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[Page 78]

The Life of Horrors of Mrs. Klara Reich-Schrenzel

Recorded and written down by Mr. Schmulevic on January 19, 1955

At the outbreak of war in September 1939, 1, my older brother and my sisters were all living at the home of my parents in Mikulince. At that time I was 17 years old, and after finishing elementary school I studied at the Hebrew secondary school in our town. My father used to be a cattle dealer, but later on took out a lease on orchards.

Our town was first invaded by Soviet troups, and upon their arrival in Mikulince they immediately confiscated the property of the rich Jewish citizens. The majority of the Jews in our town were pious and traditional Jews, and they deplored the arrival of the Soviets who evicted many of them from their homes. A small majority of the Jewish population, about 10%, most of them poor people and some of, them active Communists, benefited by the situation, prior to the outbreak of war. The local Ukrainian population - rich and poor alike- joined at once forces with the Soviets, and spread lies about the local Jews claiming that before the war they were merchants and speculators. My father was denied the right to trade, and we subsisted on what was left to us from earlier days. The Soviets did not as a rule drive away Jews from our town, and only a few small merchants were made to leave.

Up to the outbreak of the German-Russian war on June 22, 1941 when the Soviets left town after a night of heavy fighting, life continued in this manner. Some Jews who were formerly members of the Communist party joined the retreating Soviet forces.

A couple of days later Hitler's troups invaded the town. During the short interval (between the retreat of the Soviets and the arrival of the Germans) the Ukrainians were the masters of the town. They broke into Jewish homes, robbing and murdering the inhabitants.

One of their victims was a Jew by the name of Goldwug who, during the Soviet occupation, worked as storekeeper at the flour mill; his wife and daughter were murdered together with him. Also Etka Okon and her mother-in-law were murdered at that time, while her husband Welwel escaped, and his fate is unknown. The Ukrainians liquidated this family because Welwel had been cooperating with the Russians during their stay in our town.

Upon entering town the Hitlerists arrested a Jewish youth, Avraham Henoch Zipper, pointed out to them as a Soviet collaborator by the Ukrainians. He was led to the Christian cemetery and shot - the first Jewish victim at Mikulince. As far as I can remember he never was a Communist, and was murdered because of denunciation by the Ukrainians.

Some time later the Hitlerists arrested Jewish artisans of various trades and imprisoned them for a couple of days. Their relatives were notified that they would be released upon payment of a ransom. The families raised the ransom, giving the Germans money and jewelery. The Germans collected the loot, drove the arrested Jews into the forest near Mikulince, and shot them there, pretending that these Jews were Communists. (They considered every worker to be a Communist). Other Jews were called up to work in the brewery, and none of them returned from there. They were ordered to dig a pit for the cadaver of a horse. When the pit was dug and the cadaver had been lowered into it, the Jews were pushed in and shot. Some Ukrainians chased Jews out of town and drowned them in the river, when a German officer appeared all of a sudden and declared that it was forbidden to torture Jews. He had them released, and warned the Ukrainians that they would be held responsible if so much as a single Jew disappeared.

Just before Rosh Hashana 1942 the Germans caught three thousand Jews, amongst them also my father, loaded them on lorries, and carried them away to Belzec extermination camp.

About that time I was ordered to join a work detail for forced labour at Schuschcin farm, and thus stayed alive. My mother and sister succeeded to escape from our town, they hid in the moors near the forest, and did not share the fate of the deported.

At Schuschcin farm I was put to work together with 12 more Jewish girls. The farm had been established before the war, and was confiscated by the Germans. The manager of the farm was an Ukrainian and during work we were guarded by Ukrainian waggoners. All of them beat us a lot, but food was plentiful.

When we learned that a "akzia " was going on in town, we hurried to Mikulince. None of us found his family. Doors and windows of the Jewish houses were shuttered, and none of the local Jews was there.

I went to our house but did not find anyone of my family there. Two hours later my mother and sister arrived from the moors in the forest. My brother Wolf had joined the Red Army before the Soviets left our town, and upon their retreat he went with them as a soldier. (After the war I learned that my brother had died of typhus at Chelabinsk).

A day after my mother, my sister, and I had arrived at Mikulince there were rumours that the Germans were again preparing an "akzia". I did not report back for work at the farm, and our only thought was how to save our lives. We removed everything we had hidden in the cellar from its hiding place, and started selling our property to Ukrainian peasants who arrived in town in order to buy from the J ews garments, shoes, linen, etc. for a pittance. An Ukrainian peasant, called Jablonski from Krzywki village bought from us some of our property, and said that if we gave him everything without money he would take my older sister to his house and hide her. My mother told him that she agreed, provided he took me also to his village, and the peasant replied that he would talk matters over with his wife. Then our mother told us that she was not concerned about her own fate, but my sister and I must be saved.

