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[Page 56]

Kolno Girls in Auschwitz

Deborah Charniewitch-Lubel


In 1941, when the war between Germany and Soviet Russia broke out, I was already married and living in Lomza. Many Jews fled from Kolno to Lomza, wanting to believe that they would be safer in a big city. To their great sorrow, all the Jews from the Lomza ghetto were transported to Auschwitz, where they met their end.

In 1942 we were sent from Lomza to Zambrova, where other Jews from the surrounding district had been concentrated in the local barracks. We lay down on our bundles, spread out on the floor, and waited.

The transports to Auschwitz started before Christmas, organized on a block basis. The days were bitterly cold and many little children froze on the way. I was lucky enough to have included a feather-bed in the 25 kilograms of luggage we were allowed to bring along. I sat inside the feather-bed all the way and so my feet did not freeze and I arrived at Auschwitz warm and healthy.

There were two thousand people in our transport; I was among the fifty selected for work. Only three of us remained alive – a friend and I, who live in Israel, and a third woman living in America.

The men and women were separated. My husband, Moses, was also selected for work; but because he was too weak they soon sent him to the gas-chambers.

On our arrival – fifty young women and girls – all our things were taken away. They left us nothing, not even a photo. Then our hair was cut off and we were given khaki trousers and a blouse; they tattooed numbers on our arms – mine is 28665 – and sent us to the "Buddi" section of the camp.

Before that we had to stand outside in the cold. Some of the Auschwitz veterans, who had been there for some time, knew all the arrangements well and pitied us when they saw where they sent us.

"No one returns from that place!" – they said, shaking their heads in sympathy. "Buddi" was a punishment-camp for prostitutes, who became our superintendents. Hundred women were brought to Buddi that week; half of them were killed in a few days. The happy ones were those allowed to live for another few weeks; Buddi was a closed camp and no strangers were seen there.

At two or three o'clock at night we were woken and given some water – a so-called coffee – to drink. Then we had to line up in fives and wait for dawn, when the selection started. Those looking weak were taken aside to be sent to the gas-chambers. I remained alive thanks to my round cheeks and fresh complexion. Although we all became skinny and thin I always looked better than the rest.



“Man, Catch the Dog”


At daybreak they took us to work. The forewomen were prostitutes. S.S. men, with loaded rifles and wild dogs, organized inspections. Once, just for fun, they set the dogs at us. Of course, no woman whom the dogs attacked remained alive. On our way to work we had to drag along logs of wood for fires to warm the prostitutes.

Our work was pushing lorries, filled with sand, over tracks, laid untidily for this temporary purpose. The worst points were the connections between two rails, where the trolley tended to fall off the tracks and turn over. When this happened, the foreman would come at a run and start beating us to death; some twenty to thirty women were killed every day.

On our way back to the camp we were ordered to drag the dead with us. Looking healthier than the rest, I had to carry a body every day. Later on we made a little cart out of pieces of wood and loaded the dead bodies on it. Very often the S.S. men commanded us lay corpses on dying women. The morning after, a Red-Cross van would come to collect yesterday's crop of dead.

Walking for days on end, pushing trolleys and dragging dead bodies, wore out our shoes and we used to walk barefoot in the snow and bitter cold.

When spring came and the snow melted marshes formed, the trolleys stuck in the mud and the work was even harder. For this we were beaten all the more.

At the end of the work-day we were counted, to make sure that no one was missing. Once, as we crossed a bridge, a woman who broke down, threw herself into the river; we all had to stand and wait until the S.S. had pulled her out of the water. Whether dead or alive – the same number of women who went out to work had to return.

At night we received a little soup and a portion of bread, which we guarded for the next day. The bread was often stolen from under our heads.



