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[Pages 142-157]

Autobiography: My Life from 1939-1945

Avraham Kalifowitz (New York)

Avraham Kalifowitz
Avraham Kalifowitz

The War began in September 1939. On the third day after the German invasion of Sokoly, I was arrested by them and taken to the main road, where crowds of people sat in ditches. One of the Germans shouted: “Take everything out of your pockets and put it in front of you!”

They checked the empty pockets and the possessions that the people placed on the ground, and ordered everyone to move into a house under construction that stood alongside the Bialystok road.

We were a few hundred people who crowded into the house. Suddenly, we saw that the sky outside had reddened, and even above us, between the roofless walls, there was a great light. The Germans had set fire to two streets in our town, Sokoly. All that night, we sat in fear and looked at our town going up in flames. We didn't know what our fate would be. But the next day, at ten o'clock in the morning, they freed us all, one by one. When I got home, they told me that there were people killed and injured in the streets and in the houses. Some of the most respected Jews of the town were murdered.

After two days, I went outside to see what was being done with my own eyes. I entered the Bet Midrash. Many Jews sat there talking among themselves and describing the events of the past few days. They nodded their heads and sighed over the bad luck and the victims that had fallen. Somebody there said that it was possible to save Shmuel Lev's two wounded sons, Mendel and Avraham Yitzchak Lev, from death, but there was no doctor to be found. It was desirable to urgently move them to the hospital in Bialystok, but the trains weren't running, and nobody would dare to endanger his life in a wagon and be seen on the road during these crazy times.

When I heard this, I said, “If it is possible to save them, I will take the danger and try to travel with them!”

The men were happy at my suggestion, and told me to prepare everything for the trip for tomorrow at eight o'clock in the morning, since today it was already late and the curfew began at six o'clock in the evening. The Sokoly dentist found out about my trip and she immediately asked me to take her with in my wagon, since she was worried about her son, Monik, who had left the house before the Germans arrived, and she wanted to know what happened to him and where he was. Moshe Goldberg also asked me to take him with me, and I agreed to both their requests.

The next morning at eight o'clock, we went out. The road was full of Germans and vehicles. We approached the bridge over the Narew River, which the Poles had destroyed in their withdrawal. A great number of Germans were busy fixing the bridge and readying it for use. Meanwhile, they had installed a temporary (pontoon) bridge. When we crossed this bridge, they stopped us and asked the purpose of our trip. The dentist explained to them, in fluent German, that at present there was no doctor in Sokoly, and as a dentist, she was bringing wounded to the Bialystok hospital so as to save their lives.

To the Germans, Moshe Goldberg looked like a Christian, and they asked him how much money he was being paid for the transportation. “Thirty zlotys,” answered Moshe. “You are taking too little from the Jews. You must ask for 30 zlotys from each of them.” And he added that the Jews should be thrown into the river and drowned. At that moment, an officer appeared and hurried us over the bridge.

We arrived in Bialystok at three in the afternoon. I handed the wounded over to my acquaintances, and then I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was in Bialystok and buy a bit of merchandise that was lacking in Sokoly and recover some of the expenses of the trip. For this purpose, Moshe Goldberg and I spent all of our money on some Majorca tobacco and cigarettes, which were in high demand at that time. For two packages of tobacco, I could get 25 kilograms of wheat from a farmer. We hid the goods that we bought in my wagon.

In the morning we went out in the streets, where we found all of the Sokoly people who had fled to Bialystok before the Germans entered Sokoly. Coincidentally, we found the people from our town at a time when they were bargaining with the owner of a wagon about taking them from Bialystok to Sokoly. To take ten passengers, the owner of the wagon asked for the payment of 250 gold pieces. Moshe Goldberg convinced me to take them in my wagon and to let him be the negotiator between the travelers and me. They agreed to pay me 150 gold pieces for the trip. At that time, this was a high price. Before the War, it would take me an entire month to earn such a sum.

I prepared seats for all of the passengers. When we reached the Bokiny Bridge, the guard stopped us and commanded us to drive to the side. The Jews who were walking along the road were stopped by the Germans. They came up to us and asked for cigarettes. Moshe Goldberg took out a package of 100 “Yonek” from his pocket. The Germans excitedly grabbed the cigarettes. After that, a few more Germans approached us and asked us to give them cigarettes too. They searched the wagon and found a few packages of Majorca tobacco. But they didn't find our packages, Moshe's and mine, because they were well hidden in the bottom of the wagon. After that, they asked us for documents. They recognized Moshe Goldberg and me from the day before. They took the eight men out of the wagon to work at unloading two trucks loaded with boards. They ordered Moshe Goldberg, the two women who were with us, and me to stay next to the wagon. I wasn't able to watch the inability of the men to unload the wood from the trucks. I approached to show them how to unload and throw them down and after that, the work went a lot faster. When we were about to finish the unloading job, the German ordered us to travel away quickly! I immediately got down from the truck, crossed the bridge, and remained with my wagon to wait on the road. After a few minutes, all of the rest of the passengers came to our wagon and we safely reached home. I sold my tobacco and proved that it was possible to earn nicely from such a transaction, and then I wanted to travel there again.

