In our judgment, the slightest discovery of a desire for uprising and war could bring about the immediate destruction of all the Jews of Buchach. This fact must be recalled by all who wonder at the frequent ease with which thousands of Jews were brought to their deaths, with no resistance whatsoever.
The Germans entered Buchach on Shabbat (Saturday), July 5, 1941, and the very next day a large force of Ukrainian police rose up and began attacking the Jewish population. In the initial period, the fate of the Jews of Buchach was determined by Ukrainian policemen, backed by a Ukrainian committee of local intelligentsia. During this period we were witness to attacks on Jews exiled from sub-Carpathian Russia, and to massacres perpetrated by Ukrainian troops. The local Jews would receive their persecuted brothers with friendship, sharing with them their last crumbs of bread, and made efforts to redeem them monetarily from the hands of the murderers. Word reached of a pogrom in Tarnopol. Immediately following the army's entry there, more than 3000 Jews were slain. After the war, the army claimed that it had no knowledge whatsoever of what had transpired in the hinterland. In Buchach, each day Jews were conscripted for labor, where they were tortured most cruelly. (All of this was perpetrated by the Ukrainian police, who claimed to be taking revenge upon Jewish communists for their part in exiling Ukrainians to Siberia.)
During this initial period, a Jewish Committee (later to become Judenrat) arose, taking upon itself to use monetary bribes to temper the insane, criminal acts of bloodthirsty Germans.
On one of these mornings, in the second half of July 1941, the Ukrainians compiled a list of Jews comprising more than 1500 people from the ages of 16-40. Thanks to the intervention of the Austrian commander of the forces passing through Buchach, the act, which was committed three weeks later, did not occur at this time.
In the middle of the month of August 1941, the Gestapo arrived for the first time. They compiled a list, and upon the advice of the Ukrainian Committee, selected 350 people from among the intelligentsia and the youth to execute by firing squad the following day on Fedor Hill. Two members of the Judenraat were murdered, Dr. Y. Stern Vakaner, as well as Dr. Judenfreund, who were summoned by the Gestapo. Only a youth by the name of Mendel survived. What pain and suffering plagued the hearts of the mothers and women who came daily to the Judenraat seeking help in searching for their relatives, under the illusion that their loved ones were still alive and had been sent to work on the Zabroch River. Meanwhile their bodies lay buried in a mass grave on Fedor Hill, a mere two kilometers distance from the city.
The same morning of that month of August began an odyssey of suffering and pain that ended in the obliteration of the Jews of our city, and of the devastation of those Jews who had been exiled here from neighboring villages. After the above list was compiled, a period of semi-stability reached the Jews. With it came the illusion that perhaps a German diplomatic breakthrough was in the offing for the Jews, fueling the hope that the German shield would soon be broken. The tasks of the Judenraat included supplying workers and assisting the Gestapo force, who came once a week from Chortkov to plunder Jewish wealth. The systematic destruction of the Jewish People began to be carried out. The Jews were illegally evicted, an order was issued requiring them to wear a special sign, they were denied the right of free travel and change of residence. In addition to the tax on gold and silver, furs and other household possessions, (confiscation of furniture, linens, and silverware), their food rations were reduced and a special Jewish ghetto was erected. Jews were permitted to live only on the left side of the city, the border being delineated by Railroad Street, continuing to the bridge on the road to Chortkov. The Jewish population, concentrated in this manner, thus became an easy target for the actions that followed.
Operations commenced for the
second instrument of destruction, the camps: Labor Camps
(Arbeitslager) Jewish Camps (Judenlager, Julag)
From the Julagim in the area of Tornopol came word of acts of destruction being carried out there, and meanwhile the Jews of Buchach were found in the camps of Borki-Wilki and Kamjonka. SS forces, who stood at the head of the camps along with the Ukrainians, tortured the Jews concentrated there, with no consideration for human life. Hunger rations caused dissention among people, and the slightest offence was punished by hanging or shooting. We learned details of the situation at Julagim from one of our comrades, M. Weitz, who was captured and taken to this camp. Nevertheless, after one week in Komjunka, he succeeded in cutting the barbed wire that surrounded the camp and evaded heavy guard to make his way back to Buchach via fields and forests. The Judenraat organized assistance, sent weekly shipments of wagons filled with food and warm clothing, and using gifts and bribery, attempted to redeem people from the camps or at least ease their fate. Moshe Berger is to be especially commended for risking his life to travel there each week.
Jews began arriving from Stanislavov, Kalush, Talomach, Horodenka, Kolomia, and they sought refuge. From them we heard accounts of the annihilation of the Jews of Stanislavov. Gister Bildner of Talomach, who was spirited out of the Janovoska camp in Lvov as a corpse, told us heinous episodes of the acts of the Gestapo and their chief executioner, the head of the Jonovosta Camp, Wilhauz.
The relative calm which pervaded Buchach was halted by one of four Operations-Groups (einzach-groupen) made up of SS men, who carried out the actzia in October 1942 and afterwards an additional actzia in November of the same year. During these attacks, the SS men and the Ukrainian police encircled the Jewish Quarter, pulled the Jews out into the streets and rounded them up to the square near the former District Office, called Kargovitza. Here they concentrated more than one thousand persons, and later transported them, under heavy guard, to the railway station and sent them on freight cars bound for the Death Camp of Belzitch. The only ones to be spared were those who had managed to hide, as well as several hundred youth who had been sent some days previous to the village of Osovatza, in order to clean the area following a blaze which had broken out. After the first actzia, the director of the Judenraat, Dr. Englard, escaped with the help of temporary documents, as he couldn't bring himself to have a hand in the extermination of the Jews of Buchach.
