The Germans seized the youth, beat him hard and then led him, with hands and feet in handcuffs, to the city hall. There they doused him with gasoline and burned him alive. In another group a youth of l9 attacked a German with a knife. His fate too was death by brutal torture.
After this 'aktsia' an announcement was made that the remaining Jews had to move to Tchortkov, Kopychyntsa and Tlusta. In Buczacz itself the Germans set up a camp for 'skilled workers' in a section of Podhayetska Street. For a substantial sum of money it was possible to obtain from the authorities a 'skilled worker's' certificate and thus remain in the camp.
Since we had family in Tlusta my father decided that it would be better to move to that small town. In Tlusta, up to that point there was no ghetto, and there was hope that here it would be easier to escape death than in the other small towns. For this reason most of the remaining Buczacz Jews moved to Tlusta.
In Tlusta during that period there was horrendous congestion, extreme poverty, hunger and sickness. About 8-9 thousand Jews were crowded into this small and wretched town. Several families lived in one room. Some lived on stairwells, in attics and in basements.
Because we had family in town, our situation was a little better, and we were given the small kitchen in which five people crowded together, my parents, my two sisters, and I. Right on the day of our arrival a rumor spread, that on the following day there would be an 'aktsia.'
We spent that night in a forest, about 7 kilometers from the town. On the way we met hundreds of Jews, since everyone was searching for shelter, some among the Christians in the nearby villages, some in the field, and some in the forest.
The 'aktsia' was not held the next day and we all returned to the town. However, not much of a rest was given to the persecuted. During one of the first days of May (I do not remember the exact date), on a Thursday just before sunrise, a large contingent of Gestapo, S.S. units, and Ukrainian militia, suddenly surrounded the town, and no one had a chance to escape.
Most of those who attempted to escape to the fields met their death at the hands of the guards, who were stationed at the entrances to the town. For many weeks people had slept in their clothes. However, that particular night we slept peacefully, hoping that the danger was not close.
The shootings woke us up and within minutes the Nazis began to break down the gate. Most of the inhabitants in the house, my sisters included, managed to go up to the hiding place, that had been built in the attic. I, my parents, and several others remained stuck in the kitchen, as the S.S. men, and the militia, ran through the house.
From the kitchen there was an opening to a little cellar that served as a storage area for potatoes, coal and wood. It had not occurred to anyone to convert this little cellar into a hiding place. Since we had no other hope of escape we went down to the little cellar and covered it with the bundles of straw that had served us as bedding during the night.
The murderers entered the house four times, conducted thorough searches, removed floor boards, and dislodged bricks, but they did not find our hiding place. In the attic hiding place there were about 30 people, and among them my two sisters. They were seized, together with the others in that hiding place, and taken to the yard near the church. From there they were taken to the Jewish cemetery, where they met their deaths.
My two dear beloved sisters, who were inseparable in their lives and in their deaths: Malia, the l2-year-old, blond and beautiful, with sky-blue eyes and golden locks, and Mania, the l7-year-old, with her long black braids, the serious and intelligent one!
During all this time I, my parents, and some other people sat in the little cellar, as death hovered above our heads, and our fate hung by a thread. Neither food nor water touched our lips during all those hours.
Over the 30 hours of this murderous 'aktsia' about 3600 Jews fell victim. They were forced into the square near the church, and from there they were taken in groups of 50, under heavy guard, to the Jewish cemetery. There they were machine gunned.
The Ukrainians participated in this 'aktsia' as much as the Germans. The murderers donned dark glasses and black gloves. The Ukrainian policeman, Shaf, envious of those who were engaged in the killings, asked to join them. After he was given permission to do so, he began shooting with sadistic glee, and killed dozens of people.
Hundreds of the dead were strewn about the streets and in the houses, and for about 3-4 days bodies were being collected and buried in the cemetery. After the 'aktsia' I went out to search for my two sisters. I thought perhaps they had succeeded in escaping, or perhaps were hiding somewhere.
My feet carried me to the cemetery, and a horrible sight unfolded before me: corpses, corpses, corpses. Among them I recognized the 'Pinsker', acquaintances, neighbors and friends. Fragments of currency bills, documents and photographs were strewn about the whole area. The following day the mass graves, in which hundreds of the victims had been buried, began oozing with blood, since many of the wounded had been buried alive, and only a thin layer of soil covered the graves.
