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[Page 307]

Resistance and Rebellion

 

[Page 308]

Led Like Lambs to the Slaughter

Zvi Faigenbaum

Much has already been told about the demise of a third of our people, the tortures and agonies they faced and the hell they suffered through on their way to annihilation.

But the scope of this terrible Holocaust often raises the question: How could this great disaster take so many lives and within such a relatively short time? This question begs the equally distressing question: Is it because no resistance was shown? In other words – were we led like lambs to the slaughter?

There are two answers for this question:

The first concerns the circumstances, the processes and the methods used by the Germans during each stage of the extermination; the second is a fact that might not be very evident, but bears a historical significance under those terrible conditions, and that fact is – that there was resistance! The terrible persecution met with resistance!

This phenomenon took various forms in various places:

Organization of groups and individual resistance, rebellions and warfare, daring deeds and glorious heroics could be found practically everywhere, although they seldom left their mark because the Nazi bane has permanently erased any sign of those heroic efforts.

Mr. Zvi Fajgenbaum provides us with a living testimony of the attempts to reject this reality and of the active resistance shown by the people of Wierzbnik, within the town and its area:

The summer of 1942 was already upon us when we started hearing rumors of Jews evicted from their homes and sent to the camps. First we heard about Lublin, and then about Radom. Many considered those to be mere rumors, of unclear and perhaps untrustworthy sources, but I had reason to accept them as unquestionable facts.

For a while, I had covert ties to members of the Polish resistance, who listened regularly to Radio London for updates concerning our situation. But since these broadcasts were meant not only to provide people with information but also to raise their moral, the news concerning the war efforts and the acts of the enemy were sometimes exaggerated. Members of the Polish resistance would therefore come to me often with full lists of the news they have heard listening to those broadcasts, asking for my impressions and interpretation, since they realized that I could provide them with a balanced picture that proved true in retrospect. I provided them with a simple analysis of the situation based on whatever information I received, and extracted the truth from the layers of words. It seemed that they had much faith in my opinion and therefore honoured me with repeated visits, which kept me informed of events around us at all times.

One clear morning I received an underground newsletter from them, detailing the shipments of Jews to the camps, which included whole communities of Jews who were taken to Sobibor and never came back. When I linked this piece of news with the evictions and shipments from the nearby towns and cities, I no longer had any doubts about the terrible, tragic meaning of these shipments. I felt that the end was near and that we could no longer trust blind fate, which held only one thing in store for us – the angel of death that was certain to come for our souls. I knew these were our last moments and that something must be done to prevent the worst from coming true, and done right now!

I consulted with a few likeminded youths and we started making plans to rebel. We decided to act, to resist and to fight, instead of walking like lambs to the slaughter. We considered joining with the partisans, or organizing our own fighting groups. However these considerations made us instantly aware of our gloomy reality and the fact that rebellion would require weapons, which we did not have. Bereft of even the bare necessities, we had to plan our actions carefully, because as soon as we were discovered we would be helpless to resist and doomed for immediate extermination. The second problem we faced was the sacred tradition of our people, succinctly expressed by our elders: “All Jews are responsible for one another”. How can a whole group escape into the forest or some other place, putting the rest of the public at risk? We knew that the Germans would take revenge against the entire public. This meant that we had to escape individually.

We were familiar with the ways of our haters-oppressors, and we knew the kind of calamity that would result from any event that could indicate resistance. We therefore put much thought into our plans: escape itself was meaningless unless it had a chance to succeed. And since success could only be achieved by force of arms, we had to get weapons no matter what. But where would we acquire weapons? The Germans were the only ones who had them; therefore, we had to kill a German and take his weapon. And if a German was found murdered, the result would be the mass-slaughter of hundreds of Jews… what would the people say then? Won't they blame us for helping further this bloody deluge?

Another obstacle, of a different kind, was facing us. While talking to different people about our attempt to escape and join the partisans, we formed a kind of silent agreement concerning these matters. All of us except for two, who were terrified of the Germans. We worried that fear might push them to become snitches… one of them even showed clear signs of his wavering loyalty and we needed to “remove” him to be rid of the risk. This kind of action, planning the murder of a fellow Jew, was well and truly beyond us.

Finally we feared our own official representatives, who were made responsible by the Germans for everything that happened among the Jews. Their fear of a brutal reprisal could also make them act against us before we did anything.

There were other reasons that prevented us from organizing any operations, and the idea was delayed by all the obstacles in our path. But we drew one conclusion from all our conversations about taking action, and some resented me for pointing out even that much: that the Jews in every town and city in Poland were destined for a single fate, and anyone who thought that Wierzbnik-Starachowice would be spared by the Germans because the people here are vital for work at the factory was utterly mistaken.

We purposefully explained this reality to the people, in order to make them realize that only action could save them from the certain doom awaiting. But despite everything, it was not time to act yet.

We postponed the actual organization of partisan activity for the time being, but the notion came up time and again, every once in a while.

 

The bitter day

Unfortunately, our dark predictions all came true: on October 27th 1942, at the break of dawn, screams were heard on the Jewish street: “Raus! Raus!” and the uniformed Germans, accompanied by their local assistants, started driving everyone to the Rinek, which became one of the infamous “Umschlagplatz”. The sick, the elderly and others who couldn't leave immediately – were shot on the spot. Nearly 80 men and women were killed this way on that day. 2,000 people survived this pogrom, some of whom already left for work and were staying at the factory. It should be noted that the number of people who went to work was greater than usual, because the Jewish council heard about what was coming and bribed senior officers to order more workers. Families were torn during the eviction, with the men staying behind at the factory while the women and the children were evicted and vice versa. Our family shared this cruel fate; my wife and six of our precious children: Moshe-Baruch, Hanna, Yitzhak Meir, Tzipora, Libe and Sarah were sent to Treblinka, while I remained with two of the girls, one of whom was later taken to a hospital when she came down with typhus and murdered by the Gestapo along with 140 other patients.

 

How to get a certificate

When I arrived at the camp in Starachowice I realized there were no bounds to this evil. Even our previous situation was better than what I saw now. It was hard to imagine people being kept under such inhumane conditions. The camp was composed of small cabins, and inside them, against the walls, were three-storied bunks with no mattresses, just a little sawdust scattered over them. The camp was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and watch towers. Upon our arrival, whether by pure coincidence or design, a child came close enough to touch the fence and was shot on the spot. Such horrors and their likes were henceforth the lot of anyone who ended in this camp. I felt that the Germans intended for the inmates to starve slowly to their bitter end, and decided I would refuse to go like a lamb to the slaughter. I was yearning to do “something” and my mind was constantly plotting and scheming.

