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A Path Full of Obstacles and Suffering (cont.)

The Liberation

Several weeks again passed, and Dimitry came to us with a cheerful face: “Shourz! Your salvation has arrived, so it seems to me.” He brought with him a section that he had cut out of the newspaper. As was his custom, he asked that we all remain quiet and not make any noise, for at the last moment, something might change, for the tension of everyone was very high, especially among the gentiles who behaved cruelly toward the Jews. These were mainly Banderov gangs, who were faithful assistants to the German Nazis. All of them, from young to old, assisted them. A few days later he came to us and said: “Behold, you are free. However, you must not hurry to leave here until I tell you that you are permitted to go. However, my husband did not want to stay a moment more, and he said that the time has finally come for us to leave here. Dimitry stood his ground: “Don't go. You need to wait a little while until the influx of the Russian army completes. If you do not want to listen to me, you will only be sorry about all your struggle.” My husband said to Dimitry: “Nothing will help you.” He called loudly to Dimitry: “I want our clothes, mine, my wife's and my children's, and we will leave. There is no more time for convincing, the time has come to go.” Dimitry went, and about two hours passed. Then my husband began to knock on the gate of the barn. Only then did he bring us down our clothes. However, when we examined the clothes, it became obvious that these clothes were not ours. These were worn out rags of gypsies, that nobody would wear. At that moment we had the thought that they were preparing to kill us, and these rags would be sufficient to bury us. He did not even return our shoes to us. It was then the harsh days of winter, with a lot of snow up to the height of a person. For food, he gave us one egg with a pita, covered in a rag. Due to our great anger we had not yet eaten supper, and we wanted to leave already. We parted from him, and we each extended our hand to him with a promise that we would never tell anyone where our hiding place was. He showed us the way that we should go. Later, it became clear that Dimitry had prepared gangs of murderers with the intention of killing us and removing us from the world. Seeing the clothes that Dimitry had prepared for us, we felt instinctively that death awaited us if we went in the direction that he showed us. He had even warned us to go according to his directions. Our heart told us not to go in the direction that he showed us. In order to confuse him, we went that way until his house was no longer in view. Then my husband called out: “Children! We are turning off the road and going in a different direction, to the right.” We walked all night in the deep snow, without knowing where we were found. We continued on until we arrived at the house of a certain gentile, when dawn already had arrived. This light showed us the direction in which to continue our journey. We continued until we arrived at the window of a house in the village. We knocked on the door.

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of the house, and a Subotnik opened up. He was a good man of faith, and he recognized my husband. We were half naked and frozen from the cold. The gentile crossed himself and served us warm milk. He gave each of us a piece of sugar. He literally earned his share in the hereafter.

After we drank the milk, the Subotnik asked us: “How did you get here, and what did you do that you remained alive? Had you come by a different way, the straight route, they would have killed you. Bands of Banderovchiks are roaming around, and every night they murder even Ukrainians and Poles.” We were convinced that we had done the right thing by not following the route that Dimitry had showed us, for we would have certainly not remained alive. It is possible that Dimitry himself participated in that gang. The Subotnik went out to his yard to feed the animals and the fowl. He advised us to rest a bit after such a difficult journey in the snow. We slept for about two hours. At 8:00 a.m., he came to us. His wife had cooked potatoes with sour milk, and set the table for us, with other good food. This family of farmers fulfilled the commandment of tending to guests from the depths of their hearts. After the meal, the entire family sat down and asked us questions about what had happened to us. They expressed interest about what had happened to us during the difficult times. After we had told the family of all of the tribulations that we endured in Dimitry's pit, the entire family said together that a great miracle had happened to us, for as far as they knew, almost no Jews from Podhajce remained – neither those who hid among gentiles nor those who hid in the forests. In their opinion, we left our hiding place early. My husband asked the Subotnik to give him some tobacco leaves to smoke, a box of matches, and perhaps some sheets of paper. The gentile harnessed his horse, took us to the road where the Russian transport was passing, and let us down on the road. We parted from the Subotnik with warm words, and expressed our hope that we would yet be able to repay him for all of his kindness and good relations to us. The Subotnik went on his way, and we remained standing on the road.

Soviet army wagons passed by one after another. We raised our hands to the wagon drivers as a sign that we want to travel with them. Many passed by without paying attention to us. Finally, an old Russian passed by with his horse and wagon, and asked us what we wanted. We answered him that we wanted him to take us with him to where he was going. “Okay”, he said, “Give me something to smoke.” My husband gave him what he had received from the Subotnik. We sat and rode until the Zahajce farm. It was already dark, and the Gestapo was still in power in Podhajce. We descended from the wagon. The Russian battalion went to their field camp to eat. We also went to the kitchen of the farm, for we had some acquaintances there. As we entered the kitchen, we met the two brothers Yitzchak and Motia Frankel, Michael Lehrer and Fanchia Rozmarin. There were a few other acquaintances whose names I do not remember. We were very glad to see that indeed, some Jews of our city remained. We got something to eat and arranged a place for ourselves to sleep between the wagons. We tried to remain within the bounds of the transport for greater safety, and we also attempted to forge the connection with the four who remained alive. We drifted into a deep sleep as if after a great exertion. In the meantime, the Soviets retreated, and there was a tumult in the camp. We did not hear anything of this. We woke up at 3:00 p.m., and did not know what had happened suddenly, that we did not see a living soul. We were particularly angry at the four Jews and the Frankel brothers who did not wake us up, and left us sleeping, while they themselves fled, while it was very possible that we might have fallen into the hands of the Germans.

