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[Page 33 - English] [Page 54 - Hebrew]

Memories of the Past

Yankev Hersh Listopad

I was born in Zuromin, Poland on September 15, 1924. My father's name was Shmuel Chaim. My mother's name was Dvoyra Raizel. We were five brothers and three sisters, a total of eight children. The oldest brother was Israel Yitzhak, then Yechiel, then Moishe, then a sister named Leah, then a sister Rifcha, then I, Yankev Hersh, then Sarah and then the youngest, Simon.

I started to go to the Talmud Torah at about age five. My rabbi was Hanech Shamas (Frankel). Some of my fellow classmates were Moishe Plotka, Meyer Tilbor, Avram Staragupsky and I think the other one was Moishe Fuchs. There were many more that I can't remember. The ones I listed are all dead. The few that are alive are Motah Moocha, Eliezer Olevnig, Zelig Taub, and Shlomo Dragon. The dead that I mentioned attended the Talmud Torah with me for two years. Our rabbi's name was Yechiel Meyer. The third rabbi was Gedalyah Frankel. By this time I was eleven years old. From eleven to thirteen the rabbi was the “Gaylar” Malamcd (Shlomo Ziontz).

The town was a very lively town. We had a lot of Jewish organizations. It was a very religious community. My father belonged to the Alexander Hasidim. He was a good man, an honest man, a good father and a learned man; my mother also was a very good woman, a good mother and a religious woman. We were very poor. My father always felt that God would take care of us.

I also had two uncles, my father's brothers. One was Hersh, the other was Josef Boruch. Hersh's wife was Beila. His children were Israel Moishe, Sara, Zelman Boruch, Raizel, Leah, Udel, Yankov Yochanan and Ester Miriam. Josef Boruch's wife was Malka and they had fourteen children. My uncle Hersh's family, except for the oldest son Israel Moishe, did not survive. They all went to the gas chamber. Israel Moishe went to Russia, but then came to the United States. He passed away in the late seventies, leaving a wife and two daughters. Of my uncle Josef Boruch's children, only seven survived.

My brother Israel Yitzhak was deferred from military service for medical reasons when he was 21. At 23 he got married and had two children. He was married in 1934. My brother Yechiel was one year younger. He didn't go into military service either. He got married in 1936. He had one son. None of them survived.

Moishe didn't marry and never served in the military. Leah helped my mother in the house with cooking and taking care of things. She was a very good natured person. Rifcha learned a trade. She was a seamstress. Her boss's name was Avram Derevitchar. My father was a mashgiach and didn't make a living. Times were hard. By 1936-37 things became a little easier. The goverment passed a law that the hind quarter of the cow could be used. It had been forbidden before. My father became a menaker and he started to make a little better living. My brother Moishe helped him. There were three butchers whose meat my father took care of'. The butchers names were Avraham Mucha, Pesach Osman and Rypinsky. Unfortunately, this didn't last too long.

In 1937, I was bar mitzvah and stopped going to theTalmud Torah. My father wanted me to continue studying in the synagogue and at home. I didn't care much for continuing the study but couldn't say no to my father. He was very strict. I told my mother that I wanted to learn a trade and told my father. He finally agreed. My mother took me to a man named David Chaim Windytsky. He taught me the trade of kamasha macher (shoemaker of the top of the shoes). I didn't get paid, but after a year he gave me a pair of shoes. After a year and a half, I was supposed to get paid. War broke out before the year and a half. He was a very religious man and his father was also very religious. His name was Sana Windytsky. My boss had a wife and child; nobody survived.

In 1939, the Germans invaded Poland. People panicked and started running to different places, not knowing where to run. A plane came in low, over the road, and started shooting at the people. One person was killed. His name was David Goldack. Eventually the German (Nazi) flag flew on the magistrate building. The first holiday was Yom Kippur. On the night of Kol Nidre, they demanded about $50,000 to allow us to go to synagogue, and then they demanded more. Just blackmail. Then they allowed us to go to synagogue on Yom Kippur and for Kol Nidre, the night before.

The next day or two, the Germans enacted a lot of new laws. We had to wear the yellow patch on our clothes, sewn on the front and back. The next order was for all men between the ages of 18 and 40 to report to work on the farms. No pay, of course. My father and oldest brother went to the farm of a very nice Christian neighbor. He was nice and kind enough to let them hang around the farm and make believe that they were working there. This was just to keep them out of the house in case the Germans came to check. If they were found in the house, they would be beaten.

The other order was for all Jewish men to cut their beards. They saw my uncle, Yosef Boruch, in the street and with scissors cut his face and skin as they cut off his beard on one side. They did this to many other men who had a beard.