“A person's mind is full of thought.” There were two camps for prisoners in the area, one on the hills and the other in the valley. Using bribes, the people who had work certificates from the factories received permission to leave the camp and join one of the groups headed for work. I had no certificate that would make me a member of one factory or another and so I could not leave the camp. On the third day, I met two people who wanted to leave but dared not go. They turned to me and asked if I was willing to join them. After I agreed, we decided to act. We bribed some of the camp personnel and left at night. At the gate, we were stopped and asked where we were going. We answered that we worked below and they sent armed guards to escort us. On the way we bribed the guards and continued on the hard road to the factory, where we briefly stopped for rest, before turning to the “Zeork” power plant, again using bribes. The situation we found there was different than the situation in the other factories. People were allowed to bring beddings and other belongings from their homes. There was a special area for women and children and it was possible to live here. But to do so, I had to overcome another obstacle. The people here were all known and had their own place, while I had no certificate and was prone for all kinds of unpleasant surprises.

I was lost, but the people who lived there suggested that I hide for a time, while a “contact” who was in touch with the authorities bribed them into entering me in “the book of life”, that is, adding me to the happy workers of the place. There was only one problem; my benefactor told me it would cost 2,000 guldens, while I had no money at all. Everything I had was taken from me back at the Umschlagplatz. While we stood there, we were ordered to empty our pockets and give the Germans any valuables we had: money, gold, Jewelry and the like. As usual, the demand was accompanied by the threat that anyone found hiding something would be shot! I gave them everything I had, believing the valuables to be worthless in this hell and regretting not the loss of my possessions but that of my dear ones, whom I will never see again. And here I am, faced once again with the conflict – blood or money!

But not all was lost; I was among my people, and Jews, as you know, are a compassionate people. They started looking for a solution, and at least 20 people, some of them my acquaintances, were willing to donate 100 guldens. They needed time to gather the necessary amount, but I was seeing a light on the horizon.

 

Organizing a partisan group

As I mentioned earlier, I was constantly thinking about the need to act against the German bane who was determined to destroy our people and was actively carrying out his diabolical plan anywhere he set foot. I thought about it from time to time, whenever I could recover for a while from the constant danger. Now that I was waiting for people to arrange my stay in this place, I had some time to think. I became acquainted with some of the youths in that place, and two of them became my close friends. Our friendship was not coincidental but a purposeful one. One of the two, Shlomo Drajnudel, was a former officer in the Polish military and was also trained in partisan warfare. The other, Leibish Nojman, was leader of the Jewish communists in our town, and was familiar with matters of conspiracy and resistance, while I have already decided to pave the way for partisan activity. We quickly found common ground, and made plans to start our activity. We discussed matters, and based on what we knew about the Polish and Ukrainian partisans, who abused Jews, we decided not to join any other gentile groups but to form an independent group, and we started recruiting people.

This naturally required utmost caution, because every “slip” could lead to death. We were ordered to maintain complete secrecy and walk on tiptoes, so that no unreliable ears would hear of our actions. Nevertheless and despite our efforts our secret leaked and became known to all 84 residents of the camp. Confusion, laced with fear and resentment, spread quickly. People felt safer here than in any other place, and now the guest they considered a good, God-fearing man started inviting trouble and bringing danger… They needed to get rid of me at any cost, and the sooner, the better. They did just that: they hinted to the person who was supposed to try and add me to the list of locals that he should cease from his efforts. A short time later he came to me: “Mr. Hershel, I'm very sorry,” he stuttered with embarrassment, “There's nothing I can do… it's impossible…” and after a brief pause he added, “Here are 1,000 guldens, to help you on your way.”

Since I knew the reason behind his actions, there was no need for further explanations and I accepted my fate and the need to leave.

 

Using an alias

Next to the power plant where I tried to “acquire citizenship” was a lumber-mill that also employed about 50-60 Jews under relatively good conditions. Those who were in charge of the Jewish workers were also in touch with them and could be bribed to add people to the list of workers, claiming they were necessary for the factory, which in turn worked for the German war industry. It was only natural that I was drawn to this place. When I came to the fence surrounding the factory I noticed a woman I knew and asked her to help me become a resident of their factory. She took my ID to arrange my inclusion in the list. For the time being, I returned to my hiding place in Zeork, until I could get my “legal certificate”. However I only had a single night to dream about a more peaceful existence, because early next morning, the place was surrounded by police cars, Gestapo and armed and frowning SS troopers. As soon as they got out of the cars they started bellowing orders – “Gather everyone!”

I was faced with another quick decision. Soon, they would start checking certificates, and then deciding who shall live and who shall die. I was not registered among the workers, which meant I had to act before it was too late. I “sneaked” away as quickly as I could, and entered a nearby warehouse filled with scraps and thick cables. I hid among this trash, planning to stay there until the storm blows over, and saw parents bringing in their unauthorized children.

But after gathering all the Jews in the courtyard, the Germans started searching the place for people in hiding, and eventually arrived at the warehouse I was hiding in. A German stood with a drawn pistol and screamed: “Raus! Raus!” and the children became frightened and made noises that told the Germans there was someone hiding there. The officer jumped on one of the pylons and when he noticed me, he aimed his pistol directly at me… Fortunately, I didn't panic; I distracted him for a few more seconds while I helped a child cross a hay bale he couldn't climb over on his own, and used the last fateful seconds to escape. The policeman managed to hit me over the head with his nightstick, but I ignored my pain and continued running until I joined the rest of the gathered people. In the process, I burned all my certificates to make it less obvious that I was a stranger.

We anxiously waited there for a long time until finally we were led to a big courtyard and ordered to surrender money, gold, Jewels and other valuables. I had nothing left and the orders didn't apply to me.

Next came the interrogation, carried out by the head of the Gestapo in Starachowice, a man named Becker. He asked the factory manager such questions as: “Under whose authority are all these Jews employed here?” and the latter answered that he knew nothing, because he was merely standing in for the manager of the factory, Mr. Starker, and carrying out his orders. When the Gestapo commander heard that, he ordered the guards to keep us there while he went to clear things up…. We stood there for hours, afraid of the unknown future, until the latter returned in the afternoon with orders from the Radom County Gestapo that said: “Those who are here legally will stay, while those that are here illegally will be shot!” The atmosphere around me became charged, and the people who knew of my presence looked at me in consternation and then reached the conclusion I was a dead man…

This marked the start of a race against the angel of death. Minute by minute, name by name, they read the names off the list, one reading and the other translating. Whenever they would read a name, the person would answer, and everything was done in alphabetical order, because the Germans insisted on order. People answered when they heard their name called, and went running to the other side of the courtyard. The reading and the migration continued; one rank was growing shorter and the other longer. Another name is called, and suddenly, a pause! There's no answer. Someone's name was called and no one answered… my heart is beating hard and my head is dizzy, I can't miss this opportunity, I gather all my strength and answer a single word, “Here”, and immediately cross to the other side of the courtyard. And then I was again among Jews and muttering “Hagomel”.

