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[Page 444]

In the Sierpc Ghetto and in the Camps

by Hela Listapad-Izakowicz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Sierpc was occupied by the German soldiers on September 8, 1939. They beat the Jews in a bestial matter and robbed their goods. On the second night of Sukkot they burnt our sanctuary - the Great Synagogue. This depressed my father. He was lying in bed, sick and with broken morale. However, he strengthened himself, got out of bed, and ran with a pail of water to help put out the fire in our fine sanctuary. The goodwill of the Jews to save the synagogue from the flames surrounding it was fruitless. A certain yeshiva student, the son of Farber, who forced his way into the synagogue with self-sacrifice, was shot by the Germans.

After the terrible fire, my father's state of health took a strong turn for the worse, and he died in his own home after great suffering on October 15, 1939, prior to the expulsion from Sierpc. He was buried in the Sierpc cemetery, accompanied by his children, sons-in-law, grandchildren, relatives, neighbors and acquaintances. The Jews were jealous of my father, who had still merited to be brought appropriately to a Jewish burial.

On Wednesday, November 8, 1939, the Germans gathered the Jewish population in the old marketplace opposite the city hall. Under the chords of a wind orchestra and being mocked by those deporting them, they were loaded onto cargo wagons and sent to Warsaw.

In Sierpc, the murderers only left behind the craftsmen they needed. They were housed in a special place in the city and a ghetto was created.

The Jews of Sierpc, who lived in Warsaw after the deportation without a home and without livelihood, realized that there were still Jews remaining in Sierpc. They sneaked across the borders and returned to their hometown. My family and I did the same.

The German mayor appointed a Judenrat consisting of the following people: Yaakov Pukacz, Mendel Lis and Shlomo Kutner. These three people were given the responsibility for the remaining Jews in the ghetto in accordance with German instruction. There were no Jewish policemen in the Sierpc ghetto. Every day, the Judenrat had to give people over for various jobs, such as sweeping the streets, collecting the trash and other menial, dirty tasks.

On the way to the train, there was a rivulet which was known to us Sierpcers as “Jeziorki.” We would skate on the rivulet in the winter when it was frozen over. The celebrations of the sea holiday would take place there in the winter. The rivulet was neglected and full of dirt. The Germans decided to drain the rivulet, and employed some of the remaining Jews of Sierpc for that task, including my brother-in-law Yosef Karpa and his son, and my second brother-in-law Moshe Moszkowicz and his three sons. They all

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stood half naked in the mud and cleared the river.

Risking my life, I often sneaked from Sierpc to Warsaw, to my cousin Binyamin and his wife Sara Sobel, who at one time had been wealthy people and were known for their kindheartedness. I provided them with bread, meat, various baked goods and other necessities. During my smuggling trips, I was searched by Germans, but they did not recognize that I was Jewish on account of my blond hair, and I fortunately came out clean from the search each time. Each time my cousin saw me, she wept bitterly and lamented, “What are we living on?” I often brought my nephew Yosef Moszkowicz on my risky trips.

After a certain time, it became forbidden to travel to Warsaw. Even Poles were not allowed to travel. At that time, I decided to send my cousin money in a letter, without knowing the name of the place to send it. The prices in Warsaw were so high that the money was insufficient for the necessary expenses. In the interim, I received a letter from my cousin stating that her husband Binyamin had died from a disease of the nerves. With that news, the true tragedy in everyone's life began.

 

The Expulsion from Sierpc

At 5:00 a.m. on January 6, 1942, when the stars were still sparkling in the sky and the frost burnt the face, the Germans woke up the Jews of the ghetto. The confusion was great. Everyone took along what they could. All the property was carried to the “Ludowy” (People's House) in the New Market, where Nazi police took it. Everyone, men and women, was arranged separately, stripped naked, and searched in a bestial manner. They were searching for money, gold jewelry, foreign currency, etc. Every person was permitted to carry up to 20 German marks. Any person with whom was found valuables or currency was murderously tortured and beaten.

After the search that lasted for several hours, 50 people were loaded on the cargo truck, under Gestapo guard. Together with Jews from the Sierpc region, they were sent to Strzegowo in the Mlawa region. We arrived there in the evening, tired, hungry and half frozen. Many people who were left behind along the way were shot on the spot. I recall that Rivka Lipski and Noach Pukacz were among those shot.

A Judenrat was functioning in Strzegowo, consisting of B. Bojgen, Sh. Stawicki, and Rybak. They received us very well, and made every effort to provide us with housing, food and drink. When we were there, we received a very bad letter from my Sobol cousin, who was in Warsaw. She wanted to come to us. I discussed this with Mrs. Nijemczewko and decided to travel to Warsaw to bring our

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relatives and Mrs. Nijemczewko's relatives, who were in Warsaw, to us.

The border guard in Ciechanów arrested us, and took our money and food that we had with us. After 24 hours of arrest, they took us out to shoot us. We fell at the feet of the police, begged them and wept until their hearts softened and they permitted us to return home. After a long journey on foot, we arrived in Strzegowo tired, hungry and half frozen, and lay sick in bed for a few days.

A short time later, they captured Jews and sent them to Masajewo. There was a hard labor camp and an ammunition factory there. During such a hunt in the month of March they captured 20 men, including 3 Sierpcers: Efraim Yosef Lelionek, Yechezkel Pessa, Tovia Zeelni from Bieźuń, as well as others. The arrested people were placed in cellars. One of them, Moshe Gutsztat, escaped. They captured him and shot him on the spot.

After we sat in the cellars for six weeks, policemen came from the surrounding region and ordered the Jewish population to prepare gallows so that they could perpetrate the atrocity of hanging the Jews. All the Jews - old, sick, women following childbirth - were hauled out of their houses to witness the act of German bestiality. The Germans ordered that a father should hang his son, or on the other hand, a brother would hang a brother.

 

The Liquidation of the Camp and My Life Among the Farmers

On September 1 1942, the Germans began to liquidate the ghettos, as well as the Jews in the camps. From our camp, they sent off the elderly and the sick to the gas chambers. My mother was among them. I realized that the end of everybody was approaching and I decided to escape and return to Sierpc. I left the ghetto together with the Alterowicz sisters from the village of Jeżewo in the Sierpc district. We were successful, and we fortunately reached the suburbs of our former Sierpc. I was taken in by Mrs. Celina Kokowski, a very poor woman. Her husband was in captivity. I remained there for 16 months.

Of course I would have liked to remain with that honorable woman, but the village population knew that she was hiding a Jewish woman. Since everyone would suffer on account of this, I decided to leave there and seek a new home.

I left without the agreement of Mrs. Celina Kokowski. She would have never permitted me to leave her house. We lived together very well. That very evening when I left her home, the police came to search for me at Mrs. Kokowski's home. The Germans beat the woman soundly and demanded that she give me over. The woman claimed that she did not know me. The Germans noticed a piece of fresh pork, which they immediately demanded, and then they arrested the woman.

The information about the arrest on my account spread like lightning among the farmers. Therefore it was difficult for me to

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find a shelter. I wandered for many days. I could not spend the day at the places where I spent the night. I often spent the night in the field, in cement pipes and in other places where I could hide.

In the winter months of 1944, the police often conducted raids and searched for Jews who were hiding. An announcement was issued stating that every citizen who knew of a Jew would receive a prize of more than 500 Marks and other benefits, such as being permitted to slaughter animals, which at that time was forbidden. There were many volunteers for such rewards, and it was impossible to hide. During the night, I often had to sneak from one place to another where they did not know me.

I felt that my energy was leaving me, and therefore I became weary of life. My hope was that I would die a quick death and would not fall into the hands of the German murderers. I had no stable place to live. The farmers were afraid to take in a strange person.

During the ensuing months, I saw partisans, among whom there were also Jews. Then, my situation improved. I was able to work in a place for a long time. Thus did the situation maintain itself until January 20, 1945.

The war had ended. I returned to my hometown of Sierpc. A shudder went through me as I saw the ruins left behind by the German murderers. The town was empty of Jews. I could no longer meet with my relatives, neighbors and acquaintances.

My former Christian neighbor Mrs. Pataszinsko took me in and comforted me. However, I did not want to be dependent on anyone, and, wearing my wooden shoes and linen dress, I went out to look for acquaintances.

I met up with the sisters Celia Izakowicz and Eva Dygola, who had been hidden by Christians and survived by a miracle. The three of us began to do business to earn a livelihood. After a short time, we rented a dwelling in partnership and lived together, out of fear of being separate, for there were terrible attacks against the Jews by wild Polish anti-Semitic gangs.

One day, the mailman came to me, the same one from before the war, and brought me the news that a letter from America was awaiting me. I went with him to the post office, and to my great surprise, I saw a letter from my cousin Rashe Mintz from America. Tears of joy poured from my eyes.

 

Additional Declarations from Mrs. Listapad-Izakowicz

There were three Sierpc natives among the 20 hanged Jews in the Strzegowo Ghetto. I was a witness to the terrible murders and I remember well how they were carried out. Lipski and Levi Grossman were not hanged. Lipski was deported from the Strzegowo Ghetto to Auschwitz along with all the old people.

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When they were snatching people in the Strzegowo Ghetto to send them away, Levi Grossman and Moshe Gutsztat escaped together. They hid in the wheat fields. Shkotzim[1] began to shout “Jude” and show the Germans where the two Jews were. Two Germans who were conducting searches took the Jews and quickly shot them.

The following people were shot as they were deported from the Sierpc Ghetto: Noahke Pukacz, the Yellow Fleiszer's wife and 11-year-old son, and the son of Mulia Czarny. The child was ill. The father carried him on his shoulders. The Germans shot him in that position.

The Sierpc Ghetto was created in March or April 1940. Only those who were going out to work could leave the ghetto. Many people sneaked out. This primarily took place at noontime when the Germans were eating. Movement in the ghetto was permitted until 10:00 p.m.

Qualified tradesmen worked at their trades in the ghetto. Other ghetto residents were employed at sweeping the streets, cleaning the latrines and working in the fields for the Volksdeutschen (native Germans) in the vicinity who had become officers, policemen and merchants in the Jewish enterprises. For a day's work, the Volksdeutschen paid 80 pfennig, which was insufficient to live on. Requisitions for workers came to Yaakov Pukacz, and he sent them to work. He also received the money from the city hall and paid the workers.