The next holiday was Sukkot. We didn't build a sukkah, as we were not allowed. We also could not go to shul. All this was forbidden. As I was very young at the time, I don't remember how we got food. We were afraid to go out into the street. We were in a constant state of panic.

Then came the holiday of Shemini Atzeret night, when they burned the shul. A neighbor of ours whose window faced the shul was looking out of his window and saw something happening. His name was Avrum Rajik. He was a Hasidic man. When I attended the Talmud Torah, he used to come there to check on our work. He was in charge of promoting us to the next grade. His youngest son, Berish, was in my class in the Talmud Torah. Avrum Rajik came into my house about 10 o'clock at night and told my father that it was like a miracle, that after a few attempts at burning the shul it didn't burn. Unfortunately, they kept trying and finally the whole shul went up in flames. No one could stop them because if we went out, we would be shot. The Rajik family was a big family, but only one son survived. His name is Lipman Rajik. The next morning was Simchat Torah. A German soldier came to our house, banged on the door, and started screaming orders at us. We were very frightened. He chased me and a group of other men to clean up the burned wood from our beloved shul. Later in the afternoon, they came back with new orders forcing the young men to go to work on farms in other villages outside of our town. Our neighbor Mr. Rajik's daughter had some Christian friends, who told them that the Germans planned to liquidate or deport all the Jewish people. They didn't do it then, but they did a few days later. This was about November 1939. I'm not too sure of the month.

One morning, we got the bad news that we all had to leave our homes. We had to be out by 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning. The Christians had to bring their horses and wagons and provide transportation for the Jewish people to a certain area, which I can't remember exactly. My family and I had to walk. We each took a little something that we could carry. My father raised his hands up to the heavens and said, “Now is Messiah's time to come,” with a cry. We kept walking to catch up to the other people. We saw people on their way in the wagons with children. We all met at the railroad station.

The train was not a passenger train, but a cattle train, a commercial train. It was evening by the time we were ordered to get onto the train. We didn't know where they were taking us. After riding for hours and hours, we arrived in the middle of the night. The train finally stopped. The Germans started to bang on the doors, kicking at the doors, hitting the people, young and old, children, women and everybody. They were hitting everybody with sticks and bayonets shouting in German “Out, out, make it fast,” cursing the word “Jews.” By this time it was about 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Children were crying, looking for their mothers and mothers looking for their children. It was so dark that we couldn't see where we were. We were panic stricken, not knowing what was going to happen next. They were shooting rockets off to scare us even more. My family and I held hands so as not to lose each other.

Finally we started to walk. We were told to give up all our valuables or they would shoot us after searching us if they found anything. They had containers that we had to throw everything into. We went through what seemed to me like a gate. By now it was starting to get light and we were walking under the eyes of the S.S. guards. Later I found out the name of the railroad station: it was Pomieczuwek. We kept walking and finally came to a town called Nowy Dwor. By now it was daytime. We went into an area which was the headquarters of the Germans. It had a big gate. We were terrorized by German shepherd dogs and the S.S. guards. They picked out a few Jewish men, and they were attacked by the dogs. They were enjoying this and were having a lot of fun out of our misery. Again they demanded money and valuables, anything that we might have. This they did as were getting past the gate.

They handed us over to civilians, who called themselves Germans. They were a mixture of German and Polish. They spoke both languages. They collaborated with the Germans. From there on we were walking as they were riding their bicycles and guarding us. My father found it very difficult to walk as he had a hernia. We had to hold him under both arms to help him walk. After walking a certain amount of time they let us rest for a little while, as I think I remember; I'm not too sure about the resting. All this time, we didn't get any food or water.

As we walked and got more and more tired, people began to throw away the few remaining things they had. They discarded their quilts and anything they carried on their backs or carried in their hands, all along the road. We had no idea how long we had to walk yet. Finally we came to a town about five kilometers from Warsaw. The name of the town was Jablonow. From then on we were no longer guarded. We were told not to dare to go back.

My father knew that a relative of his brother's wife lived in the town. Their name was Ginsberg. My uncle's name was Yitzhak and his wife's name was Rifka. We found the Ginsbergs. They were about middle aged. When we got to the house, there were a lot of other refugee people there. They were sleeping on the floor. The Ginsbergs were very kind and let us stay over the Shabbes weekend. When we got to them it was Friday afternoon. They gave us food. They were very kind.

Sunday morning about 10 o'clock, we left the Ginsberg home. We took a train that took us to Warsaw. The station was called Praga. From there we walked across a bridge to the center of Warsaw. It was a very long walk and we didn't know what our destination would be.

