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[Page 437]

With “Kuniak” in Hiding[1]

(Fragment from the book “In dayn blut zolstu lebn”[2])

By Layb Rochman /Jerusalem

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

The last hunted survivors of Jewish Kałuszyn were roaming the fearful pathways between the Kałuszyn and Węgrüw forests where Layb Rochman was hiding. There he met one of those hunted, the boy Itche Rozenberg-Kuniak, a son of the tailor Chone Rozenberg (of the “Obales”)[3]. Together they struggled to live and survive. Both managed by sheer perseverance to reach the miraculous hour of liberation and to arrive in the land of hope, Israel. Here, Rozenberg-Kuniak fought in the IDF during the War of Independence and fell in the battles in the Negev.

Let the name of Itche Rozenberg-Kuniak, who fought here as well as over there for Jewish existence be hallowed. His name was forever etched into the painful memory of our people thanks to the moving words of Layb Rochman.

Old Cereniak visited us again. He came to sell pipes for our little iron heater. He especially dragged himself to Kałuszyn, to a certain spot, underneath the ruins of Jewish houses and found some rusty pieces of piping. He also brought from there a little tin bucket. Felek bought it from him for us to use as a slop-pail.

Cereniak sat with Felek for hours and related how Kałuszyn looked now:

“A deserted town, utterly laid waste. You can hardly see a whole building standing. Of the six thousand residents 90 percent were Jews. Now you can seldom see a living soul. The ten percent remaining Polish inhabitants together with the peasants of the surrounding villages are busy breaking up the Jewish ruins. They bought what was left of them from the Germans for a pittance on a gamble: they take apart roofs, walls and the foundations, looking for walled in or buried Jewish treasures. In case they don't find anything – well, nothing lost - the bricks and timber alone cover the outlay. These are carted back to the villages in order to build cottages. You do it on the cheap and people grow rich”.

Bandits – the lot of them, says Cereniak, they don't let a stranger get near the loot. They told him to get lost and didn't allow him to rummage in the piles of scrap. He barely manged to grab the pipe pieces, the bucket and two spoons. (Now he'll have something to eat with). They paid for it all and it belongs to them, they said, chasing him off. He Cereniak, is unlucky, but the expeled one from Poznań is successful: he goes there every day and always brings something back. He sells the bric-a-brac and makes a living. He knows how to do it: he sneaks up when no one is looking and finds things.

Cereniak praises the wares he brought – the bucket and pipes. “It still quite good and usable”. He asks whether Felek needs something else. He will again try to get into Kałuszyn to find something. Maybe he'll be in luck – the others won't see him.

*

Kuniak is again here with us. I have not yet told about him.

For some weeks already, a Jewish boy of about sixteen has been roaming in these parts. The peasants call him “Kuniak” – after his father's name. He is the son of the Kałuszyn tailor-jobber Chone[4], who used to work for the peasants.

The first time he had been with us was several weeks ago. One early morning, we overheard a conversation below in the kitchen that “auntie” and Felek were having with an unknown guest. We a bit frightened, listened and soon relaxed. It was a sweet childlike voice. Exactly whose it was – we did not know. Only when the auntie asked whether he prayed to the “Lord God” for survival we panicked again and our hearts and brains were overcome by dread. The boy answered:

“No, I don't pray. Our God hears no more our prayers, and other than to Him – I cannot”!

He sat long in the kitchen and we curious, with a strange longing, were glued to the cracks in the walls, looked onto the courtyard and waited for his departure.

Finally, he left. He passed by the partition of our hiding place and lingered. We were able to observe him: tall, very lean, with a beautiful pale face, black eyes – somewhat clouded. He was wrapped in rags, a torn shoe on one leg. On the second – an unusual, big slipper tied with a string. Like a frightened animal he kept glancing on all sides, hesitantly making a step and drawing back.

We could hardly stay still. Here he was outside the partition, only a few steps separating him from us, only to stretch the hands, to embrace him and kiss that pale little face. If only we could drop him a word. Ah, if he knew that some steps from him, on the other side of the wall, sat his kind, brothers in affliction!

He disappeared in the forest. Later, peasants told stories about him. We found out that a short while ago in the evening he was seized by the Wiœniew village magistrate who locked him in a barn, placed a guard of four peasants and early morning called the town gendarmes. When they came and opened the barn, it was empty. A few shingles were missing in the roof. The four guards were whipped for their negligence by the enraged magistrate, who ordered a raid. It all ended tragically: the peasants captured another Jew who happened to get lost in the area. He was locked in the bakery. When the gendarmes came for him they found him dead – the man hanged himself with his braces.