The next day, I traveled again to Bialystok, but not on the same road I took yesterday. I took the road through the village Suraz, where the bridge was intact. When I came to Bialystok, I found out that tomorrow the Russians were to enter and take charge of the government up to the border of the Narew River. The Germans would control from the Narew onwards. All of my acquaintances wouldn't let me travel home, with the excuses that it was better to live under the Russian regime than under the Germans. I answered that this is correct, but what about my parents and my sister? They didn't know what to think about [what happened to] me, and how would they live without me? My brother Yudel also wasn't home. He was drafted into the Polish army, and who knows if we will ever see him again? I told them that if the Narew will be the border, then I would come to Bialystok with my mother and sister.

I didn't buy any more tobacco, because I could no longer concentrate on business. They told me that notices had been posted stating that it was forbidden for citizens to travel on the road in the direction of Wysokie-Mazowieckie. In spite of everything, the next morning I left Bialystok to go home to Sokoly. That day was the eve of Yom Kippur. I traveled about twelve kilometers on the road and after that on side roads to the village of Suraz. Near Suraz, a German stopped me and ordered me to go to the side, because he was about to blow up the bridge. I was there with Yankel Okrungli, from our town. After ten minutes, we heard an enormous explosion and we saw how the Germans were distancing themselves from the other side of the bridge.

We remained on our side of the bridge, not knowing what to do. How could we reach home? We already thought we would have to remain in Suraz for Yom Kippur. Suddenly, a farmer approached us and said that there was a shallow place in the Narew River that could be crossed on foot or in a wagon, and if we wanted him to, he would travel with us across the river, on condition that we would give him two sacks of flour from the windmill. I gave him the flour and we safely crossed the Narew River.

Photo - Yehudit Kalifowitz, HY”D

After that, we traveled very fast in order to get home while it was still daylight. To our dismay, we did not manage to get home that day before sunset. And how could we come into the town in a wagon on Yom Kippur? Therefore, we went to a farmer acquaintance in the village of Dworaki. The farmer allowed me to leave my horse and wagon with him, and since it already was a late hour after sunset, we stayed there to sleep at the farmer's house. The next morning we went on foot to Sokoly, a distance of five kilometers. When we got to the town, they were praying in my house; they were afraid to pray in the synagogue or study halls because of the Germans.

Flyers were dropped from Russian airplanes, in which they gave notice that tomorrow they would come to free the city. After Yom Kippur, the Germans disconnected the telephones and left our town. The Russians entered immediately.

Our town revived. All of the Jews came out of their hiding places. During the two weeks that the Germans had been in our town, the Jews were hiding in attics, in cellars and in other hiding places, from fear of the Germans. The faces of all of the Jews shone with happiness and joy. The shop owners opened their shops.

During the last days of Sukkot, my brother Yudel came home. He served in the Polish army and fell prisoner to the Germans. After the area was transferred to the Russians, the Russians freed all of the Polish and Russian prisoners. Among them was my brother, Yudel.

On May 18, 1941, I was taken into the Soviet army for six weeks. The Soviet army camp was in the Ignatki Forest. Another 18 men from our town were with me. After I had been there for four weeks, I became ill and they sent me to the hospital. When my parents found out I was sick, my sister, Yehudit, came to visit me in the hospital. This was on a Saturday. Sunday morning, an explosion was heard and a battle began. After less than an hour, they began to bring wounded to the hospital. With a fever of 39º, I could not lie quietly in bed. I got out of bed to go see the wounded. The Russians took out all of the patients whose condition had improved a bit. They asked me if I wanted to travel to Russia, because the vehicles would soon arrive and all of the patients would be transferred to Russia, far from the warfront. I said I wanted to go to Russia with my battalion. When I went out of the hospital, I went to visit my relatives, and I found my sister, Yehudit, with them. She asked me to stay with her in Bialystok. I told her that I didn't want to stay under German rule under any circumstances, and I went to my battalion in Ignatki.

When I arrived, everything was destroyed and burnt. I found only two men from Sokoly from my unit, and a few Russians, with the officer. They were getting ready to leave the place. I traveled together with them to the city of Wolka-Biska, where we stayed one day and night. The next morning, they started to bomb the forest where we were staying. I entered a deep ditch. A bomb fell twenty meters from me, and I was thrown more than a meter and fell again into the ditch, all covered with dust. I laid there for about fifteen minutes, in panic and confusion. When I stood up on my feet, all around me I saw dead bodies, stray horses, and overturned wagons. The vehicle I had traveled in was not to be found.

I started to walk in the direction of Baranowicze. None of the vehicles on the way were willing to pick me up. Among those walking along the road, I met a young man from Wizna, a soldier like me, and we walked together. Many people streamed eastward towards Russia. It was dangerous to walk on the road. They were shooting on every side, and the bullets whistled over our heads. Near a village, we went down off the road, and there we met some Jews who had returned from the Russian border. They told us that the Russians did not allow anyone, even their own Soviet soldiers, to cross the border.

At first I did not want to believe this, until I found out it was true. If that is the case, I told my companions, we have no choice but to go home. We continued to walk through the fields and forests. In one of the villages, I was able to exchange my military uniform for civilian clothes. I was still ill, and dragged my feet along with difficulty. The only food I had was some sugar that I found on the way. When I got close to my area, the Germans grabbed me to work at burying people who were killed, and some horses. I was grabbed in that way a number of times on the way, until finally I arrived in Bialystok.

