by Fanya Hertz, Akko
Translated by Pamela Russ
When the war broke out in 1939, I was eight years old. Maybe that was young in years, but it was rich in experience for having worked in Warsaw for three years. And when the main city in Poland was bombed, and a mass fleeing from there began, I also left the city with a determined decision that now my home was Wyszkow. In that house near the train, that is surrounded by fruit trees, flowers, and green meadows, there were my mother, my brothers and sisters. That was the house of my grandfather, Avrohom Leyb Rubenstajn, of blessed memory. My goal was to run away from the bombed out Warsaw and run to Wyszkow, to be together with my dear ones and to share their fate. I had a bad feeling just as I came to the town. I was advised to leave my home right away. And that's what we did but it was already later on, after the first victim of the family had fallen, our oldest brother Fishel.
One bright September morning, the Wyszkower sky became dark with German airplanes. Bombs and bullets from machine guns fell onto the city without stop. Just a few minutes before the German attack, my brother's fatherinlaw, the elderly Reb Yisroelke Szlanczik, said to Fishel:
Come, let us go and pray.
And this was their final road. A bomb tore them both apart. Soon they let us know about this tragedy. We went into the street and began to collect the still warm pieces of both bodies and put them into an abandoned wagon that stood not far from us. Despite this horror and tragedy of both victims, and also despite what was going on around us, we still had a feeling that we
were doing what were the final rights for the two. But just as we completed this work, once again airplanes flew overhead, threw bombs, and one of them hit the wagon that began to burn.
Fiery flames tore apart the wagon. The whole town was burning and an infernal fire also burned in our hearts.
Now we had to run but to where? I still thought about taking along a few things and going into the house. But a fire bomb fell near the house. They were still able to drag me out through a window.
We left a Wyszkow that was wrapped in fire and smoke. The tragic inhabitants ran in the chaos and terror, with wideopen eyes. Their screams and tremors, as sharp knives, sliced into the voids. Small children were searching for their parents, and the parents, with confused broken hands, called out to their children. Wild cows and horses ran through the flames as if they would find salvation there…
The tongues of flame meanwhile did their work, swallowing up almost the entire town. That night, the ashes of the destroyed homes were already smouldering. The bombs stopped falling, and as always night fell. Then I was very disturbed by the fact that on that very day my two brothers, Motel and Gavriel, had left for Pultusk to fetch a sick woman from there and bring her to her husband who was in Wyszkow.
They returned safely at night. We were now standing in front of our grandfather's destroyed house. The house where we were born and raised was no longer, where thousands of stories arose in our memories good and bad, happy and sad. The unforgettable home of Wyzkow was no longer… These thoughts suddenly overtook my mother:
It's too bad that we did not listen to you, she said to me, and then pointed to the horse and wagon that was the only thing remaining after the bombing.
We left on that wagon, without anything. There was nothing to take with us. The horse lazily took himself into the dark night. We left behind the destroyed town and its tragic inhabitants.
Now we were homeless. The creaking of the wheels tore through the night. I was sinking into my thoughts. Why did my oldest brother have such a death? When my father died, I was six years old. Fishel became the sole provider for the entire family, concerned for each one of us, buying shoes and clothing. He had a warm word and kisses for every one of us. That's also how he was to others. He was prepared to remove his own shirt and give it to someone else who needed it. He well knew who in town needed a piece of bread, and saw to it that the person should not suffer from hunger. He lived more for someone else than for himself.
One night earlier, before death stole him away in such a grueling manner, someone knocked at the gate of our house. My oldest brother went down, opened the gate, and the entire yard filled with children. They filled up the barn and the rooms. We found out that nuns and the children from a Christian orphanage had come to us. They had been evacuated from western Poland. Fishel already gave them some food and fresh hay for sleeping. In the morning, the guests awoke well fed, having had drinks, and having slept, and one of the nuns blessed my brother:
May you never know any sorrow because you helped tragic orphans…
I cried at the thought of what happened to him just hours earlier. He was also very religious. My fatherinlaw, a Jew with 96 grandchildren, loved him more than any of his own children or grandchildren. That's why he had asked Fishel to go and pray with him. And then he met his end. Why? Where is justice? Tears ran down my cheeks. And maybe I thought this was from God. It was just barely better for him now than for us (later I thought about this many times). May these words serve as his tombstone that was never placed…
The road that left behind so many victims, began. Even today, I still think about how I, the youngest and weakest, remained alive, the only one of a large family that was destroyed in the fires of war. We rode and walked, walked and rode. Going uphill, we had to push the brokendown wagon that was completely dried out. We had no grease, even though my grandfather had a factory of that. So the axles and wheels were greased with butter anything, as long as it would be easier for the horse.
Small Jewish children were roaming, lost on the roads. Hungry, barefoot, alone. We sat them in the wagon and went on foot ourselves. We only rode at night, during the day we rested in the forest. But we needed to eat. It was already evening, when I and Moshe Leyb Gunter's grandson, ten years old, went onto the highway that divided the Sokolower forest into two. Suddenly, tanks were coming towards us and stopped. Two Germans jumped out of a tank, and with aimed guns, they asked us:
Where is the Polish military, spies?
We were silent out of fear. This was my first encounter with Germans. Suddenly, there began a shooting from the other side. We dropped to the ground and began crawling back into the forest. Bullets flew over our heads
shot by Polaks who tried to put up a resistance to the shooting of the Germans.