The Russians had received an order to retreat hastily at night. When we woke up, we began to search for a way to go. We approached the main road and found a tumult and shouting. The Russians were running like crazy people, whipping their horses with whips and shouting at them. The Germans were bombing without stop, and the shrapnel from the bombs was falling like hail. We stood on the way waving our hands, and the Russians paid no attention to us at all. We saw that our end was near, and it was no use waiting for any assistance. Only the Dweller of Heaven could show us a miracle. We saw that the convoy was almost ended and that nobody wanted to take us aboard. We lay on the road, and only our daughter remained waving her hands. One soldier stopped and asked what was going on here. We said that we were Jews, and that since no soldier wants to take us aboard their wagon, we were prepared to be killed and not fall into the hands of the Germans. Our daughter asked the solider to take us aboard his wagon, since we had already been standing there for a few hours, and the Germans were about to come.

The soldier had mercy upon us, took off his coat and threw it upon the girl who was frozen from the cold. He asked once again if we were Jews. Our daughter requested that the soldier also take aboard her mother, father and brother Aharon. Having no choice, the soldier, took us all aboard, shouting that we must flee quickly since the Germans were behind us. He urged the horses on very strongly. The soldier asked: “Where should I let you down? We are the last ones. I am traveling to Burkanov, where my commander is located. He is a Jew. I will give you over to his custody. He is a captain, and the entire command is located there.” The soldier brought us there and apologized to his command that he violated the law and transported guests on his army wagon. He could not do anything else, for they were lying on the road, and he had no other option other than to run them over. However, the fate of the girl particularly moved him, since he had one like her at home. The captain told the soldier: “You have done well, and behaved

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in a humane fashion.” He patted him on his shoulder and gave him a prize: a full pack of tobacco leaves that could not be obtained for any price. The soldier continued on his way, and the captain put us up with a gentile, telling him: “First of all, prepare hot water so that they can wash up well. He gave us army linens, coats, and pants for my husband and son. He ordered that the old rags be burnt, and commanded the gentile woman to prepare for us food, and not to give us anything fatty, which might injure us. Later the captain called to us and asked: “Is it true that you are Jews? It is hard to believe that any Jews remain. How and where did you hide?” We lay down to sleep on a straw mattress on the ground, and fell into a deep sleep. A short while later he awakened us and said: “We are located here on the border between the two regions. We cannot waste any time. You know about the Communist police in Russia. I am also a Communist, and I promised my father before his death that I will recite Kaddish for him, and I was not able to fulfill my promise until this point. Therefore, I took it upon myself to save as many Jews as possible. And behold, fate took you into my hands, and it seems as if from Heaven they helped me to fulfill my promise to my father. Your salvation is in lieu of reciting Kaddish. Now my dear ones, I do not have much money. I have ten rubles which I am giving to you. He took a hand made woolen shawl from around his neck and gave it to us. We felt that this was no ordinary shawl. He told us that we had received this shawl as a symbol. He told us that he had a very wealthy sister who had a large farm and a mill. “You will go to her, and she will make up what I am missing. You will feel at home with her. You are permitted and are able to remain with her as long as you wish until the end of the war. Perhaps in this merit I will also survive, come home in peace, and rejoice greatly with you.”

We took leave of him and kissed him literally as a fellow townsfolk. He gave us a transport truck with blankets, and food for three days. He told the driver: “I place upon you the responsibility for these four people, who are very dear to me.” Aside from this he gave my husband a certain password, and if the driver does not bring the password in return it will be a sign that he himself murdered us, and he will shoot him on the spot. The captain could do no more than this, and we felt that he was not a human being, but rather an angel in human form. He did not allow any of the soldiers who were present and wished to help to load us aboard the car. Rather, he himself did so, for we did not have the strength to jump up. He told the soldiers that we are his relatives. He made a place to sleep to each of us, and he gave us each several warm blankets. He did not embarrass us, even though we looked like filthy wild animals. He himself served us, and everyone stood about filled with astonishment.

We traveled all night. The driver took us to a train station, from which we could reach the Zhmerinka station. We sent the agreed upon password through the driver to the captain in a closed envelope, and asked the driver to protect it so that it would not be lost, for it is not a simple letter. This was an important letter to his commander. The driver set out on his way, and we remained for an entire day in the central station. There were thousands of other people aimlessly lying around us. They lay in a tenfold worse state than we did. Then the train arrived, and we entered it with great danger. These were ordinary transport trains that brought war provisions to the front. We traveled for an entire day and night. According to our plans, we intended to travel to the interior of Russia, to the address that was noted on the woolen shawl. This was the clearest sign. Aside from this, the captain wrote to his sister to take good care of us. This was his only demand, and he asked that she do this for his sake. These are the few Jews who remained alive from the war of destruction of Hitler. After the end of the war they will return to their home, and perhaps he would also survive in their merit.

