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[Page 265]

My Private Hell

by Nachum Kalafer

Translated by Sheldon Clare

I am a Jeziernian, but before the war I lived in Bodzanov. My wife came from Kopyczynce. Our little daughter was barely five years old when the war broke out.

When the Germans entered Bodzanov, I experienced for the first time the launching of persecution and aktions (assembly and deportation of Jews). And when they expelled the Jews from Bodzanov and made it Judenrein (empty of Jews), my family and I were forced to run away to Kopyczynce where my wife's family lived.

The situation became worse day by day. When I realized that it would be difficult to endure and survive here, for a kilo of gold I received permission from the Gestapo leader to go to Probużna . This town was already Judenrein and only two Jews remained living there: I, a dentist and Dr. Brandwein - a general physician. And by the end of the last liquidation of the ghetto, I had to run away again.

My wife Sala, her sister Gusta, and my little daughter Rita, settled in a place near a ‘reliable farmer’ where she kept them in a bunker; I alone went into a forest, about 20 kilometers from the place.

Every night, I would visit them, going by foot. But this did not last. The peasant neighbors informed on them to the Ukrainian police, who identified them. They were taken to a field and were shot. My daughter was shielded by her mother and was only wounded. At night, when she recovered her wits, she dug herself out from under the dead bodies and began to wander, all bloody.

A good-hearted old peasant of Ukrainian descent took her in and kept her as her own. From time to time I came out of the forest to see the child. After being freed, I rewarded the peasant.

On March 23, 1944, the Soviet army freed us. I began to work as a dentist in a military hospital. When the 'front' withdrew, I was nominated to become a regional examiner; my duty was also to investigate the evidence about the arrested prisoners and to certify that they were able to be transported. Among the arrested people, I found a well-known former Ukrainian policeman. The murderer of my family, the Ukrainian superior police officer, I did not find.

The vicious Nazis murdered my mother Sheyndl, my sister Maltsheh, my brother Yidl, along with my grandfather Sanyeh Rozenfeld, my uncle Natan Rozenfeld with his wife and two of their sons - Natziyeh and Matik.

When the war ended, I went to Poland. As a result of the difficult experience, I am now a sick and broken person.

From my large family, almost no one survived; they were all murdered.


[Page 268]

Wandering in Foreign Places

by Lippe Fischer

Translated by Tina Lunson

Twice I left Jezierna and twice succeeded in returning; the second time I came back to a shtetl without Jews…

With the outbreak of the German–Polish War in 1939 Jezierna organized a fire brigade of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews; all had served in the military, and I among them; we were all assigned to that brigade. Besides putting out fires, we also served at night, because various elements roamed around among the villages of Poland at that time. We had to protect the rear zone while the army fought far away at the front. But soon there was a panic. The army had been beaten and its remnants were being withdrawn to the east. People started to evacuate, and Moshe Byk and I also decided to leave Jezierna to get closer to the border between Poland and Russia. I tried to convince some others – for example Dr. Litvak and Avraham Chaim Paket (Tsirel Menye, as we called him) – but they would not be talked into it. During that time, when I was packing my things, my sister burned the newspapers and books with anti–fascist and anti–Hitler content, and cried while doing it.

It was erev Rosh–Hashana [eve of the New–Year]. But few people thought about the holy day. We thought about the great danger that lay in wait for Jews. Suddenly Mechil Fuchs came in shouting “Let's save the children!”. His horse and wagon were prepared and he proposed that we drive with him to Podvolochisk [Podwoloczyska]. We climbed up, sat in the wagon and drove off. We were six people altogether. We drove through Zborow and Hluboczek; we traveled through the fields because it would have been impossible to use the main road (kaiserstrasse). We arrived in Podvolochisk right after the prayer services. There were a lot of refugees there already. The locals invited us to lunch and we later also spent the night with them. Just a few days ago we also had refugees in our town, and now we were refugees here.

