Touching and saddening rumors coming from cities and towns near Sokoly disturbed the tranquility and contentment of our townspeople, towns where, during the first months of the Germans' entry, the entire Jewish population was exterminated. Groups of Jews were expelled from Lomza and Zambrow, and where they disappeared to was unknown.
The most shocking and depressing impression upon our townspeople was made by the destruction of Tiktin [Tykocin, about 25 kilometers from Sokoly]. In the beginning, the Jews of Tiktin praised their Germans for the way they treated them. Suddenly, on 2 Elul [25 August 1941], the Germans ordered the Jews of Tiktin to gather in the town square and line up in rows. The congregation of Jews, numbering about 3000 souls, including Rav Domta and the Shochet, Shmuel Barash, filled the square. Each person was allowed to take a suitcase weighing up to 25 kilograms.
At the gathering place, they were informed that they were being transferred, apparently to the Bialystok ghetto. From the town square, the Tiktin people were taken to the nearby village of Zawady, a place where eight Jewish families lived at that time. The Germans joined the Jews of the village to the Jews from Tiktin and brought them all back to Tiktin, to the courtyard of the synagogue. There, they divided the Jews into groups and loaded them onto vehicles. The direction in which they traveled was toward the forests of Lupuchowo.
At that location, the robbers had prepared deep and wide pits well in advance. Poles from the area were informed to tell that the pits were intended to store kerosene. The good Germans of Tiktin threw their victims into the pits of Lupuchowo. Some of them were shot to death, but most of them were buried alive.
The destruction of Tiktin shocked all of us in Sokoly to the depths of our souls, after we had previously hesitated to believe general rumors about the mass murder of Jews at a location farther away.
Here, Dovka Goldberg was wailing for her sister and her family who had been murdered in Tiktin.
Hershel the fisherman, a respected Jew from Tiktin, moved with his family before the war to live in Bialystok. There he acquired wealth and position. His sons and daughters acquired a high school education. Eight days before the destruction, Hershel returned with his family to Tiktin. His two lovely daughters brought bridegrooms from Bialystok with them. On the day of the killing, the daughters went out arm-in-arm, as if to dance, with their young men, adding a tragic layer to the valley of killing.
The Jews of Sokoly knew, without a doubt, that they should no longer depend upon the promises of the good and generous Germans.
After the destruction of Tiktin, more rumors of bad news arrived in Sokoly. One rumor was more terrible than the next .
Refugees from Jedwabne and Radzilow arrived in Sokoly, who were miraculously saved from death. They were first-hand witnesses to all the terrors of hell and felt the heat of hell on their flesh. With the help of local farmers, the Germans gathered the Jews of these places, with the rabbi and leaders of the community at the front, in the market square. At first, they beat them cruelly and forced them to wrap themselves in their tallitot, to jump and dance, accompanied by singing. All this was done under an unceasing flood of lashes from cudgels and rubber whips. At the end, they pushed all the Jews, while beating and kicking them, into a long threshing house and set it on fire with them inside. This was the end of Jedwabne and Radzilow.
A deep and fearsome worry regarding the fate of the Jews of our town moved the representatives of the community to turn to the Amstkommissar and express to him their worry and fears with regard to the near future. The German, whose wishes were always satisfied by the Judenrat, promised with a wily smile that as long as he would be in Sokoly, nothing bad would happen to the Jews. He would not allow the Gestapo to harm them. His promises calmed the mood a bit, in opposition to the Angel of Death, who was frenzied and going mad. And again rumors, this time calming ones: The mass murder will stop in all the districts on April 12th. Apparently Goering had said that the Jewish labor force should be exploited as much as possible.
Whereas this date was already behind us, we were entertained by the hope that a miracle would still occur for us and that G-d would have mercy on the sheep of his flock and send us redemption and a downfall to those who hated us.
Of all the residents of Tiktin, a total of only 120 souls survived, who had succeeded in fleeing to the forests and other hiding places. Their Polish neighbors exploited the situation and robbed those who fled of all their possessions. After a certain length of time, when the searches for refugees from Tiktin ceased, a few of them found temporary shelter in Sokoly.
In the town of Rutki Kossaki the Germans exterminated 1,500 Jews and only 130 survived. Sixty of them worked in the Jezewo quarry and the rest of them in various occupations recommended by Poles in Rutki. A number of survivors came to Sokoly.
In Wysokie Mazowieckie, which the Germans burned down back in 1939 and the Soviets partially restored, the Jews were locked into a ghetto quarter. They believed that this would be good for them and that they would no longer be abandoned to anyone who wanted to scheme against them. It is interesting that they even supported the ghetto's establishment with their own money.
The economic situation was not so bad in the Wysokie Mazowieckie ghetto. Our brothers learned to smuggle food from the villages, and the craftsmen were loaded with jobs ordered by the Poles. Grocery items were cheaper than they were in Sokoly.
There were people in our town who were former residents of Wysokie Mazowieckie and were familiar with the town. They would go there every day, a distance of 14 kilometers both ways, in order to smuggle in meat, oil and various food items that were sold there in the ghetto at very low prices.
Among the smugglers were Yerachmiel Weinkrantz (the son of Barish the shochet) and his four sons, some of whom were adults. Slowly the fear of being expelled from Sokoly and Wysokie lessened. Several weeks passed without any expulsions of major proportions. Here and there, cases of Jews being murdered were reported. In Lapy, the Germans shot 13 dignitaries of the Jewish community who were innocent of any crime and far removed from politics or the idea of Communism or even a hint of supporting it. Thus, Fishel Rachelsky, wise and respected in the community (the son of Shmuel Martzibur), his comely wife, his two, pretty daughters and his charming and intelligent son, all were shot to death.
Another victim was Frankel, a warehouse worker during the Soviet period, responsible for the export of products of the cooperatives in Lapy and the neighboring villages. Before the war, Frankel owned businesses. He was pleasant to everyone; he was good-looking and his deeds were as good as his looks.
The Germans also shot the intelligent Tannenbaum, a rent collector for the Soviets in Lapy.
The last ones of this group who were killed were Chanuni Asher, in whose house they found hidden merchandise; Yaakov Sarbrulow, an honest and innocent young man; Weinberg, the owner of a steam mill in Lapy, and his two sons. The list of victims on that day was completed with the owner of a shoe shop, in whose house they found a red scarf.
The barbarians threw their victims into swamps deep in mud. Over a period of time, the families of the victims were able to bring the bodies of their dear ones out of the swamps to Jewish burial in Sokoly. There was no Jewish cemetery in Lapy, and they were accustomed to burying their dead in Sokoly. The relatives paid a fortune for the transportation of the bodies.
After the recent events in Tiktin, while the blood of its victims was not yet dry, the murders in Lapy shocked every Jew in Sokoly. All of them knew the Lapy victims, who were cut down so suddenly and without reason.
Again, a few weeks passed, and a new decree was issued. The Germans in Sokoly commanded the Jews to dig a deep and very large pit in the cemetery. Horror and a deathly terror possessed our Jews. Who was wise enough to guess who was in line for annihilation this time?!
It is true that we worried that sooner or later the Germans would scheme against the elderly from the old people's home who had come to Sokoly from the Mazury court and were staying in the prayer houses. Someone remembered that some time previously, the elderly had been photographed and that something was cooking. They also wondered about the need for a pit measuring tens of meters. From this grew the concern that we were facing mass murder.
On the Sabbath of Penitence, the rioters announced that the time had come to eliminate the elderly. In Sokoly, they especially mourned the fate of David, one of the 25 who were sentenced to death, a paraplegic who came from a very respected family in Bialystok, and another by the name of Yankel, who was known already in his youth as a genius with a very sharp mind, learned in Gemara and the commentaries, knowledgeable in world literature and a walking encyclopedia. In a learned community, he gave sermons on Torah matters interwoven with quotations from our Sages, and when he spoke to the youth, he shot out quotations from Achad Ha'am, Sokolov, Max Nordeau and others. There were a number of stories and anecdotes. He was accustomed to enter fixed places at specific times, in order to satisfy his hunger with a bowl of soup, for which he gave thanks with many blessings.
