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[Pages 158-187] (cont'd)

At the Height of the Decay (cont'd)

The Ritual Slaughterer Will Be Slaughtered

It was Monday morning. The skies were heavy and covered with clouds. Wet snowflakes angrily fell and covered everything with white like a shroud. My brother and I wandered in the fields like two shadows of death. No food had entered our mouths for a long time, but I don't remember how long a time!…

When we reached the edge of the Niwiski Forest, we met the same Jews we had met before next to the shelter of straw, but since then, their number had grown.

Simply, it was difficult to recognize many of the people. Human speech cannot describe the abandonment and wretchedness of these human skeletons. Around us, we heard sighs for help, hunger, thirst, the cries of children and old people, and the discouragement that ate at all of them like locusts. From hour to hour, more Jews gathered, brothers in calamity.

Is this the Idczki Forest, the playground of our youth?! …The Jews of Sokoly were accustomed to come here on Sabbath afternoons to enjoy the Divine Presence. Every tree, every trunk, was familiar. Wherever you would look, you found carvings of names, dates, hints of loving couples, proverbs, and more. The writings raised memories like signed letters. Here, you read the date that the Beitar movement was established, there you find a notice that there was a meeting of the members of the underground. In another place, a teacher of beginners carved a memento of his students' visit to the forest on Lag Ba'Omer. There were even the names of camps from far away, who had come to dwell in the area for the summer.

All of those beautiful pine trees and signs now stand as silent witnesses, nodding their tops over the terrible tragedy that has been visited upon us.

And behold, now Yaakov Karp, the son of Chaim Leibel, the shoemaker, has just arrived. A torn shoe, tied with a rag, is on one of his feet, and the other is wrapped in a colorful rag. We told him that we met his brother in the forest, and he immediately went to look for him.

We also saw Reuven, the son of Leibush Blumenblatt, and his young wife, and other women with trembling babies in their arms. In the shelter of straw, there was no more room for the newcomers, and they tried to find partners to make dugouts in the woods, mainly for the protection of the young infants from perishing from the cold. In discouragement, they came to the conclusion that there is no other choice but to go back to the town and hand themselves over to their fate in the hands of the German murderers.

Leibel Genandes told us that on the day the Jews were driven out of Sokoly, in other words, on November 2, 1942, at five o'clock in the morning, he was in a group of Jews who were waiting at the Kruczewa train station for the train that took the workers every day to their jobs at the train track plant in Lapy. But how surprised the men were to see boxcars, instead of the [usual] passenger cars trailing after the engine. Immediately a vehicle burst into view. Gestapo officers jumped out of the vehicle and pointed their rifles at those waiting in the station. About 200 men started to flee in all directions in panic and fear. Leibel Genandes was among 30 Jews that the Germans caught. They brought them, with screams, beatings and threats – to Sokoly. They were allowed to “jump” home and take whatever possessions they wanted, and were ordered to present themselves in the marketplace ten minutes later.

Leibel Genandes hurried home, and without thinking very much, climbed over the fence and from there into the attic of the barn belonging to the local priest. He laid there for an entire day. In the middle of the following night, he quietly snuck out of the barn and succeeded in leaving town.To our great dismay, we are convinced that at present he is not among the living. The hunger and cold forced him to return to town and hand himself over to the “kindness” of the Germans.

I, myself, began to feel pain in my feet. They were found to have sores and blisters, and parts of them were frostbitten. For a long time I suffered unbearably and struggled against this problem, which actually was one of many.

One of the mornings when we were with Wladek in Idczki C, he gave my brother, Avraham, a letter written in Yiddish, in pencil, from a Jew who lived in Sokoly, named Eliezer Chernietsky, who was called “Sarahke's Leizer.” The letter was addressed to the writer's wife. Wladek was among the hundreds of wagon drivers who transported the expelled Jews, and the man Chernietsky, who sat with him in the wagon, asked him to accept the note and give it to his wife Devorake. Cherniewsky, who was 50 years old, was known all his life as a clown. On his last journey, he wrote hints to his wife, in the hope that the letter would reach her when she was hidden from the Germans and that she had found shelter in the house of one of the farmers. And this is what Eliezer wrote:

“My beloved wife Devorake, do not despair. Strengthen yourself well and do not lose hope. I do not feel so bad, and am traveling in the companionship of the Rabbi and the Shochet in the same wagon. The Shochet will kill the chickens and we will lack nothing.”

In this manner, Eliezer Chernietsky continued to write a few more sentences.

I know that the woman, Devorake met up with absolute refusal everywhere she requested assistance, even temporarily, from the farmers. She shared the fate of the rest of the Jews who were pursued to annihilation.

Passing through the forest, I saw Zalman David Gozelczani, the son-in-law of the widow Leah, leaning on the trunk of a pine tree, wrapped in his talit, with his tefillin on his head and his arm. Zalman David prayed the morning prayers with devotion, and in concentration he swayed back and forth with his eyes closed.

At some distance, stood a young woman with a crying baby in her arms. Both of them were trembling with the cold. The woman turned toward the praying man and tried to interrupt him with the question, “If you are righteous and Heaven-fearing, how is it that you have been so severely punished?! … And these tiny children, innocent babies, how did they sin?!” And here, the woman pointed at the infants and nursing babies who were wailing and crying bitterly, from hunger and cold.

