To my knowledge, people who survived through my documents include:
Sadly, my own wife, Rozia (nee Glassner), from Grzyrnalow, was not saved by her Aryan Papers, nor was her cousin Genia Schifman from Budzanow. Both of them left Skalat on 28 October 1942 and perished near Zolkiew in June 1944, just before the liberation.
Others who died include Siunio Kanarek, the son of Zusse; Feige Kaczor and many others whose names I do not remember.
Munia Bernhaut Abraham Schapiro Ester Fischbach Abraham Sommerstein Meyer Grinfeld Hadassah Sommerstein Nisen Klein Mordechai Spiegel Josef Kofler Henek Weinberg Max Monias Amalia Weissbrod Yankif Perlmuter Josef Weksler
Among the non-Jews (Poles and Ukrainians):
|Jewish population of Skalat, 1941||4,600|
|Driven to Skalat from surrounding areas, 1942||3,900|
|Total Jewish population of the area:||8,500|
|1. First pogrom (11 Tammuz 5701) 6 July 1941||560|
|2. Live Contingent (11-18 Elul 5702) 30-31 August 1942||560|
|3. Wild Action (10-11 Heshvan 5703) 21-22 October 1942||3,153|
|4. Little Action (29 Heshvan 5103) 9 November 1942||1,100|
|5. Sobbing Graves (2 Nissan 5103) 1 April 1943||760|
|6. Shavuot Action (6 Sivan 5703) 9 June 1943||660|
|7. From the camp courtyard (13 Sivan 5703) 16 June 1943||50|
|8. 'First Camp Action (21 Sivan 5793) 30 June 1943||200|
|9. 'Second Camp Action (35 Tammuz 5703) 28 July 1943||130|
|10. In the various forests||144|
|11. At the hands of peasants||43|
|12. Various other slaughters||47|
|13. Skalat Jews killed at other camps||900|
|Total Jewish Victims||8,307|
|1. Ostra-Mogila Forest||32||29|
|2. Chmieliska Forest||52||6|
|3. Okna Forest (Hershke's Band)||38||33|
|4. Malinik Forest||40||11|
|5. Hory Forest||78||50|
|6. Krecilow Forest||14||11|
|7. With various peasants||90||46|
|8. Skalat Jews with partisans||36||7|
|Jewish survivors from Skalat (proper)||160|
|Survivors from Hershke's band (mainly from Grzymalow)||33|
|Total Number of Jewish Survivors||193|
|1.||Butel, Isidor (Isaac Birnbaum)||89|
|3.||Bernhaut, Munia nee Somerstein||93|
|4.||Ben Porat, Yoel (Julek Weinraub)||96|
|5.||Eisenberg., Ellenberg, Ruth nee Epstein||98|
|6.||Frankel, Nusia nee Bernhaut||100|
|7.||Gelbtuch, Dzidzia nee' Dlugacz||101|
|8.||Kawer, Chajka nee Sass||103|
|10.||Linell, Phyllis nee Niessenbaum||107|
|11.||Margulies, Lola nee Elfenbein||109|
|12.||Milch, Lusia nee Rosenzweig||113|
|14.||Weinberg, Hillel (Henek)||117|
|15.||Weinsaft, Bernard (Nadzio)||118|
I was born on December 9, 1922 in Skalat, Poland. My name at that time was Isaac Birnbaum On February 1, 1949 I migrated to the United States and changed my name to Isidor Butel.
In Skalat, I lived with my mother, Sarah Birnbaum (nee Parnes), my father, Simon Birnbaum, my sisters Bleema and Laya and my brothers Moishe, Kuni, Yossel and Aley. My sister Bleema married Mailach Kornweitz and they had two young daughters named Goldie and Pepe. My brother Moishe married a woman named Laya and they had one little boy. In 1940, my brothers Moishe, Yossel, Kuni and Aley and my brother-in-law Mailach were active in military service. I remained in Skalat with the rest of my family.
