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[Pages 23-31]

The Last Minutes – The Road to Treblinka

by Zisl (Nemi) Kuperszmidt (née Lezerowicz) (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Donated by Michael Schoeman

Friday – 2.9.39 (2 September 1939)

The day on which we heard the first German bombers in Biala Rawska was tragic. They did not announce anything good. The young Jews began to gather and began to march to the Vistula River because it was said there Poland would raise its first resistance against the Germans. Our men took leave of their young wives and small children, grown sons of their parents and they left their home to fight against the enemy until the last drop of blood. We wives, too, were ready to fight in order to defend our small children from the assassin's hands. We swore together with the Polish patriots with full fervor to fight and not surrender.

Alas, this situation did not last long: the men arriving as far as Gryce could not go further. The enemy and his iron motorization arrived at the Vistula faster than anyone could anticipate. The Poles surrendered. What could we do? We remained powerless. Our men returned with clenched fists and in a gloomy mood.

 

Monday 7.9.39 (7 September 1939)

The Germans occupied Biala. They immediately ordered all people to appear at the market. Whoever remained at home would be shot. An order came when everyone was assembled in the middle of the market with their hands in the air: The Christians can

[Page 24]

go to their homes; the Jews should go to the synagogue. Then the Germans pushed the men into the synagogue and the women were sent to their houses. When the women returned to their houses they were already demolished by the Poles and

 

bia025.jpg
The seventh yahrzeit [anniversary of a death] of those murdered in Biala Rawska, in the Beis haHalutz [house of the pioneers]. Zisl Kuperszmidt tells how the Biala Jews were liquidated, the horrible facts, the tragic experiences, the last minutes of how an entire city of Jews was driven to Treblinka

 

every important item was looted. The men were not let out of the synagogue for the entire night. The Torah scrolls were burned; any man who did not submit was beaten.

In the morning the women risked their lives and pleaded with the Germans, cried that their husbands should be freed. The murderers sent

[Page 25]

the men home because they were already convinced that the city was in their hands and the fear among the population was great enough.

They began to grab Jews for heavy labor, to clean the city of all impurities. The Jews had to gather the garbage with their hands. “Because you wanted the war, when the Russians arrive, you will lick the garbage with your tongues.” Thus they shouted and they did not economize in using their sticks on heads, cutting beards and peyos [side curls], beating until black and blue, sending [the Jews] home in the evening without food.

Immediately on the first day, the middleclass men of the city were taken and sent to jail in Tomaszow. They were taken to heavy labor, beaten, held for two weeks, sent home. But Leibke Barensztajn did not return. He was Biala's first victim.

The commandant came to Biala to establish order. It was said that he was not a bad man. Naftali Izraelowicz (with his ability to speak German) was chosen as Jewish elder. He also brought a good greeting from the commandant. The good news spread quickly through cities and shtetlekh [towns] and everyone who could come to Biala thought he had saved his life. And this fooled many people because it was still possible to escape to the Soviet Union. But who could imagine that they would also reach Biala? With fear and with hope we started little by little to carry on with our lives. Life demands it. When we are still alive, everyone searches for a way to hold on by the nails. And this was our clinging to the “good” commandant. People began to work, trading wherever they could find success.

A kindergarten opened, led by an educator. A Rawa [Rawa Mazowiecka] miss. And the parents from Biala, as well as those who traveled here, willingly sent their children to the garden. The teacher had good material and she arranged a performance with the children. She carried this out in Lev Lezerowicz's house. How impressive, how beautiful, the dear children appeared, recited and sang! They did not know and

[Page 26]

we did not yet know what the murderers would bring for them.

Sweet, dear children with your ringing voices, Bertele, Polele, Rywkale, Chayale and more, how did you sin that your fate turned out that you had to be burned in crematoria? What did they want from you, little ones, innocents? Yes, this was our last pleasure that we enjoyed from our children. By chance, of the entire group, my daughter Chanale survived.

