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[Page 307]

The Heroic Death of the Old Man Hershl Fajga

by Moshe Fajga

Translated from Yiddish to English by Asher Szmulewicz

At the beginning of the war my father was already 85 years old. During his old age one misfortune followed another. In 1940 two of his daughters died, Rachel and Aidel Nache. Then his wife, Mirel, passed away. Overwhelmed by the grief, he decided to leave Klobuck and go (by attempting to smuggle through the border) to Czestochowa in the Polish “General-Government”. The attempt to re-locate did not succeed. The old man had to go back to Klobuck, where he lived with his son-in-law, Arye Besser, He received financial assistance from his son, Moshe Arye.

The old man did not know tranquility. He was informed that his son Henech, who was sent to forced labor, became sick there. Henech was sent to the Sosnowiec hospital. He was in danger of passing away in the hospital. Reb Hershl decided to secretly take his son from the hospital. For this purpose he hired a Pole he knew, who went to Sosnowiec, and took Henech out from the hospital. The Pole brought Henech to Klobuck. When he arrived there he (Henech) was informed that his wife and her brother, Leizer Green, were brutally killed.

Despite all of these difficult and painful experiences, the old man did not (emotionally) break down. On Rosh Hashanah, 1940, all of our living family members gathered to wish my old uncle a happy new year. Reb Hershl comforted us: “The downfall of Hitler will come”. He said to me:

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“I am already an old man. Being 85 years old I cannot do anything. You will be able to take revenge on the Germans”.
I remember the last tragic moments of the old man's life. It was Yom Kippur, in 1942. I was compelled to work at the “Vulcan”, a factory that once belonged to Shmuel Gelersztein. On my way (to work) I remembered that it was Yom Kippur, and I went to greet my uncle, the old man, Hershl Fajga. I found him praying at the Warszewer shtibel. My uncle asked me if I was going to work (on Yom Kippur). Not wanting to cause him distress, I denied the fact that I was going to the factory. The old man told me then: “There is no point of working for the Germans, because they will kill us anyway. The (train) carriages are ready to send us away”. At the end (of our visit), the old man suggested that I accompany him to a bunker (and hide ourselves). I thanked him and walked away to go to work.

Indeed, at the end of Yom Kippur the first deportation started. The Germans shot (people) in the streets. Jews fled to bunkers. I was allowed to enter the factory that formerly belonged to Goldsztein, where I had worked. In the factory, there was a gathering place for the “useful craftsmen”. The majority of the Jews from Klobuck were sent to Treblinka, to death.

I was among the “useful craftsmen”, who were sent to Czestochowa to the “Hasag” factory. After three months of hard labor I escaped from the “Hasag-camp”, and hid myself in the small ghetto in Czestochowa. There I was with my brother-in-law, Wone Reich . He told me about the heroic death of my 85 year old uncle, Hershl Fajga.

Wone Reich, together with other Jews, remained in Klobuck after the deportation, and he worked in the “Command-Room”, which was responsible for moving the furniture and the other Jewish belongings that was left after the deportation of the Jews. Wone, together with other Jews from the “Command-Room”, did the work under a heavy German guard.

Once they went to Berek Joselewicz street and saw a group of Germans taking Jews out of a bunker. There

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was the old man, Hershl Fajga, and his son, Henech, his daughter, Chaye Sarah, his sister Ita Szmulewicz and others.

The old man spoke to Wone: “Now you will be able to see what the Germans will do to us”.

The Germans forced the Jews to walk to the marketplace, from where they were going to be sent to work. The old man, Hershl Fajga, answered: “You can shoot us here, I am not moving from here”. The Germans immediately shot my uncle, and the 85 year old Hershl Fajga, fell dead. All of the others who were with him let themselves be led by the Germans, and they were all shot. This mass murder of the Jews of Klobuck was conducted by the Germans a few days after Yom Kippur in 1942.

*

Baruch Szimkowicz gave us the following portrait of Reb Hershl Fajga:

He always worked for the community in Klobuck, and was always a faithful, devoted, Gerer Chasid. During the last Rabbi election, Reb Hershl Fajga, with his heart and soul, defended the candidate of the Gerer Court, who was a grandson of the first Gerer Rebbe: the “Baal Chidoushei Harim”[1]. During the winter, Reb Hershl Fajga took great pleasure by staying among the common people, close to the tile-oven in the Beit Midrash, where he told of the deeds of the Gerer Court.