Christian doctors and engineers were brought to the place. They examined the condition of the graves, and ordered that they be covered with thick layers of soil, and that lime be poured over them. After that came the order for setting up a ghetto in Tlusta, and within 24 hours all the Jews were obligated to move to the ghetto area.
On Sunday, June 6 - it was a very beautiful summer day - I went to the market in the morning to buy something for the house. Suddenly the Ukrainian militia started grabbing Jews to work, and I was abducted as well. They took dozens of people to the village of Kosigora and they ordered us to weed potato bushes. I worked several hours in the burning sun, while a Ukrainian policeman taunted us all the time.
I knew that my parents were very worried about me and I decided, along with my friends, to escape as soon as the noon break came. The village was about ten kilometers from Tlusta. We walked through fields and woods, and tried to avoid going through any villages. At about 2 p.m. we arrived at the train station. How very shocked we were to see transport trucks loaded with German soldiers and Ukrainian militia entering the town from several directions.
Before we could get our bearings, we heard shots from all directions and the village was surrounded by soldiers and policemen. This was the first time that an 'aktsia' was held on a Sunday, and it had started in the afternoon hours. On Sundays the murderers generally rested and the Jews used to breathe more easily. This aktsia was a deviation from the usual strategy and custom of the murderers, and its goal was, apparently, to exploit the element of surprise.
The panic was great, everyone tried to run for shelter. My friends and I began to run backwards, but one of the policemen was watching us and he began to fire in our direction. The bullets hit people who were running to my right and to my left. The screams and moaning of the wounded and of the dying filled the air.
I ran with bated breath, as long as I could hold out, while the bullets were buzzing around me. After about l50 meters of running from a shower of bullets I found myself in a corn field. I survived. My friend also succeeded in getting through the thick rain of bullets that flew around us, and together we went on our way.
About l4 km from Tlusta there is a forest named Charnohora. We turned in the direction of that forest, and we decided to stay there until the end of the 'aktsia.' On the way we met farmers who were rushing, running to town, some by wagon, and some on foot, to claim their booty.
The Christians from the area around Tlusta were mostly poor. Many had no independent means, and supported themselves by working on the estates. Every small item was of value to them. One could see them during the 'aktsia' dragging old featherbeds and pillows, broken furniture and used clothing - items which the Christians in Buczacz would not want to even look at.
This much should be known: The destruction of the Jewish population did not merely satisfy the feeling of hatred of the Christian population in the towns and villages. It also brought them great material benefits. Thousands of Christians became wealthy on account of the Jewish tragedy.
For every service, connected with saving a life, Jews were ready to pay fabulous sums, and the 'Christians' exploited this opportunity. Many bought from the Jews luxury furniture, furs, jewels, expensive clothes and more for next to nothing. During my wanderings in the villages, I would see, on more than one occasion, a costly piano in the home of a destitute peasant, who was a day laborer on one of the 'folwarks', or estates.
On the way we met a group of farmers who were heading to town for plunder. When they realized that we were Jews they demanded money from us, threatening to make us return to town with them. By chance I had l50 zlotys, and my friend had l00, a sum too small. We offered them the money. At first they weren't ready to accept it. But when they realized that we did not have any more, they took the money and left us alone.
We continued on our way to Charnohora, and before evening we entered the forest. Many Jews hid in this forest during the day and night. The peasants from the surrounding area attacked them en masse when they felt there was a chance to plunder. They would assault the people with axes and pitchforks. The echoes from the voices of those who were being robbed and murdered reached all the way to us. It was a night of heavy terror, a night that I shall never forget.
I did not know the forest paths. I ran about like a hunted animal among the thorn bushes, that were twice as tall as I. To add to my grief, I also lost my friend. After hours of wandering about in the forest, I settled down among the bushes and waited for daylight. I hoped that with sunrise I would somehow find my way back.
Worry for my parents gnawed at my heart, and I could not stop crying. Who knows if I will ever see them again. Only a miracle could have saved them. And the miracle happened. They had stayed in the little cellar, that was in the kitchen where we lived, with several other families, and the tentacles of the murderers had not reached them.