The magistrate is livid. He is out of luck. Not long ago he captured a Jew and took away his braces, his belt and shoelaces so he could not hang himself, but somehow he managed to vanish from right under the hunter's nose. Now the magistrate is about to vent all his frustration on poor “Kuniak”. Through the bailiff, he issued a decree to all surrounding villages to capture him alive, so that he could personally hand him over to the Germans.

The peasants in the surrounding villages have already carried out a number of raids - to no avail.

We discussed with Felek the ways to save the boy, but Felek insisted that our own days too, were numbered.

He invents new excuses and maintains that he cannot help. Besides, we are already too crowded, there is no room for one more. The other day he even chased him away, as soon as he showed himself. Later Felek tried to justify himself: the boy should not be allowed to loiter nearby as they may come looking for him and discover us. We approached the “auntie” for help; I gave her a kiss and promised to make her a new dress.

Today she hid him in Yanek's neighbouring barn, deep inside a stack of hay. Nobody knows about it (Yanek is not home). Making sure that no one sees her, she brings to him food that we hand down from the loft.

*

Once, on his return from Warsaw Yanek told us that he thought he saw in the street the Kałuszyn shopkeeper, the Peysakova, the wife of Peysach. He wasn't quite sure that it was her, but he could almost swear that it was.

She was hardly recognizable – an elegant lady with blond locks and trimmed eyebrows and painted lips, clad in a nice overcoat and sporting a wide handbag under her arm. At first it didn't even occur to him that it was her, but then he noticed that she was wearing black stockings – as if in mourning. Straight away he realized that she's most likely a Jew who mourns after her kin. After all, people say that all Jewesses are now wearing black stockings. He decided to make sure, so he overtook her and turned around and had a good look at her face. In her eyes he recognized that she was indeed a Jew - although she had a proud bearing and walked on boldly, he saw that it was a fake pride: her eyes showed a mysterious kind of dread. That's when it occurred to him that it was the Peysakova. He even thought of approaching her and tell that he recognized her and that she doesn't have to fear him, but she suddenly increased her pace and walked off quickly. It seems she too, recognised him and became fearful since her steps became strangely uneven.

“I followed her for quite a bit. On every street, at almost every corner she stopped for a little while and looked back. As soon as she spotted me she quickened her pace, all the while faltering and seemingly weighing every building portal whether to enter or not. And then she stood outside a church. The doors were wide-opened. Candles on the decorated altar lit up the inside. A crowd was streaming in – it was Sunday - she mingled in with them and entered. Inside I looked on her face in the light and I was sure that it was she in fact! She knelt and as she was praying, she moved her lips in a strange fashion, shutting the eyes, as if she avoided looking at the altar. She probably prayed in Jewish, to the Jewish God, because she covered her face with her hands several times, as if weeping secretly and constantly wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. When she saw me, she became very confused. Her face first went red, and soon became pale, the colour constantly changing; there was fear in her eyes and she quickly averted them. Several times she looked back for a split second. She quickly began crossing herself. Oh, yes. She looked sad and depressed – obviously still grieving over her two children, her two boys, who were killed last year in the Budki village”.

*

“Kuniak, Kuniak”!

No one answered.

I was frightened by the sound of my own voice. I imagined that the surrounding darkness and the walls picked it up and carried it very far.

“Kuniak, Kuniak”! - I desperately called again – “answer me! I am a brother of yours, a Jew - it is me! Don't be afraid”!

For a minute, there was silence. Suddenly I heard a rustle as if the straw in the corner was disturbed.

“Kuniak, come out! It is me – a Jew”!

The straw was suddenly turned over. Someone was crawling towards me.

“Who is it”? - a thin frightened childish voice.

I sensed someone next to me.

“Kuniak”! - I hugged him – “Kuniak dear, don't be afraid”!

“Who are you”? – he shook himself free.

“A Jew, a Jew! I am in hiding not far from here”!

“Kuniak”! - I wrapped my arms around him and started kissing him. I became confused and did not know what to say next. He sat there shaking in fear.

Suddenly he became emboldened:

“Where do you come from”? – He started questioning me how I found out about him.

I told that I was with a group of Jews somewhere here not far in the woods. We stay hidden in a hole in the ground. We are armed. I showed him the revolver.