We arrived at the Zhmerinka train station, and as we looked out of the windows, we saw that many soldiers were carrying loaves of white bread and complete sausages. My husband said: “If this is the situation, we will descend here and not continue on the journey. I do not wish to travel to the depths of Russia. If it is possible to obtain white bread and sausage here, it is a clear sign that we could live here. Aside from this, I want to be close to our country and city, and not go far off into the depths of Russia”. We knew the Russians. On the other hand, I knew that if we were to begin to do business to earn our livelihood, the Russians were liable to send us to Siberia or other wasteland as a punishment. Therefore, what good would it be to flee from our city if all of these tribulations would come upon us? I began to influence my husband to change his mind to continue with the journey, by pointing out the excellent recommendation that we had in our hands from the Jewish captain, who acted to us like an angel from heaven. Furthermore, we would distance ourselves further from the front line, where the Germans do not stop to bomb and attack. However my husband stood his stand: “My children, you will not convince me. My heart says to stay as close as possible to our homeland and not to distance ourselves with a journey to the depths of Russia. Indeed, we did descend from the train in Zhmerinka.

We descended from the train and wandered around the station of Zhmerinka hungry, without a coin in our pockets. I saw a large heap of dung and garbage, and began to search for empty containers of preserves in which I could heat up some water. A soldier stood on guard not far from this garbage heap. The soldier stopped me from going: “What are you doing here? Do you not know that it is forbidden to approach here?” I answered him: “I did not know. We just arrived, and I want to warm up a bit of water, for we are hungry. I have come with young children. I am a Jewess.” The soldier said: “First, I want to be convinced that you are a Jewess. Bring

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your husband here, and if your words are true, I will give you something to eat. I have everything. I ran to bring my husband, and the soldier interrogated him to find out if he was a Jew.” He took out a sack and filled half of it with salt, a commodity that was very difficult to obtain. Aside from this, he placed various food provisions in the sack, aside from bread. He promised to bring bread later. The soldier told him that he has many Jewish friends, and he spent half of the years of his life among Jews. He would eat at their table, and they were among his best friends. We parted from the soldier, but from our great weakness, we could not lift up the sack with food. We returned to the station and found a place to sit down. My husband found two bricks and an old German steel helmet. We lit some straw and warmed up the water in the helmet. We found a bit of millet in the sack. I put some of it into the helmet with some salt. We turned to the side so nobody would see us eating a bit of warm soup. We restored our spirit with this. This food was more precious to us than all the treasures of the world.

Now for some words on Zhmerinka. It is located in the Vinitza region of Podolia. This used to be an uninhabited area, upon which a central train station was located. On account of the station, some families settled in the place, including some Jews. In 1897, the population was 13,944 people, including 2,396 Jews. The place was opened up to unrestricted settlement of Jews in 1903. In 1909, there were already schools for Jewish boys and girls, as well as mixed schools. There were pogroms against the Jews after the manifesto of the Czar of October 17, 1905, as there were in dozens of other Jewish communities of Russia. There were no victims. Large army garrisons passed through this station during both the First and Second World Wars, bringing it great benefit as a central station.

The soldier appeared at the train station once again at 7:00 p.m. He brought a large loaf of bread under his arms as well as a bottle of liquor. He brought two small cups and drank with us “Na Zdarovia” (Lechaim – to Life). The solider took interest in what had happened to us, and he literally wept from grief as he heard of the tribulations that we endured. As he took leave of us he gave us several rubles and told us to go to the interior of Russia, for the front was again approaching from the east, and the Germans were liable to return.

We did not act on his advice, and decided to set ourselves up in Zhmerinka. However, this was no simple matter at all. There was a respectable number of Jews in the city, however nobody took interest in our fate, and nobody agreed to rent us a dwelling, not even a cellar or a barn. We ran into an abandoned cellar whose door faced the street as we wandered through the streets of the city. I advised my husband to enter into this cellar and set it up as a dwelling for our family. Having no option, my husband agreed to my advice.

After the issue of a dwelling was settled, I went out the marketplace and began to occupy myself in business. First I sold the salt that I had received from the soldier. The profit was not bad. Then I purchased eggs from the farmers of the area, cooked them and offered them to the soldiers for sale. With time we began to do business with the merchandise that we purchased from the soldiers, and we sold them for a reasonable profit. Thus, we managed to save several thousand rubles. We rented a four-room dwelling, furnished it, and began to live as members of the community once again.

However, one bright day the war again caught up with us. A large volley of German bombs attacked the city and turned it into mounds of ruins. My daughter and I were in the market at the time, and we succeeded in entering the shelter in sufficient time. My husband and son were in the house and were saved miraculously. The dwelling was destroyed, but they hid under the table and were not injured by the crumbling ruins. The house went up in flames, and the merchandise that we collected with great toil was burnt. The streets were full of victims, and those that survived fled to the nearby town of Murafa. We took the pillows and blankets that remained and joined the refugees. We were again left penniless. We did not even have enough money to rent a wagon. After wandering on the roads, we arrived in the town of Murafa with our last energy. Miraculously, we ran into a Jew who helped us rent a dwelling in the home of a widow. The dwelling had three rooms and was furnished. To our good fortune, rent was not demanded up front.

The next day, my husband went out to the market and we again engaged in commerce from whatever came to our hand. We were again successful, and within a short period of time, we succeeded in amassing some money. Even in those days, after many years of war, it was possible to obtain any good thing with money. I prepared “food fit for kings” for the Sabbath and we invited the Jews of the town to eat with us. The meal was conducted in hassidic fashion, and the “tables” that we conducted gave us renown as wealthy people. My husband was honored in the synagogue with aliyot to the Torah, and he pledged proper sums. We also distributed generous gifts to the poor. During the early period, we were forced on occasion to flee to the fields and forests during the night on account of the German bombardment. However, once the German retreat had taken place, the region quieted, and it was possible to live in peace.

