Today is the day before Passover Eve. I recall the days of my youth, when I was attending heder. My teacher, Rebbe Boruch Yoel, of blessed memory (I still see him, with his white beard and high forehead, eyes glistening as he looked at us.) would say: "Children, tonight we search for the hametz. Search well, and let not a crumb remain in your homes". With this, we jumped up and ran out of the room, scattering to our homes, with happy sounds filling the air. The sun is bright overhead, and the thawing earth is steaming, waking up, sprouting green on the ground and in the branches. The Wisla and the pond have shaken off the ice, which had bound them all winter, and the free flowing waters rush down the river and overflow its banks.
Our job is to take new dishes down to the Wisla and immerse them for the festival. The fresh spring air fills our lungs. We too are in the spring of our lives.
Mother calls out: "Children, help me bring the Passover into the house." My sister and I take down the double windows, the colorful streamers and the cotton wadding used to insulate them during the cold winter. We wash the dusty panes. The sun bursts through into the humble house, resting on the table, the bookcase, the pictures on the walls. Across the room hangs the wicker basket, full of matzot; next to it is the mortar, to grind matzot into fine matzeh meal. The sun comes to rests on the bottle of homemade wine, which my father had pressed out of raisins for the Four Cups. My sisters are rubbing the tiles and the wooden table in the kitchen. The tableware is cleansed in boiling water, into which a red-hot stone had been immersed. The entire house becomes a magic abode: the copper pans glisten like gold, the special Passover tableware, the colorful glasses everything spic-and-span for the Seder.
Mother works hard, cleansing the stove.
At nightfall, as soon as Father returns from the synagogue, we proceed to search for the hametz. I look at my father's fine face, his high forehead (not a wrinkle on it; perhaps because he looks younger). Mother hands him the wooden spoon and a large goose feather. Father paces through each room, pronounces the benediction, sweeps up the crumbs which mother has made ready there, then wraps everything carefully in a towel and places the bundle in a corner. This done, he makes his way leisurely to the home of the rabbi, to sell the hametz.
On the next morning, we take the bundle and rush to the courtyard of the public bathhouse. A huge bonfire is already burning. We take the bundle spoon, feather and crumbs and throw it into the flame.
Can anyone forget the Seder of those days? Mama's fish and meat, the soup and matzah balls, the hardboiled eggs in the salt water? I can still hear the sweet melody of my father's Kiddush. We begin reciting the Haggada loudly, and I ask the Four Questions.
We, the children, keep our eyes on Father, as he leans back and recites the story of servitude and redemption. Tonight Father, like the Passover night itself, is different. He is "king", benevolent and kindly, singing the Seder melodies so sweetly that they penetrate into the depth of your soul. He makes believe that he doesn't see us pilfering the afikoman. He fills the cup of Elijah and sends my sister to open the door for the Prophet. Will Elijah really drink from our cup? I wonder. How can he drink from his cup at all the sedarim in the world? Maybe he merely touches the cup to his lips. Say, his cup does look a bit less full!
How can one forget those unforgettable days, the festive expression of holiness itself? Such were the Rachov kozes...
Our surviving townspeople will readily recall the family of water-carriers, Moishele and Notale and their wives, whose lives were spent hauling water to the town. They carried the water from the wells on the outskirts of the town, near the estate. These wells were dug in order to provide for the needs of the estate and its fishponds. There were other wells inside the town, in the market place and in the patches of farmland worked by the peasants, a well in almost every household. However, the water in all these wells was saline, and drinking water had to be brought in from the outside, from "down below".
The "down below" was the bane of the water-carriers. From the town the road sloped down to the wells, but on the way back the water-carriers had to push the cart with the water barrel up the hill. The family might have come to the Almighty with claims against His wisdom and fairness. Was this justice? Could He not have created the world in such fashion that the wells should be at the top of the rise and not at the bottom?
However, such good and pious Jews as were Moishele and Notale would never have dreamt of complaining against the Almighty. They had no luck. Now you may well ask why they didn't use horses for the hauling. But that was the bad luck, aforementioned: every horse they acquired, from time to time, quickly gave up his equine ghost.
It can be argued that the horses were to blame. Whenever the horse decided to bow out of this world, good Jews, unable to witness the hardship of the family, prodded the Community Council and other agencies to provide for another. Once they even communicated with their townspeople in Canada, and another horse was acquired. But again the story repeated itself; not long afterwards, and the horse was no longer among the living. Most extraordinary!