“Would you like to come to us, be together”?

“No”! - he does not want to. He only wants me to tell him how I knew he was here.

“Why don't you want to join us”?

He was very frightened and did not know how to answer.

I gave him the bread.

“Kuniak, I am a Jew. We were looking for you for a long time. We were very anxious to find you”!

I began telling him about us, how we found out about him, how we were seeing him quite often, but unfortunately until now not being able to show ourselves. Now, however, we have the opportunity to take him to us, and he would no more be exposed to lawlessness and loneliness. We will take him into our hiding place.

I told him everything that we knew about him and what had happened to him.

“But how do you know all that”! - he was surprised and became animated.

“Because we are your brothers. We worry about you. We know who wants to harm you and who is trying to help you. No, from now on you won't have to fend for yourself alone. For a while now I was following your comings and goings and sought an opportunity to meet. You will be with us. You will not need to wander about from place to place anymore”.

I asked him what had happened to him lately.

Apparently, I have gained his trust and he began to talk.

“You probably haven't heard and haven't spoken any Yiddish for quite a while”? – I asked him.

“Oh no, I hear it quite often”. - He told me that he meets frequently with a Jewish family, which lives here somewhere in the woods.

“So, are you coming to us”?

“Yes”, but he must know first where it is. Besides - not today, not yet! He must first meet with a peasant he knows. Only in a few days he may be able to come. We will meet up again.

I asked him about the other Jewish family.

No, he cannot talk about it now. When we meet next time, he will tell me, and we will then talk about everything in detail.

We agreed to meet here, in the same spot on the third day at midnight. As we parted, I kissed him and left.

*

At last! At last! We have Kuniak with us.

Last night when we have met again at the agreed hour in Yanek's barn, I succeeded in talking him into moving to our hiding place.

We are overjoyed, and he too, beams with satisfaction. He cannot yet admit to himself that it is true. He still thinks, he says, that he is dreaming. He sits in the mud-hut in a circle, surrounded by our friends, who are beaming with joy, and he smilingly looks on wide-eyed. Our group doesn't give him any rest, keeps on asking him about his life until now, about the village, the peasants, about his Jewish contacts, who are sheltering nearby in the woods, and he tells very interesting details.

Froyman and I look on from above through the cracks, hardly able to stand still – we too, want to speak to him, hear some news. A few times already we have swapped places with Esterl and Tziporale – they came up and we went down to talk to him. To me he looks up as his saviour. Until the last minute, until we came right down into the hideout he still didn't trust me completely – he followed, but wanted to hang back, his steps faltering, and I feared he would change his mind and find a new excuse to turn back. He walked on behind me with a thumping heart, as if taking a chance and with an inner self-imposed bravery. Only inside the pit, on seeing the group's delight at his presence, how they hugged and kissed him, their sincere happiness – he started breathing easier and was overcome by a joyful confusion. This confusion is still present, but is beginning to dissipate. The fog of emotions is beginning to lift, although he is still in a state of wonderment.

Now he keeps on explaining himself and apologising to me for his initial distrust and suspicion. He says that many times Gestapo agents lured Jews from hiding places by speaking to them in Yiddish. He heard this from other hidden Jews in forest. He looks at me, all the time lowering his eyes in embarrassment and apologising again… He confesses that for two days he was in dread of our meeting, he had already decided not to show up and instead to run away from the area. On the other hand, he felt drawn to me and that feeling brought him to the agreed spot. Even at the last minute, already standing in the alder-grove not far from Yanek's barn he still fought with himself – to go or to run quickly. I was able to recognise his struggle. At twelve midnight I was already in Yanek's barn and looked out through a crack, waiting for him to appear from the direction of the alder-grove. I peered into the darkness until I finally spotted a shape shuffling among the trees and I guessed that it was him. At first I could not understand why he loitered there instead of entering the barn. After a while I surmised, that he was afraid and unable to make up his mind. I then went out, slunk into the forest, hid behind a tree and tried to observe him. Despite the darkness I recognised him, approached from behind and touched his elbow:

Kuniak!

