by Tzvi Malowanczyk
Translated by Jerrold Landau
A few months before the war broke out, at around Purim time, our calm town of Sierpc suddenly bustled with military people. As we understood at that time, this was a test mobilization. There were strong Jewish men in Sierpc at the time who had been sent by the army from the eastern areas: reservists from Baranovich, Vilna, Bialystok, Brest Litovsk, Lomza, etc. At that time, I went along with representatives of the Jewish community to General Anders, who today is sadly well-known, and in that time was the chief commander of the Mlawer Front with his headquarters with us in Sierpc. We made efforts to ensure that the Jewish soldiers would be granted leave for the holiday, and be provided with kosher food for Passover. The Jews of Sierpc had a very warm relationship with the Jewish soldiers from outside. The interest in taking a Jewish soldier home for the holiday was so great that there was a shortage of Jewish soldiers, and I was left without a guest for the Seder.
With time, the situation normalized. The people grew accustomed to seeing groups of armed soldiers. Jewish girls already became well acquainted with them, and everything went properly for some time until the great confusion.
It was Wednesday, August 30, 1939. It was the market day, and the sun was shining brightly. At around 1:00 p.m., wild voices could suddenly be heard shouting. People ran lamented, and wept. The farmers whipped their horses to go faster, and everyone escaped in great haste. This was the announcement of the mobilization. Large placards stated that Thursday, August 31 would be the first day of the mobilization. People quickly began to run, pack up, and set out for the trains, in order to fulfill their civic duty and report to the appropriate military formation. My cohort and category had not yet been called up.
On Friday, September 1 at around 8:00 a.m., as I was in the new Beis Midrash (at that time I was saying kaddish for my mother of blessed memory) I suddenly heard the howl of the firefighter's siren. Then the police came in helmets and drove out the civilian population. This was the beginning of the Nazi assault. This time, however, they were only passing through in order to destroy other cities. However we no longer had any rest.
It was the first dark Friday night. It was still warm outside, and the moon could be seen in the clear sky, but the moods were already overcast and devastated. Parents prayed for their children, and wives for their husbands. The first refugees from Zuromin appeared on Saturday afternoon naturally the wealthy saving of life overrides the Sabbath.
The days were long, and the nights were sleepless. Our town had not been bombarded yet. We already knew from the radio, however,
that a considerable number of towns had been severely attacked, including our neighboring city of Plock, where the barracks had already been destroyed on the first Friday of the war. The weather, as if to taunt us, was fine. On Monday, the fourth day of the war, our city was suddenly bombarded. There were no specific human casualties, but the confusion was great. People began to run.
Together with my family, my brother, sister, and my brother-in-law Ezriel Dobraszklanka, we set out for Dobrzyń with 85 people. These people included men, Jews and Christians, postal workers, district officers, police and others.
We traveled during the night and rested during the day. We already felt the exile. Just as we had hosted the refugees from Zuromin on Saturday, the people of Dobrzyń hosted us on Tuesday. However, in the evening, when we set out along the Wisla on our way to Gostinin, a considerable number of young people from Dobrzyń joined us.
We continued along slowly and with extreme caution until we finally reached Gostinin. We spent the night there after having traveled for two nights. On Thursday night we set out again on our way to Gąbin. That large district city was so overcrowded that we literally could not find a place for ourselves. Water and bread were also lacking. We ate plums (Gąbin was the chief source of plums).
Relatives, acquaintances and regular young people had all gone along the way. I met my two sisters, my brother-in-law, and a young niece, who had set out from Plock. We wandered around for the entire day and finally set out to return to Plock. We arrived in Plock once again at about 10:00 p.m. The open pipes provided water for those who were thirsty from the journey. Christian neighbors gave bread it seemed like the relationships had improved. We lay down and quickly fell asleep.
Suddenly, at around 1:00 a.m., we were startled by an explosion. My brother-in-law ran outside into the street, and immediately returned with an order, Get up! The bridges have been broken. We can still travel to the other side for five zloty. And what will be after? We went back to Gąbin, and decided to remain there.
On Saturday morning, around dawn, we saw the first German officials. By around midday the high officials set themselves up in Bodzanów. The military arrived from the direction of Sierpc, where they had entered on Friday at about 10:00 a.m.
We wandered through the streets of Plock. We met acquaintances and discussed returning to Sierpc. Zalman Atlas took the initiative to rent a wagon, and on Sunday, the first day of Selichot, after services, we set out on the route back to Sierpc. We set out crowded onto the wagon like geese filled with fear and trepidation. We had already passed through Bielsk thank G-d and were approaching Lelice (a large town, 14 kilometers from Sierpc), when the demons saw us and greeted us with a shout, Halt! Jews? We were all silent. Who speaks German? There was a good friend there, who advised me. My heart fluttered. They examined me, and asked me inane questions which I answered. Finally they shouted, Let them go!
Our heart lightened up, and we traveled on until we came to Manesz, just before Sierpc, where the Maccabee Sports organization used to hold its practices. There, we separated and snuck into the city one by one. The town was excited about us. It was a joy that the first group of brave ones had returned. What have you heard? We were peppered with questions from all sides. We asked as well, and they asked.
In the meantime it was calm in the city. There were barely any groups of German soldiers. They let us know, When we leave and the S.S. men arrive things will be much worse. Unfortunately they spoke the truth.
On Monday, the Gestapo men arrived, wearing black uniforms but dressed very civilly. On Wednesday, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the entire Jewish population of Dobzryń was expelled to Sierpc, and they spread out in Manesz. Merciful Jews sent bread. There were many people who performed good deeds. My neighbor Rachel Lerer, the wife of Zecharia the butcher, played a large, lively role in this effort. On Friday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, all the men were asked to register.