At sunrise I left the forest and decided to return to town. It was a very beautiful summer day. The Ukrainian landscape unfolded before me in all its glory: A forest, golden wheat fields, grazing stretches and gentile youths leading the cows to pasture. Streams of water. All these sights warmed my heart, and distracted me from my agony. On the way I learned from the Christians that the aktsia had ended.
I rushed to return to town, and about noontime I found myself standing in front of the house where we were living. My heart was beating hard: Had the miracle happened, or would I hear, heaven forbid, the worst.
I knew few moments of joy during all those years, but the moments of this meeting were, perhaps, the happiest of my life. My friend managed to return to town before me and he had told my parents that I was in the Charnohora forest. My father paid a large amount of money to a peasant to search for me in the forest and to bring me home. But meantime I had managed to get back by myself.
As I have mentioned earlier, there were several estates in the region of Tlusta, and near them a number of Jewish work camps. In these camps, too, life was not secure. But people there hoped that they would be able to hold out at least until the end of the harvest season, and perhaps until fall. Under these conditions they did not think ahead, about what would happen in a few months. They felt that time was working in their favor, and the important thing was to simply carry on.
The remaining Jews tried to be accepted for work in the 'folwarks,' and, of course, this depended on bribing the authorities. About 40 Buczacz people, among them my parents, decided to return to Buczacz and join the 'skilled workers' camp there. We hired seven wagons and at midnight set out on the road. We had to cover 56 km. It was impossible to go on the main road, and we traveled in a roundabout way, through corn fields and forests.
Even though the peasants that we hired for this trip were our acquaintances, and considered trustworthy, they did not hesitate, every few kilometers, to threaten to force us off the wagons in the middle of the journey, if we did not give them more money, because, according to them, the danger was greater than they had reckoned.
Before morning we passed one village where, to our misfortune, that night a punishment detail of Gestapo people had arrived. The farmers said that as a punishment for the killing of two Gestapo men, whose bodies were found in the village, the Germans had taken out all the men who lived there, and killed every tenth one among them.
We had entered straight into the lion's den. However, before the Germans had time to grasp who we were and how we had gotten into that village, we escaped into the nearby forest. A heavy fire from hand- and machine-guns rained down on us and again ll people fell dead.
In the meantime the peasants had run away with the wagons and with all our possessions, and we made the rest of our way to Buczacz on foot. I had a special feeling of relief when we approached the town, a kind of feeling of security. Everything, the streets, the houses, the trees, were so familiar to me and so close to my heart!
A Jewish mechanic by the name of Haber lived near the 'black bridge', in Buczacz. Because of his expertise, and the work that he did for the Germans, he even had a permit to live outside of the camp. At 2 a.m. we reached his house.
He was amazed when he heard that we came from Tlusta, since the Jews of the Buczacz camp were fleeing to Tlusta. These people learned that the camp in Buczacz was to be liquidated within 3-4 days, and its inhabitants were to go to other places. Several additional families from the camp joined our group. We hired new carriages and that same night we left to return to Tlusta.
About 3 km from Tlusta we got out of the carriages and decided to sneak into town in secret, in order not to arouse any special attention. It was on the day of l2.6.43, before sundown. The farmers were returning home from their work in the fields. We learned from them that on that same day, at noon, Tlusta had been proclaimed 'Judenrein'.
The authorities provided carriages for the remaining Jews to take them to the Chortkov ghetto. We hesitated: Should we return to Buczacz? Whatever will be with the several hundred of her remaining Jews that will be with us. Or perhaps we should turn straight toward the forests in the area? It was decided to return to Buczacz, and so we found the people sitting on their suitcases ready to move on.
The Germans announced that the camp inhabitants were to prepare food, linen and bedding and to be ready to move to camp Svidova that is near Tlusta. A part of the youth left for the forest, a part went out to hide with the farmers, who had prepared bunkers for them.
For most of the camp inhabitants, including us, there was no choice but to join the convoy that was taking the people to Svidova. On June l5, at 9 a.m., dozens of wagons arrived in the camp, and in a long caravan we moved off, accompanied by a heavy guard of S.S. units and Ukrainian militia. In late afternoon we arrived at the camp.
