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[Page 855]

Destruction and Holocaust

 

The Death of the Jewish Population in Czyzewo

by Shimon Kanc

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Czyzewo, a shtetl [town; the plural is shtetlekh] in the Bialystok wojewodshaft [region or province], experienced the same fate as the other shtetlekh in this region. The Hitlerist occupiers also created a separate ghetto here. The life of this ghetto was not different in principle from life in all of the other ghettos of this region which were under Soviet rule until the German attack on the Soviet Union.

The Jews of this shtetl actually lived as if in a ghetto before the war. But despite the fact that, in the first months of the German occupation, Jews came running here from other shtetlekh, the Germans drove the Jews out of their houses, restricting their right to live only in several streets.

The bell that the commissar asked to have made in order to make it easier to call the people together in the middle of the night earns particular attention here. This shows that the regime in the shtetl knew that the ghetto would exist for many days and gave it the character of an interim camp that they could liquidate at any moment at once.

The reason here was not the need of residences for the non-Jewish population because the apartments, half in ruin, burned, long stood empty. Rather it was a result of the system to torture the Jews, humiliate them with inhumane living conditions. After the first aktsia [action – usually a deportation], the ghetto was reduced to five houses. With the return of the escaping Jews, it [the ghetto] was given the opportunity to be used again.

At the beginning, the ghetto was not closed. The residents could move freely, go to the villages to obtain food. The Germans shut their eyes to this. This took the burden of feeding the ghetto from them. The Jews worked for absolutely no pay. After the first aktsia that took place on the 1st of November 1942, the ghetto was fenced in with wire. It appeared that the ghetto lasted longer than the Hitlerists had calculated for unanticipated reasons. It happened because of the necessary work carried out by the Jews.

In the various ghettos in Poland there were often transfers of Jews from one ghetto to another. The Hitlerists used these policies as one of the instruments to annihilate the Jewish population, leading them to a condition of apathy and passivity.

The Germans also looked the other way and pretended not to see the arriving Jews. There was even a case when the commissar sent a special representative to the surrounding shtetlekh recruiting Jews for Czyzewo. The commissar did this because of a shortage of working hands. The representative came back without anything because Czyzewo was well known in the area as the place that was designated to be liquidated more quickly.

Few of the escaping Jews who wandered about on the roads and in the forests and villages decided to return to Czyzewo. Many Czyzewo Jews perished in other shtetlekh, murdered by the Polish gangs and local peasants.

When the war broke out there 3,000 Jewish souls in Czyzewo.

According to the witness testimonies of the survivors, over 1,500 Jews were driven out during the first aktsia. Later, over 2,500 souls were taken to Zembrova[Zambrow]. This shows that there were people from other shtetlekh in Czyzewo who came here during the first days of the war.

Despite the great poverty, the population in Czyzewo ghetto did not experience the typhus and dysentery epidemics. However, they were not spared later when they were in the Zembrower barracks with the thousands of Jews from other shtetlekh.

The plan of the Gestapo to liquidate the Czyzewo Jews was not distinguished by any particular preciseness. As in many other areas they economized on transport for taking them to Auschwitz and other death camps and annihilated them just several kilometers from our city.

The Hitlerists prepared the first and largest mass-aktsia two months before they took over the shtetl. It should be understood that the members of the Judenrat [Jewish council] did not clearly know about the plans for annihilation. They went through the houses and convinced the Jews that they should not escape because, as they were told, it was usual to be recruited for work.

This shows that just as everywhere else, the Germans also placed a great deal of thought here into the assistance of this Jewish administrative body that they installed. The methods of the aktsia itself also were the same. The ghetto was surrounded with a strong cordon of gendarmes, S.S. members and Ukrainian and Polish granatowa policja [Blue Police, popular name of the police organized by the General Government]. Driving those remaining and hidden Jews onto the collection point was first carried out by the Polish police. After them, the German S.S. members entered the residences to verify and finish the work.

The most capable were left for work in the German enterprises. The old and crippled were murdered on the spot. The faces of the Hitlerist criminals were twisted in devilish grimaces, having lost every human expression. The aktsia was carried out in conditions of increased terror, inhuman screams and terrible bellowing from the members of the Gestapo who operated with whips and shot blindly at innocent people, surprised and frightened. There could be no talk of the least resistance. Every thought of overt action was shut off by fear.

In these conditions every initiative to escape was truly heroic. There were many cases in Czyzewo. There still lived in people a strong will to save themselves.

No civilians took part in covering the holes in Szulborze. Evidence of this is that the peasants from the surrounding villages did not clearly know about the mass murder. Rumors went around, accompanied by mysterious superstitions, about devils and specters. It appears the work was done by Polish policemen.

The peasants in the Czyzewo area, who had not lived badly with the Jewish population until the war, were under terrible fear after the second aktsia and, therefore, did not show the appropriate readiness to help the Jews who had escaped from the ghetto. Of the hundreds of Jews who strayed to the villages and forests, not more than several score survived; of them a number perished after the liberation in the pogrom that the Poles carried out during the first weeks of the liberation.

No organized resistance took place in Czyzewo. Only several young people succeeded in reaching the partisans who fought in the Baranowicze Woods, near Bialystok. There were cases of passive resistance that expressed itself in sabotaging the work, not registering, scorn at the Jewish policeman and the escape to the forest that did not always come as a result of fear of death. Facts show that during the aktsia, Jews were not aware that they were being taken to their death. During the selection no one wanted to be one of the few whom the commissar let remain. The commissar had to carry out the selection with force.

The Czyzewo ghetto did not have any contact with the ghetto in Bialystok. The young did not have any knowledge of the heroic resistance that was put up by the young Jews in Bialystok. But among those fighting in Bialystok itself were also found several Czyzewo young people. Members of the Zionist organization.


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During the “Quiet” Days

The Beginning of the Second World War in Czyzewo

Yitzhak Wrona

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Friday, the 1st of September, 1939, around four o'clock in the morning.

The larger part of the Jewish population was still absorbed in deep sleep. Only a few women, who were hurrying to prepare for Shabbos, were already awake. And suddenly there was a strong thunder that came closer and became stronger, noisier, but no, it was not thunder, it was airplanes; they were coming closer to Czyzewo. Then they were over the city and disappeared with frightening noise. People ran out of the houses in fear, lifted their eyes to the sky; whose airplanes were they? Polish on maneuvers? A second squadron flew in and disappeared in the direction of the first. Everyone already knew: it was war! Their mouths had not yet said this. Mothers thought of their children in the firing positions! Who knows? No one knew that the airplanes had already destroyed all of the Polish trains, all of the Polish military collection points, deep into the east.

At nine o'clock the radio reported that Germany had attacked Poland without a declaration of war. The Jewish population received the news with a heavy feeling and with fear, but externally calm. So passed several days.

The mobilization was expanded, new groups, new age groups were called and, at the same time, many of the mobilized returned. There was not enough clothing for the large army, not enough weapons. Contingents came and contingents went. The scenes of departure were dreadful; mothers accompanied their children, wives led their husbands, and children held on to their fathers. All cried and mourned the fate of those mobilized who were leaving Czyzewo and, at the same time, there were reports of the first Czyzewo fallen, Feywl Wajngold, Yosl's grandson, Moshe, and still others. The same reports said that the Hilterists were marching, destroying all positions of resistance. The number of fallen Czyzewers at the front reached scores.

Day after day, enemy airplanes flew over the shtetl and dropped incendiary bombs. This enveloped the entire shtetl in flames of fire. And the first victims of the bombings were: Mordekhai the baker and his son, Leibush the Szlachtchenike's [the generous person's] son-in-law and others, up to ten men. The mood was mournful; people went around dejected. It is impossible to describe what Czyzewo Jews lived through during the sad days. People ran like poisoned mice; they wanted to save what they could. One carried a pillow, one a piece of furniture, one a child who had fainted. The wives of the first fallen ran around demented with wild voices. The special militia drove the residents to their homes. The firemen's siren warned with an alarm that they should quickly seek protection against the incoming airplanes, until they finally became indifferent to the alarms.

