Years 1940 – 1945
I was born in Lanowitz on 19 December 1913. I was educated by the teachers: Asher Leib, Itzik Melamed, David Melamed and Avraham Eliezer Havis, (all deceased). Thereafter I was tutored by the Hebrew teacher Mr. Sefarim. My late brother Joseph was tutored at all times by Hebrew teacher Sefarim, and was a steady friend of Shalom Koitel, Zvi Brimmer, the late Lieber Blank, the late Eliezer Azriel and the late Aba Kofets. These friends later joined the local Hehalutz (=Zionist Pioneer) branch.
During our Hanukkah festival, all of us got together to play with dreidels inside one of the houses. On a clear day, one of them would bring a sled; and we would slide down from the hill on which the priest's house is located. This hill was completely covered with snow. On such occasions, the boys would include me, despite being younger than them. The boys did not include me in other common adventures because I was younger than them.
When I turned 18, in 1933, I attended together with other Hehalutz club members a memorial service for Dr. Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl in our main synagogue.
Bund (=Socialist party) club members: Byah, the late Michael Yithak Shmiel, the late Nahum Leib, and others met nearby. They had scheduled a play on the same day in the barn of the late Moshe Helban, hence claimed that the memorial service will interfere with their performance. [The main synagogue was near Mr. Helban's house and barn.] The Bund members entered the synagogue and busted the meeting, chasing all comers out of its hall. The last one to leave the hall was Joseph Buckstein, who fought them regarding their crazy act.
In 1934, when Bluma Miller left to immigrate to Palestine, a go-away party was given in her honor. At its conclusion, we sang our National Anthem, Hatiqva. The kibbutznicks among us did not rise during its singing. The head of this group was Sander from Brestezka. Shlomo Berman, who headed the local Keren Kayemet (JNF-Jewish National Fund) had sharp words with Sander regarding his refusal to join in singing Hatiqva.
When Polish President Pildsudski died, a procession was planned locally to provide him last honors. Shlomo Berman suggested the procession be lead by the youth group Hanoar Hatzair, and that the Hehalutz alumni should follow in their foot-steps. Aryeh Ginzburg (The red-head) disapproved. As a result, his group marched separately. Shlomo Berman succeeded once again to have a local fight, this time with Aryeh (Ginzburg).
In 1936 I was inducted into the (Polish) Army. I served in its infantry division near Krakow, in Unit No. 20. I completed my army service in 1937.
The late Asher Briliant, who was the chairman of the local Jewish Community became ill, and did not recover. He died that same evening. His funeral took place the next day. The Hesped (= funeral oration) was given in our main Synagogue, in the presence of the entire community. A Hesped in the synagogue hall is not in the Jewish tradition. In this case the community wanted to give him this special honor. After the oration, the entire community walked to the cemetery.
That night, after I returned from Mr. Briliant's funeral, it was 2 AM. The town's Soltas (Mayor) Yeruham Berezh, brought me that night an army call-up notice. I asked him who else got a call-up. He replied that the late Shimshon Melnow, and Avraham Fitterman received notices. On my return from the funeral, I immediately left, accompanied by my brother, Joseph, and my mother, for the train station, Avraham Fitterman, who lived near me, left with me. None of his family accompanied him to the train station, because his wife was pregnant at the time. He expressed anger that his two brothers-in-law, Simcha and Meir did not accompany him. The train took us to Dubno, to Division No. 43. Avraham and I were in the same unit. I did not get to see Shimshon Melnow since we took the train to Dubno.
Avraham and I were given two wagons laden with military hardware that we were ordered to move to Shlonsk (=name of the border province that includes Katowitz, near the Polish/German border). When war with Germany broke out on 01 Sept. 39, our unit No. 43 was relocated to a near-border position by rail. On the way, our train was attacked by German aircraft. Fortunately their bombs missed our train. However, we were ordered to jump off the train, unload the horses and wagons (that were apparently on the train) and escape with them into a nearby forest. At that point, Avraham and I parted company. After 3 days, we passed another unit, which included Avraham Fitterman. He recognized some of our soldiers, and asked about my whereabouts. They told him that I am lying in the forest nearby. He crawled on all fours and shouted Isaac, until he found me. He fell on me and cried, Who will remember if we perish? After one hour, the Germans started to fire into the forest. The forest started to burn. We all ran in different directions, and Avraham and I become separated.
From this moment, my wanderings start. I am all alone, bereft of friends, but I have resolved to stay alive, to tell my next generation what happened to me.
I was taken prisoner in Pelnitz. The Germans transferred me with other POWs to Stalag 1A near Koenigsberg. We received one loaf of bread for 10 persons. The next morning, we were sorted according to religion. In two barracks were housed 2,000 Jewish POWs. The Polish prisoners hit us, and took from us our good clothing.
The Germans ordered us to go out and remove the snow covering (from a road). We cleared 12 km per day. My legs froze and I fell into the snow. A German guard hit me, and two buddies carried me back to our camp. The guard hit them too, because they chose to carry me. They brought me back and put me into the camp's mortuary, because they thought I died. The next morning, a Polish doctor noticed me and transferred me to the camp hospital where I remained for 5 months while I recovered.
I was transferred to a Jewish POW camp near Biala-Podlaska (near Brest). We were guarded by German SS and Ukrainian guards. There we found out that a train loaded with Jews stood on the siding for several days, after which they were all killed. When we were left alone for several days, I thought our fate was also sealed. However, I was wrong. The Germans needed our labor to build an airfield. We were housed in a separate POW camp; however, we ate in the local Ghetto. Our meals were brought into the Ghetto daily. [How about that!– Ed]
The road from our camp to the airfield was a long one. Our Ukrainian guards would order us to run, hit us, and torture us. We would arrive at the airfield crying, and in pain. When the German commander heard our crying they asked what happened. We told them. The commander admonished the guards telling them, They are productive workers who add to our military capability. We must maintain their ability to work. From now on our men will fetch and return them to their camp.