Svidova was one of the many estates in the area, and perhaps the largest one. Its peasants were well known in the whole vicinity as anti-Semites. Before the war eight Jewish families had lived in the village, and one night between the time when the Russians were retreating and the Germans were entering the village, the peasants staged a pogrom and murdered every one of the Jews.
About 560 people were housed in the camp, and among them several hundred that were brought from Buczacz, a small number from Tlusta, Yagolnitza, Zalezhchiki and other places. Most of the Jews in the camp, if not all, were wealthy. The Christians were interested in doing away with them quickly, in order to plunder their possessions.
Thus, in addition to the regular guard of the Ukrainian militia, the Christians set up volunteer guards from among the peasants of the village, and they, too, guarded the entrances of the camp. This camp was fenced in with double barbed wire.
The conditions in the camp, relatively speaking, were not the worst, even though we worked from dawn till sunset. The manager of the estate, a Pole named Musial, an evil person and a scoundrel, did his best to make life difficult for the people in the camp.
Sometimes, 'when he was in a good mood,' he would order, spitefully, that the Jews should dig up the potatoes, or weed out the green fields, on their knees. Sometimes he would order that no water be given to thirsty workers. But because they had the funds, the Jews bought the essential foods, milk and fruit, from the peasants, who used to bring the best foods to the camp gates.
Since this was a 'busy season' for field work, and there was a shortage of workers in the area, there was room for hope, that the camp's security was assured at least until after the harvest season. Life in the camp began to slowly get organized. Several cultural evenings were held, readings, singing, etc.
Among the camp inhabitants there was also the Buczacz cantor, Beno Shifman. I still remember the days when the whole town was astir because of Shifman. It happened perhaps in l937 or l938, and I was still a little boy at that time.
From time to time the great synagogue used to have cantorial evenings, and famous cantors, with their choirs, used to appear at the concerts. On one of those evenings Shifman was the featured cantor. He was a very young, handsome man, from Lvov, and he had a beautiful, sweet voice.
His appearance made an enormous impression, and he was invited to serve as the permanent cantor of the synagogue. However, for a large part of the population (especially the ultra-orthodox sector) Shifman appeared too much the 'free-thinker' and they did not agree under any circumstances to his candidacy.
Some argued that the old cantor, though not a great one, was at least orthodox, and there was no reason at all to replace him with Shifman, whose 'fear of heaven' was regarded with skepticism. A sharp dispute raged for some time on this issue.
The city was in turmoil and the community almost split into two factions, the supporters of the old cantor, and the supporters of the new one. In the end the supporters of Shifman came out victorious. And indeed he was a great artist in his field. What he lacked in 'fear of heaven', he made up with a voice that was full of power and feeling.
He was a very young man when he died, perhaps at age 35, and I have no doubt at all that he was destined to have a place among the great cantors in the world. After the Soviets entered the city, Shifman served as a teacher of song, and choir leader, at the school that he organized. In this area too he was very successful.
The attitude of the town's people towards Shifman was demonstrated by one small incident. During the 'High Holidays' of l941 Shifman was not considered 'kosher' enough to conduct the holiday services (as the community's representative before the Almighty), because during the Russian occupation he had worked on the Sabbath, and had walked about without covering his head.
He had also publicly desecrated the Sabbath. Despite this a large part of the townspeople did not want to cancel his services. It was suggested that he lead the services at one of the small synagogues on the outskirts of town, and Shifman accepted.
He used to delight us with his singing when we were in the camp. He did not sing only cantorial pieces but also various operatic arias. Even though I did not understand any of it at the time, I enjoyed his singing very much. At the camp there was also a dramatic reader from Chortkov, and she too did her share to maintain the cultural evenings.
It all happened so suddenly, and by surprise, that there was no time for anyone to flee. Every attempt to escape meant certain death. The peasants of the area participated to the best of their ability in this 'aktsia.' Despite this a few people - including my father, mother and I - succeeded in making their way out of the camp.
