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[Page 386]

 

After the War

 

After my Liberation

Simcha Mincberg

After my liberation I remained in camp for a few days to regain my strength and recover from the illness I suffered during the last weeks of our captivity. Then I left, hoping to go back to town and find my loved ones, my friends and townsmen. I plodded along on foot until I arrived in Częstochowa, which according to rumors was the gathering place of many refugees from various camps.

From Częstochowa I continued walking until finally, on the eve of 16.3.1945, I reached Wierzbnik, which was now both in ruins and alien to me. I sneaked across the Rinek and stumbled suddenly into our townsman, Gershon Rosenwald, who couldn't believe his eyes when he saw me and exclaimed: “Baruch mehaye metim,” since everyone thought I was already dead.

A few families were already in town by then. Some came back from hiding or the forests, and most were survivors of the death camps. Since they greatly feared the anti-Semite Polish population, they banded together. Most people lived at the home of Leibish Brodbeker, because most of the Jewish houses in town were already taken over by the Poles and even going out on the streets alone was dangerous.

It is hard to describe my meeting with the survivors of our town, especially since I found my son, Mendel, among them. Our meeting was indescribable: the crying and shouting, the tears and joy mixed together, and we were all very emotional.

I stayed there for a few days before my son and I moved to the apartment of Avraham Frimerman, since the Brodbekers' apartment was too crowded. We started looking for ways to settle back in, but upon reflection, bearing in mind the bloody past, I came to the conclusion that we could not build a new life on the ruins of the Jewish community.

Before leaving the place, I felt the need to visit all the killing grounds where our martyred loved ones lost their pure lives. Naturally, I turned to the labor camps and searched the area for Jewish graves, but my efforts were in vain. There were no familiar markings in the area. I entered the remaining cabins, which were drenched with Jewish toil and suffering, and suddenly I found on one of the shelves authentic lists of all the Jews ever to go through the camps, written with typical German meticulousness. I took the notes with me, because I considered them evidence of the years of slavery, torture and destruction, written by the hangman himself to serve as an indictment against all the leaders who silently accepted these actions, which no doubt helped the Nazi devil carry out his diabolical scheme.

In addition, I handled the proper Jewish burial of the dozens of victims who were murdered on the day the camp was abandoned and were temporarily buried next to it. This was a hard, complex task, because there were Poles among the dead. It took many efforts before we received permission to dig two common graves, one for Jewish victims and one for Poles. I therefore went with my friend, Leibish Herblum, to a Polish tombstone maker and ordered a nice tombstone. The news spread around town and Leibish took upon himself the holy task of transporting the bones of the martyrs to the new common grave. The Poles did the same for their dead. The entire Polish population gathered for the ceremony, along with our few survivors, and I went on stage and delivered the tear-filled, bitter and wrathful eulogy. I was closing the lid on the remainder of the town's glorified Jewry.

More bereaved, orphaned, widowed and childless people came back every day, broken and tired, in the vain hope of finding some relative or friend. And as I have said before, they banded together out of fear of the Polish persecutors.

One night, members of the A.K. have attacked the home of Leibish Brodbeker, where several of the Holocaust survivors have settled. The residents of the house, among them Wolfowicz's wife and her children and Enisman's wife and her child who miraculously survived the crematoriums of Auschwitz, tried to flee and climbed to the roof, but fell before the Polish murderers. Only Mrs. Enisman's little daughter, who was covered by her mother's slain corpse was saved and lives today in Israel. It is only natural that this terrible slaughter encouraged the survivors to quickly leave the bloodied city that turned into a deathtrap. I, along with my son Mendel and others, traveled to the town of Lodz, where many survivors have already gathered after escaping from all corners of Poland.

 

The Organization of our Landsleit

Our ambition and hope was to get to Israel, although arranging the necessary certificates involved much bureaucracy and took a long time because many were waiting in line for them. In august 1949 I left Poland forever, headed for Israel, but we were delayed for several months in Paris and only on December 9th 1949 did we arrive at our goal, Israel. Slowly we settled in and started meeting the remainder of our townsmen, especially my fellow Zionist activist, Yoseph Dreksler, who arrived before me with his family from the plains of Russia. As time went by, I felt that we had to organize our townsmen and arrange for some kind of social activity. But the hardships of striking root and the need to learn how to plan our actions delayed our activity, because we had to form first the infrastructure on which we will develop social organizational activity. And so the idea of immortalizing our community and all its aspects was born. The original idea came from my friend Yoseph Dreksler, as well as Hershel Fajgenbaum, Jerachmiel Singer, Hershel Wajzer, Moshe Kerbel and others, and it started winning the hearts of many survivors. First we needed to create the framework for an organization of our townsmen and to establish contact with them. Most importantly, we started to hold annual memorial rallies to commemorate our martyrs. And so we turned the 16th of Marheshvan into a memorial day and a time of gathering for the survivors, and every year we commemorate our ruined community and our martyred loved ones who perished in the terrible Holocaust. During one of those annual memorials came up the notion of publishing the “Yizkor” book to commemorate the annihilation, telling the story of our community from its days of glory to its tragic, reckless doom.

To carry out this idea we talked to the survivors in Israel and abroad. We circulated letters telling them how important this piece would be for future generations. At first, I was assisted by Yoseph Dreksler, Hershel Fajgenbaum, Jerachmiel Singer, Avraham Shiner and others. But the cooperation we received from the other survivors was limited.

Apathy and disinterest ran rampant and no actual activity took place.

 

Memorial book

And then, about three years ago, we were fortunate to have our distinguished townsman Moshe Sali-Kerbel take part in the annual memorial service and join the book committee, taking over the position of secretary. His initiative and enthusiasm worked wonders and the idea started taking shape. He kept in constant touch with people, offering convincing explanations of how important this enterprise is and sending hundreds of letters and requests regarding the subject to our scattered townsmen, shaking them out of their complacency and convincing many of the need to publish the book. A small editorial board for the book gradually took shape, comprised of Moshe Sali, Jerachmiel Singer, Hershel Fajgenbaum and myself, and we started moving at full steam ahead. We quickly saw results as the first memoirs flowed in: articles, notes and pictures, along with substantial monetary donations. The committees formed in Toronto and New York both excelled in raising funds for this purpose. We tightened our relationship with our landsleit abroad and interest in the publication of the book was slowly catching among our townsmen everywhere.

And so our work has continued for several years, through complex, daily efforts that required strength, vigilance, initiative and patience. Most important of all were the conviction that this task could be completed, as well as sharing this conviction with others and gaining their trust. The expanded committee meets from time to time to discuss current affairs and receive a report on the work carried out. As chairman of the organization, I keep daily contact with our member Moshe Sali, who is the life of this enterprise, and we meet once or twice a week to discuss and determine future lines of action, to guide and direct the system and keep in constant touch with the rest of the survivors.

I also meet our townsmen at the home of my daughter, Rivka Mincberg-Greenberg, which became the home of the book committee and a meeting place for all our foreign townsmen visiting Israel.

And now we can clearly see that thanks to the dedication of individuals in Israel and abroad we will soon be able to realize our desired goal, the publication of a “Yizkor book” for the glory of our unforgettable community of Wierzbnik-Starachowice, commemorating the martyrs of our town who died as saints. May the lord avenge them.


[Page 390]

Yizkor…

Moshe Sali (Kerbel)

Before World War II, immigrants coming to Israel did not assemble according to their hometowns. The term “Landsmanshaft” was foreign to a country that nurtured the ideal of merging the immigrants into a single people. Jews who came from small towns would blur their origins by naming a renowned city in the region they came from.

The situation changed completely in the aftermath of World War II, whose flames devoured the roots of the lively European Jewry, for whom Poland served as a kind of pyre (auto de fe).

As a result of this terrible reality, any memory of Jewish Poland suddenly became invaluable. Every city and town, every village and settlement where Jews lived before the Holocaust suddenly became precious After the annihilation, any place where Jews lived and worked became a sacred archeological site. It is therefore no wonder that the residents of every city and town, even the smallest ones, started invoking the name of their town in awe, respect and longing. Every person who lived there suddenly became so familiar, and anything created in the town, every memory, became sacred. These reasons motivated certain activists to form a social framework for the residents of the town, to build a memorial in the Holocaust Cellar on Mount Zion and hold an annual memorial service on the day commemorating the terrible Holocaust.

A host of our townsmen come every year to this Memorial Day, to commemorate the martyrs of our town and take part in the precious past that was so tragically expunged and decimated. They are drawn, as if by invisible strings, from near and far, to that place of friendship. They stand in groups and pairs and whisper. A torrent of memories floods them when they see each other, and the place buzzes like a beehive.