After the retreat of the Germans and the movement of the front westward, the Soviet government began to concern itself with the issue of the refugees, which had turned into a “national plague”. Unrestricted travel certificates were promised to anyone who wished to return to their “homeland”. Despite this, we were forced to give bribes, for even in Soviet Russia the power of bribery was great in hastening the arrangement of affairs. After a few weeks of negotiations, we were able to hire a wagon, to load our meager property onto it, and set out westward in the direction of Podhajce. The wagon driver brought us to the former border city over the Podwo³oczyska and then returned home. We wandered around there for a few days and met with several of

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our townsfolk, including Chaim Stamler the son-in-law of Wolf Glazer. We were very happy to see them, even though their situation was not at all bright. Most of them were emaciated from hunger and afflicted with disease.

From Podwo³oczyska we wandered to the city of Buchach. There were many partisans there, and each one had his own story about his actions in the battle against the Germans. Buchach was the center of the partisans in eastern Galicia, and they instilled their fear upon the Ukrainians who collaborated with the Germans in the murder of Jews. No small number of Ukrainians paid for their misdeeds with their property and their lives.

We wandered around Buchach for several days, and then went to Trembowla, carrying our property on our shoulders. Trembowla served as a meeting point for refugees, partisans, and survivors form the region. In a destroyed building which had once served as a hotel, relatives, friends and acquaintances who had become separated during the war reunited with each other. We also met a few of our townsfolk, and we told each other what had transpired with us. We remained in Trembowla for two weeks, until a larger group of refugees from our region gathered together, and we were able to return together, for we had heard rumors and news about bands of Banderovchiks roving on the roads and threatening the lives and property of the Jewish survivors.

As a result of the gathering together of a relatively large sized group of refugees in Trembowla, a difficult situation arose with providing food. In addition, rumors spread that the Soviet ruble was liable to lose its value, and the sellers refused to accept it as payment for their merchandise. The situation reached the point where, as I once passed by one yard in which I saw heaps of potatoes and beans without protection, I snuck into the yard and “pilfered” some of each type in order to sustain my family.

In “Liberated” Podhajce

Finally, we joined a group of several of our townsfolk who met in Trembowla and set out for Podhajce. We reached “home” after several days of wandering. First we turned to the mill, our former source of livelihood, and found it destroyed to its foundations. From there we went to my mother's house. We found it standing, but there was nothing in it aside from the empty walls. I remember all of the good and happy days that I had spent in that home, and a cry of despair broke forth from my mouth. At the sound of my scream, the Christians who lived around gathered together. Some of them participated in my sorrow, such as Paulina Daskocz, the old Szikurski and Pinkolski – all of them our former neighbors and customers. They came from the entire area and brought good things with them. They looked at us as if we had returned from the other world. Later, we approached Moshe Gross. They did not permit him to enter his home and his bakery, and only after great efforts and convincing did they do him a favor and return to him one small room. With regard to the bakery – the Christian who seized it did not agree under any circumstances to return it to its owners.

Only 13-14 families remained of all the Jews of the city. Fear accompanied us with every footstep, and we were not so brazen as to be seen outside more than necessary. Nobody went out to the street alone. We all went together, for we felt more secure in that manner. We all lived in one lane: the Rozman family with Goralnik; Leah Ritkis with Dr. Pomerantz; we the Shourz family with Moshe Pikola and his sister Nesia Reich; Roller with Dr. Kressel; the Sztamler family with Getzel Reiles; The Sztarmkan family with Tovia Breines; Chaik Piklora with Risia. Tovia Breines' brother was about to be shot in the head by the Russians since he acted disrespectfully toward the image of Stalin. He was saved from death only because of a malfunction of the revolver. Absolving him from this great “sin” cost him a great deal of money.

Avrahamchi Roller succeeded in hiding in his own house. The Christian woman who served him hid him in his house. He later married her and they had a daughter. Sarah, the granddaughter of Reizi Fisz, was hidden by a Christian. She later married him. Yisrael Tzines' daughter returned from the partisans. Among those who returned were Yerucham and Mordechai Szulman, Henia Freidman, Breincha the granddaughter of Szulwolf, Pesia Tabak the daughter of Moshe Gross, Lustig the shoemaker with his daughter, Rivka Silber, Shaul Silber, Gittel Fink of Zawalow who is today my sister-in-law, and several other people whose names I have forgotten.

The first thing that my husband did upon our return to destroyed Podhajce was to erect monuments over the two mass graves in Stara Miasto and Zahajce in memory of the martyrs who were murdered and buried there during the liquidation actions. My husband obtained two suitable stones, and he and my son Aharon engraved the letters. All of the survivors in Podhajce at that time participated in the unveiling of the monuments.

The dwelling in the house of Moshe Pikola was poor for several reasons. Therefore we moved to the house of Mordechai Lehrer, opposite the office of the N.K.V.D., where we felt more secure. There were also several other families who followed us and settled in the home of David Zimet.

Among the people who survived and returned to Podhajce were the wife of Binyamin Szaar with her son and daughter, and Yisrael Muruchnik and his brother. Yisrael Muruchnik was an avowed Communist. He returned with his brother from Russia. He attained greatness there and was appointed as the chief overseer of the entire economic life of Podhajce, and especially over the mill of Yehoshua and Yaakov Haber. He greeted us with great joy when we arrived in Podhajce, for he remembered that we always related well to our workers and attempted to improve their lot. He set up his residence in the home in which we

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resided, next to our dwelling, and we spent evenings in conversation until late at night.

