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For These do we Weep [1]

by the lawyer Chaim Wilamowski

(Words of memory presented at the Organization of Stawiski Émigrés on July 14, 1968.)

        We have gathered together to unite ourselves with the memory of our dearly beloved who did not merit to arrive at safe shores and to be together with us here in our land. Without doubt, they also – the unforgettable ones – have a hand and a portion in the establishment of our land.

        Enveloped in deep mourning, we join ourselves together with our dear ones who were murdered with frightful cruelty by Hitler's soldiers, the shame of humanity that forever stamped the German nation as the source of bands of murderers. Until the last moment of our lives, the terrible visions of millions of innocents being taken out to their deaths, men, women and children, will never move from our eyes and our memories.

        Indeed, other nations also sinned and acted with iniquity, in particular during the time of the war; however in the bloody annals of world history, the Germans were the only ones who prepared strangulation chambers, crematoria and speedy trains ready to transport myriads and hundreds of thousands to the death camps.

        Hitler slaughtered and the world was silent. The power and brazenness of the Nazis flowed forth from this silence that enshrouded the enlightened world. Therefore, the nations of the western world are not able to wash their hands in innocence and to say that they are not guilty in what the Nazis did to us. Even the Soviet Union bears no small share of the guilt, for omission is also a deed. The world kept silent because the victims were Jews. The silence that enveloped the world served as a green light for the Nazis to perpetrate without concern their iniquity, which has no equal in world history. There are plenty of proofs of the silence of the western powers. I will only mention a few of them.

        The American vice consul in Bern sent a telegram to Washington on January 21, 1942, relating that every day the Germans are murdering 6,000 Jews in Poland. He requested that his telegram be transferred to Dr. Stephen Wise, and the content be brought to the attention of the government of the United States and its allies. Three weeks later, he received a reply from his superiors, saying, “we advise you that in the future, private messages will not be accepted from you, unless unusual circumstances make this activity necessary”. The explanation of the matter is that the daily murder of 6,000 individual worlds [2] was not regarded as sufficiently “unusual circumstances” for the government of a mighty power to transfer the message to an “private individual” who happened to be the president of the World Jewish Congress and the recognized head of American Jewry.

        The allied powers, Britain, the United States, and the neutral states of Europe refused to lift a finger to protest the murder. The allied governments were requested to bomb the gas chambers and crematoria in Auschwitz and other death camps, as well as the railway lines that led to the valley of death – such bombs could have saved myriads and hundreds of thousands; however eyewitnesses testified that the allied aircraft bombed precise targets near Auschwitz and deliberately avoided the railway lines, gas chambers, and crematoria. The governments of many nations, large and strong, were fighting a victorious battle and had the power to save, but they avoided doing so without any concern of conscience.

        Not only this, but also the thundering silence of the spiritual leaders of western Christianity, Pope Pius XII and his assistants, can be considered to be one of the causative oversights that expedited and encouraged the murder of European Jewry. The guilt of genocide rests on them as well.

        We cannot ignore the guilt of the Poles, in whose midst we dwelt for hundreds of years and on whose behalf we worked. They aided and abetted the deeds of murder and extermination. A large majority of the millions of Jews that were killed were killed on Polish soil. This was no coincidence, for when the Germans looked for a “fitting” place to erect the death camps, although they had a large choice of countries since most of Europe was in their hands, they chose Poland and set up most of the death camps on her soil. The Jews were brought to these camps from all corners of Europe, and in Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor and others they were strangled with gasses and incinerated in crematoria. It is a sign of disgrace for the Poles that it was their soil that was chosen as the site for the worst crime in history, for the Germans knew that the Poles would see the extermination of the Jews as their chance to free themselves from them. Furthermore, these Poles also gained benefit from the murder of Jews – they “inherited” their houses, took over their businesses and pillaged their belongings.

        Furthermore, the most well known Polish and Russian partisans murdered in the forests the Jewish partisans who had fled from the ghettos. When the surviving Jews returned to Poland after the war, the Poles conducted pogroms with the frightening motto: “Behold, another one has fled from the furnace”.

        It was not only the gentiles who closed their ears from the cries of the nation being slaughtered, but the Jews also did not enough to raise the frightful alarm. The leadership of the Land of Israel and the Diaspora hid the frightful details from the Jews of the free lands and the people of the free world for many weeks. They were not strong enough with respect to the allied powers. Nevertheless, this matter will be finally decided by the historian who researches the archives of the Jewish agency in the Land of Israel, England, and the United States, which are still closed to the public. The president of the Jewish Congress and the Zionist Organization already admitted the shortsightedness and dearth of action on the part of the Zionist and Jewish leadership to limit the bounds of the Holocaust.

        With respect to the Jews of Europe themselves – they were left without leaders at the time of the Nazi occupation, for at the outbreak of the war all of the Zionist and non-Zionist leaders, from the extreme right to the extreme left, fled to countries outside of the Nazi occupation, and the masses of the House of Israel were left like sheep without a shepherd.

        Despite all this, the annals of Jewish history from this tragic era also have chapters of might and resistance; bright chapters that illuminate the darkest paths of our history, the days of confusion, destruction, and hopelessness. For in those gloomiest of days, those sentenced to death rose up with great bravery against the murderers. In the ghettos, forests and inside the wire fences of the concentration camps, Jews obtained weapons and fought against the murderers. This was the first time in Jewish history that in days of darkness, during a time of destruction and annihilation, Jews rose up on a strange land and fought with weapons against their oppressors. Partisans and ghetto fighters went out to fight the Nazis; one against a thousand, ten against a myriad, a Molotov cocktail against a tank, a grenade against a cannon, and a rag dipped in benzene against a conflagration. With these simple weapons, the Jewish fighters felled many victims from among the Nazis and took revenge for the honor of the downtrodden Jewish people.