Perhaps not. The horses they bought were not first-class steeds, as they excelled neither in health nor in horsepower. Nor were their living conditions in the water-carriers' family of the best. The few pennies the carriers earned each day (and most housewives paid for the water once a week) weren't enough to buy food for the humans and fodder for the horse. The compromise was inevitably bad; both the humans and the horse didn't have enough. The difference was that the humans were disciplined in such matters as food and its opposite, hunger. Not so the horses; they knew no chochmess. And so, like the horse whom his owner had trained to the point of almost not eating, only to die in the attempt, these horses acted in the same fashion.
Of course, most of the townspeople were short of food all their lives, yet they lived their lives creatively. Moishele's home was full of infants, almost all females (he had one son, Yankele, who was apprenticed to a shoemaker). The daughters, on reaching a certain age, were sent to do housework for others and remained old maids.
Nothing unusual about all of this. Rachov was full of such instances hungry homes and spinster daughters. There just isn't enough room to tell about them, and if I did choose the water-carriers as an example, it is because everyone knew them, also because of the following:
Those of us who visited homes to empty the JNF boxes were instructed, that if the box didn't contain at least half a zloty and its holder wouldn't make up the difference, we were not to take the money and issue no receipt.
On one occasion, I was assigned to empty the boxes in the "Walik" neighborhood, the town's poverty-stricken quarter, where lived the poor artisans and other impoverished Jews. There wasn't a single prosperous Jew in the entire neighborhood.
I came to the home of the water-carriers. Only Moishele's wife was at home, a slight, pinched woman. She was busy preparing for the Sabbath, while the others were busy hauling water and distributing it. When I picked up the box I was amazed to find it full of coins. I counted them: about six zlotys. When I voiced my amazement about the sizable amount, the woman told me that every day a coin would be deposited in the box more than that on Fridays, when the housewives paid for the week's water delivery. I tried to convince her that the family might be doing the wrong thing, denying itself food. But the woman was adamant: contributing to the Jewish National Fund was a greater mitzvah than eating enough.
Since then I insisted on servicing that poor neighborhood, and when I emptied the box of the water carriers, I always felt a lump in my throat. I wouldn't be surprised if this box held more than any other in the entire town.
May these lines be a memorial to those wonderful Jews, the water-carriers of Rachov, none of whom survived the Holocaust, yet for whose sake we have been privileged to have the State of Israel. Such were the Rachov kozes...
I don't know of a city or town in our area which did not have a nickname, usually uncomplimentary, identifying its inhabitants: Yanov Yanover hodaks ('clogs'), Bilgerei Bilgereier sippers ('slurpers').
The nickname given Rachov and its population was "Rachover kozes" ('goats'). Now what's wrong with goats? Quite a few families raised a goat or two, as they did chickens for Sabbath and holiday needs. The goats ran free and ate their fill in the fields and meadows outside the town. Their owners went there to be with them on the Sabbath (the fields were within the permissible walking limits) for communion with food and nature.
The few he-goats were public property, charged with the task of fructifying the she-goats and hence the amount of milk which mothers could give to their children. But they had other duties, among them to serve as mounts for the heder children, in return for a stick of carrots or other vegetable residue unfit for human consumption. Riding the goats may be the reason that several young men, later recruited into the army of His Majesty the Czar, became known as "brave cavalrymen".
When snow or mud lay thick on the ground, the goats had to find other sources of sustenance. Turning their eyes heavenwards, they no doubt beheld the straw sprouting on the roofs of the houses and wooden shingles to reinforce it. A nibble along the edges of the straw had its rewards. The goats also discovered that the flour used to paste the big billboards was sweet to the palate and there were plenty of posters, each vying with its neighbor in size and color, to attract the attention of the citizenry on behalf of one movement or another or entice it to lectures, dances, plays and the like. No sooner was the posterman out of sight than the goats would get to work on the still moist paste and paper.
"These Rachov goats!" a stranger would be likely to exclaim not in any derogatory fashion, of course. After all, this was sheer ingenuity on the part of the animals. But people on the outside thought otherwise. Here is what Yeda-Am said (114/5, Tishri 5716, p. 242):
The town sits on the Wisla, but on the roofs of its houses sit the goats, eating the straw used to cover them or munching on the moss. Rachov's goats are opposed to progress and culture; when posters are put up in the street, they lose no time eating the paper and licking up the paste. "
Such were the Rachov kozes...