In Jezierna, a woman spent the night with us; she and her husband had fled from western Poland. Along their way an airplane shot at them; the husband was killed; she buried him in a field outside of Zloczow and she went on alone. She arrived in Jezierna at night, exhausted and broken. I gave her my bed. And now we were the refugees. We spent two nights with an old woman, whose attitude toward us was very motherly. On the second day it rained and it seemed that there was thunder and lightning during the night, but in the morning we realized that it was an exchange of fire between the Polish and Soviet soldiers. Injured soldiers were walking around, and lying on stretchers were severely wounded Polish soldiers. A Polish airplane was circling in the air, which was the only airplane that we saw during the war. A few days later we learned that Stalin had made a pact with Hitler and divided the former Poland: the Soviets took up to the San and Germany took the rest. We were happy that we could return home to Jezierna.

***

The Red Army began its invasion. Jews went out freely and without apprehension into the streets; we were also happy. The soldiers passing through smiled at us and we started to think of the fastest way to get back to Jezierna. A huge military force marched in, everything motorized, big tanks, heavy artillery. Moshe Byk and I went to the Podvolochisk train station. There were train cars that had been shot up and bombed. Women and children had been evacuated in those cars; the German air–pirates had shot them during their journey. The scene made a horrible impression on us.

Meanwhile they had opened the shops in town; the merchants started selling their goods and there was no lack of customers… they were mostly people from the other side of the border. On the way to our guest house we saw arrestees being led away. Moshe and I tried to analyze the political situation while we were walking. I had the seal of the Jezierna Histadrut–Poalei–Zion in my pocket. I threw the seal away.

On the second day Fuchs harnessed his horses and we were on our way back. Along the way – about 25 kilometers from Tarnopol – I got off the wagon and continued on foot. It seemed to us that it would be more comfortable that way; it was certainly more fun. Military people were marching, cars were driving, we saw a lot of people. Here and there we did hear shooting and it seemed that they were shooting right over my head; it was a few remaining Polish artillery men shooting and the Soviet soldiers were answering. Further along the way there were murdered Polish policemen lying on the road; Polish prisoners and also arrested civilians were being led away.

I walked along that way for a few kilometers until I finally got tired. When I spied a Red Cross horse and wagon approaching, I went to them and asked if I could ride with them to Jezierna. They questioned me in detail; I showed them my documents, I proved my identity but in the end they did not allow me to travel with them. I did not have any alternative and so continued on by foot. Later a small wagon came along. I asked the soldier and he let me climb aboard; he was a Jew and we spoke Yiddish along the way. He told me to take off my watch and hide it; a watch is a danger, he said. I traveled with him as far as Tarnopol. There I already felt like I was home. Tarnopol was already Soviet. Armed militia were walking around in the streets, dressed in civilian clothes with red bands on their sleeves; most of them were Jews. The Polish church on Dominikan Place was damaged; people said that it was from there that they shot at the Soviet soldiers. Some houses had been destroyed too, destroyed together with the residents. A lot of policemen had been dragged out of their apartments and shot without a trial.

***

I set out toward Jezierna on foot. It was already afternoon. But then I rode – a soldier took me to Jezierna. When I arrived home it was already dark. At home they already knew that I was on my way because the military hospital that I had met along the way and not allowed me to come with them, had already arrived in Jezierna, taken up quarters in our house and told [the family] that I was on the way. We greeted one another like old friends.

In Jezierna too a militia had been organized and the commander was an Ukrainian nationalist by the name of Terentshuk. Their headquarters was in Dudye Blaustein's house, where the Polish police station had been. The next day I met with Moshe Byk, Dr. Litwak, and Avraham Chaim Paket and we decided to turn to the military commandant to discuss with him various problems regarding the Jewish population. Among other things we wanted to insert a few Jewish lads into the militia. The commandant agreed and I was among those lads, with Schmuel Bien; Munye Steiger, Yekil's son, Naftali Charap, Nuchim Yekil's son. We served in the shtetl day and night. There were attacks on Jews. In the village of Połowce, a local peasant killed a Jew and his wife in the presence of their children and buried them at the entrance of their home. The murderer was sentenced by the Soviet courts.

I only belonged to the militia for a few days. I soon got work in the post office.