One day, Yisrael approached my husband with the offer of joining him in running the mill. He promised to make him his right hand man, since he did not know much about matters of milling, and my husband, as was known, was a great expert in this matter. My husband refused to accept this offer, since he knew that it was best to keep one's distance from the leadership of the new authorities. However his refusal did not work, for Yisrael hinted to him that this offer was an order of the “government” which must not be refused.

The next day my husband woke up, recited the Shacharit service, and unwillingly went to accept the important position that had been imposed upon him. It was not easy to approach the great Muruchnik, who used to be a porter and now had reached the rank of commissar. Two policemen stood at the entrance and wrote down the names of all who requested entry to the commissar. Permission was only granted after receiving his approval. My husband also entered in this manner, but after he entered he told him: “I wish to inform you that my desire to leave this 'Garden of Eden' and to settle in our old homeland of the Land of Israel is very strong, and you must promise to assist me in this.” Yisrael promised to free him when the time came. Later he invited all of the workers of the milling trade, the men of the N.K.V.D and the secretary Rivka Shechter to him, and in a speech before them all he advised them to accept Yitzchak Shourz as the expert in the running of the milling business. A vote was taken. All of them voted for the recommendation and ended with the proclamation of: “Long live Stalin!”

My husband remained to work in the mill, and he was given a special office. Yisrael Frisz was also accepted for work in the mill. The commissar advised my husband to set up an enterprise for the production of groats, as we had done in our mill. My husband agreed to do this after they provided him with the necessary materials and workers.

pod204.jpg 30.5kb The survivors after the Holocaust next to the memorial tablet in Zahajce
The survivors after the Holocaust next to the memorial tablet in Zahajce
The inscription on the monument (in German, with Hebrew letters):
“This memorial was erected on the mass grave where our
beloved families, consisting of 800 people, were shot by the
Hitlerist murderers on June 7, 1943, and were buried together.
In eternal memory, erected in Podhajce on May 5, 1945

 

The news that Yitzchak Shourz had survived and was working in the mill spread around the residents of the neighboring villages. Many came to visit him, including the Subotnik who stood with us at our time of trouble. Through this Subotnik, my husband sent a gift of flour also to Dimitry who had hid us in the pit in his house, and asked him to inform him that he should not be afraid of us, for we only remember the good that he did for us, and we have already forgotten his bad deeds. However, it became clear that Dimitry, when he had heard about our return to Podhajce, began to fear us and fled to the forests, and he only returned to his home sometimes at night, until he was arrested by the N.K.V.D. His wife Marisa came to us one day, fell to our feet, and begged us to have mercy upon her children and attempt to free her husband. Indeed, he was not deserving of mercy, for he was a member of the Banderovchiks. However, according to his wife, he was forced to join them so they would not suspect him of hiding Jews. “In any case”, she said, “He was not one of the active members of these gangs.”

My husband was not inclined to intercede for him, but I remembered by vow that if we would survive, we would forgive him all of his iniquities. My husband

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Indeed went to the N.K.V.D. office and testified that we were saved from the Nazis through his actions. He was immediately freed. My husband also signed in his merit at the police that he be given some petty position in order to distance him from the Banderovchiks. I am convinced that thanks to the information that he gave to the police, many of the members of these gangs in our area were identified, for he knew all of their hiding places. From that time he would come to visit our house daily for about a month, and I would serve him food.

We can learn about the relationship of the Soviets to the survivors from the following incident. One gentile named Marinka Rogoszka, who worked for Leib Fink for about thirty years, promised to hide my sister and her family during the time of the Nazis. In return she received a large fortune of cash and objects. However, after she received the property, she chased out my sister, her husband and their two children. She did this as well to Rivka Shechter. Relying on the testimony of her neighbors, I went to her house to retrieve from her at least the objects that I recognized as belonging to my sister. The woman turned to the N.K.V.D. and complained that I had passed judgment myself and removed various objects from her house. I was summoned to the investigator and explained the entire matter to him. However the investigator did not accept the explanation, and issued a verdict that I must return everything that I had taken. I answered in anger that I would turn to higher authorities to overturn the perverse verdict. To this the investigator retorted in Russian: “It is too bad that Hitler left a few Jews alive.” All of the gentiles who were present at this case smiled upon hearing this witticism.

This investigator was later removed from his post after complaints against him by two Jewish sisters from another city who ended up in Podhajce after the Holocaust. They were very intelligent and knew how to act under such circumstances. They issued the complaint from Zlotniki rather than Podhajce in order to evade the censor who was sharper in Podhajce. Both of them suffered greatly from the Soviet detectives, for they complained about all the iniquity that was perpetrated against the Jews. One of them was even imprisoned and tortured severely by the N.K.V.D. Thanks to our intervention, the two sisters were freed from the guardians of Soviet justice, and left the “Vale of Weeping”. Both of them survived. One of them lives in Vienna, and the other lives in the United States.

There were also more severe incidents. There was a Jewish pharmacist in the city named Chaim Weintraub. It once happened that pills disappeared from the pharmacies and the men of the N.K.V.D. sent Weintraub to bring pills from Berezhany. At first he refused to go, for he knew that mortal danger awaited the Jews from the Banderovchiks. However his refusal was not accepted, and he was accused of failing to listen to the police. With pressure from the authorities, he was forced to go on the journey. Indeed, gangs awaited him on the journey, dragged him into the forest, and murdered him with harsh tortures. The wagon driver returned to Podhajce with his wagon and horses.

