Same text follows in Hebrew.
Their eternal rest, their memory
by Binem Heler
Translated by Pamela Russ
The road stretches to Bialystok
Through the sunny village and the forest.
In the auto, in the middle of the way,
I felt that I detained someone.
Did I hear a scream?
The light air vibrated
A moment, another, I hear:
My heart is constricting from the waiting
These are the heroes of May
The fire did not choke them
The last and thin row
The road to the village is closed
After a while the vision disappears
* Gwardia Ludowa or GL was an underground armed organization created by the communist Polish Workers Party in German occupied Poland, with sponsorship from the Soviet Union.
by Yosef Gurni
Translated by Jane, Mikhail Freider and
Between those memories there are events that were imprinted in our memory in spite of their distance. They could not be forgotten; they are part of our feelings. Maybe only now, after many years it's possible to define a level of unexpectancy and fear during a first bombing attack, first sign of war.
During that summer of 1939 when I was a sixth year old boy the surrounding world was changing. In one day it has changed from a world of tenderness, spoiling and joy to a dark, angry world full of worries about the father who was being on the war front.
I didn't understand completely what is a war and during first days of the war I was in the ignorant state, full of despair and fear. Though I listened patriotic songs playing on a radio and I, a boy, really believed them. The war front was still far and I believed that there was no power that could break great Polish soldiers.
Adults thought differently. They packed stuff in boxes to leave to Warsaw. They thought that a miracle would happen in 1939 the same way as it was twenty years ago in Warsaw. This way I first understood what is the war on the bright fall morning. I still don't know how German pilot decided to drop a bomb exactly on our calm street. Our world woke up from the ringing sounds of breaking glass. My first reaction was to hide under the blanket that was a defense from the surroundings. That morning my mother woke me up earlier to finish packing our stuff. At that moment my mother was very much like a tigress than a home chicken. She ran to men and cover me by her body and then we embracing each other hid behind the commode and we heard the sound of dropping bomb from there. After that there was heavy silence, suspicious silence. Besides the fact that we are still alive we didn't know whether it was the end or just the beginning of the bombing. After that voices of people asking for their children and relatives resounded around. There were a lot of cries and tears. Desire to stay alive hurried us away from this place. We left together with grandfather. Last part of the family had to join us near the bridge over the river Bug. I, full of fright and curiosity, squeezed to my grandfather body. House walls were like witches with black faces, there was smell of burning, sounds of cries from the center of the town.
Nothing surprised and shocked me anymore. Neither crying wounded people that were lying here and there, nor died people who were at least covered, not even a Jewish cabman who abused a goy in the fireman clothes. He was standing on the cart, pulling the horse reins by one hand and beating the goy using a whip in another hand.
This goy was trying to push the cabman down from the cart (surely he wanted to take a cart for himself). Jew beats goy! a thought fast as lightning came through my head and I even felt a pride for a moment. My childish wounded pride was very satisfied by this fact because of continuous pursuit by the goy gang.
There was another world after the bridge. Blue waters of the river Bug flew in the eternal calmness. Fields were green and a sky was blue. Smoke didn't cover everything in the black color yet. We were lying near the road and waiting for a cart.
In Warsaw we arrived at the evening. It admitted us with alarm sounds, guns fire and discharges of air defense artillery.
Beaten and wounded Poland was still defending.
by Moyshe Venger
Translated by Jane, Sofia,
Mikhail Freider, Mikhail M.,
and Vladimir Fronton
We passed the bridge and entered the forest with many other families from Wyszków: Malkhiel the Ritual Slaughterer, Pshetitski and others. Planes fired on the running people and spread death. Every couple minutes we were lying on the ground, once going up we found that my coat has got holes from bullets. We were running through the forest in the direction of Jadow.
Wanders During Voyage
At the end of forest on the way to Jadow we met wounded people after the bombing. Among them there was Rokhele Shkarlat. She was being taken on the cart to a doctor. At that time everybody ate together in one common because Leybish Pshetitski had taken some food provisions from his bakery shop. We arrived in Jadow in the early morning. Immediately we were bombed by planes. A lot of people hid in a grocery store but I don't remember the name of this store. One rich and kind Jew invited us and gave us food, drinks and beds. There were no authorities left in Jadow at that time. Polish army ran and Germans were expected to arrive in the town. All of us left this town and hid in trenches from guns' firing. Someone shouted that it would be better if Germans had come already because our fear was too big. Next day Germans came in the town and found hammered doors and gates. It took them half a day to do all their affairs and they started goods requisition. Some families from Wyszków stayed too long in Jadow that time. Leybish Pshetitski went to look at his house and didn't come back ever. Germans killed him on the way.
During those days Germans and Poles killed all Jews in Wyszków and burned everything. People told Germans occupied Wyszków in vengeance because Poles killed fifteen German spies there. We saw a lot of Jews from different towns in Jadow; they passed me this hard news. My mother's sister and all her family Youngsteyn were killed in Karlishem.
Under Soviet Rule
There were rumors that Soviet Army was coming. In the beginning when Soviet authority just settled everybody was glad. People prepared to meet the ones who would be walking through the town. When we were going through Wengrow we've spent a night in Reyzman family and visited our acquaintances there. We met the Rubin family and also Fayvele Shran with his wife Ite who was in a dangerous condition (her leg was injured with bomb's splinter). Fayvele Baharav, their father of son-in-law, a very good Jew, never left them and helped her all the time before she died.
We arrived in Kosow at night and Red Army detained us. In commendant's office we explained (with arms and legs) that we ran from Germans and now we have families and jobs here. Later we were freed. First days in Kosow we felt very free. Red Army showed movies on the streets. They propagandized how to behave in foreign country. Red Army didn't stay in Kosow for long.
We were allowed to go with the army. The border was opened for about two weeks. A very small number of people went with army. But we wandered with a hope to find a better life those days. My sister Khletche prepared to go in Wyszków. In days of wandering she recovered and hired a cart to go to Lochow and then to Wyszków by train. Her speech and appearance wasn't similar to Jewish woman. Her travel lasted ten days and she came back with bad news. We found out that Wyszków was occupied. Our house was destroyed. And we had to think of place to live. These days Germans came in Kosow. A lot of Jews didn't come back there and tried to find a job.