The leaders of the resistance movement were determined to put an end to the obtuse indifference of the Jews who accepted their fate and waited with arms folded for their death or for a miracle to keep them alive. Among the leaders were: S. Margolit, Tzoler, S. Evenstein from Buchach, Bildner and Fisher from Tolomach, S. Zilber from Horodenka, and the commander, the compiler of these memoirs, A. Bazan (Worman). We resolved to take action. We added more and more youth to our ranks, yet the nature of our work made us limit our forces and carry out underground activities in keeping with the conditions at hand. We established contacts and appointed Berysz Englard, Dr. Julius Marengel, and Moshe Berger to serve as our liaisons to the Judenraat. The Judenraat committed itself to subsidize our arms purchases, since we determined that the time was not yet ripe to forcefully disarm the enemy's weapons, for fear that such actions would draw notice. Young people who had been trained in Zionist youth organizations, Gordonia and Brit Trumpeldor, joined our ranks. We also received members from among the Ordnungs-Dienst (Jewish Police) except for several who had cooperated with the executioners in a very effective manner. We made contact with the Jews of Tarnopol, Skalat, Borshchov, Zalschiki, Tolosta, Kopichinca, and Chortkov, in order to establish resistance centers in each and every place. The idea fell upon fertile ground. We received constant updates on what was occurring in the world at large. The engineer Tzizas from Tarnopol (who was expelled from Tarnopol back in the days of the Soviets because his father-in-law was a wealthy man) as well as Weisenger, listened each day to radio dispatches and their updates kept our hearts and spirits elevated. Dr. Y. Marengel brought us reports each night from the fronts, and from him we heard of the struggle with the enemy near the borders of Eretz Yisrael.
At the start of February 1943
we were informed of a new akzia, this time the typhoid
akzia. There were apparently numerous people who'd taken ill, and they
were to be shot to death without being removed from the area. More than 1000
people were executed at that time. The radio broadcast reported the defeat of
Paulus near Stalingrad and the start of a major offensive upon German troops on
the African front. We hastily requested additional weapons to bolster our
supply of several pistols, short-barreled rifles and a limited number of
bullets. We expected to be receiving explosives from our people working in the
tunnels for this purpose, for use when needed. We received word of the
existence of two small groups, in addition to our group which now numbered more
than 150 men. These are the Weisinger and Friedlander groups. I conferred with
them and suggested that they join our group, although Weisinger had different
plans. He joined the Polish group of Nidjbeiski which operated in the forests
of Posznik, yet afterwards he was forced to flee from them since they too
murdered Jews. D. Friedlander and Donier were of the mind to go into hiding in
bunkers in Buchach. The Jews of Buchach quickly began preparing bunkers,
digging passages inside the earth, sealing walls, assembling secret entrances
from the cellars to the shelters. The Jewish Quarter was extremely crowded,
owing to the fact that within the quarter the area had been reduced and the
Germans had herded not only the local Jewish population but also those from
Monsciska, Koropitz, Yazlovsta, Potok, Zloti, and the villages in the area, in
order to increase the ease of their extermination.
We began carrying out military maneuvers by night, and we learned the lay of the land. We slept permanently in the fields and the surrounding forests, believing in the false promises given the Judenraat by the local German authorities. Trusting the quiet pervading the entire Tarnopol range, we spent several nights in our apartment. On one of those mornings, in the month of April 1943, we were awakened by gunfire: the fourth akzia had begun. One by one we moved to the Aryan side, and before our people had managed to get to their designated posts to open fire, one of our members, young Anderman from Strivocovtza, was arrested by a Ukrainian policeman. Anderman pulled out his pistol and shot him to death. He himself then escaped. The entire action immediately was ended. The SS, the German police, and the Ukrainian police were concentrated near the local military police building and began loading their machineguns, believing that we were about to launch an attack. Our ammunition supply was far too low to dare to take such a step. The Ukrainians gave the policeman a show funeral, complete with impassioned speeches. The self-confidence of the cruel invaders and their wicked comrades had disappeared. Again, they did not set out on a forceful mission to uncover shelters, knowing well that they could pay for this with their lives.
We received accounts of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, and this added to our courage: again, we were not alone in our actions. Among the Aryans, the word began to spread of the existence of our group as a strong military command. Berysz Engelberg brought us word from the Ukrainian police commander that not only were they taken by surprise, they also expected offensive operations from our side.
The Judenraat had promised money to purchase additional weapons, and we had the opportunity to receive machine guns. We collected information and acquired maps of the area. On the assumption that it would be possible to escape to the forest, we decided to send individual groups to the forests in order to learn the terrain. The vast area of forest, encompassing thousands of hectares of trees, gave us the space to believe that our plans to remain alive in the forest might indeed succeed. We prepared plans to divide our people into small individual groups to bivouac over an area of several kilometers. This should enable us to easily pass from place to place in the event of possible danger to one of the groups.
Three groups set out, equipped with ten days' worth of food rations, weapons, and tools to create temporary hide-outs. Heading the first group was Artrachter, who knew the forests in the Poznik region. Heading the second group was my wife, who had acquaintances among the Sobotniks in the Vadova region, located on the way to Koropitz. The third group was headed by Nudelman from Potok-Zaloti, who knew the forests of Sokolov near Potok. After these three look-out units set out, we tensely awaited their return. They fulfilled their missions under extremely difficult conditions: heavy rains fell almost the entire time and turned the forests into rivers of mud. They returned fatigued and weary, hardly believing that it would be possible to remain alive in the forests.