He started, turned and began hesitantly to follow me to the barn where we sat down in a corner. I thought he was shaking. I started talking to him soothingly, asked him how he coped the last few days and whether he was now willing to come with us to our hiding place. He in turn asked me about our group, what we were living on, what our arrangements were, how far our base was from the barn, whether it was deep in the woods, and with whom we were connected, and similar questions. I told him we were hidden by peasants and that it was not far from here. I gave him a full picture of our existence. A few times I got up and asked him if he was coming, but he kept holding back, trying to remain a bit longer and tossing out more questions. At last he decided to come, but only after I warned him to be absolutely sure – yes or no – because afterwards he will not be able to leave – we won't let him!

He went out of the barn following me - and reacted as if a bomb had exploded when I told him to climb the ladder onto the loft of the selfsame Yanek's barn.

He-re? – he looked at me with eyes wide open. I did not reply, but motioned him to continue to climb. I climbed behind. He kept turning his head and looking at me probingly. I urged him on telling him not to worry – all will be well! With God's help we will all survive. We slid into the hole in the straw and I indicated how to move into the hiding place. Faint sounds emanated from there and I whispered to them to put on some light inside.

It is here, Kuniak! Climb in!

I was still behind him. The entrance was blocked. There was a minute silence.

Kuniak – I said.

Kuniak - everybody suddenly suppressed a shout – Kuniak!

He became confused; already they all surrounded him, hugging and kissing him.

*

Kuniak relates that his name is Yitzchok, everybody calls him Itche and he is the youngest son of the Kałuszyn tailor-jobber Chone Rozenberg who used to be called Chone “obal”. Their entire family was known by the (nick) name “obals”. The father was known not only to the Jews of Kałuszyn, but also to the peasants of the surrounding villages for whom he used to work. Thanks to his father's trade, he has quite a few acquaintances in the neighbourhood. He too works for them in secret and they pay him with some food. Thanks to them he is now familiar with the entire area. However, he must be cautious of most of the people, and only a few let him cross their thresholds. In some villages there are a few who from time to time give him a piece of bread and a bowl of soup. More than once per fortnight he is not to visit the same peasants. Therefore, he goes every night into a different village. There are some villages that he should avoid altogether because in them certain death awaits him. All with few exceptions hunt for Jews. He does not complain about food – he has enough. In his lair in the forest – he says – he is hoarding a whole “stockpile” of bread, and if we so wish he could go there tomorrow and bring it here.

Today, dinnertime on seeing the small pot of food that the “auntie” sent in for all of us, he was amazed that we can survive on “so little”. He queried whether she always gives us such skimpy meals, and on hearing that – yes, he was showing signs of his first disappointment and sat there filled with gloom.

Before that, an hour earlier he asked if I would allow him out of the barn every evening after dark so that he could go to his peasant acquaintances for a bite. He was already hungry, he said, and from the little he was getting here he will not be able to still his hunger. He fails to understand how we can stay alive, and he is also suffocating – he can hardly breathe.

Later he sat down in a corner of the barn engrossed in thoughts. He seemed to be very sad after dinner. Maybe he wants out, away from us, but he is embarrassed and does not wish to talk about it, yet. Now he told me that he has to go out this evening at least for two-three hours to go to a peasant, an acquaintance who some time ago asked him to come. He promised to cut Kuniak's long hair in which lice are breeding. Once there he probably would also get some food and then return to us. He put me in a spot – I did not know if he would come back, but it was also difficult to refuse. I tried telling him that I myself would give him a haircut (our chief hair cutter is Esterl, she does it quickly and deftly although our heads look after her cuts like fields after harvest with zigzags and ridges) – however, he did not want that, he wanted to go to the peasant. I had to give in and promise him his outing, which caused us a lot of heartache. If he failed to return, we would be living in constant dread and insecurity – we may, God forbid because of him, albeit inadvertently, be betrayed!

*

Kuniak keeps telling me about one decent peasant Shuba, who lives apart, his cottage sitting between two villages. He dwells there with his wife and a little boy of eight. Shuba often allows him to spend the nights in his barn and in return, he Kuniak helps with the work. He threshes the wheat in the closed up barn. Though no one ever comes in there, one has to be wary of Shuba's malicious neighbour who lives on a nearby farmstead, a mere fifty meters away.

Shuba and his wife are good people, the best of all the ones he knows. When he works for them, they also give him some food. However – to let Jews in, to make there a hiding place – this is out of the question, I shouldn't even think about it. Even merely suggesting it would make them angry. Shuba's wife is a cowardly woman, very scared and besides, they are well off and could not be induced by money or rewards.

