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[Page 365]

Amid Ruins[1]

By Nechemia Obfal / Detroit

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

Following the German onslaught on Poland, I was mobilised into the Polish Army and took part in the battles at Różan and Wyszków near Bug River.

After the army's collapse, I exchanged the military greatcoat for ragged peasant clothing to make it easier for me to reach Kałuszyn. I covered hundreds of kilometres between ruined (Jewish) communities. In Mrozy[2], I encountered some townspeople who related about the tragic end of Kałuszyn, but what I saw with my own eyes when I entered our destroyed shtetl surpassed all I had imagined. At the edge of town stood a few cottages that looked so pitiful and orphaned, as if embarrassed by the surrounding wrecks. Here once lived thousands of Jews, creating and dreaming. Now, all was ashes and cinders mixed with the blood of eight hundred people.

Among the few remaining houses, I saw the dwelling of Yehuda Arye Slomki. Before the war it housed the meeting place of the Bund [3] and the Medem[4] Library, now all the rooms were packed with people whose household goods went up in smoke. Next to them were scattered the few salvaged bits and pieces, remnants of a shattered life. At nightfall, all is darkness. No light is switched on, and no one dares to venture outside. In the streets, one can hear the footsteps of German soldiery. The dreadful silence is now and then broken by a shot, accompanied by unrestrained hilarity, causing everyone to shudder. The night passed - at dawn, people rush out to take up a place in the queue to buy some bread. Then there are those who have no choice, but to take to the roads full of hazards to reach some village and try to earn a crust for their families. Only the women and children remain in the packed rooms waiting anxiously for their loved ones.

I set out towards the house of my childhood and youth, walking through streets where the footprints of the Angel of Death were visible. A town of scorched walls and black chimneys – is this, perhaps a nightmare? Where are they, all the Jews of the shtetl – the artisans, the shopkeepers, the carriers, the butchers, the carters? Where is the youth of Kałuszyn, those youngsters who carried around the vision and ideal of freedom and redemption? Where are they all? I am standing before a heap of scorched pieces of timber among which I see burned spoons and forks, pieces of a sewing machine, remnants of beds. My heart is squeezed and I feel a lump in my throat. So many dreams of beauty and justice I used to spin in this spot!

Arriving in the yard of Shloyme Royzman I find it also packed with people, lying in clusters. Between stones, fires emitted smoke and all around were scattered burned pots and bent bowls. It made an impression as if hordes of beggars invaded the town. That is what the Jews of our town now looked like!

The big synagogue stands out amid the ruins, seemingly as a reminder that here once lived a great thriving community. I reflect on the shul [5] - so many legends were spun about it. Children were scared to pass it at night and believed that demons dwelled therein. Now it was full of sad, distressed Jews and the demons were marching in the streets. Next, I see the burnt down buildings of the Talmud-Torah[6]. Will we no more know the familiar chants of lerning?[7]

I visited the makeshift hospital near the church. Beds were nowhere to be seen. A few dozen wounded writhed in pain on strewn layers of straw. I noticed Mordechai Grodjitsky, Vaysnberg's favourite writer[8]. His leg was injured, he was in agony and he told me that all his manuscripts went up in flames. Among the wounded, I also saw the ten-years-old grandson of Dina Hersh Chaims[9]. The child had been running from the flames together with his brother when the town was burning. They were hit by shrapnel, which instantly killed his sibling and tore off his own arm. Now he laid there in excruciating pain and next to him his mother, shedding tears in distress.

Many, with nothing to lose, were leaving town. No big baggage to carry – one gathers a small bundle and sets off. All in the same direction, toward the Russians in Siedlce, some thirty kilometres from Kałuszyn. There were rumours that the Soviet Army would reach the Vistula River. It turned out that these rumours were no more than that - rumours. Soon the news that the Russian withdrew from Siedlce and that the border will be the Bug River and not the Vistula, caused despondency among people – it meant that they would remain in the hands of the Germans.

The latter started grabbing people for forced labour, taking away everything of value. Conditions worsened increasingly. Standing in the queue for bread in front of Tokarski's bakery, I was injured in a side by a bayonet of a Gestapo man[10], a few of whom came to “establish order”. I could no longer remain in town and decided to leave as soon as possible. After a heart-wrenching goodbye to my loved ones I left via back lanes as if ashamed, all the while casting a glance behind. Gradually the shtetl disappeared from my view, for a while only the church spire lit by the setting sun remaining visible. Then, all vanished – who knows if not forever.

Using back routes, I walk to Drogoczyn (Drohiczyn). For a small fee one can paddle across the Bug to the other side of the border, to the Soviet Army. The road is full of Jewish refugees, all walking in the same direction. One also encounters Poles engaged in robbing the fleeing people.