***

That was a hard time for my father and for other Jews in his position. He was considered to be in the category of rich peasants (kulaks) and they squeezed the life out of this particular group. My heart was sore. For example, my father, who was an ordinary laboring Jew, who had spent his whole life working hard in the field as a land laborer, connected to agriculture – had now become an exploiter, a parasite!?

One Friday night when he had arranged to go to prayer services, he was called to the community offices. Two party–members were sitting there and he could smell the odor of whiskey from both of them. They took a lot of money from my father, shouting and demanding. My Dad was not shocked, but the fear was that he would be shipped off to Siberia, as that was something that they could do. They had already sent a lot of Jezierna men to Siberia. I had seen what they had done to the Polish colonists; it was a terrible scene. They woke them in the middle of the night, dragged them out of bed, told them to pack a few things, and led them away. Along with them they took an old smith and his family. Their entire possessions consisted of two hectares of soil, a cow and a few hens. He left behind all of this and in his old age, with his children and grandchildren went to Siberia.

I was the only one of my whole family making a livelihood. Our cousin Faivel Ohrbach was living with us at the time. He came from Sasow, and was a teacher in the Jezierna school; he helped us out a little too and so our family maintained itself. When the Germans arrived, Faivel went back to Sasow, where he fell into German hands in a camp; at the liquidation of the camp he and some friends mounted a rebellion and a few of them fled into the forest and survived there. I located him again in 1958, in America.

In Jezierna things got worse and worse. I left my post and began work in Hluboczek and later in Tarnopol. During the last period before the outbreak of the Soviet–German war, I was wandering around without work.

***

The war broke out; the Germans bombarded the large cities, but the small towns did not get any rest either. The Soviets mobilized the youth. The retreat began. For two days before the arrival of the Germans in Jezierna I was with my papa, mama and sister, but I decided to leave Jezierna and evacuate. I was not successful in influencing my friends; they did not want to leave. The Germans had already bombed Jezierna and I was still in the town. It was not easy to abandon my home and to travel, as panic ruled along the roads; the German airplanes bombed the roads, the streets and the rail lines. I was fortunate to leave with a Jew from Zborow who was living on our farm – I cannot recall his name – he was a a manager in the bazaar. He packed his bags and I set off with him. We traveled according to my plan. It was already September. We went through Zborow, Hluboczek, avoiding the main streets, and came into Tarnopol through a back alley. From Tarnopol we traveled to Podvolochisk. The second day in the morning we were already at the old border. Our documents were checked there and we were allowed to travel on. During the journey I went by foot some of the time because it was hard on the horses. In Volochysk [Woloczyska ] the owner of the wagon told me to take my pack and go ahead on foot, and he himself took off at a gallop.

The road to Proskurov was not an easy one, but along the way some soldiers took me along in their car, and after that a peasant gave me a ride. These transports were shot at by German airplanes. The terror was great. This is how I slept that whole night. Wearily, I lay under a hut in a kolkhoz [collective farm] and fell asleep. I got up when it was still dark but all around there was loud noise, explosions and fires. I quickly got to my feet and went with everyone else – military and civilians were mixed together, militia men, NKVD agents – everyone on foot. The military people did not want to take anyone with them; there was no trust; we were suspicious of one another because there were spies everywhere and diverse characters. Everyone was greatly afraid.

I trudged on until Proskurov, where I succeeded in getting on a truck to Kiev. From there to Dniepropietrovsk I traveled on a ship over the Dnieper [River]. Our little ship was camouflaged and when German airplanes approached, we stayed by the shoreline. We suffered from lack of food. It is certainly pleasant to take a boat on the Dnieper, but not as we were traveling then. And so I arrived in Dniepropietrovsk, a large industrial city with big, beautiful buildings, huge business centers; but all that was not for me; I had to flee further. I spent the night in the train station; there were dead and wounded; thousands of refugees were waiting, each wanting to move on as quickly as possible. It was pouring rain; people were stuffed into open cars, waiting to travel on. I managed to get into a car that was already closed, and traveling like that, arrived in Kuban, in the North Caucasus, Krasnodorskiy area. From there we were transferred to the Krylovskaya station. Here, along with other refugees, I got off and stayed.

