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[Page 167]

Days of Suffering and Destruction

 

[Page 179]

Between life and death

by Yitzhak Stemmer

Translated by Moses Milstein

When the Nazis marched into S. in 1939, we were outside the city, in the fields.

With me was my wife, Rochama, my daughter, Sheindele, my mother, Mintshe, and my brother-in-law, Rev Dovid Yoseph. We all lived in S in one house. After a few days, we returned to our house.

A few weeks after this, things changed. The Red Army entered S. But not for long. The Nazis returned soon after, and the dark days began. Horrible acts were perpetrated against Jews in the city and surroundings.

 

Polish hatred and betrayal

With even greater savagery than the Germans, our Polish neighbors began helping them. At least at the beginning, life would have been much easier, if the Poles had not shown as much hatred and betrayal.

Come winter, the Germans established street kitchens in the middle of the city, out in the open, and handed out food to the people. When a Jew approached, the Poles pointed him out – “Ein Jude” – to the Germans. The Germans handed food to the Jew, while another man took his photograph.

Life became very hard for Jews, worsening every day. They were dragged away to work, and to places from which there is no return.

A few months after the German occupation, they began to build an air-field near the Klemensow sugar factory, not far from the summer residence of Graf Zamoisky. Many Jews and Christians were employed in the building of the air-field. Conditions were very bad. The food was poor. Only bread, and a little warm water they called, “soup”.

Life got worse, because aside from the demonic behavior of the German murderers, the Poles, with great enthusiasm, did even more than was required of them. The shtetl found itself in perpetual, chaotic fear.

 

The Judenrat

The Germans organized a Judenrat of people who occupied social positions. But these honest people soon fled, unwilling to be accomplices to the dirty work.

So the authorities established a new Judenrat of six, who displayed a disgraceful dedication (out of respect for their relatives, we will not mention their names). We had never imagined that such types existed among us.

The new Judenrat proved to be very zealous, and provided more people for the German authorities than was asked for. They sent the poor to work, leaving them no means of support. From the rich they extorted oiskoif gelt. They stuffed themselves with food and drink, while others died of hunger. One of them became a “Kommandant”.

Particularly on shabbos, these benighted people took to celebrating and making a “kiddush” in Shieh Pivniak's shenk. [tavern] They cooked the best foods, and invited the German murderers to join their carousing.


Only one of the new Judenrat, Hersh Getsel Hochboim, displayed {virde??}, greatness and courage.

As long as the Germans demanded Jewish money and possessions, he went reluctantly along, and kept silent. But then they began demanding people for “transports”, at a time when it was clear that they were being sent to an extermination camp.

Hersh Getsel Hochboim opposed this, and refused to be an accomplice to these shameful acts. He tried to get away and hide. But when they forced him to carry out the German commands, and turn his Jewish brothers over to the murderers' hands, he saw no way out. One evening, he locked himself in his house, and hung himself, ending his own life.

He came from a noble, wealthy family (a nephew of Baruch Hersh Eisen). He was a leather merchant, a partner of Chaim Maimon. He was a modest and learned man. From a young age, he devoted himself to social causes. He was a public delegate {sheliach tsibur} in the Volksbank elections, and in city hall. Politically, he was a General Zionist.

Honor to his memory!


 

The Aktions

Our whole family was hidden in bunkers, pressed together in narrow confinement. Because of informers, we frequently had to change our hiding places. More than once, bullets flew over our heads, and we burrowed deeper into the earth.

German raids, helped by the Polish population, have begun. Jewish martyrs fall daily, in the city, in the middle of the street, outside the city. With every step, you fall on a Jewish victim. If anyone ventured out of the city to find food, he was met with bullets.

The first sacrifice was Yosef Baicher. Later, both Remer sisters (Leibish Shmelia's daughters). They met with death on the Rozlop [Rozlopy] road, when they went to look for a few potatoes to keep body and soul together. Also murdered, were Ben Zion Beker's family. Ben Zion himself was blinded. His oldest daughter, Aidel, and her child were dragged out of a hiding place. Poles betrayed them and the Germans shot them. The Poles threw the child in a {ubikatsieh}…These were not isolated incidents.