We jumped into the standing corn that surrounded the camp. By crawling we reached the pit, which was about 30 meters from the camp fence, and which served as a storehouse for potatoes in winter. Breathing heavily, and white as plaster, we entered the pit and our first thought was: We have been saved! However, we were saved for only two hours.
Bands of the Ukrainian militia 'combed' the whole area and spread out in the fields to check if indeed anyone had escaped. Ten Ukrainian policemen made their way into the pit and removed all the people. Somehow I found myself inside a pile of straw, in the pit, that my mother had covered well so that my hiding place was concealed. It is impossible to describe these terrible moments, moments of parting from those who were most dear to me!
That same day they also brought to Svidova people from the Mukhavka and Morluvka camps, and from other estates in the area. All the Jews were concentrated in the camp's square and from here they were transferred in small groups to the field, where they were taken to be killed.
In the evening peasants were brought in and were ordered to dig two pits, in which the slain were buried. Next to a half-destroyed, unmarked, graveside wall over 550 Jews from Buczacz, Tlusta, Chortkov and other small towns were buried.
I am almost the only one who escaped this murderous action, which was the most savage even by the standards of those cannibals. After two days I met a girl named Rosa, from Tlusta. Rosa was very beautiful, about 20.
She had been hit by two bullets, had fallen unconscious, and had been thrown into the large mass grave. After being buried for several hours she woke up. Feeling that she was still alive, she managed, after many attempts, to raise herself up from the grave.
These incidents, of the 'rising from the dead', were not uncommon in the history of Polish Jewry, which suffered such oppression during the years of the Nazi conquest. Rosa found shelter with one of the peasants, who was stunned by her story. After she recovered we wandered about together for some time, seeking shelter.
After a few weeks she joined another work camp in the area. Other Jews were working there too, but I decided that it was better for me to wander among the villages and work for the farmers.
When I returned to Svidova after the 'aktsia' the manager of the estate, Musial, was shocked to see me. He had been ready to bet anything, as he said, that not a single Jew had survived in the camp.
He stared at me for some minutes, and it seems some humane spark awoke in him. He said to me: 'Since you succeeded in saving yourself from the 'aktsia' in Svidova, it appears that it has been ordained for you to live, and so I will try to help you.'
The farmers in the area also found it difficult to comprehend how I had managed to save myself, and various rumors spread among them with regard to this matter. The blacksmith, the source of all the gossip in this village, and the local 'politician,' used to relate that he had seen me escaping.
He claimed that he saw them shooting after me, and that I had dropped down, and crawled to the fish pond. From there I was supposed to have swum to the other side until I had disappeared from view.
Others told of different heroic deeds that I performed. As for me, I confirmed all these rumors about me. I added still more stories, because I understood that these legends were bound to serve as a lifeline for me. Legends spread especially about Rosa.
I worked on the estate for a short time. I learned to do different kinds of work on the job and in the garden, but mostly I served as a cow herder. Together with the other gentile peasant youths I would go out before dawn to the pasture, and spend most of the daylight hours there.
I managed to win the friendship of the youths, with whom I went out to pasture, and each one of them saw it as his duty to bring me food. In time they worked out a schedule among themselves, taking turns. Each day somebody else would bring me food and drink.
I used to tell them stories and participated in their games. Even in the clothing I wore I was like one of them. I spoke a good Ukrainian but the 'r' used to 'betray' me, and by my accent it was at once evident that I was a Jew.
Say 'kukurudza' (corn) they used to mock me. And I used to answer jokingly, that it was preferable for me to say ten times 'pashonka' than once 'kukurudza' (both of these words have almost the same meaning). Nights I slept in the barn or the cowshed.
These were evil people, who volunteered to set up guards around the camp, from among their population, so that no one would escape.
These were the people who participated in the destruction of the Jews of Tlusta and the surrounding area. What did these same people see in me that they showed me a more or less humane treatment?
Not only that, but this attitude toward me was expressed already during the period after the region had been proclaimed 'Judenrein.' It had been announced that every peasant who helped catch a Jew, was promised a reward: A specific sum of money, a pair of shoes and a bottle of whiskey. Whoever knows the peasants of that area, knows what the power of bribery, in the form of a bottle of whiskey and a pair of shoes, meant to them.
