With regard to the fate of the Jews from Sokoly, Wladek informed us that on the first day of the expulsion, Monday, November 2, 1942, the Germans had gathered 500 Jews. During the next eight days, through searches and by means of lowly informers, about 500 more Jews were captured. Many of them handed themselves over to the Germans because of hunger, cold and robberies. Those who were arrested were held for two weeks in the new beit midrash.
During this period, the Germans distributed regular portions of food and allowed the baking of bread for the Jews by two of the bakers from Sokoly: Alter Radzilovsky and Yechielke Somovitz. They were allowed to walk around freely.
After the two weeks, however, all these prisoners were transported in farmers' wagons to the notorious Tenth Battalion military camp] in Bialystok, a gathering point for all the Jews of the surrounding area, including the Jews from Sokoly who had previously been expelled. From Bialystok, groups of Jews were sent to Treblinka ? to the gas chambers.
Wladek was not a simple boor. He had a measurement of intelligence, read the newspapers, and also knew how to speak German. He was familiar with many spheres and his opinion could be trusted. He told about the heroes' deaths of several Jews from Sokoly. It was hard to believe that they had been capable of such heroic deeds.
One of these heroes was Benyamin Rachelsky, the lame son of Avraham Moshe Rachelsky. Only a few of the residents of Sokoly knew Benyamin. They saw him sometimes, toddling on his crooked legs without using crutches or a cane. Walking made him breathe heavily.One thing that everyone knew about Benyamin was that he was a bookworm and a diligent student. He finished public school with distinction and went on to teach himself accounting from a Polish textbook. He was expert at writing requests to government and private offices, courts and the tax department, and he wrote these for anyone who would place an order or request with him.
During the Soviet regime, Rachelsky worked in the government dairy as an assistant to the bookkeeper. Those who were close to him knew that he had energy and initiative, despite his disability. They also knew that he was a devotee of Communist ideas. For the past year or so, he had been accustomed to spend entire days in the house of his grandfather, Barish the Shochet.
On Monday, November 2, 1942, the first day of the expulsion, about 500 souls were at the gathering point next to the old beit midrash. This is exactly what Wladek, who was an eyewitness, had told us. One of the Germans participating in the expulsion screamed an order at Benyaminke to get up onto a wagon.
Benyamin lifted his head and, in an emotional voice, addressed the crowd first in German and then in Polish:
I know that they are transporting all of us to be killed, but I am comforted, with complete confidence, by the idea that our murderers will soon suffer a crushing defeat. They will be forced to surrender! They will turn into a nation of slaves to other nations! In the past, the German nation was famous as the bearer of the flag of culture and education. Among them were musicians and philosophers of whom humanity was proud. But now, all the generations of the nations of the world will condemn them as a nation of murderers, barbarians, wild animals, who exceeded the hangmen and inquisitors of the Middle Ages in their cruelty!
Turning to the Christian crowd, he said, Don't be happy and celebrate the disappearance and destruction of the Jews! The same murderers who are taking us away today will not hesitate to destroy you also when the time comes.
Benyamin was not able to continue. The sound of a shot split through the air. Benyaminke collapsed and fell, returning his proud, pure soul to his Creator.
Additional, supreme heroism was shown by Velvel Kapitowsky, a young man aged twenty, an orphan who lived on Gonosowki Street. Up to the time of the Soviet occupation, the general public in Sokoly did not know him. His neighbors who knew him from close by said that he had a witty tongue. During the period of the Soviet regime, he worked as an errand boy for the clinic that was in Janina Falkowska's house. Velvel was among the first 500 Jews who were taken in the farmers' wagons to Bialystok.
The moment that the line of wagons arrived at the bridge over the Narew River, Velvel burst out with a powerful call to the crowd:
Brother Jews! We should not deceive ourselves. What awaits us at the end of this journey is known. But before the strange death in the ovens, we are destined for more torture and suffering, hunger, thirst, cold, dirt and fleas. Therefore brothers, it is not for us to be brought like sheep to the slaughter! If we do not have the strength to rise up against our murderers, it is preferable to immediately put an end to our lives. Whoever still has a bit of courage in his heart and wants to shorten his suffering should take an example from me and do the same, and the G-d of Israel will avenge our blood!
When he finished speaking, Velvel jumped from the wagon into the river and disappeared in its depths.
Wladek continued to tell us about dozens of Jews from Sokoly, who were in a bunker with their families. In the end, they were found by a Polish informer who pointed them out to the German gendarmes. Accompanied by the Polish police, they shot all the Jews in the bunker on the spot.
Among these victims were Hershel Yismach (the son-in-law of Yankel Petroshka), his wife Freidel, and their two daughters, the oldest of whom, Chaicha, was wounded and fainted at the time of the shooting. The murderers thought she was dead and left her among those who were killed. Farmers were drafted to dig a deep pit and bury the dozens of victims.
After their horrible deeds, the murderers went away. Meanwhile, Chaicha woke up from her faint, got up on her weak legs and fled from the valley of death. With the last of her strength, she went to a Christian friend, with whom she had a very close friendship since their school days. Chaicha was a good student and had helped and even prepared homework for her friend. Everyone in the school loved her. Her fate is unknown, but apparently, she came to an end sooner or later. In any case, she did not find protection with her Christian friend.
Among the rest of the victims of that bunker were the wife of Chaim Itza Fleer and two of their daughters. Chaim Itza himself and the rest of his children hid themselves in another location. In the same bunker were Beilah Rachel's son, Alter with his wife, the daughter of the butcher Hanoch Fleer, and their two children. The wife and children were killed in the bunker, but Alter succeeded in fleeing with his life.
Mordechai Lapkovsky, who worked the last few years before the war as a professional carpenter in Warsaw, was also shot nearby. Mordechai, with his mother and sister, were hidden at a farmer's house near the village of Idzki when the Jews were expelled from Sokoly. It was his sad fate that, once, when he went out to buy bread, he met up with a search-team on its rounds and was shot on the spot.
His father Avrahamke Esov, who passed away before World War II, was a landowner who worked his lands himself. He plowed, sowed, harvested, and threshed. He managed a complete farm in every sense of the word, and was called Esov by the Jews. This nickname also gained validity because Avrahamke had red hair.
Another victim was a beautiful, little, four-year-old girl named Henele, the daughter of Bezalel Malach and his third wife. She was in the bunker with her older sister, Sarah Esther. The sister succeeded in fleeing from the inferno. Wladek added in his shocking description that when the victims were buried in the pit, Henele's blood flowed up like a fountain. The farmers who did the tragic work told this to Wladek.
We found out from Wladek that there were Germans ready to do business with Jews. At a price of 500 marks per person, they were willing to transport Jews to the Bialystok ghetto from among those who had fled to the forests and were hiding in bunkers. According to rumors, the Jews in the Bialystok ghetto live freely and work in the factories. The rumors had it that the Judenrat was ruling a kingdom, with a Jewish police force at its disposal.
The Germans who transported the Jews to the ghetto were using private taxis in order to camouflage their deeds. Among the first to reach the ghetto in this manner was Yisrael Maik, his wife Dina, their daughter Teibele, and their cousin Hinda. Yisrael suffered greatly during the weeks in the forests until they arrived in the Bialystok ghetto. All his wealth and money, all his faithful Christian friends who flattered him all the years, all his faith in humanity did not help him find shelter even for one day. Not a single friend was prepared to give him a helping hand in his distress at any price.
For weeks Maik wandered around with his family in the forest from bunker to bunker. At times, he got involved with gangs of robbers who molested him without mercy and stole from him. They always followed him wherever he went in order to extort money and valuables from him.
In recent days, his distress grew inestimably because of his daughter Teibele. Armed gangs of Soviets and Poles, called Sergei, and the Janek gangs, robbed and raped young women after kidnapping them. These creatures also attacked Teibele, and her father paid a fortune in order to redeem her from their impure hands.
After all these indescribable hardships it is easy to understand that Yisrael Maik decided to move to the Bialystok ghetto when he had the opportunity to do so. He paid several thousand marks to the Germans who transported him with his family to the ghetto, in spite of knowing that the ghetto would also not exist for a long time, but he considered that life at the moment would be better .
According to Wladek, Yisrael's tragedy continued even in Bialystok. A Polish citizen of German origin (Volksdeutsch) used to come to Yisrael's house in the ghetto for watch repairs. The man did not remain indifferent to Yisrael's daughter and actually fell in love with her. The Volksdeutschers had special privileges. Since these visits continued every day, a kind of friendship grew between him and the entire family. In evaluating the situation the thought occurred to Dina to exploit the lover in order to retrieve the suitcase of gold that she had given to Janina Falkowska for safekeeping.
