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[Page 444]

In the Sierpc Ghetto and in the Camps

by Hela Listapad-Izakowicz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Sierpc was occupied by the German soldiers on September 8, 1939. They beat the Jews in a bestial matter and robbed their goods. On the second night of Sukkot they burnt our sanctuary - the Great Synagogue. This depressed my father. He was lying in bed, sick and with broken morale. However, he strengthened himself, got out of bed, and ran with a pail of water to help put out the fire in our fine sanctuary. The goodwill of the Jews to save the synagogue from the flames surrounding it was fruitless. A certain yeshiva student, the son of Farber, who forced his way into the synagogue with self-sacrifice, was shot by the Germans.

After the terrible fire, my father's state of health took a strong turn for the worse, and he died in his own home after great suffering on October 15, 1939, prior to the expulsion from Sierpc. He was buried in the Sierpc cemetery, accompanied by his children, sons-in-law, grandchildren, relatives, neighbors and acquaintances. The Jews were jealous of my father, who had still merited to be brought appropriately to a Jewish burial.

On Wednesday, November 8, 1939, the Germans gathered the Jewish population in the old marketplace opposite the city hall. Under the chords of a wind orchestra and being mocked by those deporting them, they were loaded onto cargo wagons and sent to Warsaw.

In Sierpc, the murderers only left behind the craftsmen they needed. They were housed in a special place in the city and a ghetto was created.

The Jews of Sierpc, who lived in Warsaw after the deportation without a home and without livelihood, realized that there were still Jews remaining in Sierpc. They sneaked across the borders and returned to their hometown. My family and I did the same.

The German mayor appointed a Judenrat consisting of the following people: Yaakov Pukacz, Mendel Lis and Shlomo Kutner. These three people were given the responsibility for the remaining Jews in the ghetto in accordance with German instruction. There were no Jewish policemen in the Sierpc ghetto. Every day, the Judenrat had to give people over for various jobs, such as sweeping the streets, collecting the trash and other menial, dirty tasks.

On the way to the train, there was a rivulet which was known to us Sierpcers as “Jeziorki.” We would skate on the rivulet in the winter when it was frozen over. The celebrations of the sea holiday would take place there in the winter. The rivulet was neglected and full of dirt. The Germans decided to drain the rivulet, and employed some of the remaining Jews of Sierpc for that task, including my brother-in-law Yosef Karpa and his son, and my second brother-in-law Moshe Moszkowicz and his three sons. They all

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stood half naked in the mud and cleared the river.

Risking my life, I often sneaked from Sierpc to Warsaw, to my cousin Binyamin and his wife Sara Sobel, who at one time had been wealthy people and were known for their kindheartedness. I provided them with bread, meat, various baked goods and other necessities. During my smuggling trips, I was searched by Germans, but they did not recognize that I was Jewish on account of my blond hair, and I fortunately came out clean from the search each time. Each time my cousin saw me, she wept bitterly and lamented, “What are we living on?” I often brought my nephew Yosef Moszkowicz on my risky trips.

After a certain time, it became forbidden to travel to Warsaw. Even Poles were not allowed to travel. At that time, I decided to send my cousin money in a letter, without knowing the name of the place to send it. The prices in Warsaw were so high that the money was insufficient for the necessary expenses. In the interim, I received a letter from my cousin stating that her husband Binyamin had died from a disease of the nerves. With that news, the true tragedy in everyone's life began.

 

The Expulsion from Sierpc

At 5:00 a.m. on January 6, 1942, when the stars were still sparkling in the sky and the frost burnt the face, the Germans woke up the Jews of the ghetto. The confusion was great. Everyone took along what they could. All the property was carried to the “Ludowy” (People's House) in the New Market, where Nazi police took it. Everyone, men and women, was arranged separately, stripped naked, and searched in a bestial manner. They were searching for money, gold jewelry, foreign currency, etc. Every person was permitted to carry up to 20 German marks. Any person with whom was found valuables or currency was murderously tortured and beaten.

After the search that lasted for several hours, 50 people were loaded on the cargo truck, under Gestapo guard. Together with Jews from the Sierpc region, they were sent to Strzegowo in the Mlawa region. We arrived there in the evening, tired, hungry and half frozen. Many people who were left behind along the way were shot on the spot. I recall that Rivka Lipski and Noach Pukacz were among those shot.

A Judenrat was functioning in Strzegowo, consisting of B. Bojgen, Sh. Stawicki, and Rybak. They received us very well, and made every effort to provide us with housing, food and drink. When we were there, we received a very bad letter from my Sobol cousin, who was in Warsaw. She wanted to come to us. I discussed this with Mrs. Nijemczewko and decided to travel to Warsaw to bring our

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relatives and Mrs. Nijemczewko's relatives, who were in Warsaw, to us.

The border guard in Ciechanów arrested us, and took our money and food that we had with us. After 24 hours of arrest, they took us out to shoot us. We fell at the feet of the police, begged them and wept until their hearts softened and they permitted us to return home. After a long journey on foot, we arrived in Strzegowo tired, hungry and half frozen, and lay sick in bed for a few days.

A short time later, they captured Jews and sent them to Masajewo. There was a hard labor camp and an ammunition factory there. During such a hunt in the month of March they captured 20 men, including 3 Sierpcers: Efraim Yosef Lelionek, Yechezkel Pessa, Tovia Zeelni from Bieźuń, as well as others. The arrested people were placed in cellars. One of them, Moshe Gutsztat, escaped. They captured him and shot him on the spot.

After we sat in the cellars for six weeks, policemen came from the surrounding region and ordered the Jewish population to prepare gallows so that they could perpetrate the atrocity of hanging the Jews. All the Jews - old, sick, women following childbirth - were hauled out of their houses to witness the act of German bestiality. The Germans ordered that a father should hang his son, or on the other hand, a brother would hang a brother.