On July 6, 1941, I was 19 years
old. I was in my house with my mother, my father, my sisters
Bleema and Laya and my two nieces. Out of fear, we were all confined to the house. I seem to recall that this day was not the Sabbath, since no one went to the synagogue and on the previous evening my mother did not light the Sabbath candles. On that day which I believe was a Sunday, I recall seeing Gentile teenagers walking around with German soldiers, pointing out Jewish houses, and among them ours. In the morning, though I do not recall the exact time, approximately six teenagers, either Ukrainians or Poles, walked into our house. Since the doors were unlocked, they entered our house freely. Once in the house, the Germans ordered me and my father out of the house. In German they told us to Come out, come, come as they waved their hands summoning us to follow them outside. They did not hit us and they did not shout. They spoke firmly, with authority, expecting submission and compliance.
My father and I offered no resistance to their command. We stepped out of the house and proceeded to walk with the soldiers, stopping at a neighbor's house. Then we waited outside while the Germans entered a neighbor's house and brought out two teenage brothers by the names of Aley and Dovid. The Jewish teenagers joined us and then, accompanied by the German soldiers, we all walked as a group a distance of approximately one mile outside of town. The Germans led us to an empty lot where we saw a group of about thirty Jewish men. Among them were both young and older Jews. All of these people were from my home town.
When we arrived where the group of Jews were assembled, my father and I were separated. I watched as the German soldiers led my father away. I didn't know where the Germans were taking him and I didn't know what was going to happen to him. I did not have an opportunity to say anything to my father. I looked at him and those next to him. When they took my father away, my mind went blank. I kept on looking at my father and he 1ooked back at me as he left. He too didn't say anything. He just went with them and that was the last time I ever saw my father.
After my father was taken away, I remained standing in a group with about fourteen other teenage Jewish boys from Skalat. Several German soldiers led us all a distance of approximately one-half mile from this location. We were led to a p ace where there were trees, more German soldiers, and military trucks. The Germans gave us axes and ordered us to chop down the trees, chop the branches off the trees, and then camouflage the trucks with the branches. While I chopped the trees, the Germans did not hit me. I did not think of trying to escape though I wanted very much to go home. As I chopped the trees with the other teenage boys, we did not speak to each other. No one said a word or expressed any emotion. We were all like stones.
We continued to work for hours, until it became dark. Then, the Germans took us to the bashtis (towers), which were about one and one-half mile or so from the place where we were chopping the trees. The bashtis were located in the center of our town and were used by soldiers during World War I. I was familiar with the bashtis and had seen them from the outside many times in the past. The Germans ordered us to run into the bashtis. At their command, we all ran inside where it was completely dark. Suddenly, the Germans started shooting their machine guns from the outside into the bashtis. I heard the
bullets being fired inside but I heard no screams or cries from any of the other Jewish boys who were there with me. While the Germans were shooting, I fell, pressing my face and body against the floor. Then, when the shooting ceased, some German soldiers came inside the bashtis. Though I could not see them, I could hear them checking the bodies to see if anyone was still alive. I don't know how many soldiers came inside because it was dark, but I could hear them moving bodies around. One soldier kicked me with his foot to see if I was alive. I was lying motionless, face down and pretended that I was dead. As the Germans checked the bodies, they did not speak and they did not shine any flashlights. I remained on the floor in the same position. Some time passed and I no longer heard any sounds from inside or outside of the bashtis. I believed, therefore, that the Germans had left. More time passed. After a while I stood up in the dark and made my way to the entrance.
I looked outside and saw that no one was there and that the Germans were gone. It was approximately 11:00 p.m. I walked out of the bashtis, leaving from the same entrance through which I was driven in by the Germans. The doors at the entrance of the bashtis had been removed and I was able to walk around the back and into a square. This square was a place where people used to play tennis, but at this hour it was deserted. I quickly left the bashtis and ran home. In the dark, I crossed over puddles and running water, and made my way back to my neighborhood. I did not go straight to my house. Instead, I went into a stable owned by a neighbor, Yoini Drat, which was located across the street from my house. I then stood at the door of the stable and waited to see someone from my town. When it became light, I saw a teenage girl, Chajka Sass, pass by. I opened the door and called her over. She was the first person who saw me after my escape from the bashtis. I asked her to go to my house and tell my mother and my family that I was alive and that I was in the stable. A little later, I went home and related to my mother and my sisters what had happened to me, and that my father and I were separated. My mother asked me where my father was and I told her that I did not know where the Germans had taken him nor what had happened to him,
When I was in the bashtis, I was grazed by bullets in three places: at the bridge of my nose, on the inside crease of my left elbow and near the ankle of my right foot. During my ordeal of being shot at I was like a stone and did not feel any pain. It was much later, the next morning, that I remember feeling pain. It was also later, either in the stable or in my house, when I realized that I had been shot and observed blood from the bullet wounds on my clothes.