The German agreed without hesitation to carry out the objective, and he traveled to Sokoly accompanied by Teibele Maik. Janina Falkowska received them nicely and asked them to come back the next day, because the suitcase was hidden in one of the villages.
They returned next day to her house. Janina asked them to wait a bit, saying that she would immediately bring the suitcase from the shed in the yard. She ran, instead, to inform the gendarmes of her guests' arrival.
Both of them were arrested immediately. The German was accused of having relations with Jews. To this very day Teibele's fate is unknown. We assumed that she was shot or sent to Treblinka.
The Maiks lost their daughter Teibele and carried on their consciences the sin that they themselves had caused her death. The pain was unbearable since it was right after they had just completed the days of mourning for their son, Shmuelke.
Another of Wladek's stories was about the carpenter Itza Baran who succeeded in hiding for two weeks in a hiding-place next to his house. His children were staying with a farmer, and every night they snuck into Sokoly to bring some valuables in sacks for the farmer. They were able to do this because, as we remembered from our adventure with Shmeig, for the first two weeks after the expulsion the Jews' possessions were not guarded and everything stood ownerless.
After Itza Baran the carpenter had arrived in the Bialystok ghetto via the Germans, he paid the Germans a second time to bring his sons in a taxi from the village where they were hiding with a farmer. The farmer did not want the children to leave him because they brought him possessions from their nightly trips to Sokoly and until then, they had continued to enrich him. But the boys were drawn to their parents with all their hearts, and so they went along with the Germans and were conducted in safety to their father in the ghetto.
Another link in the chain of Wladek's stories was about two respected Jews from Sokoly. Aharke Zholty was found murdered near the village of Jablonka, and Shlomke Olsha was shot in the Budziska forest during a search. Both of them were among the wealthiest people of the town and each of them ran wide-ranging businesses that, at times, took them to distant villages.
Until the war broke out, Aharke Zholty was the owner of two warehouses for storing wood and building materials. He built a large, two-story house for himself in the center of town. His wife Freidel managed a luxurious home that expressed their wealth, but she was generous to the poor and needy and was sympathetic to others. She always spoke nicely and no one ever heard her quarreling or arguing with anyone. Her husband Aharke was a wise Jew. He kept his word, was trustworthy, and a mediator with Judge Jaruzelsky when the matter involved justice. Whoever had legal problems turned to Aharke.
He was educated in the village of Ros, where his parents lived, and he was a frequent visitor to the Squire [paritz] of Ros. He was a friend of the Squire's children and grew up with them. They reached high social levels in the community. One was a judge, the second a legal investigator, and the third an army officer. Aharke was a friend to them all. When the Squire's daughter was married, the ceremony took place in the Sokoly church, and Aharke made sure that the Jews of Sokoly erected a royal gate of honor decorated with greenery and colored paper lanterns in honor of the shlub (wedding). Barrels with torches were set up the entire length of the road from the marketplace to Prayer Street and were lit at the appropriate moment.
People came to Aharke with regard to divorces, arbitration suits, and mediation in disputes between two parties. Aharke served as an administrator of the Jewish community at the time of the Polish regime. During the German occupation, he was a member of the Judenrat. Aharke was active in community matters in general. During recent times his status in the community grew even greater because of his son who had completed his engineering studies and became famous in the surrounding area.
Shlomke [Shlomo] Olsha, Aharke's son, owned a paint store and a building supplies warehouse. His wife, Sarah Miriam, was from the family of Rabbi Rabinowitz, the grandson of Rabbi Yaakov of blessed memory from Sokoly, one of a chain of rabbis beginning with Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Michael Rabinowitz, the translator of the Gemara into French. The Rabbi of Lapy, Rav Yisrael Rabinowitz, also wrote important and interesting books.
Shlomo Olsha was the father of five sons and three daughters. The youngest son, Chaim Yehoshua, married the daughter of the studious, learned Pesach Brill, of blessed memory. His wife, Shifra; his daughter, Sara; and his little son, Pesach were murdered in the forest by the Nazis. Chaim Yehoshua was a member of the regional committee for pioneer training and he was active in local town organizations, such as the Merchants' Union and the Cooperative Charity Committee. He was a member of the town local council, and a member of the Judenrat during the Nazi occupation.
Shlomke was a Chasid of the Alexander Rebbe. His house was luxurious and run according to aristocratic customs. He was the last official head of the Sokoly Jewish Congregation. His oldest son learned in the Rav Reines Yeshiva in Lita [Lithuania] and married a woman from the illustrious Grossman family of Ostrow-Mazowiekie, where he managed a store selling paper and writing instruments.
Shlomke's sons, Michael and Velvel, opened a wholesale store in Bialystok selling paints and chemical products, and they were known as the Olsha brothers. The fourth son, Moshe, was Yaakov Ginzburg's son-in-law and was a partner in a wood-sawing factory in Bialystok. He also manufactured baking powder and spices for drinks under the name Ofion, which was written in Hebrew letters.
The oldest daughter Tzipora (Feigel) was married to Yaakov Starinsky of Bialystok. He founded the first textile factory in the Land of Israel under the name Manor. The daughter Chana, who was pretty and intelligent, was married to the son of the illustrious Zolberg family from Warsaw. They had a famous firm for platinum products at 14 Genasha Street. Shlomo's youngest daughter Mushka completed studies at the Teachers' Seminary in Vilna.
After some time, our boys went again to to Wladek in Idzki to get the supplies they had ordered. Moshe Maik, who had a calloused foot, wore a rubber boot which Shmeig had found for him. They took two rifles and a number of hand grenades with them. Near Idzki, they heard loud barking of dogs. They stood still until the barking stopped and proceeded on their way to Wladek's house. Chaim Yudel and Moshe stood under a large tree with the rifles in their hands and Avrahamel carefully checked to see whether there was a guard in the area. He carefully jumped into Wladek's yard and knocked on his window. Wladek was alarmed, thinking that someone had come to rob him, and he started to yell for help at the top of his voice.
Avrahamel called out to Wladek, trying to calm him: Mr. Wladek, don't be afraid, I am Avraham the carpenter! But the barking of the dogs and Wladek's cries muted Avrahamel's voice. He was afraid to raise his voice because of the guards who were likely to suddenly arrive. Long moments passed until Avrahamel's voice reached Wladek's ears on the other side of the window. Then Wladek lit a kerosene lantern and went to open the door.
He told Avrahamel that only last night there had been robbers in the village. A pig was stolen from one of his neighbors and dozens of chickens from another. The robberies, committed by gangs of Christians and Jews, were continuing in all the villages in the area. When he heard footsteps outside the window, he was convinced that there were robbers in his yard. In Idzki and other nearby villages, they had established a night guard of ten men accompanied by dogs who watched the paths and roads. Wladek advised Avrahamel to be careful of going to the villages at night because of the danger involved in meeting up with the guards who would not hesitate to call the gendarmes.
Wladek gave Avrahamel the provisions which he had ordered, including two liters of kerosene in two bottles, but in return, Wladek asked for two empty bottles. Avrahamel only had one empty bottle at the time. Wladek was stubborn and because of this, refused to give Avrahamel the second liter of kerosene. Avrahamel felt degraded considering the fact that he had deposited many expensive items with the Christian, including clothing, shoes, and underwear worth hundreds of marks, yet here he was talking about an empty bottle which could be found in any garbage dump. Why was Wladek so insistant and trying to force Avrahamel to put his life in danger just to come again?
Moments of great anxiety passed for Chaim Yudel and Moshe who were standing guard outside. Four guards passed by right next to them and whistled. Our boys thought that the guards had seen them and were whistling to call others, perhaps even the police. The guards had a pocket flashlight, and our boys had weapons, but self-defense could not succeed against so many Christians.
To the great joy and relief of the boys, the guards continued on their way just as Avrahamel left Wladek's yard. The three returned together safely to the bunker.
Again I shed a sea of tears and cried bitterly until I was privileged to see the boys come back to me. They described the events of the previous night and unanimously agreed that it would be better to pay Shmeig hundreds of marks for a dry crust with water than to endanger their lives chasing after better food.
The boys determined that going to Sokoly was less dangerous than going to the villages. In Sokoly, they did not meet up with a single living soul or even a barking dog.
