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[Page 378]

The fate of my home

by L. Rachel (nee Ajbeszyc)

Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky


My father, Reb Majer Arje Ajberszyc of blessed memory, was one of the more important Jews of the town, and a Gerer Hassid. He was a real Hassid, fearful of G-D and a learned man, [and] a brilliant scholar. He was a descendant of Reb Jonatan Ajberszyc of blessed memory.

An honest man, he lived as a merchant. Everyone had the utmost confidence in him; they knew his word was [like] “the Holy of Holies.” My father, peace be upon him, often said: “An honest hand goes over the whole country.” My father never involved himself in communal politics. He was friendly to all, [and] raising his children in a path of integrity, a spirit of religion and exemplary morality. Always with a smile on his face, he never interfered with anyone's business but let everyone go his own way.

My mother, a virtuous and pious G-D fearing woman, Chaja Cyma daughter of Reb Lejbusz Kaufman of blessed memory, was an ideal “wife of valor”, one whose word was always trusted. She served everyone with advice and good deeds. Her involvement in business along with her honesty and punctuality gave her a commendable reputation.

I am reminded of a certain episode. At the beginning of every month, the merchants would visit the shops and advise [the owners] of their inventory. My mother constantly stood at the entrance to the shop and would ask the merchants, “please come in, I want to pay our bill!”. However the reply often was, “for you there's always time. We know payment from you [people] is assured. With you we value your responsibility but with some of the others, if we don't get to them [on the first of the month], they'll pay another merchant and have the excuse that 'there's no money left to pay you'.”

I am reminded of yet another story: to Dąbrowa, markets would set up once a week, [and the day they chose] happened to be a Friday. Jews came from the surrounding villages to sell their wares, and by the time they were headed home, it was already late.

As they didn't want to violate the Sabbath, they'd entrust us with their purchases or their money even without a receipt. My parents expressed their displeasure [at the extreme trust], but they'd be answered, “Reb Majer, we have complete confidence in you, so what are you afraid of?”

With her involvement in the shop, our mother, peace be upon her, allowed my father, peace be upon him, to partake of Torah learning until late at night. I still have this picture of my father at his usual spot with an open volume, his eyes bright in intense study. He feels himself removed from the daily concerns of life, spellbound in another world, one that is continuously illuminated.


[Page 379]


My parents strong belief in the Almighty helped them through some critical moments. I remember that [once] during the German occupation, I was called to the telephone at work. I had a premonition that something had happened, and indeed I was told to come home immediately. A German policeman had entered my father's shop to buy a cane (walking stick). When told the amount my father wanted, he immediately screamed out “an exorbitant price”. He demanded to see my father's ID papers and then ordered him to report to the police station. It was known that if a Jew with beard and peyot appeared there, he'd be immediately deported to Auschwitz. Just hearing what had happened caused my heart to pound [in fear], but I refused to despair and went by myself to the Gestapo. A neighbor told me that the SS man who had been in [my father's shop] had come with a big dog.

When I arrived at the Gestapo headquarters, I asked about the policeman who had come with the dog, as his name was unknown to me. The [Gestapo] receptionist said that he was in a meeting and that I should wait. He also asked for what purpose I had come. Meanwhile, a door opened and the German with the dog came into the room where I was. Gathering up my courage, I approached him and said there was a mistake: that my father had quoted him a price in Polish currency, while the German had understood it to be in German marks. Polish currency [then] had half the worth of German currency. He asked me if I was telling the truth. After my assurances, he took out my father's ID papers from a drawer and gave them back to me. It appeared that my words convinced him that what I said was true.

Like a bolt of lightning, I [shot out the door and] began to run [to where my parents were]. Ever faster, I could hear my own heart pounding. At a distance, I made signs that I had information, and with my last strength, I fell into the arms of my parents with the joyful news: I [had gotten] my father's passport back. Our happiness is not to be described – only with an angel's help could I have accomplished this.

With a heavy heart I remember [also] my two brothers and one sister. Unlike with my dear parents who died of natural causes, my brothers and sister, together with their children, perished among all the sainted [of our people].

With a painful heart I think about my elder brother, who was a Torah scholar and a G-D fearing man named Abraham, of blessed memory. As great as he was in Torah, so was he great in good deeds. He dealt his business transactions honestly in support of his family. [And] in his free time he would engage in Torah study.

