The General Situation in Budzyń
Budzyń was officially called a Jewish camp or a work camp (Arbeitslager-Judenlager). In reality, it was a camp of torture, murder, starvation, and lack of elementary living conditions. It was a camp of despair and loss of hope. Barely a day passed without victims, murder and torture, over and above the victims of illness and hunger. The conditions in Budzyń included the daily fear of death which threatened at every hour and every moment, sevenfold worse than death itself. When we arrived there, the spirit in Budzyń was such that everyone believed that they would die in Budzyń, and not one ray of hope remained of being able to remain alive.
In the period of which we are discussing, the population of the camp was approximately 3,000. 10% wee women and children. Most of the people were natives of the region: Krasnik, Zaklików, Annopol (Rachów), Janów, Low, Modliborzyce, Zakszowk, and other such places. They were brought to the camp during the expulsions or gathered together afterwards. Large groups not from the area, numbering several hundred, were prisoners, including the aforementioned Warsawers, the group from Bełżyce, and a group of Jews from Minsk, the capital of White Russia.
The nutritional situation was different from group to group. Everything depended on the ability to get organized in the camp and outside of it. The first in the order of those who were organized were the prisoners. This is because they were in control of most of the significant posts in the camp: the guard duty, the warehouses, the running of the kitchen, the distribution they took the best jobs. The relationship of the authorities, including Feiks, was different toward the prisoners than the rest of the inmates. This also influenced their relationship with the Ukrainians and others. The prisoners all appeared well. Their dress was Polish army fatigues or civilian clothing that were tailored in that style which were also quite fine with respect to the local conditions. Their shoes were also good for the most part boots that were in good shape.
Second in this order were the Jews of the nearby towns. Their relative situation was also not bad in general, although there were many exceptions. The reasons for their relatively good situation were: a) Until a short time previously, most of them still lived in their own homes under good conditions. b) On and before the day of expulsion, almost every Jew gave over his property to his neighbors and friends for safekeeping, and now they helped the Jews. c) Most of them met gentile acquaintances in their workplaces who also worked at the same place, and helped them at a time of need. Finally, and not insignificantly, almost every Jew knew how to organize himself somewhat, especially so when his fellow natives were also relatively well organized. They would purchase things for those who had the means to do so but did not know how to or were unwilling to do so themselves due to the danger that was involved in the purchase and sale of goods.
The Bełżyce group at that time was in a similar situation. It seems that as much as Feiks pillaged their money and valuables, almost each of them still possessed such. There remained some of them who still had a great deal of means of livelihood. In any case, when we arrived in Budzyń only a few days after they did, some of them had already managed to set themselves up in various offices and positions. The group of Yekkes, German Jews from Stettin who had come to Bełżyce a long time ago, and made up a significant portion of this group, managed to set themselves up quite well.
The situation of the natives of our town, who had already been in Budzyń for some time when we arrived, was not good. Most of them were refugees from the Janiszow Camp who had been brought here after its liquidation. Some of them had already succeeded in reaching the rank of Muselmann, and another group managed only with great difficulty. The group was not large, consisting only of several dozen people, and only a few of them lived in reasonable circumstances thanks to their workplaces which allowed them to subsist. None of them were able to help any of us. Yitzchak Szlagman found his father Nachman (who survived) when he was at the threshold of
of breakdown, and was not able to assist his son. Yitzchak, who was a young, strong man of approximately twenty years old, was not able to maintain himself under the new conditions, and he died of hunger after two or three weeks. Many of us grieved over this fine young lad, who endeared himself to us throughout the months that we were together in the Gościeradów Camp.
The condition of the Warsaw group was quite different. Even though they had been in Budzyń for only a few weeks when we had arrived, many of them were bloated from hunger. They were Muselmanns, with their general appearance being neglected and exhibiting signs of despair and lack of means. Their situation was due to several factors: 1) They had been imprisoned in the ghetto for two and a half years under unspeakable conditions which everyone now knows about. We had never experienced such a situation. This situation had destructive results, both physical and spiritual. 2) They were the last ones in the burning, dying, ghetto. The mass expulsions and the damage to the spirit had an effect on them. 3) Their arrival to this new place, under conditions of extreme hunger and hard work, caused fatal despair and a waiting for certain death. These factors joined together and turned them into broken people, both physically and spiritually.
Indeed, their situation was oppressive and terrifying. It was said of them that they are falling like flies. They filled both rooms of the hospital, and gathered like corpses in the corners of the camp since they were free from work on account of their weakness. Indeed, there was always the danger of running into Feiks and falling victim to his wildness and sadistic deeds, for he would often enter the camp riding on his white horse in order to enjoy himself a bit. Woe to anyone who ran into him. On such mornings, people would hide from him behind the bunks or in other corners, for according to the camp rules, nobody, even the sick people who were not working, was allowed to enter the bunks during the hours of work. The bunk guards were particular about this rule, since they were responsible for the surveillance and were held responsible if someone was caught in the bunk during the hours of the ban.
Thus was the situation of the Warsaw group after only three or four weeks in Budzyń. There was a unique appearance on their faces, the appearance of death stalking at the door. Most of them went around as human shadows. If one ran into a member of this group, one would know without doubt that this was one of the Warsawers. Of course, there were exceptions, and there were many who apparently still possessed the means of existence even after Feiks' pillage, and they maintained themselves in fine condition. There were some Warsawers in our bunk, bunk number 2, and I met some of both types. Unlike the case in the other groups, which understandably maintained themselves through mutual assistance based on family or neighborly connections that existed among the natives of the small town, this trait was not found among the Warsaw group. Those starving to death were found next to those of means, even in the conditions of Budzyń. One frightful situation in particular is etched in my mind, which took place during the first days of our sojourn in Budzyń when I had still not acclimatized sufficiently to this environment. Immediately after I entered the bunk after a long day's work, a young lad sitting next to the table and singing attracted my attention. It was a common enough situation that someone who was able to sing would exhibit his talents before others; however our Hershele Szumacher did this often, and with the applause of the audience. The voice of the youth was sweet, and he sang well-known, popular songs, Jewish folksongs and famous hit songs. A group of people quickly gathered around him, applauding him and encouraging him to keep on singing. Something suddenly changed in the lad. He stopped singing and began to roll his eyes to the right and left. While we were still wondering what was going on, the youth jumped on the table and began to perform cartwheels, leap and hope around, and do handstands like a circus performer. He finally broke out in hysterical laughter, the sound of which froze the blood in our veins. The lad went mad from hunger and suffering. They took him quickly to the camp infirmary, and I do not know what became of him. Nobody took interest in the fate of his fellow in Budzyń; how much more so with respect to the fate of a complete stranger.
