Events were moving much faster. On August 21 or about they again placed posters, not only in the ghetto but all over the city, stating that starting September first there would be a resettlement of the Jewish population to the east.
They said the resettlement would be organized according to street blocks, which streets and what everyone was allowed to take with them would be announced later on. Everyone was to have their melde- carte on hand, ready for inspection. Not obeying the order, by leaving ahead of time or hiding, would be punishable by death.
We still did not have our documents back and we were worried about being stopped without documents. Upon asking in the Judenrat, they would say each time "you will get them today." Many people in the ghetto had that empty feeling of something bad happening, and started to prepare hiding places in the attics and cellars. We did not. We were on the so called Judenrat protected list, and our landlord had a stamped document from the Gestapo as a carpenter. Wednesday, the 26th of August, started as usual. I came home from work and by the time we had supper it was already curfew time.
The 7:00 P.M curfew was strictly enforced, with the Jewish and Ukrainian police at the entrances. It was not easy to sneak in or out, even when a Jewish policeman did not want to notice it. In some cases people were caught and shot, especially children who were playing games or sneaking out to the Aryan side to steal or buy food. It was not worth risking your life for just being on the streets. So everyone stayed home and went to bed early for lack of something better to do. By 9:00 to 9:30 P.M. everyone in the house was in bed. Many nights I fell asleep thinking that no matter how bad it was I was still in my own bed in relative comfort and with my family around, yet wondering how long will it last.
It must have been after 10:00 P.M. and we heard a knock on the window and voices calling our names: Zalel Morgenstern, Abraham Morgenstern. We opened the window and saw the Jewish police who handed us our documents, stamped by the Gestapo.It was very strange, they promised the return of the documents every day, and now it could not wait until the morning when we report to work?
Everyone got up and dressed. We could not go back to sleep. My mother had a feeling that something was wrong. She told the men in the house to go down to the cellar and stay there, as she would cover the trap door with a piece of furniture. It was not much of a hiding place, since every house had a basement. Some people had their entrance inside the house with a trap door, and some had it outside. The basement had a dirt floor, as it mainly served to store food and materials for the carpenter shop.
After about an hour of hiding down there, my father gave up, saying it did not make sense to stay in such a damp place. It was not much of a hiding place and anyone coming in to search would look for a cellar door. We all went back upstairs, much to the disappointment of the women. They were discussing whether or not to go back to sleep, but were interrupted by a commotion in the distance. We opened the windows and could hear screams and shots in the distance, yet moving closer.
My mother sent me and a couple other men down to the cellar again. My father refused, saying it was useless. After staying about 10 or 15 minutes, I and the others decided to come up too. All the families were up and we wanted to be together. Within a short time, they were knocking on our door. The carpenter had barricaded the door with heavy furniture, but as they were banging and yelling - "Mach auf Jude Raus-raus." (Open up Jew Out- out.) We moved the furniture away and let them in. They were uniformed Germans and Ukrainian police. (Later, we found out that they were a flying squad that traveled from city to city, a special S/S Sonder commando). They were yelling and pushing us with rifle butts to get outside.
Getting out, my mother told my sister to hide under our bed, as the rest of us, under their command, marched out into the street. All around us we heard shots and screams. Some people who resisted to go were beaten, and some who did not move fast enough were shot on the spot.
They were marching us to the center of the Ghetto, the open square marketplace. With the stamped documents in our hands, my father and I were a little bit eased, believing we will be safe. On the way we merged with many more groups being led from different streets. Some were being beaten with whips for not going fast enough.
Reaching the Square, we saw German officers sitting behind a table surrounded by uniformed S/S men. The Square was all lit up, (they must have done it after the curfew). The officers were checking the Melde-carts to see if it had the Gestapo stamp. The women in the family of those with stamped documents were also supposed to be safe. Yet, the Germans were separating many and some of them were taken to the left, to the group of people who did not have stamped documents.
Our turn came to present the documents.
My father was holding onto my mother and me saying, in German, 'This is my wife and son." They wanted to separate my mother to the left side, but my father was pleading with them. Since the oncoming crowd was getting bigger,they decided to let her go to the right with us. They did not want to waste too much time on one individual being they had so much work ahead of them. It must have been around midnight, the night was clear and cold. We had our heavier clothes on, yet we shivered.
On the right side of the square, they separated men from women. My mother went to a group of women whose husbands were supposed to work for the Judenrat. It was a half a block away from us and she found herself among different groups. The confusion was high and we could not see her group from our location. Ours was the Judenrat group, and we formed the beginning of the groups which were separated according to professions and employment. The people who went to the left side were being led away and marched under guard, as soon as the group became large. It was repeated many times throughout the night. Later we heard that they were led to the prison and kept through the night in the yard, because the cells were filled with people that were sorted out during the last three-four weeks. In the afternoon they took them under guard, three miles to the railroad station.
At the spot where we were standing in the market place, they had tables set up with snacks and some bottles of whisky and vodka, to which some of the Germans were helping themselves. Sitting on a chair at one of those tables, I recognized the chief of the Gestapo, Kellner. I saw him from a distance, of course, during his previous visits to the ghetto.
Everybody dreaded this man and his dog. Standing through the night at that position, we constantly saw people being brought to this side of the square - individually. Many were talking to the German officers, some emptying their pockets and leaving their valuables on the tables, while some were beaten, evidently for not obeying their orders quickly.