After the peasant had left, an old Ukrainian peasant woman, leaning on a stick, entered. When she saw all the objects we had for sale, she said that it was a pity to let all this go to waste, and my mother answered: "What use is all this to me, when I have nowhere to hide my daughters". The peasant woman declared herself willing to take me to her village and to hide me, and after she got a few things she took me along with her. I dressed like a village girl, and the Goya and I set out on our way. We were stopped by Ukrainian policemen who accused the Goya that she was taking a Jewess along, and if she hid me she would be shot. They also addressed me, and advised me that as I was a Jewess I had to go back to Mikulince. The Goya knew the policemen, and asked them to leave us in peace, so they went away.

I no longer desired to go along with the woman to her village, and asked her to bring me back to the town.

Evening fell, while we were on our way back. We saw some light from a farmhouse near the forest. The old woman went into the house, and begged to put us up for the night, to which the peasant agreed.

By morning I changed my mind, and continued with the old peasant woman to her village. We arrived at her house, where she was living together with her son, and both of them -mother and son -assured me that they were determined to save a Jewish life. I stayed with them for three days, and they took good care of me. I wanted to know what had become of my mother and sister, so the son went into town, and brought back a note from my mother telling me that they. were hiding with peasants. Some time later the son suggested to take me to a priest for baptism. I broke out into tears, and he explained that he had thought of sending me to work like an Ukrainian girl and thus to save my life.

At night, when I was lying in bed with the peasant woman some Ukrainian girls came into the hut to hide, so as not to be sent to Germany for forced labour. On their heels followed Ukrainian policemen who were looking for them. They searched the place thoroughly, lit up every corner with their flash lights, and found all the girls. I remained lying close to the old woman well covered by blankets with my heart almost bursting with fright, and was not found.

My benefactors, who hid me were called Jamnik. After I had stayed with them for four weeks I was no longer able to overcome my homesickness. I was crying for hours, and wanted to go home. The son put me in his cart, and as at Mikulince no more Jews were left; he drove me to Tremblova, entreating me all the time that I should come back to them if in trouble. It was then the end of 1942.

By then there existed already a Ghetto at Tremblova, and there I found my mother and sister. They told me that the Ukrainian Jablonski about whom I told above, had betrayed them when he said that he was going to talk things over with his wife. He had received from us a lot of things but did not come back to hide my mother and sister .

In Tremblova Ghetto there was also a "Judenrat", headed by Toni Goldstein who dealt with his Jewish brethren arbitrarily, and there were many complaints. Personally I do not bear him a grudge, as he helped me. After the war Toni Goldstein went to New York and lived in Brooklyn. He avoided to meet us, fearing that he might be accused because of the role he played in the Ghetto. His conscience did not allow him respite, he died a couple of months ago. His daughter lives in Brooklyn.

There existed also a jewish Police force in Tremblova Ghetto. After I had been there eight days an "akzia " took place. In their attempt to cut down the Ghetto the Germans sent thousands of Jews to their death, amongst them also my mother. My sister happened to stay that night with a Christian family and was saved. During the night the Germans chased the Jews from their houses into the market square. The children were forced to kneel down and were forbidden to move. My mother entreated me to run away and save myself. I rose and started to run, but was stopped by an Ukrainian policeman who led me back to the square. My mother was wringing her hands imploring over and over that I should flee once more.

I do not know how things happened, the square was surrounded by Germans and Ukrainian soldiers, I raised myself a little and disappeared in the basement of a nearby house where Germans were living. When entering the basement I became very upset, I was treading on a human body. At this very moment I heard someone whispering that I must keep quiet, so that the Germans would not hear voices. In this basement some Jewish men were hiding, and in other neighbouring cellar were some cases, drums, barrels and dishes in order to hide ourselves. I wanted to pass into the shelter in which the women hid, but they would not let me come in. So I crouched down in the first basement close to the wall and hid myself under some timber, cases, drums, barrels and dishes in order to hide ourselves. I wanted to pass into the shelter in which the women hid, but they would not let me in. So I crouched down in the first basement close to the wall and hid myself under some timber.

A quarter of an hour had gone by when the Germans arrived- They lit the place up with their flashlights and discovered all ! the Jewish men, and afterwards also the women. Everyone was dragged into the open. Only myself and another Jew, a lawyer from Janow whose name I do no longer remember, escaped their notice. We remained lying down in our hideout when the Germans returned. They lit the place up once more, and started shooting. The Jew who was hiding next to me was hit, but:again I was not discovered.

That night, while I was still in the shelter, I heard the wailing of the Jews in the square who were beaten and abused. When I left the shelter later at night, I saw some Jews lying in the square who had been shot dead.

