Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Eight days after the outbreak of the war in 1939, Czyzewo, our shtetl [town], shuddered during a frightening bombardment of incendiary bombs. Very few houses remained undamaged. The Jewish population ran wherever their eyes led them, to the nearby villages and forests. Or even to the fields, under a hail of bullets that the German murderers endlessly shot from machine guns. This continued until night, when we no longer saw the blazing sky and mourned the shtetl, our Czyzewo, which had become a ruin.
The German military entered the city. People slowly returned to the shtetl, which had been turned into a large mountain of ash. Many families traveled to the nearby shtetlekh, which fortuitously were not burned. Several families along with ours moved in with Motl Szczupakewicz, whose house had remained undamaged. With the little food we had hidden, we lived meanwhile in fear for what the future would bring us.
The German murderers immediately on their arrival began their terror against the Jewish population. Young and old were grabbed for heavy work, with beatings without reason. We were quickly broken physically and emotionally. However, deep in our hearts a weak hope smoldered that the war would end quickly and we would all survive. The situation changed quickly. Poland was divided between Germany and Russia and our shtetl became a border city between both parts.
We lived under Russian rule over the course of 20 months. It was a strenuous life, but yet we lived. We worked in various cooperatives. People returned to Czyzewo. Building began again a little on plots divided by the government. It appeared that things were beginning to be normal.
One morning, we again unexpectedly heard the thunder of artillery guns and saw how the Russian military was running in haste. The Germans were soon in the street. A panic broke out among the Jewish population. The German murderers immediately gave an order that the Jews must put on yellow patches and bestowed murderous blows just for sadistic pleasure.
A Judenrat [Jewish council] was chosen that consisted of four people. They were responsible for carrying out the German orders exactly. The order that a sum of money and gold had to be provided came immediately. People saw a bit of a consolation in this; perhaps
our lives would be ransomed for money? However, time revealed that this was only an illusion and disappointment came quickly.
On a certain day, an order came: All people without regard to age and type should come to the market. No one could imagine that this was the call to the death camp. They consoled themselves that they were again being taken to work.
The S.S. men took the sick from their beds and small children from their cradles and, with the help of the Polish police, searched for all of the hidden Jews and brought them together to one place; my sick grandmother was among them.
Only those who were considered capable of work were chosen. All of the others were loaded in autos, driven somewhere and we do not know what became of their remains.
Those remaining were taken to several houses outside the city and they declared:
Only those capable of work remain here. Later, the areas will be fenced in as a work camp.
I, Ruchl Kachan, Horowicz's daughter and several others (I cannot remember their names now) worked in the Czyzewo courtyard near Sokolowski. In order not to have to endure being bothered by the hooligan policemen who would come to visit the work camp every night, we received permission to remain overnight in a house in the courtyard. Ruchl Kachan and I lay on a small bench.
The bad news about the annihilation of the Czyzewo Jews spread quickly to the surrounding shtetlekh. It also reached Sokolow. Although the Jews there also lived in a ghetto, they had nevertheless
convinced themselves that they would avoid the misfortune because they had better conditions. Therefore, my uncle sent a special messenger that we should all come to him in Sokolow.
My mother, sister and I traveled with him. However, my father in no way wanted to go because he bore a certain responsibility. He was afraid that because of his departure others would suffer. The Germans would punish them for his disappearance.
After several months in Sokolow, we returned to Czyzewo. We could not remain there calmly, not knowing what was happening to our father. Therefore, we decided to return and whatever happened at least we would all be together.
We imagined that we would live because we still belonged to the labor camp. But on a given day the commissar's Christian cook secretly told us that the alarm clock was set for 12 midnight. This was a bad sign.
Returning to Czyzewo, I was registered for work with the German commissar. Two men also worked there, Feywl Niewad and another one, whose name I do not remember now. My mother and sister worked on the highway.
Returning to the labor camp at night we saw all of the Jews in great despair because they had learned the Poles would carry out their orders very early.
