“So that the latest generation shall know, children shall be
borne who will then relate to their children.”
(Psalms 78, 6)
In earlier times – in a place that once was called Eastern Galicia, in the Stanislawow region, near the city of Dolina, in the Carpathian Mountains, between the two rivers Czeczwa and Danuba, there was a small town called Rozniatow. It had a population of 500 Jewish families, consisting of about 1,800 souls amidst a large population of various gentiles, some bad and some good.
Twenty some villages surrounded this town. They were populated by members of the Ukrainian minority of the Polish nation. These are the selfsame Ukrainians who are remembered in disgrace from the days of pogroms and slaughter perpetrated by their hero-murderer Petliora, may his name be blotted out. These villages had several dozen Jewish families, spread out and isolated among the gentile community of the region.
Rozniatow was small in area. One of the boundaries was between the houses of Bendet and Moshe Yampel and Zusia Aryeh Kuperberg, behind the town. The other boundary was near the houses of Alte Kassner and Yisrael Hirsch Londoner, opposite the house of Meshulam Fruchter. A third boundary was near the house of Chaya Adler, opposite Mordechai Deutscher in the “Old Town”.
Most of the Jewish residents were concentrated in the center of the town. They were small-scale merchants, artisans, members of the intelligentsia, and low-level officials. As in other towns of Galicia, there was no shortage of desperately poor people, whether known or “secret”. The secret ones tried to hide their economic straits by wearing fine clothing that they still had from the “good” days that they had enjoyed in the distant or not too distant past.
The market day, the only day when most of the population earned their livelihood, took place on Wednesday. On that day, gentiles from the entire region came to Rozniatow with their wares on their heads or on their wagons. One would bring a cow for sale, another a horse, and someone else some potatoes, wheat or barley, grown on his own land with his own labor. The Jews would buy them, or serve as a broker between the buyer and seller, in order to earn a few coins to sustain themselves and their households.
All of them waited for the longed for day, the market day, which would save them from their dire situation and enable them to redeem a contract whose payment day had already passed. On more than one occasion, it happened that a certain merchant would be in dire straits due to the fact that this awaited redemptive day, the market day, did not stand at his side and did not fulfill the desires that he had placed in it, so he was not able to pay his debts to his many debtors from whom he borrowed money with the intention of repaying it after the market day. There were great tragedies among the small-scale merchants, whose world dried up for them in one day. Their staff of bread dissipated and they became impoverished, having to go begging from door to door.
Thus was conducted the cultural and economic life in a peaceful fashion, some with better luck and some with less luck, until the frightful days of the holocaust arrived.
I will begin to relate in a chronological fashion the events
of my town Rozniatow during this frightful period, as best as I can, as
well as my memory serves me correctly, and as well as I am able to overcome
my personal feelings. May it be the will of the Creator of the World
that appropriate words flow from my pen, and that I not stumble, that I
not mislead, and that nobody Heaven forbid stumble because of me;
that I publish the truth for the sake of history and so that future generation
can learn from here.
When the Polish Jews of Germany were expelled at the German-Polish border at Zbaszyn in the middle of the night, after they had been awakened from their sleep without even having being given the chance to get dressed, the towns of Galicia and Poland awaited the exiled Jews who were wearing only their pajamas and slippers. These Jews were downtrodden and dumbfounded. Their world had been destroyed in one night. In many towns, committees and soup kitchens were set up to take care of the stream of refugees, which increased daily. These refugees had previously been respected householders, owners of large-scale businesses in Germany, members of the free professions, who had been suddenly turned into paupers who receive their paltry sustenance from communal kitchens, due to their forceful expulsion.
Many took their own lives, since they could not tolerate this great disgrace. Confusion and perplexity pervaded the towns of Galicia, and each town attempted to help the refugees to the best of its ability. The organizations attempted to help them with loans to support them, so that they might be able to stand on their own two feet, and not fall as a burden upon the impoverished community. As far as I can remember, there were a few Rozniatow natives among the stream of refugees who were expelled across the border that night.