The rejoicing did not last for long. The Rawa gendarmes began to visit us often. All of the Jews became paralyzed on the day that they would come; they robbed, beat. They knew where to go through the help of the Volks-Deutsch [ethnic Germans]. Once 21 of them came; then they went through many houses. They took everything that pleased them: bedding, furniture, kitchen crockery, machines, spoons-forks-knives. After their departure, the house was enveloped in grief. People lay in bed for months from the blows they had received.

The ghetto decrees came in 1940. We could never catch our breath. After one calamity came another one – a larger one. Jews left their homes. In Biala, as in all small shtetelekh, they had lived in one place from the time of their great grandfathers. People rarely changed their places of residence. The edict said: tear yourself out by your great grandfather's roots and leave. Where to go? In a cell with pigs, in a house stall, because the ghetto area was too small for all of the Jews driven [out of their homes] to be taken in under a roof. Many remained with their packs living in a courtyard, near a wall.

I also came to help my mother move to my sister Liba. She lived in the ghetto. I looked around; this was my home, in which I was born and raised. My childhood lived before me: I saw how my holy father stood at his work. Here sat my dear father at his writing table, peasants around him who looked at him as at an angel from heaven when he read their requests that he

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wrote for them. And we eight children played quietly in order not to disturb our father's thoughts. Occasionally, the door opened and we heard our father's sweet voice: - “Children do not disturb me, be quieter!” I had the feeling that I should not leave anything that my parents touched for them. Their dirty hands would not steal the things from my home. I broke everything that I touched with an ax. My mother cried as one cries for the dead and asked me: - “My child, they will hear!” But I could not restrain myself; I wanted to take them on, I

 

bia027.jpg
Biala Jews in Israel at a memorial for the yahrzeit [anniversary of a death] of the Holocaust, in 1949, in Beit haHalutsus [Pioneer's House]

 

had an ax in my hand. I wanted blood to pour from the murderers. But no blood poured. The necks were not S.S. members. They fell to the ground. Then I grew weak and I fell in a swoon.

People hitched themselves to the wagons instead of horses and pulled their belongings. The Christians stood and beamed; finally, it was the end of the Jews and they could live in the Jewish houses. Hitler should have come earlier and still more such typical conversations. And they did live to do so.

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The crowdedness in the ghetto was very great. The living conditions were very bad and worse from day to day. The Jews could not go to the villages to sell anything to the peasants for food. The typhus epidemic had begun, not missing any house. The number of dead reached up to 20 a day. The gendarmes began to come three times a week. They robbed, beat and murdered. And the Volks-Deutsch also fulfilled their own responsibilities on the remaining days of the week. The mayor, Ramlow, and the commandant understood that by sending a few Jews to the Warsaw Ghetto the typhus would be eased. If not, it could be carried over to the elite of society. They presented this to the Juden-rat.

A frightening, ruthless call came in the middle of the night, when the poor people had wrapped themselves in their rags and were stuffed in the holes with the sick and hungry children and thought that they would find a little rest in the nighttime darkness: “Out!” And this was enough so that the lonely people would assemble with the crying children and, in the cold winter night, go to the bus to the Warsaw Ghetto. The crying was great because we then knew that this is only the beginning, but the heavens were closed, no tears reached God. The members of the S.S. with the help of the Poles as well as the Jewish police filled an entire truck with people. Just as cabbages are thrown, thus were the people thrown and sent to Warsaw. But this did not improve the situation. The snow covered the packs that lay at the walls. The people froze and illness reigned. A Jew came out on Friday to clean away a little of the snow and to make a path. A gendarme came along and did not ask him anything, and did not say anything to him, but immediately shot him in the head. The Jew fell, his brains spread blood on the white snow and the murderers laughed and drove farther.

The German then began to reveal his complete ruthlessness.