It is pleasant to walk among those groups, to linger here and there. To look and listen, and turn those scattered words and glances into threads that weave images from the past. My soul is aquiver and I feel warmth bathing me during those moments, as I see my dear parents and the entire community of my sacred town. Our Hair may no longer be black, taken over by silver, but the precious memory remains, as if according to the song:

“Days go by, the year changes, But the tune remains the same”

And once again we return to those beautiful years, when we were young dreamers. Our hearts still tremble recalling those days that teased our imagination and slaked the thirst in our souls. We argued with youthful passion and ignored the daily hardships and the hatred that clouded the town. The yearning for salvation echoed in us and we were aware of everything happening in Israel and the world. The activity for the national funds, the blue box and the Zionist spirit, all gave us fortitude. We are filled with sadness seeing how few we are. Our brave loved ones, who drank the ideals of the movement, worked for Zion enthusiastically and waited by its cradle, were all taken before their time, so tragically and callously, without seeing their work bear fruit in the form of a Jewish state for the Jewish people.

This reality is sad and hard to swallow. I look at the survivors of the Holocaust and although they have suffered years of torment and hardship I see a flame that burns within their collective hearts, the secret memory of the town that is no more.

They cling to each other, with words and looks, immersed deep in the memories of their youth, the war, their neighbors, their livelihood or their activism. Silence spreads, a mysterious sense of expectation, eyes watching the burning memorial candles. Filled with sadness and sorrow, heads bent, we commune with our townsmen, touched by the voice of the cantor: “El Male Rahamim…”

Our hearts stir, you hear scattered sighs, eyes tear like fountains and the heart cries in silence.

“Land, never cover their blood.”


[Page 392]

Murders – After Liberation

Perele Brodbeker-Unger

I will never forget that day. It is impossible to forget.

The great day of May 8, 1945 arrived, the day of liberation. My sister and I were in Theresienstadt camp. At the first moment of liberation, the urge to go home was aroused in us; perhaps we would find someone there.

With great effort we managed to get on the train that was going to Poland. Throughout the entire journey we had illusions, but when we arrived at the Starachowice train station, we received a fright – how bare and empty it was! Where were the former Jewish merchants, the carriers, the droshkys {carriages]? Everything was empty and silent. We walked by Kaliowa Street, where we had built a large house in 1937. Here also – silence and emptiness. We could no longer hear the beautiful melody of Heniek Biderman's studying.

When we reached the market we encountered Leibish Broidbeker (now in Canada), the late Haim Broidbeker's son. He invited us into his house saying that “all the Jews from the city are in my house.” We were delighted at his invitation and went along with him.

In his house we encountered 25 people, among them Shlomo Enisman's wife and two daughters, Yerahmiel Wolfowicz's wife and two children, and all the others were men.

After a long while we went out to the market. Looking around we stood as though turned to stone. The city looked like after a tragedy. Everything was empty, closed, all Jewish shops were empty, the streets without a living soul, and fear blew from all sides.

My sister and I decided to go to the Jewish cemetery to look for the grave of our beloved dead father, Moshe Broidbeker, of blessed memory. On the way we met Christian acquaintances who greeted us with wonder: “You're alive?” they asked us in astonishment. “What are you doing here?” “You are risking your lives!” they warned us further.

We didn't understand all that. Now that we were liberated from the Nazis, did we also have to be afraid? Was danger threatening us now too?

We nevertheless continued walking. When we arrived at the cemetery we again saw the great destruction that had befallen us. Even the graves and gravestones had suffered it. All the gravestones were broken, strewn around or carried off. You couldn't see a sign of the “ohel“ [elaborate grave of distinguished people] belonging to the former rabbi of the city; no sign of the hedge around the field.

We recognized our father's grave by various signs. We covered him with pieces of stone, cried thoroughly and left.

On our way back to Leibish Broidbeker's house, it was almost nighttime. We looked around – where would we arrange to sleep. In the meantime, Binie came along and asked us to come sleep at her place. We immediately agreed and went with her. Binie had a two-room apartment for herself on ¯ecke St. and we prepared for sleep there. As soon as it got dark, we heard a knock at the door. We were again frightened to death. We recognized the voice of Leibish Broidbeker and opened the door. “Are you alive?” he called out in fear, and then gave us the terrible news that that night there had been a terrible slaughter of the small handful of Jews in his house. The bloodthirsty Polish thugs attacked them, killing the women and children, only one of Shlomo Enisman's daughter's was wounded (now lives in Israel).

Four fresh victims in the shtetl. Innocent Jewish blood was spilled again. This happened twenty-four hours after liberation.

We gave the victims a Jewish burial with deep sorrow and a weeping heart. My sister and I immediately left our former hometown forever, leaving behind nothing but memories of what once was.


[Page 394]

The Nazis' Followers

Chava Fajgenbaum (Shraga)

After the defeat of the Nazi beast, when the world could finally, after many bloody years, breath easy once again, there were still people – scum whose bloodlust was not yet slaked – who continued the dreaded work of the Nazis by murdering Jews, whether individually or as organized groups .

In the aftermath of my liberation from the death camp near the end of the war, I arrived after a long and arduous journey at my home town Wierzbnik. Everything I found only made me more certain of the things I assumed based on the tragic chain of events I have witnessed myself. Everything was destroyed. A wasteland surrounding me and in my heart.

The few remnants who survived the hellfire started gathering, and since there were only a few of them, they clustered in two houses: one group in the apartment of the Krongold family on Starachowice Street and the second group at the home of Chaim Brodbeker at the Rinek.

Sad and despondent, I walked in the streets of our town, where I spent both the beautiful years of my youth and the dark days of the Holocaust. With no family or relatives, I decided to visit the Wykrota family, non-Jewish friends who were once our neighbors, and headed for Visoka Street, no. 16.

 

Murdered everyone

They welcomed me and even expressed their grief over everything that happened. We talked about the tragic events that befell the Jews and I told them about my fate during those dark days. While we were talking, as the wife got up to bring me refreshments, the family's young son came in and as soon as he saw me he gave a loud and joyful exclamation. He was glad and excited that I survived, and wanted me to join him for drinks. Alcoholic beverages soon appeared on the table and he poured me a glass, urging me to drink. His mother saw my discomfort and quickly offered me without his notice a glass of cold water, as colorless as the vodka, and I drank to his complete satisfaction. He had plenty to drink himself, an as he became inebriated he suddenly cried “Run away from here, because they murdered all of them!” At first I didn't understand what he meant but after he repeated himself again and again, and after hearing my neighbor's explanations, I realized that I was in danger and there are still malicious anti-Semites among the local populace who attack and murder Jews. The son didn't wait but continued: “Run away from here, quickly, before they kill them all!”

Then he suggested that I go to his sister, who was living in a more remote area, where he said I would be safer.

My neighbor started crying, sensing how low her people have sunk. But my tears have dried long since and cases such as this required me to make a quick decision. I got up and left. The son accompanied me a short distance to protect me from harm. Halfway there he bid me goodbye, thinking that the rest of the way would be safe. But as soon as I arrived I could clearly hear gunfire, and later I found out these were the fatal bullets fired at the murderous hands of the Polish A.K. into the hearts of the Jewish survivors who lived at the home of the Brodbekers. I haven't stayed long at the woman's place, because I felt the ground was burning under our feet. I escaped to my aunt and together we boarded the first train and fled once again from our hometown, looking for sanctuary and salvation in other places.


[Page 396]

The Encounter in Munich

Yitzhak Kerbel

The war was over and those who survived the Holocaust started wandering – some in search of relatives and some hoping to build a new life.

This terrible period was naturally followed by one of the most wondrous periods townsmen lending each other help wherever they met.

In my search for the remnants of my family I arrived in Lodz, at the home of Simcha Mincberg, and from him I received information about our surviving townsmen. And indeed, as soon as they heard I survived, they came looking for me. When they found me, they gave me with everything I needed to move quickly to Berlin, where a large group of our townsmen was gathered.

When I arrived in Berlin I was welcomed warmly and further equipped for the road to the infamous Bergen-Belsen. This encounter was practically festive, because I never imagined that a substantial number of our townsmen survived. I also learned that my sister Sarah was in the regions controlled by the Americans, and there were also rumors of my brother David. I traveled to Munich to track them and the most unpredictable thing happened:

Before my journey to the city where my sister Sarah was supposed to be, I sat in one of Munich's public gardens, musing to myself. Suddenly I thought I saw a familiar face pass by, looking very much like my brother David. I was uncertain, because it has been five years since I left the house. He was still a boy at the time, and now I see a man before me, wearing a Polish army uniform!

I do not know if I did it intentionally, but I whispered, as if to myself, “David!” and through some miracle he heard me and turned around, and indeed it was my brother, who only escaped from Poland to Germany a day earlier, looking for relatives.

The joy of our encounter is unimaginable, and naturally we remained together until we immigrated to Israel.