My father's brother Hersh's wife had a sister living in Warsaw. We followed my uncle and his family to his sister-in-law's house. They had a big apartment. We didn't expect to stay there but just to ask their advice on where to go or what to do. They weren't very nice. They insisted that we had to leave, even though it was dark by this time.

My father's younger brother Yitzhak lived in Warsaw. He heard that we were around there. I don't remember how he found us but he came around and helped us find a place to stay. He took us to a shul which was located at Nalewkes 19. It was very cold inside. All the windows were broken and we slept on the benches. We were the first family to come there. We came in contact with the Gedalia Frankel family and we asked them if they would like to come and stay with us. They accepted. There were lots of rooms in the shul. We shared one room with the Frankel family. We wanted to be together. The room wasn't too big, and we were about 15 people. Two of my sisters got jobs as maids, just for room and board. We had to go to a Jewish headquarters which was located at Gzybowski 26. We had to be there very early in the morning,. Then we were assigned to different groups, to go out to do all kinds of labor. Once we were assigned to a particular job, we went there every morning. My father and Rabbi Frankel were very religious. We had to take the tfilen with us and say our prayers just as it got light. Then Rabbi Frankel took the tfilen back to the house.

I think I got paid the first week. After that, when I went to get paid, the lines were so long that they were out of money by the time I got there. I waited about two or three hours on line. My brother Moishe found out that the police precinct was also in charge of men to do all kinds of labor. They sent me out to different jobs every day. Some were good and some not good. I would get paid every time by the one who hired me. The money I earned every day was enough to buy about a three-pound bread. Later the bread cost more. This was about 1940. We would bring home some wood from some of the jobs, to make the fires to cook a little potato soup. As time went on, it became harder even to get that kind of job just to survive.

The Germans would come around with trucks and run after the Jewish people and beat them. They would take them away in fully loaded trucks, sometimes for hours or days. I don't know where they took them.

By the end of 1940, the beginning of 1941, they started to build heavy, high, thick walls. We had no idea why they were doing this. This was the beginning of the ghettos. Everyday life became more difficult. They stopped taking men out to work. We couldn't get out of the ghettos anymore. The plan was to starve us to death. I saw with my own eyes people starving to death and falling down all over the place. We had no money, couldn't buy anything, and work was not available. Rabbi Frankel had some small children about one year and a little older, crying from hunger. They gave us a ration card and started to ration the bread. They gave us bread which was supposed to last a week, but it wasn't even enough for a day for the family.

We looked in garbage areas to see if we could find potato peels or anything else that we could eat. Then we had to look for paper scraps or anything to make a fire to cook anything we might find. If we came a little late or not even late, other people who might get there before us got the scraps and we didn't find anything.

Every day was the same – no food. My father and mother made a decision that we would have to escape the ghetto. They decided that my brother Moishe would be the first to try to escape. In the summer of 1940, the Polish police came at night to get Moishe. They had a list of people (young men) that they wanted. When we heard the knock on the door at night, Moishe hid under a very low wooden cot, which we used as a bed. They arrested my mother once and held her for about four or five days, for not giving up her son. Then they released her. Moishe's destination was Mlava. There were still some Jewish people there. We had some relatives there. Next to escape were my mother and my sister Rifka. Before my mother left, she said that I should follow in a couple of days with my youngest brother, Simon. My father and oldest sister, Leah, and youngest sister, Sarah, were left. As we escaped we left our ration cards behind, so that my father and sisters could use it.

When my brother and I were ready to escape, we had to have 15 zlotys to pay off the conductor. The trolley car slowed down for us. We had to jump up fast to get onto the trolley. My brother made it, but I kept falling down as I was very weak. I kept running and finally made the jump. We handed him the money and were told to get under the benches. As we rode by the check point out of the ghetto, the German police looked into the trolley but didn't see us. When we got off the trolley, we were on the Christian side. We had to take another trolley, which would take us to Praga. While we waited for the trolley, a group of Christian boys saw us and started hollering “Jews, Jews.” Then they demanded money. We had to give them a certain amount. Finally they let us go.

The trolley came and we got on. This conductor also wanted money. I told him we didn't have any more as we had already given it to the first conductor. We were holding on to some money, as we had to buy bread. When we got to Praga, we were supposed to get a train to go further to Legyonowo. While we waited for the train, a nice middle-aged Christian woman hid us in a stable until the train came. Then she called us out. We gave her one zloty each. I had a very bad cough at this time and the boys that were escaping with us wanted to kill me to keep me quiet, so we wouldn't be discovered. While we were on the train, the conductor wanted extra money besides the money we paid to get on. We told him we didn't have more.