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1941

It was spring around Biala. But Biala itself was enveloped in grey. The people became grayer when a gray S.S. van came from Rawa with the S.S. Five o'clock in the morning: It seemed that everyone still was asleep; but lightning fast everyone knew that the murderers had arrived with a black list of young people:

1) Faygele Najman 2) Gela Amzel 3) Ruchl Robenboch 4) Shaul Artman 5) Avraham Mogelnicki 6) Avraham Berensztajn 7) Tabacznik (came for a visit) 8) Lev Lezerowicz.

 

bia029.jpg
Wolf Szuman, Ruchl Erlich and her husband Dovid, Leibish Yakubowicz, Jakub Herszkowicz, Dishke and his wife, Meir Zimler, Rywka Grunwald, of blessed memory, Nakhum, Eidl Frank, Chaua Libe Sztibert, Gitele Sztajnman, of blessed memory, Toba Frajdnreich, Elihu Frajdnreich, Zisl Lezerowicz, Nekhe and her sisters, the Feldsher [barber surgeon] Kadish Fuks' daughters, Jakub Najman, Yitzhak Frajdnreich, the son of Elihu Frajdnreich

 

They took everyone in the S.S. van and one by one, they were told to run across the field to the cemetery. Then they were shot. The people of the entire city stood in Itshe Ber's garden and saw the cruel picture. The spasmatic screams of their parents, everyone's screams, were

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more frightening than each show of force. This was the most frightening act, which was carried out in the Biala ghetto. Faygele Najman begged the murderer: - “Let me live! The world is so beautiful. I have not enjoyed enough of my life. I am not guilty of anything! Gela Amzel, capable of everything could not utter one word. Lev Lezerowicz did not want to give his son Shmulik. He begged the Blue Police [collaborationist police in Poland who wore dark blue uniforms] to release his son so that he could take revenge for his innocent blood. (And thus his son did in the Warsaw Uprising – fought and fell). It is a fact that life in the ghetto was difficult. The parents of innocent children collapsed completely. The Germans came often and each time, shot, beat, robbed. The conditions were more difficult from day to day until the end came: deportation! An entire city of Jews was sentenced to death with this one word. They positioned police around the city so that no one could leave.

We did not sleep for the entire night. Parents said goodbye to children, brothers to sisters, although everyone knew that they were going on the same road. Early in the morning everyone had to leave their houses and appear at the market. It was a hot day. The people languished with tiredness, but the German clubs did not permit us to sit down. At 5 in the afternoon, they placed the men in rows. The women and the children were put in wagons and they went on the last road with our dear, loved ones. They were driven to Rawa; in Rawa, those from Rawa and the people from Biala were sent together to Tomaszow and then the Jews from all three cities were sent to Treblinka.

This was the tragic end of our city Biala. This was a general deportation. They only left several families: a shoemaker, a tailor, a gaiter-maker, a rope maker and me and my family among them.

Very early in the morning, I could not rest. Perhaps someone was left in the ghetto? How could it be possible that everyone would disappear?

I ran quickly through the back roads in order not to be noticed. And what

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did I see: one large ruin! No more people. No more children. Only knocked out windowpanes, broken doors, opened cabinets, torn bed linens. Photos strewn on the ground; photos of beautiful, smiling faces of a groom and bride, who promised eternal devotion; photos of mothers holding children with happy expressions. You no longer have anything for which to wait! No one needs you any longer! Everything has ended! No one will put you in albums anymore. Insignificant barbarians have driven their owners to death and they stepped on you with their dirty boots and made garbage out of you. A cry of pain ripped from my heart and could not come out.

Oh, God, what have you done?


[Pages 32-40]

The Liquidation of the Biala Ghetto

by Benyamin (Yoma) Rozenbaum

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Donated by Michael Schoeman

According to the descriptions, the first Jews settled in Biala in 1240. On the day on which the Second World War broke out, the Jewish population numbered 450 families. This was 60 percent of the general population.