Meir Ungar – the son-in-law of Moshe and his wife, Menashe Yampel and his wife, Bendet Kassner the son of Alti Benzi Kassner, the son of Yossel Kassner, Zalcha Wasserman with her son and daughter, Avraham Kahn, the son-in-law of Hirsch Rechtschaffen and his entire family, Aharon Weissman and his family, Avraham Korenblau, the son of Mechel, David Wernick the son-in-law of Berel Berger and his family, Chaya the daughter of Menashe Rosenberg with her husband and children, Shlomo Gross, Benzi Klinger, Chaim Walgschaffen, Sender Rosenberg, Yossel Laufer and his family, Kalman Laufer and his family, Kalman Horowitz the son of Sara Esther, Leika Horowitz and her husband 1 .
All of us attempted to help these poor people.
The Invasion of 1939
Friday, September 1, 1939, the bitter and violent day that is etched in the world’s memory, was the day that Hitler’s army invaded Poland. The confusion among the population was great. Nobody knew what to do. The young people in our midst understood that they must immediately present themselves at the army enlistment centers, and they indeed did so. A few waited for the draft orders, however no draft orders appeared. Even those who went to enlist returned, since there was nobody before whom to present oneself. Chaos reigned in the army ranks. Only a few of those who enlisted received their fatigues. Some received weapons without fatigues.
On Sunday, September 3, a few of the “smart” merchants tried their luck and attempted to travel to Stanislawow to acquire merchandise; however, when they arrived in Stanislawow, they found the city half destroyed. There were dead and wounded people in the streets. The Germans bombarded the city during Friday and Saturday, and caused great damage in the city. When they returned home, they experienced an air raid. A German airplane pursued their bus and bombed it. They were saved by a miracle.
The fear and trepidation became worse. The nights were dark, and nobody was brazen enough to leave his home. Whoever owned a radio listened to the news with a pounding heart. The first of the refugees who escaped from the cities that already had fallen to the Germans on September 1st began to arrive in the town. The following people returned to the town: Dr. Wilek Adlersberg, his two brothers Zigo and Lanek, Dr. Leon Horowitz and his wife Jadwiga Sapir, Dr. Nunek Lusthaus and his wife Irina Feier, Dr. Avraham Fried, the son-in-law of Shmuel Friedler, Sara Geller, and others.
On Friday September 15th, the following people attempted to cross the border into Romania: the head of the community Reb Zecharia Lieberman, Rabbi Yosef Metzner, Shabtai Rosenberg and his brother-in-law Bernard Metzner. When they arrived at the foot of the Mountain of Krasna on the wagon of Meilech Landsman, the horses refused to go further. The travelers decided that this was a sign from Heaven that they should not leave the town without leaders, and they returned to their homes along the same path that they had gone. On Sunday, September 17th, early in the morning, the speech of the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov was heard on the radio. He announced that the Red Army was poised to enter Western Ukraine at any moment.
The next day, on September 18th, anarchy pervaded. There was no government. The police had fled across the Hungarian border, and we, the young people, feared that at any moment pogroms would begin against us. Therefore we decided to secretly organize a self-defense unit, with all kinds of defensive weapons that anyone was able to obtain, so that we would be able to defend ourselves.
The population was in dire straits. We did not know whether to be happy or fearful about the entry of the Red Army into our midst. The German murderers were in the city of Stryj the Red Army was in Stanislawow. We did not know who would save us. From where would our salvation arise?
When they heard the rumor that the Red Army was poised to enter the town at any moment, the local Ukrainian population rejoiced as if their messiah had arrived. They had reason to rejoice. How do they rejoice? Of course, through the Jews. They immediately began to pillage. The first victim that fell to their murderous hands was Reuven Diamand, the son of Bini Anshel.
On Wednesday morning, September 20th, Doni the son of Hirsch Landsman succeeded in escaping from the city with two friends. They ran to the village of Holyn and from there they returned victorious, riding on a Russian tank, the head of the brigade of the Soviet army that was entering the town.
Immediately a period of the restoration of law and order began at the hands of the Red Army.