The Dobzryń Jews were freed on Shabbat Shuva. However, immediately after Rosh Hashanah, a series of one decree after another was issued. Public prayer was absolutely forbidden, and we had to worship like the hidden Jews. Minyanim [prayer quorums] were formed I the homes of Gershon Mintz, and David Horowicz the son of Moshe Horowicz. Some of the Gerrer Hassidim gathered for prayer in the old manner in their shtibel, in the yard of Moshe Goldsztajn's home. Some of the ruffians took them out in their kittels and made them sweep the old marketplace.
Nobody was allowed to appear on the street between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Every Jew, even a child, had to wear the inscription Jude on the left side, and was not permitted to walk on the sidewalk. Rather, they had to walk in the middle of the street. They would capture Jewish passers-by, over and above the quota of people whom the Jewish community had to provide for work every day. The Germans murdered several Jews for various pretexts. They shot the following people under such circumstances: the American citizen Wesolek, the son of the shochet of Osówko who lay in his house, sick in bed; and Yechezkel Czarnoczapka, the son of Yeshaya Czarnoczapka, who was mentally ill. Thefts and beatings became normal occurrences.
On Wednesday, the eve of Sukkot, young people were captured from Sierpc, Bierzwienna and Zuromin, put them in prison, and drove them in automobiles throughout the entire next day. Later we found out that they were thrown over to the Soviets via Pultusk. The young people were left there and did not return across the border, and they survived.
On the second night of Sukkot, Thursday going on Friday, we were all suddenly frightened by a bright light in all the rooms. We understood everything; however, where could we run? We were forbidden from appearing in the streets, and here, unfortunately, the synagogue was burning Our Torah scrolls were bur4ning in a bloody fire We, the Jews of Sierpc, were left bereft of our
fine, gorgeous, holy, old-time synagogue.
As a supplement to the terrible tragedy, the Germans sent the Jewish community a notice as follows: Last night, a Jewish young man set the Jewish temple on fire. The German police captured the person who set the fire and shot him on the spot. Of course, the Jewish community must take responsibility for the damages caused by the fire. We are imposing a contribution of 70,000 zloty upon the Jews. The money must be paid within three hours. If not, you Jews already know what will happen.
We understood that failure to pay meant death for tends of Jews, so of course, we paid the contribution.
The persecution and cruelty grew from day to day. Every day brought fresh decrees and fresh cruelty. As we were driven to and from work, we had to remove our hats and sing. The Jews sang various tunes. Their favorite song to sing was, When will the redemption come already. The elderly Lopatka would sing the song, clap his hands, and end with a rhyme, like a jester, with a curse on Hitler. Reb Avraham Wluka, the long-time gabbai [trustee] of the Beis Midrash, had to appear at the police station every day with the keys to the new Beis Midrash.
At the same time, various contributions were imposed. Until the payment would be delivered, they would take hostages, including the following well-known householders: Yeshaya Frydman, Dr. Mintz, Leib Hiller, Shimon Malowanczyk, Meir Cyprys, Moshe Hirsch Kocalek, and Berish Poznanski. They placed crowbars (chopped, sharpened stones) in the prison courtyard, and ordered the hostages to roll up their pants and crawl on their naked knees. The Jews would quickly pay the contribution, but this did not impede the punishment. After they freed the people, they would arrest them again under various pretexts.
The Jews, who were taken as hostage by the Germans for the most trivial of reasons, endured difficult torture. Berish Poznanski, who attempted to evoke feelings of fairness from the hooligans by using his impeccable German dialect, was buried in the ground up to his neck. Due to the heavy weight, or perhaps the terror, he exhibited symptoms of death. This alarmed Dr. Mintz, and he ordered them to save Poznanski. When the wives, sisters, or children of the unfortunate hostages brought them food, the murderers opened the door at once and said, with their sadistic friendliness, They are already dead, they are buried over there; they no longer need food any more. They showed them specially dug graves which were dug by the hostages themselves. After the wailing, screams and weeping of the relatives, they led the live hostages into the prison courtyard.
Thus did the Germans bully our unfortunate brothers and sisters. We stopped believing that we would continue to survive.
The situation became more difficult and serious from day to day. Some of the young people crossed over the Green Border to Bialystok on bicycle. There were even cases where the Germans expelled wanderers, but the governing authorities did not always carry this out.
On one occasion, an edict was issued that all the Jewish merchants must present written lists to the magistrate outlining three examples of the merchandise in their shops. This took place at the beginning of November. Once again, they put the entirely innocent hostages in prison. On Monday, November 8, they issued an order that all of the Jews, even women with suckling babes, must appear in the old market with their suitcases within 30 minutes. Not knowing what was coming, people left their possessions behind. Some of them, still believing in the humanity of the Germans, did not even take their necessities with them as they carried out the order.
A wind orchestra was waiting at the market, and all of the sheep-to-slaughter were marched to the train, urged on by the German bayonets and the wind orchestra. They were loaded onto the wagons, and sent off.
I succeeded in remaining in the city because I lived in a Christian quarter. Meir Czarek and Dvora Fajnberg lived together with me in the house. Together, we purchased two horses and a wagon, and escaped from Sierpc on Thursday together with the Fajnberg and Szmiga families. We went through Dobrzyń, Raciaz, Ciechanow, Makow, and Ostrolęka. There, we snuck across the order. As we passed through Raciaz, the Germans were perpetrating wild orgies against the local Jewish population, who were forced to gather in the synagogue. The scoundrels separated the men from the women. They forced them to strip stark naked, beat them with rods, and forced them to dance around the bima. Meanwhile, the women had to toss away their gold rings, clocks, earrings, and the like.