At one point, they brought up a man with a goat. I knew the man from the section where we used to live near the river before the war. His name was Brandman and he had a stable with cows and goats. Here he was alone and leading a goat on a string. Although it was very comical, we didn't laugh. They kept that man for about ten minutes. After he emptied his pockets, they led the goat away and marched him away to the left side.
Throughout that time we were oblivious to all the shots and screams that were going on around us. We were standing like in a daze, shivering and hungry. My father and I always carried few pieces of bread in our pockets, not knowing why, but now it came in handy munching on it, even being stale.
As daybreak was approaching, our group grew to seventy people, much less than the 120 we were supposed to be. We did not know why. Evidently, some decided to hide and not take a chance with the Gestapo stamp. We looked around, piercing into the women's group, but could not see my mother.
Around 6:00 A.M. all the troops were assembled in front of the officers who addressed them. Then, the troops came over to the tables, helped themselves to drinks and snacks, and marched off again back in search for more Jews.
Later we found out that many people were hiding out in their homes and bunkers they previously prepared. Therefore, the troops were not able to meet their quota, and were sent back to search for more.
Within ten minutes, they were bringing in more people, beating the screaming people for trying to hide, and shooting some right at the square. All of us assembled on the side were thinking we were being spared.
A member of the Judenrat, named Buxbaum, was moving around freely in the square in his official capacity. He was an acquaintance of my father, one son was a Jewish policeman, while the younger son was standing in our group. We saw Mr. Buxbaum approaching the table where the Gestapo chief Kellner was sitting. We could not hear the conversation, but we saw him gesticulating with his hands and pointing at our group.
A moment later Kellner came up, standing in front of our group he said in German, 'Zehn Juden Hier" - ten Jews here. My father and I were standing like in a daze, cold and scared, oblivious to what he said, and not realizing that he wanted ten volunteers. A large number from our group jumped forward, while my father and I with some others remained in the back.
With a snickering smile Kellner came over to the back and counted off ten people himself and said, "March. " I was one of the ten. My father remained behind with all the others, including Mr. Buxbaum's son. We heard later that he realized that the quota the Germans set for themselves would not be met and they were going to take people from the group who was supposed to be spared. Trying to save his son, he asked Kellner for ten people to clear the bodies of those who were shot.
Kellner marched us to the tables and gave us over to the soldiers from the S/S Flying-Sonder-Commando, unknown to us at the time to be one of the cruelest and vicious outfits in the extermination of Jews.
It was about 8:00 A.M. They split us into three groups, assigning two S/S men to each. Two other fellows and I were led away from the square, I was handed a big pushcart and was told to follow them. They were leading us to the neighborhood where I used to live in my youth, so that every street and house was familiar to me. (The street we used to live by the river was not in the boundaries of the ghetto.)
They stopped us in front of a familiar house, the Haber family had lived there, and told us to bring out the dead bodies. They must have been those who did the killings, remembering each location. We went into the house and we didn't see any dead bodies, so we walked out. They yelled at us and told us to look under the beds. We went back, finding a man under one bed and a woman under another.
We carried their bodies to the pushcart and were told to continue to the second stop. We stopped on a side street and picked up a body in a Jewish policeman uniform. It was a boy I used to play with when we lived in that neighborhood. His name was Jacob Goldberg. I had no idea why he was killed on the street, because in that first action Jewish policemen were not touched. After a few stops, we filled up the pushcart with about ten bodies and they led us back to the market square to unload the bodies on the sidewalk in front of the butcher stores.
On our second trip, on a stop in a very small dilapidated old house, we were told to bring out the body. Upon entering we saw an old woman lying in bed, moaning for water. We gave her water and she told us, 'They shot me in the leg." We did not see anybody else and came out saying, "No bodies. " They again yelled at us and said to bring her out and lay her down in middle of the street.
One of the young S/S men took his rifle and shot her in the head. That was the first time my two companions and I witnessed a shooting at close range. Her head was shattered completely. At that time, we did not know what a dum-dum (hollow) bullet was. That's what they used to kill her.
After coming back to the square the second time, I noticed that the group I was standing with before, including father, was not there any more. The other groups of tradesmen were still there and knowing my mother should he with them, I was trying to spot her, but to no avail.
On our third trip with the pushcart, we were assigned two other S/S men, and they took us to the opposite end of the ghetto. We reached a courtyard where one of my friends, Englebach, used to live and I was quite familiar with the building. Therefore, I proposed to my companions that we should hide in the cellars and not come out. I also pointed out to them that the group we left behind on the square wasn't there any more, as well as a few other smaller groups. They were afraid to take a chance since the soldiers were waiting for us outside the building. I went into the cellars and remained there.
The others went back with the pushcart and the bodies. I don't know whether they were punished on the spot because of me, or more likely, after they got back to the square they were taken to the prison yard where everyone, who were not released, wound up. I never saw them again. They did not survive.
I am now quoting a witness, Zonka Berkowicz (Pollak), who together with her mother and ten year old sister were taken to the market square and from there to the prison yard. Miraculously, she and another girl were somehow saved.