The Judenrat did not dare to warn the elderly and tell them to escape from the danger, because of fear of the Germans' reprisal. Nevertheless, information about what was going to happen reached a small number of young disabled persons, among them Yankel. HaRav Rabbi Rosenblum even showed him a place to hide for a number of hours, so that when the danger had passed he could be brought to Bialystok in a wagon.
Yankel ran to the women's section in the beit midrash so as to take his personal belongings, a small kettle and a package with a striped robe that he had received as a gift from someone. He guarded this package as if it were an expensive treasure (shrouds). He arrived near the beit midrash and immediately fell victim to the gendarmes. They threw him into one of the wagons that were standing some distance away.
The Germans calmed down the unfortunates in the heap in the wagons as if they were going to travel to Bialystok, but Yankel understood the situation and cried out, Torah, Torah, where is your protection? The Torah is life to those who keep it. Six times I learned the entire Gemara, the books of the Mishna and said the midnight prayers. Is this Torah and is this its wages? What is my crime and what is my sin that I should fall into the hands of murderers? Thus Yankel wept and cried. In the cemetery, they shot him six times before he rolled into the pit. The Poles who watched what was being done even shed a tear and were shocked by his heart-rending cries. A Christian woman, Krinski, the wife of the electrician, fainted.
The Jews who had to cover the mass grave could not close their eyes for many nights, nor could they forget the terrible murder for even one minute.
Slowly, slowly, things calmed down and we went back to the ordinary daily routine we had become accustomed to many months ago. We accepted our fate, that we had been condemned to destruction. The Germans exploited us and our strength for hard labor and we suffered shame and a life of slavery full of degradation. They could manage to destroy the remainder of Israel a few minutes before midnight, before the end of the war, or as Hitler, may his name be blotted out, expressed it in one of his speeches:
The end of the war will come with the end of the Jews in Europe; the miracle of Purim is over and they will no longer celebrate it.
The Germans are confident that they are not endangering themselves at all by exterminating the Jews. Many countries will certainly be happy to be freed of them and their eternal problem. The nations of the world will not fight the wars of the Jews and they will not bring the Germans to trial for their deeds. It is a fact that England has closed the way to immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel, and even the United States is not hurrying to open its gates to them.
Opinions of this kind characterized the speeches of Hitler, Goebbels, Streicher, and others. Only a spark of hope remained to the Jews that a miracle would occur and they would be privileged to see the downfall of Hitler before he would be able to complete his satanic program.
The Jews comforted themselves with these thoughts and regarded the forced labor as a type of temporary life preserver and as the only reason why the Germans had not yet completed their final solution. In our hearts resided the faith that G-d was watching over our troubles, and us and that He would have mercy on his flock and would send His good angel to help us.
Meanwhile, the Germans demanded that the Judenrat submit a list of 250 workers for the Lapy railroad workshops. This was a very difficult decree for us. First of all, one had to stand there under rigid and strict supervision, bordering on cruelty, from Germans and Poles alike. The great distance from home was likely to cause delays that would endanger life. One had to work there for eight hours and spend many more hours on the roads, traveling back and forth. Only to be late for the departure of the train was enough to be lost. There was no time left to rest, even a short moment to relax, because before you got home you had to prepare yourself to be up at dawn and give yourself over again to the claws of forced labor and degradation. Clearly, there no longer was any rest on the Sabbath. Nevertheless, laboring through the auspices of the Judenrat was much easier. It was occasionally possible to pile up a bit of wood for heating and cooking, to be concerned a bit with running the home and somehow to supply oneself with food.
At this time, the situation got so much worse that we did not have any hot food and the portion of bread was far from enough to satisfy our hunger. The problem of clothing and footwear was very severe. How could we keep going under such difficult conditions? Our clothing was torn and patched, our boots were in extremely poor condition, and the road was long and difficult, through swamps and mud. And the season ? it was autumn and rain was falling.
Considering the conditions I mentioned, and many, many others, it was difficult to compose a list of Jews who were slated to work at Lapy. Therefore it was decided to choose representatives from all levels of the population, so that they would participate in composing the list and thus prevent endless, stormy arguments and grievances. It was understood that all kinds of arguments had accumulated. So-and-so is the sole provider of all the branches of his family; in another family, the youths are already going out to work. And more excuses, more or less justified. Where are justice and honesty?
The swords of the Judenrat rattled, and in every corner there echoed and they cried out. A number of times it was necessary to change the list after it had already been completed. Finally they succeeded in overcoming the tumult and the list was composed with the agreement of the representatives. Slowly the cries of despair were strangled and became silent. In principle, men up to the age of 42 were included in the list for labor in Lapy.
At that time, the regime in Sokoly wanted to establish stables, cowsheds, shelters for wagons and warehouses of various kinds, and to build a tall watchtower in the courtyard of Aharki Zholty's house. The top of the watchtower had to be surrounded by a guardrail and it would be used to look over the surrounding area at a radius of several kilometers. For this purpose, they ordered the demolition of houses and buildings from two courtyards around the house, and the flattening and paving of the area. Many other jobs piled up at other points, such as the demolition of military buildings and a large clubhouse that was erected by the Soviets. Thirty carpenters worked on these jobs for four months.
For the Amstleiter, we were required to build a garage, a cellar for fuel containers, and a storeroom for wood and coal for heating during the winter. Further jobs were added, demolishing dilapidated, unnecessary buildings, and finally the jobs at the train station, mostly loading and unloading weapons, ammunition, and coal. We dug with primitive tools and before us were mountains and hills to level, weeding out of forest and woodland trees, quarrying of stone and paving of access roads.
The Judenrat had to provide 300 workers who were employed in these jobs every day and at precise hours. Up to the age of 42, the laborers worked seven days a week. Over that age, they worked only twice a week, and sometimes up to four days.
Good craftsmen had special privileges and rarely had to work at forced labor. There also were privileged Jews whom the Germans preferred as their personal servants and the like, whom they specially requested, such as mechanics, watchmakers, radio and electricity technicians, blacksmiths, saddlers, tailors and shoemakers. The Judenrat did not have any control over these workers and they were not able to include them in a list of those being sent to unskilled labor. Among these were Itzele Roseman (the son of Yisrael Chaim, the beltmaker), who was a permanent servant in the gendarmia, and Chena Okune (son of Moshe) and his son, who were employed as wagoners. Chena was a wagoner before the war, transporting people to Wysokie Mazowiekie and the train station.
During this period, life entered normalization. No hunger was felt. Besides the work for the Germans, the craftsmen worked by order for the farmers and private people. Many of the craftsmen had regular Polish customers, and in exchange for carrying out orders, they received plenty of food. True, the Polish needed to obtain official permits to order work from the Jews, but they did not do so. Because of certain difficulties and limitations imposed upon them, they turned directly to the Jews.
Here and there, the owners of large, as well as small, shops had some hidden merchandise from the good old days. Now, they sold varied products, and they had many customers upon whom they could depend. Ordinary Jews sold their personal possessions, mainly from their own wardrobes or from packages that were sent to them from America by relatives. Any poor rag was regarded as merchandise, in exchange for which food could be obtained.
Youths, whose appearance did not raise the immediate suspicion that they were Jews, invaded the villages at dawn and did business with their acquaintances and various kinds of go-betweens. At that time, there were no expulsions, except for instances of uprooting people from their more spacious apartments into cramped and crowded apartments. Under these circumstances, many quarrels broke out between the women.
Searches of apartments and confiscation of private property began on behalf of the Judenrat. People were angered by these searches, even though they knew that the searches were conducted at the specific order of the Germans and that the confiscated property was to be given only to them, the Germans, who threatened death if their demands were not strictly carried out. On the other hand, the Jews understood that it would be a lot worse if the Germans themselves would search, and that they would steal everything from them, from a thread to a shoelace.