A squadron of German airplanes appeared on the third of December; the street emptied quickly. Strong explosions were heard; all of the Jewish houses were immediately in flames. They could not think of slipping out of the city. Everything burned; all of the streets from one end to the other. People ran out of the burning houses. The smoke choked. They ran to the open fields and when the German tanks entered Czyzewo, the shtetl was already one large ruin.

An order was issued; the entire population, young and old, had to register for work. Up to the 300 people must appear each day; the work was very difficult and they were often rewarded for their heavy labor – with blows.

According to the agreement by the Germans and the Soviets, Czyzewo belonged to the Russians. The last act of the German retreat was to brutally beat everyone they encountered. When the Russians entered the shtetl, we wished ourselves mazel-tov [literally, good luck, but also used to mean congratulations].

* * *

Let us be permitted to remember the names of my closest and dearest who perished at the hands of the fascistic murderers:

My mother, Tsibia, my sister, Czarna, and my brother, Eidl.

May my words be a contribution to the Sefer Matzeyvah [Book of Headstones] in memory of the Czyzewer Jews who perished.


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Desolate Days and Nights

Jentl Kitaj

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I am one of the very few survivors of Czyzewo from that ruthless time of annihilation.

I was then still a young girl, barely 13 years old. Where can I find the strength to report the pain of a child who sees how all of her closest were being murdered and herself looks death in the eyes every day?

How much and what I write is not significant and pales in comparison with what I lived through.

However I know that this is my duty, the sacred duty of a Czyzewer Jewish child and it is like erecting a monument, a book of headstones for our destroyed, former Jewish shtetl [town], Czyzewo.

Therefore, I will attempt to communicate here at least a small part of my experiences during that ruthless time.

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Upcoming Storm

The fate of the Czyzewer Jews was – with certain nuances – similar to the fate of the Jews in other shtetlekh [towns] in Poland. It was quiet in the beginning. The bullying of the Germans did not take on a mass character. When they cut off the beard from someone, gave a slap, even shot a Jew somewhere outside the city, they found some kind of reason for it. The public began to be calm and to think that “the devil was not so terrible as he was portrayed.”

There began to be heard those who decried the pessimists, those who did not want to be calmed and believed that it was a

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bad situation. The talk of those who did not allow themselves to be thrown into melancholy began to be listened to, those who boldly and often appeared at the market and said that no community of Jews would be slaughtered.

There was no great activity in the shtetl. In 1939, many Jews, after their houses were burned, moved to live in the surrounding villages. Many Jews did not want to stand out and seldom left their homes.

The Death Gang

Permanent torture of the Jews of the shtetl began with the arrival of the commissar. Jews were driven daily

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to work where they had to endure various afflictions. In addition, through the Judenrat [council of Jews created by the Germans] the commissar imposed on the shtetl a mandatory contribution of money.

It began to be said that the Death Gang, which was known for its savagery and sadism, would be coming into the shtetl. My cousin, Dovid Kitaj, warned me

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– Go to the forest. Save yourself; I am telling you that we need to get through the war.
There was confusion when a decree was issued that all Jews, small and large, needed to appear ostensibly to travel to work. Some left the shtetl entirely; others consulted one another on what to do.

czy866.jpg [23 KB] - Szmuel Zeev Kandel, his wife Lea, and four of their children  (two of whom are in Israel)

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Arguments also took place in our house, whether to appear or not.

Kruczewski, a peasant from Holdoki, an acquaintance of our father, came to our house. He saw what was going on in our house and shock appeared on his good-natured face:

– The luck that the Swabin [Germans] will give you, you will never be late for. Meanwhile come to me, Shmulke. To the village for as long as it is not a risk to our lives.
Everyone in the house agreed that we needed to go to Kruczewski.

It was quiet on the road; Jews went back and forth. Some sighed; some were hopeful that Jews would somewhere survive the calamity.

Ruchtshe Lev, whose child was murdered by a bomb, came from the village with a small leather sack. Sweat dripped from her face. She stopped and wanted to know what was happening in the shtetl. I told her that many Jews were escaping, hiding. Not me – she said with resolve – What happens to all of the Jews will happen to me.

We were well received in Kruczewski's home, were given food to eat, but the food stuck in our throats. Who knew what was happening with our mother? My brother, Motke, and my father consoled me that they had made arrangements with Nowicki that he would take care of her. She was sick, had to stay in bed; when the police raids stopped we would return to the shtetl.

The Echo of the Shooting

Thus we lived with Kruczewski in the attic and looked through the holes at the lonesome trees in the courtyard with its storage sheds and stalls. I thought about my mother, who lay alone in the house and my heart

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grieved but I could not cry. I knew that we must sit still, without a rustle.

Suddenly, a distant bang was heard that terrified us as if the bullet could reach us. It became quiet for a while after the first bang. We soon heard another shot and several more that quickly followed one after the other and soon a faint noise of automobiles reached us and a little later heavy shooting was heard. My father murmured quietly with a lowered head:

– They are shooting with machine guns, the murderers.
When it became dark, Kruczewski came up to us. He left bread and milk for us and sighed:
– Shmulke, it is bad. I did not imagine this… We do not spread calves out [for slaughter] like this in the middle of a clear day, like here…
He stood dejected with lowered hands and explained how the Jews in Czyzewo were loaded into automobiles and driven on foot to Szulborze, to the anti-tank trenches.

From there – he ended – no one came back.

Kroczewski went down bent and we remained sitting on straw, dazed, huddled together.

Later we learned that when the aktsia [action, usually a deportation] had just begun, Nowicki took my mother in a wagon, told her that he was taking her to us and took her to the Shul Street where all of the Jews stood to be sent out. Immediately after, she was loaded into the automobiles with the other women.

“Where is the Jewish God?”

When everyone was standing in the street, the gendarmes and the Polish

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policemen began to run through the houses and pulled out whomever they found, beat and shot them. Those who watched immediately felt that something very bad was being prepared and many took advantage of the police being occupied and ran in various directions, to the villages and forests. Zisha Slucki, who is now in America, also escaped then.

The Germans wanted to enjoy themselves and they began to ask about the rabbi. When they heard that he lay paralyzed, they went into his house where he lay with an open religious book near him.

– Tell us, old devil, where is the Jewish God? – They shouted with wild voices and laughter, pulled him across the ground and threw him like a pack of old rags into an automobile that was fully packed with women and children.
A gestapowiec [member of the Gestapo] sprang to him lying in the automobile and whispered in his ear. The rabbi began to shake as if poisoned, trying to murmur something with his open mouth and could not bring out anything. He looked at the people surrounding him through his yellow, dried out eyelids as if he was asking that they help him cry out at least one tear from the large cracks that were his eyes. The women around him broke out in a loud cry.

The gestapowiec and the Polish policemen laughed.

On this day, the 25 Av [18 August], 1941, 1,750 Czyzewo Jews perished in Szulborze.

The earth still heaved in the following days. The peasants were afraid to go out to work in the fields.

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The Ghetto of the Survivors

A small number, more than 100 people, succeeded in saving themselves. The commissar, himself, had chosen young, healthy people. In the morning, after the slaughter, he created a ghetto of them, led them into the small houses near the train line and sent them to various work.

Still more Jews came later, among them, some who escaped during the deportation and went not too far away. They had to go out to work every day, to build the highway to Wisoki, to the noble courtyards and to the railroad to load scrap from the bomb blasts.

My father considered everything to escape farther from Czyzewo, from the great misfortune. But this was not an easy thing. The roads were being watched by the Polish bandits who attacked the passing Jews. Murdered Jews were often found lying on the roads. Yet, we got through as far as Malkin where we stayed until things would get calmer.