Situations similar to this, as a result of the local situation, were not uncommon in Budzyń. Indeed, as has been stated, there was also not shortage of people who lived well, at least from a nutritional perspective. This was a sort of continuation of the situation in the ghettos of Warsaw and other places, when people died of hunger alongside those who evaded such, and even lived a life of sufficiency and even relative luxury, in accordance with the adage eat, drink for tomorrow you shall die, or out of indifference and hardness. Along side case of bloating and death from hunger, I also saw Warsawers who lived in fine style. Apparently, these Jews also did not starve for bread in the ghetto, for I often heard them discussing the fleshpots of the ghetto. I also once heard a discussion about the revolt in the ghetto, and its fighters and commanders. One of those involved in the discussion harshly accused the commanders of the revolt and claimed that it was they, and only they, who destroyed his life and the lives of many Jews. He said that he had a well organized bunker with running water, toilets and electric facilities. His family and all the others who lived there would have been able to live in this bunker
until the end of the war. They had good food and provisions. He enumerated how many sacks of flour, grits of all types, fat and other food that he had in the doorpost of his bunker food that would have been sufficient for him and his family for years. He blamed only the fighters who literally caused misery for him and all the Jews of the ghetto. He was certain that it was their fault that they destroyed and burned the ghetto, and slaughtered and expelled the Jews, and that the Germans were certainly not prepare to murder and expel all of the Jews. The others who heard his words agreed with them, or at least did not protest.
Thus, despite the ban and the danger involved with holding money and other property, there were Jews with significant amounts of money. Despite the stringent ban and danger fraught with bringing in food and exporting belongings, good food was brought in each day for those who had the means and were able to pay for such. Later on, I joined those who brought food in. Every day, various objects were taken out for sale, both communal and private, from the clothing warehouse, etc.
As has been stated, 600-700 people were housed in each wooden bunk, with four layers of wooden plans. Formerly, these bunks were used for horse stables, and the implements continued to be used by us: strong rings in the walls and urine trenches along the length of the bunk. The rooms on both edges of the bunk, two on each side, apparently used to serve as housing for the stable workers. They were now used for residences for the officials and other high functionaries of the camp, as well as for storehouses, infirmaries, and the link. In our bunk, bunk number w, one of the front rooms was used to store the daily food portions, and the second one was for the bunk guards. The rear rooms of the bunk were used camp's shoemaker shop.
The sanitary facilities in the camp were as follows: the shower which I previously described and a washing room in the front section of that bunker, containing taps with running water. That washing room also served as the laundry room. Each morning when we came to wash ourselves in the morning (we had no towels); we washed up while the washer-women were in the other corner. Two wooden huts at both edges of the camp, near the barbed-wire fence, served as outhouses. They were only a few dozen meters from the residential bunks. There were open feces pits in the outhouses. Along the walls were two planks, one for sitting and the upper one for leaning. The middle outhouse was for the women. The two facilities were insufficient, and every morning, when more than 2,000 people needed to attend to their needs at the same time, we stood in long lines at the toilet. Arguments and disputes broke out every morning between those who were sitting and those who were waiting, for it seemed that the former were sitting for a long time For everybody had to be ready for the morning roll call.
As has been mentioned, there was a special shoemaking shop for the prisoners. The shoemakers worked only at night, and those who needed to have their shoes or boots fixed would bring them there after roll call or before going to sleep, and would get them back in the morning before they went out to work. Protocol stated that the prisoners had to wear shoes for roll call, and the shoemakers had to either fix them or return them unfixed. The prisoner barber shop also only operated in the evenings and on Sundays, when work was finished earlier. Long lines formed every evening.
The shoes were able to be fixed and hung in the shoemaking shop in an organized fashion. Not so the clothing. Everyone had to mend and hang up their own clothes, until they became completely worn out or torn, when they would be exchanged. There was also a laundry for linens, over and above the occasional delousing of the linens and clothing.
There was an infirmary in the camp, staffed by several doctors and medics. Those who became ill during the night or the evening and required medical help would visit the infirmary before going out for work. Whoever was stricken with fever or another illness was sent to the hospital (revir) close to the camp.
Finally, and not coincidentally bur rather according to the principle of saving the best for the last, there was the ordnungsdienst (the Jewish police). This police, along with the other Jewish institutions in Budzyń, was the only ray of light in the darkness of Budzyń. Under the influence of the commander Sztokman, and perhaps with his explicit instructions, the behavior of the Jewish officials was decidedly different than those of their fellows in the ghettoes, and even from what I saw later in the other camps in which I merited to live. I remain astonished to this day how in that apocalyptic time and in the atmosphere of Budzyń in particular, under the conditions where it was easy for a human to turn into a wild beast, those occupying this position in Budzyń managed to preserve their human form. Of course, as with anything, there were exceptions, such as Smoliar who was responsible for the Jewish workers in the factory. He was a ruddy lad from Lodz, who, according to rumor, was a boor and a simple person who rose to greatness with the Nazis, and attempted to prove that he was worthy of this greatness. He would scream, curse, beat people with his fist or the whip in his hand, pointing to the right or to the left, treating both the guilty and innocent as innocent. He was despised by everyone including the camp leaders. He received his punishment after the war when he was brought to justice in a Polish court and sentenced to imprisonment. The assistant camp commandant Sczepiacski, who accompanied the prisoners to and from work at the factory, beat the prisoners to a lesser degree. His task was to give over the prisoners by number, and receive them in return. Similar to him was the Compania-Fuehrer Widunos, who treated his group as one would treat flocks of cattle who
were being driven from place to place. It was said that his trade before the war was a cattle drover. It seems from his behavior, his manner of speaking, and his decisive boorishness that this profession stuck with him. The two latter ones, Sczepiacki and Widunos, were from the group of prisoners of war.
