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[Page 334]

The Jews in Sanok
at the Beginning of the Time of Destruction

by Chanoch Katz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The destruction of the Jewish community of Sanok, as in all communities of Poland, is considered to begin from September 1, 1939, the day of the outbreak of war between Germany and Poland. The beginning of the destruction could be seen and felt for approximately a year prior to the outbreak of the war as the government of Poland began to make the lives of the Jews difficult with new decrees in various areas. This started for all intents and purposes with the raising of the matter of shechita (ritual slaughter) by the Sejm representative, Mrs. Fristor, and her demand to forbid shechita completely. The anti-Semites found in this a cause to rally around and this act led to a full series of decrees. The situation worsened further when masses of Christian students began to paint over the doors of Jewish stores and did not allow Christians to enter.

The skies of Sanok Jewry covered over with dark clouds and sadness without hope for a better future. Frightening images that could not be expressed with the lips formed in the mind of every Jew in accordance with the adage “The heart does not express itself through the mouth”. Everyone felt that the ground was burning under their feet. On the one hand, there were the evil decrees against the Jews and anti-Semitic propaganda that increased daily and spread to all strata of Polish society. On the other, there was the relationship of enmity that deepened between Germany and Poland with the threats of Hitler towards Poland and towards its Jews in particular. The Jewish population had no possibility of taking measures to save and protect themselves. It was only able to pray and hope that G-d would be merciful and send His help to His people and that the pursuers of peace would succeed in averting war. However, to our great dismay, this hope was for naught. Tribulations poured down on the heads of the Jewish population without let up and became more serious with each passing day.

Even more painful was the relationship and behavior of the Polish people to all that was taking place. Instead of taking council about what to do in order to foil the plots of the Hitlerist demon whose arrows were directed to the Polish people and who prepared to conquer portions of its land, the Poles continued with their own fomenting and activities against the Jews. Their sole desire and thought was about how to make the Jews' steps difficult and to liquidate them both physically and economically. The hatred of the Polish population toward the Jews came to its pinnacle at the outbreak of the war between Germany and Poland. It expressed itself strongly even after the disgraceful retreat of Poland immediately after the outbreak of the war when within a few days the Nazis trampled their army and removed it from operation. The best of its sons and daughters were taken prisoner, its leaders were sent to prisons and concentration camps where they were cruelly tortured. Entire cities were destroyed, and more than half of the country was conquered by the Nazis. Clear thinking and straightforward logic would have required one to see the Jews as brethren in tragedy and partners in fate, to encourage them and awaken them to set up a joint front in order to fight against the Nazi conquerors who were a common enemy. However, their blinding hatred of the Jews perverted their thinking. Instead of helping them, they collaborated with the Nazis with the intent of assisting them in the murder of Jews. The Ukrainians and Poles would inform on the dwelling places of wealthy Jews and expose the hiding places of groups of peoples. Dark impulses won out over logic.

The first terrifying news reached us of about 600 people being taken out to be killed, including Yankele Kasner and David Salik[1], may G-d avenge their blood, in a forest next to Ustrzyki after they were forced to dig a grave for themselves.

[Page 335]

The news was brought to us by a Jew who escaped from there. At first, we treated his words with doubt and could not believe them. Only after a few days, when we saw with our own eyes the tribulation that was approaching us were we forced to believe that the terrible, cruel, Satanic thing which we did not want and were not able to believe was indeed the bitter truth. It is impossible to describe – and it would not be possible to believe – how went those days that we were under Nazi rule after the conquest of Sanok.

Towards the evening on the Sabbath of Selichot[2], we learned that the Germans were already next to Sanok and that they were about to conquer the city. Panicking from this terrifying news, people descended into the cellars. We went into the cellar of Naftali Guttwirt and waited for what was to transpire. At nightfall, caravans of motorcycles arrived from the direction of Zamkowa Street and headed to the center of the city. Following them was a long row of trucks laden with armed soldiers, tanks and all sorts of military equipment. This procession lasted for approximately a half an hour.