In the queue to the Gas-chambers


I was with Leicha Kolinski (daughter of Abraham-Yitzchak, the watchmaker). We were like two sisters, sleeping on one rack, eating together – one portion of bread at night, the other – during work. We were in the same group of five, pushing the trolleys. I became weary of life; I was weak and my swollen feet could not hold me up any more. One morning, instead of joining my group for work, I crossed over to those who had been selected for Auschwitz, but I made a mistake. A few minutes earlier, I had told Leicha that I intended to commit suicide. She did not agree to this and seeing that I was missing from our work-group, understood immediately what I was going to do. Without hesitating a minute, she turned to the superintendent and said: "Fraulein Officer, my sister has joined up for Birkenau!" (that is – for the gas-chambers).

The superintendent knew me well from many months of work. She ran up to me and began hitting me with her fists and kicking me all over, until I fell to the ground, bleeding. She shouted: "You can still push trolleys. You'll die when we decide!"

Two women held me up and we went to work. From that day on, the forewoman kept an eye on me to make sure that I was in my group, every day.



My Friend Leicha Died


Meanwhile, Leicha Kolinski had fallen ill; she still dragged herself to work, though she was not strong enough to push the trolleys. At last she fell down and a S.S man ran to her. She could not get up and begged him to shoot her. She had luck, because he did what she wanted, putting an end to her life with one shot from his revolver.

When this happened I was working near another trolley. We heard the shot but it was forbidden to stop work to see what had happened. Later on the same forewoman who had prevented me from going to the gas-chambers looked for me and said: "Come, your sister is already among the dead. Carry her to the barracks!"

At that time I was convinced that Leicha was better off than I was. She did not let me die and she herself had been redeemed from all her trials.

My body was all black and blue from the truncheon-blows. Our linen was not changed and we got no clothes at all. During our six months at Buddi we did not wash; it was a little better in the winter – we used the snow. In summer it was horrible.

Later on, they transferred us to Auschwitz. The extermination-camp has been described so often that my personal story can add nothing new.

In January 1945 the electric wires around the camps were blown-up; the Soviet Army arrived and liberated the survivors. They looked like living shadows and with them the liberators found a heap of corpses, which the murderers had not yet burnt.

My suffering, unfortunately had not come to an end in January 1945. A few months before I was transported to Shafo, near Kamlitz, where we worked in an armament-factory, day and night, in two shifts. The treatment was a little better than at Buddi. We were starved, but not beaten to death; the frequent alerts indicated that the front was near.



Freedom at Last


I shall never forget the 8th of March, when inferno ended for all those who had lived through it. Lonely and desolate, ill and broken, I was too weak to get up to up to see the Red Army marching through Teresienstadt. Thanks to the help of my friend, living on Mt. Carmel, in Israel, whom I met after a thirty years' separation – I gradually got better.

Like all the other survivors, I was hoping to find a living relative. A short time after the liberation we set forth – a group of women and men, originating from the Bialystock district, in the direction of our hometowns. We were on our way for weeks, mostly on foot, reaching Bialystock at long last. There we met many lonely people, all in search of their families.

On looking through the list of survivors, at the local Jewish Committee, I suddenly read the names: "Yankel Lubel, Slava Lubel" and burst out: "My brother and his family are alive!" Then I fainted: when I was revived, I began asking about my brother and after many inquiries learnt that he as in Lomza. I did not meet him there, however, and was told that he had left on his way to Eretz-Israel.

Like thousands of others on their way there, we reached the Deported Persons' camps, established by the Allies in Germany.

Being on that blood-stained earth, so near to our murderers, was very painful for us. Most of the camps' inhabitants desired to get to Eretz-Israel, but we had to wait until we were able to leave the cursed land.

There – in one of the camps – I met my brother, with his family.




[Page 59]

A Christian Woman’s Evidence

Halina Golshovska-Glaser


In connection with the publication of the book about Kolno, I asked a Polish friend – a former Kolno citizen – to write down some of her recollections of those tragic days. Here is what she wrote.

Avner Eliphaz
Poznan, July 5, 1970

Dear Friend,

You ask me what I remember about the extermination of the Jews in Kolno by the Germans. Indeed, those are days which should never be forgotten – a time of terrible trial and tribulation for those of us, Poles, who had G-d in their hearts.