But that shooting [of the Polaks] saved our lives.
I knew the Germans better in Wengrow. I still shudder when I remember those times. There were many Wyszkower in Wengrow at the time, but I can, t remember who. The days were dark, and the nights filled with a deathly fear. I cannot forget the German cruelty in Wengrow. They ordered the Rav to tell the baker to bake bread on Yom Kippur. When the baker filled their orders, they tortured him in front of my eyes.
Once, they herded thousands of people into one place: priests, rabbis, soldiers, civilians. It was raining all day, and they stood with their hands dropped to the ground. Whoever raised his head or moved, was shot or was beaten with a club. We knew that these people had not eaten for a 24hour period. In a large laundry tub that we had brought to our new quarters, we cooked food, and my brother Gavriel and I went to the needy to bring them a little cooked food. As we approached the first guard post I received a whack with a rubber stick. Gavriel ran away and they shot after him, but thankfully they only got him in the heel of his boot. They turned over the tub with the food into the mud, and screamed at us: Cursed Jews! I went back home.
Once they allowed us to take coal residue and coal dust. As the bags were filled and the happy people put these bags on their backs, and were allowed to go home, the Germans assaulted them with horses, stomped on them, beat and shot them. Blood flowed in the streets.
There was no shelter here in Wengrow. We had to keep going. But to where? The somewhat rested horse and the greased wagon once again drove us across fields and forests in rain, in sunshine, during the day, during the night. Hungry and barefoot, we made it through this road.
I will never forget Sadowne and the place where the sons of Moshe Elboim (of the inn) the Wyszkower lay. They were buried alive there. Afterwards, the Germans ordered their mother to sing and dance on their graves and then later tortured her as well.
In Sadowne, they said to us: Jews, why did you come here? Today is our last day. By the middle of the night, we have to be packed and be at the church. The roads around Sadowne are walled in by the Gestapo.
Gavriel knew that area well. We left there at night, and again: Stok, Bruk, tens of settlements, villages, and towns whose names I have long ago forgotten. With each step hunger, pain, German murderers, lonely children, sick elderly, upset women. We took several orphaned children onto the wagon, and managed with difficulty to reach Ostrow.
There were thousands of refugees in Ostrow lying, sitting, waiting for a miracle. Armed Germans were roaming around in the sea of people. Rumor said that in a certain place in Ostrow where there is a low gate, people were registering to go to Russia. You went in there one at a time and no one came back out through the gate. You just bent your head down, and were pulled in one at a time. The gate worked day and night. What could we do?
Several children were sitting cramped in our wagon. A cold rain was ripping into their faces without mercy. There was nothing more to eat. I saw a German at a distance. I didn, t know what possessed me to approach him, I heard my mother's question as if in a fog. Where are you going? But I kept going. The German stopped, and we looked at each other. My sir, I said to him. What time is it now? He measured me from head to toe, and boomed, Three p.m. The children have not yet eaten, I continued to say, and pointed to the wagon and I saw no sign of acknowledgement on his face. These few minutes seemed to time to be an eternity. Follow me, I suddenly heard him say. These two words could have had several meanings, more bad than good. But I followed him. I was in the guard' post, it was small and drab. I stood opposite the heavyset German. Bread for the children, I said. He said nothing, but took four loaves of bread off the shelf, along with a piece of butter and a package of cigarettes. He gave all this to me. I was still standing there, and he asked me: How many are you? Fifty, I replied. He began to write on a piece of paper, put stamps, and then put the document into my hand. They are changing the guard in an hour. I will give you a sign, and then you can ride off. The hour dragged on for a year. But we waited for the signal and began to leave from that place.
I went in front behind me, the wagon with the children. My mother, brother, sister, and others went behind the wagon. The road from Ostrow to Puszkow, where there were Russians, was open to us. Thanks to the German's paper, each guard post let us through undisturbed. The Germans from the last guard post even helped push the wagon up a hill, not far from the new border.
The Russians were also surprised when they saw this unusual paper that I had.
Until this very day, I cannot understand what happened to that German who saved us from certain death. It seems that we were saved in merit of the children.
I remained alive in order that I suffer more. Long after that incident, I would very often wake up from sleep with a scream, and then wake up the others. It seemed that I dreamt that the branch upon which I was sleeping in the forest, broke, and I fell; or that I pulled out my foot from the entrails of a dead body but the dead person held onto me and did not let me free. I cannot forget the singing of the mother Elboim on the graves of her murdered sons. More than once I would erupt in wild laughter. Also not forgettable, was the scene of how the Germans forced a religious Jew, with a beard and side locks, fill up an empty bucket with water from a pump but he had to do this with a cap that had a hole in it. The Germans enjoyed themselves at the expense of the victim before beating him to death.
We did not rest for a long time, because the sky once again was covered with airplanes and the entire area was shuddering from the explosions. Again, we were forced to leave this place. That same moment, my mother called me over, and moaned: I cannot continue. And she died in my hands.
My dear mother! To us, she was both a father and a mother. Her devotion to us was limitless. I remember an episode when my oldest brother Fishel was in the military in Pultusk. It was a very difficult winter. The road to Pultusk was completely snowed under. It was dangerous to even stick your nose out of the city. So she packed up some food and went on the road to Pultusk in order to see with her own eyes how they chased her son out into the cold to wash himself behind the faucets.