Translator's footnote:

  1. Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Rottenberg Alter was the founder of Chassidut Gur, called Baal Chidoushei Harim (Harim from Rabbi Yitzhak Meir).

[Page 310]

Liberation and Still Between Life and Death

by Berl Yakubowicz

Translated from Yiddish to English by Asher Szmulewicz

This happened on May 3rd 1945, at 6 o'clock in the morning. After five years of being threatened by a gun, I stood at the edge of the forest, listening for any movement. I was hungry, like a wolf in the woods. Close to the woods there was a field with potatoes. We grabbed the half rotten potatoes and ate them. Afterwards, we decided that we had to get rid of our prison clothes, with their stripes. Thus we dug a hole and buried our clothes, so that people would not know that we were Jews from a “Katzet” (concentration camp). I was left only with my shirt.

We decided to separate into two groups, of three and two (persons). Thus, if we were caught, we would not be a large group, and be mistaken as spies or paratroopers. Two of us left, and I stayed with the other two people.

Later my two friends went away, and I remained alone in the woods. I thought about what I should do. I was afraid to approach a German. I decided to go to the first house (I saw), and I would go in. Being afraid of meeting Germans, I entered in a stable. In the stable there was a cart and various plows.

I noticed that in a corner there was a small attic. There was no need of a ladder to get up there. With two strides I jumped into the attic, which was under the roof.

I decided to stay in the attic until the Americans (arrived), and I would be set free. If this took a few more days, I decided to go into the woods during the day, and sleep in the attic during the night. In case I was caught, I no longer would (identify myself) as a Jew anymore. I decided to say that I was a Pole, who worked for a German farmer in Silesia, and when the Russians got close, we all fled so as not to be caught by the Russians.

Looking through a crack, I saw a farmer, about 40 years old, prepare his car, into which he put a sack of clothes and various other things,

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and I heard him say to his wife that he was not going to surrender to the “cursed Americans”. His wife and their two children decided to stay. The farmer looked at his wife and children and disappeared. Listening to this conversation I decided that when it became dark I would go to the house of the farmer's wife, and ask for something to eat and for some clothes.

Suddenly there was a loud explosion, and the whole building, where I was hiding, was jolted from the blast. At the same time I heard squadrons of small aircraft shooting their machine guns. I thought then that the liberation must be coming. My heart was pounding like a hammer. After 5 years in camp, I will finally be free.

Looking from the cracks, I saw on the road a row of heavy tanks. Close to the road people were standing waving white handkerchiefs. Soon white flags were hung. I understood that the Americans had arrived here. After 10 minutes I decided to go out to be free.

I went to a German house, and asked for food and clothes. They did not ask who I was. They served me bread, milk and gave me a bag to take away. I was very hungry, and without patience, I opened the bag and started to eat.

The American tanks drove in one direction. I went to the other side of the road. An officer in a jeep paid attention to me. He stopped and called to me and started to speak English. I shrugged (not understanding him). He stopped a tank, and the tank left the row, so that the other ones could continue. A soldier came out and spoke with me in German. I answered him. A second soldier came out and spoke with me in Polish. The officer left and disappeared with the jeep.

I stood for about 15 minutes, close to the tank, and told them everything. Soon there was a soldier and another one who spoke English, German, Polish, Russian, French and other various languages. The soldiers told

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me that I was free. It was evening, and my joy was indescribable. After 5 years I was again free.

 

Among Germans after the Liberation

I went to the village. The village was called Abing. I went inside the first house of the village, and asked for something to eat. They gave me something to eat and to drink. It was already night. The American armored vehicles were driving by, without interruption.

In the house where I was, I asked the Germans to give me clothes to wear. I asked for trousers, and shoes – and I received everything (I asked for).