We received word that the Germans had taken a decision to completely exterminate the Jewish community of Buchach. After several days an order was received that the majority of the local Jews were to be transferred to Chortkov, Talusta and Kupichinska. Approximately 20 families received permission to remain in the Jewish Quarter, which had been reduced to a mere few houses. In addition, a labor camp was set up for several hundred Jews. The first delegations set out and we received reports that along the way Ukrainian farmers ambushed the Jews, robbing them of the remains of their possessions. There were even cases of murder.
Among our people, opinions were divided. Some felt that the time had come to head for the forests. The second half thought that it necessary to join the refugees, noting that also the Jews from Stanislavov Range, who had sought refuge from us, succeeded in holding out for several months. Opposing opinions were held among the leadership and expressed at a general meeting which I convened. At this juncture in time, I could not imagine another conspiracy regarding the Jews. We reached the following compromise: Part of the group would go into the forests, as per the original plan. The remainder would be instructed to intensify the work of organizing the groups in Chortkov, Talusta and Kupichinska, and prepare the groundwork, together with the group from the Kupichinska forest, whose numbers were growing to our proportions. Srulik Zilber from Horodenka travelled to Talusta. Upon his return he reported that he had found a satisfactory framework and understanding on the part of the head of the Judenraat who presented him with a program for organized resistance in Talusta. I traveled with a group to Kupichinska for several days to lay the groundwork for our activities. Under our protection, several hundred wagons set out, filled with families who had been evicted from Kupichinska. We trekked through fields, since the Gestapo forbade Jews to travel the main roads. During the night, we passed through a village whose citizens used to attack Jews. When they tried to hold us up, we pulled our weapons and they retreated.
After I reached Kupichinska, I consulted with the head of the Judenraat and discovered full understanding between us. I received assurances of support and aid to our people. He even gave us a house for our own use. At our final meeting I had given instructions, but suddenly we received word from Talusta that the very same day an aktzia had been carried out. The anguish of our people was great: They weighed the possible advantages of returning to Buchach and fleeing with us to the forests. On the other hand, it was very difficult for them to part from their families, and they decided to remain. I turned over the leadership of the group to Magister, Fisher and Bildner, and we determined that the following morning we would set out for the forests and not return, save for replenishing our food supply and getting news. On my way back, I was stopped by police from the village of Patlikovska, but my threatening them with a pistol was quite effective: they cleared the way and I returned to my group in Buchach where we began intensive efforts towards our move to the forests. Over the next few days we received accounts from Fisher. His group had already begun working in earnest and had established contact with former Soviet officers in Husiatin.
On the Friday of their presence there, we received word of a large scale aktzia in Kupichinska. According to a secret report, the German police were preparing a list of the members of our group. On the way to the camp, where I had shown my face to give instructions to our people, I encountered the infamous
murderer, Policeman Paul, and he ordered me to enter the camp. I was forced to avoid settling accounts with him, for two other policemen arrived just at that moment.
Only a few hours prior to our exit we found five of our people in my apartment
on Railroad Street. Suddenly a group of policemen appeared. We were convinced
that the were coming for us, and we released the locks on our ammunition and
waited. These policemen were armed with light weapons, yet they continued along
their way. Had they approached us, we'd have had a chance to seize their
weapons and to settle accounts with them, yet on the street they held the upper
Dawn was breaking. The time was 3:00 A.M., and we, loaded down with ammunition, hid amongst the harvest since the forests of Puzhnik were still separated from us by over 10 kilometers. During the day, the sun beat down upon us relentlessly, and in our thirst we looked forward to the evening so that we could resume our march. We detoured around the Puzhniki village and arrived in the forest that was our life saver. Our guide was Helzel Makoropicz who was well acquainted with the forests. We made our camp in the five-year-old forest where the bushes were thick, yet suddenly rain began to fall and the next day we were forced to dry out our clothing throughout the daylight hours.
By night we descended to the river, bathed and filled our utensils with water so as to be able to cook supper over a fire made from wet branches. This was our first hot meal after 24 hours of freedom in the forest. Several days later I selected several individuals and accompanied them beyond Vodova to search for our second group. We also wanted to determine to what extent we could hope to acquire food from the forest guard and from the Soviets with whom my wife had made contact previously. The supplying of our food had been carried out quite well during the entire time. Two or three times a week we would receive the bread which had been baked for us as well as other food products which were prepared for us, yet each time we had to surround the house and make certain that we were not about to be ambushed. Only afterwards did we enter the house to receive the food, after leaving guards posted in the surrounding area.
At the appointed place we met with our people, and joining them were the survivors of our friends who had succeeded in escaping from the pogrom in Kopichinza. They filled us in on the details of what had taken place there. The akzia had come upon them suddenly before dawn. Our group had tried to forge a path to the forest, but they encountered Germans and the people scattered and hid inside the forest. Most of them fell victim to the murderers. One of our people, at his post near a mass grave, managed to pull his pistol and shoot Gestapo members, yet the gunfire was met by significant resistance. Among the several thousand Jews who fell were 30 of our people, including the commanders of the Buildner and Fisher groups.