My story begins with the year 1941, at the market-square, near the monument to Lenin, which the Russians had erected. When the Germans occupied Kolno, they sentenced the Russian monument to immediate destruction.

On a certain day they ordered the Jews to present themselves at the market-square and commanded them to demolish the monument. The Germans gave them no instruments and they were forced to use their bare hands to tear down the stones and break-up the concrete. Another group of Jews had leather whips put into their hands and were told to whip the "slackers": those who used their whips too gently had to change places with the workers and be whipped instead.

Then, when the monument was in ruins, the wounded and exhausted Jews were forced to load the stones, the bricks and the iron into carts, to which the Germans harnessed them instead of horses. Enveloped in their prayer-shawls, they had to pull the carts to the Jewish cemetery, behind the hills, by the slaughter-house. Here they were forced to dig a huge grave and bury the debris of the monument in it, singing a "song" composed by the Germans:

Because of the Jew
The war came to you
But golden Hitler arrived
And made him work.

This was only the prologue, the beginning of the terrible slaughter. I remember that day how your brother-in-law, Chaim, came home, bruised black-and-blue from the blows he got. Your sister, Sarah, asked me to get boracic-water from the pharmacy, When she dressed his wounds, Chaim was in terrible pain, but he suffered without a word. When your little Yossele burst out crying, Chaim patted his head and tried to comfort him.

Some days after that, the Jews were commanded to pack some valuables and come to the market-square, where many lorries were waiting. The Germans took their packages, loaded them onto special lorries and sent them to Germany.

Not all the Jews had obeyed the order to appear at the market-place and a few had managed to hide in garrets and cellars. But as you know, dear friend, it was impossible to hide anything in Kolno; a sneeze at one end of the town was heard at the other. The Germans began to drag the Jews out of all the corners and hiding-places, they shaved the old men's beards and beat everyone they could lay their hands on. I regret to say many Poles also took part in all this horror. I don't know whether they were paid or if they had other motives. Maybe you, dear friend, remember the Pole – Shimanski, nicknamed the "Beetle", who used to live at Alexandrovka, near the slaughter-house. He was one of those who assisted the Germans in their pillage and murder. You probably remember two Burak girls (Joelke's daughters). He killed them both in an attic and they were found with their throats cut.

Another Jew-baiter was the Pole Peltz, who lived in Podgorna street and always used to borrow flour and wheat from your brother-in-law, Chaim. Now he found the courage to torment Jews.

Dear friend, no ghetto was established in Kolno. The town too small, so the Germans murdered all the Jews in a very short time. When they had collected them all in the market-place, they loaded their luggage onto special lorries, then the people too were put on lorries: the men in one group, the women and children in another, and were sent in two directions – to Meschtshevoye and to the other side of Zabiele, where anti-tank trenches and special ditches had been dug.

The Jews were ordered to undress and were machine-gunned.

All of them – those who fell dead together with the wounded and the unhurt – were heaped into the trenches.

People who witnessed all this can tell that for three days the earth there was seen to quiver and tremble.

Then the Germans gathered all the Jews' property and sent it, in large loads, to Germany. The looting continued for days and all the houses were emptied. Many Poles took part in it and got rich at the Jews' expense, to their great satisfaction.

Dear friend, I can never forget that sad day, when your sister, Sarah, and her two boys came to say goodbye to us. "Dear Halina – she said – we shall never come hack alive…" My mother tried to comfort her, saying: "Don't cry, dear Sarah, we'll still meet again!" But we never saw each other anymore. She gave me some photos for you and I kept one of them – Sarah's – as a souvenir. Chaim, his father and mother were among the last to be sent away. Your father, like other Jews, had his beard cut off by the Germans.

The Poles took over many of the Jewish houses, dismantled the walls and sold the timber for fuel. Your prayer-house is being used as a granary.