 

The Liquidation of the Camp and My Life Among the Farmers

On September 1 1942, the Germans began to liquidate the ghettos, as well as the Jews in the camps. From our camp, they sent off the elderly and the sick to the gas chambers. My mother was among them. I realized that the end of everybody was approaching and I decided to escape and return to Sierpc. I left the ghetto together with the Alterowicz sisters from the village of Jeżewo in the Sierpc district. We were successful, and we fortunately reached the suburbs of our former Sierpc. I was taken in by Mrs. Celina Kokowski, a very poor woman. Her husband was in captivity. I remained there for 16 months.

Of course I would have liked to remain with that honorable woman, but the village population knew that she was hiding a Jewish woman. Since everyone would suffer on account of this, I decided to leave there and seek a new home.

I left without the agreement of Mrs. Celina Kokowski. She would have never permitted me to leave her house. We lived together very well. That very evening when I left her home, the police came to search for me at Mrs. Kokowski's home. The Germans beat the woman soundly and demanded that she give me over. The woman claimed that she did not know me. The Germans noticed a piece of fresh pork, which they immediately demanded, and then they arrested the woman.

The information about the arrest on my account spread like lightning among the farmers. Therefore it was difficult for me to

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find a shelter. I wandered for many days. I could not spend the day at the places where I spent the night. I often spent the night in the field, in cement pipes and in other places where I could hide.

In the winter months of 1944, the police often conducted raids and searched for Jews who were hiding. An announcement was issued stating that every citizen who knew of a Jew would receive a prize of more than 500 Marks and other benefits, such as being permitted to slaughter animals, which at that time was forbidden. There were many volunteers for such rewards, and it was impossible to hide. During the night, I often had to sneak from one place to another where they did not know me.

I felt that my energy was leaving me, and therefore I became weary of life. My hope was that I would die a quick death and would not fall into the hands of the German murderers. I had no stable place to live. The farmers were afraid to take in a strange person.

During the ensuing months, I saw partisans, among whom there were also Jews. Then, my situation improved. I was able to work in a place for a long time. Thus did the situation maintain itself until January 20, 1945.

The war had ended. I returned to my hometown of Sierpc. A shudder went through me as I saw the ruins left behind by the German murderers. The town was empty of Jews. I could no longer meet with my relatives, neighbors and acquaintances.

My former Christian neighbor Mrs. Pataszinsko took me in and comforted me. However, I did not want to be dependent on anyone, and, wearing my wooden shoes and linen dress, I went out to look for acquaintances.

I met up with the sisters Celia Izakowicz and Eva Dygola, who had been hidden by Christians and survived by a miracle. The three of us began to do business to earn a livelihood. After a short time, we rented a dwelling in partnership and lived together, out of fear of being separate, for there were terrible attacks against the Jews by wild Polish anti-Semitic gangs.

One day, the mailman came to me, the same one from before the war, and brought me the news that a letter from America was awaiting me. I went with him to the post office, and to my great surprise, I saw a letter from my cousin Rashe Mintz from America. Tears of joy poured from my eyes.

 

Additional Declarations from Mrs. Listapad-Izakowicz

There were three Sierpc natives among the 20 hanged Jews in the Strzegowo Ghetto. I was a witness to the terrible murders and I remember well how they were carried out. Lipski and Levi Grossman were not hanged. Lipski was deported from the Strzegowo Ghetto to Auschwitz along with all the old people.

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When they were snatching people in the Strzegowo Ghetto to send them away, Levi Grossman and Moshe Gutsztat escaped together. They hid in the wheat fields. Shkotzim[1] began to shout “Jude” and show the Germans where the two Jews were. Two Germans who were conducting searches took the Jews and quickly shot them.

The following people were shot as they were deported from the Sierpc Ghetto: Noahke Pukacz, the Yellow Fleiszer's wife and 11-year-old son, and the son of Mulia Czarny. The child was ill. The father carried him on his shoulders. The Germans shot him in that position.

The Sierpc Ghetto was created in March or April 1940. Only those who were going out to work could leave the ghetto. Many people sneaked out. This primarily took place at noontime when the Germans were eating. Movement in the ghetto was permitted until 10:00 p.m.

Qualified tradesmen worked at their trades in the ghetto. Other ghetto residents were employed at sweeping the streets, cleaning the latrines and working in the fields for the Volksdeutschen (native Germans) in the vicinity who had become officers, policemen and merchants in the Jewish enterprises. For a day's work, the Volksdeutschen paid 80 pfennig, which was insufficient to live on. Requisitions for workers came to Yaakov Pukacz, and he sent them to work. He also received the money from the city hall and paid the workers.

Worshipping with a minyan [prayer quorum] was forbidden. Avraham Shochet's[2] son Shimon Petriks performed shechita [ritual slaughter] secretly. His mother and sister lived in Drobnyn. With the help of Yaakov Pukacz, from time to time the shochet received permission to travel to Drobnyn, where he also performed shechita in secret.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A derogative term for gentiles. Return
  2. Here it means Avraham the ritual slaughterer. Return


Sierpcer Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto

by Yechiel Nemlech of New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It was after the deportation from Sierpc. We had already been in Warsaw for over a year. Hunger was rampant in the streets of the ghetto and caused the deaths of thousands of Jews. The Germans took the younger people to labor camps. In our region around Sierpc and Plonsk, the situation was better. The hunger was not quite as severe.

In our home, we were still able to purchase necessities for survival. The question arose - what next? We decided to risk our lives and sneak out of the ghetto, where death from hunger was threatening. Someone would remain behind. I would go with my sister and my mother, and in the event that we did not succeed along the way, we would have a place to which to return and where to lay down our heads.

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Therefore, my brother Shmuel and my father remained in the Warsaw Ghetto. They agreed to remain since my brother worked for a Jew who commissioned apprentices for sheet metal work for the Germans. Therefore, it was certain that he would not be taken to the camp, and would have a morsel of bread. My father felt too weak to go on the journey.

We set out - my only sister Adela who was older than me, my mother, and I. With great tribulation and terror, we broke out of the Warsaw Ghetto and smuggled our way to Plonsk. There were still Jews there, and we were together with acquaintances.

There was also a ghetto in Plonsk, but the situation was far better than in Warsaw. They were still not hungry, for it was easier to smuggle in food. That part of Poland was also designated as part of the Third Reich. They treated us well, but not for long.