Zalman David continued to pray; how could he dare to stop the Shmone Esrei prayer in the middle, in order to answer a woman's questions?!…

From One Valley of Tears – To Another

We returned to the [house of the] farmer where our cousin Michael Maik and his son, Moshe were staying. We succeeded in convincing the owner of the farm, Stanislaw [“Staczek”] Kalinowski, to allow us to prepare a bunker next to his barn and cowsheds. We found it logical to make the entrance to the bunker through one of the cowsheds, so as not to arouse the suspicion of strangers.

During the long hours of the nights, we dug out the heavy dirt and carried it away. Without stopping, we filled pails of dirt and carried them very quietly into the puddles of water in the area of the farm. To this day, I find it difficult to understand how we had the strength to complete our “grave” in the hard, muddy clay until five men would have room to lie down in it.

At sunset, we immediately began our work. We worked industriously until dawn. Slowly, we reached the point when the excavation work was completed. We then began to cover the walls and ceiling with boards. We supported the ceiling with wooden posts. My brother Avrahamel, a professional carpenter, excelled at these jobs.

When the work of building the bunker was completed, we moved a toilet building that had been standing among the cowsheds and placed it on top of the entrance to the bunker. We made an arrangement in the toilet that allowed us to open and close the covering of the floor, camouflaging the entrance.

From that time, during the day we remained lying down in the bunker, and there was barely enough air to breathe. For the sake of caution, the owner of the farm added a crate containing dirt, the same color as the surrounding area, over the entrance to our living grave. Stanislaw removed the crate only at night, so as to lower some food to us along with a wind lantern, since the bunker was suffocating and lacked air and we had to partially open the cover, and an ordinary kerosene lantern would be extinguished.

How Did We Infiltrate into Town?

A few weeks passed. The date of November 15th was behind us. The goyim predicted that whoever would succeed in standing firm against the Germans until that date, would continue to live, without being in danger of his life. The “prophecy” was completely false, and there still were no signs of the end of the troubles of the Jews. The hunger, the cold, the lack of a roof over our heads, and the fear, not to be revealed to the Germans and the gangs of robbers, disturbed our rest. We spoke among ourselves about these problems and asked ourselves, from what can we live, from what can we sustain ourselves? The money each of us had taken from home was almost gone, and would perhaps be enough for only one or two more days.

We came to the decision, I and my brother Avrahamel, that after midnight we should sneak into our town, Sokoly, which was empty of Jews, and try to bring back some of our possessions that we had hidden in various places. We wanted to pay Stanislaw, the owner of our shelter, with some of the possessions we would bring, so that he would consent to keep and feed us in the future as well. Old Maik was completely against the idea that his son Moshe would come with us and endanger his life on an impossible mission. Therefore, my brother and I went out [alone], and came close to the town.

That night, it was not as dark as we wished. The thin snow that had fallen during the day covered the fields with white. We took off our boots, so as not to make the sound of footsteps in the snow. We went on zig-zagging paths, we jumped over familiar fences, so as to shorten the distance more and more to our house, which was located next to the courtyard of the German gendarmerie. We took care and listened to every breeze and every falling leaf. We made sure that it was completely silent all around, and then we climbed up to the attic of our house.

We immediately saw that the attic was completely empty. Apparently, gangs of Poles had passed through who were happy at our distress and stole our possessions.

We came down from the attic and walked through the rooms of our house, over the feathers scattered from the pillows and quilts, over broken pieces of furniture and pages of books. We snuck outside to the barn and the stable. From one of the corners, I took out a harness for a horse, a pillow and a blanket.

We saw notices and warnings pasted on the doors of the houses, printed in Polish and German: “Death Penalty for Robbery, Breaking Windows and Doors!” Even so, the majority of the doors were broken and stood open, and the windows were broken. We looked towards our sister Leah's open house, and also there we saw broken furniture and scattered feathers. The bookshelves were broken and turned over on the floor.

Quietly, quietly, we snuck out of our robbed and destroyed town. From a distance we saw a light shining from the attic of Itze [Yitzhak] the carpenter's house. We put on our boots and headed in the direction of our bunker, where we arrived with the dawn.

A Joint Venture

I wasn't especially sorry about my suits of clothes that had been stolen by Poles from the attic of our house. What I was mainly sorry about, was the loss of a collection of pictures and photographs of family, friends, and relatives in Poland, in the Land of Israel and across the ocean. I thought about this a lot and I was dejected. To my misfortune, I had stabbing pains that I felt in the toes of both of my feet.

Moshe Maik remembered that his wealthy uncle, Yisrael Maik, had hidden many of his possessions in the attic above the ceiling of the apartment belonging to Shlomo Krawcewitz, known as “Maas,” who lived in the building belonging to the brothers Michael and Yisrael Maik.

After a consultation of the members of our bunker, the Goldberg brothers, Michael and his son Moshe, we decided to plan bringing the possessions from the town to us, to the bunker. For that, it was suggested to include our benefactor Stanislaw in the venture. Staczek didn't hesitate, and agreed to the proposal. So that the mission would succeed, he included his friend – Czeczek, who apparently was his relation.

Moshe, Avrahamel and the two Christians, armed with rifles, went out to the town. I remained in the bunker, because of my frozen, painful feet, and the old man Michael Maik stayed with me.

Towards morning, our heroes returned safely and brought a load of household items and clothing. They told us that on their way they passed the priest's meadow, on the east side of the old synagogue and the new Beit Midrash. They saw a light in the windows of the Beit Midrash and heard the heart-breaking crying and wailing of Jews coming from there. Some time later, we found out that the Germans put Jews that they captured in the forests and hiding places in the Beit Midrash, and later they transported them to the barracks of the Tenth Division in Bialystok, from which they were sent to the gas chambers of Treblinka.