During the hot summer days, when the sun whitened the basalt paving of the road and scorched the soil of the fields, and the heat in the small huts left no air for breathing, most of the Rachov's Jews headed for the Wisla, to take a dip in the cool water of the river and rid their bodies of the sweat which clung to them during a whole week of toil.
The Wisla was there for the asking; anyone could enjoy the pleasure it gave, at no cost. The one-kilometer to its banks provided a pleasant hike there and back. Once past the cemetery, you went into a pine grove filled with the scent of pine and sap. The silence there was so complete that you could hear the whirring of the small birds and the fall of each acorn. In a cave in the forest a cool breeze blew. These sites, familiar as they were, made the stroll even shorter, especially when it was done in groups.
Mass bathing was at its peak on Tuesdays. Since Thursday was market day, two days preceding it had to be devoted to setting up shop. The craftsmen the cobblers and mending tailors had to decorate their stands with boots, short coats and trousers. Thursday was also Sabbath Eve ' practically. After the enjoyment of the day of rest came Sunday and Monday, when many of the Jews took to the roads in their carts, peddling their wares. Small wonder that Tuesday was the ideal day for washing away the weariness of the whole week.
The housewives, busy with their "einbren", at times accompanied their menfolk as far as the market, and called after them: "Remember! Remember! For God's sake keep an eye on the children!" The youngsters loved playing in the water. The Wisla was treacherous, like a thief in the night. The children couldn't be left alone even for one moment.
In the summer of 1939 the Wisla was even more attractive than ever. Its white banks, seen from a distance, looked like a long tablecloth. The sandstone chips sparkled like diamonds. Everyone was enjoying himself, and cries of pleasure came from all sides. Some took a suntan nap on the sand. Others sought out a shady spot and played "Telephone" or "Red King". Parents and children paddled about in the water. "What could be better?" exclaimed the elderly Jews, in the water up to their beards. But the youngsters had the most fun. "Look," cried a young one, "the sun is hiding behind the water." The youngsters had the best time, except when their parents went in for a dip and ordered their progeny to stay on the sand and keep an eye on their clothes.
On one such Tuesday, a group of the town's "armchair generals" squatted on the sand, far from the crowd, and engaged in an analysis of world events. In the group were Aharon (Boruch-Yosef's son), Avigdor Damon, Yehiel (Binyomin's son), Avrohom'chile Fuchs, Avrohom'ke and his bundle of newspapers, Itche-Meir the watchmaker, Avrohom'chile (son of Hillel), Eliyohu Kleinman, and others. The men had merely dipped their toes in the water and applied water to their foreheads against the heat. This didn't cool the heat of their debate about what was going on in Europe, particularly Hitler's decrees against the Jews. Would Polish Jewry be affected by what was transpiring in Germany? The debaters were quickly surrounded by an attentive throng.
Yehiele's rubbed his forehead and smiled, as he made his remarks in his characteristically moderate speech. It was clear that he didn't think that these events would affect him personally. "It's not like people think," he said. "I remember the Yeckes back from the war. I don't know how people can get along with them. The ones to be feared are the Russians, the Cossacks and the Petlura people. I remember them well. Secondly, is our opinion being sought? As the Almighty will decide, so will He act."
Avrohom'chile Fuchs and Aharon do not agree with him. "Our days are not like those past. We are in danger. A man has to be blind," said Yosef, of the lively eyes and high forehead, "not to see what's going on in God's world in Rachov, let us say. No one senses the terrible disaster about to descend upon us. Young men and old are being taken out of their homes for military drills. The fire brigade goes through daily drills. Every day there are meetings to instruct the population what to do during an air raid, or against shelling and gas. Whether you like it or not, you have to participate. Every night Jews are sent, axes in hand, to guard the town and the bridge across the Wisla. Every stranger is to be detained and taken to the police station. One Jew-hating officer wanted to have some fun. He took Shloime'le Yoske's and Shmuel Hanele's, two old broken down Jews, and sent them to the bridge for a whole night to catch spies."
"Don't worry," cried Avrohom'chile, Hillel's son. "Jews have overcome Haman, Torquemada of Spain, Chmielnicki. So will it be with this Jew-hater. Anyone plotting against the Jews will come to a grim end."