At that time, it was perilous to host a person who was not registered by the city council, and registering was impossible. We succeeded in obtaining work with a farmer in a village in exchange for a bit of food. We indeed did so. By chance, we succeeded in obtaining positions not far from each other. This was the beginning of the summer, and we tended to grazing animals in return for a bit of food. We were content with the work. We hoped to bring the rest of the family to us soon, so we could all be together.

Sunday was a day off for us, when the employers did not force us to work, so I went to visit my beloved sister and dear mother. Jews sneaked into the Plonsk Ghetto in great numbers. Whoever had the energy would risk his life and escape from the Warsaw Ghetto. This was noticed by the German authorities of Plonsk, and they conducted a search for Jews in the entire district of Plonsk. Whoever could not show the appropriate papers was sent away.

After some time, a Sierpcer told me that they had sent these people off to a camp in Pomiechówek. My beloved mother and sister were also among those sent away.

I was 18 years old at that time. I felt lonesome and alone. As I was following the cattle in the broad fields and meadows on summer days, I would usually think about everything that transpired. I was taken by a desire to somehow memorialize the deportation of Sierpc and the subsequent suffering of the deportees. I wrote in verse everything that took place with us[1].

On a fine bright early morning
When nobody had yet
Begun to think
About the fresh statutes,
Suddenly - to us
Who were sitting by the door and the window;
Like thieves in the forest
They ordered us to leave our homes immediately
Naked, barefoot, without clothing, we had to go
Along the path of hunger and pain

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Trusted fathers and mothers
Where should we go?
They ordered us to go to the marketplace.
All Jews had to gather there.
They issued further commands to us,
And prodded us to the train with music.
We had to go into the trains
As if we were going into stables.
They beat us and plagued us with sticks -
And we went to Nowy Dwór.

In Nowy Dwór, they shouted at us again:
“Jews, arrange yourselves in rows!”
As a sign that we must go.
They began to shoot at us
A lament, a plea from Jews to Jews:
“Jews, let us in,
We are deathly tired,
From a journey of an entire day,
Open the doors and gates
And then we will tell you
About our suffering and pain.

And after spending only one night,
They issued a new order:
In the early morning, there was a cry and a lament,
The Nowy Dwór police
Had taken over the government
And we moved again toward suffering,
For they sent us to Warsaw,
In Warsaw, in the large synagogue -
And in every synagogue, there was new death,
A new victim every minute,
That is how they behaved toward us.

Jews of Sierpc, do not be discouraged
For you will not be bloodied forever.

A new time will come,
When we will all be free!
A time will come,
When we all together
Will be joyous and glad
In our own homes!

My dream did not come true… European Jewry was destroyed… Including the community of Sierpc and my own dear family.

I went through the hell of Auschwitz and Dachau, and survived miraculously. After spending a few years in liberated Germany, I, along with a few other fellow natives, succeeded in coming to America with the help of our important and beloved fellow native and friend Sineh, where we began a new life.


Translator's Footnote

  1. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: We bring these verses as a memorial to the survival of the author (editor). Return


[Page 451]

Life in the Ghetto and the Activity of the Partisans

by Hela Listapad-Izakowicz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Sierpc Ghetto consisted of Kilinskiego Street, or as it was called earlier, the Wlokes or the Gurno.

We were not hungry in the ghetto. Everyone had their own farmers they knew in the villages. People sneaked out of the ghetto and arranged for food. Everyone had to go to work: men, women, and young girls. Children between the ages of ten and twelve wandered in the streets, assembled cigarettes and did various similar jobs.

During the evening, it was forbidden to venture beyond the borders of the ghetto. Police guarded us. There were more than 500 of us in the ghetto, of whom 200 had a permit to cross into the Aryan side. These were the tradesmen, tailors, shoemakers, and others who worked at their trades. Those who did not have a trade had to engage in menial work such clearing garbage, cleaning the streets, etc.

Eighteen-year-old Yisca Zemelman, the daughter of Rachel and Hirsch Zemelman, caught a cold during the course of her work and died within a few days.

The ghetto was not closed, but rather guarded. We found hiding places with Poles.

At the beginning of the German occupation, we had to wear a yellow patch on the right side with the word “Jude.” Later, these were replaced with larger yellow patches with a black, 12 centimeter, Magen David. Every Jew had to wear such patches - one in the front and one in the back. Whoever was caught without the Jewish designation was warned or sent to concentration camps.

We lived under very crowded circumstances in the ghetto. The dwellings were small. Many people would be housed in a large dwelling.

The old Beis Midrash was turned into a concentration camp. Poles caught conducting illegal business were also imprisoned there.

We were taken to Strzegowo in January 1942. The Jews of Plock had been sent there earlier than we were. They were led through Sierpc. They begged us for bread. Meir Zemelman, collecting garbage that day, went into a bakery in order to obtain bread for the Plock Jews. The Gestapo men captured him, led him to Dzialdowo, and murdered him there.

In general, the Poles did not behave badly toward the Jews. The more intellectual Poles were also persecuted by the Germans - of course, not to the same degree as the Jews. However, they were expelled from their fine houses.

The two Kiszelewski brothers, grandchildren of the elder Kiszelewskis, belonged to the partisans. One of them was called Zelik, and the name of the other I do not recall. They survived the occupation, but unfortunately, after the liberation, they were

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murdered by the “A. K.” (Armie Krajowo). Heniek Pszenica as well as the young Brorocz youth from Janczowo also met the same death.

Many people hid in the Plock forests or in the so-called “Tzelinsker Velder.” The situation of the Jews improved when the partisan groups were organized. If the partisans found out that someone had turned in a Jew, that person would be killed the next morning on his own bed. The farmers were afraid, and began to help the hidden Jews.