Worshipping with a minyan [prayer quorum] was forbidden. Avraham Shochet's[2] son Shimon Petriks performed shechita [ritual slaughter] secretly. His mother and sister lived in Drobnyn. With the help of Yaakov Pukacz, from time to time the shochet received permission to travel to Drobnyn, where he also performed shechita in secret.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A derogative term for gentiles. Return
  2. Here it means Avraham the ritual slaughterer. Return


Sierpcer Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto

by Yechiel Nemlech of New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It was after the deportation from Sierpc. We had already been in Warsaw for over a year. Hunger was rampant in the streets of the ghetto and caused the deaths of thousands of Jews. The Germans took the younger people to labor camps. In our region around Sierpc and Plonsk, the situation was better. The hunger was not quite as severe.

In our home, we were still able to purchase necessities for survival. The question arose - what next? We decided to risk our lives and sneak out of the ghetto, where death from hunger was threatening. Someone would remain behind. I would go with my sister and my mother, and in the event that we did not succeed along the way, we would have a place to which to return and where to lay down our heads.

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Therefore, my brother Shmuel and my father remained in the Warsaw Ghetto. They agreed to remain since my brother worked for a Jew who commissioned apprentices for sheet metal work for the Germans. Therefore, it was certain that he would not be taken to the camp, and would have a morsel of bread. My father felt too weak to go on the journey.

We set out - my only sister Adela who was older than me, my mother, and I. With great tribulation and terror, we broke out of the Warsaw Ghetto and smuggled our way to Plonsk. There were still Jews there, and we were together with acquaintances.

There was also a ghetto in Plonsk, but the situation was far better than in Warsaw. They were still not hungry, for it was easier to smuggle in food. That part of Poland was also designated as part of the Third Reich. They treated us well, but not for long.

At that time, it was perilous to host a person who was not registered by the city council, and registering was impossible. We succeeded in obtaining work with a farmer in a village in exchange for a bit of food. We indeed did so. By chance, we succeeded in obtaining positions not far from each other. This was the beginning of the summer, and we tended to grazing animals in return for a bit of food. We were content with the work. We hoped to bring the rest of the family to us soon, so we could all be together.

Sunday was a day off for us, when the employers did not force us to work, so I went to visit my beloved sister and dear mother. Jews sneaked into the Plonsk Ghetto in great numbers. Whoever had the energy would risk his life and escape from the Warsaw Ghetto. This was noticed by the German authorities of Plonsk, and they conducted a search for Jews in the entire district of Plonsk. Whoever could not show the appropriate papers was sent away.

After some time, a Sierpcer told me that they had sent these people off to a camp in Pomiechówek. My beloved mother and sister were also among those sent away.

I was 18 years old at that time. I felt lonesome and alone. As I was following the cattle in the broad fields and meadows on summer days, I would usually think about everything that transpired. I was taken by a desire to somehow memorialize the deportation of Sierpc and the subsequent suffering of the deportees. I wrote in verse everything that took place with us[1].

On a fine bright early morning
When nobody had yet
Begun to think
About the fresh statutes,
Suddenly - to us
Who were sitting by the door and the window;
Like thieves in the forest
They ordered us to leave our homes immediately
Naked, barefoot, without clothing, we had to go
Along the path of hunger and pain

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Trusted fathers and mothers
Where should we go?
They ordered us to go to the marketplace.
All Jews had to gather there.
They issued further commands to us,
And prodded us to the train with music.
We had to go into the trains
As if we were going into stables.
They beat us and plagued us with sticks -
And we went to Nowy Dwór.

In Nowy Dwór, they shouted at us again:
“Jews, arrange yourselves in rows!”
As a sign that we must go.
They began to shoot at us
A lament, a plea from Jews to Jews:
“Jews, let us in,
We are deathly tired,
From a journey of an entire day,
Open the doors and gates
And then we will tell you
About our suffering and pain.

And after spending only one night,
They issued a new order:
In the early morning, there was a cry and a lament,
The Nowy Dwór police
Had taken over the government
And we moved again toward suffering,
For they sent us to Warsaw,
In Warsaw, in the large synagogue -
And in every synagogue, there was new death,
A new victim every minute,
That is how they behaved toward us.

Jews of Sierpc, do not be discouraged
For you will not be bloodied forever.

A new time will come,
When we will all be free!
A time will come,
When we all together
Will be joyous and glad
In our own homes!

My dream did not come true… European Jewry was destroyed… Including the community of Sierpc and my own dear family.

I went through the hell of Auschwitz and Dachau, and survived miraculously. After spending a few years in liberated Germany, I, along with a few other fellow natives, succeeded in coming to America with the help of our important and beloved fellow native and friend Sineh, where we began a new life.


Translator's Footnote

  1. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: We bring these verses as a memorial to the survival of the author (editor). Return


[Page 451]

Life in the Ghetto and the Activity of the Partisans

by Hela Listapad-Izakowicz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Sierpc Ghetto consisted of Kilinskiego Street, or as it was called earlier, the Wlokes or the Gurno.

We were not hungry in the ghetto. Everyone had their own farmers they knew in the villages. People sneaked out of the ghetto and arranged for food. Everyone had to go to work: men, women, and young girls. Children between the ages of ten and twelve wandered in the streets, assembled cigarettes and did various similar jobs.

During the evening, it was forbidden to venture beyond the borders of the ghetto. Police guarded us. There were more than 500 of us in the ghetto, of whom 200 had a permit to cross into the Aryan side. These were the tradesmen, tailors, shoemakers, and others who worked at their trades. Those who did not have a trade had to engage in menial work such clearing garbage, cleaning the streets, etc.

Eighteen-year-old Yisca Zemelman, the daughter of Rachel and Hirsch Zemelman, caught a cold during the course of her work and died within a few days.

The ghetto was not closed, but rather guarded. We found hiding places with Poles.

At the beginning of the German occupation, we had to wear a yellow patch on the right side with the word “Jude.” Later, these were replaced with larger yellow patches with a black, 12 centimeter, Magen David. Every Jew had to wear such patches - one in the front and one in the back. Whoever was caught without the Jewish designation was warned or sent to concentration camps.

We lived under very crowded circumstances in the ghetto. The dwellings were small. Many people would be housed in a large dwelling.

The old Beis Midrash was turned into a concentration camp. Poles caught conducting illegal business were also imprisoned there.

We were taken to Strzegowo in January 1942. The Jews of Plock had been sent there earlier than we were. They were led through Sierpc. They begged us for bread. Meir Zemelman, collecting garbage that day, went into a bakery in order to obtain bread for the Plock Jews. The Gestapo men captured him, led him to Dzialdowo, and murdered him there.

In general, the Poles did not behave badly toward the Jews. The more intellectual Poles were also persecuted by the Germans - of course, not to the same degree as the Jews. However, they were expelled from their fine houses.

The two Kiszelewski brothers, grandchildren of the elder Kiszelewskis, belonged to the partisans. One of them was called Zelik, and the name of the other I do not recall. They survived the occupation, but unfortunately, after the liberation, they were

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murdered by the “A. K.” (Armie Krajowo). Heniek Pszenica as well as the young Brorocz youth from Janczowo also met the same death.

Many people hid in the Plock forests or in the so-called “Tzelinsker Velder.” The situation of the Jews improved when the partisan groups were organized. If the partisans found out that someone had turned in a Jew, that person would be killed the next morning on his own bed. The farmers were afraid, and began to help the hidden Jews.

In the city, the Germans took the houses of the Jews: Koplowicz from the old market, Tzina Lewin, Gotlibowski, Czarnoczapka from the Fareh Street in which there was a charitable fund, Pianke's house, as well as the houses of: Noach Pukacz from Ząbie, Katszalki, Mintz, the tailor's, Jedwabnik, and Grodka. On Warsaw Street, the hut where the Rosenbergs lived, Mianczin's where Leib Krysztal lived, Pundek', Nachum Tatz, Joszelewski', and Zemelman's. On the Jewish Street, aside from Glazman's and the old Beis Midrash, all the houses were together. There were the houses of Chodower, Grona, Karmilski, Wluka, Rozenek, and Sakowicz in which Shia “Koze” lived. Further, there were the houses of Reszatka, Lelonek, Czarnabrades, and Gonsior whose house housed the Jewish mikva [ritual bath], and Szampan's house in which Kasiarz lived. Szwaczer's large house remained standing. There were also the houses of Myranc, Kramarsz, Skurki, old Szapira the watchmaker, Lea Panfil, Kutner, Blum, as well as many other Jewish houses that were also taken.

 

German Murders in the Strzegowo Camp

There were no Jewish police in the Sierpc Ghetto. On the other hand, in the Strzegowo Camp, there were Jewish police under the supervision of the Judenrat, consisting of the following people: Yossel Nijemczewko, the Kiselewski brothers, Feldman the butcher from Rudzienice, and Lederman.

Feldman was shot in Strzegowo. The Germans noticed that he paid too much attention to a loaf of bread that his wife held in her hands. During the role call, Feldman was ordered to prepare the Jews to travel. The Gestapo men grabbed the bread and pierced it with a spear. Foreign currency and gold fell from it.

It seemed that Feldman had obtained the holdings as ransom from various people who were to be sent to concentration camps. In their place, he sent others who did not have the means to pay. That is how the business went until the Germans shot him before everyone's eyes.

In Strzegowo, the Germans paid 80 pfennig a day for work. It was impossible to live from this money. The Jews found ways to manage. Whoever was a tradesman would quietly work in his home, even for Christians. Others would sneak to the villages and bring back from there whatever was possible. I belonged to the latter group. There were many Poles among the village dwellers who sent us potatoes

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and bread. There were also some Germans who helped. However, most of them would rob from us what they could, and beat us murderously.

The Germans especially tortured elderly women who were unable to take on any work. The last elderly women sneaked out of the ghetto, which was not closed off, and helped the farmers work the ground. They hid in the villages.

There were only Sierpcers in the ghetto, aside from one family - Avraham Derewiczer and his wife from Żuromin. Everybody thought about how to survive. Many went out to the town at night, and returned to their work in the early morning. Nobody thought about clothing.

