B. Mark Merder Gito v'Rashah
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
A small village lies not far from the Warszawa-Malkinia-Białystok railroad line; several kilometers from the Malkinia station and about twenty kilometers from Ostrowa. The village is located deep in the woods between sand hills, hidden away from the world.
The Germans built a labour camp there, forced out the inhabitants and built an important rail line dedicated to bringing rebellious Polish patriots there. So, Treblinka Number 1 was built.
In March 1942, the Germans built next to Treblinka Number 1, the death camp Treblinka 2, for the Polish Jews. On a square, surrounded by barbed wire, was a large one-story building with a line of rooms (15 x 40 meters).
A small number of SS, who were rotated often, guarded the camp.
Only one officer was never rotated, the director of the annihilation-camp. The director was SS Captain Sauer, the executioner of the inhabitants, the murderer of forty thousand Jews from Pinsk. He is the overseer of the death camp, Treblinka 2.
As an experienced murderer, Captain Sauer of the SS knows how to catch victims in his web. He has smothered all kindness and feeling in himself. He knows how to avoid undue tumult, because the new arrivals on the train must not realize what the situation is.
After removing the dead from the train cars, the rest were taken over by a civilian who gave a speech in Yiddish: Do not be afraid. You have come to a hub and from here you will travel further east. In these new places the men will work and the women will direct the workshops, but you will continue your journey in new, clean railroad cars. You must take a bath, everyone must hand in his money and valuables to the cashier and you will be given a receipt. Clothes must be given up so that they can be cleaned. Before washing, everyone must go to the office, write his occupation and age, because the authorities must know where to send you to work.
At the registration, the healthier men are sent to one side, the rest stay in the camp as the auxiliary brigade. For the time being they remain alive, but will soon regret it.
After registering, the new comers barefoot and naked stand in rows. The death play is directed by Captain Sauer with exactitude, everyone is given a piece of soap going into the bath, suspecting nothing they go into the room, but little by little hope disappears and is replaced by terror and confusion. The Jewish bathers disappear into the room and the SS armed with whips and iron bars take their places.
Here comes Captain Sauer his face shows only bad news, with shouts of faster, faster, pushing the Germans to put more victims into the gas chamber.
The floor in the room is slippery, people slide and fall over one another, the Germans grab children by the scruff of the neck, like cats and throw them over the mountain of people.
Wild screaming breaks out, the multitude is helpless, beaten; the SS carry in more people. Sauer, with his blood lust and twisted, murderous face, runs like a wild beast from one victim to another and without mercy, thrashes their bare flesh with a whip. The screaming intensifies with this new pain and torture. The room is full. The heavy iron doors are hermetically sealed.
At that moment an unseen person, who sits in the gas oven hall, turns the handle and scores of nozzles spray gas that enters the throat and lungs and causes death.
In around fifteen minutes it is all over.
Now the murderers open the doors of the chamber. Bodies lie in a heap. In the agony of death, they grabbed hold of friends, acquaintances, neighbours, who in the last minute of life wanted to be together, joined one to the other to make it easier to die.
The burial detail cannot pick up the joined bodies, so the SS spray them with cold water, which has the desired effect and they fall away from each other. The burial detail throws ropes around the bodies and drags them, as a group. Outside the camp, among the sand hills, a motor starts. This is the machine that digs the large mass graves. The bodies are thrown into the grave and covered with earth. A second machine goes over the grave, flattening it, and erases all traces of those murdered.
But that is not all. There are a certain number of Jewish servants who want to die. They do not wish to be killed with gas, but to die when they want. They want to die. Death will be a release for them. Each day Sauer gathers them together and asks: Who is too weak? Who cannot manage to work any longer? The majority declares life is loathsome. Sauer shoots them in the head himself.
Rachel Auerbach Yad Vashem, Mimi Hashoah V'hagebora
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
A young man, a survivor of Treblinka, told a story about what he had seen in the barracks where people took off their clothes, before going to the showers into the gas chamber.
A large group of women and children had arrived and he noticed a tall woman, her head covered with a wig standing among them. She was standing in a corner with her face to the wall. Around her a group of women also with their faces to wall of the gas chamber.
Like a Cantor on Yonkiper, like a messenger-group of the condemned to death, the women stood on the day of reckoning in Treblinka. On this terrible day of doom, with a quiet prayer from the Days of Awe pleading that their being about to be claimed by G-d, be delayed.
Shma Yisroel came forth from her heart full of pain and she said: Master of the Universe! You are still our one and only Father, no other father have we. Open your eyes and see our fear. Look at how dispirited we are. Take away the screams from the small children, take away from us all our sins, so that we may be as worthy as our fathers Abraham, Izaak and Jakob, as worthy as our mothers Sara, Riwka, Rachel and Leah to receive your mercy, dear father in heaven!
She broke out in a lament and then became silent. The entire barrack shuddered and wept as if in the women's section of a synagogue during Kol Nidrei.
And the women began with we need strength for the sake of your holy name take revenge for our blood from the enemies of Israel, so that our deaths will not be in vain! Oy, the cries of our children whom they took from us they must pay and their children and their grandchildren! They all must pay for generations to come. Your wrath must destroy them, ripping them out like a wart, erasing them from the earth, just as they have done to us, dear, merciful, father in heaven
With that the woman said her prayer, spread her hands to the sky and all the women around her said the same words and as if they were lighting candles, they covered their faces with their hands, their bodies still and tears ran between their fingers.
Little by little, slowly, the voices of the women became quieter until all of them had become quiet.
F. Szereszewski From the Encyclopedia: Lvr Mtzvoah
by Rabbi Kelman Eliezer Frenkel.
Published by Hkhrm, Tel-Aviv, 5718 (1958).
F. Szereszewski, who published this eyewitness testimony, died in Israel.
Translated by Judie Ostroff-Goldstein
It is Yonkiper morning in the concentration camp at Auschwitz a gloomy day. The weather mirrors our low spirits. We work without wanting to. Only our hands are busy, but are minds and hearts are elsewhere.
Idiots, daughters of dogs which liar invented the story that you are daughters of a smart and intelligent people you are animals! screamed the breathless voice of the overseer the German, Edith. The screaming let us know that she was on the stairway. We look at each other what does she want? we ask each other without words. My comrades, who are standing near me, have already received healthy slaps. The blows stop before she reaches me. I sensed a strong odour of liquor emanating from her.
She ran around from place to place like a madwoman.
We did not ask any questions as to how we had come to receive such nice, appetizing and large portions, because in Auschwitz one wondered only when an entire day went by without abuse, abasement and blows
In the end she clarified why she was so angry.
Yesterday closed sacks full of socks were brought to the laundry and we must put aside our normal work and sort the socks.
We could not go near any sack without her permission, so we prepared ourselves for an ugly conclusion. By this time we already knew well how to endure the Germans: our existence hung from their need and in truth what we should or should not do, never did matter.
We reacted without any concern to her screaming. This bothered her a lot. She gave us venomous looks full of hatred and then gave us an order. Two women will sit down immediately and begin sorting new socks are to be put back in the sack. They will be loaded onto trucks tomorrow and taken to Germany. The torn socks stay here for you and you do not even deserve them, bitches that you are
She ended with clenched teeth.
We sat on the floor in pairs and got to work. Our indifference had been wasted.
I had not given the least bit of attention to the woman working opposite me: I was totally absorbed in the new work. I opened the first sack and took out a pair of nice, new, silk socks. I could read the name of the company stamped on them: Zejdenworm łódz my hands started to shake.
Master of the Universe! What am I doing?! These are Jewish possessions that the Germans have stolen and I must sort them and put them together so that filth can wear them.
Zajdenworm I mouthed and became pale. The Jew who had succeeded in owning a Torah because he was wealthy the in-law of Rabbi Zelman Sorocki, how much effort and energy he had devoted to his factory to become one of the leading łódz manufacturers. He did his duty to everyone and he worked in his factory along side the Jews, Poles and Germans. When I lived in Warszawa, the Zejdenworm family and I were neighbours. I noticed his generosity: he divided the last of his money and gave it to the Warszawa poor. This was the money that t thieving German hands had left him with after he had paid his way out of łódz in 1942. How can I dirty my hands with such work?! No! No! These accursed, murdering Germans cannot be his heirs! I gripped every new sock and immediately tore it. At the beginning it was difficult: I had been brought up to believe that willful destruction was forbidden. But little by little I thought this ban was not applicable in relation to those who were murdering us.
My coworkers did the same thing. We tore all the socks and threw them into the sacks and tied them. By ruining the socks we were able to enact a little bit of revenge.
However while I was wreaking havoc on the socks, I felt bad. The thought would not leave me alone: how could I live with what I had done I had purposely destroyed those socks.
There is nothing else to do! I cried out and frightened myself with the sound of my voice. What else can we do? I asked my coworker who was sitting opposite me with an open sack. Her deep, sweet voice brought my equilibrium back. I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from me. I looked over at her and wondered why I had never noticed her before. What a pretty and interesting face; the main thing so fresh, which I had not seen for such a long time in this wretched place.
Are you a newcomer?
Yes, was her quiet answer.
What is your name?
What city are you from?
From Ostrów Mazowiecka.
How long have you been here?
Why are you asking me this?
Because you still have your long hair.
That means nothing said Rachel with a sad smile I have already been here three whole months and they never shaved my head.
I stared at her in wonder:
What? How did this happen?
Suddenly we heard somebody call out: Thirty-three! This was the signal to let us know that the wicked Nazi was approaching. We immediately stopped talking. All of us suddenly became very busy. Edith complimented us so, when you want to you can work properly. The main thing is that she knows we can work diligently. She laughed and left. I had intended to renew our conversation but Rachel left her place and begging everyone's pardon said she had something to attend to. She had taken something from a sock and hurried away to hide it in a secret place. She wanted to take advantage of Edith's absence. I was curious and wanted to find out what she was doing.
After a considerable time, Rachel returned and whispered quietly in my ear: Stop wondering I will tell you everything. It is very difficult to keep a secret deep in your heart and not have anybody close to tell it to. When you know how lonely it is here what I am doing will be between us. Can you keep quiet about it? Asked Rachel with tears in her eyes blue like the clean sky.
We kissed each other.
Rachel continued: I am twenty years old she began. My mother died ten years ago, when my baby brother Jozef was born after she died my father tried to take her place for us. He did not marry a second time. He gave himself entirely to us. What a sacrifice he made for us and we loved him so much. I became attached to my small brother and took good care of him. We were not rich, but my father made enough money from his iron store. Our house was always open to poor people and I cannot remember a shabes without a guest.