I found my sister with my relatives. She was very happy to see me. I was tired and worn out from my long journey, which had taken two weeks, and I lay sick in bed for three days at my relatives' house.

After I had somewhat recovered, my sister and I went on foot to Sokoly. Accompanying us were Yechezkel Czervonicz, his wife and their child. Germans stopped us at the bridge. They took the men off to work, and allowed the women to continue on their way. At noon, the Germans gave us food, but I could not eat. One of them asked me why I wasn't eating. I told him that I was sick and I wanted to go to the hospital. The German answered, “If you are sick, I will drown you in the river.” Even so, he asked me with concern what was bothering me. I said that I had a high fever. “If so,” he said, “go home and drink half a liter of whiskey, that can help you.”

I left and caught up with my sister and Malka Czervonicz and her child, and thus we reached home. I was sick in bed for two weeks. Dr. Makowsky gave me some medicine and I gradually recovered from my illness.

My Mother, Sheina Raizel

From the time that the War broke out, our house was full of strangers. Immediately, on the first day of the War, a family of five from Grajewo, named Cooperberg, arrived at our house. They stayed with us for six weeks. At a later time, a young woman from Lodz stayed with us. During Chanukah, my cousin, Lazer Gonshevsky, came to our house with his family, also numbering five souls, from Warsaw. Lazer was a native of Sokoly.

There no longer remained a place in our house for the young woman from Lodz to sleep, and she went to sleep somewhere else, but she ate with us.

Photo - Sheina Raizel Kalifowitz, HY”D

An old woman of 85, Golda Raizel, lived in our courtyard, alone and deserted. My mother took care of her and brought her food, before we ate ourselves. My cousin, Lazer, stayed in our house until the eve of Passover, 1940.

At that time, the Russians ordered all of the refugees to leave Sokoly and to move to the other side of Bialystok. Lazer moved with his family to the village of Choroszcz. After a short time, they were sent to Russia, and Lazer died there of hunger. His wife and sons remained alive.

My parents were accustomed to fulfill the commandment of welcoming guests over all the years. In earlier years, we lived in the village of Dworaki. From there, my mother used to send 50-kilo sacks of potatoes, totaling 500 kilos, after they were harvested, to be divided among the poor. My mother knew the people who needed help and she generously gave them food, especially for the Passover holiday and the other Jewish holidays.

Work in Lapy

The Germans kidnapped Jews from their homes and from the streets and sent them to work on the roads and in factories. I and my brother, Yudel worked alternately on the road and in the railroad workshops in Lapy.

After some time, the Judenrat dealt with sending workers to the various jobs, and both of us were sent to work in Lapy. We got up at five o'clock in the morning and went to the train station. I worked at all kinds of menial jobs and my brother Yudel worked in the railroad warehouses.

Once, with a knife, a young Christian cut off a piece of rubber from the boxcar accessories. My brother saw him do it, and told his companions. The German supervisor noticed and asked, “Who did this?” One of the companions got up and admitted that my brother Yudel was a witness to the deed. My brother had no choice but to admit it. The supervisor immediately called the Gestapo, who beat my brother 25 lashes for not telling him immediately. The youth who was guilty of the deed disappeared and I don't know if they ever caught him.

Yudel lay beaten and ill for two weeks.

Thus our work in Lapy continued until November 2, 1942.

The Elimination of the Jews of Sokoly

On November 1, 1942, we were informed that the Amstkomissar in Sokoly had ordered hundreds of farmers' wagons, harnessed to horses, from all of the villages surrounding Sokoly, in order to expel the Jews.

That day, towards evening, I saw how Jews were packing their possessions, and many of them left their homes. I thought that they would send all of the young Jews to hard labor in distant places.

I, and my brother Yudel, fled to the forest. The following day, we reached a farmer, one of our acquaintances. We hid in his threshing barn and waited until he came back from Sokoly. He told us that the Germans gathered the Jews in the marketplace and sent them in the wagons to the Tenth Division military camp in Bialystok. Among those in the marketplace waiting to be expelled, the farmer saw our parents.

We returned to the forest. There we met our tenant, Chaim from Dworaki, and his sons. We joined together as one group and dug ourselves a bunker. We would go out to the farmers' houses to get food. We lived thus in the forest for three weeks.

Once, a Pole, who was known to us as an anti-Semite, saw us. We were afraid to remain in the same place, thinking he would inform the Germans. Then my brother and I went to another farmer that we knew and he agreed to give us shelter in his barn, in exchange for clothing. Every day, the farmer brought us food and drink. The farmer's mother and sister did not know that Jews were hiding on their farm. His father, a natural blabbermouth, was not in the house at that time, and the farmer was worried that his father would reveal our existence to the neighbors.

Later, the farmer's family found out about us, but to our surprise, they showed contentment that we were there and they very carefully watched what they said.

In the evenings, we would go out to the forest to meet with our Jewish friends, who were living there in hiding places and bunkers.

Our friends told us that a short time ago they had requested shelter from a Polish farm owner. He took their possessions and ordered them to leave his farm. In the above-mentioned forest there were five bunkers: Yossel Blustein and his family, Falk Blumenkrantz and his family, Alter Bidko and his family, and Gershon Studenik the butcher and the wife of Chanoch the butcher, and their children. In this last bunker, there were 13 people, and in the bunker of Chaim from Dworaki, there were 12. In total, in the five bunkers there were 42 men and women.