Later, the Aktions took on a more organized form. Three Aktions took place in the city. Following the first and second Aktions, the Judenrat, with the help of the Poles, gathered up the victims, mostly old people.

Our house was also home to Avram Hersh Koil's family – Berl Koil's parents. They were no longer alive, and their only daughter, Gitl, was left alone, poor and sick, without help. During the first Aktion, four Judenrat came to see her. She was caring for someone else's child. They tried her to get her to go with them, but she refused to leave the child alone. So they told her to take the child. But she refused this too. They tore the child from her arms. Leaving the child behind, they arrested her, and sent her to where no one returns.

The following happened during the second Aktion. Zeleg Gernshtein was at work at the air-field. His wife and two children who were in hiding were betrayed. They were dragged out, and sent to their doom. When he returned from work, and discovered the tragedy, he ran to the Judenrat, beat everyone there, and went mad. He and the Judenrat were killed in the last Aktion.

There were many such occurrences.

Then came a barbaric act that we have called “Bloody Friday”.

One day, a certain number of people had to be supplied for work in Kelikow. Leibl Raz was chosen to go, but he protested. So instead they called for Berl Mochrovski. Then the haggling began. Others said, if they won't go, then we won't go either. Only three or four men were lacking to make up the work party. But the “Kommandant” of the Judenrat could not abide being contradicted. He phoned the head Kommando in Bilgoraj, and reported that he was not being obeyed. Two hours later, several heads of the labor authority accompanied by SS arrived. With the help of the Sonderdienst, they began shooting at the houses. Forty five people fell that day, among them Jews from elsewhere who had come to S.\

It was a tragic scene when they gathered up the bodies, made more tragic by the knowledge that Jews had had a hand in it.

 

The Judenrein Aktions

The so-called Judenrein Aktion was to have been carried out on a certain date, but it was postponed for two weeks.

One evening someone from the Zaviadow station brought news that six wagon cars had been prepared to transfer S Jews. One can't begin to imagine what then happened in the half-ruined shtetl.

People began to fast, to pray, to visit the gravestones…The wailing and the fear were unbearable. People went mad. They were aware of the results of the first two Aktions.

Suddenly, a miracle happened. That same man from Zaviadow told us that the wagons had been requisitioned for war needs, but not for long…The horrific acts of murder were postponed for two weeks. And then – Woe to our unlucky souls!

Underground, in our bunkers, we heard the hysterical cries of the panic-stricken. In our holes, we felt no more fortunate than our brethren whose suffering had ended. Every day you waited in fear that, any minute, they will come and drag you out.

The first day, they herded together about 2000 people, and sent them to Belzec, to the crematoria on which was written “Wash rooms.” …The other day, the murderers ran around like poisoned mice and searched for hidden Jews with the help of the Poles. They were transported to the cemetery, murdered, and buried in one large communal grave…Until the city was Judenrein.

The first day, Wednesday, Ukrainain murderers worked alongside, dressed in German uniforms.

Before the liquidation, the Judenrat “Kommandant” from Bilgoraj arrived, and announced that they are going to turn S into a “Juden Staat”. But this would cost a lot of money…The remaining Jewish people brought their last groschen. Where the money went, I don't know, because the first to be arrested were the Judenrat and the Jewish Militia. They and the rest – innocent, pure, cherished, Jewish souls, were sent away, and perished.

In the evening, they were all taken to the train station. At night, they were held in the ammunition factory which used to be a chemical factory. The place was fenced in and guarded by many armed men, among them, a number of Poles and Ukrainians.

Many children escaped through the windows in the night, and ran for the fields and forests. To this great tragedy, I must add what the children told me later when we met. While imprisoned in the factory with the others, the Judenrat poured salt on their wounds, consoling themselves that this was not meant for them, and that they, the Judenrat, would soon be freed – The children later all perished because of the Poles.