Our family had important discussion and it was decided that my brother and I had to cross the border, find some job and later the whole family will come to us. We and many other families hired a cart to go to the border. We went through the forest avoiding any bands of robbers. This was we arrived to the German border. We were examined and all our things were taken away. Every Jew received ten golden coins and we were taken to the river so that we can swim through the border under gun's fire. We had to pay two golden coins per a person for this. When we reached another bank a few soviet people with rifles came to meet us. And they clearly ordered us to go back. My brother Moyshe told them something in Russian and explained that we can't go back because we would be killed there. Soldiers told us to go to the commendant's office. There we were examined again and we were told to wait in the yard. This night we were taken somewhere. On the way we met other groups of Jews that were convoyed too. We arrived in neutral zone near Malkin. There were people from special services. Near Malkin station Soviet soldiers gathered together about six thousand old people, children, parents. There were staying on the open field in rain and cold. Speculators sold bread for big money. A lot of people died without medical help there. We sent a delegate to ask to free us but it didn't help. After that we decided to explode a bar and free ourselves. We waited for a moment when there were fewer guards. Mothers with little children were moved to the front and old people stood behind them. On the predefined time the bar was exploded and a mass of people went out. Young girls began to kiss soldiers. Some people were so excited because of these events and then all people were singing International. Soldiers who sat in trenches near border greeted us. We arrived to Zareby Koscielne station. At about two o'clock at night there were several thousands people from Poland in the forest. Together we moved forward to Tshehanovcy where we've been met and given a cargo train to move to Bialyastok.
In Bialyastok we came to town committee. They gave a half loaf of rye bread to everybody and told to go to Folvark that is about 15 km from Bialyastok. We came to the town committee of Folvark. They didn't admit us and we came back to Bialyastok under a heavy downpour. Nobody admitted us again. Then we decided to come to Jewish baker.
You can't imagine how bad was our situation at that time, we took off our boots, dried them our and sold them to buy bread. Then we spend horrible days when we had no place to sleep. Even synagogue was completely full of people. There we met the Farber family who wanted to give us a place to sleep for a night but they had many louse. Then we ran to the rail station but there was no place too. We were wandering around this way until we get a job in the bathes where we could wash ourselves. My brother Moyshe knew this job before from Israel. From this time we slept at our workplace. In Bialyastok we met with many families from Wyszków: Asti and his family (I've heard they died from hunger in Russia later), Tchekhanogura and his family, the Shults family, Srebnik and his family, Shran with his son and daughter, Itche Baharav, Nayman with his son, Frayman and the Segal family who had a place to live. Many people from Wyszków found each other. We gave a place to sleep to others together with Moyshe Stolik. All were glad about this meeting. Ours from Wyszków were working and trading buying old clothes on the market and then selling them. Everyone who was from Wyszków let in others in the lines. My brother Moyshe couldn't be in Bialyastok any more and was pursuing every possibility to return to Kosow to my mother and sister. At this moment I've got a postcard from my family to return back to them. Also at this time Soviet authorities started registration. Everybody who wants to get a passport must stay in USSR and move forward because they didn't allow to stay in Bialyastok; others had to go back to Germans. Most of people signed to go back to their families who were left in Poland. Many families who went together with echelons further into Russia couldn't live there and came back to Bialyastok. These families signed to return back to Germans. Many people thought that it would be better in Poland in the end. But the end came actually. We were not allowed to go back. We started to grow accustomed to the new life. Everyone lived as one can. Some tragic night around 12 o'clock, everyone who didn't have a soviet passport was arrested. Immediately they were taken in the echelons to Siberia, into the jails and concentration camps.
by Leibel Popowski, Buenos Aires
Translated by Pamela Russ
It is the first day of World War Two. We had no idea what sort of catastrophe was going to come about. It was only on Shabbath in the evening, when darkness fell on our town, that the German planes flew overhead and dropped several bombs on a nearby gypsy camp. They had noticed a fire there. And this was only a taste [of what was to come].
Sunday morning the first refugees from western Poland appeared. We no longer went to work or to do business, but only listened to the radio and accompanied friends to the army. The shutters were covered with paper but after the first explosion, the [the shutters] fell off. Ditches were prepared so people could protect themselves from the dropping bombs but the ditches ended up not being used. We prepared food for two weeks but we did not even have a chance to eat the provisions.
On Monday morning, we had the first air attack; there were not many dead and wounded. At around eleven in the morning, I went to Pultuski Street. The flow of refugees increased. Then the second air attack happened. When I ran back, yellow [blond?] Chaim (the gaiter maker), who was speaking to me a few minutes earlier was already lying dead on the sidewalk. Next to him was lying another old man. The wounded were pleading for help.
After lunch, another air attack was repeated. Shaul Dan found his sister who was wounded. He ran to the infirmary and found no one there. Near their house there was a policeman lying on the ground. He died from the same bomb.
Tuesday morning, the Germans began to throw fire bombs. Everything was burning. People were running from one place to another. My father and I ran into the cellar.
The bomb that exploded in the church square ripped off the door to our cellar. We left the cellar, and together with our mother went to YankelDovid Shuster. In the afternoon, it became quiet. The fires spread. There were only a few people in the streets. The police had run away. One policeman told me: It's time to run away!
I quickly said to my brother Velvel, who was standing at the fishermen street:
Tell our parents that I am running to Jadow to bring my cousin's horse and wagon. Then we will all go to Jadow, because it is quiet there.
I left, crossed the bridge, and went on my way. On the road, everything was on fire, even the grass. In Skuszew, I met Pulye Skarlat with his wife and daughter. Her neck was scarred with burn wounds. I helped them take her over to a farmer. They got into a wagon and left.
When I was halfway to Jadow, I met Yozef Krawczik. He told me that Jadow was also bombed and we decided to spend the night in the forest. In the morning, we went to search for food from the surrounding farmers.