Lying down in the attic of the barn, every day at nine o'clock in the morning, we could see the trains passing nearby. The trains were full of Jews being transported to the gas chambers in Treblinka. We saw how, every day, the Poles streamed out to rob and steal from the Jews who had succeeded in jumping out of the trains, in spite of the shots that whistled after them from the rifles of the guards who accompanied the boxcars. The Poles stripped the clothes and shoes from their victims, those who were alive, and those who had been killed.

The owner of our shelter told us that during the past three days, they had gathered 60 dead Jews who had jumped from the train, and they buried them all in a giant pit. He added that a nine-year-old Jewish boy, with intelligent eyes, had begged him to take him as a shepherd, and that he and his father had escaped from the train that was taking them to the gas chambers in Treblinka. The father had been killed by the jump.

On January 1, 1943, our landlord told us that there was a search for Jews being conducted in the forest. Two days later, he added that the Germans had revealed 42 Jews and had taken them to Sokoly, and from there to the ghetto in Bialystok.

The information weighed heavily upon us. At night, we went out to the forest to see if anyone remained after the search. We went from bunker to bunker, and didn't find anyone. We returned to the barn and waited, perhaps somebody else would come. The next night, snow fell, and we thought that we would be able to reveal footprints during the night, but our search was in vain.

We wanted something to compensate our farmer for his goodness and care for us, and one night we stole into Sokoly, for the purpose of bringing from there some possessions we had hidden before we left. In our storeroom, we didn't find a thing. Inside our house, we found only family pictures scattered on the floor. We gathered them up. To us, these were a great treasure. We remembered that one of our acquaintances once told us that he had hidden two full sacks of underwear in his attic. We went there, and to our joy, we found the sacks. We left a small portion of the treasure for ourselves, and the rest we gave to our farmer, who was very satisfied with the gift.

It was a hard winter, and there was the danger that we would freeze from the cold by staying in the barn, but somehow we overcame the cold and we didn't move out of the barn, mainly because the owner of the farm took care of us and supplied us with food three times a day.

We were careful in our movements and in speaking, because the farm stood close to the road. Once we saw a German, who opened the door of the cowshed and looked at the horses. We were afraid he would also come to the threshing barn. To our joy, he went away without looking up.

On February 18th, our benefactor informed us that he could no longer maintain us, because of fear of the Germans, and also because the straw in the barn was slowly being used up.

In the evening, we went out to the forest. Without searching very much, we found a bunker. Inside were five Jews from Zambrow. They told us that in May, 1942, when the Jews were still in their homes, a young man from Zambrow had come to our house and asked my mother to recommend one of her farmer acquaintances to him, who would take him to work on one of the farms. By my mother's recommendation, the lad was accepted to work for the landowner of Solniki as a shepherd.

Some time later, a woman from Krakow, who wanted to work in the village, turned to my mother for help. My mother sent her to the landowner of Solniki and she was accepted to work there in the kitchen.

When they began to eradicate the Jewish settlements, the landowner didn't want to endanger himself any more by supporting Jews; they were forced to leave his court and thus they reached the forest. We found them in a bunker with five other Jews. They recognized me immediately. Among them there was also a young girl from Wolomin and another woman and her 14-year-old daughter, who had jumped from a train. The woman's leg was injured. We sat with them all day long and talked. We had “food for the road” that we had received from our farmer, and we gave it all to the wounded woman and her daughter.

Towards evening, we returned to the owner of our shelter and asked him to allow us to remain “a bit longer” in the barn. He accepted our request and we remained there until March 15, 1943.

During the night, we felt that something unusual was happening outside. We opened the wicket of the barn and our eyes lit up. We saw that our town, Sokoly, was going up in flames and we heard the wailing of sirens.

That night we went out to the forest and decided to prepare a bunker for ourselves. The young girl from Wolomin wanted to be with us, and we told her that first of all, we must prepare the bunker and then we would be willing to take her in. We worked for eight days until the bunker was ready, but the girl from Wolomin changed her mind about staying with us, with the excuse that she had a place with a certain Pole. We spoke with the people of the bunkers and agreed to meet them the next morning at six o'clock at a distant point in the forest, because after that hour someone could pass by and see us.

That morning, my brother and I waited at the intended meeting place until eight o'clock, when only the two women arrived, crying bitterly. We asked them what happened? They hesitated to tell us immediately, but one of them said that Poles had found their bunker, cruelly took them out of there, beat them, and raped them.

By chance, the young boy Gershon Tabak was not in the bunker [at that time], because he had gone to ask for food and he slept in the village. When Gershon returned the next day, he saw what had happened to the wounded woman and her daughter. Gershon brought them, meanwhile, to a dugout with some potatoes, where they could stay for a day or two until he could find a new bunker.

We had heard that the wounded woman and her daughter had been turned over by the Poles to the Germans. We accepted the two women and Gershon into our bunker. The woman from Krakow looked like a Pole. She decided to go the village disguised as an “Aryan” woman. She remained alive until after the War.

The owner of our shelter told us that one of the village girls saw, on her way to Lapy, how Reuven, the son of Chaim from Dworaki, jumped from a train that was on its way to Treblinka. A German shot him on the spot.