Rachel was silent for a while. Apparently, she was carried away with her memories. I did not want to disturb her and I patiently waited for Rachel to pull herself together and continue:
My father could not part with his father, in other words from my grandfather. He was a torah scribe and had no other occupation. The famous rabbi from Ostrowa, Rabbi Meier Dan Plocki, said about him that each word of his was written in holiness and cleanliness.
When my father would bless us every erev Yonkiper, he always added several words: the benefit of the merits of the holy fathers and the benefit of the merits of my father should keep you and protect you from all evil.
Rachel once again became silent. I could not take my eyes off her pretty, delicate face, from which poured such sadness.
Yes, Rachel lowered her voice the arrow that had decimated and annihilated all the Jews did not pass over our house. There came a time when we were so in need of the benefit of the merits of the holy fathers and my holy grandfather...
My father became gravely ill. He would cough all night. Fear for our fate aggravated his condition. He was crushed and beaten down. One night our father called us to his bed and said to us:
Children you must stay together but but if you should be separated and cannot find each other I am giving you something that is very valuable, a pair of tefilin that your grandfather wrote. The shel rosh is for you Rachel because you are grown up, and the shel yud is for you Jozef in case you find yourself among strangers. In case you are torn apart and far from each other, you must remember wherever you are, you must search for each other so that the shel rosh and shel yud will be once again together.
My father kissed the tefilin and told us to do the same. He did not want us to stay by his bed and watch.
Children, go to bed.
In the morning we were already orphans. In the middle of the night my father took his last breath and his soul went up to heaven
Rachel quietly sobbed.
I thought it would be a good idea to change the subject of the conversation, but Rachel had not finished her story and she continued:
So, now we were truly orphans, no mother and no father. I went to work at the Judenrat and I enrolled my little brother in school. He was there the entire day. At night I would pick him up and we lived together.
Erev Rosheshoneh 1942, I went to work as usual, but I felt very sad. I figured that remembering our dear ones had filled me with tears and sadness. I was filled with foreboding. I ran to see my brother. I immediately understood that what I was feeling was not for nothing. I could not find my dear little brother. The villains had taken all the children and sent them away. Where? Nobody knew. I blamed myself. Why did I not keep an eye on him? Why did I send him to school? I could not leave that place. I sat on a stool and cried bitterly. I stood up suddenly as if I had been stung. Everyone thought I was out of my mind. I tapped the stool on all sides, I searched, groped, looked for a mark, any sign from my little brother. In the end I found it. Turning over the stool I saw a small note in which was written: Rachele, do not be afraid, the shel yud will protect and save me your Jozef'ke.
My heart was banging like a hammer in my chest. I left there distraught and in despair
One month later I, along with another hundred Jewish young women, were to send to Skarzysk. There we were put to work in a bomb factory. The work was very hard. At night I would find a little comfort in kissing the shel rosh, the last remaining reminder of my troubled life. Hot tears poured from my eyes for what I had lost
After two years of hard labour in Skarzysk, we were sent to Auschwitz. That was three months ago.
Another few minutes and I will be finished she said to me, as if she wanted me to respond.
Rachel, I beg you, continue. Do not pay attention to me. I am not tired.
She thanked me with her look and continued:
As I was saying, that here in Auschwitz, they took everything from the young women that they had brought with them. I was in a panic. What would I do if I allowed my shel rosh to fall into their murderous hands? No! No! I will not let them have it! I made a quick decision. I did not know that everyone's head would be shaved and I had stuck the shel rosh in my hair.
They searched me, and found nothing. But, then I heard the order to stand in a line to have my head shaved. I was terrified. I stood there in despair. What should I do?
Suddenly the barber called out: The young woman with the blond hair must leave the line!
I had been saved, as if he had read the flustered look on my face, but to my great amazement he said:
Such beautiful hair should not be shaved off so that is how my hair stayed on my head.
I have not worked for three months. Today is the first day that I have come here. Do you know what vow I made the day I started working? To gather all holy books, tefilin and mezuzahs, wherever I find them and to hide them. Come with me. I want you to see where I was a half-hour ago and what I have hidden there.
Rachel got up and I followed her as if spellbound. She took me to a corner in a huge room. She lifted a board, under which was a hiding place full of sidurim, humashim and tefilin.
I found all of this in the sacks with the socks she told me with such pain.
Now you know everything. Now my burden is lighter.
This young woman astonished me with her outer and inner beauty. The people of the book can be proud of this Jewish daughter, who watches over Jewish books, under such circumstances. I felt at ease, as if she wanted to give me her spirit.
That evening we sat together. I felt as if we had been friends for years. Before going to sleep, Rachel brought her shel rosh and held it in her chilled hand.
You know she whispered in my ear from time to time I feel the spirit of my Zeydeh [grandfather] and my bobeh [grandmother] around me, watching over me
I took the shel rosh from her hand and caressed it, and I sighed deeply:
Master of the Universe, when will we see Jews putting on a talis and tefilin again, when?!
Rachel slowly and gently took her treasure from my hand, hid it and said:
I had forgotten to tell you that in my library is a mishnayes in small format, published by Khorev. Do you know anyone among the men who I could give it to? There must be at least one Jew who would like to study a holy book, even under these circumstances.
In the morning I had an idea. The Zawerczer rabbi would probably like to get the mishnayes. I wrote him a note and gave it to Rachel without thinking about the danger, she went to a young man and with tears in her eyes pleaded with him to take the mishnayes and to give it to the rabbi.
Do not be afraid. No harm can come to a messenger doing a good deed.
Two weeks later disaster struck.
Otto Van Graf, an inspector, a young SS officer, a dangerous wicked man caught Rachel at her library. She trembled with fear. We were all in a panic.
What are you hiding there, you accursed?! He was angry and swearing. He went over and took out the holy books and Rachel's eyes filled with tears.
I want to know what this is, he screamed, showing her a pair of tefilin he tore it open quickly to see what was inside.
Rachel gave him an angry look and stood there, unmoving.
I am waiting, he said angrily.
Rachel stood there stiffly, not moving, not saying a word.
Are you willing to give up your life? he asked.
Yes, this is a holy object and I will not be separated from it.
Her look was black and murderous.
What? A holy thing I will teach you about holy objects!
He grabbed her and hit her with all his might. Then he turned her over to the Kapo, Edith and told her that in the morning Rachel was to be sent to work outside the camp for six months as punishment for disobedience.
This was the hardest work of all. The majority of those working outside died from overwork, or the SS shot them, or the crazy dogs bit them and they died from fear.
The announced punishment did not seem to matter to Rachel. When the SS man had left, she gathered the torn and ripped holy books and kissed them and then she tried to calm me down.
Do not take this to heart. It is nothing. I thank G-d, that I had the willpower to be strong. The main thing is that I was not tempted to give in. Rachel stood there crying from happiness.
Your equal is not to be found Rachele said one of the young women. I will go to work outside the camp for you.
No, I cannot allow you to do this, answered Rachel. He did not punish us. He is only the messenger. Watch over the holy books.
Rachel was taken away from us. We missed her terribly. Without her the room had become dark. I thought about her all the time and wondered when she would be allowed to come back.
A week later Rachel was back. I was astounded. I could not believe my eyes. Rachel noticed my surprise and said that she would see me that night and explain everything. The Almighty helped me and nothing happened to me.
That evening we got together.
What I am going to tell you will seem bizarre, but you must know that it is the absolute truth.
The day before yesterday, Friday, I think. I heard footsteps.
Was it Otto Van Graf? I asked Rachel. No, it could not have been because Edith had
told us that he had left to visit his wife and that he would be back tomorrow.
That is not true. You know the Germans are big liars. He came to our section. He looked around, watching everywhere. Then he came over to me and asked me, so, how are you doing here, the work is not too hard?
I answered him: It is not easy work, but no matter. It makes no difference to me.
I am sorry for what I did to you, he said in a soft voice. Your words and tone of voice suddenly frightened me. I did not understand what was happening.
What is your name, asked Otto. I told him. Then he said to me:
Rachel, you should not be frightened I want to speak to you. In a dream I saw an old man, dressed in white. He demanded that I send you back to your previous work. I was distraught, very upset I waved it away foolishness, an SS officer does not believe in dreams I do not take advice from a dead Jew but the dream did not stop. He came to me every night. That man is haunting me and he wants to murder me. In the end he said to me that you have hidden something that it is similar to the one that I tore apart, and that is the sign he gives me Do you have it? speak up, make it fast
I stood there as if frozen, not knowing what to do. Without meaning to, I took the shel rosh out from the pillow. The scoundrel jumped back. He was suddenly pale as chalk.
What is this thing he asked me, not sounding like himself.
Tefilin, a shel rosh. My father gave it to me before he died. The parchment was written by the man who comes to you in your dreams, my grandfather.
He plucked up his courage, took a deep breath and said to me:
Tomorrow you go back to your previous work. A living Jew is nothing to me, but a dead Jew of him I am afraid.
After saying this, he left. Today I was sent back here. So, what do you have to say about this?
I did not answer.
It is destiny. There is a connection between the living and the dead Rachel said. Perhaps the better of the two begins to understand and the worse one something terrible will happen to.
Everyday Rachel received white bread and fruits. We never knew who sent them to her. We were not certain, but we thought that the benefactor was none other than the wicked Otto Van Graf.
Rachel became very busy with her library work. The only thing she had to say about the white bread was that it was preferable weaker she claimed, but for the needy it served as barter for black bread.
On a dark day Rachel became ill. She had a fever. Otto brought her quinine to inject. He also allowed her to rest in the middle of the workday.
One time I noticed that Otto was upset, he ran here and there, in the end going over to Rachel who was standing near me and asked her:
Is she your friend?
Yes, she is the only friend I have here.
I came to see you. I received an appointment to manage the crematorium. I thanked them for the appointment to such a high position and offered to go to the Eastern front. So, Rachel, I wish you luck and be well!
There was a courageous tone in his voice. What do you wish me, Rachel? He asked her.
That you should be killed!
What? He stared at her with wild eyes. What?!
I was also stupefied and did not understand.
Yes, said Rachel. It is better for a Nazi to die before having to see the Jews victorious and enjoying their good fortune.
He turned away from us and left quickly.
The years of horror and pain came to an end. We were liberated. All of us had enrolled to become Israeli citizens at the American Headquarters. We made preparations to travel to Israel. Rachel came to tell me that she had to leave.
You are not coming to Israel? You do not want to see the Holy Land? You, the Jewish daughter, you do not want to travel to Israel?
She had lost her voice I must search for the shel yud, to carry out the wishes of my dead father
I did not say anything. I did want to dash her hopes.
When we separated she told me she would come to Israel and we would live together like sisters.