We want to live and to have the privilege of taking revenge on our oppressors.

The Radio Receiver

Stanislaw, the owner of our shelter, was a devoted radio fan. During the German occupation, when it was forbidden to listen to radio broadcasts, Staczek kept a secret receiver.

During our stay in the bunker, Staczek's receiver was with us, and we listened to radio broadcasts every evening. From time to time, Staczek would come down to us in order to listen to the news from London and Moscow, with two earphones on his ears. He enjoyed this very much and listened with interest to every piece of news that he heard. We found out that one of the reasons why he gave us shelter was Moshe Maik, who was the only radio technician in the entire surrounding area, and thanks to Moshe, all of us benefited.

Occasionally, Staczek would read to us from the illegal newspaper of the Polish underground A.K. Its main content was directed more against the Russians than against the Germans. Staczek was accustomed to read the articles with extra enthusiasm and pathos, in order to better demonstrate his patriotic feelings. Sometimes he tried to hide certain articles from us whose main content was anti-Semitic.

Bread and Butter…

Is it possible that we have been sentenced to die of hunger? We receive cooked food only once a day, which contains a few peas cooked in water and salt, and one loaf of bread, for four men. We divide the loaf into 28 portions, that will be enough for seven days. Michael argues that if it has been decreed that we will die of hunger at the goy's house, he prefers to take his chances outside the bunker, and what will happen, will happen! We don't agree with his pessimistic opinion, and weigh every possibility as to how to obtain food.

We got the idea of going to town as usual, during the night, and burglarizing the dairy, which was under German supervision, and to carry from there as much as possible. The next night, we carried out the dangerous mission.

Avrahamel broke the door with unusual efficiency, and we quietly loaded ourselves with a very large stock of butter. Happy with our success, we hurried and ran, and returned safely to the bunker.

Nu, and now – how can we eat butter without any bread?

We invested a lot of care, traveling a number of kilometers, and finally we succeeded in buying a reasonable amount of bread.

We fell on our beds, tired and worn out, but we were satiated from eating bread, thickly spread with butter.

A Plague of Mice and Rats

In our cave, it wasn't cold. We sat and laid down there without a shirt, even though outside the winter cold reigned with all its power. Icicles hung overhead like fringes, and occasionally fell on us.

As if our troubles were few, there was added a plague of mice and rats. We struggled with the uninvited guests and tried to catch them in our hands. Stanislaw lowered a trap to us, and every once in a while a rat would be trapped. Apparently, we had been sentenced to an unending chain of problems, because also the straw upon which we laid became rotten and began to smell.

At night, we went out in the direction of the train tracks and from there, we brought boards and planks of wood that had been used as a fence to protect the tracks from snowstorms. After we had carried the heavy load on our backs for several kilometers, we returned to the bunker tired and wet with sweat. First, we hurried to break down the parts of the fence into boards and to lower them into the bunker.

For a few nights, Avrahamel worked especially hard and installed a floor in the bunker. After that, he covered the walls and the ceiling with boards. Every time, Avrahamel found something new to do, so as to improve and remodel our “apartment”. Sometimes, the repairs were as difficult as the parting of the Red Sea.

Staczek would come down to us a number of times a week, in order to listen to the radio broadcasts and to talk to us. He wondered at, and was surprised, how we could breath in such stifling air?! He himself found it hard to breathe. In a half-lying-down position, he would tell us about the events of the day and what the Germans were doing to the Jews. With a shrewd smile and with piercing eyes, Staczek continued to tell us how the Germans surprised the Jews in the Budziska Forest and shot to death, among others, Shlomo Olsha and the daughter of Rabbi Rosenblum.

Once, he told us that Shabtil Zlotka, the son-in-law of the butcher, Betzalelke, visited him in the afternoon. Shabtil told him that he, his wife and his sons had fled to the forests and made themselves a bunker in the vicinity of the village of Kalinowa. From there, Shabtil would go out to the villages in search of food for his family.

Once, when he was absent from the bunker, the Germans conducted a search in the forest and they came across his youngest son when he was going out of the bunker to relieve himself. Shrewdly, the officers asked the boy if he wanted them to bring him, his parents and the rest of the family to the Bialystok ghetto. They tricked the confused boy into revealing to them where his parents were. The boy had heard, more than once, from his parents, that in the ghetto the Jews walked around freely in the streets and they didn't have to hide in pits, and that they themselves wished they were there.

The boy happily ran to point out the bunker to the evil ones. In the bunker, outside of his family, there were also other Jews. With coarse screams, the Germans ordered all of them to go out of the bunker and shot them dead on the spot.

When Shabtil returned to the bunker with the scant portion of bread he had bought, he found his family and the rest of his companions lying dead and rolling in puddles of blood on the white snow. The poor father did not know whether to cry for his children and wife, who were freed of the troubles of the wicked world, or to cry for his own bitter fate and what was awaiting him today or tomorrow.

At that very moment, Shabtil saw some farmers approaching, with digging tools in their hands. Apparently, the Germans had sent them to bury the murdered Jews. He fled from the place with his life, and didn't even have the privilege of paying the last respects to his dear ones. Broken in spirit, Shabtil Zlotka the butcher sat for a while in a hut with a farmer, warmed his exhausted bones a bit, and went on his way, without knowing where, or why, he went.