I tried to convince them that now it was no longer necessary to go to the villages, because we had a stock of food; and in combination with Shmeig's servings, we would be able to exist for a long time. They should not even think of making a special trip for the single liter of kerosene from Wladek. We could manage with what we get from Staczek, even kerosene at a higher price, but so be it.
In spite of my warnings, the boys went out a number of times to Jezewo, saying that there were no dogs on the way there. The road was not straight and it led round and round so it was possible on a dark night to make a mistake and get lost; but since they had already visited Lapinski a number of times, they had grown accustomed to the way and hoped to succeed.
To our disappointment, these trips bore no fruit. Lapinski did receive them generously, and they left merchandise worth 1600 marks with him in exchange for an order for food items. At the beginning, Lapinski jumped at the chance to make a significant profit and he told them to return to get the food. But when they appeared at his house the fifth time, he told them to come some other time. The other time, Lapinski was not at home, but our boys did not give up. One day they did find him at home, but he said that he was not able to do any more business with them. He was prepared to return everything he had received because he simply did not want to put his life, nor that of his family, in danger. It was enough that his neighbors knew very well that Lapinski has connections with the Jews. The whole game was playing with fire.
Lapinski then told the boys that they should no longer cross his threshold. The boys promised that they would not come to him any more but requested that he not have them leave empty-handed this time. But the Christian did not listen to their pleas and they returned the same way they had gone.
The boys knew that they could no longer go to the villages. One small hope remained and that was to turn to Moshe Maik's friend, the Soviet doctor.
Dr. Claudia Nikolievna Volosvitza was 35 years old and she was an expert in women's and internal diseases. Before the expulsion, when there were only two Jewish doctors in Sokoly, Dr. Guttenplan and Dr. Makowsky, the Soviet doctor was loaded with work. She was friendly in professional relations with and care of her patients, and it was known that she waived payment for a house call from those who were unable to pay. Her husband was a high-ranking officer in the Soviet army and was at the warfront.
During the first few days after the Nazi invasion, Dr. Volosvitza tried to cross over to the Soviet side and reach the city of Tembov where she was born. Since all means of communication were already broken, the Soviet doctor was forced to remain in Sokoly.
She received good recommendations from Manikowski, the Polish mayor at that time, and from other important people. The German Kommandant issued her a permit to treat the sick in Sokoly and the surrounding area. Dr.Volosvitza was the mother of a boy of sixteen and a girl aged six.
My son Moshe became acquainted with the Soviet doctor in 1940. As a technician, Moshe occasionally received radio repair work from her, and he refused to take payment for his efforts. In such cases, the woman sent him 40 marks for each repair with her housemaid.
After failing to cross over to the Soviet side, Dr. Volosvitza invited Moshe to come to her home occasionally, as she regarded him as a son. It is no surprise that Moshe quickly became friendly with her son Igor.
Now that we were in a bunker, Moshe and Avrahamel Goldberg decided to exploit this friendship with the Soviet doctor and seek her assistance to get food, thereby avoiding the danger to their lives by going to the villages.
The two sent some dresses and children's clothing to the Soviet doctor with Staczek. These articles appealed to her, and when she remembered her relationship with Moshe, she sent him a letter with Staczek, asking him details about his situation, including a request to set a price for the things that had been sent to her. Moshe answered that he trusted her with regard to the price, but instead of money he requested occasional packages of food, because of his unique situation.
The Soviet doctor answered immediately that she was prepared with all her heart to send daily packages if there would be someone with whom to send them. Meanwhile, she sent 100 marks with Staczek, along with a package of food that included a large cake, a fried goose, a jar of oil and one-half kilo of sausage. On a note that she attached to the package she wrote that she wanted to send a lot more, but the messenger was worried that guards would stop him on the way and would be interested in seeing what was in such a large package. For the coming Christmas holiday, she was prepared to send a sufficient amount for all the days of the holiday. To our great disappointment, Staczek refused to accept some of the items that the Soviet doctor sometimes prepared for us.
Shmeig visited Dr. Volosvitza once a week. She knew that Maik was under his protection and would run to meet him, leaving the patients who had come to her in the house in the middle of a treatment, as if Staczek were a guest who had arrived from abroad. She brought him into her room so she could hear details about Moshe Maik. She showed Staczek such enormous affection that he would return home from these visits in high spirits. He was a single man, 36-years-old, a wealthy farmer and owner of a well-run, productive farm. He had not had opportunities to meet the fair sex and therefore the Soviet doctor's attitude was a special experience in his life.
Staczek was interested in meeting the doctor's son Igor who had learned from Maik how to charge batteries and had tools for doing so. At Moshe's request, Igor would charge batteries for Staczek without payment. Staczek was an active member of the A.K. underground and the batteries were necessary for the organization's radio broadcasting and receiving.
Staczek came to the Soviet doctor's house without crossing through the town of Sokoly, which made it less likely that he would be seen.
Moshe Maik made tiny, chrome and nickel batteries for the organization that could be carried in a pocket without being detected. In spite of this relationship with Dr. Volosvitza, Staczek became more and more hardened and indifferent towards us from day to day. He did not give Moshe the letters from Dr. Volosvitza and refused to accept any food from the Soviet doctor for him, making up all kinds of excuses and pretexts to avoid doing so. He accepted only small items, such as medicine for Chaim Yudel who suffered from asthma.
Once, Staczek was decent enough to bring a message from Dr. Volosvitza. She wrote that the Chairman of the Sokoly Judenrat, Alter Ginzburg, his wife the dentist, her son Monik, along with Yona Ginzburg and his wife Selina the teacher, had handed themselves in to the German gendarmes. They had wandered for a time in the forests, hiding in bunkers, and finally they could no longer bear the suffering and torment. They were still being held prisoner, but there was a chance that they would be sent to the Bialystok ghetto.
Seeing that no food would be obtained from the Soviet doctor by way of Staczek, our young men sought a strategy how to contact her in a different way. Moshe sent a letter to her son Igor in which he asked that they meet behind the cemetery on a certain day between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m. Igor answered immediately and set a meeting for the next Saturday night behind the Christian cemetery on the road leading to Warsaw.
The boys put a lot of hope in the meeting knowing that Igor was a faithful friend and was devoted to Moshe Maik with all his heart. They decided to ask Igor to put a package of food in a certain place once a week under a pile of stones. To their great disappointment, the plan failed, because Igor received an order to present himself in Lapy for work, and he was not able to come to the meeting. However, he sent a message with Staczek that he would get in touch with Moshe the next week.
Staczek ignored the matter for a few weeks, wishing to stop the exchange of notes between Igor and Moshe. When Igor did meet with Staczek after several weeks and wanted to send a note to Moshe, Staczek emphatically refused to take the note with the excuse that there were now German guards on all the roads inspecting everything that was brought from one place to another and even searching in people's pockets.
Every night between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m., Staczek would open the cover over the opening of our bunker and lower food to us. Once every two days, he would come down to talk a bit and hear the news on the radio. He would check to see if the boys went outside they had told him that it was not worth endangering their lives for things that were already being supplied to them.
Once they suggested that Staczek take part with them in the following missions:
a) to go to the deputy Amstkommissar, who lived in a suburb of the town that was easy to reach. Since he was fattening geese and turkeys for the Christmas holiday, it would be a very good deed to disturb his holiday by stealing the birds;
b) to take the butter, tools, telephone and typewriter from the government dairy;
c) to go to the steam plant and cut strips of leather that could be used as soles for shoes; and
d) to go to the gendarmia stables (Avrahamel had worked there and he knew all its secrets and how to take the walls apart with no difficulty), remove bicycles, expensive furs, and other valuables, and then set the stables on fire with the horses and vehicles inside.
The boys awakened Staczek's appetite and he promised to study their plans and choose those he preferred. He told us that he had heard from Christian acquaintances about some Jews from Sokoly. We were so accustomed to hearing shocking stories about the torture of Jews that our hearts were already hardened. Even so, the stories still had a depressing effect on us.
Six young girls who had succeeded in escaping from the German hunt during a search in the forest remained hidden for a length of time. The girls were happy that they had succeeded in miraculously being rescued from death that had hovered over their heads in the forest. They met a farmer who appeared to be respectable and asked him to show them the way to a quiet, safe settlement. They told him everything that had happened to them during the hunt and what miracles and wonders had been sent to them by a good redeeming and rescuing Angel who rescued them from death. They followed him.