The discussion grew hotter. Everyone wanted to get a word into the debate. The discussion might have lasted for hours, were it not for the sudden change in weather. The sun disappeared behind black clouds. The bathers were thrown into panic. The way home was long. Lightning and thunder split the air. Refuge under the bridge was dangerous. Everyone rushed toward town, the fathers carrying their children astride their shoulders in the torrential rain. Avrohom'ke Freiberg added a grim note to it all: "Black clouds never carry good omens, especially not for us Jews."
During the first days of September our town was filled with refugees from the other side of the Wisla. The long lines went on day and night, as the refugees pressed on with one purpose in mind to move eastward. Most of them were from the middle and poor classes, frightened to death, worn out, sleepless, backs burdened with sacks and parcels.
Rachov's Jews showed them great compassion. Many of them gave up their beds to accommodate ailing mothers and their children. Whatever food there was in town was shared with the refugees, heart and soul. Who could tell what the next day would bring?
The refugees told the story of the havoc wrought by the Germans in the cities and towns. Jews were dragged out of their houses and put into labor battalions. Synagogues and their inmates were burned down. Criminals were let out of the jails by the Germans and recruited for the sole purpose of making life unbearable for the Jews. No one thought of anything but how to escape this hell. The Jews still believed that the whole thing would blow over, and they would return to their homes. The people were told that the great and decisive battle would take place on the banks of the Wisla. The army commanders explained the disorderly retreat by announcing that the Polish army would reorganize in the vicinity of Lublin.
The Jews of Rachov were confounded. A clash between the Germans and the Poles on either side of the Wisla would destroy everything, and Rachov's people would join the mass of refugees.
The panic began as the first bomb hit the Lipke quarter. Later it was learned that the manager of the "Phosphorit" company, a German, had signaled to the bomber in the air, above the town. When the town was taken, this man appeared in the uniform of the German Reichswehr. To the Jews, this was the beginning of the end. The German bombers dropped their loads unchallenged. Only once did a Polish plane land in the area. Out of it stepped a wounded lieutenant, dressed in a sparkling uniform tinged with blood. "Dog's blood!" he cried. "Cholera! Everything's lost!"
These word, spread throughout the town like wildfire. People went to bed with their clothes on, in case the Germans would come. And when they would, what could the people do flee or stay put? Some Jews didn't wait. As soon as the war broke out, they fled to the Janow area, assuming that since the area had no main roads, the chance, for survival was better. Also, in Janow there were several intact Polish units. They decided to fire their cannon at the Germans. The latter, in retaliation, shelled the entire vicinity, turning it into a mass of rubble.
The Polish officers bragged that here, at the bridge across the Wisla, the powerful Polish forces would make porridge out of Hitler and his troops. Never was a statement more deceitful!
The bridge went up in flames, and an overpowering panic seized Rachov. Almost all of the Jewish residents fled and sought refuge in the homes of peasants in nearby villages and in the forests surrounding them. Only a few Jews remained behind, to guard the property, poor as it was.
The Germans took the town without firing a shot. They replaced the burnt bridge with a pontoon bridge and marched right into town, like on a picnic. On the first day, the Jews were rounded up by the German soldiers and were set to work on the bridge, dragging heavy logs out of the Wisla. Here the first victim fell Leible Korona. This fine, pious Jew, stricken with a chronic heart ailment, couldn't bear up under the heavy labor. He collapsed, and the Nazis finished him off in their brutal tradition.
A few days later Germans claimed another victim the headmaster of the Lublin Yeshiva branch and the Beth Jacob School in Rachov. He was on his way to plead with the town priest to have the Jews released from work for the two days of Rosh Hashanah. His "crime was that he ran, instead of walking. To the Germans he looked like an escaping criminal. Wearing his "shteiml'' and silk coat, he was shot down at the threshold of his home.
The Nazis and Their Collaborators Go Berserk
The German soldiers invaded Jewish homes, looking for young women to ravish. At any knock on the door, toward evening, the hearts or the mothers stood still. They rubbed their daughters' faces with soot and dressed them in rags, in an effort to save their honor.
As elsewhere, the Germans organized a Judenrat in Rachov, in order to make things easier for themselves. The Judenrat tried to fulfill the demands of the Nazis for a full quota of labor, collected monies from Jews to pay the levies and appointed new policemen. It must be said that, in Rachov, the Judenrat and the policemen didn't deal with their own Jews as in other towns and cities. They quickly understood the character of the enemy whom they were serving. Realizing that, sooner or later, they would share the fate of their brethren, they resigned from their posts. For this they were punished with deportation to the Yanishov camp. Most of them escaped from the camp and joined the partisan hand organized by the Pintele family in Zaleshe.