One day, Staczek told us that the Germans, accompanied by the two Polish policemen Konofka and Jamiulkowski, had revealed in the Wiesoki Forest – the bunker of Naftali Plut and his sons, and the doctor from Czyzew, Dr. Guttenfeln. The Poles shot and killed old Plut and two of his sons, and they sent the rest of his sons and the doctor to the Bialystok ghetto.

The Amstkomissar of Sokoly, seeing that the farmers were bringing him very few Jews, set a prize of two kilograms of sugar for every Jew. One of the farmers from the village of Jamiolki trapped five Jews, including three women, and personally turned them over into the hands of the Amstkomissar. He received, for his “good deed,” only three kilos of sugar instead of the ten he had expected. With an excess of disappointment, in front of his village colleagues, the farmer poured out a flood of curses on the German, who deceives patriotic farmers with his guile.

Continuing his story, Staczek told us about one farmer from the village of Lachy (a distance of five kilometers from Sokoly), who turned two Jewish girls over to the Germans, who had fled from the Warsaw ghetto and came into his house to ask for bread.

Staczek added that they were no longer sending the Jews that they trapped in the forests and bunkers to the ghetto. They simply shot every Jew who came into their hands.

The blood flowing in our veins was frozen, not from the cold (we were buried two meters deep in the earth, and did not feel the frost), and not from a lack of air to breathe, and not even from hunger, but from hearing the stories of our “benefactor” – Staczek. Hitler, may his name be blotted out, decreed, that if, Heaven forbid, he would lose the battle, he would wipe out the Jews of Europe five minutes before the twelfth hour. And here, we were living in the year 1943, and the regime was still in the hands of the Germans, and in spite of the many failures on the Russian front, here and there they were progressing.

A suspicion entered our hearts that Staczek was plotting something against us. For the sake of caution, we decided that each one of us, in turn, would not eat for an entire day from the scant pot of cooked food that Staczek brought us. Thus, if it would enter his mind to poison us, one of us would survive and take revenge on the crafty goy. The only one of us who would be left, would set the farm, and all of its property, on fire.

During the last few days, Staczek had been telling a lot about the farmers who hid wealthy Jews on their farms for large sums of money, dollars and gold, and in the end they murdered them and stole their wealth. The forests were filled with the naked bodies of murdered Jews. The farmers are too lazy to bury their victims, and throw them away, far from their houses.

Perhaps We Should Join the Russian Partisan Groups?

More than once, we estimated that the only way for us is to join the Russian partisans. But even they bitterly disappointed us. We saw, with our own eyes, that their main strength was revealed, not against the Germans, but against the oppressed Jews. They rob them, undress them and leave them naked and barefoot in the intense cold, to the mercies of fate. Many of these Jews crawled on all four back to their homes and preferred to be given into the hands of the Germans.

Near the village of Kalinowa, the Germans conducted a search for Jews, and on their way they met a number of Russians who protected themselves by shooting. One Russian fell, with his pistol in his hand. The farmers are saying that the pockets of his clothes were full of money, gold and expensive watches that were stolen from the Jews.

The Russian Doctor

Her husband was a captain in the Red Army, and she came to Sokoly together with him as a military doctor. When the Germans attacked the Soviets in 1941, the doctor, Claudia Nikolievna Volosvitza, did not manage to flee with her husband, and she remained in Sokoly as a private doctor. She was with her two children, a daughter aged six and a son aged seventeen. The son, Igor, was a friend of Moshe Maik.

Before the battery that served as a source of power for our radio receiver, completely disintegrated, Moshe remembered his friend Igor, who had learned from him last year how to charge batteries. Without losing any time, Moshe asked Staczek to bring the almost-empty battery to Igor, to be recharged. Moshe included a letter to his friend, written in Russian. Staczek was willing to answer positively to this request, because he wanted to listen to the radio broadcasts. Igor, on his part, fulfilled Moshe's request in the best way possible, and every charge of the battery lasted several weeks.

Claudia Nikolievna and her son Igor included, every time, a nice package of food for Moshe along with the battery. Meanwhile, the Germans began to spread propaganda for the purpose of inciting the Poles against the Soviets, who at that time had murdered 12,000 Polish officers in the Katin Forest in White Russia. The Russians blamed the Germans for this murder. The printed publications of the Polish underground wrote widely about the Soviet horrors against the Poles. The propaganda and the incitement greatly influenced the mood of the Poles. Every time Staczek would return from the doctor's house, his mouth was full of pity and compassion for the doctor, who was likely to be a victim of the German propaganda. Not too many days passed, and the doctor indeed was murdered by Poles. Her son, Igor, fled through the window and succeeded in getting far away from his home.

Staczek knew enough to add that the Polish underground killed all of the Russian doctors in the area. The shooting murderers wore Red Army uniforms and even spoke Russian among themselves, so that they would not be recognized.

This was the Polish revenge for the Katin incident. All of the Russians, who were agricultural workers in the villages, or otherwise employed, hurried to register to work in Germany, in their fear of the gangs of the Polish underground.

Geese and Turkeys

My brother Avrahamel worked for a certain time for the Germans, and he was an expert in his profession of carpentry. He was very familiar with the houses in which the Germans were living and he suggested a mission of burglary there, similar to the burglary of the dairy. Avrahamel suggested that we first spy out the lodging of the manager of the dairy and find out whether they were fattening geese or turkeys in advance of the coming Christmas holiday. We said it, and we did it!