I am the only person who came out alive from the bashtis on that day.
When all of these things were happening, I was not fearful or nervous. I had ho feelings about anything; I didn't cry .The only thoughts I had were about my father. I thought, if he were alive, he would have come back too. But he didn't. Nor did Aley or Dovid or the other Jewish souls who were driven into the bashtis. I was the only one to come out of the bashtis, as well as the only survivor of those who were caught in this pogrom.
My thanks to my daughter, Linda Butel Kish, for setting forth this event in writing.
A child's crying out but his voice can't be heard
the anguish repressed as he hides
a shield against danger is stillness he learned
and silence, a savior of lives.
Feelings are secrets to friends and to strangers
with caution perceive them in kind
lingering lessons, like undying embers
once urgently seared in his mind.
Trust is a perilous, hazardous journey
beware of the sudden surprise
truth into lies can be instantly turning,
betrayal as promise disguised.
With endless suspicion and cunning pretenses
life was upheld like a crown
laden with memories imprisoned by fences
and walls that refuse to come down.
How mighty the price survival commands:
a childhood forever denied,
a soul left in shambles no one understands,
a child who within me still hides.
Will I always remember?
Can I ever forget
or is the sentence perpetual and conclusively set?
Will the memories dwindle?
Can the torment subside
or is the cycle relentless as the flow of the tide?
Will sadness release me?
Can I ever know joy
or is fate still unfolding some merciless ploy?
Will somebody know me?
Can I be seen through the haze
or is the image evasive in an intricate maze?
Will my past serve a purpose?
Was it craftily planned
is destiny just adding one more granule of sand?
Like shadowy visions concealing in fear
most answers elusive, opaque and unclear
but these so translucent through a shroud of regret:
yes, I will always remember; no, I can never forget.....
In June 1943 when Skalat was, declared Judenfrei, by the Germans, I, Munia Bernhaut, my son Dunio, aged three, and my daughter Nusia, aged five, had miraculously been spared the fate of our brothers and sisters. By then, thousands of Jews from Skalat had already perished by torture, starvation or disease. The majority were murdered and buried in mass graves, or captured in 'actions,' and shipped to the extermination camp of Belzec.
After every 'action' hundreds disappeared, and those who remained surfaced from hiding places stunned and bewildered. Everyone who saw me with my two young children hanging on to me shook their heads in disbelief. Very few children remained among the living in the Skalat Ghetto.
After the first 'action' was unleashed on the ghetto, I and my friends Sima and Joseph Kofler began to build a bunker under our house. We sealed off part of the cellar with bricks and other building materials, which we smuggled in at night. A trap door hidden underneath a bed and covered with carpet lead into the bunker and the descent to our hiding place was by means of a wooden ladder. By sheer luck our bunker was never discovered during all the 'actions,' even after thorough searches of the house and its surroundings. We remained hidden in that bunker during every one of the 'actions,' in our town. It was there, after the final 'action' , that we learned that Skalat had been declared Judenfrei and Jews were no longer allowed to exist, not even under the horrendous conditions of the ghetto.
The few who survived the last 'action' in our bunker began under cover of night to flee wherever they could. In spite of my pleas no one considered including me in their plans. For me, it would have been suicidal to attempt such an escape with two small children. As we were left all alone, I had weighed my alternatives: stay and perish in the bunker, give up and go out to be shot on the spot, or attempt an escape on my own, I decided to flee although I had no idea where or how to do it.