There were also incidents where the earth covered people who were stunned or injured, and witnesses reported that the ground actually moved. Command over the survivors was assumed by Tziler, a youth from T'lomatcz, who was brave yet had a black past. He brought those survivors with him to us. We prepared a plan of action for the future and returned to the forests of Poznicki. Here we proceeded to build our first underground shelter. Several days later we suddenly heard German-language cries in the forest. The forest guard led the Germans. We heard several single shotgun bursts beyond us and then they retraced their tracks. They had no intention of deepening their penetration into the thick bushes, for they understood that they might have to pay for this with their lives. We permitted them to escape for we did not know the area so well and we took into consideration their superior armaments.
My wife took upon herself the task of surveillance. More than once she would go, disguised as a village peasant, to the surrounding villages and gather extremely valuable information which enabled us to avoid many dangers. Due to our desire to avoid meeting with the forest gang of Nidjovitski, we moved to the Vadova forests, and after several weeks to the Sokolov forests. Here we divided into three groups, one of which was well-armed and changed its position from time to time and also staged attacks to increase weapons and food supplies. At one point during their activities on a farm on the Dneister, a police unit suddenly attacked. Our forces climbed onto the rooftops and began firing at the Germans. The Germans retreated, yet returned afterwards to take out their anger upon the farmer by setting fire to his premises. Over time, some of our people rebelled and began to steal, in spite of our forbidding this. In such instances, Buchach natives abandoned these groups and those that remained were natives of Horodnika, Dilatin and Stanislavov. Our people did not agree to such methods. In addition there was one group among us composed of tens of families who sought refuge in the forest, inspired by the ideal of the Jewish partisan. Here again the engineer Zisser carried out his mission: we confiscated a battery-operated radio, stolen from a Jew. Its broadcasts announced the resignation of Mussolini. At the beginning of August 1945 we heard of the conquering of Bilgrod and Oriel, yet at the same time we heard of the extermination of the Jewish survivors of Buchach.
Throughout the villages, popular legend held that exceptionally well-armed groups of Jews lurked in the forests, and farmers did not dare to enter the forest. By night we heard echoes of gun battles of the Russian partisans, who headed by Kolpokov succeeded in penetrating to the Dilatin. After they were hit there, they returned in small groups. We encountered two such groups, yet they refused to include Jewish fighters, and that put an end to our internal debate whether or not to join them.
From Buchach we heard reports
of the daring campaign by the Friedlander group, of the breaking into the home
of the Land commissar and of their revenge upon some Aryan
informers who revealed information about Jews in hiding. Three of our people
returned to Buchach. There Margolit, a member of our directorate, was turned in
by a farmer in whose home his wife was hidden.
Several days later I went with two other members of our group to the forests of Puszniki. Among our missions was to examine by dawn's first light the possibility of our relocating to these forests. Along the road in the forest we came upon fresh tire tracks. We cocked our weapons and advanced a total of several hundred meters to suddenly find yet another corpse of a woman. Once again we found ourselves forced to perform the bitter task of burying another victim of one of the farmers of Puszniki who had robbed and murdered this woman who had hidden with him.
During the hour that we spent carrying out this tragic task, we heard shots nearby. The police had discovered 8 Jews being hidden by one of the farmers and had taken them to the forest to shoot them to death. This was the high school teacher Henig and his wife and 16-year-old daughter, as well as a family of five from Monstajiska.
Radio broadcasts brought us the sound of festive cannon fire from Moscow, which echoed and warmed our hearts, yet the front was still before us and winter was impending. We decided to build shelters, and the Weitz brothers, Kopel, Manio and Izzio, assumed responsibility for this assignment. They also succeeded in building several bunkers which enabled us to endure the freezing winter full of snowstorms. We dug a pit around four meters deep, two and a half meters wide and quite thick. At a depth of two meters we erected walls and spread straw and thin boards across them. We then covered them with earth which we trampled well and then planted trees and shrubs similar to those in the area. We also fashioned an entrance, a sort of drawer, and ventilation through underground pipes. Inside double beds and a narrow passageway which gave shelter to 16 people. A kerosene lamp provided light in the evenings.
On one of the winter days, 600 SS men surrounded several sections of the forests. In their possession were several tanks and artillery. At noon, the opening volley of cannon fire marked the beginning of the attack. I examined the prospects and firmly concluded that we had no possible means of defending ourselves. The only option open to us was to escape through the deep river bed. We murdered two SS men who were in our path, seized their weapons, and succeeded in removing the entire group from the attack without harming anyone.
A different fate awaited 300 Jews who had hidden in a different section of the forest. A path led to them in the snow, and more than 200 were murdered by gunfire or blown to pieces by hand grenades hurled into their shelters. We came to their camp in the evening and found people dying, their hands and feet amputated, parts of human corpses who had been doomed to perish by torturous inferno. We assisted the survivors as best we could and advised them to disperse throughout the forest since we were certain that the butchers would return the next morning. We were correct in our assumption.
Over 100 Ukrainian police murdered those who had survived, and only 30 people, barefoot and naked, survived. The police had robbed and looted all that was in the shelters. On the other hand, we succeeded in hitting several of the murderers on their return. We decided to acquire clothing for these poor unfortunate people. To do so we ventured out the next night to a village around 20 kilometers away. There we surrounded the home of the Ukrainian police chief where, according to information we'd received, the majority of the booty taken from the Jews was located. We rounded up all of those present into one room and stood guard over them. Within an hour we left the house, laden with clothes for the people. By dawn we returned to the forest. The heavy snow had erased our footsteps, and we fell exhausted into a heavy sleep.
