|The surviving Gostyniners stand at the gravesites|
by Moshe Szajewicz (Israel)
Translated by Pamela Russ
When the Nazis marched into Gostynin, Yom Kippur 1939, they herded all the Jews, men, to the market place and ordered everyone to kneel down on the ground. The SS soldiers surrounded them and terrorized them with their machine guns. Soon, groups of Nazis went to Jewish homes and emptied them of every valuable item they could find. They stole money, jewels, and valuable things.
Then the Jews were chased into the Polish church and locked up there for the entire night. The following morning, the Germans released from the church the more important workers in the food business, such as bakers, butchers, and small food store owners. My father and my older brother, who were registered as meat merchants, were also let go. The city was taken over by a hope that now they were finally beginning to free the Jews and soon all the others in the Polish church would also be let go. Apparently, the Gostynin Jews were very na´ve. They couldn't imagine what kind of terrible fate was about to pour itself over their heads.
My father, Shaul, a professional butcher, was working with meat in his butcher shop as usual. Even Germans came to him to buy meat. German patrols often went through the food stores and butchers, and for the smallest misdemeanor, and even without …
The family Szajewicz
|Shaul Szajewicz and family|
… misdemeanors, they murderously beat the people they found, Jews and Polaks alike.
Once, a civilian German came into our butcher store, and sniffed out each corner. He went to the door, gave a lash in the air with his whip, and said: Keep this place clean, Jew. I've already closed up many stores.
It seemed that this German was the county leader of Gostynin, who demonstrated much cruelty towards the Jews and committed countless murders. The next time he came to us in the store, he was already wearing a military uniform, and a huge dog did not leave his side. Who knows what type of merits supported us, so that this German gave my father a note so that he would be able to get animals on Gombiner Street to slaughter.
After that, it became known to all the Jews that this county leader was the worst sadist who satisfied himself with spilled Jewish blood. With his leather whip in hand, and in the company of his huge dog, he would rip into Jewish homes and murderously beat every Jew that he encountered. The worst was that he spent his fiercest rage onto Jewish women. He forced the women to stretch out on the ground and that's how he beat them until he saw that blood was gushing from these tragic women. Until that point, he did not leave his victim.
The situation for the Jews became continually worse. The order was given that every Jew must wear a yellow patch one on the right sleeve and one on the back. Jews were forbidden from using the sidewalk they were only allowed to walk on the street. Whoever disobeyed the Nazi orders was severely punished.
They began to snatch Jews from the streets for work and this caused a panic in the town. Those who were taken, worked very hard and as a benefit were given terrible beatings.
People decided to leave the city and go to …
… the Polish border areas that had been taken over by Soviet Russia. Everyone sold everything they had. With a small bag in hand, they took to the long road. It was a road of hundreds of kilometers, and a road fraught with all kinds of dangers. Jews could not travel by train, and not always were they able to get a horse and wagon. But only very few could leave their homes, wives, and children. So the majority of Jews remained in their places.
Our butcher shop was the only one that remained open. So, at the same time we sold bread and other products that were given out with ration cards. At that point, you could still buy meat for free, without cards. That's why the people actually did eat mainly meat then. My father gathered together all the butchers of the town, whose shops had been closed by the Nazis, and told them to unite together so that the earnings would be divided equally among them. You could still get animals for slaughtering, especially since the Germans who were occupied with giving out the permits for these animals were all being bribed.
Suddenly, an order from the Nazis came to the Gostynin ghetto that all the Jews had to go to a confined area. Several streets up to the Bug River were enclosed with barbed wire. A gate was put up on the side of the market. The entrance to the newly set up ghetto was over there. Soon, a community council was set up with Jewish police who had to maintain order. The total overseer of this council was Asher Zweiboim. They established a worker's department whose job it was to send Jews to work. The Germans no longer had to grab Jews off the streets. They would come into the ghetto to the people, and the council had already collected the number of Jews that they ordered.
Every Jew had to work three times a week. Even though I was still too young to go to work, I …
… voluntarily lined up for work to take the place of my father. I worked with other Jews in the school on Kutno Street. The German military was located there. From five to seven o'clock you were permitted to go out of the ghetto with a note from the community council in order to get water, since there was none in the ghetto. Often, I would take off the yellow patches, go through the barbed wire, and out into the market. There I bought eggs, butter, chickens, and in the Polish stores I traded for bread and cigarettes. You could go back into the ghetto until nine o'clock. If anyone was caught in the streets after this time, he would be beaten murderously by the Germans. Often the SS men would sneak into the ghetto and any Jew they would meet would be severely beaten.
It was the first time that there was a free trade going on in the ghetto. Anyone who had money could buy what he wished. Everyone thought that life would now go on like that in the walledin ghetto, but suddenly everything changed. All at once, there was an uproar among the Jews in the ghetto. The Germans put out a demand of the council in the ghetto that they assemble 150 Jews to be sent out to work. The Jewish police distributed notes to the houses that the men should be present on a specific day with their packs, to be sent off to work. Women and children wailed and cried: How could they let their husbands go, not knowing where they were going, and remain without earnings and with hardly anything for themselves or for the children who are losing their fathers? No one presented himself at the set time.
The Jewish police approached the Germans, telling them that without the Germans, they would be able to do nothing. Then, some Nazis went with them, with shotguns in their hands. The Jewish police went from house to house, and everyone who refused to go to work received deathly beatings from the Germans. This made it appear that it was the Jews who had put themselves into this situation.
The entire ghetto population was assembled in the square. Soon …
… the trucks arrived and all 150 men were loaded up as oxen. As we found out later, the people were transported to a camp near Posen. From there, families received letters saying that the men were well and were working. You could even send packages to them. The days passed, and those who remained in the city spoke incessantly of the men who were sent to work.
One fine day, posters were put up in the ghetto, calling all Jews to go before the community council to register in the worker's bureau. In these announcements, it was promised that the workers would be paid for their labor. Everyone believed this. My two brothers were working from before, taking apart Jewish houses in the market (such as Alberstajn's house near the pharmacy). Jews worked there together with Polaks and were paid for their work. Many Jews went, therefore, to register. My father was among them.
I went out in the morning to see what would happen with the registration. I myself was too young to register. When everyone was already assembled at the municipality, suddenly, from all corners, the evil Gestapo police ran out with gunshots in their hands. They surrounded all of us, and with screams they warned us that whoever would try to run away would be shot. The Germans released only the older people and a few foremen. They also let my father go.
After that, they led all of us out of the ghetto, me included. The took us to the Russian church. It happened that Yitzchok Kreuczer was the first to cross the threshold of the church and I went in right after him. I turn around and see that Yitzchok jumped to the widow, opened it up, and so he was outside. I wanted to do the same thing, and now I was in the street too. But to my misfortune, a German policeman noticed me, and captured me. Now they had to …
… carry me back to the church, since I was so beaten up. For long hours, I lay in faint. Later, when I got up on my feet, I saw that the church was packed with Jews, and they were continuing to bring in more and more. The municipality people arrived with Zweiboim at the head. They demanded money from the captives. Whoever could buy themselves off with money was released, and in his place a poor man was brought in. The Gestapo continued to drag in fresh groups of Jews into the church.
Wajland showed up, accompanied by the municipality people. He was the head of the German worker's unit. He assured everyone that they did not have to be afraid because they were taking us all to a work place where there would be plenty to eat and also money would be paid for work. The German noticed me and I saw that he was whispering something secretly to Zweiboim of the Jewish municipality, gesturing with his hand toward me. Zweiboim whispered something into his ear. I did not hear what they were talking about. Probably that I looked like a child who should not be sent with the transport.