These events we transcribed while in the bunkers, in town, and in the moments when we left the bunkers for some air, or to search for food.

 

Leaving the bunker

Our family life was, understandably, filled with sorrow. We repeatedly regretted not having perished with everyone. Why did we have to survive and undergo so much agony?

I lay in a hole with my brother-in-law, Yankel Morgenshtern (today in Israel), and my three cousins, the Goldberg girls (yechezkel Yoinale's grandchildren). Thursday morning, some Polish children found our bunker, and began to destroy the entrance. I succeeded in breaking through the other side. I don't know with what superhuman strength I managed to do this, not having eaten or slept in three days. All five of us managed to save ourselves, but everything we had, we left in that hole.

After we crawled out of our hiding place, we ran through the orchards toward the Gorajec hills. Quickly, the Poles informed the Germans, and seeing that we were only 50 meters away, they began to shoot at us. As a result, we lost one cousin, the rest of us scattering away in all directions, until we lost sight of each other. After a kilometer of running, they were still shooting at me.

I fell into water and lay there for two hours until dark. Then I made for a village called Roslop. I walked in my wet clothes for two kilometers. I steeled myself, and sought out a goy I knew. They did not let me in for fear of the Germans. But I pleaded with the farmer, and since it was a very dark night, he covered the windows and allowed me to spend the night. In the morning, he hid me in a stodole.

I knew nothing of the others. A few hours later, my two cousins arrived and snuck into the stodole without the farmer's knowledge. My brother-in-law, Yankel, fifteen years old at the time, not knowing what to do, went back to his parents in town, intending to perish with them. In the cellar where he hid, he found my wife and child. My sister-in-law, Miriam, (Moishe Zilberlicht's daughter) lay nearby in another bunker. Her parents were hiding in yet another place.

At about 2:00 A.M., my wife came to my bunker and called for me. The town was quiet, Judenrein. Not getting a response, and growing more afraid, she called louder, “Itche, Itche!”, until three small shkootsim came running. They grabbed her, and pulled at her demanding money. She led them into the house, and with great difficulty escaped from them leaving behind a handful of hair. She jumped out of a window and straight into the bunker. The shkootsim chased her, but couldn't find her.

She had decided to take the child and find me. Peering into the darkness she saw that someone was coming and heading straight for the bunker. At first she was scared, but then she realized that this person knew where the bunker was, and had to be one of ours. It was her brother, Yankel. He told her that everyone was lost, and that he didn't want to go on. He wanted to die together with his parents. They went into the bunker to figure out what to do. Earlier, my wife and I had agreed that if we ran and lost one another, we should have a rendezvous planned. We left signs in three villages. My wife persuaded her brother to come with her. She put the child on her shoulders, and with her brother, barefoot because his wooden shoes were wet and broken, took to the road. Soon, the dark night filled with thunder, lightening and rain. Soaked, they traveled the same road as I was on. It appears the same instinct guided us.

 

The scattered reunite

After about 100 metres, jumping over bodies in the dark, the night was suddenly lit by a blast of lightning. They came on the body of my cousin Serl Goldgruber, her clothes torn apart. It seems she had been well searched. … My wife took off her apron and, in tears, covered the innocent victim. She took the soaked baby from Yankel, and set off again in the dark. –Only sky and earth and rain. Instinctively, she headed for Roslop, to the farmer, as we had agreed. Hours passed. Morning was appearing on the horizon.

They approached the house. All was quiet except for the barking of dogs. Afraid of being seen, they stole into a barn, crept up to the hay-filled loft and lay down and slept – wet , tired, and hungry.