Nevertheless, everyone hated the Judenrat. Everyone was of the opinion that he was the only one they were pressuring, and that they were stealing more from him than from others. I must point out that the members of the Judenrat were sufficiently honest, and they certainly were no worse than their associates in other towns.
One of the victims who suffered directly from the Germans at that time was Chaim Itza [Yitzhak] Fleer (the son of Leibel, the butcher), a wealthy Jew who owned property. One day Chaim Itza found a Polish woman in his field who was gathering potatoes in a basket. Chaim Itza forgot what the situation was, and he raised a hand against the woman. The Amstleiter found out about the incident and Chaim was called to his office, where they beat him with whiplashes on his naked body and held him for a few weeks in prison, as well as fining him 2000 marks.
After a short time, Chaim Itza's son took two old boards from a pile that was next to the gendarmia. The sentries saw him from the window, grabbed him and beat him cruelly, and fined his father 500 marks.
The third time, Chaim Itza paid a fine because of Janina Falkowska, an active member of the NDK who was well known in Sokoly. She made a lot of trouble for the Jews and it is worth describing her image which will reveal a grim chapter in the life of the Jews of Sokoly during the period before the war and until November 2, 1942, when the Jews of Sokoly were sent to total annihilation.
In her youth, Janina Falkowska became friendly with Jewish girls and was a visitor in their homes. She would frequently come and go, not as a guest, but like an actual daughter of the house. Janina knew everyone in town, young and old alike. She spoke fluent Yiddish as if she were Jewish by birth, and she also knew all the customs. She spoke smoothly, politely, nicely, and sweetly, with noticeable flattery. No one saw in her even a speck of anti-Semitism. On the contrary, everyone saw her as a fervent friend of Israel. She established faithful friendships that her friends returned with heart and soul. People were not careful about speaking in Janina's presence about any subject, and she even entered into confidential conversations regarding personal and discreet matters.
But everyone knew one thing: Janina was jealous of the life of the wealthy Jews. She was especially jealous of the owner of a large fabric store Yaakov Kaplansky.
Janina was accustomed to frequently enter the store, in order to buy something or just to talk with Masha Kaplansky, whom she regarded as her friend. Then she would investigate, with seven eyes, the considerable proceeds of the store and trace the organized and abundant weekly supply of fabric from Warsaw and Bialystok.
A few years before World War II, there was an especial growth of anti-Semitic movements, specifically the Endatzia (NDZ) in Warsaw. Boycotts, pogroms and persecution of Jews were daily occurrences. In this situation, Janina decided to exploit the hour of opportunity. She obtained a very large storeroom and filled it with fabrics of every kind, even more than there were in Kaplansky's store. For this purpose, she sold one of her two farms that previously had belonged to her husband, and she accumulated an enormous amount of money, with which she was able to purchase the large storeroom, a shop and a stock of merchandise. She knew how to exploit go-betweens, Jewish delivery clerks and wagoners, to her own advantage, and with their help she found sources of fabric in Warsaw and Bialystok. Janina succeeded in buying fabrics at a lower price than the Jewish merchants, because she paid in cash and not with notes. After she completed all her purchases, she began to busy herself with advertising.
She ordered the printing of thousands of advertisement sheets, with the addition of an anti-Semitic proclamation to the Christians, under the headline: Saboie du Sabago (Give Birth to Your Own), which stated:
It is forbidden to buy from the Zhids, who are deceivers and haters of gentiles. Good Christians are obligated to buy only from the new Christian firm that has now been established in Sokoly. There you will find a large selection of fabrics of all kinds, and wonderful, exacting service. They will no longer cheat you in the Jewish shops!
Janina Falkowska's husband rode his bicycle through all the villages surrounding Sokoly to distribute the anti-Semitic advertisements. Immediately, a real fair began at her store: the streets leading in the direction of Falkowska's shop were filled with farmers' wagons from all the villages in the area who came to buy from her new Christian firm. Every day, dozens of farmers stood in long lines in front of the entrance to her store and patiently waited for their turn to buy the wanted goods. Even so, Janina was afraid that in the end the farmers would discover that the same merchandise was being sold in the Jewish stores for prices lower than hers. For this purpose, Janina became close with a group of empty-headed wastrels, card-players, robbers, burglars, and members of the underworld, and organized them into a gang of Pikatnikim, whose purpose was to go around with cudgels and clubs in front of the Jewish stores, and not allow any Christian customers to enter them. This continued for a long time.
Many of the farmers were afraid to enter a Jewish store because of the Pikatnikim. It is true that there were some who were bold and were not afraid of the Pikatnikim and argued that no one had the right to force them to buy merchandise at an expensive price, when the same merchandise could be gotten at a cheaper price. The Pikatnikim did not want to hear arguments and answers. They made scandals, beating the rebellious farmers with clubs and cudgels, and ripped up and trampled the merchandise that they bought from the Jews. The wounded farmers turned to the police to intervene, but the police were bribed by the NDK shop owners and took the NDK party into consideration, knowing that the government of Poland supported harassment and pogroms against the Jews. The Pikatnikim received whisky and regular wages from the NDK shop owners.
During the Soviet occupation, Janina Falkowska was worried that the Jews would denounce her and that she would be sent far away to Russia. Therefore, when the Soviets first entered Sokoly, Janina Falkowska packed up her merchandise and all her furniture, household utensils and property, and brought all of it to the villages to her relatives and good friends. She hid everything in safe places. Falkowska, her husband and her two children traveled to Warsaw, where she learned a bit of German. She hired special German teachers for her children, until they were sufficiently fluent in the German language. When the Germans re-entered Sokoly, Janina returned with all the members of her family to her home; then she found a good opportunity to enrich herself from the destruction of the Jews, with the help of the German Nazis.
First, she became close to the German gendarmes by luring them with alcoholic drinks, cakes and delicacies. She introduced them to her daughter, who loved to show off and who spoke fluent German. The soldiers of the gendarmia visited her home every evening and spent the time until midnight in debauchery, drunkenness, song and dance. One officer even fell in love with Janina's daughter and brought a piano that they took from a landowner's palace to her room. Jenina wanted to beautify and decorate her house, and the police sent her Jewish carpenters and painters to do all the repairs and remodeling, until her house turned into a fancy palace. All this did not cost her a cent.
After that began the affair of how to squeeze from the Jews the money she needed in order to enlarge her business. For this purpose, she used guile. She told the Germans that at the time she fled from the Soviets, she had left potatoes in the cellar of her house and the Communist Jews had stolen the potatoes. For this, she demanded 1000 marks. The Judenrat was forced to impose a tax of 10-20 marks upon every Jew who was more or less established, in order to give 1000 marks to Janina the same day.
After that, Janina chose a few Jews against whom she carried a grudge from past years. First of all, she decided to take revenge against Shlomo Jaskolka with whom she had had a feud. She slandered him by saying that during the time she was absent from Sokoly during the Soviet occupation, he had destroyed her fruit trees which bordered on his garden. In compensation she demanded 300 marks. The gendarmia summoned Shlomo, cruelly beat him with dozens of lashes, and forced him to pay the 300 marks to Janina.
Then, with the help of the gendarmes, Janina demanded 500 marks from Chaim Itza Fleer and two Jewish blacksmiths, because, according to the testimony of a Christian neighbor, they had destroyed her board fence during the Soviet occupation.
Besides the above, Janina sent Germans to conduct searches at the homes of a few Jews and beat them severely. Thus, Shlomo Jaskolka, Chaim Somovitz (the son of Yechielke, the baker) and the blacksmith, Pesach Tabak--all Janina Falkowska's Moshkim, [derogatory term for Jews, i.e., sons of Moses] were cruelly beaten.
In spite of Janina's anti-Semitism, she had a few Jews with whom she had a great friendship in order to exploit them for her own selfish purposes. When a Christian needed to enter a Jewish house at that time, he had to sneak in through the back door and look around lest they would see him entering. But she felt free to enter directly into a Jewish house belonging to her apparent good friends. That is how she openly and publicly entered the home of Dina Maik, who had been her faithful, loyal friend in heart and soul since their youth.