There were other service workers, in the kitchen and in the shower, who felt that their task was to train the prisoners, and they would administer beatings to maintain order at every opportunity. However, in all the situations that I enumerated, there were no cases of serious injury, cruel beatings or torture of the prisoners for the sake of torture, as I was a witness to in other places.
I began with the Jewish police, and I now return to it. I wish to speak of its praise, but I reckon that the greatest praise that I can give it is by stating that there is nothing to say about it. During my year in the Budzyń Camp, I never saw a Jewish policeman actually beat a Jew, and I never even heard anyone complain that they had been beaten by a policeman. To this day, the survivors of Budzyń speak with honor and appreciation about the Jewish police force of Budzyń and its representatives.
I was not entirely correct when I stated that I never saw a Jewish policeman beat Jews. There was one exception to this the policeman Mordechai the Ruddy. He would administer beatings at every opportunity, but it is said that his beatings saved Jews from death.
Mordechai the Ruddy as he was called was one of the refugees of Lodz on arrived in Zaklików with the first expulsion at the beginning of the Nazi conquest. He arrived in Budzyń with other Jews from the town and became a policeman. He was tall and heavy boned. In his job as policeman, he followed after the footsteps of Feiks as he entered the camp When Feiks arrived in the camp, Mordechai would appear as if growing out of the ground, would not turn aside from him, and followed him by a shadow. If Feiks stumbled across any Jew and started to pay attention to him, most of the time Mordechai would take the matter into his hands. At times, he requested Feiks' whip, and he began to shout at the Jew in his heavy voice, and with his quick voice he hinted to the Jew to fall to the ground. In the event that the man receiving the beating did not understand the hint, he would often shout in Polish Padnij do cholery jasnej padnij juzi (fall to the ground in all directions, fall already). Then the man would slump down and fall to the ground. Mordechai would then add a few kicks to the behind, as he assuaged the white fever of Feiks. It is said that in this manner, Mordechai saved a large number of Jews from Feiks' revolver.
Right after our arrival in Budzyń, the Beikler Company, which had their own branch and workers, received the task of building a bunk in addition to the five residential bunks in the area of the camp. The company requested workers from our groups, and the request was accepted. Yisraelik Altszuler (from Leng) was appointed as the head of this group. They passed over me in forming this group, even though I was considered to be a good builder, if not the best builder, in the entire group. Furthermore, people who had never before worked in building were included in this group. I realized that this group consisted of the well placed people from earlier on, who saw another opportunity to gain more food. From the first day I was surprised that there were still some people with the means of purchasing food, despite the sums of money handed over to the Ukrainians on our route to Budzyń, and the thorough search of the clothing in the shower. I was not jealous of them, Heaven forbid. On the contrary, I was satisfied that not all of them would be forced to suffer from hunger like us my brother and I and many others. However, I was very upset about our not being included in the building group for I realized that construction work in the camp, supervised by one of the members of our group would give more opportunities than the excavation work with a stranger, a Yekke. I was distraught because it was clear that without any assistance, my brother and I would not be able to sustain ourselves on the 200 grams of bread as we engaged in the difficult excavation work under the conditions in which we lived. I remained silent however, for I knew that it was impossible to criticize the custom of the world to favor the strong in normal times, let alone in times such as this. We continued with our excavation work, and assistance came to me from an unexpected source.
A new kerchief remained in my threadbare coat that was lined with cotton. It remained apparently because it was felt unnecessary to conduct a search on the owner of such a coat. This kerchief was a key to salvation for us. I gave it to Zelig Fleiszer, who was a veteran of Budzyń and worked as a house assistant to Germans in Siedlung, a place where it was it was possible to meet with Polish workers and do business with them. He paid me 100 zloty for it, the approximate price for a loaf of bread in the camp. I resisted the temptation to purchase the bread in the camp, for I would thereby forego the opportunity of being helped for a longer period by this sum of money. Indeed, the opportunity came.
I continued tow work at the excavation of pits for a few days, and in that place I became somewhat familiar with the nearby surroundings of the camp. Block Two, the location of the Revir (hospital), and German workshops in which Jewish tailors, shoemakers and sewers work for the Germans in Budzyń were a distance of several dozen steps from the camp. Block Ten, the location of Feiks' headquarters, a place which aroused fear and trembling among all the inmates of Budzyń, was located close by on the road leading to the camp. The yard and cellar of that block were the location of the torture and brutality, where Feiks and his S.S. and Ukrainian assistants conducted their sport with the
inmates who fell into their hands. From our place or work we often saw sights that caused our blood to curdle in our veins tortures that only the sick minds of human-beasts could invent and that the pen cannot describe. The torments of Dante's Hell are like a children's game in comparison to this. Falling into the hands of the men of Block Ten was the nightmare of every inmate. At times we saw the Ukrainians arranging themselves into two rows facing each other with room for a man to pass through the rows. The person who fell into their hands would pass between the rows, and each one of the murderers would whip the victim as he passed by. The victim would pass through two or three times, and they would whip him with all of their satanic strength each time. Sometimes they would make the victim lie down on a designated bench, and two of the murderers would stand on each side and whip the victim, while everyone else stood around and burst out in laughter. There were special torture implements in the cellar of this block. They would torture the victims to death, and it was only rarely that someone would return alive from Block Ten. From our workplace we saw the victims in this block being taken straight from the place to the grove next to the camp where the burial pit of the Jews of Budzyń was located. Daily, we were witnesses to the removal of the dead bodies from the nearby revir. Most of them had died of hunger or diseases that resulted from the life in the camp.