Our enemies were joined by a gang of Ukrainian robbers, led by the notorious thief Lutchka, which preyed on attacking Jews in hiding. Among those who fell into their hands was the head of the candle factory Katz and all his family. We resolved to eradicate Lutchka, yet he always succeeded in escaping any ambush. At one point he was injured and hospitalized for several weeks.
Not one day were we able to relax from the stringent measures of caution in order during that hard, snowy winter. The essential mission at hand to supply provisions was carried out by the brothers Munio and Izio Weitz. They would set out each night to distant villages, and return carrying food on their shoulders for all of our group. Sometimes this was done at great risk to their lives.
The end of January came. On one of the winter evenings a reconnaissance group dispatched to gain information reported that the next morning the forest would be surrounded. Our people returned at midnight, and within an hour we left our warm shelter to take to the snow. The sounds of gunfire, the howling of the winds and the snowstorm accompanied us during our wanderings. Within 24 hours of Herculean efforts to dig away at the frozen earth, we had at our disposal a new shelter in the pine forests near Novosioleka-Koropitzka.
Twice a week we would
invade the villages. From time to time we sneaked into the home of
a Polish merchant to enjoy two or three hours in a heated dwelling, to eat warm
food and to gather news. The front came nearer and went. By night we could hear
echoes from the battlefronts, and we discerned the first signs of a retreat.
From nearby camps, all those who had served the Germans began to escape. We
heard the rumbling of lorries from the Buchach-Stanislavov road: the retreat of
the defeated armies of the herren-folk. On March 23, 1944, we went
down to Novosioleka. The ardent rumors indicating that the front would be
formed along the line of the Strippa River, and the implication that we would
be situated on the German side, adjacent the front, made me firmly convinced
that we must move 20 kilometers eastward. I made a foray into Sokolov and
noticed that the defeated troops were continuing their escape.
Our living conditions had been terribly difficult from the moment the murderous army had entered. We had gone into the forest with no experience or prior knowledge, and totally unprepared for the difficult conditions. We were powered by our will to live and our sense of national pride. We organized a resistance movement among the youth of Buchach as our declaration of war against the obtuse and defeatist apathy towards our fate. We maintained our strength and overcame difficulties.
And we returned once more to Buchach. We were more than 800 people, most of whom came from the forests, for thanks to our example others had depended on us and gone into the forests. Those who had been expelled by farmers who had refused to shelter them also came to join us. Also returning to Buchach were those who had succeeded in hiding in the villages, as well as those who had survived through temporary papers. Yet there was no joy, for so many were missing. However, life has a way of making its own rules. We soon took apartments and began thinking of the present and the future,
We arrived in Buchach on March 26, 1944, yet already by April 6 at 3 A.M. we left the city in the direction of Trambobella. The Soviet army command advised us that this was the sole direction where passage was still clear, for German troops had advanced on all sides. We left a Buchach illuminated by fireworks, with an air battle being waged in the sky and in her streets the sounds of battles on Railroad Street. Our group was the last to leave, surrounded by the thunder of cannon fire and the roar of fighting. We could already hear the sound of commands being shouted in German. Before us was a group numbering around 300, most barefoot, running in escape upon roads full of mud and snow. People who had sat for one year in their places of hiding now advanced one step at a time, as if crippled on crutches.
At 7:00 AM we arrived in Darachov. Here a high-ranking Jewish officer supplied us with lorries and we were transported to Trambovlah and from there to Skalat. Along the way we encountered a large group of German prisoners. How different is the likeness today of yesterday's world conquerors. At Skalat we surrendered our weapons, and some of us were taken into the Soviet army. After three months of battle the Germans continued their retreat, and we returned to Buchach. This time, from the 300 people who had remained, we met only around twenty. Following our retreat from Buchach, the German police, led by the notorious murderer Paul, had returned to Buchach where they slaughtered several hundred people.
The city's Aryan population was
also absent. They who had rejoiced in the calamities of the Jewish People, had
met their own end. They too were forced to take stick in hand and begin
wandering, from the knowledge and unfounded fear that they would be made to pay
for their participation in the massacre of millions of innocent victims.
Dr. Carla Gross and Ya'akov Margaliot Shmuel Karniel (Hirshhorn) and Meier Fried Mass grave Mass grave holding 3635 martyrs who perished on 27 Shvat 5703 (February 2, 2943)
The work brigades set off to work outside the camp, in the sun-drenched world, which to them seemed gloomy and dark. Tired and weakened figures, heads bent, who once were human beings. At the exit gate they were ordered to sing, so that people would see how happy they were to go off to work. The patrol guards took part in the singing.
At the mess in the guards' barracks, many preparations for the festive gathering were underway. At that time I was working as a sign-maker and painter in the camp workshops. The camp had to make an outwardly impression of being perfect and organized, so the signs were frequently repainted. The windows of the death-huts were always repainted.
At ten o'clock, second in command Diega came to the camp workshop and took myself and two other people outside. There, we saw that a few people had also been taken from the technical office. We were taken to the place called Nad. The inner courtyard was surrounded with a double layered barbed-wire fence with a two-meter gap between the layers. This passageway was called Nad. One of the exits from this Nad led to the sand pit where all acts of murder were committed. The Nad had taken on the meaning of a passageway to death.
A group of some twenty prisoners was already waiting at this Nad, including a few women. We were all the remainder of the professional intelligentsia: doctors, engineers and lawyers, who only by chance were still alive.