The Nazis and their helpers used every means of persecuting the Jews, raping the women and committing criminal acts unbelievable of human beings. Such were the Rachov kozes...
About 6 kilometers from Rachov, up the Wisla, was the village of Janishov, an average village; its inhabitants were neither among the richest nor among the poorest. The peasants derived their livelihood from their fields and partly from fishing in the Wisla, during the summer.
Almost every year, as the snow thaws at winter's end or following torrential rains in the summer or fall, the Wisla overflows its banks and inundates the farmland. The turbulent river runs level with the fields for several kilometers, sweeps the area and ruins the toil of the farmer.
In attempting to halt the damage caused by the floods and the erosion of hundreds of hectares of fertile soil, the Polish authorities set about putting up a protective embankment along the entire low bank. To accomplish this, they set up a prison camp in the farmland, and put hundreds of prisoners to work raising the embankment; this was several years before the outbreak of the war. When the war began, the prisoners were released and the camp remained empty and neglected. It was quite natural for the Get mans to make use of the abandoned but equipped camp to incarcerate the Jews.
Already in the summer of 1940 we learned that the Germans were bringing Jews to Janishov from towns near and far. At first, when the arch enemy had not yet placed his yoke on the Jews of' Poland and was still pretending that he was interested in Jewish labor, the Judenrats in the towns kept sending around groups of laborers to Yanishov. They were also obliged to care for them. On Sundays the Judenrat men would pass through on their way to Janishov, with wagonloads of food for the detainees, bundles of linens and other necessities. The Judenrats were also allowed to substitute other laborers. Each group therefore spent no more than a fixed period in the camp.
The first commandant of the camp was Peter Ignor, a schoolteacher in one of the large villages in the vicinity. Until the outbreak of the war, no one knew that he was a German.
As the general situation of the Jews worsened, so did conditions in the Janishov prison. The representatives of the Judenrats were no longer allowed into the camp, and they could no longer deliver food and clothing or change the groups. Rumors leaked out about the inhuman torture in the camp, at times ending in death and murder. Not only Ignor and his Ukrainian helpers but even the Jewish Ordnungsdienst and Vorarbeiter tortured their brethren. The hard labor of transporting in wheelbarrows mud, earth and clay, up several yards to the top of the embankment, was prodded with blows and lashes administered by the Ukrainians and the Jewish lackeys. There were also the exhausting roll calls, day and night, designed to harass the laborers. Hanging people by their feet and similar tortures were everyday happenings. There was no medical aid, other than the Sunday visits by our town physician, Dr. Gross; what he was able to do in the course of one morning was but a drop in the sea. From him we learned what was going on in the Janishov camp, but we had no direct contact with it. No one was sent from our town to Janishov or any other camp, since we were a kind of working unit in itself. Only the "errant" were sent there.
The camp was a fathomless source of income for Ignor. The meager fare assigned to the inmates found its way to him. With nourishment beyond their reach, many prisoners simply died of hunger.
Ignor and his helpers took special pleasure in taunting and torturing the members of the Judenrat, the Ordnungsdienst and others of high status at one time. They ordered them to don their prayer shawls and phylacteries and dance about, as their tormentors prodded them with whips, kicks and butts, as their sick minds pleased. This was the atmosphere, in the first days of the deportation, in which a woman of our town strangled her newborn grandson, lest he get his mother into trouble.
The deportation of the Jews caused Ignor's bestiality to break all bounds, probably because now he could not practice extortion from the Jewish community. The suppliers of the funds, the Judenrat, were now hounded more than ever. The cup of suffering indeed overflowed. Such were the Rachov kozes...
On October 13, 1942, 1 was deported, together with 155 other young men from Annopol, to the Janishov camp. The Volksdeutscher Ignor was the camp commander and a German Jew named Wolff was in charge of the Jewish inmates.
The prisoners were set to work building an embankment on the bank of the Wisla, to protect the area against floods. The work, by quota, was very hard. Mortality was high, and fresh transports of Jews kept coming into the camp.
There was a Jewish guard in the camp, Reuben Pintele of Zaleshe. He escaped and joined the partisans, swearing to take vengeance.