Night fell and the lights were put out. People were panicked and frightened. People took counsel, conferred and sought advice and plans about what to do – but nobody knew. Elderly people, women and children all took their places in the cellars. The youths stood guard. It was necessary to be alert and prepared for any ordeal that might come. A deathly silence descended everywhere, to the point where it was easy for us to hear the Nazi announcements of the conquest of the city of Sanok without firing one bullet. At this moment, the local government passed to a Nazi army governor. Immediately after the official announcement, we heard the voice of a Ukrainian who was obligating himself by oath to assist the new police force in all areas of life.

Nobody went to sleep that night. Even though everyone was broken and crushed (and every cellar was padded with suits and coats that were taken from the stores so that the Nazis would not pillage them), nobody thought of catching any sleep. People passed the time reciting chapters of Psalms and dirges and weeping over their fate. Tears choked their throats as they remembered that this was the first night of Selichot. A night that was filled with sublime holiness and exultation of the soul on all other years had this year turned into a night of agony, pain and despair.

The night passed quietly and without shots. Toward the morning, the men girded their spirits, left the cellars and hastened to the Beis Midrash to recite Selichot and to pour out the bitterness of their hearts before their Father in Heaven. This is what happened: in the middle of the prayers - a group of Gestapo soldiers appeared and dispersed the worshippers (who were enwrapped in their tallises and wearing their tefillin) to the center of the city. They forced them to perform all sorts of strange body motions, funny facial expressions and dances while they barked orders, hit them with the butts of their rifles and slapped them. One of the sadists approached Reb Michel Leibish Dorlich and cut off one of his payot and half of his beard. Surrounding these sadists stood masses of soldiers who were laughing at the cruel torture. After their wild game with the poor souls was completed, the Jews were sent off trembling with the fear of death. Obviously, this was the final public prayer service in the Beis Midrash for the Jews of Sanok.

The tempo of events and occurrences was very quick. During one week, decrees were issued against the Jewish population on a daily and hourly basis. Each decree was different and worse than the preceding one. Along with this, cruel events were perpetrated that make one's hair stand on end, such as the burning of the synagogues and Beis Midrashes together with the murder of two Jews – Yosef Rabbach and Yosef Falibker – who jumped into the fire of the Talmud Torah in order to save the Torah scrolls from burning. Both were shot on the spot by the accursed Nazis. Jews were snatched for forced labor that was so degrading as to remove their G-dly image. Financial punishments of astronomical sums were imposed upon the Jewish population.

[Page 336]

It was a heart-rending scene to see how refined and noble Jews such as Mendele Kanner and Reb Michael Leibish Dorlich were hauled from place to place to clean the streets, being forced to dance with the broom and kiss it during their work. The degradation, disgrace and curses inflicted by those beasts in human form would be accompanied from time to time with beatings to the point of causing bleeding. They miraculously withstood these tribulations and returned home broken in body but whole in spirit.

san336.jpg [23 KB] - Reb Yosef Rabach with his son
Reb Yosef Rabach
with his son next to him

May G-d avenge their blood

My father of blessed memory (he died on the 21st of Cheshvan 5703 / 1942 in Dzhalal Abad in Kirgizia where he is buried beside Rabbi Elazar Brumer of blessed memory, the head of the rabbinical court of our city) told me that a group of four men were sent – Reb Asher Berber, Reb Yehoshua Kluger, Reb Yitzchak-Kzak Scheinbach and Father of blessed memory – to work as janitors in the school in which the cruel troops were lodging. One of the murderers ordered them to do a thorough cleanup of the washrooms using their hands, without using any utensils. Reb Asher Berber, who did not hasten to perform this degrading task was beaten with murderous blows and fell unconscious with almost no life spirit. After he recovered slightly he saw that they were busy drinking so he seized the opportunity and fled. When the murderers realized that he was missing, they pursued him to his house and conducted a thorough search but did not find him. When they returned, they poured out their wrath on those that remained. The murderers found a bit of dust on the floor of the washroom which Reb Yehoshua Kluger was cleaning.