On a foggy night, we stole into the manager's yard and we immediately found seven well-fattened geese. From the cowshed, we took with us another 14 turkeys and put them in sacks. We succeeded in safely bringing our great booty to the bunker.

We had plenty of meat for a number of weeks. A few days after the operation, Staczek told us that the Germans joined up with the priest and requested that he, being responsible for his flock, should pay them compensation for the damage caused them in the matter of the geese.

The next Sunday, the priest spoke in church about the crime that was committed and angrily denounced the robbers who had taken property that wasn't theirs. Thus, the matter of the turkeys and geese raised a storm among the regime and the public. Nobody even thought that the heroes of the operation were Jews.

After we quieted our hunger and did not expect any distress in the near future, we felt boredom and the days that passed were monotonous and seemed eternal. We felt the need to interest ourselves in something, and certainly to read any kind of a book. We therefore decided to go out to the town the next night to Michael Maik's house, and to bring some of his many books from his rich library. In the darkness of the night, we indeed arrived there, and among the books we brought there were a number of volumes of “Pages of Literature.” We read them thirstily, but there were few hours of light, which were limited, because rays of light penetrated with difficulty through the cracks that we had intentionally left [in the bunker] so that we would have air to breathe.

The Reason for Our Lives? - Revenge!

We are all united in the opinion that we will not remain alive until the end of the War, and so why should we live and suffer? Nevertheless, we must live, in order to take revenge! To avenge the blood of our brothers that is being spilled like water!

My brother, Avrahamel, prepared three heavy poles as we planned Operation No. 1 of our revenge. One dark evening, we went out to the town, and, as we had planned, we hid behind the gate of Yechielke the baker's house, with the poles in our hands. We waited for Vashin, the officer of the gendarmerie, who was accustomed to passing here on his way every day at this hour from visiting his love, Janina Polkowska's daughter. We knew this detail very well, from when all the Jews had still been in Sokoly.

The estimated time passed, and we continued to lie in wait for our victim, restlessly and impatiently. It was very cold outside. Suddenly, we heard footsteps. Our hearts began to beat strongly within us, and we were ready to pounce. We estimated that a number of hard knocks on his head would be sufficient to kill him and we would take his weapon. A whispered prayer escaped from our throats: “Oh, our G-d in Heaven, help us to take revenge on our oppressors for our parents, revenge for our brothers and sisters.”

To our disappointment, it was not the officer, but another man.

We crossed Bath Street, crossed the horse market and continued to walk. The shadows of people passing caused us to panic. We tried to hide behind the walls of the houses, so that they wouldn't see us. Apparently someone sensed us and started to run away. Again, we crossed Tiktin Street and passed opposite the new cemetery. There, we saw Jewish houses burglarized and empty. The doors and windows had been stolen and drafts circulated wildly within them like demons and spirits. The torn pages of books were strewn about and were lifted to fly and dance in the wind that blew on them.

And what was the explanation of the new pavement that we came across? It wasn't hard to recognize that we were walking on the monuments from the Jewish cemetery.

We immediately received actual acknowledgement of our wondering, because we saw that here and there, monuments were missing in the cemetery. Woe to us, woe to us! They are stealing the rest also from the dead! The new sidewalk is there to serve the evil goyim, who are inheriting our, the Jews', homes. Nothing remained for us but to return to our bunker, the same way we had left it.

We organized a new plan of revenge. We bought a bottle of kerosene and matches. We were determined to burn down the town and not leave an inheritance for the murderers of the Jews. At midnight the next night, we went out to Sokoly. I and Moshe Maik remained outside, and my brother Avrahamel went inside, into Yossel Malon's house. He piled the straw from the mattresses in high piles, and added anything that was likely to burn. From there, we proceeded to the storeroom of Tova Devora the hatmaker, and did the same as in the previous house. We poured kerosene on the piles. The next place to be set afire was the house of Masha Kaplansky. The house was occupied by Poles, who turned it into a restaurant for the Germans and Poles.

The hour was after midnight, and the drunks were still sitting there, in a cheerful mood from the wine. Avrahamel quietly snuck into the nearby pigpen. Moshe and I stood ready, with weapons in our hands. Before he poured the kerosene on the flammable materials in the pen, he brought out a large saw and gave it to Moshe. He immediately set the place on fire and locked the door. From there, we hurriedly ran to Tova Devorah's storeroom and it was sufficient to throw a lit match inside; immediately, a flame of fire broke out. We locked the door there and ran to the third point, which was the most dangerous of them all, because it was next to the gendarmia. But, since there was no strength that could stop our desire for revenge at that moment, which burned in our hearts like a large flame, we succeeded in setting a fire there as well, and when the flame broke out, we locked the door and ran like an arrow from a bow in the direction of the slaughter-house.

From a distance, we saw how the surroundings were lit by the tongues of flame that went up to the heavens from the first two points. The third point still did not show any signs, so we hurried back there, and when we got to the threshold of the building, an enormous flame burst out. We fled from the place through the fields, while behind us, the fire lit up the town like it was mid-day.

Thus, we ran without stopping to the Bruszewa Forest. Here, we stopped and looked from a distance at how our town was going up in flames.

For us, this was a happy and joyful revenge. The tongues of fire swallowed the Jewish town without Jews, occupied by the Poles who hate us, who sold their souls to the German devil and provided him with every assistance to murder Jews. In the mass murder, they didn't even sit by idly; they fulfilled “you murdered and you inherited.”