As I wanted to know the fate of my mother I went to the Judenrat and found them eating and drinking together with the Jewish policemen. They told me that my mother had been deport- ed together with the other J ews. Then I went to the house of the Goy where my sister had hidden that night, and we met there.

Tremblova Ghetto was now being systematically liquidated, and those J ews who had so far survived were deported continuousIy.

My sister and I were not staying in our house, but lived in other houses. One day my sister went out for a few minutes. When she returned she was very upset, and said that she was not feeling well. She died all of a sudden from a heart attack. She was no longer able to go on living in constant fear. My sister was 21 years old when she died.
Now I was alone, forlorn and forsaken without next of kin. Regular raids now became the order of the day in the Ghetto- without a break Jews were led to extermination camps.

In spring 1943, I together with a group of some 200 Jews was deported to Kamionka, a camp already occupied by many J ews. In this camp J ews were de~iled to road paving gangs. At night we slept in barracks, men and women separately. The Tremblova Judenrat sent us food parcels, and if one of us had still some family left somewhere they too provided them with food. The provisions from the Judenrat were not sufficient. We starved, and many of us died like flies. I stayed at Kamionka during 3 months, and escaped together with a group of Jewish youngsters. The guards at the camp were Ukrainians. One day we were sent out to fetch stones, and did not return. We were eight youngsters.

I went to Tremblova and while erring in the streets met a Pole named Karol Signatovic. During the war he had been doing business with my father. He recognized me and started talking with me. I told him that all my family had been murdered and that I was all alone with nowhere to stay. He promised that he would hide me, and told me to follow him to his village. We arrived at Krowinka village, about 3 km. distance from Tremblova, where Karol Signatovich lived with his mother,and his sister, welcomed me and gave me food. Karl Signatovich walked me to the stable where I was to stay, while he went to tell his mother and sister that he had brought a Jewish girl along that was to be hidden. At night, after the children of his sister w~re asleep, Karol Signatovic brought me into the house, his mother and sister welcomed me and gave me food. Karl Signatovic was a little older than I.

I remained with the Signatovic family for about a fortnight, Then I started crying and said that I wished to return to Trembovla to be amongst J ews. The peasant returned me to Trembovla.

When I arrived there I still found some Jews, but there were rumours that soon another akzia was to be held and the rest of the Ghetto would be liquidated. The Jews in the Ghetto knew with whom I had been hiding, and asked me to talk with Sig natovich and beg him to find. us a hide-out in the forest not far from his home. There,we Jews would build a bunker and hide. We would give the peasant some money, and he would provide us with food. I talked matters over with the young peasant, and he agreed. Karol Signatovich found us a place in the forest, and some 20 Jews from Tremblova -men, women, and children moved there.

We built two 1arge bunkers on the site. They were camouflaged on top with branches and leaves and each bunker had a secret entrance. On the inside the bunkers were divided into rooms, three rooms to a bunker, fitted with plank beds, one on top of the other. There were also kitchens where we cooked our meals. Though we Jews built the bunkers by ourselves, we received much help from the peasant Signatovich. As had been agreed, we gave him some money, and he in his turn supplied us with food.
One day a group of our people left the bunker for Tremblova to buy food, now we were fewer in the forest.

Signatovich told us that there were rumours in the village, that Jews were hiding in the forests. The villagers saw the smoke coming out of the forest, as if some cooking was going on there. Signatovich warned us to move elsewhere in the forest, and we planned to leave the bunkers that very night. Karol Signatovich had barely left when Hitlerists and armed Ukrainians appeared in the forest, accompanied by the forester. They started shouting: "Jews, come out". We stayed put in our bunkers and kept quiet, but when the Hitlerists threatened that unless we come out they would throw a hand grenade into the bunker, all of us came out. We were altogether nine of us, because -as I toJd before - some of us had gone to Tremblova.

After we had left the bunker, the Germans went inside to check if someone still hid there. They were much impressed by the way in which the bunker was built and by all the arrangements. We were led through the forest, and many peasants were standing alongside our way. After we had arrived at the village administration one of the Hitlerists phoned to Tarnopol, and asked what he was to do with us. Their reply was: "shoot them". The Hitlerists led us to the highway, not far from the railway tracks. There we saw a Jew who had been shot d~ad. He had a beard, his clothes had been taken away.