May these words serve, for my mother, as a tombstone which I could not put up myself.
We took to the road once again, crossing fields and forests. Tears choked us in our throats. The tired bodies could no longer carry us but we had to continue. Many times, it happened that when I was lying down during the day, my brother Fishel was coming on a white horse and gave me wine to drink from a small bottle. Then we got up and continued on. Soon we saw, that in the place where we were, a bomb fell. I lay down and closed my tired eyes, never to open them again. People thought I had died. But a few minutes later I opened my eyes again and continued on the road. My tired feet carried me not with their strength. It seems that this is what my dead mother did for me, and my murdered brother …
After the war, I tried to find my close relatives in America and England but did not find them.
These words are a comfort for me and a balm for the pain that I suffered by the Germans.
by Fayvl Fular, Born in Wyszkow in 1931
Translated by Pamela Russ
In September 1939, the Germans took over Wyszkow and herded all the Jews into a stable behind the city. They ordered some to dig ditches, some to carry hay. They said that they were going to set fire to the Jews in the stable. They placed the men in rows and shot almost all of them. They told the women and children to go east to the Bolsheviks. We went to Bialystok on foot. And from there we were taken over to Krasnaya Sloboda, a town in White Russia. There were 300 Jews there.
I studied in school until the year 1941, in the second grade. On the third day after the city was captured by the Germans (June 1941), all the Jews were assembled in the raizpolkom [city district executive committee]. They read out some orders for those who were assembled. Then they beat the Jews. The Germans, who did the beating, wore skullandcrossbones symbols on their caps. In the evening, they let the Jews go. The next day, they grabbed Jews to clean the cars. After doing that work, they set out the men in rows of ten, and shot them all. They told the women and girls to go home. My mother wrapped me in a scarf and took me out as a girl. The next day, the women buried the dead men in the cemetery. There were no policemen yet in KrasnayaSloboda. The Germans gave weapons to the peasants and told them to find the Jews and shoot them. The peasants hunted the Jews as they would hunt rabbits. That's when they killed my father, even though he put up a resistance. I heard how an elderly Jew pleaded that they kill him as quickly as possible because he could not watch [the goings on] any longer. We buried our father and once again, my mother dressed me as a girl. We left for Czajkiewicz, a central region. We found out that they were digging ditches there - and in fact the next day they murdered all the Jews. We managed to hide ourselves. Only a few Jews remained in the entire province, skilled workers, among whom we were also
included. All lived in seven or eight houses surrounded by barbed wire.
We heard that in Rejowiec there were active partisans. The policeman Karzin had a Jewish girl, his bride, in the ghetto. Even though he was a policeman, he was actually connected to the partisans. He advised us to run to the partisans because there was going to be another Aktzia [roundup] in another few days. My mother and I went into the forest along with an 18yearold young man. Because of my nonJewish appearance I was able to go around freely and beg for bread and milk from the surrounding peasants. We went to a large forest, Smolniki. One day, I was confronted by two armed men. They asked me who I was and where I had come from. When they found out that I was Jewish, they told me to get my mother and the young man, and they took us over to a group of Jews, among whom there was a beautiful girl. One of the partisans said that if this girl would agree to become his wife, he would take all of us over to the partisans. The girl did not consent. So they left us and went deep into the forest. At a distance, we noticed a fire burning. When we approached, we saw a group of armed men who told us to go over to the Towarne forest.
When we got to the forest that the partisans had shown us, all we found were traces of the abandoned camp. The partisans had left. I took a pair of polished shoes with a bag and left to the village to trade them for food. The peasants liked the items and wanted gladly to buy them. I told the peasant that if he would tell me where to find the partisans then I would sell the items to him. He told me that the partisans are accepting only those who have arms and he could sell me a gun. The following day, he gave me the gun and some bullets for the polished shoes and bag. We left for Woleszczyn(?) and found the partisans there and some other Jews from Kopiec and the surrounding area.
A Jew by the name of Gilczik began to organize the detachment. They let us know that the Germans were coming to the village Rejowski(?) to requisition the cows. When the Germans were already in the village, the partisans blocked all the roads, surrounded the farmhouse, and opened strong fire on the Germans. After a brief resistance, they hid in the ditches. The partisans threw grenades into the ditches, killed them all, and took their arms. When I wanted to take a gun for myself, the others did not allow this, and they said: You did not fight, so you have no right to take arms.
In a few days, 182 Germans came to retrieve their dead comrades. They set fire to the village.
Gilczik was designated as commander of this partisan unit and he soon acquired arms for his detachment.
Although I was in his unit, Gilczik did not allow me to be part of the fighting saying I was still too young. Only in September 1942, without permission from Gilczik, I took part in a bombing, meaning in an economic operation that was very successful. We brought a pig into the camp, with cheese, butter, bread, and eggs. The commander screamed viciously at me about why I had left without permission, then he assigned me as his adjutant [orderly].
In March 1943, once again I went on a mission. On the way, we encountered Germans who had come into the forest for a manhunt. We ran in all directions. Later, I could not find my unit because they had already changed their place. I cried and was very sorry that I had not listened to my mother and gone on the exercise. I was also terrified of wolves. I wandered in the forest for a few days, becoming familiar with all kinds of herbs. Finally I found traces of the partisans who were so familiar to me.