I remember that when the Jews were already standing, squeezed together, in the crowded lorries, one of them asked me for a drink of water. When I brought him a bottle, a German slapped me so hard that I nearly fainted, but I didn't mind. I was glad that some Jews, at least, had drunk the water from my bottle.




[Page 62]

Nachum Remba

Jonas Turkov


During the terrible days of the "actions", when the first Jews were deported from Warsaw, Remba spent entire days at the square. Dressed in a doctor's white tunic (otherwise he would not have been allowed there) he saved hundreds of Jews, days after day, at the risk of his own life, using all kinds of pretexts to get them out of the hangmen's hands.

In the Umschlagplatz a staff of Jewish and nurses provided "medical-sanitary" aid. Their functions, however, were very limited, as they were not allowed into the main building, where the "deportees" were imprisoned, nor were they permitted to approach the sick and the wounded, lying about the vast square. The only thing the "Rescue Brigade" (this is the name they merit) could do was to organize a dispensary for… "patients". But what patients could they bring there, since no Jew was allowed near a sick or a wounded person?! What happened in the dispensary shows the irony of the fact that even the pedantic and consistent Germans could be hoodwinked, even if only for a short time. Until the Germans got wind of what was happening, the medical staff had succeeded in rescuing a considerable number of Jews.

The unforgettable Remba stood at the head of the "Rescue Brigade" with Ella Golomb-Greenberg. These two "lamed-vovniks" ("lamed-vov" means thirty-six. According to Jewish tradition each generation has thirty-six just people who do good in secret) were a living proof that the German extermination-machine could be opposed (although the fact that Jews were being sent to extermination was still a secret) and that hundreds of Jews could be rescued daily from the transit-square. On the outer side of the square, in front of the barbed-wire fence, the staff established a dispensary for "patients". But no "patients" arrived there, only people who had been rescued from the square. They were detained in the dispensary until it was safe to send them back to the Ghetto. They were mostly transferred in "First-Aid Car", which the "Rescue Brigade" had at its disposal. Nachum Remba was the most famous figure in the square and the Germans called him "doctor", believing him to be the chief Jewish physician. He spent all his time on the spot, investigating and snooping around, or at the telephone in his office, which never stopped ringing: "Please, could I speak to Remba… tell Remba, please, that so and so has just been taken… tell Remba, that so an so hasn't come back yet …ask Remba about …"

And Remba, in his doctor's tunic, went around, from place to place, from one German to another, rescuing Jews from the transit-square and sending them back to the Ghetto. He was always quiet and tranquil, his eyes shining, his smile kindly. He used to appear in places, where others, who were impudent enough to try to enter, were met with bullets.

He faced the Germans with impregnable courage and dignity, demanding the very sick people to be handed over to him in the Umschlagplatz, since they were unfit for the hardships of the journey to the east. I, myself, was among those whom Remba saved, after I had been arrested.

Of course, all this could succeed only at the very first, while the Germans were still saying that the Jews were being transferred to the East. Later on, when the fact that they were being sent to concentration-camps (not to extermination; even towards the end, there was no hint of that) came into the open, the Nazis did not hesitate to reject "Doctor" Remba's requests, adding that the patients would be already cured, in any case, on arriving at their destination. Remba's self-imposed mission of mercy became more and more difficult to execute, and the Jewish militia added to his trials. In their eyes, he was a diligent and dangerous competitor – crazy enough to rescue Jews without getting paid, and highly at that, as they were. If Remba wanted so, he was welcome to risk his own life, but saving people from the square, without getting a penny out of it, was both foolish and damaging. When would such a luck come their way again? What one didn't grab today, wouldn't be there tomorrow; take what you can, here and now!

The Jewish militia began to plot against Remba. A loyal policeman told him that the German commander of the square had been informed about his activities, that he was being shadowed and his life was in danger.

So Remba's activities came to an end. The Jewish militia denounced him and the Nazis prohibited his entry to the square. During the Ghetto revolt he was deported to the Maidanek extermination camp, from the same place where he had rescued thousand of Jews, adults and children.