One of the Hitlerists aimed his revolver at us and ordered us to stand up straight. At this very moment the young Jewish girl Ruska Zimring sprung up against him, hit his hand, and the revolver fell down. We all started to run away in different directions while the Germans shot at us. They were taken by surprise by Ruska's act and confused by our escape. While running away Ruska was hit and shot to death. -

I ran through the fields hoping to reach the village, that I saw far away. A peasant woman called after me "run- quicker , there is a peasant who catches run-away Jews", And, indeed, I ran into a peasant who caught me by the hand, and wanted to deliver me to the Germans. Peasants and their wives came out from their huts, shouting that he should leave me be. The man released my hand, and I ran into the forest where I stayed till nightfall.

At night I left the forest, and walked along the railway tracks until I met an Ukrainian peasant woman, the aunt of Karol Sig- natovich. She recognized me and was very pleased that I had stayed alive. She had heard that the entire group that was caught in the bunker and led to the railway tracks had been shot dead.

The woman took me to the stable in her courtyard, and brought me food and some water to wash myself. Next morning I dressed as a peasant and started walking towards Tremblova. In town I learned that everyone of our group who was led to the highway was shot while trying to escape. Only one young Jewish man and myself had got away. The heads of the Judenrat and the J ewish policemen regarded me as if I had come back from another world.

I had no relatives left in the Ghetto. A woman who knew me took me into her house. She was endangering her life doing so, as no one who was not registered was allowed to stay in the Ghetto. Both of us went to sleep.

During the night we heard heavy shooting in the Ghetto, another akzia was on. Both of us hurried down to the basement when the Germans arrived and found us. They beat us and drove us out into the square with the other J ews of the Ghetto.

I had a small bag in which there were some jewels. My mother had hung it on my neck, sayiDg that in an hour of danger it might save my life. While sitting in the square I showed it to an Uk- rainian policeman. He called one of the Hitlerists who took it away from me, when the Ukrainian told him my secret. The Hitlerists .ordered me to get up. He stood me against a wall, told me to raise my hands, and threatened to shoot me, when another Hitlerist arrived and started beating me with his stick. I returned to the square where the other Jews were squatting. Though I, hurt al lover from the many beatings I had taken, the hope to live was still strong within me. The Hitlerists ordered all of us to take off our upper clothing and to remain in our underwear only. Now some enormous trucks arrived that were so high one could climb into them by ladders only.

The men were the first to be chased up the ladder into the trucks. At the outskirts of town, where huge mass graves had been dug they were shot and buried.

When the returning lorries approached us, some of the women started shouting: "don't let us wait till they catch us and lead us to our death, let us run away". None of the desperate women dared to be the first one to run, and they faced me, shouting: "You go first, you are lucky, you already got away a number of times". When the trucks drew near, I got up, and started running while some 50 women followed me. The Germans started shooting, and many of the women were killed.

While being on the run, I broke into the yard of the Ghetto hospital, and hid in the privy. I was afraid to remain there as outside the place was swarming with Germans looking for runaways. The privy was very primitive; just a seat made of wooden planks and underneath a pit for the excrements. Without hesitating I jumped into the pit and sank up to my neck. I had a sensation that I was drowning, and for just a moment I thought it would be better to be shot than to suffocate in the offal. I could not raise myself as the walls of the pit were solidly built and very slippery. I felt as if I was going to die.

All of a sudden everything became quiet -no more Germans were running about, and no shooting was heard. Now I heard above my head someone speaking Yiddish, some Jews who also had hid in the privy were talking-to each other. I started shouting: "Help, Jews, Help! " They came, drew me out from the pit, and brought me 10 the hospital where I was washed and given a change of clothing. One of the J ewish physicians in the hospital also gave me an injection of some disinfectant, so that I should not fall sick. During this day I remained in the hospital, and went to Tremblova Ghetto only on the following day. Only very few J ews were still there, and there were rumours that the Ghetto was to be cleared out very soon, and become "judenrein".

Soon we heard some more shooting, the Germans were chasing Jews that had been in hiding. About a dozen of them, and I amongst them, burst into the hospital, and hid in a bunker built some time ago by some Jew. We lay in the bunker till night fall when Jewish policemen from the Ghetto arrived. From them we learned of the plot to clear the Ghetto totally of Jews, so that it would be "judenrein". The Ukrainian police had been bribed, and we had two hours left to save our lives -we had to run once more.

All of us left the bunker in the Ghetto and sought refuge in the forest. Here we met many other Jews hiding in bunkers everywhere in the forest near Tremblova.

These bunkers had been built by some Jews who sold places to live there to others.
One of my cousins, whom I met here had bought such places for his father and himself. As his father had been killed, the cousin told me to come and stay in the place he had bought for his father. I did not have a penny to my name, nor did I want to stay there. I reasoned that at a place with so many Jews the danger of discovery was great. I joined a group of Jews who set out for another place in the same forest.

Shortly after we left, Germans and Ukrainians arrived. They discovered the bunkers and their inmates, and as I heard later all the Jews who were there were shot.