On Thursday, November 15, we were already in Bialystok.
by N. Frenkel
Translated by Jerrold Landau
At the outbreak of the war, a mass flight of the Jewish population of Sierpc took place. Men and women, children and old people, all escaped on foot, by car, by wagon and by whatever means they could. Everyone believed that they would succeed in escaping from the city, into which the German Army had already entered. A small group, I among them, went to the city of Dobrzyń. We crossed the river on small boats and arrived in the city on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.
At around 2:00 p.m. that same day
the Germans arrived in the city. Their first task was to drive the Jews out of their houses. They went from house to house looking for the Jews, and forced them out onto the street. We stood that way for the entire day. A heavy rain was falling. In the evening, we were ordered to return to the cities from which we had come. We set out on our return journey after being under the Germans for a week. They beat us murderously for the entire day. Many Jews, especially the weak and elderly, could not withstand the beatings and difficult journey, and died along the way.
When we arrived in Sierpc, we saw a horrifying scene. The Jewish businesses had been robbed by the Germans and the local population, the Jews were in hiding, and nobody even dared to appear on the street. Every day, they were searching for men for work. However, instead of being sent to work, they were tortured. For entertainment, they had ripped off the breads of Cantor D. Szykes and Sh. Kadecki, and beat them murderously. However, this was merely the beginning.
After sealing the synagogue and Beis Midrash, and arresting the president of the community Nachum Taks, they put up placards ordering the Jews to register. The Jews understood what this meant, and nobody went to the registration depot. The next morning, the Germans went from house to house, driving the Jews out of the houses.
Zalman Kanenbrand and I hid in an attic. The Polish neighbors discovered us and showed our hiding place to the Germans. They broke down the door. Zalman Kanenbrand attempted to escape, jumping over the first story. I remained. I was beaten with a whip, expelled from the city, and taken to a collection point where they were gathering the remaining Jews of the city.
From there, we were taken to the head of the region, where we were lined up in rows of two. The merchants and handworkers were registered separately. After the registration, they took merchants to a secluded location and began to torture them terribly. The horrifying images of the torture are etched in my mind to this day.
The terribly beaten Avraham Wluka, Yisrael Karpa, Yitzchak Asz ,and Moshe Podskocz stand before my eyes to this day. They were allowed to go home in the evening.
A few days later, they captured Jewish young people and sent them to work in the horse marketplace. There, they were terribly beaten again. I was also among those tortured at that time. I recall that they beat Lichtensztejn, Tarparcz' son-in-law, particularly harshly. In the evening, they put us in jail. A group of S.S. men stood at the entrance, each holding a stick in his hand, with which they beat everyone as they entered.
In the morning, we were forced onto vehicles under a volley of beatings. We did not know where we were going. They first let us get off the vehicles in Pultusk, and
ordered us to escape. We thought that they would shoot after us; however, they did not do so, and immediately drove away. A few hours later, we realized that we were on the Soviet side. Thanks to that fortunate event, I survived.
by Y. Shurek
Translated by Jerrold Landau
A few days before Sukkot, immediately after I woke up in the morning, I heard people going up the steps. My brother barely had time to hide when two Germans entered the house and asked my mother about the whereabouts of her husband. When they saw me, they ordered me to go out, and they brought me to the market under a hail of beatings.
I saw a few hundred Jewish men already standing in the market. They were standing in two rows under a heavy guard of armed Germans. They then put us into rows of four, and led us to the train station under heavy guard, where several wagons laden with grain were standing. The Germans put down their guns, and took up a stick or a whip. We were given sacks and ordered to fill them up with wheat, and then run to deposit them in a nearby storehouse. The beatings during the work were indescribable. Whoever stood still for a bit or could not run so fast received murderous beatings.
A short time after the work, other Germans came who wanted to play a bit.
They separated the married people from the unmarried people, whom they placed four in a row.
They then led us to the Gestapo headquarters, where we once again had to work. For the most part, this was torture rather than work. We hauled rocks from one place to another, and then hauled the same stones back. They gave us full pails of water, and we had to run with the pail. We were beaten terribly if we spilled a bit of water. The cries of the tortured people pierced the heavens, but this did not stop the German sadists from continuing with their torture.
Late at night, when we no longer had the energy to stand on our feet, the murderers got tired of amusing themselves with the Jews who were tormented to death. Two more vehicles of Jews arrived from Zuromin, and they began to torture them as they had tortured us. Immediately after getting off the vehicle, each of them received a blow over the head with a stick. They arranged us four in a row and ordered us to sing as we were driven back to the jail in the city.
There, we were forced into
a large room. As we entered, every one received a blow over the head with a stick. Tired and hungry from an entire day without food, and we lay down immediately. We had just succeeded in lying down, when another pair of Germans bandits entered and warned us that if anyone dared to cough or sneeze during the night, every fourth Jew would be shot. In order to drive the point home, they beat some of us harshly. It is clear that one could not even talk of sleep. Everyone was terrified and did not know what tomorrow would have in store for us.
As soon as it got light, they led us out of the jail. Several transport trucks were standing in the prison yard. They loaded us onto the trucks and drove us out of the city. We did not know where they were driving us, and we were afraid that our final hour was at hand. After passing through Pultusk, we were tossed out onto a field not far from a forest.
There, they put us into two groups and ordered us to run. They warned us that any person attempting to return would be shot.