Through binoculars that I had with me, I noticed a nineyearold child who also lost the unit. I approached him. He cried bitterly to me. Together we continued looking for clues. On the second day, I found our partisans. They surrounded us both. My mother hugged and kissed me, and cried loudly. I was embarrassed by my mother's affection. They brought me a full bowl of food. I thought I would eat it all, but I ate almost nothing.
The unit left to Szczyrk. The German guard ran away from us. Then we changed the commander of our detachment. Instead of Gilczik there was Baranow. He allowed me to partake in all the fighting and war operations. I did not miss even one action of our unit.
Summer 1943, I put dynamite under train tracks. As a scout, I went to spy out the gypsy camps, attacked and exploded the train line of WarsawMoscow. I also lay in ambushes.
Once, we lay in ambush on the road of MiedzywodzieKrzyzanowice. Before daylight, twelve policemen patrolled the road. They walked, singing: We will pass over mountains and heights, we will stab Jews and Communists… At that time, I was standing at the first post. With a hateful shooting, we killed eight of them. I already owned my own machine gun.
After the liberation, I received a signet, a rank, and a medal.
(According to the YIVO documents number 643)
Translated by Edward Jaffe
Donated by Rona G. Finkelstein
To our Jewish brothers:
Our time has come. Like all other Jews subjugated by the Evil Empire, we give our lives to God, blessed be he.
I am Abraham, son of Shmai Halevi Tsitrin, born in the town of Trachenbad. My father was Shmai Tsitrin, born in Vald, the son of the exalted Rabbi Meyer Zeev. My parents lived in Rovno. My father with his son-in-law Itzchak Chekhnizer, the ritual slaughterer and congregational messenger, were killed last year in Rovno. My mother Sarah Rivka, daughter of Eliokem Getzel Gelman of Trachenbad, together with the entire family were killed by the murderers in Rovno. We have relatives in America. My mother's brother, Joseph Gelman, my wife Bella, daughter of Yakov Arye Steinman of Viskov near Warsaw, member of the large family Steinman of Amselof.
I am leaving behind in Pobrusk two houses with many things hidden in the walls. Furniture and other things are left with the Ukrainian clergymen. Find our relatives and see to it that our bones will not be scattered and our names not forgotten.
Our relatives should say Kaddish and observe annually the day of our death. I Abraham, son of Shmai Halevi and my wife Bella, daughter of Yakov Arye, who has a brother in Russia Zvi Steinman, say goodby to this foolish world. My dear son Meyer Zeev, 9 years old, my daughter Chaya, 6 years old, my daughter Masha, 3 years old, my mother-in-law, Chava Ziatah and her son Moishe, and daughters Chaya Sarah and Yentah Hadassah, her daughter-in law, wife of the above mentioned Zvi who is in Russia with her three small children and her mother all of us are being sacrificed in His Holy Name, together with the 70 families of Pobrusk, and 15-20 families from Piasetchny.
Don't forget us, the murdered innocent.
Hear, O Israel. The Lord is our G-d, the Lord is one.
Abraham son of Sarah Rivka
Abraham, son of Shmai Halevi cries out at the threshold of death to search for his relatives and requests that his and his family's bones not be scattered, and that they be remembered. He also asks that relatives say Kaddish (prayer for the dead) and observe the annual day of their death.
|||This letter was brought to the USA by Rabbi Moishe Steinberg of Brod, who visited Rovno after the liberation in order to once again organize a Jewish community. This is a reprint of the letter which was published in the Day (Tog) of December 16th. This is a document of the awful period. The letter conveys a cry from a life that refuses to give up and disappear without a trace, and wants to be remembered. It describes what Abraham, son of Sarah Rivka, felt in the last minutes of his life when he saw no escape from the hands of the murderers. This was also experienced by thousands, hundreds of thousands of other Jews. Return|
Translated by Pamela Russ
We arrived in Wyszkow, which, before the war, was a typical Jewish town. Now it is destroyed. The center and Warsaw Street are completely ruined. There, where houses used to stand, the inheritors of the Jewish belongings are putting up wooden huts and cabins that serve as stores. Together with the officer, I go into a kiosk to drink some tea. I ask a Polish worker about the fate of the Wyszkower Jews. He answers me naively:
In 1939, the Germans liquidated all the local Jews, and to my great sadness, our own people helped with this. Now there is not even one single Jew. Our town, that once blossomed financially, has now become a cemetery.
The Jewish officer of the Red Army becomes enraged when I translate the content of my conversation with the Polish worker.
If so, then I am right when I compare them to dogs!
When once again, a crowd of Polish men and women gather around his car, and ask that he take them with him, he shouts:
Get away from here, you bandits, pigs, Hitlerists!
Only we two continued to ride in the direction of OstrowMazowiecka.