In the meantime, the commander found out how little our meal portions were. He ordered to feed us extra from his mess hall. When the Ghetto Judenrat heard about it, they reduced our food allocation. We forced an appeal, and our original allocation was re-instated.
We were transferred to Konskowola (near Pulawy). We were shipped in freight cars with a German guard. On the way, three POWs jumped from the train and escaped. When the guards found out about the missing men, they beat us, the remaining POWs. In Konskowola, we worked at road paving. A German guard threw a stone at my head, causing a hole in my scalp.
We received only a 200 gram slice of bread and one liter of watery soup. One day, the German SS demanded workers from the local Judenrat. The latter refused to send local Jews because we actually worked while the Ghetto Jews that were sent were mainly being tortured, rather than worked.
A person from the Judenrat bribed the POW camp commander to send POWs to the SS instead of Ghetto Jews. We arrived to the workplace in military order. Our leader reported to the work camp commander: I brought 200 POWs for work. The commander upbraided him, saying, I need Jews, not POWs. We were returned to our camp.
Until the war between Germany & USSR broke out (June 1941), we got periodic food parcels from home. One day we returned from our workplace and were told that a POW from Tarnopol received a package of Matzoh. This was two days prior to Passover. We planned to conduct a Seder in our tradition. The next day, while in town (Konskowola) at work, we purchased 300 potatoes, and two onions. We bought enough potatoes for each of the POWs, but could not get more onions. The potatoes were sold to us by a Pole under-the-table, who feared for his life. We smuggled the potatoes into the Ghetto. We cooked them in the Ghetto kitchen and each one of smuggled in his pocket a cooked potato into our camp. It was a dangerous act.
Monik Moldovan, a lad from Shumsk, who was in camp with me the entire period, helped us in the smuggling of the potatoes and onions. He functioned as a ring joiner and was a privileged POW in our camp. After we returned to our camp, we washed our hands. We ate our bread portion, and the watery soup, and our eyes all focused on the potatoes to signify the Seder plate. We sat on our beds, placed the potato into our mess kit, and conducted our Seder. We took a few matzohs out of the parcel that arrived, placed it on an upside-down box in the middle and broke up both matzohs so each of us got a portion. On separate beds, we placed small bottles with water, to replace the traditional wine.
Strangely enough, someone saw to it to get a Haggadah. We started the Haggadah reading and blessed the wine. When we got to Hamotzih, we gave out the matzoh pieces. Each of us was able to bless the matzoh and eat it. Now came the holiest moment, when we pealed the potatoes, and ate them as our first course. We only looked at the onion, for our lot was bitter without eating them. We were fortunate that none of the German guards visited the hall, so the entire Seder went off without a hitch.
As we reached the end of the Haggadah to the sentence, The next year we shall be free, we took the matzoh box, and carried it like a Sefer Torah around the room. We hugged and kissed one another as we yelled out the last sentence again and again during the walk around the room.
The next day, the local Folksdeutsche, and Ukrainians yelled towards us, as we marched to work, Where are your matzohs? No more use of our blood for your crazy customs? We were tempted to reply that we had matzohs nonetheless, but we thought better of it. To do so was dangerous, so we remained silent.
After Passover, we were brought into town (Konskowola), and were ordered to tear down several wealthy Jewish homes because of a rumor that these Jews placed valuables inside their walls, and in other hiding places. We POWs erected the scaffolding, and the Ghetto Jews carried out the teardown. It was a terrible sight. The Jews, who were skeletons, tore down the walls brick by brick. Sometimes a brick would fall and injure a person below. German guards would remove the dead to the mortuary. We POWs tied ourselves to wagons and dragged these bodies to the cemetery. Some would beg us, Jews, don't bury us, we are still alive.
We hoped, in vain, that the rumors are false, that nothing would be found. Unfortunately, the rumors were correct. Valuable items were found. In one house gold coins, silver items and holy books were found. In another, gold plated cutlery was found, placed in the order of usage, as was customary in that household. Cups, with Passover or Shavuoth symbols were found elsewhere. The most surprising find was a Sefer Torah together with money – the owner's two most important possessions.
In one place they pulled out a Gemmarah volume. As they held the book, out fell several dollar bills. We were sorely embarrassed at the sight. The German supervisors took the valuables, and threw the holy books into a bonfire.
We were sent to work in Pulawy, 3 km. from Konskowola. We were brought to the Vistula riverbank to dig a parallel canal. When we opened the bypass canal, we were flooded with thousands of fish of all kinds. We were delighted but did not know what to do. Our Polish work master noticed the happening. He called us to his workroom, where he kept our work tools and said, Take as many fish as you wish as long as I get some of them. We fulfilled his wishes, caught several hundred kilograms of fish and bartered these in a neighboring village for potatoes and barley. We were joyful to have the extra food, but a problem arose. A young soldier from Stuchin decided it was imperative to barter all the fish as soon as possible for other items before the fish spoil. He went back to the village and bartered the fish for bread, apples and barley. As he left the village, a Pole chased him, robbed him of his goods and wounded him with his knife all over his body. The soldier returned to our base, barely alive. We were frightened. Our luck was that our work master heard about what happened, and called a Doctor friend to treat him. The latter treated him with injections, and dressed his wounds. He left the soldier ointment and dressings for subsequent treatment. This episode left a deep impression on us, and added to our sorrow because the deed was done by a Pole, a group that is also being persecuted by the Germans.
Today, the last transport of Pulawy Jews left for Auschwitz. [I doubt he knew the destination. – Ed.] We were curfewed in our work camp. We could hear their cries, and we knew they were being sent to their death.