We wandered through the forests and fields for two weeks until we arrived in Bialystok. We had no means of existence in Bialystok, so we were registered to be sent to work in Soviet Russia.
by Yaakov Sendarowicz
Translated by Jerrold Landau
They had already blessed the new month of Elul in the Beis Midrash and the shtibels. The anticipation toward the Day of Judgment awakened in the community. One could already hear the sounds of the shofar while walking in the streets in the morning. The town took on a completely different appearance, anticipating the upcoming holiday. Thus did things go in Jewish Sierpc until the autumn of 1939. Rosh Hashanah of that year appeared entirely different. Everyone was uncomfortable and was waiting for some terrible thing. They even conducted themselves differently in the Gerrer Shtibel that they did every year. They had the fine custom of traveling to the Gerrer Rebbe, may he live long, where the Hassidic youth would attempt to learn good character traits, listen to Torah, and learn new melodies. That custom of traveling to the Rebbe on festivals was thwarted that year.
The first bombs that fell on our town instilled the Jews with a terrible fear of the German murderers, even though they had no premonition of the atrocities that were to begin later. My brother Avraham, our friends from the Gerrer Shtibel, and I packed our tallises and tefillin and some underwear, and set out into the world. We did not know where we were headed. The fear of the unknown urged us on. As we
were on the way to Dobrzyń during the night, we met my cousin Yitzhak Szajewicz and his wife, mother, and both children. We had to go about 35 kilometers on foot to Dobrzyń. When we arrived there, we were taken the Beis Midrash where the shamash made sure to provide food for our group.
We rested a bit and discussed what we would do further. My aunt Leah and Yitzchak Szajewicz asked what they would do with the two young children, who could not be taken on such a difficult journey. My older brother and I advised them to remain there until they would get some news about what happened with the remaining Sierpcers. My brother, my cousin Yerachmiel Michel, the remaining friends and I decided to travel to Gostinin on the other side of the Wisla. We succeeded in swimming across the river and reaching Gostinin despite the great number of German airplanes that shot at the civilians on the way
The town was already filled with refugees from the entire district. There, we received our first greeting from Sierpc. Not one of them was happy. I found out then that my cousin Yechiel Ozer Kraut was killed by a grenade and was buried in Sierpc.
In the meantime, the High Holy Days were approaching. Rosh Hashanah was already on the threshold. We collected money in order to purchase food. It was a cheerless holiday a true day of judgment. We found ourselves in a veritable exile. We were sleeping on plain boards, eating at strange tables hungry and in a strange place. And who knows what tomorrow will bring? The prophecy of my grandfather Moshe Mordechai, who constantly discussed and warned of the difficult times that were coming for the Jews, was coming true. At that time, we did not want to believe him, but today we were living in the horrible times.
Rosh Hashanah in the synagogue left a fearful impression. The weeping and wailing of those who had been driven out of them homes broke through the heavens. The rabbi delivered a sermon before the shofar blowing. He consoled us and encouraged us not to lose hope and faith. However, it was difficult to console the oppressed Jews. The elderly rabbi choked on his tears.
The prayers were accompanied by strong weeping. Everyone poured themselves out to their Father in Heaven and begged mercy for themselves and for their entire people. After the services, the worshippers dispersed. I went to the grandson of the Gostininer Rebbe, who wished to fulfill the commandment of hosting guests, despite the fact that he himself was a very poor man. This was my first Rosh Hashanah in a strange place, without my parents, and lonesome. The day of the attribute of justice was full of pressure and pain. To this day, I recall the words of the rabbi of Gostinin regarding the sharp sword and the sanctification of the Divine Name, which served as a harbinger to the upcoming destruction.
by Yaakov Skurnik
Translated by Jerrold Landau
My father and I lay awake in the beds in the house opposite the synagogue, in which Pineh Mekler once lived. I fell asleep due to weariness. My father suddenly woke me, Get up a vehicle is driving by. We both went out to the street.
I quickly got dressed and cautiously went out into the thick darkness, where we heard metal barrels rolling by. We understood. We snuck across the street, and peered through the darkness toward the eastern wall of the synagogue. We watched the Germans cover the walls with a fluid. We realized that they were preparing to set our synagogue on fire. My father ordered me to awaken the neighbors. He crossed the street to where my mother and brother were sleeping, in order to awaken them. After I came back from the neighbors, I went to Grandmother Dina. My sister Sara Dvora and her husband Eliahu Grossman were already up and about. The synagogue was already burning. Grandmother Dina's arms and legs froze from terror. I took Grandmother by her hands and led her to Szalecki, who was a Christian. Our house and Litwinski's house were already burning, and the fire was threatening the entire town. The murderers carried out their desires in a bestial fashion. The stood on the street with cameras and photographed the burning synagogue.
In the meantime, Jews from the entire town set out to the burning synagogue with pails of water. At that moment, a chain of soldiers stopped the running Jews. A young Yeshiva student, the painter's son, broke through the Germans and ran in the direction of the synagogue in order to rescue a Torah scroll. The Yeshiva student did not run for long. A bullet hit him, and he fell dead at the fence of the new Beis Midrash.
A wind started up. The fire was fanned, and threatened to burn the entire town. Then, the Germans shouted wildly at the gathered Jews to wet the neighboring houses with water. The murderers ran from house to house and drove all the Jews out, including women, children, and the elderly. As they did this, they stole whatever they wanted.