The only ones guarding the camp were the commandant himself and one Pole. The gates were guarded by Jewish policemen. The inmates were taken to work and back under Jewish guards, as well.
On November 6, at 6 in the evening, as we were in our bunks, resting from the day's toil, several partisans rushed into the hut, shouting: "Jews, save yourselves! Flee!" The hut was in an uproar. Whither were we to flee? The Jews of Rachov who had Christian friends were ready to leave. We broke into the storehouse for whatever supplies we could carry away.
The partisans burst into the commandant's quarters, forced him to give up his weapons and the valuables he had "confiscated" from the Jews, then led him out to the yard and executed him. The partisans helped us empty the depot. They left about 8 o'clock, taking nine people with them to the forest. The others were told to disperse. They began forming small units, planning to escape to the forests, but they were waylaid and killed by the Poles or handed over to the Germans -- all 133 of them. A few remained in the camp because they weren't familiar with the area. They decided to go to the nearest police post and report the incident, whatever be the result.
We got to the village of Kashin. The farmers told the fire brigade to toll its
bells. The foreman came out to meet us, and advised us to return to the camp
and wait for the police.
They came at 7 in the morning, accompanied by SS men, gendarmes, the fire brigade and a group of Ukrainians. They surrounded the camp and took a roll call of the inmates. At noontime orders were received to transfer us to another camp. We were driven to the town of Annopol-Rachov. On the way we were brutally whipped. Anyone who fell was immediately shot. From Annopol we were transported by truck to Bedzin. Such were the Rachov kozes...
The outbreak of the war all but paralyzed the mainstream of life in the town. The Jews were savagely persecuted, their places of business were pillaged, the males were beaten and shipped off to forced labor.
Worst of all was the fate of those carried off to work on the boat bridge. That was hell itself. The bridge (more than a kilometer long) had to be built in a single day. During the work, the shochet R. Leible Korona was brutally murdered. The Germans seized several hostages, among them the director of the yeshiva. R. Raphael Leventhal. He was killed two days after the German army entered the town, on the Sabbath of Repentance the same day that R. Leible was murdered. The remembrance of that day was eternally inscribed in the history of the community as the "bloody Sabbath of Repentance".
Some time later the Jews were forbidden to leave the town. Anyone caught outside was shot on the spot. The town became an open ghetto.
Almost all the Jews of Rachov, male and female, were put to work. The Germans promised them that they would come to no harm; no one would be deported from Rachov, as they were from other towns. The newspaper Krakauer Zeitung printed an official statement that the only place in the Gubernament with 100% Jewish employment was Annopol. No one was deported to the work camps.
One morning in 1942 a police contingent came, with a truck convoy, set siege to the town and burst into the homes of the Jews. Hundreds of Jews were already rounded up; as soon as the foremen in the plants learned about it they sent representatives to extricate "their" Jews, so as to prevent a labor shortage. The policemen were forced to withdraw without having taken a single Jew. This gave us hope and encouragement to go on. The employed Jews received work cards, which were stamped from time to time by the authorities, leading the people to believe that by hard labor they could buy their lives from the Germans. Their false hopes and illusions were soon to be dissipated.
Selection and Deportation of Rachov's Jews
Hard labor indeed brought no salvation. Came that awesome day, October 15, 1942, and destruction scaled the fate of Rachov's Jews. Our hearts were constricted with fear. Black clouds darkened the entire horizon. Our despair knew no bounds. An order was given for the entire labor force, from the age of 14 to 60, to report to the market square. Those selected for labor, we were told, would remain in the town with their families. About 100 were selected, I among them.
This was merely an SS trick. We were taken at once to the Goshchiradov work camp. It was prepared to receive us. The camp was hard by the road to the Krashnik railway station and was surrounded with barbed wire.
In Rachov the selection of men fit for labor went on. About 300 of them were chosen for transfer to the Janishov torture camp; the others were taken to the cemetery. My father didn't want to wait for death; he broke away and ran, until he was felled by bullets near the synagogue he had helped to build.
My father's death changed matters. The wife of the murderer Lazarchik witnessed the incident and persuaded her husband not to kill the Jews right then and there. The Jews were allowed to go to their homes for the night. On the next morning all who remained men, women and children were ordered to present themselves at the Krashnik railway station.
The Somber March Toward Death
I can still see that tragic scene. All those Jews, my own family among them, were marched past our camp, to their final destination the Krashnik station. We were bent over with grief, our hearts were mute, our eyes wept farewell. We wanted to break out and join them, but the SS bullets kept us from moving. This way we bid good-bye to our beloved.
