We waited up for my father all night. No one slept. Everyone else had returned from work, but he had not. In the morning, we were told that our father had been murdered. My mother was left to raise six children.
During the first actzia, I succeeded in fleeing the ghetto for a nearby village, where a Gentile woman, a family friend, lived. I had hoped that my mother would be here as well. The Gentile woman didn't recognize me, I was so filthy, but eventually she allowed me to stay the night.
Afew hours passed and her son, a Ukrainian policeman, returned from his shift. She told him about me and he wanted to turn me in to the Germans. She and her husband pleaded with him not to turn me in. I slept that night under a bench and fled the next day. I wandered the fields for a day and returned to the ghetto. There I learned of the deaths of my mother, my sister Rivka and my five year old brother David.
Several months passed and the ghetto faced another actzia. We hid in our usual places, but the Germans found us using dogs. They brought us out in our threadbare clothes, into the heavy snow and the bitter cold. They brought us to Tarnopol, intending to put us aboard a train for the death camps. For some reason, we were put on a cart, pulled by a tractor. My brother and I decided to escape, no matter the cost.
We jumped and fled. Back towards Skalat. It was bitter cold. We avoided the road and sank in the mud. We could not stay on the road, for it was full of German traffic.
We reached the town and asked for shelter with one of the Gentiles, but he refused. Another agreed to take us in, after we promised to give them all our money and belongings that remained in the ghetto.
In the morning we left. We wandered the fields for a full day and returned to the ghetto that night,
One actzia after another, until finally the last one. The Germans declared the town Judenrein and any survivors were required to report to the Gestapo. My brother Yaakov and I wandered among the Gentiles in the villages and they kept threatening to turn us in. We ate weeds and wheat from the fields. Occasionally a piece of stale bread from one of the gentiles. We slept on a pile of straw.
One morning we awoke to the sound of voices speaking German. The had set an ambush for a group of Partisans believed to be hiding in the same stack of straw. Fortunately the Partisans did not come that night. If they had, they would have been burned in the straw and we with them. When the Germans saw that the Partisans had not come, they left.
Our hunger grew from day to day. We were filthy, tired and our nerves were on edge. We decided to leave the area of the town and head for the villages, where we were not known. I approached the village of Piznanka, where, I saw a farmer on horseback. I stopped him and asked if he needed a hired hand. He didn't, but suggested I accompany him as perhaps other villagers might. On the way he asked where I came from. I told him that I was from Tomachew Lubelski, that my name was Ivan Kubelczyk. I had left my widowed mother with many children and run away from the man I worked for, because of his cruelty.
When we reached the village, night had fallen. Fortunately, we met a farmer who needed a hand. He asked me about my family and I told him the same story. It convinced him and he hired me. I helped with all the farm work. The farmer's mother was from my hometown of Skalat and she owned many fields in that area. He worked those fields and gave his mother a portion of the crop. When harvest time came, the farmer had me accompany him to Skalat. I was afraid someone might recognize me, but I had no choice.
It happened as I had feared. By the bridge at the entrance to Skalat, a group of boys - goyim who knew me - shouted that I was a Jew from Skalat. The farmer looked at me and kept on going. When we reached his mother's house, he told her what had happened. They summoned me and questioned me - was I really a Jew. I denied it and the farmer confirmed that I behaved like one of them. They believed me. On the way back to the village, the farmer insisted upon the truth, that I mustn't be afraid of him. I revealed to him that I was a Jew.
For two weeks he continued to treat me well. Afterwards he began to change. he didn't give me enough to eat and he beat me. I wanted to run away, but it was autumn and very cold. Eventually, he himself decided to throw me out.
I wandered among the other villages until I found another farmer who would take me in, but he insisted that the first farmer give me clothing. I had no choice but to go back to the first farmer to ask for clothing and to my surprise he suggested I stay. I stayed with him, because of the cold winter, but I remained in torn clothes and bare feet.
A peddlar woman used to visit the village and she needed a boy like me. I told her about my circumstances and she took me to her village, about thirty kilometers from Skalat - a village called Kozivka. I worked hard and in return received meager food and drink. Every day I went to bring milk and on the way would run into local boys, around my own age. I became friendly with one of them. He told me that his uncle needed a worker like me and that perhaps I would have a better time of it. I considered it. but the uncle refused to take me because I was too scrawny. Eventually he did take me on and my conditions imporved. I stayed with him until the Red Army came.
Afterwards, we returned to our own apartment and found looting and destruction. You could see the fear in Mathilda's eyes. Her joy had gone forever. She suddenly became an adult. She was not allowed to play outside and was always near me. Pela (Cipora) was a year old and, of course, understood none of this.
My younger daughter Pela grew up in abnormal conditions, but she was bright and art age three understood the situation. One night, before the April actzia, I came home with the feeling that an actzia was about to take place and said that we must wake the girls. Pela said that she was not asleep, but that we must wake Mathilda. We mustn't forget her, she said. As it happened, our bunker was discovered and we were brought to the main synagogue before being killed.
As a child, I saw the synagogue as a holy place, but now it was shocking. People were drained, half-wild, alternately praying and wailing. In their travail, they asked that the earth open and swallow us all. There was a small attic in the women's section and I decided to hide there. there was no ladder, but Moshe Katzlov helped me and the girls join tens of others. It was hard to convince the other adults, who feared that my daughters would make noise and give away our secret place. I promised that my daughters would remain silent. The girls lay day and night without making a sound.
The order was given, Disrobe! All the clothes into a pile! The Jewish policemen urged and hastened them. Anyone who objected was beaten. A carpet of colored paper spread across the ground - paper currency torn in pieces by the Jews, to prevent the murderers from profitting. Wails of children and cries of Shema Yisrael mingled with screams of Hurry! Hurry! and the pile of clothing grew higher. Men, women and children stood unclothed as newborns.
Berl the Rabbi's son refused to disrobe. A German struck him on the head and he fell bleeding. A few kicks to the stomach. He cried the Shema prayer and his soul left him as his body lay on the bloodied clothes. A German rolled him to the edge of the grave and hit the body once more as it fell. Berl the Rabbi's son - the first of the murdered of Skalat - lay in the grave wrapped in a shroud of red, clutching his tefillin which never left him.
|Rosa Pickholz (second from left)|
Suddenly Rosa Pickholz, a teacher in the high school, arose and turned to the naked crowd. I call on all of you to be brave. We are innocent people! You are not people, interrupted the Sturmfuhrer and slapped her cheek. Now you may continue speaking, whore!
She continued - her wrath directed at the heads of the murderers. Your end is near. Forests of hanging await you all! The German couldn't tolerate that. A bullet entered the heart of the naked speaker and she fell to the ground.
Our thanks to the Municipality of Petah Tikva and the Yaakov Kroll Elementary School for permission to present this memorial.
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