From the Memorial Book of Chortkov - page 21:
"At 2:30 A.M. in the morning the Shupos (Schutz Politzei), Sender commandos and Ukrainian police, with whips in their hands, having merciless faces of murderers, were driving us out from our house. We join other Jews and we were assembled on the square near the Hotel Bristol, where the horse-carriages used to stay. And here, watching the scenes of children, being shot to death in their mother's hands and thrown from balconies. I recall the horrible stories from the barbarian times; but even those atrocities are pale, as compared with the cruelties and savagery before my eyes.
Wherever I look around, familiar faces. We are arranged in formation of sixes, and so we no to the prison-yard , where there are already several hundred more people gathered. The prison gates are locked and here we have to stay until the following day. Our faces reflect silent despair. People ask each other about the circumstances of their arrest, and we are wondering what's going to happen next. Groups are formed, friends look for each other; there are many wounded people with bloody injuries from having been beaten, children without parents, separated families.
It begins to dawn, and with the appearance of the sun, the heat grows.7'here is no water, and we quench our thirst with rainwater in the nearby barrels. Hours are passing with the heat becoming unbearable. We are like animals destined for slaughter and kept in a cage; but for those animals they spare neither water nor food. Everybody is hungry and forgets even the feeling of shame, making his ordure (relieving themselves) in public.
At 1:30 P.M. we hear the opening of the gate and we are ordered to step out. Everybody is sticking to the corners, to avoid being the first, but after a while, we give up and all of us go out. We are now ordered in ten-men formations and escorted from all sides by schupos, gendarmes and Jewish police.
Mickievitz Street is full of people, as in the days of big parades. We deliver the onlookers a wonderful show. They are the happy ones and privileged to stay alive...
We are sure we will be taken to the forest, where we can expect to be shot, but we are directed to the railroad station. It seems to me that I never walked carefree and without fear through these streets. The feeling of thirst grows more intense. My lips are dry and the tongue sticks to the palate. It is a terrible feeling. People got rid of their belongings to ease their way.
On the railway station, we are split up in groups of hundred twenty and more, and packaged off into freight cars. The doors of the cars are shut. It is dark and tense, impossible to stretch out your arms, absolutely no air to breathe, everybody strangles and chokes and you feel as if a rope were tied around your neck and such a terrible heat, as if fire had been set under the car.
About ten people from our group are placed near the door; whoever has hairpins, nails, fasteners, starts to bore between the boards to get a little bit of air. People behind us are in much worse plight. They take off their clothes and look as if obsessed by bestiality and madness. They are hawking, choking and driven into the utmost despair.
I cannot recall for how long we are waiting or after how many hours the train starts. But when after a long waiting, the train is in motion, a sigh of relief emanates from the mouths of those who are still alive. They hope, that now more air will find its way into the carriage, or it will start raining and a few drops will penetrate through the clefts. But none of these miracles happen.
It occurs to me that we are making our way towards Tarnopol. I notice that in our carriage there is more and more free space. People die and we are seated on their dead bodies. The remaining are raving and wild, mad from suffering, quarrel between themselves about water; mothers hand their children urine to still their thirst.
At night we are arriving at a station, where the train stops for some time. We can hear a conversation in Russian. We wonder what they will do to us next. A short ray of hope comes to our hearts; maybe we shall stay here to work. We hear many sounds, like that of a detachment of carriages, opening of doors, orders to undress, lamentations; we do not know where from, and whether there are more trains. Our train is driven back, and in our car there are still about 20 people alive. I remember my mother with 3 very poor voice asking us to ease our suffering and break open a small window, which if discovered, would not make a difference for us, being anyway condemned to death.
All of a sudden it becomes light in our car and from this moment I can hardly remember, how my mother insisted that I should jump out. I do not hesitate at all, because the motion of the train does not frighten me when I look on the dead bodies around me.
And then, I recall two countrymen leaning over me and insisting that I should run away. But all I wanted was to drink, drink, drink. I throw myself in a nearby pond, and I can hardly quench my thirst, which burns my stomach. I am pouring handfuls of water, with those hands which had lifted, a short while ago, dead bodies in the carriage.
Within a short distance from me, I notice a body of a woman from our car. She certainly has been shot to death by the Germans, who were on guard on the roof of the train. Soon I am discovered by a German, who escorts me to the nearby police station, but later I am escorted to the Rawa-Ruska prison and put into the cell No. 12.
Luckily, I arrive at the prison soon after it has been emptied of a big transport of Jews, and I find out that in this transport was Zosha Feldman from Chortkov, the daughter of Advocate Feldman.
There are two days more left for the next transport, and they were to be decisive for my destiny. Maybe, on account of my young age, the watchmen decided to leave me alive and kept me in the prison for ten weeks. Eventually, through their representation with the Juden- Rat, I am in a legal way directed to the ghetto.
Later on, my father delegates to the ghetto a man with "Aryan" papers, and he takes me to the ghetto in Buczacz, where I stay with my father and brother until the liquidation of the ghetto."
End of quote.
After a couple of hours in the cellar, I ventured out slowly. Not seeing anyone on the street, I went down hill towards our home which was not too far away. The streets were deserted.
Coming to the house, the entrance door was padlocked and sealed by the Gestapo with a sign, warning that breaking the seal is punishable by death. I jimmied open a side window, and went in hoping to find my sister there. I called her name repeatedly, looked under the beds, and in the cellar, but could not find her. I did not know whether they found her or she had come out herself.