A little while ago an acquaintance told me the following unhappy details:
Rachel travelled through the length and breadth of Poland to get back to her hometown Ostrów Mazowiecka. She did not find any family members there. She left for Radomsk to see about her uncle who had lived there before the war. While walking past the railroad station that was not far from the monastery, she fortuitously ran into some young priests taking a group of young Christian boys, who were dressed in priest's clothing, for a walk. A mysterious force made her look at the children. Suddenly she screamed, Jozef'ke, where is your shel yud?
Then she fainted. The young priest ministered to her. One of the children remained standing like stone, away from others. He could not move. Rachel recovered consciousness. She looked around. Her gaze fell on one of the children who was standing there bewildered and amazed. Rachel ran to him:
Jozef'ke, don't you know me?
Tears were streaming from his eyes. He suddenly revived and turned to the priests:
Please excuse me, he said to his teachers, she is my sister. He went with her into the garden of the monastery where they sat down together.
Dear Rachel, you brought me up and watched over me like a mother. At first I did not recognize you, but when you screamed, where is the shel yud, all the memories came back. Dear sister, I see a tattoo on your arm. You were in the camps you were tortured. I was so young remember when the villains took me? They killed all the children. I decided to run away. A Polish peasant thought I was a Christian child because of my blond hair. He took me home to his hut, gave me something to eat and drink and then took me to the priest in the monastery. Believe me, Rachele, I cursed the hours I have had to be here. I could not endure having to fool everyone. The lies I had to tell. I had to be so careful not to say anything about the shel yud. It has been so long since I have been able to kiss it. How can I touch it with my unclean lips?
Rachel took out the shel rosh and Jozef the shel yud.
I feel so lucky, shouted Jozef with happiness, I will start my life anew. Rachele, we must go to the head priest of the monastery. I want to tell him that I am a Jewish child. After all he saved my life, but I will not pay with my soul
The priest was known as a friend to the Jews, an opponent of the Nazis and pogromniks. They wanted him removed and several times they tried to kill him. He was shot at but never hit.
As Jozef and Rachel arrived on the doorstep of the priest's house, shots were heard. Jozef fell, covered with blood, and died instantly. Rachel wrestled with death for a while before giving up her soul. The shooters were aiming for the priest and once again missed him only this time they cut short two young Jewish lives.
(Inner thoughts and Reflections)
By Chana Holcman, Tel-Aviv
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
I was asked by several people to write about my survival in the concentration camps. An Englishwoman, who was part of a relief committee, motivated me to write this as there were people in England who did not believe in the cruel martyrdom that we had been through. However I did not see and still to this day do not see the purpose of writing about it. If this helps, as she hoped, to awaken the feelings and conscience of the world, when the inconceivable, cruel number of six million murdered through bestial annihilation in gas chambers, that the Jews could never have imagined, did not; then will my sad memoir be able to accomplish this. However, today I will write a little about my survival in Auschwitz. This is not for the purpose of remembering, simply just to speak from my heart to the world at large. Perhaps it will be a little easier to go through everything, all that has bored its way into my mind, which causes so much pain and gnaws ceaselessly at my tired heart. Before I go into this area that hurts so much, I must give a short glimpse into the past from Auschwitz, so that whoever has a couple of minutes to read these few words of mine, will be able to better understand my pain.
I carry with me the memories of Auschwitz, but I had also been in Majdanek and Belsen, but I was in Auschwitz longest two years. Most of my memories are from there. I cannot write everything that I went through, the viciousness and cruelties, one after another. Each horrible experience, more frightening than the last. I want only to show what I lived through at certain times there and what and how I felt at the time. I remember for example a day it was Yonkiper. I was standing with a shovel in my hand throwing earth from one place to the next and before my eyes, as if in a kaleidoscope, I saw pictures of a Yonkiper in the old days. Not only from my own home, but from my parents' home as well. I saw my father in his white kittel going from child to child bestowing his blessing on us. My mother's heartfelt lament resounded in our ears as she lit the candles and pleaded that no evil should befall us during the year. I remember that it seemed to us that the walls trembled as she made her plea. But suddenly something tore me from this picture: it was a resounding slap by the German overseer that had destroyed these images. She had noticed me and saw that I was working phlegmatically. And I understood that in Auschwitz one must not even remember a better world. She had with that slap chased away the pictures from the past and hurled me back into this accursed struggle. And only when she had turned away did I begin to think again about other things.
I thought: how will all this end? How long can one work expending all one's strength in such difficult, inhuman conditions, knowing death could be just around the corner. At every opportunity our torturers did not forget to assure us: so, tomorrow you also might come to the crematorium. I knew that yes, one could go any day up the chimney. But before, I have two desires. The first and most important is to see my only son alive. I want so badly to hold him tight, to kiss him despite how big he is and to tell him how much I love him, how much my heart yearned and ached for him. And I have one more desire. Once, I would like to eat my fill and savour the taste of being sated. It is perhaps not nice to confess this, but it is the sad truth. Mostly, my thoughts are occupied dreaming of a little camp-soup, a bit of camp bread enough to satisfy my hunger. In truth, there were times when there was nothing I could think of other than eating. Several times I took comfort in Peretz's Boncze Szweig. I thought to myself, what if Boncze, who went to heaven as one of the Lamed Vavniks had dreamed all day about a roll with butter? Even when he was borne to eternity and when stood before G-d's judgment he was asked: Boncze, tell us what you desire, what you want, and it will instantly be granted. Instead of a resounding scream, I want the Jewish people to be redeemed and perhaps we would be redeemed, he had answered I want a roll with butter. Still the simple truth is that the sword of hunger is mightier than the sword of death.
But even more than hunger, and all the excessive torment endured and tortured memories that were created in Auschwitz, is the uncertainty, that when Hitler loses the war any of us will still being alive. Others who are still alive have the same thought. We see our loved ones in the smoke from the chimneys and the mass graves. We see the trains arriving, with full cars, providing new fuel for the ovens and the often entirely random selections in the barracks, when you must not be found to be dirty. Even though all we had to wear was one shirt, we did not even have a handkerchief left, but a spot on your body could send you up the chimney. We had already understood that from time to time the barracks had to be cleaned out to make temporary room for the newly arrived victims. We see we know. Is it possible that we will survive? We were certain that when the time came for the murderers to surrender at midnight, that five minutes before twelve they would obliterate us from the face of the earth. However a miracle happened. We, the eyewitnesses from Majdanek and Auschwitz with their crematoria and mass graves; where their chimneys blazed day and night, using our loved ones for fuel; the last eye witnesses from Belsen who were hungry, needy, hurt, dirty, sick with typhus and dysentery where people died like flies are alive!
What is this? Who is interested in this? Who needs us, who longs for us? There is a small corner in this great big world, in the east, that would welcome us with open arms, but the doors of this country are shut tight and locked. This is the cause of our great frustration and pain. I remember well the road from Birkenau to Brzerzińki, where lately all the convoys were annihilated and where once we also were driven to bathe. I envied the trees that grew on both sides of the road and strongly regretted that they were mute and could not tell what had happened nearby. I made a deal with them that when peace would come, they must instead of green, be covered in red leaves as a sign that this place ran with innocent Jewish blood. And if the moment should occur, naturally entirely impossible, when a little hope would sneak into my heart and glow, I would fantasize. I would for example imagine that the entire world would receive us with flowers, with songs, with joy and with open doors and gates. I now understand what Bialek meant when he wrote, after the Russian pogroms, Last Word, where he said:
And you will cry many, bitter tears,
And it should be your last groan,
That makes the entire world tremble
And do away with this evil.
The tears of Jewish parents were many and bitter when their children were taken from them and thrown into the flames. The tears of Jewish children were many and bitter when their parents met the same fate. Loud enough were the last groans from six million murdered Jewish victims, and the world did not tremble and it did not do away with this old evil. Just the opposite The world simply silently reproached Hitler for not being able to carry out his program 100 percent by getting rid of European Jewry, thereby freeing the world from the difficult Jewish question. If the world will not concern itself with us, then we must take care of our situation by ourselves. Why did six million innocent, murdered victims not shock the world? I think that the reason lies in the fact that they did not die on the battlefield as heroes, for their country and its belief. So, not only in order to be worthy to live, but also to be worthy to die, one must have one's own country. Therefore we must apply ourselves and with all strength somehow manage to awake the lethargic, sleeping world, especially the Socialists, so that they will help fight for a just and safe existence in Israel. Then we will be the first to introduce Socialism on a higher, better level of cosmopolitanism and altruism.
I have strayed to other problems, which momentarily smothered the memories of Auschwitz. But, the unforgettable images of Auschwitz will always be with me; from a line of trucks with naked people, who are singing Hatikvah even though they know where they are being taken. After singing Hatikvah and the last outpouring of Shema Yisroel the dead silence of the night will return to Auschwitz. But the camp, and for kilometers around, the area was lit by the tongue of fire from the chimneys where Jews breathed out their innocent souls.
In the name of the innocent murdered victims we beg and cry out to go to our own country, Israel.
Their last wish, their last hatikvah [hope] should be realized.
(Written in 1945, soon after being liberated in Bergen Belsen)
Szewa Farbsztejn (Israel)
(Daughter of Komorowo Rabbi Szylewicz)
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
Szumowo November 1939 winter was already in full force at this time. The snow already covered the ground and the air was cold. During such a day we crossed the German-Russian border. We arrived in the first shtetl on the Russian side. The shtetl was called Szumowo. We found distant relatives there.
We arrived there in tatters because when we ran from our home, nobody was allowed to take anything with them. Our shtetl was already in flames. (I had been living in Wyszków). The family, that we had found, had pity on us and we, my daughter and I, were allowed to live with them. They fed us the entire winter and also gave us clothes. There was no place for my husband so he went to live with his parents in Zambrów.
Zambrów After six months in Szumowo we went to live in Zambrów with my husband's parents. We were there for a short time, having slipped in unnoticed the majority of the homeless were taken to Siberia.
The 29th of June 1940 was a Friday. That night after eating, with three families living together in one room, some were asleep and some awake. It was around midnight. Men knocked on the door and soldiers from the Red Army came in, ordering everyone to quickly pack because we were going home we understood very well that we were not being sent home. But, not having any choice, we all packed and got on the trucks. About one thing I was heartsick. I had to leave behind the flickering yahrzeit candle for my mother. The entire evening I had looked at the candle and golden memories of my home in Ostrowa took shape the joyous Friday nights, Shabosim and YonTovim.
Then, while our situation was not the best, still, we could not imagine the terrible things yet to come. That my sisters Miriam and Rywka, the unlucky children, would be murdered along with my brothers, their wives and children and that we would never know the date or the place where this calamity happened
The one thought that ran through my mind that night was that we did not have to worry about my father as he had enough merit and had died a natural death. (He died 16 Shevat 1940, in Białystok and was buried there.)