At that time, with Dina as a go-between, Janina obtained various types of valuables for herself. Dina Maik had connections with all the merchants and agents in Sokoly. She also was familiar with the entire Christian community in the Sokoly area and she knew who could be trusted completely. Dina was certain that in times of trouble, Janina would protect her from all harm.
Janina's son also did not detest occasionally entering a Jewish home when he was able to exploit the situation for his own benefit. Thus, he would come and go from Michael Maik's house in order to learn photography. He made friends with Moshe Maik and sometimes invited him to his home. In general, it was then regarded as a special privilege for Janina or a member of her family to enter a Jewish home, on the assumption that in times of trouble, this would help the Jews. But she and her family only knew how to exploit the right time to enrich themselves from the destruction of the Jews.
In such a way, Janina Falkowska took a good living away from her Jewish neighbor, Moshe Tzvi [Seines], who until then had been a friend of hers. Moshe had machines for spinning wool yarn. Janina wanted his factory. The gendarmes immediately fulfilled her request, and since she herself did not know how to take care of the machines, she hired their owner Moshe Tzvi as a technician, at a forced laborer's salary of one mark per day. In order to obtain the knowledge and experience to manage the factory, she secretly hired Moshe Tzvi's son, Yankel Seines. She promised to give him, in addition to his official salary, a certain percentage of the profits from the food products business, in cash. In this way, Moshe Tzvi and his family would regard themselves as partners in the factory until she would acquire the experience and knowledge needed in order to manage the factory and the business.
After a few weeks, Janina drove Moshe Tzvi out of his oil factory. With the help of the gendarmia, she also took over the other three oil factories in Sokoly that belonged to Naftali Plut, Alter Goldin and Shlomo Jaskolka. Janina was not sufficiently satisfied with that, so she denounced the poor, robbed Moshe Tzvi by saying that before the war he had managed a business selling the farmers' homemade fabrics, and that he had hidden some fabrics. Searches began along the entire length of Bathhouse Street, where Moshe Tzvi lived.
The Bathhouse Street searches took place on the Sabbath. At the time of the searches, morning prayers were being held in HaRav Rabbi Rosenblum's house. There were about two minyanim [20 people] of worshippers in the Rabbi's house, which was across the street from the public bathhouse. The house was built before World War I, by a wealthy Jew from Manijenie-Novogrod who was born in Sokoly and came back at the end of his life to live in the city of his birth. He donated a lot of money to build the Rabbi's house and a brick fence with a shelter around the new cemetery, and to remodel the bathhouse according to a modern plan.
At first, Rabbi Avraham Epstein, of blessed memory, lived in the house. During the Soviet occupation, HaRav Rabbi Yosef Rosenblum, of blessed memory, moved into the house and lived there with the widowed Rebbitzen. During the German occupation, he prayed there.
On that fatal Sabbath, the worshippers saw from the windows that the Germans were preparing to enter the Rabbi's house. Most of the worshippers, together with the Rabbi, fled through the back door. One gendarme by the name of Czepkin entered the Rabbi's house from the front and found a few Jews who hadn't managed to escape. A Torah scroll was open and lying on the table, and many talitot were around it. The gendarme was surprised at the sight and the Jews explained to him that they were conducting prayers. The German honored the old Jews with whiplashes on their heads.
A second German entered through the back door, where he met up with Moshe Novak, the son of Avraham Dov, who lived in the Rabbi's house with his sister Dvosha. Moshe Novak was running with two packages in his hands, because he was afraid the Germans would steal them. In flight and confusion, Moshe dropped a package of silverware. The German called out Stop! in a loud voice. Moshe stopped and stood at attention. The German asked him what he was carrying. Moshe showed him what was in the second package, notebooks with writing in them. The German took the package of notebooks away from him, along with the package of silverware he had dropped, and honored him, too, with a few blows on his head.
After that, the second German entered the Rabbi's house and both Germans began to search the rooms. They beat the old Rebbitzen for not wearing the badge of shame on her dress. In vain, she justified herself and showed them that she had a badge on her coat, on her sweater, and on all her upper clothing that she wore when she went outside, saying that she did not know that she had to put one also on her housedress. In addition to beating her, they requested a fine of fifteen marks. After that, the Germans opened a cupboard where they found velvet bedspreads, blanket covers and tablecloths that the Rebbitzen had prepared as a wedding gift for her sister's son. The Germans took everything that they found in the cupboard and took the Rebbitzen to prison.
After that, they went back to the Rabbi's house. They found the Rabbi and arrested him as well. The Rabbi had already fallen into the barbaric hands of the Germans when they kidnapped him to work cleaning their vehicles, and then pulled off half of his beard along with the skin and cruelly beat him. The Rabbi felt that they were leading him to be hanged in martyrdom for the sanctification of G-d. The Germans brought the Rabbi into their office and demanded that he tell them where Moshe Tzvi [Seines] hid his fabrics. The Rabbi, in his righteousness, promised them that neither fabrics nor any other merchandise were hidden in his house and asked them to search the entire house. The Rabbi was soon freed, but the old Rebbitzen was held for a few more hours. When they did free her, she had to lie in bed for a number of weeks, ill from beatings and fear.
After the Rabbi's house, the search continued in the bathhouse and in cracks in the attics and cellars. They opened the cowsheds and storerooms around the bathhouse and grabbed anything that was more or less of value.
The Rabbi believed that according to gematriot [numerology], the Redemption would come in the near future, on Chanukah
The workers who had been traveling to work in Lapy said that they had heard from Christians and workers from Bialystok about radio broadcasts reporting large losses to the Germans on all fronts. They had also heard from the Christians that there were bomb shelters in hidden places. This information was comforting and encouraging. One of the distributors of this encouraging news was Chena Finkelstein, Daniel's son. Most of this news about German losses on the fronts was imaginary and exaggerated. They simply wished to find some comfort for all the trouble and distress and hoped for a miracle from Heaven.
Michael Maik's son, Moshe, who was a radio technician by profession, would go from time to time to visit a Christian farmer by the name of Stanislaw Kalinowski, who lived in a settlement near the village of Bruszewo. There, Moshe prepared a radio receiver hidden in a bunker. In this hiding place, it was possible to hear radio broadcasts from London and Moscow. It is true that at that time no good news was to be heard either from London or from Moscow. The Rabbi and Moshe Lipa Shulmeister, who knew about the radio, asked Moshe Maik and his father every day whether they had heard anything encouraging. Since there was no special news, they thought that the Maik family was afraid to reveal what they had heard, lest the farmers would find out about the radio and denounce them.
Moshe Lipa Shulmeister was learned in Talmud. He was a former student at the Volozhin yeshiva. Before the war, he was a wealthy shopowner, well-versed in politics. He reported everything; he was a walking telephone for news about what was going on in the town. He knew about weddings, circumcisions, intimate matters, disputes that broke out and arguments. He was the first to know the news about everything and was interested in every detail, which he passed on to his friends and good acquaintances. In conversation, he knew how to apply parables. He was blessed with an exceptional memory for people's names.
Moshe Lipa was a gabbai in the large beit midrash. On Shabatot and holidays, he would call people up to the Torah. He was not born in Sokoly, but settled in Sokoly as the son-in-law of David Borowitz. Nevertheless, he knew and remembered the names of everyone in town, from the youngest to the oldest. He knew how to give the appropriate nickname to each one. Those who were ordinarily called Alter or Zeidel he called by Hebrew names when they went up to the Torah. For example, Zeidel became Reuven; Alter became Shlomo. Some of these men were called to the Torah with two names, the way they were named at their circumcisions. For example, Moshe was called to the Torah as Moshe Yitzhak. Shlomo was called Shlomo Zalman. Moshe Lipa remembered the names of every one of the hundreds of Jews of his acquaintance, and he never had to ask them their given names, or the names of their fathers.