        Among other factors, the Holocaust contributed in a significant way to the establishment of the State of Israel. The compass that pointed for some time toward the nations of the west for their abandonment of the Jews of Europe, the fate of the Holocaust survivors, and the fight for the settlement of the Land – all joined together and pushed for the establishment of the Jewish State.

        Not only in the War of Independence, but also nineteen years later, during the dramatic days that preceded the Six-Day War, the Holocaust played a prime role in the preparedness of the nation to conduct a fitting battle.

        The European Jewry that was exterminated was the spiritual future of the entire nation and of the community in the Land. With the deaths of six million, Israel did not only lose a physical potential, but also the powers of the victims to contribute to the spiritual renewal of Jewry in our time. The loss of European Jewry is an irreplaceable loss.


Translator's Footnotes :

  1. A paraphrase of a verse from the first chapter of the Book of Lamentations. Return
  2. Based on a traditional Jewish adage that every human being is the equivalent of an entire world. Return


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The Holocaust in Stawiski

by the lawyer Chaim Wilamowski


 The town of Stawiski lies on top of the hills on the highway from Lomza to Szczuczyn.  Prior to the Second World War, the town had approximately 2,000 Jews, very few of whom survived the holocaust.

The Gathering Area

 The Second World War broke out with the invasion of Hitler’s army into Poland.  When the Germans arrived at Stawiski, they gathered all the men at the memorial monument, brought them into the church, and transported them by vehicle to the gathering area (Stablage) in east Prussia, about 50 kilometers from Grajewo.  The aim of the Germans in exiling the residents from their homes was to prevent resistance to the invasion.  The Poles were also exiled from Stawiski.  In the camp, the Polish soldiers were separated from the civilian exiles.  People who succeeded in escaping from Stawiski while there was still time and were later caught in various places were also brought to this camp.

 My late father David Wilamowski and my late brother Moshe, as well as men from the Dobrzyjalowski family:  Avraham, Moshe Yankel, Moshe Chatzkel and 13 year old Chatzkel Berel were among those who were captured and brought to the camp.  Many of those incarcerated in the camp died from various illnesses, primarily dysentery as well as hunger.  There was a German physician in the camp;  however the remedies he had at his disposal included only absorbent cotton and iodine.  In reality, the physician was only present in order to fulfil the obligations to the International Red Cross.  My father David Wilamowski became ill with dysentery and rested in the tent that was set aside for the ill until he died without having received any medical attention at all.  The Germans requisitioned ten men from among those imprisoned to come and bury his body.  Twenty people volunteered.  In the absence of burial shrouds, my brother Moshe took off his outer cloak and covered the body in it prior to the burial.  This was the tragic end of my father, after he had succeeded in escaping with his family from Stawiski to Lomza during the first days of the German occupation of our town.

 My late sister, Babcha Wilamowski, describes the details of the escape to Lomza in a letter dated May 5, 1940:  “No person can imagine how much he is destined to suffer.  As I write these lines, pictures of the past come before my eyes:  the flight from Stawiski, the bombardment of Lomza, and the escape from there as well.  We fled along with father last Friday.  Shells exploded above our heads.  As we shut our eyes due to the sound of the bombardments, we awaited death at any moment.  We were starving in the barns.  I held father in my arms for the entire time, but I was not able to prevent his capture by the Germans.  How difficult is it to live in this world!!!”

 In accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, the area of Bialystok was transferred to the Russians.  Only then did the Germans permit the many people imprisoned in the camp to return to the Russian occupied sector.  Avraham Dobrzyjalowski was in the first group who were freed, and my brother Moshe in the second group.

 On June 22, 1941, the German army overcame the Soviets, and the section of Poland that had been under Russian occupation fell to the Germans after heavy bombardment.  Jewish young people retreated along with the Russian army.  The German airforce bombarded the retreating group, and many were killed.  My brother Moshe of blessed memory was among those who were killed in the bombardment.  He met his death in the forests of Bialystok.
 

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The Day of Blood

 The Russian army retreated from Stawiski a few days after the beginning of the war between the Germans and Soviets.  Even before the Germans entered the town, the local ruffians demonstrated what they were able to do, and what was to take place to the Jews not only at the hands of the German murderers.  The first victims of the local Polish neighbors included 24 year old Fruma Walder and Zeidka Gelbord.  Both of them were stabbed with knives by the murderers, who gashed their flesh and spread salt on their wounds.  Overcome by fear, the Jews of Stawiski hid in their homes and waited with fear for the arrival of the Germans.  On Friday, June 27, 1941, the first German representatives entered the town.  The German murderers immediately made a brotherly connection with the local Polish fascists.  They were unified in their common hatred of the Jews.  The local ruffians had only one request, that the Germans permit them to pass judgement on the accursed Jews.  The Germans were deeply pleased when they realized that they had faithful assistants in this filthy war, and they gladly gave their assent to the Poles.  It was later related among the Jews that the Germans “limited” the number of Jews whom it was permitted to kill to seventy.  They granted a short reprieve of life to the majority of the Jewish population.  Be that as it may, the open murder of the Jews began at the hands of the Polish gangs, often headed by members of the intelligentsia, most of who had only recently been released from Soviet jails.