For a few more months I lived in the forest together with other Jews. From time to time we were discovered. Germans and Ukrainians took us then together with other Jews to the pits that were to be mass-graves. We were destined to be shot, many of us died. Over and over again Hitlerists and "Benderowci" found us.

It is hard to believe, but providence took care of me, and I was miraculously saved from death every time.

Eighteen times the Germans and the "Benderowci" caught me, eighteen times I was almost executed, but my lucky star always saved me. Maybe it was destined by fate that one of our family shoud survive.

After some time I met in the forest with some J ews from my town, Mikulince, and also the peasant Karol Signatovich about whom I already told before. He gathered all of us into his house, and hid us in the attic. We were six, and he did not receive from us any remuneration for the food he supplied us and the water for washing ourselves. The other five members of the group who hid there are now all living in Israel. On March 25, 1944 the Soviet troups arrived. We left our hide-out in the peasant's house and the whole group proceeded to our town, Mikulince. We went straightaway to the Soviet administration and told them about all the help rendered to us by the kind-hearted and noble Pole Signatovich who had saved our lives while endangering himself and his family at a time when searches for hide-away Jews were the order of the day.

All young men in Mikulince were then recruited to the Soviet army, but our saviour Signatovich did not have to join up, and was appointed a policeman.

After the liberation I stayed for another year in Mikulince. Only 12 Jews of our town had survived, and all of us left Mikulince for Bytom in Poland and thence to Germany. I lived there in Lechfeld Camp near Augsburg, and in July 1949 reached New York aboard the m/v "General Hoyermat".

My husband is working in a tailor shop and we are reasonably well off. We have no complaints about life in the U.S.A. We live in a 3-room apartment that is adequately furnished, and have two lovely children. Quite a lot of people from Mikulince live here, whom we meet occasionally, and with the former fellow-townsmen maintain our own organization.

Sometimes my husband and I go to the pictures or the theatre, but as the children are still small and have to be looked after , we can not do so frequently.

We read the "Tag-Morgen Journal", and sometimes also English language papers.

As U.S. citizens we are satisfied with our lot and only feel deep sorrow that our dear departed ones could not share our fate.


LETTER I

2. Dec. 22, 1981

Dear Fellow Townspeople:

Tonight, the third night of Hanukah, we former Mikulinceans living in Israel met at Haim Preshel's home and decided to publish a book about our town Mikulince. In our opinion, this is the last chance to undertake such a project, the last time it will be possible to make a joint effort in this direction. Unfortunately, the number of Mikulineans in Israel is decreasing with the passing years and the same is true in the United States. This is the last chance to tap our memories. We are enclosing a number of things with this letter: I. an outline of the chapters planned for our book, 2. a request to each of you to suggest additions or changes or new ideas, 3. a request that you send to Zelig Shpirer any pictures, documents of public interest or material you have written in Hebrew, Yiddish or English about our town. A book like this is very expensive to publish and we would appreciate it if each of you would notify our secretary Zelig Shpirer, Rehov Hayiladim 9, Kiryat Motskin, 26321, Israel, what you can contribute to this effort, in material for publication and/or in financial support. We would appreciate if you would answer us within two weeks from the receipt of this letter. The initiating committee:

Haim Preshel, Michael Goldhirsch Nusia Schweitzer-Horowitz, Theodore Fogelbaum, Yitzhak Schwartz, Moshe Halperin, Selig Shpirer (signed) Association of Mikulineans in Israel.

P .S. In order to include your relatives and neigbors in the list of Mikulinceans, we would appreciate your providing a list of their names so we can be sure to include everyone. Please sent it together with your answer .


[Page 92]

A Baby Girl Captured by the Gentiles

By Zalman Pelz

The tragedy of our town Mikulince and the Pelz family

A small, poor, but happy town (happy particularly on Jewish holidays and festivals) was our town Mikulince. The town was known for its youth organizations and libraries.

On the twentieth of Tamuz, Hershel Pesach would mount the pulpit in the big synagogue and talk about Zionism.

We, the youngsters, would enthusiastically sing “Hatikvah” to end the event. The singing gave us courage and strengthened our belief.

The town was destroyed by the Nazis and their Ukrainians and Polish helpers. Among many others, the Pelz family, which numbered 25 men, women, and children, was exterminated.

We who survived never forgot the town.

Miraculously, a few members of the family survived – three brothers and a little girl, the daughter of our sister Hanele-Hoda, who was nicknamed Ancia. We, the brothers, were saved because Russian Communists brought us to the other side of Russia. Hersh and Muni ended up in the Urals, and I ended up in Siberia. None of us knew what happened to the others and if anyone from the family was still alive, though we were in the same camp.