The question was in everyone's mouth:
What do we do?But no one could answer. Some ran to the forests, others
ran to hide with Christian acquaintances, but what Christian wanted then to hide a Jew? Others ran to their work, thinking that they would not be taken from their work. My mother and my sister also ran to the highway work. Alas, I never again saw them among the living.
My father did not want to hide at first. He said that wherever he hid they would find him and shoot him. He was then in the Judenrat. What would people say if he also hid?
He went around and recited Psalms.
It was very difficult for me to leave my father and escape. I sat with him until he actually forced me to escape. Perhaps I would succeed in getting Polish documents and as a Christian perhaps I could survive.
These were the last words that I heard from him.
My thought was that I would hide somewhere overnight and in the morning we would be able to see each other. But the two men with whom I worked at the commissar came in and convinced me that I should go with them through the camp fence and we would go to the courtyard of the commissar where his beloved animals were located. From there we would be able to observe everything that was happening in the camp.
It was dawn, still dark, when the wild S.S. members surrounded the camp, gathering everyone there, loaded them into wagons and took them to Zambrow. We here, in the commissar's courtyard, waited for a miracle.
We sat in the animal garden. When the Christian servant brought food for the animals she also brought a little warm food for us. But none of us could swallow a drop. We had a premonition of what awaited us.
When the S.S. finished their work in the camp they came to the commissar, found us hidden in his garden and they reacted like animals. We were sure that they would shoot us at once, but the commissar arranged that meanwhile we would be taken to jail.
This was on a Sunday when the pious Christians went to church. Two policemen took us with loaded rifles the way criminals are taken. The two men were led into a cell and I into another. I counted the minutes the entire day, knowing that these were my last hours and the end would be at night.
Around five o'clock at night the keys in the door of my cell were heard. The policemen reported to me that more hidden Jews were found; they would all be placed in jail.
This was true. All were actually crammed together in the jail that was near the gmina [administrative district office]. Now we knew that everyone was being brought together in one place and we would be sent to Zambrow.
But in the morning we received an order to go the work camp. There we were shown three small houses in which we were told to remain. Whoever dared to go out would immediately be shot. Everything that the Jews still possessed was taken out to a clearance sale to the neighboring Poles.
There were about 15 people in the camp then, women and men. We were sure that we would soon be taken to Zambrow. Several decided to escape into the forest. Others hid with Christians. I was never brave, but my will to live was so strong that I decided to escape to the Christian world.
Before going away I learned that my mother and my sister Faygl were hiding somewhere. I sent them word that they should go with me, wherever fate would determine for us. But my sister ordered me to go alone because their faces could betray me. They had decided to return to the labor camp.
Before leaving the camp I heard that Ruchl Zilbersztajn was hidden in one of the small houses and when she wanted to quickly move to a second house she was murdered by the police.
Due to the provocation of the Poles, it became more difficult to find a hiding place anywhere. We, therefore, made peace with our fate and waited to be taken to Zambrow.
Making use of a moment when there were few policemen, we succeeded in going over to the other side of the camp. Wrapped in a thick peasant-like shawl, I went in a wagon to a village near Zambrow where I had a Christian acquaintance. I could not travel too far. I did not have any documents. Despite this I hoped that perhaps I would be able somehow to help my parents who remained in the Zambrow camp.
Alas, I no even had a chance to try to do something because everyone had been sent to Auschwitz from which no one returned.
I succeeded in acquiring Christian documents under the name of Janina Zarczicka. I worked in the village and hoped for a miracle, a redemption.
But fate wanted something else for us and one day Czyzewo Christians, who I knew very well, traveled through the village. They noticed me; they did not say anything and I thought that they would not denounce me. But at night, Marcziniak, the Czyzewo policeman, arrived in the village with an order from the commissar to shoot me on the spot.
The peasants in the village had a little heart and they let me know that they would ask the murderer that he not do it.
The order was that I must come out at four o'clock in the morning into the garden in the courtyard where the murderer would need to carry out the execution.
I strongly doubted whether the good peasants would convince the murderer and, therefore, I spent the night in a nightmare between hope and doubt. I asked myself: is it possible that people would watch a person being shot without asking why and not providing any resistance?