In the forest, I found many Jews from Wyszkow. It seemed to me that the entire Jewish community had come into the forest. I didn't have the courage to ask about my parents. They told me that they had been here the entire night. In the morning, they had gone to Jadow. My heart was overjoyed, and I left to Jadow. On the way, there was another bombing. When we came to Jadow, I found out that my parents had gone to a more secure place. I came to them at night, with a few other men. We slept in an attic with hay. We saw burning fires at a distance.
We arrived to Jadow very early and settled in at friends' homes. Here there were also many Jews from Wyszkow and Pultusk. The very friendly Jadower Jews gave us a roof over our head. The bakers worked by day and night in order to provide the Jews with bread. If they were missing flour, they ran to the farmers in the surrounding villages, putting their lives at stake.
The Germans came into Jadow and took over the city without even one shot. Because of that, nothing was destroyed. The Germans announced that they had to leave because the Russians would be coming soon. We learned about this by reading a German newspaper. By that time, the Russians were already in Bialystok, Brisk, and were approaching the Bug River. For us, this was the best news.
In Jadow, we, a group of Jews, discussed among ourselves about running off to Wyszkow in the hope of maybe rescuing ourselves. On the way, we met Beryl Koval, who warned us:
Come right back if you don't want the Germans to torture you as they did Leybish Pszeticki and the butcher. They too went home from Jadow. And more, there was nothing to find in Wyszkow. Everything there was destroyed. It was all one mountain of ash, mixed with dead bodies. The air was so fetid that even the German horses did not want to go through those places.
In Jadow, the Germans kept us in perpetual fear. They robbed, cut beards, and raped.
Finally, we received news that the Russians had arrived in Stok and in Kosow, but they were not coming to Jadow. I and my friend Motel Gzhende went to Stok and there found no Russians and no Jews. So we left to Kosow, and there was great joy there. The Red Army was already there. We went to a friend's home, and tired from the road, we went to sleep.
In the middle of the night, we heard the marching of the military. Our friend went out into the street and soon returned with the bad news that the Russians were retreating across the Bug River where the new border was going to be set up. So we also left during the night, because in the morning it might be too late. On the way to the Bug, we were drenched by the night's rainfall. In the morning, when we came to the Bug, the sun was shining. It was much easier for us; the Russians smiled at us …
In the town Denir, on the other side of the Bug River, it was all happiness and celebration. Jews felt more secure because the Red Army would stay there. There was rumor that the border would stay open for a short time. You would be able to go back and forth. My friend did leave for Jadow in order to bring back his parents and my parents.
Meanwhile, I stayed with strangers, and I did not have any money to pay for their hospitality.
On the third day, not being able to wait any longer for my parents, I left for Bialystok to my cousins where I stayed until my parents and my brother Velvel and my sister's daughter also arrived. Then all of us left to a settlement not far from the city.
All the open halls [salons] in Bialystok, as well as the synagogues and Batei Midrashim, were packed with people from across the border who had run away. People slept on the bare floor. I went out to look for my acquaintances.
In about a week's time, the Russians announced that whoever wanted to go deep into Russia could enlist. And immediately, those who had registered were in splendid wagons, with steel ovens, and cots for sleeping.
We arrived in Toloczyn, White Russia [Belarus], and began to acclimate to our new lives.
About a year and a half later, Germany already attacked the Soviet Union. I was drafted into the Red Army. I had to separate from my parents. Soon the German army invaded Toloczyn where my parents had remained. I never heard from them again.
I took part in the fight with the Hitlerist mobs, and was wounded. In the Moscow hospital, where I was in the spring of 1944, I heard the news that the Red Army had liberated the city of Toloczyn. I immediately sent a letter to the city administration with a question about the fate of my parents. The answer was that they knew nothing…
With my parents were: my brother Velvel; my sister's son and daughter. Their parents had likely died in Warsaw. My oldest brother Moishe and his daughter, who lived in Luniniec (Kressen), where they went after leaving Wyszkow, were also killed by murderous hands.
Honor their memory!
by Kh. A.
Translated by Pamela Russ
Wyszkow was taken over by the Germans soon after the fall of Warsaw. Their first job was to rob from the Jews, and then take everything they could get their hands on, even furniture. In particular, they very much liked the bed linen. From almost each house, they took the pillows, blankets, bed covers. It was difficult to understand for what purpose they needed so much bed linen.
Then an order was given that no Jew was allowed to be out in the street. The order applied for several days. Later a new order. All the Jews should assemble in the middle of the marketplace. Armed Germans ran through the houses like wild beasts, and herded the Jews together. When all the Jews were in the marketplace, they were chased behind the city. No one knew where they were going. Finally they were told to stop so that they could be chased into stables that were there. When the Jews filled up the barns, the murderers set fire to one of them. Huge flames flew up from all sides and thick clouds of smoke, mixed with the screams of the victims, flew up to the heavens. The Jews who were locked into the other stables tore open the gates and began to run. The Hitlerists opened a murderous shooting on those who were running. Many fell to their death, others were wounded. During that massacre, 77 Jews were shot and burned to death. Among them eight Christians.
From the V A Materials in New York, Number 1140 Wyszkow
by Tzvi Yakov Gemora, New York
Translated by Pamela Russ
Friday, September 1, 1939, when the war broke out, Nazi airplanes appeared over the town. They didn't throw bombs, but we felt the tragedy in the first days of the war. On September 5, at five AM, Wyszkow was already in flames on all four sides. The city was shot up by machine guns. There were already many dead and wounded. Sadly, one person could not help the other. Everyone had to help himself as much as he could. Men searched for their wives; desperate women were searching for their husbands, and together, they searched for their children. A terrible wailing carried across the entire city and everyone was running.
I am running through the street that held the large Bais Medrash. I see how the Bais Medrash is in flames, and the old sick people who were inside are screaming with desperate shouts:
Tragically, they all died. The souls of the holy martyrs, along with the letters of the holy Torah, were carried by flames directly to heaven.
We are running again and we look around. Many of our Wyszkower Jews are already gone. We run into the house where our Rav, of blessed memory, lived. We discuss with him what to do. It was hard to think of a way to save ourselves.