I went to Sterdyn to an acquaintance. But I was not there for long. My father, who remained in Lachow, where Jews lived, later removed me. But before that, I succeeded in surviving the lapanke (round-up) for Treblinka.

Lachow lay on the road to Treblinka. Here I saw the transports to Treblinka pass through. The train wagons were fully packed with people. Fainting faces looked out through the window holes.

The Priest and the One who Jumped from the Train

Once, when I walked from the village, laden with a basket of food,

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a long train with dark red freight cars suddenly sped by; in the small windows appeared pale, fainting faces. I remained standing with my heart throbbing heavily. The deafening bang of the wagon wheels was in my ears. My feet became clay-like and I could not move from the spot.

Suddenly I noticed a bent figure getting up from the ground not far from me; it straightened up, looked around on all sides and slowly, cautiously, with shaking steps was going in the direction of the village.

I stood frozen to the earth for several minutes and tried to recognize who this could be. I had met people several times in Lachow who had escaped from Treblinka, but they were barefoot, half naked. The figure appeared to be well dressed. This was a woman.

Suddenly I heard booted steps. Several peasants who seemed to lie in wait for victims sprang out from behind the bushes. They tore her clothes from her. The woman began to try to argue, but probably thought that it was better than again falling into the hands of the Gestapo.

The nervous strain reached the highest level in me. I barely kept myself from screaming. I wanted to attack them, scratch, beat, fall to their feet, asking them to leave her alone.

At that moment, the priest came from the village with fast steps. He immediately approached the group of peasants.

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– Why? – his low voice reached me – why are you doing this to her? It is still a crime.

– She is Jewish – several voices spoke up at the same time – she sprang from a train car, from a transport to Treblinka.

The priest was not surprised. He stood erect, with outstretched hands.
– Leave her alone. She has been punished enough and God will forgive your sins.
I saw the woman quickly turn around and enter the village. The priest also went in the same direction, a great distance from her.

My heart became lighter. I wondered if he was not one of the lamed vovnik tzadekim [1] thanks to whom the world still exists.

The Czyzewo Ghetto is Liquidated

Word would come from Czyzewo that it was calm there. The several hundred Jews were working and no one bothered them. In contrast, it constantly got worse in Lachow. Jews were grabbed for work, where they were beaten, tortured. The smell of those burned in the crematoria of Treblinka reached here. And the word was passed about a deportation that would occur in the nearest days. My father told this to a member of the Judenrat who advised him that he should quickly leave Lachow.

We returned to Czyzewo, but at the last minute, my father stopped and did not want to enter the shtetl. He left Motke in a village, in Rush, where he became a shepherd. He parted with me with tears in his eyes:

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You will be with Uncle Yankl in Czyzewo. Meanwhile, I will search in the villages; perhaps someone will take pity and I will find a place for me.

His heartbroken words came out of a choking throat and I cried. I understood that my father did not believe they we could save ourselves in Czyzewo.

I worked for several weeks on the highway. The mood in Czyzewo was tense. The rumors of what the Germans were doing in Wysokie, Zambrow and Ciechanowiec reached here. A deportation was also expected in Czyzewo.

– Today smells of some kind of abomination – Kruczewski once said to me, and then he told me that the Germans had ordered wagons from the peasants to carry people, probably Jews, who else?
When I came back to the shtetl and told this to my friends, they laughed at me. They clearly knew that the commissar was looking for workers and we did not have to be afraid of any deportations.

At night, my father came to take me away to a village. He also knew about the wagons, but I repeated what the girls has said and maintained that there was no good in showing such fearfulness.

My uncle, Yankl, urged me:

– Go child, with your father. My heart is also telling me that something is not good.
Something stirred outside. The watchmaker, Motl Stalowitch, said that the office commissar had called him to repair his clock and simultaneously to hire him to ring [the bell] at four o'clock in the morning. People were certain the office commissariat wanted him

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to thus give him a sign and to show the Jews that something was being prepared for them.

In the morning the S.S. members and gendarmes actually did come and in their way, with shooting, blows and wild cursing drove out the Jews, took them in the peasant wagons to the Zambrower barracks, from where in two months they sent them to Auschwitz.

The ghetto in Czyzewo was entirely liquidated.

In the Peasant Attics, in Hunger and Thirst

My father had taken me away to Pienki, to Janczewski, a rich peasant with a good character. He had compassion for us and could not watch how we ran around as if chased by dogs. He did not think to take money from us. In general, he spoke very little. When my father took Motke from Rush and brought him here, he did not say one word. Then I thought that he had great compassion for us.

Rumors about raids of hidden Jews spread in the village with the arrival of the freezing temperatures. The S.S. members warned the peasants that they should turn in all of the Jews to the Gestapo. Janczewski began to be afraid and blurted out harsh words for us.

We understood the hints, but we did not have anywhere to go. The peasant began to starve us, not giving us any bread for entire days.

At night when the village had begun to fall asleep, my father

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trudged out of the courtyard and each time asked another peasant for a piece of bread, listening to the stories of newly caught Jews in the villages.

Janczewski became more sour and more bitter from day to day. He stopped bringing us water. It was dangerous to go to the well and we had to be satisfied with snow, which substituted as water for us.

There would be very snowy nights and we did not have any fear that someone would hear the splashing from the pail in the well so Motl [2] would go to take a pot of water that we kept for several days.

My Father's Death

On the night of the 22nd of February we lay in the attic and waited for the last noises of the village to be stilled. We had not had a swallow of water in several days and Motke needed to scrape along to the pond to take a little water. A door still creaked somewhere; a shutter closed. A murmur of a couple and a suffocated laugh was carried from behind a fence. When it became quiet, thirst dried the gums and excited the brain.

Finally it became quiet. The village slept; the littlest rustle could be heard for a mile.

Meanwhile, Motl also slept. My father did not want to wake him and took the dipper himself and began to creep out of the attic.

Something in me began to shiver.

– Father, I will go with you…

– It is not necessary – my father barely moved his lips – two make more noise.

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I could not lie still in the attic for long. I went down, pressed myself to the wall and waited, listening to the rustle of the night.

Suddenly I heard a scream:

Halt!
Soon a shot echoed and it again became quiet.

I felt a cold shiver go through me and I went back up to the attic, told Motke about the shot. He was confused and I felt how he shivered and his teeth began to chatter. We again heard footsteps in the silence and the thump of spades in the ground.

We did not close our eyes for the entire night. When it began to dawn, I went down to the well and saw the dipper lying empty. A bit of dug dirt caught my eye. However, I did not think that this was the grave of my father.

Later, Janczewski came up to the attic and said that our uncle, Yankl Kitaj, had been shot that night in the village.

I told him about our father's departure and that he was sure to be frightened by the shot and was hiding somewhere and was afraid to come out.

We waited impatiently the entire day for our father to come. Late at night I fell asleep and I suffered terrible dreams. I saw myself lying with my father in a river of blood. Wild horses sprang over us, stepped on us…

Janczewski came to us again in the morning and soon declared that the

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person shot was not our uncle, but actually our father himself.

I buried my face in the straw and sobbed bitterly. Janczewski's words that we had to go away from here because the entire house smelled of death reached me as if through a fog.

I said nothing. Motl lay with wide open eyes as if mixed up. Only when the peasant went down did he turn to me:

– What will become of us now?
I felt his hot tears on me.

The Awakened Conscience of the Dejected Peasant

The peasant did not give us any food and we did not go anywhere to seek bread. Through a crack we watched when the dog was given food and each time one of us went down and divided [the food] with him. The dog watched with great understanding eyes, let himself be petted and wagged his tail as if he were satisfied by his friendly action…

We lost count of the days and weeks. Some sort of non-Jewish holiday arrived and relatives and neighbors came together in Janczewski's house; they danced and frolicked. Someone played a harmonica.

Suddenly a fight broke out there and the curses became louder and wilder.