I could not stay in the house and started to look for a place to hide. In front of our house was a building which housed, prior to the war, the SIebrew school and a Zionist club. The school building was bombed by the Germans, not because it was a Hebrew school, but since it was near the bridge. (Quite a few buildings nearby were destroyed by the aircraft missing the bridge.)
All that was left from that building were some walls and cellars. I decided to hide there. Across from it, was a big building which occupied a lecture hall and a cinema, prior to the German occupation. Now they had carpenter shops in there, and our landlord, Mr. Langer, was working there.
In the afternoon, I heard some commotion and voices from the carpenter shops. I decided to find out who was in there, with the faint hope maybe my sister would be there. Sneaking inside, I found our landlord, all his family (wife, son, and daughter), and some other carpenters that were working there. All those people were on the market square during the night, and by 10:00 A.M. were told to go back to their homes. Since their house was sealed, they stayed in the shop.
Mr. Langer said to me, "Your mother is hiding here somewhere. Go find her." He told me that she was sitting with his wife on the basement steps in front of a store on the market square, and they were the only two women not seen by the Germans when they came for the women in our group. Being very tired of standing, they decided to sit down at the bottom of the stairs and were not spotted.
I went upstairs looking through different rooms. Finding her, we hugged and cried.
There were only two of us left.
Through the upstairs windows, we heard noises coming from the main street which was a block away separated by alleys. We could see people being marched under guard, almost running toward the railroad station, two Km. away, while the gentile population was standing on the sidewalk, watching.
We would not dare to put our faces to the window, afraid to be seen from the street. It seems that the same Germans from the Sender commando, Ukrainian police, and also some Jewish police were now yelling at the marchers, forcing them to run.
At the time, we did not know where they were being taken to and what would happen to them. We held out some hope that maybe they were being resettled in labor camps in Russia. Because if they wanted to kill them, they could have done it in the prison or the forest outside the city. They have done it before, though not on such a scale.
At the station, they were loaded one hundred twenty people to a sealed cattle car. This was one of the cruelest way of transporting them. Without food and water and so many people in one car, many died on the way. Later on, they reduced the number of people to one car.
Somehow the Germans tried to take out all their wrath on our parts of the country, where Jewish life and customs were deeply rooted. They wanted to liquidate us taken to any of the concentration camps in Poland, Germany, or Austria, Well over two thousand people were taken in that first action. That night we stayed at the carpenter shop, afraid to go in or touch anything in our house.
The next day, new announcements were posted in the ghetto informing us that the people were resettled to the East (in Russia) for labor. As soon as they arrive there and get settled, they will be able to write letters and postcards to us. They also said that everyone should go back to work and resume normal life, since there would be no more deportations. The size of the ghetto was being reduced by half with a map showing exactly which streets.
We had to start again looking for a new place to live, as our house was outside the ghetto now. My mother met an acquaintance of my father, Mr. Pelter, who worked for the Judenrat. He was assigned an apartment in one of the houses where the owners were taken away and he gave us one room in his place. We had to leave all our furniture and most of our possessions behind. I managed to fill up a few sacks with linen, silverware, and photos and kept them under the bed in our new place. Many people had to stay in the streets and hallways for a few nights, until someone shared a place with them.
New rumors started that the people who were taken away wound up in a place called Belzec (some 250 Km away), were gassed, and their bodies are being turned to soap and fertilizer. We did not want to believe such horrendous rumors, but they persisted. Their source was some Polish people, employed by the railroad, and the population around the death camp - Belzec.
The German authorities were encouraging us with announcements to resume a normal pace of living and to work diligently. They assigned jobs for some and allowed small store owners to stay open with very little to sell.
The ghetto streets were encircled with walls on three sides, the fourth being the River, Seret. Some of the open alleys were closed with brick walls, and very few were left open for entrances. The openings were guarded by Jewish policemen on the inside and Ukrainian police on the outside.
Our former landlord and his fa~mily also moved into the same building. His son and Mr. Reiter's son became Jewish policemen. Mr.Reiter's wife and daughter were also taken away in the first action.
There was a new Jewish police chief appointed, a refugee from the nearby town of Kopyczynce, who married Mr. Langer's daughter and moved into our building. There were very few marriages during the German occupation, theirs was one of the few. Somehow our building, and a few surrounding buildings were inhabited by people connected to the Judenrat, in one way or another.
In the beginning of October, during Rosh-Hashana Holidays, rumors started again, this time that the Germans were restarting new actions in some places. This time almost everyone began preparing hiding places for either themselves, or for larger groups. Across from our place was a house which belonged to a family whose son was a policeman. They took in his friends and their families who also worked for the police. Some of the men from that house were working on preparing a shelter. We could see stones, bricks and mortar being carried in. With the approaching of Simchat-Torah Holiday, the rumors were that there will be an action tonight.
We were scared. The man we stayed with, Mr. Reiter, asked the policemen to take us into their shelter and they agreed. As darkness came we went there and saw them still working on the shelter.
They partitioned the cellar with a stone wall, made a trap door entrance through the kitchen floor which would be covered with a heavy piece of furniture. The original part of the cellar would still be accessible through the front of the house and inside the hallway. Food and water was prepared. The men were putting the finishing touches on that wall and the mortar was still wet.