When we got to our destination, Legyonowo, we bought bread. We rested for an hour. We weren't as afraid here, since there were more Jewish people. We had to go to the Chotomow railroad station and then follow the tracks to Nowy Dwor. There was a big forest to the right of the tracks, but we followed the tracks. We stopped for about half an hour along the way and we had the rest of the bread. It was about four o'clock when we got to the city. We came to a little house and begged for food. When the woman saw us she cried “Oh my God.” She gave us food and sewed the yellow patches on the front and on the back of our shirts. She showed us the way to where the Jewish people were.

My brother and I went to a house with a Jewish family. They were shocked to see what we looked like, especially me. I had lost a lot of weight. We told them what was going on in Warsaw, in the Warsaw Ghetto. They were very nice to us and gave us food. We slept over in a little stable. In the middle of the night they raided the Jewish houses. Unfortunately, I was caught. I had gone out to hide in the toilet and when I came out an S.S. soldier caught me. I begged and cried for him to let me go, but he was so cruel he beat and kicked me with his boots. I fell down on the ground a few times and he screamed for me to get up and he chased me. He got me into the courtyard, where there were already a few hundred people. I was the last one they got. The people were sitting on the ground; they had German shepherd dogs. They took out a few Jews and they were having fun (like a sport): the dogs were jumping all over the people, scratching and biting them. My brother was outside the gate and I was able to get a bag from him, which had some potatoes in it that he had gotten from some people. He gave it to me, telling me that I would probably need it. My brother was 12 years old at the time. At about two o'clock in the afternoon, they put us on trucks. They warned us that if we came back we would be shot. They took us back to Legyonowo. They let us off and then they went away. There was a shul there and I went there. I slept on the bench. There were more people there. I cooked the potatoes and I had about four or five meals from them. I cooked them separately for each meal. I stayed about two days and rested a little.

I made friends with another boy about my age. We decided to go back to Nowy Dwor. I was going to follow the tracks to go back, but my friend said he knew of a way that was better. Unfortunately, he didn't. We walked in the forest and got lost. There was a German guard who saw us with his binoculars. He motioned us to come over, otherwise he would shoot. There was a body of water and he made us walk in it. It got deeper and deeper until it reached our necks. We cried and cried and begged. Then he finally decided to let us come out of the water. He told us to go back the way we came and, when we got to the forest, to make a right turn. I recognized the place. Instead of going right I decided to go left, which I knew was the way back to Nowy Dwor. I got to the house where that nice Christian lady lived. She was the one who sewed on the yellow patches for us. She gave me food. She also gave me the yellow patches. Then I went back to the same Jewish house to try to see my brother. He wasn't there. They told me he went to a place called Zakroczym. I slept over that night. The next morning the trucks that were taking the people to work for the Germans smuggled me to Zakroczym to find my brother. There were Jewish people living there too. They gave us food, but we couldn't stay overnight. I didn't find my brother, as he had gone on further. My brother was in a place called Plonsk. It was an open ghetto with a lot of Jewish people. I walked for hours from Zakroczym to Plonsk. It was evening by the time I got there. I went to the shul there and met a lot of refugee people from my home town. My brother went to work for some Christian family. He left word that he would come back every other day to check and see if I had come back. He was expecting me. The next day my brother came around to check, and I met him. He brought me a bottle of milk. He pleaded with me to let him stay where he was for a while. He promised me that he would come to our destination, Mlawa, where our family was. I believed him. I understood how he felt, because here he had a place to sleep and food to eat.

I couldn't walk anymore. I was too weak. I needed some kind of transportation. I was told to go to the Jewish Committee. The head of the committee was a man from my home town. His name was Yoyna Fuchs. I met him and pleaded with him to get me transportation, so he did. I didn't have any money. I went from house to house to beg for money. One of the doors I knocked on was opened by people who lived in my home town. I was so ashamed at having come to this, begging for anything. I tried to run away but they grabbed me and took me into the house. They calmed me down and told me not to be ashamed. They asked me lots of questions, if I had seen anyone from their family. I told them I hadn't. I told them about the Warsaw Ghetto and how people were starving and dying in large numbers. They gave me food and some money. The next day I was provided with a horse and wagon. The driver of the wagon took me to a town called Striegowo. There was also a small Jewish committee there. There I met a man whose father was a good friend of my father's. His name was Eli Mayer. They were very good to me. They were happy and sad when they saw me. They asked me lots of questions about what was happening in the Warsaw Ghetto. I told them about the starvation and death that was going on. I slept at their house. Eli Mayer lived with his in-laws. Next morning they provided me with a horse and wagon. They took me to Mlawa, but on the way we were stopped by a German gendarme (policeman). He asked for my passport, which I didn't have. He made me get off the wagon and walk, which was hard for me to do. He was walking his bicycle along the road. I begged and pleaded and cried, but he paid no attention and made me continue to walk to the police station. There they arrested me and put me in jail. There was a woman there who was also arrested. I cried and cried.