A day after the final 'action' the streets of the ghetto were deserted. Trucks driven by inmates of the Skalat Camp began rolling in to pick up whatever was left of the household belongings from the empty Jewish homes. By sheer luck, the assigned driver to one of these trucks was my cousin Isaac Gritz. After careful planning, he managed to stop by our house on his last round of the day, hoping to finding his mother who had been in our bunker. When he quietly signaled his presence in the house, I knew this was my only chance. I pleaded and implored his help to smuggle us out of the ghetto. He agreed, though with great trepidation and fear, to drop us at the edge of town on his way back to the camp. One by one he carried us out hidden underneath feather bedding and placed us on his truck. When he approached the outskirts of our town, he slowed down. I quickly threw my daughter out of the truck and then jumped out after her with my son in my arms. As he drove away, hidden by the darkness, we crawled into the surrounding fields.
My hope was to reach the forest where I knew there were groups of Jews and partisans in hiding. So began our long wandering through the fields and woods. I walked day and night carrying my son in my arms or on my back and holding my little girl close to me. We ate whatever we found, kernels of wheat from the fields, raw potatoes, beets and anything else I could dig up. Thus, we wandered hungry and thirsty; our clothes, dirty and wet from mud and rain. In despair, I took a chance and knocked at the door of the solitary farmhouses we occasionally encountered. I begged for food and shelter, but the pitiless peasants would only unleash their dogs on us and threaten to turn us in if we didn't leave immediately. A few times, in return for a little money which I still had on me, the peasants sold us bread and milk and allowed us to hide in the barn or the hayloft for a couple of nights. Harboring Jews put them at risk for had we been discovered, they too would have been shot. Therefore, our stay was always cut short with a demand that we leave by nightfall. One peasant woman was willing to keep us in return for all the money I had left and a promise to give her more when the war ended. When I gratefully agreed, she insisted on
another condition. She demanded that I leave my little boy in the forest because his presence posed too great a danger of discovery .A three year old child, she said, could not be counted on to remain silent. That had been suggested to me before, but abandoning one of my children was out of the question. I was determined that we would either survive together or die together, and once again we took to the road.
Weeks passed and as the weather turned colder, we often found shelter inside haystacks still standing in the fields or in an abandoned cave where we would spend a few nights sheltered from the winds and the rain. .At times when my children had nothing to eat for days, I summoned the courage to stop farmers on their way to the market and to beg for food. On one such occasion, they began throwing stones and hitting us with sticks while calling us dirty Jews. Fortunately, the attack was thwarted by an old man who suddenly appeared on the road and began shouting at the peasants that some day they would be punished for such inhumane treatment of a woman with small children. I felt very lucky to escape and continued my wanderings.
I still could not find the hiding place in the woods. The weather was getting worse and I was losing strength. Despondent, I began thinking of going back into town where I knew that I and my children would be killed. At the end of one such desperate day, we were approached in the cave where we were hiding, by a farmer who had spotted us while working in the fields. He waited for the others to leave and assured me that he meant no harm. He offered to take us to his farmhouse where we could hide in .the barn until the end of the war.
I could not believe my good fortune. The farmer and his wife shared with us the meager food they had while I mended and sewed clothes for their children. We spent several weeks there. One day, with tears in their eyes, the farmer and his wife told us that we had to leave immediately. The Germans had begun checking the farms to make sure that no one was hoarding products which the peasants had been ordered to deliver to the German army. The farmer took us to the side of the forest and prayed that we would find Jews to help us.
The next afternoon, as we were walking through the woods, I heard someone approaching on horseback. We barely had time to duck behind a tree when a command came loud and clear: Juden raus or we'll shoot. I came out with my children to face rifles pointing at us. I instantly recognized Hefner, a local German administrator in charge of agriculture, accompanied by two SS officers. They were amused when I said that they might as well shoot us and get us out of our misery. Hefner remarked' to his companions that it was the first time he heard a Jew asking to be killed. Then, turning to me, he admired my blonde children and announced that he had no intention of shooting us. He advised me to follow the path in front of us which would lead us to Jews hidden deep in the forest. I was sure that they would kill us as soon as we turned our backs. I started to walk clutching my children tightly. I told them not to be afraid and that at any moment now, we would be in heaven together with the rest of the family. As we were walking, I heard the Germans behind me riding away. For us, another miracle had taken place!