 On the first Wednesday in July 1941, known as “the day of blood”, an edict was issued in the morning that the Jews, from young to old, were to appear in the marketplace at noon for work.  The atmosphere in the town was very tense.  The Jews felt that a great tragedy was imminent.  They did not know how to greet the face of the evil.  At around 11:00 a.m., gentiles from all of the surrounding villages arrived in town with iron bars and wooden rods in their hands.  Before noon, the ruffians broke into the homes of the Jews and chased them out with the warning:  “Jews, to work!”.  Anyone who did not hasten to leave was beaten.  Women with their children, as well as the elderly, were forced to bend down on their knees and clean the marketplace from weeds.  The men were harnessed to wagons laden with rocks.  They had to transport these wagons from the post office to the bridge over the Biebrza River and back, accompanied by the hooligans.  Cruel blows were administered to anyone who could not move the wagon at the required speed.  During the time that the Jews were busy dragging the wagons, the evil people went through the empty Jewish homes and took anything that they wanted.  At around 6:00 or 7:00 pm, all of the Jews were gathered together at the “Pomnik” (a memorial monument).  There, the head of the murderers and leader of the ruffians, Jozef Wietszork, who was personally responsible for the murders of dozens of Jews, gave a lecture to the Jews.  He concluded his incendiary speech with the well known Polish motto:  “Attack the Jews!”.  Incited by the motto “dawajcie fury, zabierajcie skory”  (“bring wagons and take the corpses”), the hooligans fell upon the homes of the Jews, took out men and women, and beat them with murderous blows.  They also used their iron bars and wooden rods against any Jew who attempted to escape, for Stawiski was completely surrounded by bands of ruffians, and there was no place to escape.  Only very few managed to evade the hooligans.  When they returned home, the beaten Jews found empty closets and beds.  The ruffians pillaged everything. The Jews realized that evil would come that night.  Many recited Psalms and the confessional prior to death, for they had a premonition that their end was near.

 At 11:00 p.m., farmers from the neighboring villages arrived on wagons.  Approximately an hour later, the screams of the victims could be heard.  The farmers broke into the houses and chased out the Jews with the shout:  “Jews, to work!”.  However, when the Jews came out, they were beaten with wooden sticks and metal rods until they were murdered.  Those that were killed, along with those that were hovering between life and death, were loaded upon wagons, and brought to a place outside the town where they were buried.  A few Jews who had only been wounded succeeded in digging their way out of the pits and returning to their homes.  In the morning, they began to search for one another.  There was great sorrow when it was discovered that so and so was missing a child, someone else was missing a brother or sister, and another person a mother or father.  Dismembered limbs rolled about on the streets of Stawiski, and pools of clotted blood could be seen everywhere.

 The Germans allotted the farmers twenty hours to execute judgment upon the Jews, and they helped them a bit with their iniquitous work;  however for the most part they were busy with photographing the riots.  This was not sufficient for them.  On that day of blood, the Germans organized a “performance”.  They brought Rabbi Shmuel Nachman Wasserman, the rabbi of the town, to the synagogue, put a Torah scroll in his arms and ordered him to sing “Hatikva” [1].  Then they set the synagogue on fire and sent the rabbi into the burning synagogue.  A miracle took place:  the flames did not engulf the whole building at one time, and after the Germans left the place, a noble hearted Pole, a builder by the name of Antony Nawieci, led the rabbi out through the back door of the burning synagogue.  He brought the rabbi to his own home, where he spent the night.  The next day, Antony accompanied the rabbi to the Lomza ghetto, where he lived until November 1942, when the Jews in the region of Bialystok were liquidated.  The rabbi was brought to the Zambrow Camp and it is not known what his fate was.

 The first victim on the day of blood was a Jew who took his life in his hands to save the Torah scrolls from the synagogue that had been set on fire by the Germans.  The second victim was a Jew who attempted to save his property from the hands of the rioters.  The following were among those murdered that day:  Yitzchak Piekarewicz, a 75-year-old smith and his son Zelig, who had been hiding in the home of their neighbor Rozensztejn at the time of the pogrom.  Their heads were cut off after they were murdered;  Rachel Niedzwiedzka, 24 years old, who was in her final months of pregnancy.  She was brought out from her home and taken to a place near the bathhouse, where her stomach was slashed open and the fetus was taken out.  With her fetus beside her, she suffered the pangs of death until she died in a pool of her own blood;  They cut off the head of the fifteen month old child of her sister Chawa, and they forced the mother to take her dead child outside the city, where they murdered her with sticks.  In the nearby village of Poryte, an entire family was murdered and their bodies were tossed into a dry pit.  In the village of Zanklewo, near the flourmill, six members of the Calecki family were murdered and their bodies were tossed into a potato field.  The cruel murders in the town inspired many Jews to search for refuge in neighboring villages;  however the villagers also murdered them.

 The sisters Chaja and Bryna Czapnik, the Morus family (a father, two sons, and an eighteen year old daughter), as well as many others were similarly murdered.
 

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Prior to the Establishment of the Ghetto

 The pogroms and murders continued for more than a month prior to the establishment of the ghetto, when the remaining Jews were imprisoned.  Those who were not murdered were taken out for backbreaking labor.  On the way to work, they were beaten with deathblows and brought low. Their situation was dependent on the mood of the work supervisors.  If the supervisors were in a bad mood, work did not even save from death.  Many were shot as they were working in cleaning the streets of the town.  Herschel Mark and others were murdered as they were working.  Jozef Wietszork, known for his cruelty, murdered with his own hands the Jews who worked in the village of Skroda near Stawiski.  He murdered the 26-year-old shoemaker Avraham Yitzchak Fenik and Moshe Czerwinski, a 24-year-old baker from Grabowo.  18-year-old Velvel Goldman was injured so badly from his beating that he died one day after he was transferred to the Szczuczyn Ghetto.  It should be pointed out that the murderer Wietszork requested from Hasoltys, the mayor of Skroda, that he provide people to help murder Jews.  Hasoltys refused the request, and fled from the village along with other farmers.

 A young lad named Velvel, the son of the smith Avraham Shlomo Piekarowicz, was in Grajewo at that time.  The Germans ordered him to jump out from the window of the synagogue onto the street.  The hooligans from Grajewo waited below for him, and murdered on the spot anyone who attempted to flee.  After Velvel jumped out from the synagogue, he ran toward the Jewish cemetery.  He was caught by the Polish murderers who were pursuing him.  He was tossed into a lime pit near the synagogue.