With us, the number of people in the shelter was about thirty persons, including a few children and one infant. After the last person entered, the men above covered the trap door in the kitchen with a heavy piece of furniture. The idea behind that wail was that whoever will enter the cellar and come near the wall would think that this is the end of the building and would go on to the other parts of the cellar.
People were talking in whispers, but after a while the few months old infant started to cry. As the evening progressed, the crying would go on and off and no matter what the mother tried to do was of no avail. She was told that the infant would endanger the whole group, she should take a pillow and smother the baby to death. Otherwise, someone else would have to do it. It was very heart-breaking not only for the mother, but for everyone else. She agreed.
Within a couple of hours, we started to hear the familiar screams and shots, and soon enough we heard German voices and dogs barking in front of our building. Everybody was told not to move and hold their breath. There was deadly silence, you could hear a pin drop, even with such a large group of people.
We heard the footsteps of the Germans coming down from the front of the house and the dogs running around the cellar barking. Nobody thought of the dogs before, and now we were sure they will sniff us out. They shone their big flash lights, and the reflection penetrated through some of the cracks of the barely finished wall, directly on peoples faces and bodies.
I still can not understand how they did not discover us, especially the dogs. We stayed there for the rest of the night. In the morning the policemen came, opened up the entrance and said it was over. They were able to catch only about five hundred people, because many had good shelters.
The people were taken directly to the railroad station, loaded into the cattle cars, but this time they did not put as many to a car as before. The Jewish police had to help with the loading of people onto the train. After they finished, they were told to accompany them to the resettlement place and closed the doors on them.
The train went in the same direction as before, Tarnopol - Lvov, destination Belzec death camp.Some of the Jewish policemen, being more knowledgeable as what was going to happen, were carrying small tools on themselves: hammers, saws and knives. As the train was rolling some distance away from our city, some of them managed to saw through the small window and the barbed wire and to jump from the train. The German guards on the roofs were shooting at them, and only five or six made it back to the ghetto, after they spent a few days in the fields hiding and walking at night.
Again they made the ghetto smaller, announcing that this was the last resettlement, and from now on the Jewish population will be under the protection of the Wehrmacht (army). They wanted everybody to report to the military command for new identifications, in order to be able to obtain work.
We knew that they wanted again to lull our senses. But, their army did take over the control of some warehouses and trade shops. Again, many people lost close members of their family, and children remained without parents. Many people were resigned, not caring where they would live and where they would work.
Some people still believed that the people, taken during the actions, were taken for resettlement; if not, why would they bother putting them on trains? The gentiles were telling us, that in some nearby towns they shot people on the outskirts, into prepared graves.
Also, the Germans were spreading rumors, that the Jews are being resettled to the east and north. Some wanted to hold on to any hope, no matter how small of a straw, that maybe their loved ones are still alive.
Our house remained in the ghetto, so we did not have to move again. in November, with the help of Mr. Reiter, I was able to secure a job in a furniture warehouse. We repaired furniture that were confiscated from Jewish homes,left behind by the people who were taken away.
After restoring the furnitures, they were shipped to Germany for distribution among the German population. The empty homes and apartments were then taken over by the local population.
Going to and coming from work, we were escorted by the Jewish police. The work was not hard, but nobody could give his best effort under the circumstances.
Life in the ghetto became harder with every day, many people elderly and children who were left alone did not have enough food. The Judenrat provided hot soup once a day, and they had to go there to Set it.
Our own situation was not that bad, because Mr. Reiter was able to provide food with extra coupons and my mother cooked for him. Many other people were selling off, or trading, their possessions and valuables to the gentiles by the ghetto gates.
In many homes they had ongoing parties trying to live it up and have a good time. For money, they could obtain many luxuries in spite of a very high inflation. Some people were risking their life in order to obtain items on the black market or sneaking out of the ghetto. They were saying, "there is nothing to lose. We are all doomed, the ghetto is surrounded and there is nowhere to escape."
On Sundays, many people would gather in front of the Judenrat to discuss the political situation or any news that traveled through the gentile grapevine and compare it to the German and Ukrainian newspapers. On one of those Sundays, a car with Polish detectives pulled in front of the Judenrat and went inside. We tried to scatter, even though it was not a working day.
When they left, we were told that they had guns and ammunition for sale, but the leaders of the Judenrat were afraid to buy it from them - being afraid of a set up.
The Poles were able to sell the guns to individual people for exorbitant prices. Also at that time, many people were trying to obtain at any price poison capsules. There were few doctors, who practiced in secret, and a member of a pharmacist family who saved some of those capsules which later reached the black market. Some people were trying to secure hiding places with gentiles, while others tried again the approach of obtaining Aryan papers, traveling to big cities, and living as Poles, Ukrainians, or "Volksdeutsche" (gentiles with German ancestry).
I decided to wear everyday under my regular clothing an overall in which I had large pockets. Previously, my father had some heavy material and at the beginning of the German occupation, gave it to a tailor to make an overall for me. I never wanted to wear it before, but now thanks to its deep pockets, I was able to keep a hammer, a screwdriver, a pocketknife, and a little handsaw. I felt more secure with these tools. I also kept a Russian passport on me, which was a foolish thing to do on my part. Everybody burned their passport as soon as the Germans entered, including my family. However, I felt proud obtaining that passport in 1939 and voting in the elections at that time, and I decided to keep it.