But no crime goes unpunished, and just as it seemed that things were going smoothly, something happened to make me feel uneasy. Among the residents was a boy of 17 named Adler, who broke his leg in a work accident. He was therefore unable to reach the courtyard on time and when he finally arrived, he drew the attention of Gestapo commander Becker, who ordered him killed on the spot because of his disability.

This vile murder depressed us as we stood there in the courtyard until nightfall, when we were each allowed to return to his or her work. As for me, it was clear to everyone, myself included, that I should not remain there, because the fact that I was not on the list put them all at risk. And so I decided to leave as soon as I was registered at the lumbermill.

We heard that Zeork needed workers in other places as well, especially around Skarżysko, where they were putting up power lines and needed 11-20 additional workers. I joined the small group that was headed there, and started working at a new place.

 

Joining the partisans

As I mentioned earlier, whenever I was out of immediate danger I was faced with that fly buzzing around my brain, demanding that I refuse to accept the situation, rebel, oppose!

During our brief stay at the small camp we had repeated visits from the bloody Starker, who was filled with a sick lust for torture and murder. Whenever he showed up he would ask about a random person: “What does he do, is he a good worker?” and when the work inspector gave a positive answer, he drew out his gun and shot the victim. He was constantly up to such bloody, sadistic tricks.

News came to us that partisan groups in the area included several Jews from the town of Iłża. Since some of the camp dwellers came from that town, they eventually made contact with their townsmen among the partisans. At first I knew nothing about it but when I learned of it I went to one of the Jews and asked “Why didn't you tell me? My heart is set on joining the partisans!” The notion of active fighting and joining those battling the Nazi enemy was always foremost on my mind, like a fire in my veins. “Wait,” they told me, “in a few days, representatives of the partisans would come here and then we can introduce you, and see what happens”.

From that moment on I could not sleep. I found no rest at night, and waited anxiously for them to come…

One day, or rather, one night, some Poles arrived in wagons and said: “Anyone who wants to join – can come with us.” Without hesitation, I told them I wanted to join, and so did some of the others, among them my friend Shlomo Drajnudel. A total of eleven people, most of them young, have left with the Poles.

 

Disappointment for the Jews

We left in secret, under the cover of night, and marched in a route that offered some cover from hostile eyes, among trees, bushes and copses. Our destination was not far from the town of Szydłowiec and near Skarżysko. After we marched for about 15 kilometers, we arrived at the edge of a nearby forest, but here we faced an inexplicable surprise: we noticed that the Poles' wagon was gone and while we were wondering about this mystery, we were told by the Poles us that they would be leaving us here, and we should go into the forest where we will find everything we need.

These events made me suspect that we were being set up and I started considering the best course of action. It soon became clear that I was not the only one entertaining such doubts, but though we were united in our doubts concerning the situation, we differed in our estimates of our position. The majority argued that if we were determined to join the partisans, we had to follow this through, even if unexpected dangers were involved, while the minority, which I sided with – claimed that we had to go back. Either intuition or cold logic told me that we were being set up.

Convinced that I was right, I claimed that we must not allow the routine to dictate our actions. I stated simply that it takes courage not only to walk forward, but also to pull back.

Others sided with me and our discussion became heated, until finally we decided to split up: seven continued walking toward the forest and four, including me, headed back. I repeated time and again that we must not be fooled and that we should strive to carry out our original plan and establish a partisan group of our own. But my words fell on deaf ears. Those who decided to continue refused to listen to me and even voiced their disappointment of me…

I was hoping that I was wrong, for the sake of those who left, but regrettably, my intuition proved tragically true and sooner than I expected.

The four of us arrived in camp at dawn, exhausted by our nightly adventures, but the people considered us “deserters”. One man named Yeshayahu Stern expressed their disappointment and sorrow by saying: “What have you done to us, Wierzbniker butcher? Yesterday we considered you a bold hero, and your actions warmed our hearts and fortified our spirit. We all thought of following you and now you return to us, as people who make lofty speeches and take back what they said when they stumble across the harsh reality…”

I answered them: “Hear me, my friends; this is not a matter of cowardice as you might believe. Going and coming back, each involved a risk. Nevertheless, we were excited about the idea, walked with determination and marched in a row in military fashion. Next to me in line marched my young townsman, Mendel Brodbeker. Our spirits were high. Outside, snowflakes were falling, mixing with the moist earth and clinging to the soles of our shoes. I turned to my neighbor and asked him: Mendel, do you know how to read foot writing?”

“What do you mean?” He answered, surprised.

“Look,” I told him, “look at our footsteps, exposing the purity of the earth under the whiteness of the snow. What does it remind you of? It is as though our feet write paragraphs of respect for our tortured, abused people.” And indeed, we felt like we were rebelling against the cruel reality, that we are not walking 'like lambs to the slaughter', as the villainous murderers intended. However our hopes were dashed when we realized the evil scheme of our Polish “associates”, who wanted to turn us over to the German foe.”

I saw that my explanation was received and added: the lesson we learned from this is that we must not trust others and must only rely on ourselves, if we could assemble a group of Jewish partisans – I'd be first to join!

My words convinced them and the notion met with a willingness to act. We started organizing and managed to acquire two guns, but the German schedule spoiled our plans and took us by surprise.

The next day, when we came back to camp from work, we were suddenly told that we won't be leaving for work anymore because the whole camp will be moved in the morning to the “Judenstat” in Szydłowiec…

The new situation split us into two groups: some said we should go to the forest and join the partisans and the others came to me, to ask my opinion. I told them I was going to Szydłowiec.

Around midnight came wagons that took the belongings of those going to join the partisans. Although I didn't side with their decision, I naturally wished them luck on their way, while I joined those who decided to walk to Szydłowiec.