All of these reasons joined together to forge my strong will to free myself as quickly as possible from work in that place: from the difficult backbreaking work, from Schwartz the Yekke who supervised everything, and above all, from this place from where I witnessed all the atrocities of Budzyń. One the one side, there was the panic that broke out in the camp each day when Feiks was seen entering its gates; and on the other side, there was Block Ten just opposite and the terrible, frightful sights that took place there. Therefore, I breathed with satisfaction when I was sent one day with a group of workers from the excavation site to work in Siedlung. The porarbeiter was one of Schwartz' assistants, a young lad from Bełżyce, who asked us to refer to him with the title of Hern Oberpolierer. He gave us work implements that were once digging tools, hoes, spades, etc. He then asked if any of us known planern. To my surprise nobody from our group knew the meaning of that word, which is evening out land. Since I was the relatively new person among the veterans, I did not want to jump out front, so I explained to them the will of the German. When I saw that nobody was anxious to begin, I said that I knew that work. The German asked me to prove that to him and to show to the others how to do it. I did as he requested. We stood in the central area of Siedlung, a sort of large market square in the center of the settlement. The German brought us to the place, pointed out the sunken area, and ordered me to flatten it. I took the implements, closed it off, dug up some earth from the high places nearby the area, and flattened out the sunken area as well as the high areas. The German was satisfied with my work and told us all to scatter about the area and flatten any high or sunken place, according to my example. Thus did Avrahamke and I remain in the new place, working at a job that was much better and easier than excavation.
Our supervisor, the lad from Bełżyce, drew close to me already from my first day under his supervision. Apparently this was because I had served as a sort of work director for the entire work, for anytime that someone was having difficulty with their job, they called me to advise and to help. He told me about himself, the final expulsion from the town, and the terrible atrocities and cruel murders perpetrated by Feiks and his henchmen. (This is what I had already described.) I could have been satisfied now due to the work and my relations with the porarbeiter, but the terrible hunger was oppressive, and even with the relatively easier work, it was difficult to maintain oneself with the lone portion of bread from evening to evening and the watery soup during the day.
It turned out that this workplace was also the beginning of our salvation from the hunger. As I mentioned, I had 100 zloty which I had guarded with the hope that the time would come when it would help. One morning, when I was working apart from the rest of the group, a Polish worker passed by and asked me if I was interested in purchasing a loaf of bread. I was of course interested, and I waited for the opportunity to come my way. He asked for 60 zloty for the bread, stating that this was the regular price, and I paid him. I went immediately to find Avrahamke, and told him the news with joy. I told him that we would eat ¼ of the bread (1/2 a kilogram) and take the remaining ¾ to the camp where we would sell them for the 60 zloty that it had cost us. We would continue this until we had better opportunities. Thus did we do. I divided the remaining bread into three equal portions, took off my boots and placed the bread in them. We did this for several days. We ate 1/4 of the bread each day without reducing our sum of 100 zloty. This was not a great quantity, but it was a 125% increase over our portion of bread that we received in the camp, and this helped us during the difficult times in Budzyń. From that day and onward, we ate a portion of bread every morning, and did not have to work on an empty summer until the noontime soup.
You should know that this portion of bread which was a minor salvation to us did trap me on one occasion, and was liable to cost me a great deal, even my life. For several days I met the worker at that place, took the bread from him, ate our quarter and put the rest in my boots. One day,
I recall that it was a Friday, the German appointed over us came and told us that we were going to work in another place, some distance away from this place. I looked for a place to hide my treasure in the new place. Since I did not find an appropriate place quickly, and I did not begin the work immediately, the matter aroused the suspicions of the German, who was after all an intelligent Yekke. To his question, What are you looking for?, I answered, A place for my boots. He asked me again why I was not wearing them, and I did not know what to answer. Apparently, I became confused out of fear. He searched my boots and found the bread. He asked me about the source of this bread. I told him the truth. He asked me from whom did I purchase it and how much did I pay. I quoted him a lower price that I paid and told him that I did not know the seller. He retorted that I was lying to him and that I indeed know from whom I purchased it. The German threatened that if I did not tell him the identity of the Pole, he would bring me to Block Ten, where I would tell everything. I answered him that, as he knows, I arrived at the camp only a few days earlier, and I do not know anybody here, and I purchased the bread for the first time. He stood firm on his demand that I identify the Polish seller; otherwise he would send me to Block Ten. I answered him that even if he would do that, I could not tell him the name of the Pole for I do not know him. It is important to know that Poles were forbidden from coming in contact with the Jewish inmates, and certainly forbidden to do business with us or sell us food. I knew that were I to reveal the identity of this Pole, I would be liable to cause harm to him and perhaps to many others, as well as to many Jews, for they would be afraid of bringing things for sale. Such a step in telling the truth would not help me, for if the German would decide to bring me to Block Ten my case would be determined and I would not be saved even if I were to turn in the Pole. I made all of these calculations as I was conversing with the German, and I decided to stand firm no matter what. If I am to be lost, I am to be lost. The German coaxed me for much longer and even threatened me with the aim of inducing me to give over the identity of the Pole. I stood my ground, stating, I do now know him. He encountered me by chance, offered me the bread at a certain price, and since I was hungry I did not care about the inflated price and I purchased it. At the end I ask him, Have you not realized for yourself that I am a good worker? The German ordered me to return to work, and said that later he would decide what to do with me. I do not know what influenced his decision. Later I found out that the German civilians in Budzyń never turned Jews over to Feiks, and they often even angrily reproved him for his murderous deeds and those of his assistants. In certain cases, they even thereby saved Jews from beatings. Some of this has already been described above and will be described further. It seems that in this case as well, the German did not want to be responsible for sending me to be killed. In any case, I was afraid that I would be brought to Feiks at the end of the workday, and that this would be my last day. In Budzyń everyone was convinced of his impending death and knew that every day or every hour could be the last. At the end, I concluded my workday in peace, the German did not mention the matter again, and he did not even take away the bread.
