In July, 1943, a Jew from Blizin appeared in Piotrkow and advised the community to sign up voluntarily for the Blizin labor camp. Conditions there, he explained, were especially convenient for parents of small children. Artisans were concentrated in Blizin, and their children were given special care while the parents were at work. This propaganda made a strong impression. Mrs. Bronya Lieberman, daughter of community chairman Szymon Warszawski, was enthusiastic about the idea of going to Blizin and did everything she could to persuade her friends to sign up for the trip.
The block (the mini-ghetto) was facing liquidation at the time. Some of its inhabitants would be housed near the Kara and Hortensia glassworks; others would live near the factory in Bugaj. The others, including the children, were to be sent elsewhere.
The lists were drawn up quickly. After a roll call and head count were held, the transport headed for the train, children and adults marching together toward the paradise of Blizin.
As the crowd approached the train, still in Piotrkow, the Germans separated the children from their parents by force. They shoved the parents into the cattle cars and brought the children back to Piotrkow, housing them somewhere outside the Jewish block. It is hard to describe the despair that gripped the parents on their way to Blizin, having left their children to their terrible fate.
The children were kept for several days in an isolated building in town. Then, one chilly morning, they were led out of Piotrkow to a place where a large grave had been dug for them. German soldiers armed with bugles and drums played various tunes, and the miserable children, half-naked, were ordered to dance. As they complied, the soldiers opened fire with machine guns. The youngsters collapsed, still half-alive, into the mass grave. The ground over the martyrs' corpses continued to palpitate for many hours, as if protesting the untimely and murderously brutal termination of these young lives.
This episode is undoubtedly one of the most horrifying in the annals of the Piotrkow ghetto, and will remain forever engraved in the memory of every Jew from the ghetto who survived.
Deportation From Gorzkowice
October 17, 1942. The machinery of destruction organized by the Germans with utmost precision and secrecy reached out toward a small town Gorzkowice, in the vicinity of Piotrkow. An ice cold breath of impending death woke up the inhabitants from their last peaceful sleep.
Concentrated at the railroad station, and hardly aware of our tragic fate, we waited for the train. In front of us, behind us, around us green German uniforms. Assigned to keep guard until the arrival of the freight trains, the German police stationed in Niechcice were to keep a watchful eye on the Jews.
You are going to Ukraina to work. You shall be happy there! Deceitful assurances revived sparks of hope and faith in a possible future.
To everyone's surprise and delight, the Committee of Polish Women obtained permission to distribute hot soup to the shivering crowd. What a moral lift! What a noble deed!
Though the cold was biting, and the winds grew stronger, the atmosphere was still calm. People talked to each other, moved around voicing their fears, suspicions and political views. Some of them surrounded Rabbi Dawidowicz to pray together with him. Profoundly believing in God and His Divine judgement, they were resigned to accept their destiny.
I looked up to the overcast sky and searched for an answer from above, for Allied planes coming in our defense. Those were but daydreams, childish delusions. Instead cruel reality took over, suppressing more and more the fleeting picture of imagination, stifling naive trust and diminishing moral strength.
As from the very depths of the earth a luxurious automobile emerged in front of the railways: all eyes turned in one direction. A tall SS man in black uniform with Nazi insignia stepped forth with a Hitler salute, exchanging a few words with the Chief of German police.
Ordnungsdienst austreten! thundered the SS man with a bearing of absolute authority. Ihr bleibt mit den Frauen zuruck! Following another order, a doctor and the Chairman of the Jewish Council with his wife and son rushed to the newly formed line. Altogether there were 20 people. The SS man scrutinized the dense crowd of degraded humanity and once more exclaimed with disgust and contempt, Weg mit der Scheisse! Then he left.
Pandemonium broke loose. Twenty people, with meager luggage in hand, were to be assembled on an isolated end of the station to await further directives: the chosen ones. . . the lucky ones who were allowed to remain. It was now unimportant for how long.
Revolting images in disarray. . . inner conflicts tear apart one's selfhood. . . Why them? Why not the workers of German plants and factories?
For the chosen group, individual dilemmas: to stay, or to go by train to the unknown because of their children, because of their parents: it is not easy to be a hero.