Here too you can see traces of the war. The main street, that used to be a Jewish street, around the beautiful magistrate building, is completely destroyed. In the place where the houses were, it is now empty, covered with rocks and grass. We meet several of the twenty Jews who live in the city. Among them a woman and her son, whose husband was murdered three weeks earlier in the street, in middle of the day. They only wounded the son, and miraculously, he was saved from death. Understandably, they did not catch the Polish murderers. The Jew, the owner of a mill, was murdered for two reasons: because of his khutzpah that he dared remain alive, and the khutzpah that he asked that his mill be returned to him.
by Velvel Elenberg, Haifa
Translated by Pamela Russ
It was the ninth day since the Germans invaded Wyszkow. The city was burned down. The people ran off into the forest. But many families were still hiding in cellars. They dragged out many families, and ours as well, from the cellars and about 350 people, men women and children, who did not try to escape, were herded into the marketplace, and forced to go on the road to Pultusk. The SS men who went with them kept shooting at them. My uncle, Hershel Elenberg, had his talis [prayer shawl] and tefilin [phylacteries] with him, so an SS man gave him a smack with the butt of his gun, telling him to throw these things away.
He had terrible pain from the blow. My sisters Krasse and Naomi Elenberg took out a bottle of whisky from their coat, and rubbed my uncle's hands so that he could continue running. With the rest of the whisky, Reb Yitzchok Ber Rozenberg made a l, chaim, so that he would have the energy to go on running. Many times on the road, people were taken aside and shot. At the last minute, the orders were stopped by higher up officers who just happened to be driving by. We now remained a small group, and at the opportunity that the SS were busy with themselves, we were able to escape to the Russian side.
(On the dirt road Wyszkow Bialystok Posziolek [Posziolek Czarny, Dark Village]
Samarkand Wroclaw Prague Paris Buenos Aires TelAviv)
by Yitzchok Baharav/Barab, Tel Aviv
Translated by Pamela Russ
Until the outbreak of the Second World War, I was in Wyszkow where for many years I was active in various Jewish organizations and institutions. I left the town along with all the inhabitants after the terrible bombing in the first days of September 1939. That vandalizing attack on a peaceful city, without any military objective, forced the entire Jewish population to take the walking stick in hand and run. That's when the wanderings began, that lasted several years for us even after the war. Not everyone went where they wanted to go. The wandering of the Wyszkow Jews, from September 1939, stretched across eastern Poland, across the steppes, taigas [snow forests], which are the fields of the great Russia, and then back to Poland. Some went to Israel at the time, some continued on with the wandering. But not all who left Wyszkow at the time were lucky enough to be saved. Our path was also marked with many deaths, losses, tortures. This writing, even though it is closely connected to the experience of the author, is characteristic of the majority of the Wyszkower Jews who on that chaotic day left the city. And although many Wyszkower will be mentioned here, I felt it was necessary to relate my experiences during World War Two and beyond, so that the readers should have a picture of what happened to almost an entire Jewish community during those terrible years of the war.
Friday, September 1. The whole country already knows about the war that Hitler's Russia declared on Poland. We in Wyszkow knew that after 4 a.m. police already carried mobilization notices to all the reservists ordering them to be at the magistrate's office by eight in the morning, and from there they would be taken to Pultusk. It's difficult to describe what kind of scenes there were each early morning. Hundreds of mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, with cries, screams, moaning, whimpering, said their farewells to the reservists. They felt that this present parting meant separating forever…
It was dark in the town in the evening. The lit Shabbath candles no longer burned in the windows. Everything was hidden and covered out of fear for the night attacks. Shabbath in the morning, when some of the Jews were returning from prayers at the Beis Medrash [Study Hall], others evacuated some on foot, some on wagons. These were the refugees, Jews and Polaks from the western areas of Poland where the German army had already put down their bloodied boots, or destroyed a series of places by air bombing. We told the Jews to get down from their wagons and then set them up in various houses. They were given food and then they rested. We felt very sorry for these people who were suddenly torn out of their home nests. Who could have imagined that in about four days, we too would be in their situation….
That Sunday passed calmly. Only those refugees who were passing or driving through did not allow us to forget for one minute that the war was on. On Monday and Tuesday, the small merchants from the villages Porembe, Brajnszczyk, Joszcolt, and Kamenczyk, came to me to buy things in my wholesale shop. On Tuesday morning, when I was standing and packing up the merchandise for a line of merchants from Wyszkow and the surrounding areas, a loud siren and shrillness was heard. Later the explosion of two bombs. Everything in the shop shuddered. I ran into the street and saw that one bomb had fallen in the outskirts, near the house of Motel Nowogrudski. And the second bomb on Stodolny, by Reb Yitzchok Epstajn. They were already carrying the wounded. Blood is running in the streets. The screams are reaching the heavens. The stores closed immediately. The town was upside down. People were running some in foot, others on horse and wagon. Whatever they tried to take with them, they carried on their backs, in their hands, but no one is forgetting the children. Some were still at their mothers, breasts, others are being led by their fathers, hands, some are running and screaming: Mother! Father! Within a few minutes, the bridge across the Bug River
was completely destroyed. People are going in the direction of Jadowa, Wengrow, and to the Ostrow main road. People were running away from Wyszkow.
But where to go? You saw fear in everyone's eyes, and there was great panic. People were afraid of the bombs and of the Germans who were coming soon; of the unfamiliar and unknown road with all its dangers and shocks. The refugees saw how several hours later, after those two bombs had been dropped, another bomb fell in a corner of the Ostrower main road where Reb Avrohom Fajncajn lived (he had a steel shop). Now everyone felt there was no way back, so they ran into the forest. It was cool there, shaded, and more secure. But it was only words we were running into the forest … The German air pirates were chasing the fleeing civilian population and with machine guns and shooting the refugees. The main road became covered with the dead and wounded.