The next day, after finding and meeting our sister, we went to Bergen-Belsen and my brother was among the first to immigrate to Israel using one of the 100,000 certificates given to Holocaust survivors through the intervention of United States president Harry Truman.


[Page 397]

It Began on an Autumn Day

Dvora Rubinstein-Erlichsohn

I will never forget the fall day when the Nazi murderers drove us out of our homes to the marketplace. I stood with my sainted parents and waited in the rows…

Then my sainted husband Hune Rubinstein came up to me with a German, pointing at me to indicate that I was his wife. The German gave me several blows to step out of the row. Then my parents turned to me and begged me to go, to flee and save myself, that I was still young and would still be able to survive, because my child was with Christians and would still need me.

Thus I disappeared from my dear father and mother, and never saw them again…

Especially in the tragic time of the war did we, the children, feel what dear and devoted parents we had, but unfortunately, they were horribly torn away from us and perished in Treblinka.

My two brothers and I later encountered each other in the labor camp and my youngest brother went off to Russia.

We lived thus in the camp for several years, until murders and shooting also took place there, and one day during such shooting everyone began to run to wherever they could. And so my two sisters and my husband ran away and my little sister was hit by a bullet and fell to the ground. To this day I don't know what happened to me; I only remember that I suddenly felt that someone was pulling me strongly by the arm. It was my beloved brother Eli.

After liberation I met up with my two brothers in Łódź. My third brother, Fishl, died in my arms in Bergen-Belsen – two days after liberation, and his last words were: “Thank God that you are still alive,” and with those words he ended his young life.

I also don't know how my sainted husband and my sister Sheinche perished. Only my youngest sister, who was barely 17 years old, received a Jewish burial thanks to our respected public activist and friend – Simcha Minzberg. After the war he was among those who worried that all those who had perished be given a Jewish burial.

From the many memories that are permeated with blood and tears, I am not in the condition to relate more of my unforgotten suffering in the tragic years of the Nazi nightmare, until the happy day of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, April 15, 1945.


[Page 398]

I Ran Away and Returned Home

Yitzhak Edison-Erlichsohn

In the fall of 1939, I left my hometown of Wierzbnik, and I returned in 1944. I am now trying, after such a stretch of years, to recall those two days: the tragic day when I decided to flee from our shtetl, which was already occupied by the Nazis, and the awesome day, when – after imprisonment and deportation in Russia – I returned to the deathly silent shtetl.

Our shtetl Wierzbnik lay in a valley and was surrounded by pine-covered mountains. The sharp and pleasant odor of the trees accompanied all my childhood years.

Through the shtetl flowed a little river, the Kamienna, in which were reflected the bits of sky between the surrounding mountains. But the Kamienna was not just a little river, but also a divider, which divided the two sections of the city. The right side was inhabited by Poles, and the left side by Jews.

The right side was called Starachowice, and was full of factories and mines. It was an industrial city with dozens of factory chimneys that rose to the sky and covered the city with perpetual smoke.

Wierzbnik, on the other hand, was a Jewish shtetl, one of those shtetls of which the large Jewish community in Poland was comprised.

In the middle of the shtetl was a market with its usual impurity, which especially on holidays cast something sinister on the Jews.

Only a small number of houses in Wierzbnik were made of brick. The rest were wooden, poor little houses, in which ninety percent of the Wierzbnik Jews lived. Just like in all the other provincial towns, the Wierzbnik Jews engaged in crafts – Wierzbnik Jews were tailors, cobblers, carpenters. Many Jewish children began working at the age of twelve. Children were sent to “learn”. The learning years were very difficult ones and the later prospects of earning a living from the trade learned were very poor. The government factories on the opposite bank of the river were closed to Jews. The Polish directors made sure of that just as well as the Nazis later on.

Wierzbnik was surrounded by pine-covered mountains, the scent of which filled my childhood years.

But what nature provided so plentifully was spoiled for us by people… For a Jewish child lying on the sand by the river or wandering in a forest was dangerous, because Wierzbnik was a stronghold of the Polish ND. The Kamienna River not only separated the Jewish part of the city from the Polish side, but it also represented a river of anti-Semitism, which created a barrier between the two groups of residents of the same city.

There were also honest Poles, who didn't surrender to the dirty stream. There were also a number of workers who belonged to the socialist party, who opposed the dark influence of the racists. But as always, the honest elements were passive, while the pugnacious hooligans were active.

The house in which I lived with my parents had the biggest yard in the shtetl. It was inhabited by 39 Jewish families and the only Christian was the caretaker.

The house had three owners, but it was called Yudel “Miszleborske's” house. One of the three owners was Itcze Singer. He had three children, who all attended the gymnasia [high school] in Radom – Polcze, Gutcze and Rachmiel. Polcze, who now lives in New Jersey and whose married name is Funk, was my history teacher.

Another owner of the house was Shmuel Kleiner, who had four children. His daughter Sarale finished middle school in Kielce and he himself was a lumber merchant. My father worked for him in the forests as a clerk, spending weeks in the forests. When he used to come home, he brought the aromatic air of the forest with him into the house, the freshness of the branches, of green leaves, the glorious resinous smell of the trees and the wide range of far off, unfamiliar areas.

My mother was my father's opposite – both in figure and in character. She stemmed from an ultra-religious home – and day and night was occupied with Jewishness and every Sabbath she used to read the Tzena Urena [a religious text in Yiddish that was used by women, who didn't know Hebrew] to a group of women.

Across from us lived a remarkable Jewish type – Shlomo Neiman. He had already been arrested in the time of the Tsar for socialism and had been deported to Siberia. Later on – in independent Poland, he received a government pension, because he had once been an ally of Józef Piłsudski and he was the first to fly the banner of the Polish marshal “the first brigade.”

It was possible to live one's entire life in our yard and never need to go out, because among the residents were a tailor, a cobbler, a dental technician, a doctor and all kinds of shops and merchants. Yes, and there was something else in our yard, which definitely made us an “independent republic”: our own well!

The residents didn't have to carry water from distant pumps, because we had it at hand, and the entire shtetl envied us for it. Wow! “Water under our nose…”

 

The Outbreak of War

When the Polish-German war broke out on September the first, my older brother was already in the army, stationed in the city of Sanok. My older brother had completed his military service and then, as a reservist, received a mobilization notice to report to Przemysł. The first air raid alarm went off at 6 AM; when the second alarm went off at 9 AM, the first bomb fell on the marketplace.

On the third day of the war a poster appeared on the city hall, stating that the town was about to fall into enemy hands and that the powers had ordered the young people to leave the city and go eastward.

The factories in Starachowice stopped working. The next day the Nazis were already in Cęstochowa, 60 kilometers from Wierzbnik. Then the last chapter arrived – the entry of the Germans into the city.

The entire market was filled with Nazi soldiers. The following day the persecution and torture of Jews began: kidnapping them for work, frightful beatings, robbery of Jewish possessions, and the laughter and ridicule of our neighbors of a thousand years – the Poles.

At times we heard that the Russian armies had crossed the border and occupied part of eastern Poland. That immediately made us think: away from Wierzbnik, where the hell had begun to take on even more atrocious forms, and to flee to that legendary land, where “everyone is equal”, where justice and honesty prevailed for everyone – no matter who…

 

Leaving the City

I quickly consulted with the leader of Hechalutz, Kalman Kanner, who was an energetic fellow. He had only been living in Wierzbnik for two years, having arrived from Chmielnik in 1937 with his parents.

Despite the short time, he was the heart and soul of our Hechalutz movement. We quickly discussed the situation and unhesitatingly decided to leave the city.

It was early in the morning, when the first rays of the sun stole in through the blinds. Without waking anyone in the house, I quickly dragged myself outside, where Kalman was already waiting for me.

We greeted each other silently and immediately set out on a back road to the highway that led to Ostrowiec. Both our hearts were squeezed and we didn't say a word to each other. I looked around for the last time – Wierzbnik in the melted gold of the rising sun. The rows of little houses emerged from the sunny mist like small, glowing islands. I tried to stifle my sorrow, thinking that I was only leaving the shtetl for a short time and would shortly be returning. But somewhere in a corner of my mind lurked the fear that even if that came to pass Wierzbnik would no longer be what it had been.


[Page 401]

A Memorial Stone in Toronto
Dedicated to the Wierzbniker Martyrs

Abe Zukerman

Once those of us, who survived the war, came to Toronto we were immediately welcomed and brought into the Wierzbnik Society to witness the many good workings of the Society. Together with our Toronto landsleit, we discussed the problem of how to perpetuate the holy memory of our loved ones, the Wierzbniker martyrs, whose innocent blood was spilled by the most barbarous Nazi murderers.