That winter, the local German regime in Sokoly was changed. The regime up to now of the local army was exchanged for an administrative civilian leadership. At the head of the local regime was Amstkommissar Wagner from Vienna, and he was a comparatively good German. However, he was quickly replaced by another Kommissar named Wassel, an old, lean redhead, a hard, strict man, with furious eyes surrounded by large eyeglasses; with his yellow mustache he gave the impression of the Angel of Death. We called him the Yellow Satan.
From the beginning, he threatened to establish a ghetto in Sokoly. There immediately arose a tumult, after which the matter was hushed up. This Chad-Gad-Ya [chain of events] was repeated a number of times, until the masses in Sokoly stopped being afraid of rumors regarding the Amstkommissar's decisions and accepted the Yellow Satan's threats as a means of squeezing the Judenrat for more gifts and bribes.
Before the Pesach holiday, the Kommissar was good to the Jews. He gave the steam mill permission to grind grain flour for matzo and the Jews of Sokoly bought black-market matzo for Pesach from the Judenrat. During the first days of Passover the Jews did not feel so bad, and when, during the Seder service, they came to the prayer Next Year in Jerusalem, every one prayed with special concentration that G-d would grant them freedom from Hitler's hell and that they would be privileged to see the building of the State of Israel.
On the Intermediate Days of the holiday, a worrisome rumor spread. The Judenrat sent a message to every Jewish house saying that every man who was fit for work, no matter his age, must come at 11:00 in the morning to the street in front of the Judenrat. Confusion and panic set in. Everyone knew that in all the towns and villages, this kind of order from the Amstkommissar ended, for the most part, in mass murder. There were some optimists who comforted us by remembering the town Wysokie Mazowieckie, where the Amstkommissar also had gathered all the Jews in the street and made a speech to them full of threats, and in spite of it all, their fear was for nothing. As proof, they based themselves on the assumption that if the Amstkommissar was intending to kill or expel the Jews of Sokoly, he would also order the women and children to gather in the street. Apparently there was a different reason behind the matter.
Before 11:00 in the morning, a few hundred Jews gathered in the plaza in front of the Judenrat, but it was obvious that only half of the Jews of the town had come. Exactly on the hour, the Yellow Satan appeared accompanied by a German official from the railroad dressed in a Nazi uniform with a swastika on his arm. The Chairman of the Judenrat, Alter Ginzburg, approached the Amstkommissar, bowed, and removed his hat in welcome. The Amstkomissar asked the Chairman why so few men had showed up and slapped Alter Ginzburg in the face. He then looked at his watch and proclaimed, Within 30 minutes, every Jew in the town must be here. Otherwise, the entire Judenrat will be shot. He finished his proclamation and left.
Panic arose in the Judenrat whose members and their messengers began to run to all the Jewish houses. They went from house to house and drove all the people into the street with warnings that anyone who evades the call and does not show up at the public gathering will be severely punished; the lives of the Judenrat members depend on a few who will be missing and the Germans were likely to shoot all the members of the Judenrat. After 15 minutes, the street in front of the Judenrat was crowded. Jewish men organized everyone into three long rows.
Precisely one-half hour after his proclamation, the Amstkommissar reappeared, accompanied by the railroad official, and ordered all the members of the Judenrat to stand in a row in front of the gathered Jews. The members stood in front of the Amstkommissar, who inspected the long rows. He counted all the men. He commanded Alter Ginzburg to bring him a stool. The Amstkommissar, accompanied by the railroad official, went together with the Chairman to see exactly which stool would be appropriate. Such a stool was found in the Polish cooperative store. After a few minutes, all of them returned, the Chairman carrying a round stool with a screen that was used to scrape and clean shoes.
First, the Amstkommissar commanded the Chairman, Alter Ginzburg, to bend over the stool and reveal his bottom. The railroad official immediately brought out a rubber whip and whipped the Chairman's bottom and head with 15 lashes, with all his strength. The next member of the Judenrat was Yona Ginzburg, who also received 15 lashes on his bottom and head; the third was the watchmaker Yisrael Maik, who received the same portion of lashes. After that, in order, were: Yaakov Janovitz, Yechezkel Czerbonicz, and Zeidel Rachekovsky. All these received only 12 lashes, because the whipper was already tired and sweating. After them came Yokil the shoemaker, who pleaded with the whipper. The shoemaker was forced to lie down and be whipped, during which he cried, without stopping, Enough! Enough! The whipper lessened the number of lashes he gave Yokil, compared to the number he gave to the rest of the members of the Judenrat. It is possible that he already was tired out from the beatings. Aharki Zholty, Leibel Okune, Eliezer Rosenovitz, and Chaim Yehoshua Olsha were not whipped.
Dr. Alter Makowsky was severely reprimanded for giving out too large a number of sickness permits to the railroad factory workers in Lapy, in order to free them from work for a day or two. At the end, the Yellow Satan slapped Dr. Makowsky in the face until his hat fell off. He was told to leave Sokoly and its surroundings within three days.
Before the Judenrat was whipped, the Amstkommissar made a short speech: The Jews are not properly fulfilling his orders: (a) A lot of hidden merchandise has been found. In spite of the warnings, their owners did not inform the government about them. (b) According to the list, workers for labor in Lapy are missing. (c) When Jewish citizens are requested to gather in the street in front of the Judenrat, a lot of them evade the order and the Judenrat is responsible for all of them. However, the longer the war will continue, the more severe the laws will be. For sabotage, the Judenrat will be subject to the death sentence. However, since this is the first time, the punishment will be lighter: whippings instead of death. The next time orders are not obeyed (sabotage), there will be no further warning, and the death sentence will be carried out immediately.
After the flogging, the Amstkommissar commanded the seven beaten members of the Judenrat and Leibel Okune to stand in line, and took them, in pairs, off to jail. A tumult and wailing began in the town. It wasn't enough that they had insulted and degraded the representatives of the Jews in a deplorable manner. They had flogged them in the middle of the marketplace, in full view of the Jew-hating goyim, and imprisoned eight members of the Judenrat. Heaven knows what more awaits them! At first, it was hoped that they would hold the prisoners for a day in the jail and then release them. But when the first day passed and they were not released, the families of the prisoners began to worry about their fate.
The next day, the German railroad official ¯ the whipper ¯ entered the jail and beat the prisoners again. This time, the whipper did not have mercy for Leibel, upon whom the Amstkommissar had taken pity the first time because of his poor appearance. The four members of the Judenrat who remained free were afraid to go to the Amstkommissar to try to release their companions, lest he become angry and imprison them as well.
The first one to attempt to help the prisoners was Selina, the wife of Judenrat member Yona Ginzburg, who had been a teacher in the Polish public school. She had special privileges with the Germans from the local council, because of her younger sister Lutka, who spoke fluent German with a pure German accent and was personally acquainted with all the local Germans. Lutka went to the railroad official the whipper bringing him a gift of an expensive gold watch, and asked him to free her brother-in-law, Yona Ginzburg, and his companions. He promised to free Yona, and ignored the rest of the Judenrat members. Yona Ginzburg was indeed freed the next day.
The well-established families of the rest of the Judenrat members prepared gifts, and on the third day they all were released. They also made a recommendation in favor of Dr. Makowsky, saying that he was a wonderful doctor, loved by all the local residents, Jews and Christians alike. The Amstkommissar permitted him to stay in Sokoly, on the condition that he would not continue to give medical permits to workers so as to free them from their jobs.
The Amstkommissar wanted to enlarge the list of railroad laborers in Lapy from 200 to 250. In addition, he demanded another 50 laborers for Jezewo and a number of workers for chain gangs in Budziska and for cutting down trees and arranging them in piles. Again there was panic in the Judenrat. It had been difficult to prepare the list of 200 railroad workers in Lapy, and how could they add another 50 workers for Lapy as well as workers for stone quarries, cutting down trees in the forests and digging in chain gangs? But there was no choice. They had to fulfill all the demands, no matter what. Thus, men who had special privileges, who up to now had worked in Sokoly, volunteered to be registered for railroad work in Lapy because they were afraid that the Judenrat would send them to Jezewo to quarry rocks. There, the work was more difficult, and it was hard to come home every night to sleep.