Later, a government official came to take away the Rav. When he left the city, he said goodbye to us, and tears were running down his face. He wished us that we should be helped. This scene with our revered Rav is difficult to describe.
We decided to leave Wyszkow. A crowd of Jews were leaving in the direction of the wooden bridge, to go into the forest, so that they could continue to run from there. When we were already on the bridge, in the middle of this terrible situation, we saw how the German airplanes were flying overhead and throwing down bombs.
Fortunately, the bombs fell into the water. A few hours later, when we were already on the ground in the forest, we heard how the bridge was blown up. Later, people who were running out of the city had to take boats to cross to the other shore. In the forest, they said that the Nazis were already rampant in the city. The Batei Midrashim, Batei Tefilos [houses of prayer], khassidim shtiebelech [small, khassidic synagogues], were all burned down. A few days later, almost everything was destroyed by bombs, artillery shootings, and fires.
After four days of wandering in the forest, we arrived to the town of Jadowa. After about three days, the Nazis also arrived in Jadowa. The city was full of Jewish refugees from the surrounding areas. There was a great panic. There was nowhere to sleep at night. The streets were also filled with refugees. Because of the crampedness, everyone pushed themselves into attics and cellars. There was not enough food, no ability to wash oneself properly. Epidemics began to spread in Jadowa. Meanwhile, the Days of Awe [Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur] arrived.
We received horrifying news. On Yom Kippur, the Wengrower Rav, of blessed memory, was killed. We decided to leave Jadowa right after Yom Kippur, and with great difficulty we struggled to the border.
by Lemel Rubin, Paris
Translated by Pamela Russ
The First Days
Tuesday, September 5, 1939, on the fifth day since the outbreak of the war, Wyszkow was bombed. Almost the entire population of the city ran across the bridge into the forest to seek protection. My family and I, as well as our neighbors Rochel Frumowycz and her two daughters Chava and Faige, together with the Holdins, who had their own horse and wagon, stayed in hiding in the Wyszkower forest. You couldn't go any farther because there were too many people on the wagon. By chance, we met a Polak in the forest, from Przasnysz, who had two horses and a wagon. He did not want to go back, because the Germans were already in his town. So we agreed that he would make available to us his wagon and the horses, and for that we would take care of him and his fourfooters [horses] all the way, and at the end of the trip we would pay him well.
Once again, we went on the road, but with a larger number of families: Asher Golanski with his wife and children; my brotherinlaw Yosel Holand and his wife, and also my dear mother LibaRoiza Rubin, who later died; Rochel Frumowycz, with her two children; Holand with his wife and children; Szniadower with his wife and children.
We left at night, but we were thinking: Maybe it would be right to go back? We knew that the city was almost completely burned down. The only thing left was the teacher Domb. Many residents left to Bialystok, Grodno, and to the small towns.
We rode at night, rested during the day, and remained in hiding. Eating became very difficult, and finding water was even worse. We drank from the puddles in the forest, fetid and filthy. These treks lasted eleven days.
As we went through Wengrow, we met the Wyszkower wealthy man EliMeyer Goldman, and took the opportunity to complain about the worth and worthlessness of the amassed possessions and estates that become nothing during times of war… At the same time, I told him that on the way, I had met another wealthy Wyszkower man, YechielMeyer Rubin. He and his wife were roaming on foot, and looked like all the other refugees who had left our city.
We arrived in the town of Lachowicze. Since this place was actually on the border, it was impossible to remain here. Asher Golanski had his fellow businessmen in Lachowicze, with whom he did business, and they set us all up in a neighboring village. After staying there for three days, we happily decided to go back to Lachowicze, because the Red Army had entered the town. Now our sufferings had come to an end. We were freed.
At that time, we did not yet know what the new border would look like between Germany and Russia. All kinds of rumors were circulating. So, we stayed in Lachowicze, but thought that it would be right to send out a few people to Wyszkow. I had a particular interest in doing so because I had buried a lot of leather in my stall, and this was still a very valuable article, particularly for the Russians. My son had to go back to Wyszkow. But how, if there were no trains or buses traveling? Because of that, there were always groups of Soviet military on the highways. A pair of boots and a piece of leather enabled my son to board a Soviet military car and drive in the direction of Wyszkow. Other children and families, who were with us, went along with him.
One week passed and we had no news from the children. Our worry and unrest grew. We even had complaints about ourselves. We may have wanted to save our possessions, but with that we risked the lives of the children. Suddenly great joy! The children had come back, but they recounted their terrible experiences. When they came to Ostrow, the city was already taken over by the Germans who dragged out several hundred Jews from their homes and began shooting. The children survived with their lives and ran off to Zombrowa, where the Russians were. There could no longer be any discussion of going to Wyszkow.
Later, the Wyszkower resident Yankele arrived in Lachowicze. He used to trade old things; he was the soninlaw of blond Faige the fishmonger. He said that a bomb had hit my stall and revealed the hidden merchandise that was then stolen by the Polaks. Now, there was no longer any interest in thinking about our possessions in Wyszkow. We decided to leave Lachowicze and go to Baranowicze.
In Baranowicze, I looked for familiar tanners and took to selling their leather, and I was assured of some income. Some time later, I began working in my own vocation, sent the children to gymnasium, and we lived with the hope that the war would end and we would return to our homes.
Meanwhile, the Soviets announced that whoever wanted to return to their homes could register with the Germans. But those who did not want to return had to get Soviet passports and become Russian citizens, and they would no longer be allowed to return to their original homes. This announcement evoked great upset from the refugees. It was difficult to decide. Meanwhile, the designated amount of time had passed, and as is usual, a part decided to stay, and a part to return home.