Najman made his last painful decision. Loud sobs escaped his chest, which he beat with his fists like a madman. Strong feelings of family love, of duty overpowered all logic and turned the scale of his life. There, at the end of the railroad station, seemed to be temporary safety, for a day, for days. . . who knows. Yet, here were his children, speechless with fright and insecurity. Trembling with every fiber of his muscular, young body, Najman, in a gesture of utter despair, threw his blue, symbolic cap to the ground. This cap, brought with seven others by Manela and Zamel a few days earlier from Piotrkow, became unexpectedly synonymous with survival. And now, by a twist of fate, arose a chance for someone else. Yudka Jakubowicz, standing nearby, picked up the cap the golden fleece of life to join the chosen group with his bride, lovely Hanka Dykerman.
Soon another glimmer of self-denial galvanized the attention and interest of many: the rescue of little Ania, the 4-year-old daughter of Dr. Rubinsztajn.
Behind the fence, among curious onlookers watching the last act of the Jewish tragedy, stood a Pole, a friend of Dr. Rubinsztajn. He had come to fetch the child: however, he was a day too late. The girl had but a few minutes to walk over to the other side. Yet there were no volunteers daring enough to extend a helping hand and cross the Rubicon with her. Then, in a split second, I saw my father heading in the direction of the fence. At his side, a young child. He stopped briefly to talk with the German guard at the post and then disappeared. Minutes stretched into infinity. . . I spotted him again. He returned unnoticed by the guard and, with wiry steps, came back to us. In his blue eyes, deep satisfaction, for he had performed an important task, an obligation of his heart. In times of the extreme degradation of mankind, when Jewish blood was cheaper than a loaf of bread, he did not forget to be human.
Soon enough, new, shattering happenings quickly overshadowed everything else, tearing to shreds the thin fabric of our hopes and illusions. A force of black-uniformed Germans arrived. They had a special mission.
Through the air tore a barbaric, diabolical order. Shuhe ausziehen! (Take your shoes off!)
The throng of people recoiled in terror. Exasperated voices of protest, indignation, and pleading, but above all the overwhelming roar of the Special Commando men and the sight of their dreadful rifles.
The children, left without shoes, whimpered from cold.
Mr. Altman, the Chairman of the Jewish Council, tried to intervene, but in vain. The Germans didn't have any mercy.
At the fence, as in a goldrush, quickly mushroomed clusters of young Poles war merchants and speculators. Heigh, Moshek, Josek, Srulek, come here! We have wooden shoes for you! We heard what's going on and want to help!
Josek Zamel was first to respond. How much?
It was a most exaggerated sum for a pair of sandals. One could get beautiful leather boots for that price on the black market. Yet, Josek Zamel had no alternative. His mother stood there, in stockings only, shivering from cold. Nothing was too expensive to ease her suffering. So, he purchased the wooden sandals. Others, though enraged and perturbed, followed his example.
In the middle of that mad bargaining and commotion, a peasant woman handed down a little blonde girl of five, Franka Pfefer Lipowska's only child, Halinka. The woman muttered defiantly, I am scared to keep her with us. I don't want to risk my life. The money we'll give back after the war. . . Franka fainted.
Night was already falling. Merciless winds blew mists of dust into our faces. The skies were covered with black clouds, which seemed about to burst any minute and come thundering to earth.
I sat on a knapsack stuffed with personal belongings, next to my mother. She pressed her pale cheek to mine and caressed my hair with her hand. Her eyes glowed with inner fire, as she said with determination: You have to stay! You must not go with the transport! Father will supply all necessary documents, and then run away! Do you hear me?! Run away! All of a sudden, the jeering whistle of the engine. The rhythmic rumble of the wheels. The train! The train is coming!
Menachem Sharon-Szmulewicz (in Talith), says the prayer surrounded by the Belchatower
leaders from all over the world. The time September 1989. The site the Nazi annihilation
camp in Chelmno, where people from the Third Reich annexed territories (as Belchatow
and Lodz) were gassed and destroyed. Towns like Warsaw and Piotrkow were situated in the
General Government and our Kedoshim were sent to Treblinka. The Belchatow delegation
also unveiled a bronze plaque in their hometown which proclaims the existence and
honors the Martyrdom of this once thriving Jewish community.
I felt my mother's breath on my face. I felt her fast-beating heart next to mine. With trembling hands she released herself from my embrace. Father tore me away from her and pulled me to the end of the platform, to safety, where the chosen ones waited in heartbreaking silence.