 

Most of the partisans were murdered

After many hardships we arrived at the ghetto in Szydłowiec. Three days later arrived one of the 11 who wanted to join the partisans and later split up. He was among those who continued into the forest. The man arrived running for his life, after surviving terrible dangers and narrowly escaping the claws of the angel of death, carrying the tale of that group's fate. According to him, they managed to find the Polish partisans, but the deception was soon revealed. The entire forest was suddenly surrounded by SS and Gestapo, armed and accompanied by bloodhounds. The Poles left the forest, individually or in pairs, and each of them headed home. The Jews, however, had nowhere to turn and had to stay in the forest. The long arm of the Nazi murderers quickly caught up with them and they opened fire on them from state of the art weapons. The Jews only had about 30 rifles, which were by no way a match for the German firepower, and most of them fell in combat.

Other groups of Jews went to the forest, numbering about 150 people in all, and 120 of them were murdered by the Germans when the forest was surrounded while 30 managed somehow to get to the ghetto. While we were making efforts to welcome this group, we suffered another blow. The day after their arrival, the ghetto was surrounded by armed SS troopers who immediately started screaming “Juden Raus! Raus!” we all had to come out and line up in two opposed rows in the big courtyard of the factory, while the Germans aimed their weapons at us.

 

Line-up

After we lined up as ordered, they pulled a Jewish boy out of a nearby car, and I immediately recognized him as one of those who joined the partisans and never came back.

You may recall that I was among the ones who came back, while this boy was among the other group. He was dragged by two SS troopers who were leading him along the rows as if it were a lineup and telling him to identify. No one was sure what he was supposed to identify and in what context, but based on our common past, I could guess. He faced every man, looked at him, “measured” him and moved on. When he stood before me, he looked at me with glassy eyes and I too pretended I was made of stone. He walked past me with hardly any delay, as though he didn't know me, and I realized that he didn't want to give us away. He therefore moved from one person to the next, until he reached the end of the line with no results. But this fact annoyed the Germans, who started threatening that if he didn't tell them what they wanted to know, they would kill him. Then they ordered everyone to take off their hats and the lineup was started anew. Their threats worked this time, the boy cracked and started pulling people out of the rows – one, two, three. He was coming towards me, stood before me looking, raised his hand towards me and my blood froze in my veins. The seconds tick by and I refuse to panic. Knowing that any movement I make will seal my fate, I remained standing motionless…waiting to see what will happen next. The guy touched my arm and motioned for me to step aside, so the man standing behind me could come out of the line… As soon as the man stepped out of line, the SS asked: “Is your name Langer? When did you become a “bandit”?

When I heard that I was certain they were looking for partisans, because the Germans commonly used the term “bandit” when referring to the partisans. The guy was still young, about 16, the nephew of Jedlinker from Iłża who was among the first Jewish partisans and carried out many heroic deeds during the war against the Nazi enemy. The Germans, who wanted to take revenge against all the people of Iłża, had him pointing out people from Iłża, whom they led to the cemetery and murdered there, in addition to those murdered in the forest. This was the tragic end of the Jewish partisans who left camp Skarżysko and reached Polanka forest.


[Page 317]

Hell's Dungeon

Chava Faigenbaum (Shraga)

The summer was coming to an end, the eldest leaves started falling and a light breeze told of the coming of fall. It was twilight when I put my coat on and headed toward the second street, near our house. Suddenly the gendarmes appeared behind me, accompanied by their local assistants, grabbed my arm and ordered me to come with them. I realized I was being kidnapped to do forced labor, a phenomenon that became common over the past few months. About 20 other girls were abducted that day, and all of us were incarcerated. In the evening they took us out of jail and led us to camp Lavortzia, where they divided us into two groups, one packing ammunition and the other working in the kitchen.

 

Beaten over a barrel

The camp's staff was composed of Germans, who had the senior positions, and Ukrainian subordinates who nevertheless had complete control over the prisoners, which they exercised with great cruelty. They considered anything to be an excuse to abuse and beat the Jews, and often they did it with no reason at all.

One horror that was carved into my memory during those dark days I will never forget. We were standing in a lineup, an event which repeated itself twice a day, and they dragged a barrel to the center of the courtyard and then dragged out a Jewish resident of our town named Wajman and ordered him to lie on the barrel, while one of the hangmen beat him with all his murderous might. When the beating was over the man fell exhausted and I never learned his fate because we were ordered to disburse.

On 08.12.1942 they abandoned camp Lavortzia and we were taken on foot to the town of Szydłowiec, where the Nazis established a kind of concentration camp for the Jews who remained in various places, mockingly naming the place “Judenstat”. Conditions here were no worse than what we faced before, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my father and sister are alive, and I met them a short while later.

 

In a shipment to Auschwitz

After a while we realized that the German talk about a Judenstat was meant to trick the Jews and cover up the preparations for “the final solution”, that is, the transportation to the death camps. As usual, the Germans made their preparations in secret and then came one day and took us from Szydłowiec, led us to the train station and crammed everyone into the cars. Although many were still uncertain about the purpose of this transport, we no longer entertained any doubts. But we were wrong about the direction we were going in.

Thanks to his contacts with the underground, my father knew where the transport was headed: to the furnaces of Treblinka – to doom.

My father has already organized a group of people who would jump from the train during a previous transport, and the two of us joined them. After breathtaking, blood curdling adventures we arrived at the Łuków “Judenstat”, hoping to find refuge for a while, but four months later we were threatened again with annihilation and had to repeat the dramatic stunt of jumping off a moving train headed to Treblinka (See Zvi Fajgenbaum's article).

Our adventures continued for 21 nights before we finally arrived at the camp in Starachowice, where our first wish was to see my sister, Faiga. Unfortunately, we were gravely disappointed. We learned that on March 5th, Adar B 28th 1943, the villainous murderers took a group of sick people from the camp, my sister among, led them to the nearby Bugai forest and shot them to death.

We “settled in” quickly at the camp in Starachowice and our friends tried their best to help us. We found work at the Hermann Göring Werke factory and even received special treatment, because people considered us the survivors of an inescapable planet.

In the meantime, the front lines approached us rapidly, and the Germans were in constant retreat, under the pressure of the attacking allies. It was the end of 1944, and the Nazi defeat was starting to bud, but we were still in peril, and could die any day.

It was not long before the camp in Starachowice was abandoned. The ground was burning under the feet of the oppressors and they have decided to relocate the camps away from the front lines. It was under these circumstances that we ended up once again on the train to extermination.

 

A different direction

Since we already had a reputation for jumping, we were ready to do so again. I dressed up as a man, so I could be in the same car as my father. We managed to stay together and as soon as the train started moving, we prepared to jump. Most of the people in the car (which was open) did likewise, but our plans were hampered by the guard nearby. This fact ended up saving us, because the people who managed to jump off this train ended up in the murderous hands of the Polish “partisans” lurking in the area and they savaged those Jews like wild beasts.