Once Mrs. Nedzwijedz (nee Podskocz), wrote a letter in German to the Starosta [district head] on behalf of a Christian, requesting that the Christian's son be freed from the concentration camp. The Germans summoned the Christian and asked her who wrote the fine letter for her. She gave over the address, and the Gestapo dragged Mrs. Nedzwijedz out of bed at night and sent her to a penal camp in Wymyślin, where the German commandant chopped her up with a sword. The unfortunate victim begged the murderer to kill her with one blow, but this was to no avail. He quartered her body in a wild, bestial manner until she died. The bloodied body was placed on a wagon and driven to the Jewish cemetery. Four Sierpc Jews were summoned to the funeral, including my brother-in-law Moshe Moszkowicz. Throughout the entire journey, the boards of the wagon trickled with the blood of the deceased victim.

Moshe Lidzbarski's 16-year-old daughter met a similar death.


In the Camps

by Y. Ch. Grinberg

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Stalag[1], Auschwitz, and Mauthausen

In 1914, the German authorities set up a Stalag Camp near Konigsberg for the Jewish war captives. All the Jewish war captives from the Polish army were concentrated in that camp. My friend Yechiel Borensztajn and I were also brought there.

After a short time, an order was issued to take all of the Jewish war captives to Lublin. Already then, we became familiar with the concept of a death march, for that is what the Germans perpetrated in Lublin. They demanded 300,000 zloty from the Judenrat in order to call off the aktion. As soon as they received the money, they broke their word and the aktion was perpetrated. A transport was prepared and

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dispatched. It went in an unknown direction. Later, we found out that they murdered everyone.

With the belief that we would not avoid death when we would come to Lublin, my friend Bornsztajn and I decided to escape from the transport. When we arrived at the Gdanska Station in Warsaw, we both jumped out and started to run. The German guards noticed us and began to shoot after us with automatic weapons. We succeeded in hiding among the bunkers. We remained there for a few hours, until the train departed.

We came out of our hiding place and set out for the city. After a short time in Warsaw, I set out for Plonsk, where my family lived. I remained there until 1942, when the Germans liquidated the local ghetto and sent everyone to Auschwitz. That time, I did not succeed in fleeing, and I had to be a witness of my entire family being murdered in the camp. I was in Auschwitz until 1944, when the evacuation began. Then, they sent us to the Mauthausen Camp in Germany[2], where hundreds of people died daily from hunger or were shot and murdered by the S.S.

I lived through the terrible situation until May 4, 1945, when the American Army liberated me.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag Return
  2. Mauthausen is actually in Austria. Return


In Auschwitz

by Yechiel Nemlich

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It took place on December 5, 1942. It was a cold day. It snowed fiercely, and it seemed that nature was the only thing that sympathized with the fate of the Jews and was infuriated with the injustice being perpetrated against us.

We had already been travelling for a number of days, and we did not know the direction. Suddenly, our train stopped. We did not know where we were located, but we instinctively felt that this was the place were the fate of many of us would be sealed. After remaining on the ramp for12 hours in sealed wagons packed with people who had no place to sit or even to stand, and where one could literally choke from the air, they opened the wagons. S.S. men were waiting for us, who raised a commotion just like a bunch of hungry wolves would do when they saw a pack of sheep.

Frightful scenes, which I do not have the power to describe, took place as we exited the wagons.

With the help of dogs and beatings from the butts of rifles, the terrified masses, who were nestled against each other, were placed five in a row, and the young Oberscharführer began to conduct the

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selektion. The number of those to be sent to death increased by the minute. Transport trucks ready to transport the victims were filled up with people, who were loaded up like herring in a barrel. Most of them were women, children and elderly men. The line became smaller, and as my row approached, I felt that the coming minute would determine my fate. I was the only one left from the entire family. Images of my parents and our house passed before my eyes as if in a film…

Suddenly I heard that the S.S. man asked me my name, age and trade. I answered him mechanically, and I heard him say to me, “To the left.” I went to the group who was waiting for the vehicles, and then I heard the voice of the S.S. man again, “Return, to the right!”

I returned as if in a dream. At first I looked around and saw that I was in the company of only young, sturdy men who were guarded severely by the S.S. men. They put us in rows of five, and we marched.

A deathly silence pervaded in the rows. Nobody talked. We heard only the orders of the officers who chased us and urged us to go faster. Each of us was immersed in our own thoughts. It is not hard to imagine what each person was thinking about. Everyone's thoughts were focused on those who were driven away by the vehicles. Almost every one of us had someone who was among them. Each person was thinking only, “Will I see them again?”

However, the officers did not even let us think. They chased us and prodded us to go faster. The way was difficult. The ground was soft in places, and our legs would sink up to the knee in the mud. The only thing that we wished for was to come to the camp, lie down and go to sleep. However, the shouts of the officers, the mud on the feet, and the broken hearts kept us awake.

We suddenly saw the light of electric lamps in the terrible darkness. We were approaching the camp. The yellow light of the electric lamps unfolded before our eyes.

I was assigned to live in block 14. Despite the fact that we were occupied with the various camp formalities for the entire night, they sent us to work in the morning. In the commando unit to which I was assigned, I met several of my friends who had arrived in Auschwitz in earlier transports. They knew the camp very well. Most of them had become weakened and tired. When we went to work they asked us, the neophytes, to go slowly, for they had no energy. However, we had to be careful of going slowly, for the kapo would beat us for that.

The workday in the camp went as follows. In the morning, the inmates [häftlinge] would search for a commando where the work was easy. A commotion would break out, and the kapos and S.S. men would instill order via beatings and torture. After organizing the commando units, we would go out to work to the accompaniment of the camp band. The return from work was even worse. The men,

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tired from work and beatings by the S.S. men, could barely drag their feet. A certain number of them could not walk at all, and the other inmates had to help them. People also died during the return from work. And the same dismal train, as it arrived to the camp tower, had to go slowly, cheerfully, as if on an excursion, as it entered the camp to the accompaniment of the same band.

When we returned from work after an entire day of difficult labor, we had no rest. In the block, we were tormented by the block elder and the house elder.

That is how the days and weeks went by, filled with need and pain, until, one day a registration of a new commando took place in the camp. They only took those who were in good shape and of sturdy build. Immediately following the registration, the arbeitsdienst leaders of the camp ordered all the men between the ages of 21 and 32 to report in. Younger and older people also registered, for the registration would free them from a day of work, which was the greatest holiday for the inmates of Auschwitz. Shortly thereafter, we found out that they sterilized all the men.

At the same time, that is around the New Year of 1943, they began to organize transports for “Buna”[1] in Auschwitz I. I registered for such a transport and arrived in Auschwitz I.

In Buna, we were almost given the possibility of surviving the terrible time. They put me in a school for the brick trade, which prepared us for various building roles. We went to work during the severe cold, and this helped me extraordinarily. On the other hand, I suffered greatly from the block elder and especially from the Polish kapo who was known by the name Kacmarek. That man displayed great sadism to the Jews, and he tortured us throughout the entire winter.

When spring came, they sent us to various building jobs. At first, we were not content with the work. Later, however, after we had already worked for a certain time, we began to feel that this was the best place to have a hope of surviving the war. Civilian workers worked together wish us, and we often obtained something to eat from them, or we bought something if we had money. We were, however, strongly warned by the S.S. to refrain from talking with civilians. For such a “crime” we would be punished with a “bunk stay.”

That same year, I was sent back to Birkenau, for they needed bricklayers there. I found most of my friends in that camp. They were tortured, and I felt their loneliness. They housed me in Block 7, Camp D. The number of inmates had

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greatly increased at the time. They had started to bring in Jews from all the countries that the Germans had occupied. Selektions took place every day, and the crematoria operated day and night.

They brought Hungarian Jews to us in 1944. At the end of that year, on account of the approach of the Red Army, they evacuated “our” camp and sent us deep into Germany. I myself was sent to Dachau, where I was enlisted in the Kaufering subcamp[2], Camp II. Sick and broken, I was liberated from there on April 30, 1945 by the American Army.

German Cruelty and the Tormented Life as a Refugee in the Soviet Union by Beila Rabinowicz

My father was a cantor and shochet [ritual slaughterer] in Sierpc. He had studied the cantorial arts with the famous Cantor Gershon Sirotta. My father served as a cantor in Sierpc from 1907 until 1939, the year of the misfortune of the German extermination. I spent my childhood in the Beis Yaakov School. Later I went to a public school, and I found my social position within the Hashomer Hatzair educational youth group.

I can never forget the large fire that blazed on the Jewish street when the Germans set the synagogue on fire. We ran to a neighbor, from where we looked out through a window. Suddenly, my father shouted, “Children, look. The Holy Ark is falling down.”

We heard a shot. People who tried to save the Torah scrolls fell victim. All of us neighbors went out to our neighbor Yechezkel Kadecki, where we sat down in fear for the entire night.

The next morning, the murderers imposed a contribution upon us Jews as a fine for having set the synagogue on fire.

I recall further details of the first sadistic murderous deeds of the Germans. The Gestapo ran about in the slaughterhouse, where they found my father slaughtering a hen. One of the thieves ran to him, ripped the knife away from him, pushed him away and shouted, “Do you not know that slaughtering is forbidden.” Then the murderer ripped out my father's beard together with some flesh. He was dripping with blood, and the murderer laughed out loud from his great enjoyment.

My father came home all bloodied, and called out, “Blessed is he who revives the dead, I was saved from their hands.”

I recall another incident, which took place on Rosh Hashanah. They gathered together a considerable number of householders, including my father and our neighbor Yechezkel Kadecki, and sent them to the market to clean the busses. The Germans mocked the Jews and sadistically beat them, only leaving them alone in the evening.

My father once again came home

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beaten, wearing bloodied clothes. His beard was shorn, and he had two bloodied eyes from the beatings. That is how we spent our Jewish holidays and weekdays until the expulsion.

The expulsion day began with alarms and shots from the Gestapo. All the Jews had to present themselves in the market near the Magistrate. We stood for the second day. We put some jewelry in a pillow, so it might help us in a time of need. As we arrived in the market, we were no longer among the well-pedigreed. Jews were already waiting with packs, sacks, pillows and mantles, with young and old children, the elderly and the sick. It was a drab scene, which causes me to shudder even today as I recall it.

The sorrowful group was prodded onto the train. There, we waited for the neighboring towns of Żuromin and Bieżuń. Together, we traveled on our way to Pomiechówek. As we traveled, we heard shots and alarms from the wagons. The shots were from the Gestapo murderers. I recall the heartrending scenes at every incident of shooting by the murderers. My father and other Jews shouted out “Shema Yisrael” at every such incident and bid each other farewell.