Those familiar with the Wierzbniker Society, knew the President, Joseph Naiman, well, who was also one of the founders of the Society. For him, everything that had to do with Wierzbnik was among the most important things in his life, as he was totally dedicated to the Society and the landsleit. Dealing with anything to do with Wierzbnik was a continual and necessary part of his daily life. Naturally, the home of Joseph (Yosef) Naiman and with his beloved wife Hanka had a welcoming open door policy to all the newly arrived Wierzbnik landsleit. Day and night, this devoted man felt the need to fervently help everyone and everything that had to do with his former home of Wierzbnik. Even their children, although born in Canada, were so imbued with the lifestyle and stories about Wierzbnik that they too felt a deep connection to Wierzbnik. The Naimans and their children were fully able to find commonality among the newly arrived landsleit. During a holiday their house would be full of landsleit with whom they rejoiced.

Joseph (Yosef) Naiman was instrumental in welcoming to the Society many of the newcomers and involving them in the many different projects of the Society. The newcomers were introduced to the proposal to erect a monument in the Wierzbnik Cemetery. This monument was to honour the murdered Wierzbnikers and those in the surrounding area. During countless meetings and get-togethers, Joseph (Yosef) Naiman would point out with great earnest and deep heartfelt feelings the need for this holy project. He would explain that it was our responsibility and our duty to forever memorialize the hallowed memory of our loved ones and our martyrs who perished in the Holocaust, even though they will forever remain in our hearts and thoughts.

Many discussions were held to determine the date of the final destruction of Wierzbnik. It was discussed with the Barzechiner Rabbi Avrum Shmuel Zvi Zylbershtein who had a reputation as a Torah Scholar. Rabbi Zylbershtein had an abiding love for the Jewish people in that entire district and was a Father-in-law to our own Rabbi Ben Zion Shlomo (son of Rabbi Yosef Eliazer). Our Rabbi and the Rebbitzin Gittle (daughter of Rabbi Avrum Shmuel Zvi) were the leaders of the Wierzbniker community. Both of them performed many good deeds. Any city or town should be fortunate enough to have such good people as leaders. They put the wellbeing of others before themselves. After many meetings with Rabbi Zylbershtein and Rabbi Mendel Kirshenblatt a Yahrzeit date for the Kedoshim was decided. The date was to be the 16th day of Cheshvan.


[Page 402]

The Wierzbniker Society in Toronto

Abe Zukerman

It was in 1934, when several former residents of Wierzbnik in Toronto got together under the leadership of our respected compatriot, Yossl Neiman, of blessed memory, who called them together.

The following people participated in the first meeting, which took place on October 14, 1934: Hershel Neiman, Sam Kleinberg, Benny Kleinberg, Yosef Neiman, Yossl Levin, Fishl Beker, Yehoshua Eisenberg, Yossl Absbad, Yehosua Riba and Benny Gold. At that meeting they discussed the question of how to organize the former residents of Wierzbnik to share a common interest in being connected to the situation of those in Wierzbnik, especially to help those who needed help. The problem was extensively discussed; first it was decided to create an organization. A Wierzbnik Men's Social Club was founded and also a Ladies' Auxiliary. The mission of both organizations was to achieve various undertakings. First of all, a yearly banquet was arranged, at which a fundraising campaign for the Jews in Wierzbnik who needed help was implemented. They also carried out other activities with the purpose of raising money, which was raised with the help of the Women's Auxiliary (quite a few dollars). Then the question arose – who would have the right to decide on the proposals for support. A proposal by Y. Neiman, seconded by Fishl Beker was accepted, to write to Wierzbnik to those whom we knew as upright people and to state our business to them, telling them that we had a certain number of dollars to assist those who were needy, and that they should put together a list there and send it to us.

We did indeed receive the list with approximately 120 poor families with young children.

We didn't have overly large amounts of money, but it was decided to send whatever there was directly to each family.

This is what was done – until 1939. We held the yearly banquet afterwards, at which we raised money for those who appealed to us in any country whatever.

The same applied to the Wierzbnik Ladies' Auxiliary, whose mission was to help in any way possible. The first chairlady was Mrs. A. Besbaum.

The Wierzbnik Men's Society was founded on Sunday, May 15, 1935. At a general assembly, a committee of the following members was elected: chairman – Sam Kleinberg; vice-chairman – R. Goldbach; secretary – Y. Neiman; treasurer – Y. Jacobs; hospitaler – H. Eisen; trust – A. Kleinberg; members of the executive – P. Beker, P. Kleinberg, B. Gold, M. Riba, J. Kelmanson.

Relief Committee: M. Manheit, Y. Absbam, H. Kirschenblatt and S. Kleinberg. The following were added from among the first members: Y. Jacobs, M. Manheit, Y. Goldbach, Murray Eisen, P. Kleinberg, Y, Neiman, J. Kelmanson, Arish Kleinberg, Y. Eisen, B. Gold, Izzie Einer, S. Kleinberg, P. Beker, Y. Absbam, M. Riba, Haim Bienstok and H. Kirschenblatt.

The organization was very active, especially under the leadership of Yossl Neiman. In 1939 an action was carried out by the Wierzbnik Landsmanschaft [society of people from the same town], which initiated a fund to help needy members with loans. The main leaders of this action were Benny Gold – president, Izzie Eisner – treasurer and H. Linzon – financial secretary.

In 1938 an organization was created by the Wierzbnik Men's Club that was called the Wierzbnik Friendly Society, which accepted members up to 45 years of age. The society's mission was to make sure that all the members were insured with a doctor in case of sickness, and also when a member was ill, Heaven forbid, he would have the right to receive a certain sum for eight weeks. The society also bought a plot, i.e. when a member died, he would have a right to Jewish burial. The same applied to the member's family.

The Wierzbnik Friendly Society also takes part in other benevolent activities in the Jewish world, such as assistance for the Jewish hospital, Hebrew schools and old-age homes. Special help is donated to Israel.

The present administration of the Society in 1970 consists of the following people:

Levi Brodbeker – chairman, W. Kirschenblatt – vice-chairman, H. Milner – correspondence and financial secretary and Arish Kleinberg - recording secretary.
S. Kleinman
Y. Sachs
Benny Zagerman – Financial Entity
S. Kleinberg
Y. Sachs – Hospitalers
A Diet Committee
L. Brodbeker
A. Kleinberg
Benny Zagerman
Members of the executive: Moshe Neiman, N. Kornwasser, H. Lepek, S. Eisenberg, Y. Segilim and A. Zukerman.
Social Committee: S. Klowenman, H. Lepek; directorate: L. Brodbeker – chairman, S. Kleinberg, A. Zukerman, M. Gotlieb, S. Eisenberg, S. Kleinman. L. Weisdorf and A. Kleinberg.


[Page 404]

Last Impressions of my Native City

Abe Zukerman

When I decided to leave the tainted country of Poland forever, I began to be perturbed by the thought of whether I would ever forgive myself if I didn't first go to my native city of Wierzbnik to at least take a glimpse at what everything looked like.

Although I knew very well that unfortunately and to my great sorrow no one from my entire family was still alive, neither the relatives or friends that I had left behind when I was drafted into the Polish army before the war, and I had even already abandoned all hope that anyone close to me was still to be found there, nevertheless something instinctively drew me to at least take a look at the place where I was born and raised.

Perhaps it was an internal urge, or a call from my subconscious, to at least say goodbye to the earth and stones on which we trod for years – day in and day out – and now it was all saturated with innocent blood, which will never dry out, and permeated with the indescribable pain and suffering that the martyrs of Wierzbnik suffered until their horrible death.

Isn't it normal for a person to pine for even the dry worthless stones and wood that his house and home, to which he was tied his entire life, was made of?

It was this normal urge that governed me at a given moment. It didn't help to take the logical advice of my fellow townspeople that I should forget about Wierzbnik, because the city was no longer what it used to be. And in addition, they informed me that it was simply dangerous to go there, because right after the war Polish fascists had killed the remaining few surviving Jews that were drawn home, just like a bird that has been driven away returns to its disturbed nest.

Nevertheless, I couldn't alter the decision to go to Wierzbnik and take a look at it for the last time.

On a certain evening, when I was in Łódź (where I lived) I went to the railway station and provided myself with a train ticket. The train arrived full, and immediately became completely packed with Polish faces, which simply increased my fear.

There was no thought of getting into a car; I immediately saw that I couldn't expect a comfortable journey here, but I didn't waver for even a minute because of this, to let the discomfort keep me from reaching my sole goal at that time.

I went up the stairs along with other Gentile passengers, made my standing position comfortable, just as though it was one of the normal classes that a passenger obtains for himself in advance. At a sign from the conductor the train began moving, and I became a normal passenger. After a short time standing pressed against the car, I became very cold, because the wind began to ceaselessly blow in my face, and my hands began to feel as though they were frozen to the iron handrails. This was part of the rights that nature has over a passenger who chooses to travel in the last and lowest class in the train. However, the feeling of discomfort soon diminished, when I thought for a second what my present crowded state meant when compared with the way my near and dear ones were dragged into the cars on their final journey…

The locomotive huffed and puffed and while speeding along let out a resounding noise every few minutes, as though it wanted to remind me not to nod off and fall off the stairs. My eyes were very strained in the utter darkness, which was only broken by the flying sparks given off by the locomotive.