Events such as this convinced us that we would not have any peace under Soviet rule, and that we must move out of the place at the earliest opportunity. Even in the mill where my husband worked, not everything was as it should be. He indeed brought the mill to a high level and the business was run appropriately. However as time progressed, anonymous complaints were presented that the Jewish managers were treating the mill as their own. On occasion the N.K.V.D. members came to investigate these matters that were completely contrived. My husband decided that the time had come to actualize our decision, to leave the city, and to go into the free world, and from there to the Land of Israel. He approached Muruchnik with this matter, but he explained to him that the times had changed in the interim, and he was no longer the “plenipotentiary”. For such a matter as leaving a responsible position, one must turn directly to Stalin's office. My husband formulated an appropriate request, stating that during his tenure, he succeeded in running the mill appropriately and trained appropriate staff members to run it. Now, he does not see himself as fitting to continue in his position, and he wishes to be freed from it. Recommendations and permits from Muruchnik and the N.K.V.D. were added to this request. A few weeks later, an order came to the secret police to investigate this matter and see if all of the facts were correct. At first Muruchnik was summoned to the secret police, and he had to certify that he indeed signed the request and all the facts were correct. Then my husband was summoned, who also verified all the facts and explained that it was difficult for him to continue to live in a place where all his family and friends perished. The secret police issued an authorization that Yitzchak Shourz was a dedicated employee, he had received an award for his diligence and commitment, and all of his reasons were correct and logical. A few weeks again passed, and finally my husband received the notice that he is free from his position and work.

After that came the period of preparing passports, which was also quite complex. During that time, my youngest brother Moshe Yosef returned from Russia, and he decided to join us as well. The rest of the survivors of Podhajce reached the same conclusion, and decided to form a single group to leave this city forever.

There were several single young people among the survivors, and it was natural that they would want to get married. Several couples got married: My brother Moshe Yosef with Gittel Fink of Zawalow, Chana Rozman with Roller, and several other couples whose names I have forgotten.

Here is the place to tell the story of how Gittel Fink was saved. She was the only one who survived from among the partisan group of Yisrael Silber. Gittel Fink was a relative of ours, and on the day of the final action, she found refuge in the bunker under our mill. Our paths parted when we all left the mill. She went out to the forest with a group

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of people of Zawalow, and there she joined up with my sister Liba, her husband Leib Fink and their children. They sat together in one of the bunkers in which there were about twenty people. There were several other bunkers in the forest, and Yisrael Silber was the commander of them all. Among other things, he concerned himself with the provision of food and water to the residents of the bunkers. Hershele Breines, a youth from our city, would help him by going to the well to bring water for everyone.

The Ukrainian murderers knew that there were Jews in the area, but they did not succeed in exposing the bunkers in which they were hidden. Once, when the youth went to the well, the Ukrainians ambushed him, approached him and began to entice him with soft words. They laid their weapons down onto the ground, and asked him to do the same. Then they told him that they themselves were partisans, whose chief command was located in Halicz. They were connected with the Russian partisans, and they wished to connect with the Jewish partisans a well. The youth was tricked into believing them. He showed them the location of the bunkers and returned with the good “news” that he found “brothers in arms”. The Ukrainians first demanded that the men with weapons come to them, and place their weapons at the side. This seemed very suspicion, but they saw that there was no other choice other than to comply. In the meantime, Yisrael Silber returned and immediately understood what had taken place. The Ukrainians commanded his friends to summon him, and when he did not answer their summons, he forced his sister to call him to assuage his fear. He answered the call of his sister. Then the Ukrainians removed his weapons, led them all to a place 100 meters from the bunker, and murdered them all.

After this, the Ukrainians returned to the bunker and called the women to come to them, but they did not listen to them. Then three murderers descended to the bunker and shot the women and children, while the rest went to search for the other bunkers in the area. The murderers did their work completely, and when they ran out of bullets, they murdered the rest with axes.

Gittel Fink was not injured by the bullets, but she fell among the dead and did not show any signs of life. After the murderers left, she extricated from among the bodies of the dying children, some of whom were still writing with their final death throes, but she did not leave the bunker during daylight. From afar she heard the shots of the murderers in the other bunkers, and the cries of the victims. After some time, the murderers returned to the bunker, removed the bodies, and brought them to a burial pit that they had dug. First, they stripped the clothes from the corpses to see if there was any money or valuables that remained. Then, with two people at a time, one at the head and one at the feet, they took the corpses and tossed them up onto the wagon.

Once again, Gittel had to pretend she was dead. She was tossed onto the wagon among the first bodies, and the rest of the bodies were piled onto her. When they arrived at the pit, the murderers dumped the contents of the wagon into the pit, so that Gittel was in the top part of the pit. They began to cover the pit with earth. To her good fortune, they covered her with only a thin layer. She felt that she was about to suffocate, but suddenly the heavens opened, flooding rains came down, and swept the earth away from on top of her. She realized that she had survived this time as well.

After the murderers left and it was again quiet, Gittel rose from the grave and set out towards the fields. There, among the sheaths, she lay down and thought about what to do. Would miracles continue to happen and she might remain alive, or would it be best to turn herself in to the Gestapo? After the rain, the sun again came out, and everything dried out. Suddenly she heard the footsteps of a person approaching her. A youth approached her, the son of the owner of the field, and found her lying among the sheaths stark naked. The youth was from Zawalow. He recognized her and said: “Aren't you Genia! Why are you lying here?” She told him everything that had taken place in the past few hours. The youth comforted her and told her that she would tell this to his mother who was working in the fields, and she would certainly come to her aid. He also left her a bit of food that he had brought along and went on his way.