We lay with a death wince in our hearts and pictures of the house being set on fire swam under the lids of our closed eyes; we saw ourselves running and everyone was starting after us.

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Suddenly it became quiet. The crowd dispersed. Someone harnessed the horses to go to call a doctor for the badly beaten Janczewski.

Janczewski came up to us in the morning. He was completely bandaged and was barely able to hold a jug of milk and white challah [bread eaten on the Sabbath] in his hand… His conscience had begun to torture him that the misfortune had come to him because he had let us starve.

Better, more satisfying days began for us. They came just in time because we were so exhausted from the hunger and thirst that we felt as if we were losing our last strength.

But soon he came with the frightening news that they had learned about us in the village. Someone must have noticed us in the courtyard and we had to leave. The police could come at any minute.

He was pale and had an insane look full of fear. He breathed with heavy gasps:

– For this comes death…
He accompanied us out and showed us his field stable from afar, where we meanwhile could stay. He would not be responsible if we were caught.

We, I and Motke, held each other. I felt a painful vertigo and my feet felt as if they had been cut off. Motke frequently fell. Wanting to pick him up, I felt at once that I was sinking into the snow, that something heavy had slammed me over the head and Janczewski stood from afar and looked at us.

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Alone in the Field

We were exhausted and weakened from walking. Here, in the field, we breathed easier, although the dangers were much greater.

We had to learn new methods of caution and to rely on our memories. We were stuck for the entire day in a hole that we had hollowed out in the sheaves of straw and artfully disguised. We crept out at night like animals being chased, trembling as if a hyena would spring out from where it lurked at any time.

There were still beets in the fields and they had to be ripped out in such a way that no one would notice that someone had been here. We fed ourselves from them for a long time.

One night we stood in the middle of the field and looked towards the village where the lit small windows winked at us like scores of eyes and told of a sated, calm life, of warmth.

At that, it occurred to Motke:

– I have not eaten a piece of bread for so long, have not warmed myself … perhaps we should go to a peasant?
At first, I shook off this idea. There were peasants who gave every Jew they encountered to the police either because of meanness or because of cowardice. The better ones who did have mercy were also afraid to help. Rarely did a peasant want to take a risk.

We had an idea and stole into a stall where there were pig pens and we took a few potatoes from the pigs. The dog already knew us and did not bark.

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Crawling once to such a stall, I noticed a peasant acquaintance who led horses to be watered. I went to him and simply asked him if he would be able to give me a piece of bread. He told me to wait and immediately brought out an entire bread. Later, we went to other peasants who I believed would not do anything bad to us.

Tired from an entire night of creeping around, we went back before the first rooster cry to our hiding place, where we had to lie immovable the whole day.

With the Two Girls from Zaromb in the Icy River

Once lying down at night, I felt someone pulling at the sheaves. Our hearts withered. But before we had time to do anything, we saw two girls standing in the opening.

These were Jewish girls from Zaromb. The same fear blew from them as from us.

Our family grew larger. The anxieties of getting food also became greater and we had to think about new ways of supporting ourselves.

The girls were furriers. We went into a village where no one knew us and presented ourselves as Polish girls who could sew pelts and were looking for work.

We spoke a peasant language and the peasants believed us, although once when we went to a shoemaker, he received us well at the start, smiled, but his smile changed immediately into a mocking grimace and he began to speak to us with a Yiddish accent.

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We were unmasked.

Drawing back by a side road, we saw the same shoemaker was already waiting at the exit of the village. He had a bicycle and there were two others with him.

– We are lost! – one of us said, expressing what we were all thinking.
In great desperation, we instinctively began running. From where did we get such strength? The non-Jew on the bicycle had trouble following us. But we felt that the distance between us and he was becoming smaller. The road was bad, with pits, but he did not stop. He saw fat prey before him. Three girls – three portions of kerosene, sugar and, perhaps, alcohol.

We ran where it was advantageous for us, where we knew it would be difficult to ride on a bicycle. We had already run past the last hut and felt as if our last strength was leaving us. The non-Jew had to feel it. We thought that he was laughing, he was sure he would win. But, suddenly, a dog ran out from somewhere with a resounding bark. We did not turn our heads. Yet we heard a wrangling. The dog had grabbed the non-Jew by the foot and threw him off the bicycle. The non-Jew's curses reached us, but running, running, we did not look at him.

We ran in the direction of the river. We reached it. The trees on the shore were naked; the river was covered with white frost but only with a thin, icy membrane. It broke with the first step, but we did not stop. We went up to our necks in the water.

[Page 882]

Later, when we lay in the bushes soaked, gasping, without breath on the other side of the river, we saw the shoemaker running with other young peasants who he had called for help. They stood at the shore and looked in all directions. Nervous, windblown, choked with rage, they searched along the entire shore. It never occurred to them that we had crossed the river.

With effort, we moved ahead on all fours. I felt a strong pain in the joints with each step. The pain went through my entire body. My friends remained behind for a minute, but soon they were ahead of me. I saw the trembling of their shoulders as if they were wrestling with someone who wanted to stop them.

None of us said a word. We did not feel the frost, the pain from the prickly bushes that irritated us on the road. Yet moans came out. The other's moan seemed as if it had come from one's own breast.

We finally left the forest. It was night. A village with fires lit lay to our right. Oh, if we could only warm our soaked bodies somewhere!...

But gendarmes were stationed in that village. We had to avoid it. We went across the bare fields. The cold hurled us to the ground like frozen birds from a tree.

A shudder went through our bones. We again stood up, ran a little way. My knees bent and my body shook on them. I sank down frozen

[Page 883]

on the ground. Other frozen hands helped me get up. The wet clothes pasted to the ground, ripped with pieces of skin.

We, three Jewish girls, frozen, desolate, went through empty fields, where no sign of a person, of a settlement was seen from afar.

Oy! – Another one gave a shout, like a child, who wants to go and cannot.

– Let us rest for a minute.

My head began to bang, my ears grew deaf. I began to dream… It was dark in front of my eyes and the night was so vast, a deep and velvet one…

The dream lulled me to sleep.

A girl's hand pulled my shoulders, my face. She spoke with a steamy, tender, desperate, suffering voice:

– Do not sleep… You will die.
With the last strength of someone dying, my hands shook; my entire frozen body.
– Oh, a little warmth to release our frozen blood.
But there was only hard, wintry darkness around. No rustle, no movement from a human step and no breath from a living being.

We dragged ourselves farther, tired, fainting, without strength.

Late at night we arrived at our hiding place.

We Are Surrounded

During the night, we again crept over the field and dug for beets like moles. This was now our only food because, after our failure, we did not dare go into a village for a long time.

It was already the middle of the night. Motke and the two girls carried

[Page 884]

the beets. They went bent, separated from each other and I ahead, the spotter, if the enemy appeared – a shadow of a person.

We were not far from the barn; I suddenly heard a suspicious, faint noise. Dark shadows moved in the darkness, surrounding the field and the barn.

It was as if my blood gelled. From surprise? Were we not then prepared for this? We made an agreement with ourselves every night before going out into the field that if something happened, we would meet in another place.

And so this happened.

We were surrounded, lost.

Willingly I would have opened my mouth and would have screamed into the night as a cow bellows when she senses the arrival of death.

But I did not scream. Like a good spy I only murmured quietly and so that each word would reach everyone without any mistake.

– We were surrounded.
We all threw away the beets and scattered, each in another direction. I remained lying in a furrow, stretched out, as one with the ground.

The idea of time did not exist then. The darkness was vast and good, and possessed a heart that beat. We wanted it to be thicker and to stretch even longer.

An alarm rang in a nearby village. I understood that the raid, the search for us had moved to the village.

[Page 885]

We met at the arranged spot in the morning, in another stable. Each told how they had saved themselves. The girls had lain the entire night buried in a potato pit, covered with potatoes.