Finally, I arrive at the Bug. It is already quite dark; together with a group of Jews, I board a small boat. The boatman guides the vessel carefully; hearts thumping, every minute was for us an eternity. We reach the other shore. Around us – complete darkness. The boatman disappears with his boat and we set off towards the specks of light coming from Drogoczyn.

On the third day after leaving Kałuszyn, I arrived in Siemiatycze. In the home of Shloyme Kuperhand who used to live in Kałuszyn, I found dozens of landslayt [11]. It is impossible to convey the touching, sincere hospitality shown by these two ordinary human beings - Shloyme Kuperhand and his wife to us, their homeless townspeople. They had for everyone a warm, consoling word as if they felt guilty not having shared with us our bitter lot. For weeks, they used to give up every evening their bed to the Kałuszyn refugees. We were so in need of comforting in those days! Let their being mentioned here serve as an expression of gratitude to two warm-hearted people (for their actions) in such unhappy times.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of צװישן חורבות
    an article in “Sefer Kalushin” published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Shtetl neighbouring Kałuszyn. Return
  3. See page 149 in “Sefer Kalushin”. Return
  4. Medem, Vladimir, (1879–1923), prominent Bund leader in Russia and Poland (Encyc.Judaica). Return
  5. Yiddish for synagogue. Return
  6. Talmud Torah schools were a form of public primary school for boys of modest backgrounds, where they were given an elementary education in Hebrew, the Scriptures (especially the Chumash or Five Books of Moses), and the Talmud (Based on Wikipedia). (Talmud - a record of rabbinic discussions of Jewish law, ethics, customs and history – Based on Encyc.Judaica). Return
  7. The study, by discussion and explication, of the Talmud. Return
  8. Yitzchok Mayer Vaysnberg (1881-1939), Yiddish writer in Poland. (Encyclopedia “Izreel”, Izreel Publishing House Ltd., Tel-Aviv, Israel 1951). Return
  9. It is not clear whether Dina's surname was Hersh and she was the wife/daughter of Chaim, or rather the wife/daughter of Hersh Chaim. Return
  10. GESTAPO (Abb. GEheime STAats-POlizei, “Secret State Police”), the secret police of Nazi Germany that persecuted Jews at the outset of the Nazi regime and later played a central role in carrying out the “Final Solution”. (Encyc.Judaica). Return
  11. Plural of landsman, a townsman, a person from one's town or country. Return


[Page 367]

Children in the Midst of Ruins[1]

By Alter Zaydman

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

  Evidence given by a 13-year old,
who arrived in Israel via Teheran.
(Yad Vashem)
[2]

I still remember well the start of the German war - German warplanes bombed the railway station at Mrozy, five kilometres from Kałuszyn. Panic broke out in our town, we were forbidden from walking in the street, and people hid in cellars. Running for cover, I saw the planes diving low and setting fire to the entire length of the railway line.

The following day a bomb fell on the Jewish street close to the church. Thirty-two people were killed, all believed to be Jews – they were standing in a queue in front of a shop. I saw a few dead children, their innards out. One of them Mendl, a six-year old was the son of a neighbour of ours. I recognised other corpses, an 18-year youth Yitzchok and a woman neighbour - Tcherkas was her name.

The day after, the warplanes came again. The railway line was destroyed and bombs fell in our town. A big fire broke out; people rushed from their homes and were running here and there, shouting that the Germans were burning down the whole town. The fires raged on all sides. The planes were flying low, so the Germans could see what was going on. People said that the planes were spraying petrol onto the flames to increase the fire.

My father lifted me on his arm and ran to the ice factory at the edge of town. Noach, the owner of the factory was our relative. There was a house of stone there, and plenty of water. We went down into the cellar where they used to make ice. There were many people there. Suddenly we heard shouting and noticed that the fire was closing in on the factory. My father threw open the door and we barely managed to get out. The air was glowing and the hair on one's head was singed. There was nowhere to run – the whole town was on fire. My father disappeared and my older brother Avrum, the 14-year old pulled me to the fields out-of-town. We spent a whole day in the field, looking at the burning town. The fire was so big that at nighttime, the area was fully lit and you could see what went on around. In the ditches and holes in the ground were many children who cried of hunger. One Jew ran into a village and brought back some apples, one for each child. There was also a baby, a few months old, swaddled in diapers and without his mum. His crying moved the people until some other mother with a child of her own came over and breastfed the orphaned baby.

On the morning of the third day, you could see only clouds of smoke above the town and my brother and I went back to see what happened to our house. The streets were unrecognizable, all looked the same – smoking ruins and blackened chimneys. Horse carcasses lay everywhere and the stench was awful. Many people also were incinerated – the fire spread so quickly that there was no time to rescue the old and the sick. We were trying for a long time to find the little street were we lived, and only seeing the well on the edge of our street, were we able to find the ruin that was once our home. We started to pull down the bricks and pieces of coal and my brother shouted with joy that he found my father's burned sewing machine. My father was a tailor and this machine was his only treasure. We kept on digging and found a few cooking pots. That was all that was left of our home. And so it was all over town. Only a few managed to salvage some linen. There were some who tried to save something from the blazing houses and were burned to death. One Lantzky, a milkman was so badly scalded trying to save his things that he died in agony two weeks later.