Since I was working as a tanner of leather and skins in a government company that was active in the entire province, and which was able to support its fifteen families; being assured of an income and a home; and also because of the fact that the children were studying in a gymnasium we decided to stay in Baranowicze. On the other hand, my family decided to go back. But what happened then is today known to everyone: Those who had registered to return, on one dark night were told to put together small packages for themselves, and in specially prepared echelons [transport trains], they were taken away … deep into Russia. The letters that we later received from those unfortunate ones told of hard labor and work camps with thugs, about starvation and inhuman treatment. And for those who survived, they were envious of those who had registered themselves to remain on the other side of the border. From Poland, that was occupied by the Germans, news arrived as well as tragic information about persecutions, starvation, pain, and suffering. With these terrible reports, we, those who were set up and secure in Baranowicze, felt very lucky and optimistic. But here too, things came to an end.
Summer 1941, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union. Now we were in the same situation we were in Wyszkow in 1939: bombings, fires, panic, roads filled with refugees, homes that were destroyed. Where to hide?
We left the city and we began to go on foot, with the others. The roads were bombed, and only at night was it safer to move. We were not far from Slonim. We heard that there was fighting around the city, bombing, artillery shootings. For a few days, we lay in the fields, without food or drink. We were terrified to even lift our heads. The city was burning. Only when it calmed down and it seemed that the people could return home that was when we left the fields and all the other hiding places. Now the Germans already occupied the city.
In the first days of the German occupation, there was relative quiet. The impression was that despite the war operations, everything was returning to normal life. But one night, those remaining from the Soviet military, who were hiding in the surroundings, conducted a surprise armed attack on the building where the German military headquarters was housed. Many officers and soldiers of Hitler's army were killed, the building was blown up, and the Red Army retreated. The following day, the Germans decided to avenge the night attack. Hundreds of soldiers invaded each house and ordered each man to leave the house immediately. With raised hands, running, he had to get to the assembly place at the edge of the city. The Germans were convinced that the attack had been conducted by the civilian residents of the city and for that all the adult men would be punished.
I and my son Yankel, with raised hands, also ran to the assembly point a large place at the edge of town, enclosed with barbed wire, where there were already 20,000 people gathered. Among them were many Russian soldiers and officers. They said that even a Russian general was among the prisoners.
This large crowd of people were kept under the open sky, without food or drink. Everyone had to sit on the ground. Standing up risked being shot on the spot.
The day passed, night arrived
and dawn foretold of the arrival of another day. It seems that some women managed to successfully convince the German commandant to allow them to bring food to their husbands. In the morning, some women and girls appeared with baskets of food. My daughter Manya, who came to me together with my son was not allowed in. Only when she pleaded with the priest who was close to that place (he came as a matter of interest in the fate of his faithful Catholics, the detained Polaks and White Russians), she was able to give us the food.
Another twentyfour hours passed, and finally they released people one by one. Each person was carefully searched and any valuables were taken away. Each person who was freed was badly beaten by a blaze of soldiers set out in a row.
Now, socalled normal life began in the city. The Germans exhibited interest and understanding of my work and even offered me the chance to be a broker for leather and skins, as I had done for the Soviets. The tanners were permitted to do their work, and it was declared that my overseer was a German. The company, where I now worked, had grown and now had 175 workers and employees who regularly received a salary.
When the Germans set up a Judenrat [Jewish council], an unrest befell the Jewish people in town. It became apparent that after the various decrees and dictates, the day of killing all the Jews was not far. Meanwhile, all the Jews were forced into hard labor, from darkness to darkness. When we came back from the slave labor camps, there was not enough food to satisfy us and no place to rest because there were several families living in each room. The Germans had made sure that there would be hunger in the ghetto, neediness, overcrowding, sickness, and demoralization, and on top of all of that, the terrible, the unwanted, the unknown that hung in the air about which everyone talked and which everyone sensed…
Once, the Judenrat was ordered to assemble 60 capable Jewish young men and they were taken away in an unknown direction for labor. A rumor spread in the city: that they were now digging huge, deep ditches. It might be against tanks, and could be who knows. Maybe these were common graves for the Jews of Slonim?
Some information reached us that not long before, 200 Jews had been removed from a small neighboring town. They were shot and buried in large ditches. We believed that our fate would be the same.
Suddenly, a decree was put forth about special permits that would be given out by the German military headquarters. And those who will not receive these permits will be deported. A wild rush for these permits began in the city. Some with money, some with protekzia, some who could have made themselves useful to the Germans these received the papers. The unfortunates, who did not receive the papers and there were many of these began to live in deathly fear. I, as a skilled laborer, received the permit. Dangerously, I took in another seventeen people into our small room. They apparently were not able to get the permits. Among these people were the Wyszkower Rokhel Frumowycz and her two daughters.
One month passed like that. Twentytwo people slept like that in one room on the floor. In the morning, those who were hiding went to their houses, but they spent the nights with us.
The First Roundup
October 14, 1942, the ghetto was surrounded on all sides by Germans and Ukrainians. Chasing out the Jews the elderly, women, children, unemployed men was done in a very brutal, cruel manner. Even before the unfortunate 10,000 Jews were taken away to the ditches, Jewish blood already flowed in the streets from the shootings and murders. We, those remaining, knew what happened to our unfortunate brothers and sisters. The mass graves, in a few days, shifted, those Jews who were not shot or those who were half dead were breathing under the heavy earth covering ….
Nine people were successfully able to come back into the city heavily wounded. They had lost blood, and we gave them first aid and set them up in the hospital. The Germans found out about those who were saved, and then in the morning they came and took those out of the hospital, back to the ditches, shot them, and buried them.
After that, everything returned to the normal way. Those Jews who remained were once again herded off to slave labor. In the German newspaper, there was news that a few thugs had killed the Jews in the city, but they, the Germans, chased away the thugs…
Several weeks later, the Jewish population was given an order, that they would have to raise 100 kilo of gold. The entire Judenrat was completely mobilized for this action. With great efforts, they managed to put together the required amount… Again, we lived with the illusion that now they would not bother us anymore.
Nine months passed after that great slaughter. During that time, Jews began building all kinds of hiding places, bunkers, shelters, organized cellars and attics, and built double walls.