They awoke around eleven. The child, then four years old, began to beg for food. It was the fourth day without any food passing her lips. “Mameh, a piece of bread!” she pleaded. Before my wife could cover Shaindel's mouth, the farmer, below in the yard, heard the voices and rushed up in fear. “Who's there?” – Ola boga, tileh zhiduv p186. he called. My wife begged him for a piece of bread for the child. He left the loft, and came back with a piece of bread and some rice and milk. The child revived somewhat.

Then, the farmer told her that my two cousins and I were also here. She begged him to take the child to me, and she and Yankel would come later that night. The farmer agreed.

 

In the village, out of the village

We could not show ourselves by day, because the farmer and his family could also pay with their lives. In the dark autumn night we came together with feelings of pain, sorrow, terror and joy, more suffering than joy because, at this moment we live, but later…?

After a short time, the farmer's wife appeared. She begged us to have pity on them and leave because, aside from them, the other six neighbors on both sides of the house could also be shot. We had no choice. We begged for a piece of bread for the child, and an old rag to cover her with. For this, we gave her our last gold watch. All five of us, barefoot and in rags because we could not take a thing from home, left for the village, Zrebiec.

We covered the five kilometers in several hours, forced to travel by back roads in order not to be seen. I saw a light in the distance. When we got there, we discovered a house that belonged to a goy we knew. Without asking permission, we climbed into a loft above a horse stall where we spent the night. The farmer discovered us when he came to get hay for his horse. Frightened, he pleaded with us to leave and promised to feed us all. We assured him we would leave that night, but we stayed until the second night with him watching us the whole time. We stole into another loft, and were discovered in the morning. The farmer began to weep at our fate, seeing our appearance, and begging us not to bring misfortune on his family. It has come to such a pass that a goy should cross himself with fear on seeing a Jew.

We decided to separate. The two cousins left for another goy and we stayed with this one.

A tragedy occurred tonight. A Jewish family from S, Simche Limberg and four people, were also hiding in the village. They were betrayed, and they were taken to Silochai and there they were shot. The scene in getting them out of the house was frightful. We almost went mad from fear. The Limberg family pleaded and cried so that the whole village assembled. Many of the goyim were trembling.

After it had quieted down, the goy no longer wanted to hide us. Before morning, we left for the woods, me, and my wife, and child, and Yankel. The Goldgruber cousins, at the terrible moment when the Limburgs were taken, ran away to another village. They were killed by the Germans on the road. Their final resting place is in Teplice village.

In the forest, we came on the children who had escaped from the ammunition factory the night of the last Aktion. They tried to get food from the Rozlop farmers, but were refused. So they stole food from the chickens. There were about 40 children, boys and girls. I heard from the goyim, that about 40 Jews were captured in the forest, probably with the children, and killed.

 

Help from good-hearted farmers

While we were in the forest, our goy dug a bunker in a field, about one meter wide, and brought us there at around midnight. It was about two km from the village, in the middle of the field. He walked far ahead of us so as not to be caught escorting Jews. The hole was wet and very small. But he had brought a shovel, a bucket for water, a hoe, and a bundle of straw. We carried the tools. He also brought a piece of bread, a pot of unpeeled potatoes, a bit of salt, a knife, and some kindling. We buried ourselves and these goods in the bunker. The tools allowed us to enlarge the pit, and we lay there all winter until Pesach.

When snow fell, no one was to be seen in the field. We often snuck out at night, and searched for stashes of beets and turnips the farmers would store in the fields in winter. We also used to clean the bunker at night and get some air in the frigid winter of 1943. And so we sat with our child in our dark bunker covered with snow. Snow and water entered the hole. Other Jewish families were hidden by farmers in Zrebiec.

Every few weeks, our farmer would sneak up to our bunker and throw in a roasted beet for the child, sometimes a pot of potatoes, some cooked millet, etc. He invariably wept aloud at our fate. He said that our suffering is on his conscience. Had he known the war would last so long, he would not have hidden us. He can't stand seeing people buried alive, the worms eating us alive because we can't change our clothes. Talking done, weeping done, he would disappear for another couple of weeks.