When we reached our living grave, we called our old uncle, Michael Maik, outside so that he also would enjoy the sight, how the town was burning and how the skies over Sokoly were red like Sodom and Amorra, the evil cities of the past. Our uncle stood amazed and emotional at the sight, waved his hand and recited the Shehechiyanu blessing, that we had at least merited to see a partial revenge upon our enemies.

The next day, Staczek told us about the fire that broke out in Sokoly and burned down the entire town. We put on innocent faces, as if the news surprised us. Staczek looked at us with sharp, suspicious glances. He said that the Germans had called for help from all of the surrounding towns, from Lapy, Wysokie Mazowieckie, Zambrow, and more. The fire departments tried with all their might to save Aharke Zholty's large house, the house of the gendarmerie headquarters. Three-quarters of the city, starting from Tiktin Street, the large marketplace, and Bath Street, were completely burned down. As well, 95 Jewish houses, 120 storerooms, cowsheds and pigpens with the cattle inside, belonging to Poles who were living in the Jewish houses, all were burnt down. Most of these Poles fled back to their villages in fear of the hand of G-d, who was punishing them for their sins against the Jews.

A short time later, we went to the village of Idczki “C”, to buy bread. Moshe and I found a place to hide among tall potato plants, and my brother Avrahamel knocked on the window of his friend, the farmer Wladek. Suddenly, we heard the cut-off song of drunken voices. These were guards of the civil guard. We took a position under the trees and decided that if they should grab Avrahamel, we would burn down the farmer's house. Moshe and I had weapons, and we decided to kill every horseman who would want to call the Germans. But the matter tensed only our nerves, which were in any case already tense, and it ended the best way.

My brother returned from Wladek's house and told us that the farmer brought him into his house and was surprised how Avrahamel had escaped from the eyes of the village guard, especially since chickens had been stolen there the night before, and suspicion fell on a group of Jews, who were called Yudelakim by the villagers. That day, they had decided to increase the guard in the village and to hand over any Jew they would catch to the Germans.

We didn't get a lot of bread from Wladek, but we were satisfied that we had been rescued from danger, and we returned safely to the bunker.

“The Garden of Eden” in the Bialystok Ghetto

Last week, they transported the Jews from Zambrow and the surrounding area, and from the military camp in Zambrow, where the Jews were imprisoned – to the chambers of destruction in Treblinka. The expulsion of the Jews from there took place at the same time as the expulsion from Sokoly, but the Jews from Zambrow were held in the military camp for a long time.

After several months of torture, the Germans ordered farmers' wagons with their owners, in order to transport the Jews to Treblinka.

The expulsion took place on a cold and rainy day. There was no straw in the wagons. The people were half naked, tortured and hungry. The wagons, accompanied by Germans, rattled toward the Czyzew train station, on the way to Treblinka.

Staczek now is accustomed to warn us occasionally, not to go out of the bunker, because armed Russians had come to sleep in his house. Our landlord further added, that instead of the Jewish workers who had worked in the railroad workshops in Lapy, there now were Polish workers. They also set a time for him to work there, once a week. Nevertheless, groups of Jews from the Bialystok ghetto still arrived in Lapy to work, and they returned to the ghetto every day. Also, a few Jews who had not yet been revealed by the Germans, yearned to enter the Bialystok ghetto. A rumor had spread that every week, a certain German would appear in a vehicle that was at his disposal, and for a price in cash, he took his customers to the Bialystok ghetto.

Finally, added Staczek, who last night had allowed two Jews from Sokoly to sleep in his barn, Label Yaskolwa and Shmuel Pandara. Both of them were in terrible condition, torn and worn out, and fleas were eating their flesh. According to what they said, they were looking for agents to find that same German, who would apparently take Jews to the “Garden of Eden” whose name was the Bialystok ghetto.

The “Yudlakim

Chena Yudels! It was enough to mention this name to anyone, young or old, in Sokoly, and all of them knew very well who the man was, and what he did. His father, Yehudel, was a poor, miserable shoemaker.

Yehudel's oldest son, Chena, escaped more than once from Russian prisons, and this time he succeeded in doing the same from a German prison. The reason for his occasional imprisonment was his constant achievement of robberies.

Towards evening, Staczek came down to our bunker and told us what had happened last night in the village Jamiolki:

Sheindel, the young daughter of Kravitz, the owner of a fabric store in Sokoly, arrived at the home of the local farmer Pieszka, accompanied by Chena Yudels. She asked the farmer to return to her some of the merchandise her father had deposited with him during the “hot” time before the War broke out. The farmer Pieszka didn't think very much. He and his sons overcame their two Jewish guests and turned them over to the Germans who were guarding the Jamiolki bridge. The Germans shot their victims on the spot. Chena's brothers, who were some distance from the place, fled for their lives.

One who passes over the Jamiolki bridge can point out a hill overgrown with grass and weeds, and tell: Sheindel Kravitz and Chena Yudels are buried here.

The New Year, 1943

Lying in the dark bunker, we lost all sense of time, and we were not familiar with the dates. Today, Stazcek told us that it is New Year's Day, a happy holiday for the nations of the world.

Outside, the snow covered the earth; in our eyes, it was as if the world was wearing a shroud, so as to mourn with us Jews over our bitter fate. Again, we were lacking food and hunger began to show its signs. On the other hand, today we were enriched by another rifle. Staczek brought us a Russian rifle with ammunition. We wanted the weapon, the rifle, as if it were something holy, but at the same time, it aroused other thoughts: who knows how much innocent, holy blood was shed by this instrument of destruction? And so, in our possession there already were two rifles, one Polish and one Russian.