Why? No one asked this question. That word had been erased from our vocabularies, along with another few words. At last there would be an end to our daily suffering.
As if to complement the gloom of our thoughts, the skies darkened. True April weather: rain, snow, sunlight much as hope rises and falls.
And then came the SS second in command, Kautser, with an automatic pistol and eight SS men.
Go! he ordered curtly. No one said a word. We were each lost in our own thoughts. At that time, none of us had any family left. Some of them had walked down this very path, or through other factories of death. We were alone, and that was our strength. Our borrowed time was coming to its end.
After walking for half an hour, we came to the sand pit. I counted exactly thirty-eight men and six women. A long pit, about two meters deep, sprawled out in front of us.
It contained naked corpses and puddles of blood which had not yet dried from the previous days. They only covered the pit once it was completely full.
A truck stood in front of us. Undress! Separate shoes from clothes! Underwear in one pile! The bloodthirsty SS men screamed. Quick! Hurry! They beat and struck us during the last few minutes. And the clothes were piled up as ordered. The first six candidates for death load our clothes and our shoes on the truck (after all, the Nazi Reich government was eagerly awaiting our possessions).
The truck sets off on its way. And now it began. Stand! Kautser screams at the naked group. One behind the other by the pit! I was the twenty-second in line. Kautzer stands holding the pistol a few steps in front of the row of people.
Turn! he commands loudly.
And now he is read to shoot us in the back. I see the first man being shot and falling into the pit, then the second, the third one of them does not fall straight into the pit, and an SS man has to kick him into it. Only six more before me! We are all wet from the rain, and stunned from the shots and the screams. My life passes before me like a film screened in the wrong direction. I am in shock.
Suddenly we hear a long whistle. The shots stop. Are we already dead? We stand there lifelessly. An SS man is in the distance, approaching. After a few minutes he is here, it is the work commander, Kolanko.
I hear a shout, but I cannot understand it. When it is repeated I answer.
Step out of the line! Kolanko growls. Kautzer turns to him: And the others?
I walk as if drunk and my face is slapped, which brings me back to consciousness.
I look back, the final shots ring out, the entire group has been killed.
The way the prisoners in the camp look at me reminds me that I am naked and wet. Kolanko leads me to the clothes warehouse, where the SS man Blum gives me torn trousers, a coat and shoes.
Now Kolanko leads me back to the workshop, where the SS squadron-head, Schultz, waits for me with a task: to prepare announcements for the celebration.
You were lucky we still needed you, he said with a twisted smile.
The time is one o'clock. The work divisions set off for their afternoon shifts. The sun is shining again, covering the new corpses with a glimmering veil.
The camp band plays: Everything will pass An old friend says to me that night in the hut: On April twentieth, two people were born.
What do you mean?
The 'Fuhrer' and you!
My dear Aunt Fruma and Uncles Beryl and Isaac,
I send you very sad news. I have been through terrible, difficult days. As I write this letter, tears run from my eyes. You will probably not believe me. I was left on my own, entirely alone. No one is left from the entire family; of all the relatives, only I, Rosa, remain. I have lost my mother, my dear, devoted mother, Father, Rivka, my little brother Avram, dear Grandfather and Grandmother. There were extermination acts in Buczacz, and each act sent 1500 Jews to their deaths. My Grandmother Leizi was killed on February 2, 1943. [Yiddish] Grandmother was killed during the third massacre, and she is buried on Fedor [Hill] in Buczacz. Where once people took walks, now there are 8000 murdered Jews. Together with Grandmother, we lost Devorah from Potok, and Aunt Esther with her husband and children. Not one of our relatives remains alive. After the last extermination act, my father gave me to a rural woman who hid me from May 10, 1943 until March 25, 1944. Father found a cave in the forest, and the whole family fled there. They were in the cave for 8 months. Then the Germans discovered the cave and killed them all. I do not know where there bones are.
I somehow managed to stay alive through this time with the Germans I will tell you when I am with you in Israel.
On March 25, 1944, the Soviets occupied Buczacz. They stayed for 5 days and then the Germans came again. I barely escaped alive, and went with the Soviet army to Trembowla. I stayed with a Christian woman and shepherded her flock, because the Jews who were still alive and there were only a few had no food. Like myself, all they had saved was their souls. I cannot describe everything to you because I am very anxious. We are now about 22 kilometers from the front. All we hear is airplanes and sirens. I am begging you: please, take care of me; please, bring me quickly to you in Israel.
P. Lander, special correspondent for Ha'Aretz, reported:
The story recounted here occurred the day before yesterday in a crowded spot in Paris. A young Jewish man from Buczacz, Adek W., who is currently visiting Paris, was strolling through the Place de Republique on a Saturday. He saw a well-built figure approaching him from a distance. He immediately recognized him as his townsman and childhood friend, who during the Nazi occupation had been the head of the Jewish Ordnung-Schutz and served as a representative of the Nazi Gestapo leader, sending hundreds and thousands of Jews to their deaths. He shouted to him in Polish:
Are you the murderer of the Jews of Buczacz and the murderer of my family?
The other young man froze in his place, stunned by the sudden cry. Then he replied: Yes, it is me. What do you want me to do? Adek W. replied simply: Come with me.
The two went to Adek's hotel. When the door closed behind them and they were both in the room, Adek asked the murderer: Have you reflected about what you did? Did you know you were executing innocent people, your own people? Tell me, murderer, why did you do it?