This transport contained as many as 300 people from Wierzbnik and Starachowice and the first thing that shocked me to the core was being separated from my father. Men and women were separated in that camp, and the moment I took off my hat they realized I was a girl. After making us stand and wait for a short while, they led us to the “sauna” and then to the quarantine cabins. We spent a whole month in those cabins, without going to work, but the lineups and the hunger weighed heavily on us. One day Dr. Mengele came into our cabin, selected 84 women and told them to come out. We were immediately taken to a hospital called “Royer” and given a blood test. If the test showed that one of the girls had the blood type they were after, and they took blood from her. I was among those whose blood was taken. When it was over, they returned us to the quarantine cabins where we stayed for about two more weeks before we were moved to Block 24. Transports of Jews from Lodz arrived while we were in quarantine and were sent directly to the gas chambers and the incinerators. When we entered block 24, our schedule changed. Up to that point we had to suffer the various hardships and persecutions associated with prison life, the abuse, the cruelty, the constant hunger and the pressure of the stressful living conditions. Now they were compounded by the burden of hard labor, as part of “AuserCommando 212”. Every morning we walked about four kilometers from camp and worked at paving a new road. First we had to uproot bushes with our bare hands and next to pull carts full of earth to even the ground. We worked in any weather, in the cold and in the rain, and our meager clothes offered no shelter from the elements. Many have naturally fallen ill that under these conditions, myself among them. For a time I hid my sickness, because any sign of sickness could cost a person his life, but when my fever rose I could hold out no longer and was sent to a kind of hospital called “Royer”. Every patient in this place was in great need of heaven's mercy, because this was where the hangmen came on occasion to select victims for extermination. I somehow managed to escape this peril, because the Germans were starting to change their policy concerning the concentration camps in the eastern regions of Germany. The Russian front was drawing closer and the Germans feared that this “treasure” would fall into the hands of the allied forces, exposing their crimes to the whole world. Therefore, they started evacuating the prisoners from the various camps and Auschwitz' turn was soon to come. This allowed me time to recover a little and I was added to the transport that left on foot for the town of Gliwice.

 

Hell's Dungeon

We did not stay in Gliwice. We were taken to the local train station, loaded into freight cars and taken to a small, unknown station. After a brief stay there we were ordered out of the cars and lined up in fives before starting a grueling two day march without food or water, until finally we arrived at the camp in Ravensbrück. Our sufferings reached new peaks here, because our ability to endure the harsh conditions passed beyond the point of breaking and into doom and nothingness. We arrived in the middle of the night, hungry, tired, spent, and were nevertheless forced to stand for long hours in the cold of night. Thirst burned in our throats to the point of suffocation and our bodies were simmering with an inner fever. We stuck out our tongues and licked snowflakes off each other to slacken the deadly thirst.

Our path so far was not padded with roses, but the horrors we encountered in Ravensbrück made every event that preceded it in the Nazi hell pale by comparison. If Auschwitz was a prison, Ravensbrück was its dungeon, the worst hell on earth. The prisoners were housed in wooden cabins, but the cabins were all full and so we were put in a tent. Two thousand women in a single tent. At the edges of the tent stood four-storied bunks and the place was so crowded that we had to climb each other to reach our place. The women in charge were cruel, brutal Russian prisoners. They swore at the prisoners and beat them whenever they had a chance. Our meals, which consisted of a small amount of soup, were given to us at a late hour and posed a unique risk. The bunks at the edges of the tent lacked not only mattress but sometimes planks as well, and some prisoners would steal planks while a woman left her place to get her food. We therefore had to post guards over our planks. We had no drinking water, and couldn't even bathe.
Soon we were dying, slowly but surely. The incinerators burned not far from the tent, and their maws seemed to wait for us, like prey lined up. The daily mortality rate was staggering and we felt that none of us would leave this place. But an event that should have hastened my doom has in fact saved me from the noose. The inhuman conditions afflicted me with dysentery and the disease invoked the compassion of those around me. This fact gave me the courage to overcome my death throes and recover a little. In the meantime, those who could still stand were pulled to their feet for a new death march to camp Malkov. Here, we were put in a big cabin that served as an outdoor theatre in the past, and made to lie on the bare floor. The place was too narrow to contain all of us and women had to lie on top of each other. I was still sick, but there was a Hungarian woman next to me who nursed me and helped me face my terrible suffering. A few women died every day from hunger and diseases. We spent almost three weeks in this place, until we were taken to the town of Leipzig. From there on we traveled away from the approaching front lines, until one night all the guards and policemen disappeared from the camp and in the morning we were liberated.


[Page 321]

The Policeman Shot and Missed

Abraham Shiner

In the year 1939 I was staying at the town of Stanisławów in Eastern Galicja and when the war broke out I was caught in a situation that I could not easily escape. Under those circumstances I witnessed the first stages of the persecutions, the oppression and the murder of the Jewish population (in Stanisławów itself and the neighboring towns) both by the German soldiers and the local farmers – the anti-Semitic Ukrainians.

The attacks and pogroms were already extensive at the time and I was determined to escape at any cost. After many efforts and much hardship I managed to escape Galicja and reach my home town Wierzbnik. Although the atmosphere and the lifestyle I found there differed completely from the place I escaped, I was certain that this scourge will reach us sooner or later, because I already realized that the murders and abuse of Jews were not random and spontaneous acts but a measured policy dictated from the higher ranks down, and it will not skip any place where Jews live.

In time, I received a letter from an acquaintance in Stanisławów, who wrote to me in code because she feared unfriendly eyes. The most important sentence in the aforementioned letter was phrased thusly: There was a very big wedding, everyone went and didn't come back.”

The meaning of this sentence was immediately clear to me in light of everything that I have seen while I was staying in Galicja, and I became anxious and worried about things to come. I was forced to go into hiding to keep my presence a secret from the German authorities, because they killed anyone who came from the eastern regions without their official permission.

After two months my father rest his soul got me an ID certificate and I started working at the lumber-mill. Nevertheless I was did not feel at ease, because I could foresee the next stages of the tragedy approaching and knew that this was my chance to do something, to organize and initiate action that may save us from the doom about to befall us.

I had some gentile acquaintances that were in touch with the partisans, and from them I first heard about Treblinka and its horrors. I found it easy to believe the terrible tales about the things taking place in that camp because I have already seen mass murders carried out by the Germans and their profane supporters. Therefore I tried to have words with some people at work, to share the news about the bloody plots of the Germans and find a solution, a way to get weapons, to fight and resist the Nazi murderers and their villainous supporters.