Every morning at six AM, all the Jewish workers and skilled laborers were assembled at a roll call in Zhabinka Plaza. After counting the shoemakers, tailors, tanners, carpenters, mechanics, and other vocational workers, they were placed into separate groups and taken away to work. Often, the Germans themselves
put out rumors that the ghetto would be liquidated on a specific day but did not carry this out. The goal of the Germans was to confuse and disarm us so that we should never really know how we stood in the world. For the residents of ghetto, the life of fear and hunger was already long ago made awful, and more than one looked upon death as a liberation. But the majority fought death, wanting to conquer it and remain alive.
The Second Roundup
The murderers had already long before placed a death sentence on the Jewish nation. One day (I cannot remember the date), they surrounded the ghetto and through loudspeakers they called out the group leaders of the Jewish skilled workers and after that, all the ghetto dwellers. They were told they would be left alive as long as they appeared in the roundup. All they had to do [they said] was to count, calculate, and estimate. The Jews felt that now the murderers really had in mind to finally liquidate the ghetto. Those who were sitting in the bunkers decided not to move from there.
Nonetheless, the Germans succeeded, especially with the help of the group leaders, to lure out some of the Jews from their hiding places with the intention to include them but my daughter blocked my way, and categorically stated that she would not allow me to go. Tateshi [Father], don't believe them. They just want to fool the people and take them to their graves…
I gave in … and returned to the bunker where seventeen people were hiding, among them the Rav of Kozlowszczyzne (?).
From outside, we heard the choking sounds of the roll call that had begun. The Germans and their helpers from the local population systematically searched each house. Wherever there was a thought that Jews could be hiding they set fire to that place. We also heard shots, wild screams of the thugs and wailing of the victims. The air was constantly being sliced through with shooting and screams.
This mass murder of Jews lasted for eight days these were Jews who had been saved from earlier roundups and from other horrifying deaths that the Germans thought of in order to destroy our nation. There was no food in our hiding place, no bread, and the main thing no air to breathe. I couldn't tolerate it any longer, so I decided to go out to breathe some fresh air. I went onto the roof and from there looked out. In front of me, there played out a terrifying picture. The entire street and Zhabinka plaza were completely burned down. Some people were still walking about, but there were no Jews. The Jews were taken in cargo trucks likely to clean up the dead, and probably these cleaners would also be shot. By that time we were well versed in the ways of the murderers.
I went back down into the cellar and recounted what my eyes had seen. Meanwhile, one of the women there had given birth to a child. Everyone there understood that such a newborn little bird threatened us all. The mother, weakened and exhausted from the birth and from the difficult conditions in the cellar, gathered her last energies and suffocated the child. At night, she carried it into the yard.
Once again, I could not stand being in the cellar and went out into the fresh air. I decided to go to the engineer Paskornik, who was my chief. He worked with all the tanneries in the city. In his house, all I found were dead bodies that had not been cleaned away. The city looked dead. When I returned to the cellar, I bumped into an armed Ukrainian who pointed his gun at me and then arrested me. Then he asked me to remove my new, good boots. He took them away, and told me to go to the police commander … But on the way, he told me to tell him where I had hidden money or gold, and to reveal the hiding places of the Jews. If I would do both those things, then he would allow me to live. Well, I thought, you won't seem me do this… But how will my wife and children ever know that had happened to me? You know what, I said to the Ukrainian, I don't live far from here. I have a pair of gold earrings hidden there. Come, I'll give them to you.
He came into the house with me, where the hiding place was under the floor. Really, I did look for the earrings and at the same time was speaking to the Ukrainian in a loud voice so that my wife and children would know that I had been captured. Understandably, I did not find any jewelry and he took me to the commander. And from there, to prison.
There I met many people. Jews that I knew, who were discovered in all kinds of hideouts. Their fate, exactly like mine, was clear: to be shot near the ditches. I strongly regretted that because of one thoughtless misstep I had fallen into the hands of the murderers. Everyone had warned me not to go out!
Eight o'clock in the morning, some cars drove by and some officers began to take away the Jews who were over fifty years old. Suddenly, among the Germans, I see the head man of our business to whom I would often give from our tannery the best leather for boots, for a coat, and for other things. I went over to him and said:
Herr Shifman, I have to go to the slaughterhouse to get the skins for salting…
Yes, Herr Rubin, go right ahead, he replied, measuring me up with an expressive [understanding] glance.
Your chief Paszkornik is waiting on the other side of the fence and he will take you to work…
Who can describe my joy and deep relief at such an enormous switch? I left the prison yard where the unfortunates were already loaded up to be shot. Paszkornik was actually standing at the gate, and when I reached him, I laughed and cried for joy. The first thing he told me empowered me even more so: My son Yankel was alive and well! I asked Paszkornik that he go to my bunker and tell my wife and children the news, and also that I was saved from a sure death. Paszkornik had the right to go about freely around town. I, along with a group of others, marched off to work.
The following day, the Germans ordered the one hundred Jews who were still alive to sleep in the house where I lived and where the hiding place was under the floor. Only men were allowed in that room. So, we organized the women in the cellar while the men, in cramped quarters and filth, had to squeeze themselves into one room and sleep there after a day of hard labor.
Return to Bialystok
Suddenly, they no longer are assembling anyone for work. No other reason, but now they were keeping us only for murdering. What to do? I found out that there was a Polak in town who, for payment, took people over to Bialystok, to the local ghetto that was still standing. With great difficulty and challenges, I looked for the Polak, and for the price of $5,000 we agreed that first he would take my children there my son Yakov BenTzion and my daughter Miriam. When we received a note from them that everything went well, we too the parents, and our youngest daughter Itka, decided to go there as well.
For ten nights, we wandered across fields and forests, because during the day we had to be in hiding. With our last bit of strength, we finally arrived in the Bialystok ghetto. Conditions here were exactly the same as in the Slonim ghetto: hunger, need, sickness, shooting in the street, roundups, and on top of everything the unknown of the following day, because even today was always filled with chaos. Here they also spread all kinds of rumors and news, from socalled certain wells of information, that had one goal: to disorient and disarm the already downtrodden Jews.