The Jews fought the fire until dawn. Next morning, fresh tribulations afflicted us.
by A. Majeranc
Translated by Jerrold Landau
This took place on the second night of Sukkot, after the Germans had entered Sierpc. As I was laying in an uncomfortable sleep, full of terrifying images, I was suddenly awakened by terrifying shout, The synagogue is burning!
My parents and I quickly got dressed. When I looked out the rear window in the direction of the synagogue, a terrible picture unfolded before my eyes: The entire area was covered in flames that had overtaken the synagogue. The shouts of the people who were running around, not knowing what to do, reached to the heavens. The neighbors of the synagogue were removing their belongings from their houses in order to save them from the fire.
I ran out to the street together with Naszelski in order to help extinguish the fire. In the meantime, the fire worsened and spread to the neighboring wooden houses, in which Seroka's family lived. Young and old people were running with pails of water to help save the holy place by extinguishing the fire. I felt as if bullets were flying around my head. The Germans were shouting about, and I suddenly saw Farber's son, who was running with a pail of water, get hit by a bullet and fall down like a fallen tree. He was running to save a Torah scroll. His dead body lay there until the next morning. The Germans in the area shouted and searched for the people who set the synagogue on fire. However, we knew very well who had perpetrated the fire. The Germans could not fool us.
In the morning, the Polish guard confirmed our suspicions. He said that at about 2:00 a.m., Gestapo agents drove to the synagogue with a cargo truck, spread benzene on the interior and exterior, and set it on fire.
by Golda Goldman
Translated by Jerrold Landau
A short time after Poland was occupied by the Nazis, the areas near the German border, Sierpc included, were declared as holy German territory, where no Jew may live any more. Jews were forced deeper into Poland. Such a fate also overtook the Jews of Sierpc.
It took place on November 8, 1939. We were awakened from an uncomfortable sleep, filled with terrible images, by a brutal knocking and pounding at the door by the heavy boots of soldiers. Before we realized what was happening, the door was broken down. We heard wild shouting, Raus, Raus, Zufurt, Juden, Raus!
Gestapo men with the so called Volksdeutschen broke into the dwelling. They drove us all out to the market. The news that all the Jews would be expelled from the city spread like lightning. From all sides, Germans were dragging men, women, and children, pallid from deathly fear. We were arranged in long lines. We were close to 4,000 people. A deep, heavy silence pervaded. We could literally hear the beating of the human hearts. Children did not cry or beg for anything. We awaited the worst.
We were arranged in rows of six, and forced to move. The wind orchestra of the local firefighters led the procession, followed by a pipe orchestra. In front of us, behind us, and at the side were the local representatives of the civic organization, such as the local authorities, the mayor and his entourage, the Gestapo and the S.S.
Thus were we led out of the city, accompanied by the wind orchestra, the pipe orchestra, the beating of drums, and the lashes of whips delivered from their clumsy hands onto our backs and heads. Photographers stood along the streets and paths, working industriously, radiant with pleasure and joy; as well as German Samaritan women (Barmherzig Sisters). We did not walk, but rather ran. We made frequent stops so that the spectacle would not end quickly. We stopped and then ran again. If anyone had luggage, he would have to abandon it if he did not want to be beaten to death for failing to maintain the pace of the run. We heard the incessant salvos of gunshots. We would hear, Na Wiat, and the sounds of thee beatings of their guns over our bodies.
Three or four kilometers behind the city, they packed us into hermetically sealed train wagons, without food or water, and sent us off. The train moved very slowly and stopped from time to time. We were choking for lack of air, and burning up from thirst. What took place in the wagons that were traveling along for so man hours, and the manner in which
people took care of their physical needs is literally beyond description. Finally, about five or six kilometers past Nowy Dwór, the wagons were opened and we were ordered to descend. It was already dark.
It was a dark, rainy, autumn evening. We could not even see each other. We were once again chased in a crowded, uncoordinated mass of several thousand individuals. There were ill and handicapped people, women in labor with their infants and children. Laden with luggage and children, everyone pushed, shoved, and stumbled over each other's feet.
Suddenly, we were given an order, Run! They urged us into a gallop, under a hail of whip lashes and gun shots. It was a dark night, and the way was unknown. The situation was indescribable. I recall that I thought about Dante's Inferno at that time, and came to the conclusion that Dante could not have a proper notion of terror if he had not endured such a nightmare. People were walking over each other, crowded and choking. Wild, frightening screams could be heard, that curdled the blood in the veins. Mothers lost their children, and children lost their mothers. We were forced up a hill. Suddenly, the hangmen asked an innocent question, Can you swim? A shudder overtook us like the blade of a knife. We understood that we were standing close to some body of water, and the murderers had the intention of drowning us.
We were at the banks of the Narew River, and they were forcing us into the river. In the rush and congestion, children as well as adults fell into the river. Then, they forced us through a barbed wire fence. Terrifying, nightmarish scenes played out before us again. The number of people who died during the diabolical march will remain a secret for eternity.
We arrived in the city of Nowy Dwór. The city was enveloped in the darkness of Egypt. The darkness from the houses stared at us through windowpanes covered by blinds. There, the murderers again perpetrated a bloodbath and left us behind. We found ourselves in the Jewish quarter of the city. We could not remain in the street for even a minute, due to the wartime condition. We threw ourselves at the doors and gates like madmen, and shouted with a lament: Jews, merciful people, take us in, let us in, brothers!
One after another, like the wave of a magic wand, the doors and gates of the impoverished Jews opened and the unfortunate, tortured masses were brought in to the dark interiors of their houses.