Whilst we were searching in the ruins my uncle came running and screamed that our grandfather was burned to death. The grandfather – my mother's father – eighty years old and blind, lived on the second floor in one of the houses. All his sons thought that he got away together with us, but he in fact was at home near the new beis-medresh[3]. For three days uncle Hershl was searching among the piles of bricks until he found grandfather's bones. We gathered them into a sack and later buried them. Another person, a bedridden woman also perished in the flames. The Germans kept pouring petrol and all the houses burned like firewood. The Torah[4] scrolls in the new beis-medresh and in the shtibls[5] were also destroyed.

The whole town was one huge ruin. Only at the end of the Warsaw Street, there remained a few houses and a beis-medresh. All the survivors ran there. That is where I also found my father. The beis-medresh was terribly crowded. People almost lay there on top of each other. Little children were screaming, and the bigger ones ran amid the still smouldering ruins looking for spoons and other dishes.

Finally the Germans entered the town. Earlier the Poles repelled them. That happened while we were sheltering in the fields when the town burned. Then many tanks arrived and the Germans occupied the town. As soon as they arrived, they started to run around screaming: “Jude, Jude”. The commandant ordered to gather all Poles and Jews in the church, which was not destroyed. We children were also driven into the church. I saw a German tearing the beard of old Rebbe[6] Naftole and pushing him inside. On the way, we trampled over the dead that were still bleeding. These were the first Jews the Germans had shot. Inside the church all had to stand with the hands up. The Germans searched everybody, and everything they found, even a small pocketknife they took away, beating up the people. Everyone believed that the Germans would blow up the church and kill everybody.

One of the officers enjoyed himself with a special game: he collected from among the crowd about twenty Jews and lined them up against a partly destroyed wall of one of the burned houses. A German tank fired a shot aiming at the wall. The wall collapsed backwards, but miraculously no one was killed, a few suffering only minor wounds.

Towards the evening arrived the mayor and negotiated with the Germans for the release of the women and children. When we were allowed to leave it was already nighttime, but the still burning fires partly lit up the darkness.

The men were freed the next morning, but all Jews were made to do forced labour. My father was busy all the time burying the dead found in the ruins. The bodies were broken, the limbs scattered. Carts were loaded full with bodies. I saw one such wagon with arms and legs hanging down. The Germans ordered the Jews hitched to and pull the wagons. They whipped the Jews with lashes forcing them to run with the wagons, whilst the Germans were bursting with laughter.

There was hunger in town. People told of carriages with all sorts of goods left by the retreating Polish army, standing at the rail station at Mrozy. We all went there, got close at night when the Germans were not about and took whatever we could. There were there cigarettes, sacks of rice, tinned food, and so forth. People were saying that in the sealed carriage were heaps of money in 50 and 100 złoty notes. I went inside one of the carriages and found a Polish air force uniform. I took it. I also found a real treasure – stale army bread – and took two big loaves. On my way back I saw a German, and I quickly got rid of the bread.

There was no way now to make a living in our town. On top of that, there were arriving all the time groups of refugees from other places. The Germans were horribly beating up people, cutting beards with their bayonets. (I came across only one good German – he came to our neighbour Mendl the cobbler and paid him for mending his shoes. At the same time, he treated my father to a cigar).

My father saw that there was nothing to hope for in town and decided to escape to Russia. My mother had not been in Kałuszyn all that time. Before the outbreak of the war, she went to Warsaw, was unable to return and stayed there with a relative of ours.

My father first crossed the border by himself, and my brother and I stayed with our neighbour Mendl the shoemaker. Father went to Volkovysk and found work there. He then sent someone to take us over the border. When we set out it was already winter, a little boat overturned and people fell into the river. The gentile who was ferrying our boat stopped it midway, threatening to leave us there unless we give him more money. We were forced to hand him over all our money. After we got to the other side of the river and into a thick forest, we could see the Russians lighting up the area with rockets. Luckily, no one saw us and we arrived safely to our father in Volkovysk. We stayed there until we were arrested and deported to Siberia.