Once, another goy from Rozlop appeared and noticed our bunker. We could see him from within. He caught my eyes peering at him through a crack, and ran away in fright. I recognized the face, so I got out and caught up to him. I wept and pleaded with him not to give us away. He swore he intended no harm. If he had known we were there, he would not have come near. He calmed us down, and told us that on a dark night, we could come to him. He lived isolated in the village, and he told us he would alert us when the time came.

And that is actually how it turned out. On a certain night, he came and took us to his house. He asked me, since I was a tailor, to make him a pair of pants. I could have stayed there a longer time, but the second night the house was attacked by bandits. All the men were taken out of the house, and made to lie on the ground without moving. Three masked bandits stole all the food and clothes from the farmer, had the horses harnessed, and led everything away to the forest. The men were ordered to enter the house, but a revolver was pressed to my head and they yelled, “Jude, you must be killed.” I was facing death. Luckily, one of the bandits called out, “Leave him alone. Let him fall into other hands.”

 

Behavior of a good soul

From there, we returned to the bunker. It was full of water, but we had to go in. The earth caved in, and we were forced to dig another bunker in a different place, without the farmer's knowledge. We carried the earth to a spot further away, so that we would not be discovered. After a few nights, the bunker was ready.

As mentioned above, we stayed in the bunkers until Pesach. After that, the owners began to cultivate the ground, and they would not allow us to be there. They were responsible for their land. In the span of nine months, we dug five bunkers. Every time it was discovered, we had to move.

In February, 1943, not expecting to be able to withstand the cold, my wife risked leaving with our half-dead child to go to the village and seek out a farmer called Bartnik. She entered the house and was greeted with fear and shock when they saw her condition.

The farmer's wife, a very good soul, cried and trembled with fear and compassion. My wife told them, “I do not wish you any harm, but I beg you to save my child. I will return to the bunker.”

But the woman would not hear of separating a mother and child. She quickly prepared a corner of the house, hiding it with a cupboard so the neighbors would not see it. There, she prepared a bed. She gave the child some warm milk. She bathed my wife and child in a large tub with warm water and soap, and gave them warm clothing. My wife stayed with Bartnik for six weeks. The child got better and stronger. Once, the farmer's wife came and told her that three wagonloads of German gendarmes had arrived in the village. It was said that they were looking for Jews. Someone had said that there were many Jews hiding in the village. There were actually around ten Jews there, among them – Berish Zitron with his wife and two children, who find themselves today on the bloody, soaked with Jewish blood, earth. They too underwent a great deal.

 

A remedy for the weak

Not wanting to create problems for the good woman, my wife and the child left through back roads to seek out the goy Choropote. But she couldn't stay there, and left in the night for the bunker. We used to go to Choropote for water, quite a distance, but we were afraid to have others see us. As mentioned, we frequently had to change bunkers. Our last bunker was in Bartnik's field with their knowledge. The good hearted woman did all she could for us. But we didn't want to put her in danger. Without their knowledge, we dug another bunker in their field, well supported with wooden boards. We covered it with a deep layer of earth so they could plow, seed and plant potatoes on it. We made a sign, a small opening 50 cm long and 30 cm wide so that we could recognize the spot.

We wandered around in different places for six weeks until the potato plants were tall. Then we searched for the spot and entered our new bunker. It was a dark hole, without air or light. The whole family fell ill from the lack of air. We couldn't breathe.

Whenever someone went out to look for food, we never knew if he would return alive. Every time someone left for fresh air, the child would cry wanting to go with. We had to cover her mouth with our hands. After many scares, she learned that she shouldn't cry, and must remain still and quiet.

We all became weak, and lost all ability to live and heal. We were all sick. In the middle of the winter, during the severe frosts, we were counseled by a farmer to burrow into a pile of horse manure. He led us into a stall one night and left us there. We cleared a space, and me and my brother-in-law, Yankel Morgenshtern (today in Israel), lay down naked in the manure. We were warmed through and through, and sweated, and slowly revived.