Gittel was not completely sure that the youth would not turn her in again to the Banderovchiks, and therefore she got up and went away from this place to a place where the sheaths were taller. However, she erred with this. The parents of the youth were Subotniks, and when the mother heard that the daughter of Yossel Fink was lying in her field, she did not rest until she found her a new place. She dressed her in farmer's clothes, placed a hoe upon her shoulder, and led her to her home. She prepared a place to sleep in a secret place, and healed her wounds with home made medication that was common among the villagers. Later, when she had recovered a bit, the gentile got in touch with other Subotniks who took care of the needs of several dozen Jews from Zawalow. Finally she transferred Gittel in a wagon covered with straw, to the bunker where Jews from her city were located. In general, it is impossible to overstate the deeds of the Subotniks in our area, and it is difficult to believe that during those dark times, there were people who literally risked their lives to save the lives of Jews, who felt themselves close to the “nation of the Bible” and who tried to do anything they could to relive their suffering.

The “Maker of Matches”[1] gave it into my hands to be the matchmaker for this Gittel, and to present her to my brother Moshe Yosel, the only one of my brothers or family to survive. The wedding was not at all like the weddings that we were used to in the communities of Galicia, attended by a large group of relatives and friends. This time the wedding was modest, without any clergy. My husband fulfilled the role of rabbi and cantor, and conducted the marriage ceremony for the young couple. The couple joined us in our journey westward. The immediate destination was Germany, but our desire was to make aliya to the Land of Israel.

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On the Route to Israel

After endless wanderings and tribulations, we arrived at the railway station in Kozowa, but we found it abandoned and forlorn. Nobody knew when the train was to come, and how one should proceed. It was very cold outside. However we were experienced and knew how to ease our suffering through various makeshift means. We waited that way for several days and nights, until the train suddenly arrived during the night. We crowded into the transport wagons that were meant for transporting cattle. We traveled that way for several days until the train stopped at a Bytom near Breslau (which is called Wroclaw by the Poles). We descended from the train there and obtained a nice four room dwelling in the center of the city above the central post office. We began to rest from the long tribulations of the journey.

Suddenly the men among us picked up the bug for enjoyment of life. When we reached an inhabited city after long years of suffering and tribulations, they desired to see a film in a theater. All four men, my husband Yitzchak, my brother Moshe Yossel, my son Aharon and Yidel Shechter left the house to go to the theater. This was toward evening. A short time later, as darkness fell, we heard the sound of confusion next to the entrance to our dwelling. Approximately eight armed hooligans went up the stairs and began to knock on the door of our dwelling. They presented themselves as men of the secret police, and demanded that we immediately open the door. I answered them that I could not open, for it was dark outside and the men are not at home. My claim did not help. They broke open the door and entered the dwelling. I ran outside and shouted: Help! Help! The last of the hooligans attempted to stop me, but I punched him in the face with my two fists until he fell to the ground. However, he immediately recovered and shot at me with his gun. A bullet grazed my face next to my right eye and went over my head. In the meantime, the hooligans wreaked havoc upstairs and demanded that my sister-in-law turn over all the money in our hands, and if not, they would kill her. In the meantime, the sounds of the men who were called from the street near the house reached their ears, and they began to retreat without taking anything. To this day I do not know who these hooligans are. It would seem that they were members of the illegal national underground, who were called “Armia Krajowa”. These people excelled in deeds of murder and theft no less than the Nazis. They particularly were interested in “saving” their homeland of Poland from the remnants of the Jews who had returned from the bunkers and labor camps. The government of Poland did not lift a finger to stop their atrocities.

When the men returned from the movie theater and heard about what had happened when they were gone, we all decide that it would be best to continue our journey westward to the city of Breslau, the capital of Silesia. This time, we loaded our belongings onto a transport truck. In Breslau, we met several people of Podhajce, such as Hirsch Kimmel and his family, Sima Weisman and her sisters, the two Litman brothers, Roller, Dr. Trif of Tarnopol, and many others whose names I have forgotten.

We remained in Breslau for a few months. After deliberations, we decided not to remain in that city, even though there were many Jewish refugees and all the institutions needed by Jews, such as synagogues, aid organizations, a cemetery, etc. We saw the direction of the winds of the new Polish government, and we suspected that no good would come from living under its wings. In the meantime, a new factor arose that assisted us with our decision to leave Wroclaw.

After the destruction of Europe during the Second World War, the United Nations set up the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) whose task was to aid those afflicted by the war and to support them in any way possible. This organization was established in Washington in 1943, even before the end of the war. After four years, in 1947, a special organization called IRO (International Refugee Organization) was set up to take care of the refugees and displaced persons. Among other things, this organization offered help to a quarter of a million Jewish refugees and aided those were interested in making aliya to Israel.

Representatives of the UNRRA were active in Breslau as well, and we turned to them for assistance. Through this organization, we were sent to the displaced person's camp in Saltzschlief near the German city of Fulda. We received a furnished room with a balcony in one of the courtyards of a former nobleman. All of our needs, including clothing, shoes and medical care were given to us in a generous fashion by the UNRRA. This was one of the finest places of comfort. The good, worry-free life that we had there was meant to encourage those who had suffered, and to instill in them the hope for a better future, that would come, even if it would take time.