They let us out in a field and ordered us to strip naked. They robbed us of what we had, murderously beat us, and prodded us on with beatings through Jablona, Nowy Dwór to Warsaw.

We did not remain in Warsaw for long. My older brother took us to Ciechanów. The expulsion had not yet taken place in the town. From Ciechanów, my brother and I went over to Soviet territory. There, we found our younger brother. We consulted regarding how to bring over our parents. However, it was too late, for the borders were already closed. The Russians sent my brother and me to Archangelsk. We do not know anything about what happened to our other brother. We worked at cutting wood in the forests of Archangelsk. That is the way things were for a year and a half. Then, they sent us to Central Asia to “warm up” in a cotton kolkhoz [collective farm].

Forty deportees lived with us. We worked very hard. We approached a food “Makoycha” for cattle, and with some sort of greeting, we called it Libedo. As we were picking the cotton at work, we “approached” somewhat with the kernels that we had removed from the cotton. There was a bit of oil in it[3]. Every day, the number of people ill with dysentery increased. The illness ended the lives of many. Among them was my brother Yisraelik, who died with the same death from hunger. After his death, the true tribulations began for me: lonely, homeless, hungry, and epidemics all around. A person would indeed be stronger than iron if he could hold out.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Buna was a subcamp of Auschwitz. Return
  2. Kaufering camps were a series of subcamps of Dachau. Return
  3. These two sentences are a bit convoluted, and I cannot parse the exact meaning. But it seems that there was some storehouse for animal fodder which may have been somewhat edible, or perhaps some person who distributed animal feed. They exchanged some of the cotton seed for some food that was edible by humans. Return


German Cruelty and the Tormented Life
as a Refugee in the Soviet Union

by Beila Rabinowicz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My father was a cantor and shochet [ritual slaughterer] in Sierpc. He studied the cantorial arts from the famous cantor Gershon Sirota[1]. My father practiced as a cantor in Sierpc from 1907 until 1939, the time of the misfortune of the German annihilation of the Jews. My childhood was spent in the Beis Yaakov School and ended in a public school. I eventually found my societal place in the Hashomer Hatzair educational youth movement.

I will never forget the great fire that spread through the Jewish street when the Germans set the synagogue on fire. We ran to a neighbor. From there, we looked out the window. Suddenly, my father shouted, “Children, look. The Holy Ark is tumbling down.”

We heard a shot. Victims who ran to save the Torah scrolls fell. All the neighbors, including us, went out to our neighbor Yechezkel Kadecki, where we sat in fear for the entire night.

The next morning, the murderers imposed a contribution upon the Jews as a fine upon us for burning down the synagogue…

I recall other details from the first sadistic murderous deeds of the Germans. The Gestapo ran into the slaughterhouse and found my father slaughtering a hen. One of the robbers ran around and ripped away the knife, pushed him away and shouted out, “Do you not know that slaughtering is forbidden?” Then the murderer ripped off my father's beard together with some flesh. Blood spurted, and the murderer laughed out loud with wild enjoyment.

My father came home bloodied and called out, “Blessed is He who revives the dead, and saved me from their hands.”

I recall another incident. It was Rosh Hashanah. A considerable group of householders, including my father and my neighbor Yechezkel Kadecki, were gathered together and brought to the market to clean the buses. The Germans mocked the Jews and beat them sadistically. They only let them go toward evening.

My father once again came home

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beaten and with bloodied clothing. His beard had been shorn, and he had two black eyes from the beatings. That is how our holy days as well as our weekdays passed until the expulsion.

The expulsion day began with alarms and shots from the Gestapo. All the Jews had to assemble themselves in the market near the Magistrate. We had to stand there for a second day. We put some jewelry into a pouch and took it with us as a means of salvation in case of need. When we arrived at the market, we were no longer among those in a good station of life. Jews were already waiting with packages, sacks, pouches, and cloaks. There were younger and older children, old and sick people. It was a dire picture that makes me shudder even today as I remember it.

The sorrowful procession was prodded to the train. There, we waited for neighboring towns: Zuromin and Biezun. Together we travelled on the way to torment. As we traveled, we heard shots and alarms over the wagons. The shots were from the Gestapo murderers. I remember the heartrending scenes at each shot from the murderers. My father and other Jews called out each time “Shema Yisrael.” People were speaking with each other.

They let us off in a field and ordered us to strip naked. They robbed all of our possessions, beat us murderously, and prodded us on further to Jablonna, Nowy Dwór and onward to Warsaw with beatings.

We did not remain in Warsaw for long. My older brother took us over to Ciechanow. The deportation had not occurred in that town. From Ciechanow, my brother and I moved over to Soviet territory. There we met up with our younger brother.

We attempted to bring our parents over, but it was already too late. The borders were already closed. The Russians took my brother and me to Archangelsk. We no longer heard anything about our other brother. A year and a half passed in that manner. Then, we were sent to Central Asia to “warm up” in a cotton-growing kolkhoz [collective farm].

Forty evacuated people lived with us. We worked very hard. We were nourished by a food called “Makvicha” for animals and with a sort of grit that we called libeda. At work, when we picked flax from the field, we “nourished” ourselves a bit with the kernels that we removed from the flax. They had a bit of oil in them. The number of people ill with dysentery increased by the day. Many people's lives ended because of the illness. My brother Yisraelik was among those whose lives ended with that same death from hunger. After his death, the true tribulations began for me: loneliness, homelessness, hunger, and general epidemics. A person who could hold up through all this was indeed stronger than iron.


Translator's Footnote

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gershon_Sirota Return


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One Occurrence from Among Many

by Chava Digala

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I recall the day, the tragic day. It was on January 16, 1942, when the remaining Jews from the surrounding towns were gathered together. They sent us to the Strzegowo Ghetto.

After a year in the ghetto, we heard the dismal news that they were going to kill us all. I decided to escape from the ghetto with my two children, my sister, and three orphaned children of another sister who had perished in the ghetto, and whose husband had been killed in a concentration camp.

We escaped in the middle of the night of November 1, 1942. Hela Izakowicz also fled with us. We arrived in the Sierpc district. There, we all separated. Each of us had to save ourselves separately. I cannot describe the pain that I suffered when I had to part from my two young children. Each set out on a different path. I did not see my children for several months, and they were not together with each other.

Fate had it that I and my elder son survived, whereas my younger son Shmuel was killed by the hand of the murderous Germans four months before liberation. My sister Lea became ill, and there was nothing with which to save her from the arms of death. My sister's son was murdered like the others. We were liberated in the Sierpc district, and we met up with each other after the liberation. We came to Sierpc, where we found a few more Jews. Around us it was a ruin and a cemetery. After a few months, we decided to go to Germany in order to travel from there to our homeland.


On the Verge of Extermination

by Yaakov ben Shlomo Juzelewski

Translated by Alex Weingarten

The terminal, the last station of life. This is the station that is “honorably” situated at the foot of the snowy Carpathian Mountains, glistening white from great distances. A station that contains within it a complete history, a tragic history of a people led to slaughter, a history etched in blood and torment. The station that had not yet recovered from the horror scene of the previous night, but was roused again by the same feverish activity that augurs only evil. The prey dash madly as if accompanied by the shadow of the Angel of Death. It was not easy to dispel the strange and awful impression that every corner heralded the coming of death. From every side, lustful eyes that “looked and didn't see” watched with revenge, a pathetic revenge against enemies that only yesterday were friends that fought shoulder to shoulder against a common foe.

That same town at the foot of the Carpathians, Auschwitz, was again awakened to the sound of the wheels of the passing train with its living cargo going to extermination. The citizens of the town knew, from the registry of those living in their country, the number of “Kikes” that had been sentenced to annihilation. Again and again they smiled at the calamitous end of the innocent victims. Again and again, that “noble” nation revealed its true face. Not the slightest pangs of conscience about the enormous offense committed in their motherland or the eternal stain that covers their hands because of this crime.

The train slowed down. Gray freight cars, full of people who had just been deprived of any power to resist and any will to live. Shut off and surrounded, detached from any means of existence, destroyed both spiritually and physically. People who had left nothing behind, except for anonymous graves where their loved ones were buried, victims of torment and suffering, victims of plagues and murders who, in spite of all the horrors, at least received a burial. These poor souls stand, squeezed against each other, pressing their young ones to their breasts, as if to protect them from wild beasts. Terror and fear are in their eyes, and on their lips, a prayer.

Prayer - no! It was a silent scream, the scream of a human being about to die. The silent scream of the victim in the hands of his killer. A silent scream that, even if it were voiced, would not have been heard by the rulers of the world.

The squeal of the brakes and a sudden shift: horrendous yelling of uniformed men accompanied by barking dogs brought the victims face to face with the grim reality. Blows to the head and bites by hungry dogs, like “masters who declared themselves the superior race, the bearers and representatives of world culture,” these added to the fright and panic in the hearts of the oppressed and shocked travelers; screams; howling and cries for help. The voices of infants calling for their parents when they were in the hands of those who had torn them away; severed heads everywhere. The place was like a slaughter house for human beings.

Knocks and kicks, blows to the heads of children and elderly, rending of children from their parents, shots to the heads of old men along with screams, contempt, and curses. This is what those thousands faced on that morning, shadows of human beings, lost and cut off from the rest of the world.

The Angel of Death reaped his harvest. They passed in front of him like a flock of sheep, and received their sentence. And he, with his furious eyes and thunderous voice, raised his sickle and brought it down pitilessly on young and old, man and woman. With one stroke, families were separated, children from parents, husbands from wives. One by one, they passed in their final parade, with their terrified eyes, searching and yearning, looking at the groups arranged in files, testing and examining the surroundings. Maybe, perhaps, they will meet someone. To gaze for a final time at the most loved one. To take leave with a silent glance forever.

The marchers disappeared in the dense thickets (as if planted to hide the great terror and horrors) on their way to eternity. Silent and mourning, their eyes weeping and their lips trembling, their legs walked down the narrow path as they surveyed their surroundings. On every side they met the glances of their enemies and murderers.

The gates opened wide, and the large yard swallowed the sacrifices.

Above the treetops, the tall smokestacks stood out, belching tongues of flame and smoke. The tongues of flame were there all day and all night. All day and all night, the pure souls of the holy martyrs who were suffocated in the gas chambers ascended skyward.