Very early the next morning, we were again startled, and summoned to the marketplace, from where a large number of us were sent off to Warsaw.
by A. Majeranc
Translated by Jerrold Landau
It was already ten days since we were expelled from Sierpc, when I found myself in Warsaw. The situation was terrible. Nobody knew what the next day would bring. The wildest rumors were circulating. People were talking about murder and liquidation. The economic situation was also dreadful. Hunger and want were rampant in the ghetto. It was only through happenstance that my father managed to put somewhat of a roof over our heads. An old acquaintance with whom my father had done business prior to the war took us in.
Unable to continue to bear the need and loneliness of my parents, I asked them if I should return to Sierpc, where our sacks of money lay hidden. Perhaps that would help us somewhat. At first, they did not even want to hear about my trip. However, later, when the hunger and cold worsened in the ghetto, they had no choice but to agree to let me travel to Sierpc.
I set out from the ghetto in the morning. The route was full of danger. Gestapo men were lurking at every step. Falling into their hands would mean immediate death. Another week of torment and hiding, another week of traveling at night and I reached Sierpc in the middle of the night. My first stop was to the person who guarded our house. He received me in a friendly manner and warned me that if any of the Germans noticed me in town, it would mean death.
I set out to our house and saw that the door had been sealed by the Gestapo. I abandoned the door and entered through a window. It looked like a pogrom had struck. I was unable, however, to remain long in thought. Someone could enter at any moment. I quickly filled up a bag of items and left the city that same day.
My return trip to Warsaw with the sack on my shoulders lasted nine days. I went by foot the entire way because Jews were forbidden to travel by train, and it was dangerous to travel by wagon.
The items that I brought enabled our family to live for a certain time and not die from hunger. However, the items ran out. I then decided to go once again to Sierpc in order to dig up the money that we had hidden. My mother, having a premonition that the trip would not have a good ending, would not even allow us to discuss it. She did not even want to talk to me about traveling. However, the lack that was rampant in the house forced me. I did not listen to my mother, and I set out.
The way to Sierpc passed uneventfully. In Sierpc, I went to the cellar of my uncle Hersh Michel's house, where the money had been buried; however I was unable to find the money. Tired and edgy from my unsuccessful work, I exited the cellar.
A Polish acquaintance ran into me on the street.
He had become a Volksdeutsche when the Germans entered. He grabbed his revolver and shouted, Halt, from where you came, accursed Jew? I tried to escape, but to my misfortune, a Gestapo agent was passing by at that that moment, and they both arrested me.
A friend of mine was also among the prisoners whom they captured. When they brought us to the depot, we heard a shout: Damn it! From where did these accursed Jews come? Not understanding what they were saying, and seeing the disarray, I again attempted to escape from their hands. However, they began to beat me so fiercely that my head turned into a bloody mess within a few moments. I fainted. They revived me with a pail of water and continued to beat me.
They took Ch. Mintz and me to work. We both had to clear out the Jewish businesses. However, the work was not so straightforward. Every 15-20 minutes, they stood us against the wall and loaded their guns to shoot. They actually shot a few times. We then had to load the wagons with merchandise and hitch the horses to drive the wagons to the S. S. warehouses, from where the merchandise was shipped to Germany.
We found a tallis and tefillin in one of the warehouses. The S. S. men were so happy with the find, and they commanded me to put them on. I went through the streets of Sierpc dressed in the tallis and tefillin, shouting Shema Yisrael! I also had to dance and perform gymnastics during that procession.
In the evening, I thankfully found an opportunity to escape, and I arrived in Warsaw after another perilous journey. A short time later, I escaped to Russia and enlisted in the Red Army.
by Asher Mlawa
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Our house was located in the marketplace, which was the collection point for Jews who were sentenced to be deported. Jews were gathered together from the entire city, from all streets and alleyways.
What would we do? We had a sick mother, who had already being lying in bed for ten years. How could we leave her alone?
My wife had advice. We decided that the men would go out to the street, and my wife and child would prepare in the meantime. When the bandits would enter, my wife would attempt to state that she could not leave the sick woman alone.
Immediately, two S.S. officers burst in with whips and weapons in their hands. They beat everyone in the house
and drove everyone out. When my wife attempted to state that my mother was sick and helpless and could not be left alone, they responded with their whips over her head and drove her out into the street along with our child. My sick mother begged the murderers, Please shoot me, I beg of you. In the meantime, the Germans took the key, locked the dwelling, and posted a placard, This house is requisitioned here there is a live Jewish woman with a live goose. (Indeed, at that time, we were raising a goose.)
Her daughter Dvora, who was living in Drobnin at that time, came a few days later and took Mother, still alive, to her. A short time later, our mother Sheina Mlawa, died in Drobnin.
by B. Fejnberg
Translated by Jerrold Landau
In the beauty of clusters of gray clouds
When green gardens writhe from cold,
What will the next day bring?
The fine autumn pervades the world.
With tremendous suffering, blood flowing everywhere,
With ghettos, prisons, very many hangings,
With torture, Jewish pogroms
Perpetrated by the Nazi regime.
My town Sierpc
Enduring the torment
You suffer in pain
I feel like weeping.
Oh, town of Sierpc,
I recall your splendor
Your springtime beauty
And gentle nights
The synagogue lit up the night with red flames
The Nazis rampaged with savage hate
Piniele went out to extinguish it
A gunshot pierced the silence.
When I will go on broad, long paths
I will perpetuate the terrible image:
The synagogue burning, a corpse lying.
The youth, Pinia, calm and gentle.
Refrain: My town Sierpc
Never in my life will I forget you
You are enmeshed in my struggles, my heart, my dreams
On your green bosom, the Germans
Bloodily murdered 5,000 Jews
With guns, knives, and their whips
The night ruled in your streets.