I saw my mother crying, and she called to me: You're still a child. You'll get lost in the world. Soon my father arrived and comforted me from a distance, saying that he spoke to the municipality people to release me and they promised to do so. But meanwhile, the Gestapo people arrived again and they chased in all those who had gathered outside. They brought more Jews in two more trucks one from Gombyn, and another from Sonik everyone was stuffed into the church. It became so crowded there, that one was actually standing on top of another. The night passed. Exhausted, we lay down on the concrete floor, and in the narrowness, we slept through the night.
The following morning, my father brought me a sack with a few things and some money. They did not allow my mother to go out of the ghetto …
… to see me. When I asked my father what was happening with my being released, he cried bitterly and answered that if they released me then they would take my brother.
Soon the trucks came to get us. I said good bye to my father who was standing with me near the window. We kissed each other and cried bitterly. The policemen began to take the people outside. The Gestapo, with arms in hand, surrounded us and with them, we were taken to the trucks. Sixty men were told to get into a truck. I went into the second truck. We left soon after that. A Nazi police rode behind each truck making sure that no one would jump out while the truck was driving. We passed by the market. I saw my two brothers working near the buildings. From a distance, they waved their hands at me. Now we are riding past the gate to the ghetto. Crowds of people were standing there waving to us and crying. I also saw my mother. The entire Kowalier Street until the Bug was inside the ghetto. Everywhere, people were standing and crying as we passed. The barbed wire of the ghetto with the people disappeared from our eyes, and outside of the city, the trucks started to speed up. Now we could only see the edge of the church, and everything disappeared from our eyes. Would I ever see Gostynin again? I thought to myself, and that's probably what all my companions were thinking as well.
Away from Gostynin
The trucks took us to the Bug River where we washed ourselves very well. There we were guarded by the Wloclaw [Wraclaw] police who came to take us with them. We came to Wloclawek and from a distance we noticed that the local Jews were wearing the yellow patches. The trucks then took us to the station. We were loaded up into the wagons, and very soon the train moved from its place.
In about an hour, we arrived in Torun. From there we went to Inowroclaw, and we stayed there for a few hours under guard of Gestapo police. It started to get dark then the train resumed its journey. Half an hour later, the train stopped and they told us to get off.
After counting us, they set us out to five men in a row and they took us to the side where they had set up barracks. When we went inside, we saw about 200 men. These people had been brought from Kolo and Sampolne, near Wloclawek. They were already here for a few days and they had put up the barracks.
The camp commander arrived, a young Gestapo man in a black uniform, and said to us that here we would have to dig canals 20 kilometers in length, because here they would be putting in water pipes. Now we were in Amsee (under Poland, this area was called Janiekowo). The camp director told us to obey the rules or else we would be walled in with barbed wire. We would get up at four in the morning, have some bread and coffee. At five, we would go to the train and from there we would be taken to Inowroclaw. There we would work, he told us, from seven in the morning until four in the evening.
After the speech of the camp elder, we went to the kitchen to get food. Everyone was holding a bowl in their hands. The cook poured a liter of soup into the bowl. The cook was a Polak from Posen [Poznan]. Whoever did not hold his bowl properly received a smack with the ladle. They started beating us already at the first meal. We complained to the camp elder about the cook's treatment towards us. The elder coldbloodedly replied: It is not his fault. You should hold the bowl straight.
For sleeping we were given cots and covers. There were 80 men sleeping in each barrack.
The following day, Sunday, we did not go to work but …
… we worked in the place we were. For lunch were given a soup made of kohlrabi, that one feeds to animals. In honor of Sunday, there were small pieces of horsemeat cut into the soup. For the evening meal, we were given watery cabbage.
The following day, at four in the morning, the bell woke us from sleep. There was hardly any water with which to wash. After a very meager breakfast, at five we were already taken to the train. Under guard of the Gestapo, we were shut in the wagons, and were forced to stand on our feet all the way to the place, passing out from the cold of the fall dawn.
In the Work Camp
At the place, we were given shovels and spades and we were ordered to dig three meters down in length, 1.80 in width, and 2.70 deep. The ground was hard. Civilian Germans kept us under guard. Whoever didn't do the work right was immediately beaten.
For breakfast and lunch we were given breaks of half an hour, but there was nothing to eat. We finished working at four but we had to wait for the train until seven. When we arrived back at the camp, it was already very late, and now we got food that consisted of potatoes and a watery soup. We were exhausted from a hard day's hunger and purposeless work. The camp elder went to give out the food and screamed that we should move faster to get the food. Whoever did not move fast enough to get the food from the cook was beaten by the camp elder and the cook assisted him with that. Many people forfeited getting their food and went to sleep without food instead.
In addition, each evening each time it was people from another room we had to work in the kitchen: peeling potatoes, washing pots …
… and plates. This work went on until 12 or one o'clock at night. At four o'clock exactly, the bell already went off to wake us up.
Once it happened in the middle of the night, right in the middle of our sleep, that Gestapo police crashed into our room with truncheons in hand and with their dogs. They began beating left and right, and chased everyone out into the yard. In only our underclothing, we had to run around the yard, and they hit us with their truncheons wherever they could. For an hour we had to run like that under the shouts and beatings of the Gestapo. Only when we went back into the barracks did we find out that this had been a punishment for two of our people had run away. These were the two from Gostynin, Alberstajn and Rosenberg, the rope maker. After this happened, the Germans walled in the camp. Their treatment of us became worse.
We wrote to our families to send us food stuffs. The packages that we later received from our homes were opened and the goods were taken out by our German guards and Polish overseers left were worthless remnants.
Once, when we came back from work, we found a new 120 men in the camp, all had come from Gostynin, Gombyn, and Sanok. The news that these newcomers gave us was bitter: They were sending the men of Gostynin out to work.
I, and some of the younger ones, could not tolerate the hard labor of digging the canals. I went to the supervisor to ask if he could get us some easier work, since our strength could not keep up. He promised that he would ask in the worker's department about our request. Only two weeks later, they told us to register and tell them our age. The next day, the camp director let us know that all those who had registered should not go out to work. We were thirteen boys. From Gostynin were: Shmuel Etinger, Meyer Jesyn, Yakov …
… Srebnagora, Zenik Tabacznik, Lipe Rosenberg, and I. Incidentally, Rosenberg was very tall, and he was afraid that he would fail to look like part of us, who were smaller. When the camp commander called out our names, we took in Lipe Rosenberg in the middle of this, and he crouched over slightly. In short, we all passed through peacefully.
Across Villages and Farms
Soon, a Polak with a horse and wagon arrived. The camp commandant told us that we would be going to work on a farm. We were very happy to hear this news. When we were already sitting in the wagon, we asked the Polak what it was like with the food, he answered us: You will explode from the food, and you will not work too hard with potatoes and beets.
When the wagon began to move from its spot, we practically cried for joy, and the farther we got from the camp, the happier was our mood, to such an extent that we started to sing.
We arrived to the place. A fatty soup with a lot of grease was cooking in the pot. We were so starved that each of us ate 10 or twelve bowls of soup. The Polaks who were watching the way we wolfishly swallowed all these bowls of soup, crossed themselves in terrible wonder at how children were able to eat so much.
The following day, we went out to work. The labor was heavy and went on from the morning until it was pitch dark. Some worked at gathering potatoes, some with the horses. But we were able to get through the work because we had enough to eat.
Winter was approaching. One time, Tabacznik said to me that he had to leave for a while, but he would be back soon. Suddenly, I saw at a distance how he threw himself down on the earth. At that moment I did not understand what had happened to him, I thought he was playing at something. But I saw that it didn't …
… stop. I ran over to him and saw how he was thrashing about in convulsions with his face down towards the ground and there was foam around his mouth. I lifted him up and carried him to the closest pool of water. I washed him and led him to the working field. The following morning he did not come to work. He received a discharge permit and went home to Gostynin by train.
From the letters that were written to me from home, I found out that in Gombyn they captured my brother Pesakh, and Shmaye Zajacs, and many others and they were sent away to Germany.