Yankel survived great hardship. One cold night in 1943, he crept out to look for food. He was spotted by a bandit and shot at. Yankel fled, and hid in the forest. He was barefoot, his feet swollen and lacerated. He hid all day, and at night came to Bartnik's. Mrs. Bartnik wept at the sight. She warmed his frozen hands and feet with snow, bandaged them and fed him. The next morning he returned to the bunker. That same night, I had searched the snow with a stick for his dead body, thinking he had perished.

Thus, we survived 25 months in the bunkers, nine of them in Zrebiec, until we were expelled with all the other inhabitants to make room for the Volksdeutsche. The exiled were resettled in the Gmina Radecznica. Sitting in our bunkers, we knew nothing of this.

One Friday evening, I went out to look for food at Bartnik's farm. Two strange men jumped out at me from behind a house. I was very frightened and ran back to the bunker. Later, I climber out again and asked a farmer what had happened. He explained it to me. I was able to get some bread from him for my child. He also lent me a razor and shaving brush, because I had not shaved in months. Returning it, was not possible. The farmer was also taken away.

 

What will be, will be

We stayed another two days in that bunker. We prayed for death. Our fear was great. We could hear the shooting, and the frequent footsteps over our bunker. We expected to be captured at any moment.

Unable to withstand any more, one night, we gathered together our tools, shovels, pots, and set out into the unknown. We headed to Czarnystok through various back roads, carrying the child on our shoulders, and half a loaf of bread on which four people had been subsisting for almost two weeks. We wandered around lost all night. Near dawn, we heard a farmer driving by. He stopped a little way further along, but could not see us because of the darkness. My wife and I decided to approach him. We could see that these were not bandits, or military people because there was a cow tied to the carriage. And it turned out that he was a familiar farmer from Roslop. He was transferring his worldly goods to where he was being resettled.

We could not continue any further, because the man, Gedzusz, told us that a commando headquarters responsible for sending Poles to their new homes, had been set up in Gorajec. We immediately set to digging a new bunker in the forest. It was not far from Szperowka. We hid there an entire day. We had become indifferent to everything. We were tired of living. We were desperately hungry, so I lit a fire in the forest without fear, not caring about the outcome. I cooked some potatoes for us.

The fire attracted some frightened goyim. They told us that they were being hunted too, and they were also running to hide. We were not to be afraid of them but only of the Germans. They could come at any moment. We got through that day. At night, our acquaintance, Gedzusz, rode back and told me that the Germans had left Gorajec. He advised us to wait until later, and he would return for us, and take us to Gorajec.

And that's what actually happened: the Poles had begun to taste our misery…That is why it was now possible to get help from them. So Gedzusz returned. Yankele and my child stayed behind in the bunker. My wife and I disguised ourselves, and walked behind the carriage. He took us out of the forest, and through various routes, to the village of Czarnystok where we met a familiar farmer, Woytowicz. But he would not let us enter his house, because he had been informed that we were long since dead. Through all our weeping and pleading, he refused to believe we were who we said we were. I gave him the names of all of his own family, and the name of the man who slept in the horse barn. We called for him, and he came out of the horse stall and identified us.

Then they let us into the house, and fed us. But they would not let us spend the night. They were too afraid, and I could understood this. They stuck us out in the fields, and there, my wife and I stayed the whole day.

 

The joy of a reunion

The goy told me that there was another Jew in Czarnistok, Shloime Czarnistokek (Kapenboim). Our joy at hearing the news was indescribable. We had to wait until night before meeting in the forest. For various reasons, the anticipated meeting did not happen until the third night. We had arranged to meet at a certain place, but to our disappointment he was not there. It turned out that he had been there, and waited until dawn, and then he became frightened, and returned to the bunker where he shared with his wife.