With the passage of time, the work in Siedlung enabled us to increase our food intake. One day I entered a smithy to repair the work implements, as I constantly did. The smithy was owned by the Beikler Company, and this time I met the wagon driver from the Rachów quarry. He was known as Georg the fat by his friends or the stupid by us. I greeted him. He recognized me and started a conversation with me. We chatted for some time. He was interested in me and my fellow workmates who had worked with him. It became clear that this Georg was responsible for the smithy by virtue of the company. When I finished my business there and bid him goodbye, Georg spoke good of me to the smith as he would have for good Karel. I then enjoyed a special relationship in the smithy. They guarded my bread for the day and allowed me to use the services of the smithy for other needs as well.
With the passage of time I noticed that potatoes were being thrown from the houses of the Germans into the garbage pit which was in the middle of the open area in which I worked. I brought a few potatoes and asked the smith to allow me to broil them over the fire. He was a goodhearted gentile, one of the Poles who had been deported from the region of Poznan and had arrived in our area at the beginning of the occupation. He was somewhat concerned and told me that he was afraid to do so, for he knows that he is not allowed to help me. Nevertheless, he agreed that I could leave the potatoes for roasting and he would take care of them. From that time, I roasted and cooked potatoes over the fire as much as I wanted. These were a significant and important addition to our scanty food in the camp. The scrap and material warehouse of the smithy, which occupied a half of the large brick building, also served as my storage house for my excess potatoes. I brought some of them into the camp and sold them to women who bought them willingly. In exchange, Avrahamke and I were able to each eat a quarter of a loaf of bread from time to time. In this manner, we were both quickly saved from the danger of hunger, although we were not completely satiated.
Even though the danger of death from hunger had passed at this time, other significant dangers from various places were lurking. The means of overcoming hunger were fraught with constant danger, as I have described above. If these dangers from Feiks were insufficient, there were other unexpected dangers lurking around. A serious and tangible danger that threatened a significant portion of our group, if not all of us,
and from which we were saved only by miracle, was caused by the escape of five people from the group: Yechiel Brenner (the smith), his son Hirsch Yosef, Herschel Langer, his son, and Hirsch Fogel. The wondrousness of our salvation from danger can only be traced to the dedication of Sztokman and his assistants.
About ten days or two weeks into our stay in Budzyń, when we returned from work one day, the members of the group who had returned from work before us were discussing the misfortune that befell us and the danger in which we found ourselves. According to the rumors, these people escaped by making use of the work of Yechiel in the smithy outside the camp. They took the work implements of the smith as camouflage, as if they were a group going out to work in one of the houses of Siedlung.
In order to explain the background for the possibility of such an escape, I must point out that there was effectively freedom of movement between the camp and Siedlung, and within Siedlung itself. This was made possible because a Jew worked as a domestic assistant in almost every German home. Furthermore, there were many building tradesman such as carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, etc. They and their assistants worked at completing the houses that were still under construction. Our group, which worked at various jobs in the region of Siedlung, was also not under guard. If anyone wonders at the strange phenomenon that there were no escapes despite the lack of guarding, it is sufficient to mention the bitter end of the group of armed officials of Budzyń about whose escape I have told previously. This situation was known well in Budzyń, and removed the will to flee from anyone who thought about it.
Information about the escape spread quickly through the entire camp. It is said that the German citizens or workers from Siedlung noticed the escapees once they were already outside out of the area of Siedlung, on the other side that is, in the area of forest in the direction of Urzędów. Somebody went to tell Feiks about the escaping Jews. Then, the entire guard force of the camp was enlisted, both Germans and Ukrainians, to chase after the escapees. They hurried as much as possible and chased after them on horses, motorcycles and other quick modes of transportation in order to catch them.
Our souls were caught between fear and trepidation. We were caught between earth and the abyss. We knew very well what was in store for the escapees in the event that they were caught, and we wanted very much for them to succeed on their journey and be saved. On the other hand, we also knew what was in store for us in the event that the escapees succeed in their objective. Woe unto us if they are caught, and we will be witnesses to the murder of our friends and brothers, and woe to us if they succeed and we will be their atonement. After Feiks found out about the matter, all we could do was think about one of those two possibilities, for it was well known in Budzyń that as a punishment for an escape, ten people from the escapee's group or workgroup would taken out to be killed. Most of us prayed in our hearts for the success of the escape and for the survival of the escapees, and let our fate be as it is. In any case, we have no possibilities in Budzyń. Therefore at least those who had the possibility of saving themselves should be saved.
We were still mulling around worried and troubled when a general roll call was announced in the camp. We were all certain that this signified our last moment. We saw Feiks enter the camp with his entire entourage of murderers. Exceptional steps were implemented this time, the likes of which I had not seen before and not after, with the exception of one incident that will be described in its appropriate place. The hour was late and dinner was already being set out. The kitchen was immediately closed on Feiks' order, its entire staff, who were generally free of having to participate in roll calls, were brought out, along with the other service personnel from the camp office and the infirmary. The entire camp trembled for the results of the roll call, for everyone knew the reason for it. Our group stood together in our division. Those who knew that the escapees were from our group cast accusatory looks in our decisions, or at least so it seemed to us, but nobody accused us with words. In the interim, additional details about the matter reached us. It was said that Feiks and his workers chased after the escapees, and when they did not catch them, they searched throughout the entire way and combed through a large section of the nearby forest without finding anything. When Feiks thought that it was impossible that the means utilized, pursuing with vehicles and horsemen and combing the region, would not have caught those who escaped, it gave him reason to doubt in the authenticity of the story of the escape. He announced this at the roll call.