The Fate of the Sick and the Elderly
A few Jews were still left in the town, my grandparents among them. All of them decided not to leave their homes but remain and await their fate in their own homes. Finally they gathered in several homes Shlomo Goldreich's, Frumetel Feigenbaum's and my grandparents' house. They prayed together, recited the Viduy (Confessional,) and the Psalms, in readiness for the last journey.
Several days later I came to do work in the town. I took the risk and went to my grandparents' home. I found there a live tomb. Candles burned in the sunlight, but there was darkness in every heart. My grandfather, wrapped in his tallit, was reciting the Psalms. My ailing grandmother was on the bed, waiting for the end. All of them were later rounded up by the murderers and dragged to their death. My grandmother was taken from her bed, thrown into a pit, and shot. So were the other martyrs, whose spirit the enemy couldn't break.
Several of us went looking for the bodies. Corpses were strewn about, riddled with bullets, skulls cracked wide open. We buried them.
The aged Frumetal Feigenbaum was too ill to be moved from her bed. She was shot there on the spot. We buried her near the doorway of her home. Such were the Rachov kozes...
This deals with the rout of the Nazi camp in Janishov. Several hundred Jews living in the shadow of annihilation in the camp were hoping for rescue by the partisans.
Two escapees from the camp, Yanek and Shloimele, speaking on behalf of the Jews in the camp, described in detail, for the fifth time, how the camp was situated, the approaches to it, and the location of the sentries.
The Janishov operation had to be carried out as quickly as possible. The two escaped men reported that the camp commandant, the murderer Peter Ignor, was about to send all the prisoners to be made into soap in Majdanek. The operation could not be postponed.
That night the fate of the people in the camp had to be decided life or death.
The commander arose. Again he described the situation, outlined the operation and gave the order: "Prepare to leave!''
The spearhead unit went first, Leon Fitel in charge.
Leon knew the area like a book. He was a native of the surroundings, born the village of Ofuka.
"What's the day today?' I asked Henik, a Jew who had escaped from Majdanek.
"Friday," answered "Tadek" of Miloshovka.
The unit moved on. Among the marchers were Vitashek from Ludmilovka, Yenkel of Rechincha, the Russians Grisha and Vasya, the Ukrainian Yasha Yakoblev, and the refugees from Janishov, Yanek and Shloimele, and others Poles, Russians and Jews.
After a long and tiring trek, in dead silence, the unit skirted Dombrova, crossed the Krashnik-Annopol road, then, bypassing Vimislov and pursued by the barking of vicious dogs, it climbed at dawn to the top of the hill, near the old quarries.
Here the commander took leave of Fitel, reminding him to get information about the situation in Janishov and its surroundings.
A quiet alarm sounded. One of the scouting units reported Germans on the road near the hill. It looked like a fight, unless the unit succeeded in not being spotted. Silence and tension.
Also excitement. From the top of the hill, looking out on the plain below, the partisans could see their objective clearly, some 3-4 kilometers away: rows of cabins behind barbed wire fences. A crowd of people was at the camp square.
Fitel returned toward evening, accompanied by a member of the PPR organization in Ofuka. On his back he carried a sackful of bread.
The two reported on the deployment of the enemy. They stressed the need for diversionary action to draw the attention of the Blue Police in neighboring Kashin, as soon as the partisans left the quarries. Kashin was a kind of annex to Peter Ignor's bailiwick.
In the meantime the partisans did away with the bread.
The hour for action was at hand. At dusk another briefing was held, how each man was to conduct himself as he approached the camp, inside the camp, during the battle, when it was over and perhaps in case of retreat. Leon and the man from Ofuka were told to cut the telephone lines between Kashin and Annopol.
Finally it was dark. The wind howled and rain came down -- a marvelous partnership between the partisans and the elements.
Yanek and Shioimele, the refugees from Yanishov, led the way with brave assurance. The night was as black as the fate of Janishov's Jews.
The guides announced that the barbed wire fence would loom in front of the men a few hundred yards away. The unit halted. Yanek, Shloimele, Kushletz, Stashek, Gronchevsky and the commander moved carefully toward the fence. Shloimele went on ahead and returned. He had come to the fence.
The six men lay on the wet ground, holding their breath, listening for the approaching steps of the sentry. "He's heading this way," someone whispered. As soon as he got there, they would jump him.