 

bia032.jpg
Benyamin (Yoma) Rozenbaum; born in Biala-Rawska on the 25th of April 1912; lived in Biala until the liquidation of the ghetto

 

The Hitlerist murderers entered Biala on the 8th of September 1939. It was a Friday. From that date on began the great destruction of the Biala Jews. The occupier began

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his brutal murders that enveloped the Jews. Jews immediately had to put on patches and wear them on the left arm so that it could be recognized who is a Jew from a distance. They created a Juden-rat [Jewish council] with Jewish police who were to make sure there was order among the Jews. Each Jew had to pay contributions; they said that we Jews must pay because Jews wanted the war.

There were shtetlekh [towns] where Jews immediately did not want to live. Many Jews came to Biala; the Jewish population in Biala increased to 1,500 families. Poverty was immense; Jews had to go to forced labor every day. The occupier gave an order that all Jews must turn in their furs. If a piece of fur was found with a Jew, he would be immediately shot. The Germans carried out searches among the Jews after the period during which the Jews had to give up their furs. The bandits found old furs in the attic of a Biala Jew. His name was Moshe Meir Fajgenbaum. They took him out of his house and immediately shot him in the courtyard. This was not the only case. Such events occurred daily.

In April 1941, the murderers gave an order that the Jews had to be separated. That meant a “ghetto.” The commandant declared that if a Jew was found outside of the ghetto, he would immediately be shot. Jews were shot daily for this, that they had sneaked out of the ghetto to beg for a piece of bread. The ghetto became hermetically sealed with 4,500 Jews, a third of them from the shtetl; the back alleys were allocated for the ghetto. All of the Jews had to be packed into such a small area. People lived in all of the attics, in small cellars and stalls. The mortality was great; from 15 to 20 people died every day.

I will never forget the horrible picture my eyes saw in Gershon Yitzhak Mozelsho's stall. A family from Grice was there. When we entered the stall in the morning we saw a terrible picture: the man was asleep; the wife

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had died and a child was sucking the breast of the dead mother…

Another date that appears before my eyes is the 28th of April 1942. It was a Friday. The Gestapo drove in from Rawa at five in the morning, taking the best looking of the

 

bia034.jpg
Moshe Tabaszhnik

 

young five men and 3 women. The bandits took each of them in one car outside the city where the road leads to Zirowci and there each was individually shot in the face. The mothers and the fathers and the entire shtetl watched this sorrowful picture of what the bandits did. When they ended their work they turned to the Juden-rat to say that the Jews had to pay for the bullets that they had shot and gave an order that the excrement be quickly cleaned off from the field. They used such language. This

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could be done by a civilized people in the 20th century. Such things were unknown until then.

The entire shtetl of Jews trembled; we did not know what kind of evil decree each hour could bring. Perhaps they had thought of something else. We lived daily in the ghetto with such obsessive fear. People sold everything for groshns - the Christians came into the ghetto illegally. If only they had something with which to buy a piece of bread for the children.

In the month of July, the year of 1942, we heard that the Jews had been taken out of Neustadtel [Nowa Miesteczko], 20 kilometers from Biala. The Biala Jews began to prepare for the destruction that could come any day. We made backpacks and waited until the 26th of October 1942 arrived. It was a Tuesday. On Monday at dusk we learned that on Tuesday morning podwodes [wagons] would come to liquidate and remove the Jews from the ghetto. People began to cry and to scream. The sorrowful picture was indescribable.

The former mayor of the shtetl was a Volks-Deutsch [ethnic German]. His name was Ramlow. He wanted to calm the Jews. He said that the wagons that were arriving on Tuesday were for removing the Gypsies, not the Jews. The Jews did not believe what he said.