Wagner, the German work master, stood far from the railroad station, silently watching the proceeding. He, more than once, took risks to save Jews from death. We did not know his motivation. Some Jews suspected that he was secretly a Jew, for otherwise they could not fathom his willingness to save Jews. Even today, he has great conniptions about what is happening, but, like us, is powerless to intervene. I suddenly saw a blond Jewish child that was thrown out of the train wagon, walking instinctively back to the empty Ghetto. She sidled up to the Ukrainian that stood next to Wagner, like a little cub next to his mother, seeking protection. The Ukrainian lifted his foot and kicked the infant away from him. Wagner noticed the deed. He moved, took out his revolver. I was sure Wagner will kill the sadistic Ukrainian, and thereby will reveal his Jewish image. I was afraid for him, because I, too, knew him as a man who was good to Jews. To our surprise, he went over to the child, grabbed her hair with his left hand, and with his right hand shot her in the head. He tossed her on the floor like a chicken that had just been slaughtered, and kicked her with his foot. Wagner remained an enigma to me. The episode does, however, illustrate to me his German character.
Afterwards we transferred to Budzyn (See Ency. Judaica), near Krasnik. There I worked in a factory that made aircraft parts. In the factory I met POWs that came to the factory from Lublin. They told me that there is a concentration camp nearby where Avraham Fitterman, Yaacov Tamri and Yunek Farber are held. (He was probably referring to Majdanek, where the three perished.)
Eight work foremen, all Jewish men, disappeared. The camp was stood on its head. The search was detailed, accompanied by beatings. Feigess (camp commander) himself supervised the search, but in vain. The search lasted three days. Those three days were hell for us. We knew the next day that the eight joined partisans in a nearby forest.
Feigess' (camp commander) attitude softened when he noticed the many sick that resulted from the hard winter conditions. He constructed a hospital for us. We started to believe in miracles. After 3 days, when the sick were assembled in one place, he killed all of them, one after another. As they yelled and groaned, he changed bullets in his pistol in a quiet manner.
A new SS chief arrived at our camp. We wondered about his nature. Will he be our savior, i.e. a mench, or a wild animal? He wandered about the camp for two days, looked around, learned the goings-on. He looked sad, something seems to be bothering him. His deep thought did not fit the stereotype Nazi. We wondered about him. On the 3rd day Feigess hanged him publicly. It turned out he was a German Jew.
A search was made in the barrack next to ours. They found money in the mattress of a 14 year old inmate that his parents probably left him before they were deported. Feigess rebuked him over a serious violation of camp rules, pulled out his pistol and killed him in the middle of the rebuke.
We were all transferred to the Jew's camp. We are no longer POWs, but instead, Jews subject to slaughter. To illustrate the change in our status, Feigess took out 100 of us and killed them inside the camp.
A week ago, a performance took place in our camp. A group of Jewish performers, headed by singer Slutsky, prepared a skit, per Feigess' request for his enjoyment. Goldstein, from Lodz, was outstanding; however, Slutsky treated us to a wonderful songfest. He is a superior singer. Feigess was so impressed by Slutsky's singing, he gave him a near-new coat. In the cold winter that we experienced, the coat was a significant present, a gift that preserves life. Slutsky was pleased with the present he received, yet after five days, he bartered it for food. Feigess met him later without his coat and asked him to explain. When he heard the answer, Feigess took him outside the camp and ordered him to dig his own grave. When the grave was finished, he ordered him to lie in it so Feigess could kill him while he lay there. Slutsky started to stammer. Suddenly Stockman, his Jewish superior, raised his whip and told him to sing. After a few hits, Slutsky started to sing. This helped. Feigess was again charmed by his singing, and retracted the punishment. Goldstein and Slutsky were freed later with me and survived.
The Jew, Zoberman, was named deputy to Stockman. He was ugly, always bitter over what nature has wrought him. He took out his frustration on his fellow Jews. When we approached him for winter clothing from his stock-room full of clothes, he would hit us. We just avoided him, preferring to suffer the cold air.
Today, Zoberman behaved strangely. He became envious of Stockman, whom everyone, including the Germans, like. He noticed that no one is interested in his favors and he must have felt it. There is no other way to fathom his behavior. Today, he called us over, to receive clothing. To ensure we are not afraid of him, he threw the clothes to us from a distance. We came and took them.
When the stock room emptied, a box full of gold and jewelry was found. The Germans suspected Stockman that he collected and stored them, so he was arrested immediately. We were all worried about Stockman's welfare for we loved the man. Jews prayed for his deliverance. At the same time, Zoberman came out of his stock room and admitted to Feigess that he was the culprit, that Stockman is innocent. He asked that Stockman be freed. After two hours, we saw him dig a grave, surrounded by Ukrainians. When he finished digging, they lowered him into the grave and covered him so his head stuck out. We saw his body above ground. So ended the Zoberman affair.
Remnants from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising were brought to our camp. The group was of ca. 300 men. Before they were assigned bunks in our camp Feigess took 15 of them and killed them. Afterwards he ordered the newcomers, who had survived several hells, to give him their valuables. I could not believe my eyes. They still had gold among their possessions. Among those that gave up his gold was an old man, named Pines, from a famous Warsaw family. I befriended him.
Among the Warsaw Ghetto survivors was a blacksmith who constructed his own food bowl, a wastyn. Feigess approached him as he stood in line for his food in the kitchen and asked to be shown this wastyn. We felt that something is happening here. The wastyn had a double bottom, inside of which were gold coins. Feigess weighed the article in his hand, and asked what is inside. The blacksmith admitted his crime. We suspected that he was reported by someone. After we finished our meal, we were called to report to the camp center. In the middle stood the blacksmith with a horse-chain around his neck. Feigess gave a signal, and the Ukrainians started to drag him around the parade ground. When they finished a round, they stood him on his feet, poured water over his head and swung him again, until he died while being dragged.