After riding all night, the train approached Starachowice – Wierzbnik's sister city. I knew the region very well and everything looked exactly the same as it used to. Nothing had changed; you couldn't see any difference, as though in the entire time that I was absent no terrible or dreadful nightmare had occurred.

We stopped in Starachowice for a short while as usual, at a train station, and the wheels immediately began moving again.

The thought that in another 5-10 minutes I would arrive in Wierzbnik caused me to perspire and tremble throughout my entire body. My mood became more and more dejected and my doubts grew ever greater. I though to myself how different my present arrival in Wierzbnik was: I was coming to the graves of my ancestors, or more correctly, to the graves of my family, although I expected nothing, not even the sign of a grave, because the Nazi murderers, may their names be blotted out, saw to that too. They did everything possible to wipe out every trace and not to leave a single reminder of their shockingly horrible acts of murder. The sadists carried out their barbarity with such exact precision, that only the devil in the form of a person could have thought of.

After a ride of two minutes, the train suddenly stopped in the empty field. I was bathed in a cold sweat from head to toe – what did this mean? We knew that it quite often happened that Polish fascists stopped trains and dragged off Jewish passengers and killed them. However, what could I do expect to rely on fate and pray to the Lord that if something had to happen, He would give me the courage to take some of them with me, like Samson when he brought down their temple on the Philistines.

Every second seemed like eternity to me. I strained my ears in all directions, so that perhaps I would hear the reason for the abrupt stop from one of the surrounding passengers…

But my ears were as though they were plugged. Just as though they had lost the ability to hear. I was simply not in a condition to make out a single word.

Eternity disappeared and the train began moving. This short event meanwhile left a mark on my heart and it was a miracle that it didn't stop beating, just as though the train itself was infected with the poison of anti-Semitism and wanted to frighten me for no reason.

 

By a Miracle I Avoided the Kielce Pogrom

We Jews are anyways only living through miracles now. How long ago was it, that only by chance I avoided the Kielce pogrom? I lived in the same building in which the slaughter took place. A day before the terrible event, I left the city of Kielce with my friend Yehiel-David Spiegel from Łagów, without any reason, and went to Łódź just for a day or two, with the goal of perhaps encountering someone we knew.

The trip hadn't been planned even one day in advance, but as soon as we decided on it we took the first train going to Łódź, without taking the few things that made up our “fortune” with us, as we planned to return immediately. That is how we only by chance avoided being among the almost 100 victims, of blessed memory, that were slaughtered there in broad daylight by the anti-Semitic Polish murderers, right under the nose of the Stalinist overseers, whose quarters were a five minute walk from the building in which the victims struggled with the murderous attackers for several hours.

There is no doubt that just the appearance of one of the worthless saviors, would have ruined the murderers' sinister plan. Therefore their absence and silence must indicate their agreeing with the grisly murder-pogrom.

 

A Weird Alienness

After another few minutes of travel, the train stopped and the conductor called out the words I knew so well – “ Wierzbnik Station”. Trembling and with a feeling of longing I got off the train steps and there I was in my home! – Yes, I say “home”, because how else could someone call the place where he was born and grew up, a place in which my extended family had lived all the years that I can remember?

Off the train. I walked through the depot with the entire mass of Polish passengers. For a moment I thought – what a change has taken place between now and the war, when I still had a home?...

As soon as we came out of the depot, everyone used to be surrounded with a sense of a pleasant atmosphere. But today – this was missing, because the sweet feeling had disappeared together with all the Wierzbnik martyrs, and you didn't need to have a special sense in order to feel it. I felt a weird alienness and extremely uncomfortable, more than up until then…

Where do I go and with whom do I exchange a word? I started walking to our house, Rynek 13. I walked the same way I used to go, going through Jatke St. to the market. I felt my heart beating stronger and faster. It trembled. I was afraid to discovery the sad reality that everything was empty and bare with my own eyes, that absolutely no sign remained of Jewish Wierzbnik, where a vibrant and colorful life used to exist. Since I knew well, based on various testimonies, that Wierzbnik was completely without Jews, I imagined less about what our town looked like now; although I had no illusions that I would still find one of my dear ones, I could previously not perceive to the smallest degree what my psychological reaction would be when I saw it all with my own eyes.

I walked up to the market and stopped to stand in the very corner, by Jastal's house near the tavern. Standing in that place, I found myself across from Szlang's house, where my sister Rochcze lived with her husband and their dear children, of blessed memory. The Szlang building already had a history of murder from before the war. There a Polish anti-Semite, a murderer, entered Yerahmiel Rabinowicz's, of blessed memory, shoe shop and shot my friend Moishele Rabinowicz, whose life was cut off so young by the murderous bullet. When his brother Yaakov-Yitzhak, of blessed memory, chased the anti-Semite, he also took a bullet, and he suffered for a long time to recover from his wounds. My eyes were turned in the direction of the building and couldn't turn away, as though I was waiting to see someone from my sister's house there, or from among the former Jewish residents. However, I didn't dare go nearer, for fear that someone from among the new criminal heirs would recognize me.

 

The Well of Tears is Dried Up

From there I went in the direction of our house. Approaching the place, I only walked along and stood still, looked at my house from outside and was afraid to go in, lest the new owners discover who I was. What I was not in a position to see with my eyes, my memory, and also my imagination, helped me see, as though I was looking at every corner of the house from inside. When I was already in the market, at the threshold of my house, a weird thing happened to me. I had been bothered by a constant fear the entire time, that when I came into factual contact with the naked and terrible truth, the truth of the lying world, I would probably break down and cry a lake full of tears. However, the actual case was otherwise. The fear that something would happen to me in the emotional moments, which would certainly have been an absolutely normal occurrence, showed itself to be false. Just now, when I was standing face to face with the sad and grim truth, just now when my understandable falling apart reached the highest culmination point, now when I was looking at my home and the smallest thing that I saw with my eyes looked as though it was talking to me, or perhaps the opposite, that I wanted to forcefully talk to it, just now when the reality of my gruesome tragedy could reach no higher, when the infected blister was on the verge of bursting – in that same pain-filled moment, I couldn't find even a hint of a tear in my dried out eyes, as though they had absolutely no ability to flow.

Because of the blatant facts, I stood as though turned to stone and stopped reacting like a normal person should, and as the result of this, my well of tears froze.

I wandered around thus in my native city, feeling as though I was in a cemetery. My steps were weak and not very sure, as though I wanted to avoid stepping on a Jewish grave. I really didn't have anyone with whom to exchange a word, but everything that I passed seemed to me to be dumb witnesses, pressing to relate everything they saw. Every house, every place reminded me of something. Especially since I found myself in a muddled, confused state, spiritually and physically broken. I was absolutely not in a condition to think about the so recent past. Nevertheless, a few memories stole into my passing thoughts, when I passed by all the former Jewish houses.

While I crept around, I stood for a while and thought with a special feeling about Haim Brodbeker's house, may his memory be blessed, and a shiver passed through my bones. Here in this building, the Polish anti-Semites, the former assistants of the Nazis and now their faithful heirs, murdered the few Jewish residents of Wierzbnik that had miraculously survived. It was already after the war, but Jewish life was still fair game, and the shedding of Jewish blood still didn't bother or move anyone. It didn't help the weak and worn out residents to seal themselves up and hide themselves well, and the murderous scum forced themselves into the apartment and attacked the powerless martyrs with axes and rifles.

They had evaded death many times, but this time the “miracle” of being rescued, didn't want to appear and almost all of them died gruesomely.

Here their sad fate came to an end, and this time they didn't manage to escape the claws of the Angel of Death and remain alive.

Not wanting to spend the night in Wierzbnik, I began to walk back to the train station, in order to take the train to Ostrowiec, where life seemed to be a bit safer.

When I was already in the depot, I again thought over everything that I had seen in Wierzbnik, and this time I properly understood the meaning of the statement “Hearing is not the same as seeing” [original in Hebrew].

The roar of the oncoming train broke into my thoughts. I was luckier now because the cars were not so packed and I got into the train quite easily. As soon as I was inside I immediately stood by the window in order to get a last glimpse of my hometown Wierzbnik, which I was now leaving forever.

Without moving my lips, just with my pain-filled heart, I silently inside myself murmured 'Yitgadal Veyitkadash“ [the prayer for the dead], and paid my respects to the holy memory of all our near ones and the entire community of Wierzbnik.