But even in Maidanek, he remained true to himself. He volunteered to care for the children he loved. He was father and teacher to them, telling them tales of a better world, taking them for walks and finally accompanying them on the last walk of all – to the gas-chambers.

Even then, and probably not until the very last moment, he, so innocent and full of faith, did not realize that he would not be able to save the children, who were so vitally precious for the fortune of the nation.

Nachum Remba will enter the Pantheon of our tortured and eternally-remembered heroes.

If monuments are ever erected to the Warsaw heroes, the one commemorating Nachum Remba will be among the most revered.




[Page 64]

On the Ruins

Rachel Alter-Borkowski


I know that I am leaving Poland forever; that I will never come back, but before I go I have to see my hometown, Kolno, where my brothers and sisters, my relatives and friends lived.

It not easy to get there.

Immediately after the war, I made many efforts to trace those nearest and dearest to me. Enveloped in a large shawl, I wandered about towns and cities, covering scores of kilometers on foot; there were no trains and only a few buses.

I did not reach Kolno that time. Gangs of bandits were roaming about, attacking citizens. I was afraid to be recognized and killed, so I returned to Warsaw.

Now nothing will stop me. I am going to visit my forefathers' graves for the last time.

I leave Warsaw in the morning and reach Lomza the next day. All the houses in the old market-square have been destroyed, except my cousin's Dr. Peltin's. The desolate square frightens me.

I stand in the center, waiting for the Kolno bus. It arrives full; somehow I manage to push way into it and it starts immediately.

A deep, heavy pain is suffocating me. Everything seems unreal. Some mysterious life-power seems to be reviving in my heart the most sacred memories.

I cannot stop looking around. I imagine soon I'll be seeing old Steinsapir or Brickman, the former bus-owners. We pass by Mali-Plotzk. I know this road, through which I've traveled so many times, very well. I have to use all my will-power to stop trembling, because I don't want anyone to notice me. At the entrance to the town we cross the little bridge on the river Lavno and enter Lomzinska street. After a few minutes the bus stops in the middle of the market-square, where it always did.

Dragging my numb legs, I get out after the other passengers. First of all, I look for my parents' home. What's happening to me?

Scenes from past home-comings return to me, as by a magic wand. Isn't that my father, standing on our door-step, shading his eyes with his hand and looking for me among the other people? Isn't that my cousin, Chaim Rikover, running up to me, to take my suitcase and walk proudly at my side? And there is Bernard Glinka, raising his hat to me, serious as usual, and asking me how I am; and next to him his brother, Oscar, a confirmed old bachelor, seems to have sprung out of the ground, to shake hands with me and make a date to go to Koziol to swim, tomorrow morning.

I laugh and imitate him, shamelessly: "Oscar, Oscar, my water, my water!"

This is how Oscar expresses his good-humour when we swim in the river at Koziol, coming towards me, reciting poems of Pushkin and Lermontov, exclaiming, enthusiastically: "My goddess, listen to me!"

Gaily, I wave my hand to Esther-Breina Chludniewitz and her little daughter, Mushka, who comes running towards me on her skinny little legs and never leaves me for a minute; I bend down to her ear and whisper: "I've brought you beads and a hat to make you invisible." Little Mushka loves to imitate different people, to dress-up, to dance and to sing the whole day long. How I adore her!

Now, who is that peeping out of the shop-window, marked "Varcovie"? Leicha Kurkevitch, of course, and next to her – her fiancé Feivel Krellenstein. I pretend I don't see him. There's a page in my book of souvenirs, where he wrote: "Mountains will tumble down, forests will disappear, but my love for you will still be there." Now he is courting somebody else already. I'm delighted to see Miriam Bergstein, storming out from behind her grandmother's soda-fountain, with a glass of lemonade in her hand, spilling the drink on the new costume I'm wearing, in honour of the journey, Some secret post must have announced my arrival. Before I have time to wave back to Feigel Kornetzki and Abraham Brizman, standing at the bank-window, I begin running to my mother waiting for me at our door, with my sister, Mina, and her little Renia.