I knew well if I would be caught with that document I would receive extra punishment. Inside the passport, I also kept a worn out yellow piece of paper. It was the affidavit that my father's brother, from New York, sent him in 1923 for visa application. It was faded and wrinkled with part of the address missing. This overall was on me all the time till our liberation on the 30th March 1944, throughout our wandering at different places.
The German authorities were assigning separate buildings for workers and their families (if they still had them) to live and work there. In a very short time there were buildings with only carpenters, others with tailors, shoemakers, etc. They were under the jurisdiction of the S/S officers Pal and Tomanek, and were located near the Judenrat.
Our warehouse was still located outside the ghetto, and one day, while going to work, I saw my former Russian friend-Polluch walking on the sidewalk.
I did not believe my eyes. He saw me too, but could not approach me, since we were marched under the Jewish police guard. I ran over to him and said, "What are you doing here?" He looked down, and said he could not talk much. They, his superiors, told him to go back and stay behind the German lines as a Ukrainian, and now he is working for them in the office. Also, he asked not to tell anyone that I know him. I could not figure out what he could be doing, but he definitely could have made it back to Russia on his tank. People who left after him made it with a horse and buggy. I met him after the liberation and he explained that his mission was to gather intelligence information.
Towards the end of November and winter approach, we heard that a labor camp is being formed some fifteen miles outside our city. It is going to be located on a big farm, under the jurisdiction of the Wehrmacht (army). Even the Judenrat members were sending their families there. Now, this was the first time we heard that people are going voluntarily. Usually nobody wanted to go to a camp before and people even paid money to stay out, but now the elite (members of the Judenrat) is going.
Naturally, we had the feeling that something wrong is going to happen again. The next Sunday, at the beginning of December, when I came near the Judenrat, I was told that the Gestapo chief Kellner came this morning to the Judenrat for a conference with the leaders.
On his way out he told some people standing there, that if he will see a Jew on the street January 1st, 1943, he will say good morning" to him. Some people were arguing it can not be true, since it is only a month away, but some believed it.
I, myself, believed it and came home to tell my mother. We were both very depressed and dazed. It was the feeling of being in a cage and with no way out. There were still approximately 4,000 people in the ghetto, and we could notice a larger presence of Ukrainian and German police outside the ghetto boundaries. Many people were resigned and oblivious to whatever was happening around them. Many were emaciated, losing their normal skin color from lack of food, and giving up any hope. My mother and I had the feeling that sooner or later they would repeat their "actions" and liquidate us.
All work for Jews outside the ghetto ceased after the action. I stayed inside the house, afraid to go out and get caught without a job. The Judenrat was informed that I have no work. They wanted me to come to their office and be at their disposition. The man they sent for me told me "lf you will not So, they will send a policeman for you. " The Germans demanded a certain number of people from them everyday. My mother did not want me to go. But, I was afraid if they came for me, they will take her too, since we were not supposed to live in that building.
On my way to report, I met a Jewish policeman named Weissman, who was coming for me. Me recognized me and said, "Why are you running away? Why don't you come when they call your I responded, "Don't you see dial I am coming~" He grabbed me and led me like a criminal. I resisted saying, "Don't pull me, you see I'm coming on my own." The Jewish police were not armed, but they carried rubber truncheons and he hit me with it.
I got out of his grip and ran away. He ran after me and a few other policemen joined the chase. I managed to elude them and came back to the house. I told Mr. Langer what happened and he took me to his daughter and son-in-law's room to stay with them.
When the chief came from work, he told me "Don't worry, nobody will touch you. " Of course, the police came looking for me, but they neither dared to go into his room, nor did they know I was inside.
Through the mediation of Mr. Pelter, they put our names on the list of people going to the camp farm in Svidowa, some 15 miles away. For that privilege, my mother gave away the rest of her jewelry. Within few days, the Judenrat notified us to assemble in front of their offices and take as little as possible with us. The horse driven carriages, guided by peasants, were ready, five to six persons were loaded onto a carriage, and we left the ghetto in caravan style.
All we had with us was placed in two sacks which included our family pictures, my business school diploma and, a bunch of Sherlock Holmes and Lord Lister detective story magazines. I used to subscribe to these magazines for a few years and liked to reread them.
When we arrived there, we saw three new wooden barracks, plus more under construction to accommodate more people. The farm was surrounded by barbed wire fence, and we immediately started to organize our living quarters. Being it was in the midst of winter, there was no farm work except helping with cleaning the barracks and stables.
I was assigned to help the carpenters, building the new prefabricated barracks, while my mother was assigned to the common kitchen. The Judenrat from Chortkov assigned one of their members as director of our camp, and also sent in a few policemen with their families.
Within a few weeks, we had about 15 of those barracks erected with double bunk beds that could accommodate a few hundred people. We were, at that time, about 150 people with no children. The farm itself, in prewar days, belonged to a Polish nobleman and most of the peasants in that village worked for him, beside the little land they had to work for themselves.
During the Russian take over, it was a collective which belonged to the government. Now, it was administered by the German army, whose man ran it from the nearby city of Tluste. The army was experimenting with some kind of a plant, one that could aid the production of artificial rubber. They called the plant "coke sagiz." They had plenty of cheap coolie labor from the peasants and now they were preparing room for free Jewish labor.