The sheaves in which we lay hidden little by little became fewer. The covering, a thin one, let in the cold. However, still worse was that it no longer disguised us. Every move was seen from the outside.

It happened. A peasant, traveling past, heard our whispering and tore apart the sheaves. A brightness hit us in the eyes. But, for us, it was black and dark… We cried, a cry of desolation, helpless ones who no longer had anything with which to defend themselves.

The peasant stood surprised, as if turned to stone. His eyes, which were glued to us, sparkled and froze. In a moment, he ran to his sled and eagerly went to the village.

Singing in the Darkness

We recovered quickly and began to think about what to do. There was a fear about remaining here because it was possible that the peasant would alert the police in the village.

We entered Sutker Woods. It was the middle of the day. Cuckoos and crows pulsated over the trees. Their unease promised fresh snow. The wind turned in the air like a mill plastered with withered leaves that still remained in the trees from summer. But each rustle rang in our ears likes steps that chased after us.

[Page 886]

The short winter days finally ended and in no way could we find a place to hide.

Snow fell in the forest, a wet one that stuck to the branches and melted, fell on the ground and melted, with such desolation, just like us.

We hid under a tree, seeking protection, but the wind threw wet handfuls [of snow] in our faces. Dampness penetrated our bodies, ate into our limbs.

A frightening unease enveloped us. Where would we hide our tired, damp and broken down limbs? Our eyes searched, groped…

– I am hungry – one called to the other.

– We will die of hunger and from cold – another quietly murmured – Let us at least not stand in one place, let us go.

– They can still see us.

– Let them see – a drawn girlish hand was raised in the air – Let death come… Dying little by little is still worse than suddenly.

We held hands and left the dark forest. But a thick darkness also hung over the fields that did not allow us to look in. A heavy sky hung from above that merged with everything all-around, with the darkness and our hearts.

We walked. We barely placed our feet. We did not hold up our heads, the wind cut our innards like a knife. It seemed to us that we were dragging ourselves without end and a sweet dream wanted to comfort us. Colorful flames swarmed in our eyes.

– We could yet fall asleep walking – I called – let us sing. Think of some sort of song.
[Page 887]
– The Germans will hear – Motke pleaded. He was then 13 years old and so fervently did not want to die.

– Let them hear – said the furrier from Zaromb, and immediately began to hum some sort of Polish song. She sang quietly; we helped her with clenched teeth. When she finished one song, she began another, a third. Later someone remembered a Yiddish song about a lonely tree on the road to Eretz-Yisroel. We all were more caught up in our own singing that became louder, at ease, flowed like a river in the dark night.

The hunger, the tiredness, weakness and fear left. We expressed all of this loudly in our singing. Every minute someone could have heard us. Maybe it would be better this way. The readiness to perish eliminated the fear of death, which had no reality.

Who said that we are weak, cowardly? Let the Germans come with their raised guns and bloodhounds. We had been escaping from them in panicky fear for two years. Now, this all looked like a wicked joke. Futile, there was no way out.

It became day, light; no one appeared from anywhere. We dragged ourselves back to the Sutker Woods like wounded animals that drag their wounded bodies somewhere to a hole, ready to die. It again began to snow. It did not fall, but attacked. Because of its thickness and brightness, we could not see what was a step in front of us. The snow also landed on us, grew, raised itself. We

[Page 888]

stood doubled up, hunchbacked, like white hills in the woods. Only inside were the thoughts veiled in a heavy fog like an eternal, endless night had settled in us.

The End Comes and I Remain Alone

Hiding in the wheat became easier with the arrival of summer. Eating also became better. The peasant more readily gave us bread.

The front neared. In addition to the mindless rumors that reached us, we sensed something from the bread that the peasant would throw to us. The closer the front was – the larger the portions were.

The days began to pass more quickly. The front was very close and there was turmoil in the area and energy. They burned entire villages near the Ostrower highway. They dragged people from hiding places to dig trenches and here, suddenly, Motke, who had already indulged in a peek in the village in the middle of the day, was seized for digging trenches.

I ran around as if poisoned. I looked for a way to save him. In Janczewski's house I learned that he [Motke] had escaped from the trenches. No one knew where he was. I did not find him in any of our hiding places. After several days, I found him lying in the middle of a field covered with straw.

But after a few days, the same thing happened to him. I again started to look for him and I suddenly saw that they were leading

[Page 889]

him, injured, on the road. I looked at him. My look asked:

– How did this happen?
I tried to go to him, but I thought he was winking at me that I should not come near, not reveal myself and him.

They took him to a hospital that was quickly taken by the Russians and they took him to a camp near Moscow. They thought of him as a German prisoner of war.

In order to learn all of this, I had to run around all day and look at the military locations. During one of the searches I met a Ukrainian who recognized me as a Jew and I just succeeded in saving myself.

Later I learned that Motke, and other such “prisoners of war” as he escaped from the camp and went to Moscow on foot. The road was difficult. They could not endure it and in the middle of the road, turned back to the camp. Motke was the only one who reached Moscow, entered a synagogue where the Jews helped him to explain his situation and prove that he was a Jew.

During the last days, Janczewski permitted me to stay longer in his house and talked with me, remembering the names of Czyzewo Jews with whom he had been acquainted and friendly for many years, went to their homes, knew their children, their entire lives during the week and on Shabbos and holidays.

– They were such good people – Janczewski sighed.
[Page 890]
– There are none of them, none – I looked at Janczewski with a stiff look. In that minute I relived the days and nights in his attic, with no bread or water, the death of my father.
He probably understood what I was now reliving; he lowered his eyes and spoke quietly:
– Who could anticipate such a hell? Only accursed devils could invent it… Such slaughter, so many people killed.

– Now I was alone. From where would I get the strength to survive so much bitterness?

– You must strengthen yourself – Janczewski spoke weakly – forget everything that was and start anew.

– Forget? How could one forget all of this? “But we will have to start anew” – Then I thought for the first time that everything anew can only be begun in Eretz Yisroel.

The reverberation of the battles reached here in the village that day. A powerful blow suddenly shook the walls and rang in the panes of the windows and we immediately heard the echo of shooting by a machine-gun and guns. There was an echo, another blow and another one…

I went out in front of the gate, inflamed by eager waiting, listening to the roar from the front that grew in waves.

I stood entirely without fear and watched the retreating Germans who were not interested at all in what was

[Page 891]

around them. If they looked to the side, their look was not that other well known look of one who believes he is the subjugator, but the look of a surrounded hare. It appeared to me as so similar to the look of their Jewish victims. It could seem that their own shadows threw a fear of death on them.

A considerable time passed and Soviet soldiers in hordes entered the village. They were smudged. They had tired, browned faces; they ran in a disorderly way and lugged the various sorts of burdens of war, machine-guns, artillery guns.

Suddenly right near me stood a young, smiling officer.

– So, young girl, see how they run, the nobles, ha?
[Page 892]

I stood distraught for a minute. The spoken foreign language words were understandable to me. A strange person stood in front of me, armed from head to foot and I had no fear of looking right in his face. He saw my confusion and pointing at the courtyard, he asked with the same smile:

– Your cottage? You live here?
It was as if I had awakened from a deep sleep.
– No, no. I am not from here… I am from Czyzewo, from Czyzewo.
After three years I smiled for the first time. This was the first elemental outbreak of the newborn freedom.



Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The 36 righteous men upon whom rests the existence of the world. The Hebrew letters lamed – 30 – and vov – 6 add up to 36. return

  2. Motl and Motke are both diminutives of the name Mordekhai. return


[Page 891]

The Walk Through Every Hell

Motke Kitaj/Ellis Island

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I was not in the ghetto on the day when the Jews were driven out of Czyzewo to Szulborze. I was hidden at that time with a peasant, for whom I did various work. On that day I had gone out to the pasture with his cows. I rode a horse and thought about the peasant's words that something was likely to happen in the ghetto. Each event in the ghetto created a certain stir among the peasants. No one expected anything good. There were those who were happy about it. However, there were also peasants who had regrets and were sympathetic, although they could not show it.

