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[Pages 169-173]

The Historical Jewish Committee of Bialystok District
Bialystok, January 30, 1947

The Destruction of the Jewish Community
in Visoka-Mozovietsk (Wysokie Mazowiecki)

(As testified by Avraham-Berl Sokol, 42 years old, a native of Visoka-Mozovietsk,
who was in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Ebensee and Wels[1])

Translated from the Yiddish by M. Tork, Jewish Historical Committee chairperson for the Bialystok District

Translated from Hebrew into English by Uri Elzur

Donated by Dalia Taft

On June 22nd 1941, at 2am the Germans attacked the USSR. The next day our little town was already in the hands of the Nazis, and all the Jews of Visoka and Yablonka were ordered to work on the roads and to carve out stones under the supervision of German citizens equipped with clubs.

In August 1941 the Ghetto of Visoka was set up and Jews from the nearby small towns of Yablonka-Koscielna, Kulesze-Koscielna, Visung (Wyszonki?), Dabrowa and other were brought in as well. These Jews (2,000 people) were stuffed into the three ghetto streets, cordoned off with barbed wire. The ghetto had four gates that initially were guarded by Jewish police and later by Poles. Every day, the ghetto residents were taken out to work on the roads and after a 12 hour workday, each received 200 grams [7 ozs.] of bread and diluted soup or coffee.

Using different tricks I was able to sneak out to get food for my family – my wife and four kids[2], my brother and his family (living in Visoka) and my parents[3] (staying in the Zambrow camp). This went on until September of 1942.

On September 1st the Germans were looking for me in order to kill me for selling my horse. I knew I had to flee the ghetto. Three of my children (the older ones) wanted to join me, but I took with me only my son Moshele-Chaim, 12 years old. In the village (where I was hiding) the rumor that the Germans had ordered 600 wagons to get the Jews out of the Visoka Ghetto had spread. From afar I was able to see the bicycles rushing towards Visoka to surround the ghetto and prevent Jews from escaping.

The next day, on November 2nd, in the morning, the Germans, assisted by the Jewish officers, had kicked the people out of their homes, had badly beaten them and the crying and yelling were sky high. Many managed to run away to the forests and fields. But the cold and frost, hunger and persecution by the locals made it unbearable and many turned themselves into the Germans.

On November 7th I decided to go to Visoka, to my house, and get some belongings to take with me. Polish officers noticed me and informed the German Gendarmerie, who caught me, beat me until I was bloody and jailed me. I found Berka Shorshevitz (a Visoka resident) there, over 70 years old, who was hiding in the forest for some time, and had returned to Visoka and turned himself into the Germans. Within two days the jail was full of men, women, children and elderly people who chose to turn themselves in instead of dying out in the cold. From the Visoka jail, the Jews were transferred to the Zambrow Camp. They walked 19 kilometers (~ 12 miles) by foot, hungry and freezing,controlled by wooden clubs and dogs. On January 10th, 1943 the Zambrow camp was closed down and the Jews were sent to Auschwitz. From that time on, every Jew caught was shot and before his death was forced to dig his own grave.

A Christian from the Dabrowa-Koscielna village told me that after the Zambrow camp was closed, 14 Jews were captured. They brought them to the Jewish cemetery and ordered them to dig a big grave. They were all shot on spot. Among them were Ezra Lev, his wife and son (“sha'an” or watch maker), two sisters (from the Wilamovski family) and their children. When they were walking towards the cemetery one girl approached an officer and said: “Mr. Yaroshevitz, you have children yourself, do not kill us.”

Yosel Zevische, a butcher from Visoka, hung himself with a towel in the Gendarmerie cell. Yankel Verobel (the tailor), his wife and child Yoelke-Itzele were hiding in the Falazi village. He was working for the farmers. The Gendarmerie found out. They caught him, put him on a wagon and brought him to a field not too far from Dabrowa-Koscielna, gave him a shovel and told him to dig a hole. He noticed they were about to kill him, so he threw the shovel at the feet of the Gendarmerie officer and started running away. They caught him and after cruel torturing they cut his body into pieces and buried him with his wife and son in one grave.

Zalman Susne of Visoka hung himself after staying in an attic at Stack village for some time. In the Schianzki village close to Yablonka, two Jewish families were hiding: Zlata and Motel Segal and Moshe Vizikevitch and his wife. They were informed on and the Polovka (field Gendarmerie) got to their hideout, ordered them out and [ordered them to] undress. They were made to stand by a wall while naked and were shot dead.