[Page 337]

They forced Reb Yehoshale to sprawl himself on the floor and clean it with his tongue. Reb Izak Shanbach was ordered to fill pails of water and bring them down to the yard and then bring them up to the third floor without any rest at all until his strength literally left him. My father, of blessed memory, who was not able to finish the work in due time was accosted with wild shouts stating that it was because of the Jews that they had to leave their wives and children and that the Jews caused the war. During this torture, the officer raised his gun to shoot and my father was saved from death only because of the intervention of an Austrian soldier. The murderers reached the pinnacle of sadism when they threw two dear Jews from among the honorable people of the city into a cellar with dogs that had been specially deprived of food for a few days. Of course, they met their cruel deaths within moments at the teeth of the incited dogs and were not brought out for a Jewish burial.

Thus did “life” continue on in our city until the 13th of Tishrei 5700 / 1939, the bitter and violent day of the decree of the expulsion of the Jews from Sanok. The command stated that by the next morning at 6 a.m. “All of the Jews must leave the city and whoever remains after that time would be shot on the spot”. It is very hard to describe in writing the mood and feelings of confusion and fear that overtook us that day. We began to discuss with each other and analyze the situation. None of the Jews of the city slept that night. People were busy sewing sacks of exile and packing food, linens, changes of clothes and tefillin. Weeping and lamenting could be heard. People wept on each other's necks over the bitter fate that overtook themthrough no fault of their own.

People looked over the furnished rooms. The furniture had been purchased over many years of hard work and savings and now everything would become ownerless within a moment and would be swallowed up by the beasts of prey.

At dawn on the morning of the eve of the Festival of Sukkot[3] 5700 / 28 September 1939, we left our homes, each person with a sack over his shoulder, and joined the stream of masses of wanderers. Every person bore his own burden of agony and despair, not knowing where to turn nor what the future had in store.

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Translator's Footnotes

  1. The yizkor book incorrectly gives the name of David Salik, consistent with immediate reports of the incident, but it should read Mendel Salik (note by Mark D. Salik, translator coordinator) return
  2. The Selichot services begin on the Saturday night preceding Rosh Hashanah, or one week earlier if Rosh Hashanah falls early in the week. The Sabbath of Selichot refers to the Sabbath after which the first Selichot service begins. return
  3. The festival of Sukkot falls on the 15th of Tishrei. return


[Page 337]

With Patches on the Body[1]

by A. Sockower (From “Mireh the Teacher”) May 10, 1943.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

With patches on the body, cut in strips,
They drove us into the ghetto, they went through the streets.
The houses were attended to, taking leave of them forever
Every ordinance came with stony words.

The elderly men march with tefillin like crowns,
A calf walks together with a village Jew,
A woman clutches a dying, lame person in one hand,
And in the other - a bundle of wood for the way.

_________

Translator's Footnote

  1. This short poem does not have a title in the text. The first words are used as the title. return


[Page 338]

Sanok During the First Days of Nazi Occupation

by Yehudit Rosenblum-Tratner

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The war had already been in progress for a week. The most surprising thing was the masses of refugees moving from the west to the east, and the remnants of the Polish army also retreating eastward in a disorderly fashion, and only partially armed. The windows were covered with black paper or blankets in accordance with an ordinance of the Polish authorities, so that no ray of light would shine outward and show the path to the city to the German airplanes. There was also a case where a Ukrainian citizen, a member of the militia, suspected that a Jew purposely scratched the window in order to help Germans locate the area. The city was immersed in darkness. Some Jews left the city. We waited to see what would happen. The date was September 8, 1939, the second Sabbath after the outbreak of the war. Strange movement was felt in the city. In the afternoon, an edict was proclaimed for civilians not to panic when they hear explosions, for the bridge to Olchowca was going to be bombed by the retreating Polish Army. A meeting of several civilians was arranged in the city council, and after some time everyone came out with weapons in their hands. When I asked Mr. Arye Werner, may G-d avenge his blood, about the meaning of the situation, he answered as follows: “They are opening the gates of the prison; at this moment we do not have any government; the army and the police have left; and we are organizing a civilian defense against hooligans.”