The animal didn't fall into the trap, unfortunately. The sentry passed by several yards away from the men lying on the ground. Quick action had to be taken. The sentry had to be taken unawares, from behind. Two shadows arose and followed the man ahead. Nerves were taut as a bowstring. Then the release: the cold barrels of a Mauser and a Vi touched the temples of the Nazi guard. He saw nothing and heard nothing there was only the feeling of the cold barrels. But that was enough for him. He threw away his rifle and raised his hands. Methodically, he described the positions of the other guards, inside the building and out. Kushlev and three others were assigned to take care of the sentries on the other side.
"Lead on," the commander ordered the prisoner. "To the gate. We have to talk to your colleague."
The sentry obeyed without question. Ten yards from the gate they met the other sentry. The first one briefed him: "The camp's surrounded by hundreds of partisans. If you call out the guards, both of us will be dead men."
Prodded by gun barrels, the two led the "Kosciusko" partisans to the third sentry. He, too, made a move to resist, but was persuaded not to do anything rash. What really convinced the sentries was their belief that a vast force of partisans, perhaps even paratroopers, had ringed the camp. The partisans deployed themselves to cover all movements. The camp dogs were quieted by their keeper. In the center of the camp the partisans caught hold of Peter Ignor's redheaded aide. Always self-assured, he now trembled like a leaf in the wind. Finally he recovered sufficiently to tell his captors that the "Herr Kommandant" was in his office in the administration building. He led the way. At the door, the commander told him to tap lightly, enter, and report that Gestapo brass had arrived from Lublin. A final word of warning: "One word of the truth, and you're a dead man!"
All the partisans had one thought not to let him escape, to get him alive.
"I want volunteers to go inside," said the commander. In the silence, two men attached themselves to the redhead and followed him along the dark corridor. A tap on one of the doors. No answer. A stronger tap. Silence. Could he have escaped?
At the commander's order, the redhead opened the door, slowly. A shaft of light crossed the corridor. He pointed to the sofa and said, almost gloating: "There he is!" Hearts began to pound with joy; this man was not to see another sunset. Everyone filed in, quietly.
Peter Ignor was lying on the couch in his jacket, riding breeches and stockings. The parabellum on the chair by his side was swiftly removed. "Aufstehen!"
The corpulent representative of the Master Race made no move, but a yank at his earlobe brought him to. He sat bolt upright. "Mein Gott!" and his pudgy hand moved like lightning toward his pillow. Stashek and Grunschevsky pinned the hand to the pillow with the barrels of their rifles. Ignor decided not to resist. He had gone to sleep as the sole arbiter over the lives of the Jews in the camp. Now all he could do was to obey, like a good German. The commander asked for the keys to the huts. Asya received them at once. With Adek, he ran out to free the people.
Ignor was a good marksman. Sometimes, during the morning roll call, after the prisoners had stood on their feet for two hours, in all kinds of weather, he would select several targets among them and order them to run. He would then aim at the moving targets and shoot them down. If the bullets did not kill them instantly, they were finished off by the Kapo and his lead-balled cane.
Kushlev's eyes took in the whips, photographs and the bottle of brandy on the table, still to be emptied. "Real culture you have here, Hitlerite."
Stashek grabbed one of the whips and lashed the Gestapo man. "Orders are orders," wept the Kommandant. Moreover, his camp wasn't the worst, he cried.
Aciek came running. The camp was in an uproar. The liberated inmates were sure that the war was over. They also discovered two cars laden with loaves of bread, and they were ravenously gorging themselves with it, The commander went out to the camp square and told the emaciated inmates that each would got enough food, as well as shoes and clothing. But the war wasn't over, and severe fighting was ahead.
Confronted by the inmates, Ignor confessed to murder by shooting, hanging and torture. Now terrified beyond all measure, he slumped to his knees and tried to kiss the boot of his captors.
Suddenly shots were heard, first sporadic then in bursts. Machine guns. Vitya came running. A car detachment of Germans was on the outskirts of the camp. They kept firing, hoping to draw partisan fire and get some idea of their strength, but they didn't dare come into the camp during the night. The liberated inmates were given food and clothing, then arranged in groups and sent, with guides, to the forests around Lipsko, Janow, Bilgoraj and Goshschiradow, toward Ludmilovka.
Their parting shot was aimed, accurately, at Peter Ignor.
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