Anyhow, we had lost hope of remaining alive after the War, and why, if so, should we sit with our hands folded and wait for our death? We started to work on a plan to attack the Amstkomissar and shoot him while he was asleep, through the window of his room. Meanwhile, we were informed that the evil one had moved to a new apartment in the Manikowsky house, and the house was surrounded by guards during the night. There also was a warning that in case of an attack on the regime's representative, two Polish citizens would be hung without trial.

The First Expulsion Operation in Bialystok (“Aktion”)

It was a day in February, 1943. Outside, it was terribly cold. We heard from Staczek that boxcars full of Jews were passing by every day through the Racibory train station.

There was no doubt that they were transporting the Jews of Bialystok to be destroyed in the gas chambers of Treblinka.

Along the train tracks, lay the bodies of Jews who wanted to escape from the boxcars and were shot by the standing guards, as well as those who had frozen to death. Farmers were streaming [toward the tracks] from every direction, for the purpose of robbing and taking spoils from the survivors and the dead victims.

Also Waczek, Moshe Maik's good acquaintance, did not stand at a distance and ran to the Racibory train station, and from there along the length of the track, in order to strip the clothes from the Jews and not to waste good boots, or anything else that he could profit from.

Kalman Chernietsky

Today, Stanislaw met Kalman Chernietsky, who told him that he was under the protection of a certain farmer, in exchange for gold valuables. He ordered us to dig and widen the bunker, so there would be enough room for another person. My brother Avrahamel began to excavate the ground, and alternately passed to me and Moshe pails full of dirt.

We took the heavy pails up with the help of a long branch that had a node at one end, and we dragged them a distance of about 200 meters from the bunker, for the purpose of sprinkling the dirt into flowing water. The work was hard and exhausting. We already were working for over a week, of course, only through the hours of the night.

I will not exaggerate if I point out that in spite of the hard work, we felt ourselves to be encouraged that if Staczek had wanted to destroy us one day, then he would not be interested in preparing a place for an additional person, and a Jew at that. So we worked with extra diligence. We brought trees from the forest to use as posts to support the wider ceiling. From the nearby train station, a distance of a few kilometers, we dragged on our backs heavy portions of a fence that were constructed of dozens of boards. The wood was needed to cover the ceiling, the floor and the walls.

It was very unusual for Staczek to appear in the bunker in the early hours of the evening. He always had an excuse for the reason why he was late bringing us the food, which was very scanty in any case. Once, he blamed a neighbor, once a friend, once, just a guest. These people apparently delayed him from going out to us and bringing us food. Every evening, we had to lift the cover of the bunker a bit for about an hour, because of the urgent need for fresh air. Our only, repeated hot food was pea soup, once a day.

Every time Staczek came down to us during the late hours of the night, he would look at us with sharp, piercing stares, until we began to shiver. It was possible to read an expression of superiority in his looks, as if we were given into his hands like valueless worms.

Tonight, his appearance was all smiles. Behind him came Monik, the son of the dentist from Sokoly. He had jumped out and fled from a boxcar of the train that was carrying him and his family to the death camp, Treblinka. We embraced and kissed him, as if he was our brother. After a short rest, he told us everything that had happened to him until today. Monik, his mother, and his stepfather, Alter Ginzburg, wandered for a few weeks in the forests in the cold, in hunger, robbed of everything by Russians and Poles.

Finally, they had to return to Sokoly and hand themselves over to the Germans. At first, they kept the Jews who were trapped in bunkers and in the forests, and those who had turned themselves in “of their own free will” in the old synagogue and in the new Beit Midrash.

Alter Ginzburg, the chairman of the Judenrat, was allowed by the Amstkomissar to come to the supply storeroom in the public school, there to receive food. Later, the Jews were transferred to the local prison. After a number of days, the prison authorities moved the Ginzburg family to the Bialystok ghetto.

Influence in the Ghetto

Monik continued his story: In the ghetto, it was very difficult to organize oneself. There, one needed influence. His stepfather, Alter Ginzburg, enjoyed influence in the ghetto, thanks to Raphael Gutman, a member of the Judenrat in Bialystok, who had been the principal of the schools of the Jewish community of Warsaw before the War.

“Raphael Gutman was Alter's cousin, and by his merit we were able to live in the ghetto and obtain what we needed. Those who had money also were able to organize themselves and live in the ghetto, because in exchange for money, everything could be obtained.

“When the Jews from Sokoly arrived at the Tenth Division's military camp in Bialystok, the head of the local Judenrat, Dr. Barish, came there and liberated Rabbi Rosenblum from Sokoly, along with the members of his family. Dr. Barish thought that by doing this, he had saved the Rabbi's life, because in the military camp there was nothing to eat and nothing to lie down on. There, they gave out only one potato per day, and the death rate was very high.

“Barish hoped that nothing bad would happen to the Jews of Bialystok and that it would be possible to satisfy the German beasts with gifts.

“In the first operation of expelling Jews on February 5th, the first victims in Bialystok were the Jews who had recently arrived from the forests in the area. The veteran residents of Bialystok had worried about themselves a long time ago, and had prepared hiding places for times of trouble, supplied with food and arrangements for providing air to breathe. A person from outside had no possibility of joining the veteran groups. Even so, we found somebody who was willing to take us into his hiding place, at the very last moment.

“One of the neighbors, a baker by profession, also requested that they accept him into our hiding place. The owner of the place refused, and then the baker threatened to inform the Germans about them. Not having a choice, they also accepted the baker.