When morning came, we hid under kustes. There we were spotted, and the German police was informed that there were “bandits hiding”. Luckily, I had left to ask Woytowicz where Shloime's bunker was located. There we learned that the police were coming for us. Woytowicz's son immediately took us to another hiding place in the forest where we stayed until nightfall.

No pen can describe the moment when two Jews – almost the last of an entire community – meet, alone, destitute, homeless and oppressed by everyone in the world. We wept over the fate of our near and dear ones, and over what happened to the large Jewish kibbutz in Poland.

Shloimes's bunker was quite well set up: large, with a stove and a lantern. But air was lacking. We could not live together, because, in such times, we were afraid of too many people being together in one place. Therefore, we dug a separate bunker for us in another location, at a distance from Shloime, and well camouflaged.

That same night, my wife and I returned to my brother-in-law, and my child, enduring a very hard journey filled with fear. There, we had to wait out the day. At night, we took all our belongings, and some potatoes, and returned to Czarnistok.

There was a teacher, Bahan, in Czarnistok, who had worked in S. He was the commander of the A.K. (Armia Krajova – Polish partisans, antisemites). He fought the Germans and shot some of them, but later he was shot. This Bahan discovered that we were Jews, and he wanted to destroy us. My Christian acquaintances in town dissuaded him by telling him I was a tailor and could be useful.

I worked hard for them without money, just for food. Bahan helped us later as well, and I sewed some clothes for him too.

There were heavy snowfalls in the winter of 1943-1944. Everything was waterlogged, and our bunker collapsed. I could not repair it myself . It was the Christian holiday “Trzech Kroli”. I ran to the village to beg for help from Woytowicz's son. He came with a horse and wagon and helped me repair the bunker. Naturally, I rewarded him well, and made him a good suit.

 

Last convulsions

We could no longer stay in our bunker. We were being noticed too often. They even wanted to kill Shloime and his wife because he had a lot of money. The shkootsim wanted him to give it to them. But I stood up for him and pleaded with them. With God's help, I was successful, and they let him live.

It also happened that a Christian had wanted to throw a grenade in my bunker, but he himself was killed when the grenade exploded. My Christian acquaintances said that God had punished him for his ill-will.

When we first entered the bunkers, we were separated from my father-in-law and mother-in-law, and also Miriam Zilberlicht and her children. They had not wanted to leave S after the last Aktion. Later, they perished in the bunkers.

We hid in Czarnistok until the Liberation, in August 1944. We went through many ordeals. Our lives were in constant danger. The area was full of A.K. people, and there were many raids and attacks. We endured horrible days, suffering physically and emotionally. Every day another trial, every day more terrible than the last. Today we had to hide from the German police, the next day from the Polish police, and the following day – from our own…

Our redemption finally came, though we stayed two more days in the bunkers before we heard the news.

The goyim, who had helped us before, were now afraid we would inform on them.

Luck began to shine on us. We left for Zamosc. We stayed there for several months, and then wandered out of Poland, the land cursed by God.

Let the world know what was done to us, the world that had stayed aloof and silent. May the world remember the words of our sages: [Hebrew needs translation p194]….

May the hands of those who assisted in the destruction of our holy souls be severed – brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers! [Hebrew needs translating p194]

Written with Moishe Messinger


[Page 195]

Echad B'Yameinu[1] - Hersh Getzl Hochbaum

by Emanuel Chmielash

Translated by Moses Milstein

Hersh Getzl Hochbaum was “echad b'yameinu.” During the time of morality's fall, a Jewish giant, a moral hero, was found, who at the demand of the German murderers to provide 500 Jews, stood in opposition against them. He refused to give up any Jews, and became a martyr by hanging himself.

I am not worthy of writing about him. I would have to purify myself in the mikveh over and over before even beginning.

When the Germans occupied Poland, they also occupied S. They immediately registered all Jewish men between the ages of sixteen and sixty. The day after the registration, they ordered all the men to assemble at the magistrat.[2] If one of the registered failed to appear, they hunted him down, and brought him to the assembly place from which they took all the assembled Jews and transported them under military guard to various work sites.