At first, they began to nationalize property: houses, stores, and factories. Who were the first victims? Of course, the Jews, the “bourgeois”. They confiscated the homes of the following people: Yisraelche Rosenman, Mordechai Gross, Yaakov Lew, Shmuel Leib, Izi Friedler, Izi Rosenberg, Meir Frankel, Shalom Frankel, Shalom Hoffman, Ethel Rechtschaffen, Leizer Geller, Yisrael Leib Artman, Yosef Kurtz, Mattes Wilner, the brothers Shlomo and Yosef Berger, Pini Berger, Sasi Heller, Leib Falik, and Wiczi Teneh.
The sources of livelihood were shut, and everyone attempted to find whatever employment they could. Without a work permit, it was not possible to subsist. The slogan was “No work – no food”. People were afraid to go outside without their work permits, for they were liable to be deported to Siberia as non-productive members of society. Most people began to work. A few, who still had some money and were able to get by without working, equipped themselves with work permits, which turned into a commodity that was passed from person to person. A few began to conduct business in secret with various types of merchandise that they succeeded in hiding from the watchful eyes of the Russians.
Immediately with the declaration of war between Russia and Germany, there was great chaos among the residents of the town. We felt as if we were standing between great events. The Russian captains with their families left the city, and the regular army followed them. As far as my memory serves me correctly, this was on June 30th 1941. About 150-200 Jews left along with the Russian army, some by vehicle, some by foot, and some with any means of transport. They fled in order to catch at the last minute the train that was leaving for Stanislawow. There was no other route by which to flee. However, the lot of those that succeeded in boarding the train was very bad and bitter. The Germans detected the train that was fleeing through the forests, and bombed it ceaselessly. By the time it reached Husyatin, not one person remained alive.
I will never forget how Shalom Rechtschaffen, as he fled with his family through the town, shouted loudly: “Jews, why do you wait? Leave your property and follow me.”
In this chaos, I had the opportunity to bid farewell to my relative and friend Baruch Horowitz. His last words still ring in my ears: “Why do you remain here? Why do you not leave your property and flee? Are you concerned about your property?”
When the last of the Russian soldiers left the town, disorder and great chaos prevailed. Everything was a free-for-all. In the meantime, the non-Jews, as they did when the Russians entered, began to pillage and plunder the homes of the Jews who had fled, as well as the official stores of the Russians and the cooperatives that they had set up while they were in the town.
The last troops of the retreating Red Army were attacked during their flight by one of the groups of pillagers next to one of the official stores that was being pillaged. In anger, one of the soldiers lowered his gun and shot at the group of youths who were laughing at the retreating army. He injured the son of Wasyl Slapak. This shot served as the pretext to begin a pogrom in a serious manner against the Jews. Moshe, the son of Yaakov Strassman was a victim of this pogrom. He innocently passed by the street at that time, and suffered severe beatings at the hands of the murderers.
On Friday, the 4th of July, 1941, the first members of the Hungarian Army entered the town, but in fact as soon as the Red Army left, the Ukrainians took over the administration of the town, under the leadership of Dr. Korbas, Dr. Shlapkas the priest, Kostiok Lupinski, Kowel and others. That same day, in the afternoon, the provisional committee of the Ukrainians issued an edict to the Jews stating that they must come immediately and destroy the statue of Lenin that the Red Army had erected in the middle of the city.
Late on Friday night, one of the righteous gentiles, the farmer Ivan Wishinski, appeared at the door of Mordechai Gross, and secretly told him that he had just heard about the decision of the Ukrainian committee: the next day, on the Sabbath morning, as the Jews would leave the synagogue wearing their prayer shawls, the Ukrainian militia would stop them all in the square next to the broken statue of Lenin, and would force them to bring a coffin from the cemetery, to put the broken pieces of the statue inside it, and arrange a grandiose funeral procession with the Jews wrapped in their prayer shawls and the non-Jews drumming behind them.
This righteous gentile who revealed the evil ones’ conspiracy to Mordechai Gross told him that if he wanted to avert this embarrassment to the Jews, he should clear away the pieces of the broken statue by morning.
Reb Mordechai Gross did not vacillate even for a moment about whether to profane the Sabbath 2 . After midnight he went to awaken the son of Chaim Riwali the guard and together they quietly gathered the pieces of the broken statue into a wagon. They brought the broken pieces to a place near the slaughterhouse outside the city as quickly as possible, and threw them into the sewage conduits.