They must have gotten in touch with the Jewish Committee and I was released and given a pass. The next morning the Jewish Committee provided me with a horse and wagon. I then went to Mlawa. I was reunited with my mother, brother and a sister. I told my mother that I had seen my brother Simon and he promised he would meet us later. I told her we got lost and separated. I got caught and he went on without me. My mother was very upset and angry that I let him stay. She said I was older and should not have listened to him. I explained why he wanted to stay. He had plenty of food and a place to sleep. This was about April or May, 1941.

She saw that I was just skin and bones. In about a week or two, I started to feel a little better. I got a pass so that I could live there legally. My brother Moishe worked in a town called Czernice. He worked with a group of men building a road. They would come to Mlawa for a day or two on the weekend. On Sunday evening they would march back to the truck and go back to Czernice. My mother asked me to take Moishe's place. I ran to them while they were marching and told Moishe that I would take his place, and so I did. After a few days' work, we went to the barracks and were preparing to eat a little bread and some cheese when all of a sudden I blacked out. The boys took me outside to get some fresh air and revive me. I don't know how long I was out but, when I came to, there was a man bending over me who lived in my home town. His name was Meilech Szklar. He lives in Israel now. He asked me if I remembered him and then he told me his name. I did remember his name, as my sister and his sister were friends. She always talked about him. He was a high school student at the time.

After a couple of weeks, we were transferred to another roadway to work. This place was within walking distance of Mlawa. I worked there about a month, when I had an accident and cut my finger very deeply. I didn't go back to that job anymore and the Jewish Committee got me another job. One day a man smuggled in some food and he was caught. They built a hanging post and hanged the man in public. Everybody had to go out to see him. I worked for the rest of 1941 into 1942. All this was outside work. In the spring of 1942 my father and two sisters arrived from the Warsaw Ghetto. My mother told me to go see him. He was at his sister's house. The family's name was Rothstein. My father was very emotional when he saw me. He hugged me and cried and cried. I did too. The committee found us a large room so we could stay together. It was the spring of 1942 by now, and my mother reminded herself that Simon would be 13 by now and should be bar mitzvah. She was still very heartbroken that he wasn't with us. I asked if they wanted me to go get him. My father said no. I said that if we survived the war, then he would also survive. If we didn't, then it didn't make any difference.

One day I came home and my father said that the Jewish police were looking for me and that I should report to them. I did, and they arrested me and held me over. The next day they handed me over to the German authorities. We were about 20 men who were arrested. They put us in jail. I was there for about two months, having to go through very cruel treatment. By the time I got out it was June.

My uncle Avram Rothstein was making candy in his home. Somehow the German authorities found out, and it was considered illegal. He was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. He was there about two or three weeks and the family was notified that he had died. He died from beatings and starvation. This I found out later. He belonged to a group of very orthodox men called the chevra kadisha. They buried the Jewish people who died. The Jewish Committee assigned his two sons to do the work my uncle had done. One afternoon we were told that the next morning all the Jewish people had to come out to the square. Something was going to happen, but we didn't know what. We were scared. My cousins told my parents that my brother and I should go with them to help. We would stay overnight in the cemetery and we wouldn't be there in the morning, as we didn't know what was about to happen. We went back in the afternoon and found out that they had arrested 100 Jews. Among them were my two cousins, Jankel and Shlomo Goldberg. They were my mother's brother's sons. I went to work every day. When I came home one day, I was told that the 100 men they took were taken to a big field where a very large and long grave was dug. They separated the men into two groups of 50 each, the younger men in one group and the older ones in another group. The older ones were told to tie up the younger ones in groups of five. They tied their hands and their feet. The older men watched as the younger ones were machine-gunned down. They all fell into the common grave. All the Jewish people had to watch this cruel and heartless thing that the Germans did. My two cousins, the Goldbergs, were shot and killed.

My mother told me not to go into my uncle's house as their tragedy was so great. My cousin Toby, my uncle's daughter, was the only survivor in the family. She didn't want to stay there; she went to the Russian border and went to Russia. This was in the beginning of the war. Later the border was closed. She is now living in America. She has two married children and grandchildren.

One day they arrested all the Jewish police in the ghetto. They claimed they weren't strict enough with the people. We had to build wooden gallows, where they were hung. This was done in the ghetto, where we all had to come out and watch the hangings. We were the ones who had to move away the tables, and they were hung. As we were running to go home, they opened fire with a machine gun and another twenty or more people were shot to death.