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of קינדער צװישן חורבות,
    an article in “Sefer Kalushin” published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Yad Vashem (Hebrew: יד ושם “Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority”) is Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust established in 1953 through the Yad Vashem Law passed by the Knesset, Israel's parliament. The origin of the name is from a Biblical verse: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial (hand) and a name (Yad Vashem) that shall not be cut off”. (Wikipedia) Return
  3. Study and prayer house, small orthodox synagogue. Return
  4. The term “Torah” (Hebrew: תּוֹרָה, “learning” or “instruction,” sometimes translated as “Law”), refers either to the Five Books of Moses (or Pentateuch) or to the entirety of Judaism's founding legal and ethical religious texts. (Wikipedia). Return
  5. Literally - a small dwelling, but used in the sense of a small house of prayer. Return
  6. Rebbe – a leader of a group of Chassidic Jews (an ultra-Orthodox stream in Judaism). Return


[Page 372]

Refugees in Kałuszyn[1]

By Yankev Kener

(From the book “Kvershnit”[2])

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

The whole day Thursday, the 7th of September a countless human mass stretching for about 80 to 100 kilometres, moved along the road to Mińsk and Kałuszyn on one side, and in the direction of Lublin on the other. Men lost their wives and women their children. The shouting and screaming reached the heavens. The “escapees” threw away their shoes and ran on their torn bare feet. A devoted son pushed along his old mother in a pram. A young mother carried in a wad her six months old baby; running in fear and without rest she suddenly realized that her child fell off the cushion. - “Where's my baby?” - She lamented… “Where's my wife?” echoed from a distance the cry of a desperate young man…

The road was covered with overcoats, shoes and all sorts of bundles discarded by the fleeing mass in order to lighten the flight. People ran over the dropped from exhaustion bodies and trampled them without mercy. When the mass spotted a well, it fell on it like a pack of wolves, like a swarm of locusts - not at all like thirsty human beings. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and virtually tearing the sip of water from each other's mouth… Above, over our heads flew the savage birds of steel, the German planes that were spewing flames, incendiary bombs with which they set fire to the surrounding villages; bombs that exploded on impact killing thousands of people - those walking as well as those riding in cars or carriages.

Not all those fleeing had the strength or the courage to continue the flight. Many, quite a lot of them turned around to get back to Warsaw. The following days, the further we were from Warsaw the more often we encountered crowds of Jews fleeing from the towns that were our destination. They were telling us that their towns were burning, their houses in ruin, and that the German planes were sowing death and destruction.

What happened on Friday, the 8th of September, on the road from Mińsk-Mazowiecki to Kałuszyn, was the most horrible experience that the refugees had lived through. Left and right people dropped like flies. Villages and little woods on both sides of the highway were in flames. We were lying flat on the ground, in the mud, hoping to stay invisible to the planes, but the falling bombs exploded around us with a force that lifted us up only to slam us down with equal power…

Exhausted, bespattered with the blood of the wounded among us, utterly resigned, our nerves shattered to the point of madness, but having nevertheless miraculously survived - we reached Kałuszyn. There we were met by the local Jews - the poor toilers, the workers and shopkeepers, the cart-drivers and traders, the enlightened ones and the pious, the old ones and the youths. They stood outside the thresholds of their humble cottages inviting us all, the thousands of refugees - almost dragging us inside, offering water and towels, their Sabbath meals, their beds, their lofts, so that we could rest our weary bones and relax our taut nerves.

That Saturday, the 9th of September 1939 was plainly a spoilt Sabbath. On the backyard of the Kałuszyn synagogue laid quite a few covered dead bodies, brought in from the outskirts by the chevre[3] “chesed-shel-emes”[4]. Those were the corpses of people, civilian refugees already close to Kałuszyn and killed en masse by the German bombers…

The Jewish bakeries, with the local rabbi's approval worked all day on that Sabbath to feed the hungry throng. Above the roofs of the shtetl[5], in which at that time there was not even a single Polish soldier, buzzed the steel birds of prey, striking terror into the hearts of young and old. The Angel of Death swept in the air insolently baring his teeth in evil anticipation… The feeling was abroad that the coming days would be even more horrible than the inferno experienced so far. Fearing the worst, the thousands of refugees left the town in droves under the protective wings of twilight.

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of פּליטים אין קאַלוש,
    an article in “Sefer Kalushin” published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. “Cross-section”. Return
  3. Society (association). Return
  4. חסד של אמת - Lit. True kindness (benevolence, charity). Benevolent society preparing the dead for ritual burial. Return
  5. Yiddish for townlet, a small Jewish settlement in Eastern Europe. Return


[Page 374]

A “Guest Performance” in Kałuszyn[1]

By Zygmunt Turkow[2]/Tel-Aviv

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

 

kal374e.jpg Zygmunt Turkow
Zygmunt Turkow

 

…At dawn I finished digging trenches around Warsaw. This was supposed to stop the German tanks from capturing Poland's capital…

When I arrived home, exhausted and covered in dust I was met with astonishment: “what are you still doing here? All men have already left town… an order from the authorities that everybody capable of bearing arms must leave Warsaw”…

There was no time for arguing… Over the radio came the monotonous, macabre announcement: “Hallo, hallo, they are approaching”… The speaker did not manage to complete the warning as distant explosions could be heard. He as usually was late with the advice. The German bombs preceded his caution…

People ran to the cellars; shuffled along close to the walls. I grabbed my rucksack packed in advance, put it on my back, bid a quick goodbye and set out in a run.