I, my wife Faige and my eightyearold daughter Rivkele ran to the Ostrow main road. Since my son Yehoshua was in Warsaw at the time, I went in the direction of Radzymin, to get to the main city. But the trains were no longer running. It was treacherous to go anywhere during the day, so you could only go at night.
My wife, with a group of Wyszkower, left to Poremba. In the group were the following: Peshe Elboim and her sons Zundel, Leizer, and Nachman, her daughter, and daughterinlaw and grandchild. After staying few days in Poremba, Peshe Elboim went to Sadowne to my cousin Reb Boruch Grope, Sokol's soninlaw. A few days later the Germans invaded Sadowne.
One German patrol once came into Grope's house where there were nine men and women. They ordered the women to leave and the men (my three brothers and some Jews) were taken outside, ordered to dig ditches and then shot. Zundel Elboim was holding his child in his arms, so the German told him to give the child to the mother…
After this tragedy, Peshe Elboim, with her daughter and daughterinlaw, returned to Poremba and told my wife what had happened since their separation. She said that her son Zundel, who was shot, had their money with him and now they did not have a single groshen [penny] (my wife helped her out.)
Good fortune had it that after two weeks of being separated from my wife, we met each other in the village of Sieczka, near Wyszkow. In those times, a parting probably meaning that you would be separated forever was not hard to imagine. There was no thought of staying in the village, because as soon as the Germans took over Sieczka, they chased all the Jews into the street, put them into a circle, checked each one, and took away valuables and money. Later we were ordered to run, and then they shot in the air as we ran. The Germans had already reached Ostrowa, the new demarcation line between Soviet Russia and Germany.
Even though the border was open, and you could still go freely into the Russian zone, the Germans still searched us and took away everything. I cannot forget the wildness of one German soldier who demanded the wedding ring that he saw on my wife's finger. Every effort to remove the ring from the finger ended uselessly. It seems that the ring had grown into the flesh of the finger. The German did not think for too long, then took out a knife ready to cut off the finger and take the gold. But after great pains and efforts, we managed to remove the ring from the finger, but my Faige was hurt. Nonetheless, we were able to get to the other side of the border, but beaten and upset because of the German sadism. At that time, a 75yearold Jew from the village of Sieczka was also beaten. They also cut off his long beard leaving only one corner. They told him to keep going like that …. We arrived in Zombrowe late at night.
The city was filled with Polish refugees, particularly with Jews. Almost all the houses and residences were full. There was a strong, continuous rainfall and there was nowhere to find shelter. We managed to find someone to take in our eightyearold daughter under their roof, while at the same time, I, my wife, and my unforgettable son Yehoshua remained outside all night.
The following day, many Jews went to Tiktin so automatically, we went too, without having a goal or knowing the way. We spent the night in the large Beis Medrash [Study Hall] that had a history of several hundred years behind it. In the morning, we went into the street to look for a kilo of bread.
Under these conditions, we spent two weeks in Tiktin, and then continued on to Bialystok.
The first address was: the large synagogue. But here everything was crowded with refugees. Even the anteroom was full, crushing one body to another. Without a choice, we spent the night in the street. A Bialystoker Jew had mercy on us and set us up in a small house. At four in the morning we went to a bakery where they were giving out bread. There was already a line of hundreds of people. We stood there for half the night and half the day and everyone in my family managed to receive a kilo of black bread. It seemed that we were now so poor that we would not have money the following day to pay for the kilo of bread. I went
to the bazaar to see if I could earn some money. There, I found my good friends and acquaintances, formerly successful merchants in Wyszkow: Itche Najman holding three pieces of soap in his hands; and Yisroelke Dzenkiewicz with a pair of boots to sell; Pula Skarlat with a pair of new bootlegs [spats]; Henoch Kaluski and Mordechai Mendel Holenberg, and other Wyszkower, such as: Meyer Prager and Fishel Koplowicz. I too was dragged into this business, because there was no other way to earn some money. Almost every day, the Russians did roundups, confiscated merchandise that was to be sold, and then arrested the owner for two days.
Life in Bialystok was difficult and not tolerable. For each thing, from a small piece of bread to slippers you had to stand for hours in line. This waiting queue was spread everywhere, but there was no choice. You had to bargain in order to maintain yourself and the family.
Once, important news was heard, that registration of the refugees who wanted to become Soviet citizens and receive passports, was beginning. Either that, or they could go back to Warsaw to the Germans. This news got everyone excited. Because everyone now had two choices it was difficult to decide. Other than that, no one wanted to go back to the Germans, from whom we had run away not long ago, but taking upon yourself the burden of Soviet citizenship no one rushed to do that either. We, the refugees, knew that many Bialystok Jews, former merchants and factory owners, were sent to Siberia. Was the same fate waiting for us?