But to my great dismay, the people did not realize the danger and its tragic, menacing extent. Their replies were empty, mocking, often indecisive, and some were even amazed and resentful, asking “are you crazy?”

I mentioned the subject to them again and again, describing the news and the facts known to me, but the people showed remarkable disbelief and my efforts were in vain.

Eventually I gave up on them and stopped bringing the subject up before others.

 

An axe under the bed

Although faced with the indifference and incomprehension of the others to the extent that I despaired from acting in that direction, I refused to accept this fate and be led like a lamb to the slaughter. A while later, something happened in our family. The Nazis have abused my sister, and the fact sealed my opinion of them. When I had nothing else to do, I made an axe my constant companion, intent of using it in time of need to give myself a chance. I carried it hidden under my coat to work as well. Only when I went to bed I removed it from under my clothes and put it under the bed instead. I knew in advance that my axe is unlikely to make a major difference, being the act of single person, but I was determined not to accept the situation.

The rest of my family knew about the matter but they did nothing to stop me because they knew my stand on the subject. In time I bore witness to the murder of helpless Jews by German soldiers, but I could never understand or accept the fact that the people did refused to resist or rebel against their criminal acts.

 

To the home of Kocharzow

The persecution and abuse grew from day to day, and reached their peek during the first eviction of Wierzbnik's Jews to Treblinka. Nearly two weeks after the eviction I learned that my father is at the Strzelnica labor camp and that people there are starving. My situation was better and I wanted to give him some food and money. At night I snuck out of the lumber-mill where I worked and went into the streets of the ghetto. The night was very cold and I considered entering one of the houses and taking some blankets from it. I headed to an area I was familiar with, near our home, but when I entered the apartment I was so anxious that I could not touch anything. The place still felt “warm”, that is, as though the residents just left, and I could not make myself take anything and left empty handed.

My next concern was getting something to eat that I could give to a Jewish policeman who would pass it to my father, but as I was wandering the streets I noticed German gendarmes and quickly hid in the post office building so they will not find me. When the danger passed I headed to the home of a Polish policeman named Kocharzow, an old acquaintance of ours, who was keeping certain items hidden for us. I reached his house and knocked on the window. It wasn't long before the lady of the house came out in a hurry and told me that I cannot come inside because she has guests. She motioned for me to wait and then came back out with half of a big loaf of bread, and armed with these provisions I turned around and headed back towards the lumber mill. On the way I stopped at the Jewish police building to give the bread to a policeman that would take it to my father, but I couldn't find the man and turned back to “my” camp.

During both legs of my trip I ran into no obstacles except for the momentary appearance of the gendarmes. But when I got back to camp, I was stopped at the gate by a policeman who demanded identification. I gave him my certificate and he examined it thoroughly then asked “You are a Jew?” when I answered that I was, he continued asking “So what are you doing here?” meaning “since you know you're not supposed to be here at this hour.”

 

Turn around

I told him the truth, that I left to get some food for my starving father and here is the loaf of bread that I got from my friends. I was hoping that he would show understanding and leave me be, but I was gravely disappointed. He was not only unsympathetic, but clearly prepared himself for some important event. Another clue to this lay in the fact that before my arrival he already stopped a Pole who worked at the lumber mill and was checking papers, but when he decided to “take me in” he muttered at the Pole that he may go, gave him back his ID and indicated that he can leave.

My sixth sense was already telling me that I am headed into trouble, but I did not realize just how bad my situation was until the latter unsheathed his claws, hissing ominous words between his filthy teeth: “You're not getting out of this alive!”

When I realized who I was dealing with, I understood that any word I say would only make things worse and so I didn't respond. He ordered me to turn around and I immediately guessed his intent. He was armed with a rifle and wanted to shoot me in the back so he could make up an alibi and claim that I fled and he was forced to shoot me…

I naturally refused to do so but he ordered and pressed me to turn around! I continued to defy him, thinking “Does he really intend to murder me in cold blood? I did nothing to anger him, did nothing to him. Perhaps,” it occurred to me “he wants money?” And since I had nothing to lose I told him, “Look, if you let me go I'll pay you.” Sadly, his reaction was even worse than before. “I'll kill you in a second,” he muttered furiously, and to make good on his threat he unslung the rifle from his shoulder. The name of this policeman was Wolczek, and he was a handsome but infamous youth. He searched for hiding Jews murdered many of them with sadistic glee. One of those cold blooded murders could shock anyone but the heatless: he arranged Rosa Milman's children in a row so he could kill all three with a single bullet…

Now, as I recalled that monstrous crime and saw him unsling the rifle from his shoulder I had no doubt what his vile mind had in store for me. I was thinking desperately of ways to escape him. In truth, I could take him in a fight. I was young and strong enough to fight him evenly. But I knew that my victory would be paid for by dozens of Jews, perhaps even all the Jews in camp. Therefore, I had to abandon any thought of an active, violent escape and save myself by fleeing him.

 

I dove into the river

I started coaxing him again, this time without real intent. I wanted to distract him and use the chance to escape. When he trained his rifle on me I decided to position myself in a way that would keep me unharmed if he suddenly decided to pull the trigger… I repeated my earlier offer of money and appealed to his conscience: “Look,” I told him, “I'm a Jew and you're a Pole, and the Germans are our common enemies!” for a moment I thought I managed to sway his stony heart, but I was sorely mistaken. He didn't even let me finish speaking and before he started screaming “Turn around! Turn around!” and landed a serious blow to my face. I felt my face covered with blood and after recovering my senses I realized that any delay would only make things worse and started running as fast as I could. A shot was fired immediately, but he missed me. This encouraged me and I kept on running without slowing down. I ran like mad, because I realized that my life depended on it. As I ran on I grew hot and felt the weight of every pin, so I first threw off my coat and then the bread, although getting it landed me in trouble in the first place. Since I heard no more gunshots I suspected that he was chasing me, and when I turned my head back I saw that he was indeed on my heels. The race was already sealed. He was healthy and strong and well fed, while we Jews lived on bread of affliction. It was no surprise that the distance between us grew shorter by the minute. I was already preparing for the worst, but suddenly a thought occurred to me that could stave off the immediate danger. I was running next to a ditch and it occurred to me to enter the water. I went down into the ditch while the policeman stopped, because he was too lazy to climb into the ditch, and started shooting at me. The river water served me as cover and the bullet did not hit me. After that I would occasionally bring my head out for air and then dive back in, but the “game” could not last long because I was running out of strength. I therefore got out of the water, climbed the other bank, and fell exhausted. Seeing my condition, the policeman decided that there was no need for him to cross the river and get me, because lying on the ground I was an easy target for his bullet, a sitting duck. He acted on these thoughts, raising the rifle and leisurely taking aim, moving the barrel this way and that occasionally. But the distance seemed too much for him. A shot rang out, but it hit a little ways from me. He wasn't satisfied with the result, adjusted his aim and fired again. He missed again, but this time in the other direction. The villain refused to give up and aimed his rifle at me for the third time. Several minutes passed and I managed to recover some of my strength. I told myself that if I would be lucky once again and he would miss me, I will make an effort to get away. I will try to fight for my life again. Two or three more minutes passed and another shot was heard. He missed!