The weariness dissipated as if I had not spent the night “fortifying” Warsaw.

You meet acquaintances, friends, relatives. Everybody is running - no time to stop…

The speaker is hoarse… “Hallo, approaching”… The exploded German bombs made him husky. Soon he was silent altogether.

The city runs… Whilst running, one asks the question: where to? – No one waits for an answer.

 – “Come with me!”

 – “Where to?”

 – “To the Bug”[3]

 – “No, it's no good.” The running continues. Overnight all became strategists. There are those who “know for certain”. Then, not everybody wants to share his “certain” information. Secrets. At most, the brusque invitation: “Come with us”! – You keep on running…

There is no one whom to ask any more. The streets are empty. I am one of the last “runners”. Presently, I am already at the bridge. On both sides – machine-guns that “aim” at the German planes. You do not see them, the German destroyers; you only hear the explosions of their bombs - some sort of satanic laughter in response to the pitiful Polish anti-aircraft artillery.

The bridge seems to be the immediate target. There are no people on it. No one dares to enter – one could be hit midway, such a long bridge.

In front of the bridge stands a peasant woman with a small child in her arms. Both shiver, both cry. They came as usual to sell something in town and were cut off from home. Mother and child are standing there facing death.

I walk up to the woman, grab the child and shout, “Run after me!” – And dash onto the bridge. She follows. In a flash, we crossed to Praga[4]. The mother tries to kiss my hands. I say - “May God watch over you” and hand her back the child. I feel relieved and continue running. From all sides men move towards the highway. Now and then, you see a woman following. I join the flow. The highway is packed with people and machines. Army trucks, artillery, private cars, peasant carts and – people like ants between them and around them… Everything is moving in a panic… to arrive sooner far away! – Where to? – No time to think. Above all – furthest from Warsaw!

You run into acquaintances: “where to” – “come along!” – “Brest[5] – Białystok” – it will be all right…

 – “Turkow, my friend, we're going to Pinsk[6], climb on the wagon”…

Before I manage to push through, the highway empties of people. All run into the woods on either side of the road and fall to the ground – each as if trying to hide under the other.

A plane gratingly cuts through the deadly silence. Its machine-guns whistle piercingly. I bury myself under my rucksack. Still, curiosity gets the better of fear and I steal a glance upwards…I can see clearly the face of the German gunner. He sits with his back towards the pilot and sprays on us with his machine-gun. He quickly disappears, replaced by another… I can hear moaning. Somebody whispers the confession before death… Someone calls somebody. People touch their clothing. The lucky ones run again, some stay put groaning. Others are silenced forever. I keep on running.

So, the first day of running went without making one feel weariness or hunger – these sensations become atrophied when one faces danger, they are replaced with a remarkable impetus, with an inexhaustible urge to live.

Before long - night falls. The planes are not heard any more. One begins to look around – a township in the distance.

 – “Where about are we?”

 – “Kałuszyn”.

Here we will spend the night.

Someone calls me. Come and see, in the forest the writer Horontchik committed suicide… his son got lost, he could not face it”…

 – “Is he still alive?”

 – “No”.

I move towards the shtetl - on the way meet my friend Dovid Birnboym. Together it is easier, especially with Birnboym, who even during this nightmarish flight has not lost his sense of humour: “I don't like the première, it goes on without end”.

 – “Where are you going, Mr. Turkow?” – A Jew standing in front of his shop asks.

 – “Who knows? – we're just going”. I catch my breath and am about to move on.

The man invites us in for a drink. He offers to put us up for the night: “it is dangerous now on the roads. They won't harm Kałuszyn. Sleep over and tomorrow at dawn you can go on your way”.

He leads us upstairs into a room above the shop. A clean middle-class Jewish home. Two beds, doonas, pillows, cosy. He brings for us a bowl of cold water that brings relief to the bruised feet – an unexpected delight.

We crawl under the doonas. Birnboym smiles contentedly: “Turkow my friend, did you expect such a guest performance in Kałuszyn?”

Not waiting for an answer, he began snoring with abandon.

From outside one can hear marching feet, the screeching of wagons, shouted clipped messages – agreed passwords not to lose someone in the flight. And footsteps, footsteps…

You fall asleep and sense that your legs keep on walking, carry you further… further… footsteps, footsteps…

Suddenly - an earthquake! All at once, you feel yourself thrown into the air. It lifts you in a flash and slams you to the ground. A pain in the leg, next to you Birnboym with a bleeding nose. Slowly we begin to comprehend what happened – a German bomb greeted Kałuszyn with a “wakeup call”.