Before the news appeared on the streets of Bialystok, many of the youth took the risk and went over to Warsaw to bring merchandise from there and sell it in Bialystok. These youth said that in Warsaw at the time (1940) the situation was not so terrible. In general, it was quiet, and trade was continuing. With that information in mind, many Jews registered to go back to occupied Poland. But the majority was confused and undecided. Our Wyszkower in Bialystok Henoch Kaluski, Mordechai Mendel Elenberg, Khaim Ring, Refoel Skarlat, Itche Najman, Yisroel Dzenkiewicz, and others, once got together and discussed the issue of registration. Henoch Kulaski was of the mind that it was better to get Soviet passports. That meant not yet becoming communist. On the other hand, with the Germans in Poland, it would always be getting worse. Jews should not go there. Unfortunately, the majority of the Jews in Bialystok registered to go back to Warsaw. A minority decided to take on Soviet citizenship, and these were permitted to live under the Soviet rule in small cities.
Today, I remember with regret, that I too had heeded those who registered to go back to the Germans. Of course, at that time there were many reasons for this. First, the MolotovRibbentrop Pact and the amicability between Germany and the Soviet Union. We did not hear about antiJewish persecution on a large scale. At that time, many of our Jews returned to Bialystok who seemed to already have been in Russia for several months, and the greetings they brought from there, were not too happy. In addition to the hard work, there was real need. And the frequent deportations to Siberia and judgements against the Jews, certainly did not encourage the refugees to become Soviet citizens.
Once, a rumor spread in the city that many NKVD [Soviet secret police] were coming to Bialystok. Only late at night did I feel on my skin the real meaning of such a police invasion. Three armed NKVD knocked at the door of our house, and after asking if four members of the Baharav family were living there they told us quickly to leave the house and go behind a convoy. I was hardly able to take along our fortune: my tallis [prayer shawl], tefilin [phylacteries], and a few small things. In front of the house was a cargo truck with more detained Jews. We were taken to the freight station, where there were freight trains with benches and prepared boards for sleeping. After each car was filled with people, the doors were locked, and an NKVD with a loaded gun posted himself at the entrance.
We rode like this for three days. We thought that all those who had registered to go to Warsaw were now being taken there. But after they gave us a loaf of bread for another four days, and then at the larger stations they gave us a plate of soup, it became clear that we were being taken deep into Russia.
Now we know where we are. Barges and cargo ships took us across the Dvina River to the city of Kotlas in the Arkhangelsker Oblast (region). This is where enemies of the Soviet regime were sent, prisoners with long sentences and with many years of jail behind them …. and ahead of them. There were thirty people in one barrack, all together men women, and children.
The slavelabor of chopping down forests stretched for fourteen months. The hard labor, the meager food, the difficult and unsanitary conditions, the inadequate clothing during the days of bitter cold and frost, made our group less in number. These conditions gave rise to sickness and decline. We would get up at five a.m., march on foot for six kilometers into the forest, and here begin to saw, chop, and drag the trees and wood. I, as an older person, worked in the actual camp gathering the wood. My Yehoshua collected the wood on the Dvina River and with a float, sent them across the river.
In the eating hall, we received food twice a day on ration cards given only to those who were working. Therefore, women, even elderly ones, also had to go work. Otherwise they would have no food cards. The lunches were very meager, without meat, which we had only one day per week Sunday. My family and I did not eat in the eating hall, because everything was nonkosher. We sustained ourselves with bread, tea, and potatoes that we cooked ourselves. It was difficult to get the potatoes for ourselves because the camp residents did not want to sell anything for Russian rubles, but wanted to trade to give them shirts, shoes, boots, and so on.
In the year 1941, there was the socalled SikorskyStalin Pact between the Polish immigration government in London and the Soviet government. According to this agreement, all former Polish citizens arrested or interned in Russia were freed from their place of exile or from prison. Since the realization of this pact came during the winter months, the majority of freed Jews, among them also those from our camp, went to warmer places. We arrived in Samarkand, in the Uzbek republic.
In the Uzbeki cities and towns, there were many Jewish evacuees from the occupied Soviet provinces, freed from the camps and exile places, as well as the socalled Bukhari Jews. The years of prison and the camps, inadequate food and hard labor, now, after changing climate and places, left behind tragic consequences. The raging typhus made the numbers of freed Jews less. The dead and devastated lay in the streets of Uzbekistan.
And those, whose feet were still carrying them, slowly began to set themselves with work. The youth was mobilized in the Polish army of General Anders or in the Red Army. The older Jews went into trading. That's how we waited for the end of the bloody war that left its deep marks in the distant hinterland of Soviet Central Asia.
My son Yehoshua took a job as train worker, because the bread ration for such a category of worker was 800 grams a day instead of 400 for the children and nonworking family members. Also, every worker could have a midday meal in the eating hall of his work place. But I, who was careful not to eat nonkosher food, would sell my bread quota at the bazaar and for that would get potatoes, onions, vegetables, in order to taste a little bit of cooked food. This regime led to an overall depletion and I became sick with brain inflammation. I was in bed for an entire year and the doctors were not optimistic about my life.
In the year 1943, our situation improved as a result of receiving packages from Israel and from America, from friends and relatives through the Joint (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) organization. In the years 194445, Joint sent many boxes of clothing and food to Samarkand. This eased the need of the Polish Jews there and in other cities in Russia.