A wild horde of SS men jumped out of the cattle train a bellowing, angry horde with clubs, whips and pistols. They broke into the petrified multitude of men, women and children and pushed them forward into the black cavity of ill-smelling wagons.
Mother! I still had a last glimpse of her. A vague flash of a vision. In my narrowed perspective, a distant smile, a farewell gesture. . . My mother, who gave me life for the second time, was soon beyond my reach, lost in an undulant human sea.
It was a macabre, frightening reality.
An agonizing blood-curdling discord of screams, outcries, shouts and curses. And then the screeching sound of closing doors and the gruesome whistle of the locomotive.
I felt like an empty vacuum sinking into a bottomless abyss of nothingness.
The train with its human cargo our love, our world moved into the darkness of the cold night. Destination: the gas chambers of Treblinka.
The last Jews of Gorzkowice:
Chairman of the Jewish Council, Mr. Altman with his wife and son; Yudka Jakubowicz with his wife Hanka, and his sister; my father, Jakub Justman and myself. Majlech and Marysia Rosen, Zygmunt and Micia Pfefer, Motek and Zosia Winter, Josek and Lodzia Zamel, Henryk Magazanik, Mietek Manela, Dr. Rubinsztajn, and Haskielek Cwilich.
Dr. Rubinsztajn was shot at the railroad station in Gorzkowice during an unfortunate escape, and the remainder of the group, 19 people, was transferred to the Synagogue in Piotrkow several days later.
Several days before the evacuation, some thirty people were deported from Novo-Radomsk. They were the last Jews in hiding to be discovered and were held by the Jewish police. At the same time, three Jews from that town appeared in the Piotrkow Ghetto. They had either escaped from the transport or perhaps even from Treblinka itself, and they told of the fate which awaited those who were being deported. No one could fathom what they were describing and, in fact, the Judenrat commanded the Jewish police to arrest them for spreading false rumors in order to get gold and precious stones cheaply. Nevertheless, the ghetto boiled like a cauldron as a result of the many rumors. Everyone tried to locate and guarantee himself the best work-cards and each one was certain that he would be able to avoid the terrible fate of deportation.
On October 14, at about 7 or 8 P.M., Latvians and Ukrainians surrounded the ghetto and began to shoot. I lived near the northern border of the ghetto, where, from the very first moment, you could hear the shots, and as soon as anyone dared to look through the window, he was shot instantly. At night armed bands entered the homes, and not only did they help themselves to valuable articles, they also ravaged young girls.
Finally, the action began.
It was expedited systematically and calmly, one house after the other. Every second day, 6000 Jews were deported; on the last day it was our turn. Everyone left carrying his knapsack, lining up four across, and in this fashion they hustled us to the Zamkowy Platz, where we were again told to line up in fours.
The Piotrkower from Treblinka
|The late Dudek Lewkowicz with his wife Mania and their four month old son
Mark, in the UNRRA Camp 522 in Eschwege, Germany on August 28, 1946
Some time later, many people, who had been imprisoned in the synagogue since the earlier transport left, were also brought to the Zamkowy Platz. Members of the Gestapo circulated amongst us saying that whoever possessed government money should surrender it, since we would be traveling to another country, where we would not be able to buy anything with it anyway.
Many young children, who had probably been deserted by their mothers, or perhaps had gotten lost in the maddening throng, were also among us in the Plaza. The Gestapo men, however, were so kind that they gave the first, best women a child to care for.
At about noontime, we were marched to the train station, where they again detained and searched us. Whosoever had a good pair of shoes, or good clothes, had them taken away and thus, in only socks and slippers, were chased into the cars. About 80 to 125 people were herded into each freight car, and when the entire transport had boarded, they made us wait in the station for many hours. In torment and fearfully crowded conditions, we waited even longer and our guards, after a while, attacked us, seeking valuables, or offered to bring us a bottle of water for a large sum of money. Eventually, probably at about 7 P.M., the transport began to move in an unusual direction. We were later to find out that the reason for the long detention of the transport was that there were two empty freight cars, which caused them to conduct an additional roundup in order to fill them and complete the transport.