For apart from the general score of the murder of Jews, Adek also had a personal score. His childhood friend had come to their house during one of the aktzias and executed his mother and father. Only he and his brother remained. During another aktzia, this friend came again to take them both away. The brother was taken to the death camps and never returned, and he, Adek, managed to escape during the search. He hid out through the entire Nazi rule, and manage to stay alive. When Poland was liberated, Adek began to search for this murderer, his childhood friend. He heard that he was still alive, had left Poland and disappeared. Now when he came to Paris with a student delegation, he suddenly found the murderer walking through the Place de Republique.
Murderer, why did you do it? he shouted again at his friend the murderer.
And the latter replied calmly: I admit that I have 'killed and also taken possession.' At the time, I did not contemplate the things I was doing, but now I know, and I am willing to be punished.
Adek W. knocked his friend to the ground and beat him viciously. Then he began to stomp on him. The murderer was covered with blood, but he did not utter a word. Adek W. beat the murderer with heavy objects and smashed some bottles against his head. The murderer lay in a pool of blood without moving, although he could easily have overcome his tormentor.
Finally, Adek W. said: And now I will tattoo your forehead, so that everyone shall know who you are. And with a large needle he began to carve out the word ordnung-schutz on the murderer's forehead. He got as far as the Latin character O, and could not continue. He was exhausted.
Finally, he said to the murderer: Give me your papers. The latter was bleeding heavily, wounded and cut, his clothes ripped and dripping with blood. He silently took out his papers, including his passport and an entry visa to Venezuela, and gave them to Adek W.
You must come back tomorrow at ten, Adek W. ordered him.
The murderer agreed.
Then next morning at 10, the murderer returned to Adek W.'s hotel. The latter beat him again, until he was exhausted. Then he said to the murderer: Come with me. They went to the nearest French police station. There, Adek W. reported the case and demanded that the murderer be arrested. The police officer tried to evade the demand and said that it was not within his jurisdiction, and that he should address the higher authorities. Adek W. went to the Polish consul in Paris. After the Polish consul intervened, the French police agreed to arrest the murderer. When the next shipment of criminals to Poland leaves, the murderer of the Jews of Buczacz will also be sent, and will stand trial there and surely be punished.
Take the child and care for her as the apple of your eye. Her father lives in America, and after the war he will pay you in gold.
The Polish woman could not resist the promise of dollars, so she took in the girl and raised her. After the war she began to search for the girl's father in America, but was unsuccessful. She happened to hear that in Lodz there was an institution which took in Jewish children and paid for their care during the occupation. Mrs. Poloch went to Lodz with the girl, and after negotiations the committee took the girl and paid the woman 360,000 gilden. But when Mrs. Poloch went home, she found a letter from America written by the girl's father, in which he wrote that he was trying to obtain an American entry visa, not only for the girl but also for her, the Polish woman who had raised his daughter. So Mrs. Poloch hurried back to Lodz and demanded that the girl be returned to her. When the committee refused, because the girl was already settled at an orphanage, the woman went to the attorney general and invented a terrible story: that three of the committee members had broken into her apartment and kidnapped the girl. The attorney general summoned the committee representatives, and they showed him a receipt from the woman for the 360,000 gilden. The attorney general not only revoked the woman's claim, but also sued her for libel.
Of course, the girl is being sent to her father in America.
Yitzhak Bornstein, HaAretz correspondent in Warsaw, published the following description on 9-28-1949:
Anyone wishing to know if there were Jewish survivors of a Polish town that was destroyed, needs only to glance at the number of typed pages neatly classified and stacked at the archives of the Central Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Each town has its own corner at the institute namely, the history of its destruction. The material includes testimonies give by Jews who miraculously survived the hell. If a town does not have much of this literature of destruction, you can surmise that the destruction there was great, massive and terrible
I was interested in one town, a vibrant Jewish town which had barely been mentioned until now; a town of 16,000 Jewish artisans, laborers and merchants. A town which had a strong Jewish social life. A town with any number of Jewish parties, from the Haredim to the extreme left. There were also people from Belza, Czortkow, Boyany, Sasowe, Zydaczow and many more. Of all these, not even a single typed page remains. With great effort, a living Jew from the town of Stry is sought, so that he can give testimony. There is one testimony there, less than two pages long, from a living Jew from Stry who escaped the terrible Janowska camp in Lvov. But from Stry itself, not a soul survived so awful was the destruction there.
The town whose history of destruction we are describing here belonged, much
like Stry, to the area where the spirit of the infamous SS General
Katzman prevailed (according to rumors, he is now located in Lebanon). The name
of the town is Buczacz, it is located on the way from Stanislaw to Czortkow.
Buczacz is the birthplace of the famous Jewish historian, Dr. Emanuel
Ringelblum, may the Lord avenge his blood, who, during the terrible
Ghetto Warsaw days, led a group of people from the
Jewish intelligentsia in recording and writing anything relevant to the time.
And when the murderers opened fire in the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto as the
Jews were being led to the deportation square, these devoted people managed to
bury all this material. It was excavated two years ago, and constitutes the
historical Ringelblum Archive.
One of the Buczacz survivors, Yosef Kornblei, says that until the awful war there were 7,500 Jews, 1,000 Poles and 3,000 Ukrainians in Buczacz. It was, therefore, a Jewish town. For 45 continuous years, the town mayor was the Jewish Bernard Stern. After his death in 1921, until 1937, the position was occupied by the attorney Dr. Emanuel Marengel.
Kornblei recalls that Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum's father died of natural causes during the occupation, while his mother was murdered by the Nazis.