 

Breaking contact

As soon as the shot was fired I bolted up and started running as fast as I could towards the camp. The distance was not great, but I deliberately took a winding path to make it harder for the fiend to chase me if he decided to persist. During my renewed flight I crossed the Kamienna River and managed to break contact from the enemy, until I reached a spot near the camp. I could hear the name Kocharzow shouted from afar, the name of the policeman whose wife gave me the bread. I did not know what the shouting was about and I was running out of strength again and had to lie on the ground and rest for a while. A few minutes later I started crawling back into camp, but then I started second guessing myself: it occurred to me that after everything that just happened, they are bound to look for me here and so I must stay away from it for the time being. Therefore, I started edging away until I left the camp. I was facing many hardships, because I could not go out in the open. I waited for things to settle down. I will never know if they did, but I grew weary of being a hunted vagabond with no roof over my head, food or water, so I took a risk and returned to camp.


[Page 325]

A Hole in the Floor of the Railway Car

Pinchas Hochmitz

Two days before the final eviction we could feel plenty of tension in the air and the Jewish police commander, Wilczek, shouted suddenly: “Guys, why did you leave the tools outside the camp, bring them in!” He meant that if we were all doomed for eviction or extermination, one way or another, then the tools can serve us as weapons in the absence of alternatives. Hearing the harsh words of the police commander, the people left quickly to bring the tools and placed them in the camp, next to the cabins.

The people stayed up all night. No one could sleep because we felt that something was about to happen. That night they brought in the Jewish workers from the lumber mill and later we had an outbreak followed by an escape attempt.

The next morning there was a lineup, and officer Herblum (who was shot and wounded during the escape, then captured and brought back) was accused of organizing the escape, sentenced to death and shot on the spot.

During the lineup, the wardens made it clear that this was the last case. I noticed some people holding whispered conversation by the fence, near the food store, and assumed they were planning an escape. I was instinctively drawn to the idea, grabbed the arm of my uncle, Shlomo Weisbloom, and told him my intentions. He objected to this line of action because he was afraid that the Germans would take revenge on his sister, Esther Weisbloom, who we would have to leave behind because we couldn't find her at the time. I therefore agreed with him and accepted the situation.

My suspicions were realized. The group by the fence broke through it and a massive escape started in broad daylight. Many managed to reach the forest that offered temporary safety, but others were shot by the Germans and never made it. Many have fallen, among them Steinbaum and his sons, Moshe and Laibke, officer Kornwaser, who threw his police cap away and jumped over the fence, and others. When the Germans realized what was going on they disbursed the lineup and ordered us into the cabins, where we could hear the echoes of gunfire for a long time.

The Germans also took precautions against a second escape, and ordered us to take off our shoes, piling them next to the cabins. When the situation calmed down, every person went and took back his shoes.

The train arrived in the evening, coming to a stop by the gates of the camp, and we were ordered into the cars. Only a few cars were loaded when the surprising order to unload us came. We were still wondering about the meaning of this when we received new orders, to get back into the cars, while the camp was being surrounded by Ukrainian policemen and cavalry.

This time the train headed in an unknown direction while we, about 120 people in every car, stood pressed against each other. The lack of air in the cars made everyone try to stand as close as possible to the little ports. We prepared for this event in advance and sneaked some tools into the car, which allowed us to break out of the train. I carried a fireman's axe, another had a wood drill and so on. We were ready for this moment and as soon as the train started moving, we started realizing our own plans, first ripping a toilet hole in the floor of the car.

Many hoped that we would be lucky enough to be attacked along the way by partisans, or a by one of the Russian army units that were fighting not far from there, allowing us to make an even more daring use of the hole and escape. And indeed, that night, when the train passed by the forests of Œwiętokrzyż, we heard constant gunfire that inspired us and gave us the hope that salvation was near, but our hopes were in vain. We later found out that the source of the gunfire was completely different. People in other cars tried to escape through the portholes, but were shot by the armed German guards who escorted the train. We thought there might have been partisans shooting at the train as well, but we never found out the truth.

The next morning we arrived in Częstochowa, where a train worker told us that our train was headed for Auschwitz.


[Page 327]

We Jumped from the Railway Car of Death

Zvi Faigenbaum

After about 100 people were crammed into every car, and there was no room left, the train started moving. We were all standing, crowded and stuffed, with no air to breathe. We left the train station in Szydłowiec at 4 in the afternoon and an hour and a half later we arrived in Radom. Ten more cars were added to our train there, meaning 1,000 more Jews. We had no doubts concerning the direction we were headed, we already knew that all transports arrive in Treblinka and the end of that line means extermination. Therefore we thought about doing something, acting immediately to save our lives at the last moment from this terrible fate waiting for us. I personally felt that however things turned out, we must not walk willingly into the blazing furnaces!

Having read the publications of the resistance for a long time, I knew what was going on and had no illusions concerning the intentions of the Germans. As soon as we entered the cars, I started planning how we might save ourselves by escaping. Although it was not easy, I have taken the first steps of preparing for the fateful operation during the first stage of my planning. As soon as we shared our plan with others, it became clear that some of them disagreed with it. Some were afraid that the Germans would count the passengers later, and would pour their wrath on those who remained behind, who would be murdered by these predators that never missed a chance to kill or destroy. I managed to calm them down after a tiresome argument, and even acquired some accomplices.

First, the candidates approached the window, which was nothing more than a small porthole, and mentally prepared themselves for the operation. Then we considered the physical aspects of breaking out.

Overcoming his hesitations and the sense of looming danger, the first person pushed through the porthole and immediately jumped from the train. He was followed by two others who jumped one after another, while the fourth suffered from a panic attack after he already managed to squeeze past the porthole, and refused to jump. We had no choice but to pull him back inside, difficult as it was.