In the city, the Germans took the houses of the Jews: Koplowicz from the old market, Tzina Lewin, Gotlibowski, Czarnoczapka from the Fareh Street in which there was a charitable fund, Pianke's house, as well as the houses of: Noach Pukacz from Ząbie, Katszalki, Mintz, the tailor's, Jedwabnik, and Grodka. On Warsaw Street, the hut where the Rosenbergs lived, Mianczin's where Leib Krysztal lived, Pundek', Nachum Tatz, Joszelewski', and Zemelman's. On the Jewish Street, aside from Glazman's and the old Beis Midrash, all the houses were together. There were the houses of Chodower, Grona, Karmilski, Wluka, Rozenek, and Sakowicz in which Shia “Koze” lived. Further, there were the houses of Reszatka, Lelonek, Czarnabrades, and Gonsior whose house housed the Jewish mikva [ritual bath], and Szampan's house in which Kasiarz lived. Szwaczer's large house remained standing. There were also the houses of Myranc, Kramarsz, Skurki, old Szapira the watchmaker, Lea Panfil, Kutner, Blum, as well as many other Jewish houses that were also taken.

 

German Murders in the Strzegowo Camp

There were no Jewish police in the Sierpc Ghetto. On the other hand, in the Strzegowo Camp, there were Jewish police under the supervision of the Judenrat, consisting of the following people: Yossel Nijemczewko, the Kiselewski brothers, Feldman the butcher from Rudzienice, and Lederman.

Feldman was shot in Strzegowo. The Germans noticed that he paid too much attention to a loaf of bread that his wife held in her hands. During the role call, Feldman was ordered to prepare the Jews to travel. The Gestapo men grabbed the bread and pierced it with a spear. Foreign currency and gold fell from it.

It seemed that Feldman had obtained the holdings as ransom from various people who were to be sent to concentration camps. In their place, he sent others who did not have the means to pay. That is how the business went until the Germans shot him before everyone's eyes.

In Strzegowo, the Germans paid 80 pfennig a day for work. It was impossible to live from this money. The Jews found ways to manage. Whoever was a tradesman would quietly work in his home, even for Christians. Others would sneak to the villages and bring back from there whatever was possible. I belonged to the latter group. There were many Poles among the village dwellers who sent us potatoes

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and bread. There were also some Germans who helped. However, most of them would rob from us what they could, and beat us murderously.

The Germans especially tortured elderly women who were unable to take on any work. The last elderly women sneaked out of the ghetto, which was not closed off, and helped the farmers work the ground. They hid in the villages.

There were only Sierpcers in the ghetto, aside from one family - Avraham Derewiczer and his wife from Żuromin. Everybody thought about how to survive. Many went out to the town at night, and returned to their work in the early morning. Nobody thought about clothing.

Once Mrs. Nedzwijedz (nee Podskocz), wrote a letter in German to the Starosta [district head] on behalf of a Christian, requesting that the Christian's son be freed from the concentration camp. The Germans summoned the Christian and asked her who wrote the fine letter for her. She gave over the address, and the Gestapo dragged Mrs. Nedzwijedz out of bed at night and sent her to a penal camp in Wymyślin, where the German commandant chopped her up with a sword. The unfortunate victim begged the murderer to kill her with one blow, but this was to no avail. He quartered her body in a wild, bestial manner until she died. The bloodied body was placed on a wagon and driven to the Jewish cemetery. Four Sierpc Jews were summoned to the funeral, including my brother-in-law Moshe Moszkowicz. Throughout the entire journey, the boards of the wagon trickled with the blood of the deceased victim.

Moshe Lidzbarski's 16-year-old daughter met a similar death.


In the Camps

by Y. Ch. Grinberg

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Stalag[1], Auschwitz, and Mauthausen

In 1914, the German authorities set up a Stalag Camp near Konigsberg for the Jewish war captives. All the Jewish war captives from the Polish army were concentrated in that camp. My friend Yechiel Borensztajn and I were also brought there.

After a short time, an order was issued to take all of the Jewish war captives to Lublin. Already then, we became familiar with the concept of a death march, for that is what the Germans perpetrated in Lublin. They demanded 300,000 zloty from the Judenrat in order to call off the aktion. As soon as they received the money, they broke their word and the aktion was perpetrated. A transport was prepared and

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dispatched. It went in an unknown direction. Later, we found out that they murdered everyone.

With the belief that we would not avoid death when we would come to Lublin, my friend Bornsztajn and I decided to escape from the transport. When we arrived at the Gdanska Station in Warsaw, we both jumped out and started to run. The German guards noticed us and began to shoot after us with automatic weapons. We succeeded in hiding among the bunkers. We remained there for a few hours, until the train departed.

We came out of our hiding place and set out for the city. After a short time in Warsaw, I set out for Plonsk, where my family lived. I remained there until 1942, when the Germans liquidated the local ghetto and sent everyone to Auschwitz. That time, I did not succeed in fleeing, and I had to be a witness of my entire family being murdered in the camp. I was in Auschwitz until 1944, when the evacuation began. Then, they sent us to the Mauthausen Camp in Germany[2], where hundreds of people died daily from hunger or were shot and murdered by the S.S.

I lived through the terrible situation until May 4, 1945, when the American Army liberated me.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag Return
  2. Mauthausen is actually in Austria. Return


In Auschwitz

by Yechiel Nemlich

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It took place on December 5, 1942. It was a cold day. It snowed fiercely, and it seemed that nature was the only thing that sympathized with the fate of the Jews and was infuriated with the injustice being perpetrated against us.

We had already been travelling for a number of days, and we did not know the direction. Suddenly, our train stopped. We did not know where we were located, but we instinctively felt that this was the place were the fate of many of us would be sealed. After remaining on the ramp for12 hours in sealed wagons packed with people who had no place to sit or even to stand, and where one could literally choke from the air, they opened the wagons. S.S. men were waiting for us, who raised a commotion just like a bunch of hungry wolves would do when they saw a pack of sheep.

Frightful scenes, which I do not have the power to describe, took place as we exited the wagons.

With the help of dogs and beatings from the butts of rifles, the terrified masses, who were nestled against each other, were placed five in a row, and the young Oberscharführer began to conduct the

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selektion. The number of those to be sent to death increased by the minute. Transport trucks ready to transport the victims were filled up with people, who were loaded up like herring in a barrel. Most of them were women, children and elderly men. The line became smaller, and as my row approached, I felt that the coming minute would determine my fate. I was the only one left from the entire family. Images of my parents and our house passed before my eyes as if in a film…

Suddenly I heard that the S.S. man asked me my name, age and trade. I answered him mechanically, and I heard him say to me, “To the left.” I went to the group who was waiting for the vehicles, and then I heard the voice of the S.S. man again, “Return, to the right!”

