones. Rumors went around among the non-Jews that at night, voices and wailing came from the graves where the stones were taken, and passersby felt afraid.
The pharmacists Lucia and Marek Reiss had worked in the apothecary in Zborow for twenty years. Young and old, men and women, Jews and non-Jews, everyone knew them and appreciated them. More than one pauper had his prescription filled for free, sometimes with the addition of a few groschen to buy bread for the children. They were treasured by Jews and non-Jews alike. The Germans drove them out of their shop and out of their home, but they did not lose their courage. Lucia kept her spirits up, consoling those victimized. After each aktzia she would seek out the affected families, bringing them bread, a little sugar, sharing her last bites of food with them. She would bring reports that redemption was near. The persecuted families believed her, looked to her as one looks to an angel who brings good news. Her words of comfort were repeated from person to person until until she herself fell into the hands of the murderers.
It was with difficulty that they stuffed her into the heavy truck that was already full of captured Jews. They were all destined for the extermination camp at Belzec. Lucia knew that this would be her last journey. She was seeing for the last time the pharmacy where she had worked for so many years, the little house where she had lived and the people among whom she had lived, sharing in their joys and sorrows. Instinctively, she stood up and shouted at the Gestapo guards in a strong voice, Murderers! The shame of the twentieth century! For our pain, for our suffering, for our innocent blood spilled, you will receive your due from our blood, from our bones, will rise an avenger! Then she turned to her brothers and sisters in the truck and said, Lift up your heads! Do not be afraid of these murderers, we are dying for the sanctity of God's name! And when she cried out, Long live the Jewish people!, a Gestapo-man dealt her such a blow that she fell down dead. She had remained in Zborow, in the town that she loved and where she had spent the best years of her life. Her husband Marek heard that Lucia was already on a truck that would take her to an extermination camp and begged the Judenrat to save her, and when he learned that it was already too late he committed suicide. After that aktzia, the couple Lucia and Marek Reiss were kept together in a joint-grave in the Jewish cemetery.
November 1942. Now 17 months have passed since the Germans carried out their murderous work: forced roundups, re-settlements, labor-and-extermination-camps have brought about their results. The number of Jews continued to shrink and the remaining Jews were packed into small, crowded living quarters; so many families in one house, they literally suffocated. That is how they enclosed them in the ghetto. They were forbidden to walk out of the ghetto. It was all a preparation for the final solution, the complete liquidation. In Zborow, as I have already mentioned, the Jews from the surrounding villages had been driven together and in July 1942 the fate of the few surviving Jezierna Jews was bound up with the fate of the Zborow Jews and those of the villages.
We myself, my wife and child left Zborow on November 20, 1942, and began to ramble with our Aryan papers. Our life was not easy then either. Everywhere outside the ghetto, they were searching for Jews; we were always endangered, without one restful moment, by day or by night. We lived in constant fear, frightened of every known and unknown person; anyone could turn us in to the Gestapo. Danger hovered over our every step.
In Jezierna, before the deportation, I used to meet with the poet Sh.Y. Imber. We had made plans, but he did not live till the redemption. Before the war there had been a judge, a Jew named Ziemer, in Buczacz. His secretary was a young Polish woman. He had fled Buczacz in 1940 and settled in Jezierna, where the Germans caught him. His secretary became his wife and fled with him. The Judenrat gave him a function, as an assistant and night watchman. His non-Jewish wife kept watch with him in the Judenrat office at night, and protected him from every aktzia. Dyga called her many times and told her, Traitor! Leave that lousy Zyd, bitch, or you will be killed along with him All the threats made no difference; she never left him. She went to the Russian-Catholic priest Bialowons for help, but he chased her away from him. I met them several times in Zborow, and then they disappeared. I learned later that they both survived and were living in Poland.
I survived the Hitler hell as a Karaite, along with my wife Hania Klinger Maria Konisz and my daughter Julia Janina Konisz. We were pursued for more than three years, living in terror, without any rest by day or by night. Every minute was a risk, every minute tense. It was a miracle that we came out of that slaughter alive. During those horrible times that we lived through, we encountered good people (few, unfortunately), for whom the highest goal was to help or rescue a person; they reached out their hands to us in times of trouble and helped. But there were also informers, animals in human clothing, who for a few coins or a bottle of whiskey delivered innocent people to the murderers. Their hands are stained with the blood of the innocent victims.
That day is a day of wrath,Prophet Zephaniah, Chapter1.
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of Shoah [wasteness] and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick fog.
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