A 12 year old boy came to the camp and went straight to the kommandatura office. The Ukrainian guards taunted him. Polish boy, go away, otherwise we will cut you in pieces. When he explained to them that he is a Jew, they laughed. You better scram, otherwise we will kill you. The boy insisted on speaking to the German commander after which they can kill him. The Ukrainians brought him to the OberLieutenant [=first lieutenant]. The boy told him the following: He and his family hid in a village with a Polish family. He was one of seven children with grandfather and grandmother. The parents had been murdered long ago. Grandfather used to pay the Polish host once a week with a valuable. After a while, the grandmother died and grandfather told his host that he has no more funds. The Pole demanded that they l eave his house immediately. The family left for the forest. There grandpa took out his last asset that he hid in a place only known to him. It was a pot full of gold Dinars. He divided them among his grandchildren and told them to part, each going in a different direction. He then blessed each one. The Pole ambushed them; he apparently listened-in to their conversation. He ran home, brought a pistol, robbed and killed all but one child. The 12 year old boy remained, for he hid in one of the trees. When the Pole returned home, the boy saw that he opened a door in the house floor where they used to hide and hid his pistol there. According to the boy's story, the Pole is a member of the Armia Krajowa (= Home Army), that he stores weapons in his home, that these will be used against the Germans at the appropriate moment.
The Oberlieutenant believed the boy. He took a group of soldiers to the village and went to the Pole's home. The family consisted of a wife and 10 children. The husband was absent, apparently hiding. The Oberlieutenant forced the family to find the murderer. He was brought to the forest. The family dug a grave, and the Oberlieutenant killed him personally in the family's presence. Various weapons were found in the hideaway. The boy's family name was Pinto. When he returned to our camp, the Germans gave him warm clothing and food. To the end of the war, Pintele, as he was called, was loved by us, and cared for by the Germans.
Feigess became mad. He ordered to have all six camp children that remained brought in front of him. Among the children was one girl, whose mother was in the camp with her. When Feigess caught the girl, the mother would not release her. Feigess, angry, shot the mother. He left the girl alone. There were two brothers, the youngest of the two aged six, who was employed as a shepherd, tending Feigess' ducks. When Feigess passed him, the boy saluted him and reported: One mother duck, and five little ones. Feigess loved the boy. He would return the boy's salute. He killed the rest of the children including the older brother of the shepherd. When the shepherd saw the killing of his brother, he ran into a wheat field and hid inside the field. After an hour, the boy came into the camp's kitchen located at the end of our camp. We were, at the time, slicing cabbage to be made into sauerkraut. A set of turned over beer vats served as chairs and tables. The boy approached the cook and asked him to hide him under one of the vats. The cook did so. Feigess entered the kitchen at that moment, angry, demanding that we reveal the child's hiding place. He claimed that he was told that the child ran into the kitchen. The cook withstood Feigess' threat and did not reveal the boy's hiding place. The next day, the child came to eat, however Feigess' anger had passed by then and the boy remained alive. He survived to this day.
The rumors of German reversals multiplies. There is talk about the Red army nearing Budzyn where we are located. We felt that something need be done. The Ukrainian guards, who heretofore did the dirty work for the Germans, began to be concerned about saving their hide. Now they discovered another way to save themselves. Twenty
Ukrainians conspired to escape from the camp. They got in touch with our Jewish blacksmiths, tailors, and carpenters, to plan the mass breakout, and escape to the forest. The needed the cooperation with the camp Jews, as an alibi, that the breakout was meant to save the Jews, when the Soviets arrive.
The leader of the underground organization was a Ukrainian captain, one of the POWs named Shabtchenko. According to the prepared plan, we were to disconnect power to all the camp's lights. The Ukrainians were to open the weapon's storeroom, to distribute these weapons to the insurgents, to attack the guards and then escape. At the appointed hour, all lights went out, and the men ran to their posts. However, the chief of the Ukrainian police, who was in on the plan, went to his superior Feigess, and told him that something strange is taking place within the camp. Feigess and his 300 deputies, among them Ukrainians, caught the insurgents. The plan failed. 19 Ukrainian inmates managed to escape with their weapons in hand. One of them, together with 6 Jews was shot the next day by Feigess. The shot Jews whose names I remember are: Pomerantz, Mogilnick, Yekultiel and Gonser.
When the German army was defeated at Stalingrad, the German authorities sent German youths to the eastern front. Hitler stated that if German youths get used to killing, that is to see what killing is about by killing Jews, they will be more successful in front-duty. These young men were sent on a trial basis to concentration camps in the Lublin area, where 90,000 Jews were located. [I have searched but have not been able to confirm the major parts of this story in other publications. It is something that the author appears to have gotten second hand – Ed ]. German soldiers surrounded the camp, and German Youths were sent into the camp to become indoctrinated [to kill Jews]. The camp included 800 Jews who decided not to become sheep ready for slaughter. Among them was Avraham Fitterman, Ya'acov Taitel, and Yunek Farber (all deceased). Instead, they took matches and started fires near the German officer barracks, and the hospital. Many of the Germans died in the fire. However, the authorities brought reinforcements who fell on the insurgents and took their weapons from them. Some of the inmates jumped into the fire. Among those who committed suicide were A. Fisherman and Ya'acov Tamri. We were told about the death of the Jewish POWs based on information that local partisans brought to us the next day [apparently via contact men amongst the guards. Partisans did not visit the camp – Ed.]