I returned as if in a dream. At first I looked around and saw that I was in the company of only young, sturdy men who were guarded severely by the S.S. men. They put us in rows of five, and we marched.

A deathly silence pervaded in the rows. Nobody talked. We heard only the orders of the officers who chased us and urged us to go faster. Each of us was immersed in our own thoughts. It is not hard to imagine what each person was thinking about. Everyone's thoughts were focused on those who were driven away by the vehicles. Almost every one of us had someone who was among them. Each person was thinking only, “Will I see them again?”

However, the officers did not even let us think. They chased us and prodded us to go faster. The way was difficult. The ground was soft in places, and our legs would sink up to the knee in the mud. The only thing that we wished for was to come to the camp, lie down and go to sleep. However, the shouts of the officers, the mud on the feet, and the broken hearts kept us awake.

We suddenly saw the light of electric lamps in the terrible darkness. We were approaching the camp. The yellow light of the electric lamps unfolded before our eyes.

I was assigned to live in block 14. Despite the fact that we were occupied with the various camp formalities for the entire night, they sent us to work in the morning. In the commando unit to which I was assigned, I met several of my friends who had arrived in Auschwitz in earlier transports. They knew the camp very well. Most of them had become weakened and tired. When we went to work they asked us, the neophytes, to go slowly, for they had no energy. However, we had to be careful of going slowly, for the kapo would beat us for that.

The workday in the camp went as follows. In the morning, the inmates [häftlinge] would search for a commando where the work was easy. A commotion would break out, and the kapos and S.S. men would instill order via beatings and torture. After organizing the commando units, we would go out to work to the accompaniment of the camp band. The return from work was even worse. The men,

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tired from work and beatings by the S.S. men, could barely drag their feet. A certain number of them could not walk at all, and the other inmates had to help them. People also died during the return from work. And the same dismal train, as it arrived to the camp tower, had to go slowly, cheerfully, as if on an excursion, as it entered the camp to the accompaniment of the same band.

When we returned from work after an entire day of difficult labor, we had no rest. In the block, we were tormented by the block elder and the house elder.

That is how the days and weeks went by, filled with need and pain, until, one day a registration of a new commando took place in the camp. They only took those who were in good shape and of sturdy build. Immediately following the registration, the arbeitsdienst leaders of the camp ordered all the men between the ages of 21 and 32 to report in. Younger and older people also registered, for the registration would free them from a day of work, which was the greatest holiday for the inmates of Auschwitz. Shortly thereafter, we found out that they sterilized all the men.

At the same time, that is around the New Year of 1943, they began to organize transports for “Buna”[1] in Auschwitz I. I registered for such a transport and arrived in Auschwitz I.

In Buna, we were almost given the possibility of surviving the terrible time. They put me in a school for the brick trade, which prepared us for various building roles. We went to work during the severe cold, and this helped me extraordinarily. On the other hand, I suffered greatly from the block elder and especially from the Polish kapo who was known by the name Kacmarek. That man displayed great sadism to the Jews, and he tortured us throughout the entire winter.

When spring came, they sent us to various building jobs. At first, we were not content with the work. Later, however, after we had already worked for a certain time, we began to feel that this was the best place to have a hope of surviving the war. Civilian workers worked together wish us, and we often obtained something to eat from them, or we bought something if we had money. We were, however, strongly warned by the S.S. to refrain from talking with civilians. For such a “crime” we would be punished with a “bunk stay.”

That same year, I was sent back to Birkenau, for they needed bricklayers there. I found most of my friends in that camp. They were tortured, and I felt their loneliness. They housed me in Block 7, Camp D. The number of inmates had

[Page 457]

greatly increased at the time. They had started to bring in Jews from all the countries that the Germans had occupied. Selektions took place every day, and the crematoria operated day and night.

They brought Hungarian Jews to us in 1944. At the end of that year, on account of the approach of the Red Army, they evacuated “our” camp and sent us deep into Germany. I myself was sent to Dachau, where I was enlisted in the Kaufering subcamp[2], Camp II. Sick and broken, I was liberated from there on April 30, 1945 by the American Army.

German Cruelty and the Tormented Life as a Refugee in the Soviet Union by Beila Rabinowicz

My father was a cantor and shochet [ritual slaughterer] in Sierpc. He had studied the cantorial arts with the famous Cantor Gershon Sirotta. My father served as a cantor in Sierpc from 1907 until 1939, the year of the misfortune of the German extermination. I spent my childhood in the Beis Yaakov School. Later I went to a public school, and I found my social position within the Hashomer Hatzair educational youth group.

I can never forget the large fire that blazed on the Jewish street when the Germans set the synagogue on fire. We ran to a neighbor, from where we looked out through a window. Suddenly, my father shouted, “Children, look. The Holy Ark is falling down.”

We heard a shot. People who tried to save the Torah scrolls fell victim. All of us neighbors went out to our neighbor Yechezkel Kadecki, where we sat down in fear for the entire night.

The next morning, the murderers imposed a contribution upon us Jews as a fine for having set the synagogue on fire.

I recall further details of the first sadistic murderous deeds of the Germans. The Gestapo ran about in the slaughterhouse, where they found my father slaughtering a hen. One of the thieves ran to him, ripped the knife away from him, pushed him away and shouted, “Do you not know that slaughtering is forbidden.” Then the murderer ripped out my father's beard together with some flesh. He was dripping with blood, and the murderer laughed out loud from his great enjoyment.

My father came home all bloodied, and called out, “Blessed is he who revives the dead, I was saved from their hands.”

I recall another incident, which took place on Rosh Hashanah. They gathered together a considerable number of householders, including my father and our neighbor Yechezkel Kadecki, and sent them to the market to clean the busses. The Germans mocked the Jews and sadistically beat them, only leaving them alone in the evening.

