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[Page 226]

From Krakow to Jezierna
(Two Years in Jezierna: October 1939 until July 1941)

by Sh. Ch., Hadera

Translated by Pamela Russ

The German–Polish war had broken out. Many Jews left the Polish western provinces and went east. The eastern cities and towns were rife with refugees. When the Red Army annexed eastern Galicia up to the San River, the refugees stayed in this area. However, soon the issuing of passports began. Every refugee received a passport with a special section, according to which they were sent out of the larger cities; they were only permitted to live in the smaller towns.

Several hundred refugee families also settled in Jezierna. I myself first settled in Tarnopol, but when I was forced out of there, I moved to Jezierna, where a relative of mine, Yisroel Hoch, lived. It was difficult to get a place to live here in town. It was even harder to find work. A large number of refugees moved into the abandoned stores that stood empty, because private businesses were shut down. Dudye Paket gave me his store and it became a “home” for me and my wife.

Before the war I lived in Krakow, owned a beautifully furnished home and a dentist's office. I left it all behind and went to live in Jezierna, in a small, narrow store, in order to save my life. After the outbreak of the German–Russian war, the population of Jewish refugees in Jezierna increased. Their living conditions became worse and worse. There was organized help given, but how much could the Jezierna Jews help, as their own lives were not much better after their livelihoods were also terminated. The living conditions of the local Jews helped a little in this, since almost every Jew owned his own cow –– so he had a little milk for himself and sometimes even a few litres to sell.

After the completion of the refugee exchange between the Russians and the Germans, Jewish refugees were also able to return to their homes on the German side. There were men who had abandoned their wives and children and ran away from there. And when their situation was no longer tenable and their wives wrote that the situation at home had normalized, that Jews were living and were even doing business, it attracted them back. Here, men were struggling without work, suffering from hunger and deprivation, the families were far away, no friends and no rescuers; and over there were their wives and children, and life continued, so they wrote. How can one not go and register to return home to the German side? So, some of them actually did just that.

And now their real tragedy began. The government suspected them of being spies, enemies of the regime who wanted to leave their “Garden of Eden” and return to the Fascists, into Hitler's hell. These refugees now found themselves in a bitter situation – being neither here nor there; who could have understood this? And still, the refugees hoped that the Soviets would send them home to their families.

One Friday night, the Soviet military visited them in their “homes,” accompanied by Ukrainians, as if searching for weapons. They told them to pack their most important belongings, and then these men were taken away. Under guard, they were loaded into wagons, and taken to the Zborow train station. Here they were forced into cargo trains and sent to Siberia. Those who had not registered to leave were very happy.

But fate turned out very differently. Almost all of those who had been sent to Siberia actually survived, and of those who remained, almost all were killed by the Fascist murderers.

And when the war between Hitler's Germany and Soviet Russia broke out, we were the innocent victims. The time that I spent in Jezierna, the experiences there, have been strongly etched in my memory.

***

End of June 1941. The Soviet units retreated, the Germans were advancing, when the first German military units marched in and behind them the SS troops appeared. There was terror in the town. There was shooting heard late into the night. There was a real slaughter in the town. I will never forget this. Many Jews were shot that day. Among them were Dr. Litvak, the pharmacist Mintz, the manager of the estate Klinger. The SS went from house to house and snatched out Jews wherever they found them. It was said that they had a list. Also, the Ukrainians revealed where the Jews lived and how many there were, and even where the Jews were hiding.

A rumor circulated that in each city and town the Ukrainian priest and a few respected Ukrainians had signed an act that they demanded revenge be taken on the Jews. They would find a reason.

Seeing the terror in the city, my wife and I left our “home,” and ran away to Yechezkel Hoch on Zabramska Street. We thought that the murderers would not come there because there were only a few Jews living there. But we made a mistake. On the second day, early in the morning, the shooting began again. The murderers ran from house to house snatching out Jews. They were shown where to go and where to search. The shooting came closer and closer to us. There were already murderers on Zabramska Street. I went out of the house and into the stable to hide. Soon the murderers went into Yechezkel Hoch's house, dragged him out, and shot him in the doorway. The murderers were already intending to retreat, when their Ukrainian companions told them that there was still a son of Yechezkel's living here and they thought it was Yisroel Hoch, so the murderers went back and demanded that the women give up Yisroel. Even though they demanded this with some shooting, they did not succeed. So they ransacked the house, but in fact they did not find him.

I hid in the stable for a few days and was afraid to leave because the neighbors would inform on me. For one whole day, Yechezkel lay dead outside in front of his house and they were terrified to bring him inside. When the murderers left Jezierna, all the dead were taken to the cemetery. It was only then that I left the stable.

A great sadness enveloped the town. Women cried over their murdered husbands and children, fathers and grandfathers. There were hardly any people seen in the streets. Whoever did venture into the streets, went furtively with great fear.

***

One day, an acquaintance came to us and informed us that the Ukrainians were looking for my wife, probably because they wanted to hand her over to the Germans because she had been a teacher in a Ukrainian school during the Soviet occupation. We did not know that there was the death sentence for this; so then we decided to leave Jezierna. But it wasn't that simple. Jews were forbidden to go from town to town, and forbidden to have contact with non–Jews. All of these things were punishable by death.

We found a Polish peasant, paid him well, and he undertook to take us to Tarnopol. We left disguised as peasants and we reached Tarnopol successfully. Here we tried to find ways to escape and get back to Krakow. In this we were also successful.

In the Krakow area we merited to survive the horrific times and then to be saved.

 

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