After seven years of pining and wandering
I have come to see my city, my street, my house
Over Pinie's grave and other graves
I placed a white rose.
Refrain: My town Sierpc
Never in my life will I forget you
You are enmeshed in my struggles, my heart, my dreams.
by Yaakov Skornik
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The train stopped. The murderers opened the doors, and again there were wild shouts, Get out. The exiting of the trains was accompanied by lashes of the whips. A blow fell upon the year-and-a-half old child of my sister, whom I nestled under my overcoat, and bloodied the child's face. There was no possibility of stopping.
We were four kilometers from Nowy Dwór. They were prodding us on by foot. Old and sick people had no more strength to continue. The murderers beat, pushed, and threatened with guns anyone who could not keep up with the march.
Reb Avraham Shochet, 78 years old, with his splendid face and long, white beard, his face pallid from terror and weariness, was prodded along together with us. Having exhausted his energy, he stood still and did not continue further. My father and brother took him from behind and helped him, so that he would not remain behind, Heaven forbid. We all knew what that would have meant. In this manner did we arrive in Nowy Dwór late in the evening, afflicted and tormented.
From a letter from Elia Grynberg from Antwerp to his grandchild Leo Grobert.
Translated by Jerrold Landau
In 1939, the Germans expelled us from Sierpc. They chased us and made us weary, as they prodded us by foot all the way to Warsaw. We arrived in Warsaw weary and exhausted, without even one groszy of money.
A few days before the expulsion from Sierpc, I had earned 200 zloty, which my parents did not know about. At that time, the Germans issued an edict that all Jews must give over their money and valuables. I did not give over mine.
I plastered into a wall in the kitchen of our house a bit of money, as well as the golden watch that I once sent you, dear grandchild, as a gift. Seeing the hunger and thirst in the Warsaw Ghetto, I thought about going to my mother and telling her that I intended to return to Sierpc to fetch the bit of money and other belongings. When my mother heard about my plans, she wept and begged me not to go, for the Germans would capture me, which would spell my certain end. However, I decided to carry out my plan and return to Sierpc.
My mother could not be calmed down, and decided to accompany me. Very early the next morning, we set out for the railway station, from where we travelled to Plonsk. The train stopped along the way. Gestapo men came aboard and searched for Jews among the passengers. However, to our fortune, they did not notice us.
At that time, Itka Izraelweicz, my mother's younger sister and her family, were still in Plonsk. When we
arrived at her home, she was very surprised to see us and wondered how we could have done such a thing - for we risked our lives. My mother begged me once again with tears in her weak eyes to not go on further, but rather to wait until we heard something from Sierpc.
In the meantime, night fell. It was dark on the street, and one was afraid to be seen outside, since the Germans captured Jews and deported them. I conducted an internal battle: should we travel or not? After a lengthy debate, we decided to travel to Sierpc. We concealed ourselves in various side alleyways until we arrived at the train station from which we set out.
We arrived in Sierpc at about 1:00 a.m. It was dark and empty, and a deathly silence prevailed. We hid ourselves as far off as possible and proceeded into the city slowly. Our hearts beat quickly from fear - slowly, slowly, for who knows what they could do with us. Thus did we arrive at our house in the Jewish street near the old Beis Midrash. We noticed a large placard on the door with a warning that anyone who would enter the house would be immediately killed. Mother talked to me again with a stressed voice and begged me not to enter. However, come what might, I ripped off the placard and entered the house.
Tired and weary from the journey and from fear, my mother fell onto the divan and fell asleep. I proceeded on, quickly covered the window and lit a candle. With a hammer, I broke the wall in which the objects were plastered. Each bang let out a loud echo into the silent night, and I was terrified that someone might hear. I proceeded on, and controlled my fear. I finished my terrifying mission. I quickly woke up Mother and we ran through the crooked, dark alleyways to the train station. We straight away caught the train and returned to Plonsk. The train stopped along the way, and the Gestapo men searched and screened everyone to see if they could capture a Jew. We sat among the Poles and looked out the windows to avoid any suspicion. By luck, we were saved from the talons of death, and we returned to the house of my aunt Itka.
A difficult question arose once again: how to go back to Warsaw. It was impossible to travel through Nowy Dwór, for the surveillance there was extraordinarily severe. That was currently the border between the Third Reich and Poland. I looked for ways to travel through there. I advised my mother to travel to Nowy Dwór. I took all the belongings along with her, and set out to Nasielsk. In Nasielsk, I found in the dark, far beyond the city, an abandoned cottage in which a light was shining. I went in and found out that people were going to be traveling to Nowy Dwór by boat at night via the Narew. I paid them, and at 5:00 a.m. we already found ourselves on the other side of the Narew, from where we dragged ourselves into the city.
We again met up with my family in Nowy Dwór. We were together: Mother, Father, a sister, and also many other Sierpcers were there, waiting to travel to the Warsaw Ghetto. At the same time, they were again perpetrating
an attack on the Jews of Nowy Dwór. Again, as usual, we were suffering murderous blows, and they were searching us for money. Miraculously, I managed to save a large part of our means of livelihood.
Then, the Jews received a command to leave Nowy Dwór and run for three hours. We decided to divide ourselves up. In the event that something happened in one place, perhaps the others would be safe in another place.
My father and my sister Chana traveled back to Warsaw, while my mother and I went to Father's parents in Sochocin. It was still calm there. The Angel of Death had not yet arrived at that town.