In the Stadrove village (near Yablonka) they found, towards the end of 1943, Kayla and Mordechai Segal. They were taken down from the attic where they were hiding and were shot. They left behind a six month old baby girl. A Christian women took the baby to her house and raised her. She is with the girl at Alek. She refuses to return the girl. She wants to immigrate to America.

Hazkel Segal and Moshe Vireszva are buried near the village of Falk.

Kadish Kojul and his niece Manes are buried in the Rambik forest. Not too far away from the forest Motel Nachman Segal's brother is buried.

In 1944, two weeks before the liberation, my brother Yeshayahu-Itzchak, his wife Faigel, their daughter Sara, 19 years old, and their son Avramaleh, 9 years old, were murdered.

 

Translator's Notes:
  1. Ebensee and Wels were subcamps of Mauthausen Return
  2. Wife Rivka and children Moshe Chaim (b. 1930), Yitchok Dovid (b. 1934), Roza Batia and Menachem (b. June 1941) Return
  3. Shmuel Arye Sokol and Freidel (Rumnonick) Sokol Return

 


[Pages 174-183]

The Historical Jewish Committee of Bialystok District
Bialystok, February 2, 1947

What I Experienced at the Zambrow Concentration Camp[1]
and Other Concentration Camps

(Testimony collected from Avraham-Berl Sokol, 42 years old, a native of Visoka-Mozovietsk,
who was in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Ebensee and Wels)

Translated from the Yiddish by M. Tork, Jewish Historical Committee chairperson for the Bialystok District

Translated from Hebrew into English by Uri Elzur

Donated by Dalia Taft

The Zambrow Camp had 17,500 Jews. The young prisoners were digging holes in the ground not knowing who they were destined for. The conditions were very harsh. Food was limited to a two pound loaf of bread made of bran and chestnut flour for 12 people a day, and a half liter [16 ozs.] of soup made of rotten potatoes with no salt. In the morning it was rare for anyone to get any warm water. Twice a day the Gendarmerie officers, with help from the Jewish police, who had a banner on their sleeves reading “supervision,” would kick the people out of their barracks (“blocks”) to stand naked and barefoot for two hours outside. Due to the cold, their faces swelled and became yellow.

Initially, they separated children from their parents. The outcry was sky high and the horror was so bad that they had to return the children to their parents.

The daily death toll in the camp was 100 people, mainly old people and childrens. The camp was divided into seven barracks. The human density was unbearable. Fourteen people had to sleep on bunks designed for six. There were cases where mothers killed their children out of desperation.

My family was 17 souls. When I was unable to see the suffering of my children and parents, I managed, using nepotism, to work in the kitchen for a few days. I worked from 4AM to 7PM. I had to carry water and ensure that the kitchen was clean. The Camp manager Block inspected the kitchen and was very pleased with my work. The next day they wanted to replace me with someone else, but the person in charge of the kitchen, Pesach Skabronk, claimed “If you remove Sokol from the kitchen, we'll be doomed.” Thanks to him I was able to stay in the kitchen until the camp was closed. For my work I received three liters of soup. Any food I could get like beets, radishes, potatoes, etc. I brought to my family. My wife used to give to the children first and take the remains for herself. When the Germans and the Jewish police were not looking, we would collect the potato skins mixed with sand and cook them.

When the Zambrow camp was done with, they separated the old, sick and children from the rest of the population, about 800 people; that is, anyone who was not able to walk with the transport, and moved them to a specific “block,” the hospital. In the last days, the Germans Bloch and Shandler and Dr. Knot (of Lomza) administered some medicine to the sick – a teaspoon of poison – and they all perished. They were buried in Zambrow next to the Russian cemetery. Many dead people were left on the bunks. I was removed from Zambrow on January 15th 1943. They brought us to Chizev ( Tshizeva?) on farmer's wagons. It was extremely cold outside and on the way to the railway station 120 people froze to death. Many who disembarked from the wagons to the road to take care of their biological needs froze to death on the spot from the cold and from being weak.