It was in the dark of night and difficult for us to make out which stations we had passed, but at dawn we were able to see that we had already passed through Warsaw and were now nearing Malkinia. From time to time we could see peasants along the way; they hung around the train lines as if they were working in the fields, despite the fact that it was already late autumn. They waited for someone in the freight cars to throw an article of clothing or perhaps a vessel of some kind, which they might have used to serve their natural needs, through the window. Everyone, including the children, had been confined since 12 noon. The peasants collected the pots and various articles of clothing and signalled to us in a secret way that we were going to our death.
After circumventing Malkinia, our transport arrived in Treblinka. We didn't actually see the Treblinka station, but some 7 kilometers beyond Malkinia our transport remained standing in a field, waiting. After a while, we were removed to the place of destruction. A wire-covered gate, decorated the green leaves so that no one would be able to see in from the outside, opened. However, from a distance of several kilometers one could see the smoke and smell the stench of burning flesh. Also, freshly filled ditches were evident near the camp. The area around there had been a forest that was cleared and the earth looked like whitish-yellow sand.
After our cars were directed to the ramps and the doors rolled open, Jews from earlier transports appeared. They were the so-called transport crews, wearing red ribbons. They drove us out quickly and cleaned the wagons as we were leaving. They hustled us along to the nearest place, where they separated the women and children from the men. The women and children were ushered into a barrack located to the left of the plaza, especially intended for them to strip down to their bare skin. After undressing and placing their clothes on the ground, they were transferred to another barrack, which was connected to the first, where benches were arranged for them to sit on. About twenty men who worked as barbers entered and shaved the women's hair, which was later packed into sacks, disinfected, and, afterwards, sent to Germany.
After being shaved, the women and children were rushed from the barrack through a beautiful avenue covered with white sand into a second camp, where the gas chambers were located. These were low, hermetically sealed brick barracks which had a wide, gate-like door on one side and, on the other, a small door. As many people as possible were packed into this space. After the doors closed, a nearby compressor extracted the air in order to save on gas, and, for lack of air, the people choked and their lungs exploded; thus the Nazis did not have to use much gas at all.
While the women were undressing in the barrack, the merit stood in rows across from the barrack and undressed too. Afterwards, they folded their clothes and knapsacks and tied their shoes together (those that still had them), and were chased, carrying their packages of clothes, to an adjacent plaza which was also surrounded by barbed wire and covered with green vines. Every few steps there stood a Gestapo agent, carrying a large blackjack, chasing ;and beating everyone as he passed. This is how they rushed the men, with their meager packages of clothes, along. They were instructed to throw their shoes onto one mound and their clothing onto another. Following this, they, too, were quickly herded into the same barrack which the women and children had just left and were ordered to gather up the remaining clothing. When everything was completed, the men were reunited and continued on the same path to their deaths.
How was it, then, that I survived?
I was standing together with everyone else when the camp elder called me and ordered me to stand aside. At first, I didn't obey, thinking that he had singled me out to be beaten. He called me again and remained standing against the wall with his face turned away. He then walked away and chose several other young people. In addition to myself, he also chose Yerakhmiel Schwartz, a certain Gomolinski, whose brothers I later met in Skarzysko, and the two Zizek brothers.
As we stood there waiting for further orders, to my utter surprise I recognized great personalities of the Piotrkow Ghetto amongst those waiting to undress. I also saw a number of Judenrat members and the Piotrkower Rabbi. I realized then that the Piotrkow Ghetto must have been completely liquidated. We stood to a side and with suffocating breath we witnessed the final moments of those near and dear to us. Our hearts stopped when we heard the Rabbi intone the Vidui (confession of sins) aloud. The entire throng repeated the prayer as they accompanied the Rabbi on his final journey.
After this entire procedure was completed, we were lined up in rows and sent out to the Plaza for our work assignments. Gomolinski and Zizek were transferred to another camp, and Yerakhmiel Schwartz and I were sent to the Lumpenplatz, where we were given the task of sorting clothes. This was a huge plaza with mountains of clothes and shoes. Several other people from the Piotrkow transport were also chosen, but I never saw them because they were transferred to another camp (Treblinka, a penal camp, which was located some 4 or 5 kilometers from the death camp). Several hundred Jews and Poles worked there, hacking out stones to be used for paving roads. No one could possibly survive the hard labor and meager rations for more than a few weeks. Each week they brought back 30 to 50 barely alive humans, who were later to meet their end in the gas chambers. Nothing more could be seen of them than bones and two frightened eyes.