There was movement to and fro around the fence of the camp. We saw Sztokman himself running from bunk to bunk in his quiet, calm steps, along with the chief clerk, the quick and nervous Mika Bruk. They brought out every living soul from the bunks. We saw them bring out to the roll call young children who have never participated before. At all times, the two of them were counting and talking to each other. They would then enter the bunks once again and bring out an additional person. In the end, we approached the roll call. Guards were placed at every division to prevent people from wandering from division to division, and Feiks personally participated in the census. They counted, enumerated and recorded. It seemed that the numbers did not add up after the first count, for they again ran into the bunks and brought out someone else, sick or lame, and continued on. We were caught between fear, despair and hope at the sight that was unfolding before our eyes. It took a long time until the census ended, with the entire camp personnel participating in the count. Finally, as night was falling, we were informed that we were free, and that we should disperse.
We breathed a sign of relief and felt as if we had been born anew. We never found out the means and trickery that Sztokman and Bruk used to balance the numbers; but there was no shadow of doubt that they knew about those who fled and did what they did in order to save a large group of Jews who were awaiting death in the wake of the escape.
From that day, I, as well as all of us, had a special relationship to Sztokman a relationship of honor, esteem and appreciation, for we knew the fate that awaited him if the fact that he intentionally covered up the escape of the prisoners. To this day, I bear the memory of this man in my heart, and mention his name at any opportunity with love and reverence. In those crazy times, when everyone was concerned for his own skin, days during which I was an eyewitness to various terrible deeds, he succeeded in maintaining his human image and in influencing the people around him. Honor to his memory.
How did he come up with this arithmetic? How did a miracle occur and the numbers balanced? There is no other explanation to this puzzle other than the daily vicious murders perpetrated by Feiks, which permitted this accountant to come up with numbers that were appropriate for the situation. There is no doubt that this was a deliberate, farsighted plan, and there is no doubt tat this was possible because Feiks did not manage any of the accounting and did not know the exact number of his victims.
A portion of our group came once again under the direct scrutiny of Feiks, but this time sweet came from the strong.
The event took place in the construction group that was building an additional bunk in the camp. In order to erect the bunk, it was necessary to bring building materials from the bunks that had been taken down next to the route to Annopol Gościeradów, where we worked before we came to Budzyń. The construction group also worked in bringing the materials. They traveled in the car of the Beikler Company accompanied by a Jewish policeman and returned to the camp toward evening. These trips gave them the opportunity to purchase food in the village and in stores and bakeries along the way, and bring them into the camp. It should be noted that not only members of the group of travelers benefited from this opportunity, but we also had the opportunity to benefit from the purchase of food, especially bread, at a low price. Thus, for example, they paid 14-15 Zloty for a loaf of bread that cost 60 zloty when purchased from the Poles in Budzyń. At first, they were afraid to bring the bread into the camp for fear of searches and their results. However, as time went on, they brought not only bread, but other foodstuffs into the camp in the cars with building materials, without any problems or issues.
The event took place one day when the group did not return from its trip at the set time. At first we thought that this was a normal delay. Perhaps the car broke down or they were delayed in returning for some other reason. Whey they did not return by evening, we became restless, as did the camp leadership who decided to inform Feiks about the situation. Without inquiring about the incident or investigating the reason for them not returning, the first thought of the executioner Feiks was that the group took advantage of their work in the forest without any guard other than their Jewish supervisors to escape into the forest. He asked who the guard that accompanied them was. This time it was Moshe (Moniek) Bretman of Krasnik, who had a father and brother in the camp. Feiks ordered the imprisonment of the father and brother as hostages. They brought the brother Yechezkel especially from the factory, where he usually remained through the night. They stood the father and brother next to one of the bunks with their hands raised and placed them under guard.
In the interim it was clarified, and we also found out, that the lack of return from work was because no car had been sent to bring them back. Something happened to the driver or the car. When the Beikler Company found out about what was happening in the camp, and the reaction of Feiks, they brought the driver before him. He was an evil, degenerate German, a veteran member of the S.D. as he often stated about himself, who worked in the civilian service and had already known us for a few years through our work. He informed Feiks about the reason for the lack of return and that he was responsible for the fact that the group had not returned. The driver claimed that he knew the people for several years, and he took it upon himself to bring them back the next day. It is important to state that we enjoyed a relatively decent relationship with the Beikler Company throughout all the years, taking into account the times and their atrocities. There is no doubt that the S.D. driver did not come on his own volition, but rather through the demands of his superior. After the admission of the driver, Feiks ordered the freedom of the hostages late in the evening.
We were relatively calmed once we found out these details. This time we were not afraid, for we knew, as did they, that despite the difficult conditions in Budzyń there is no reason for uprooting ourselves to the forest, and that it would be an escape from the pit to the inferno, from possible death to certain death. Throughout the months that we worked in the forests of the area without guard, when we could have uprooted ourselves at any time, we did not do so as we understood the full situation. Therefore we were certain that they would not escape this time either, and that they would have a better supper than they would have had n the camp.
The next day, the car set out at the usual time to bring them back to the camp. Feiks was doubtful and did not believe that they would indeed return. Therefore, he came personally to greet them. After they were counted and he was convinced that they were all present, and that nobody was missing, he praised them to their face and
ordered that they be given a special dinner. As a token of his satisfaction he treated them to cigarettes, something that was unusual in Budzyń where it was strictly forbidden to smoke and to own cigarettes. He also ordered that our entire group would have full freedom of movement outside of work hours, and that the transportation to the distant forests for work would no longer require any guard from the police or the Ukrainians.
After this event and its results, our situation as individuals and as a group improved. We were allowed to leave and enter the gate of the camp at all hours of the day. It was sufficient to state that I was one of the Rachówers and the Ukrainians permitted me to exit. Everyone in the camp recognized the group and appreciated its people. This made it easier for us to bring provisions to the camp. After some time I also joined the construction group and became the chief organizer of the entire group, since nobody other than I knew the farmers of the region. I would purchase provisions from the farmers. From that time, we brought in the provisions which we purchased directly into the camp without any fear. We would store them in a locked crate for working implements. From that time, we also concerned ourselves with those of our group who did not travel with us and who did not have any possibility of taking care of themselves in Budzyń. We decided amongst ourselves that we could not leave them to the tribulations of hunger when we were doing good business and profiting well. We used those profits to concern ourselves with our needy. Whoever had money received bread at cost price, and those who did not have money received it for free. Thus did things continue until the general situation, and especially the nutritional situation in Budzyń improved.