One day we were forced to go to a workers' camp. An order came from the German Command. We were about 400 or 500 people. This was originally a Russian prisoner-of- war camp. They had all been killed. We found a common grave. The name of the camp was Nosijewo. This was in the summer, about July. This was an open camp. Three people tried to escape but were caught and hanged.

I was assigned to a group doing digging. I found it to be extremely hard to do. I just felt that I would collapse. I asked to be transferred to a different group. My foreman wouldn't do it. He wouldn't let me change. I had terrible itching on my body and hands. I told the German commander about it and he ordered me back to the camp. I went back and reported to a camp administrator who sent me to a barrack that had other people who were suffering from the same thing I had. Some were even worse. They kept us separated from the other people. After about four weeks, they gave us some medicine. After I healed, I was sent back to work. I didn't go back to the same group, for which I was very glad. By mid-November the camp was dissolved and we were sent back to the ghetto. A day or so before I got back, they had selected different groups of people and assigned them as to where they would go. They weren't allowed to take anything with them. My father, mother, and younger sister had to go to a certain place and stay overnight. There were a lot of people with them, about a thousand or more. My mother gave a piece of paper and a pencil to me and to my older sisters and told us to write to let them know where we were after reaching our destination.

In the morning they were let out of the building where they slept. The German S.S. guards withmachine guns guarded them, and they marched to the railroad station. All the relatives from my mother's and father's side, young and old, were taken in that transport. In order to confuse the people, so they wouldn't know where they were going, they had a second transport. They were allowed to take whatever they wanted with them. In the second transport were my brother, his wife and two children, my two older brothers – one married, one single – and I. We arrived after a couple of days, in the middle of the night, at a place called Birkenau. The S.S. guards started opening doors and shouting “Out, out.” When we got out, we had to throw our luggage and everything else into a pile. Then they separated us. The men were separate and the women and children were together. As we were walking, there was a German military man I believe was Dr. Mengele. He was pointing with his finger to the left and straight ahead. As we went straight ahead, they told us to go into a washroom. We had to strip, except for our shoes and belt. We had to remove all our jewelry and leave it there. Later we were given different clothes. The clothes didn't fit us properly. It was all just junk and rags. With red paint we had to draw a cross on the back of the shirt and down the side of the pants. It was about six o'clock the next morning by the time we were through with all this. No food was given to us through all this. This all took place outside the gate. As we entered the camp, we saw a big sign that said in German “Arbeit macht frei.” An orchestra was playing as men were marching out the gate to go to work. The barracks we were assigned to was Barrack 15. Then they tatooed numbers on our arms, on the left arm. My number is 75170. When we got outside, there was an inmate whose name was Boxer, his number was 45000. He was so cruel and mean to us. He gave us a big speech about discipline and about what we could and couldn't do. He picked five or six strong men to help him carry out his orders. The area where we slept was just three rows of wooden bunks. It was no bigger than a cage for an animal. We slept like a pack of sardines. We couldn't move. If one moved, the others had to move also.

In the evening we were given bread, which was supposed to last us for 24 hours. They didn't even give us the amount we were supposed to get. They cheated us. If I would complain about it, I would just be beaten up. By four o'clock in the morning, we were chased out of the barracks. As we were walking out, they handed us a bitter hot drink. It tasted so bad we couldn't even drink it. We had to line up, and they counted us. The count had to match the list the barracks' leader had. Then a group commander, who was called a “Kapo”, picked about 200 people and took us out to work. For every 10 inmates, there was a foreman. This way he would have better control over the inmates. As we marched out, we saw and heard the orchestra playing.

We had to dig a very soft and muddy lime. The Kapo would beat us and so would the S.S. guards. When we came back to camp at the end of the day, the orchestra was playing. You had to march according to the music. Then we had to line up again and be counted. When we got inside the barracks, they gave us a bowl with what they called soup. Then they gave us a small piece of bread. This was our meal for the day, till the next day. Life was miserable and depressing with no end in sight. One day Boxer beat up a man very badly. He threw him on the floor and stepped on him, on his stomach and throat, until the man died. I don't know why he did it, except that he was a very cruel man.

This was a death camp. As the days went by, people were dying from hunger and dysentery and beatings. We had no water to wash ourselves. We had lice on us. We slept in the clothes we wore all day. Every morning they took out the dead bodies and lined them up outside. Some people were too weak to walk and had to be helped out. We all had to get out of the barracks. Then all were counted together. They had to match the list that the leader of the barracks had. Every morning there were about twenty five or thirty dead people.