My father once again came home

[Page 458]

beaten, wearing bloodied clothes. His beard was shorn, and he had two bloodied eyes from the beatings. That is how we spent our Jewish holidays and weekdays until the expulsion.

The expulsion day began with alarms and shots from the Gestapo. All the Jews had to present themselves in the market near the Magistrate. We stood for the second day. We put some jewelry in a pillow, so it might help us in a time of need. As we arrived in the market, we were no longer among the well-pedigreed. Jews were already waiting with packs, sacks, pillows and mantles, with young and old children, the elderly and the sick. It was a drab scene, which causes me to shudder even today as I recall it.

The sorrowful group was prodded onto the train. There, we waited for the neighboring towns of Żuromin and Bieżuń. Together, we traveled on our way to Pomiechówek. As we traveled, we heard shots and alarms from the wagons. The shots were from the Gestapo murderers. I recall the heartrending scenes at every incident of shooting by the murderers. My father and other Jews shouted out “Shema Yisrael” at every such incident and bid each other farewell.

They let us out in a field and ordered us to strip naked. They robbed us of what we had, murderously beat us, and prodded us on with beatings through Jablona, Nowy Dwór to Warsaw.

We did not remain in Warsaw for long. My older brother took us to Ciechanów. The expulsion had not yet taken place in the town. From Ciechanów, my brother and I went over to Soviet territory. There, we found our younger brother. We consulted regarding how to bring over our parents. However, it was too late, for the borders were already closed. The Russians sent my brother and me to Archangelsk. We do not know anything about what happened to our other brother. We worked at cutting wood in the forests of Archangelsk. That is the way things were for a year and a half. Then, they sent us to Central Asia to “warm up” in a cotton kolkhoz [collective farm].

Forty deportees lived with us. We worked very hard. We approached a food “Makoycha” for cattle, and with some sort of greeting, we called it Libedo. As we were picking the cotton at work, we “approached” somewhat with the kernels that we had removed from the cotton. There was a bit of oil in it[3]. Every day, the number of people ill with dysentery increased. The illness ended the lives of many. Among them was my brother Yisraelik, who died with the same death from hunger. After his death, the true tribulations began for me: lonely, homeless, hungry, and epidemics all around. A person would indeed be stronger than iron if he could hold out.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Buna was a subcamp of Auschwitz. Return
  2. Kaufering camps were a series of subcamps of Dachau. Return
  3. These two sentences are a bit convoluted, and I cannot parse the exact meaning. But it seems that there was some storehouse for animal fodder which may have been somewhat edible, or perhaps some person who distributed animal feed. They exchanged some of the cotton seed for some food that was edible by humans. Return


German Cruelty and the Tormented Life
as a Refugee in the Soviet Union

by Beila Rabinowicz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My father was a cantor and shochet [ritual slaughterer] in Sierpc. He studied the cantorial arts from the famous cantor Gershon Sirota[1]. My father practiced as a cantor in Sierpc from 1907 until 1939, the time of the misfortune of the German annihilation of the Jews. My childhood was spent in the Beis Yaakov School and ended in a public school. I eventually found my societal place in the Hashomer Hatzair educational youth movement.

I will never forget the great fire that spread through the Jewish street when the Germans set the synagogue on fire. We ran to a neighbor. From there, we looked out the window. Suddenly, my father shouted, “Children, look. The Holy Ark is tumbling down.”

We heard a shot. Victims who ran to save the Torah scrolls fell. All the neighbors, including us, went out to our neighbor Yechezkel Kadecki, where we sat in fear for the entire night.

The next morning, the murderers imposed a contribution upon the Jews as a fine upon us for burning down the synagogue…

I recall other details from the first sadistic murderous deeds of the Germans. The Gestapo ran into the slaughterhouse and found my father slaughtering a hen. One of the robbers ran around and ripped away the knife, pushed him away and shouted out, “Do you not know that slaughtering is forbidden?” Then the murderer ripped off my father's beard together with some flesh. Blood spurted, and the murderer laughed out loud with wild enjoyment.

My father came home bloodied and called out, “Blessed is He who revives the dead, and saved me from their hands.”

I recall another incident. It was Rosh Hashanah. A considerable group of householders, including my father and my neighbor Yechezkel Kadecki, were gathered together and brought to the market to clean the buses. The Germans mocked the Jews and beat them sadistically. They only let them go toward evening.

My father once again came home

[Page 458]

beaten and with bloodied clothing. His beard had been shorn, and he had two black eyes from the beatings. That is how our holy days as well as our weekdays passed until the expulsion.

The expulsion day began with alarms and shots from the Gestapo. All the Jews had to assemble themselves in the market near the Magistrate. We had to stand there for a second day. We put some jewelry into a pouch and took it with us as a means of salvation in case of need. When we arrived at the market, we were no longer among those in a good station of life. Jews were already waiting with packages, sacks, pouches, and cloaks. There were younger and older children, old and sick people. It was a dire picture that makes me shudder even today as I remember it.

The sorrowful procession was prodded to the train. There, we waited for neighboring towns: Zuromin and Biezun. Together we travelled on the way to torment. As we traveled, we heard shots and alarms over the wagons. The shots were from the Gestapo murderers. I remember the heartrending scenes at each shot from the murderers. My father and other Jews called out each time “Shema Yisrael.” People were speaking with each other.

They let us off in a field and ordered us to strip naked. They robbed all of our possessions, beat us murderously, and prodded us on further to Jablonna, Nowy Dwór and onward to Warsaw with beatings.

We did not remain in Warsaw for long. My older brother took us over to Ciechanow. The deportation had not occurred in that town. From Ciechanow, my brother and I moved over to Soviet territory. There we met up with our younger brother.

We attempted to bring our parents over, but it was already too late. The borders were already closed. The Russians took my brother and me to Archangelsk. We no longer heard anything about our other brother. A year and a half passed in that manner. Then, we were sent to Central Asia to “warm up” in a cotton-growing kolkhoz [collective farm].