Suddenly the girls saw that the farmer was leading them in the direction of Sokoly and they could already see the church steeple in the distance. They turned to the farmer, Sir! Doesn't this road lead to Sokoly? Here is the church .
Instantly the farmer lifted a club to beat them. They began to run away and the farmer chased after them with his club trying to force them to go in the direction of Sokoly--just the way they bring animals to the slaughter. He handed them over to the Amstkommissar. The girls fell into the hands of the German murderers and the farmer received three kilos of sugar for his trouble.
There was a store in Sokoly for manufactured goods owned by Shmuel Tzvi Kravitz, the son-in-law of Yudel Goldin. Before the Jews were expelled from Sokoly, Kravitz hid the majority of his merchandise with his Christian friends. After the expulsion, Kravitz's two daughters Sheindel and Shashki remained. In the beginning they lived in the forests. They approached their Christian acquaintances to ask for shelter, but the Christians did not even allow them to cross their thresholds.
Once, Sheindel Kravitz met Chane Segal, the son of Yudel from the village of Czeika who was the head of a group of Jewish partisans. The girl told Chane that their father had hidden merchandise with a farmer in the area and now the farmer would not even allow them to cross the threshold of his house. She asked Chane to get their merchandise back. Chane agreed to her request, but he advised her not to claim all the merchandise at once, but only bit by bit.
When Chane and Shaindel approached the farmer, he suggested that they come back in another two days since he had hidden the merchandise in different places. After two days, Shaindel returned with Chane Segal and his men to the farmer. Chane and Shaindel went inside and the rest of them waited outside. The farmer had invited a few farmer friends to wait in ambush for his visitors and the minute that Chane and the girl stepped inside the house, the farmers attacked Chane while Shaindel began to scream.
Chane's men, who were standing outside, understood that the farmer had set a trap and they ran away in panic. The farmers tied up Chane Segal and handed him and Shaindel Kravitz to the Germans guarding the Jamiolki bridge. They were murdered in cold blood and were buried by the village farmers next to the Jamiolki bridge.
Staczek also told us that the Jew, Tzvi Namzinsky, Alter Radzilovsky's son-in-law, was hidden at Staczek's neighbor's house and was paying a high price for shelter. When the other neighbors found out, Staczek's neighbor worried that they would inform the Germans so he murdered Tzvi Namzinsky and his wife. How he did it Staczek did not know. He knew his neighbor very well as a respectable person .
Now, as I record my memories, I doubt whether we will be privileged to see the light of the world after the Holocaust and whether my writings will reach the hands of Jews who will be able to publish them. At the moment, the end is not in sight. We lie day and night like the living dead, buried under the ground in a dark bunker. We light the Kopshtakel (a small lantern without glass for the smoke and soot to rise through) for only for two hours a night, and it blackens our faces and the small, bellows-like hole that lets air into our bunker. I write during the day under the weak rays of light that penetrate through a small hole in the bunker's cover. Will my writings be privileged to reach the hands of Jews? I doubt it! I would have liked them to study these works well.
So be it! If the Germans have the task of destroying the Jewish nation, it is still possible to understand them, because they were poisoned with anti-Semitism, which blames the Jews for all the tragedies in the world and to them, it is a great deed to fulfill the orders of their leader Hitler, may his name be blotted out! But simple Polish farmers have become wild animals thirsty for blood, ready to hand over innocent Jews into the hands of murderers for a kilogram of sugar .
When Staczek told us these facts, we began to fear for our own fate . Who knows if Staczek will also plot to get rid of us and inherit all our possessions? We were plagued by suspicion that sooner or later, Staczek would want to get rid of us by poisoning our food. Therefore, Avrahamel suggested that for each pot of food that Staczek serves us, each of us in turn would refrain from eating it. In case it is poisoned, at least one among us would remain alive to take revenge and set the entire farm on fire. Several weeks passed during which every day, each one of us in turn, did not eat the food that Staczek served.
A week before the Christmas holiday, Staczek called our boys to go with him to the house of the deputy Amstkommissar, to steal the fattened geese.
At midnight, the boys took two rifles, a few hand grenades, and sacks and set out with Staczek towards town. After three hours, they returned to the bunker, bringing eight fattened geese and twelve turkeys. They could not put any more into the four sacks and had to leave the rest. Avrahamel was an artist and was able to break in and open locks within a few minutes.
Staczek was afraid to keep the stolen geese in his house so he lowered Avrahamel and Moshe into a second bunker that he had in the woods near his yard in order to kill the turkeys and geese there and pluck their feathers. They worked for many hours. Finally, only three geese remained that had not been plucked. Avrahamel and Moshe were hungry and tired of their tense job. Staczek advised them to feast as much as they wanted, after a day of tension and fasting. Chaim Yudel and I went to finish plucking the three geese that remained. Staczek brought a pail and salt, and cut all the geese and turkeys into pieces to salt them. Staczek made an accounting of the fowl: he gave us the entrails and giblets of twenty fowl (drioviski, in Polish). He also gave us a little bit of meat to make greibenes (fried fat pieces).
On Sunday, Staczek told us that the Germans had made a scandal in Sokoly because of the missing geese. The Amstkommissar told the priests that a gang of Polish robbers had broken into his storeroom and removed dozens of geese. He therefore requested that they proclaim in the churches that their religious congregation had to supply the Germans with 50 fattened geese. The priest made a strong speech in church about the contemptible act against the representatives of the German government. Someone had broken into their storeroom and stole dozens of geese, thereby putting the safety of the religious community in danger. And therefore, he proclaimed that it was a good deed to inform the regime of any information about the criminals.
It was apparent that Staczek found the fattened geese to be delicious. Seeing that Avrahamel was an expert in opening complicated locks in a few minutes and that his Jews were quick and daring, Staczek decided to also accept Avrahamel's second plan of carrying out an attack on the German dairy. Since this plan was more dangerous, he decided to carry it out with his faithful friend Tzeshek. Staczek and Avrahamel took two rifles and Moshe and Chaim Yudel took hand grenades, tools for the break-in and a few sacks.
I remained in the bunker and recited verses of Psalms. At the beginning, I tried to stop my son from participating in these dangerous missions, but he did not want to listen to me.
They returned after three hours, bringing 40 kilos of butter, a few kilograms of paper, two scales and other items. The boys had also wanted to dismantle the machines and telephones and bring them to the bunker, but Staczek and Tzeshek were standing outside and were in a hurry to return.
Our boys did not have time to carry out their plan of destruction. They were only able to damage the pipes, and pour out all the milk and cream. If they had gone a day later, they would have been able to bring three more crates of butter. Their mission took place on a Sunday after the weekly dairy transport had been sent.
This time, thanks to Staczek, the division of the spoils was just, each one getting eight kilos of butter. But our boys waived two kilos, as well as their portion of the scales, which were worth 500 marks.
The burglary of the German dairy was skilled work. The lock was very complicated and it was impossible to open with a tool. Besides, Avrahamel had to break the double doors ? he had to have been very skilled to carry out a large break-in within only a few minutes and without making a sound.
The boys tried with all their might to satisfy Staczek's wishes, so that he would not weave any plots to get rid of them. After the two missions of the geese and the butter, the boys lost their fear of being poisoned by Staczek and stopped fasting.
Staczek wanted to eliminate the suspicion that Poles had carried burglarized the dairy. He requested that the boys prepare notes in Russian and Yiddish, as if Russians and Jews were behind the operation. The Russian note was written in a humorous tone and ended with the words, Don't worry about the burglary damages. Comrade Stalin will pay for everything! They showed Staczek and Tzeshek the notes, which they liked; but the boys decided not to leave the notes in the dairy because it was not worth it to transfer suspicion from the Poles. Their hatred of the Jews was no less than that of the Germans, and their cruelty occasionally surpassed that of the Germans. The notes would cause the Germans to increase their searches in the forests for Jews and there would be more victims.
The local farmers surmised that the burglary was the work of Jews. The daughter of the Polish police officer Yanchenko even said that once, at a late hour of the night when her father was at work and she remained alone in the house, Feivel Yezevitz (Mordechai's son and Yaakov Goldberg's grandson) entered the house with a pistol in his hand and asked her for some pork. The girl began to scream and Feivel Yezevitz fled. The police chased and shot at him, but Feivel succeeded in fleeing.