One day Musial returned from Yagelnitse. He called me over, and said that at the German police station he was asked if the rumors were true that a young Jew, who had escaped the 'aktsia' in Svidova, was wandering about on his estate.
M. indicated that he had heard about it, but did not know the exact place where that individual was to be found. As a result of this inquiry at the police station, he ordered me to disappear immediately, and not to show myself again in Svidova.
A period of wandering began for me, from village to village, and from estate to estate: Mukhavka, Morluvka, Koroluvka, Ruzhanuvka, Lissovtse, Lashkovitz and others. In the daytime I worked for the farmers, mainly threshing and taking the cows to pasture. And at night I slept in the open field, or in the woods.
The farmers were afraid to have me sleep in their homes, because a death sentence awaited them for hiding a Jew. At times, during the cold nights, I used to sneak into a farmer's barn or an attic, and I slept there.
Mostly these experiences did not end well, as the dogs (every farmer's house had a dog) would give me away. Because of the danger of staying in one place too long, I used to go from village to village, then go again to the first farmer and repeat the cycle.
My good memory was very helpful to me. I remembered hundreds of the farmers by name. I knew their, their wives', and their children's names. More than once I used to come to a farmer in a village and I would tell him that I worked for his brother in the other village and that he had sent me to him.
The harvest days were coming to an end. Fall was approaching and the situation became more and more difficult. What would happen in the winter? There were rumors among the farmers that the German front had been broken and that the Soviets were advancing rapidly, but who knew if they would succeed in arriving before winter?
During those days they brought the remaining Jews from Chortkov. Most of them were skilled workers, who performed specific jobs for the German army, and because of this they survived. I returned again to Svidova. Close to l00 people were housed in the camp and the living conditions were, relatively speaking, not the worst.
I was sent to work in the distillery. As I mentioned above, the Svidova peasants had a special relationship with me, and this relationship found expression during my work at this factory: I used to help the person who kindled the fire in the furnace by supplying him with coal from the warehouse.
The work was not easy, but I did it gladly. I was a strong fellow. The hard work and sleeping in the fields had strengthened me. I became accustomed to dragging the wheelbarrows with coal from sunrise to sundown. I slept in the factory, and obviously, I had to help the workers who used to come at night to steal whiskey.
They used to insert a tube into the whiskey barrel, draining it, and in this way filling up several bottles. There was almost no worker who did not participate in these nocturnal visits. The manager, a 'Folksdeutsch' named Kotz, knew what was happening, but he turned a blind eye to it.
A large part of the workers grew to like me, and they promised that they would not allow anything bad to happen to me. They arranged a small hiding place in the basement, among gigantic barrels. When the Germans were visiting the factory I was to disappear into my hiding place.
They also brought me food, and at times they even invited me to their homes for dinner on Sunday. Most of them were used to drinking like fish. More than once they used to tease me: 'They say, that Jews are not able to drink, show us if this is true or not.' And I, in order not to shame 'the tribe' attempted not to 'fall behind' them in this area too.
If my lungs were not scorched, and the act of drinking did not harm my health, it is mainly because of the good food that the farmers used to bring me every day that I survived. However, I was never drunk. I felt that even among these 'gentiles', who seemingly took an interest in my well being, I needed to be on constant alert, and a state of drunkenness was bound to lead me to disaster.
My diligent work, the stories that I used to tell them (sometimes completely fabricated) about my experiences in other villages, and my ability to 'drink' like they did endeared me to them, and on Christmas Eve I received an abundance of invitations for the festive evening meal.
I chose to dine at the table of a good hearted old woman, whose concern for me was genuine. I felt that I could rely on her.
We had barely sat down at the table when suddenly her son, who served as a sergeant in the Ukrainian militia, arrived for the festive meal. When he found out who I was he was shocked, and made a scene before his mother: How did she dare invite me, knowing what punishment awaited her.
The old woman began to plead with him that he should let me live, because my life experiences were proof that it was God's will that I should live, and whoever would kill me would be eternally cursed.
Apparently, in order not to spoil the holiday festivity the policeman left me alone, with the understanding that I was to disappear immediately from the village.