All of the friendliness that existed, so to speak, between the Jews and the Ukrainians dissipated overnight. The Ukrainian militia, under the pretext of searching for Communist and illegal merchandise, entered Jewish homes and pillaged everything that came into their hands.
Between the hours of seven in the evening until daybreak, despite the oppressive heat of the summer months, the Jews stayed inside their homes in fear of the Ukrainian pillagers that were out of control and did whatever they wished to the Jews. The Jews were gripped with fear, and waited for what was to come. One night, a group of Ukrainians burst into the home of the elderly Doctor Isadore Feier and searched his son-in-law Dr. Nunek Lusthaus, with whom they had a private account, and at this moment they wanted to take their revenge. Since they did not find him at home, they took out the elderly Dr. Feier and beat him with murderous blows. They took a sack of flour from his house and commanded him to carry it on his back to one of the homes of the perpetrators. For no reason they stopped Itzi Reis, the grandson of Kalman Frankel, Azriel Wasserman, and several other Jews. They beat them and sent them home.
Twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, the Jews were forced to appear in the Market Square to sell their wares and to obtain food that they needed for sustenance. On rare occasions someone would buy or exchange merchandise or an expensive object for food. The non-Jews did not bring any food to sell.
When I lived in the central square, I often witnessed in the home of Mordechai Gross all kinds of accusations and cruel deeds from the non-Jewish neighbors. On one day I saw with my own eyes how Pintzi Berger, an elderly Jew, broken and crushed, was leaning against the wall of the house of Mottel Friedler. A young gentile named Janek Shajok – the bastard of the Anke – approached him and without any explanation dealt him cruel blows, threw him to the ground, and trampled upon him.
He left Pintzi Berger lying on the ground and came to the house of David Reiner. There the bastard met Leib Weitzner and attacked him, but Weitzner was young and full of energy, so he was able to escape and flee for his life.
Avraham Hirsch, the son of Miriam Bines, was lame. One day he came to Dr. Korbas to request something of him. The evil man did not even want to hear his request. He removed the canes that Avraham used to support himself, and as he fell to the ground, the murderer trampled him with his feet.
Every day, the Jews had to fill the quota of workers for communal work, so to speak. All sorts of trivial and unnecessary tasks were devised in order to torment the Jews.
Once, I, along with Yisrael the son of Pini Berger and Magister Marek Rotter 3 had the job of cleaning the stables of the police, which was located on a hill next to the courthouse.
The work was difficult and smelly, and in order to sustain our souls, Yisrael took out a piece of dry sausage that he had obtained somehow, and divided it among us. By chance, Atamnaczok, the head of the militia, passed by and saw us chewing something. He fell upon us like a wild animal and beat us with his gun.
I wondered why Yisraelik, who was mighty and never tolerated any injustice, controlled himself and did not give the swine back his due. However, I will never forget the question that he asked me once: “Shaike, shall we sometime take our revenge?”
Even worse off were the Jewish workers who were sent to work at the Krechowice train station. Once, a group of 25 Jews were sent their to remove the thorns, thistles, and gravel stones from the area of the train tracks with their own hands – without any utensils. This group included Dr. Leon Horowitz, Magister Leon Meiseles, Shimshon Rechtschaffen, Shabtai Falik, Shabtai Rosenberg, his brother-in-law Bernard Menczer, Shalom Deutscher, and several others whose names I do not remember at this time. This work had to be done while they were bent over, and crawling step by step. Woe to any Jew who attempted to straighten out or rest for even a small moment. The German guard would immediately fall upon him and deal him murderous blows.
One day, Leib Meiseles weakened from the work and slunk to the ground. Shalom Deutscher hid him with his body so that the Gestapo man would not see him. Nevertheless, The Gestapo man detected that something happened with regard to the work. When he asked who was sitting, immediately and without hesitation Shalom Deutscher answered: “I”. Immediately, he received a beating from the German.
Shalom never mentioned this to his own glory. When he was once asked, incidentally, why he did this, he answered with simplicity: “I did this because I knew that Leib would no longer be able to continue on after the beatings that he would receive, and this would have been his end.”