The portals of the world didn't tremble, and the day was not darkened by the smoke and fire that rose, carrying the souls of children and elders, men and women, who wait up high for their salvation.

The final station, Auschwitz - the place where our nation tragically lost a third of its sons, and where our parents and brothers and sisters from the community of Sierpc also died. The place will be cursed forever. The nation that raised sons who could perform such horrendous crimes will be cursed, and the nation that aided them will also be cursed.


Wartime Memories

by Binem Maj

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My parents -- my father Moshe Aharon, my mother Freida -- my brother Shmuel and I lived in Sierpc prior to the war, in a small wooden house near the synagogue. The house was an inheritance from generation to generation. My Uncle Berman, who also lived there in that house in good health, was also a partner in that inheritance.

My father, Jew for all seasons, worshipped in the old Beis Midrash during the week, and in his usual place in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He earned his livelihood from his business by selling fancy goods on the street. My mother also assisted with the livelihood. We lived on meager means. From my childhood, I recall that my father was always occupied with Torah and books, and my mother would often ask, “What will be the end of sitting and learning in the house if there is no livelihood?” My father would answer that learning is also a “livelihood,” for one can see from the Torah how little a person needs to have.

Aside from religious books, my father also read newspapers and books. He had premonitions of the Second World War and also predicted the terrible suffering that the Jews would endure during the war years. When I was in the midst of Hitler's tortures and the extermination camps, I recalled my father's speech.

As I have already mentioned, we were two brothers in the house, in whom our parents placed great hope that we would grow up, and whose earnings would help ease the very difficult situation. Unfortunately, things turned out entirely differently. We did not bring them any joy, and did not ease the livelihood. On the contrary, they had to worry about us.

I, the elder son Binem, went out at age 13 to learn a trade. I joined the left leaning Poale Zion Party[1]. My parents did not like this at all. However, I must tell the truth. I received an entirely different education in Poale Zion, which served me well during the time of torment in the German extermination camps.

My spiritual mentors in Poale Zion were Itshe Binem Rosenberg, Eliahu Grossman, Pesach Grossman, the Feinberg brothers, and other members whose names I no longer recall. Unfortunately, none of them survived the onslaught of Hitler's Germany. There were murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto along with the thousands of other Jews. Honor to their memory!

My brother Shmuel joined the same group. Our thoughts began to turn toward the future. Anti-Semitism, from which we suffered greatly as children, was rampant in Poland. Therefore, we began to think about going to the Land of Israel.

Within a period of time, we decided at home that one of us would go to a kibbutz and go through the Hachshara [formal aliya preparations], so that he could go to the Land of Israel. I, the older brother, would work in the meantime to earn the amount necessary for a certificate[2].

Shmuel indeed went out to “Hechalutz Haklal

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Hatzioni” [ General Zionist Poineers]. After several months, he was sent to Lomza, and was one of the first founders of that Hachshara depot. He worked hard physically; however his ideal became even stronger. I helped him from time to time with my earnings. However, unfortunately, he became overly vital to the party. They saw him as a person full of energy, love and life, dedicated to the Zionist ideal. They appointed him as the organizer of other kibbutz Hachshara depots in the district of Łodz, Zgierz, and Zduńska Wola.

That is how his youth passed. He spent six years in the kibbutzim. In the interim, others went to the Land of Israel, while he remained behind forging a path for us. Time marched on. The war between Poland and Germany began. I then saw him and was together with him for the last time. He had already obtained a certificate, but it was unfortunately too late. I received a draft notice from the Polish Army to be prepared to enlist and be ready for the war against Germany. They did not let my brother leave Poland.

The war broke out with lightning speed. I fought at the Modlin Fortress[3]. However, after one month of fighting, I was taken into captivity with all the others. I remained in captivity until 1940. At that time, a command was issued that all Jewish soldiers are to be freed. We understood that they were going to kill all the Jews together.

They did indeed free us, but I no longer had a home, for our town Sierpc had already been Judenrein[4] for a long time. In Lublin, I found out that all the Jews from the towns of the Warsaw region were now residing in Warsaw. I sneaked into Warsaw, and after a great deal of searching, I found my parents -- my father, my mother, my aunt Berman and her son Yisraelik, my daughter-in-law and her child, my daughter Dina and her husband, as well as many other people from our city.

My father had so greatly changed throughout the entire time that I could barely recognize him. He was broken from tribulations, hunger, and the living conditions of twenty people in one house. He no longer wore the black Jewish cap out of fear that he beard might be cut off. My mother held up somehow. Unfortunately, I could not help my parents.

I learnt about the fate of my brother from my parents. When the Germans entered Sierpc, they arrested my brother and a certain number of other youths as Zionists. After several weeks in prison, they were sent to Białystok. He jumped out of a window of the moving train and fled to Vilna in a manner that I do not know.

In Vilna, he again founded a kibbutz, set up contact with fellow natives in America, with my Berman cousins, and also with Zionist circles who helped him. From time to time, he sent packages of food and money to my parents.

I realized that Warsaw was not for me, and I decided, with the knowledge of my parents, that I must get out of there. Since I was still dressed in military garb, I set out by foot pretending to be an invalid, to whom

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the Germans behaved properly. Thus did I arrive in Plock, but I did not have energy to go further.

A short time later, I received the news that my father Moshe Aharon had died in the hospital. This was in 1940, two weeks before Passover. The reason for his death was understandable: he could not withstand the tribulations, hunger and weakness. All of this precipitated his premature death. I received no news about what was happening with my mother. Apparently, she was killed along with many thousands of other Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. I also found out that my only brother was also killed in the Vilna Kibbutz when Hitler's soldiers took over the city.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Poale Zion had split into left leaning and right leaning factions. Return
  2. Certificates were issued by the Zionist authorities to authorize aliya. At times, there were restricted quantities of certificates available. Return
  3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modlin_Fortress Return
  4. Nazi terminology for an area emptied of Jews. Return


My Experiences in the Soviet Union

by Avraham Majerance (Meron)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My parents arrived in Warsaw after the expulsion from Sierpc. My father Binyamin arranged accommodations with his Warsaw merchants on Franczyskan Street, and worked a bit with Uncle Chaim Senderowicz at collecting nails that were scattered around after the German bombardment of Warsaw.

My mother Beila and young sister Rivka Feiga were put up with a distant relative on Brony Platz. My lot was to be the go–between. At that time, I was 16 years old, healthy, and nimble. I fearlessly set out by foot from Sierpc. I endured many difficulties in obtaining some clothing, underwear, and money for my suffering family. After a two week arrest in the Gestapo dungeon on Stadolna Street, I succeeded by chance in escaping to Płock by foot.

My father's family in Płock took interest in my fate. Since they were still in their place and had money, they gave me several hundred zloty. After a few difficult days and nights walking by foot and avoiding the German patrols along the way, I arrived in Warsaw to my father. Above all, I was under the impression that the Germans were chasing me with dogs and shots. Along the way, I encountered large groups of Jewish youth who set out toward the German–Russian border that was located at the Bug at that time, and waited for a miracle to happen that would enable them to cross the river. I too thought of setting out along the same route.

In Warsaw, the Germans were snatching people for work and shooting at those who were fleeing. Various rumors were circulating among the refugees: they were going to starve all the Jews of Warsaw; all the provincial Jews would be concentrated in a ghetto.

I turned to my father with a request that he give me only 10 zloty and I would go to the Russian border.

“What, to the Bolsheviks!” my father shouted with a severe glance, “They are the same as the Germans.

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Furthermore, as an illegal refugee, they will treat you worse than a spy.”

I answered my father that this was the only way to save their lives.

“Good,” Father said, “I will give you 20 zloty. Part of it will be for the Polish border directors and the other part for the journey. Perhaps you are correct. Prepare for the journey and be successful. G–d should protect you.” He said this with tears in his eyes.

I set out on the journey immediately the next morning. I took a bit of underwear, food, and money. Father accompanied me to the Gdanska Station. We parted with great weeping. I entered the train that was full of Poles and Volksdeutchen. All of them were traveling to villages along the Bug that bordered Russia.

After a trip of a few hours, I arrived in Malkinia, the final station near the border. It was evening. Gestapo agents with armed agents met the passengers, and shone flashlights on all the people coming off the train.

“Jew or Pole,” the Gestapo men shouted loudly.

Tens of Jews were led away by the murderers, accompanied by a hail of blows over the head from whips, as well as shots. One Gestapo agent flashed the light into my face and asked, “Jew?”

“No, Pole,” I boldly answered.

This allowed me to blend myself amongst the farmers who lived along the Bug and follow them. I confided in one of the Polish smugglers and gave him 5 zloty to show me the way to cross the water border. The smuggler led me to the natural pass where thousands of people waited day and night, and he left me to cross alone.

Suddenly, there were shots from a German patrol. The reflectors lit up the area and bullets flew over the people. After lying on the ground for 15 minutes, I attempted to lift up my head, and a volley of bullets once again flew over me.

I wandered around further and did not know where the border was. I noticed a group who were going in the direction of the forest. I followed after the group step by step. Finally they were lost from my sight, and I remained in the field alone. I was afraid of making a step further. I lay down and slid on my stomach with my last strength, thereby approaching the forest.

Suddenly, I heard a shout, “Halt, hands up!” Two Russian solders with pointed guns and bayonets approached me. They led me into a small house and ordered me to turn toward the wall. After searching my knapsack, they ordered me to “go back.” They loaded the guns and threatened to shoot if I would not go back. I fell before the soldiers and, with a hysterical cry, begged them in Polish, “Let me live, or else shoot me, but do not send me back to the German murderers.”

“No,” shouted the soldier and poked me in the calf with the gun, “Go back.”

I went back about 100 meters, and after three times of not succeeding to steal across the Soviet border,

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that same night, I succeeded in crossing the border on the fourth attempt, before dawn. This was possible thanks to the Polish border guards whom I noticed coming after me.

“You want to cross over into Russia?” he asked me, “Go along the way and be successful.”

I thanked him and crawled further on my stomach. That is how I succeeded in going along the way without anyone noticing me. I was bold and began to run. I went onto a side path and went boldly, with joy. After a few hours of walking, I found many refugees who were going along the way to Bialystock.

The next day, I arrived by train in Bialystock, the Jewish center of Polish refugees. I knew that all the Sierpc refugees were gathered in a certain synagogue. I went to the synagogue, where I was joyfully greeted by my fellow natives. I found tens of my friends from Sierpc. These were friends with whom I had studied in the Tarbut School.