At eight in the evening the shtetl was surrounded by the Polish police and by gendarmes who served the Germans. In a group of six men, leaving our dearest our parents, wives, brothers, children, we wrested ourselves out of the ghetto at one in the morning. This was Monday or Tuesday night. We ran without a purpose. We did not know where we were running. We stopped at a Christian's eight kilometers from Biala, The village was named Pilawi. We were there for several days. We learned from the Christians who had driven the Jews from Biala

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to Tomoszaw that small children and their mothers were in the wagons. Men had walked. All of the things that had been prepared that each carried in a backpack had to be taken off and the last belongings had to be left. The murderers noticed that a Jew walking in the rows could not walk so fast and he was taken out of the row and immediately shot. The Christian explained that the Jew was Mordekhai Dovid Koper. There were many such cases. There was a lane three kilometers from Tomaszow; Lithuanians and Latvians stood on both sides. They beat the men, as well as the Christians who were driving the children and their mothers, so that they would go faster. When they arrived at the place, train wagons were already prepared, sprayed with chemicals. Dogs were set upon the Jews so that they would run into the train wagons faster. And when they were full, they fired shots so that even more would go into the train wagons. And when the train wagons were over-packed, they shut each train wagon and everything inside cooked; when they finally arrived at Treblinka, there was no living person. The Germans left the Jewish police to clean out the shtetl. For several days, Christians came from the villages and bought things from the Germans that remained in the residences where the Jews had lived. Dead Jews were found in the beds in many of the houses bought by the Christians. When the Jewish police finished the work, they were also taken out. Thus ended the great destruction of the Biala Jews the first Jews settled in Biala 700 years ago.

We wandered from one forest to another forest. Death threatened at every minute. We also made contact with partisans, leftist groups. Regrettably they did not want to take us. They said that the village knew that we were Jews and they could be liquidated. So each of us went our own way. Several of the group with which I had escaped were pointed out by the Christians and the Germans caught them. The Germans issued a decree that any Christian who hides and helps a Jew would immediately

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be shot. A Christian who indicated where a Jew could be found would receive sugar for it. Moshe Dovid Frank, Welwl Icykowicz, Itshe Tabasznik and Moshe Bernsztajn were the first who were captured by being pointed out. I remained with Shmuelik Lezerowicz.

I remember this was Friday, the 3rd of March 1943. We were in the forest, 10 kilometers from Biala. Christians caught us and beat us so murderously and then they asked that we dig our own graves. By chance, we escaped. On that day, Shmuelik Lezerowicz went to Warsaw. He took an active part in the Warsaw Uprising on the Aryan side. He fell in the struggle.

Later I met with Yekil Leski, Gutman Mogelnicki and his sister, Hudes, at the home of a Christian acquaintance. We were together for several days. They left me to go to another stall because I did not have any money to pay the Christian for keeping me. I remained alone, by myself. This lasted for several months. They looked for me. I met Leon Sztubert, Bela Elsztajn, Binem Golberg, Yisroelik Golberg, Darke Blosztajn.

We hid together at the home of a Christian whose name was Gorol, in the area of the village of Turobowice. On the 28th of October 1944 Binem Golberg left us to be with a Christian with whom he was well acquainted. His name was Eliasz. At the same time a group of Polish partisans appeared. They called themselves A. K. (Armia Krajowa [Home Army]). They had a secret order that if they caught any Jews they should be shot because every Jew is a communist. The 16-year old boy who wanted to save himself from the German bandits fell into the hands of the Polish partisan murderers. They caught him and murderously beat him so that he would reveal where Jews were present. The heroic 16-year old boy, whose main thought was that he be shot more quickly, told them they we were all going to meet at a designated place on the 5th of November, and this was not true. He was shot. The murderers asked the Christian to

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bury the body with his own hands in his own courtyard. The Christian told us this, that Binem Goldberg* had told the partisans they we would all meet on the 5th of November. The Christian thought that this was true; he advised us not to come together in that place.