Anyone who knows what it's like to be in a Communist camp among a Ukrainian battalion will understand what I'm talking about.

When our town, Mikulince, was liberated, we began sending letters there. Leibush Berger heard we were still alive and a long time later he brought us together.

We remained in Russia for another year, until we heard that the Russian government was permitting Polish citizens to return there on condition that they registered with a Polish organization under Russian supervision.

Before we left Russia, we got a letter from Sarah Halperin. She told us our sister Hanele had been in the Trembovla ghetto together with her daughter. Our sister was married to Moshe Etinger who worked as a tinsmith in a village near Trembovla while his wife and daughter remained in the ghetto. The murderers began eliminating the remains of the ghetto population by occasional surprise attacks in which they would bombard the ghetto with machine gun fire for several hours at a time.

My sister managed to survive until the final destruction of the ghetto.

While my sister was in the ghetto, a Polish woman named Payova would often visit. She would provide bread in return for valuable articles. She wanted to adopt the child. She often threatened our sister with every conceivable possible and impossible threat.

Our sister would plea with her: “Leave me alone,” but Payova gave her no rest.

When our sister realized that the Nazis were about to destroy what was left of the ghetto, she consulted her husband and they decided to give the child to Payova. Our sister's request was that if anyone from our family survived, Payova would give the child back to them.

The day after Payova took the child, the Germans led the ghetto survivors through the streets of Trembovla. Each of the victims had a sign on his or her chest reading “free of Jews.” They were led to the army camp nearby, where they were shot. Their burial place is unknown…

The child remained with Payova, the Polish woman. The child was eighteen months old when Payova took her and Payova educated the baby girl as a religious Christian.

Payova lived with a man to whom she was not married, Kazimiej Vidota. He was a veterinarian. At first, the man could not look at the child, but later grew to like her.

When the Gestapo found out about the child in his home, he was asked: “Who is this child?” He answered that it was his daughter.

After that, he and Payova, together with the child, left Trembovla and moved to Bodzanov. There, the child contracted a bad case of pneumonia. A doctor was called. When he examined the child, he was shocked. He was the doctor from our town, Dr. Zilberman.

After a long silence, they finally told the doctor the child's story but asked him to keep quiet until such time as it would be safe to reveal the truth.

Payova was an Anti-Semite and systematically transmitted this hatred to the child. Until the girl was ten, they never even hinted to her that there was such a thing as Jews in this world.

Times changed. The Russians began liberating Poland from the Germans and within a short time all the Ukrainian Poles were sent to Siberia. Dr. Kazimiej Vidota and Miss Payova, too, were sent to Slezia. We, the Pelz brothers, also got to Slezia.

Our main concern was to look for our niece, our sister's daughter at any cost. We started searching for the child, but with no success.

We decided to separate so that each of us could search in a different area. Hirsch chose the direction of Walbrzyeh, Muni went to Ulm where he met many former Mikulincians including Dr. Bumche Goldrosen. I, Zalman, stayed in Lignica.

When Hirsch got to Walbrych, he met Fishel Etinger. During their conversation, Fishel told Hirsch that he knows where the child is but advised Hirsch not to go there because he would be risking his life.

After consulting with us, Hirsch went away. When he got to that town, he was forced to leave it the same night. Dr. Vidota told him that the Poles plan to kill him because he wants to seduce a Christian girl.

On his return, we decided to ask Miss Payove to visit me. She came without the child and demanded a very high ransom. She wanted one of us to marry her and take her to the United States. Her demand shocked us. We were members of a religious Zionist family – ready to go to Israel – and our answer to her was a definite “no.” Meanwhile, we discovered that there was a large organization in the United States which was working to get Jewish children out of Poland.

With the help of “the Israeli escape organization,” we got to Germany via Czechoslovakia and Austria. There, we were stopped by Americans who would not let us continue on our way. We remained in the camp for a long time until our relatives in America demanded that we be allowed to join them there.

When we got to America, we renewed our search for organizations involved in getting Jewish children out of Gentile hands. Our search was unsuccessful and our inability to get our niece out of the clutches of the Gentiles pained us deeply. Despite all this we did not lose hope and faith. Among ourselves, we were sure we had remained alive precisely for this purpose.

A short time later, we received a letter from Christians who informed us that Dr. Vidota had died. Before he died, he called the little girl, then six, to his bedside and told her that the woman Payova is not her mother. Those were his last words.

Payova moved with the child to another town where she opened a small tavern. The child was forced to wash floors, to herd sheep, and to care for pigs. These jobs were accompanied by murderous beatings because Payova had lost all hope of receiving money from the girl's uncles and was therefore frustrated and angry.