***

For the first time after such a long haul, since leaving my home, I took off my clothes and washed myself. There were kolkhozn here and they divided us among them. I was assigned to kolkhoz “Ukraina”. All the refugees were assembled in an enclosed area, and the kolkhoznikes [collective farmers] came and chose workers. I was given to a Cossack who was a brigadier. There were a small number of Cossacks in that kolkhoz, most of whom were “inaradnie”, which was a low caste in the Tsar's time. They worked for the Cossacks who were privileged. I was a field worker, and for my labor received food, a little grain and a little money. I worked there for one month.

The Germans were coming a little closer. Rostov was already in their hands, and I debated moving further along. Things were getting darker; the trains arrived overloaded with the wounded and refugees.

In the kolkhoz people prepared for partisan warfare. I got permission to travel further on; I forfeited my earnings and set out. The train was full of refugees, mostly Jews. We traveled deep into the Caucasus Region. The first large train station that we stopped at was Armavir, about 75 kilometers from Krilovskaia. All the walls were plastered with posters with slogans: “The enemy will be destroyed, the victory is ours”; “The Hitler–beast will be crushed in his lair”(nare geleger).

The train took us further through the Caucasus settlements, and although I was in a difficult situation, I forgot about it all and looked at the Caucasus landscape, simply letting my mind wander; I was so moved by its beauty. We traveled for a couple of days. It was hard to get food and especially bread. We traveled without paying.

I arrived in Derbent, a town in Dagestan, South Caucasus. The food industry was well–developed there, and there were a lot of canning factories. Jews were living there too. There was a synagogue and on the Sabbath I went to pray. From there I went to the fortress town Makhatshkala on the Caspian Sea. The town was full of refugees. I succeeded in catching a ship and traveled to Krasnovodsk, middle Asia. From there the way was open to Turkestan and Uzbekistan. Trains were leaving one after another, all full of refugees going to Tashkent. The way led to Turkmenistan, whose capital Ashgabat was located not far from the Persian border, about 18 kilometers. The train stopped for about an hour. I met a large group of Polish Jews in the station, and I decided to stay there.

***

The place for refugees there was at Karl Marx Street number 7. The NKVD had agents there who supposedly smuggled people over the border into Persia, for which the agents took money and then turned the people over to the NKVD. So I fell for that, along with a certain Azriel Diner from Trembowla. We were arrested and stood before a military–court.

This is how my arrest in Ashgabat took place: This was a town where every newly–arrived person was followed by agents who proposed taking people over the border illegally into Persia. The agents were Turkmen. Such provocateurs approached me several times, proposing to take me over the border, but I refused. Then, one time, I received an order to leave Ashgabat within 24 hours. Now when such a provocateur approached me proposing to sneak me over the border for a few hundred rubles, Azriel and I went for it. They took us, and when we were already outside the city, in a field, NKVD agents were waiting for us, opened fire on us and shouted “Hands up!” Our guide had suddenly vanished, and we were arrested. The commandant of the NKVD group was Meir Shefer; he began his conversation with us in Yiddish. He said, “Stupid Jewish bastards, you wanted to go to the Wailing Wall, now we have to shoot you.”

The NKVD building was located in the center of the city, not far from the theater. When one went past the building, one would think that it was a charitable institution. Terrible tragedies took place in that house. No one went free from that place. He was either shot or sent to a forced–labor camp in Siberia. The interrogation lasted about a month, day and night with just short intermissions. When I was sleeping they woke me up and questioned me further. After they finished the investigation they brought us before a military court. I defended myself. The trial lasted for three days and we received the verdict. Azriel Diner from Trembowla was sentenced to death and I 'only' ten years of hard labor in a camp in Siberia. They sent me to the South Urals. Before that, I sat for three months under arrest in Ashkhabod.

On the 15th of February 1942 I arrived in Turinsk, and was left there; it was a large camp and the inmates did hard labor with a 12–hour work day. I arrived there sick, swollen and covered with carbuncles, so they did not send me to hard labor for a couple of months. When I felt a little better, they sent me to work. The work was beyond my strength. I got sick again and was considered an invalid. From that time on I began to work as a barber – it was much easier for me. I was employed in that line of work until 1957.