People were so depressed and sick; they felt they had nothing to live for. Around the barracks was a fence with electric wires. Many of the people just walked up to it, touched it, and were electrocuted. I just didn't have the courage to do it. I knew there was no way out, but I still couldn't do it.

The women's camp was right near ours. We could look through the fence and see them. Their heads were shaven. There were dead bodies lying all over. They came around with a truck and picked them up. One day, one of my sisters saw me as I was looking toward the fence. She called my name. She told me that my other sister was very sick. She didn't know what was going to happen. In a few days the whole women's barracks was taken to the gas chambers and all were cremated.

My brother told me to stay in the front of the line when we lined up. Maybe it would be better there, as the S.S. would look for younger and stronger men. We thought maybe they would transfer us to another camp. This was in the morning, when we lined up to be counted. I was picked. We were always picked by numbers, not by names. We had our number on the coat or jacket, on the left side of the chest. We were then taken into an experimental laboratory. They wanted to sterilize the men. They put some kind of electrical machinery on the male organs. Then we heard the noise of radiation. I didn't care at this point, as I didn't think I would live anyway.

The next time, as we were standing in line to be counted after coming back from a day's work, my brother and I were in the front of the line. An S.S. guard picked my number and my brother's. He asked me how old I was and I told him I was 18. The next morning my brother and I were transferred to another barrack. There we went through a rectal examination. My brother was rejected as he had very bad diarrhea and he was not clean inside. I was accepted. My brother was sent back to our old barrack. I never saw him or my other brother again.

That afternoon we were taken out of this barrack. We went to another place where they issued us different clothes. They consisted of pants and a jacket. They had stripes. We then had to walk to another concentration camp called Buna. This was about seven kilometers away. When we got there, they put us in a quarantined area for about two weeks. When we got there I had pneumonia. I had terrible lung pain. It got worse. They had a clinic and I went to it. They took my temperature, which was very high, so they kept me there. I didn't go back to the barracks. They put compresses on my chest to get the fever down. I was there about ten days, which was a welcome relief for me, as I didn't have to go to work. After that, I was transferred to another barrack. This was a convalescent one. I was there for about two weeks. After they released me, I went to a different barrack, from which I was sent back to work. Even though I was still very weak and just skin and bones, they still sent me back to work. I was still just getting bread and soup for the day. A very small portion of each. It was just enough to let us survive.

The next morning we were marched for about two miles to freight trains. This was surrounded by S.S. guards and German shepherd dogs. The weather was freezing and we were dressed very lightly. It was brutal. We had to unload cement and very heavy wire from the train. It was construction wire. They made us work very fast. We were beaten by the S.S. guards and also by Kapos (the inmate supervisors). They beat me over the head, which began to bleed. I couldn't walk anymore. I was very weak from my illness, from the beatings, from the cold and also from not having proper nutrition. I had to be helped in walking, as I just couldn't walk. We walked five in a row. The two men on either side of me held me under the arms or I would have fallen down. I absolutely had no more strength. After we got back to the barracks a landsman advised me to go back to the clinic, and so I did. The doctor asked me what was wrong with me. I told him I had no more strength and I couldn't work anymore. They took my number. The next morning I had to go out to be counted. Then I was sent back to the clinic, while the others went out to work. Before going out to be counted, they changed our clothes to even thinner ones than we had. They were like tissue paper. It ws freezing weather.

The night before I went to the clinic, I wished that I wouldn't wake up the next morning. The suffering was so great. While we were at the clinic, we had to walk around an S.S. doctor. He was standing in the middle and we had to walk around him naked. He looked us over and he selected three of us, me and two other men. We had to be taken away. The two men were crying bitterly. I wasn't crying as I thought it was the end and we would be taken to the gas chamber. I didn't care anymore. A truck came and it had a red cross on it. We were taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

I was separated from the other two men. I was assigned to Building 28, which was a hospital. This place was clean. They gave me a brush to scrub myself in the shower. I couldn't scrub my head which had dried blood from former beatings. It hurt too much to scrub. I didn't get any food for about 48 hours. This hospital had mostly Christians.

One morning an S.S. doctor came in and asked in German, “Are there any Jews in here?” The one in charge said that there was one Jew. He ordered me to come out in front. He looked at me and said for me to go back to bed. Later the inmates told me I was lucky, as they had taken a lot of Jews from the other buildings and all were sent to the gas chamber. We had to take our temperature everyday. I was normal, but I rubbed the thermometer to make it rise higher. One morning they found out about it. They gave me two thermometers to put one under each arm, and so they found out. Next day I was released from the hospital. I was taken to another block. The number on the block was 9A. The administrator of this block was very mean. He didn't cheat us with the food. He gave us what was allotted to us. On Tuesdays and Fridays he even gave us a little extra bread. We still had to watch out for the beatings, though.