When we finished working at the farm, they sent us to another farm. There they did not guard us at all and we were able to move around freely. In that whole area there were camps for men and women, but these were under guard. I longed to meet the people from Gostynin, and therefore, once on a Sunday, on a cold, snowy day, when we were free of work, I and another young Wloclawa boy went on the road to try to find people from our town who were in the camps. After about 20 kilometers, already being good and tired, we went into a Polak's hut to warm up. He welcomed us with something warm to eat and something to drink. From him we learned that four kilometers from where we were there was a women's camp. When we heard this, we quickly got up from our place and, in a good mood, we went on our way. Suddenly, at a distance, we saw a girl. How excited I got when, as we got closer to her, I actually recognized the girl. It was Brastowska from Plocker Street, a neighbor on that street. Our joy was without end. She was going she told us to work in the village as a seamstress. On this free Sunday, she got food to eat for this. Three kilometers further on, there was a camp, and over there were other girls from Gostynin she told me. Of course, we went directly over there.
As we opened the door of the large house, a group of Gostynin girls separated themselves from the others girls. We immediately recognized the girls [from Gostynin]. They cried with joy it was not a small thing, to see a young man from your own town of Gostynin in these circumstances. To this day, I still remember many of them: a daughter of Shloime Zalantcz, Chaytchke Tabacznik, Mudzhe Glancz, and others. The camp commandant appeared, an elderly man in a uniform. After a brief talk with him, he permitted us to have more conversation with the girls. They told me that they were working very hard paving roads. They got very little to eat. Eight kilometers from here they said there was another women's camp and there were more Gostynin girls there, namely: Rute Faige Szatan, Chana Tabacznik, Baile Neiman, and others. It got late, and we promised that we would come again the following week.
The next week, we brought food along. When we arrived to the camp to see the girls, they were overjoyed. We also visited the other camp and met the other girls from Gostynin.
I received mail. My mother wrote that they had taken away all the young men and women from the ghetto. They also took away the municipality people and the Jewish police my father and older brother Pinkhas as well. Only elderly Jewish men and women remained. All the younger ones were taken to Konin near Posen [Poznan].
Our work on the farm was completed again. There is little work to be done in the fields during winter. They sent us to a resting camp until the end of the winter. There were girls there who had also worked on farms. We found ourselves in a church surrounded by a tall fence of barbed wire. The city was called Mogilno, not far from the historic city of Gniezno. They sent us into the city to clear the streets from snow. January 1942, I received a letter from my mother. She wrote that she wanted to send out all her belongings because …
… they [the people] were going to be transported she did not know where to. I did not receive any more news from my mother.
In the spring, the work department sent us to different farms. We were all together they even added 40 girls who were from various cities in Poland, such as: Warsaw, Lodz, Wloclawek, Czekoczynek, Krusniewycz, and others. We worked in the villages.
I received mail from Konin from my father and brothers. They wrote that they traveled 60 kilometers to work. The labor was difficult, it was on the railway, and that the food was terrible. They also had not received any mail from our mother.
We worked in the village for more than a year. One clear, bright morning, some Gestapo men arrived and ordered us to get up onto the huge trucks. Under a hail of dirt and beatings, we climbed up and left for Inowroclaw. From there we were taken on foot to a camp.
In a New Camp
As soon as we arrived, I heard someone shout out my name: Moshe Sajewicz! When I ran in the direction that the voice had come from, I saw before me the Matil brothers Shmulek and Gershon. Also, Hershel Szwarcz, and others. We hugged and kissed each other out of joy. They told us that my father and my brothers were working at the railway. My brother Pinkhas was hit by a wagon [from the train] and was no longer able to work. He remained behind in the camp as a sick person. Later they registered all the sick people to send them away. My father also registered himself as a sick person. They were both sent away to Jezow.
A little while later, a transport of Gostynin girls arrived from their camp. We spent the night under the open sky.
Very early the next morning, they took us to the train, and we were loaded onto the wagons, men and women separately. Each wagon was overcrowded with people, beyond the limits, without food or drink. That's how we went, shut in without even a little air. We had no idea where we were going. Some knew enough to tell us that the Germans had set up ovens to burn people to death. We rode all day, until the train stopped. Finally, the doors of the wagons were thrown open and the SS soldiers with the truncheons in hand, screamed and chased us out, and did not permit us to take our packages.
Thieves out! they shouted and beat us with their truncheons. The chaos among the people was unimaginable. They set us out five in a row, men and women separately. The square was huge and was lit up by reflectors [light beams]. We found ourselves in Auschwitz.
Soon they chose people who were capable for work those who could not, were set aside separately. The fate of those people was only too well known. Then we were loaded onto trucks and driven away. As we drove, I said my farewells from a distance to the Gostynin girls that was the last time I ever saw them. The SS soldiers on motorcycles followed behind us. In the truck I was in, were also the Matil brothers, Lipe Rozenberg, and others. Finally, we came to a camp. There we got off, and again were set out five in a row. We were about 800 men. We marched, and were taken to a bathing barrack. There was such crowding there, that one practically stood on the other. We were ordered to strip naked, and to only keep our belts with us. The heat was so bad that we could not catch our breath.
So, they are going to gas us we thought they told us to keep our belts with an intention, so that they could carry us more easily out of here.
We looked up at the ceiling from where the gas should have streamed out. Out of fear, many Jews recited their confessions. Suddenly, there was a spray of water. Can anyone even imagine the wave of joy that the water brought along with it?
After bathing ourselves, we went outside. Everyone got their shoes back. Naked, we were forced to march across the square. The cold was unbearable. That's how we were taken into the camp's infirmary where we were marched around and each one was given a number tattooed on the arm. Then they gave us all clothing.
The following morning, after a sleepless night, everyone received a piece of material on which was written the number that was on the person's hand, with an addition of a Star of David. We had to sew this onto our jackets and onto our pants. In these unusual clothes with our belts on, we looked like clowns. We slept 800 men in the barrack, and were given 350 grams of bread and soup twice a day. At 5:30 AM we were given tea or coffee and a portion of bread with margarine or marmalade. Our cots were three tiered. When the Kapo beat awake those sleeping on the bottom, the ones on the top had time to run away I always slept on the top bunk.
When the bell began to ring, we had to be in the rollcall square in a flash. There we were counted. There were 22,000 people in the camp, from all nations of the world. Then we marched to the gate, to go to work. An orchestra of 40 men was playing there. We had to march to the rhythm of the military orchestra. The Kapo yelled out: Caps off! In one move, everyone had to take off their hats and stamp with their right foot. And that's how we marched out through the gate where the SS men counted us, to see how many …
… of us were going to work. We came back from work with the same ceremony, and the orchestra again played marches for us, and the SS men counted us again to see if anyone was missing.
One day, when we returned from work, the bell was ringing. This was a sign that the SS men were taking the sinners to their hanging. According to the number of gallows that were set up in the square, we knew the number of people who were to be hanged on that day. We had to wait in the square until all the commandos came back from work. Deathly starved, we had to wait for hours until they would carry out the executions of the innocent people. After marching before the elders, we went into the block to receive food.
From Shabbath noon until Sunday morning we did not go to work.
Life in the camp brought with it some tragiccomic moments. On the free days, the unfortunates, under the worst conditions, undertook all sorts of boxing matches, football games, and theatrical presentations. At the same time, the chimneys from the crematoria did not stop spitting out thick balls of black smoke…. In the shadow of death, pathetic life continued on. I remember that in Auschwitz, they put a filling into my tooth that had gone bad…
I was in the camp from 1943 until 1945. We had to leave the German concentration camp in January, because the Russians were getting closer to the camp. The sick people in the hospital did not want to be left behind since they were afraid that they would be shot when we would be gone.