As an honest man, he conducted large transactions with only his word as his guarantee. His integrity was well-known among merchants. Already from his younger years, he amazed his friends with his acumen, phenomenal memory and honesty. Whatever he undertook to do he'd seemingly do it effortlessly.

Tears come to my eyes when I remember my second brother, Yonatan of blessed memory. He was a G-D fearing, quiet man who did everything with a smile and with constant readiness to help others. Acquaintances who were with him in the camps said he refused to eat the German-supplied soup, but survived on some occasional potatoes and bread. Even the German murderers called him “The Rabbi.”

Tears also form in my eyes when I remember my dear sister, Liba Rajzl of blessed memory. She was known for her wisdom, modesty and good heartedness. She was always ready to help the unfortunate. Her husband was a great teacher of Torah subjects from the Auerbach family.


[Page 380]


Even as a young man, he was called “Rabbi Hersz.” They lived in Sosnowiec and she was taken to Theresienstadt in one of the first actions against the Jews. A short while later, her husband and child followed and suffered the fate of the [other] martyrs.

*     *
*

The year 1939 will remain with me forever. I'll begin with 31 August 1939, the last day I worked at the office in Sosnowiec. The office boss left Sosnowiec that day on the last train for Warsaw. He thought that would be a better place than being in Zagłębie. The next day, 1 September, special military directives came into force and civilians were forbidden to travel by train.

As I now had much free time, I decided to occupy myself with the operation of our store, which [then] lay in the city center, and where until then only my parents worked.

I immediately heard rumors the Germans were approaching. Chaos began as no one knew what to do, but everyone's chief concern was not to fall into the hands of the murderers. People packed their bags and prepared to leave town. People began fleeing in all directions with their “wandering sticks” in hand. Fear gripped the people and one shivered, but all had the idea of escaping from [an impending] hell.

Among the people in the city were those who didn't agree, for various reasons, that fleeing was the answer. Among these were my parents (G-D rest them), who were too weak to run, even to a nearby city. We resolved, along with our dear neighbor, Mosze Eliezer Zarnowiecki to remain where we were, and whatever will be, will be.

When I looked around at our street, a shiver ran through my body. The long and narrow street was filled with people running mainly in the direction of Olkusz, Kielce, etc.

My parents advised me to at least [try and] save myself and run to where the others were running. However, my answer was the same Ruth gave to Naomi, “…whither thou goest, I shall go too.”


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We were told by neighbors that the Germans were already in the nearby town of Będzin, and that they had burned the synagogue there to instill fear among the population.


[Page 381]


Soon I found myself with my father in the shop. I stood on a bench by the window and could see the [German] armored vehicles approaching. [Also] the murderers with their rifles at the ready. They created fear just by their very appearance, armored from head to toe.

Our hearts began beating faster and our whole bodies trembled. One just didn't know what to do: whether to lock the shop or not. We decided, along with our neighbor Mosze Eliezer Zarnowiecki not to close the shop, and the military column passed us by.

Daily life continued. In the large stores, “Volksdeutsche” were instilled as Commissars (overseers) and left us alone. But it was just a brief respite, and soon Germans controlled all the shops.

Before long a “Judenrat” was established to organize young Jewish labor for what they called “Einsatzarbeit.” They coordinated a “Jewish police” with the responsibility to insure the requested number of Jews.


dab381.jpg [24 KB] - On the "selection" field in Dabrowa for deportation of the Jews to Auschwitz
On the "selection" field in Dabrowa for deportation
of the Jews to Auschwitz

The Judenrat had a list of Dąbrowa's entire Jewish community. One Judenrat committee established a list of taxes and fees. Many people believed that giving money [to the Judenrat] ensured their survival, or at least would prevent them from being deported. Apart from the initial payment, each Jewish family had to pay a monthly stipend (i.e. head-tax) as well as rent money for their dwelling. This money was kept partly to pay the Judenrat's own costs and partly as a hedge for the next call the Germans would have for “expenses.”

The Dąbrowa Judenrat was very energetic in its operation, and performed with alacrity in carrying out German commands and edicts. By doing so, they believed they were working in the best interest of the community. Every Judenrat member had a specific function. For example, one was in charge of all [Jewish] tradesmen, carpenters and skilled workers, and made sure they had the proper equipment with which to do their work. Another's responsibility was to see the labor quota for Germany was filled daily.