No, he Itche thinks that it's a waste of effort going there, nothing will come of it. It is not so close to boot – eight kilometres. However, I would not let go, I persisted, and I wanted him to take me there to try to talk to them. He relented and though he knew we would not achieve anything, he would go with me – even tonight, after midnight.We ought to congratulate ourselves.

During the night we were at Shuba's with Kuniak, had a talk and, believe it or not, Shuba agreed to let us make a hiding place in his barn.

Thank God! I hope that it will succeed and he will not change his mind. How happy we are!

Last night, at about eleven, Itche and I went out of the barn and into the alder-grove. For a few hours he led me in and out of woods, skirting villages and at two after midnight we arrived at Shuba's farmstead.

*

Shuba tells me that he himself has a soft heart – he cannot see people being murdered, unlike his son-in-law Maciek.

Both of them were once riding from Mrozy to Kałuszyn. That was winter last year, in December, when they gathered the Jews from Kałuszyn and drove them to Mrozy, to the railway and thence to Treblinka. It was very cold, a frost. He and Maciek were riding in a sled and witnessed the expulsion of the Jews – about two thousand people – men, women, teens and little children. The roads were littered with corpses with split skulls and open bellies. He Shuba averted his eyes and his heart was pounding. But his son-in-law was driving on, whipping the horse and said - “screw the sons-of bitches! Shooting is too good for them! I would first cut their guts out! Still, it gladdens my heart”.

Afterwards, quite close to Kałuszyn, seeing gendarmes driving a few Jews – men, women and children – towards the Jews' cemetery to be shot, and on another street coming across a cart filled with the corpses of recently shot on the way to cemetery, he Shuba closed his eyes, crossed himself and began to pray. It was all so awful! Maciek though, laughed at him and said that “father” has too soft a heart like a woman. “They should slaughter all of them dirty Jews.

Shuba asks me not to be upset. He (Maciek) is still young, not older than I am, except that he's not smart. When he reaches his, Shuba's age – over fifty – he'll probably become wiser. Until then, one has to be wary of him.

*

For two days, the German military kept moving back through our paths – on the way to Dobry. Hundreds of squads were marching and riding past our barn.

My eyes roam the fields, my ears straining to catch the sounds in the distance. I shudder inside and my lips whisper a prayer:

Dear God, dear God!

Suddenly –

Shooting – light as from machine guns or small cannons – rips through the air.

It is quite close, not that far at all!

I froze. The women outside jumped up.

I listen –

Again! So near!

I am still standing and listening. There is a lull, and then it starts again.

“Where does it come from”?

“It seems from the main road Warsaw-Brest, from the direction of Kałuszyn”.

“Are they still firing, Laybl”? - heads are popping up from hiding places.

“Shush! – Yes”!

“What's going on”?

“I don't know! But be quiet”!

“It must be the Russkis”! – shouts a peasant woman.

“It could be the Russians” – I whisper back to her.

The women left. Shuba's wife came in and asked whether we heard the shooting, it came from Kałuszyn. Most certainly – the Russians.

The shooting sounded closer now. Shuba himself came in with a crooked smile on his face:

“Definitely the Russkis”!

They both left. Froyman and I went into the hiding place. We secured the entrance.

The shots resounded in our small hideout. To us they were sweet sounds. We could not utter a sound, sat in darkness and listened.

I am growing impatient.

I went back outside.

Suddenly singing could be heard. I went up to the crack in the wall and looked out. From the direction of the Dobra I could make out thick dust like fog. Men were singing the Polish anthem. I saw a rider on a white horse coming our way: “Poland hadn't perished yet…”[5]

“Poles, Poles! Poland, our Poland is free again”!!!

The Shubas went outside. The rider entered the yard. I went to the other part of the wall and observed him closely: a young fellow with dishevelled blond hair, a pale face and small green eyes, wearing a black creased civilian suit. He looked around. I quickly slid into our hole and closed the cover.

My companions tremble:

“Polish partisans, probably a young Polish commander from the forest”

We again hear sound of galloping:

“Poland had not perished…”

“Brother Poles! Poland is resurrected”!!!

The air is filled with spirited singing.

The rider is withdrawing. Someone is coming to us into the barn. The Shubas – both of them enter, asking us to open the cover and saying that a new military is in Kałuszyn now. The rider told them this. Kałuszyn is free – but they do not know, they do not remember what he said exactly: whether the Russkis are there or the “Bolsheviks”. He may have said – the “Soviets”. He did not fully explain. Besides, one cannot rely on him. He is a notorious bandit from Zimna-Woda that was hiding from the Germans for months and has now come out of hiding. He is happy that the Germans are gone.