Once I had to work alongside him in dismantling the statue that the Russians had erected. We were told that woe would be upon us if we were to damage even one board, or if we were not to remove a nail in the same straight fashion in which it was placed. The men worked with all their might to fulfill the desire of the Gestapo. Shalom ran from one to the other in order to help. When I asked him again: “Shalom, why do you not watch out for yourself? Why do you run from one to the other to help?” He answered me: “I do not wish to see the Germans standing from afar, screaming at and mocking the Jews, with the Ukrainians standing to the side, laughing and jesting as we receive beatings from the Germans.” This was the character of the man Shalom. This was the greatness of Rozniatow.
The high council of the Ukrainians, who worked hand in hand with the Germans, issued a decree to the Jewish residents, that starting from August 5th, 1941, they must wear a yellow band on their right arms in order to be recognized. Since the day of Tisha Beov 4 fell exactly two days prior to the set date, that is on August 3rd, Rabbi Metzner, Zecharia Lieberman the head of the community, and Dr. Feier began to wear the yellow ribbons two days earlier than the set date. When the gentiles saw this, they joked and called them “the Jewish militia”.
Until the outbreak of the war, I had excellent friendly relations with Dr. Katz and his Christian wife, who was the widow of the judge Luzinski. At the time that they were under financial pressure, I lent them money on several occasions. I would enter their home as a true friend, and they would always treat me pleasantly and with respect. At the time that chaos and disorder prevailed in the town, when there was no governing authority, and it was literally dangerous to walk on the streets, I entered on one occasion to the home of Dr. Katz and requested if I could stay with him for a day until the anger passes. Dr. Katz agreed immediately, however his evil wife immediately answered: “In my home, there is no room even for our own Jew.” I left the home and the accursed mistress immediately, and my heart was filled with pity for the poor Dr. Katz, who suffered in silence from his gentile wife. Of course, he was the first victim from among all the Jews.
I wish to relate another incident.
A young gentile official named Melnikowicz worked for the notary. We were always buddies, good friends. During the time of the Russian rule, I literally saved him from imprisonment for many years, when he was once late for work and was brought to court for disparaging his work. He was liable to receive a prison sentence of six years. I obtained for him a medical certificate stating that he had been ill for three days, and I came to testify on his behalf in court. He was completely exonerated. Now, with the evacuation of the Russians and the arrival of the Germans, he became filled with self-importance. Under his supervision, food was distributed to the workers. I once came to him with a small request, that the paltry portion of bread, 100 grams daily, that was distributed to the Jewish workers should be distributed through the medical clinic in which I work so that we could distribute it to the workers prior to their going out to work. This was opposed to how it was done previously, when it was distributed during the course of the day, while the workers had already commenced their work without food.
I greeted him, and he did not answer me. He only shouted in anger: “Our dear nation is still young, and we cannot fulfill the needs of everyone. We have to worry first of all about ourselves.”
New decrees were issued daily. The situation worsened daily, especially when the Jews who had been expelled from the neighboring villages arrived in town. They filled up the houses and placed an additional burden upon the economic situation. The food rations were only distributed to the workers, and the entire population, including those people who did not work, had to subsist on the rations that were distributed to the workers.
Despite the bribes with items of great value, and despite the negotiations with the governing authorities by people such as Dr. Sabat, Dr. Sapir and Lieberman, the Ukrainian authorities decided to free themselves from all the Jews, and to expel them completely within a short period of time.
On Tuesday, August 27 toward evening, Dr. Sabat was told by the Ukrainian Security Council that he must inform the Jews that as of September 1st, 1941, it would be forbidden for any Jews to remain in Rozniatow. They were given the choice of four places of refuge: Halicz, Dolina, Krechowice, and Kalush.
Rumors spread in the street that the non-Jews were intending to expel all the Jews so that they can pillage their property in an unhindered manner, and then they would return them home. “For Jews that are poor and destitute do not bother them” – this is how the Jews comforted themselves. They began to bury their money, and gold and silver valuables. The Jewish medical workers, who had a special permit to go on the streets at night, were told the sad news that they had to inform the Jews that they should prepare to leave the town. We went from house to house with these tidings of Job, and warned all the residents.