*[Translator's note: The surname Golberg is used in some instances and Goldberg is used in others)

They arrived on the 5th of November at the place that Binem had mentioned and waited for everyone to meet there. After, the bandits went into the home of a Christian and asked him if he knew where Jews were hiding. The same Christian had also met me at the home of the Christian named Gorol, where we all had been at the same time. He explained that he had met one Jew and mentioned his name and spoke the Christian's name where he had seen me and where we all were. This was three kilometers from us. We were hidden in the attic of the stall. The night of the 5th of November we had a bad foreshadowing and we did not sleep. We heard heavy steps at 12 midnight, which were approaching the house. Yisroelik Goldberg was the first to jump down and we heard him stand still and they immediately fired shots. Our luck was that it was a dark night on which to chase him. They knew from the Christian that there was only one Jew here, so they all chased after Yisroelik Goldberg. Then Dorka Blosztajn, Leon Sztubert and I jumped down; Bela Elsztajn was the last to jump down.

We all met on the same night in a different stall. At that time a Jew was worse than a mad dog because when a mad dog ran away he was not chased. When the German bandits and the Polish partisan bandits learned that there was a Jew and that he had succeeded in escaping, they chased him until they caught and shot him.

There were Christians who helped Jews, who paid with their lives. One of them was named Gorol. The Christian was shot because he helped Jews. Brayndl Mogelnicki, Rywka Borensztajn and Henya Borensztajn were with this Christian. There were Christians

[Page 39]

who gave Jews to the Germans. They themselves murdered because they thought the Jews had money. There were many such cases. Avraham Artman was murdered by a Christian in Grzymkowice. The Christian was named Skusnecni. The Polish government sentenced him to life in prison. Before the liberation, the Polish partisans shot two Jews. One was from Biala and the second Jew one was from Neustadtel. The name of one of those taken was Menakhem Koper from Biala, I don't remember the name of the second one.

We were liberated on the 16th of January 1945. It was Wednesday. When we came to Biala, after the great destruction, the Christians ran after us the way they had run after gypsies. Some Christians welcomed us in a friendly way and on the faces of some of them could be read as is said You are still here? The houses all stood, but other people lived in them.

We never again saw our Moshes and Suras, who always strolled in the shtetl, but we saw the military. A great fear enveloped us; we were afraid to spend the night in the shtetl. We went to a village to an acquaintance and spent the night with him.

In the morning we turned to the military commandant. We told him that we were Jews, that we had lived here. The commandant took care of us. He gave us a place to live. We were seven people Yome Rozenbaum, Leon Sztubert, Bela Elsztajn, Yekil Leski, Yisroelik Goldberg, Dorka Blosztajn and Gutman Mogelnicki.

These were the Jews who came to Biala after the liberation. Three more Jews came three days later: Motl Tabacznik, Miryam Koper and Brayndl Mogelnicki.

We were in the forests for almost 27 months; sometimes we were hidden with Christians. Death was before our eyes every minute. Yekil Leski was shot in the house in Biala, on the 9th of May 1945.

We left for Lodz.

Jews no longer lived in Biala.

[Page 40]

bia040.jpg
Berish Goldberg father of the martyr Binem Goldberg, tortured by the Polish murderers.
Chairman of the cooperative bank for many years, a councilman in the city council, one of the most active comrades of Poalei-Zion Z.S., one of the most dedicated comrades, a sincere, good man

 


Binem Ben [son of] Berish Goldberg

by A.F.

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Donated by Michael Schoeman

Binem was murdered in Torbelic when he went to carry out a mission for his partisan group that was in hiding in the same village of Torbelic.

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He was caught by a group of Poles from the A. K. They demanded that he tell where his comrades were located. But the 16-year old boy, a son of the well-known Zionist worker, Berish Goldberg, did not betray his comrades and fell a victim murdered with sticks and iron bars until his young body could not bear anymore.

His bones are located in Jan Eliasz's courtyard.

He fell in the sanctification of God's name, as a martyr. His name will be perpetuated in the history of the great martyrology of the Jewish martyrs and heroes.

We will not rest until his bones are given a Jewish burial in the Land of Israel.

Honor his memory!

 

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