Forty evacuated people lived with us. We worked very hard. We were nourished by a food called “Makvicha” for animals and with a sort of grit that we called libeda. At work, when we picked flax from the field, we “nourished” ourselves a bit with the kernels that we removed from the flax. They had a bit of oil in them. The number of people ill with dysentery increased by the day. Many people's lives ended because of the illness. My brother Yisraelik was among those whose lives ended with that same death from hunger. After his death, the true tribulations began for me: loneliness, homelessness, hunger, and general epidemics. A person who could hold up through all this was indeed stronger than iron.


Translator's Footnote

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gershon_Sirota Return


[Page 459]

One Occurrence from Among Many

by Chava Digala

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I recall the day, the tragic day. It was on January 16, 1942, when the remaining Jews from the surrounding towns were gathered together. They sent us to the Strzegowo Ghetto.

After a year in the ghetto, we heard the dismal news that they were going to kill us all. I decided to escape from the ghetto with my two children, my sister, and three orphaned children of another sister who had perished in the ghetto, and whose husband had been killed in a concentration camp.

We escaped in the middle of the night of November 1, 1942. Hela Izakowicz also fled with us. We arrived in the Sierpc district. There, we all separated. Each of us had to save ourselves separately. I cannot describe the pain that I suffered when I had to part from my two young children. Each set out on a different path. I did not see my children for several months, and they were not together with each other.

Fate had it that I and my elder son survived, whereas my younger son Shmuel was killed by the hand of the murderous Germans four months before liberation. My sister Lea became ill, and there was nothing with which to save her from the arms of death. My sister's son was murdered like the others. We were liberated in the Sierpc district, and we met up with each other after the liberation. We came to Sierpc, where we found a few more Jews. Around us it was a ruin and a cemetery. After a few months, we decided to go to Germany in order to travel from there to our homeland.


On the Verge of Extermination

by Yaakov ben Shlomo Juzelewski

Translated by Alex Weingarten

The terminal, the last station of life. This is the station that is “honorably” situated at the foot of the snowy Carpathian Mountains, glistening white from great distances. A station that contains within it a complete history, a tragic history of a people led to slaughter, a history etched in blood and torment. The station that had not yet recovered from the horror scene of the previous night, but was roused again by the same feverish activity that augurs only evil. The prey dash madly as if accompanied by the shadow of the Angel of Death. It was not easy to dispel the strange and awful impression that every corner heralded the coming of death. From every side, lustful eyes that “looked and didn't see” watched with revenge, a pathetic revenge against enemies that only yesterday were friends that fought shoulder to shoulder against a common foe.

That same town at the foot of the Carpathians, Auschwitz, was again awakened to the sound of the wheels of the passing train with its living cargo going to extermination. The citizens of the town knew, from the registry of those living in their country, the number of “Kikes” that had been sentenced to annihilation. Again and again they smiled at the calamitous end of the innocent victims. Again and again, that “noble” nation revealed its true face. Not the slightest pangs of conscience about the enormous offense committed in their motherland or the eternal stain that covers their hands because of this crime.

The train slowed down. Gray freight cars, full of people who had just been deprived of any power to resist and any will to live. Shut off and surrounded, detached from any means of existence, destroyed both spiritually and physically. People who had left nothing behind, except for anonymous graves where their loved ones were buried, victims of torment and suffering, victims of plagues and murders who, in spite of all the horrors, at least received a burial. These poor souls stand, squeezed against each other, pressing their young ones to their breasts, as if to protect them from wild beasts. Terror and fear are in their eyes, and on their lips, a prayer.

Prayer - no! It was a silent scream, the scream of a human being about to die. The silent scream of the victim in the hands of his killer. A silent scream that, even if it were voiced, would not have been heard by the rulers of the world.

The squeal of the brakes and a sudden shift: horrendous yelling of uniformed men accompanied by barking dogs brought the victims face to face with the grim reality. Blows to the head and bites by hungry dogs, like “masters who declared themselves the superior race, the bearers and representatives of world culture,” these added to the fright and panic in the hearts of the oppressed and shocked travelers; screams; howling and cries for help. The voices of infants calling for their parents when they were in the hands of those who had torn them away; severed heads everywhere. The place was like a slaughter house for human beings.

Knocks and kicks, blows to the heads of children and elderly, rending of children from their parents, shots to the heads of old men along with screams, contempt, and curses. This is what those thousands faced on that morning, shadows of human beings, lost and cut off from the rest of the world.

The Angel of Death reaped his harvest. They passed in front of him like a flock of sheep, and received their sentence. And he, with his furious eyes and thunderous voice, raised his sickle and brought it down pitilessly on young and old, man and woman. With one stroke, families were separated, children from parents, husbands from wives. One by one, they passed in their final parade, with their terrified eyes, searching and yearning, looking at the groups arranged in files, testing and examining the surroundings. Maybe, perhaps, they will meet someone. To gaze for a final time at the most loved one. To take leave with a silent glance forever.

The marchers disappeared in the dense thickets (as if planted to hide the great terror and horrors) on their way to eternity. Silent and mourning, their eyes weeping and their lips trembling, their legs walked down the narrow path as they surveyed their surroundings. On every side they met the glances of their enemies and murderers.

The gates opened wide, and the large yard swallowed the sacrifices.

Above the treetops, the tall smokestacks stood out, belching tongues of flame and smoke. The tongues of flame were there all day and all night. All day and all night, the pure souls of the holy martyrs who were suffocated in the gas chambers ascended skyward.

The portals of the world didn't tremble, and the day was not darkened by the smoke and fire that rose, carrying the souls of children and elders, men and women, who wait up high for their salvation.

The final station, Auschwitz - the place where our nation tragically lost a third of its sons, and where our parents and brothers and sisters from the community of Sierpc also died. The place will be cursed forever. The nation that raised sons who could perform such horrendous crimes will be cursed, and the nation that aided them will also be cursed.


Wartime Memories

by Binem Maj

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My parents -- my father Moshe Aharon, my mother Freida -- my brother Shmuel and I lived in Sierpc prior to the war, in a small wooden house near the synagogue. The house was an inheritance from generation to generation. My Uncle Berman, who also lived there in that house in good health, was also a partner in that inheritance.