It was aimed at a bread queue in front of a bakery. Bullseye!

Our house was far enough from the bakery, but shared the lot of the whole town.

We are in flight again.

*

Dear Jews of Kałuszyn! Thank you for the last cosy homelike bed in those days.

Tel-Aviv, 1960


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of אַ “גאַסטשפּיל” אין קאַלושין
    an article in “Sefer Kalushin”, published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Zygmunt Turkow (1896–1970), Yiddish actor and director. Turkow … (co)founded the Jewish Art Theater, Warsaw, 1929. He toured widely playing in Moliere, Shalom Aleichem, Gogol, Goldfaden… He went to Brazil after World War II and was co-founder of the Brazilian National Theater. He also directed and acted in Yiddish films. He settled in Israel in 1952… He wrote plays and four volumes of memoirs (From Encyc. Judaica). Return
  3. The Bug River became in 1939 the demarcation line between the German and Soviet forces that divided Poland after the end of the armed hostilities. Return
  4. A suburb of Warsaw on the eastern shore of the Vistula (Wisła). Return
  5. Brest, formerly also Brześć (in Polish) is a city in Belarus – before World War II part of Poland. Return
  6. Like Brest - now a city in Belarus, formerly in Poland. Return


[Page 393]

Partisans in the Kałuszyn Area[1]

By The Brothers Shinolentzky / Ramle

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

 

kal393e.jpg The Brothers Shinolentzky in Fernwald
The Brothers Shinolentzky in Fernwald
(Germany, after the liberation – G.G.)

 

Among the Jews that were driven to Mrozy towards the death wagons that were to take them to Treblinka[2] on the sad day at the end of summer 1942, was the family Shinolentzky – Yankl (“Tsubik”), his wife Tsirl and the four children: Naftole – 15 years, Dovid -13, Yisroel – one and Yecheskel – four. We already knew then what Treblinka meant. Some time before, our father expecting what may happen, gave a large sum of money to a Christian for him to save us.

We already went through a number of Aktions [3] and had experience how to escape. When we were once picked up with other Kałuszyn youths and taken via Siedlce[4] to Monkebid (?) to break up boulders – with threats to be shot on the slightest pretext – we escaped. Therefore, on the way to Mrozy, our parents persuaded us to save ourselves and we decided to escape.

We went up to a Polish policeman and asked him to let us look for a drink. After putting some distance between him and us, we plucked some grass, covered ourselves and later moved in the direction of the village Olszewice (near Kałuszyn) where only three families lived. The head of one, the Christian who took money from my father refused to become our saviour. He returned the money, and the same night we went into the forest, all the while hearing the shootings in Mrozy, where the Jews of Kałuszyn were squeezed into the lime covered wagons bound for Treblinka.

Our biggest worry was the four-years-old little brother Yecheskel, who cried for Mum and Dad and begged for a warm bed. More than once, we had to leave him alone at the edge of the forest. We went on various operations and he was staying behind with a trench coat covering his body and eyes, full of fright at the sound of the leaves.

In 1943 we were joined by two Jews who escaped from Treblinka following the uprising there. Unfortunately, they did not stay long. The same week one of them went with my brother Yisroel to obtain food. The peasants handed them over to the police and we found both of them shot, their hands tied behind. The second Treblinka escapee lost his life when he refused to hand over his gold denture to a Gentile, who in further retribution informed the Germans about our hiding place. On a rainy day, when we were roasting potatoes the Germans surrounded our bunker. We quickly abandoned it, running under gunfire over a hill. Nighttime we found the Treblinka man shot near the blown up bunker.

News about Kałuszyn reached us in forest. We knew when exactly the last Jews were driven from our town, how they were collected from the entire area and how they were lured from their hiding places. We managed to avoid all that and in 1944, we met some of our townspeople in the forest in rather strange circumstances.

After our bunker was destroyed, we moved into the Kuflew area. Once walking in the forest, we suddenly saw an armed tall German. We quickly took up combat positions and to our great surprise, the “German” called out in a familiar Yiddish: “Come here, I'm a Kałuszyn Jew!” Still, we demanded that he lay down his weapon. He turned out to be Yehoshua Berman dressed in a German uniform. It transpired that there was in these parts a strong partisan unit whose leader was a teacher. After the landsman [5] brought us to his unit, he took to heart our plight. We looked rather pitiful – emaciated boys, in rags and tatters – almost like children, with short rifles over the shoulders, (we shortened the barrels to make the rifles lighter). The first night the commander ordered a special operation to obtain clothes for us. Thereafter, an interesting active life began for us.

Our assignment was to mine the railway line between Siedlce and Cegłów. We were involved in this work until the end of the war.