When the Russians Were Approaching
I remember that Sunday afternoon when we left the camp. There was a terrible frost. What a tragic picture …
… my eyes saw: The sick people were wrapped in blankets (they had no clothing on), and they went on the way with us. Of course, not all survived the difficult conditions. Many of them actually froze to death from the cold.
We marched for about 40 kilometers. At night, we came to Glejwicz [Gliwice]. There were several camps there. They crowded in more people into every camp. The difficulties had so exhausted us that we slept deeply under the open sky in the snow. There we were loaded onto wagons. In my wagon I met the brothers Shmulek and Gershon Matil, and Beryl Szwarcz. We took up a wooden beam and set it up by the wall and on that, set out some straw so that it would be softer to sit on. In each wagon, they pushed in about 90 to 100 men. We, the Gostyniner, stayed together. We covered ourselves with our blankets, and since we were exhausted from the difficult roads, we fell asleep right away.
The following day, when we awoke from sleep, half the wagon was covered in snow. We washed ourselves with snow. We were hungry and no food was provided. When we got up in the evening, we became very frightened: In the wagon, there were several frozen people. Every day, we removed dead bodies of those who froze on the way. We, the four Gostyniners, managed to maintain ourselves.
When we came to the Czechoslovakian city of Baden, the residents there helped us with food. When we stopped in a station, they threw food into the wagons. The SS soldiers forced the people away with shots, and did not allow them to throw the food up [into the wagons]. But the Czechs continued to throw food up to us, until the SS men opened fire. We were able to successfully catch a lot of the food, and we shared it among ourselves. We continued like that in the open wagons for five weeks, until we came to Buchenwald.
When they opened the wagons in Buchenwald and they told us to get down no one was able to get up. The people from that camp had to come up into the wagons and physically take us down. From each wagon, 20 to 30 barely breathing people were taken down. The rest had died from hunger and cold. They quickly put us into a warm bath. Two people carried me. I did not feel my feet and felt that I would pass out at any moment. When the warm water started to flow I felt as if a new soul had entered me. The water was steaming hot and no one felt the heat. We came back to our senses. Soon we received fresh clothing. We were taken to a block where there were 2,500 people. We got food only in the evening. You can only imagine how long it took to give food to all these people and to count them in the rollcall square. We were standing outside in the cold for a few hours until the counting came out evenly.
When the order came to go to the block, the pushing was unimaginable. The block elders began to beat and spray with hoses of water. The clothing was frozen with frost, and many died from becoming sick from the cold. These scenes repeated themselves each day until finally you managed to get into the block.
Eighteen men slept on each cot. It was very difficult to turn over. One person warmed himself on the exhausted body of the other person, in the terrible cold. When one person went outside for his personal needs, he couldn't get back into his cot and had to suffer until morning.
Breakfast was given out to 2,500 people: bread and coffee. This took hours. The camp was overflowing with people and there was terrible hunger. People slept in the washrooms. The blocks were overflowing.
One Brother Searches for the Other
In one of the rooms, I found a Gostyniner, Wladek Laski, and he gave me regards from my brother Pesakh. He was in Block 51. They had sent him to another camp. I was sorry that I didn't have the good fortune to meet my brother after years of wandering. I visited the block, maybe I would meet other acquaintances who were with my brother. All at once, I saw a familiar face Binyomin Dancziger, a carpenter from Plocker Street. Surely he knew about my brother he even showed me the bed where my brother used to sleep. He moved to another camp only two days ago to which one, Wladek did not know. We spoke for a while about our home town, and about acquaintances and people from the town…
There was an uproar in the block. The block elder let everyone know that tomorrow morning a transport would be leaving for work they [the workers] would be given food. All those who wanted to go with this transport should be at the gate tomorrow morning. I, the Matil brothers, and other acquaintances decided to leave the camp. Anyway, here, more than once a day we did not receive any food.
We traveled to the second camp for two days about 80 kilometers. There were ongoing bombings all along the way. At night, we came to the camp Ohrdruf, but it seemed that we still had to go farther. But meanwhile, we received warm soup. We spent the night in horses' stalls on the bare concrete floor, without any covers. Early the next morning, we were chased on foot for about 30 kilometers until we came to the camp Krawinkel, that was located in a forest. We slept in bunkers deep in the ground. We got up at dawn and went to work. We worked hard loading cement, steel, and other heavy loads onto the wagons. The conditions were very bad.
In the camp, I met a familiar young man from Warsaw, who used to come often to his family in Gostynin he …
… told me that the day before, in the evening, when he came back from work, he recognized my brother. He even tried to call out his name. My brother turned around and waved. But it was impossible to approach him because they were under guard. The camp was about seven kilometers from here, and was called Zeltlager.
Two weeks later, we had to leave the camp because the Russians were approaching. The Germans took us back to Buchenwald. People escaped on the way. Many were shot during this time. I didn't want to run away because I had my brother in my mind. When we came to Buchenwald, the loudspeaker announced which transport was coming in. With all my strength, I called out the name of my brother, Monjek Szajewicz! I called out and asked of each new person that came in. All at once, a man approached me in a straw hat on his head and a French coat and wooden clogs on his feet. I recognized him immediately. We embraced and cried like children. What joy … what joy! We kissed and kissed each other and couldn't tear ourselves apart. We had plenty to tell each other. My brother Monjek, looked terrible. I gave him some of the food that I had saved up.
Where We Spent the Day, We Did Not Spend the Night …
March 1945. It was very dark before sunrise. I don't remember the exact date. A few thousand men were taken out of the camp. The Matil brothers joined me and my brother. We waited outside for several hours. The SS men and their huge dogs arrived. We were surrounded and guarded by them. They ordered us to march. We …
… left where to, we did not know. There were many SS men, approximately one German for every four Jews. It was pouring rain, and that's how we marched for 50 to 60 kilometers a day. In the beginning, every group of four men received a loaf bread, and later even that was not given. Whatever we found on the road was a prize. Our good fortune was that we went through backroads, and so we would pass through villages and would find potatoes, beets, sometimes rotten, on the roads. We would eat these, picking them right up from the ground. We spent the nights in stables where sometimes we would find some oats, barley we would eat all kinds of grains.
A feeling always enveloped us that our end was near. People stopped in the middle of the way, feeling they could not go on. The SS men shot these people on the spot. And not only these: Often, they would simply remove 30 or 40 men from the rows, take them into the forest, and there end their lives. From day to day, our strength was more and more drained. Every day, the SS head would inform his officer how many Jews were shot that day. And the superior officer would give him further instructions about how many Jews should be shot the following day. We heard these reports ourselves.
We continued to march and saw how every day the rows were becoming more and more sparse. In the middle of one such bloody day, my brother calls out to me that he is stopping he has no more strength to continue going, and he wants to run away. It will be whatever it will be, he justified himself to me. Let them shoot me. You can only be shot once. And once again he called out to me, You are stronger than I am, you're still fine.
If you run away, I said to him, then we both run away. My brother did not support this plan. If one person runs away, then he might still be lucky, it's easier for him to hide. I …
… did not allow my brother to run away by himself. I held him up and supported him so that we could go together.
People fell like flies, some from weakness and exhaustion, and others from German bullets. My brother did not stop thinking about his plan. Okay, let it be that both of us should escape together. Finally he agreed. We decided that we would run away. We would hide separately, spend the night separately, and if possible, sustain ourselves wherever we would find provisions. Then we would meet in the forest, when the group would already have marched off.
I left to sleep in a stall, and that's what my brother was supposed to do as well. Under the hay, I felt a bag of oats it was a treasure! Suddenly, I heard that they were ordering everyone to assemble. I quickly filled my pockets with oats and went outside. We all felt that something different was happening. SS men and German people were talking among each other, that the Americans were not far from here. We were overtaken with joy, but the Germans with a terror. They decided to continue with the marching, and actually to do so at night. Now they were not afraid that we would run away. The SS men recruited German civilians from the local mayor to help move out this transport. The civilian Germans wore white armbands on their sleeves and also carried weapons.