However, man does not live by bread alone. Even though we satisfied our hunger and also worked, and our group enjoyed by far the best conditions in Budzyń, the suffering never stopped, and not one of the serious problems in Budzyń were solved. On the other hand, we can state that the torments became worse. What used to be a concern to find food now turned now a concern for other matters. The general atmosphere in Budzyń was oppressive. There was deep despair. There was darkness around without a ray of light or a ray of hope to improve the situation in any way. The motto that circulated among us was A bullet in the head is literally like a candy. This gives a picture of how great the fear of death was from the tortures which were daily events in Budzyń.
Another matter was the sense of complete loneliness that we each felt. We were far away from our time in Rachów and Gościeradów, when we saw ourselves as one company, even as one family responsible for every member, to our current situation, when everyone was only concerned about himself. We all grieved together about our two friends who were killed during our time in Gościeradów, and the feeling after each incident was as if a part of our body had been severed. On the other hand, the death of two members of our group during the brief period of our sojourn in Budzyń barely affected us. We did not see them nor take interest in the, we just heard that they are no longer with us. A feeling of complete indifference and a firm belief that nothing could be done, and one was unable to help oneself let along one's fellow pervaded here and affected everybody. I believe that the escape of the group headed by Yechiel Brenner was a complete renunciation of our group in exchange for a doubtful personal salvation. This could also not have taken place prior to Budzyń. All of this together formed the feeling of oppressive loneliness.
There was something else: In Budzyń the feeling of separation from family and friends was renewed, due to several reasons. This pain was partly a result of the feelings of loneliness. There was an additional reason: The self analysis of each individual as a result of the general despair and lack of hope, pangs of conscience, feelings of regret, and the simple calculation that it was not worthwhile to separate oneself from one's loved ones since you will be certainly killed here. The feelings of anguish were awakened in me with greater strength when I was walking in the camp one day and heard from behind me the call Tate (Father!). I felt as if I was dreaming. For many months I had not heard this simple word been called out, and it was as if I forgot it. I turned around and I saw a child of about 13 yeas old running and falling into his fathers arms. It was not a dream and then I heard echoes in my ears of the last call of my young daughter on the way to Krasnik, Tatenu! The wound was reopened, that I would never again hear this being called out to me
The frequent visits of Feiks to the camp had a special effect on the souls and nerves of everybody. Not a day passed when he did not come in to enjoy himself for a minute, but throughout the week, people in the camp did not attempt to evade his field of view unless they were ill or recovering. However, on Sundays, when everyone finished their work early, a panic broke out. It was certain that he would not leave the camp without fulfilling his inclination for murder. It was said that it was impossible that there would be no victims, and we would be lucky if there is only one. Everyone was afraid about to whom the lot would fall today? Whose time had come? Everyone felt himself as reborn after the murderer left the area of the camp.
One such Sunday visit, on the first holiday of the Christian Pentecost, remains etched in my mind. We did not go to work that day,
They informed us a day before that in the morning we were to arrange the mattresses on the beds. The bunk guards were commanded about their cleanliness. There was the feeling of a general preparation. After the morning roll call we were not permitted to enter the bunks as on a normal workday. Therefore, we mulled around outside. It was a warm, pleasant late spring day, and we enjoyed its ambience. At approximately 10:00 a.m. we were told that Feiks was about to arrive in the camp for a general roll call. We were all ordered to sit around the bunks outside, each person next to his own bunk. We were told to sit on the ground with our legs forward, so that the clothing and shoes of everyone would be visible. The suspicion was aroused that this holiday, this day off from work, would turn into a new frenzy of murder and atrocities like the previous Christmas. Who could know Feiks' machinations, how he intended to celebrate this holiday, and what he would do to enjoy himself and make himself happy? The heart was full of fear and trepidation.
A special fear fell upon me, in addition to the general fear. I was new in the place and inexperienced. The veterans and experts had advised me previously since my boots were shabby and worn out; it was worthwhile for me to remove the upper portions which were fitting to be sold outside for good money, and to send only the worn out under parts for repair. This is what I did, and now this inspection was taking place. In my naiveté I thought that Feiks would pay attention to my boots and ask me where the missing upper portions had disappeared. Therefore, I sat for hours in fear and terror. I would have given everything that I had in able to be able to connect the missing parts of the boots, but what was done was done.
Feiks entered the camp riding on his white horse near noon. The directors of the camp immediately surrounded him and the roll call began. He passed from one person to another and from one bunk to the next without stopping. Only on occasion did he issue a directive to write down that a certain person needs pants, a jacket or shoes. When he approached us and I saw him so close to me for the first time, with a light smile on his lips and with dimples on his face, he left he impression that he was completely jovial. It was impossible not to wonder how this man with a goodhearted smile pasted over his pink cheeks could be so involved with murder and sadism. My heart pounded as he approached me. I was certain that he would stop near me, since in addition to my boots, my coat was also torn and worn out, and he would certainly ask me questions and take notes. However, he passed by me without stopping, and continued his scan.
We breathed easily when Feiks left the camp without anything special happening.
The Imprisonment of the Supervisors and the Murder of Zoberman
As in every other place during those dark times, there were informers and collaborators in Budzyń. This was one of the tactics used by the enemy in every place in order to break the spirit of the man and his moral tendencies, to remove his human appearance from him, to force him to accede to the enemy's will and to use him as an instrument of suffering against his fellow nationals and friends. This purpose was assisted by the conditions that were created everywhere that the enemy was in control conditions of hunger, want, and constant tribulation, and especially fear of atrocities and torture. The delusion that the collaborators believed they could save their lives through their services also contributed to the troubled environment.