Days and weeks passed. The Sierpc group grew with fresh refugees. In the interim, I learned to speak a bit of Russian and got to know some Russian officers. They invited me into their homes and helped me with various necessities. I often went to a certain Russian family. They treated me warmly. I knew that the head of the family was a high officer in the N.K.V.D.

“You are a good lad. It is better for you to go deep into Russia. There you will be a free citizen, and will certainly survive,” the N.K.V.D. officer told me with goodwill.

I understood the hint. It meant that something could happen to the refugees in the cities near the border. The authorities might deport the non–secure elements.

 

Working Deep Inside Russia

At the beginning of 1940, I voluntary registered to travel to work deep into Russia. I signed a contract for a year of work with the Ministry of Construction. I traveled to the city of Zlatoust in the Ural region deep in Russia with a transport of several thousand people.

The long journey from Bialystock to Ural, a distance of approximately 4,000 kilometers, lasted for over a month. Forty to fifty of us were crowded into a single wagon. We travelled in lamentable sanitary conditions. We received food rations from the echelon leaders. I had the impression that we were like a flock of sheep being led from Europe to Asia.

Approximately 3,000 young workers of various nationalities – Jews, Poles, White Russians and Ukrainians – were occupied with building a new strategic point for the “24th Construction Trust,” ten kilometers from Zlatoust. The barracks and general kitchen were already built. I was assigned living quarters with ten “cavalry” in one room. We had our meals

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at the general kitchen (stolovka) three times a day.

The aim of the Soviet Construction Ministry was that the newly arrived workers would build tens of ammunition factories within the next three years. My work during the first three days of the “Ploshtshtake” was very difficult: digging pits deep in the ground. Digging a cubic meter of rocky soil took from five to six hours. After ending the work, I was able to purchase from the general kitchen a soup with 200 grams of bread three times a day.

The Russian overseer would always shout, “Work quickly.” The cold in the winter was 40 degrees. The clothing that I received there was too light for the climate. One had to get up very early for work and certainly one could not be late. Lateness could result in a trial with a prison sentence.

I went to work hungry and without energy day by day. When I went home to the wooden barrack, a cold wind penetrated the wooden walls and rafters. The nights were much worse. We slept on wooden beds stacked two cots high, and we were often so frozen that we could not feel some parts of our body. I fell asleep weeping, dreaming of my former home and my beloved parents who were under the hand of the German murderers.

I survived the “Ploshtshtake” for several months. The hunger prodded me to seek ways to improve the situation. Through various connections with the kitchen officials I received a side serving of noodles or buckwheat with my soup. I received recognition from the administrative directors and obtained a pledge from them to free me from work. It remained a pledge. I worked at many workplaces throughout the year.

A terrifying occurrence gave me the possibility of leaving the workplace. Early one morning, I was standing alone on the high scaffolding of the work site. Suddenly I could no longer feel my ears, hands and feet. I shouted to my overseer to take me down. I came down, with my frozen body parts covered in snow. All of my toes were frozen.

I was sent to the hospital, and was discharged after several weeks of recovery. I then asked the authorities to release me from the hard labor.

The local authorities sent my request to the N.K.V.D. office with an appeal to grant me a Soviet five–year pass. After receiving the Soviet pass, I was freed from the work camp and I set out on my way to Ukraine, where the largest concentration of Russian Jews was located. I arrive in Kharkov and met many good Jews there who helped me get myself set up and live normally and freely. I spent four good months in the large city of Kharkov. I did not imagine that

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here too, the danger of the destruction of Russian Jewry was approaching.

On July 22, 1941, Moscow radio announced that the German air force had bombarded Kiev, and Hitler had declared war on Russia. At the same time, the German army had crossed the borders, destroyed the fortresses and marched into White Russia and Ukraine. The Kharkov population was overtaken by a great panic. They were saying that the Red Army would mount a decisive resistance against the enemy in Kharkov.

I wandered through the city streets and noticed that life had become paralyzed. I was saved by death through a “miracle” when the German aviators bombarded the main Kharkov railway station. During the bombardment, military vehicles evacuated the families of high army rank. All of the regime offices and everything else were transported deep into Russia.

My Kharkov acquaintances prepared to set out on a journey to Central Asia. They asked me whether I was prepared to flee. “Unfortunately no, “I answered, “I must first sell my belongings in order to obtain the several thousand rubles that I would need for the journey.”

My friends advised me to leave Kharkov immediately, for the Germans were 30 kilometers from the city.

I finally decided to leave Kharkov and sat on the steps on the last wagon of the last train that was to leave the city. German airplanes bombarded the last train. A few wagons were crushed. However, the rear part of the train, where I was sitting on the steps, did not suffer. After various difficulties fraught with mortal danger, I arrived at the central gathering place, about 200 kilometers from Kharkov. From there, I set out on the long journey to Central Asia. I went from one train to another, traveling in uncovered wagons under the open sky, through wind and cold. I ate a bit of warm soup and dry, black bread that the Russian workers gave me.

My difficult journey lasted for two months until I arrived at Alma Ata. Life was normal there, in the large city. The local authorities had not been informed about me, and I had to leave the city within three days. The only way was to register in a kolkhoz.

I spent time in several kolkhozes for three months. It was difficult me to get accustomed to the Uzbek primitive life. The military commissars recommended that I travel back to the former place of Zlatoust, where I had received the five–year pass. I had to follow their advice. I was now back in the Ural region. I tried my luck once again in Sverdlosk and succeeded in setting myself up there. I encountered great difficulties, and set out to Zlatoust, where a Russian photographer who was an acquaintance helped me get set up in the city.

 

The Difficult Life in the Work Unit

At the beginning of 1942, when the Russian Army endured a difficult crisis,

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the military authorities mobilized all active and not active people to military service in work units. Tradesmen were enlisted into the military factories. I too, one of the military undesirables, was mobilized into the “Stroy Battalion.” I was affiliated with the large “Military Metallurgical and Copper Plant,” and was designated as a “stolivar.” I had to stand by a 2000 degree oven and mold iron.

I worked 14 hours every day. The authorities demanded a 120 percent quota, as Stalin had ordered. Fifty percent of the workers were Russian woman in men's work clothes. Many workers suffered a loss of energy due to the poor food. The “stakhanovches[1] who produced more than 150% of the quota received a glass of milk with 100 grams of bread above the normal rations, and sometimes also a “goulash.” I would help out the waitresses and canteen administrators in various ways.

All the workers received soup with buckwheat and 800 grams of bread three times a day. Everyone lived together in a wooden barrack. Almost every day at the roll call, when the lieutenant called out the names of the camp list of those who were going to work, a few people were missing. Finally, the control would find dead, swollen, Russians lying on the cots.

 

In the Red Army

For me, 1942 was the worst time. I was suffering physically and my morale was low. The latest news from Poland regarding the liquidation of the ghettos by the Germans strengthened my desire for revenge. My goal was to enlist in the Red Army and go immediately to the front in order to fight against the Germans. At that time, a voluntary Ural tank corps was formed. I presented a request to be taken along with all the volunteers, but received a denial due to two reasons: I was a Polish immigrant and I was needed by the factory, which was working for the front.

At the end of 1942, I along with other Polish Jews from the factory succeeded in enlisting in the Red Army. To that end, we turned to the Ministry of War in Moscow and received the following response from Stalin's secretariat: “We have compassion on you, and we are prepared to grant you the opportunity to take revenge for the spilled Jewish blood.”

My first military reserve point was in the city of Sumy (Ukraine). Thousands of volunteer Poles were formed there into the First Polish Division, which was organized by Wanda Wasilewska and Colonel Berling[2]. I was later sent back to Russia to a military school in the city of Volsk near Saratov.

After eight months of military education, I served as an under–officer commander in the Second Polish Division that was already at the Bug at that time.

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Lublin had been taken by the Russian forces and I arrived in Włodawa, a town near Lublin, with my division. From time to time, I traveled to Lublin, where the headquarters of the Polish military was located.

One fine day as I was walking along the main street, I encountered a familiar face. I ran closer and recognized my cousin David Senderowicz. We kissed each other with joy and wept as we recalled our near death.

“Avraham,” my cousin said to me, “Take off your uniform and let us escape to Romania, and from there to the Land of Israel.”

“No,” I responded, “my conscience does not permit me to desert the military. I owe a debt to the murderers: Revenge!”

At that time, the Germans mounted a strong resistance in Poland. All of the Polish military forces were concentrated around Warsaw to help the Red Army. We prepared ourselves and set out for the German front. Our division received an order from the general headquarters to march to the First “Byelorussian” Front.

I followed the orders of my officers. Every step was accompanied by fire. The main battles took place at night. We were already fighting on German soil. I went through German villages and cities, and I looked at the burning houses and automobiles with a gleeful feeling of revenge. Instead of streets, there were hills with stones. Instead of Germans, hungry dogs and cats were roaming around. We destroyed tens of villages. We went from one battle to the next. I got accustomed to life on the front.

One of the most difficult military experiences came behind the Niesse (Oder Niesse). The Germans sent storm units into battle – the well–known Russian “Vlasovches[3]. I was surrounded by them, without water or bread, several times. After a heroic assault battle, we broke through and realized that the final victory of the enemy was near. I found murdered Jews in a few places from which we pushed out the Germans. They had been taken captive by the Germans and had poked–out eyes, and cut –off noses and ears.

The general victory over the Germans approached. Hundreds of German officers and soldiers fell captive to us. We found out from them that the Germans were retreating with great panic and fear of the Red Army. Many of them ran over to the Americans. The situation was similar to 1939 with the difference that at that time, the Polish soldiers were fleeing on the highways of Poland. Finally, we received the joyous news that the German general command had surrendered.

 

After the War, In Destroyed Jewish Sierpc

In April 1945, I returned to the city of Kalusz in Poland with my division. The Polish population greeted us enthusiastically. I became affiliated with the political division. The command was in Ostrów Wielkopolski. I received a two week furlough after three months of service, so that I could visit my native

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city. At the same time, the Polish anti–Semites raised their heads and began to murder Jews. The epidemic of anti–Semitism also spread in the military divisions. There was a hatred of Jewish officers who had received medals. Attacks against Jewish military personnel began. One night, I was shot with an automatic weapon by the fascist AKA personnel (AKA – Armia Krajowa[4] – the underground Polish army). This forced me to end my relationship with my office in the Polish military and to find a new path for the future.