Many years later, at a wedding in New York City, I met a woman who had survived on Aryan Papers and worked as a maid for Hefner during his stay in Skalat. As we talked about the Holocaust, she recounted that when Hefner returned from the woods that day he announced to his wife at dinner that he had just spared the life of a young Jewish woman with two beautiful children. He then added, If I didn't shoot them, they will surely survive this war. And indeed we survived.
Eventually, I did reach a bunker where a small group of Jews from Skalat was hiding. During my desperate wanderings, I was often fortified by the hope of being welcomed with open arms by my own people. That, however, was not the case. The head of the bunker demanded that I leave immediately because he was afraid that my small children would expose all of them to danger. I cried and implored for compassion. Finally the majority of the group overruled his decision and allowed me to stay. I promised to pull my own weight and contribute to the search for food and water.
My children and I were among the very few who survived the bitter winter, the starvation, the diseases, the encounters with hostile Ukrainian woodsmen, and the periodic ambushes by the Germans. We were liberated in the forest by the advancing Soviet army and returned to our devastated home town. There we were ultimately reunited with the only other surviving member of our family, my husband Joseph Bernhaut, the father of my children.
I close my eyes sometimes and imagine that the Nazi occupation was just a nightmare. I awake and realize that it really happened. Our families, our homes, our communities are gone. Nothing is left, just memories of home and family.
I, Yoel Ben-Porat, whose name before the war was Julek Weinraub, am the son of Joseph and Malka Weinraub (nee' Bauer) and the grandson of Yechiel Weinraub. I come from the town of Skalat where my family lived for many years.
Our house was located at number 10, May the 3rd Street and we lived there until the fall of 1942 when the Skalat Ghetto was established. Then we were forced to leave our house and to move into an apartment beyond the synagogue. It was an area of some old, dilapidated houses in a poor Jewish section known in our town by the Yiddish phrase inter da bud (below the public bath house). We shared the tiny crowded apartment with two more families. The name of one was Kiwetz and the name of the other, I do not recall.
I spent the Nazi occupation in the town of Skalat, where the lives of the Jews were in danger at all times and I wish to relate here one of my experiences during this period. It was October 21, 1942, the first day of the Wild Action in Skalat. I remember that on that day, at dawn, someone had knocked on our window and tried to awaken my father. A man's voice said in Ukrainian, Yosio, vstavaity! (Joseph, wake up). When I heard the message, I was the first to jump to my feet and to run outside in order to see who was there. I looked around, but I saw no one. Till today I do not know, for sure, who came to warn us. My family thought that it probably was a Ukrainian peasant, named Masnej, who was very fond of my father and in whose Mantiawa orchards, on the outskirts of town, we kept our bee hives.
Not being sure that the knock on the window was a warning, my father told me to walk over to the Judenrat area of our town, only a few minutes walk from our house, to see what was happening. Under the Nazi occupation I used to accompany my father during his deliveries of newspapers to German and Ukrainian institutions such as the Schupo and Kripo , and I was acutely aware of our dangerous situation. Therefore, though I was only eleven years old, my father considered me reliable to bring back some news of what was going on. Arriving at the Judenrat I saw nothing unusual, and since everything was quiet, I decided to go back home.
When I reached the street near the synagogue, suddenly the town exploded with noise. The shooting and shouting was of such intensity that it exerted the intended shock effect on the Jews. The Germans and the Ukrainian police, who were all around, fell upon us and I was among the very first twenty or thirty Jews caught. We were immediately led to the synagogue. There we were stopped in front of the large, iron door which was shut tight. I remember a German soldier with a grenade in his hand, walking up to the heavy door and hanging the grenade on the door handle. Then he moved to the side of the building, detonated the grenade by pulling a string and thus blew the door open. By then, more people had joined us in front of the synagogue and we were the first group of about forty or fifty Jews to be chased inside.