There were such people in Budzyń, and of course there was no shortage of conditions that could break the will of the weak. There were informers and perhaps also collaborators of various forms. Of course, not all of them were known, but there was one who was known and recognized by everybody. He was a middle aged man of about fifty, a refugee from Danzig who arrived in Budzyń with the Warsaw group and became a member of the ordnungsdienst by virtue of a request by Feiks rather than an appointment from the camp directorship, as was usual. His name was Samos.
This person made the rounds through the camp as he wore with pride the band that indicated his role. During the warm summer days, we always saw him wearing a long, heavy winter coat. His supervisors never gave him any of the customary tasks of the ordnungsdienst. He was never seen guarding the gate, taking any other usual rotations in the camp, or accompanying those going out to work or any officials. He was ostracized by the masses, and it is said that even his son, a fine lad of 17, kept his distance from him. We would often see him enter Block Ten, and it was easy to guess for what purpose.
Feiks and his henchmen entered the camp on one June day of 1943. They entered the rooms of the supervisors Sztokman and Zoberman and conducted a long, detailed search. At the end of the search they took them both to Block Ten. It is not known what exactly was found in their rooms and what the pretext for their imprisonment was. However it was known that the search was conducted after a report by Samos. Samos had told Feiks that the supervisors were extorting both the prisoners and the Germans, and that a great deal of property was in their possession.
Zoberman was formerly a member of the Judenrat of Zaklików. In Budzyń he was in charge of supplies. In his position, he would often travel to Krasnik and Lublin to bring various supplies. According to rumor, he took advantage of the opportunities in this role and amassed a large treasure of coins, gold and valuables. He was always dressed immaculately, and he lived in one of the rooms that were set aside for those with important roles. One of the young women of the camp was his assistant. He was the complete opposite of Sztokman he was short and stocky, and unlike Sztokman, he did not enjoy the admiration of the masses.
The two of them were imprisoned in the cellar of Block Ten for three days. Throughout this time, rumors circulated about the cruel torture that they two of them were experiencing, especially Zoberman. Some of the torture took place in the yard, and during the light of the day, it was possible to see everything from afar. There was general fear about the fate of both of them, and we gave up on seeing them alive again. Some of them even said that Zoberman deserved it. I only knew him by sight, and did not know anything good or bad about him. However, it was said that he had indeed amassed a large fortune from the suffering of the masses and through means that were far from proper. However, not everyone saw the situation from that perspective. They claimed in his defense that he was a Jew, and they were sorry that he was a victim of harsh and cruel torture by Feiks and his band of murderers.
On the third day, the members of the camp were told to come and remove Zoberman's corpse. Those who carried him from Block Ten to the grave said that the body was literally crushed and torn to pieces. The limbs were broken, the face was unrecognizable, and among other things the murderers had crushed his testicles.
We did not know anything about the fate of Sztokman. Apparently, the murderers had not decided his fate at this point. The camp vacillated between despair and hope, based on the news that arrived. He was loved and respected by all of us, and we prayed for his well being. As we stood for general roll call the next day after work, I felt an atmosphere of anticipation of something unusual. Suddenly we saw the thin form of Sztokman entering the large rectangle of the roll call area. He arrived at the center of the rows of those assembled and greeted everyone.
The signing of Hatikva broke out spontaneously and simultaneously from 3,000 mouths. This was an expression of the feelings of love and appreciation for this man who returned to us beaten and wounded, with a swollen blue face from the beatings. His scrawny body stood honorably despite his appearance.
The Murder of Bitter
One day, a lad from the group of Warsawers named Bitter was captured in the work area. As was told, gold coins and jewelry were found in the doubled over underside of his eating utensils. He was brought immediately to Block Ten, where the torture began immediately, as usual. This took place before noon, and the torture lasted all day.
We were not permitted to disband after the evening roll call. Bitter was brought to the roll call area and presented before us as a heinous criminal who would now receive his punishment. We were all arranged in two rows, standing facing each other with a space between the rows large enough for a person to pass through. Then the victim was dragged by a rope between the two rows by Small Otto the monster. One end of the rope was tied to his neck and the second to his scrotum. A second Ukrainian walked behind him. An order was issued that each of us was to give the victim a beating on his bare back as he passed by. The man was as naked as on the day he was born. The game began. The blows were delivered to the victim and their echoes reached as far as me even though I was standing at the edge of the opposite yard. If someone tried to fulfill his obligation by delivering a light blow on the victim's shoulders, he was warned immediately that that if he does not hit with all his might, he would be taught how to hit. In the event that somebody was skipped over and did not deliver the beating, the victim was returned to the beginning of the line and the terrifying scene started from the beginning. After the care that the victim had received in Block Ten, he did not maintain his stand for long, and fell to the ground and fainted. Feiks order that water be poured on him. When it did not work, and the victim did not move, Feiks order that his mouth be opened by force and water be poured down his throat. After this treatment, the tortured person opened his eyes, was stood upon his feet, and continued along the walk. The plan was to walk him through all the rows so that we would all enjoy this fun. At the end he would be hanged. But Bitter was apparently a Jew lacking in character and did not go along with Feiks' plan He stumbled again and again, and each time, his mouth was opened with a wooden leaf and water was poured down his throat. They stood him on his feet each time and continued to forcefully drag him through the rows. The victim no longer had the will or the energy to go along with it or to oppose it. After several treatments of this nature, he stumbled once again and all efforts to pour water in his mouth failed. The water reached his throat, penetrated slightly and then dripped out of his mouth. The victim did not open his eyes again.
Feiks summoned a doctor to save the victim. The doctor determined that there was nothing more to be done, for the victim had died. Feiks did not trust the Polish doctor and summoned a German doctor, a Yekke Jews, to save Bitter so that he could continue to carry out his plan and bring him to the scaffold. However, this doctor also certified the death of the victim of torture.
I believe that this was the only time that Feiks was sorry over the death of a Jew. We clearly saw Feiks' frustration with the brazen Jew who died not in accordance to the plan that had been prepared. He was sorry that this Jew sufficed himself with one death and that he was unable to kill him a second time by hanging Whereas
we knew that the victim had died several deaths throughout the day. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.
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