Thus the Dąbrowa Jewish community participated in the first evacuations from the neighboring towns and hamlets after the Germans came in. In the meanwhile, the Jewish leadership thought that the forced labor program was the only thing keeping the Germans from annihilating everyone. The idea was that if Jewish labor was needed, survival could continue until some real salvation happened, perhaps a miracle from heaven. The holder of a card [or pass] was believed to be “secure” i.e. the key to continued existence. However, the Germans already had a murderous plan in effect of which we had no inkling: the concentration of Jews into designated areas, so that the brutal Poles would find it easier to kill them.


[Page 382]


I remember it was on the 10th of October, 1939, when a relative from my previous job came to visit us. He said that since their bookkeeper was away in the Polish Army, I could probably have his job. It was at the mill of Waldliferant-Kleinberg in the area of Będzin, some 5-6 km from Dąbrowa.

I thus endeavored to take the position, in order to obtain a “Kennkarte”. That would enable me (at least temporarily) not to have to worry about being sent to a labor camp.

I began work there and traveled daily to my job; there were several others [from Dąbrowa] who worked there too.

After some days, a new German “Volkskommissar” took over, but kept the same body of personnel, including the Jewish employees. And as my parents (G-D rest their souls) had raised their children in religious belief, I thus immediately informed the commissar that I would no work on Shabbat, and he agreed to it. I traveled every day from Dąbrowa to Będzin with a special police permit, and worked 10-12 hours daily. The mill had been designated as a “vital” operation [to the war effort] and was required to run from morning till night.

The commissar did not keep his job very long. {Suddenly] more Germans came to work at the mill's office. The new Reichsdeutsche boss came with many of his own personnel, and we employees realized we'd not be working there much longer. And indeed, soon the new commissar read a list of names – all Jewish – who could no longer be employed at that operation. My name, however, was not included in the list. I later learned that the previous commissar stated that I was an important employee, and moreover a good bookkeeper with the ability to write Polish and German. I understood that the German who was supposed to replace me could not speak Polish and would probably take a long time to learn that language.

I'll never forget what happened next. I told my parents that a new “Leiter” took over the mill and they asked me if I had spoken to him yet about [not working on] Shabbat. I said I had resolved to talk to him about it on Thursday. My heart was pounding as I prepared myself to speak to him, and remembered my parents' blessing that my request should be successful.

I explained to him that I was raised religiously and had never, to that time, worked on the Sabbath. [Against all expectations] his answer was positive, i.e. that my terms of employment would continue as before.

After a few more another, the commissar was replaced by yet another German boss. This one however was known for his meanness, and it wasn't long before my not working on Shabbat cost me the job.

By this time, the Germans had segregated the Jewish population into special living quarters [i.e. ghettos] in narrow, confined streets. The idea was to reduce the effectiveness of Jewish life. I began working in a small shop in the Jewish quarter.

In the meanwhile, in 1941 my parents both died of natural causes. I was envied by many because my parents were able to this be buried peacefully in a Jewish cemetery.

Once, on a Shabbat, as I was walking through our quarter, I saw a man wandering around. I recognized him as one of those employees laid off from the mill. He said he had been looking for me. Unbelievably, that same commissar who had dismissed me for not working on Shabbat was now asking that I return to work there!


[Page 383]


At first I thought he was joking, but then she showed me that the mill had advertised in the local newspaper for a bookkeeper and no one had applied for the job. He was thus compelled to seek the return of the [previous] Jewish bookkeeper and would insure I had a permit that would let me travel back and forth daily.

Another year passed by, and large contingents of Jews were shipped out, only now not to work camps but to extermination camps, like Auschwitz, Majdanek, Treblinka and others, where hope for survival was slim. As I returned daily from work, friends would tell me that Jews were now being taken from workplaces, offices and shops and deported. My acquaintances advised me not to travel to work anymore, as the same fate would be mine [if I did].

One day when I came to work, the commissar told me the police were looking for me, and suggested I hide somewhere in the mill. I was sure he wanted to shelter me. However it wasn't long until he handed me over to the Gestapo, on the 19th February, 1943.