We met Aharon Slomsky and Freiman from Ostrow, the son-in-law of Berel Goldin. Aharon Slomsky was the only one who remained alive after the Germans found the five bunkers where the 42 people were living. Aharon found shelter with a Pole. After he met us, he stayed in our bunker. Freiman from Ostrow found a place with a Christian woman; he also was in the Bialystok ghetto.

We heard from Christians that Itze Rachelsky and Fishel Munkarsh were in our area. They apparently saw them near the village of Porosl. We didn't wait, and went out to find them. It was the Christian holiday of Easter and no one was seen in the forest. We reached the village Porosl, and there we found Itze Rachelsky and his daughter, Fishel Munkarsh and Isser Wondolowicz. They were very happy to see us. We told them about our troubles, and they told us about theirs. They asked us not to visit them any more, because it was very dangerous if someone would see us coming or going.

I was accustomed to walking in the forest with a staff in my hand. Once, after my staff knocked lightly against a tree, a sack was revealed, full of pork meat. I moved the sack to another, safe location and in the evening I brought it to the bunker.

My brother Yudel advised that we deposit the meat with a Polish acquaintance whose farm was not far from us, and occasionally bring from there five-kilo portions, as needed. We were now able to generously feed the other three people in the bunker. We had plenty of potatoes. We cooked them with the pork meat, and the farmer who had sheltered us added bread and other foods.

Once, in the forest, far from us, we came across a ruined bunker. In the past, Yechezkel Czervonicz, his wife, mother, brothers and sisters had been there, as well as Yudel Tzibak (Kadrosk), his son and family from Wolomin – two daughters, Moshe Burnstein's son-in-law, and his child. The Germans discovered the bunker and killed its residents. Only one young girl, who saw the Germans in time, escaped from their hands and remained alive.

Once, poking around with my staff in that same forest, I hit a board. Next to the board there was a man's body. I called my brother Yudel and Gershon, and we identified the dead man as the young Jew, Walek, aged 23, from Bialystok. We had heard that he jumped out of a train.

At that time, additional worries began for us. Twenty Germans came to the village of Dworaki. Four of them were lodged with the farmer who had been good to us, and we were no longer able to enter his farm. We were forced to move to a different forest, near the village of Myziler, and there prepare ourselves a new bunker.

To our great surprise, there we met Fishel Munkarsh, Issur Wondolowicz, and Itze Rachelsky and his daughter. It was explained that they also were forced to leave their place [of hiding], because they had been seen by Poles.

Fishel found out that his wife, Devorah, was in the Bialystok ghetto, and he decided to go with his friend Walek to Lapy, to mix among the workers who arrived there every day from Bialystok to work, and in this way to return to Bialystok in the evening with the entire group. That is what they did, and they succeeded.

Here, it is interesting to tell that I succeeded in making a connection with my friends in Bialystok, and we exchanged letters. The workers who came from Bialystok to work in Lapy gave notes from my friends to the Christian workers, and the notes reached me through them. From Bialystok, they advised me to move to their ghetto and not to run around any more in bunkers and in the forests. They wrote to me that in the ghetto they were still living like people, relatively.

My brother, Yudel, wanted to move to the ghetto, but I was not of the same opinion as he was, because I thought that every Jew there could expect certain death, whereas in the forest there were all kinds of possibilities for rescue and help. My brother didn't want to leave me in the forest and separate from me, and thus the situation remained as it had been.

I would visit Itze Rachelsky and Issur Wondolowicz in the evenings. Our bunkers were about one-half kilometer away from each other. Itze Rachelsky asked me to visit him twice a week to stay there with his small daughter while he and Issur went out to the villages to search for food.

The girl was seven years old, and was very intelligent and charming. She was careful about being quiet and didn't let the adults make any noise, but always reminded them that they must speak in whispers. Her name was Yehudit.

Itze had another daughter, aged three, named Toivele [Tova]. He gave her to a farmwoman, who gave her to another farmwoman with no children, who didn't know at all who her parents were. Itze found out that his daughter was located in the village of Korobiec and very strong fatherly feelings awakened within him. He did not hesitate to go to that village to see his precious one face-to-face. He entered the house with the excuse of asking for bread. The woman told him how smart the little girl was. Itze looked at his daughter and tears choked his throat. He quickly went outside, because he could no longer prevent himself from bursting into tears.

My Christian acquaintance brought bread, and occasionally a hot cooked food, to me in the field. He told me that for a few days he had been seeing a young Jewish girl walking around in the village. He gave her some bread and told her that I, Avraham Kalifowitz, sometimes came to his house. I asked the Pole to bring her to meet me at a certain place. We met the next day. She was from a town near Bialystok. She asked me to take her to my bunker. I showed her a place to sleep that night, meanwhile, in a potato cellar in the field, and I brought her food. I immediately talked to Itze Rachelsky and he asked me to bring the young girl to him, so that she could take care of Yehudit, and he would worry about getting food for her.

Once, Gershon Tabak and I went to visit Itze and Issur in their bunker. Suddenly, we heard screams: “Help! Help!”

We ran in the direction of the voices, and I thought,'Isn't that my brother's voice?' We slowly came near to the place. The robbers saw our movement, and without apparently knowing who we were, they began to run away. At a distance of a few steps away, we found a Jew lying in his own blood. The robbers had hit his head with a heavy pole. We tried to save him, but the victim only gave the sigh of a dying man.