At the chosen time, four o'clock in the morning, I came to the garden where Marcziniak, the murderer, was already waiting. I also saw some Christian acquaintances walking there who assured me that for appearance's sake, Marcziniak would shoot into the air so that it would be known in the village that he had exactly carried out the
commissar's order. They told me that a wagon was ready with which I would go away to Lomza immediately after this.
In no way could I believe my ears; was it possible? Were they successful in convincing the well known murderer!
But it happened as the good peasants promised me. I immediately left for Lomza.
I was also afraid of the bright light of day. Each day it became more difficult to hide. Several Christians from the place where I was staying volunteered for work in Germany. I joined this group.
After going through various inspections I sat a lucky one on the train that took the workers to East Prussia.
After arriving in Interburg [Insterburg], the labor office sent us to various areas for field work.
I toiled hard for two years with the German peasants. But I lived with the hope that it would end some day.
The day finally came. We heard the Russian artillery fire. The German peasants became very frightened, left everything and ran to the American side. They took us, the workers, with them because they were sure that they would quickly return to their estates and it was a shame to lose the slave workers.
A heavy battle with the Russians took place in the city Keslin. Finally the Russian tanks entered the city where a great number of Soviet prisoners, as well as all of the foreign workers who had wrested themselves from their German overseers, waited for them.
Taking their rucksacks on their backs, they immediately began to march back home.
There were no train movements then. So they went on foot.
I traveled for two weeks in this way.
I arrived in Poznan with many other Polish woman and men where we found trucks on which to travel.
On the entire road back I still had hope after everything that perhaps there had been a miracle and I would meet someone from those closest to me.
Arriving in Czyzewo, I went up to an acquaintance in the suburbs of the city in order to learn how the situation appeared in the shtetl. As soon as she saw me she ran into the city calling the several Jews who had miraculously survived.
The two Szwarc sisters, Dina Frydman and Grosodzin's sister came. They asked me to come to them to spend the night where we would tell each other of our experiences.
We did not say one word going through the paved streets of Czyzewo. A great pain pressed on our hearts. I felt as if everything was drenched in the blood of those closest to us.
I took out a document with my correct name at the gmina and went back to the Christians to spend the night and in the morning to drive through the cities to look for someone from my family, because I already knew that I had nothing to look for in Czyzewo. Everything was lost.
Avraham Iglo and the girls accompanied me to the Christians and calmly returned home. At night I heard shooting. I asked the Christian what this can mean. Her answer was:
The Russian like to shoot at night.[Page 1039]
But I had a bad premonition and could not fall asleep.
I left very early for the train station. There, a Christian acquaintance told me about the misfortune that had happened to several Jews from Czyzewo who were miraculously saved from the gas chambers or from other dangers and who had barbarically been murdered at home this night by the Polish bandits.
I left with the first train for Sokolow, with the hope of finding a trace there of our many branched family.
But here, too, the brown death killed everything that had the name, Jew.
Also here, I did not find anyone.
As it appears, the fate, the blind fate preferred that I survive in order to be able to tell about those who can no longer speak.
May their memory be consecrated.
A Tzishaver Partisan's Story
Translaton donated by Andrea Bolender
In loving memory of Benek Bolender
When the war broke out in 1939, I was 13 years old. I didn't yet comprehend what is war. I first came to grips when I had already paid a dear price. I lost all who were beloved and dear to me and their holy remembrance is forever etched in my memory.
I lost my parents and my entire family; I was the only one to make it out alive.
For years, I couldn't fathom that such things could transpire. Unfortunately, I made peace with believing that it was the truth yet I shudder every time I remind myself of it all.
When Tzishave was bombed by the Germans, we were all lying in a cellar. There were many dead. The city was burning. We were left without a roof over our heads. At that point my father ob'm, took us to Gramadvin.
There (in Gramadvin) we got a place to sleep in a stable and we were also able to get by with the food but we weren't able to stay there for long so we returned to Tzishave. We were taken into a house not far from the slaughter house. I don't remember the name of our host, all I remember is that he worked at the motel in the mill.