Besides the director assigned by our Judenrat, the Germans had a trusted Jewish man from Berlin who was in charge of supervising the forced labor camps in our region and the Jewish police in nearby cities. While those labor camps were liquidated, they gave him an extra assignment to supervise our camp farm. He used to show up once a week, gather us outside and deliver a pep talk in German, encouraging us to work hard under the protection of the army and obey their orders. Anyone who would not conform, would be punished and sent back to the ghetto.
His name was Mr.Wolf. He wore a black type uniform with an army hat, polished boots and a whip. He could easily be taken for a German, except he did not have a gun.
Not only were we scared of him, but the peasants were too. He took over a couple of rooms in the village at a farm house, and made the farmer and his family sleep in the stable. He had a lot of authority, and for any little infraction, he would use his whip not only on Jews, but also on the peasants.
I was sent on errands to that house many times, bringing food and supplies for him and the parties he used to make. He had a couple of boys from the camp as his trustees, and any girl that he saw and liked in the camp, they would deliver her to him on a pretext that she had to clean the rooms. If he stayed over the weekend, many of them were kept overnight. One of the girls, I knew from my business school class, who was alone already, told me all about it. She did not survive. We could not understand how a Jew could have so much authority.
After the barracks were finished some of the younger men were assigned to work in the stables on a rotating system. My turn came every third day, or sometimes every other day if they needed extra work.
One day, a Jewish policeman, whose father was a member of the Judenrat that was still in the city, called for me to report for work the next day. I tried to explain to him that I worked the day before, but he wouldn't listen. He wanted to excuse somebody else and take me instead, but I refused to go. We had a scuffle, and people broke it up. He then threatened to report me to Mr. Wolf.
The day that Mr. Wolf was due to arrive, another policeman came for me and took me to an empty barrack, and locked me up for a few hours. When Mr. Wolf came they reported my refusal to him, and he walked in with some of the policemen to the barrack I was in. My mother was frantic, trying to enlist the help of some people from the Judenrat. But it did not help. He wanted to set an example, and decided to whip me ten times. People were gathered outside, my mother was crying, and he began to whip me on my bare skin. I only remember three or four, after that I fainted, and I was told he stopped. They kept me in that barrack overnight and I was released the next day.
In January and February, the winter nights were long and cold. People gathered in the barracks where the members of the Judenrat lived. Some of them were retelling their stories of trips to Vienna and Paris.
One young man, Jonas Altschuler, had a very nice voice and used to sing nostalgic Jewish and Polish songs. He was a barber and a nephew of Mr. Langer, in whose house we lived in the ghetto, and he gave me free haircuts. Another man, Mr. Shteiger, that used to live in a kibbutz in Palestine in the late 1920's described for us the life there.
The people also discussed the political situation, and how the allied armies would establish a second front in Europe and that some of our people would be saved. They also envisioned that after Germany would be defeated, they wouldn't be allowed to have their own army, and not be allowed to have a higher education for a long time, and specially a defense industry. (How wrong they were). If there would be any survivors from our region, nobody would stay here anymore. Anyone who has relatives in America would go there, and the rest to Palestine where a Jewish state would be established.
There were many people in our city who emigrated to different countries in the last years before the war. Many went to North and South America; and some to Palestine as members of different Zionist groups or students, if their families could afford paying for it. There were also people who hall all their papers ready for emigration and with the outbreak of the war could not leave. I have cousins who were lucky to leave with their family to Argentina in 1938.
In March, the snow started melting. The farmers began plowing the fields around the farm, and we were taken to fertilize the fields by hand. It was a very hard and tedious work. We carried sacks with smelly, black fertilizer, as the wind blew some of it back in our faces and eyes. The farmers told us it was from human bones. It was a very difficult couple of weeks for us doing that work, especially for my mother.
More and more people were arriving from our ghetto and the nearby ghetto of Tluste, including more members of the Judenrat. The barracks became crowded and we had to share ours with more people.
They told us that life in the ghetto was deteriorating; people are locked up, as if in a cage, and many are buying poisons so as not to suffer. Many were lacking food and had to beg on the streets, especially helpless people who didn't have anybody to take care of them. On the other hand, people were making parties every night, living it up and trying to use up their money.
Everyone had a feeling that sooner or later the Germans would come in again and liquidate the rest of the ghetto.
During the month of April, we heard that there is a need for laborers in another farm, 5-6 miles away. A few fellows and I decided to go and investigate. Since it was forbidden for Jews to go anywhere, we took off our arm- bands with the Star of David and walked through the fields and side paths in order to avoid attracting attention.
When we arrived at the farm, I immediately liked the place. The farm was situated on of a hill with forests nearby, and according to the farmers the forests stretched for several hundred KM, deep into Russian territory. The back of the farm sloped down steeply into a river with the forests on the other bank. One side was separated by a few miles of fields before reaching the forest, while the other two sides faced the village of Ulashkovce.
From the farm which was surrounded by a five foot stone wall, I could see the main road approaching the village and any movement on it. There was a big main gate with a peasant as a watchman, but anyone could sneak in or out through holes in the stone wall, The openness made us feel as if we would not be locked up as if in a cage.