Suddenly, some voices penetrate my consciousness: "She looks like Borkowski's daughter. By God, where have you come from?" Someone is tugging at my sleeve. I look around, only partly conscious and rub my eyes. My dream has vanished. Nobody has come out to welcome me. The voices belong to some men and women, who must have noticed a figure standing stockstill for a long time in the middle market-square.

They seem surprised at the very fact that I am alive. I don't even ask what happened to Kolno's Jewish inhabitants; they themselves begin to tell me, interrupting each other; one could think they feel obliged to give me an exact account. Mainly women are speaking, crossing their breasts again and again. They flood me with stories, each one trying to show how she helped the Jews, while the men keep throwing furious looks at me. The women cut themselves short, exclaiming, again and again: "You can't imagine what went on here! The things they did!"

I hear the names of friends, acquaintances, relatives.

I stand still, as though paralysed, listening to them, with a frozen expression, dry eyes, and my throat suffocating. The people begin to disperse, as if frightened by my appalling silence.

I remain alone, in the middle of the market-place. Once again, my eyes travel in the direction of my parents' home; dragging my numb legs, I try to get there. Before the war, there used to be a pump in front of our house; I look for it and find it. Thanks to this relic of the past, I recognize the exact place where my home once stood. How terrible to meet these precious places like this!

This was once my parents' home, where I lived. Here I lisped my first words, stumbled my first little steps. Here people loved and laughed; here I dreamt and cried.

That house was destroyed and a cooperative has taken its place, with an inn, where farmers are sitting and drinking vodka. Their drunken nonsense fills the air. Nobody takes any notice of me; I go out into the yard. Before the war, my friend Nechka Burakevitch's house and yard were next to ours. Nothing is left. It used to be a corner-house and after it was destroyed they widened the Chervinska street at this point.

I look at the place, where the synagogue used to be. I approach the House of Prayer. It has been turned into a granary.

I walk about like a moonstruck person, looking at the well-known houses and streets. Remnants of blackened walls, heaps of stones and ruins are all that remains, after all these years. Broken bricks lie about, stumps of walls have been left standing.

The houses, which are still intact, seem strange to me; something is missing.

The Rikover and Pschissocker's double-storied house has remained whole, still standing and decorating the market-square. I don't come near these houses; the people who used to live here have disappeared and thinking of them chokes me.

I walk about the square and side-streets. Suddenly a female figure appears in front of me. "Rachel, don't you know me? I'm Tsesha, Tsesha Kosskowski". I hardly recognize my former class-mate, from the gymnasium. "Rachel", she says to me, looking around in every direction. "I saw you, standing in the market-square and recognized you immediately. But I did not want to come up to you. I've been following you all the time, because I want to tell you that the local people have done awful things to the Jews. They captured and robbed them and then gave them up to the Germans. My husband, the church-organist, tried to save some of them and hid them. Your cousin, Rikover, her family and some other Jews hid in our house for some time, but our people denounced them to the Germans and they shot my husband. I'll never forgive them. Here, in the houses, you'll find Jewish property. Go into Srovick's house in Zabielska Street, near the Kornetzki's house, which used to belong to your aunt, Beila Peltinovitch. In there you'll find the clock that used to stand in your drawing-room. I remember it well from our school-days, when I used to visit you. Srovick's wife has a son, from her first marriage, who was a policeman during the German occupation. He served them loyally, denouncing Jews, beating them to death, torturing and robbing them. Rachel, you have to know the truth about the things that happened here. Give me your address; I'll write to you or visit you. Now, in the name of our school-days, I warn you: Get out of here, before dark! The people don't like seeing you here! They've got too much on their consciences!"

She goes away in a hurry. I look around and feel frightened. The street is empty; the high wind and rain have sent everybody home; my home is a heap of stones and I don't even feel the rain. How can I leave the town, without seeing the only thing left of my home, the clock my father used to wind-up so proudly every night before going to bed?!