My father, Jew for all seasons, worshipped in the old Beis Midrash during the week, and in his usual place in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He earned his livelihood from his business by selling fancy goods on the street. My mother also assisted with the livelihood. We lived on meager means. From my childhood, I recall that my father was always occupied with Torah and books, and my mother would often ask, “What will be the end of sitting and learning in the house if there is no livelihood?” My father would answer that learning is also a “livelihood,” for one can see from the Torah how little a person needs to have.

Aside from religious books, my father also read newspapers and books. He had premonitions of the Second World War and also predicted the terrible suffering that the Jews would endure during the war years. When I was in the midst of Hitler's tortures and the extermination camps, I recalled my father's speech.

As I have already mentioned, we were two brothers in the house, in whom our parents placed great hope that we would grow up, and whose earnings would help ease the very difficult situation. Unfortunately, things turned out entirely differently. We did not bring them any joy, and did not ease the livelihood. On the contrary, they had to worry about us.

I, the elder son Binem, went out at age 13 to learn a trade. I joined the left leaning Poale Zion Party[1]. My parents did not like this at all. However, I must tell the truth. I received an entirely different education in Poale Zion, which served me well during the time of torment in the German extermination camps.

My spiritual mentors in Poale Zion were Itshe Binem Rosenberg, Eliahu Grossman, Pesach Grossman, the Feinberg brothers, and other members whose names I no longer recall. Unfortunately, none of them survived the onslaught of Hitler's Germany. There were murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto along with the thousands of other Jews. Honor to their memory!

My brother Shmuel joined the same group. Our thoughts began to turn toward the future. Anti-Semitism, from which we suffered greatly as children, was rampant in Poland. Therefore, we began to think about going to the Land of Israel.

Within a period of time, we decided at home that one of us would go to a kibbutz and go through the Hachshara [formal aliya preparations], so that he could go to the Land of Israel. I, the older brother, would work in the meantime to earn the amount necessary for a certificate[2].

Shmuel indeed went out to “Hechalutz Haklal

[Page 462]

Hatzioni” [ General Zionist Poineers]. After several months, he was sent to Lomza, and was one of the first founders of that Hachshara depot. He worked hard physically; however his ideal became even stronger. I helped him from time to time with my earnings. However, unfortunately, he became overly vital to the party. They saw him as a person full of energy, love and life, dedicated to the Zionist ideal. They appointed him as the organizer of other kibbutz Hachshara depots in the district of Łodz, Zgierz, and Zduńska Wola.

That is how his youth passed. He spent six years in the kibbutzim. In the interim, others went to the Land of Israel, while he remained behind forging a path for us. Time marched on. The war between Poland and Germany began. I then saw him and was together with him for the last time. He had already obtained a certificate, but it was unfortunately too late. I received a draft notice from the Polish Army to be prepared to enlist and be ready for the war against Germany. They did not let my brother leave Poland.

The war broke out with lightning speed. I fought at the Modlin Fortress[3]. However, after one month of fighting, I was taken into captivity with all the others. I remained in captivity until 1940. At that time, a command was issued that all Jewish soldiers are to be freed. We understood that they were going to kill all the Jews together.

They did indeed free us, but I no longer had a home, for our town Sierpc had already been Judenrein[4] for a long time. In Lublin, I found out that all the Jews from the towns of the Warsaw region were now residing in Warsaw. I sneaked into Warsaw, and after a great deal of searching, I found my parents -- my father, my mother, my aunt Berman and her son Yisraelik, my daughter-in-law and her child, my daughter Dina and her husband, as well as many other people from our city.

My father had so greatly changed throughout the entire time that I could barely recognize him. He was broken from tribulations, hunger, and the living conditions of twenty people in one house. He no longer wore the black Jewish cap out of fear that he beard might be cut off. My mother held up somehow. Unfortunately, I could not help my parents.

I learnt about the fate of my brother from my parents. When the Germans entered Sierpc, they arrested my brother and a certain number of other youths as Zionists. After several weeks in prison, they were sent to Białystok. He jumped out of a window of the moving train and fled to Vilna in a manner that I do not know.

In Vilna, he again founded a kibbutz, set up contact with fellow natives in America, with my Berman cousins, and also with Zionist circles who helped him. From time to time, he sent packages of food and money to my parents.

I realized that Warsaw was not for me, and I decided, with the knowledge of my parents, that I must get out of there. Since I was still dressed in military garb, I set out by foot pretending to be an invalid, to whom

[Page 463]

the Germans behaved properly. Thus did I arrive in Plock, but I did not have energy to go further.

A short time later, I received the news that my father Moshe Aharon had died in the hospital. This was in 1940, two weeks before Passover. The reason for his death was understandable: he could not withstand the tribulations, hunger and weakness. All of this precipitated his premature death. I received no news about what was happening with my mother. Apparently, she was killed along with many thousands of other Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. I also found out that my only brother was also killed in the Vilna Kibbutz when Hitler's soldiers took over the city.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Poale Zion had split into left leaning and right leaning factions. Return
  2. Certificates were issued by the Zionist authorities to authorize aliya. At times, there were restricted quantities of certificates available. Return
  3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modlin_Fortress Return
  4. Nazi terminology for an area emptied of Jews. Return


[Page 479]

Autumn in Poland

by Ephraim Talmi (Wluka)

Translated by Alex Weingarten

In Memoriam for my Parents, my Teachers
My mother Mindel and my father Avraham, their souls are in Eden

 

A
 
The paths we played on grew silent The rustle of the leaves in fall
The mound of grass paled and yellowed Only that can be heard
Trees were standing bereft A loss, abandoned reigns here
With sadness that knows no rest… Forlorn is the universe and tearful…
 
B
In the Fall
 
Weary of walking On the horizon - the wood…
In the midst of the leaves Quiet surrounds me, and serenity.
I was tired The peace of fall reigns…
Sitting on a milestone The world sprawls like an open book
The fields greening and yellowing to infinity Tilled, sowed.
Caress the boundaries of the sky… Come, I will fall to my knees
The pale blue becalms like after a storm… I will kiss that rim…
  Sierpc 1938, 5699

 

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