I was sent to a “Dulag” [Ger. abbreviation for “Durchgangslager”] in Sosnowiec, that is, to a transit camp, together with other women from neighboring towns.

Once, a limping German came (named Höschel). He assembled us for an “Appell” and told us he'd be sending us to a work camp. He announced as follows: “I need women with office experience, and if there are any here, let them come forward.” I wasn't prepared to be the first [volunteer], but when two other women stepped out, I was the third. Then a forth joined us and our contingent was formed. He then told us that if we worked hard, we would not be lacking for food, but if we sabotaged instead, he'd send us to the worst camp, in Beuten [Bytom].


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Mass grave

That same night at 02:00, the Germans conducted an “Appell” [rollcall], and we had to scurry to assemble immediately. The night was dark; the Germans ordered us to line up in rows of four. Everyone grabbed their packs from home, but the order was given to leave everything. One cannot imagine the anxiety we all felt, that we would now be sent not to a work camp but to an extermination camp. Without looking at one another, we began to move in rows, followed by Germans with dogs behind us, so that no one would attempt to escape. We got to the train station and entered the carriages. In each compartment was a watchman. I picked up courage and asked him where we were going. His reply: to the Paulbruck Arbeitslager, but we didn't believe him. He gave us a sign that we were not headed in the direction of Mysłowice (i.e. Oświęcim). By saying this, he gave us a new soul…


[Page 384]


Late at night we arrived, hungry and thirsty. They asked us to gather up [empty] cans of preserves which littered the ground near the train and began to dole out a kind of soup. I had resolved [not to eat any], but when the hunger became acute, my resolve failed me. The women who had been designated for Paulbruck had to hurry to organize themselves. It was a sugar factory, and with a common effort, we cleaned the place up and arranged beds for ourselves. We, the four women chosen to work in an office, were waiting for a miracle. Unable to wait, I once asked the German [overseer] why we weren't assigned to the [office] work. The answer was they hadn't gotten that kind of an order yet. Instead we were given other work to do. Then finally the German called for us. It was practically a dream that Jewish women would be called to do office work in a camp, but that was the reality. Actually, four men had occupied those positions, but because of an order than men were to be excluded from office work, we filled their places.

The Germans were satisfied with our work. It was a German office, and we four Jewish women We sat in a special room [and worked]. The foreman and German bookkeeper were decent fellows. From time to time, they brought us food from the Aryan kitchen. The German “Leiter” would travel home every Sunday to Breslau, and on Monday when he returned, would open our door and give us some cookies, apples, [or even once] a clothes bin with which to wash our clothing. It sounds unbelievable [but that's what happened].

Thanks to the German Leiter we slept in a separate room. Before that, we slept in a large room with around 150 other women. There it was bad because we weren't able to rest. Many women returned late at night from their work and made a lot of noise. We had complained to the Judenältesten and asked that she get us the little storeroom which was usually empty and not in use. We argued that unless we had proper rest at night, we'd be prone to making mistakes, and if so, the slightest mistake could be interpreted as “sabotage.” Thus the Leiterin was convinced of our reasoning and gave us that small room.

The Judenältesten was insanely jealous of us after that and schemed ways to vent her anger [at us].

Once, as we returned from work, she stood in front of us and told us in Polish:

“Girls, a wagon of material has arrived and we have to unload it”, and walked away. I told the girls, don't do it because she's just trying to burden us down with extra work. After a long while, the material remained outside where it had been unloaded. So she warned: “if this material has not been brought into the spare room in the next 10 minutes, you will get no supper nor will mail be delivered to you.” However when the German Leiterin had intervened, her approach was quite different, and she promised us extra bread with butter, etc.

As office workers we received extended rations, and these we sometimes divided up and gave to men who came from other work camps.

In 1944, the camp [where the sugar factory was] was reduced in size, and we were ordered to the “Gröditz” camp, which had inhumanly unsanitary conditions. The Jewish foremen didn't concern themselves with this, and [consequently] a typhus epidemic broke out, causing hundreds to die. We four women volunteered to clean and disinfect the rooms. We were given all honor for doing so.

At the end of 1944, we were transferred to Peterswaldau [Pieszyce, Lower Silesia], where there was an ammunition factory. From there the Russians liberated us on the 9th of May, 1945.


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