My father sent me on a train to Lomza, over there my grandfather ob'm had his own house. I returned safely and you can imagine the happiness when the saw me alive.
We said goodbye to all of our acquaintances and friends and left for Lomza (this was already in the time when the Russians were still in Tzishave). My father would often travel to Tzishave for business.
In the year 1941 in an early morning, suddenly airplanes appeared in the skies and they were throwing down bombs like a heavy rain. The Russians said that this was military maneuvers but the bitter truth came out later when we saw the destruction from the bombing.
The next morning, the Germans were already in Lomza. On the roads we saw Jews who had been shot. A week later, my brother Avrohom Shimon was taken for labor and from that point on I never saw him again.
A short while later they made a ghetto in Lomza where life became unbearable.
One day a order came that all men from a certain age were to gather at a place outside the ghetto. They were all put on black machines and were officially taken to work. In reality they were driven to the Tzarvanne wild forest and were all shot. Amongst them was my father ob'm.
Our family now consisted of, my mother, a sister, 2 brothers and myself. A while later they sent me to work in Simova. Over there I worked at the chateau. Later they sent me to work in a stone quarry where I became sick and I later escaped from there to Tzishave. Over there I met up with my relatives who forced me to go to Dr. Gerlich. He gave me a letter for the German camp commander (stating) that I couldn't work at the stone quarry and they sent me back to the Lomza ghetto.
Life in the ghetto was very difficult. They would suddenly grab people for forced labor. Those who could would hide on the roofs or in the cellars. At one such instance, I was hiding with other people on a roof. My cousin, Boruch Sendoss (?) was a policeman. The commander ordered him to go up on the roof and see if any Jews were hiding there. When he saw us there, he went down and said that no one was there. The commander didn't believe him and went up himself and found all of the people there.
On the spot he shot my cousin, HYD (Hashem Yinkom Domo- G-d avenge his death).
He fell as a sacrifice to sanctify the almighty's name.
The Gestapo demanded from the Jewish council of Lomza a few bearded Jews. Without warning the Gestapo police began searching on their own. They found my grandfather and another Yid from Kolna. They took both of them away. We learned later of their fate.
This is what Dr. Yuden told over.
When the car which was transporting bound up my grandfather and the other Yid passed a mountain in Rutka the Yid from Kolna managed to free himself and jumped out of the car. My grandfather was a weaker person and therefore couldn't help himself. When the car arrived in Rutka , the German opened the door and saw that my grandfather was alone and he shot him on the spot.
This was told to me by Yidden from Rutka who saw this with their own eyes. One person was named Avrohom Sendattsh Ob'm.
I worked in an artillery factory not far from Ostrova. On a certain day, rumors began were circulating that they'd be sending out the Jews from the ghetto to some work area.
I together with some other Lomzer Yidden snuck out of the ghetto by night and started walking towards Lomza where our parents were.
We went the entire way by foot almost entirely through forests. We passed through the area where not long before the Simaver Yidden were shot. Sticking out of the ground were bunches of hands and feet.
We stood there for a while kneeling with our heads bent however we soon schlepped on with our tired feet. We were already used to such happenings.
Entering the ghetto we saw destruction. Nobody knew for certain what was being done with those who were being sent out. With my mother's permission, I together with my older brother Leizer headed straight to the forest.
With a broken heart we said goodbye to our mother, sister and brother and without a word left the house.
We began looking for a way to escape from the ghetto.
After a long search we were successful.
We got going on the path which took us through the forest surrounding Zembrov. Along the way we met up with men, women and children who'd escaped from different ghettos. They told us that they were moving out all Lomza Jews to Zembrov.
In a forest not far from Zembrov we met a group of Russian Partisans. They allowed us to join them.
The Run From The Russians
They showed us that they considered us all equal in their goal. Each of us swore in his heart to defeat the Hitlerites and to avenge all of the spilled innocent Jewish blood.
Even in the forest our lives were far from certain. Death hovered over from all sides. However, we thought that at least we won't go without a fight. We won't let them lead us to slaughter like sheep.
Every minute of the day we readied ourselves for a German onslaught. Then we had to be careful not to fall into their murderous hands.