A bit of time passed, and I suddenly saw the “Civilian Defense” running back to the city council. When I asked again for the meaning of the situation, they answered us that “the Germans are approaching, and they are already at the entrance to the city. We are returning our arms lest they capture someone armed.”

The night passed with us all crowded together. Of course, none of us even thought of lying down to sleep. When we looked outside in the morning, we saw the Rynek (town square) filled with men of the German Army. A military vehicle was in the square. The soldiers were well-dressed. They looked healthy and vigorous. It was evident that they had not yet become tired, since they had not yet fought. This was the Blitzkreig in the full sense of the word. They crossed all of Poland within one week, and apparently without any need to use their weapons. We trembled with fear. The first soldiers entered the courtyard (at first they were afraid to enter the houses) and asked for permission to wash. We brought out washing and shaving implements. As they were bathing, they said that they have nothing against the Jews, they were only fighting against the Capitalists and the Communists, but “woe to anyone who starts up against us.” One of them said, “In Krosno, they shot at us from one house. Believe us, no trace is left of that house, and you should not be envious of its residents.”

There was quiet in the city for several days. These were the days of Selichot[1], and when the Jews saw that there was calm in the city, they went out one morning for the services and Selichot. Suddenly, through a window facing the small garden that was next to us, I saw several Jews dressed in their tallises with their hands in the air, with the Germans behind them. I will never forget that scene as long as I am alive! That moment I said to myself that if the opportunity to leave comes to me, even with empty hands, I would seize the opportunity without hesitation, so long as I never see a German face again.

This time the Germans only did a “rehearsal”: They jumped upon us like beasts of prey and searched for one man who, according to them, escaped to this house. They did not find him. This was Mr. Raff, the son-in-law of Reb Moshe Schneebaum who lived in that house. He indeed succeeded in hiding behind the door leading into the staircase. The Germans simply could not find him. However, from that time, his fate was sealed, and he later fell into their hands.

[Page 339]

Slowly, the Germans began to display their true colors: Their demands increased, and they turned to the Jewish communal each day with new demands. Aside from this, they demanded people for various jobs that, aside from being backbreaking in their own right, were accompanied by degradation and disparagement. There were occasions where people returned from work with the shape of a swastika etched into their cut hair.

Several more days passed. One night we were woken by large flames that were almost licking at our window. This was the fire of the synagogue buildings in the city. That night, the Germans bunt almost all the synagogues in the city, aside from Yad Charutzim. That same night, we found out that two Jews had jumped into the synagogue of the Talmud Torah building in order to rescue the Torah scrolls from the building. The Germans cruelly shot them while they were in the synagogue, literally in the flames. May G-d avenge their blood!

The next day, a delegation of women approached the German city governor, but were received coarsely. He accused the Jews of provocation. He attempted to convince the delegation that the Jews themselves set the synagogue on fire in order to place the blame upon the Germans.

After this incident, of course a pall of fear fell upon the people of our city. The Days of Awe were approaching, and our people did not forgo public worship. They gathered in private homes and worshipped in every place that it was possible to do so.

In the interim, terrifying news spread. We began to hear about the cruelty of the Germans. Jews were captured in the streets and forced to perform all sorts of menial jobs. For example, I saw the elderly Reb Hirshele Wrobel sweeping the streets. Dr. Greenspan's wife was sent to the school - where the German soldiers were housed - in order to clean the toilets. People were also sent to do other similar tasks. Perchance, I saw through the entranceway to our house a German shooting Bamkes to death. He called out “Halt!” to him, and when he did not respond, either because he did not hear or did not realize that it was directed to him, he shot him. I saw how they brought an old man and a girl, who were not natives of Sanok, to the city hall. A few minutes later I heard two shots.