[Page 892]

I rode slowly and strained all of my senses. I wanted to see something in the empty distance. But it was quiet around me. In my heart arose a hope: perhaps the Germans would not do anything to the Jews. It is understandable that I was happy that I would come to my father and tell him that it is calm in the ghetto.

Suddenly I heard shooting from the side of the shtetl [town] and something like a lament began to grow and to reach to heaven. It did not take long and I saw the Jews were being led out.

Small, gentile boys came running from the distant fields and shouted to me:

[Page 893]

– Escape, Motke, escape!
I sat on the horse as if nailed to it and could not move from my spot. A penetrating cold overcame me. The large horde of people came closer near the bridge across the Riszer courtyard; Chaim Dovid Tsimes and Eli Ruwin Salman were dragging themselves. They could not move. A German gendarme ran toward them, pulled out his revolver and shot. They fell backward with arms spread.

My throat became dry and my heart grieved with a painful cramp. I tore away to Kruszewski in Aldaki where my father was hidden. The neighboring peasants did not know about him. Several hours later, they asked me outside if my father had appeared. If yes, he was no longer alive. All of the Czyzewo Jews had been shot.

I was still just a child and could not tell any lies. I just kept quiet and could not understand how they could speak so indifferently about death.

The fear of death persecuted me. I felt it around me. The last day before the death of my father, I begged him and my sister:

– Save yourselves. Remember, I feel death approaching…
After my father's death I suddenly felt like a grown man. My sister was completely broken. She walked around disheveled with flattened hair and became indifferent toward death.

I encouraged her, strengthened her, told her that we must live through the difficult time, that the war would end, that the sun would shine for us, too.

[Page 894]

Her state of mind alarmed me and caused a great deal of worry. I left her in a stable and went along to gather food. I crawled through the stables and milked the cows myself.

There were peasants who knew of this and pretended not to see. When they wanted to give me food to eat, they were afraid and gave hints that I should take food. If I were caught it would appear that they did not know about it.

Rarely would it occur that a peasant would openly show me compassion. One such peasant, Grucki, a good, humane heart, had 16 children. When I would come to him at night, he sat me down with all of his children and made sure that I would have enough to eat to satisfy me.

I felt calmed under his warm look. However, I immediately remembered that my sister was alone in that village, hungry and frozen and the soup remained in my throat.

It became more difficult each day for me to ask for a piece of bread from the peasants. I proposed that I do work, but fear paralyzed their desire to employ me.

Sitting in the forest, we decided to make baskets and brooms and bring them to the peasants. In this way it was easier to take a little food from them.

Later my sister helped carry baskets. I knew all of the roads and made a pretense of hope for my sister, although it was difficult for me, myself, to control the unease, knowing the danger that hung over us.

[Page 895]

The responsibility for my sister made me uneasy. I felt freer and surer alone.

While walking alone one night, a group of peasants, who were coming from Pienki, surrounded me. I grabbed a stick and took them on. This happened unexpectedly and they wavered. One of them shouted to me:

– Leave our village and we will not do anything to you… You bring misfortune here.
Later when the two girls from Zaromb [Zaremby-Koscielne] sareturned to us and they went with my sister to the village to earn something I remained alone for the entire day. I had food, but the anxiety over their fate terrified me. I did not stop trembling from the moment that they left at dawn that they would return peacefully.

Until the day arrived when a shoemaker in the village recognized them as Jewish girls and dragging themselves they barely escaped with their lives, wet, semi-conscious and frozen.

All three lay for many hours and were silent. They simply could not move their lips.

The girls did not have any underwear into which to change. I left for the village and I was successful in taking several pieces of women's underwear from the attics so that they could change their clothing.

That night I said to them that they would no longer go to the village; I myself would provide food.

The distant echoes from the front began to come closer to us.

[Page 896]

Creeping through the stables and doghouses, where the dogs were accustomed to me, they quietly watched as I took a half of their portions. They quietly caressed me and their canine eyes looked at me with human sympathy. I petted them and listened to the distant cannons that resounded like music in my ears.

Once wandering this way I feel asleep somewhere under a tin roof of a fallen house. In the midst of sleep I suddenly heard a shout:

– Stand up! Hands in the air.
Three German soldiers stood near me, aiming automatic weapons at me. I was stricken, not knowing what was happening to me and not having the strength to move a limb.
– Out! – It thundered in my ears. But I did not move from the spot. My hands and feet were as if paralyzed. One sprang towards me, grabbed my by the hand and stood me outside.
They led me to the woods where their headquarters was located. Several German officers sat there. One of the soldiers reported that they had caught a young Jew.

I stood lost and told myself that this could be my last moments if I did not succeed in convincing them that I am not a Jew.

I made a half-witted face and said in Polish:

– What kind of Jew? There have been no Jews here for a long time. All of them have been taken away…
[Page 897]

The officer became angry:

– We have other things to do before we occupy ourselves with the disgusting Jews. Take him, shoot him, liquidate him quickely so that he does not take root here.
The soldier straightened himself, saluted and dragged me to the nearest tree, took sever steps back and aimed the rifle at me.

I took my last look at the officer and succeeded in seeing his stretched out figure. Someone with a high bulbous nose looked at me with a gloomy look. I closed my eyes and waited for the shot. I thought that my sister would not know what had happened to me. At the same time I heard a shout:

– Halt!
I opened my eyes. The gloomy officer shouted to the soldier. It would be better to give me a spade and I would help to dig the trenches on the line.

I was confused and did not understand what he was shouting and when the soldier pushed the spade into my hand, I was sure that this meant that we were digging a pit for ourselves.

Later, I saw that they did not intend to shoot me. The soldier brought an interpreter who translated his questions into Polish: where did I live and what was I doing in the ruin? I answered that the ruin had been our house and my parents had left to work. Only I myself remained to take the cows to pasture. Soldiers had taken them from me. When I saw they were shooting, I hid.

It appeared that the soldier had reflected that my words have been believable to him.

[Page 898]

The translator told me to recite the morning prayer. This I knew very well. My sisters would teach it to me every day so that in case of danger I could say that I was born a gentile boy. Now it became useful. My listeners were convinced that I was not a Jew.

The German even took my suffering to heart. For the fact that I had lost my parents. I was given enough to eat and placed in an auto; they wanted to take me to my parents.

We traveled through the surrounding villages. I met many peasants whom I knew. They were sure that the Germans were taking me to be shot and they looked at me, some with regret, some with malignant joy.

The German frequently turned to me and asked me if I recognized anyone here who could inform me about my parents. In the end the matter became tiresome to him when I shook my head no to everything and he asked me to get out and to look on foot. He explained to me that he did not have the time. The enemy was close and I would certainly find my father and mother somewhere here by myself.

Here, at this place, the Germans were preparing to strengthen their positions. Hundreds and thousands of peasants, whom the Germans had dragged from their huts to dig trenches, swarmed around. I was the only Jew here; every minute one of the peasants recognized me and pointed me out the Germans.

I felt lonely and helpless. However, I recognized that every minute I stood unhidden could cost me my life.

[Page 899]

Looking around I noticed in the distance that the German military kitchen was distributing food to the peasants. I did not think for long, took a kettle and stood in the line for food.

I was not accustomed to such a large portion and right after finishing I felt cramps in my stomach. They drew me to the ground. I lay down, howling from pain. However, this would bring me the attention of the peasants and I bit my lips until they bled and created a mask on my face of nonchalance, of being carefree. Seeing that a German officer was approaching, I was the first to go to him and to talk to him, stuttering:

– I…am looking for…work…
He measured me with a penetrating look and I winked brotherly, licking my dry lips from the cutting pain in my stomach with my tongue. However, I did not want to let him look at me for too long and I made various gestures with my hands of what I wanted to say, that my work would be 10 times faster.
– What do you want to do? – the German asked in a tone of interest while showing an absentminded demeanor.

