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Die Stadt Stryj ohne Juden, die zeit: Sommer 1943
Written by: Schaje Schmerler (unpublished)
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Note on this personal memoir: Uriel Zur Schützer zl, representative of the Stryj landsmanschaft in Israel, sent me this memoir in its original format. It was typed in German on yellowing deteriorating paper. Mr. Schützer zl later told me that he had had this memoir in his possession for some time but that he could not recall when or from whom he received it. He hoped that we would find it informative. I asked Stefan Gunther to translate the material, which he did, brilliantly. This first-hand account has an emotional immediacy that still grabs the reader, 56 years after the events.
Note on the Translator: Stefan Gunther has studied in Germany, England, and the United States. He holds two graduate degrees in English and currently is completing his dissertation at Brandeis University. It is entitled "Fictional Representations of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and Post-War Germany in the Contemporary US Novel." Stefan volunteered to do this translation at the request of Joyce Field.
For months the murder of these unhappy, innocent people continued. The Führer ordered them to do it, and the disciplined German people of murderers carried out these orders obediently and faithfully, without batting an eyelid. 2
The Ukrainian Hajdamaki 3 eagerly assisted, because to kill Jews is considered a virtue by them, passed down by their ancestors, the inhabitants of the steppe, and by their leader Chmielnicki 4 and later, in our days, by Petlura 5 , all of whom immortalized themselves through that activity.
The battlefield of Stryj also saw the "heroic participation in this "war against Jews" of the so-called Vlasovs --military units that were comprised of Russian prisoners of war, deserters and traitors to their country. They were trained and outfitted militarily according to German precepts and took their name from that of their " Führer ," the traitor to his country General Vlasov, who was now supposed to fight against his own brothers, but received his baptism of fire on the Jewish front.
The situation also didn't lack other pious Christians, who otherwise preach Christian love, and now are anything but neutral observers.
It would be unjust on my part should I claim that there didn't exist the occasional non-Jew who helped us, even if they did it in return for good payment. There also were some noble and decent Christian individuals who helped their Jewish fellow-citizens without expecting payment and by exposing themselves to the greatest danger. However, there were few of these, especially in comparison to those who actively participated in the extermination of the Jews.
It is impossible even for one of those who went through this gehenim 6 to depict the suffering and pain of those unlucky ones, until they were set free by death.
They were murdered in small and large "actions" (the "master race" rendered the legalized slaughter in the peculiar German "action").
What follows is a small image of such an "action." The time: for the most part very early, before sunrise. The surroundings or location where this action was to be carried out, were encircled by armed Ukrainian militia. The "golden" youth, for the most part Ukrainian, was of course mobilized for this "holy" task, and was positioned everywhere to ensure that none of these unlucky victims had the chance to escape anywhere.
It was better to be shot on the spot than to fall into the hands of these young bandits, the "pride" of the Ukrainian people.
Once the encirclement of the "enemy," who consisted of starving, emaciated men, women and children, had been completed according to the plan devised by "ingenious strategists of war," the "upright , courageous" Germans, outfitted with helmets and heavy weaponry, and consisting of Gestapo and SS-units, moved into this "impregnable" fortress......
These "heroes," the pride of the German people, "fight" exclusively on the Jewish front. All of them are tall, well-kempt, clad in custom-tailored uniforms, with their breasts full of medals bestowed on account of their "heroic deeds" for the Fatherland!
The Jewish tailors receive a "life insurance" to work for these "heroes." They also made the suits for their wives, who remained at home, and their lovers in enemy territory.
Of course, the life expectancy of such a "lucky" tailor is limited to the time until he has completed the work.
These "upright heroes" "storm" the "fortified" enemy positions with a wild yell: "Jews out! Jews out!" with the aid of German shepherds and the reports of guns.
Planting his boots firmly, the "victor" strides across the first dead who did not line up in ranks fast enough. One can hear the beating down of doors and the smashing of windows by the Ukrainian helpers. Captured children are led out, their hands in the air. These children, although they know that this is their last walk, are courageous and calm. Only seldom do any cry, but when those large children's eyes, which seemed even larger in their emaciated faces, looked at you imploringly, while you were powerless and could not help them, a shudder enveloped your whole body. These unlucky ones were then led by Ukrainian militia to the collection point, typically the school yard.
How humanely the Ukrainian companions behaved towards their fellow citizens is proven by the large number of dead who strewed the path towards the collection point.