The train had already gone quite far from the station, had even passed by the large stone at the edge of the Michalow Forest. The stone that everyone knew and on which so many names of our Jewish Wierzbnik citizens were inscribed.

We had already gone quite a bit of the way, but my eyes were still turned in the direction of Wierzbnik, and at that moment, when I could no longer see our city through the train window, my heart and memory immediately replaced my eyes and took over the picture of my hometown Wierzbnik. Everything that I saw for the last time and the impressions I felt will remain there, until the final moments of my life.


[Page 409]

To the Cemetery in Wierzbnik

Sarah Postawski – Steinhart

Several months after liberation, when I had recovered a bit, I made the long and difficult journey from Bergen-Belsen camp to Łódź, in order to encounter someone from my family. Regretfully, I didn't find anyone, because all of them had been murdered by the Nazi murderers and I had nothing left but my father's grave in the cemetery in Wierzbnik.

That is why I decided to go to the cemetery there to visit the grave of my father, who had been the ritual slaughterer of the community.

I arrived in Wierzbnik on a Monday morning, at the beginning of November 1945. I was shocked when I came face to face with the terrible destruction that had taken place.

The streets were the same streets, the houses were the same, only the Jews weren't there, and a wild, oppressing emptiness prevailed everywhere.

Nothing remained of the Jewish community, even the synagogue had been burned. Only the cemetery remained. But even there – much had changed. The iron gate with the wooden fence was no longer there. It had been robbed and plundered. Many gravestones had also been disturbed. The ohel [lit “tent”, a mausoleum-like grave for prominent people], which was close to the entrance, had disappeared. My father's grave wasn't far from there, but I barely found it, because everything had changed.

In the meantime I sensed that angry eyes were spying on me, and I began to be afraid – not of death, but of the living two-legged wild animals…

I quickly went away from there and went to see some Gentiles I had known. Wherever I went I was received with “Hello – you're alive?” And then they immediately began to interrogate me about why I had come. At this “opportunity” they also told me that certain Jews who had come there to retrieve their property, had been murdered by local criminals. Their words pierced me like poison, and aroused my will to run away from there – the faster and the further, the better!

I could no longer bear the oppressive air and the polluted ground, that was saturated with Jewish blood. There was only one thing I still wanted to do: as I would never be coming back there again, I wanted to take my leave of my deceased father…

The next morning I again went to the cemetery and approached the grave. There I was standing in front of him and thinking … I had thought that if I came there I would cry out my heart, weep a sea of tears, because I wasn't just standing at my father's grave there, but at the grave of all of Jewish Wierzbnik. But not a tear fell – the well of my tears had dried up… I stood as though petrified and frozen, and couldn't even bring out a groan from my throat. I was completely struck dumb! Perhaps it was because I didn't know for whom to cry first? … For my father, who died “in time” and received a Jewish burial, or for my mother, sisters and brothers and their families, who were murdered and no one even knew where their bones were lying?

And as I stood there writhing in pain and agony, a Gentile who had been following his cows that were pasturing in the area, sprang up, as though from under the ground. The cows had wandered into the cemetery and he had come after them, strolling between the graves, and when he suddenly saw me, he caught fright and crossed himself… His appearance roused me and interrupted my contemplations of a lost world. I looked around and saw an entire herd of cows pasturing in the cemetery, and all around were cowherds, who had been observing me the entire time.

In a heavy frame of mind I moved away from there and went back to my former hometown. I walked through the streets that were so familiar to me, each little stone, each blade of grass said something to me, and nevertheless felt alone and alien Walking along Starachowice Street, I was noticed by the photographer who lived across from the pharmacist, and she invited me into her house. She was truly the only one who behaved like a real human being! Nevertheless, I couldn't remain in her home very long; something drove me from there. Some kind of unknown force pressed on me and impelled me to leave as soon as possible. And right on that same day I left Wierzbnik with a broken heart – this time forever.


[Page 411]

The Town Elder Lied Deliberately

Yitzhak Kerbel

The migration from the town has actually started immediately after the fire.

I remember coming back from the nearby village, Ostrożanka, and seeing the terrible spectacle: the burning of the great seminary, which was elegantly restored before the war with the donation of the famous Heller family, owners of lumber-mills and plywood factories.

The Germans carried out this criminal act with detailed precision, because the synagogue and the Talmud Torah building nearby were the only buildings in the area touched by the fire.

Pain gnawed at us: so many memories were linked to these buildings; it felt as though a precious part of our lives was just destroyed.

A few of us guys gathered in secret and decided that we were determined to free ourselves of the Nazi beast's conquest. Actions followed words: the next morning, November 5th 1939, we departed toward the eastern border, though none of us knew where the journey would lead us or that some might never return from it.

Among those of us who left were Moshe Samet, Yoseph Wilenczyk, Moshe Binstock, Yitzhak Lustgarten, Avraham Manela, Chaim Yankel, who was called “the carter's son”, the son of the hunchbacked bath attendant whose name I forgot but who is no longer among the living, and perhaps a few others that the years passing by erased from my memory.

The road was dangerous, and the Polish informers made it necessary to lay low and take hidden paths, sometimes walking dozens of kilometers by foot, across forests and fields.

We were also burdened by the clothes we each wore, 3-4 shirts and two suits at the least.

Along the way, we had a chance to glimpse the camps of Czechoslovakian Jews scattered past the city of Sandomierz. Those were supposedly only refugee camps, but as a matter of fact they were the first camps intended for “the final solution”.

We reached the town of Rozwadów, where we were arrested because someone informed the authorities about us. The Germans incarcerated us at the town's synagogue, which they have turned into a stable.

We lived in uncertainty for a whole week.

Nevertheless, a week later we were taken to the SS headquarters and from there we were led to the river, under heavy guard, and ferried across it.

The Ukrainian boatmen constantly abused us, going as far as tipping the boats over into the water while the Germans fired shots over our heads.

I remember arriving on the other side wet to the bones and wearing only my socks, because my shoes fell into the water. I had to run shoeless for many kilometers until by nightfall we arrived at the town of Grochów, on the side conquered by the Russians.

From there we went, by train and without any complications, to the city of Lvov, where a number of our townsmen have gathered.

This was not the end of our travels, however. Some of us ventured deeper into Russia, some changed their minds and went back to the German occupation, where they perished with their parents and the rest of their townsmen.

Our travels also spanned camps in Siberia, in Middle-Asia, the Far East and the rest of Great Russia.

We were completely cut off from our homeland, our town and our families. We received no news about events there until January 15th 1944, the day the Russian armies swept over the entire county and conquered by storm the towns of Ostrowiec, Iłża, Wierzbnik, Wąchock, Skarżysko, Końskie, Szydłowiec, Kamilnik, Ożarów, Opatów and so on.

 

A letter from the town elder

One time, I was among a small group of friends in a camp and we were listening to the radio in secret when we heard news about the liberation of our town by the Russians. When I heard that, I fainted. The friends who revived me didn't understand what came over me, and only after coming back to my senses I told them that it was my town. Someone pulled out a bottle of vodka (distilled by the resistance) from somewhere and we celebrated the liberation. But from that moment onward I kept wondering: did anyone survive? Will I ever see my parents, my brothers, my sisters?

I remembered that before the war, my parents lived in a village next to our town and I wrote to the village elder, asking for news of their fate. A month later I received his reply, as follows (translated from Polish):

“Your father, Leibish Kerbel, was taken away by the Germans in 1940. We have no idea what they did with him. In any case, he is no longer here.”

I keep this document with me to this day. Was the elder really oblivious to what the Germans “did” to my father or any other Jew? It was simply easier for him to lie.

The news made it obvious, however, that I had nothing left to look for in my town and so I continued my travels. I knew that my sister was taken to Sweden, along with a group of other boys and girls. One of my brothers was somewhere among the partisans or with the Polish army, and that was all I knew.

 

Arrested by the Russians

I continued traveling westward, hoping to reach Israel. Along the way, at the Russian-German border, I ran into trouble. Someone informed the authorities about me, and this time I was arrested by the Russians. They started to cross-examine me during the nights, according to the best of KGB traditions.

I decided to tell them the truth. I told the interrogator that I was a Jew seeking to reach Israel, the only country where I can live as a Jew.

He was stunned and outraged by my answer. “You would trade an eagle (meaning Russia) for a cuckoo (meaning Palestine)?!”

Fortunately, they made a different decision than the one he threatened me with, and I was told to “go to hell” with the prosaic addition “You can wander until your pants fall off and you will never reach Israel.”

But fate decreed otherwise. The strange prophecy of the Russian interrogator never came to pass and I live as a proud, free Jew in my free country to this very day.


[Page 414]

Hunted to Extinction

Moshe Neiman

Right after the German hordes marched into our shtetl, they immediately began to rob and plunder Jewish possessions. They introduced a new “custom”, to take the shops away from the Jews and place a “trustee” in them.