Road to Siberia
We were loaded, along with our belongings, into a truck and driven to the main train station where a train was waiting for us with freight cars. There were already a lot of people their with their packages. All of them were frightened, because of the sudden ending of normal life.
With our departure from the station, true hell began. Five to six families were put into each car with their belongings and the doors were locked. There were no windows in the cars. There were several small holes in the walls, where only a few had the joy of breathing fresh air. There was not any place to use for personal needs. From time to time the train would stop and then all doors would be opened and the people could get off while patrols watched the terrified felons, so that nobody could run away. A little further from the former Polish-Russian border, at various stations, good Russian people came who brought bottles of milk, tea and also bread. They distributed the food for the children and old people. Even this small amount of help made people happy, because not everybody was able to eat the soup that was distributed on the train.
For two weeks we travelled day and night until we arrived at a port on the White Sea. There we were put on a cargo ship. The conditions on the ship were not any better than on the train. The several weeks travelling on the barge exhausted our strength. Besides all the good things, everyone was seasick.
We arrived at the port at Archangel. From there we were sent to several different places. Our family, along with about ten others, was taken to a place called Posziolek Czarny [Dark Village] the name was perfectly suited to the place. Four wooden barracks stood in a forest of dense, tall trees. The newcomers settled into the barracks. Every two families were given one room. We lived in two small rooms together with two other families. We were not left without work for long. The men were sent into the woods to cut down huge trees that they later had to get to the river. These logs then went to various factories in the country and were also exported.
The women were sent to do various types of work, according to the season. During mushroom season, we gathered mushrooms that were put into casks, and served as the main food. A lot of what we picked was sent to the cities, such as berries.
Winter started early it was already cold in October, the vegetables that grew in the area: potatoes, cabbage and others that were not already picked, stayed in the ground. Snow fell for seven to eight months and the days were very short. At nine o'clock in the morning it was dim and by three o'clock in the afternoon it was already dark. Work was done by firelight, which constantly burned at every workplace, as there was no lack of wood.
On summer days during the months of May, June, July we had daylight for twenty-four hours. The sun set for only a short time, but it never became dark.
I want to mention two episodes from there. Once, I was with a group of women gathering berries. Unknowingly I had wandered away from them and got lost, not knowing which road lead to Posiolek. I did not go far from where I was, thinking, maybe help would arrive. That was where I stayed until evening. Suddenly I heard the bells ringing and they showed me the way home. The other: Once during a winter evening I left the house to go to another barrack and suddenly before my eyes ran a bright, variety of lights. I was very frightened. I thought, maybe the enemy was approaching and had sent rockets here. But when I went into the barrack, it was explained to me that this was the light from a falling star and the shining was from the darkness of the trees and the whiteness of the snow.
In general the situation was not good. Besides the material and physical misery, one was spiritually broken. At every opportunity, the official in charge let us know that we could remain here forever and we must learn to live with the place and its lifestyle. On hearing these speeches, our hearts became heavy he spoke with confidence, because he had also been sent here from Ukraine and he was still here.
In the beginning, before the war touched Russia's soil, nobody went hungry. Products were distributed and a lot of people received packages from relatives.
We remained there for fifteen months. The prophecy of the official did not come true. Germany attacked Russia. Suddenly we were told that we were free citizens. We had the right to travel wherever we wanted. Everyone decided to leave. It was very cold, but we left anyway. It was a miracle that we arrived in another place still healthy.
The Road from Siberia to Middle-Asia
After several months living in the village, we at last decided to go to the train station that was not any better than two years previously when we had arrived. This was the most terrifying time during our six years of wandering. It was 1942 at the height of the German-Russian war. The people travelling by rail were ragged and tired and died like flies. Nobody was interested in the dead. When the train arrived in a station, the bodies were thrown into the snow. Some of them were skeletal. This was during the siege of Leningrad. The people, who had fled from that region, had been hungry for many weeks.
We did not travel all the way on one train, as previously to Siberia. From time to time we changed trains. At a lot of stations relief efforts were organized to feed the passengers. One member of each family would go for food. Because of this, a lot of people were separated from their families. The train would leave before they got back. This also happened to us when my husband had gone for food. The train left. Without any information as to where the train was going, nobody knew how to find us. My husband went from one official to the other. By a miracle, he found us.
We travelled this way for six weeks until we reached the kolkhoz [cooperative in the USSR] called Kaganowicz, where we suffered a lot. At first, after the long journey it seemed that salvation was close. This did not last long. The men were sent to the rush-army. Then we knew days of pain and hunger. The chairman shortened my ration day to day until it was down to nothing. He said that I was a poor worker and did not work a full day. I would cry and try to make him understand that I worked as much as my strength would allow, but he did not want to understand. Whenever I think about that work, I shudder. Once they gave me a plow and I was ordered to hitch two cows and plow the field. As I had no choice, I took the plow with the harnessed cows with a whip in my hand and walked behind the beasts over the field and thought about how much I would make today. Will I receive a ration for my work tomorrow? It was a very hot day. The cows were obstinate. One managed to get out of the harness and ran away. I chased after it, but in the meantime the other cow had escaped. I chased after the two cows the entire day, until the sun went down and I remembered it was a Friday. With a heavy heart I lit two matches, said the blessings over the candles and my only plea was that I would receive bread in the morning.
Then the entire population was in need not only us. One day coming from work, I noticed that my coat was cut at the hem. I could not say anything, even though I knew who had done it. It hurt me because it was the only clothing that my sister Miriam had sent to me in Siberia. At the time I did not know how dear I should have held that coat, as it never occurred to me that this would be my last memory of her.
After two years of living in the kolkhoz in hunger and pain, there was some hope. I began to receive letters and packages from my sister in Israel. I decided to live in the city. But it was not easy to get permission, because after working there for two years, I owed the kolhoz one thousand rubles.
In the city I had to work. At first I did not want to, but I could not sell at the market because then I would be called a speculator and second it was difficult to find even a piece of bread at the free market.
I applied for work. I had to write my biography. I wrote that my father was a shoemaker and my mother worked, etc. If I had written the truth that my father was a rabbi and my husband owned a glass business and all the other truths, I would have been declared unfit. The biography was not enough. I was then called to an interview. My work was hanging wash and carrying water to the laundry. For this I received eighty rubles a month. From this I had to pay for my room one hundred rubles.
Here, as in Siberia, the forest surrounded us. The winter was the same as in Siberia. There were strong winds and snow. The houses were always covered with snow. In the morning you could not get out of the house. The men would climb out through the chimney in order to clear the snow from the door. I still do not understand how my daughter and I survived and were not overcome by fumes and killed. We heated with coal and in order to keep the heat in, the owners would stuff the chimney with rags. The coal gas stayed in the house. It was a miracle that the fumes did not kill somebody.
We lived there and we went along day to day with the hope that the war would soon be over and that we would go back home and be reunited with our loved ones. It finally happened in 1944. The enemy had already retreated from Russia and most of Poland. We were able to send mail to Poland. We knew nothing about the tremendous destruction that had taken place in Poland. We did not have radios or newspapers. I wrote letters to my loved ones. I never received an answer from anybody.
By Dan Bursztajn, Kiryat Borokhov, Israel
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
As a prisoner of war taken by the Russians I did not encounter any Germans. After the Second World War, I returned to Ostrów in 1946. In the Jewish quarter, I met nobody I recognized.
The old cemetery was flattened to the ground. In the new cemetery, on which some tombstones still stood, cows and pigs were grazing.
Two kibbutzniks from Lower Silesia, who were traveling by train, were pulled out of the car at Malkinia Station and they were beaten to death with sticks. They were buried in Ostrów.
When the Ostrower woman Chuma, who had traded in fowl, came home after the war, soldiers of the Polish Home Army shot her and she was left lying dead in the street. The people who killed her are in Ostrów.
The biggest anti-Semite, hooligan Gurski now lives in a rich house.
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
Having already spent several weeks under Russian rule, we sensed that something was about to happen. Every day there were various registrations taking place. In the end an order was issued that everyone had to get a Russian passport or be sent back to the Germans. Now we were in despair. We racked our brains, considering what to do. If we took passports, we would always be their slaves (in just these few weeks we already understood what it meant to live under their regime). Nobody wanted to go back to the Germans. We thought that the Germans would not allow the Jews from Russia to enter and that this was only a trick. We were desperate. Everybody talked and talked, going round and round endlessly. Several decisions were made. The majority of Ostrowers, who were in Ciechanowiec decided not to get a passport. This is what others chose as well. Most of the Ostrowers who were in Białystok decided to get passports.
For those who did not get passports, something was being prepared. There was talk of being sent to Siberia or to a coal mine. All the rumours originated from official circles.
All the forms were complete. On a certain Friday night after Shavues (1940) the military took all the people who did not have families and sent them away under guard. On the second Friday night, the military surrounded all the houses containing families who had not wanted passports. We were not allowed to take anything, not even food. We were taken to Czyzewo and put into dirty coal cars and were locked in without air to breathe. At that time I had a temperature of forty degrees centigrade. And so we were sent away, confined in a cage, without bread, without water during a summer heat wave. On the third day we were given bread, but nobody could swallow it because our throats were parched from the heat and coal dust. Thanks to the Russian village women who brought a little water to the station, we were first able to take something in our mouths. They brought water in pails to the cars and we, the caged, put our cups out through the little windows. They poured everyone a little water. It also happened that as soon as the women arrived with the water, the train would leave families with small children risked their lives making a fire to warm a little water for the children. Once a day (one time, in two days), the doors were opened. When we got out of the cars, we were chased back at rifle point.
We travelled like this for two weeks until we reached Archangel. It took others from two to three months and sometimes over ice with sleds pulled by dogs. From Archangel we were sent deep into the forests, six hundred kilometers from the city.
In the Archangel Forest
Summer 1940, we travelled for two weeks in closed coal cars, and then four days on the water, until we arrived in the district city of Jemeck, Archangel region and from there to the forests. Together with us was Dawid Mincberg's wife (Eli Lach's daughter) with eight small children. We begged the Commandant to send her with us, in order to lighten her burden. The request was declined.
Arriving at this refuge, we were welcomed with the proclamation you will be here forever. This welcome embittered our souls.
Now began a life in sub-human conditions: crowded, dirty and without medical treatment. My nineteen year-old-daughter was sent to work sawing enormous logs into meter long pieces; then chopping them in 4 pieces with an axe.
I asked the official why a young woman was given such hard work to do. He told me that this was the easiest work available for women and ordered me not to ask anymore questions.