 The hell of the Jews of Stawiski did not last for long.  Death redeemed them from their afflictions and great suffering.  On Saturday, August 15, 1941, the mass murders began.  The entire town was surrounded by the Gestapo men.  The executioners broke into the homes of the Jews with wild screams.  They chased everyone out to the marketplace, where they were ordered to line up.  The young people, those from ages 15 to 40, were commanded to walk along the road to Poryte.  From there they were to go on a death march toward Nowogrod.  Near Miechowo and  the village of Nienowice, the Soviets in their time had dug anti-tank trenches, 6 meters deep, 3 meters wide, and 15 meters long.  These pits were destined to serve as mass graves for the young Jews of Stawiski.  The children who were not able to move quickly enough were caught by their legs by the Germans and tossed onto the transport trucks.  The old people and children were brought to the Kisielnica Forest, where they were shot in their necks and placed into pits that had been dug.  About 500 people are buried in this communal grave.
 
 

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The Stawiski Ghetto and its Liquidation

 After most of the Jews of Stawiski had been taken out to be murdered, a few professionals whose services were in demand by the Germans remained alive.  These Jews also assisted the local farmers.  About 20 professional families, numbering 60 people, were gathered together on August 17, 1941.  These professionals included a doctor, shoemakers, sewers, tailors, carpenters, smiths, etc. were included among them.  The place of the ghetto was set around the Great Synagogue, and after some time it was transferred to the area behind the homes of Jeleniewicz and Zalman Leibel.  The area of the ghetto was surrounded by a few simple houses in a place that was known as “the bent wheel” (Krzywe Kolo) behind the Wilamowski  homes.

 The Jews in the ghetto worked for the Germans for no payment;  however life within the ghetto walls was relatively free.  There was no guard posted next to the ghetto, and the entry and exit was unimpeded.  The Germans and local farmers gave various tasks to the people of the ghetto.  The remnants of the Jewish community of Stawiski who lived in the ghetto hoped that their lives would be spared because of the benefit that they provided to the Germans in their work.  A few Jews who succeeded in escaping to the villages and forests during the time of mass murders came to visit the ghetto on occasion;  however these visits were fraught with severe danger for them and for the people of the ghetto.  The Germans set a bounty for every Jew that was given over to their custody, and the work of snatching Jews and turning them over to the Germans was very fruitful.  The farmers would receive sugar in return for the Jews that they turned over to the Germans.

 Life in the ghetto continued for a little over one year.  It was a life of work and want, and the thin ray of hope that perhaps they might be able to survive provided them with the strength to remain alive.  However, on November 2, 1942, a drastic change of the situation occurred.  The Gestapo men surrounded the ghetto at night, and removed all of the residents from their homes with shouts and beatings.  The residents were concentrated together and marched to the Bogusze Camp with their sacks and children on their shoulders.

 The Bogusze Camp had served previously as a concentration camp for Russian prisoners of war, where myriads of prisoners were tortured to death.  The forests surrounding Bogusze were strewn with giant communal graves of prisoners.  The camp occupied a very large area, and was surrounded by a barbed wire fence.  It had trenches covered with simple roofs that served as living quarters for the residents of the camp.

 Jews from Grajewo, Szczuczyn, Trestina, Augustow, and other villages of the area were brought to this camp.  It was clear that the Germans intended to liquidate all of the ghettos in the vicinity of Bialystok.  The residents of the camp did not receive any food at all for three or four days, and then they were given a daily allotment of 100 grams of bread per day, as well as portions of potato soup a few times a day, totaling ½ liter per day.  The famine was great, and those imprisoned in the camp would gather around the kitchen to grab potato peels, which they would swallow without even cooking.  The death rate among the residents of the camp was very high on account of the hunger and filth.  Every evening, they would gather the bodies of those who died during the day and toss them into a pit.  In the morning, they would bring the bodies to the cemetery where they buried the Russian prisoners of war the year before.  Those injured and ill were shot immediately by the Gestapo men, and the rest of the residents of the camp lived in the conditions that were described above (if this can be called living), until December 15, 1942.

 On that day, the liquidation of the Bogusze camp began.  The inmates were sent to the gas chambers of Treblinka, Birkenau and Auschwitz.  The inmates were ordered to leave the trenches in which they lived and were brought to the train station, accompanied by beatings and shots.  The path was muddy, and the feet of those walking the path sunk in the mud as they were being sent out from the life of hunger in the camp.  The journey was difficult for them, and anyone who lagged behind was murdered by a shot.  The entire path was strewn with corpses.  Those that reached the train station were pushed onto the wagons that transported them to the death camps.  When they arrived at their destination, they were commanded to leave everything on the train and exit.  There, a few of the younger men were selected to assist the murderers in their task of murder prior to meeting their own bitter end.  Everyone else ended up at the crematoria.  On that day the furnace in the death factory burned endlessly.  This was the end of the Jews of Stawiski.
 

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Those That Escaped

 There were a few incidents were Jews succeeded in escaping from the ghetto.  The Indurski brothers, Velvel and Zeinwil, along with Zeinwil’s wife Golda and their child, escaped from the ghetto and found refuge with a farmer until 1944.  One day, the farmer rose up and murdered them all.  Their bodies were found in the forests of Zawila (near Stawiski).  Feivel Chonkowicz and his family and Feivel Kadysz with his two children also met tragic fates.  At the time of the liquidation of the Stawiski Ghetto, they succeeded in finding refuge with the farmer Ridzowosky in Bajdy, near Stawiski.  One farmer turned them in, and they were all shot along with the farmer who saved them.  Alter Brom and his son met the same tragic fate.  They hid in a village until 1943, and were murdered by the German gendarmes after being turned in by a Pole.  Mietszak Chonkowicz, his wife, son, and daughter, as well as the grain merchant Perelowicz and his two children were also turned in by the Poles and murdered by the German gendarmes.  All of them had escaped from Stawiski and hid in the forests.  Luck did not shine upon them and were exposed by the Polish fascists, who turned them in to the Germans.