There were two synagogues in Buczacz, which were counted among the town's historical sites.
There was no permanent Gestapo office in occupied Buczacz. Once in a while the Gestapo officers would come down from Czortkow or Stanislaw. Incidentally, the Gestapo did not need to be present in Buczacz because they had people they could trust there there were Ukrainian murderers who excelled at their job no less than the Hitlerists. In any case, it is clear that the absence of Gestapo officers in the town did not alleviate the bitter fate of Buczacz Jews.
Buczacz did not have a ghetto such as the ones established in other occupied
towns. This does not mean that the Jews of Buczacz were free to move around the
town. For example, Jews were not permitted on the main street, Kolejowa. But
the fact that the Jews of Buczacz were not fenced in and imprisoned was
extremely important, particularly during the pogroms which occurred after a
while: brave Jews who found out in advance that an act was being
planned, fled to the surrounding woods, and those who had the strength to
endure the travails and who were fortunate enough, survived. A witness named
Ferber recounts that he hid in a bunker with 17 other Jews. This was in March
of 1944. Fierce and bloody battles were raging in the Buczacz area at the time,
between the Red Army and Hitler's brigades. Buczacz changed hands twice, and
those Jews who were fortunate and managed to turn themselves in to the Red Army
when it entered Buczacz for the first time, are still alive today. The Jews who
were afraid to come out of the bunkers because of the heavy fire coming from
both sides of the front, were eventually slaughtered by the Ukrainian Fascists
and the Hitlerists as they withdrew.
On August 27, 1941, 4 Gestapo men came from Czortkow and issued a command that all Jewish men between the ages of 18 and 50 must report in front of the courthouse. Some 800 Jews gathered. The Gestapo sent a few doctors and artisans back to their homes. The others were ordered to remain standing, and they themselves went to drink with the Ukrainian doctor named Bonoch. At 4 in the morning, they led all the Jews some 2 kilometers out of town to the Fedor Woods. There, they were told, cars would be waiting to take them to work.
There were no cars there, but there were large crates, and the Jews had to
place all their belongings in them. The echoes of shots coming from the forest
could be heard all morning in town. All the victims were thrown into pits that
had been dug beforehand. Among the victims of this terrible massacre were some
prominent Jewish townsmen: attorney Dr. Yedenfriend, two Lustgarten brothers,
Elhanan and Avigdor Sterensus, Moshe Erlich, Elazar Iserlis (a descendent of
Rabbi Moshe Iserlis), Getzil Schor, Leibusch Shoval, Buchwald, five members of
the Hassidic family Kreitner, Anshel and Avraham Isakover, Yoseleh Worman
(grandson of the tzaddik of Buczacz), Yisrael Fuhrman, and other martyrs.
One heroic young man, Yitzhak Reich, escaped the executioners, but was murdered later.
It is evident from the testimonies of the Buczacz destruction that the members of the Jewish council, most of whom were Haredi Jews, were not yes-men, and took a stand of honor and pride. They did not kneel down before the executioners, and not all the Hitlerists' demands were carried out. They Jews told themselves that it was better to die with dignity than to die in shame.
On one occasion, the Gestapo agents from Czortkow came and commanded that by
Sabbath eve (the witness did not recall the date) the Jews prepare 4 sets of
luxury furniture for their salons. The Jews were in no hurry to fulfill the
order, and the Hitlerists were furious when they came to town on Sabbath eve
and the furniture was not ready. As punishment, they imposed a 25,000 gilden
fine on the Jews, which was to be paid within half an hour. But the Jews paid
no more than 5,000 gilden.
March 21st marked the sixth anniversary of that freezing day when, early in the morning, the German officers and the Ukrainian police seized every Jew they could find, whether in their houses or on the streets, and led them all to the bleak woods on the shores of the Strypa river. That day, 1300 Jews were shot men and women, old and young, even small children.
Ferber completes his testimony: I recall some names of the executioners: Koznowski, the Ukranian Chief of Police and the officer Otomanjuk, and the Germans Hunt, Feil, Patz and Koch.
But there were many, many others
Ederer, Yehezkel New York
On (Eiserson), Zeev Tel Yosef
Alfenbein, Efraim New York
Besner, Esther Mishmar Ha'Emek
Blum, Dr. Kopel Tel Aviv
Goldberg, Yehoshua Tel Aviv
Goldberg, Alter Haifa
Ginsburg, Gershon Jerusalem
Hirshorn, Dr. Mekhes Ramat Yohanan
Held, Moshe Tel Aviv
Heller, Dr. Zvi Tel Aviv
Weinrab, Michael Tel Aviv
Wexler, Leon Jerusalem
Weisser, Matityahu Tel Aviv
Weinrab, Shaul Haifa
Wiesenthal, Shimon-Linz Austria
Silberstein, Dr. Avraham Genf
Zomer, Avraham New York
Halfan, Dr. Avraham Hadera
Cohen, Yisrael Tel Aviv
Menatzeach, Dr. Naftali Hadera
Neiman, David Beit Alpha
Neiman, Zalman New York
Stempler, Yehiel Tel Aviv
Fried, Yehiel Tel Aviv
Pohorile, Dr. David Tel Aviv
Tzoler, Dr. Rega Tel Aviv
Roll, Khaye Tel Aviv
Roll, Aryeh Tel Aviv
Schechner, Dr. New York
Shapira-Wolkowitz, Dr. Kiriat Haim
Gilad (Smeterling), Yehudit Degania Aleph
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