After the liberation, we tried to join the Polish Army, but the doctor attached to the conscription commission sent us home to recuperate. On arrival “home” to Kałuszyn the local Gentiles gave us a “warm welcome” by murdering Shmul Lev and it became clear to us that we have to move on[6].

The same week we crossed the Czech border, and with great difficulty arrived illegally in (the Land of) Israel, where we had the privilege to take part in the War of Independence.

 

kal394e.jpg Dovid Shinolentzky with partisans in hospital after the liberation
Dovid Shinolentzky with partisans in hospital after the liberation

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of
    פּאַרטיזאַנער אין קאַלושינער
    an article in “Sefer Kalushin” published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. Treblinka II was a Nazi German extermination camp in occupied Poland during World War II. Around 850,000 people - more than 99.5 percent of whom were Jews, were killed there between July 1942 and October 1943; the camp was closed after a revolt during which a few Germans were killed and a small number of prisoners escaped. The nearby Treblinka I was a forced labor camp and administrative complex in support of the death camp (Wikipedia). Return
  3. Aktion (German) - Operation involving the mass assembly, deportation, and murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust. (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/wiesenthal_glossary.html#1). Return
  4. Mrozy, Siedlce – neighboring towns. Return
  5. A townsman, a person from one's town or country. Return
  6. See Sefer Kaluszyn page 338, paragraph following author's reference note [34]. Return


[Page 397]

In Hiding[1]

By Laybl and Efraim Shtchapovitch / Yaffo, Israel

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

In the month of Kislev 1942[2] took place the final Aktion [3] in Kałuszyn. The last 100 souls of our town were locked into the train wagons, the floors of which were covered with lime. Many tried to save themselves, jumped from the train, and were shot by the German guards. We the two brothers Laybl and Efraim Shtchapovitch, survived. We jumped separately, at a distance of a few kilometres from each other and joined up afterwards. Both sides of the railway line were strewn with the bodies of tens of our murdered townspeople. I[4] was wounded in the head, my brother in the legs. He was unable to walk – I carried him – and we went into the forest. There we stayed hidden for 24 hours without food or water. At dawn, we went to a gentile acquaintance, Strychalski, not far from Shedletz. We knocked on his door and he took pity on us, dishevelled and barefoot as we were, and let us into his house. He agreed to keep us for a few hours (only). We started to weep and begged him to give us (permanent) shelter. He took us to a loft of a barn for horses and cattle and told us to cover ourselves well with straw. We did so, and every night he brought us bread, potatoes and water.

We lay hidden on the loft for about three months until a German officer was billeted in Spychalski's house, and soldiers started to come and exercise on the yard in front of the house. We were very frightened, but Strychalski used to reassure us that we were more secure than before since no one would imagine that he could now be hiding Jews. After the three months, the German officer was sent to the front. We stayed on there for some time and then the gentile, our landlord let us know that we would have to leave, in view of the large-scale raids (that were taking place). He promised to help us any way he could. Next morning, as we were preparing to leave, there arrived a few cars with Germans, who began a search. The gentile quickly came up to the loft and covered us with so much straw that we almost choked to death. The Germans searched all day and departed by nightfall. Not far from us, they found two Jews hiding in the forest, and shot them forthwith (one of them – a cousin of ours, Noach Zelivski from Boymie). When the Germans searched at Strychalski's and asked whether he was hiding Jews, he said that he was a Volksdeutsche [5] and had already killed quite a few Jews himself. The Germans accepted his reply and left Strychalski's yard.

We had a narrow escape, but could not stay there anymore. The gentile was afraid and asked us to leave promising that he will always help us. He gave us all sorts of provisions for the road; we thanked him very much, bade him a hearty good-bye and left at nighttime for the forest, some six kilometres from Strychalski's property.

Deep in the woods, in the midst of the thick vegetation we straight away started to make a dugout, one and a half meters deep and two meters (squared). We were digging the whole night and at dawn gathered twigs and straw to cover our hiding-place. We remained in the dugout throughout the winter during the snowfall and frosts, without warm clothes, and did not dare to move until the provisions that we brought into the forest ran out. From time to time we would venture at night to Strychalski's, our former landlord, pick up some food and return in darkness to the forest.

Walking in the woods, we once came upon two corpses. These were the bodies of Dvoyra, (Mordche Boymier's daughter) and her nephew Tovye. They were hiding here, and were shot after gentiles betrayed them. We buried them in the forest.

In the forest we also met a family known to us – Eliezer (Luzer) Rotbart, his wife and three little daughters. They were hiding not far from us, and since there were frequent raids in the entire area, we consulted on how to find more secure hiding places. We decided to meet up again, but never did. The day after our meeting a series of massive raids began. The Germans came with sniffer dogs and found the family Rotbart. They found the father first, and shot him. His wife, Yocheved and the older daughter Sima, unable to control their grief on seeing Eliezer being murdered came crying off the tree on which they were hiding. They too, were shot on the spot. The two younger daughters, Chava and Necha survived. (Chana is now in Russia, Necha in America).