I did not see my brother. Apparently, he remained there as we had discussed. We marched through a city and I could easily have run away. I saw German women and children run away. They were afraid of the American military marching in. What joy it was to live and see such a picture! The German soldiers let their dogs loose from their leashes and we repeatedly heard shooting in the forest and the barking of the dogs. It seems that the Germans had not yet ended their acts of slaughtering and murdering.
The entire time, I was tormented by thoughts of my brother. I searched for him without end. When the Germans ordered …
… us to sit and rest they themselves were exhausted from these long treks I did not stop looking for him. But all for nothing. I thought that maybe he suffered the fate of all the others whom the dogs had captured, and that he was no longer among the living.
The chaos of those escaping was getting greater. The SS men themselves were beginning to desert. Among our leaders were also Ukrainians, Hungarians, Romanians, Lithuanians, and they too began to leave. We went over to a camp that was called Flossenberg. I was very happy, because my strength was completely gone. The camp, however, was overcrowded, and they did not let us in. They told us to go to a nearby field and lie down there. The night was dark and cold. We looked forward to the morning. There was no notion that anyone could sleep.
Again, we took to the road. Across the skies, there were airplanes flying English, American, and Russian, which bombed the area. Later, they flew down low, over our heads. The rescue was near, but life for us had become ugly. Smashed up trucks and cars littered the roads.
The war was ending. But we were still prisoners and did not see even a sliver of light. Every minute was life threatening. Soon a new day would dawn across the world and in our moods, under the whip of the German truncheons, ruled more dark nights.
We could not suffer any more. I decided to run away. I and someone else decided to escape. Soon, once again we were in stables. It was nighttime and we got up to go out into the field. We'd run about 20 meters, and suddenly the spitting of a machine gun hit us. We ran back into the stable. It passed, but we were prisoners again.
I ran away a second time to a village, in the middle of the day. I hid in an oven where they baked bread and to my luck, there was an SS man hiding there too. He was …
… sleeping. Near him was his dog who smelled me and started barking. I left quickly and went back to the transport. This also passed, and again I did not escape, but I was still alive. It was difficult for me to walk, my feet were raw and wounded. I bared my feet and that's how I went in the deep cold. Some sort of extraordinary strength pushed me. I myself was already like a fettered wild animal.
From several thousand men, a group of about 150 remained. I saw that the SS chief was giving his men more bullets. He pointed with his hand to the nearby forest, about five kilometers from us, no more than that. They would shoot all of us in that forest. It began to pour rain. Drenched to the bone, we went. We simply didn't care anymore what would happen to us. Suddenly, from the forest, a company of German policemen on horses appeared. We were ordered to sit on the ground. There were puddles on the ground because of the rain. We sat in the mud. For a long time, the policemen argued with the SS men. We did not know what had happened here. Finally, they ordered us to get up and they took us to the forest. Deep in the forest, a gate opened and we went in. Once again, the SS men beat us murderously and yelled: You cursed dogs! You are lucky!
In their rage, we felt that something fateful had happened. We went to a large house. We saw women looking out of the barred windows.
Suddenly, the women opened the windows and began to scream in all languages: Keep your heads up high! The Americans are coming soon!
When I heard the overwhelming news, I felt as if my hair was standing on edge and all my pains disappeared. We saw how the SS head ran away. The camp commandant came to us with the news that he was taking over and would give us over to the Americans. Right before they left, the SS men took out two men and shot them. These were two brothers who allegedly had wanted to run away.
It seemed that the SS men and our other overseers did not want to leave us here. There was a fight with renewed energy that came along with the approach of the end of the war. In the end, the German police got their way, and we stayed in this camp and every minute we waited for the American army.
We actually did not even have the strength to celebrate. We lay on the beds, sick and broken. The camp commander came to us in the block and explained that now we were under his responsibility and no more bad would happen to us. We asked him for candles. He gave us some. We lit the candles and all together we recited the kaddish [prayer in memory of the deceased] for all those who died or were shot by murderous German hands. I cried, not knowing how I could have had so many tears. My heart was in pain because I couldn't understand why my brother could not have been freed along with me.
I fell asleep. When I awoke, I no longer heard anyone speaking German.
What did I see? Walking around were Negroes, American soldiers, who were distributing packages to the survivors in the beds. Another soldier explained to us in Yiddish that we should not eat what was in the packages too quickly, but eat slowly or else the food could harm us. I have to confess that I did not have the strength the open the five kilo package. I fell asleep again. I only opened my package the following day, others had …
… had already eaten much of theirs. The food in the package hurt me. Bu the help that we received from the Americans put us on our feet.
And so, here is the tragic statistic of our final march: We were a few thousand men when we marched out under the guard of the SS murderers. In about six weeks, we covered 2,000 kilometers. At the very end, with the liberation by the Americans, we were left with only 147 men. Under the murderous regime of the SS camps, from hunger and pain, I became tough, and no disease was able to take control of me. And now, at the moment of liberation, when I tasted some good food and refreshed myself with normal behavior I became sick with typhus fever. For months I lay in a hospital and in a rehabilitation place. They wanted to send me over to England or Sweden. But I decided to go around to all the camps as many others did because maybe I would find someone from my family who was still alive.
Through the Camps to Find Gostyniner
A rumor spread that there was a large camp not far from Munich. It was called Feldafing and it was full of Jews. I went there, and as soon as I got off the train I met a Gostyniner, Moshe Brostowski Understandably, we were overjoyed. There was another person from Gostynin, he said, Nakhman Zeideman. I noted the number of the block. When I came into the block, I found Zeideman lying in bed. I recognized him immediately, but he did not recognize me. But it did not take long, and soon we were spending brotherly time together as compatriots who had so much to tell one another. He also told me that there was another person form Gostynin here, Leybish Todeles. Of course, I ran to see Todeles. How great was the joy when people who saved themselves from …
… such a world's furnace, met one another. It is unimaginable, one cannot describe it.
Now, I often came to see my Gostynin friends in this Feldafing camp. There was a closeness among all of us. How excited I became once when I came to the camp and, under a torrential rain, soaked, I opened the door to my compatriot Todeles' block, and who did I see before my eyes? There sat my brother Monjek! Resurrected from the dead!
You're alive? I screamed almost in a faint.
This is a welcome I did not expect.
My brother told me that Zeideman went to Poland and he met him there and told him that I was in this camp and that he could find me with Todeles in this camp, where I often come.
That evening, my brother told his story. Every Jew who was saved has his own story. My brother and another person left the rows and fled into the forest. They heard how the dogs were running after them with frightening barks. The two men held hands and ran in the dark between the trees. They stopped by a tree, and my brother stayed there while his friend continued running. The shooting did not stop. When the transport moved away, my brother Monjek lay down by the tree.
When day was breaking, he awoke and saw that there was someone lying not far from him. When he got closer, he soon recognized that it was his friend but sadly, he was dead. The dogs had torn him apart. For a few more days, Monjek hid in the forest, until the Americans found him and freed him.
My brother and I left for Poland. We left, cursing the dirty German ground. We left Poland voluntarily, and enlisted in the fighting Jewish army that was already in a war before the liberation of the Jewish Land.
These memories were written with blood and not with pencil. A people died in horror and in tragedy. These are not only memories of personal experiences, but they are characteristic maybe with some changes of hundreds of thousands. But in front of my eyes, my Gostynin never ceased to hover.
by Shimon Rumer
Translated by Pamela Russ
When the Germans entered Poland, the immediately began to exterminate the Jews. Their demonic plan was calculated with hatred towards the Jews. The Polaks excelled at this hatred. They knew very well that with the local Polish population they would have no difficulties in carrying out their monster plan, because in the course of twenty years of their renewed independence the Polaks themselves were interested in getting rid of their Jewish neighbors. The Polaks made the Jews' lives miserable. The Germans took away the Jews' lives.