We saw that there was no hope of saving him. The robbers had had time to strip off his clothing and shoes, and left a spade at his side for burying him. We could not take the man with us, nor could we bury him there. He was still alive, fluttering between life and death. This was a Jew about 40 years old, apparently one of those who had jumped off the train.

We could not delay for a long time in that place, because it was dawn and we had to distance ourselves from the eyes of strangers. That evening, we went back to the place but we could not find the victim's body.

This happened at the time of the liquidation of the Bialystok ghetto, and many Jews were transported in the trains to their deaths. Only a few of them succeeded in jumping from the trains, after which they became victims of the Poles, like the Jew in the forest.

At that time, Walek, who had gone with Fishel Munkarsh to the Bialystok ghetto, came to us. This was the second time he had jumped off the train. This time he was injured, and he lay for eight days in the house of a Pole. He came to the forest and told us everything that had happened to him when the ghetto was liquidated.

Flight from Treblinka

During the days of the Sukkot holiday, my friend Bercha Lubowitz came to me. He was the one who wrote letters to me from the Bialystok ghetto. He escaped from Treblinka with his friend. They were in the death camp for six weeks. Bercha told me what happened to him during those gloomy days, and what he saw with his own eyes.

The train entered a closed, fenced-in area. With loud screams, they were ordered to quickly get out of the boxcars. The Germans chose about one hundred young and healthy men from each transport and stood them on the side. Everyone else was ordered to undress completely and they were driven into a large hall. The people stood there, terribly crowded like sardines in a can. They closed the doors and operated a pump that drew all of the air out of the room. After a quarter of an hour, they opened the door and all of those inside had strangled and were stuck to each other, twisted together in such a way that it was difficult to separate them. Immediately, men came with wagons and loaded them with high piles of bodies, in order to bring them to the ovens. Under them piles of wood were burning and above them there were thick iron grates, on which they threw the bodies to be burnt. This was done intermittently. Every time the hall was emptied, piles of new bodies were brought. Bercha Lubowitz and his father-in-law Gershon Studenik were employed sorting the victims' possessions. In sorting the shoes, he recognized his wife's shoes, and showed them to his father-in-law.

He also saw how a new shipment of Jews arrived. In one boxcar, everyone was dead. This was a car in which there were only women. One woman, a merciful nurse, stood at the entrance of the car and cut with a razor blade the veins of anyone who wanted her to do so. At the end, she cut the veins of her own hands and they took her immediately to the oven.

Bercha was a witness to an event when one of the workers refused to carry out the order of a German. The murderer sent his dog to attack him, which tore the Jew into pieces. Bercha also saw one of the Jews slap a kapo's cheeks. They immediately threw the Jew – alive – into the oven.

He worked there for six weeks, in a group of 400 workers. During that period, they began to liquidate the Treblinka camp, and new shipments already were not arriving.

One day they divided them all into two groups of 200 men each. They ordered them to get into the boxcars of a train, 40 men in each car. The train began moving and they didn't know where it was going… .

The train stopped not far from Siedlce. The men asked one of the engineers where they were going. For an answer, he requested something valuable; otherwise, he was not prepared to tell them. One of the men took a ring off his finger and gave it to the goy, who then said that they were taking them to Chelmno where there was another death camp.

When the train again began to move, Bercha Lubowitz broke the bars off the boxcar window and jumped out. On the way, he was joined by another escapee and the two of them reached the banks of a river. In exchange for a coat, one villager showed them how to cross the river on foot. Thus Lubowitz came to me. He knew what forest I was in. We were very happy to see each other. I told him that his sister's son, Aharon, was nearby and I showed him his bunker.

We were together all winter. We occasionally met up with Jewish men and women wandering in the forests. We helped many of them to prepare bunkers and hiding places. I already knew many places in the forests of the area. Once, I met a man and three women. They asked me to help them to prepare a shelter. One of the women was very agile. We went to the Bruszewo Forest with tools in our hands, and after a short time, a bunker was ready for the twelve people who had meanwhile gathered there. They lived there quietly for six weeks, until the Poles found them and shot them.

In order to exist in a bunker, it had to be properly camouflaged and no footprints could be left.

How Was Itze Rachelsky Killed?

It was the month of November 1943. One evening, Issur Wondolowicz came to me and told me that the Poles murdered Itze Rachelsky with an iron pole and he was dying. When we reached him, he was in critical condition and wasn't able to talk. We sat next to him all night, and in the morning his pure soul breathed its last. We buried him in the forest, not far from the bunker.

His little girl, Yehudit, was still sleeping and she didn't hear us when we brought her father to his eternal rest.

One day in November 1943, we wanted to go out of the bunker, because it was a Christian holiday and no one would go out to the forest. We did laundry and bunker repairs. We had a chicken, and we cooked it with potatoes. Suddenly, at a distance we saw two Germans. We began to run and disappeared from their sight.

The Germans reached the place where we were cooking and found, in a coat we had left behind, a letter written in Yiddish. They went to the village Antonie, in order to decipher the writing. Unfortunately for them, no one could be found in the village who knew how to read the writing. The Germans told the villagers that they found clothing and a pot of chicken.

After half an hour, my brother went to the place where we were cooking. He took the clothing and brought the pot to the bunker. The Germans came back and didn't find a single thing that they had seen before.

The next day a resident of the village told us what the Germans had told them about the clothing and the pot. We denied any connection with the matter, because we didn't want them to know that we were eating chicken.