In the Bialystok ghetto, we met Chaim Shlomo, Golde, and Baltche Frumowycz. Together we set ourselves up in a bunker and agreed to hide ourselves there, since we already had behind us the experiences of the Slonimer ghetto. After being here for nine months, notices appeared in the streets that all residents should appear in a designated place in order to register and be assigned to work. We already knew what this registration meant and we warned the Bialystok Jews. But they did not believe us. What do you mean? They'll just go ahead and shoot people or burn them? They need us as workers. That tragic day repeated everything that had happened in Slonim. They really did count the assembled Jews, sorted them, but also beat them and tortured them until they were loaded onto the prepared trains that took them away to Treblinka…
In the evening, the Jews, as shadows, crept out of the bunkers and saw the emptiness because of the bareness of the houses and deported residents. With broken hearts, we returned to our bunkers. A few times a day, and a few times at night, we heard over our heads how the Germans and Ukrainians were searching for Jews that were hiding. Our bunker, especially the entrance, was well disguised. In the evenings, sometimes we allowed ourselves to go out for air.
Once I had an upset when I was outside. I bumped into the Polak Janek, the same one who had taken my children to Bialystok. He was in contact with Jewish partisans who were in the forests. He knew where my children were hiding. He was ready to take me, my wife, and my cousin to the partisans on the condition that I would dig out a radio station in our hiding place with which one could send information, and then take the information into the forest to the partisans. I agreed, even though I knew the huge risks involved. Janek came to me that night and took me over to his house on the rooftop. I waited there until three AM, when Marila would come, the contact for the partisans, and together we would have to carry out the work of digging up and transporting the radio station. But instead of Marila, the Gestapo came. The arrested Janek and took him away. I remained on the roof, and my only thought was: How will I get back to the ghetto, to my dear ones?
It was already daybreak when I jumped down from the roof, and with fearful heartbeat, from side street to side street, I managed to get back into the ghetto and sneak into my bunker. I knew that we could not stay here much longer. I knew the address of my children, so all three of us decided to sneak out to the children, and then after that to the partisans.
On the second day, we left the ghetto through the same small door, through which Janek had already taken me…
The Tragic News
All night, we moved with the greatest caution and terror. The goal was: to reach the children and stay with them. At
the designated place, about twenty kilometers behind Bialystok, there was no one. So we went into the forest, sat down at a tree, and considered the situation. Our hearts beat more quickly and nervously, but still we did not lose hope. We knew that my son should have been hiding at the farmer Malinowsky, who did not live far from the village. But how do we get there, if there are so many dangers on the roads? I decided to risk it. I took a pair of boots under my arms to give the impression that I was a shoemaker who was carrying his work to the farmer and I left to the village.
The farmers who knew me and who met me on the way advised me not to go to Malinowsky. But the desire to see my children was greater than anything else and I knocked at Malinowsky's door, gave all the right signals, and asked for my son, daughter, and another two children that should have been with him. And now came the terrible news: All four children were shot by the Germans near the bridge…
After that, I do not know how I went back into the forest, to my wife and children. Instead of calming them down, in my anguish I said that I did not want to live anymore, and the best thing would be to hang myself on a tree. But both women cried and pleaded that I not leave them to themselves. Without me, they too had nothing to live for. We decided to wait until nightfall and I would once again go to Malinowsky. When I came to him the second time, he became angry as to why I was making him crazy and making him risk his life. I begged him, asking if he knew where the farmer Milewsky lived, because once my son had prepared a shelter there. Malinowsky agreed to take me to Milewsky, but with the condition that I not say who showed me the way.
When I knocked at Milewsky's door, a tall, strong farmer answered the door. I was frightened simply by his appearance. In answer to my question about whether he knew where my son was, he said that he did not know, and he also confirmed that at the bridge in Zlotegorje four Jews were shot two men and two women. Once again, my heart constricted at this tragic news. Now there was no hope of ever again seeing the children. I asked the farmer if he would consider taking us in since he had a prepared bunker. He did not want to hear of it. But seeing my determination he told me to come in and then said he would ask his wife what to do. I told him I would pay him well for the hiding place and finally, they agreed to take us into the attic over the barn because the bunker was already filled, and they agreed to prepare the attic within a few days.
Once, in the middle of the night, I decided to go out of the bunker in order to stretch and get some clean air. I saw light in the hut of our rescuer, and through the open door, I heard all kinds of voices with the worst, cruel words: So, where are you hiding those three Jews? You've got one man and two women. If you give them up, we won't do anything to you. And again, curses, taunts, and ugly words. They are pushing the farmer with the worst, but Milewsky declared categorically that there are no Jews in his place. On the contrary, let them go and search. Truthfully, a while ago there was a Jew here but he chased him away.
I quickly ran back to the bunker and told my wife and her cousin about the uninvited guest. We were quiet in the hiding place, filled with anxious expectation and tension. Soon, over our heads, we heard noise, speaking. They took out the horse, and someone banged with a stick at the entrance to the hideout. Later, we heard how the voices were carried outside. There too there was a search, talking, threats, abusive talk. Finally, it was quiet. In the bunker we were frozen from this experience.
In about a quarter of an hour, our cover was lifted, and Milewsky said:
I'm sure you heard what happened here. I don't want to experience such a thing again. I'm very sorry, but you'll have to leave here. I will no longer keep you…
We asked him where to go; to whom to turn? His answer: He has no suggestions for us. He does not want to risk his life.
There was no other choice but to leave his bunker and once again to be homeless. The dark of night enabled us to go to the forest nearby. There, the three of us sat all day, without food, without drink. Everyone shivered with cold.
Once again, it was night. We decided that I would go to Milewsky to ask for help. When the farmer saw me, he began to scream; why am I playing with his life. I should never come back to him. But my excuse was that three people were in the forest
without food, without shelter, exposed to all the dangers. He was a good person. Until now, he did not disclose us to the murderers. Why this sudden change? I asked him to take us to a certain Szimanka, a good peasant. She was hiding a Jewish girl (her name was Bialystocka). Also, I asked him if first he could go to Szimanska alone and tell her about us. We would wait for the results of the discussion. The farmer agreed to partially fulfill the request: only to find the peasant. He told us meanwhile to go back into the forest and then the next evening he would bring her address and then take us there.