Early the next morning, we saw that we were surrounded by thousands of non-Jews with wagons, carriages, and all sorts of containers for transport. They came, so to speak, to bid farewell to their Jewish “friends” and to receive “parting gifts”. It was impossible to hire a wagon or any other vehicle for any money. It was only possible to do so with silver, gold, furs, valuable articles of clothing, sewing machines, etc. Many gentiles came to the town in order to witness the scene of the expulsion of the Jews from their town where they had lived for generation upon generation. Since it was difficult to acquire wagons for transport, several families had to hire a wagon together, upon which they loaded the children and the most important belongings that they were able to take with them. When a family mounted a wagon, the gentiles did not even wait until they had left the place in order to begin pillaging the home. They placed everything that came to their hands upon the wagons that they had brought. Everyone made haste, lest someone else precede him. The pillaging took place before the eyes of the Jews. The Jews were still standing with their belongings on the street, and behold, their houses and properties were being plundered before their eyes by their friends of yesterday. The best of the gentiles approached the Jews and promised them foodstuffs in return for their belongings, only that “it will come later”, since “we also do not have anything to eat at this time”. The Jews pretended that they did not see, for they were afraid of death, and they were thankful that they were not murdered on the spot.
The Market Square was crowded with wagons, bundles of belongings, and Jews who were trying to leave as quickly as possible, since they were afraid that those who would leave late would not find anywhere to go.
On the main street, which was full of wagons, the Ukrainians cruelly stopped the wagons, beat the travelers, and insisted that the people throw down all their belongings. The families that had already passed the Ukrainian guards and were able to continue on with their flight were fortunate.
The final days of August were very hot. The sun was shining in full force, as if with its heat it was adding to the suffering of the refugees. There was not a drop of water or drink. The children were shouting “Water! Water!” Not even one gentile who lived along the route that the caravans were travelling had mercy on them, to give them even a drop of water.
Usually, on a hot summer day, the dams of the rivers that flowed through the towns would be opened in order to make the atmosphere more pleasant. Today, they purposefully did not open the dams, and the entire landscape was dry, without even a drop of water. Many of the refugees fainted from the stifling heat and weariness. The first to faint was Feiga, the wife of the ritual slaughterer (shochet), after her Sara Lindenbaum, and several other people whose names I do not remember now.
The Jews did not forget to take their most precious belongings on their flight from town: the kosher Torah scrolls 5 . The non-kosher Torah scrolls, as well as other holy books, prayer books, festival prayer books, and other holy objects that were located in the synagogue and Beis Midrash were placed in closets in an orderly fashion. They hoped that when they would return home, everything would be renewed, and everything would be in its appropriate place.
After a few weeks, it became known to us that Dr. Korbas had taken out all of the holy books that were in the closets and transferred them to Kalush. The rest of the books and holy objects were pillaged by the non-Jews who used them for their own private purposes.
Those who thought that after the searches and beatings of the Ukrainian militia they would be already free from further torture and searches were completely wrong.
The Ukrainians informed the Gestapo in Kalush that the convoy of expelled Jews was ready to leave. They came to see with their own eyes the wondrous thing that their own work was done by others. The Gestapo men arrived, looked at the Jews and ordered to turn over to them four blankets and two sacks of flour. Leizer Geller and his partner Yisrael Leib Hartman provided them the blankets. Drs. Nunek and Dolek Lusthaus, Dr. Leon Horowitz, Shimshon Rechtschaffen and others took it upon themselves to gather the flour.
It is hard to describe the heartbreaking scene that took place at the moment permission was given for the caravan to travel and leave town. The Jews hugged and kissed each other, and broke out in communal weeping. A sea of tears came from their eyes, and it was only with difficulty that they were able to move their legs from their place and walk behind the wagons that carried their children and family members who were not able to walk on foot.
Most of the Jews went to Dolina and Bolekhov. They were afraid to go to Kalush, since they had already known that a week previously, the Gestapo, with the assistance of the Ukrainians, gathered all of the intelligentsia of the city – doctors, engineers, pharmacists, and teachers – according to a list, and took them out to a nearby forest to be shot. By chance, Bendet Spiegel had traveled to Kalush from Rozniatow that week in order to rent a dwelling while there was still time, for the Jews of Rozniatow had to leave shortly. He was caught with the rest of the intelligentsia and shot along with them in the forest.