“To our dismay, after a few days, the Germans, accompanied by Jewish policemen, revealed our hiding place. Every day, from three o'clock in the morning until three o'clock in the afternoon, there were searches in the courtyards of the houses and many Jews were taken out of their safe places. Within ten days, between February 5th and February 15th, 1943, more than 100,000 Jews were trapped like rats in their holes.

“The poor Jews were transported like sheep to the slaughter, to the death camp – Treblinka.”

The Last Journey

Monik stopped telling his story for a minute. After a short silence, he continued, with a deep sigh:

“They put us into crowded boxcars full of Jews. The doors squeaked shut and were locked. We heard the heavy breath of the engine, and after a few minutes, the rolling of the wheels. We sat with our hands stretched out. Somebody confessed his sins. Mothers wailed, with their infants in their arms. Other mothers wrapped their infants in rags and tried to throw them outside. Outside, we heard the hail of bullets. The poor mothers burst into hysterical weeping.

“The train passed the Lapy station and continued in the direction of Racibory, near Sokoly. My mother quickly packed her money, handed me the package and ordered me to jump out the open window. Without stopping to think about what I was doing, I found myself outside. A hail of bullets whistled over my head. I galloped down the hill, away from the train tracks, and sank into the snow.

“When I awoke from my surprise and the courage that had come to me, I saw two young Poles who ordered me to walk in front of them into a nearby wood. I had no doubt that they wanted to bring me into the hands of the Germans. After crying and pleading with them, I gave them 50 marks, and they left me alone, even showing me which way led to the village of Dworaki. Only then did I realize that I was unable to walk. I lifted the trousers on my right leg and saw that the flesh was missing on part of my knee and a lot of blood was streaming out. My clothes were soaked in blood. I was also wounded on the forehead. In Dworaki, they helped me and bandaged my head and my knee. After I paid them money for the help, they showed me the way to the village of Jablonowo, where I wanted to go.

The Village of Jablonowo

“The village of Jablonowo is located five kilometers from Sokoly. When I arrived at the house of a farmer, a good acquaintance of mine, he received me coldly. I suggested paying him a certain amount of money and he agreed to keep me in a hidden corner of his barn. The farmer told me that he had previously hidden Jews in that same place, in the hidden corner, and, by his own admission, recounted the names of the Jews whom he had killed.

“His latest victims were Shabtil Esterovitz and his wife, who had hidden at his place. He told me that they incited him against Jews and his hatred for them burned in his heart.

“His small son, aged eight, also knew how to hate Jews. 'Now,' said the boy, 'it will be enjoyable! There aren't any Zhids.' He took a fresh egg that had just been laid, and drank it. He said, “When the Zhids were here with us, my mother hid the eggs from me and took them to town to sell them to the Zhids.'

“Once,” tells Monik, “I went out of the barn to the farmer's house, in order to wash myself and rebandage my wounds, which had not yet healed. From the window, I saw the farmer's son galloping on a horse in the direction of the town. Not half an hour later, the boy came back accompanied by five men. I found out later that this was the famous gang who ruled over that region: two Russians, Sergei and Elyushka, and three Poles. The name of one of them was Yanek, from the village Makowa. I managed to stuff my wallet, with the money, behind the holy picture (icon) on the wall. The robbers dragged me into the nearby woods, stripped me of my clothing and beat me. Finally, they gave me some rags and left me naked and barefoot on a cold and snowy day, in the woods. Frozen and shivering, I crawled back to the house of the farmer, who took pity on me and gave me some patched clothing to cover myself. I understood that I had to pretend to the farmer that I didn't know that his son had mixed into the matter and caused my embarrassing condition.”

A few of the people of Sokoly, when they jumped from the train near the Racibory station, crushed their heads on the telephone poles and rocks on the road.

Czeczek

We thought that our bunker was a secret and that nobody knew of its existence. And here, today, Staczek came to us and ordered us to air out the bunker, to put it in order, and to adjust the radio. It turned out that the son of his Uncle Mursha was coming to visit him and he was interested in listening to the radio broadcasts. Moshe Maik fixed the earphones and adjusted the receiver. After a few minutes, Staczek's cousin, the guest, came down to us. His name was Czeczek. We immediately became friends with him and we decided to exploit this closeness and obtain some food through him, without his relative Staczek's knowledge.

Czeczek promised us that he would buy us some bread, butter, and other items of food. We arranged to meet him the next day at midnight in the forest. While talking on the subject of food, we made another deal. Czeczek would sell a Russian pistol to Monik, with seven bullets, for the price of 20 dollars. Since Monik didn't have a 20-dollar bill, he gave Czeczek a 50-dollar bill, on condition that the change would be given to him the next day.

But after the pistol was given to Monik, we did not see Czeczek's face again, and the change of 30 dollars was never returned. However, the profit we gained from the pistol far outweighed the damage. We had more self-confidence and a lighter feeling for bearing the hardships we lived with every day.

During that sole meeting in the bunker, Staczek asked his relative his opinion as to whether there was any expected danger because of the existence of our bunker. Czeczek then looked favorably around the structure on all sides, and determined that the bunker was built and camouflaged in a friendly way. He added that even the German tracking dogs would not succeed in revealing it, because of the “lovely smell” of the sheep in the area, that would blur any traces. We were proud of our work and the opinion of an expert, and we felt that a heavy stone had been lifted from the heart of the owner of our shelter – Staczek.

Photo - Goldberg Brothers and their Families

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