Even after hearing such an answer, we never gave up hope. We were still Jews in faith and had confidence. Everyone rallied believing G-d would help end this terrible situation (and it happened: the 22nd June 1941 with the German attack on Russia the political situation ended, although the economic situation became more difficult. (But that is another chapter).
Winter 1941 at 50° below zero we were ordered to work cleaning the ice road used for huge sleds hauling logs. During the day there were four convoys consisting of forty to fifty sleds each. Every four hours a convoy left and it was determined that travelling back none of the transports should meet. My work was to clean the ice after each convoy passed so that it would remain slippery. During such cold weather we usually were not very attentive to our work. I was always away trying to warm up. Once, at night, the Brigadier arrived and asked if the third convoy had already gone by. I was afraid to tell him that I did not know, so I told him that it had. He phoned the base and told them to send out the fourth convoy. A little while later the third convoy arrived at our post. I was suddenly dizzy. The two transports would meet and there would be a disaster. The ice would break and the road would be damaged and I would be the one to blame. I expected to be arrested any minute as a saboteur. My barracks neighbour, Weissman, worked on the fourth convoy and he should have returned from work at nine o'clock. However, it was now eleven o'clock and still no sign of him. His family was getting worried and I was so scared. I was sure I knew what had happened.
My neighbour returned at one o'clock in the middle of the night and told me what had happened. Not far from where the fourth convoy started out, around seven o'clock, a sled loaded with logs overturned and broke through the ice. The convoy could not continue. This miracle saved me from ten years in jail.
Jemecker District, Archangel District
It is the month of Elul [August] and the Days of Awe [High Holidays] are creeping closer. There are twenty-five Jewish families living in the village. People are meeting secretly to find a way to avoid working on Yonkiper. The youngsters suggested we request the commander to allow us not to work on Yonkiper and we would work on our normal rest day. The elders were against this plan. We knew that the commander did not care about Jewish holidays and he would say that this is a workday like all the others. Anyone who did not report for work would be dragged out of the barracks and forced to work. Nevertheless, the youngsters wrote out a request, but never received an answer.
We managed to gather a minyan for Kol Nidrei. We closed ourselves in a barrack and prayed. We had almost finished when an agent knocked on the door. He searched the barrack. At five o'clock in the morning, the commander arrived with troops from headquarters, all of them armed, and dragged everyone off to work. If anybody said they were sick, the commander sent this person to me, as I was the oldest in the barrack. I had to explain to them that if they did not go to work they would be declaring a strike and during wartime this was considered sabotage by the Soviets. Everybody went to work.
A Red Colonel Saves Me
Winter 1942, after we were freed from the labour camp, we were given permission to leave for Bukhara (Central Asia). We travelled for seven weeks, under the most difficult, inhuman conditions imaginable. People were lying one on top of the other in the trains. There was not even any room to stand. The trains were not heated, there was not any water, an epidemic broke out and several young children died. While travelling through Siberia, not far from Nowosybirsk, in freezing Siberian temperatures, my daughter came down with tonsillitis. There was not a drop of water to wet our throats. The situation was dire. When the train arrived in a station, I noticed women with milk. I grabbed a dish and went to buy milk. Before I could get back on board, the train pulled out. I was left standing on the cold, Siberian station platform. I was in despair. I was left without warm clothes, gloves or money. I was worried about my family and about my daughter's health and I had all the documents for my family as well as for the Sztycberg, Mincberg and Marchewka families as we were travelling together.
I knew that the train was going to Omsk so I asked the stationmaster when the next train was to Omsk. He answered with the typical Russian answer, I do not know. Hungry and cold I hung around the entire night. At two in the morning I notice a passenger train standing on a track, going in the direction of Omsk. I run over, but all the doors are locked. A Colonel arrives who I had spoken with at the station during the day. He took pity on me. As he was taking this train, he called to me to go with him. We went from one car to another until we found a door to the sleeping car open and we boarded. He stayed in the sleeper and I went up front. During the trip two conductors came around and asked me for my ticket. I told them I did not have one and explained the entire situation to them, but they wanted to throw me off the train. I began screaming at them and the Colonel heard me and saved me from the officials. However, at the next station they threw me off the train. Once again I was desperate, but I had noticed that the door to one of the cars was open a crack. I got on and these people took pity on me and let me stay. It had been twenty-four hours since I had had anything to eat. A Russian was standing close to me and eating. I asked for a little bit of bread but he had only meat with him. A woman had heard me and brought me a small piece of bread from the sleeper. At one o'clock in the afternoon we arrived at a large terminus and everyone had to get off the train. There were trains everywhere and I was hoping to find the train to Omsk. I ran along the tracks calling my name, the names of the families I was travelling with and finally I heard people calling my name. I found my family and boarded the train a couple of minutes later it left the station.
Erev Pesach in the Archangel Forest
Several months before Pesach1941, we thought about finding food for the holiday. We could not imagine finding anything aside from a few potatoes. But where were we to find several kilos of potatoes? During the first few winter months we could get potatoes at the Cooperative (not for money we would trade bread for potatoes), as the cooperative workers did not work in the forest, they did not receive any bread. But towards the end of winter, they would not trade any potatoes, complaining that they did not have any. In the nearby Cooperatives they advised us to go to Cooperatives further away maybe they would have some. They gave us names of the Cooperatives and told us where we could find an old woman who would trade potatoes for black tea.
For the October Revolution holiday (their holiday the 17th of October) the workers had received a flask of liquor and five grams of black tea. I had also received a flask of liquor and three packages of black tea, five grams per package. I had saved mine and now they would provide food for Pesach. My wife had not received any liquor because she was not working. I figured I could trade the liquor for oil and the tea for several kilos of potatoes.
Two weeks before Pesach, Jozef Ber Szticberg (a relative by marriage) and I left to search for some potatoes. The roads were passable, but very difficult. There were narrow footpaths and everything was covered in snow and ice. On the way we met an official for the region. He did not allow us to continue on our way. On arriving back at the village with us he reproached our commander for allowing us to leave work without a pass and screamed at us. I answered him that we had taken time from work to find some potatoes in order to celebrate our holiday and if he could give us some then we would stay in the village and work.
His answer was that he did not have any potatoes.
We left again. Arriving at the first cooperative everyone said they did not have any potatoes but told us about another Cooperative where a woman would trade potatoes for black tea. We continued on through snowdrifts and icy paths, sometimes crawling on all fours, constantly worrying about sliding into oblivion. We arrived at the cooperative during the afternoon and asked for the Brigadier. We were told that he is a good man and they took us to his wife, as he was not there. She was astonished to see two Jews with grey beards. She had probably never seen the likes of us in her entire life. However, she invited us into her home which was warm and tidy. After spending the day in the snow and ice and being frozen to the bone, her welcome was indeed a pleasure. She made a samovar of hot tea and gave us food using the best that she had available. Her husband arrived home and promised to help us in the morning.
The next day with his help we managed to buy one hundred kilos of potatoes and we traded our tea with the old woman for another sixty kilos of potatoes. Now the only question remaining was how to transport the potatoes to the village.
The Brigadier and his wife came to our aid. He took a horse and wagon from the cooperative and drove us to a base where wagon drivers stopped on their way to our village. We arrived there late at night and there were no wagons. We unloaded the potatoes with the idea that they would be loaded onto a wagon bound for our village in the morning.
When we came to get the potatoes in the morning, we found only half of them. The rest had been stolen and none of the drivers would take what was left. We carried the potatoes on a small hand sleigh and walked all night in the cold and snow to arrive back at our village. Luckily there was a full moon to guide us.
The potatoes were the only food we had for Pesach.
By Jeszaja Galant, Ramat Gan
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
Among the many Ostrowers who were Hitler's victims, most were murdered. There were a small number of survivors who had lived through years of pain in the Nazi concentration camps. However, we must also mention those Ostrowers who survived in the Soviet Union. They were not allowed to remain in the border towns and torn from their way of life they were sent deep into Russia, where the climate was severe. They worked and struggled with the harsh realities to stay alive; a difficult struggle against an enemy called apathy. They fought against despair, to maintain their beliefs. They fought to maintain their rights as human beings.
I want to tell you about my father, Rabbi Abraham Mendel Galant, who maintained his beliefs and in so doing helped others to remain Orthodox and gained respect for himself and those who joined him.
He left Ostrowa and went to Białystok. From there he was sent with his family to Kami, U.S.S.R., deep in Russia (one son, Szauel'ke was murdered with his family in Zambrów). The bread ration was practically nothing: buying privately was very difficult because the place where we were living was far from any other settlement. To go to one you needed a special pass from the Commandant. The inhabitants did not want to sell for money or to trade products for clothes and other things. At that time exiles received an extra ration at noon, cooked in a community pot. Hunger was always with us, but my father would never eat food from the pot it was not kosher and he lived on thirty decigrams of bread and water and once in a while a little potato that the children would get from the village.
At that time one had to possess a strong will and stubbornness not to give in. My father was a quiet, pious man and day by day, for long days and months, he carried on despite the hunger pangs. He cried out his pain in chapters of Psalms and other holy books he had taken with him when he was sent from Baiłystok in 1940.
But he was a strict man, not willing to break any of the laws of Judaism and he was a great example to others. Here are some instances: this happened during the difficult war years, when the Russians were pouring out their blood at the front and they were asking us to work even harder. Naturally everyone did. Only one young Hasid refused to work on Shabes, claiming that he was sick. After the second and third Shabes they realized that he was pretending to be sick. He was punished for one month, but after that it happened again. He was threatened with punishment, even prison he would not work on Shabes. My father spoke to the young man and told him to go to work and that he would take the sin on himself as during wartime and threats of prison it is important to save life. The young man went to work avoiding a catastrophe.
Before Rosheshoneh he made a shofar from a deer, and everyone prayed and the shofar was blown. For Sukes he arranged for a sukeh. He went into the forest and built the sukeh and then let the older Jews know where to find it.
The first Pesach when we were in the forest, he started to think about matzah weeks before. He went forty kilometers on foot through the fields covered with snow, risking his life (men would die because the weather was so terrible) arrived in the city and bartered for a three kilo sack of flour. He arrived back after two weeks and with great joy heated the oven and baked matzah.
For Pesach we had a very little bit of matzah and water. There was only enough to divide into small rations so that there would be enough for the holy days.
At the end of 1942, at two o'clock in the morning he left illegally on a ship and wandered through Russia and after terrible hardships finally arrived in Moscow with the idea of reaching Teheran and thereby getting closer to Israel.
But it did not turn out that way and he was sent to Tashkent where things were better. He found many Jews there.
He returned to Poland during repatriation, then to Germany and from there to Israel and his wish came true.