As we were crying, having heard of the death of other Jewish POWs, a German officer entered and was surprised that we were informed of the episode. He could not hide his astonishment, saying, Look at these Jews. They have no newspapers, no telephones, no radio, yet they know all the news!
The news of the insurgency in the Lublin camp spread to other camps. On the day of the revolt in the Lublin camp, ten Jews, who worked in a bakery in a village near Budzyn tried to escape to a nearby forest. The guards caught them and brought them to our camp. Feigess ordered that they be publicly hanged in our camp. They were so positioned that their heads hung down, to increase their torture prior to their death. Among those hanged was a person by the name of Aharonowitz from Lutsk and Mamot from Rovno.
Thirty Jews were brought to our camp from a nearby forest where they hid after escaping from transports to death camps. Most of the Jews were women. The women were murdered by Scharfuerer (= SS rank) Feigess publicly. He left the men unharmed. One of the men was a primitive sort, with limited intelligence. He was illiterate who used to work as a cobbler. He was caught with his six-year old son. Feigess saw an opportunity to correct himself, i.e., not to shoot the child. He replaced his pistol in its holster, went back to the camp's store-room, and returned with an axe. He ordered the poor illiterate father to chop off the head of his son. The father lost his mind. Feigess killed him personally after a few days.
A German Major came to the camp with his staff of automobile repair technicians from the Eastern front. He brought with him transport vehicles that needed repair. The major worked on these repairs together with his technicians. He asked Feigess to provide him with a Jewess that would clean his lodging while he worked. While the woman was in the major's room, Feigess came in to inspect her work. He found her drinking a cup of tea. He immediately ordered her to the camp's gate, made her crawl on all fours, lifted her skirt and prepared to give her 25 lashes. After 15 lashes, when she was about to faint, he ordered her to rise, and stand at the gate for the rest of the day.
Several German cars with SS men in new uniforms arrived at the camp's depot. Their leader was a woman in SS uniform. She presented documents to receive a set of weapons from the camp's depot. The Oberlieutenant responsible for the arms depot countersigned these orders and we loaded the requested weapons and bullets onto their vehicles.
When they left, it turned out that the group was actually partisans, dressed in SS uniforms. Their leader was a woman, from Pintele's (little Pinto) village. She recognized him and signaled to him to remain quiet, to act as if he does not know her, and to disappear. He was a wise boy, unlike his age. Only after the group left did he tell us his findings. Thus we knew of the feat before the Germans realized they had been fooled.
After a short while, our camp was surrounded. The SS wanted to liquidate the camp's Jews. However, one of the camp's officers was able to convince the SS group commander to spare us because we were needed for current military tasks. He persuaded them that liquidation can be carried out anytime in the future. The next day, we were transferred to Willizka to dig salt underground.
We were transferred from Willizka to Flossenburg, where we stayed for two weeks.
An order was received to transfer us to Leitmeritz (= Litomerice in CZ) in the Sudeten, part of Czeckoslovakia. We again had to rid ourselves of lice, this time in a thorough manner. In the past, we did so outside the camp by searching for lice in the folds of our garments. This time, we were taken outside the camp, stripped naked, next taken to washrooms where German guards sprayed us with a hot water shower. We received new clothes and wooden shoes. When we saw the new clothes, we concluded that we are being taken to gas chambers. We said goodbye to each other and cried. The guards saw our mood but said nothing. It turned out that we were scheduled to work in Leitmeritz. Here I worked in a gravel pit. In the camps I was an inmate in the past, we received 200g bread and one liter of soup. With such nourishment, we were expected to do physical labor.
The Germans brought hundreds of Poles, remnants of the Warsaw uprising, to our camp in Leitmeritz. They were placed in the death camp. Every day, scores of this group were killed. Among them were two Warsaw Jews. They came to us and asked us to save them. When we related their request to Wittman, our work leader, a Berlin Jew, he went into action immediately. The two received our work clothes, joined us and thereby remained with us until we were liberated.
We were transferred from Leitmeritz to Teresienstadt, 7 km from Leitmeritz. We stayed in the camp until 8 May 1945, when the Red army came and liberated us. After the end of the war, I was transferred to a Leitmeritz hospital for medical treatment. I recovered after 6 months and was discharged.
I traveled to Lanowitz in the hopes of finding family members that survived. In Lanovitz, I lodged in Didik's house. In the morning I left his house to see the destruction of my town. It is hard to describe the wide destruction and the empty lots. Only 8 houses survived intact. In Lanowitz, I met Lyova Gluzstein, the brother of Fuzi. He was one of the POWs that survived. The late Zvi Kerper, the son of Benny, the deaf, also visited Lanowitz. He had secured an important political position in Rostov, USSR. I met him dressed in a Russian army uniform with a pistol attached to this belt.
I remained in Lanowitz for 5 months then traveled to Gleiwitz, Poland. From there, the Brichah (=escape) organized by an Israeli organization helped me to escape to Wels, Austria. I left for Israel on 6 June 1949, on the Galilea Steamship (from Trieste, Italy). The rest of the Lanowitz Jews that I met while there all immigrated to Israel except Haim Natan Gitelman.
[Pages 91- 94]
Shlomo Pacht (Kendziurs)
As with all matters in the USSR, I paid a bribe to arrange military travel papers that requested my presence to appear at the Polish army camp in Zhitormir. Neither the officer that issued the paper, nor I, knew where the Polish division was presently located. We relied on the Soviet trust in military paperwork, hence put down Zhitomir. On the way to Zhitomir, I came to realize that there is no such camp, and never was.