The sanctuary was huge and empty when we were driven in. But every few minutes more people were brought in and within an hour, hundreds of victims filled the synagogue. Since I was caught alone, I decided to stand near the front entrance in order to see whether my parents would be brought in. Even at that young age I realized that it would be better for them not to be caught. Yet, I thought, just in case they were brought in, at least I would be with them and not alone. I remained standing at the entrance all the time, seeing tens of people being chased in every couple of minutes. Some of them were wounded and all were in a state of panic. We didn't know exactly what was going to happen to us, but we knew that from here we would be brought to some terrible place. Inside, the atmosphere was one of shock and terror. The air was permeated with moans and screams of the wounded, and the cries and prayers of the trapped victims. After a few hours when the sanctuary was half filled, Obersturmbannfuhrer Muller appeared. I recognized him from his frequent visits to the Skalat Schupo. He came inside, took his pistol and shot at random into the crowd. This caused the people to retreat deeper into the sanctuary, enabling Muller to see how much space was left for additional victims to be brought in.
I stood a few more hours at the entrance. Suddenly I saw my Aunt Esther Zimmer, my mother's sister, her sixteen year old daughter, Betka, and ten year old son, Yitzchak, the family of Shaye Zimmer , being brought into the synagogue. Shaye Zimmer was the second in command of the Skalat Judenrat, therefore, I realized that his family was caught by mistake and would probably be released. I was right. I decided to attach myself to them and not let go. I don't remember how long we waited, perhaps a half an hour or an hour, when an SS officer came in with a list and started to call the names of families of the Jewish police and the Judenrat members who were caught. Among them he called the names of my aunt and two cousins.
By that time the synagogue was almost full and everybody was pushing. We too pushed, trying to get out when the Zimmer names were called. When we came outside and my uncle spotted me together with his wife and children, he became pale. An SS officer approached him and asked my uncle Is this your family?
He answered Yes.
All of them, the wife and three children?
Again, my uncle said Yes.
But you told me that you have a wife and two children, the SS-man hissed.
No, my Sturmfuhrer, I said a wife and three children.
Don't you lie, you dog you! You said a wife and two children.
I looked at my uncle and our eyes met. My life was hanging on the thread of his next answer. He would either panic and say it was a mistake and deny that I was his son, or at the risk of the lives of his wife and children, claim me as his son and thus save me. My uncle repeated almost in a shouting voice, I said a wife and three children. An exchange of shouting between my uncle and the SS-man took another turn, but finally I, together with my aunt and two cousins, were motioned to be released. We were taken to the Judenrat where we were kept for the duration of the 'action' - two nights and one and a half days.
After the 'action,' I found out that my father was also caught and was killed near the well of the Skalat marketplace, from where he tried to escape. My mother and her three brothers, Israel, Chaim, and Yoel Bauer; were all caught. My mother jumped from the train, but was shot and killed near Borki-Wielkie. All three brothers also jumped from the train; two of them were killed after they jumped and only one, Israel, survived.
I survived the Wild Action alone. This 'action' claimed the greatest number of victims from Skalat, as well as Jews from the towns of Grzymalow and Podwoloczyska, who were brought to our town. With this slaughter, the systematic mass murder of the Jews in Skalat was begun.
In 1943 when Skalat was declared Judenfrei, I was ten years old. Our family consisted of my parents, four sisters, and two brothers. Before the war my home town had been a vibrant Jewish community .My father owned a leather tannery and I can still see his face with a red, neatly trimmed beard.
My brother, #testimoniesripted into the army. My older brother, Yitzchok. had aspired to take over the family business and he had worked hard under father's stern supervision. All our hopes and dreams were shattered, however, when the Nazis occupied Skalat. My father and two sisters were killed. My mother, remaining sister, brother and I began our struggle to survive.
In 1942 when the Skalat Ghetto was formed, we moved in with the Sass family, Together we were reduced to the same deplorable living conditions and shared what meager food the circumstances provided.
Through pre-war trading connections, the Sass family knew many people in the villages. It was through these contacts that the Marko family had agreed to hide us. They were poor but exceptionally good people who lived in the village of Poplawe. This family risked their lives for us. They gave us what they could; a small attic room with a little ventilation and some light, and what food they could spare. Although, the nine of us were hiding in such tight quarters that we practically shared the same breaths and our bellies groaned constantly, I will always be grateful to the Marko family for their incredible sacrifice.