At the very beginning of their barbaric occupation the Germans sought to demoralize the Jewish masses and their leaders. All their anti-Jewish laws struck at the heart of Jewish life. They set up new leaders of the Jewish communities, the so-called Judenrat, who obediently and punitively carried out all that their German bosses ordered them to do. First they applied new taxes one higher than the next, and the new community heads pumped out monies from the poor and rich, amassing the required sums. The Judenrat went to great lengths to carry out the orders of the Germans. Many times, in these leadership positions, there were people who had never before worked in any fashion in social or community activities. Now, in this dreadful time, they …
… diligently undertook to help out the Nazi murderers, and using these circumstances they reaped personal good from these great tragedies. Often, these persons were murderous towards their brothers and did things that even the Germans themselves would not have done. They hoped that their extraordinary devotion would save them personally.
The Judenrat received an order from the Germans each time to gather up contingencies of Jews that were designated for specific work. They fulfilled these quotas until the very last individual. In this way, the Jews were transformed into slaves. They were chased to work, not paid for the work, beaten, and very abused at work as well.
The Germans confiscated the Jewish businesses, not permitting Jews to carry on their work. Their warehouses were closed that's how they Jews were left without any means to sustain themselves. They were morally and physically broken, but the Judenrat who actively helped the Germans, threw these Jews into the ghetto. They gathered up families and put them into inhumanly cramped conditions that were completely surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by German or Polish police. In the ghetto itself, the Judenrat was given the right to have its own Jewish police that tormented the Jews even more. That's how the Jewish population was left without rights, impoverished, and entirely torn apart from the rest of the world.
However, this was not yet enough for the murderers. The organized labor camps where men and women were sent. These people worked under frightful conditions of hunger, cold, inhumanity, and terror for bare life. Despite all this, everyone's will to live was tremendous. Nobody wanted to voluntarily give up hope that in the end Hitler would get his dues and the sun would shine again for everyone and for …
… each individual. Jews worked in every situation labored, and looked to survive, to make it to the end of the war. Heavy clouds of worry, fear, and danger spread everywhere, yet with that all, there was still that spark of hope that we would survive.
Because the Germans set up death camps, of those who didn't end up there, none knew of them for a long time.
With all of this, all that was said until now, is only a broad description of what happened of what the Germans did to the Jews of Poland. And every detail of this also befell the Jews from my own beloved town: Gostynin.
I came to Janikowo with a transport of Jews from Gostynin. This was a camp not far from Posen. In German, this place was called Amsee. The majority of the population there sustained itself with work in the city's sugar factory. The camp director was from the Gestapo, by the name of Malinowski. In the camp there were many Jews from Gostynin, Gombyn, and a small number from Lodz.
The oldest people in the camp were: Avrohom Belfer, Sender Ring, and my unforgettable father Yechiel Hersh Rumer. I worked in the camp doing all kinds of illegal tasks, and at the same time as a barber and a medical orderly. There were 505 people in the camp. The suffered terribly, labored mercilessly, and the hygiene was horrific. There was very little help for the sick and wounded. The Germans permitted the orderly to help the sick and wounded only after many hours of their suffering, after the invalid was practically consumed by insects and doused in dirt. Every day people were injured at work. Every day the German torturers and their assistants beat their Jewish slaves on their sides and cut off complete limbs. The sick couldn't…
… expect immediate help, and even when the help did come, it was seriously limited. There was practically no medicine available.
The camp supervisor was surrounded by assistants that carried out the most brutal acts on innocent people. The main assistant was most vicious and cruel his name was Alphonse Hillel. He was a non-Jew from the Posen area, an anti-Semite who couldn't even look at a Jew.
Among these assistants, was unfortunately also a Jew from Lodz, who with his flattery towards the Germans and animal behavior towards his brothers, worked himself up in the camp and reaped all kinds of privileges. Kalman Dovid was his name. That's how he was called, and he was the terror of the entire camp. Many innocent Jews died by his filthy hands.
One of the finest people in the camp was Volf Zilber, born in Brisk-Kujawski. He was a young man. He was the son-in-law of the well-known Zionist activist Herman Levi from Wloclowek. He, along with his father-in-law and his family, came to Gostynin when the war broke out where they hoped to live through the war because their hometown was absorbed into the Third Reich right at the beginning of the war, and Jews there were treated in the most horrific manner. Volf Zilber was an educated person and refined too. In the camp, he had the job of camp recorder. He put himself out for everyone and tried to make each person's situation better. Understandably, there was precious little he could do. The evil of the Germans dominated everywhere.
There was a very heavy discipline in the camp. The provisions were very meagre so much so that there was nothing for the living and nothing for the dying. There was surely nothing for those people who used their physical strength for every day, physically taxing labor. The sadism of the German camp staff was infinite.
I will relate one of the thousands of incidents that took place:
This happened on a Sabbath afternoon. The biggest surprises were saved for the eve of the rest day, Sunday. The exhausted and starved Jews had returned to the camp from work. As they entered, they heard a scream from Kalman Dovid, may his name be erased. We immediately understood that something again had happened. It wasn't long when we saw that they were taking out Avrohom Belfer from the barracks. It was difficult to recognize him. He was as pale as the walls, his body was trembling and his face showed an indescribable pain. Soon, Malinowski brought out the familiar benches that were used for corporal punishments in the camp, in front of everyone's eyes. Kalman Dovid positioned himself with his stick in his hand, and exclaimed: This Jew committed a crime. He tried to smuggle bread into the camp. Therefore, he deserves to be beaten. He continued by instructing each of us to pass by and beat the guilty one. The beatings were done with a rubber stick, with wire woven through it. Each of us had to approach and beat him. Malinowski was not satisfied with the way the beatings were going, so he took of his black uniform, rolled up his shirt sleeves, and showed us all how we had to do the beatings. Kalman Dovid followed. Avrohom Belfer was beaten so terribly, that he fell unconscious across the bench. Kalman Dovid poured a bucket of water over him to revive him, and then he was dragged, bloodied and soaked, into the barracks. Everyone else dispersed.
I, the orderly, had to bring help to this tragic victim. Menashe Wajsbard and Wajnrajch, Jews from Gostynin, who worked in the laundry, helped out with piece of old but clean clothes that I used to stop the bleeding. Only the exceptional …
… patience and the outstanding will to live gave Belfer the superhuman capacity to live through these agonies. He lay in the barracks for many long weeks and wasn't able to go to work.
One morning, when a rumor spread through the camp that the Gestapo was going to evacuate all the sick, and probably be murdered, Belfer picked himself up off the bed and decided to go to work with us. That's how he was saved. According to my memory, I can also say that Sender Ring, Avrohom Lopski, Yosef Stajnman, Dzhiganski, and Laski were also saved this way.
Once again, it's the Sabbath afternoon. The exhausted and starved slaves had returned from their daily work. Suddenly, a terrible shouting was heard from the murderous camp supervisor Malinowski: Everyone stay in your places outside!
The order was clear.
Tomorrow, no one will be going to work. The camp is going to be cleaned. Visitors will be coming. Tomorrow we will show you what will happen to those who will try to escape from the camp.
We were already used to the brutal behavior of the Germans. Every word of theirs was inciteful, every wink was dangerous, and every movement a game with a Jewish life. Because of that, we didn't place any unusual significance on the words of this devil. Nevertheless, his words did not allow us to remain at ease. We went into the filthy barracks and everyone crawled into his cot. Suddenly Volf Zilber bursts in and informs us of a tragic piece of information: Eight Jews wanted to escape from the camp, but the German bandits caught them. Who knows what the Germans are preparing for us for the next day.