Along the way, when they passed the neighboring villages such as Swaryczow, Strusyn, and Spas, the gentiles fell upon them. These were “neighborly” gentiles, who were known by name to the Jews of Rozniatow. They were considered friends for generations, and now, at the time of despair “they attacked all the weak ones” 6 . They attacked the Jews, and pillaged from them the remainder of their belongings that had remained after the previous episodes of plunder and pillage. Those who already succeeded in arriving in Dolina or Bolekhov were fortunate. We arrived in Dolina. The local Jews displayed a glorious scene of brotherhood, love, and participation in our tribulations.
Exile In Dolina
It is impossible to describe the cramped living conditions. Families took up residence in any hole or corner where it was possible to place a bed. Two families would live in one room. Many who did not succeed in acquiring a dwelling place for money or even the equivalent of money literally lived on the streets. It was fortunate that it was summertime, and therefore it was possible to sleep outside. Refugees from other nearby places, such as Mizon, Vygoda, Veldisz also arrived in Dolina. Those that were able to take care of themselves, who had hid away some money, searched for dwellings with the gentiles in the suburbs of the city. For good money, it was possible to rent out the barn or one of the silos or empty storehouses as living quarters. Of course, all of the houses of prayers, Shtibels, and Beis Midrashes were immediately taken over by the large stream of refugees. The terrible tragedy began with the arrival of the cold, rainy autumn days, with cold nights.
According to the command of the S.S. Commissar Bebel, a Judenrat had to be set up within 24 hours. The Judenrat had the job of fulfilling the commands of the S.S. and providing all of their needs at the expense of the Jewish community. At first, every Jew had to pay a “ransom money” tax, to give over all silver and gold objects. The exact accounting was the responsibility of the Judenrat. After a few days, the Jews were commanded to supply them with new furniture. From where could the poor Jews obtain furniture, and certainly how could they provide new furniture, since they all lived as several families in one room, and the entire furnishings consisted of several beds and rotting mattresses?
It was forbidden to own horses and cows. Any furs, including streimels (Hassidic fur hats), which were made out of tails and remnants of furs, were forbidden to the Jews. Everyone had to provide for the Germany army, which was expending its entire energy at this point on cold, distant Russia.
Every morning, the “Jewish Committee” had to supply several men for various jobs, and several more workers had to be available if needed. One cannot envy the position of the members of the Jewish council. Their task was difficult, and a particularly heavy responsibility fell upon the chairman of the committee, Dr. Julius Weinreb. By nature, he was a quiet man, a man of scruples, and he possessed an excellent personality. On numerous occasions, he stood before a difficult crisis and deliberated about how to act, about whether to fulfill the command of the S.S. or not, and about what would be the effect on the community if he refused. A heavy responsibility fell upon his shoulders, and he would have gladly left his position if it had been possible.
On occasion, Krieger or Mueller visited suddenly from Stanislawow. Schultz came from Kalush on occasion, and he did not speak to the local commanders Bebel and others. The murderers conducted a discipline of iron. Every command had to be fulfilled with immediacy. When a fur was not provided at the requested time, Dovchi and Yanliz were taken to Stanislawow, and they never returned from there. The same cold fate occurred to Miriam Deutscher, the widow of Mordechai Deutscher and the daughter of Shmuel Schwindler, on account of the fact that she did not tie her yellow band in the correct place.
Not infrequently, we met our dear, honorable vice-chairman of the Jewish committee, Efraim Weingarten who was beloved to the Jews, as he was going from house to house with a basket in his hands, pleading: “Give us at least one egg, one egg for the Germans, for our lives depend on it.”
The first Jew who had his beard and peyos cut off by the Germans was Leibish Kluger of Dolina. From that time, Jews began to fear incidents such as the cutting off of their beard publicly with a knife in the road, so they decided to remove their own beards. A few who were not able to bear the thought of shaving off their own beards would walk around even in their own houses with their faces covered with kerchiefs.