Weapons, give us weapons the younger people begged from the partisan leader. We'll be victorious!We did all sorts of hard labor and thought of ourselves as partisans.
In our hands burns the desire to pay back the enemies of the Jews for their cruelty.
Suddenly, when we thought that the Russian Partisans looked at us as their own and loyal to their cause came the tragic turn of events.
Get away from us! the Russians screamed, deal with the Germans yourselves. We don't want you to follow us.They took everything from us whatever we had and they left us hungry, broken and totally relying on the Almighty.
We started digging ditches. Tired and hungry we dug with our last strength. The ditches immediately filled with Yidden who wandered in the forest.
The worst was the hunger, there wasn't anywhere from where we could get food. Some of the younger fellows went to nearby villages to try to get food.
It was very dark and we were overtaken with fear. We were scared to travel far. When we left our ditches, we suddenly heard shooting in our direction. We quickly hid, each person where he could. Later when it was quiet we went back to our ditches.
While we couldn't see, we could hear the moaning and cries for help from the wounded. Obviously, this was coming from those who were still alive. We had nothing to help with. There were many dead. It seemed like the villagers had reported and shown the forest where the Jews were hiding.
The few survivors decided not to remain in the forest to be shot like animals. We went back to Zembrov in the barrack and happen what may happen but at least together with all the Yidden.
It so happened that I fell into one of the first transports. They packed into wagons thousands of Yidden and took them to the train station in Tzishave where empty cattle wagons were waiting for us.
We arrived at the station in Auchwitz 1/12/1943 at night.
The station was well lit. We were ordered to leave the wagons where there were many dead and we were ordered to leave everything in the wagon.
We stood outside for a long time and waited. I was together with my mother, sisiter and brother and suddenly we realized that the Germans were selecting workers.
My older brother was amongst those workers.
I was very short and it enabled me to run over to my older brother who was standing on the left side. Right after, vehicles came and took away all those standing on the right. We later found out that a day later they were all burned.
All of the workers had numbers made on their left hand.
Being in Birkenau (now Bzshezshinki) we saw how every day new transports arrived. Immediately when the train would stop, members of the SS would shout orders for everyone to disembark from the wagons. Whoever tried to take anything with him even a piece of bread was shot on the spot.
Often we would see how on the spot they'd make selections. From large groups of Yidden were chosen smaller groups of young men and the rest of the men with all the women were transported in autos to the crematorium.
It happened that suddenly brought an entire town. Worn out, half dead, skeleton like. The Germans saw that there wasn't anyone to select and they sent them all to the crematorium.
Later in that day, the gas chambers in the death factory Birkenau consumed forever the last remembrance of a Jewish town.
The remaining people from our transport waited for their death. Every day people were hit and beaten to death for no reason.
One time they called out that all stylists should gather at a certain place. My brother brought me along although I had no idea about styling.
We came to the place and came under a hail of blows and were then driven into a sauna. They then threw us out naked into 25 degree weather and ordered us to run. While running many people fell. Some of them were from Tzishave.
My brother Lazer became sick and went to the hospital.
A few days later there was a selection and my brother was amongst the sick who were sent to the ovens.
When we became close to the Russian front the Germans instituted what was called the death march.
They led us from one barrack to another. People were falling on the way like flies.
They schlepped us to a territorial city in Tshechia.
On May 8th the Russians came to free us.
I began wandering with a real will to go back to Poland. Maybe I'd find one of my relatives.
When I came to Tzisheva I was notified that the previous night, the Polacks killed the surviving Tzishevar Jews.
I didn't go into the city.
In 1948 after wandering for a long time, I arrived in America.
I have a wife with two children and don't have a bad life however what I witnessed and personally lived through, I'll never forget.
Forever I'll remember you (plural)
My father Mottel Bolender and my mother Rochel Leah. My brothers Shimon, Lazer and Chaim Yitzchok. My sister Sora Feiga. My uncles Fishel Bronstein his wife Chynka, Yitzchok Starkovisky and his wife Bulmsha (or Bultsha?) and their 4 children.
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