But that was not the end of it. My turn was next, but when I was about to climb to the porthole he blocked my way and said that he regrets his decision and wants to try again. We saw the man was insecure and showed compassion. He climbed to the porthole again, crossed it and this time he gathered his courage and jumped! Unfortunately, he was so nervous that he got entangled, failed and fell on the ground…

This event discouraged us, and being the next in line to jump, I was not only discouraged but also frightened.

In the meantime, the train was fast approaching the town of Dęblin. The information we had led us to assume that this place was crawling with Germans and I told myself it was a bad time to jump, because we might fall right into the hands of the murderers. “It is best,” I told my daughter who was standing next to me the whole time, “for us to travel a while longer and then jump.” As I spoke, I noticed that we were crossing an area lit by great lamps, indicating a major settlement. The light shining through the tiny porthole was dim and brief, but it was enough to tell us that we were passing by a station, although its name and size remained a mystery since we had no idea where we were. The circumstances left us puzzled and doubtful, compounded by tension, fear and anxiety to the point where I thought that we already missed… the train, meaning that we were so close to the camp that there was no longer a chance for escape.

Nevertheless I was guided by the notion that we had nothing to lose and that this was my final chance – I shall escape no matter what! I followed that thought through, telling my daughter: “This is the moment, follow me!”

I bid farewell to the people nearby, asked them to lift me to the porthole and carefully flung my feet outside the car then flung my whole body after them, pulled myself out and clung to the wall.

These events took place in wintertime, and the surrounding area was covered with thick white snow. This fact greatly encouraged me and after standing pressed against the wall of the car for a few seconds I jumped, as if unto a mattress…

The pastimes of my youth availed me, because I learned how to jump when I was eight years old. A train used to cross the part of town where I lived, and whenever it would stop to pick up passengers, the children had a chance to play at jumping on and off the train. We became skilled jumpers by practicing under different circumstances, mostly while the train was already in motion, reaching rather high levels of expertise. At the time I never imagined that such expertise could ever be useful or play a part in saving our lives.

 

Met halfway

My daughter jumped right after me, but we couldn't find each other because the train was moving quickly and we were separated by a considerable distance. Before she jumped, we agreed that I would walk in the direction the train was headed and she would walk in the opposite direction so we would eventually meet.

I was eager now to meet my daughter. I started running ahead without looking in any other direction. Every moment seemed like an eternity to me. I ran as fast as I could, as if driven, until I noticed her approaching figure. After five minutes of running we met.

There was no time to lose and we immediately started putting some distance between us and the railroad tracks, because it was dangerous to stay there. We walked blindly, wading through the deep snow while the frost seeped into our bones. We were worried that we might fall into a hole or even a lake, because the whole area was covered by deep snow and there was no telling what might be lurking under it in the open field. Eventually we arrived at a barn, stopped and waited next to it.

After a while, a second train has arrived, pulled over on the tracks in front of us and bathed the nearby area with searchlights. Three SS troopers came out of one of the cars, singing loudly, and when they came in our direction we moved to the other side of the barn so we wouldn't get noticed. We stood all night long in the frost, until dawn broke.

 

Knocking on the door

In the morning, we approached the outermost house in the village and knocked on the door. When they answered: “Who's there?” I said that I was there with my daughter and asked them to take pity on her and give us some hot water. The Polish owner must have realized who he was dealing with and refused, saying that he is afraid because there were still guards by the tracks and they will capture all of us. His refusal to help and his fear convinced me that we had nothing to lose, and so I asked: “Could you at least tell us where we are and where we might go?”

“You are near Łuków”, answered the voice on the other side of the wall, and continued: “Across from us there is a village, go and you will find shelter there.”

We took his advice and started walking toward the nearby village. When we arrived there an hour later, we approached the first house and entered it without asking, merely greeting the owner when she welcomed us with a frightened scream: “What are you doing here?!”

We showed her the items and money we had and she mellowed. We sat down and asked for something warm. Money seemed to be the answer for all our problems, because a few moments later the woman set some bread and coffee on the table. Her husband arrived as soon as we finished eating and before he could say a word the woman explained the situation to him, hinting that we had money… his behavior indicated that he took the hint, because he never questioned our presence in his house. The situation was self-explanatory and we could get down to business. We needed clothes and they craved the money we had, so we bought some things from them, including an old fourpointed Polish army hat they found somewhere, a great find that could prevent my immediate identification as a Jew. I bought a peasant scarf for my daughter as well, to replace her silk scarf that was very typical of traditional Jewish garb.

After we disguised ourselves with these clothes that afforded us a Christian appearance, we asked the Poles about the nearest ghetto and started walking in the direction they showed us.

The road was long and arduous, steeped with natural obstacles and unforeseeable hardships. Eventually we overcame it all and arrived at the Łuków ghetto. For a time we were safe, but only “for a time”…


[Page 330]

Aba Kumetz Dared to Swear

Jerachmiel Singer

After long hours of anxiety, selection and the horrors of the Rinek, where families were torn apart – some for the camps and some back to work at the factories – our group arrived at the Strzelnica camp, where we were led into a broad ditch, while the German and Ukrainian soldiers stood over us rifles aimed and ready.

We stood there for a long time, depressed and worried for the loved ones that were recently separated from us and for our own fate, which also hung in the balance. And as we stood there and waited for the next decree, some of the SS troopers guarding us came down and ordered us to give them any valuables we had, including money.

This order horrified us for two reasons: first of all, we already learned that the looting and pillaging were generally accompanied by additional calamities and served as warning of oncoming brutalities such as eviction, killing, murder and so on. Secondly, this order followed previous acts of robbery and we were already “fleeced” on several occasions, so that most of us had nothing left – only a few managed to save a little as a last refuge. I myself was bereft of any valuables.

It is no wonder then that the order caused panic in our ranks and a deep silence spread across that vale of tears, broken by the sound of cocking guns. Suddenly, a terrible roar tore the air, shaking hearts and stunning all the people in the ditch, as well as the armed guards standing over us.

The voice carried unnatural anxiety and came from the throat of one of our townsmen, who had the courage to start swearing at the Germans, their leaders and their unholy land that committed this bloodbath. His fury made his last words an incoherent babble but the things he said were enough to shock us all.

For a moment, no one reacted, because the scene was too surreal. But the Germans quickly recovered from their shock and turned crimson with fury. We expected them to react at any moment, because we could see murder in their eyes and when they aimed their weapons at the man swearing, the people standing next to him instinctively drew away. And then came the shots from Althoff's gun, ending the loud protest and the life of the brave man, Aba Kumetz, the son of Moshe Kumetz.

 

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