We froze: The Russians are here!

The Shubas left.

We were quiet.

The firing continued. We went up from the hideout.

In the village all was still. We could make out now and then a person quickly rushing from place to place. The news was spreading by gestures.

“The Russkis are here”!

Another rider appeared. He entered the yard – it was Maciek.

Hurrah! – he shouted. He jumped of the horse and turned to us:

“Yids, the Russkis are here! The Russkis - your mob is here! Vodka, booze! Where do you keep the drinks?

We shook hands all around. The peasants were merry. Our crumpled faces began showing signs of joy mixed with all sorts of emotions. One wanted to celebrate, dance and sing, but silent weeping pressed the heart. I stood there with a frozen smile on my lips. Inwardly I was racked by a mixture of joy, grief and melancholy.[6]


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of
    מיט קוניאַק אין באַהעלטעניש
    a story 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. “In your Blood you shall live”בדמיך חייִ” - (from Ezekiel 16:6). Return
  3. Meaning now lost. It could be from Polish obalać (to topple, to smash) or from obał - Polish slang for “hothead”, irritable person – related to the Russian slang обалдеть (obaldet') – to go crazy? Return
  4. Chonon – Either he was given the nickname Kuni (as in Kuni Leml) or his name was mispronounced by the peasants as Kunia, hence “kuniak” (meaning - “one of Kunia's”). . Return
  5. The first line of the Polish national anthem. Return
  6. The rest of the fragment relates how the Germans counter attacked and the lives of the Jews were again in danger until the enemy was finally thrown back and the group of hideouts emerged into freedom - only to realise how very few Jews have managed to survive. Return


[Page 452]

Such Was the End of My Shtetl Mrozy[1]

By Brurya Sharfman-Kaplan, Tel-Aviv

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

Fear gripped the Jewish inhabitants as soon as the Germans entered Mrozy. The invaders burned down many houses, and this already made hell for those that were left without a roof over their heads. The cold of the early winter foreshadowed hard days ahead.

As yet rail travel had not been forbidden outright, but people avoided it not to draw atten-tion to themselves. The station was deserted; coaches from Kałuszyn were nowhere to be seen. Not seen either was Mordche Dembovitch, who used to take on passengers from the Mrozy station to Kałuszyn. He used to ride snoozing because the little mare knew the way. However, the travelling salesmen knew that without toil and bustle they will not be able to provide for wife and kids. So one takes chances, sets out towards the station with little packages and a lot of dread, and waits. Each one stands apart in a corner and awaits a train.

Parandowski, the former railway cashier of the now lost Polish state seems to enjoy himself with his fatherland under Nazi rule. He passes by, eying the few Jews at the station. When Parandowski noticed Yechiel Sholems wearing a new pair of galoshes, he walked up to a German pointing at the Jude. The German ignored him - he knew that the Jew will lose not only his galoshes, but his life also - however Parandowski has no patience to wait.

Old Wielobicki, the right hand of the priest of Mrozy paces tensely on the platform with his dog - and both are furious. Wielobicki is outraged that the Jews are still allowed to travel on the train.

A few weeks later we a group of young people, left the shtetl. My mother was devas-tated when she saw the packed rucksacks. She was pale as chalk as she blessed us to reach safely to “the other side”. She wanted to give us more staff - “some more cherry juice, another jar of preserves - who else had I made it for?” However, she would like the bundles to be smaller because - “God knows how far you would have to lug it all”.

My father silently paces the room, his long wide beard seemingly shrank, like he himself. He isn't sure which was preferable - for us to run or to stay. At last he says that yes, the young must leave because they are targeted - “they are not after us” … He takes some money out of his pocket and says: “use this to pay off the border guards”. For the first time in my life, I saw my father weep.

My cousin Devorah, who was making ready to leave together with us suddenly took off her rucksack and said: “You go now; I'll stay a while and follow later”. She, completely orphaned following the death of my mother's sister, found from early childhood a father and a mother in our house. She could not look on their sorrow at being suddenly left all by themselves. She felt that now was the time to do something for them. Again, she states with determination: “I will stay until they calm down”. And so Devorah, my sister/cousin remained and shared the bitter fate of her and my parents.