 From the Rozensztejn household, former owners of the flourmill, Yaakov Rozensztejn, his wife Liba, and their twelve-year-old son, as well as thirty-year-old Avigdor Zalecki, the husband of Feigel Golombek, perished.  Feigel hid with farmers for four months after the liquidation of the Stawiski Ghetto.  Then she went out into the forests, where she lived until Stawiski and its environs were liberated by the Red Army on January 24, 1945.  Guta and Sima Stryjakowski fell on August 15, 1944 at the hands of Polish partisans.

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The Following Remained Alive

Avraham Rozensztejn
Feigel Golombek (nee Rozensztejn)
Yudel Kiwajko, 19 years old
Itshe Meir Siemon, 24 years old
Piekarewicz, 17 years old
Chawa Fuks (nee Rozensztejn), 13 years old
Hertzki Cheslok
Avraham Dobrzyjalowski
Rivka Yaffa remained alive in Auschwitz
Noshe Chizda
 

Bibliographic Notes

 1. “The Life and Death of the Jews of Stawiski and environs during the German Occupation” by Feigel Golombek (nee Rozensztejn), published by the Woywodit Jewish Historical Committee, Bialystok, June 24, 1946.

 2. “The Destruction of Stawiski”, Chapter 17 from “The Destruction of Bialystok and Environs” by Dr. Shimon Detner, published by the Woywodit Jewish Historical Committee, Bialystok, November 28, 1946.

 3. “Over Stones and Sticks”    by M. Zanin – a travel through one hundred destroyed communities of Poland – page 164, published by “Letzte Nies”, Tel Aviv, 1952

 4. A letter regarding the destruction of the Jews of Stawiski, by Helena Laskowska, a Christian teacher in the elementary school.

 5. a)  Wednesday, the day of blood.  b)  The Stawiski Ghetto, by Yehuda Kiwajko.

 6. The Concentration Place, by Avraham Dobrzyjalowski

 7. A diary, by Chawa Fuks (nee Rozensztejn)

 8. The Grajewo Yizkor Book

9.  A letter regarding the escaped from the bombarded Lomza by Babcha Wilamowski.
 

{308-316 – The Yiddish version of the above section.}


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The Destruction of Stawiski

by Rivka Zilbersztejn


 It is hard for me to find the name of my birthplace Stawiski on a current map of Poland – my town is near the regional town of Lomza, surrounded by forests with tall trees that cover an area of several kilometers square.  There were also many orchards there, and when the spring comes and the trees blossom, the pleasant aroma fills the entire town.

 The Jewish population of Stawiski was small in number, but very rich in its institutions:  religions, cultural, and communal.  Before the eyes of my spirit stands the splendid Great Synagogue with its engraved Holy Ark; the Beis Midrash, the shtibels, and the cheders in which the Jewish children studied Torah, the Zionist organizations, and the libraries where the youth would come to read books or to discuss books and authors until late in the evening.  Plays were performed in my town by the Zionist organizations, and furthermore, there was even once a play put on in the Beis Midrash by the students of Beis Yaakov, the Orthodox girls’ school that was founded in Stawiski in 1935.  It is superfluous to say that the Jewish populations enjoyed these plays very much and gave the youth and the children – the actors – wild applause in return for their entertainment.

 In 1936, anti-Semitism heated up in Poland, and took on an aggressive form.  A large part of the blame for the incitement of anti-Semitism lies with the priest.  For on Sundays, when the priest would deliver a venomous sermon against the Jews, the influence was immediately felt outside.  The Jewish merchants and artisans felt its influence.  When the incited Poles left the church, the oppressive atmosphere was immediately felt on the streets.  Guards were immediately posted next to the Jewish stores, and big signs were posted in Polish:  “Don’t buy from Jews”.  If a Christian would stealthily enter a Jewish store to purchase some provision, the guards would pour kerosene on the merchandise immediately as he left.

 The path of the Jewish students who studied in Polish schools was not paved with roses.  In accordance with the course of study, the Christian students would hear a lecture on the Catholic religion from the priest once a week.  This class in religion was turned into venomous anti-Semitic incitement.  After this class, it was difficult for the Jewish students to return to class, for every Christian child saw in the Jewish child, who was his classmate, a child and descendent of those who crucified their god.

 It was also difficult for the Jewish children in that they were excellent students.  The principal of the school, the anti-Semite Kotarski, could not make peace with this fact.  On the other hand, I remember with reverence my Polish teacher Helena Laskowska, who was a woman of noble spirit, honorable, and regarded every child, without exception, as a student and a human being.

 Life became more difficult by the day, and the skies covered with clouds.  Passover approached.  The Jews were baking matzos, and in the streets, a wartime atmosphere pervaded.  There were draft notices and many Jewish young men were called up to the Polish army.  The Jewish parents were worried.  Nobody knew which route to take – to leave Stawiski or to remain.  In 1914, during the First World War, Lomza was more secure than Stawiski, for Lomza was known as a fortified city.  Nobody imagined that the Germans would come along with such a plan of annihilation.  People still remembered the proper German from the First World War.

 In the interim, the Second World War broke out.  Jews packed whatever belongings they could, and fled in wagons and automobiles to the large cities.  The home of Herschel Mark resembled a way station.  My father of blessed memory and other Jews attempted to pack up their merchandise in order to send it to Ostrowiek (Ostrow-Mazowierka).  They felt that it would be more secure there, however my mother of blessed memory decided to remain in Stawiski.  She still remembered what it was like to be without a house in 1914.  Very few Jews remained in Stawiski.