A shudder went through us. We did not yet know who the eight Jews were. The German murderers had isolated them in a separate barrack. Not one of us closed an eye that entire night.
From our hard cots we heard moaning, and here and there, we heard a whispering prayer.
Sunday morning, as soon as the sun appeared, we heard the fearful voice of the night guard, and in one wink everyone got up.
Soon, Alfonse Hillel appeared, tall, good-looking, broad-boned, and well-fed, with thick blond hair on his head, a murderous person, a Jew devourer. Next to him was his wolf-dog, with its tongue foaming and hanging out. Everyone was trembling. Not only into one person had the sharp teeth of this dog already sunk its teeth. With his coarse voice, he informed us that today the camp has to sparkle with cleanliness. Gestapo officers were coming, and they very much loved cleanliness and precision. He completed his words with the usual: We will destroy you!
A very strained mood reigned over the camp. The people were already depressed and starved, and fear was already no novelty. There was a veil of despair everywhere, but the words of the murderer did not make any new impression. People were already used to this.
Outside, there was the loud noise of cars. Quietly we approached the windows and saw how two large cars had stopped in front of the camp building. Gestapo men got out of the first car, dressed in their black uniforms of evil men, with white arm bands, decorated with swastikas. Wildly, these men got out of the car, each carrying a rubber truncheon or a sharpened stick in his hand. They had weapons in their holsters. From the second car, five people got out, dressed in civilian clothing, with coarse, fat, raw-looking faces. Later we found out that these were Ukrainian assistants. Each of them had the appearance of a murderer.
These five men went to work immediately. They threw down their coats (probably stolen from their Jewish victims), and they unloaded pieces of wood and boards from the car, and amused themselves with harsh laughter, pushing one another and calling out all kinds of things.
They did not allow us to think too long about what was going on. Soon, the camp supervisor appeared, surrounded by his attendants, and ordered us to go out of the barracks and stand five in a row.
All the camp slaves went into this format of the letter ches, and in that manner, it was possible to see everything and everyone. In the middle of the camp courtyard, there was already a scaffold set up actually from the beams that were just brought and from the top beam, there were five thick ropes hanging. We all understood that these were for a hanging. But who was going to be hanged here and for what crimes? One of the Gestapo men tore into the silence. He went to stand on the base of the scaffold, and then he said with curt, abrupt, and brutal sentences. This type of talk can also kill people without revolvers and without hangings. They robbed us of the little worth and dignity we Jews still had. He said, among other things: You Jews wanted this war! So now you have a war. You will all be murdered before this war is over. Whoever tries to tax the discipline of a German camp, whoever tries to run away from here, will pay with his life on this scaffold!
He hardly finished his terrifying words, when the five Ukrainian henchmen marched out five men with hands tied into the courtyard. It was hard to recognize them. They had been murderously beaten. Their faces were like a ruined mass of flesh. The Ukrainians dragged these men to the scaffold and placed the ropes around their necks. We strained to recognize the victims. One of them was Dovid, the son of Zerach Wilner, and …
… two cousins of Boruch and Berel Najman. There were two other Jews that were from Gombyn who were also hanged. The tragic execution took place.
Soon, the Ukrainians brought two more victims. Three of those who were hanging were taken down in order to make place for the three new victims. Among these three were two Jews form Gombyn and a son of Berel Najman, Mendel Meyer. Mendel Meyer's father was with us in the camp, he was Dovid Najman, as well as a cousin Boruch's Najman's son.
The nooses were tossed down. Mendel Meyer Najman tossed his head in the ropes, and with one final glance, took in the entire court with all his camp brothers who were watching the tragic events. His quiet look was so very expressive but we could do nothing to help. Every desire within us was suffocated. All our capacity had atrophied. Mendel Meyer glanced at the ground where his brother and cousin were laying dead. With his last energies, he shouted out in Polish: Long live freedom! He could not get out the last line. The rope broke his neck.
The Gestapo hangman did not understand what his victim had shouted, so the hooligan from Posen, Alfonse Hillel, laughingly translated it for him. With might and rage, the Gestapo devil took an axe into his hand and split open his victim's head. Now you are free, he called out and spit onto the ground.
Another Hitlerist went to play around in the shadow of the scaffold, and asked for someone of the interned who would be interested in saying a prayer for the dead ones. There was one Jew who volunteered. He was from Lodz. His name was Schneur. He dragged his swollen feet and emaciated body, And then presented himself. The echo of his voice haunts me to this very day. His voice took on a metallic sound, but the camp carried the prayer far: …
… God Who is full of mercy, Who dwells on high… (first line of the Yizkor memorial prayer).
The Gestapo men did not allow Schneur to complete his prayer. Irritated by the silence, they ordered their slaves to run around the scaffold and around the dead men.
This was a macabre death dance. People fell, were beaten, tripped over each other. Those who miraculously survived that horrific death dance, will remember forever that shtube #8 where 35 people lay but could not die …
by Yitzhak Krajcer (Israel)
Translated by Pamela Russ
I am the only one of my family that has survived. The family Krajcer lived in Gostynin on Kutno Street opposite the Russian church. We were three brothers I, the oldest, and the younger two brothers, Michel and Yehoshua. We studied in the government public school and were chaverim [members friends] in the Hechalutz Hatzair [the Young Pioneers]. Before the outbreak of the bloody war, we had a calm, quiet life. My father, Eliezer ben Aron, was a merchant. My mother, Golde, originally from Zychlin, was a quiet woman, devoted to her home, and we studied and then spent our free time in the Hechalutz movement.
In one sudden moment, there was an upheaval. When the Nazis marched into Gostynin, a tumult and terrible fear awoke among the Jews. We were terrified by the slightest rustle. They began to snatch Jews from the streets for work. Those who were locked in the church withered from the beatings they were given by the Nazis. After that, the Jews were no longer permitted to live on all the streets until the time that they were closed into a locked ghetto. We went over to live in the house of Yehoshua Motil, near the river. Along with us, lived the family of our grandfather Aron.
From day to day the situation in the ghetto became increasingly worse. The crowdedness, the lack of means and lack of food was pressing on everyone. The cruelties of the Nazis became more gruesome every day. The Kreisleiter [Nazi Party county leader] and his huge dog set themselves brutally on the Jews. I myself received his beatings because I did not remove my hat for him.
Those who survived remember the garden in the ghetto that the youth worked in. There was great danger, and in our
naiveté, we brought the flowers and grass in order, as well as the benches and the playground, where they chased the ball.
Every day, the forced community-elected people mobilized Jews for public works and brought forth contingencies for the Germans. It didn't even occur to anyone to think about the liquidation of the ghetto. Across the streets of the ghetto, you could see groups of children busy with their games. The adults, however, were busy looking for ways to get more food products; they whole-heartedly believed that anyone who has the means to survive these difficult times will live to the end of the war.
There were rumors in the ghetto that there was a hunger in the other ghettos. By us, for a lot of money, you were still able to get marginal supplies of food. So we got as much as possible, so as not to
|Gostynin Jews go to work on Kutno Street, 1941. The sidewalk was forbidden to the Jews.|
pass out from hunger. Of course there were those in the ghetto who were hungry, but no one died of hunger
Jews were snatched for work and then transported to labor camps in Inowroclaw and later to Emzej. I was also in this transport. There were other young children with me. I decided to escape. I quickly jumped through the window and ran to Zychlin to my grandfather. After a few days, I returned to Gostynin.
But the Germans did not stop, and once again snatched up Jews for work. They took my father, my uncle Itche, and me. This time they guarded us closely in the church, and we considered ourselves doomed. Trucks arrived and people began to get on. My Uncle Itche went up onto the truck but he was able to jump down, and he disappeared. My father also went up, and when it came to my turn, I went over to the German Wiland, and begged him to let my father go and I would gladly go in his place. He didn't want to hear and told me to get up onto the truck. I resisted, so he beat me badly with his whip. I was stubborn, and held on to myself, and he beat me again, until he finally let my father go. Beaten, I then went up onto the truck.