In later years, when he was an octogenarian, with gray hair and a long silver beard, he would walk with a cane to Mount Zion in Jerusalem to pray. This was how he lived his last years.
He died 25 Tevet 5715 [December 1954].
May his soul be bound up in the bond of life.
M. Canin Tel-Aviv
(Editor of the newspaper Letste Nayes [Latest News])
From the book Iber Shteyn und Shtok [Over Stone And Obstacle]
Translated by Judie Ostroff-Goldstein
The cities in Poland were fated to experience not only their own devastation, but also the destruction of an entire people. Before they were massacred, they saw with their own eyes the misfortune of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Jews. Amongst those cities was Ostrów Mazowiecka.
With the first savage winds, the Germans arrived here from Prussia and practiced a dreadful slaughter, a prelude to what they would do to the Jewish community later on. Meanwhile, after the first slaughter, the Germans kept the Jews living in terror. The young people had run away. They felt that the Poles would not support the Jews during the German dark terror. They went over the Soviet border seeking to protect their shaken-up lives. Only old Jews and women with children remained in Ostrów. Life had withered. Fear hovered over the Jews without respite. The Jews paid dearly for the several days that the Russians ruled. For the few days of joy and demonstrations and for praising the Russian army for saving them from the German dogs, they were to pay a heavy price.
Ostrów became the corridor through which the Germans force-marched the Jews, hundreds of thousands of them, to East Prussia as slave labourers. The Ostrower Jews saw, through the cracks in their dark curtains, the Jews of Sokolów, Siedlce, Kalisz and Minsk being marched through their town. A multitude of tortured, starved and dusty Jews with uncovered heads, swollen faces and eyes downcast from the relentless beatings they received on the road. In the streets of Ostrów, in the market place many Jews were just left lying there. They no longer had the strength to go any further and delivered up their souls. The Ostrower Jews saw the slave-march of an entire people, the men-folk who the Germans were marching to Prussia, even fifty and sixty year old Jews.
Now I return to liberated Ostrów. The old market place, with its white and grey bricks, was spacious, clean and quiet, like a Sunday in the village when people go to church. And this was an ordinary Wednesday, a weekday. Once an eternal year fair ruled here. The farm wagons did not congregate here only on market days. The farmers would come to the brewery, the mill and to the shoemaker for a pair of boots, to the tailor for a suit, a wheel from the cart-wright. And the Ostrower iron businesses rang with iron pots; the farmers celebrated the harvest on the stoops in front of the stores. It was a show full of life.
And look what the city has become empty and dead. You see the same stores and bakeries, only instead of the sign Frydman you see a typical peasant name: peasant names, which from their sound show how recently the peasants were slaves. And today, they are businessmen. Their dream to take the Jewish positions, the eternal dream of the Pole vis-a-vis the Jew, has today come true. Is this why the city is dead? Why you do not see any farm wagons now? Why you do not see the farmers celebrate the harvest in front of the stores now? Why the iron pots do not ring?
I accidentally went by the tax office building. There was a long line of farm wagons on the street, loaded with sacks of grain. I ask a farmer, is this a market day? No, he says, not a market day. The farmers are bringing the sacks of grain to the tax office. This is how we pay our taxes now only in grain. And we must bring the grain ourselves right to the tax office. This is a bitter pill to swallow. It poisons the taste of the great victory they scored over the Jews. They took over the houses and the stores. In their rooms you will find Jewish clothing and Jewish furniture. They, the peasants, now trade in foreign currency, with hard which means gold, and the farmers differentiate between the gold bars: pigs, heads and birds and all sorts of other figures that are found on gold coins and each of them are priced at a different rate of exchange. But to the town, nothing comes. Together with the Jews, Ostrowa is dead, really a well maintained cemetery, where the houses and the stores are monuments over the graves of former lives. The farmer-businessmen stand in the stores like living ghosts.
They stay in the stores and wait for spring. They hope that spring will end the present arrangement in Poland. And when the arrangement ends, they hope the city will renew itself, find a new life. It will be as it was before when the Jews were here, only without the Jews...
When discussing the situation with an Ostrower businessman, he will also tell you that Ostrów is dead and the guilty ones are the Jews who according to him have taken over the government in Poland. They admit nothing, but it is a command, the city will come back to life.
Here, as in other towns, I go to the photographer's to find out if he kept any Jewish pictures from the time of the occupation. But I must not say that I am searching for Jewish pictures. I ask him about pictures of the occupation.
Which occupation do you mean? The photographer asks with an ambiguous smile.
I mean the German occupation I answer seriously as if I do not understand what he is hinting at.
This is characteristic of a large portion of the Polish population who consider the present régime to be an occupation government. They tremble, deadly afraid, because under the present government Jews can once again return to the town in force. And if they come back they will certainly reclaim their houses, furniture and businesses everything.
They tremble, afraid that the stolen riches they amassed will be lost in a dark nightmare.
I would not suggest that a Jew come here today. He will perhaps arrive here alive, but it is debatable whether he would leave here alive.
Located around Ostrów are scores of Jewish mass graves that nobody takes care of. In destroyed cemeteries are the trampled on mass graves of Jews who were shot to death during the Jewish relocation. The rest of the Jews with their wives, children, and elders were put to death in the gas chambers at Treblinka.
As told by his daughter Liba Lampert, Israel
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
Friday the 1st September 1939 when the Germans dropped bombs on the city one fell on the neighbouring house of the pharmacist Mieczkowski and destroyed it. Lejbl Grabina, the Brok shoemaker, was scared witless and ran from his house in the middle of the night. The children searched for him, not knowing what had happened to him, until they found him in the street, covered in blood. That was the day the Germans arrived in Ostrowa.
He said that the Germans had taken him to the City Hall basement and beat him mercilessly. When he lost consciousness, they poured cold water on him, and beat him again, until they saw that he had no strength left that he was having trouble breathing then they let him go.
After that he was in the hospital for the mentally ill in Choraszcz near Białystok where he died in 1939.
By Israel Emiot
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
In 1958, I went to Ostrowa, our shtetl. I went to get civil records, as I was planning to travel to America, to my family. I did not want to make this trip and was always tempted to postpone it. I had heard from many Jews in Warszawa that the shtetl had been destroyed. It seemed as if I would constantly be stepping in blood. Still imbedded in my memory are the seven gruesome days that I had spent in Ostrowa during the German occupation, from which I barely escaped with my life.
I arrived in my hometown on a Sunday. Before the war, Sunday was the day notable for the market, with the largest number of farmers who would flow in from the surrounding villages, but now the ruler of the shtetl is dead silence. I stand on the market place, which was once surrounded with four rows of Jewish houses. The right side, where Podbielewicz's business had been, Stasz's pharmacy (Kagan), Michel Tejtel's house and the east side of the market place, where the largest businesses in the shtetl were located, have been entirely erased burned down during the Nazi occupation. All that remains is the left side of the market and the western part, but the businesses have bars nailed on the doors and windows and in the Jewish houses, Poles live.
The house where the civil records office and archives is now located was Kloczke's brick house near the Promenade Garden (formerly in the little street where Dr. Taczanowski lived). I went to the archives to extract my birthday. I had the opportunity to come across so many familiar Ostrowa family names in the registers, but the officials told me that the people mentioned in the civil records books had been burned.
I spoke with several Polish acquaintances and I was made aware of the large disaster that had occurred in our shtetl. In Ostrowa, from so many Jews who had before the war marked our effervescent social life, now there are only two. One is not an Ostrower and has a Polish wife and the other is an Ostrower. During the Nazi murders, when they came to shoot the last remaining Jew from the shtetl, he ran away into the forest and stayed hidden there for several years. He came back half out of his mind. He is from the family, known in Ostrowa as the Cielaks. They made cooking oil in tiny Solna Street, which bordered Ostrołęka Street. When Gamulka went to the authorities, an entrepreneur had already taken over the oil business, but he gave it back. Gamulka lives alone in the adjoining house. I knocked on his door, but he was fast asleep. When he woke up, he was embarrassed to find me at the door. At first, he was very quiet, he felt guilty that he had not left here to live among Jews. He overcame his inability to communicate and soon fell on me with an accustomed embrace and poured out his heart to me.
He is an invalid, a broken man, where should he go? Here he makes a small income but on the other hand he lives constantly among gentiles, which is not good; at least the Poles do not harm him. Quite the opposite, they give him a nice living, but what comes of it? One should still be buried as a Jew.
I advised the Jews that they should sell everything and go to Israel. A spark of hope, a little smile creases their faces. With these same Jews I wandered around the shtetl. All the lanes were abandoned! All the houses were partially obliterated and what remained was terribly desolate, not salvageable. On ulica Rożan, where the large, old besmedresh and three shtiblakh Gerer, Aleksander and Amszynower once were and now nothing remains of them. The Poles say that the Nazis set fire to all the prayer houses. The Yeshiva and mikveh houses were also torn down.
In general, Ostrowa is a dead city. There is no large industry nowadays. The large conglomerates are in Zambrów and Ostrołęka. I counted in the entire shtetl a meager two dozen state stores and a dozen restaurants and coffeehouses, where people drink and eat. There are no stores there anymore.
The outline of the shtetl has been destroyed. Rynek (the marketplace) always strong, is finished. Several large houses that formed the corners of the streets have been razed. Really, there is not a trace remaining of Mieczkowski's pharmacy, that large three-story house. Michel Tejtel's brick house, which before the war was full of so much life and small and large businesses, is now dead. I stood for ten minutes at the brick house and nobody went in and nobody came out.
I searched here and there for a trace of all that had existed and had been so dear to me in my memories of childhood: The Promenade Garden, the alleys and sadzawke. Yes, the sadzawke is still there and the old centennial trees are still there. Only they have become entangled one in the other, turned backwards, like people who are angry and furious for the evil that the world did to them and buried in their own thoughts turn their backs to everyone.
Not far from here, in a small forest, is the mass grave of over six hundred shtetl Jews. There lies also my dear mother Chaja Sura.
I still remember her eyes filled with large tears when I left, her only son. How I pleaded with her to come with me across the border to the Soviet side and be saved...my poor mother did not take my advice. I am in G-d's hands she said, and you cannot escape from fate. But she was in a rush for me to leave. How difficult this parting was!
The Christians told me that on that day my mother had hidden in an attic until a gentile had pointed out her hiding place to the Germans. Where does one find the strength to go to that place where the last Jews from the shtetl were sacrificed?
But I went there, saw the long, long ditch that is overgrown with tall grass and shrubs. My tears fell on the mass grave, in my name and in the name of all my fellow townspeople who have scattered around the world.
Now the Christians are good, with tears in their eyes when they tell how the Jews were taken to be shot. A hundred German soldiers surrounded them and dozens of dogs.