I begin running towards Zabielska Street. I find the house and open the door, which is unlocked. From a little, dark corridor, I come into a big room; my legs crumble under me. The clock is right in front of me: I run to it, embrace it and put my face close to its face, as though it were a living creature; only then do the tears begin to stream from my eyes, without stopping.

Suddenly I notice the beds in the room. Quilts, red as blood, Jewish velvet coverlets seem to cry out at me. Like a mad woman, I fall upon the woman who has just come in: "You've given birth to a murderer. Be cursed forever!" - I shout at her, fleeing from the room, followed by her hateful looks.

The street is dark already. The last bus has left; there is nobody around. In the rain-pools the lights from the houses are mirrored. I have nowhere to go. I stand and listen to the voices of the night and sadness without end engulfs me, for now I know that there's nothing left to hope for.

I am not afraid only weary to death. With my last ounce of strength, I pull myself to the market-square, to the steps which used to lead to my home.

I sit down on them, lean my head against the wall. I begin to feel the presence of those who used to live here. The whole square is swarming with human figures. I see my relatives, my friends and acquaintances; I am with them, but somehow outside them.

I see them all, crowding together in the market-square; I see their burning faces and their looks, frozen by fear. I hear them being cursed, see them whipped and tortured. I see the human animals around them, the hangmen's hard, indifferent faces, so degenerate and coarse that I turn away in disgust.

I hear the children crying, the young women and girls groaning, as they are raped and tortured; I hear the old men praying, the screams of the degraded and lashed. I walk with them when the hangmen tells them to go; I accompany them on their last way. Like them and with them, I raise my wondering eyes to heaven, demanding: "Where art Thou, my G-d?" and G-d, if indeed he exists, is hiding behind the clouds.

Together with them I shout: "Who will revenge our blood?! I hope that you, too, murderers, will know terror and pain when you die! I hope that you never know love, because you don't know what pity is!"

What! Is dawn already breaking?

A wonderful morning is rising upon the Kolno market-square, but the desolation in my heart overshadows Nature's beauties. Last night, I crossed the Valley of the Shadow of Death. All my past suffering and fear are pale in comparison to the tortures of the last dark hours.

I have nothing to give anyone, except the misery of my soul. I cannot even recite the Prayer for the Dead; I have emptied the cup of agony and bitterness to the dregs. I continue on my way, back to the world.

Only a handful of ash is left of my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and their two little children, not even a grave: they were burnt alive at Yedvabno. Only a mass-grave remains of all my relatives, friends and the town's citizens, so dear to my heart. But why does the forest above them look so bright, the fresh, blue sky appear so innocent?




[Page 68]

A Visit to Kolno in 1961


Avner Aliphaz, now living in Mexico, writes to Kalman
Ben Ephraim's family in Tel Aviv:

I would like to tell you, my dear friends, about everything I saw in Kolno, once a Jewish town, where no Jews live today.

I arrived there by car from Warsaw on Sunday, the 14th of May, 1961, when the Christians were at church. Hearing of my arrival, they began running through the streets to see that marvel – a Jew in town. Zabielska Street, now Chopin Str., filled with old men, women and children – all of them Christians.

People I used to know well, some burst out crying, falling on my neck and kissing me. Others asked about one Jew or another, saying: "I used to work with him". "We got on well together". "He was my friend for years!" and so on. They wanted to find out who was living and where they were.

I went through the whole town, by car and on foot, thinking of all the dear Jews who once lived here. The houses seemed to have bent down and blackened, as though mourning for their Jewish dwellers, who went away and never came back. I saw your house, too, in Lomzer street, where you and your brother lived, and the houses which belonged to the Bursteins, Rosenfelds, Lubels, Tsivyakovskis, Hurwitzs and Krelensteins, I saw them all. Christians were living in them, some of them – acquaintances, others – complete strangers, but never a Jewish face. Where the synagogue stood only an empty spot, a parking-place for carts. I couldn't go in, because it was closed for the Sunday. The center - the former market-place – has become a garden.