Two days before Sukkot, An order was issued from the German authorities via the Jewish community to go from house to house and request that every household send a representative of the house to the city council the net day at 4:00 p.m. According to the announcement, they were apparently preparing to arrange work, so that those who were not required to work at a specific time would be able to go out to the street without fear. I was among those who, together with a partner, was to go round to convince people from several households on specific streets to go to the city hall. Of course, we did this with full innocence, with full belief that this matter was related to work arrangements. At that time, I worked in the offices of the communal council at various jobs. Even though I was not required to go to the city hall, I went nevertheless in order to find out what the demands were, and what the reason that I urged people to go was. My eyes darkened as I approached the yard of the city hall. People were already standing in rows. A German captain wearing a helmet with the “Totenkopf” symbol[2] upon his head was circulating around. He had the appearance of a professional murderer, and was busy ensuring, with the assistance of the whip in his hand, that the lines were straight. A silence pervaded, as if nobody was alive there. After some time, the captain went from person to person asking for people's trades. I did not hear the questions, for I was standing at the side with Melech Ortner, may G-d avenge his blood. However, I did hear “right-left, right-left.” After this selektion, the meaning of which we did not know at the time, he issued his verdict. Those to the right were to appear before 8:00 a.m. the next morning here at the city hall to be sent to various jobs. Those to the left were to be deported from the city the next morning. Everyone could take

[Page 340]

anything they wanted aside from money and jewelry, even furniture, provided that it fit into a backpack or a suitcase. They were to be deported to Lemberg, and from there to “Palestine-tine-tine…” As I write these words 28 years later, that despicable face appears before my eyes, and the echoes of that German murderer with his mocking words still ring in my ears: “To Palestine-tine-tine.”

It is easy to understand the influence of this sudden decree upon the spirit of the people. In the meantime, it was close to 7:00 p.m., the time of the curfew when it was forbidden to appear on the street, and people had to hurry home. There were already tables next to the exit, and people separately recorded the names of those who had to leave and those who had to appear the next day.

It was clear to me that I was among those who had to leave the city. We spent a night, the likes of which we had never had before with respect to tension and suffering. We placed items into the sack and removed them. Who knows, why should we drag things with us. Perhaps they would liquidate us before we left the city, and we would no longer need anything anymore?

Early the next morning, we did not wait until 7:00 when we were permitted to go outside. At sunrise, caravans of people walking could be seen on the streets, some with suitcases, and others with backpacks, some with young children and others holding up an old man or woman. They were walking in one direction, toward the descent toward Olchowca. They crossed the provisional bridge that the Germans had built in place of the bombed out bridge. That same murderous captain was standing next to the bridge. He asked what was in the sack, and at times he would demand that a suitcase or bag be opened. He would remove something that he liked, and permit the person to cross. In Olchowca, still with the Germans, we rested a bit and then continued on our way toward Lesko. We arrived there at evening-hundreds of people walking on foot from Zarszyn, Rzeszów, Krosno, and other places. On the first night of the festival of Sukkot we were already refugees. The rabbis allowed grocery stores to be opened and bread to be baked to sell to the refugees. Two more days passed. The Germans retreated in accordance with the prior agreement between themselves and the Russians.

That was the way we left Sanok without imagining that we would never see it again. A new era of our lives opened up - life with the Russians in Ukraine and in foreign Siberia.

Photocopy page 340: The Jews were only allowed to move with a permit, which was not always granted.[3]

_________

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Penitential prayers recited on the week prior to Rosh Hashanah. return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Totenkopf return
  3. The photocopy is a sample of such a permit issued in Sanok on March 2, 1942 to the Jew Jakob Gurfein return


[Page 341]

The Great Beis Midrash Goes Up in Flames

by Henoch Katz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It was the night of Shabbat Shuva, 5700[1]. The darkness of Egypt pervaded outside. Since the German invasion, a curfew was declared, and there was definitive darkness throughout the entire city during all hours of the evening and night. Every Jewish home was closed and locked, without anyone entering or exiting, and a deathly pall enveloped all those inside.