Staczek said that on the same night the dairy was robbed, the Germans found, through an informer, a bunker in which Naftali Plut, four of his sons, and Dr. Guttenplan were hiding. It contained a radio receiver belonging to Dr. Makowsky who had recently been living in Naftali Plut's house, and since the Plut sons knew about the radio, they had taken it out of its hiding place and brought it to their bunker. The Germans shot Naftali Plut and two of his sons, Dov and Shlomo. They had previously been injured, but the Germans did not want to take care of injured Jews. Naftali's other two sons, Yaakov and Nachum Yudel, and Dr. Guttenplan, were arrested by the Germans and sent to the Bialystok ghetto.
At that time, there was an order to send Jews caught in the forests to the ghetto. The Christians said that the Germans suspected Naftali Plut's sons of participating in the burglary of the dairy.
The Germans were not unified in dealing with the Jews. At first they sent them to the ghetto, but later, they shot them on the spot. That is what happened to the son of Yosef Blustein, who turned himself in together with his wife and three sons so as to be sent to the ghetto. It was their misfortune that the gendarmes changed their methods that day and the Jews were immediately killed.
We had a stock of 16 kilos of butter after the butter from the dairy was distributed. Part of it remained for daily use and the rest was fried with onions to preserve it for as long as possible. The bread that the boys had brought from Idzki on their last forage for food was sufficient to give Staczek a portion.
However, our boys could not sit and do nothing. It was a shame to lose a night. In the beginning, they thought of burning the gendarmerie warehouse, but first they would have to take out the bicycles and motorcycles. Avrahamel had built the warehouse and was familiar with every cornert. He knew how to open the walls without making a sound. Staczek craved the good things in the warehouse, but he postponed the operation from day to day.
When they saw that they could not depend on Staczek, the boys decided to burn down the town without his help and knowledge. All of us in the bunker feared that as long as the war continued, we did not have a chance to remain alive.
Their ambition grew from day to day especially after the Amstkommissar's decision to destroy the Jewish cemetery. The Yellow Satan was not satisfied with harming living Jews, but coarsely desecrated Jewish graves. The Amstkommissar ordered the destruction of the fence around the cemetery, the uprooting of the Jewish monuments and their use to pave sidewalks upon which the impure feet of those who hate and oppress us would tread, and into whose hands the homes and possessions of the Jews had fallen. It wasn't enough that they had taken all the Jews out of the town to kill them (men, women and children), robbed their possessions, and burned their homes. Their wish was also to harm dead Jews and not to allow their bones to rest in their graves.
Therefore, the boys reasoned, it was our holy obligation to nullify the Amstkommissar's program as soon as possible and burn down the entire town.
The boys planned to ambush the drunken Germans late at night and fall upon them with clubs and kill them. It was also part of their plan to attack Polish police, kill them, and take their weapons. I tried to prevent them from carrying out their dangerous plan, arguing that it was not worthwhile to put four people's lives in danger for something so questionable. Perhaps they would succeed in killing one German or Polish policeman or set a few houses on fire.
But the boys reproached me for interfering with their plans, and regarded me as an idle, selfish transient who worried only about himself. They added that as long as we were still alive, we should do something, and not have guilty consciences that we did not take revenge on our oppressors.
I tried to argue with them about what gain there could possibly be in burning down a few houses? Every Jew who survives is important and from him a new generation will arise. Is it worth it now to abandon four souls, four generations of Jews, for a few houses? Nobody would request such a thing from you not the Torah, not the nation of Israel .
But they stood firm in their decision that the voice of the blood of their parents, their brothers and sisters, women and children, was crying out to them from the earth to take revenge upon the enemy. I tried again, unsuccessfully, to argue that they would be able to take revenge on those who hate us when the United States, the Soviet Union, and England would conquer Germany, but now every soul that would be abandoned and endangered is to be regretted.
The night before they were to set the town on fire, they went to explore the situation. They scouted different locations to see from which one it would be easier to ignite the fire, and to spy on the night guards to better surprise them. They did not take any kerosene with them. With regard to their plans to attack the Polish police, or the gendarmes going home after visiting in Janina Falkowska's house, the boys promised me that for now they would waive these plans.
When they went to town, my calmness left me and I became very agitated. Nightmarish sights filled my imagination. Who could guess what dangerous deeds they would decide to do? As was my custom, I began to recite the Psalms that I thought would protect us from danger. I prayed the evening prayers and said Kriat Shma with special concentration. I had a Tefillat Yaakov siddur with large letters, and almost every evening I would learn a few chapters of Psalms until I knew them by memory.
I had to lie in the dark for 18 hours a day when not even a little bit of air penetrated the sealed opening to the bunker. The bunker was covered up tightly from 4:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night, and a lantern could not be lit during the entire day. We only lit a small lantern, without any glass (called a kopatchek) during mealtimes and for two hours at night when Staczek brought us our food. It raised smoke and soot which added to our misery as we had to lie day and night in the dark.
When thoughts of sorrow and lament gnawed at my heart, the only remedy that eased the bitter suffering of my soul was to recite Psalms, mainly during the long evening hours when the boys were gone on their dangerous trips to find food.
It was before dawn, at 4:00 in the morning on the day when they went to explore the town. All of them returned safely to the bunker bringing with them a few pieces of thin plywood that they had found in Sokoly. The plywood was from Pesach Brill's storeroom. The plywood was needed for the ceiling of the bunker so that rain would not fall on us when the rainy season began. They also found pieces of mirror for shaving. They did not want to ask Staczek to buy a mirror because they had asked him to do so ten times and every time he forgot.
The boys admitted to me that they had lain under a fence on Bathhouse Street in ambush for a German or a Polish policeman until 2:00 in the morning, but with no success.
The next night, they took with them one and one-half liters of kerosene, and the brothers Avrahamel and Chaim Yudel Goldberg, and Moshe Maik went to burn down Sokoly. I again tried to delay them, but the boys only scoffed me. My son Moshe promised me that there was nothing to fear and that they knew how to watch themselves and be careful. Before the fire would spread, they would already be in the forest.
The plan was to set three sides of the town on fire: near Chaim Itza Fleer's house, a quiet corner, hidden in all directions and together with many other houses; at the home of Motke, the engraver, which bordered the enormous gendarmerie warehouse; and in the center of the marketplace, where all the shops and restaurants were located. Thus, the fire would envelope the entire town.
After the boys left, I started to recite the Psalms, but my fear was inestimably larger than the night before and not even my prayers could calm me. Every moment I ran to the bunker hole to listen for any sound outside. Perhaps I would hear footsteps, the barking of a dog or some other noise?
At 4:00 in the morning I finally did hear footsteps. With feelings of joy and tears in my eyes, I praised G-d, Praise and thanks to the Holy One, blessed be He, that the boys have returned safely! The boys called me to come out to look at the flames and to say the Shehechiyanu blessing.
The sky was red. The entire horizon was filled with flames, and I recited the Shehechiyanu blessing, not because of my feelings of revenge, but because my boys had succeeded in fulfilling their dream. With them, the matter was a holy operation, a kind of sanctification of G-d's name.
The boys decided not to admit, even to Staczek, that they were the arsonists. Shmeig came down to us as was his custom at 5:00 a.m., while it was still dark, to make sure that the bunker cover was sufficiently camouflaged. The boys pretended that they did not know and innocently asked about the fire. Did it break out in Bialystok or in Lapy? The sky was so red that it appeared that the fire was very large and widespread.
Staczek came to us again the next day, and this time he gave us a detailed account of the fire. All the buildings in the marketplace and the main streets, Tiktin, Lomza and Bathhouse Street (which led to the train) were destroyed. Almost the entire town, one hundred houses and farm buildings went up in flames. Only Aharki Zholty's two-story house, which the Germans had worked especially to rescue because the gendarmia was located there, was saved. It is clear that the damage to the building was great and without major repairs to the building, it would be impossible to live there. The fire departments of Bialystok, Lapy, Wysokie-Mazowiekie, and Zambrow were called to put out the fire, but it was too late.
Warehouses of merchandise in large cellars were burned. Many leather skins stored in barrels in the cellars were burned. Meanwhile, the men of the gendarmia were forced to move into the church. It is superfluous to add that all the possessions that they had stolen from the Jews were burned, as well as their horses, their vehicles, and everything they owned.
Our boys enjoyed hearing that they had succeeded a lot more than they had expected in realizing their desire to avenge the blood of our people that had been spilled like water. Pride and satisfaction in their deed accompanied them for a long time, especially when they thought of the officers that had lost their lives of plenty and luxury. They would not ride so fast on princely horses on their daily excursions as they had been accustomed to do; there no longer was a stable with a fancy fence around it; and they no longer had dwellings with every comfort.