The conditions in the camp became more severe with time. It was a hard winter, the work was back-breaking, and the food was inadequate. But a congenial atmosphere existed among the people. Our common fate brought everyone closer, and the people saw themselves as one family.
I was very happy to be among Jews again, brothers, in misfortune and in fate, and at every opportunity I used to come to the camp. There were evenings when people were sitting and singing. The wife of a dentist from Chortkov, Unger, was especially gifted in singing Yiddish songs. So also was Klara Bar from Buczacz (the daughter of Mendel Bar).
How much love and longing one could feel in their singing. How much yearning for that which was and no longer existed, for a world that was destroyed, for life that was fading. I was especially fond of the song, 'Tanchum'(Consolation). The evenings of song were a source of intense emotional experiences and comfort for us.
Not much time passed before there was another 'aktsia,' in which most of the people in the camp were murdered. The few who remained moved to other camps that were still scattered in the region, or they found shelter among the farmers of the region, understandably - in return for huge sums of money.
I knew who stood at the head of the pogrom that they held against the Jews of the village even before the Germans arrived. I knew which one of them had organized the brutal civilian guard around the camp. And I could point out from whom was stolen this piece of furniture, and who was robbed of that piece of clothing.
The peasants were very frightened of the Russian arrival. They were certain that the Russians would take revenge on them for the Jewish blood that had been spilled. Among themselves they even talked about who would be hanged, who would be exiled to Siberia, and who would be imprisoned.
I was not in that region after the war and I do not know which ones were punished. But if we are to judge by what happened in other places, then not a single 'gentile' was punished for murdering Jews, because there were too many of them to be punished. Or there was no punishment because the Russians did not care much about this matter.
I heard that several of the mob leaders in that village were hung, but not because of murdering Jews - this, apparently, was not a sufficient crime - but because of their association with the 'banderovtsy', and because they had murdered Russian soldiers, who had come to collect the produce quota owed by each village.
It was a hard winter night, one of those Ukrainian January nights. Outside a storm was raging. A boy my age knocked on the factory door. He told me that in the evening he had heard a conversation between his father and several other farmers that the time had come to do away with me, because if I were not disposed of I was bound to bring misfortune on the village after the Russians return.
Two days earlier another Jew, by the name of Schmeltzer, was confronted by the stoker, Semeniuk, who murdered him in cold blood, and burned his body in the giant furnace of the factory. It was clear to me that I had to flee. But where to go?
On the road between Svidova and Mukhavka there was a small forest and within it several huts. At one time the laborers of the estate used to live there, but as their lives 'improved' a little (mainly because of the plunder of the Jews), they built themselves houses in the village itself.
The huts then began to serve mainly as a midday resting place for the peasants who worked in the area. For me these huts served as a sleeping place for a period of several weeks.
Every time I came to this place, I used to meet Jews who also came to sleep here. In connection with these huts, one day something happened to me there that I find difficult to explain to this day. I was once returning before evening from my work in the field, where I had been working near a threshing machine.
Close to the huts I was overcome by a strange weakness. My head was dizzy and my feet refused to carry me. With my last strength I made my way to one of the huts. I went up to the attic and lay down on a pile of straw. A deep sleep came over me, and in my sleep I could hear my own moaning.
After some time I woke up. It was a nice morning, I felt healthy and refreshed and my heart was joyful for some special reason. When I reached the village I realized that I had slept for over 50 hours. To this day I do not know what illness hit me at that time, and in what miraculous way I was able to overcome it.
When the camp in Svidova was liquidated for the last time, several Jews arranged a hiding place in one of the huts. Often during the night I used to come into this hiding place, bringing food for the people and telling them what was happening on the outside.
That night, when I decided to flee from the factory, I made my way to that hiding place, and I stayed there over a week. Our main goal was a race with time. Time was working in our favor. We knew that every additional day that we held out, brought us closer to the day of liberation. But in those days, in particular, the situation became unbearable.
We learned that the Christians suspected that Jews were hiding in one of the huts, and it became dangerous to remain there. I was assigned the task of going out at night to search for another hiding place, and perhaps to even contact some farmer, who might keep us until the danger would pass.