 The first airplanes crossed the skies of Stawiski.  Bombs fell upon the town.  The yard of the poretz (town owner) was on fire.  The Germans shot three young “shkotzim” who were standing on the bridge.  The town was swarming with Germans.  They immediately began to seek out Jewish men, and gathered them in the church.  All of the Jewish stores were broken into.  The Germans took the choicest merchandise and loaded it onto their cars, and the Poles took the remaining merchandise and loaded it into sacks.  When they left their prayers in the church, they felt that there first “mitzvah” was to pillage and steal the merchandise of the Jews.

 The Jews who were gathered by the Germans into the marketplace near the church were commanded to crow like chickens and howl like dogs all night.  The next day they were taken off to somewhere, to a place from where Wilamowski and others never returned.

 The Germans captured the small towns one after another, but they met serious resistance in Lomza.  Lomza was bombarded from the air and the fires that that broke out from the bombardment could be seen all the way to Stawiski during the night.  Many of the Jews of Stawiski had fled to Lomza, thinking that there, in a large city, they would be able to save their lives.  The battle of Lomza lasted for eight days until the Germans conquered the fortifications of the city.  The Jews of Stawiski returned to their homes.  Some were captured by the Germans and shot on the spot, and others succeeded in evading the eyes of the Germans as they returned to Stawiski at night.

 Dark fear pervaded in the city.  A gentile would go through the streets, ring a bell and declare:  “Jews to church!”.  A German official issued the order.  The Jews who still remained in Stawiski, blackened like the bottom of a pot, left their homes open and went to church.  The Jews and a small number of gentiles stood in the front, Germans wearing helmets stood behind.  The priest delivered a venomous sermon and accused the Jews of concealing weapons and shooting Germans at night.  This was not the first libel that was made against us Jews.  The Germans ignited the town from all four sides.

 That day, in the afternoon, we returned home.  From our windows we could see the Germans standing next to the synagogue, removing the Torah scrolls and setting them on fire.  A blue flame ascended from the burning scrolls, and they were not consumed.  The parchment of the holy scrolls burned for a long while.  Until a late hour in the night, when we peered out from cracks in our covered windows, we could see the burning scrolls before our eyes.  We saw in them a portent of our destruction.

 The next day, Chaim Kadysz-Kolinski came to me and told me that the German official ordered us to open an office to register all of the Jews who returned to Stawiski.  In the Rywicki School, I registered all of the Jews who had returned to the town broken and oppressed.  Who could have imagined at that time that this would be the beginning of the murder of six million Jews, those dearest to us among them.

 The German regiments pillaged the town.  My sister and I wore long dresses and hid in the cellar, and my mother of blessed memory would bring us some food on occasion.  Moshe Niska the wagon driver returned to his home in Stawiski with his family.  The German murderers captured his two daughters and tortured them all night.  Oppressed and downtrodden, they returned home and took refuge in their grandmother Rodka’s home.  A rumor spread through town that girls were being sent off to Germany for hard labor.

 The gentiles took us to work in the yard of the poretz.  They commanded us to clean the lavatories with our hands. The famine was great.

 In the meantime, the political situation changed.  Whoever was able to left Stawiski on the horses that had belonged to the former overseer of the poretz’ estate.  The Germans left the town and the Russians entered in their place.  The Jewish communists danced outside from joy – our liberators were arriving.  We children asked about the reason for this rejoicing.  One of the people explained to us that now the road has returned to us.  The men were still in German captivity, and the Jews were still suffering the disgrace of famine in the town.  Businesses were closed.  The Russians opened a few stores, and long lines formed in front of those stores in order to obtain a piece of bread, a measure of salt, sugar or kerosene.  Everything was very expensive.

 The town was full of Russians.  They confiscated rooms from wealthy homeowners.  A few days later the prisoners returned – at first the foresters and estate owners (poretz) of the neighboring region returned, and later the Jews returned, including my father, Horowitz, Lejbik, Chonkowicz, and others.  All of them had been imprisoned in the prisons of Lomza.  Six months later, we were exiled to Siberia.

 When I returned from Siberia, I thought that I would find my town as I left it, perhaps as it was before the outbreak of the war, and that my eyes would again see Jews dressed splendidly for the festival days, young children hurrying off to school, and the adults – some in their stores, others in their workshops, some on the platform of the wagon to Kolno, Lomza or the “fairs”;  that the fairs of Monday and Friday would again be full of life;  that I would meet again my friends from the past, with whom I maintained correspondence from Siberia until the middle of 1941;  that my legs would again take me to the cemetery to visit the graves of my holy grandfather of blessed memory, of my grandmother whom I had never met, of the mother of my father who was blind and who lived in hour house for nine years, and that I might perhaps again see Chaya Shlia [2] who used to sleep in the cemetery.

 However, it was not to be, all of these things were no longer there.  They were only a dream.  I never saw Stawiski again.  I was in Poland in 1946, however Stawiski was muzzled before me.  It was dangerous to travel there.  I was not able to see my orphaned town of Stawiski, and the homes of the Jews that were murdered by the Poles.  The ruffians Wietszork and his comrades who murdered Jews, who cut open the bellies of Jewish women in public, who shot Jews who were hidden in bunkers.  One of the three Jakubcziner sisters, who hid in the home of a gentile on the street of the smiths, was murdered after the war by the gentiles.

 Jewish life in Stawiski was no more.  Crosses hung in the homes of the Jews.  Jewish boys and girls no longer bathe in the Sokolicha River, they no longer congregate in the forest to read books and enjoy themselves, and the Zionist organizations have disappeared.  A small number of young Jews survived the terrible Holocaust, chosen by G-d himself to tell how the Jews of Stawiski were murdered with unspeakable cruelty.
 