During my furlough in July 1945, I visited my town of Sierpc, to see with my own eyes what had been described. When I arrived at the Sierpc railway station, I was surrounded by many Poles. They were impressed by my Polish uniform decorated with medals. Many of them accompanied me to the Jewish committee, which consisted of eight Jews.

I found several Jews in Sierpc, among them several customers of our shop. We wept over the great destruction. I arrived at Daszinski Street, where I was born and had lived for 16 years. The street was empty. There were no Jews there. My heart wept inside. I raised my revolver and shot three shots in memory of the martyrs. Tens of Poles gathered together at the sound of the shots. I declared to them that I was born right there on the Jewish Street in 32 Daszinski, and had lived there for 16 years until the destruction. Give honor to our holy martyrs!

A silence overcame everyone. They removed their hats from their heads.

After a two day visit, I left my unforgettable city of Sierpc forever. My only thought and aim when leaving Sierpc was – to search for a home. All of my thoughts concentrated on the primary point: to be among our brethren and among Jewish military people fighting for a Jewish homeland. I left the Polish army after the end of my two week furlough.

I went to Wrocław, and then went to the Russian–America border as a civilian. I was arrested by the Russian border patrol and held under strict guard in a penal bunker. The Russian officers interrogated me and freed me after several weeks of arrest. The Russian guard led me to the American guard. That same night, I found myself in the American Zone. I immediately traveled to Munich by train.

I lived in the large German museum where the Nazi leader used to conduct his hateful speeches against Jews. I received assistance from the Zionist institutions.

In August 1945, I was sent to the Fernwald Jewish D.P. Camp near Munich. The aim of most of the survivors was to immigrate across the ocean to their relatives in America.

In 1946–1947, I tried to sneak across the Austrian–Italian border several times in order to immigrate illegally to the Land of Israel. All of my attempts

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failed. My material situation worsened. I often fell into despair. I felt superfluous to the world. I could not do business with others, because I had nothing with which to do so. I returned illegally to Munich and met other Sierpc natives. We connected mutually and singularly with the Assistance and Relief organization of America, from which we received great support. I will never forget our brothers in America for their material help that the Sierpc survivors received, and for the enthusiastic and encouraging letters from Mordechai Reshatka, Max Tzina, and Leib Mintz.

The illegal immigration from Europe to the Land of Israel became more prominent at the beginning of 1948. I was among the voluntarily mobilized Hagana personnel who made Aliya prepared to fight for the Jewish State.

I left Marseilles in April 1948. After four months of military exercises, I arrived at the shores of my homeland, the Land of Israel, with a Hagana transport.

We were let out near Akko with small boats. We arrived in Haifa. After a medical examination, I was sent to a military camp with the rest of the mobilized comrades. I was sent to the Latrun military point, on the way to Jerusalem, after being in the Land for three days. The Arab Legion threw its best energies on Al–Kabab and along the way to Hulda. My unit mounted a decisive resistance that brought many victims. I hovered between death and life for a long time, until the armistice.

After a year of serving in the Israel Defense Forces, I was discharged from the military on May 15, 1949. I settled in Tel Aviv – the final stop of my long journey. Here, in the liberated State of Israel, I laid down the foundations of my family home.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakhanovite_movement Return
  2. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Polish_Army_(1944%E2%80%931945) , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanda_Wasilewska and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zygmunt_Berling Return
  3. The Russian Liberation Army, an anti–Communist group of Russians aligned with the Nazis. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Liberation_Army Return
  4. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armia_Krajowa Return


On The Ruins of Sierpc

by Y. Frenkel

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I left the town in 1937. After that, I was called up to the army. In 1938, I received a furlough. Much had changed in the town during the year that I had been away. The impending war was already sensed. Anti–Semitism strengthened. The “Awszem–Politik” of Premier Składkowski[1] left difficult marks on the life in the town. The ban on Jewish shechita by Madame Prystor[2] also did not pass over our town. The only theme under discussion was “war.” Everyone felt

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that something was going to happen, and everyone knew that no good would come from the entire uncomfortable situation.

I returned to the army after the furlough. Our military unit was sent to the front immediately on the first day. In a small grove near Garwolin, I met my acquaintances Yaakov Waldenberg and Shmuel Czarna. I spent some time together with Czarna because he became ill, but my duty in the military called, and we parted.

I fell into Soviet captivity, and was sent to Russia as a Polish soldier. There, I found out by chance that they had expelled the Jews from Sierpc and sent them to Warsaw. I immediately contacted my family by mail and received a response that they were suffering from hunger. I sent a packet of food with my last money; however, I received no response.

The war between the Soviet Union and Germany broke out on July 21. I had not heard anything for two years and did not know what was going on with the Jews in Poland. The first terrible news about the mass annihilation of Polish Jewry reached us in 1943. I enlisted as a volunteer in the army together with hundreds of other Jewish men. Unfortunately, I was not accepted in the army, and remained in Ural.

One fine day, I heard on the radio that Warsaw had been liberated. A few days later, I heard that my native town of Sierpc had also been cleansed of the German military. Joy blended with endless pain overtook me. I already had detailed information that the Jews of Sierpc had been annihilated, and nobody survived. I could not conceive of and could not believe that they could poison people and then burn them. Since I was unable to travel to Poland, I wrote a letter to the Sierpc city hall with a question about my family. I did not receive any response. I continued to live and wait for the day when I could travel to Poland and find out precisely what happened with my family.

The war ended. The long awaited day came. I arrived in Poland on March 22, 1946. My first destination was Sierpc. When the train approached my town, I felt my heart turn to stone. Who knows what I would find there? I saw many carriages at the railway station. It seemed to me that I saw the old, well–known carriages of Mendele Tac, Shmuel Paseh, and others. However, as I came nearer, I saw that they were only Christians. There was not one Jew among them.

I went into town on foot. Every Christian looked at me as if I had horns. The Christian districts of the city were whole. Only the Jewish quarter was completely destroyed. Christians lived in every Jewish house, and they utilized the Jewish property. Every Jewish business had been turned over to Christian hands.

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The destruction of Jewish Sierpc was evident at every step. The destruction was most poignant for me when I found the few surviving Jews, such as Yaakov Skornik, Dr. Szampan, Roza Motil Lofka from Żuromin, and Hela Izikowicz. All together, we were not even ten. The stories of the survivors were horrifying. Dr. Szampan told me how Yosel Prosznicki committed suicide, and how Dvora Rizowa died. Their stories were terrifying.

The next morning, the three of us, Dr. Szampan, Yaakov Skornik, and I, went through the town. We passed by the shop of Nathan Tac, who had done so many favors for Jews and Gentiles, and who was tragically murdered in the ghetto. Yechiel Meir Bergson, Yisachar Bergson, Aharon Lipka Lidzbarski and others came to mind.

At the bridge, everyone recalled his family. We silently walked through the Jewish lane, which was once bustling with Jewish life and Jewish creativity, and was so cruelly cut off. A shudder went through all of us as we thought about what happened with a Jewish town. We only found the old beis midrash, which the Poles and turned into a location for other purposes. We witnessed the destruction of Sierpc, and from every corner, an agonized voice shouted out, “Take revenge for our blood!”


Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: The politics of economic exclusion of the Jews, whose founder was the Polish Prime Minister of that time, General Sławoj Sładkowski. Return
  2. See http://www.jta.org/1936/03/06/archive/sejm–body–adopts–anti–shechita–bill–mme–prystor–assails–jews Return


After Everything, I Have Arrived…

by Avraham Tac

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Dedicated – to my father Shmuel Yitzchak
My mother Esther
My young brother Velvel ––
Of Blessed memory

In Sierpc After the Destruction

The train travelled quickly and got closer and closer to the small railway station of Sierpc.

A dream of years, of long years of travelling and loneliness. During those years, the town always stood in my imagination and enticed me with its inaccessibility, with its fantastic distance in time and geographic location… And now the train was racing along on that hot June day and carrying me closer and closer to my dream. It is no wonder that my heart was beating loudly, and that my breast was heaving so strongly that my breath was taken away.

Engrossed in my thoughts and mood, I did not notice that we were slowly sliding into the station, and that the terminal appeared before my eyes with the same inscription, the same

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spaciousness, the same ideal peacefulness, as it once was… as it once was…

However, why was I alone in the crowd of people, who were moving around with valises, baskets, and bags? Where were the Jews who were supposed to arrive on the same train? Tomorrow is Tuesday, and nobody would miss the market day. I looked around, and I did not see anyone. However, I felt their shadows and heard their steps as if they were returning from Warsaw and Łodz with valises, bags moving along, faster… faster…

The long street from the train to the city rolled away before me. It was once so strange to me, and remains so today. I was indifferent and cold toward it. My city – Jewish Sierpc – was further on. However, from nowhere, a building with a red, gothic roof pierced through my heart. The redness and the pointy roofs protruding skyward reminded one of the former householders to whose tastes those red, pointy roofs were built.

The city was nearing. There is Płocker Street with its houses as in former times. The old market looked to me like a mourner.

It was silent around.

A lonely automobile ran by with a loud screech that resounded and fell away somewhere. Then a farmer's wagon squeaked by. Then again, silence, silence…

I remember well every shop in the market as well as their former owners. There was the store of Noach Zilberberg. He knew how to draw and paint very well. I recall that during my childhood, I admired his factory painted tables. There was the shop of Naftali Libsohn. His son Avraham practiced Hassidism, traveled to the rebbe, and constantly studied.

From afar, I cast a glance at the Jewish Street. There, not far from the intersection, lived Shia Goldman, the man with the iron–clad, scholarly logic. There, on Fareh Lane, at the threshold of the low hut, Rivka Gotlibowski used to stand and discuss things with my mother opposite the balcony. A bit farther, deeper into the lane, lived Yaakov Moshe Tajtelbaum, the stringent Hassid. His little house had also disappeared like the neighboring ones. Only the house in which we lived remained. It stood somber and sad. New neighbors whispered something on the steps and cast curious, bold glances at me.

Nothing blocked the silent sunset, but the past still lives with me. I am a mourner, and my heart is filled with deep sorrow. My Sierpc Jews were murdered. They are no longer in Sierpc…

*

Morning came. The sun was already playing with the curtains of my window, and I thought above all of the former Jewish life that once flowed here.