On my second day in that fearful hell, which no one can adequately describe, I met a Piotrkower, Birnbaum by name, and also Lieberman, the second of three brothers, who had lived in Piotrkow and owned a jewelry store. His older and younger brothers had emigrated to Uruguay, I believe, but he had remained in Warsaw, where he later married. From the Warsaw Ghetto he and his family were deported to Treblinka, where now only he survived. I did not meet any other friends from Piotrkow because they had already died or been murdered. In Treblinka I met a larger group of Jews from Czestochowa because, prior to the evacuation of Czestochowa, it appeared that the Germans had changed their tactics. Before then, the Germans would send the clothes from the earlier deportees to Lublin to be cleaned and sorted. Now they decided that the sorting, cleaning and examining of the clothes for money, gold and diamonds which may have been overlooked should be done on the spot. For that reason, a larger number of people were chosen to sort the things from the transports arriving from Czestochowa and the vicinity of Kielce.
There were almost 700 of us and every group had its appointed job. There were Koch-Yudn Jews who worked in the Jewish, Ukrainian and German kitchens. Those who worked in special workshops considered themselves part of the elite. There was a forest company which went into the woods every day and returned with straw from which brooms were made. They were also engaged in doing some smuggling for the elite. The most sought-after article was alcohol, for which they were not paid a high price. There were also the transport crew and the Lumpen crew, to which I belonged.
I sorted and examined trousers; others, jackets; another groups sat and cut up entire breads and challahs into tiny pieces, looking for gold and diamonds; others sorted bed linens; still others sorted men's, women's and children's underwear. Shoes, too, were sorted. I worked at sorting haberdashery and wool. I was supposed to check to see if the packages of wool contained any American dollars, English pounds or even precious jewels and diamonds.
In the beginning of November (it was either the first or the second), a transport of Jews, deported from Tomaszow-Mazowiecki, arrived in Treblinka. On a certain day I think it might have been mid-November, (we had no calendar and could not differentiate one week from another, and since we worked Saturdays and Sundays, too, we couldn't even tell what day of the week it was; however, because of some newspapers we had found, we could orient ourselves more or less) a transport arrived with Jews from Berlin. They came in closed, regular passenger cars with seats. When the doors were gently opened and they were politely led onto the ramp, they asked if this was the Treblinka Colony. We were lined up as if we were porters. We took their valises so they would not have to carry them. We supported the older ones by slipping our arms through theirs and guided them carefully. They were to learn the truth only when they reached the baths.
A few days later, another transport arrived from Czechoslovakia and several people were chosen to work. Because several people escaped or were killed every day, the total number of laborers had to be increased to equal the number listed in the reports.
In late November, a transport came from the Radom Circle. The rumor was that these must be Jews from Staszow. The doors were opened, but no one walked out only the transport crew, who threw the bodies of dead men, women and children out of the cars. They had been shot and were frozen. Some of their heads were swollen and larger than their bodies, with eyes popping and their clothes bloody.
Several wagons (from which people had evidently tried to escape along the way,) were broken. The Germans had ordered the train to an off-route station and there they calmed the people with bullets; the rest froze to death because they were detained in the freezing cold for several days and nights.
At that time we were all taken from our work to convey the corpses of the before-mentioned transport. Four people carried a corpse in a blanket or a sheet. From the ramp we had to run to the nearby plaza, strip the body naked and toss it into the burning ditch. There were about 6000 dead corpses. Because the process of burning the bodies wasn't going fast enough, we had to lay out the dead uniformly. I shall never, ever, forget this picture as long as I live.
Then, four Jews from the Kielce area escaped one night, but they got lost and were captured near the Ukrainian barracks. At noon they were led out to the plaza, and after being ordered to take off their clothes and get down on their knees, they were shot. Later the beautiful S.S. man whom they nicknamed Lalke (doll) lectured us on the fact that there would be no purpose to our trying to escape because, no matter where we ran, we'd return, sooner or later, to the same point. We had no other opportunities and here life was good for us we had food and clothing. The doll had a dog called Barry. Our fear of him was as great as that of William's dog, who used to attack children at Trybunalski Plaza in Piotrkow. Barry could tear a chunk of flesh from anyone in the wink of an eye, and after such an encounter you had one foot in the next world anyway, since it would be impossible to get up in the morning and stand during the attendance check. When the housemaster reported that there was a sick person in his barrack, that person would be removed and promptly given either a fatal injection or a bullet to the head.