But these same Christians, during the days when I lived under the occupation, laughed so when on Yonkiper we were chased from the botei medrashim and shtiblakh into the sadzawke to wash trucks there.
The taxi takes me back to Warszawa and I carry so much pain with me, for which I have no words; a pain which destroys my childhood and youth. A pain for sacred dreams which were so cruelly desecrated.
By Israel Emiot
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
|Out there is an entire world
And it is to you that I return first.
Homesick Jews, two in the town
Then a third, a mezumen.
I am here first, dear Jews,
Of course they do not call to Slikhos
Standing in the market place, three Jews
Ostrów Maz. Elul 5717 [August 1957]
Translated by Renée Saltzberg Paton
Extract from a letter written by Ostrower Sana Imber who visited Ostrowa in December 1959. Among other reports he wrote:
We made our first trip to the place where the Jews were murdered. The spot is not far from Ostrowa's orchard and also not far from the Warszawa forest. The Jews from Ostrów, Ostrołęka, Goworowo, Rożan and from other small villages were brought to a place on the right hand side of the highway as one travels towards Warszawa from Ostrowa. There is no memorial to mark what happened at this place. A peasant who lived nearby gave us a report.
On a very dark night, during a rainstorm, on the 11th of November 1939, at six o'clock in the evening, he heard the sound of people singing and the noise of motorcycles and Germans screaming.
He was curious and left his house to hear what was happening. Standing close by, he saw about eighty to one hundred men, with German motorcycles on both sides of them. The Jews were singing, apparently at the command of the Germans. They were standing not far from his house and in order to see what was happening, the peasant, paying no attention to the weather, found a convenient place to stand. He saw the Germans measure the ground with meter sticks and lay cord down in order to mark a straight line for the pit which they had ordered to be dug with the shovels brought in a truck that also carried weapons.
The Jews dug a long and deep pit. After digging, all the Jews were shot with machine guns except six men who were told to stand aside and were guarded by several soldiers. The majority of those shot fell directly into the pit. A German officer who was one of the leaders of this roundup ordered the six remaining Jews to throw the other bodies into the pit and cover them. After covering the pit with a little earth, the six Jews were ordered to pour lime over the bodies.
This took several hours. After this, the women and children were driven there by truck. According to the number of trucks, which had been used from about four o'clock in the morning, there remained altogether about 500 men, women and children. The six Jews worked and saw everything that happened. They were last to be killed.
The peasant did not recognize anyone because the people already looked very different from usual; they appeared to have been tortured in the cellar of the town hall. The darkness also prevented him seeing. After finishing the bloody work, the Germans sprayed carbolic acid and a tank leveled the earth so that there would be no mound. They planted seedlings.
By seven o'clock in the morning they had finished. But in fact it had not ended. Not worried about their safety from the German murderers, because nobody was supposed to find this place, some people were there and found it.
Who were they? Those who found the place were a second kind of robber, with different names, not German. What did they want to steal from the dead there? This is another story.
A day after the torture of the Jews, a rumour circulated that the Jews did not want to surrender their belongings: gold, precious jewels, diamonds and other valuables. Before they perished, they swallowed them. The robbers, who learned about this, found the grave of the Jews, dug them up, cut open the bodies and stomachs of the dead to look for their wealth. Then they covered them a second time. The dead lay for two days before the Germans left Ostrowa. The Germans did not want to leave any sign of their crime, so they dug up and removed the skulls, which was all that remained. They moved them elsewhere, no one knows where. Once again they leveled the earth at this place and planted new trees so that not only the Jews, but also the place would be erased.
As told by Ester Nutkiewicz-Kcyński, Israel
Translated by Renée Saltzberg Paton
Welwel Lipsker looked like a Pole (blond with blue eyes and spoke Polish and German well). He was accepted into the SS as a Polish recruit and while he was there he won the confidence of the commander of Siedlce.
At the same time he was a member of the Jewish partisans in the Wyszków forest, stood united with them and told them the secrets of the SS. He also removed weapons and sent them to the partisans. This lasted several years, until 1943, when he was discovered through a young acquaintance and the SS was informed that he was a Jew. They shot him, but he struggled with them and shot two Germans first.
By Rabbi Jakob Meier Pomeranc
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
The war between Poland and Germany began Friday, the 1st of September 1939. Tuesday, the 5th of September at midnight, a terrible explosion was heard. The Polish army had blown up the bridge that spanned the Bug River at Brok. (It was said that this was a provocation, a forged order, because later the Polish army did not have any way of returning and their heavy artillery was left behind for the Germans).
The police left town during the night. We had no idea what was happening. From the towns that the Germans had already taken and from the whole area, thousands and thousands of people were fleeing with packages on their shoulders. They were trying to escape to Warszawa, or to the eastern part of Poland, with the hope that the Germans would not get that far.
Friday, the 6th of September (24th of Elul), the last Polish soldiers left Brok and on Shabes, the German army arrived in Brok.
An officer called me to the market place and told me the stores must be opened, that we should not be afraid, they would pay for everything: do not raise the prices, as we know what they should be. I went around town pleading with people not worry about it being Shabes and to open the stores because this is a matter of saving lives. The Jews sat the entire day in the besmedresh and said Psalms. But when I saw that groups of soldiers were coming into the school, coming and going away, I called for Mincha and we went home. The Jews who arrived later made a second minion for Mincha.
Suddenly as I arrived home, an airplane flew overhead and saw how the military were gathered together in a certain place and soon bombs were raining down (later we found out that the Polish artillery was firing from Ostrów to Brok).
Afterwards the German soldiers went into all the houses and dragged people out. At my house we were full up with women and children. A soldier threw a hand grenade into the kitchen and if it had exploded there would have been a lot of victims. Luckily, a miracle happened and the grenade fell into a pail of water and never went off.
I was forced from the house by a soldier with a rifle who said, out criminal, or I shoot! I began to run, not having any idea where I was going. Running past the besmedresh, I saw that the Germans had surrounded it and had shot the Jews who had arrived for the second minion. The following are those who were murdered: Herszel Czernowin a butcher, Fiszel butcher's son-in-law; Jakob Meier Rotbard (the dark one) and Motl Holland. He was wounded and was brought to my house and laid on the bed. But when the Germans forced everyone out of the houses, he died in the courtyard of the Orthodox Church.
When I ran by the besmidresh, I saw that they were preparing to blow it up with dynamite. They forced everyone to the market place, near the Orthodox Church. The mass of people became larger and larger, the laments rose to the sky. Men pleaded with me to say confession with everyone. People were kissing each other, begging forgiveness from one another and saying goodbye. There was bedlam when a large military brigade arrived and trained machine guns on the assembled mass. The flames from the surrounding houses were growing and growing. Then they forced all the Jews and Christians into the Orthodox Church courtyard and an officer explained that partisans had shot a German soldier (this was a provocation they said the same in every town). A Catholic German soldier had told a Catholic priest that morning that he should take his property to the church, as they would set fire to the town that night. Virtually everyone deserved to be shot, but Hitler was generous and would spare their lives, but the property would be destroyed and therefore everyone should scream: Heil Hitler!
Also, a message was brought to us that there had already been a number of people killed here in Brok. Michel Finkelsztejn, the turner, was shot near the grain-mill while being dragged to the gathering place. Herszel Lewatowski; Mordchai the buther's son-in-law, Mosze Przestrzeleniec, a child of six (Mordchai butcher's grandson); Herszl Sztejfman, a wagon driver, was shot near his house; Chaim Jakob Zysk's Sztejnberg was blown up when his house was bombed and burned. Fala, the writer's wife, Szfaker and Hersz Icchok Rotbard's wife were also burnt in total ten people. It was difficult to remain sitting because of the heat everything around us was burning. If not for the trees that shielded us, we would have all been burnt as well.
At midnight, the Jews gathered around Israel Chaim Szub and in the courtyard of the Orthodox Church said the first slikhes.
In the morning we were ordered to leave town. We left in small groups, taking various roads to get to Ostrów. In the group that left with me about three kilometers from Brok, in the forest, three Jews were shot: Mendel Treblinski, Icchok Maier Szajko and Meier the butcher (Szmulek's) Przestrzeleniec. They also wanted to shoot me, but one of my children was with me and then they did not murder small children. Thanks to my child I was saved.
The entire Jewish population arrived in Ostrów and there was simply no place to stay. Ostrów was full with thousands of refugees. People were living in all the public buildings. The Germans scoffed at the Jews.
The trouble that Rabbi Zinger (Ostrower rabbi) endured from the Germans is a separate chapter. Every time they called him, there were more demands to be met. Every time they sent for him he was insulted and beaten and his beard was cut off.
The Jews still held on to the hope that Ostrów would belong to the Russians but the border remained outside Ostrów. There is no way to describe the torment and sadness when it was realized that Ostrów would remain German.
Worse, the Jews who had stayed in Brok in the few remaining Jewish houses were cut off. In the night Monday to Tuesday (28th Elul) the Germans blew up Meier Szmulek's house and shot Icchok Kuperberg, an eighty-five year old man, Zysze melamed and Izrael Hejmen (they wounded him, but he managed to get to Ostrów and died there 3 Tishre); Alter Einbinder's wife, Jakob Krupinski. From another house that belonged to Herszl Surek, they took Herszl Surek, Matti shoykhet, Jakob Migdal and his son Henich, Berisz Piwka, Arke Jozef Langlejb, Berisz Jabkowski (blacksmith), Szmulke Szmelcynger (Lejbl Szmelcynger's son), Mendel Sztrikmacher, Abraham Surek, Anszel Prawidlo, tailor, and a Jewish stranger. They were taken to the old castle and after great suffering were killed. On the road from Brok to Ostrowa the Germans purposely ran over Markil Wajsbord and he died on Rosheshoneh in Ostrów. Also the wife of Nach Burejkes was killed.
By Henoch Olfkowicz, Bnei Brak
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
The Germans arrived in the shtetl on Rosheshoneh 1939, stayed only a few days and returned during Sukes.
The first victim was a young man Moisze, Eli-Motl Michel's son-in-law from Jasieniec near Ostrowa. He was on his way to the Ger shtibl Shabes morning to pray when he was shot by a German and killed. The entire Jewish population attended the funeral.
Simchas Torah the Germans gathered all the Jews at the marketplace and ordered them to leave town the same day. People had to hire wagons and some had to go on foot to Ostrowa.
It was impossible to stay in Ostrowa, so we went to Zambrów, thirty kilometers from Ostrowa and crossed the border to the Russians (a kilometer from Ostrowa). We went through the forests because the roads were not safe.