All the skilled workers up to the age of 40 were employed. Those who were older, or the sole supporters of a family, did not at all want to voluntarily register themselves for labor. The affluent ones suggested that the Judenrat hire poor workers at their own expense. The Judenrat called all the craftsmen with special privileges. Older men were also requested to register for work three times a week, and were told that their lives depended on the matter. After a great deal of effort and work, the Judenrat succeeded in sending only 220 workers to Lapy, and the 30 workers needed in order to complete the list were still lacking.
Michael Maik volunteered to register for permanent daily work on the railroad. The Judenrat took the opportunity to point him out as a wonderful example. Michael Maik, 54 years old, who had never in his life done physical labor, was prepared, of his own good will, to travel every day to labor on the railroad in Lapy. The Judenrat requested that all the men between the ages of 40 and 50 follow Michael Maik's example and register for work, without exception. The Judenrat agreed to register the craftsmen for work only three times a week, and to have two workers share one card. Thus, the list was completed within two hours.
They succeeded in completing the list for labor in the stone quarries of Jezewo without special difficulties. The work in Jezewo was not permanent. The workers did not have to sleep there. Every morning, a special vehicle took the workers to work, and towards evening it brought them home. Every day different workers travelled to Jezewo.
The laborers who worked in Lapy had to wake up at four a.m. Awakening so early was torture for the younger ones. Their mothers could no longer sleep at night from worrying that their sons would be late for work and be beaten. On the way to the train station, the workers usually met groups of other laborers marching to work like soldiers, with packs on their shoulders and canteens in their hands, an inheritance from the Soviet soldiers.
Near the train station, the workers divided themselves into groups according to types of work. They would talk among themselves about different subjects: work, the Judenrat, the community, good and bad work managers, and eating, as opposed to everything else. When the train arrived in the station, all the workers hurried to get a comfortable place in one of the cars, even though there always were enough seats.
Once on the train, all the workers took their packs off their shoulders and took out their food, which included for the most part bread, soft cheese and a bottled drink or water sweetened with saccharine. Those workers who had the means would eat bread and butter with eggs, and drink milk or tea sweetened with sugar. Others would eat bread with jam and drink sweet tea or beet or vegetable soup. After they ate, the workers would smoke a cigarette rolled from newspaper. There were pious workers who brought their tefillin and a siddur in their packs, and they would pray every day before they ate breakfast.
Upon arriving in Lapy, every worker presented his work card to the German guard next to the Lapy railroad station. Whoever forgot to bring his work card had to pay for a train ticket, as well as a fine.
When they arrived at the factory, a siren was sounded at exactly 7:00 a.m. and each worker would hurry to the office to which he belonged. There were certain permanent workstations where the workers were not required to go first to an office, but rather, they checked in by means of small, numbered pieces of tin.
One of the labor offices was called Ozorowski. When the laborers arrived at the office, two Poles would come out. One, Ozorowski, was old and tall, and had angry eyes like a robber. The workers called him the Grandfather. The second Pole was young. His name was Wiczenowski. They would line up the workers in two rows, Wiczenowski reading off their names from a list. When his name was called, each worker would answer, Present. If someone was absent, Wiczenowski marked his name on the list. After the names were read, the Grandfather divided the workers into groups. A group of 12 men was sent to carpentry; a group of 8 was sent to the transportation department, and a third group of 10 men was sent to the train station to repair the tracks. The Grandfather divided all the remaining workers from the first three groups between three Polish work managers for loading coal, unloading freight cars, and paving plots of ground and streets. Each manager chose his group of workers and brought them into a shed with various tools. Each worker took a tool. The workers were again lined up, this time in pairs, and marched behind their managers until reaching the locations where they would work.
Suzin, the work manager, had been a functionary in the Magistrate's Court before World War II, with the task of collecting fines and implementing evictions according to the judgments of the Court. Now, he had become a beggar for contributions, such as bread and butter, honey, cheese, and eggs given him by the workers in his group. In exchange, he did not hurry them at their work, he allowed them to rest as much as they wanted, and even allowed them to leave work when they wanted. There were workers who came in the morning to register with him and afterwards they would leave for the entire day, to trade with workers from Bialystok. The men from Sokoly traded with the men from Bialystok for food, clothing, shoes, fabrics, and leather smuggled from the Bialystok ghetto. The smugglers would earn tens and hundreds of marks in a day from their trading.
The majority of the workers in Suzin's group did not work very much. Every one of them held a spade or a hoe in his hand on the pretext that he was working. When a Krok (German gendarme) was relieved from guard duty, they began to work energetically. Suzin himself took care not to be tripped up by the German supervisors. When he saw a German or the Grandfather, who came from time to time to supervise the work, Suzin would immediately shout, in Polish, Kalopczi, wada! (Boys, water!). Everyone understood that they must work intensively for a few minutes.
Whoever wanted to smoke would go into the toilet, because it was forbidden to smoke during working hours.
The group that fell into the hands of the work manager Tashikelski did not have the relief that Suzin's group had. Tashikelski had been a cashier in the tax office before the war. But he pressed the laborers to work fast when the men had already gotten used to his Nu, Nu and they scoffed at his stiff demands and would hide in the toilet to smoke and pass the hours of the day.
Work manager Jarmulowicz's group was similar to those of Tashikelski and Suzin, the only difference being that Tashikelski and Jarmulowicz did not ask for contributions like Suzin did. They did not ask the workers for bread and butter, although occasionally they begged somebody to roll a cigarette for them, and felt themselves as friends of every one of the workers.
In Lapy, besides the Grandfather's office, there was Gidrowicz's office, which sent Jewish workers to hard labor under the supervision of Nazi inspectors. Among these was a German who was an evil dog; a whipper and a sadist. The workers called him the Pahtcher. Every day, this evil-hearted German joined groups of workers from Gidrowicz's office at their workplaces. He would hide under a fence, supervise from the sands, peek through the cracks to see if someone dared to rest for a brief moment from his labor, or if someone exchanged a few words with a friend. Then the Pahtcher would run from his hiding place and cruelly beat the workers. He beat them until the blood flowed. If the work was urgent, the Pahtcher stood next to the workers, who labored for long hours, forcing them to exert themselves and work beyond their strength, quickly and without pause, unable to breathe. Sweat would cover the worker's body; the Pahtcher would accelerate the rhythm until the soul left the body, and even then, he would still stand there and beat his victim with his whip.
Every two weeks, Gidrowicz's office would disqualify the weaker workers and send them back to Ozorowski's office. Ozorowski would send stronger workers in their place.
Michael Maik was assigned to Gidorowicz's office. Coincidentally, on one Sabbath Michael Maik's son, Moshe, traveled to work instead of his father. Moshe was a young, healthy lad so the Grandfather sent him to Gidorowicz' office to work. In any case, Michael Maik remained registered as a worker with Gidorowicz.
On his first day of work, Michael Maik had to carry boards in the Gevizrona lot, through which the train tracks passed. Every day, dozens of freight cars of boards went out and came in. The Jewish workers would load and unload the cars of boards, carry them on their shoulders, and transfer them to a place where they sorted them according to type and quality, length and width. They carried and moved the sorted boards to destinations determined in advance, where they would set down the boards according to a certain order.
That day, the Pahtcher happened to be on vacation. The supervisor who took his place was a quiet German who spoke in a low voice. He did not hurry the workers, but he also did not allow them to stand with empty hands or enter the toilet for a long time to smoke and talk with friends, as the workers in Ozorowski's office were accustomed to doing. The workers called the quiet German Marok [the Silent]. The Polish work managers were strict. The Jews worked nine hours per day, until 4:30 p.m., and they had to carry two or three boards at a time, that were three to four meters long and two fingers thick. A pair of workers would carry the boards on their shoulders. All the workers prepared cushions at home, so that their shoulders wouldn't hurt from carrying the heavy boards every day.