My friend Gershon Tabak met two young Jewish girls in the forest. One of them remained with us, and the second went to Issur's bunker. Now there were five souls in our bunker. The new girl, cultured and intelligent, was from Bialystok.

On November 9, 1943, my brother Yudel went to the village of Golembia to bring a bit of food, and I went for the same purpose to another village. As usual, we walked together, but this time we parted and each of us went in a different direction. We were careful to walk on side roads and paths, and towards nine o'clock in the evening we [usually] were back in the bunker.

That evening I came back as usual, but my brother had not yet arrived. I waited impatiently for him to come; an hour passed, and then another, and it already was midnight and my brother wasn't there. I was very discouraged and I cried. Who knows what happened to him on the way? Towards morning, I went out to look for him.

When I passed near a wood, I saw my brother lying dead on the ground. The food that he had gotten in the village was lying next to him. With a torn and broken heart, I returned to the bunker and told my friends about the tragedy. The horrible news shocked them. My friend, Tabak, and I went to bury him. I wanted to dig a wide pit for both of us and to put an end to my life. At that time, Tabak was equipped with a rifle. I grabbed his rifle in order to shoot myself. Tabak saw what I was doing and grabbed the rifle away from me.

Photo - Aharon Yehuda Kalifowitz, HY”D

We buried my brother Yudel and I could not detach myself from the place. I remained broken and shattered, and my heart was bitter. My friend Tabak supported my arms and led me to the bunker. I lay in the bunker for two weeks, and I didn't think of moving or taking care of myself.

We stayed in the bunker all winter, until strange farmers scented out the place and we were in danger. We had no choice but to leave the place. I took with me the girl, Adzha Burnstein, who had been with us in the bunker, and we went to the Dworaki Forest, to my friend Bercha Lubowitz, who had escaped from Treblinka. His sister's son, Aharon Slomsky was there with him. In this forest there was another bunker that I had made a year ago, where Gershon Tabak had remained with the girl, Basha.

On May 15, 1944, I went, together with Aharon Slomsky, to Gershon Tabak's bunker, and we stayed there for some time. In the afternoon, Walek came to us and told us some shocking news.

He met some Russian partisans, who suggested that he go with them to the Bielewicze Forest, to the partisan center. They arranged to meet him again at a certain place after three days, and said they were willing to accept additional Jews into the ranks of the partisans. Walek told us about miracles and wonders, but we did not seriously regard what he said, because we knew he had a good imagination. When he saw that we were not excited by his story, he wanted to convince us and suggested that we go to Issur Wondolowicz, where the young girl was who had been a witness to the meeting with the Russian partisans.

With sunset, we went to Issur and sat together among the bushes, and the young girl began her story. Suddenly, we heard that somebody was nearby. Walek went to see what was happening and immediately came back, yelling, “Run away, run away!!”

We started to run, and bullets flew behind us. I trembled, and I thought I had been wounded by a bullet. I immediately got up and continued to run in one direction with Gershon Tabak and Aharon Slomsky. When we were protected from the shots, we slowed our flight and gradually stopped running. We waited until the evening. When it got dark, we headed toward my bunker, where we found Issur and Rachelsky's little daughter, Yehudit.

Issur told us that when he was in his bunker, he heard shots. He went out and didn't see anyone in the area, but even so, he had a feeling that he was in danger. He took Yehudit and came to us.

We did not know what happened to the others. At dawn, Tabak and Issur went out in the direction of yesterday's events, and came across the body of a young woman who had been shot to death. She was barefoot, after the robbers had removed her boots. In the bunker itself, we found the body of the second young woman whom I had brought to Itza Rachelsky and who took care of his little girl (I don't remember her name). They buried Basha, but the body of the second young woman remained in the bunker.

We didn't know the fate of Walek and the young girl he was with for a long time. Later, the news reached us that she had been shot to death six weeks after we parted from them. Walek remained alive.

Seven of us remained. It was crowded for all of us in one bunker, and we divided into two groups. Bercha, Adsza, and I were in one bunker, and Issur, Yehudit, Tabak, and Aharon were in the other one.

For a certain time, there was comparative silence in the forest and we were able to move about freely. In the evenings, we would cook potatoes with barley and sometimes also some pork that the youngsters brought from distant villages. The store of potatoes and meat that we had prepared was now enough for all of us for a number of months. We got bread in the villages from the Poles with whom we were acquainted.

At that time, the war front came closer and closer to us. Occasionally we would hear explosions and the echoes of shots split the air. At times of quiet, Bercha, Adzha Burnstein, and I would walk in the forest. Once, when we reached the depths of the forest, we suddenly met Issur. He told us that that same morning, he and his companions, Tabak and Slomsky were repairing the cover of their bunker. Apparently the echo of the blows of their hammer echoed for a distance, and before they finished the repair, a stranger appeared before them and called, “Oh, little Jew-boys, you are well hidden!” After the man went away, they were afraid to stay in the bunker because of the danger of informers, and since then, they were hiding.

We immediately went back to my bunker and here [we discovered that] it was completely destroyed and wooden things had been burnt. We understood that we also had to find a new and relatively safe shelter. We spread out in groups, into the crops growing in the fields. Slomsky went with Tabak; Issur with Yehuditke; and I went with Bercha and Adzha Burnstein.