These poor people are then brought from the collection point to the train station to be further transported to the extermination camps, or, in the case of smaller "actions," they are brought by truck to Holobutov, outside the town, where they are shot dead and then dumped into previously prepared mass graves, sometimes still alive.
These "actions"--small or large--were not the whole picture; whoever felt like it or had an inclination committed murder. The government encouraged them.
Even regarding the most banal cases, if a Jew did not behave the way the masters would have liked, he was beaten to death, hanged, or gunned down.
For instance, I witnessed how an SS officer by the name of Klarmann (his rank was that of a First Lieutenant), while riding his bike on Kryzwa Lane, called over a Jew, who had not made way fast enough, pulled his revolver, and simply gunned him down.
Individuals who fled from Stanislav related how the same Klarmann, who was a member of the local police [ Gendarmerie ] there, behaved like a human there. Allegedly, he even hid Jews during an action. I can verify that this Klarmann who shot to death a human for not making way fast enough, did not only not do any harm to another Jew from Stanislav, named Horn (a dentist or interior decorator) when he ran into him on the Aryan side [of the Ghetto] without the latter wearing his armband with the yellow star; he even brought him to our work camp and provided work for him. How can anyone understand the mentality of these bandits?
Naturally, the murders of the Jews described above extinguished the life of the Jews from Stryj systematically.
At that point, Stryj was not yet entirely emptied of Jews. There existed some work camps where several hundred Jews were forced into labor.
Some human shadows even prowled the sewers under the ghetto and the subterranean bunkers, in the vain hope to stay alive.
The desperate efforts of these unlucky Jews who thought they could save themselves in the sewers and the subterranean hiding spaces were in vain, because all precautions had been taken to prevent the "encircled enemy" from escaping. "Dear Fatherland, rest assured, solidly and loyally we guard, we guard at the reeking sewer entries and exits in the 'battlefield' that is the ghetto of Stryj " (sarcastic version of the well-known German patriotic song, "The Guard on the Rhine").
Later, when no Jews were any longer alive in the subterranean hiding places, bunkers, and sewers (all of them were coaxed out by the German and Ukrainian beasts through the most vicious tricks and then murdered in the cruelest manner), it was the turn of the so-called "untouchable" Jews to die. They were housed in barracks in work camps and had as their "life insurance" a "W"-badge, which meant "economically valuable" [ wertvoller ] Jew--however, they lived with the wrong hope that nothing would happen to them.
These hopes were in vain, because in the summer of 1943 the ax of the German executioner targeted also the heads of those Jews, primarily young individuals, who were equipped with the misleading "W-life insurance," and their lives were extinguished.
The "final solution of the Jewish question through physical annihilation" (a devilish plan, devised by the German ubermensch ) was carried out systematically in Stryj, and the town of Stryj lost all its Jews.
The last Jews from Stryj were martyred in the summer of 1943.
Their extinguished souls that ascended to heaven and were transformed into stars shine now together will the souls of all those unlucky Jews martyred-- al kiddush hashem --they shine down on us lest we forget what the German Amalek did to our Jewish people.
The original renders this sentence in Hebrew. It is a part of Lamentations
1:1, "Now doth this city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she
become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princes among
the provinces, how is she become tributary!" (1080) (all translations from the
Hebrew are as rendered in
The Holy Scriptures
(New York: Hebrew Publishing
Company, 1939). The translator wishes to thank Zeev Lahat for his help with
the Hebrew portions of the document.
Return to text
2 This is a reference to the Nazi slogan of "Führer befiehl, wir folgen!" (" Führer , give your orders, we will carry them out!"). Return to text
3 Hajdamaki was the name for anyone who participated in the military movements of Ukrainian peasants against their lords in the 18th century (the translator is indebted to Monika Pronczuk for this reference). Return to text
4 A reference to the Chmielnicki Massacres in Poland, a pogrom directed against the Jews (1648/49). Return to text
5 A reference to the Petlura pogrom: "Some noteworthy historical events involving or affecting the Jewish community [in Voronovitsa] were 1919 - the pogroms of Petlura, - the Jewish ghetto [sic] and concentration camp and 1941-1942 - the mass execution of the Jews from community and camp" <http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/Cemetery/> . Return to text
6 Hebrew: hell Return to text
7 In Hebrew in the original. This quotation is taken from Deuteronomy 25:17-19 (294). This choice of quotation is interesting, in that it offers the hope that Israel, despite what Amalek did to it, shall "blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (25:19). Return to text
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