{319-324 – The Yiddish version of the above section.}


A Brand Plucked From the Fire

 by Herzl (Hertzke) Cheslok of blessed memory [3]


 As much as a person attempts to relate the horrific events that took place to him under the dominion of the Nazi murderers, it is not completely possible.  For it is impossible to describe the tribulations, fear, oppression, and spiritual and physical torture that was the lot of these people.  I will go out on a limb and state that a person who did not experience the atrocities of this tragic-cruel era with his own body is not able to comprehend it.  It is even impossible for him to believe that such events could take place, and that a human being can experience all of the seven levels of hell and still remain alive.  Even though I know how difficult it is to transmit these ideas – I will nevertheless attempt to describe to some degree those frightening days that were my lot during that era that was full of atrocities.

 Our town Stawiski was small in area and in population;  however it was large in spirit, and he righteousness of its way of life.  Its children loved their town as one loves a loving and dedicated mother.  Whenever its residents found themselves in a foreign place, they would take pride in Stawiski and exult its virtues.

 Pages of memories that were never written down are turning over in my head, memories of joy and sadness, until the page of that cruel and frightful era opens up.  In the eyes of my spirit, I see realistic images of Sabbath eves filled with light and happiness; Sabbaths and festivals; long awaited Passover Seders that brought joy to hearts;  the afternoon hours of Sabbaths and festivals, when, after the toil of the six work days, the parents went after the conclusion of the festive meal for a sweet Sabbath nap, and the youth spread out in the roads in a joyous crowd – some going for a walk and others going to the meeting places of one of the cultural organizations.  A mighty stream of exuberant youth poured out all over town, and spread out on the streets of Lomza, Kolno, and Szczuczyn.

  The pages turn with lightning speed, and before my eyes stand the cruel and oppressive scenes of destruction, and the images of the martyrs.  Trembling trees with their tips bent to the ground, a stormy wind uprooting them;  and the terrifying cries that accompanied the Jews, men, women and children, along their final journey.  The souls of our ancestors come down from heaven and hover over the heads of those condemned to death, and cry with an otherworldly agony over the lives of their children that were being cut off.

{Photo page 325 – Herzl (Hertzka) Cheslok of blessed memory in Auschwitz.}

 The pages of this bloody era continue to turn, and we stand before unmarked communal graves of fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, children and babies who had not yet had a chance to live and had not sinned, whose only sin that condemned them to death was the fact that they were Jewish children.  The stare of the toddlers was frightful as the fear of death stared them in the face, as they embraced the cool cheeks of their mothers.  The tearful eyes of the Sarales, Chayales, Mosheles, and Shlomoles were full of fear, innocent questions, and pleas.

 May these lines serve as a flask for the tears over the communal graves of the dearly beloved, which our eyes do not behold and our feet cannot take us to visit.
 

 In accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, White Russia and Ukraine fell under Soviet rule after the partition of conquered Poland.  Stawiski fell under Soviet rule already in September 1939.  When the war between Russia and Germany broke out in June 1941, the town was attacked and panic ensued.  Nobody knew what to do.  Men, primarily youth, decided to escape.  However, to where does one escape?  And how?  I was not able to personally participate in the various meetings that took place regarding this subject, due to the position that I had held with the Soviet authorities;  however through my brothers Leizer and Moshe and my brother-in-law Yisrael, I found out that we would be fleeing to Bialystok.  I turned to my supervisor and requested that I be permitted to join the flight.  He answered me with the following words:  “No, you will flee together with me, and you don’t have to worry.”  Since there was no choice, I remained.

 The next day, many young men arrived in our town from Kolno, including some Russians.  Then my supervisor told me to prepare to leave Stawiski.  I immediately went home, took leave of my parents and sisters, and left my birthplace.

 On the way to Bialystok, we had to cross the Radzilowa.  There I met all of those who fled Stawiski the previous day, and we decided to continue our flight toward Osowiec.  When we were some distance from the town, we saw it go up in fire, and we continued forward on side paths.  We decided to rest a bit after we crossed the forest.  However, just as we entered it, German airplanes bombed us.  When I got up from the ground, I saw that the bombs killed many of those who fled.  There was not time to care for the dead.  I myself was not sure if I was alive or dead.  We had to continue onward.

 When I reached the road that led to Bialystok, I saw two or three dozen wagons laden with families of Soviet army personnel who were leaving Stawiski.  The wagon drivers were farmers from Stawiski and the neighboring villages.  The Soviets forced them to transport the wives and children of the Soviet army personnel to Bialystok.

 I joined up with this retreating transport.  With them, I reached a half destroyed bridge, which had apparently been severely damaged by the bombs from the air raid on the forest.  One by one and with great difficulty, we crossed the bridge on foot.  In Bialystok, I found my brother and brother-in-law as well as other Stawiskites.  My brother Leizer and my brother-in-law Yisrael informed me that they were about to return to Stawiski, since in any case, the Germans were approaching Bialystok.  They felt it was better to be together with their wives and children.  My brother Moshe and myself decided to remain in Bialystok.

 The confusion in Bialystok was even greater than the confusion in Stawiski.  On the Tuesday following the outbreak of the war, it was impossible to obtain a loaf of bread anywhere in the city.  The family with which I was staying did not have a slice of bread on that Tuesday.  By chance as I was walking, I found a bakery in the city which still operated and which intended to distribute bread the following morning.