Milewsky kept his word. He appeared in the forest the next evening, bringing bread and milk, and then after our hearts were revived from the bit of food, he told us to come with him. After traveling for a few kilometers, we came to Szimanska's hut. I knocked at the window. Her son appeared and did not want to talk to us. I told him that there was a Jewish girl in his place, Bela Bialystocka, and that we brought money from her parents. When he first heard these words, the young peasant denied everything, saying no one was hiding there. But after some reconsideration, he decided to call his mother. She too at first denied the fact that she was hiding a Jewish girl, but once we said that we would give the money only to Bela, she finally allowed us to go into her house, and from there she called out to the cellar for the girl to come. She was very happy to see us, and she already knew the tragic fate of her mother and sister who had died together with my son and daughter (all four were hiding in one bunker).
Now I began to plead with the Christian to have mercy on us and hide us in his house. Understandably for payment. But all talk was for nothing. Szimanska and her son would not hear of it at all. I went out to my wife and cousin and told them that staying here was not even a thought. So we began to plead with Milewsky to have mercy on three fugitives and again show his humanity by taking us back. But the farmer would not even hear of it. He left quickly, leaving us outside, in a dark, cold night.
Our confusion was great. Only our cousin did not lose herself. She said that we could not allow ourselves to fall apart, but we had to find a way out. Let's go to Janina. She once promised to hide your son. Who knows, maybe the children are with her! On that cold night, we left to go to the village Grobnik, but as we approached a small forest, both women declared that they would not go any further because their exhaustion had depleted them. In fact, they soon fell asleep on the ground, under a tree. But the entire night, I stayed near them and could not shut my eyes. In the morning, just as daylight broke, we began our long trek.
When we encountered a peasant, I asked how to get to the Wiezna main road. In order to reach Grobnik, you had to cross the bridge in Wiezna a small town not far from Lomze.
The trek to Grobnik took two nights. We could not go during the day, and even at night a thousand dangers lurked. Nonetheless, we arrived in the village safely, and only now did a dangerous inquiry about Janina Wendilowska begin. They told us that she lived at the edge of town, around swamps. It was very difficult to get there. One peasant allowed his son to take us there. We thanked him warmly, and finally reached the hut. The woman Janina did not want to open the door right away, but while talking through the window, I reminded her that we had been here about nine months ago, had left some pyjamas and shirts here, and then she had allowed the children to stay with her. Tragically, the children had died, and now we asked to stay with her for a little while. Her first question was whether anyone knew that we had come here. Because we knew that a young boy had brought us here, she categorically said no to us. Her reasoning was that we were already sentenced to death, so why should she risk her own life and hide us? The Germans burn down any huts where they find Jews, and the peasant and his family are shot on the spot. I answered her:
Listen here, Frau Janina. I'll tell you the whole truth. We told the peasant that allowed his son to show us the way here that we had come from Jedwabne where all the Jews had been killed. We want now to go to Wendilowska to get a few things that we had left there. We are living in the forest, and in order to survive the winter we have to come into the village from time to time. I understand your situation, but we also have to live. So, I propose this plan to you: We'll leave for a week and go into the forest, and during that time, you'll look around the village and decide whether you want to hide us or not.
She agreed. It was midnight, and she told us to come into her house. She gave us food, and told us to rest before we continued on our way. It seems that this Christian did not want to completely abandon us and at about four in the morning, she awoke us and told us that she had another plan. In the morning, she would send her brother Julik into the village Rostek, to see how it was going there. When he would return, she would decide whether we could stay or whether she would tell us to leave.
She took us into the attic of the barn. We
stretched out on the hay, and at that moment we are the happiest people. More so, that the peasant woman brought us food and that her words were very sincere and compassionate. She appeared again in midday and reported that the news from Rostek was good, and she said that we could stay. Our joy was indescribable. But she became very frightened when we heard a warning from below to hide in the hay and lay perfectly still because the Germans were coming. The murderers did come, but this time they were not looking for the three Jews in hiding. They were just conducting a raid and grabbing the men from the village for work. When the Germans left, they let us know right away, and we breathed freely. Our lives were saved. Especially since now the goodhearted peasant said we could stay with her.
That's how we were in hiding in the barn for two years. I am not able to give all circumstances of this long period of time that was rich and stormy with events, inner battles, fear of death, and also many comical moments. I only know that thanks to Janina Wendilowska and her children, three Jews were saved from certain death. Right after the liberation, and also in later years, with all my strength, I tried to show my gratitude to the children, helped marry them off, rewarded them with everything, and to this day, I maintain a correspondence with them, and often send them gifts from Paris. I still hope to visit Poland in order to once again express my gratitude to these Christians who in those dark times demonstrated humaneness and refinement.
About the Fate of Other Wyszkower
In the town of Inzewycz, as refugees from Wyszkow, there were: Moishe Stelung with his wife Esther and their little Itzele; Mindel Feinzeig and her two children from Grajewe; Skarlat Fulje, Rivka, and their son. They all died there, glorifying the Name of God.
In the Slonim ghetto, the following died glorifying the Name of God: Itche Najman, Binek Branstajn, Avremel Zawiszanski (Yankel Katzav [butcher]'s soninlaw), Bunim Branstajn. In the period of the ghetto in Slonim, once Henoch Kaluski came to me and told me that he, his wife, their son and daughterinlaw and small child were hiding in a large forest not far from the town of Biten. The joy of meeting Kaluski at that time was tremendous. He was particularly happy about the hearty meal that he ate. When I asked the question about where were the drops [for medical purposes] that he always carried with him, he replied that because of the conditions in the forest, he could not avail himself of drops or medication. I offered that he remain with me, but he declined with the reasoning that everyone would die in the ghetto, but in the forest he might still have a chance to live. We parted with great emotion, and I put twenty breads, meat, and products on the sled, and together with Itche Najman, who was with me the entire time, we went into the forest to those Jews who were hiding. Kaluski told me that his wife died in the forest.
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