Mendel Brimmer fixed my travel papers by changing the destination to Lvov. With the corrected travel papers, my two brothers and I traveled in the direction of Lanowitz. We reached Yampol ( =Yampil in the Ukraine), 12 km from Lanowitz. The rail line beyond Yampol was damaged. The train remained standing at Iskowitz (= Juskowcy). We detrained. It was a clear night. We carried our luggage and walked home. We got to Grybovo at 6 a.m. The women were already in their fields, working separately from the men folks. My father Berl, who did tailoring for the peasants of the villages, was well known and liked by these villagers. The peasant women recognized us. When they saw us they shouted, Berl's sons have returned, and cried at the same time.
We knew nothing of the Holocaust that took place; hence we were puzzled why they were crying. They declined to explain. We visited Panasy Yashchuk, a Stundist (- member of a Protestant sect) known in our neighborhood as a deeply religious and moral man. It was with him that we hid some of our goods and goods of others during the Soviet regime. During the last period before the Holocaust, I used to lease land from the goyim (Gentiles). I brought the harvest to Yashchuk's threshing floor. He would thresh the wheat, and keep our harvest separate from his. He did so with almost religious fervor. Now he cried like a baby. His wife came out of the house crying and ran away. What happened? I asked. I expected him to tell me that our goods were taken away. All were killed, he answered. Why? I asked (a naïve question on my part). I had no idea why all had to be killed. I could not get more details out of him. We left his house.
I entered Lanowitz at 9 AM. After all, I knew my town with all its alleys. This time, I did not recognize her. The town vanished. Only a few houses remained standing. Between these houses others lay in ruins. I went over to our house which was still standing. My heart was beating as I approached it. I expected to see my father, my sisters, and my mother, to see the happy past return. Instead, Adamchuk's daughter came out of the house, a young, blond Gentile woman. My father had turned the house to her because it was outside the ghetto, and told her: We are going to be killed, guard the house in the event my sons will return so that they will have a roof over their head. She told this to us and that was the truth. Then she added, Do not go out alone. Bandera bands are in the area, murdering all remnants of the previous (Soviet) administration, also former town residents.
She told us that several Jewish residents returned after the Holocaust, among them Itzik Sabaris, Yisrael Brodsky and others. The Soviets inducted them into their army. Six to seven Russians and collaborators are being murdered daily (by Bandera bands).
We entered the house. It was requisitioned by the Raispulbum (District Council). They let the young woman live in the kitchen. Her husband, a soldier, was missing. She and an infant lived in the kitchen. We, too, remained in my parents' kitchen with its inheritors.
We left our parcels in the house and went out. We met the son-in-law of Paweli, the blind. He informed us that Richter, the German Gebiets-kommander was crazy. He killed and hit people for pleasure. He once hit Paweli, when he saw him go out with nine small pigs to a meadow, claiming that he must watch the pigs because the German army needs them. He further told us about 20 pretty local girls that had to be supplied to the German army to clean their houses and do more things…. . He also warned us not to wander about lest we be killed. We went to visit local friends despite his warnings.
We found two trenches, covered with a thin layer of earth. Skeleton bits stuck out of these trenches. Our family and friends rest here. Gentiles stood near us and cried as they saw us. They told us that for two weeks after the liquidation, these trenches moved. Blood would occasionally spurt up from them like a fountain. I fainted. When I awoke, I found myself lying down in our kitchen.
When I recovered, I decided to escape from here as soon as possible. With the help of a Russo-Polish local attorney, whom I had known previously, I willed the house to its present tenant so that it would not fall into the hands of the government. I took the document to the secretary of the Raispulbum, representing the Communist party. The official rose from his seat, pulled his pistol from his holster, and asked: Abominable Jew, the Ukrainians murdered all those dear to you, and you turn your house over to them? There are unusual cases, but your case is dishonorable, and more. All this preaching was meant to frighten me, and to test whether I am indeed the true heir of the house. If not, to persuade me to change my mind and leave the house to the local authorities.
My brothers and I climbed onto the first train leaving Lanowitz to escape this place. What the Germans failed to accomplish, the Russians accomplished. I fought in the Red army, was wounded while serving in it (yet I decided to leave the USSR). We reached Zamosc, the border town. We crossed the border at night and reached Lublin, Poland.
Lublin was liberated in September 1944. The local partisans surrounded the city. The Germans and their collaborators were caught in the ring-hold around the city. The small fry escaped, only their leaders were caught.
Before I arrived in Lublin, I saw journalists and important leaders all going to Majdanek, the concentration camp located in a suburb of Lublin. One cannot imagine the sight; that such cruelty can be instituted. An oven was still functioning. Metal racks on which bodies were inserted into the oven stood in front of these ovens.
Before the SS staff escaped from Majdanek, they wanted to obliterate signs of their crimes. They had little time so they shot all the inmates: Jews, Ukrainian collaborators, and Russian POWs. Many of the latter were lying on the ground, wounded, groaning quietly so as not to be noticed by the remaining German staff.
We tried to save those that could be saved. In the rows of the wounded, I pulled out a tall Jewish lad dressed in a Russian-officer uniform. I recognized that he was Jewish and saved him. The gas chamber was a 12 x 12 meter room. Its flooring was still wet from the cleaning it received after the gassing. Nearby, were shacks full of children's shoes, and sorted adult clothing. It was heartbreaking to see the piles of children's shoes. It brought memories of children running, playing catch, and other games. I could imagine these children, pleading to be saved for they are so young. Yet, we could no longer save them. I am not a writer, but to this day, I remember these small children's legs that the Nazis ignored, children who committed no sin.
Ukrainians and Poles rummaged through the men's shoes to search for gold and jewelry that some Jews hid inside their soles and heels. This is how these vultures wanted to enrich themselves. They appeared to have found items inside these shoes. I, myself, found a green paper with Hebrew Letters and a serial number, a Palestine pound sterling money note. It must have belonged to a Jew who left Palestine, to avoid hardships, and return to the easy life in Poland. With the pound sterling note he hoped to save himself. I also found 2 damaged greenback dollars bills.