In 1943 I was transferred to Verkhnaya Tavda; there I finished my ten years of prison (labor camp). When I was freed, I settled there for another six years, working until March 1957, when I traveled back to Poland.


[Page 289]

S. Y. Imber in Jezierna under the Nazis

by Duzia (Dora) Blaustein, New York

Translated by Pamela Russ

Dora Blaustein, daughter of Czina Blaustein, lives in America today. She lived through the persecutions and the hells of Hitler in Jezierna thanks to a Ukrainian man, Michael Leskof, and his wife who hid her during that time. Here she tells of one of the episodes of those terrible times: the life and murder of the poet Shmuel Yakov Imber at the hands of the Nazis, and tells of the influence that he had on the Jezierna youth at that time.
The Editorial Committee

Shmuel Yakov Imber is considered to be a Jezierner even though he was born in Zloczow. He spent his youth in the town and was married in Jezierna to the eldest daughter of the pharmacist Mintz. She was also a pharmacist. From time to time, they would come to visit their parents in the town.

When he was in Jezierna, one could see him strolling through the streets. He would meet with friendly people, with activists in the Ichud Gordonia organization, and have discussions about their work and the evolvement of their youth organizations. He would go to the local organizations and inform himself about what the youth was reading and what sort of literature interested them. He was pleased that in such a small town the youth was interested in the most recent literature.

The librarian Etke Pulwer would show him books. He would have discussions with Lippe Fisher and Moishe Bik and then they would accompany him to his lodgings. As they walked, they would ask him about his own position in the areas of literature and journalism, about his articles in the Jewish newspapers, and his struggle with Hitlerism and anti-Semitism in Poland. He invited them in, gave each of them a copy of his book “Asy Czystej Rasy” (Aces of Pure Race), and a copy for the library. He made a tremendous impression. They cherished the book, but along with everything else, the book was destroyed.

The Germans invaded Jezierna. Difficult times began, persecutions, roundups. Imber would hide during these roundups, as did the other Jews. Aside from that, he and his wife were affected by the murder of his father-in-law, the pharmacist Mintz, and his mother-in-law's suicide. The pharmacy continued to be run by Imber's wife.

Even while hiding in his bunker, Imber wrote about these events, and even though he knew that the Germans were looking for him, in his secretly written articles he gave us courage. Reading his writings, we believed that our suffering was not in vain and that the victims had not died in vain either.

Imber also fell into murderous hands. They prepared a horrific death for him.

They were able to kill the man, but the poet Imber they could not destroy.

That which he created will remain forever, just as the light that he gave us during those dark days, that shone like the sun.


[Page 290]

Dora the Nurse

by Menachem Duhl

Translated by Ida Selavan–Schwarcz

Dora Mantel, who survived Hitler's hell, told many stories about her experiences, but from my conversations with her I saw that she still had a lot to tell, and each time she adds new material to her stories.

In Zborow, Dora put on a white coat and became a nurse in the ghetto. The children used to call her “Mrs. Dora”. When we write about the Judenrat (Jewish Council), Ordnungs Dienst, (storm–troopers), Lager–Verbindungsmanner,(camp –intelligence agents), fighters in the ghetto and the partisans, we should also tell how Dora helped the sick, neglected, and unfortunate Jews in the ghetto and helped relieve their terrible suffering.

The Tzifris family lived in a tiny dark room – husband and wife and a few children. He had been a cobbler, but now lay paralyzed. His wife lay with a high fever; the neglected children ran around dirty, naked, and hungry. Desolation and need reigned in the tiny room. Dora happened to come in; the children cried and begged for food, the mother looked at her children and wept bitterly and the father gazed open–eyed at the ceiling as if help would come from above. Dora rolled up her sleeves, washed the father and the children, brought them some food and medicine for the mother. She visited them every day.

The Rebbetzin. She was a refugee from western Galicia who came to Zborow. Her husband, the Rabbi, died on the way, and their children were murdered in the ‘aktions’ [campaigns to murder Jews]. She lay alone on the floor of a little shed, her head full of lice, her whole body full of sores. Where she lay there was a fetid odor like in a tropical swamp. She lay there all alone. Whoever opened the door immediately ran away.