But more than anything, the boys were happy that they had interfered with the desecration of the cemetery monuments of the holy ones. Now, the Satan, in his great embarrassment, was forced to drop the idea of uprooting and destroying the monuments because the streets of Sokoly no longer had a need for sidewalks.
Thank the Almighty G-d that we also were privileged to take revenge against Troskolski, the restaurant owner, and a number of Christian shop owners who got rich from the destruction of the Jews, settled themselves in the homes of Jews and stole their shops. These despicable Poles got what they deserved. Even though they came out of the fire with their bodies, they stood on unfirm ground and were left without even a shoelace.
Our heroes, excited for activity and vengeance, were not satisfied until now with what they had done. They already began to talk about completing the arson operation, down to the last house in Sokoly. It was clear that they had to wait until the anger passed and the mood after the first arson quieted down.
Even though their plan was to be carried out in a number of weeks, my peace of mind left me. This was so because, according to Staczek, the night guard had been enlarged and strengthened and the fire department and police were in a state of readiness.
With the increased danger in the entire area, the boys grew only bolder; any sense of fear they had disappeared. They distanced themselves from thinking, what will happen if ? A zealous fire of revenge burned within them--revenge against the Germans is a national and moral obligation, for history and for themselves.
That same week, something happened to Staczek that partially took revenge upon us. The incident occurred on Sunday. All day we were in a bad mood, without any peace of mind. At 9:00 in the morning, Staczek did not come as usual to take the cover off the bunker and lower our breakfast down to us. We knew that Staczek had guests from Warsaw at that time: the wife of a high Polish officer who had been taken prisoner by the Germans, and her two grown sons. Staczek was very careful in their presence so that they would not detect that there were Jews hidden in a bunker under his protection. To the question of the sons why he had to cook in two pots, Staczek answered that he was fattening hogs. When out of their sight, he took the pots to the sheepfold and left them there so that at a later stage he could bring them to us. This time, however, he did not show up and the bunker cover remained sealed.
We knew that Staczek was accustomed to visit Dr. Volosvitza on Sundays, but the food had always reached us at the regular times. We were seized by gloomy thoughts, assuming that Staczek had been arrested on his way back from the doctor's house when they found him with a hidden battery. Maybe they arrested him in order to send him to work in Germany? Thus we lay all day, upset and expecting the worst. During the late hours of the evening, we heard footsteps. It was Staczek, who took off the cover and came down into the bunker with a pot of food in his hands. He gave Moshe a note from the doctor, and after that he told us what had happened:
Because of the presence of the visiting lads in the yard this morning, Staczek decided to go earlier to the Soviet Doctor and bring us the food later. Everything proceeded properly, but on the way back home he met a farmer with a wagon, who invited him to climb up and he would give him a ride part of the way. In Staczek's pants pocket, there was a small battery that Igor, the Doctor's son, had given him. Because of the rattling of the wagon over the rutted road, the acid spilled out of the battery and he was badly burnt between the thighs. When he got home, he took off his clothes and saw that the burns had turned into wide, black wounds that were painful and caused him a lot of suffering.
He was not yet ready to tell his brother Palek what happened to him, because he was worried that he would tease and mock him about his dealings with the Jews and about the radio receivers for the underground, because of which he was endangering himself and his entire family.
Even so, he showed us the wounded places on his body. We advised him to request immediate help from Dr. Volosvitza. Staczek had no other choice but to tell his brother of his trouble and ask him to go immediately to the Soviet doctor to get medicine since he was not able to go to her himself.
From that day onward, the cover of the bunker was opened only once a day, at 10:00 at night instead of twice a day as it had been until now. The food that was served to us also became worse from day to day, but we had no choice and kept silent.
The Soviet Doctor informed us in a letter, among other things, that Alter Ginzburg, his wife the dentist and their son Monik, who had been transported some time ago to the Bialystok ghetto, had been expelled with the first transport of Jews to Treblinka. On the way, Monik had succeeded in jumping off the train and according to rumor he was hiding in one of the villages.
The doctor further told us that Shlomo Jaskulka also had jumped from the train. In doing so he received a hard blow on his head that caused a brain concussion and he became insane. Instead of hiding he ran to the police in Lapy and prattled about all kinds of things. He told them that until the war he had been occupied in selling crops, that his wife traveled to visit her relatives in the United States and returned from there close to the time the war broke out. He said he was the father of sons and the grandfather of a grandson, and lived a good, happy life until the Germans came and destroyed the lives of all the Jews. He was forced to flee with his entire family to the forests, from fear of the mass murders that the Germans were committing. From the forests, he later reached the Bialystok ghetto from which he was taken to be killed in Treblinka. He succeeded in jumping out of the train, and turned to the gendarmerie in Lapy, so that they would protect him from the Gestapo murderers.
They did not let Jaskulka go on. They took him out to the yard of the police station and shot him in the back.
Another story is about Itzele Roseman. The Germans employed him for a long time to polish their shoes, and regarded him as an efficient Jew. They promised him that nothing bad would happen to him. On the day of the expulsion they even suggested that he hide in the forest with his entire family. This week Roseman was caught together with Benyamin Okune, the sexton of the synagogue and gravedigger. Both families were shot in the forest.
Among those who were murdered in the forest under similar circumstances were Shabtil Zlotko, the son of Bracha the seamstress; Bezalke [Bezalel] Fleer; Avraham Fleer the butcher and his wife Nechama who gave birth to a son in the forest; and the son of Hanoch (Henich) Fleer the butcher. Avraham ran around searching for milk for the newborn since Nechama was unable to nurse him. The farmers knew Avraham and had always been friendly to him, but when he was in trouble they sent him away empty-handed and avoided him. All these fell victim to the Germans and were shot.
Shmeig told us about daily transports of Jews to Treblinka in closed cattle cars. Many people succeeded in jumping out of the trains, but the sentries shot them and the tracks were seeded with those who had been killed. Gangs of Poles roamed the length of the tracks and robbed those who succeeded in fleeing of everything, down to their shoelaces. There were incidents where those who jumped off the train were killed by injuries from objects in their way, such as telephone poles or rocks, or were injured and broken by the jump itself.
This week, continued Staczek, there was an incident involving four Jews, two men and two women, who had succeeded in jumping from a boxcar. They were happy that they had been saved from death and that they did not meet up with Polish gangs. They wandered in the forest, slept in pits and suffered from hunger, until finally they came to Giemzino [Wysokie Mazowieckie district], a village at the edge of the forest, about four kilometers from where we were located. The four survivors calmed down a bit when they found out that they were far from the train line and from a traveled road and, as they had thought previously, there were no Germans in the nearby surroundings, nor were there any robbers.
The people sat down under a tree to rest, and suddenly they saw a farmer coming toward them. The man appeared innocent and, for some reason, they trusted him, and told him who they were and what their situation was. He listened carefully to every word they said and gave them the impression that he was shocked and took pity upon them. The farmer asked them to follow him to the village and promised to get them some bread. They did not think of suspecting him, and walked after him, feeble and broken, in the hope of quieting their hunger and finding a corner where there was no danger to their lives.
Suddenly, the farmer turned on his heel, pulled out a pistol, and shot a round of bullets. The two men and one of the women collapsed and fell in their places. The second woman, who was young, succeeded in fleeing and found a safe place to hide. She told the whole story, and it also reached Staczek's ears.
An apostate named Meizner lived in Sokoly with his wife and two children. When the war broke out, their son was 20 years old and their daughter was 17. Meizner was circumcised; even the lines of his face bore witness to his obvious Jewishness. At first sight, his wife also looked like a typical Jewess; her manner of speaking also could not hide her origins. Since he was an apostate, people stayed away from him, both Jews and Christians.
Meizner's apostasy was a matter of livelihood and maintenance, and nothing else. He did not go to church, and he never went to the priest to confession. During the Soviet occupation, his daughter married the Kommissar and moved with him to Russia.
With the German invasion of Sokoly, the apostate, like the rest of the Jews, did not enjoy any preferences and he was not granted any privileges. Even so, at the time of the expulsion, Meizner found shelter in the villages, in spite of the fact that the farmers knew of his Jewish origins and the recognition that they would be given the most severe punishment for hiding a Jew. The Polish police also knew who Meizner was and were silent. The apostate went around freely, as if the entire matter of the persecutions did not relate to him. He was carefree and certain that no one would inform on him and that he was regarded among the Poles as one of us. During this time, his son became ill and died.