Early in December, 1944, the general province was already free of Jews and only small remnants remained in the diminished ghettos. That's when a transport of Jews from Grodno arrived. This particular transport did not show up, as all the others did, in the morning. It arrived much later, at night. After they were led to the plaza and made to undress, these Jews put up resistance. But what arms did they possess except G-d in their hearts and perhaps a few bottles of water? A few may even have had a knife. The shooting began and, in a little while, all was quiet again. One person from that transport succeeded in forcing his way into our barrack. He stabbed one of the men who was barring the door to the barrack with a knife and entered.
The Gestapo was alerted, however, and arrived soon thereafter. We were made to look at him. In the early morning, after the attendance check, we were forced to return to the plaza to clean the clothing of those who had been aboard the transport from Grodno, since they were immediately sent to the gas chambers and were not forced to carry their clothes to the appointed area. It seemed that the murderers wanted to be finished with that transport as quickly as possible.
Again, we witnessed a horrible sight: the dead little bodies of tiny children, discarded and frozen, lay around like worn-out, unimportant objects. It was the end of yet another Jewish ghetto.
Also at that time, a transport of Jews arrived from a concentration camp and not from a ghetto. These people, after being driven from demolished ghetto streets, were detained for a time in an enclosed camp. About 20,000 Jews had been gathered there and now they were brought to Treblinka, but without knapsacks on their backs, thin, and filthy. They were also lice-infested, and after that transport came through, an epidemic of typhus broke out in Treblinka. As soon as someone developed a fever, the doctor would visit him the following day and, by order of the Lalke, administered an injection which promptly cured him of all his pain.
During the entire time I was in Treblinka, my thoughts moved in only one direction: not to die in such a horrible way. The place where so many Jews were put to death was very important to me, but I wanted to die in another manner, not from contagious lice. I was constantly plagued by the thought of escaping from that hell.
Everyone thought about escaping but lacked the courage to undertake such an act. We would be running from one danger to another. Where could a Jew go then, and who would have permitted him to enter, especially in that region where poor Ukrainians lived. They would gladly have stolen a pair of shoes from Jewish feet, not to mention accept the 5 liter of alcohol or 10 kilos of sugar which the Germans would have given them for informing on a Jew whose clothing he would be allowed to removed later anyway.
Escaping was quite easy at first, because, in the afternoon, before heading home from the plaza where the clothes were being sorted and stacked in the mountainous hills, one could hide there. Then at night, one could escape by running through the barbed-wire fence covered with ivy. Later, during the count, at attendance time, when two or three people were missing, they could be replaced by the next incoming transport. As time went on, however, and escapees became widespread, so that even the speeches of the Lalke were no longer effective, as the fear of being shot did not keep people from running away, the Germans initiated another tactic. Every Kapo who had 200 people in his work detail received fiver overseers, each of whom was responsible for 40 people. Prior to every attendance check, he would line up his people in rows and, when one was missing, the other 39 had to find him. Also, one could no longer run away from the workplace, and certainly not from the barrack, which was surrounded by Ukrainian guards every night.
There now remained only one possibility for escaping and this had to be calculated by split-seconds.
At that time they began to construct guard towers with electric reflectors. Utilizing an electrical current to the reflectors, they could not simultaneously direct it to the wire electrified enclosure, since the current was too weak; this made escaping possible. I decided finally to take advantage of my only and last chance to escape. The latrine was located behind the barrack where I slept, or passed my sleepless nights, and about 2 meters from there was the beginning of the work area, which was also separated by barbed wire covered with ivy. So I, and a friend from the barrack whose sleeping place was next to mine, undertook a plan which was to give us no rest; we decided on a date right before Christmas holidays, since many Gestapo officers left for home on furlough at that time. They would be preparing for this for many weeks, packing their best and most expensive belongings, not excluding dollars and gold and precious gems for their families. The Ukrainians, too, would be busy preparing for the holidays, collecting alcohol from everywhere, plus sausages and gifts. We came to the conclusion that this would be the most advantageous and logical time, allowing us the opportunity to steal out of the camp and run for a distance of at least several kilometers.