There were only four prefabricated wooden barracks that would be assigned to the laborers. The farm was managed by a retired German army officer who was wounded on the Russian front. He lived there in a nice big house with his wife and two girls.
We asked for the director to see us. He came out, his name was Eppner. He was tall and slim, walking with a limp, and dressed in civilian clothes. He told us we would mostly work on those rubber plants, we would live in the barracks, and could also bring our families, since there is enough food for everybody.
We went back to our farm and told the people about the new place, but most were reluctant to leave. My mother agreed with me, even though she had to leave behind, in this camp, many people she knew. We organized a group of over thirty people, took our few belongings and went, the same way as before, to our new place in Ulashkovce.
We occupied only two barracks, and organized our daily routine. I was assigned to the stables and later on to the fields plowing, riding a horse. My mother was in the kitchen where she cooked with others for the director's family and us.
The back windows in our barracks were faced to the steep slope and the river, or to the open fields and forest, giving us a sense of a little freedom of movement. We instructed everybody, in case of emergency, to try to run through the tall fields into the forest and meet together there.
The farm had an Ukrainian supervisor, named Bezpalko. He used to be an officer in the Austrian army during World War I, and he spoke German well. He was not an anti-Semitic, and since he felt sorry for us, he made sure that we were not mistreated by the farmhands. We were told by the peasants that he was the leader of the underground Ukrainian Nationalistic group "Bandera,"which was fighting for an independent state of their own.
The one the Germans established in 1941 was short lived. After the war they fought the Russians, and the underground is still in existence today. Around Pesach time, we heard the Germans made another action in Chortkov-taking away a large number of people and shot them outside the city, on the airfield the Russians had started to build.
We worked the fields throughout June, in all weather. During rainy days, the Ukrainian supervisor stayed at the edge of the field all covered up, not wanting to get wet. We tried to destroy as many rubber plants as possible without arousing suspicion, adding our little efforts to the war against Germany. Belatedly, we heard from the peasants about the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and the respect it had on the rest of the Jews.
At that time, we also heard that the Germans made a final action in the ghetto of Chortkov and declared the city "Judenrein," (clear of Jews). There was no more ghetto. Any Jew, found anywhere, was shot on the spot.
Some people went into hiding with gentile families who knew them well. Some gentiles also took in Jews for large sums of money or valuables, and some betrayed them to the Germans after taking their money.
The empty ghetto in the city was constantly being watched for any survivors, who were hidden in the bunkers. They had to come out eventually for food and water. If they suspected someone was hiding in a building, they burned it.
Many people from our ghetto and the surrounding towns made their way to the forests, either in our vicinity or in another county. They dug bunkers and tried to stay near each other, going out at night to scrounge for food prevailed, with nightfall we went hack to the farm, and found out that it was a false alarm. The policemen came to meet with the farm supervisor, Mr. Bezpalko.
Beginning of July with harvest time approaching, some of the Jews from the farms in the surrounding villages were brought in daily, by horse and wagon, and taken back at night. Later on, they stayed for a few days at a time in the adjoining barracks. Some days there were additional 80 - 100 people who would come, and the place became quite crowded.
My mother and I decided to move to a building near the main gate. One of the rooms was occupied by two men from Chortkov: Mr. Beryl Brande and Mr. Schlomo Goldstein, and they gave up one double bunk bed for us. A Jewish watchmaker from Tluste with his family, wife and two daughters, lived in the second room which had a window facing the village. A mechanic and his family from Chernovitz, Rumania lived in the third room, after they were stopped on their escape to Russia.
There were two more rooms on the same level which were used as offices for the management, in addition to the ground floor which was occupied by a Polish farmer. He worked on the farm, and his wife was cooking special meals for some of us for a fee. Occasionally, we would eat our main meal there which included some meat (horse meat), the kind of food we would not have from the farm kitchen. We considered it a luxury and we could afford it only when my mother sold one of her personal items with a peasant woman.
The German director used to threaten us occasionally if we wouldn't work hard, saying he would call the Gestapo from Chortkov to take us away.
News from the Russian front started to become more encouraging and that gave us hope to hold out. The barber, Jonas Altshuler who came with us from Svidova, was on very good terms with our director and especially his wife. She liked him and used to take him along, riding a horse into the village and vicinity. He also took care of their personal horses and used to entertain their daughters who were eight and ten years old, singing and playing with them.
The director also had another Jewish fellow from Jagielnica whom he liked, whose name was Hanoch. He also spoke good German, therefore he was the liaison between the farmers, supervisors, and the director.
On a few occasions in August, I was assigned to work with other people at a trashing machine that separated the grain from the stalks. It was a back-breaking job to lift a bunch of stalks heavy with grain with a pitch-fork, high overhead into the trasher. The chaff and the dust filled my throat, causing me to constantly drink water which the Ukrainian supervisor provided all day. Many women fainted and were replaced by men. That's how I was assigned to that job, and luckily it only happened two or three times.
The rest of the days, I worked in the stable helping out with feeding and grooming of the horses. The farm hands treated me nicely, and they used to share their lunch meals with me which their wives or children brought them. We couldn't complain of lack of food. In addition, Mr. Brande and Mr. Goldstein had money to buy food from the farmers. They shared the food with us, and in the quarters where we stayed there were stoves which we used for cooking.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Chortkov, Ukraine Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 21 Aug 2005 by LA