From Zambrów we went to Białystok. There we heard that Golde Minkes who had a food store, had been buried alive by the Germans. Also the shoykhet Pinchus was buried alive, but the grave was not deep and the earth was soft so he was able to climb out. Pinchus then arrived in Białystok, was later sent deep into Russia and died there.
In Długosiodło this is what happened: When all the Jews had left for the Russian side, a pregnant woman about to give birth had stayed behind with her sister and father. Later her sister Rachel came back from the Russian side to show them the way to the border, but it was impossible to return to the Russian side.
The Germans took old man Nach's clothes, leaving him naked in the freezing cold and ordered him to walk from his house to the Church a long way to go in the cold while naked.
My family and I went deep into Russia and did not hear any more news about our shtetl.
By Szaul Gliksberg
Sefer Hzveos copyright Benjamin Minc (Dr. Israel Kloyzner)
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
Our town was on the edge of the Narew River, close to the border of East Prussia. We were very hard hit by the war. The entire population was ordered to evacuate, because the town was in a military zone where the Polish army was positioned.
We went to Długosiodło. We found a lot of refugees there, all from the border villages. The Germans began their attack on Rożan, Monday the 4th of September, and it lasted four days. On the fifth day, the Germans took the town. During the battle, the entire town was destroyed. After the battle, we did not have anything to go back to.
The Germans soon took Długosiodło and shot a Jew in the middle of the street. The same day about a thousand refugees arrived in the shtetl from Wyszków. They did not know if they were coming or going. Poor, small Długosiodło with great devotion managed to put a roof over everyone heads. They quickly organized a soup kitchen and served warm meals for all the needy. They could not provide for those who arrived afterwards and those unlucky ones left Długosiodło.
Shmini Atzeres when everyone was praying and celebrating a Yontef the SS arrived in town. Their leader stood in the market place and called out:
By two o'clock this afternoon all the Jews must leave town. Go to your friends on the other side of the border.
People started to pack. The Polish neighbours were going around the houses and checking out what would come into their hands after the Jews were forced to leave.
Exactly at two o'clock, we heard a bell ring. Everyone ran from town. The SS forced the Jews onto the road to the forest. In the forest everyone sat down to catch their breath. About twenty Jews, among them my father who had to watch his seven children so we would not get lost in the forest put us together in a circle and celebrated this yontef by singing ashrainu ma tov halkainu.
We trudged along for two days until we arrived in Zambrów, which at the time was in the Russian occupied zone.
By Izrael Sztejnberg
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
The Jewish settlement in Zaręby Kościelne, a small village on the road from Białystok to Warszawa, Ostrów district, was one of the oldest Jewish communities in Poland. Jews began to settle in Zaromb as early as the 17th century. One of the tombstones in the old cemetery is dated 1681.
Zaromb was a small, Jewish village. According to the official statistics for 1921, including the Jews from the surrounding villages, the total population was 1630 of which 380 were Polish and 1250 Jews, therefore 77 percent of the population was Jewish.
This was the only village in the area that had a Jewish village-elder. In Zaromb we lived a true Jewish existence. The shtetl had a number of scholars, Hasidim, learned men and also enlightened Jews. This village had a large number of religious, cultural and social institutions: two botei midroshim, shtiblakh, two cemeteries, Talmud Torah, Beit Jakob School, Jewish Public school, evening classes, theatre group, Jewish library, Gmiles Hesodim, Linat HaZedek, Tzentos and Toz.
In Zaromb all the Jewish political parties and young peoples organizations were represented. Thanks to the dedicated work of the Zionist youth organizations a large number of youngsters made aliyah to Israel and a significant number of them live on kibbutzim, where they are realizing their dream of building Jewish society through work and justice.
There was a summer camp in the area for the children's orphanages which were run by the well-known Jewish teacher and writer Janusz Korczak. This same forest around Zaromb in the years 1939-1940 would take its place in the migration of the Jews from Poland who fled the Nazi occupation to find shelter on the Soviet side of the border. Murderous tragedies were played out in no man's land near Zaromb.
Zaromb's Jewish community was the first to perish. In 1940 the German cutthroats planned to establish the death camp Treblinka near Zaromb. In order for their devilish plan to remain secret, the Nazi barbarians decided to liquidate all the Jewish communities in the surrounding area and thus the fate of the Zaromb Jewish community was sealed. On the 2nd of September 1941 the Nazi beasts with help from civilian Poles and police drove the Jews from Zaromb with their belongings and brought them to the forest. On that day the Jews of Zaromb walked their last road to a mass grave in the forest at the village of Tember.
The victims dug their own graves while enduring murderous beatings, then the adolescents in the group were shot and flung half dead into the grave. For the children, they did not waste a bullet and simply slaughtered them with knives and blunt instruments. When the grave was covered over, the muffled voices of some of the victims could still be heard. It is said that a Christian, a witness to the slaughter, noticed one of the victims who had been buried alive in this grave had managed to climb out and ran away. But he was later caught by the Germans and killed.
The Zaromber Landsmanshaft in Israel and other countries have perpetuated the names of the Zaromber martyrs with three achievements:
We mourn the destruction of Jewish Zaromb as a small ring in the destruction of Poland with over three and half million Jewish inhabitants, the heart and mind of world Jewry. We lament our Zaromber martyrs as part of the tormented six million Jews who were murdered in Europe.
By A.M. Orzycer, New York
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
In June 1947, I had barely obtained with difficulty, a stamp on my documents so that I could travel to the DP camp in the American Military Zone. This was where my family members had arrived after their emigration from Russia and Poland.
I arrive in Frankfort, getting a room that the military government allocated for me in a hotel. I travel through some destroyed towns, and arrive in Wetslar, a village with a pretty landscape and a fascinating river. I inquire at the camp, which is located not far from Wetslar, about how I can find my family. A Pole from Silesia, who had been in America for twenty years and is employed by the American Information Office, first tells me his life history and then connects me by telephone with a person from the camp committee, who tells me how to find my family.
A truck drives me to a tower near big black barracks. From the windows protrude stove pipes. I see many Jews men, women, children with worried faces. Near the tower uniformed Jewish Police with unshaven faces.
My dear father! How tormented he seems. My two sisters Miriam and Chana, and their husbands they have endured so much pain and trouble. My mother had died during their wanderings in Russia. My older sisters, Fejga and Brucha along with their husbands and children, had been killed by the Germans. I look at my father's face, which is full of grief. I look at my sisters and brothers-in-law...
A narrow room in a barracks, filled with cots and packages, with a small open space in the centre. Screaming from the neighbours and the children and me a visitor from London finds there half a family on accursed German soil.
I cannot take it all in. How was all this allowed to happen? Is this reality? Twisted together here, is the rest of the family, stricken and fugitive Jews.
I look through the windows into other large and small rooms, Jews from all over Eastern Europe are living here; each with his own disaster, but become one large family of suffering and misery in the DP camp in Wetslar.
(Notes from my diary)
By A.M. Orzycer
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
26 June: I do not know how they can sleep here. The close atmosphere, the constant hum, the din, the overcrowding, sweat and heat it is almost unbearable.
Today I am walking around and meeting the camp inhabitants all ordinary Jews. A lot of sincere Jews and all Jewish victims. I met many fellow Ostrowers and with such joy, as if we are related. Each one tells me a little of their survival experiences and their troubles.
At night I meet again the people in the room. My sister and husband in a corner, my father in another corner, a little further a woman and her grown daughter, again in a corner. For me, the guest, someone has delivered a squeaky bed next to the window.
I think about the corners and wonder how such Hasidishe Jews feel in such a public room with corners and no privacy whatsoever. How bitter it must be for these people to live under these circumstances.
27 June: Little by little I am getting acquainted with Jewish life in the Wetslar DP camp. Everybody talks about their surviving Hitler's hell and about Russia, about the N.K.V.D. (Russian secret police) and other weird abbreviations. They talk about corruption, theft in the factories, cooperatives and without end arrests, arrests
Some live here with what remains of their families, others completely alone. They cling to strange remnants of families in the rooms. There are few available women, probably the majority who fled to Russia were men, because the women were not afraid of the Germans
They come to get married and even to get divorced. They want to bring forth a new generation, a continuation of the Jewish people.
Tonight I am taking my landsmen to a farewell celebration in honour of a family departing, as all then illegally to Palestine. And in England stand Atlee and Bevin, who speak in the name of Socialism.
The attic is packed. Scores of men and women, all about the same age (between twenty-five and forty) who talk with love and enthusiasm about a Jewish homeland.
30 June: K. the representative of the American Joint in the Wetslar DP Camp is a forty-one year old bachelor, chubby and with a full, pleasant face. He wears a military uniform that seems out of place among these victimized Jews. Two Jewish women are in his office. They are begging, weeping and shouting, for him to intervene on their behalf with the American MPs (military police). They were caught selling packages of food and other products outside the camp on the black market. After thinking for a while, he said in his anglicized Yiddish: Why do they sell? They should not sell. They will not be thrown out and affirmed that he would do everything to protect them that was all he could do.
It seems that the Joint Americans possess little feeling for the Jews born in Europe. The work in the Joint for them is only a well-paid job.
9 July: Today an old woman from Berdiczew talks to me. She is in the camp with her daughter who was able to leave Russia with her husband, a Polish Jew. And because I come from England I must help to get her only son out of Russia. Then they will all go to Israel later a dentist tells me that a judge convicted him to years in Siberia, on the testimony of the N.K.V.D. and that in the end he bought, for 30,000 rubles, a document which shows that he belongs to the Russian Secret Police. With this document he went to find his family in Zamość and then joined the Polish partisans. Later, a landowner's daughter hid him and she is with him in the DP camp but now he whispers in my ear he would to have a Jewish wife
30 July: A beautiful, sunny morning, around nine o'clock, the majority nap, suddenly screams and wailing are heard. This DP camp of thousands of Jewish men and women has become one lament and commotion. They find out that several workers, who drive to work each morning in the nearby forest to cut down trees, have lost their lives in a collision between two trucks. Today, the funeral for those killed took place. The rabbi spoke, the camp chairman also spoke and hundreds of people accompanied the dead to their eternal rest under the DP camp.
These people have had a lot of experience and know how to get through so many deaths and afflictions.
Jeszaja Ostry-Dan, Mexico
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
Jeszaja Ostry-Dan (Dr. Austriak), writer and Radical Zionist, published a book in Yiddish and Spanish, writes for the Hebrew papers in Mexico and Israel; has been living in Mexico since 1940.
Lull me to sleep once again, Ostrowa, my hometown
And runs over the market and the ulica 3go Maja, to the corner
I remember your market place, when it had become old
I still remember the taste of a shtetl Yontef
Ostrowa, my dream city, what should I mention
|Mexico 5719 1959.|
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