There were some Jews who did not register themselves and avoided cooperating with the Germans. They were therefore unable to show themselves in the street.

The Jews who were the representatives on the community were responsible for providing the Germans with whatever they needed.

 

Forced labor

Every day, my father, z”l, my brother, Elkana, z”l, and my younger brother, Noah, were forced to go to work. Every group of workers was guarded by two German soldiers.

One day, the group I was in was working in the outskirts of town cleaning the streets. The two German soldiers were standing by, and beside them, two Polish ruffians, known as the worst in town. One of the Germans came over to us, and silently looked at each of us in turn until he came to Yudl Zuntog, who dealt in boots. The two Poles gave a sign to the soldier by nodding their heads, and the soldier slapped Yudel in the face. Out of fear we kept our heads down until the soldier moved away.

Around the same time, they invaded the Jewish homes and confiscated various things. The mothers left at home in the houses were filled with fear.

Every day more young people disappeared from town. The Germans lacked men to fulfill their quota, so they ordered the remaining representatives of the community to establish a committee whose role was to provide people for labor every day. The unregistered, cut off from communication, were without means to make a living.

In our courtyard lived a young man, Eliah, who drove Pinchas Zelig's wagon. He had a wife and young children. Although he appeared every day for forced labor, he could not feed his family. One day, we discussed the situation , and in the morning, before work began, he and I, and several other friends went to the see the committee representatives on the “pocheneh[3], and asked, Who will provide food for the children whose fathers work for themselves, and those who are not taken for labor?

It was decided that those who did not register themselves should pay for the days when they would have been required to work. In that way, everyone worked every second day. In our family, I worked one day, and my brother, Noah, worked the second day. Whoever wanted to miss a day had to pay another to work for him. This was what the committee, and the Jews of the city, decided.

With each passing day, the conditions for Jews got worse and more Jews ran away: either disappearing into hiding places, or stealing over the border.

 

Establishing a judenrat

Then the Germans imposed-as in all cities and shtetls-the judenrat. The Germans used the help of Poles to pick the members.

I know the names of some of those chosen, among them, Hersh Getzl Hochbaum.

I was not raised to judge and criticize others, even the representatives who had done evil. I can only rely on things I have read in other Yizkor books and newspaper articles that helped to establish certain facts.

Up until they began mass liquidations of Jews, the Germans demanded money, goods and slave-labor. At first they shot individual Jews and beat up certain judenratlers. They exploited the egoism of certain individuals, flattered them, got on with them relatively well, and maybe even gave them money taken from the other Jews. In this way they sowed enmity between the judenratlers who hoped for a smile from the Germans.

When the Germans began the mass aktions, transporting Jews, or shooting them on the spot, some of the judenratlers believed that they would avoid death. They even began to fulfill the commands of the Germans with greater zeal. They simply lost their humanity. They only followed their animal instinct-to stay alive.

Before the war, they were decent people, honest, Chasidim, balei tfilis[4], and now-accomplices of the Germans in the destruction of Jews-their neighbors, friends and even members of their own family.

Could we, the survivors, ever have imagined such a thing? Is it to be believed? Unfortunately, that is what happened.

It is said that there are all kinds of people-those with weak characters and those with strong characters. The weaker ones quickly broke, the stronger ones took longer before they too broke.

I am certainly not one to judge. I see before me the words of our sages, “Do not judge your friend until you have stood in his place.” The generation of survivors can not objectively judge this sad chapter of the judenrat. Perhaps coming generations can more objectively evaluate their immoral behavior and judge them, or leave it to heavenly judgment.

*

In such immoral times, a light arose, which shines for future generations. His name is Hersh Getzl Hochbaum. I can only add-zichrono l'vracha.[5]


Translator's Notes

  1. One in a generation Return
  2. City hall Return
  3. a section of the street near the market Return
  4. Leaders of prayers Return
  5. May his memory be a blessing Return

 

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