We spent two years in this place in the situation of children who are supported at the table of their parents. During this period, our ties to the Land of Israel increased. The news of the founding of a Jewish State began to penetrate throughout the world, even though it was not yet clear when this would happen, and how it would work out. My husband who was known as someone whose heart was set to Zion, was chosen as one of the activists, and he was given the job of gathering together young people who were prepared to make aliya to the Land, so that they could work at jobs that would prepare them for this. In the Land, there were battles between the Jews and Arabs, and the first necessity for the youths was to be able to bear arms and to assist in the difficult battle. As a first step in this direction, a list was made of youth who desired to make aliya to the Land of Israel. A short time later, the first group of volunteers was sent. The preparation of the second group met difficulties, for an insufficient number of people had registered. It is possible that the news of the difficult battles frightened the youth, and they decided to wait until the wrath would pass. Those in charge of matters of aliya used moral means of pressure: they composed a blacklist of youth

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who were candidates for aliya but who had refused to register. This method was quite effective, for many of the youth began to view this remission as a form of treason to the government of Israel that was to be set up.

At that time, our son Aharon was in Munich where he studied engineering. We then received a letter from my brother-in-law Yaakov Shourz, who had already lived in the Land of Israel for several years, advising us to transfer Aharon to a professional school, since engineering in the high school lasts for many years. We traveled to Munich and transferred him to the ORT school to study a profession. After some time, the Zionist idea took root among the students of the school. Several presentations about Zionism and the Land of Israel were arranged, in which they encouraged the students to volunteer for aliya. About 1,300 students of the ORT schools and gymnasiums registered for aliya at that time. One day, our son came home and informed us that he too had registered, and he had come to bid farewell to us before his aliya. I attempted to convince him to push off his aliya. Among other reasons, I claimed that he was still too young in that he was not quite 18 years old. However, he claimed that if did not make aliya now at a time when the Land needs him, he would be embarrassed to make aliya when everything was already prepared for him. Without any choice, I subjugated my will to his will, and I gave him my blessings for his aliya. My husband had agreed to this from the outset, for as an organizer of aliya to the Land of Israel, he was not able to be seen as having his own son shirk from fulfilling his duty.

According to the news that reached us after Aharon's aliya, the young volunteers were sent directly to the battlefront against the enemy in the region of Jerusalem, and no small number of them fell in battle. Aharon was among those who remained alive. He was injured in his leg, but the wound was light. He wrote to us often, without mentioning to us at all that he was located in the region of battles. In order to calm us, he sent his letters from Tel Aviv, even though he was never there at all. His letters were full of love for the homeland and full of pride that he and his friends were preparing the Land for a Hebrew state, which would be able to absorb into its bosom all Jews that wished to leave the life of the Diaspora.

About one year after Aharon's aliya, we decided to answer his call and to make aliya to the Land of Israel. At first I traveled with my daughter, for my husband was forced to remain for some time longer in order to arrange various matters. The Tamer ship, an old warship, was waiting for us the port of Marseilles, France. It took aboard about 600 people who were making aliya. The boat also carried a special cargo of great weight, and therefore it moved with difficulty and the trip lasted for 31 days. None of us knew what the cargo was. Only later did we find out that the ship was primarily intended for the transfer of the cargo, which was of great importance to the Haganah. The people making aliya served only as a decoy for the British police. The long journey caused great suffering for the people making aliya. There were storms, cold, food shortages, technical obstacles, and even a revolt among the ship staff. However, we accepted everything with love, as the pangs of the Messiah before the redemption.

My brother-in-law Yaakov Shourz and his family greeted us at the port of Haifa. Aharon was serving in the army at the time, and he did not receive a furlough to greet us. One week after our arrival, my brother-in-law transferred us to his house, after we forewent any assistance from the Sochnut (Jewish agency) and signed this explicitly. My husband arrived about one year later, on a comfortable flight in an airplane. We lived in an old, half-ruined Arab building on Hassan Bek Street for about 10 years. We married off our daughter Genia. She set up her home in Holon and she has two sons, Moshe (after my father-in-law of blessed memory) and Yaakov Dov. Aharon completed his army service and began to work as a galvanizator, a profession that he learnt in the ORT school in Munich. We assisted him in getting himself set up. He also established a family and had a son and a daughter. The son is called David after the name of my husband's brother. The daughter, who was born after the death of my husband, was called Yitzchaka after his name. After all the tribulations, we finally came to a peaceful life in the Land, and with the marriage of our children, we enjoyed the contentment of family life. Our hearts were filled with praise and thanks to the Dweller on High for all the good that he did to us in returning us to the Land of our heritage.

My husband lived in the Land for 15 years, and continued to live a life of purity and uprightness. He worked a great deal for the benefit of the Yeshivas, and donated a Holy Ark to the synagogue in Bnei Brak. He took interest in any matter that was for communal benefit. To our great sorrow, he was taken from us when he was only 62 years old. The news of his sudden death, when he was still with his full strength and energy, fell one bright day upon the circle of his friends and acquaintances like a thunderclap. His loss was felt primarily within the circle of his family, especially by me. From the time of his death, he did not leave my memory even for one minute, and I continue to work in his spirit to the best of my ability.

I will conclude the story of our travails and success with the note that, with all my descriptions, I have not related even one tenth of what took place with us, and what we had seen and heard during the days of the frightful rule of the Nazi enemy – with all their atrocities the likes of which did not exist since the day that G-d created the heavens and the earth.


Translator's Footnote

  1. A reference to G-d. Return

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