One morning, immediately after being awakened, while it was still dark outside, we left the barrack to go to the latrine area to see how the situation looked like and to check whether the guard was stationed in front of the barrack or at the side of the latrine. Here we noticed two other camp inmates, who had already cut the wires in order to cross to the Lumpenplatz and from there to escape to the other side.
Instantly I told my friend that we must leave now, because the opportunity to escape this way might not be available to us the following day. We moved from words to actions in a second, following the first two men to the Plaza. I had hidden some money where I worked, but now we could not risk losing any time returning there to look for it. After we worked our way through the last barbed-wire fence, we glanced for the last time at the horrible place and darted forward, running through a heavy snow that had begun to fall over hills of sand which were heaped near the train tracks. We followed the road to the forest. In order to eradicate our tracks from the snow, we entered a small forest and hid there. After waiting there until midday, we started on our way again in a pouring rain. I opted for the road to Sokolow because going toward Malkinia would have been more dangerous. At about 2 in the afternoon, we circumvented Sokolov and continued further. At about 3 o'clock we stopped in a small village to rest a while. It was impossible for us to go any further because the hours of the civilian curfew were from 5 A.M. to 5 P.M. and the nearest town, Cizow, was about 27 kilometers away.
In order to provide ourselves with food along the way, we entered a village restaurant. It appeared that the owner was a Pole who had been evacuated from Gniezno and, after consulting with him about where we might spend the night and perhaps locate a cart to take us to Cizow, he advised us to choose the simplest way: the train. We still had time to catch it. We decided to postpone leaving for the train station and ordered something to eat. He then seemed to figure out who we were and promptly changed his tone. Pretending not to be suspicious of us, he even suggested our having a drink and later introduced us to his friend, who worked at the Soltys, explaining that, thanks to his intervention, we would now find a place to sleep at the home of a certain Ukrainian who had a wagon in which he would take us to Cizow, the following morning.
We agreed to this because we really had no other choice. Soon the writer from the Soltys arrived and brought along a Ukrainian peasant, who invited us to spend the night at his home. He promised to drive us in his wagon to Cizow at dawn the next morning. After we arrived at the peasant's house, his mother brought in two bundles of hay for us to bed down on the ground. Even before the light of the constantly available oil lamp had a chance to extinguish itself, the same village writer arrived, in the company of a Polish policeman.
I realized that we had been trapped in order for them to extract money from us. The policeman started to shout at the peasant for allowing us to sleep there because we might be partisans, spies or even Jews. After we identified ourselves (we gave Aryan names, of course), the peasant defended himself by saying that the clerk from the village office had brought us there. Again, a discussion ensued between the policeman and the clerk, who said that we the inkeeper's friends and that we were introduced by him as people he knew in Cizow.
After the questioning, the policeman escorted us to the inkeeper. While we were there, the policeman and the writer pretended to go to the German police, but in fact they remained outside, waiting for the inkeeper to resolve the matter with us.
The inkeeper began his speech by saying that he knew we were Jews, escapees from Treblinka, so he would like to help us. He advised us to escape through the back door to the highway and from there into the forest. We understood right away that as soon as we left his house that night, the writer and the policeman would shoot us on the road like dogs and remove everything we wore from our bodies. In addition, they would also receive, as a reward from the Germans, 5 liters of alcohol and 5 kilos of sugar for each of us. We immediately interrupted his talk at the word Jews, and I asked how much it would cost.
Actually, I had no money, but my partner-in-destiny had a thermos bottle, where he had hidden some Polish money and German Marks. After we concluded a deal with him for the sum of 1200 Polish Zlotys, he called the policeman and the writer in and they divided up the money. Afterwards, the policeman took us to the peasant's house, since if he exposed us at the inkeeper's house, he would also be shot. The policeman explained to the peasant that everything was in order and we had permission to remain there overnight.
We sat in the dark Polish house, impatiently waiting for the night to end. At 5 A.M. the peasant harnessed his horse to the wagon and took us to Cizow.
We finally arrived there without any problems. Again, we wandered through a strange city, seeking something that was impossible to find. We searched for any Jew, but all we saw were the remains of a small ghetto, a dead picture without a sign of humanity.
We hired a horse and wagon to take us to Siedlce because we did not want to chance taking the train. It was always filled to capacity with salesmen and smugglers transporting their wares, and the police often conducted searches.