On the second day of my arrival in Lublin, I was informed that its Nazi leaders will be hanged publicly. Politicians and journalists came to be present and photograph this revenge-act. I, who was familiar with the details of their horror acts, volunteered to translate into Polish and Russian all that surviving witnesses testified to. Unwittingly, I converted a friendly testimony to a historic event, with me the main witness. Five hanging posts were erected in a forest clearing. A Polish professional hangman, with white gloves, was at the ready for the best event of his life. A Jewish sergeant of the Polish military police managed the event. His task was a great privilege, to mastermind this act of revenge. Following his order, the five trucks, on which sat the selected heroes on a bench with their head covered, entered the hanging area. The Jewish sergeant signaled to the hangman. He climbed onto each truck, had each criminal stand up, and draped the noose around their neck. Next the Polish priest climbed the truck and whispered whatever message he had. This process was followed on each truck. The sergeant asked each criminal if they had something to say to justify their crime. Each one answered, I have nothing to say. The main criminal, a man of low-stature said nothing. He was shaking, and could not utter a word. The sergeant gave another signal. The trucks moved from the hanging posts and the men ere left hanging, crumbling. Whoever had not seen this event has not experienced a tragic gratification. The bodies were left hanging for two weeks, to symbolize the revenge due Nazi criminals. It was a message for future generations.
The mob who wanted to lynch these criminals received some satisfaction seeing them hanging there. The average person was now able to experience freedom after years of daily nightmares.
When I returned from the labor camp [apparently after the war – Ed.] I hurried to Lanowitz to search for my wife Idis [nee Rosenberg] and for our young child. The local Gentiles told me everything. I knew I could not find my family in Lanowitz. However, from Elenka, who used to live behind the Rosenberg house, I learned that my daughter survived because my wife tried and succeeded to save her before she perished. According to Moshe [Rosenberg, the brother of Idis], my daughter is in the village of Slobidka, near Yampil, with a Shtundist family [a protestant sect].
I arrived in Slobidka on Saturday. When I entered the house of the Shtundist family, the farmer's wife was standing at the oven, baking cakes for the Sunday meal. I asked her where a girl named Clara can be found. The farmer-woman was silent for a moment, next asked me who I am. When she heard that I am the girl's father, she explained that the girls will soon return from the field where she is minding a flock of geese, and I will be able to see her, even take her.
After a short time a thin, neglected, five-year old girl appeared, followed by a flock of geese. I recognized her immediately. She looked just like her mother. I ran towards her attempting to hug her, but she, afraid, ran from me. I begged her to come to me. I said: I am your father, don't be afraid of me! She cried back My father is in a prison camp, you are not my father. I offered her candy, and a toy watch. I tried in vain to reach her. The girl kept her distance and looked for her foster-mother to protect her from this stranger. In the meantime it was evening, and I was afraid to stay in the village [Bandera partisans were hunting Soviet bureaucrats and Jews after the war- Ed]. I returned to Lanowitz that evening, and returned to the village the next day. I took her to Lanowitz by force. Fortunately her sister, a 17 year-old girl, came along with her. It was due to her sister's help that I was able to take her with me.
The child was dirty, and full of scratches from field weeds. Her scalp was also scratched, covered with abscess. When I cut her hair, she cried to high heaven. She did not forgive me for this deed. The next day, while I was gone from the house Clara escaped and returned to Slobidka [How did a five year old find her way? –Ed.] I could not imagine how she could go that far. I looked for her in Lanowitz. When I did not find her I traveled to the village [Slobidka] and found her there. She was hiding in the corner of the Shtundist's home, asking them to protect her. I returned with her to Lanowitz, and immediately moved to Tarnopol. I anticipated that being far from her foster-parents she will bond with me and calm down.
My daughter was saved thanks to these good people. Today she is a mother and homemaker in Israel. It is good that she has forgotten her difficult past.
On Saturday, while I was waiting in the Shtundist's house for my daughter to return from the field, the farmer's wife told me the details of our daughter's story.
In the fall of 1942, at the end of December, the Rosenberg's friend Klim forced my wife, Idis, to find an alternate hiding place for our daughter. Otherwise, Klim threatened to throw her out of his house. Klim did make the effort to find an alternate family. He found a Shtundist family in the village of Slobidka, who was willing to receive her. Idis dressed our daughter with several layers of clothing, including a sheepskin coat I purchased for her prior to the establishment of the Lanowitz Ghetto. Idis hired a Waggoner and went to the address given to her. They arrived on a cold night. The Earth was frozen, so the noise of a wagon raised attention in the village. Fearful of the attention, Idis placed the girl near a fence she thought was that of the Shtundist house, but turned out to be a different house. She stuffed the remaining dollar bills in the girl's clothing and tacked a note to her dress stating: My father was murdered, my mother will be murdered. Please take in this girl and the Lord will help you. She did not sign her name.
In the morning, when the farmer woman found the child, she asked her: What are you doing here? The child, who spoke a clear Ukrainian, answered I am waiting for my mother. The child did not want to follow the farmer woman, and did not let her touch her. Only later, when she became hungry, did the girl agree to enter the farmer's house to eat. The farmer-woman took all her clothes, dressed her in rags, and went to the Starosta [-village head] to ask him what to do with the child. The Starosta asked her to take her in. He promised to provide her 2 liters of milk/day for the child and her children.
After a few days Idis sent Mitiya to the village to check whether the girl was saved. He found out the mistake in the address when he visited the intended Shtundist family. He went to their neighbor and explained the mistake. Klim returned to the village periodically to visit the child and bring her a message from her mother. One day he found out that the foster-woman returned the child to the Starosta, telling him that her children have not gotten used to the girl, and have been beating her. She agreed to give-up the milk allocation, and to return the child. Klim took advantage of the opportunity to transfer my daughter Clara-Zhenia to the Shtundist family that offered to take her initially. It was due to their generosity and care that I found her alive when I returned.