As I was running after the wagon to take care of my children, I suffered more than once from being hit by the Germans' clubs, till I saw stars. The sleigh my wife and my elderly mother were riding in had turned over and they fell into the snow. My wife told me “If it wasn't for you I would be free from the trip to Auschwitz and could remain buried under the snow.” I picked up the sleigh, put my children and aged mother in it and the trip continued. It was so freezing cold that the children were not able to cry anymore. We rode the whole night and traveled 22 kilometers (14 miles). My mother moaned “I wish I was staying at Zambrow.”

At the Chizev railway station there was lots of fuss. The Germans were hitting the Jews on the head with clubs and forcing them to go into the cars. I wanted to save my family from the beating and rushed them into the cars. These were horse [cattle] cars and they stuffed ten [?] people into each of them, locked them and installed barbed wires around them and without food or water we were transferred to Auschwitz.

On January 17th 1943 we were brought to Auschwitz, to the “Judenrampe.” When the car doors were open, the S.S. people with clubs in their hands were standing there shouting “Raus!” (Out!). The S.S. doctor was selecting people with his bamboo stick in hand, male and female separately. The males that were deemed not fit to work, and woman and children were put into the black cars (cars of death) that drove them off not too far from the gas chambers. They were ordered to undress and angry dogs attacked them, tore their flesh and chased them into the gas chambers. They stuffed up to 2,000 people into the two chambers, and if more people were still available they threw them on top of those standing inside. After 10 minutes of death throes, death had saved them of their misery. With gas masks on their faces, the S.S. people hermetically locked the doors, screwed them tightly, and placed a ladder three meters [10 ft.] high, where a porthole (small window) was located. With a hammer they hit a valve/cover and the gas (in the form of a dry grey powder) poured over peoples' heads. The screaming heard for kilometers died away after 10 minutes. Dead silence. A special company opened the door, dragged the dead bodies out and put them on a wheelbarrow – 30 bodies on each wheelbarrow – and carried them away to the pits. There they laid the corpses layer by layer on some branches and the Lieutenant Commander Steinberg[2] poured gasoline on them and lit the fire from four sides by himself. While doing it, he used to say “The burning Jews are the headquarters of the heavens.” In each fire 2,500 corpses were burned. Outside of the camp there were three big pits. In two of them they burned the dead and in the third one they raked away the warm ashes and carried them away on wagons to the field or threw them into the Wisla river. After the corpses were removed from the gas chambers, the “barbers” would cut the women's hair and the “teeth pullers” would remove any gold teeth from the dead people's mouths.

In one case a beautiful French woman was hiding in a pile of goods. They noticed her after the whole group had been suffocated to death in the gas chambers. She pleaded with Lieutenant Commander Steinberg “I'm young, beautiful, I'd like to work, leave me alive.” “Get dressed,” the German told her and as she turned around to take her clothes, he shot her in the back.

The S.S. commander Moll[3] said “All the Jews of Lodz came to my factory” and indeed under his orders 60,000 Jews from Lodz were killed.

My wife was burned on January 17th, 1943 together with 16,000 Jews of Zambrow in the pits of Section Number Two.

The men that remained on the “Ramp” were divided into two groups, one on the right and one on the left. I was among the group on the left, not knowing what my fate was going to be. As I was standing in the lines of five, my son Moshele-Chaim jumped in front of me and said “Daddy, I want to be with you.” He was bleeding and had lost the bread in his backpack. “Where is the bread?” I asked him. “A German beat me with a stick, and as I suffered that blow, I lost the bread.” For three days he had not eaten. “Daddy, I still have one slice of bread.” I snuck him into my line. He was shaking out of fear. As soon as the camp doctor saw him standing in line, he shouted “Heraus!” (Outside!). Like a bird the child flew out of the line and I have not seen him again since. From afar I saw my second son Itzele, nine years old, putting snow into his mouth in an effort to stop his hunger. I also saw my 70 year old mother with her eyes closed. Two women supported her with their arms. When my wife saw me from afar, she didn't care about the beatings the Germans gave her [for stepping out of line] and with my eighteen month old son Menachemke in her arms, she ran to me to say her farewell. “Forgive me” she said with the remaining strength she had, knowing death was close, and returned to her place. I was frozen like a fossil. They walked me to the camp. This is how my family was lost in twenty minutes, a blink of an eye.