Everything looked so poor and miserable; my eyes filled with tears. The Christians are also poor and sad, walking about like shadows. They seem unhappy, without the Jews. "Your people used to put life into the town!" – some of them said.

All of the houses are still standing, except those in the Synagogue Street, which were demolished by the Germans, who sent all the building-materials (they were wooden houses) in lorry-loads to Germany. Dembowitz's house has remained, but further on – the houses on both sides of the street, which belonged to the Dembovitzs, the Bursteins; the Shreiters, the Sklaniewitzs, Koifmans and Dolowitzs – all these are no more; naked lots gape at you.

I went into my house, where I still found our wardrobe and the decorations on the wall, embroidered by my dear sister. In other houses one can see relics of the Jews who lived here, twenty years ago.



In the Ruined Jewish Cemetery


We visited the cemetery and my heart seemed to burst at the sight. The fence is ruined, the graves – without their monuments; here and there fragments of them lie about, one bearing the name – Golda. I saw a monument with the dedication to Silberman, the bandager's wife inscribed in Yiddish and Polish; another fragment – Reb Simcha Chludniewitz and another – Reb Moses Liphschitz. I searched for my dear mother's grave near the place where I remembered she was buried. I stood there, with my broken heart, saying a collective "Kaddish" (Prayer for the Dead), a strange prayer, uttered by one who remained alive, in honour of the souls of all our ones, who have no one left to remember their name and light a candle to their memory.

"Look" – a Pole said to me – "here, in an open grave, the Nazis killed Shepske, the gravedigger (Melcherski). They forced him to dig his own grave and lay down in it. Then they shot him; the grave remained half-open. Shepsel, the grave-digger, is no more; the book with the list of the Dead disappeared with him; how could you find anyone's grave?!"

We continued, my brother-in-law and I, on our way to Zabiela, beyond the village, inside the forest. I saw the terrible mass-grave, where all the men and youths of Kolno were murdered. The grave is vast - 100 meters by 30. It remains as the Germans left it, covered only by a few inches of ground, and it seemed that if one dug no deeper than twenty or thirty centimeters, one could find one's parents' and brothers' bones. Gray-yellowish sand covers the ground, as if it was poured on only yesterday. Nothing grows here. The wind is blowing. I shut my eyes and seem to hear faraway echoes: "Hear, Oh Israel!" and the cries of hundreds and thousands of Jews, who were slaughtered on this spot.

"Yitgadal and Yitkaddash" – my lips murmur the Prayer for the Dead and tears stream from my eyes. I stand, like an orphan, broken and depressed, on the brink of this strange, horrible grave.

It happened on the twenty-third of Tammuz, 1941. Since morning, they had been bringing the Jews here, by lorry, from the central square. However, not all of them had obeyed the order to come to the square. Dozens of Jews had hidden away. After a time, one of them – Joelke Burack – received a letter from Ya'akov Burack (the butcher's son), a letter written under Nazi pressure, of course, before he was murdered, saying that the Germans had transferred the Kolno Jews to a nearby village and given them houses. They had enough food and were happy. Next day, the remaining Jews left their hiding-places, gathered at the market-place and the Germans brought them to the mass-grave and killed them all.

From there, we drove on through the Lomza road. Beyond the village of Malli-Plotzk, we came to a hamlet – Meshchevoya. Here they brought all the women and children from Kolno and murdered them.

I stand near the second grave – vast and awful like the first. Here my sister, my darling Sarah, and her two children were killed. Here all the good Jewish mothers of the town, the girls, the precious little ones lie.

"God in Heaven!", breaks a cry from my heart, "how could you have looked down from your sky at the murders and horrors, without sending thunder from heaven and fire from the ground, at the Nazi beasts, who murdered the sons and daughters of Your Chosen People?!"

It was a beautiful summer day and the sky gazed down, tranquilly.

On the twenty-third of Tammuz, let all the Kolno people come from all winds of the earth to meet at a memorial meeting!


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