We arrived in Siedlce at 3 P.M. and again, after walking several blocks, we wended our way, as evening arrived, to the train station and purchased two tickets to Warsaw. The train left Siedlce at 6 P.M. and we arrived at the main station in Warsaw at 8 P.M. The conductor told us that a train would be leaving for Czestochowa at about 8:30 P.M. It turned out, however, that there would be no express train to Czestochowa earlier than 12 midnight. There was no other choice but to buy two tickets and wait. Impatiently, we counted the minutes on the clock. At ten minutes before twelve, a megaphone announced the first cars were being reserved for Germans and the rear ones for Poles. After going out to the platform, we opted for the front cars, since I reasoned that they would not be searching and checking the Germans.
Having passed through Skierniewice and Koluszki without mishap, the train stopped, at the Piotrkow station at 3 o'clock in the morning. We couldn't go into the city because a patrol might stop us and we had no documents. We decided to follow the train tracks in the direction of the Kara and Hortensia glass works. I heard the town clock strike 5 A.M. Through a side road we headed toward the Jewish cemetery, where we would be able to turn onto Leonarda Street and enter the so-called tailor shop, which was located in the building which had once housed the Ort school. As we approached Leonarda, a policeman, warming himself at a fire, didn't want to allow us to pass. He announced that these were the streets where the ghetto had been located, they had not been cleaned after the Jews were deported. Though the night was dark, it seemed even darker to our eyes. The policeman told us to return to the station. (I told him that we wanted to go to the Silever Kolejka and come around the other side of the city, so that we could avoid the ghetto area from Cmentarna to Garntsarska.) Despite the fact that we could hardly drag ourselves any further, we took his advice. We headed toward Kosciuszki Platz via Torunska and there we heard the sound of wooden shoes. At that moment we met with a party of Jews whose leader was policeman Lolek Weishof; they were on their way to work at the Pheonix Glass Works, which were located not far from the Towarowa station.
A new glimmer of hope rose up in me: perhaps I was not the last of the survivors of the Piotrkow Ghetto. After asking about my family and my friends, and after purposely asking several naive questions, such as Is it true what they say? I accompanied them into the Glass Works. Lolek Weishof refused to take me into the block, saying that he feared denouncers, but he did take my friend, because no one knew him, and he brought him to the members of my family who had survived. My friend gave them news about me. The following day, he left the ghetto.
I, on the other hand, while at the Pheonix Glass Works, knocked at the door of a Polish family whom I knew very well from my business dealings before the war. I asked them to permit me to stay with them for one day because I had something to attend to with some Poles we knew in the neighborhood before I could enter the ghetto. They refused. I went to another Pole, who lived about a kilometer from the Glass Works, where I was able to stay for one day. In the evening I went out to see the city and, after spending the night, I left at dawn and went to wait for the group of Jews who would be going to work. This time their leader was Tuvye Perlmutter, who agreed to take me into the block. He told me about the 13 informers and said that the best thing to do would be to tell President Warszawski about my return. I obeyed him and, after coming into the block, we went right up to Warszawski 's apartment. He was very angry and shouted that he must now know about me and sent us away to see Lawyer Zylbershteyn, the chief-commander of the Jewish police. Zylbershteyn asked me innocent questions about Treblinka and directed me to Teitelbaum; there I had to answer more questions. It's possible that these questions sounded naive to me because no human mind could be capable of understanding what really had happened in Treblinka. With Teitelbaum my wanderings ended.
In the White House and the Police Station of the Piotrkow Ghetto, there was no longer any tumult, because only 2400 people remained, many of whom did not come from Piotrkow.
After reuniting me with my dear ones, the Judenrat wanted to get rid of me so they would not have to report me to the Gestapo. Warszawski's son-in-law, Lieberman, did everything he could to save me, as did the Judenrat member Samelson. They even advised me to leave the ghetto and travel to Radomsk, where there was a labor camp, or to Czestochowa. After all, I was in the block illegally.
After being in that horrible ghetto for several weeks, living happily under one roof with my surviving sister, her husband and their two sons, I prepared to escape beyond the ghetto walls. My plans to reach the partisans in the forest never materialized because a party of men and women were deported to the munition factory in Skarzysko. I was part of that party.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2013 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 9 Feb 2010 by LA