Payova took out her frustrations on the child, who suffered such severe beatings that she could not stand it any more and ran to a friend's home. The friend's mother, also a Christian, knew how much the Jewish child had suffered at Payova's hands and did not let her go back there. Payova wanted to get her back by force, and the police ultimately had to intervene.

Since we had been in correspondence, the police found our address and contacted us in America. A court gave the other woman custody of the child until a higher court could decide where the child should go.

This woman notified us that the child was with her, since she knew that we would send packages. The packages were preferred to money because dollars were converted to Polish currency by the Polish government at less than market value, at the official exchange rate. We, the brothers, filled her house with packages because we knew the child's life would be made easier as a result.

The child still did not know that she was Jewish, and every Sunday she would go to church. We were getting desperate. Once when we were at a family gathering with our wives, Anna, Zalman's wife, mentioned that she had a cousin in Poland named Regina Weselberg who lived near the town where the child was living. She went on to say that Regina was a good-hearted woman who would surely help us.

Anna wrote to her immediately and Mrs. Weselberg visited the child a few times. The child's uncles will always remember her for this. Mrs. Weselberg gave the Christian woman money in return for which she agreed to relinquish the child. Thus, our niece was rescued from Christian hands, but this is not the end of the story.

Payova began to harass Mrs. Weselberg by attacking her home and raising scandals on the grounds that the Jews had taken a Christian child. She organized a group of Christian children to convince the little girl that she is really a Christian who was taken by Jews, and that she should return to the Christian fold.

Until that time, Regina had not yet told the child that she was Jewish. Then one day, a classmate told the child: “You are a Jew.” The child came home crying bitterly but refused to say a word. Regina and her husband began investigating the child's strange behavior and finally the child asked the question: “Tell me the truth: am I a Jew or not?” They told her the whole truth. The child stopped crying and began to kiss them. Nobody understood the reason for her reaction. The one thing which is clear to us is that our cousins gave the child a warm Jewish home and a good education, as a Jewish mother and father know how to give.

Payova sued them in a high court. We, the brothers, sent sworn affidavits via the Polish Consulate, as well as money for court costs and legal fees.

The judge, who was a Jew, ordered both women to leave the court. The child remained there alone. In front of witnesses, the judge asked the child with whom she would prefer to stay. “With the Galina family,” the child answered promptly.

At that time, we learned the Polish government was allowing Jews to immigrate to Israel. We immediately wrote to the Galina family urging them to request permission to emigrate as soon as possible. We also wrote to Zvi Cohen asking him to expedite things for the Galina family if he could.

Payova continued to persecute the Galina family and they were forced to flee and hide from her. A short time later, they arrived in Israel.

We cannot find words adequate to thank the Galina family. They are certainly worthy of mention in the Mikulince Book. They now live in Israel (their address is 8 Ben-Livrat Street, Jerusalem).

When the child arrived in Israel, Tzvi Cohen placed her at Kibbutz Shfaim. Later, she served in the Israeli Army. When she completed her army service, we invited her to the United States for our brother Muni's son's Bar Mitzvah. She then had the opportunity to meet our whole family. We found her a husband here and she has two children, Moshe and Hana.

It is worthy of mention that Bella, our niece, is the youngest survivor among the Mikulince townspeople.

(Signed) Zalman Hirsch and Muni Pelz



[Page 99]

This Time They Could Shake Hands Openly

By Patt Morrison, Times Staff Writer

There first furtive handshake, one midnight 40 years ago in a town patrolled by Nazi troops, risked both their lives – the young Polish Jew on the run and the young Roman Catholic with a conscience.

On Tuesday, the Redondo Beach man who once knocked on the right door for help and the Polish man who answered the knock clasped hands again - openly this time – as they were reunited in a ceremony honoring the Pole, Jan Misiewicz, for concealing Leon Kahane and 10 other Jews from Nazi sweeps that sent 6 million others to death camps.

Every night for seven months, as German and Russian troops battled around them, Misiewicz and a friend, Michael Ogurek, carried food and reassuring words to the Jews. Five were hidden in a makeshift room in the cross-tipped spire of a Catholic church where Misiewicz's father was deacon – and six more, including Kahane, were in a bunker beneath a German soldier's outhouse.

From September 1943, until the Russian advance in April 1944, Misiewicz and his friend, now dead, were the lifeline
for the 11.

And some, like Kahane, now 60 and a rabbi, have survived to thank him.


Given 'Righteous Conduct' Award

Kahane and Misiewicz, 63, wept and exchanged confidences in Polish as Misiewicz was presented with a “righteous conduct” award Tuesday at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in West Los Angeles.