– Guard…I answered very earnestly.

The German's eyes brightened with a lively gleam. My suggestion evidently pleased him and he made me the overseer of a work sector. When he left, I breathed with relief. I did not become an overseer; I wanted to work more, just as everyone, in order not to be conspicuous.

[Page 900]

For the fourth month, the front stood on the Narew, between Rozan and Ostrolenka. It was a frosty January and the Polish peasants and I dug the trenches. The Germans rushed, faster, faster. They barely had turned away and we already were standing. Suddenly a young gentile boy pointed to me and said: “He is a Jew… We have to finish him.”

An older peasant wiped the icicles from his whiskers and as if not hearing the other's talk, said very quietly:

– There is something fishy today…

– But we have to make an end of the Jews – the other one did not let go.

– If you have no sense, what is there to talk about…

– What is it?

– Because it is being said that the Germans will take their boots from here at any minute… And you are thinking about such nonsense…

The other one roared something with puffed out lips at my side, like a infuriated cat and ended it.

The work with the spades started again. No one looked at me as if they had tried to forget that a Jew was working with them.

Suddenly a mighty thunder shook the air. Frightening shooting became thicker with each second. The bullets and shrapnel exploded near us. Each time we heard new moans from the wounded and dying. There was nowhere to hide from the bullets. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my arm. I tried to stop the blood with my hand, but at the same time, the people began to run out of the trenches.

[Page 901]

Civilians and soldiers stepped over the wounded and dead. I ran with them not knowing to where.

Running a bit I encountered a military patrol, which stopped me, but seeing the blood that ran from my arm, the soldier took me into the vehicle and took me to the nearest hospital.

There actually were swarms of the wounded who lay on stretchers and on the ground. The air was filled with moans and laments. I was one of those who stood with my own strength. But everyone, the doctors, the nurses and soldiers were drawn to me like one of their own, a war wounded.

The situation became more difficult with each hour. This could be seen on the faces of all of the hospital personnel. Everyone thought of his own skin more than saving the wounded.

The evacuation began immediately. I was taken with the other wounded soldiers to Allenstein, which is a Polish city today and carries the name Olsztyn.

I did not have much rest there for long. The powerful Russian offensive surged like a sea through an eroded dam. The Germans ran away from Allenstein and left the wounded to God's care.

When the Russians appeared I tried not to distinguish myself from the other German wounded. I was afraid to reveal that I was a Jew. The fear of revealing my origin already had been pressed into my soul.

[Page 902]

It was difficult to free this from all of my nerves.

Several days later came an order that everyone who could walk should report to a certain point in order to register to travel, each to their home city.

Arriving at the meeting spot, first, everyone's watch and other valuable things were taken. I immediately felt that the Russians had no honest intentions in gathering us. I want to an officer and told him that I am a Jew and how I had fallen in the hands of the Germans after being wounded in the trenches.

The officer listened to me attentively and assured me that I would be freed, but I did not see him again.

We were placed in rows and created a train of thousands of people. There were Germans and Poles, French and Italians among us. Ragged, hungry, tired, we dragged ourselves over hundreds of kilometers to the nearest train station.

The Russians stubbornly insisted the entire time that we were being taken to Warsaw, but no one believed them any longer. Everyone felt the arrival of dark clouds.

A bird, a page, a button on a shirt can bring a greeting from the home in a distant land. Also, after a night's sleep in the moving train, I suddenly felt that we were stopping at the Czyzewo train station. It was as if I smelled the earth of home, the old home.

It was in the morning. It was quiet and dead. My thoughts excited me and my feet began to rush

[Page 903]

to spring from the train wagon. But a young officer immediately stood near me:

– Where are you going, bratak [brother in Russian]?
I knew that I had to tell him that I was going to look for a little water and when he turned around I would run. I still knew all of the hidden paths. But against my will I said to him:
– This is my city.
I am sure that he could see in my eyes all my longing and my burning impatience to feel the familiar earth under my feet.

However the officer placed his fist at my nose and shouted as an order:

– Get into the wagon quickly… Forget from where you come. You will never again see your city before your eyes…
There was a disturbance. Soldiers sealed the doors, retreated and stood on guard with their automatic weapons in front.

No one dared to stick out his head. I looked at the Czyzewo fields through the small window and on the blue horizon the forest was covered entirely by clouds. I thought I saw the souls of the thousands of slaughtered Jews…

We arrived in Shatura, a settlement near Moscow with a giant electrical station and large peat plants, after several weeks of traveling.

The wagons were opened and there were many dead Germans who could not endure the hardship, the hunger.

We were given food to eat for the first time in the camp. Our stomachs did a dance and we ran back and forth… Many could not endure and fell dead…

[Page 904]

In the morning, the individual investigation immediately began:

– Tell the truth! Who are you, from where?
The methods, the threats and torturing were reminiscent of the S.S., the Gestapo.

It was the same at work. They stood in mud over their knees and shaped the peat. The soldiers chased them without stop. People fell like flies.

I wanted to have revenge on the Germans. Had they not tortured the Jews in Czyzewo, in Zembrowe, everywhere, exactly in this way? However, I did not feel any joy in this. We were molded from entirely different clay. The human pain moved me. I helped anyone I could.

I began to think about getting out of there. The area was full of bogs and all of the roads were guarded. Yet, I noticed that people decided to escape. I noticed how they communicated with each other, often in sign language, only with the eyes and they disappeared together into the dark night. How far they went – I did not know.

I also did the same thing; I started on the road at night with a young Polish peasant from the Czyzewo area.

It was the middle of the night. Everything around appeared to be sunk in a deep sleep, a stillness, dark, cold. The sky was covered with heavy clouds.

Suddenly I saw how people were moving along, looking at everyone and hurrying farther. Like shadows or like spirits, everyone in the same direction.

We followed them, although we knew they did not know the way better than us.

[Page 905]

Walking began to be more difficult. The shadows suddenly disappeared from our sight. From time to time a shout was heard from somewhere. However, we did know from which side it came. Suddenly we felt that we were sinking.

We were in slimy mud.

A frightening fear ruled us even more. The mud reached to our chests.

I began to tap with my hand to find something to hold onto. My eyes bored through the darkness and I saw a young tree not far from me. I began to reach for the tree with all of my strength. Finally, I succeeded in grabbing the branches and felt the hard ground under my feet.

I looked around and saw that my comrade was standing in the same place, mud up to his chest. I shouted to him, but he could not take a step.

I succeeded in finding a long pole and went back into the mud as far as for him to be able to grab on the pole and I pulled him to the shore with all of my strength.

After going several kilometers, I saw that he was falling off his feet. He sat down and said that he would not be able to go far. His strength was gone. He was drawn back to the plank bed.

I began to go alone.

Finally, I returned to the Sztol train line. I waited for the small train to arrive that carried peat and I jumped on a wagon full of peat as it rode by.

I traveled covered with wet peat across hundreds of kilometers.

[Page 906]

However, the wagon was an open one and when day began to dawn I had to jump down at the first station.

It was a small shtetl where I seldom met a passerby, only individual peasants with milk and small cakes, who had just returned to the marketplace near the station. I was hungry, but did not have any money to buy anything.

A peasant noticed how I looked at the small cakes with hungry eyes and gave me one, pouring me a glass of milk.

When I greedily drank it up, he simply told me that his village had been alerted at night to be aware if any escapees from the camp were hiding in the area.

He looked at me with searching eyes and I understood that he realized who I was.

It was clear to me that I had nothing to lose. In addition, the peasant evoked trust in me and I openly told him that I had escaped from the camp, where I had been sent through an error.

The peasant endeavored to make a pretense that he did not hear what I had said to him and so again as normal talked about which was the best road to take to Moscow.