The manager took pity upon Michael Maik, as he was an older man, and put him to work next to the holding racks, to receive the boards from those carrying them and to lay them down one by one according to order. Work in the area of the holding racks was a lot easier than carrying the boards a long distance. Here, no work manager could hurry the workers, because the boards must be laid on the holding racks with extreme precision. It was possible to rest occasionally, because one had to wait for a new board until the previous one was placed in its row.
Half an hour before work ended for the day, a true taste of hell was felt. They grabbed all the workers, from the board carriers to those standing next to the holding racks, and forced them to transport heavy pine beams, the type that ten healthy and strong men would be able to carry only with difficulty. For this job, they did not depend on the Marok but appointed a violent, strong, strict, evil and cruel German as supervisor. Instead of ten men, he commanded that only six men carry the heavy, long beams, and four men for the shorter beams. He hurried us by screaming, Tempo! Tempo! The Jews encouraged their companions by saying: Gather all your strength! Don't stop, or they will kill us on the spot! Help old Maik to take back the heavy burden, otherwise the burden will fall and crush us and we will be killed under it! It was a miracle that men were found who were able to lower their heavy burden and help old Maik. Even though the German was evil and cruel, he did not interfere with helping old Maik.
Thus, the work in Lapy continued, day after day.
When you travel to work for the entire day, you forget general troubles, but when you return home, there is news and your own worries, besides those of neighbors, relatives and friends. Again there is distress in the town. One day has passed quietly with difficulty; and again a story of trouble, this time regarding cows.
The Yellow Satan ordered the confiscation of cows from all the Jews in Sokoly ¯ cows that they owned, and that had been in their possession. One fine day, they put out an order to gather all the confiscated cows in the marketplace, to bring them to the train station and load them into cattle cars.
The cows had been a source of livelihood for the Jews. When there is a bit of milk in the house, there is something to feed the children, and adults can also be fed. There is something with which to prepare a meal, and when a few liters of milk are sold, there is money to buy bread or potatoes and you don't have to suffer hunger any more. The family cow is dear, and is considered a member of the family.
From dawn until dusk, the family is busy worrying about their cow. At 4:00 in the morning, they take it out to pasture. At noon, they bring it home, milk it, and take it out again to pasture. Towards evening, they bring it to the cowshed, give it fodder, and milk it again. The family takes turns caring for the cow; every two or three hours they change places. Now, the Christian herder refuses to take care of cows belonging to the Jews, and that is why the Jewish owners have to pasture the cows themselves and pay their Christian neighbors for using the pastures. When a cow gives birth to a calf, there is happiness in the house a child is born.
And suddenly, such a decree! It is not difficult to imagine the tumult and pain caused by the decree to confiscate the 90 cows belonging to the Jews of Sokoly. The small children run to the train station behind the cows, their eyes streaming with tears, crying, They are taking our cow away and it won't be ours and with us any more. As the Jew brings his cow to the barbaric Germans, he feels distress in his heart: We are very sorry for you, our beloved cow. Up to now, we took care of you like a treasure and now we are forced to bring you with our own hands and turn you over to the murderers this was decreed from Heaven who knows if soon they won't expel us as well to be slaughtered?!
When the cows belonging to the Jews of Sokoly were confiscated, a few Jews put themselves in danger. They did not give their cows to the Germans, and they caused themselves a lot of problems. This is what happened to Pesach the blacksmith (the son-in-law of Yisrael the blacksmith), who had a family of eight souls and did not give his cows to the Germans, but deposited them with a Christian acquaintance. One of the Christians denounced him, and Pesach suffered a murderous beating. In addition, he had to pay a cash fine and in the end, he had to bring the cows to the German gendarmia. But Pesach's troubles did not end.
Janina Falkowska, the infamous anti-Semite, who was Pesach's neighbor and held a grudge against him, now found an opportunity to denounce him for having many hidden possessions that he had accumulated from the Soviets. Even so, they had not conducted any searches of his house.
After the matter of the cows, the gendarmes descended upon Pesach again. They arrested him and his wife Sarache [Sarah] and his 10-year-old son, Moshele. They tied Pesach's hands and feet and he lay that way all day in jail. They beat his wife with a rubber whip on her entire body, which turned blue from the beatings, and she was unable even to touch any one of her limbs. They also beat their small son Moshele, aged ten, with murderous blows. The Germans wanted to pressure the prisoners by torturing them, so that they would tell them where the Soviet possessions were hidden. Pesach's wife was unable to bear the torture and she went to show them a hiding place. The Germans dug out a few suitcases. They were not satisfied with this. They continued to beat and torture the prisoners, until Pesach's relatives started to try to intercede with the gendarmia, with the help of Chaim Yehoshua Olsha as intermediary. For a bribe of three blankets, three sheets, three covers and a few more items that the relatives were forced to buy and give to the gendarmia, they succeeded in freeing the tortured prisoners.
After the confiscation of the cows from Sokoly's Jews, the Germans began to take away all the blacksmith shop equipment and working tools, materials and coals. They gave the blacksmith shops to Christian apprentices who had learned their trade from those very same Jews and had coveted their masters' property. The apprentices were jealous of their masters' wealth and desired their workshops.
The new owners of the Jewish blacksmith shops did not know enough about their work; they only knew how to make simple repairs. They needed the previous owners for any job that was more complicated. They exploited the opportunity and easily acquired large shops without sufficient knowledge.
Among all the Jewish blacksmiths, the one in Sokoly who felt the terrible blow most was the wealthy blacksmith, Yisrael Goldberg. He could have competed with all the rest of the blacksmiths in Sokoly, because he had money. The blacksmiths bought wagons, for the most part on credit, and this cost them dearly.
Yisrael Goldberg was industrious. From his youth until his old age, he diligently and tirelessly worked 14 to 16 hours a day. He was tied to his job, and was wholeheartedly devoted to it. He had what are known as golden hands and worked quickly and efficiently.
Yisrael worked with his sons, who were as industrious as he was. His wife died at the young age of 40, leaving him with nine children. His four daughters got married. He employed his sons as assistants from the time they were small.
The oldest son, Mordechai, worked with his father for a few years.
The second son, Avrahamle, left his father's blacksmith shop and went to work as a carpenter. After a short time, he succeeded in his profession, traveled to Warsaw, and worked in firms there. He was superior at his job.
The third son, Yaakov, went to learn in a yeshiva and became well known as a genius. He was ordained as a rabbi and was regarded in our area as the greatest of scholars. Rabbi Yaakov, the son of Yisrael the blacksmith, married in Zambrow and was appointed to the rabbinate in a small city named Kozloszczina near Slonim. The war began a short time later. During the occupation, Rav Yaakov learned ritual slaughtering and worked in Jablonka [east of Zambrow] as a Shochet.
The fourth son of Yisrael the blacksmith was Zalman, who worked with his father. He was drafted into the Soviet army and was killed in battle at Rostov in Russia.
Yisrael Goldberg was left with his youngest son, Chaim Yudel, who had previously learned in Lithuanian yeshivot and was an excellent Talmud student. One Rosh Yeshiva wrote, in a letter recommending Chaim Yudel, I promise that he will be a great man in Israel. During the war, Yisrael employed his young son Chaim Yudel as an assistant. Yisrael's son Rav Yaakov was unable to watch his father's continued isolation and found him a wife from Zambrow. Yisrael Goldberg remarried. Now, the source of the blacksmith's income was ripped from his hands, along with that of the rest of Sokoly's blacksmiths.
When the matter of the blacksmiths in Sokoly was over, the town became agitated again. At the center of the event was Berel Krushevsky, a 40-year-old man. In his youth, Berel had been a partner with his three brothers in a business selling furs and fabrics.
A few years before the war, Berel started to buy rags and scrap iron from small peddlers. He sold the rags to textile factories and the scrap iron to casting plants. Little by little, he succeeded in competing with other merchants in this field, mainly with the heirs of Pesach Brill, of blessed memory. Berel set up storerooms and erected a large shed in his courtyard, which he bought from Alterke Makowsky. The shed had previously served Alterke as a hostel and restaurant, after his first house, which he bought from Dina's Leishke [Leah Goldin], burnt down. When his new, three-story house was completed, he sold the four-room shed to Berel Krushevsky.