When I returned after two days I found the hiding place broken into, and from the peasants I learned that the night before several members of the S.S. units, and Ukrainian policemen, had surrounded the huts and succeeded in finding the hiding place. Not a single one of the l8 people, who were in the hiding place, was able to escape.
Again I found myself wandering in the villages, from one estate to another. And those were winter days. The peasants became more and more brutal, because they were all afraid of witnesses to the atrocities they had committed. They decided to do away with the few Jews who were still roaming the area.
In a few estates: Litovtse, Mohilovtse and Shipovtse there were still camps with dozens of Jews. The conditions were dreadful and the people were living daily with the danger of dying.
The retreat of the German troops was in full force, and with them in retreat were convoys of the most prominent collaborators in Russia. They were known by the name of 'Vlasovtsy' (as is well known Vlasov was the Russian 'Quisling').
Together with their wives and children, their cattle and sheep, they traveled in the tens of thousands in wagons behind the Third Reich troops. It is impossible to describe the savagery and blood thirstiness of these people.
When a Jew fell into their hands - and that happened to dozens in that region - they used to murder him in the most savage manner, by hanging, stoning or beheading with an ax. These sadistic murderers poured out all their wrath, for being evicted from their land and homes, on the heads of their unfortunate victims.
For some time I stayed at the Soshinovtse camp. The manager of the estate was a 'Folksdeutsch' (as is well known, after the 'Reichsdeutschen' the 'Folksdeutschen' had the most rights) and he decided, apparently, to try to save us and promised us his protection.
We were l4 people on the estate, mostly l4-l7 years old. A house was put at our disposal, food was provided for us and the manager even ordered that we not be made to work too hard. However, because of an unforeseen event, we were forced to flee from this estate too.
Armed and organized gangs of Ukrainians were roaming in the area. They were part of the 'banderovtsy' whose slogan was an independent Ukraine, free of Jews, Germans and Soviets. They were in the habit of visiting estates at night in order to plunder them, and during those times they also were not above murdering Jews, when the opportunity presented itself.
One night such a band came to Soshinovtse. They stole pigs and horses, and after they finished their work they turned to the other side of the cow-shed where most of us were hiding that night, as an extra precaution.
Meantime the manager of the estate was able to notify the German police by telephone about the robbery, and within a few minutes a German unit appeared. An exchange of bullets began, great panic broke out, and in this way we escaped from the farm in the dark of the night.
We headed in the direction of a nearby estate, Mohilovtse, in whose labor camp there also remained dozens of Jews. But the fate of the Jews in this camp was not different from the fate of the Jews in the other camps.
The Jews knew the threat to their lives from the farmers of the area, and so they used to spend the nights in the barns or cow-sheds on the farm. On that fateful night, March 2 or 3, an attack came from dozens of Ukrainian policemen and dozens of people from the village.
Only one Jew, named Winkler, from Chortkov, and his sick son, were sleeping in the house, between the two floors, which had been serving as a dwelling place for the camp inmates. The rest of the people had looked for a more secure hiding place, without knowing that the villagers had been following them around during the previous two weeks, and that all their hiding places were known to them.
As for me, I used to sleep each night in the large residence, but, apparently thanks to the special instinct that I developed in those years, the instinct of a hunted animal, I went out close to midnight into the barn and 'buried' myself in a huge pile of straw. Actually the attack was carried out before dawn. This time 25 young people lost their lives, among them Klara Bar from Buczacz, who was like a sister to me. These savages took her and her boyfriend out into the wood and brutalized their bodies.
One day followed another and 'salvation' was not any closer. The Russian advance was stopped for some time near Zhitomir and it seemed that all hope was lost. I was holding on with my last strength: against the cold, hunger, wanderings, fear. But help came actually from an unexpected source.
Within the framework of the Hungarian army, that was retreating with the Reich forces, there were squadrons of Jewish sappers. These were army units for all intents and purposes, under Hungarian command. However, the Jews were forbidden to bear arms and their duty consisted entirely of digging ditches and carrying out menial jobs for the Hungarian and German troops.
Because of a temporary break in their retreat one Jewish division of diggers set up its camp in the area near the village of Lisovtse. For about two weeks I stayed with that camp, and ate and slept together with the soldiers of the squadron.
Yitzchak Shikhor (Schwartz)
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