“No matter how kind I will be to him,” Kahane said, “no matter what I will shower on him … it will never be enough to recompense this man for his courage, his tenacity, his commitment.”
They were both living in an occupied country in 1943, when first the Russians, then the Germans, swept through eastern Poland, targeting Jews for persecution.

Kahane's family had already moved several times by the time they came to the town of Mikulince, where Misiewicz lived. And there, Kahane heard rumors that the Misiewicz family would help Jews in trouble.

But they had heard other rumors before: That if a Jew could afford to buy a certain permit stamp from the Gestapo, he would be left alone. Kahane's uncle had bought such stamps, “and they were sitting upstairs thinking that they were safe… They were the ones collected first.” The rumor about the Misiewiczes “could have been a setup, too.”

Still, on Yom Kippur, 40 years ago, Kahane had to take a chance that the gossip was true. His family had been dispersed after the last arrests, and he and his brother were hiding in the forest outside of town, fasting until nightfall to observe the religious holiday.

Then they split up to find food, and Kahane never saw his brother again. But he did find Misiewicz, who became more than a brother.

“I crossed through the Catholic cemetery and went to the gate,” Kahane recounted. There he saw a Ukrainian soldier, suborned to the Germans, peering in the Misiewiczes' window. “I knew if I made just one little noise, I'd be discovered, he (Misiewicz) would be caught, an entire neighborhood would be destroyed.”

So he hid for hours until the soldier left, and at midnight, he knocked furtively on the door.

“This man's hand, this man's smile greeted me,” he said Tuesday.

From that night, he spent seven months in the dank, cramped darkness of the bunker under the latrine, with only Misiewicz and Ogurek to trust. The pair, knowing that they were being watched came by with food and news; they even banked the hidden entrance with cattle manure to mask the scent of meals they brought.

“A man who in his 20's could have done a million other things… who could have gotten a reward for turning in 11 Jews to the Nazis…” Kahane said, his voice breaking.
But Misiewicz, who was “surprised” by Tuesday's ceremony, said that as a good Catholic, he could have done nothing else. “When I saw that the Jewish people were hunted everywhere, I knew what the end was going to be for these people,” he said, as Kahane translated.

His family, headed by his father, “a very religious man,” decided “without hesitation” to help, “in spite of the fact that I heard troops were shooting people in every corner of town.”

It was as simple, Misiewicz said, as “loving my neighbor as myself.”

Kahane would like to return the favor, but cannot. It is “heartbreaking,” he said - the irony that the man who risked his own life for Kahane's freedom is now himself living under a less-than-free regime.

But Misiewicz said that he must return to Poland, where his father is buried. Besides, he told Kahane, “I am an old tree, and how can you transplant an old tree?”


[Page 102]

Pole, Rabbi he saved in reunion

LOS ANGELES - Jan Misiewicz, a 63-year-old Polish national visiting the U.S., was reunited with one of the 11 Jews he saved during World War II -Rab'bi Leon M. Kahane, who now lives in Southern California -during an emotional ceremony at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The reunion came almost exactly 41 years to the day that Misiewicz saved Kahane on the night following Yom Kippur 1942. Kahane, now spiritual leader of Temple Menorah of Redondo Beach, told the crowd of 200 that "Jan Misiewicz was an angel; he gave us warmth and encouragement in the midst of darkness. No matter what I say or do", the rabbi added, breaking down in tears, "I can never truly thank him for all his kindness, goodness and compassion. Every day he brought us food and took our waste away. He could have turned us all in and receive a big reward, but he never once broke his silence". Misiewicz received the Wiesenthal Center's scroll of "Righteous Conduct", presented by Dr. Gerald Margolis, director of the center, who cited the Polish Catholic's acts of heroism. He noted that during World War II, Misiewicz disregarded his personal safety and that of his family to save the II Jew: (including a 2-year-old baby) by hiding them in a tiny room on the premises of a Roman Catholic church in the eastern Polish town of Mikulince. Singlehandedly Misiewicz saved a Jewish family of five and, with a friend, Michael Ogurgk, he saved another family of four and two single Jewish people (one of whom was Rabbi Kahane).

As they fled through the forests, Kahane and his brother sought food and shelter in Mikulince. Kahane arrived at the hone of Misiewicz and hid while Ukrainian police searched for him and other Jews. His brother went to another house, and was caught and later murdered.

Toward the end of the ceremony, Misiewicz, spoke to the crowd in Polish, and Rabbi Kahane served as interpreter. Misiewicz explained why he chose to save Jews.

"I consulted with my family and especially with my father to ask if they minded keeping Jewish people, I remember my father telling me that it was the proper thing to do". Misiewicz added that he hoped Jews in the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc nations would be freed by their oppressors and could go to Israel. "I also hope that Israel's people can live in peace", he said.

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