*

Oh, you warm hearted plain Jews of Mrozy that shared all the furies and pains in that little shtetl. The cruel enemy served you all sorts of death. In the past, one deceased Jew would be given a send-off by the whole town, he would be mourned and his coffin respectfully carried beyond the hill to the cemetery in Kałuszyn. But now, during the dark days of annihilation your corpses are scattered over all the fields and forests of Mrozy.

You ill-fated Jews of Mrozy that struggled on trains to make a living - now shoved into rail-wagons on your last trip, on the way to the death factories of Treblinka.

Let it here be recorded: when the last group of Jews was taken to the railway, Yosele Tenenboym, whom the Germans still left in town to bake for them, came out with a basket of sliced bread for his starving brethren. The Germans reacted by bringing out his wife and two toddlers and killing the entire family.

Not one Mrozy Jew survived the murderous rule. The Gentiles who for a long time im-bibed the poison of antisemitism refused to save a single Jewish life. My only girlfriend, the out-standingly beautiful Malka Blushtayn, the daughter of the Mrozy rabbi, managed to go to Warsaw, but died there in the ghetto of starvation.

Such was the end of my shtetl Mrozy.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of אַזוי האַט פאַרענדיקט מיַין שׁטעטל מראַזי, “Sefer Kalushin”, Published by the “Kalushiner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Mrozy - a village in the vicinity of Kałuszyn. Return


[Page 456]

Kałuszyn Jews in France
During the Nazi Occupation
[1]

By Yisroel Engel / Paris

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

 

kal456e.jpg Yisroel and Laya Engel
Yisroel and Laya Engel
in a (internment? G.G.) camp in Switzerland - 1944

 

Deportees – Victims of Naiveté

Using cunning, the Nazi murderers tried to lull the Jews in France into a false sense of security and draw their attention away from the deadly peril that was awaiting them in the various (concentration) camps.

During the evening hours of Monday, the 13th of May 1941, the French police visited all Jewish homes in Paris and left notices with the “modest” request to appear the following morning with documents, accompanied by a family member or friend in order to clarify one's citizenship status.

At the time, the intentions of the French police and their role in implementing the policies of the Gestapo[2] were not known. A great many Jews – including Kałuszyn natives – showed up at the designated hour with a heavy heart and in the naive belief that they would be taken for forced labour. It was in fact, the first collection point for internment in the concentration camps Pithiviers and Beaune-La-Roland; thereafter – Drancy and from there into the death camps and gas chambers.

To a certain degree, the Nazi occupiers took into account public opinion in France. They therefore resorted to all sorts of embellishments in the execution of their diabolic plans. They kept changing their tactics and in order to disorient and demoralise their victims they spread rumours with the help of their servants, the “brown[3] jewboys” from UGIF[4] – the French Judenrat [5].

First, a rumour was spread that if the men would come forward their wives and children would be safe; then that the pregnant women and small children would be released. In this manner, thousands of Jews were lured and all of them, without exception, were deported.

Among the Jewish survivors in France, the date of 16th July 1942 is indelibly engraved in memory as the “black Thursday”. At dawn of that day, the annihilation apparatus had mobilised all its branches – the police, secret service, Gestapo and military to conduct a massacre of the Jews of Paris. About 30 thousand[6] – the young and old, pregnant women, the sick and crippled - were collected in the sport arena “Vélodrome d'hiver”, and after a few days of suffering, without food or drink, crowded on the concrete floor – were all transported to the death camps. Among those were many Jews from Kałuszyn.

Paris Jews observe the sacred memory of those that perished on that day. Each year on the 16th of July, Jews gather in front of that sport venue on the initiative of the Association of former Jewish Deportees. A walled in plaque proclaims, “On the 16th of July 1942 thirty thousand Jewish men, women and children, victims of the Nazi occupier's racial persecution, were deported from here to the German extermination camps. People of Paris – remember!”[7]

In the Areas of Occupied France

Due to the treason of the reactionary fascist circles in France, the Nazi forces with the help of the fifth column[8] quickly conquered a large part of French territory, including the capital. Under the terms of the armistice, France was partitioned into a number of zones: the “free zone” administered from Vichy, the occupied zone, including Paris and the Italian zone, run from Nice. Following the first wave of arrests in 1941, many Jews started to move into the Italian zone, where people felt more secure as long as the Italians were there. The following Kałuszyn Jews with their families were hiding in Nice: Noote Tenenboym, z”l, Max Tenenboym, Mordche Teneboym, Yisroel Engel, Mayer Engel (later perished in Auschwitz), Laybl and Bernard Zhitelny, and others. Velvl Safirshtayn was hidden in Clermont; Avrohom Kronenberg and Yankev Mendl Got'helf in Brides-les-bains; Zishe Borovski in Lyon; Mendl Got'helf and Roytman (both subsequently deported) near Toulouse. This is only a part of the Kałuszyn natives, who went into hiding in the various areas in France, most of whom vanished without a trace.