 At 10:00 p.m., I arrived at the wooden fence that surrounded the bakery.  With great effort, I climbed the fence and approached the bakery.  I saw the workers engaged in their work through a closed window.  Some were working near the machine and others near the oven.  The aroma of fresh bread penetrated my nostrils and reawakened my appetite.  I knocked on the window.  A man approached and asked with astonishment who I was and what I wanted.  Even though he spoke Russian, I immediately recognized that he was Jewish.  When I showed him my work permit, which was similar to the certificate of that company, he opened the door and let me in.  I told him that I was a Jew, that I fled from Stawiski, and asked that he permit me to help them bake bread.  He told me that all of the workers were Jews, and that in the morning, 1,000 kilos of bread would be ready.

 I heard them debating among themselves as to how to distribute the bread in a manner that the bakery would not collapse due to the large crowd.  I advised them to turn to the captain of the city who would send soldiers to keep the order during the time of the distribution of the bread.  The captain of the city sent only two soldiers.  We prepared notes, distributed them among those waiting and told them that whoever would come tomorrow with that note would receive a kilo of bread.

 As I went out to distribute the notes I suddenly heard a voice calling my name.  I turned around to see who was calling me, and to my joy I met several Stawiskites:  Fishel Mickucki, Fruma Wloder, Chaim David Koplowicz, the two sons of Abba the porter, and others.  From that time, we met every day until the Germans entered Bialystok.  A few days later I again met Fruma Wloder and Chaim David Koplowicz.  They told me that they were preparing to return to Stawiski.

 The Germans conducted their first aktion already on the first Sabbath after the conquest of Bialystok.  They captured 500 Jews and took them to an unknown place.  This first German action became known as “the Sabbath aktion”.

 When the Bialystok ghetto was established, my brother Moshe, myself, and the uncle of my brother-in-law lived together in a two-room apartment.  Moshe decided to bring his friend Anna Liba Goldsztejn from Stawiski (her father was the brother of Hertzka Goldsztejn).  She came to Bialystok along with her mother and her younger brother.

 My brother and I worked in a clothing factory in the ghetto.  After some time, they began to send the men out to various work camps.  One day, we both received a notice to present ourselves at the work office.  We went to Mendel Goldflam who worked in the Judenrat and asked for his advice as to what to do.  He immediately prepared for us two certificates with various names.  We did not present ourselves at the work office on the designated day.  As we were eating breakfast, a guard suddenly appeared accompanied by the person responsible for the house and asked for my name. I showed him my certificate, as did my brother Moshe.  The guard asked about the Cheslok brothers and there whereabouts.  The aunt of my brother-in-law was surprised and was not able to utter a sound from her mouth.  Nevertheless, Anna Liba did not lose her composure and she answered:  “Indeed the Cheslok brothers did live here, but they left and we do not know their whereabouts.”  To our good fortune, the owner of the house was silent about the fact that he knew us, and he did not turn us in.

 Thus did we succeed in eluding the Gestapo and remaining in the ghetto.  However, this was not to be for a long period.  The time for the liquidation of the Bialystok ghetto was rapidly approaching.  I succeeded in being counted among the workers who were sent to work in the Bialystok prison.

 I was not present when the revolt broke out in the ghetto, and I do not know what became of my brother Moshe.  After a few weeks of working in the prison, the Germans decided to send us to a camp.  We were brought to Lublin, and from there to Treblinka.  From Treblinka we were sent to the Blazin work camp near Radom.  My joy was great when I found my brother Moshe of blessed memory in the work camp.  We then remained together for close to a year.  We were sent to Auschwitz when the camp was liquidated.  There we were separated, for we were each sent to a different block.  When a transport was being sent out for another camp, my brother Moshe volunteered to be included in it.  They accepted him but not me.  We were again separated, and I again lost track my brother.  When the Germans began to liquidate Auschwitz, they transferred me to a camp by the name of Liba Roza in Germany.

 A few weeks later, they brought additional transports to that camp, and my brother Moshe was on one of them.  We remained in Liba Roza for three months, and from there we were transferred to Grossrosen.  There I was again separated from my brother, and I never saw him again after that. They sent me to the well-known camp of Mauthausan in Austria.

 On one cloudy day when we did not go out to work, we saw through the barbed wire fence that separated us from the women’s camp that a group of women had portions of food in their hands.  Many of them ate the bread and other victuals with a great appetite.  We knew that this was their final journey.  They went in peace to the gas chamber without being accompanied by a kapo or by an S.S. man.  The scene was frightful, and tears welled up in our eyes.  They looked at us, and to our great surprise we did not notice any emotion on their faces, even though they knew that this was their final journey.  They made peace with their fate, and realized that tears and sighs would not change their verdict.  Until this day I can see before they eyes of my spirit this group of women going in stoic peace along their final journey.

 I was liberated from Mauthausen by the Russian army.  When the Russians left Mauthausen and the Americans came in their place, I decided to return to Poland, hoping that perhaps someone of my family would have survived.  To my great sorrow, I discovered in Poland that my entire family had perished.

 I remained in Poland until 1957, and then made aliya to Israel.  On the ship en route to Israel, I saw that one of the emissaries was wearing a kippa.  I had an idea:  perhaps through him I would be able to make contact with Elazar Goelman.  He told me that he knew him, and he gave me his address.  I immediately phoned Elazar when I arrived in Israel, and on that day he came with his brother to greet me.  Elazar informed Yoel Ciechanowicz of my arrival, who told Chana Wiener of blessed memory.  She came to see me the net day.

 Thus did I renew contact with the natives of my hometown who were living in Israel.  From the first moment, they received me graciously and enthusiastically.

 Only very few natives of our town survived.  In agony and worn after the long path of agony in camps in various countries, they merited to remain alive.  After they were liberated, and after a period of acclimatization, they regained their spark of life and their hope to reestablish their broken lives.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Hatikva (The Hope), is the national anthem of Israel.  It predated the state, and was a Zionist theme song.
  2. Return

  3. See page 283. Return
  4. “A brand plucked from the fire” is a quote from Zecharia III, referring to a small number of survivors of a calamity. Return
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