Her hair was greyish–white, her face pale, but she had a majestic appearance. She prayed with her prayer book in hand all day long. Forgotten by God and man, she lay there. Dora came to visit her. She went in and the old woman raised her head, looked at her closely and began to cry. “Who are you, my dear daughter?” she asked. She had not seen a soul for a whole week.

Dora washed her, brought her medicine, changed her clothing. The old woman would bless her and tell her that for these good deeds Dora would merit life. Her ancestors, rabbis and virtuous men, would bring her case to the Master of the Universe and ask that she live and be well. She repeated this prayer every day.

A week later, during an aktion, the old Rebbetzin was murdered. “I can still see her to this day, the old Rebbetzin who prayed for my welfare, and I hear her weak voice, her prophecy that I would remain alive”, says Dora. “Every year, on the date of the last aktion, I light a memorial candle for the old woman's soul. She blessed me, that I should live, and I was indeed saved from the murderers,” Dora continues.

In the Zborow ghetto, there was a “hospital” for epidemic illnesses (typhus and cholera), in the synagogue. The Torah scrolls, the lecterns, tables and benches had been removed. On the floor, on a bit of straw, lay the sick men, women, and children, one next to the other, like herring in a vat, half naked, with high fever. Every day the Burial Society would drag out the dead bodies, and their places were taken by new victims. It was horrible to see. Lice bit them, fleas leaped over them, bed bugs crept all over, and the helpless sick people lay there. The only Jewish doctor would come in once a day and Nurse Dora a few times a day. She was well known. When she entered, the sick people would stretch out their hands and ask for help. She had a comforting word for everyone and tried to help everyone, but what could she do?

Hundreds of people expired in the dirt and desolation, in the fetid odor, with the smell of dead bodies. The conditions created by the epidemics liquidated a sizable number of the Jews in the ghetto.

Dora also told how the camp commander killed 19 Jews who had committed a terrible crime – they had brought food into the ghetto, and she, the 20th person on the list, miraculously remained alive. She believed that the old Rebbetzin, with her rabbinical and virtuous forefathers, had been intermediaries for her survival.


[Page 304]

MEMORIAL PLAQUE
dedicated in the Memorial Cellar on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem

In Eternal Memory
of the Martyrs of the Community of
JEZIERNA
(near Tarnopol)
and surrounding area, may God avenge their blood,
who were annihilated by the Germans
and their collaborators, cursed be they,
during the years of the Holocaust
5701 – 5704, 1941–1944
Memorial Day 7 Tammuz
May their souls be bound in the bonds of life

Their memory is perpetuated by the Association of Jezierna Descendants in Israel and the Diaspora

Yizkor Memorial Prayer

May God remember the souls of our brothers and sisters of Israel, victims of the Holocaust and its heroes and heroines, six hundred tens of thousands souls of Israel, put to death, slaughtered, strangled, buried alive, and the holy communities destroyed in sanctification of the Holy Name.

May God remember their sacrificial binding, together with the sacrificial binding of the other holy ones of Israel and the heroes from days of yore and may their souls be bound in eternal life. They were beloved and pleasant in their lives and in their deaths were not parted; may they be joined together in peace in their resting–place and let us say, Amen.

*

We remember with reverence

The bravery of our brothers and sisters who offered up their souls for their people in holiness and purity;

The saga of the heroism of those besieged in the ghettos and the fighters who rose up and kindled the fire of rebellion saving the honor of their people;

The heroic and constant struggle of the common masses of the People of Israel for their human identity and their Jewish culture;

The righteous among the nations who endangered their lives to rescue Jews.

Editor's Notes:

View online http://yizkor.nypl.org/index.php?id=1289
Image 308 – memorial plaque in the Holocaust Cellar Museum on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem
Image 13 – plaque dedication in the Memorial Cellar on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem –1
Image 23 – Memorial Cellar on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem –2
Image 25 – Memorial Cellar on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem –3

 

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