A few days following that Aktion we again went to Strychalski to get some provisions. He became very concerned about our situation, inquired where we were settled, and we trusting him to the hilt told him everything. Some time afterwards, in daylight, lying in the dugout we heard trees being cut down in the forest. It was Strychalski. He especially came to the woods to cut down trees in order to induce us to move from these parts because the gentiles[6], his neighbours, denounced him to the Germans that he was hiding Jews. The path to our dugout was already cleared, our dread was growing, and at night I dreamt that the Germans were getting close and someone was warning us that danger was approaching. I woke my brother and we left. We were hiding out in the bushes some 50 metres from our dugout, and at sunrise we noticed two Volksdeutsche and a son of Strychalski closing in on our abandoned hiding place. Suddenly we heard an explosion – they tossed in a few grenades. On discovering that we were not there anymore, they began searching the woods and were getting closer to us. We could hear their words - they could not comprehend how and when we could have gotten away, and they continued searching. We both decided that we had nothing to lose, and in case that they got too close – we would shoot them. Our entire armoury consisted of one small hunting rifle and thirty bullets. This we got from a Christian acquaintance Czarniecki, and had it already hidden on Strychalski's loft without his knowledge. For two hours the Germans and Strychalski's son were searching, they got as close as about 15 metres from us, but found nothing. Enraged, they left the forest.

The whole day we hid among the dense bushes, and during the night we went to Strychalski. Seeing us armed, he became frightened, feigned joy at our coming and began telling us about the big raid that took place that day, and how (the Germans) were looking for us at his house. We told him that we knew everything - that his son and two Volksdeutsche tried to murder us during the day. We reproached him for - after having looked after us all that time – he was now trying to kill us at the last minute, when the situation at the front was changing, and there was a real chance of our survival. He started to beg for mercy insisting that it was not his fault - that what his son had been doing was without his knowledge, and that he was still willing to help us. Fearfully, he quickly brought out a loaf of bread and two bottles of milk. We took it and left...

We went about three kilometres, near the village Potrovina and hid in the rye. It was harvest time, but the owner of the field decided not to cut until the Russians arrived. The Soviet army was getting closer.

We spent three weeks in the field. There we came across an eighty-year-old shepherd, who tended his flock not far from our hideout. He brought us food every day, and was always willing to help. Suddenly there was a big downpour. It was raining non-stop for two days. The earth became soaked, and we were forced to come out of the rye. We went into a barn to sit out the night when a few Ukrainians arrived looking for Jews. They got quite close, but did not discover us. Hidden under hay we could hear them robbing the peasant. They then left. We recited Psalms, quickly left the barn and went back to hide in the rye. That was the 25th of July 1944.

We lay on the soaked ground in the rye for two days without food or drink and had not seen the old shepherd any more. The battles raged more fiercely. We were in a vice between the Germans and the Russians and were afraid to get up and out (of the rye field).

The morning of the 27th of July we saw a Christian woman coming towards us with food. She announced the great news of our deliverance and that the Russians were already in the village - they even drank milk there. We were brought into a courtyard and given new clothes. We were very bedraggled and rather depressed. However, little by little we began to feel reborn and started to get used to the freedom, which was miraculously given back to us.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of ין באַהעלטעניש ,
    an article in “Sefer Kalushin” published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. November. Return
  3. German for Action - operation involving the mass assembly, deportation, and murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
    (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/wiesenthal_glossary.html#1) Return
  4. Presumably – Laybl. Return
  5. Volksdeutsche is a historical term which arose in the early 20th century to describe ethnic Germans living outside of the Reich. In a 1938 memorandum of the German Reich Chancellery... the Volksdeutsche were defined as “people whose language and culture had German origins but who did not hold German citizenship. However, for Hitler and other Germans of his time, the term “Volksdeutsche” also carried overtones of blood and race not captured in the common English translation “ethnic Germans”. According to German estimates in the 1930s, about 30 million Volksdeutsche ... were living outside the Reich, a significant proportion of them in Eastern Europe - Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states and Romania. The Nazi goal of expansion to the east assigned the Volksdeutsche a special role. (From Wikipedia). Return
  6. Throughout the article the authors refer to the non-Jewish protagonists as “krist” and “kristn” (Yiddish for Christian/s). This could have given the impression that the brothers implied that the behavior of the non-Jews was motivated by the latter's religious convictions. However from the context it is clear that the authors employed the neutral term that Yiddish speaking Jews used for non-Jews, not dissimilar to the term “gentile” employed by Western Jews. (Often the term “Poles” was used to refer to non-Jewish Poles, but this could also be confusing to Westerners. (See note *10 to article on page 315 in the Sefer). Return

 

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