The old German couple prepared a bed for me to sleep in. I turned down the offer to sleep in the bed, because I did not trust sleeping with the old Germans in the same room. I asked them to prepare a cot bed in the attic. They prepared a cot bed for me in the attic, although I could not fall asleep. The tanks passed by the whole night. The house was shaking from the tanks, and my heart was jumping from joy. I was free. Also the food I ate, being satiated after being hungry for so long, did not let me sleep. It was liking cutting my stomach with knives. The uncleanliness also weakened my body. I did not sleep for the whole night.

When the day came, I left the attic fast. The old people asked me who I was and where I came from. I told them something, and asked for warm water to wash myself. They had a wooden bathtub, similar to the one that was in the Klobuck mikveh (ritual bath house). They warmed up several pots of water, and the wooden bath tub was put in the stable because it was warm there. I washed extensively, because it had been several months since I had any water to wash my body. I shaved, I ate and went out in the village to look for my friends, but I did not find them.

I lived like this for a few days in the old couple, farmers' house. After a week I found my friends; they had acquired food from the best sources.

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We were satiated: meat, alcohol and other good things. Immediately I felt weak and had stomach pain and fever. I was bedridden for several days in my friends' apartment. They brought a nurse, who measured my fever, and told me that I had to go to the hospital.

My friends and the nurse brought me to the hospital, which was a small house with four rooms. There was no expert doctor, only the village doctor. I was put in a room by myself because I had stomach typhus. The nurse and the doctor took great care of me. When I arrived in the hospital I was afraid to say that I was a Jew, being afraid that they may poison me. I said that I was a Christian, and that my name was Boleslav Yakubowski.

The head nurse was Italian. I received various injections, but the fever did not go down. The compress did not help either. Every day a priest came to visit the sick people, and since I said I was a Christian, he came to visit me also.

The fever was higher every day, until it went up to 41.8 degrees centigrade. The nurse called the doctor. He came and gave me injections. Suddenly I noticed the priest in the room, with his cassock; a large, white, silvered sewn stripe around his neck (stole); and an octagon shaped hat on his head. On his chest hung a big cross, and in his hand was a prayer book.

The head nurse, with two candlesticks, also entered the room with him. She laid the candlesticks on the table, and set two candles in them. She left the room. I remained alone with the priest. With a soft voice he told me: since we are all Christians believing in Jesus, we believe that when somebody is sick, the priest must pray to God for his recovery. He asked me to answer everything he was to ask me. I was still and calm, hearing his questions, but did not have the strength to answer him. He told me to nod with my head to give him a sign for yes or no.

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He asked me if I knew the Ten Commandments, and if I followed them. He turned a few pages, he said a few words, took a piece of cotton and dipped it in a glass with wine and made the sign of the cross above my head and said a few words from the prayer book.

At the end he wished that God will help me, and that I would be healthy and again be an observant Catholic, and he left the room. After he left the room I started to whisper Vidui (Prayer to be said before passing away), and I fell asleep.

When I woke up, the nurse told me that I had slept 16-17 hours straight. She measured the fever: 35.3 degrees centigrade. She immediately called the doctor. He came at once and she gave him a report of the night. They measured the temperature again, and I had 35.4. I received injections to fortify myself. The doctor went away. The head nurse told me that the crisis was over and that I would recover.

After a few days an American military ambulance came with three soldiers, who had red crosses on their arms. They told me that I must go with them because I had typhus, and that I needed a special treatment from a bigger hospital, that specialized in typhus.

I did not want to go, but the doctor who cared for me came and told me that I must go with them, because it will be better for me there. I allowed myself to be convinced. They took me on a stretcher and put me in the ambulance. A nurse accompanied me and we arrived in the hospital. I received clothes. I was in a wooden barrack. Soon several Jews came in and greeted me with “Amcho” (from our people). In the barrack there were about twenty Jews.

I was in the hospital several weeks, which was located in Trassberg (Bavaria). When I recovered, I was again

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a free man, but alone and solitary, without parents and family, a lonely person in the world.

In 1948 I made my Aliyah to Israel. The small Greek boat, “Panama”, struggled with the waves of the Mediterranean sea and made its way to the Israel coast. On Shabbat, the day after the proclamation of Independence, May 15th 1948, I arrived in Tel-Aviv.

 

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