We remained at their home for three months. Then we had to leave. I can never forget the worried looks on their faces and the sadness that dwelt in their eyes. They had no choice but to send us away. In those days people watched each other. They counted things. A few more potatoes in a pot could mean Jews were being hidden. Most of their neighbors were not as good as the Marko family and many of them would have gladly handed us over to the Nazis.
We had to form a new plan quickly. My brother, Yitzchok. and two of the Sass boys, Motl and Szajko, had decided to hike ten miles to the woods of Stary (old) Skalat in order to find out whether Jews were hiding there. Meanwhile, the Markos led us to some potato fields, a couple of miles from their house. There my mother, sister, the three Sass women and I laid down in the trenches between the potato fields and waited for the boys to return.
We waited for 24 hours. Our bodies ached with cramps from remaining still for such a long time, but we did not dare to move. We had to be vigilant of the Nazis, the Ukrainian police, and the peasants. I was not yet eleven years old and already had so many enemies.
This ordeal affected my mother worst of all. The murders of my father and sisters had taken away her will to survive. For three months while we were hiding in the Marko's attic, mother lay curled up in a dim corner. She could not bring herself to eat what little food was offered. Occasionally, she would sigh. More often, she would whimper. Though she seemed to look. her eyes refused to see. Then she no longer looked at us. Once a beautifully groomed women, she no longer brushed her hair or attended to her own hygiene. Fayga Epstein, my mother, died in the potato field as we lay waiting. We left mother unburied in the field where she died. While hiding in the woods, we learned that the Marko family buried her not far from where she died.
When our brothers returned, we left quietly for the woods. We walked in silence and the only sound that we made was the dirt crackling under our shoes. Our breaths combined with the cool night air, and though I was tired to exhaustion, I didn't dare to complain.
In general, I barely spoke from the time we escaped from a cellar in the Skalat Ghetto a few months earlier. At that time a baby's cry brought the Nazis down to our cellar, and that led to the shooting of my father. I learned then that children did best to remain silent.
Deep in the forest of Stary Skalat, the boys dug a large foxhole and there we spent three months. With the onset of the cold, damp weather the insects, snakes and other creatures were asleep. I was relieved in that dark hole - dirt permanently embedded into my body - not to be tormented by those
crawling and slithering creatures. It rained nearly all the time. The cold and dampness seeped into my bones. It seemed as if I would never feel warm again.
The boys spent their nights foraging for food, mostly in the fields and gardens of local farmers. They would return in the morning with vegetables which we cooked into a soup using water from a stream and cooking in a bucket on a small campfire. We sat together on a dirt floor, under a roof of bare trees and gray sky. Then the snows descended.
By December of 1943 the ground was covered with a smooth white blanket. This presented a new problem. How do we walk without creating footprints? These would certainly lead the Nazis and the Ukrainian militia to our hiding place. We had to find a new hiding place and once again we needed to rely on Gentile people. But who would be willing to risk their lives for us? Motl Sass had an idea, though it was risky.
There was a family named Szewchuk living in the village of Chopcianki. The father was a member of the Bandera gang - a militant Ukrainian group - which sought to murder Jews. No one would suspect Jews to be hidden among these people. Motl arranged a place for us in this family's stable. This is where Mrs. Sass, her two daughters, Chajka and Nechama, my sister Bronia and I survived the last few months of the war. Before Motl left he gave Mr. Szewchuk a firm warning, One of us from the Sass or Epstein families is sure to survive and we will hunt and kill you should as much as a hair from these women's heads be harmed.
Mr. Szewchuk must have held Motl's words in earnest because every night we watched him leave in a Nazi uniform. We knew he was hunting for Jews, yet he and his family were hiding us. His wife brought us a small portion of potatoes and some cereal each day. If we were thirsty, we drank water from the horse's trough.
In March 1944 we were informed by the Szewchuks that the Russians liberated Skalat. Jews were slowly returning to the little town. Shortly thereafter, Motl returned to bring us home.
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