As the owner of three spacious storerooms, Berel managed his business on a significant scale. He prospered more every day. He employed young girls to sort the rags at a low daily wage.
When he saw that his business dealings were expanding and were very profitable he had invested a few cents and made a profit of hundreds of zlotys he invested all his money in the business. He was not satisfied with that, so he went and got interest-bearing loans as well as charitable [interest-free] loans. His stock of rags and scrap iron filled his storerooms to overflowing.
Berel would frequently send freight cars loaded with sorted rags to the factories, and the emptied spaces in the storerooms would immediately get filled with new merchandise. The new house where Berel lived and all the buildings in his courtyard were built with money sent to support his mother-in-law Beila Rachel by her wealthy sons in the United States. Berel's family numbered six souls: himself, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his three children.
On the day that the war broke out, twenty freight carloads of rags and scrap iron were in Berel's storerooms. During the Soviet occupation, Berel was able to sell these to government factories at good prices, but because he was worried that he would be cheated, he decided to keep them until after the war, in the hope that he would be able to enjoy his property in the future. Meanwhile, he was given a position by the Soviets as an agent in his profession, and he felt himself to be qualified and honest. Thus, he lived in contentment until the Nazi occupation.
In the spring of 1942, the Amstkommissar of Sokoly, who was known as the Yellow Satan, happened to walk by Berel Krushevsky's house, and he heard the clucking of geese from the courtyard. He entered the yard and commanded that the chamber be opened. He immediately saw a number of geese. He also found an English-style scale and a number of bicycle parts. After discovering these things, he ordered the storeroom and other buildings to be opened, among them the long shed. In amazement and rare satisfaction, he found all Berel Krushevsky's treasures.
The Yellow Satan ordered all the geese to be brought immediately to his own house. Soon after that, he sent Polish policemen, headed by a German gendarme, to conduct a thorough search of Berel's house.
During the search, they found fabrics, women's winter shoes, and galoshes in Berel's basement under a pile of potatoes. They immediately confiscated everything and took all the merchandise that they found for themselves.
The Judenrat was requested to send 100 workers to empty the rags and scrap iron from all the buildings and to sort them under the supervision of the police, in order to determine whether there was any hidden merchandise. The Judenrat immediately drafted all the young women and old people to work, because most of the people of the town had already been sent to their permanent jobs at forced labor.
It took two to three days until all the rags and iron were removed from the storerooms and sorted into piles. Three weeks went by in total silence, and they did not bother Berel any more. Nobody came to harm him. Berel thought that the Germans would not take any more rags away from him. Why would they want rags?
After three weeks had passed since the search in Berel's house, a train of empty freight cars arrived at the Sokoly train station to take the rags away. The Amstkommissar drafted 100 farmer's wagons to transport the load to the train. Again two weeks went by, in silence. Occasionally, Polish policemen came to Berel's house. They checked to see if he was at home, but they went away as they came without saying anything.
During that time, Berel went around in the nearby villages, continuing to conduct his business with the farmers he knew. Once in awhile, orders would come from the Judenrat for him to go to work at forced labor, but his wife knew how to arrange things and would send a needy lad in place of her husband for two marks per day. Berel's son would travel every day to his regular work in Lapy. Berel and his family were very concerned that their possessions, by means of which they had hoped to reestablish themselves after the war, had been taken away from them. But what could they do? In these crazy times they gave praise and thanks to G-d every moment that He was allowing them to live.
A week before the holiday of Shavuot, the Yellow Satan again agitated the Jewish town. He suddenly ordered the Judenrat to gather all the workers in the marketplace and to stand them in rows one by one according to professions: tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, builders, painters, locksmiths, blacksmiths, and bakers. He requested that they immediately report to him how many workers among them were in each profession and where they worked. For example: how many workers are employed in chain gangs in Budziska, how many in cutting down trees, how many in clearing stones, etc. At the end, he wanted to know how many workers were employed at the train station. He warned that all of them were obligated to be present to be counted and it was forbidden for anyone on the list to be absent.
This was the second public gathering in which the Judenrat was tested, bitterly and painfully like a beaten dog. They smelled the danger of death threatening the Jews of Sokoly. There was no choice but to carry out to the letter the murderous orders of the Satan. He personally followed up after every group that was organized in the marketplace. While searching among the rows he determined that Berel was not present.
Berel returned from the village at sunset, and in his heart there were conflicting thoughts. His possessions and capital, upon which he had hung rosy hopes, had been confiscated. If so, he was a qualified proletariat and was prepared to present himself for daily labor among the other workers and poor people of the town.
Suddenly, his meditations were cut off when Yanchenko [aka, Yanchko], an officer of the Polish police, entered his house. He informed Berel in the name of his Honor the Amstkommissar that he had come to arrest him.
Berel thought that this is probably in connection with another investigation regarding the hiding of merchandise. Naturally, he was afraid. Trembling seized him as he worried about being beaten and about the cruelty of the Germans and Poles who would force him to admit whatever they would accuse him of doing. The previous search had been very strict and they had taken everything away from him. What could they be expecting to find in addition? He tried to comfort himself with the hope that they would keep him in prison only until the next day and would then release him.
Early the next day, the Yellow Satan came running to the Judenrat and ordered them to immediately send workers to erect a gallows with a long rope in the marketplace opposite the Judenrat building. He presented them with a plan how the gallows should be built.
The town shuddered under the shadow of death. G-d knows who will be the victim this time maybe the members of the Judenrat? Maybe it is only to frighten us? Recently, the Yellow Satan had not bothered anyone and sometimes he was even friendly to those who came to him. Everyone fulfilled his requests with exactitude and to his satisfaction. Many were of the opinion that this was only a crazy prank on the part of the evil one in order to press harder and frighten the public into doing additional deeds to satisfy his appetites, which, in spite of everything, were not satisfied. That the gallows was being prepared for Berel Krushevsky did not enter anyone's imagination, and certainly not the imagination of Berel himself.
Shavuot eve. Into the jail cell came Yanchenko, the Polish police officer, accompanied by a number of gendarmes. Berel jumped up in joy, thinking that they had come to release him after they had not found him guilty of anything. On the contrary all his possessions had been stolen from him and they had impoverished him. The gendarmes brought Berel outside, saying that he was being summoned to the Amstkommissar who was standing near the Judenrat building. A spark of hope arose in his heart. He thought that no evil would come to him; and certainly in the presence of the representatives of the Jews, he would be protected from being beaten, and perhaps he would even find someone who would protect him.
In the street, Berel took off his eyeglasses, wiped the lenses, and put them on again. He walked, accompanied by the gendarmes, at a normal pace. Suddenly he saw the gallows. Horror took hold of him!!! What is happening here? For who is the gallows intended? What if it is for him? Here, no trial was held and no judgment was made! He doesn't even know what they are accusing him of!
Berel did not have time to evaluate his unfortunate situation. The Devil ordered Berel's hands to be tied behind him. One gendarme was sent into the Judenrat to call a few more Jews to come and help hang Berel, but no one was found there because they had all run away in panic. The gendarme brought Berel to the gallows, put the rope around his neck, and pulled him up to the top of the gallows. The victim kicked his feet and then remained hanging in the air in the noon sunshine, while the blue skies spread over his tortured head.
Berel's wife, who was present, wailed tragically and fainted. The children cried and trembled, calling, Our dear Abba, Abba, the crown of our heads, Abba, Abbale. What did they do to you and to us? Woe to us, woe to us!
The despicable murderer, the Yellow Satan, commanded that they leave Berel hanging there on the gallows for 24 hours.
All the people of the town were in shock, and the shadow of the cruel and sinful murder accompanied every Jew in Sokoly for a long time.
On the first day of the Shavuot holiday, the Yellow Satan allowed the body to be removed from the gallows and to be properly buried in the cemetery.
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