I lay stuck somewhere in a corner the entire day. When it got very dark I again jumped onto a small passing train and buried myself under the peat.

Through the cracks I saw going by high chimneys from giant factories that

[Page 907]

in the night looked like black giants who were chasing me, threatening: your escape is useless!

Suddenly I felt as if the train had crossed an iron bridge across a lake. According to the peasant's instruction, the train to Moscow had to pass here.

I waited until the train decreased its speed a little and jumped off.

Judging from the fires, I understood that I was not far from the station. I approached cautiously. In the dark I ran into a shadow. At first my heart stopped in fear, but I immediately realized that this was as lonely a dog as I. I was the first one to begin a conversation and it appeared that he was going to Moscow without a ticket, without money.

The freight train to Moscow arrived. It did not stop, only went a little slower. We took advantage of this and jumped onto a step of the wagon.

There was a strong wind. Our bodies became stiff from the cold and fear. We could fall from the step at any moment. The train went at terrific speed and we desperately held onto the iron handles of the wagon.

It was already dawn when the train approached Moscow. We

[Page 908]

said goodbye, sprang down from the train and headed to Moscow in various ways.

Arriving at the electric station I immediately recognized a Jewish woman among the waiting passengers. This was my first encounter with a Jew since I had left for the woods.

I went over to her, began to speak Yiddish and told her in short words who I was and how I came here. She did not want to speak with me. She looked away to all sides with fear in her eyes and advised me that I should quickly return to the camp because they would not help me in any way here.

I left her dejected, but I did not think of returning to the camp. I saw before me the troubles I would have to go through, but I did not want to give in.

I immediately noticed a second Jew. I went to him, but I decided not to be so open and did not tell him that I had escaped from the camp. I told him that I had come from Tashkent.

Perhaps the other one immediately recognized that I was not telling the truth. He walked with me quietly through the noisy streets. In his house, he asked me to sit and immediately said:

– It would be better if you told me the entire truth. Perhaps I will be able to help you in some way… At the same time, he said to his wife:

– He must be hungry. Cook something.

His wife immediately cooked potatoes and borscht for me. How many years had it been since I ate such a human lunch in a Jewish house at a table with people!

It turned out that the way in which I ate said everything to the Jew because he said quietly to his wife:

[Page 909]

– You see then that he has not eaten for a long time. Give him more.
Calmed, I told him everything. He listened to me earnestly and said that my situation was really difficult, but that the worst was behind me; I should not worry but be very careful.

He gave me an address for a Jew at a Moscow synagogue and 20 rubles for my first expenses.

It was already late when I arrived at the Maroseyker Synagogue. No one was there. I stood worried and not knowing what more to do. Suddenly someone stopped near me and asked who I was looking for in Russian.

I immediately recognized that this was a Jew. I thought that in a Jew who was walking near the synagogue I could have trust and I told him everything. He took me home with him, let me spend the night, gave me a fresh shirt, fed me and, in the morning, he gave me the address of the union where they needed to accept me. He told me that they receive a great deal of help from Jews abroad and I should be bold.

At the union I was sent to Ber Mark, the chairman of the Jewish committee of the union. I again lost my confidence and said to him that I had come from Siberia where I had remained all alone.

Despite all of my experience, I had not learned how to tell a lie. They immediately recognized that I was hiding something. Ber Mark, listening to me, strongly warned that he would not be involved with me, would not give me any help, if I did not tell him the entire truth.

[Page 910]

It was only when I told him everything that he checked the lists of the surviving Jews. My sister was not there. He told me about the pogrom that had taken place in Czyzewo after the liberation. I believed that my sister was alive and asked him to help me to return home.

Ber Mark promised me to do everything. Meanwhile, I received a provisional document and a place to sleep in a hotel outside Moscow.

The help that I received was not enough. I had a considerable hunger. Bread was still rationed and I could not dream of this.

All day I would walk through the Moscow streets and at the metro stations where the stream of millions of people flowed without stop. I slowly lost the ability to differentiate who was a Jew. People who to me appeared similar to Czyzewo Jews turned out to be pure… Armenians, Syrians, Persians and Georgians.

The hopes that I placed in Ber Mark ran out little by little. He actually could not help me to leave Moscow in a legal manner.

I, myself, began to look for a way to leave the Soviet Union.

I walked around the train station for several days, looking for the possibility of getting onto a train that was going to the Polish border.

Once while walking in the White Russian train station, I noticed a Lithuanian refugee family that was returning home… They had many packages and several small

[Page 911]

children. I helped them carry things into the train wagon and when the train moved I did not descend and traveled with them as far as Molodëzhnyy.

When the train stopped in Molodëzhnyy I suddenly noticed a transport that stood ready to go to Poland. Without thinking a great deal, I immediately entered this train.

Finally we traveled past Plock; I heard how they were shouting Plock. I sprang down with joy. I immediately realized my mistake. This was Polotsk, the Russian shtetl.

My nerves were strained by the continuous anxiety and I began to jump from one train into another, and fell into the hands of an NKVD [Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the Soviet secret police] inspection. My provisional documents from the Union of Polish Patriots surprised them. They did not know what to do with me and left me alone.

Finally I arrived in Bialystok.

I did not meet one Jew in Czyzewo. I went on foot in the village to Janczewski, who gave me food and several zlotys and told me that my sister was alive, but that he did not know where she had gone.

It was as if I were being chased by a fever. I immediately ran to the train and in three hours I was in Warsaw.

I did not see anyone in Warsaw then. However, the destruction that was

[Page 912]

revealed to me made a terrible impression on me.

Solitary, I wandered through the streets, among the ruins and gravel, in the direction of the ghetto. All around there was only destruction, ruins.

I felt as if the ash lay on my heart, on my young shoulders, but I bore all this with an anxious stubbornness.

I left for Praga, There I met several Jews; they walked around like shadows. Some were still searching for someone; some already had lost any hope.

One asked the other:

– Why did you come here? Who are you? How long do you contemplate remaining here?
I was advised to go to Lodz; there were more Jews there. Perhaps, I would find someone.

Arriving in Lodz at dawn, I saw a long line standing near a meat store and I realized that they were arguing in Yiddish.

To my question if anyone knew someone from Czyzewo, someone in the line said that he knew a Jew from Ciechanowiec [Ciechanowiec is about eight miles from Czyzewo], who was named Slawaczik and who lived on Zawadzki Street, no. 15.

Arriving at the house at the address I was given I felt as if I were in a foggy vision, where the brain is over-strained and one begins to dream while awake. The young man who opened the door said something into the second room, from which I heard the voice of a woman:

– Motl!
[Page 913]

This was my sister.

She had just gotten up from sleeping. In her dream she had heard my voice and sprang up from bed and we both cried.

This was a cry of joy and sadness all in one.

However, it is wonderful that after such tears it becomes easier. My sister took me with her warm and sure hand and took me with her.

We were together again, but not for long.

In May 1946 I traveled to Germany with a convoy and my new wandering began through German cities, across Austria and Italy and back.

I was drawn into the life of the former concentration camp inmates, who were involved with commerce in all of the countries.

It was illegal to sell; the police and secret agents always chased us. Once such a police agent caught me and placed me under arrest. I hit him, tore myself away and escaped.

[Page 914]

Police began to chase me along with Austrian civilians and in the end they caught me. At my trial I said that I had thought a Nazi was attacking me with a gun and so I defended myself.

Several years later, in 1949, I came to the same Austrian city, Salzburg, as a soldier in the American intelligence service.

While in a restaurant I met the same agent and paid him for the trouble he had caused me.

I was in the army until 1953. I was demobilized in America. Later I worked as a salesman in an iron business where I learned to be a locksmith.

In 1956 I bought the business from my uncle.

I married a sabra (a Jew born in Israel during the establishment of the nation) from Israel. My life was renewed. But I will never forget everything I lived through. Each name of the annihilated Czyzewo Jews is dear and sacred to me!

 

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