The residents of the house would wander around like sleepwalkers, without uttering a word. A sort of terror pressed upon the heart. The atmosphere was tense, and the spirits were oppressed, as if we sensed that something was about to happen. We approached the window from time to time and cautiously lifted the blind to see what was happening outside. At 7:00 p.m., we noticed a large light emanating from the Beis Midrash. We thought that the accursed Nazis found a place of entertainment for themselves there. We each returned to our dark corners with hearts palpitating, with a hope and a prayer that this “evening prayer” that we have lately been experiencing each evening and night would become the prayer “would it be morning”[2].

After about half an hour, we again approached the window to check what was happening outside. This time, we were able to ascertain that the light we had seen was no ordinary light. The heart began to beat strongly. The feeling grew that something terrible had taken place. This feeling gave no rest. We again approached the window, and then we saw flames bursting through the windows of the Beis Midrash, turning the darkness of night into the light of day. … Hundreds of Nazi soldiers stood around the Beis Midrash, looking with faces filled with joy and satisfaction at the destruction of Judaism and its sanctuary. As the fire quickly grew, German soldiers came, knocked on the doors of the houses, and shouted to all the residents of the house to prepare buckets of water and to extinguish the fire in the event that fire approached the houses. I seized the opportunity to escape to the house of Reb Shlomo Shub[3] who lived next to us.

I did not find Reb Shlomo at home. His wife said that he was in the garden. When I entered the garden, I saw a terrifying, heartrending sight. Reb Shlomo was sitting on the ground without sensing my presence, and I heard a dialogue between him and our Father in Heaven. He shouted, “Master of the Universe! How can You watch what is happening here? This Beis Midrash that absorbed the Torah and prayers of fine, G-d fearing Jews as well as simple folk who poured their hearts out with sublime devotion throughout the generations, the place where the sound of Torah did not cease even for one moment, is being destroyed by the impure murderers without any reaction, as if, Heaven forbid, there is no Judge and no justice.” As he was speaking, he rested his head on against the tree upon which he was sitting and wept like a small child who was attempting to have his request filled through his tears. When he noticed me, he shouted to me, “Henoch, look and see, this is the Torah and this is its reward?!” I attempted to calm him somewhat, so that the Germans would not hear his weeping, for if they did, we would be lost. Reb Shlomo was unable to be consoled. On the contrary, his screams grew louder from moment to moment. He began to hit his head with his hands as if, Heaven Forbid, he had taken leave of his senses. I tried once again to convince him to stop shouting, for this would cause trouble for us; however, once again I did not succeed. With a silent blessing of “Shabbat Shalom” I took leave of him, and returned home crawling on the ground, filled with fear and trembling from what I my eyes had witnessed and my ears had heard. Was this indeed Reb Shlomo Shub, the great scholar who was not only expert in Torah and Jewish studies, esteemed and deliberate - but also a great believer and man of faith?

When I reached the yard of our house, I saw the Beis Midrash enveloped in flames. We were forbidden to stand outside, and we were unable even to follow what was taking place in the city in general. At dawn, we saw the walls of the Beis Midrash blackened with smoke, standing as monuments to the destruction of Sanok Jewry and its sanctuaries.

Throughout the days, I witnessed the continuation of the process of destruction and annihilation that was wrought by the impure hands of the enemy of our splendid community - destruction without rebirth and loss without replacement.

Regarding Reb Shlomo Shub - I never saw him again…

_________

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Shabbat Shuva is the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The year is 1939. return
  2. See Deuteronomy 28:67. return
  3. Here, Shub here may mean that he was a shochet (ritual slaughterer) rather than being his official surname. return

 

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