In February 1943, four months after the expulsion from Sokoly, the warm winds of spring began to blow, contrary to the usual weather at this season. Suddenly, the snow melted and the walls of our bunker became waterfalls. The water streamed down from the ceiling and burst forth from the bottom like a gushing fountain. Shmeig had predicted to us that in the spring we could expect flooding in the cave but at that time we did not take him seriously because we thought he was interested in getting rid of us and just wanted us to find somewhere else to stay.
We began to look for ways of protecting ourselves against the forces of nature. We found it correct to dig a pit at the bottom of the cave, as deep and wide as possible, so that the water would gather there and gradually subside.
We moved our possessions and bedding to a higher location in a corner where the water had not yet started to flow. Because it was so terribly crowded, the four of us had no choice but to sit on our possessions. We could not stretch our legs and the water came up to our knees. We were worried that the flood would grow worse and that the water would fill the entire space within the bunker. Towards evening our fear grew greater when the pit in the bottom of the cave filled up and the water overflowed its sides and covered the part of the bunker that had remained dry until now.
On Sunday, we waited impatiently for Shmeig to come. He came at 10:00 in the morning with portions of food served to us as usual. We took advantage of the entire time the cover was open and using the vessels we had at our disposal, fervently drew water and carefully poured it out at a distance away from the bunker without leaving any footprints.
On Monday we could not wait any more for Staczek to come because the water had risen too high. We lifted the cover ourselves and with pails drew out the rising water. One pail was always with us; we took a second pail from the farm well, and in this manner we poured more than 70 pails of water outside. Two of us stood outside and took the pails of water into our hands, while the other two, inside the bunker, passed the filled pails up to us. The pails were hooked onto the ends of gnarled wooden poles to aid in passing them up where we could grab them.
On Tuesday frost covered the surface of the bunker and the water stopped dripping from the ceiling and flowed only from the bottom.
When the flood ended, the walls of earth and sand were soaked with dampness. When the walls dried, they split and clumps fell off them. This time there was a danger that the entire cave would collapse.
It was urgently necessary to find boards to support the walls of the bunker. It was clear that we could not obtain them for any amount of money. We remembered that on the Idzki road a board fence had been put up to protect the train tracks from the snow and the boys decided to pilfer boards from there. They went out on their mission at about 11:00 p.m. and returned the next morning at 3:00 a.m., each of them carrying on his back a section of fence comprised of 15 boards all together, 45 boards. I tried without success to lift one of these sections and found that it was beyond my physical ability to do so. I wondered at the strength of the boys who had traveled a distance of eight kilometers through fields and woods with such a heavy load without meeting a living soul.
After the boys returned, they did not allow themselves to rest until Staczek came at 4:00 a.m. to camouflage the opening. A great deal of work still remained. The boards had to be taken apart, nails had to be removed from them and they had to be lowered into our house. Then, the area around the place had to be camouflaged so that no footprints would remain. All these jobs were strictly carried out within 45 minutes.
The next night was devoted to supporting the walls with boards that were sawed to size and made appropriate to the shape of the walls and the ceiling.
The third night the boys went out again to the train track to bring more boards from the fence. We covered the floor of the bunker in a raised manner to keep the bedding dry in case of heavy rain, and the part of the bunker where the water collected would be deeper and under the floor.
The next night, our heroes went out to the forest to cut birch trees to support the floor. Avrahamel had carpentry tools and a sharp saw in good condition. During the next stage, hooks were made to hold personal possessions and clothing.
After completing the house repairs, the boys got the idea to repeat the mission to the regional dairy to bring another load of butter, since the previous supply was used up. In addition, they planned burglaries of farms in more distant villages in order to get food and anything else that was useful.
My heart again filled with unrest, depression, and discouragement, and I was in constant fear. I imagined many horrible scenarios: we would be killed by the Germans; murdered by gangs of Poles; annihilated, following flooding or collapse of the bunker; die from strangulation as a result of the lack of air or from illness; and threatened by danger as a result of the boys' missions.
I tried, with all the means at my disposal, to restrain the hot-headed boys from their dangerous plans and persuade them, with logical arguments, to desist from additional heroic acts after the burglary of the government dairy, the robbery of the geese and turkeys from the Amstkommissar's house, and last, but not least the burning of the majority of the town. There is no doubt that the guards had been strengthened in all corners of the town and in the villages, and any attempt at burglary or arson was doomed to complete failure while putting the lives of four people in danger. In my heart I added myself as the fifth and last victim of our community.
I advised them to contact the Soviet doctor, Claudia Volosvitza in whatever way they could, and ask her to send as far as could be done a regular delivery of food packages in exchange for the items that we had deposited with her which were worth 1,000 marks. The boys thought my suggestion was a good one and it was decided to act in that direction.
Since the acid had burned him, Shmeig had stopped visiting the Soviet doctor. This week he was due to go to Sokoly and we convinced him to take the opportunity and also go to Dr. Volosvitza's house to give her a letter.
On Monday Staczek came down to us and in addition to the food he gave Moshe an envelope from the Soviet doctor containing 100 marks together with a letter. In the letter, Claudia apologized for not immediately sending us packages of food since she was not able to know if somebody would be able and willing to bring them to us. However, she was ready to continue to send us food as long as she could find someone to deliver it.
In his conversation with Claudia, Shmeig got the impression that she was upset by the rumor that the Germans had killed another Soviet doctor in Wysokie-Mazowieckie. A number of men dressed in Soviet uniforms and speaking Russian came to the doctor's house and shot him on the spot. There were those who said, she added, that the partisans in the forests took revenge on the murdered doctor because he did not cooperate with them. As for herself, she did not think that the partisans related to her negatively because she did as much as she could for them and thereby showed her support for the Poles.
In comparison, her son Igor had been in a state of depression and discouragement since the doctor in Wysokie was murdered and he worried that the days of his family were numbered and the voices of death were being raised high.
On Friday of that week Staczek informed us that he wanted to go into the town. We again gave him a letter to Claudia. Towards evening Shmeig returned with Job's message: the previous night, two men dressed in Soviet uniforms had murdered her. The housemaid had also been murdered. Claudia's son Igor had succeeded in escaping through the window along with his six-year-old sister.
We were dumbfounded by the news and the shock did not leave us for many long hours. I was worried that the boys would again awaken to rash actions, since their support the Soviet doctor had collapsed and was gone. My heart also was grieved by the tragedy of Dr. Claudia Nikolievna Volosvitza who, in our eyes, was one of the world's righteous gentiles.
A few days after the Soviet doctor was murdered, the men of the A.K. underground broke into the apartment of the Polish police officer Yanchenko in the middle of the night and opened fire. At that time Officer Kanofka's daughter was in the apartment and she was injured. She was taken, in serious condition, to the hospital in Bialystok. Fearing additional attacks, the police headquarters moved to Little Alterke's house.
The men of the A.K. were not afraid and one day they shot and killed Kanofka who faithfully carried out the orders of the Germans. Kanofka was sitting in Kraweicz's restaurant, sipping beer from a cup that stood on the table. At that moment, a young Pole entered the restaurant and raised panic by telling everyone that out in the street they were kidnapping Poles to be transported to Prussia for forced labor. The people who were in the place fled in panic which the young Pole exploited. He shot Kanofka and ran away from the place without being seen.
On Sunday, after the murder of Kanofka, the church was completely filled with worshippers while the Germans were still searching for the murderer. The A.K. men took advantage of the large gathering and caused panic in the crowd by using the same ruse that they used in the cafe, that Poles were being kidnapped for forced labor in Germany. Their plan was to awaken panic in the congregation and hatred towards those cooperating with the German enemy. In the resulting chaos, the church-goers enabled the men of the underground to escape imminent capture. But one innocent and unlucky farmer hid in a dark corner of the church from fear of being kidnapped by the Germans and he was immediately found, arrested and accused of murdering Kanofka.
The death of the cruel policeman Kanofka reminded us of the feelings of revenge which we had harbored. During the expulsion of the Jews from Sokoly, Kanofka had excelled in his murderous and cruel acts. He shot many Jews with his own hands both during the action and also when they were searching for Jews in the forests.
Immediately after the German invasion of Sokoly, Kanofka threw Yechielke Blustein (Mondritzke's son) out of his beautiful apartment and stole the furniture and all the possessions in the house from him.