We lay in the field of grain for ten days. We heard and saw Russian airplanes passing above us. Once, we saw men walking not far away from us and we feared for our lives. We were hungry for bread during those days. We succeeded in bringing something to eat from the village only once during the two weeks. By chance, we found a bunker and we sat in it. We closed it with a tight cover and opened the cover to breathe fresh air only at night. When the cover was closed, we fanned ourselves with towels so as to create artificial air. Later, we drilled two holes for air, the size of a mouse hole.

On the last Thursday [in the bunker], we heard the sounds of intensified movement, people's conversation, and sounds from a radio receiver in the forest. A few minutes later, we heard the sound of the Russian language. Experienced in trouble, we thought that these were Byelorussians, who were cooperating with the Germans. We again closed ourselves up in the bunker and listened for any sound. All day Friday, we didn't dare to move from the place, and only towards morning on Saturday, we heard above us the voices of Bercha and Tabak, who called us to come out, because the Russians had arrived. This was August 15, 1944.

There was no end to our happiness. We hugged and kissed each other, with tears of joy in our eyes. Only now we felt how alone and deserted we were: without a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, and without any relative or redeemer. Where would we go? Who would celebrate with us?

Photo - Dworaki and Zdrody Village Outing

After the Liberation

The first thing we did when we felt like free men was to wash ourselves in the river. For four weeks, we had been pursued and did not have a chance to bathe. We also did some laundry and changed our clothes. After that, we went to our good farmer, who had done a lot for us and endangered himself and his family. He put a table before us, set with good, nourishing food. I wanted to go immediately to Sokoly, but I was too tired to go on foot. I remained to sleep at the home of my benefactor the farmer, in the barn where I knew every corner and every crack.

The next morning, all of us went to Sokoly. There, already, were Michael Maik and his son Moshe; Chaim Tuvia Litvak and his family; Freidel Zholty and her son David; the brothers Avrahamel and Chaim Yudel Goldberg; Monik, the son of the dentist; Moshe Lev and Zeev Griczak and his family.

There also were Jews then in Sokoly who were not from our town, who came immediately after the liberation from the forests and hiding places. All of us stayed in the damaged house of Little Alterke. We slept on the floor. We brought food from the Soviet army kitchen, who distributed their leftovers to the Jews, survivors of the Holocaust. Slowly, slowly, we returned to being free people. A few of us received from the Poles part of the possessions that were deposited in their hands during the days of panicked flight from the town. Later, our Jews began the business of trading with the people of the nearby villages.

I brought the farmers used clothing in exchange for butter, meat, and whiskey. Thus our lives passed during the first months after the liberation, until February 18, 1945.

The Last Days in Sokoly

On Saturday night, I visited Zeev Griczak, Raclav and Zeev Olshak, who lived together in Mordechai Surasky's house. A number of other friends gathered there, and we played cards. The apartment had four rooms and it had two entrances, one at the front of the building and one in the back. We played in the front room, near the door. On the table there was a lit kerosene lamp.

Four Poles approached Zeev Griczak, who was standing outside, and asked him if he lives here. He answered them, “Yes”, and immediately burst into the apartment and cried: “Murderers are coming!”

Behind Zeev, they invaded into the kitchen and opened fire on those who were there. The Jews who were sitting in an inner room began to flee. Being the last of those who were sitting there, I hesitated to run, lest they injure me. I succeeded in hiding between the closet and the bed, and Shammai Litvak lay on my legs. During the confusion of the flight, the kerosene lamp fell down and the wooden floor was set on fire. I called to Shammai: “Put out the lamp!”

At that moment, one of the rioters entered the room like an evil spirit. When he saw Shammai, he yelled, “Yaatcza yadin Zhid!” – “Another Jew.”

Shammai got up and called to the murderer, “What are you doing here?”

At that moment, I instinctively pushed half of my body deeper under the bed. The Pole pounced and shot three bullets at Shammai. The victim fell to the ground and covered my feet with his body. One of the rioters moved the bed away from the wall to see if there was another Jew. I moved my body together with the bed.

Suddenly, Sheikele Litvak, a boy of 12, appeared in the doorway. The robber asked him who did he come to see? Sheikele answered, “My brother.” Immediately he shot two bullets into the boy's head.

The rioters began to chop one of the doors, which was locked, with an axe to discover more victims to kill. Those who had been in the room were lucky enough to have escaped outside earlier, through the window. The members of the gang who were lurking outside signaled their companions and they ran away from the place. The gang of murderers numbered nine men.

I went out of the house and ran to the police. The next day I saw that my jacket was punctured. At the time of the shots, I had felt something pass by a part of my body.

In the house, we were 19 Jews. Seven of our companions were shot to death, and the rest succeeded in escaping.

After the murder, I remained in Sokoly for three days and, together with my friends, I left my town forever. Our path led to Bialystok.

The events of these sorrowful days had a strong influence on my mind. For many months, I felt the horrors and saw before my eyes my murdered friends, and how I laid under the bed and Shammai, who was killed, was spread over my legs. I sometimes burst into tears and was attacked by spasms over my entire body. I was not able to calm down and stop crying.

Even today, when I bring up the memory of that terrible day of blood, I am choked with tears. My hatred and anger grow within me, against those Polish murderers who helped the Germans to shed the blood of refugees, few in number, from the Holocaust.

May they be cursed forever!

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