Idis' fate, to my sorrow, was different. A Bandera group discovered her, forcing Klim to ask her to leave his house. These Ukrainian murderers found her in a field, on her way back to Lanowitz. They buried her alive together with Shmuel and Aaron Mehlman, Misha Grisham, and the daughter of Sarah Weissman, the daughter of Shalom Weissman.
At the edge of the Jewish cemetery in Lanowitz there is another small mass grave. It is there that these five persons are buried.
When Idis [Moshe's sister- Ed] escaped with her daughter from the Ghetto, and hid with Mitiya, the latter did not want to hide them. Instead Mitiya went to locate an alternate hiding place. The man who Received her goods told her that he was willing to hide her but could not hide the child. He promised Idis to try and find a hiding place for her and the child. However no one was willing to accept the child.
In the meantime one evening Mitiya came drunk to his friend and said: I know that you have Jews in your home. I will publicize your deed unless you share the goods you received with me. The friend became alarmed and asked my sister to leave. She had nowhere to go with the child. In the past she and her keeper had agreed that she will leave the child at the fence of an old [Shtundist] neighbor who was known as a good man. When Idis left the house of Mitiya's friend that night, she remembered the offer of this old man. Idis went to the man's village and left the child in the field next to his house together with a bundle of clothing and a few dollars that she still had. She also added a letter in which she asked the peasant to accept the child inasmuch as she could not raise her. She added in the letter A day will hopefully arrive when I will return to get her back, at which time I will compensate you for your good deed. The girl was then 2 ½. She spoke Ukrainian as well as any Ukrainian child.
In the morning, when the child was found, she was asked: What are you doing here my darling? The child replied: I am waiting for my mother . The farmer reported the event to the district chief in Didrekala and asked what to do with her. The village-head told him it was up to him whether to take or leave the child. The Gentile couple took the child in.
I, who knew what had happened because both I and Idis were hiding with Mitiya's neighbor, tracked the events relating to the child. After three weeks the Gentile's wife went to the village-head and told him that she no longer wished to keep the child. She asked her neighbors if they were willing to take her instead. Her Shtundist neighbor, for whom the child was originally intended on that fateful night, told her: I am ready to take her. I have three children at home. With her there will be four. The Shtundist farmer-woman fell in love with the beautiful child and took her in.
In the meantime a rumor spread in Slobidka and its surrounding villages that a small child in the village was available [for adoption] with the acquiescence of the village-head. One of the farmers from Yampil, who was childless, approached the Slobidka village-head and told him he wished to adopt the child, having heard that one of the villagers does not want her. The Shtundist farmer-woman agreed to let the Yampil farmer have the child. When her children returned from work [in the fields?] and saw that that their sister was missing, they told their mother that they love her and would not accept the separation. The Shtundist children traveled 5 km to the Yampil farmer and took the child by force. They took along a cloth carpet make from sewn-together sacks, and used it to carry the child home on a stretcher. As a result, the child remained with the Stundist family until the end of the war.
When Shalom Segal returned from the labor camp, and heard from me what had happened with his daughter, he went to the Shtundist family in Slobidka and fetched her. As a result the child remained Jewish.
The house of Rabbi Goldziker was included inside the Ghetto. Several other families were added to this household and lived there. Yankele, the son of the Rabbi, was a talented child both in his studies and in work matters. During the holocaust period, he realized that a way out of the Ghetto needed to be found. He dug an underground tunnel to a destination beyond the Ghetto fence. It was to save his parents, brothers and him some day.
Mirel Goldberg (nee Kuztseker) noticed his deed, despite he fact that Yankele kept his task a secret, even from his family. He only dug at hours when no one noticed, or when no one was home.
At the last moment, when Yankele revealed his secret to his parents, the family left the Ghetto through the tunnel. Their departure occurred after the Ghetto had already been emptied of its residents. At the last moment, Mirel crawled out after them. Their bad luck was that a Ukrainian policeman happened to pass by and discovered them. He grabbed Mirel, who was already old and frail. He pulled her by her hair and killed her. The Rabbi's entire family was killed as they emerged from the tunnel.
Rabbi Ahareli went with his flock on their death march to the cemetery, dressed in a white kitel (gown worn on Yom Kippur) and sash. On the way he stopped, stood aside those who were walking and spoke approximately the following words of condolence:
Dear brethren, we are about to transfer to a heavenly regime. After the great suffering on Earth that we all experienced, I am sure you will reach the Garden of Eden. Therefore, do not worry, go to your fate with the comfort that we all were fortunate to die as Jews, to honor his majesty. Our only sin is that we are Jews. That is why they are killing us. Go therefore quietly, for you will be joining the righteous of this world.
For a moment the Ukrainian guards did not realize what the old Rabbi said, and why his face lit up as he spoke.
When the Rabbi finished his sermon, Ephraim, the son of Krupnizky tugged at the Rabbi's sash and cried: Rabbi, don't leave me, let me walk with you, to help me face death.
The Rabbi continued his walk while Ephraim attached himself to him and followed in his footsteps.
In the meantime, one of the Ukrainian (guards) recovered from his astonishment. He went over to the Rabbi and shot him and Ephraim with several bullets as both were praying. Both fell bleeding to death on the road to the cemetery.
As soon as they fell, two farmers came over, and threw the two bodies, like two sacks, on a wagon. The wagon collected all bodies who trailed and were killed on the way.
This is how Rabbi Ahareli was buried with his flock in the mass grave.
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