In the year 1946, after the agreement with the Polish government, Moscow permitted all former citizens of Poland until the year 1939, to return to their former homes. The great repatriation began. The Soviet government set up special trains, gave the repatriates money for the trip, and every one of us, even those who knew of the great tragedy, still lived with the illusion that if he returned to Poland he might find a family member in his city or town, or his former home or some other possession that was left behind seven years earlier. Tragically, Majdanek, Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Sobibor told of the destruction of the Polish Jews, about a murdered nation that died in glorification of the Name of God. There was no thought of returning to the former places of residence. AntiSemitism was broiling everywhere in the large cities as well as in the smaller places. A thousand perils hung onto the surviving Jew.
The majority of the repatriates were sent to Lower Silesia that had emptied because of the Germans who were chased away from there. My family and I arrived in Wroclaw, and here the Polaks cynically and shamelessly sent us to Palestine and then asked themselves with surprise, Where do all these Jews come from?
Once again, the great aid activity took place from Joint in Poland of that time. Not only was food and clothing distributed to the needy, but they also set up cooperatives, work places, kibbutzim, and financed immigration to Israel. We did not stay long in Wroclaw and then left (understandably, illegally) to Prague. Here we also felt the comforting hand of Joint that after staying for six weeks in the capital of Czechoslovakia, they sent us to Paris.
After staying for a half a year in a kibbutz of Poalei Agudas Israel behind Paris, through written correspondence, I successfully managed to contact my brothersinlaw in Argentina. They were; Velvel Rotbard and Yisroel Sokal. Since we were the only survivors of their families, they strongly urged us to come to Buenos Aires. They welcomed us there and even set us up with a colonial shop, but sadly I could not make a living there because the shop had to stay open on Shabbath. For a Jew such as I, who under the terrible conditions of wandering across countries and among different nations, still kept the Shabbath,
I did not want now, after the liberation, to desecrate the Shabbath in my own store. The merchant who sold me the store, was surprised. But, he argued, on Shabbath you have the most business. And if you are not here then you might as well be a sexton in a synagogue….
Broken, I returned home that Friday night and decided to become a worker in the factory of my brotherinlaw Velvel Rotbard. When my two children my son Yehoshua and daughter Rivkale married respectfully in Argentina and set up their lives, I no longer had to work. They completely fulfilled the mitzvah [positive commandment] of honoring their mother and father. (My son Yehoshua married the daughter of the big forest merchant and sawmill owner from Rifin Reb Shlomo Brun; my daughter married Yakov Szaiman, the son of the big factory owner and home owner on the Nalewka [?], Reb Moishe Szaiman. My daughterinlaw and soninlaw, as I, experienced the wanderings during the war years.)
On Hoshana Raba [seventh day and culmination of Sukkos holiday] 1961, a terrible tragedy happened to me. My very beloved and dearest son Yehoshua died of a heart attack at the age of 39. He left behind not only his wife Rochele, but also his two sons Shlomo (10 years old) and Mordechai (five years old). My wife Faige and I also felt very desolate and shocked from the unjust loss. He was of the rare few of this generation who so devotedly and loyally took care of his mother and father.
My daughterinlaw, daughter, and soninlaw, seeing the great pain of the death of Yehoshua, managed to get us a tourist visa to Israel so that in this Jewish land, we could forget our tragedy for a little bit. When we came to Israel and saw what was going on, my wife and I decided the following: We are staying here! This is how our great dream came to reality after many, many years, at the time, still in Wyszkow, when a longing for Tziyon [Israel] stirred in us.
At the beginning, we were filled with the deep impact and experiences of that which our eyes saw and our ears heard. The Jewish country opened before us in its dynamic way of taking in and setting up the Olim [immigrants coming to live in Israel] from different countries. At the same time, we had a positive experience: seeing the activities and liveliness of our Wyszkower organization. Here we found our compatriots the first Khalutzim [pioneers] from Wyszkow, who now had gray hair, and the survivors of the terrible, destructive war, who had already come to this country right after the establishment of the state.
It should be said that the Irgun Yotzei Wyszkow in Israel [Organization of those from Wyszkow] remained true to the most beautiful traditions of the Jewish social life in Wyszkow. When the Beis Wyszkow [House of Wyszkow] was established in Tel Aviv, in the best way possible, they perpetuated the memory of the Jewish town on the Bug River. The work and preparation of the Yizkor Book, from the onset, allowed me to believe that we would successfully publish a bookmonument for the destroyed Wyszkow. The same is true for the Gemilas Chesed fund [nonprofit loans organization] that helped put many compatriots on their feet, those who needed constructive help. The loans were distributed without requiring interest. There was also an active women's committee that displayed a lot of initiative and activity.
At the head of the Irgun in Israel was the president, Menachem Stelung, the son of the holy martyrs Reb Khaim Henokh and Esther Mindel Stelung; secretary the quiet and humble Yerakhmiel Wilensky, the son of the holy martyrs; with the financial administrator Pinkhas Shultz, the son of the holy martyr and an Alexanderer khassid [follower of the Alexander Rebbe] Reb Yechiel Shultz, the construction businessman Avrohom Wilner (Wilensky), under whose direction the Beis Wyszkow was built, the vicepresident Yakov Mitelzbakh, son of Michel Mitelzbakh, of blessed memory.
In the women's committee, particularly active were: Rivka Bismanowski, Liza Stelung, Tzipora Kahan, Khava Yechieli, Khaya Ostri, Sarale Pzieticki, and others. May those I did not mention please forgive me. I wanted only to give over my first impressions of the way I found the Wyszkower compatriots in Israel.
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