One of them, Gitl Zhitelny was (as were many others) a victim of her own naiveté. As she was travelling on 23rd October 1942 to her husband in the so-called “free zone” of the Vichy government, she was arrested on the train and taken to a camp near the border some 400 km from Paris. It was not hard to escape from there, but Gitele believed the Gestapo killers that she would receive only a minor punishment for crossing illegally from one zone to another. However, she was sent to Drancy and from there to Auschwitz. Even there, according to witnesses she at first thought that the smoking chimneys were factories… until she entered the gas chamber.

Very few Kałuszyn Jews returned from the death camps: Avrohom Goldntzvayg, Mayer Handlarski, Zhelechovski and some others. They are living witnesses to the horrible, nightmarish cruelties.

In the Resistance Movement

Thanks to the Resistance, thousands of Jews escaped certain death. A significant number of Kałuszyn Jews took part in the resistance movement and many of them fell in the heroic struggle.

In a battle at Grenoble perished Albert Bzhozek (a son of Pinchas Ahron's). Zishe Borovski, who at the time lived in Lyon, had much to tell about the self-sacrifice of the young Bzhozek, who was active in that area, taking part in various operations and missions. He was the sole survivor of his family and continued the struggle until his heroic death.

 

kal457e.jpg Avrohom Albert Bzhozek
Avrohom Albert Bzhozek

 

Many other Kałuszyn Jews died fighting, among them the son of Tseshinski, who was shot by the Germans.

We honour all who perished and all the fallen fighters. It is our duty to do the utmost to ensure that the Jewish people and humanity as a whole would never face such savagery as that exhibited by cursed German Nazism.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from Yiddish of
    קאַלשינער בעת דער נאַצי־אָקופּאַציע אין פֿראַנקרײך
    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. 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
  3. After the Nazi brownshirts. Return
  4. Union Generale Des Israelites De France. Return
  5. As the German army swept through Poland and the Soviet Union, it carried out an order of S.S.* leader Heydrich to require the local Jewish populace to form Jewish Councils as a liaison between the Jews and the Nazis. These councils of Jewish elders, (Judenrat; plural: Judenräte), were responsible for organizing the orderly deportation to the death camps, for detailing the number and occupations of the Jews… The Nazis enforced these orders on the Judenrat with threats of terror, which were given credence by beatings and executions. (From www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/) Return
  6. The number given by the author corresponds to the one anticipated by the Gestapo prior to the roundup. However, the actual number arrested on that day was about 13 thousand: 12,884 cited by http://www1.yadvashem.org/about_holocaust/chronology/1942-1945/1942/chronology_1942_22.html; see also http://www.massviolence.org/The-Vel-d-Hiv-round-up?artpage=3#outil_sommaire_2, - the number had increased to 13,152 by 20th July. Return
  7. The number of victims in that inscription may have also relied on the same original (Gestapo) numbers as cited in note [6] above. Information given in a link provided by Samy Staroswiecki, the coordinator of the French translation of Sefer Kałuszyn (and nephew of Yisroel Engel, the author of the article) shows that the Vélodrome d'hiver was subsequently pulled down. A monument to the victims of the roundup was erected (in 1994) not far from the sport arena on a promenade next to Quai de Grenelle. Apparently, the original plaque cited by the author was replaced. The current plaque on the monument (machine translated) reads - “The French Republic in homage to the victims of racist and antisemitic persecutions and crimes against humanity under the defacto authority known as the Government of the French state (1940-1944). Let us never forget.” (See also http://pagesperso-orange.fr/memoire78/pages/vel.html) Return
  8. A fifth column is a group of people who clandestinely undermine a larger group, such as a nation, from within, to the aid of an external enemy. The term originated with a 1936 radio address by Emilio Mola, an insurgent general during the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War. As his army approached Madrid, he broadcast a message that the four columns of his forces outside the city would be supported by a “fifth column” of his supporters inside the city, intent on undermining the Republican government from within (Wikipedia). Return

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