Once, when I took a turn acting as an orderly in the Jewish hospital, someone came inside and asked me: “My dear Lutwak, I wish to ask a small favor from you.” I looked at him and saw a shriveled Jew whom I did not recognize. “Who are you, Mr. Jew, I do not recognize you”, I answered him. The Jew burst out crying bitterly, and through his groans and sobs I heard, “It is the time of the Messiah, it is the time of the Messiah”, that is to say, the Messianic era has arrived since a brother does not recognize his fellow. “Behold, I am Yosef Shimon Stern”. 7
I want to make sure that those readers who still remember the face of Reb Yosef Shimon Stern, who had a long beard and a glorious visage, should know that he now appeared before my eyes as a shrunken, clean-shaven Jew, shriveled, broken, and crushed.
Immediately after the expulsion from my town of Rozniatow, when we had begun to get ourselves set up in Dolina, torrential rains began to fall, which destroyed all of the produce in the fields. The gentiles said that this was a punishment from the Heavens, a punishment from the G-d of Israel for the expulsion. Indeed, all of their harvest, all of their work, had been destroyed; however they still had freedom of movement. They began to import wheat and foodstuffs from far away places. They were able to pay for them with the valuables that they had pillaged from the Jews. The situation of the Jewish refugees was not that fortunate. The extreme shortage of food began to leave its mark on the Jews. Nobody even dreamed of acquiring flour, for the Ukrainians were also forbidden from importing flour. We were required to supply the German army with specific rations of flour and other foodstuffs. They did not go to the mills to grind wheat, for they feared that a portion would be confiscated for the German army, in accordance with the law. Even potatoes turned into a rare and desirable commodity. It was possible to obtain them only in exchange for objects of value. For example, 1 kilogram of potatoes cost a suit, and 1 kilogram of corn cost a pillow or a fine woolen blanket. Famine and hunger began to show its signs outside. The refugees who were not local suffered in particular. The hunger did not have mercy, and did not pass over anyone. Everyone came to know it. Hundreds of people who were starving for a loaf of bread roamed about the outskirts of Dolina, wearing fine clothing and remembering the better times that they once had. The cold winter approached, and along with it, the hunger grew. People stopped going out onto the streets, either because of lack of energy, or because of the embarrassment of being seen in their dire straits. Those who still succeeded in obtaining a few grains of barley, grits, or corn ground them in their coffee grinders that they still had in their houses, which the gentiles had not yet succeeded in pillaging. Alternatively, they ground them with grinders and graters, and made from the corn or barley flour a dish that was known as Tsher. When spring arrived, even the corn and barley flour disappeared. The gentiles completely stopped bringing foodstuffs into the town. Without any other options, the Jews began to search in the fields, yards, and any other possible place for something that was possible to put in the mouth and chew. They would eat all kinds of plants, good and bad. The important thing was to satisfy the hunger and stomach pangs. Daily, the number of dead increased. The work of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) under the supervision of the Judenrat was extensive. People stopped being embarrassed, and begged mercy from one to the other: “A spoonful of food for the mouth”, “Give me a crumb of bread, and I will give you everything that I have.”
Regarding the severity of the hunger, I will relate a story that I heard from Mrs. Henchie Shapira, the daughter of my uncle Reichels Horowitz.
One young gentile by the name of Stash Jurzki, the young son of Herin Heiduk, gave to her in return for a new suit a sack that was supposed to contain 20 kilograms of potatoes, and a small sack of wheat that was supposed to contain 8 kilograms. When she weighed it after he left, she found that instead of 20 kilograms of potatoes, there were 30, and instead of 8 kilograms of wheat, there were 12. When they met again, she told him that she found the error, and she wanted to know what she could give him further on account of the error. He answered her in an embarrassed fashion: “It does not matter, next time add something on to what you give me. I really know that what I gave you is worth far less than a suit, and when I have another chance, I will give you additional food.”
Every morning, I met Shalom Hoffman, the son of Vove Hoffman, as he was walking with his basket that contained a little food. He was going from house to house, in particular to the houses where he knew there were Jews who simply did not have the energy to go outside to search for food, or who were embarrassed to do so, and were dying silently from hunger and shame. He distributed food to them, to one a spoonful of food, to another a crumb of bread, in order to keep them alive. He also collected money in order to purchase boards for coffins, and cloth for shrouds. The corpses of those that died of hunger began to pile up outside, with nobody to collect them.
Slowly, we became accustomed even to the corpses that were strewn on the streets.
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