I was close to the brook at the Jewish Street. The brook was possibly somewhat more beautiful on the other side, where it is surrounded by fine orchards and soft, green meadows.

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However, it was near and etched in my heart on the Jewish Street. That was where I went to cheder three times a day. There once was the small house of the rabbi, old and inclined, reflecting in the water. There, everything was crowded together. There was another row of houses on the right side, not leading to the bridge, where there would be a danger of slipping in the water. Once, this all was. Today, nothing is there. Everywhere there is empty space, which seems somewhat smaller, as if it is writhing in pain.

Only the old beis midrash stands.

It is faded, as if it grayed from so many Jewish tragedies. The boarded–up windows look blind and obscured. One can no longer hear voices from inside. There is no singing, no worshipping, no life. A deathly silence pervades the ruined, weakened four walls.

Perhaps only at night, when sleep covers the world with a veil of dreams, the holy congregation of Sierpc comes together in the old beis midrash and worships once again as it once was, as it once was…

This is one of the new Sierpc legends.

The Jewish Street, starting from the old beis midrash, sported a new sidewalk that led over the hills. However, this was not an ordinary sidewalk. Oh, no! Gravestones from our cemetery were used to pave the sidewalk. The holy stones of course had their letters facing downward – the square letters that for hundreds of years noted honorable Sierpc Jews and their modest wives after their passing.

I turned my gaze to the left and saw that the new beis midrash was missing. All that remained were the pyramid shaped, tall steps that led to the entrance from three sides.

In a night that will never be extinguished, my memory was full of all the Sierpc Jews in the world, Pinie the painter lay on the steps with a shot in the chest. He ran to save the burning synagogue and was running to the new beis midrash when he was felled by a German bullet. Pinie was a child of poor parents. His pale, sickly mother educated him as a scholar in Lithuanian yeshivas, so he was able to hold his own in learning with the best youths of the city… Pinie no longer lived when his synagogue burnt down.

Instead of the thin walls, the broad roof, and the majestic domes of our synagogue, I now see a blue horizon in the sunshine. Low grass now grows n the place of the Holy Ark, where there used to be wonderful carvings of people raising their hands heavenward in eternal prayer.

Looking this way, the synagogue flickered in my memory, as it flickered on that dark night together with its Torah scrolls.

*

Long, long, I tarried at the Jewish Street. I cannot shield myself from it. Jews lived there and flourished there during the centuries of Jewish existence. I left as if from a recent, dear grave.

The Mikva Lane could be seen clearly from there. No houses, no courtyards, no fences

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marked the place, as they once did. From the mikva, only the spring remained.

*

Long shadows already spread from one side of the street to the other when I secluded myself in my Holy of Holies – in my Fareh Lane. There I was born; from there the Germans chased me out. The panes of our windows peered at me mutely, as if they wanted to tell me something but could not. The linden trees on our lane had grown so tall that one could barely recognize them. They stand still and motionless. Even the ancient tall chestnut trees stand congealed with their green, majestic, crowns. I slink around my Fareh Lane. I enter a known house. With awe and respect, I listen to the whisper of generations emanating from the walls. My dreams turn over to the question of the new residents. Who are they? Where did they go? Do they remain here?

Slowly, night falls.

Dear, nearby shadows descend from every corner, from every alleyway. They peer at me mute and strange… I close my eyes and also become a shadow, just like them.


One Who Survived

by B. Dorfman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

After a few days with the Germans, I, together with a group of youths, crossed to the other side of the border. From there, I went to Białystok, and then went deeper into Russia, to Ural, together with the family of Hershel Glasman. However, I could not get myself acclimatized there or accustom myself to the new circumstances. I returned to Białystok. After a few months, I was arrested by the Russians and sent to a camp where I remained for two years.

I returned to Poland on June 20, 1946. I enlisted in the Hanoar Hatzioni Kibbutz in the city of Kielce.

Two weeks later, on July 4, 1946, the well–known, terrible Kielce Pogrom broke out. I was badly wounded.

I want to paint here a small picture of the pogrom, along with a few words about myself personally.

It was Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. The house where we lived was surrounded by the police. A crowd of approximately 10,000 people had gathered.

When the first military unit broke into the kibbutz, they led us all to the crowd that was shouting terrifying slogans before my eyes. In the first minutes, we attempted to mix into the crowd. However, I quickly received my first blow and lost consciousness. When I regained consciousness a bit, I again

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received sharp blows in the head, teeth, and eyes, with a gun, stones, and metal rods. I heard one of the pogromchiks saying to the other that they should shoot me. The other answered that it would be a waste of a bullet, for he will die in any case…

After regaining consciousness again, I went to the hospital in Kielce after three days. I remained there for a year. I endured two difficult operations and several smaller ones, and left as an invalid. I had lost an eye, and my vision in the other one is only 10%. I lost my teeth, and had broken three vertebrae, my nose, and my head.

I returned to the Hanoar Hatzioni Kibbutz in Lodz. After some time, I set out for France. On July 6, 1948, I arrived in the Land of Israel, in the middle of the battle with the Arabs.


Henryk Przenice

by Golda Goldman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The struggler for the freedom of Poland, murdered by Polish hooligans. The 23 year–old Chaim Nachum (Henryk) Przenice, the son of Shlomek and Dvora, was an officer in the Polish Army that was created in the Soviet Union (the Kosciuszko Army). Przenice took part in all of the victorious battles of that military formation against the Germans, and went all the way to Berlin.

The Jewish hero, decorated with awards, returned to Poland. There he was murdered by a band of “Chłopci z liaso”[1].

A dry, laconic, newspaper notice.

Henryk Przenice!

All of a sudden, there is a lightning bolt through my consciousness that evokes a sharp, prickly pain in my heart.

Heniek – the small, vivacious, pleasant Heniek. I remember his mischievous, urchin–like pranks when he would play in our yard, and our windowpanes were in peril. Later, I also knew him as a student in our local gymnasium, with his student cap pushed to one side, with battle ready flashes in his black, expressive, eyes. There, the thread of my experiences was interrupted, for Heniek disappeared from me, along with hundreds and thousands of other Henieks, Chaimels, Davids, Mosheles, Shlomoles, and many other names – through mother's tender darlings[2].

However, I did indeed run into Heniek by coincidence. I unfortunately saw him for the last time. I met Heniek as an officer in the victorious anti–Fascist Polish Army. He excelled boundlessly in the battles against the Nazi monster. Prior to his heroic death,

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he was decorated with high military honors.

Heniek came from beyond the legendary Stalingrad and arrived all the way to Berlin through a hellish fire. From there, a gnawing nostalgic feeling brought him back to his native Polish soil. However, there, he saw in despair that his work was far from over. The Nazi beast was not dead. It survived in the hearts of the Polish underground, the fascist anti–Semitic bands who licked one's fingers with the blood of six million murdered Jews, and were still not satisfied. They grit their teeth and lay in ambush in every corner.

Chaim Nachum Przenice went to a Jewish area, but he could not find his way back. His Polish environment was full of hatred and venom toward Jews. The 23–year–old Jewish hero paced through a city that celebrated the murder of all the Jews – not one remained in the city of Jewish murder – he was the one and only Jew there. He heard the steps of his murderer, but he could not leave his position. Torn away from his relatives and friends, he dragged himself alone on the Polish soil until the Polish underground bandits murdered him.

 

His Final Letter

Kałuszyn, June 28, 1946:

My dear and beloved ones!

Your letter that I received yesterday gave me partial contentment and enthusiasm, but did not calm me completely. In a certain way, the letter caused me some disconcertment. You must be wondering why? This is the reason. It seems that I, a sole Jew – am able to live calmly in an atmosphere of the anti–Semitic “Pale of Settlement” where I find myself now. I present before you such a city as Kałuszyn: before the war, Jews numbered 70% of the population here. Today, I am the only Jew in Kałuszyn and its region. Furthermore, I am the commandant of the entire province.

I must admit to you that I am very jealous of you who live amongst your own, amongst Jews, while I am like a miserable orphan amongst hate–filled pogromchiks. Here I am considered as an unusual phenomenon – a Jew who is still alive.

I generally find myself in dangerous and frightful situations, always in action against the Jew haters as well as against the progressive regime. I write to you to tell you that you should attempt to escape from such a danger – but I must tell you with an open heart that I do not have the possibility to do so in the situation that I find myself today. “One does not get a furlough!” And I am in such a strange state of embarrassment that I cannot extricate myself from this. My situation is even more complex in that against my will, I was suddenly summoned to a medical

[Page 479]

committee, and I was immediately placed, without any questions, into a military fleet.

I do not know what I should do now. I have no possibility of freeing myself from my difficult situation. Therefore, I will wait… Perhaps a miracle will occur… However, my dear ones, I do not have faith in miracles… I feel… That when your next letter arrives I will no longer read it… Unfortunately, this is the bitter truth about my situation…

… So … Possibly it is not so tragic! I have lived through so many terrifying moments during my short life – I have gone through the seven levels of hell and emerged whole: I will, so I hope, also survive now… “Everything is in the hands of Heaven.”

Believe me, I want to see you all so much – not only to see you as relatives, but also to have the possibility of again living as a Jew amongst Jews.

(signed)

Chaim Nachum (Heniek) Przenice


Translator's Footnotes

  1. First two words are “Boys with”. I am not sure about liaso. Return
  2. Seems to be an extremely ironic phrase, referring to the murderers (who facilitated the disappearance of all these people) as mother's tender darlings. Return


[Page 479]

Autumn in Poland

by Ephraim Talmi (Wluka)

Translated by Alex Weingarten

In Memoriam for my Parents, my Teachers
My mother Mindel and my father Avraham, their souls are in Eden

 

A
 
The paths we played on grew silent The rustle of the leaves in fall
The mound of grass paled and yellowed Only that can be heard
Trees were standing bereft A loss, abandoned reigns here
With sadness that knows no rest… Forlorn is the universe and tearful…
 
B
In the Fall
 
Weary of walking On the horizon - the wood…
In the midst of the leaves Quiet surrounds me, and serenity.
I was tired The peace of fall reigns…
Sitting on a milestone The world sprawls like an open book
The fields greening and yellowing to infinity Tilled, sowed.
Caress the boundaries of the sky… Come, I will fall to my knees
The pale blue becalms like after a storm… I will kiss that rim…
  Sierpc 1938, 5699

 

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