The men of the underground killed Kanofka, not only because of his murderous attitude towards the Jews, but also because of his satanic attitude towards his Polish brothers. Not too long ago Kanofka shot and killed the daughter of the musician Washilewski, a young Polish girl who had dared to criticize him and his criminal behavior. She publicly announced in Kanofka's presence sarcastic remarks that wounded the policeman to the depths of his satanic heart.
Shmeig further told us that this time the Germans decided to destroy the men of the A.K. underground around Sokoly. For this purpose they had drafted 50 soldiers of the Gestapo who were combing the roads, pathways and villages.
During the last days of March our economic situation worsened and our supply of fat and butter was used up. Only a bit of dried bread remained to us which we ate with water. Having no choice, the boys decided to plan some kind of little break-in at one of the village farms in order to fill our basket with fresh food
On April 6, 1943 Staczek told us that Monik, the son of the dentist from Sokoly, had come to his house. Monik had succeeded in jumping out of the train at the time his entire family, along with thousands of Jews from the Bialystok ghetto, were being transported to the gas chambers in Treblinka. Shmeig told us that Monik had offered him a high price in dollars for shelter, but Staczek and his brother Palek were afraid to take on their shoulders the burden and responsibility of keeping five Jews alive. This would just increase the danger for them many times over. As yet, Staczek had not given Monik an answer, nor had Staczek told him about our existence in the bunker. He only gave Monik permission to sleep that night in his threshing house, promising that he would give him a final answer the next morning.
We were happy upon hearing this news and we all spoke together with one voice to try to convince Staczek to agree to let Monik join us. We argued that it was neither more trouble nor any greater danger than taking care of five people as in taking care of four. For doing so Staczek would receive a significant payment from Monik in dollars and it was a shame to delay such a wonderful opportunity. We kept trying to arouse Staczek's appetite for money until he decided to agree to let Monik enter our bunker.
Avrahamel asked Staczek to supply him with three boards so that he could enlarge the area of the bunker a bit to make it ready for a fifth occupant. We did not ask Staczek for any help doing the work, or for any effort on his part. We were very happy that a new neighbor was being added and we hoped to hear news from him about our relatives.
The next day, Monik the son of the dentist went to his Christian acquaintances to get from them the money and possessions that he had deposited with them and on April 8th Monik returned to the farm and Staczek lowered him into the enlarged bunker which we had prepared for our new guest.
At that time, Monik was 25 years old. His father was the son of the owner of real estate property in Warsaw and died at a young age. His mother was a dentist in Sokoly and her second husband was Alter Ginzburg the Rabbi's grandson. Alter owned a leather goods store and a number of houses in Sokoly. Even after her second marriage, the mother continued her professional work. Occasionally she would receive sums of money from the houses she had inherited from her first husband, money which was intended for Monik.
Monik completed his high school studies in Bialystok and went on to learn medicine in Italy where he learned for one year. Close to the start of World War II, when the Nazi propaganda and its influence became stronger in Italy, the Jews were expelled from the institutions of higher learning and so Monik returned to Sokoly.
During the German regime Alter Ginzburg was the head of the Judenrat. When the Jews were expelled from Sokoly, he and his family escaped to the forests with the rest of the fleeing Jews. They searched in vain for shelter with their good acquaintances and friends from the good times. Not one of their former, Christian friends allowed the family to cross the threshold of his house, and certainly not even to sleep on the threshing house floor. Monik's family wandered around in the forests for days in constant fear of German search squads, Polish police and gangs of Polish robbers, the latter who swarmed like locusts and attacked their victims, stripping them of everything. Finally the Ginzburg and Yisrael Maik families found a dugout; later, they found a number of merciful farmers who supplied them with food in exchange for an exhorbitant payment.
These good days did not last for long. Polish hooligans found the dugout and bothered its residents, blackmailing them into paying them a ransom under threats of handing them over to the Germans. The heads of the gangs were famous: Sergei the Russian and Yanek. They appeared to be armed partisans, but their deeds were robbery and rape.
Suddenly, it became known that the Germans had stopped shooting the Jews that they caught and instead were sending them to the Bialystok ghetto at a ransom of 500 marks each. The two families decided to take a chance and handed themselves over to the mercy of the Germans. They were held under arrest for two days and on the third day they were sent to the Bialystok ghetto.
In the Bialystok ghetto the Ginzburg family gradually organized themselves. Compared to their life in the forest, in the ghetto they felt they were in Paradise. There they could at least walk around freely without constant feelings of fear. For cash it was possible to obtain all the food they needed. Alter was promised a position in the local Judenrat as the secretary of our uncle, Rafael Gutman, Hertzel's son. Alter's wife, the dentist, worked in her profession, and their son Monik was offered a position as a policeman in the ghetto militia. Monik was rescued from that despised job when he coincidentally met up with two policemen who were forced to hang two young Jews who had been caught for the sin of filling their pockets with seeds on their way out of the factory where they worked.
On February 5, 1943 the first transports known as the first action from the Bialystok ghetto began. The Ginzburg family, like thousands of others, tried to hide, but were soon found by Gestapo soldiers with the aid of large search dogs. They were taken out of their camouflaged hiding place and made to stand among rows of Jews selected to be killed. With great sorrow it must be added that the Germans were also aided by despicable Jews who handed over their brothers into the hands of murderers.
A few of the Jewish informers were eliminated by organized youths whose existence was known only in the ghetto. Every day there were thousands of victims of the first action. Men, women and children were cruelly taken from their hiding places and brought like a herd of sheep to be slaughtered by dozens of armed Germans accompanied by wolf dogs. The murderers lashed the heads of the poor unfortunates with whips and the dogs bit their flesh. Thus they were pursued until they came to the train station where they were loaded like cattle into closed boxcars and transported to Treblinka.
Inside each of the boxcars stood an upright soldier who was ready to shoot with his automatic weapon at anyone who would dare to jump out of the car and flee from the death awaiting him when he reached Treblinka. Even so, there were those who tried their luck at this most dangerous jumping. Many of them were killed immediately when they crashed into telegraph poles. One Jew instructed Monik as to how one should jump out the window of the boxcar at a lower location so as to prevent the soldier standing on the other side of the boxcar from having a direct line of fire. The Jew had prior experience having once succeeded in escaping from a train, but he had been injured and required continuous medical treatment. After he recovered from his injuries his fate again pushed him into the boxcars of death.
Monik dared to do it and successfully jumped out, but his knee was lightly injured. He was able to get up immediately and fled in the direction of a nearby forest. On his way he saw many dead Jewish bodies sprawled near the train tracks who had tried, but in vain, to flee from death. He turned away from the horrors he saw and hurried as best he could towards a village he knew in the hope of finding shelter.
On his way Monik met up with a Polish lad and started talking to him. Monik was quite familiar with the Polish language and his accent was such that it was impossible to identify him as a Jew. Monik had difficulty in finding the path to the village, but the lad guided him to the correct road. One of his mother's regular clients, a good-hearted, merciful farmer, took Monik in and kept him in his house for a number of months without any concern that somebody was likely to reveal that he was a Jew because his appearance, speech, and customs were the same as those of the people of the village. Monik even went around among the people thereby removing any suspicion as to his identity.
Monik's situation was good. The village was far away from Sokoly and far from any busy road and it was very unusual for Polish police to visit there. But one day the men of Sergei's gang appeared in the good farmer's house. They stripped Monik of his clothes and took away his boots and everything they found on him. To his joy he had hidden his money earlier in a safe place in a crack in the wall. He begged the robbers to at least leave him a pair of torn pants, some worn-out shoes and a hat. The Poles in the gang did not even want to listen to him saying that it wasn't worth it and it was forbidden to have pity on a Jew, but one Russian among them did take pity on him and gave him some patched trousers and an old pair of shoes.
Towards evening Monik carefully went out in the direction of Sokoly and reached the home of a friend of his mother where some of his family's possessions had been deposited. The woman, a midwife by profession, gave him a suit, some shoes and underwear. Monik was afraid to go back to the good farmer's village and decided to find a new, safe place. He thought that the farmer's son had traitorously told the gang members about him. Previously they had robbed a number of Jews in this same farmer's house and besides, had paid the farmer 100 marks for sheltering them for three days.
Monik found out where Moshe Maik was staying while he was still in the Bialystok ghetto and that is how he came to us on April 8, 1943.
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