They brought us to Block 20, beating us continually. After some time they took our clothes and we were ordered to stay outside in the biting frost (January 18th, 1943) for several hours. Many froze to death in the deep cold. Then they brought us to the bathroom and tattooed a number on the left hand. My number was 88966. For them I was not a human being but a number. When they yelled at me to get beaten, they were not calling my name but my number. The Jewish “Capo” – Merva of Makov (?) – trying to please the Germans, ordered me to “bend down” and with a thick stick he beat me very hard. This is the way we lived – hunger, fear, cold and beatings were our daily treats. Many signed up to Block 7 at their will, the block of death. This was the block they used to take people to the gas chambers, this is how we were shaking (?) in the claws of death and we were hoping.

On January 18th 1945 in the evening they took us out of the camp and made us run to Austria through Czechoslovakia. It was freezing cold and the snow reached our hips. 50% of us, who had no strength left to walk, died on the road. In Czechoslovakia they brought us to train cars, one hundred people in a car, and brought us to Austria, to camp Mauthausen.

On January 26th, 1945, they cut our hair. They took our clothes and left us naked. A new death camp; here the situation was worse than in Auschwitz. We were catalogued again; I got the number 120298 carved in tin. For two weeks we were there in cold and hunger. They forced us to stand outside for a whole day freezing with only our underwear covering our flesh. The body turned blue from the cold and tents of people were dying every day.

After two weeks they were ordered to give us striped clothes (like prisoners) and to move us to a new camp, Ebensee[4] in Austria. Here we worked in the forest, digging tunnels out of the mountain rocks and building warehouses. The situation at Ebensee was worse than the two previous camps. Nine people received an 800 gram loaf of bread a day, and one potato skin soup bowl was dealt to ten people. We ate in turns. We were standing in a circle and one by one each got one spoon of the soup. Once I got extra bread and margarine for my work. I sold it for a pair of shoes; otherwise my bare feet would have frozen.

We spent three winter months at Ebensee, working on stone mining, with our feet in water, under very harsh conditions and hunger and cold. Then they selected one thousand of us, myself included, to be transferred to camp Wels, where we labored fixing train rails that the Russians had dismantled. On our way to work and back and during work we were badly beaten. Twice a day we received a quarter liter of soup and a one hundred gram [piece of] bread. After four weeks of labor only 300 people remained of the 1000. As the war front got closer to Austria, the red army on one side and the American army on the other, they moved us back to Ebensee.

At Ebensee, our suffering had reached its peak; I ate live worms, soft coals, nibbled on bones, and chewed-up bitter grass (called “malitz,” used to feed pigs) to fill out my stomach. My legs became swollen; I had my skeleton only. With my last strength I was able to hold out until May 6th, Liberation Day by the Americans. I am confident that were the Americans late by three to four days, I would not have testified here in front of you.

Three months after liberation, people were still running around naked, with swollen legs, covered with wounds, enraged in madness, unstoppable out of happiness.

Immediately, as the Americans entered the camp, they ordered the local Germans to remove three thousands corpses that the Germans did not have a chance to cremate and bring them to burial: Jews, Poles and Russians separately. The Jews' burial places were marked with a Magen David – the Star of David. This cemetery is by the Ebensee camp in Austria.

All hospitals were crowded with camp survivors. All were sick, exhausted, had intestinal and stomach ailments from the eating rush they suffered after the liberation. I was sick too.

Going through Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Upper Silesia[5], I got back to my hometown of Visoka Mozovietsk. On August 1st 1945, my feet were again on Visoka's ground.Out of my family of twenty, and from closer and more remote relatives – another thirty – I alone remained.

On November 2nd 1942, I was taken from Visoka and on August 1st 1945 I returned there. Two years and two days I was in Auschwitz. When I came to my hometown I saw the destruction that the Germans with their Polish aides had done to us. I also found the Gentile “goy” that lead me to the death camp. I went to the place where my house used to stand, to the place where my kids used to play, I went to the places where my brother's house used to stand. It had all been turned into desolation. I was told that my brother Ishayah-Itzchak and his family were killed two weeks before the liberation. I was left alone with no family or relatives.

 

Translator's Notes:
  1. Zambrow was actually a ghetto but conditions were so bad it was initially called a concentration camp Return
  2. SS officer Karl-Fritz Steinberg was in charge of Crematoria II and III in Birkenau Return
  3. Otto Moll waa the Auschwitz crematorium chief Return
  4. Ebensee is considered to be one of the worst concentration camps ever built Return
  5. Upper Silesia is an area between Czechoslovakia and Poland Return

 

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