The Nazis also placed a dog of theirs, in the form a Volksdeutcher, in the shop of my parents, Hershel and Hanna Neiman, who for many years had run a shop selling rawhide. Obviously, this meant a terrible blow to my parents' morale, because they suddenly felt the ground sinking beneath their feet.

But it not only hounded their morale, it also physically had a very acute effect. The payment that they received for their work in their own shop was so minimal, that it couldn't suffice to support a home and six children, of which our family consisted.

But the German oppressors cared very little about that. They only thought about one single thing – how to send as much leather as possible to Germany.

 

Aggravations and Horrendous Acts

Later it was revealed that all these cases of robbery and theft, were only the “prelude” to what followed.

Over time the cases of attacks, sadistic bullying and oppression at every step began.

They began to kidnap people from the street and houses and send them away for gruelingly hard labor. We lived near the city hall, and so our fate was hard, because we were among the first victims and also exposed to danger.

My father was, in fact, the first one whose beard was forcefully shaved off. They also did it in a mocking way, so that they only cut off part of it, and my father had to afterwards search for someone to shave it off completely, so as not to be an object of derision.

 

Refugees

Suddenly the Nazi murderers began to force masses of refugees from Płock and Łódź to us, and we had to support the people so they wouldn't perish. At that time we voluntarily took a family into our home and shared everything with them, even though we were already suffering from great poverty. There is a proverb that says that “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” and the Wierzbnik Jews' hospitality and willingness to make sacrifices was revealed to the refugees in crowded conditions as an example of moral values and the eternal commandment: Love they neighbor as thyself.

 

Kidnapped for Work

Afterwards a new phase of brutal terror and oppression progressed. All of a sudden the Nazis began to grab people off the street and also from the houses – and send them off to forced labor. My father also met this dark fate and they grabbed him and sent him away.

I personally heard about the deportations in time and hid. Nevertheless, the Jewish community was informed that if there were married men with children among the deportees, they could be “ransomed” – if people wished – by sending young unmarried men in their place.

My mother, already knowing where my father was, worriedly prepared a full knapsack with various things for me and escorted me on my unfamiliar way with a broken heart and eyes filled with tears. And so I left my native city with a knapsack on my back and a yellow badge on my arm and set out on my way.

As soon as I arrived at the appointed place, the Nazis attacked me with blows and beat and tortured me for so long that I stopped feeling the pain and the blows.

They did let my father out and left me in his place. They did the same with many other young people, who came to ransom their parents.

 

Sent Off to Lublin

After a short time, they sent me and a group of other people away to the Lublin region, near the places that they had occupied on the Russian border. My father came to Lublin six weeks later, and after great exertion was able to free me from the Nazi yoke, from the forced labor, and we returned to Wierzbnik together. When the deportations took place I was working at the large furnace, and I was temporarily not taken. Afterwards however, I suffered through all the seven stages of hell until I was liberated by the Americans in 1945. Of my whole family, only my brother Wowe, who had fled to Russia in time (and now lives in Toronto) survived.

The others – my parents and four sisters, were bestially murdered together with all the Wierzbnik martyrs. Their holy memory will always remain in my heart.


[Page 416]

From Slavery to Freedom

Zvi Magen (Hershel Pancer)

The Jews of Wierzbnik-Starachowice, like the Jews of every town in the Diaspora, have been retailers and craftsmen. There were also lumber-mills in the area, as well as a plywood factory that employed Jewish workers. My father, Zeev Welwl Pancer, earned a livelihood working as a salesman for the leather merchant, Eizik Najman.

We were four sisters and two brothers. My father was a devout Jew and we received a strict religious upbringing at home. When I turned 16, I became a companion for Reuven Lichtenstein, one of the town dignitaries, whose eyesight was diminished with old age. I would help him during his various travels and visits. During times of leisure, I would read him chapters from the torah and the Bible, while this wonderful Jew taught me the Hebrew tongue, which he knew fluently.

When the Germans entered our town, they immediately forbidden Jewish trade, confiscated property, pillaged shops, declared a residence area that Jews were not allowed to leave and decreed that every person over the age of 16 must do forced labor. These were the first stages of the ghetto.

Because of the Germans' forced labor edict I worked since 1940 at the brick kiln. We worked two shifts, and every day we were led to our workplace under Ukrainian guard at a specific hour in the morning, and then back to the ghetto at the end of our shift.

We worked for 10 hours or more every day, and the wage was so low it wasn't even enough to buy bread.

In the autumn of 1942, the town filled with rumors that the Jews were going to be transported to concentration camps, and the rumors spread more and more every day. And then one day, in Heshvan 1942, we heard a rumor that our eviction was drawing near. I remember working the night shift that day, and when evening fell and it was almost time to go to work, the house was in uproar. My mother started crying, because she could sense the danger coming and that this would be a final farewell. Knowing well what would happen to me if I didn't show up for work, I tried to calm her down with the help of my father, who claimed that I must not be late for work. And so I left the house with my sister, who was also headed for work at one of the factories in the area. I remember a special incident from that night. I was walking along when I met an officer of the Jewish police, Jermiahu Wilczek, who was a friend of my family. He invited me to come and attend the wedding of his daughter that night. They already knew that the town was doomed and wanted the children to meet their fate as man and wife and not as bride and groom. This delay made me arrive at the factory a few minutes late, and the Ukrainian gentile standing guard at the gate swore at me, shoved me into the guard room and knocked me down, beating me soundly with his club. Grunts of pain, moans and screams erupted from my throat and the terrible cries summoned the manager of the factory. Seeing me lying beaten and bloodied he commanded the guard to let go of me and so I was saved.

We would normally finish our night shift at 6 in the morning, when the next shift arrived to take our place, but this time dawn brought with it the echoes of gunfire. We didn't understand the meaning of it but we knew in our hearts that something bad was happening, and as the sun came up the shooting escalated. We waited impatiently for the second shift to arrive, but at 6 we were surprised to see the work manager Korczinski, who said that he can't let us go as long as the next shift hasn't showed up. Then he left the hall and went to the office to contact the Gestapo. A few minutes later, he returned with an order that we must go back to work and continue through the next shift. We realized that something was going on and that some disaster struck the town. We were depressed and agitated, while the Poles working with us gloated. At 2 in the afternoon came through the gate a small group of young men from the town, ordered to take our places. From them we learned that early in the morning the ghetto was surrounded and all the Jews – old men, women and children – were taken out of their houses and herded to the market square. A selection has separated the young from the rest. The young were taken from the square to the labor camps and the others were led somewhere outside of town. After two days of work, we nightshift workers were led into a fenced camp by the factory and imprisoned behind barbed-wire fences. Our first jobs in this camp were to pitch those barbed-wire fences and clean the stables that served as our quarters. From that day onward, I never left the concentration camp until our liberation in 1945.

 

Camp Majowka

The only thing I knew about the fate of my family after I left them was that they were sent to a camp called “Treblinka”. In time I learned that my remaining sister was in one of the nearby camps, working with other Jewish girls at the lumber-mill. One night, after dark, I risked everything sneaking out of the camp to try and find my sister. I reached as far as the camp gate and pretended to be one of the Polish workers, who were allowed to come and go, and fortunately no one stopped me. My sister was astonished to see me, and didn't believe her eyes because she thought me long dead. Those were the only moments of solace I enjoyed throughout my time at the concentration camp.

Hundreds of Jews were imprisoned in camp Majowka, many of them from neighboring towns. The number of prisoners kept rising and falling. From time to time we faced a selection; the sick and ailing were taken and transported elsewhere, but later we found out they were executed. I remember one selection in particular. We were lined up in the courtyard. Every block supervisor had to report the number of people present and the number of people missing. But a girl was found hiding in the attic supervised by Wilczek's son-in-law. They brought her down to the commander and executed them both, the girl and the supervisor, Wilczek's son-in-law whose wedding I attended on the night before the eviction.

 

Breakout attempt

In June 1944 they announced that all the prisoners would soon be transported to another, unknown camp. This announcement filled the hearts of people with dread. Another rumor spread at the time, saying that during one of the nights a partisan unit will approach the camp and cut a hole through the fence, allowing anyone who wished to escape to do so. And indeed, one night we discovered a hole in the fence and people from every block started a panicked stampede towards it. Unfortunately, the guard towers opened fire on them before they had a chance to go through and about 200 Jews were killed by the bullets of the murderers.

 

The road to Auschwitz

The next day we were all ordered to line up at the courtyard. They distributed the food left in the storehouses among us and took us to the train station, where a row of freight cars stood waiting. We were crammed into those cars and locked up inside, with no air to breath.