Unfortunately, this did not last long. The terrible news reached us that they shot to death my beloved father and dear sister.
by Meir Teitelbaum
Translated by Jerrold Landau
On December 12, 1942, the Germans from Nowy Dwór sent a transport of Jews to Auschwitz, among which were Jews from Sierpc.
The deportation took place while we were still at work.
Laus, Schneller, Laus, shouted the German overseer, and we worked quickly. With superhuman strength, tired, and downtrodden, and with broken hearts, we loaded the barbed wire onto the wagons.
When our torturers led us home from work, they issued an order, Sing. Thus, arriving with song, we saw that the ghetto had been surrounded with German soldiers. This did not foreshadow anything good. Helpless and downtrodden, we protested against this with sighs and groans.
The ghetto was guarded by soldiers Indeed, they were deporting us It was winter Oh, oh. With my young children my wife is pregnant My mother is ill Oh, oh! Woe unto us!
In the ghetto, confusion pervaded. Weeping women and children were getting dressed to leave. The men were calm, but they were also desperate. With tears of desperation, Mother blessed the candles on that Friday night. The services did not last long that day, and we went home devoid of courage, as if ashamed before G-d. Thick, dark clouds spread over the heavens.
It was a sleepless night The hours were endlessly long The minutes were full of fear and terror. We did not sleep, but rather listened and waited to see upon whom would fall the fate of being a victim of the German extermination.
It was the Sabbath morning. It was gloomy on the streets. There was noise, and it was seething like a kettle. The alleyways were guarded by Germans. The clang
of the soldiers' boots and the gunshots mixed with the voices of those being expelled. The orders of the murderers were reaching us, Laus, laus, everyone out of the houses!
Holding hands tightly, we left the crowded ghetto house with a lament, and looked behind us like dogs driven from their doghouse. We were prodded toward the ghetto market, placed in rows of five, and led toward the train under a heavy guard, with beatings and torture.
We were loaded into the wagons like cattle, with up to sixty people in each wagon, healthy and sick people together. With sealed doors, without water, air and the possibility to attend to one's bodily needs, we were taken to a place unknown to us. There was not even any talk of water. We got a very small amount of air through a narrow window. After a few hours, there was also a lack of air.
We found ourselves in a terrible situation. The groaning and lamenting of the ill people and the children mixed in like a nightmare with thoughts of the German murders in the eastern regions about which we had heard but had not been able to believe until this point. Only a few of us, who were strong in faith, consoled and strengthened the rest of us.
The farther we went, the more serious our situation became. Parents wished for death, being unable to witness the pain of their children. The hours passed like years.
On the morning of Monday, December 14, as we were laying semi-comatose in the wagons, immersed in dark dreams, we were suddenly awakened by the sounds of gunshots. The doors opened with a noise, and a stream of cold winter air penetrated the wagons.
At first, we were intoxicated by the air, and we did not understand what was taking place. The murderers did not let us dream for long. They awakened us with the butts of their rifles and kicked us off the wagons with their feet. When we had arranged ourselves somewhat, we heard a command, Leave the packs, and arrange yourselves - men separately, and women and children separately. We did not hear anything further. The wailing was so loud that no human mind could imagine, and no human hand could describe it in writing. Everyone understood that they were with their dear ones for the last time.
My mother wept. She wept her eyes out until the last tear, and blessed us all, Remain healthy, my children. She lamented bitterly, I am together with you today perhaps for the last time. With you, for whom I have sacrificed myself for my entire life and for whom I am prepared to sacrifice myself today.
We kissed, hugged, and parted without words. Beatings from the butts of rifles forced us apart.
A selektion of the men took place. S. S. officers looked over each person, asked how old they were and whether they were healthy. My brother told me to
say that I was 18 years old. I saw that those younger than 18 and old men whom they did not approve of were sent back to the women and children.
When they came to us, they asked me how old I was. Eighteen years, I responded. They looked me over and sent me to the selected men. My brother was also quickly sent over. When they asked my father how old he was, he answered, Forty-nine years old. They looked him over and sent him to the women and children. I looked at him with my eyes, not knowing who was better off - we the selected ones, or they, the doomed ones.
When the selection ended, we were led away under a group of S.S. men with dogs. As we, a few hundred men, went away from the train, we saw barracks surrounded by electrified barbed wire, upon which placards were posted, High voltage - danger of death. Among the barracks, we saw emaciated, weak men dressed in camp uniforms.
In the camp, they greeted us with music from several dozen instruments. The camp inmates begged us to throw them a bit of bread. Many of them, who bent down for a morsel of bread, fell down and could not get up. They led us, terrorized and beaten, to a barrack. We had to give over all of our valuables such as money, gold and the like. Then, they registered all of us and tattooed numbers on our arms. This lasted for half the night. Then they led us to a bath, where they took our clothes, cut the hair from our head and our bodies, and gave us camp uniforms. As we left the so-called bath, we could no longer recognize each other, to the point where I could not even recognize my brother as I was standing next to him.
We stood under a cold rain for the entire night. They placed us, soaked, tired, thirsty, and hungry, in the allotted barracks.
The entire time, we were preoccupied with the thought: in which camp are our parents. Various terrible thoughts ran through our heads, which we could not believe at all. Later, we met some acquaintances who had already been in the camp for a week. We had a conversation with them about the fate of our parents. At first, they answered with half words, but after a long conversation and many requests, they led us to understand that our parents were no longer alive, that they were already gassed and burnt. A general weeping broke out amongst us. In our hearts, we recited Kaddish for their souls. Pouring out our bitter hearts, we prepared ourselves for the same end as our dear relatives had suffered.
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