A German who held a loaded gun in his hand came along with us. He said he would shoot anyone who tried to escape. I sat down at the other end of the truck. We passed Kowalska Street. In front of the ghetto walls stood the relatives of those who had been taken away, with parcels in their hands. We heard cries and screams. I saw my mother. At that moment, I decided to run away and return home. When we passed Rolnyk, I jumped down off the truck and, unnoticed by the German, began to run through the field, and I reached the ghetto wall. When I got closer to our
yard, I heard wailing. It seemed that they also took Sender Ring with his son and several others.
Once, at the ghetto wall I noticed Jews whom I did not know. It became clear that they were from Zdunska Wola. From them we learned about the horror of Chelmno. A Jew ran away from there and told them the gruesome truth about that death factory.
We felt that the same bitter fate awaited our little town. From the labor camp Emzej several people escaped and were hiding in the Gostynin ghetto. In the middle of the night, the Gestapo did a manhunt probably because of some information from the ghetto and they captured the people and sent them back to camp. The letters from the camps were very tragic.
In a short time, they began to snatch up girls for work. Among them was my cousin Dvoira Trojanowski. Once, when we were sitting shiva [seven day mourning period] for my grandfather Aron, may he rest in peace, the Nazis tore into the ghetto and began to snatch up people for work. Almost half naked, I ran out of the house and the Germans after me. Running with me were our neighbors Kova Pinczewski and Salek Gliksberg. In an enclosed court, we began to climb across roofs and hid all night. The Germans also looked for us on the roofs, but did not find us.
That night, the Germans went with lists from house to house and beat murderously whoever they found. The screams from all sides assaulted us. That's when they took my father, and my uncles Itche and Moishe. They beat them. My mother also received beatings. My uncles ran from the transport, but my father I never saw again. At the beginning we received letters from him, but they later stopped coming.
They stopped forcing people to get onto the transports. To the camp in Konin, we already went
on our own, particularly when the members of the Judenrat and their relatives were also in the transport.
The ghetto was almost empty of people. My brothers and a large number of people from my big family were also gone. The letters that came from Konin were horrendous. I remember a letter from my brother Michel in which he begged us to send him a few slices of bread
The rest of the family came to live in our house. The days ran with fear for the remaining people in the ghetto. We felt that our end was near. Polaks would appear outside and buy up all kinds of valuable things practically for free. There were no longer any young people in the ghetto. If someone was there, then he was in hiding. That's how I and my Uncle Itche lay in a hiding place.
But we knew that this could not go on for long. So my uncle and I went on the road and came to Strzegowa. My mother stayed back home along with my little brother. It was bitterly difficult to part from them. Even my little brother intuitively felt that we were seeing each other for the last time
Life in the Strzegowa ghetto was very difficult. We also met people from Gostynin there. There was nowhere to live. There was a terrible lacking. We were very beaten down because of the rumor that reached us, that the Gostynin ghetto was to be liquidated. Yehuda Shatan was there to get his sister out. When he came back to Strzegowa, he told us that the Nazis had carried out a mass murder of Jews and that full trucks of Jews were transported to Chelmno.
We learned that the two brothers Glas had escaped from Konin. The older one was shot by the Germans in Dobrzyn, and the younger one came to Strzegowa. Here they were also snatching up people for work and I was also among those captured.
To my good fortune, I worked
for a Polak, producing peat. Others worked in a sugar factory. After work, this Polak took us back to the ghetto. We knew that our turn would come for Strzegowa as well.
One day, the Germans attacked the ghetto and shot many people. There was chaos and a lot of running. Not all ran, however. My Uncle Itche and I decided to go back on the road, but where to? No one knew. Pesach Kwint, who also wanted to go, changed his mind in the last minute. He gave us money and a golden necklace. Izbicki also gave us money and a gold ring. They knew we were left without a groshen [penny]. I will never forget the expression on their faces, and their words: Do not forget us, and if we do not survive to avenge this, then tell everyone what happened to us and our families.
In the dark of night, we searched for a place where we could sneak out of the ghetto; we should leave while it was dark. Itche went first I followed him. Suddenly, we saw about 50 Germans marching. We managed to evade them and then ran across the fields. We stayed for a few days with a Polak not far from Dobrzyn. He knew we were Jews. He offered to send me to Germany as a Polak to work. I agreed. My uncle said goodbye to me and left in the direction of Gostynin. Soon it became apparent that I could not go to Germany. The Polak tried all kinds of other means for me, but without success. I decided to try my own luck. I left in the direction of Warsaw. Maybe I would still find Jews there. But it was a very dangerous and difficult way, and one had to get past a border. I was lucky to cross the Narew River with the help of smugglers. They thought I was a Polish young boy. Together with them, I got onto a train for Warsaw.
In the wagons of the train, the Christians sang, laughed, and told anecdotes
at the expense of the Jews. I had to laugh along with them. Oh, how heavy my heart was then!
When we arrived in Warsaw, I left to go in the direction of the ghetto. I saw high walls. The streets were guarded by Polish and German policemen. Every bit of time, they demanded papers from anyone who went by. I was lucky: Not once was I asked to identify myself. After a few days in Warsaw, without money and without papers, I saw that I wouldn't be able to get into the ghetto. Upset, I started to think of ways to get back to Gostynin. Maybe I would also find my Uncle Itche there, maybe he was hiding by Christians.
When I arrived by train to Lowicz, I heard that a transport of Polish workers was going to Germany. I also heard that they were looking for substitutes for those who did not want to go. They were also prepared to pay. I located a Polak that was looking for someone to replace his son. Of course, I agreed. We left to the employment office and got me papers in his son's name and I went to the transport camp.
The Germans took us to Germany. In that transport I saw a Polak from Gostynin, Wladek Molkawski. My heart was gripped with fear that he would recognize me. In the passing train stations in Germany, I noticed Jews who working were wearing yellow Jewish stars on their clothing.
At the end of 1942, I arrived to work in Porta Westp. [Westphalia] in Germany. After working for a few weeks on the railway, we were sent to Minden Westp. I worked in that train station for the rest of the years of the war. I lived through very difficult times there, afraid that Heaven forbid neither the Germans nor the Polaks should discover that I was Jewish. Not once did they ask me why I did not receive any mail from anywhere as they used to Often I would moan heavily in my sleep
and my camp friends would ask me about it, what had happened to me It seems that it didn't occur to them that I was Jewish. I befriended one of them and they helped me. Who knows how they would have reacted had they found out I was a Jew. They would talk about Jews very often. At those times, I became silent, looking for an excuse to leave
About the Warsaw ghetto uprising I learned in the letters that the imprisoned Polaks received from their homes. How bitter was my situation! I couldn't even cry about the fate of my fighting brothers! Just by chance, I recognized a Gostynin letter carrier, but he did not recognize me. Probably, I was not recognizable. We spoke of Christian holidays, of church, of the priest He did not recognize me, even though he would often come to us and bring us the mail.
That's how I lived a disguised life until the Allied military forces found us between Hanover and Dusseldorf. The first Jew I met an English soldier, came from Tarnow. He spoke Polish to me. I had almost forgotten the Yiddish language. The Polaks standing around crossed themselves. They did not believe their eyes. There was a Jew among them the entire time
After the war, when I came to Israel, my compatriots [landsleit] who miraculously survived, told me that my Uncle Itche was hiding in Gostynin by a Polak, and shortly before the Russian army marched in, the German murderers killed him.
That's how a young Jewish boy saved himself. The most frightening fantasy could not have contrived such a horrific story. That's how individuals were saved in anguish and in pain. But millions died in blood and in tragedy.
*Follows German educator Froebel, who created the concept of kindergarten, recognizing children's unique needs and capabilities return
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