After hours of waiting the train moved in an unknown direction, and days later we arrived at the “famous” gate of Auschwitz. The train stopped by a secondary block camp and the doors opened. The filth was unbearable and there were suffocated corpses in every car. From the cars we were led to the shower cabin. We were ordered to leave all our clothes and our belongings behind. We were marched under a cold drizzle to where the tattooists sat and tattooed every arm with a number. From that moment on I became number A19517, wearing the infamous striped Auschwitz uniform.

 

The gypsies

The camp kapo informed us of the gypsies prisoners imprisoned across from the cabins we lived in. In the middle of the night we heard suspicious movement and had no doubt that something was afoot. And indeed, at dawn we found out that the gypsies were taken away during the night and led to the gas chambers and that we, the survivors, will do their jobs in camp, working at all hours. It was not long before I was transferred from this camp to another.

 

Evacuation and escape

On the morning of April 9th 1945, came the order that all those capable of walking can leave the camp. This was the evacuation march and we headed out, accompanied by guards. The march continued for four days. We were forced to march in the driving rain, thirsty and hungry. It was then that I decided to run away no matter what. I looked for an opportunity and when night fell, I convinced one of my friends to join me and the two of us left the convoy and hid in the thick bushes along the roadside. Once the convoy passed us by, we started walking and after a few hours we arrived at the suburbs of the city of Keln.

We passed by German army units retreating from the city in a panic. We met two Germans and they led us to a house where people from various countries who ended up here lived, and they welcomed us. On April 16th 1945 we learned that American soldiers were approaching the town and the time of our liberation draws near with their coming.

I left the house and saw a beautiful sight, lines of American soldiers passing me by, carrying me with them to freedom.

After years of suffering and unbearable torture, enslaved and humiliated and tumbling like a leaf in the wind, I regained my humanity. I was free.


[Page 419]

The Miraculous Journey of Mr. Hershel Wiser

M. S., Zvi Faigenbaum

Mr. Hershel Zvi Wajzer was considered one of the most respected and renowned character in the community of Wierzbnik. Fortunately he is with us in Israel and bestows his presence upon the visitors of our annual memorial meetings.

Hershel Zvi was born in the town of Przytyk . His father, who served as a kosher butcher in this town, was known as a sharp scholar and admired by his friends; as one of the Warka Hasidim he loved his fellow men, adhered to the torah and yearned for our ancestral homeland. According to these ideals he raised his son, Hershel, until the boy came of marrying age. Hershel arrived in Wierzbnik to wed the daughter of the head of the Kornwaser family, Mordechai David.

It was not long before Hershel Wajzer has proven himself to be a great person blessed with many virtues, supporting every charitable enterprise and kind to all, a generous and hospitable man.

His pleasant voice gave great pleasure to the listeners when he took up the role of cantor.

When I was a boy, we used to live next door to the Wajzer family, whose house was a warm Jewish home filled with devout, fundamental Jewish tradition. His singing talent passed to his entire family, regardless of sex or age.

On Shabbats and holidays, when the family was gathered by the table, the songs sang by this choir of boys and girls echoed far, spreading a unique Jewish experience.

He cherished the prayer “May it please you to bring us happily to our land, and bring us to your city of Zion in joy and to your Temple of Jerusalem”, and felt a yearning for our homeland. He dreamt about Israel and considered it his heart's desire, a kind of commandment that a faithful Jew is bound by. He raised his own children according to these ideals – torah and scholarship, a love of the Israeli people and the land of Israel.

And so he ruled his house peacefully until the early days of the 1930s, when the skies of Poland's Jewry grew dark with clouds. And although no one imagined the Holocaust yet in those days, he decided to leave the Diaspora and immigrate to Israel, and was determined to make this decision a reality.

 

Forerunners

His first step in realizing his dream was sending his eldest son Shmuel to Israel, to lead the way. He got him a certificate from the first batch of immigration certificates secured by the group Shmuel was a member of, “Agudath Israel Youths”. He married Sarah Boim from Łęczyce, who worked as a teacher at the Beit-Yaakov school in Przytyk, and after receiving proper training the two arrived in Israel in 1935, to build a home in the chosen land.

Upon their arrival, they faced a harsh and grey reality, and countless obstacles stood between them and their goal. Their letters to their parents were not very excited. But none of this swayed the strong will of Hershel-Zvi, who was filled with the vision of the end of days.

Eventually we learned that Hershel's boundless yearning for Israel made him so determined to immigrate that he was willing to consider illegal means (second Aliya).

His family was shocked to learn that he took actual steps in this direction. They couldn't understand how such a respected Jew could choose such an adventurous and dangerous path?! But when they realized they could not dissuade him from realizing this worthy goal, they urged the grandfather, Yoseph Chaim from Przytyk, to dissuade his son from acting recklessly. They also asked the help of the Admor of Warka, a man he respected and followed. Together, the two managed to dissuade him from taking an illegal path.

 

Hershel immigrates to Israel

After he agreed, they wished him a quick and legal immigration. And indeed, at the request of religious circles, the mandate government has granted in those days a number of certificates for rabbis, and one of those certificates was given to Hershel Wajzer, who immigrated to Israel with the blessing of the rabbi, his father, his family and all the Jews in town.

This was a cold fact. Hershel Wajzer has immigrated to Israel; he was not merely taking a trip to assess the situation but actually immigrating and settling there. He arrived in 1936, with four of his children – Esther, Mordechai, Lea and Hanna (a year later they were joined by the daughter, Rachel). His wife Rivka, a capable woman with a sense for business, claimed that something new must bud before you could rid yourself of the old, and she temporarily stayed in Wierzbnik with three of the girls and continued running the business until the time came.

The slow liquidation process and the separation of the family continued until World War II broke out, and the women were trapped in the vale of tears and shared the horrors and the suffering of Europe's Jews.

Those who remained in the Diaspora became martyrs while those in Jerusalem survived… two of his daughters became martyrs while the mother Rivka and the daughter Hinda were among the few survivors who managed to join the family in Jerusalem and start a new life.

 

Starting anew

In Israel they were naturally forced to rebuild, and suffered more than a few economic hardships, but Hershel Wajzer never looked for the simple life that a man of his means could have. He wished to work for a living, like he did in Wierzbnik, and so he worked hard from dawn to dusk until his retirement, along with his wife Rivka and his family. But despite all these concerns, he always left himself time for torah and study.

Despite his humility, he was known to many who came in contact with him and recognized his virtues.

Indeed, he was a colorful, patriarchal figure, dignified and possessing of a Jewish tranquility and an aura of nobility.

As Hershel and his wife reach old age, we wish them many blessed years of life, health and joy from their offspring, Amen.


[Page 422]

To Mention – Through Allusion

Gershon Rosenwald

At the request of the Toronto committee of the Wierzbnik Friendly Society, we here present a synopsis of the correspondence between our compatriot Gershon Rosenwald and the “Tog Morgen Journal“ [a Yiddish newspaper] in Toronto!

“In your column by Dr. Klarman you mention Yizkor Books in which the publishers were requested to expunge the names of members of the Judenrat as well as other Jews who collaborated with the Gestapo.

Since we are also facing a similar problem I would like to ask:

I stem from a small city in Congress Poland, where 700 Jewish families lived. When the dark days and nights began, when all Jews were incarcerated in a ghetto, a Jewish administration and a Jewish police force, which were composed of local Jewish leaders and several public activists, were appointed to head the ghetto.

Taking charge of the ghetto, some of them unfortunately behaved mercilessly towards their brethren. They personally decided who would work in the ammunition factory. And since it was thought that whoever worked would be able to save himself, everyone wanted to work and for the privilege gave away the last of their possessions.

Many years have already gone by since that dreadful period. We are now, the survivors of our city, in Canada, in America and in Israel. We are united into a society, and are active in all Jewish areas. Our society has decided to publish a Yizkor Book in order to perpetuate the memory of our destroyed life, our martyrs.

In the meantime there are differences of opinion among us. Some of us think that the names of the Jewish administrators and their actions, as well as the names of the Jewish policemen and how cruelly they behaved towards their brethren, should also be mentioned in the Yizkor Book.

Others think the opposite: since the book will be a book of the martyrs, we mustn't defile it with the names of the Hitler collaborators, even though before the war they were distinguished Jews and even public activists.

I personally, who have prepared a wealth of material for the Yizkor Book, cannot decide how to act. After all, before the war they had been Jews with a good reputation and perhaps they did it in the hope of saving their own skins, and that is why they received their judgment.

We would like to know how to act, whether we are allowed to mention the names of the administrators, or should we keep silent?”

 

Reply

Dear Mr. Rosenwald,

As we can see, you yourself considered it necessary and didn't mention the name of the city, because you have a sentimental feeling for those who became tools in the hands of the Gestapo.
Unfortunately, this occurred in many Jewish ghettos. To make matters short, our opinion is that they can be mentioned, by alluding to them, without defiling the holy Yizkor Book with their names.

Dr. A. Klarman Tog Morgen Journal

 

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