The work was not so hard here. Day by day I started to get a little stronger. The weather started to get warmer. By now it was the summer of 1943. The transports with people kept coming in. They built four more crematoriums. As we were working, we could see the trains going by. We saw the smoke coming out of the chimneys of the crematoriums. By 1944, in the summer, I was taken to another camp. It was a coal mine. The name of the camp was Yormina. I worked the night shift. I was there less than a month, when a number of us were called back to Auschwitz. We were taken to a hospital building where they castrated us. They took one testicle from me. I was there about seven days. Then I went to another building and stayed there about two weeks. Afterwards, I was released and went back to work.

In the summer of 1944, Hungarian Jews arrived at the camp and the gas chambers. Mass transports arrived night and day. Then came transports from Lodz, Poland. After the summer, around October, we were transferred from Auschwitz to Stuttof, near Danzig. The guards here were Ukrainian. They wore black uniforms with swastikas. They were very mean and cruel. They made us carry about five bricks at a time and run with them from one place to another. If they didn't think we were fast enough, they beat us with their clubs and told us to run faster. Many men collapsed. They beat them even on the ground. Auschwitz was much cleaner than the other camps, but the beatings were very bad all over, in all the camps.

After being here a month, they made a transport of about five hundred people, of which I was one. We were transported to a place in Germany near Stuttgart. I think the name of the place was Eishtandt.

After being in this camp for about three weeks I got an infection in my toe, which travelled all the way up my leg into my thigh. I couldn't walk; they had to hold me under the arms to help me walk. There was a Jewish doctor there, also an inmate, who treated it and said I was lucky to have caught it in time. He gave me pills and with a knife cut it open after a couple of days. He put gauze in to keep it open for draining. I stayed in camp for about a week. I didn't go out to work, but worked around the kitchen.

In the next few days we were told that the camp would be shut down and we would be transferred to another camp. They separated the sick and weak from the well and able people. I was among the able, even though I still had the problem with my leg. I was able to walk but my leg still needed treatment. We arrived by rail at a camp called Odruff. It was a large concentration camp. We had to go to work. After a few days, I found it hard to walk. The infection was getting worse, as it wasn't being treated. I was really scared. I didn't know what would happen to me. I went to the clinic. They didn't do much for it, except change the bandage. No treatment was given. After a few days, they approved of my staying in the hospital. They didn't do much of anything for the infection. It was good for me, as I didn't have to go to work. After a few days, they took all of us out of the hospital. We had to walk to the railroad and we were transferred to another camp. We rode in a commercial train. The time was about February 1945, nearing the end of the war. There were no seats on the train and so many people were riding that we couldn't even sit on the floor. I collapsed standing. I was weak from hunger and pain in my leg. Somehow I managed to sit down on the floor after a while. We rode for two days. When we finally got off the train, we heard that the name of the camp was Bergen-Belsen. It was a large concentration camp. This camp had no crematorium, so as people died they just piled them on top of one another. The people died in mass numbers. When we got there, there was no place to lie down. We just were able to sit on the ground. It was so crowded that I couldn't even straighten out my legs. I sat by the door the next day. There I was able to move around a little. The weather was nice and warm by now. In the next few days there was plenty of room, as people were dying. No food was given, and even if there was any we couldn't get to it. I saw some food on the ground outside once, with a spoon I scooped it up and ate it, as I was so hungry. Somebody later told me that it was food that someone had thrown up [Translator's note: in the Hebrew version of this section, which was probably the original, the term if 'thrown out' – i.e. 'zarak'. I expect the English is an error.]. From this camp we heard artillery nearby. We knew that the war was about coming to an end.

Everybody, including me, was sick with dysentery. People were just dying. We had to remove the dead from the barracks. We were so weak that two men had to pull out each body. We tied a belt around the feet of the dead and we pulled them out. Many barracks were stacked very high with bodies piled on top of one another. In every barrack there were dead bodies.

One evening before it got dark, as we were still pulling out bodies, I just laid down among them. I just didn't have the energy to pull them anymore. When it got dark, I got up and went to a barrack. I could go to any barrack, as they didn't count us anymore. We were full of lice. We were able to just push them off our bodies with our hands. We hadn't washed ourselves since Auschwitz. In about a few days, which was April 15, in the afternoon, the British tanks arrived at the camp and we were freed. We were free, so we went into the storehouses that had food and clothes. We broke up the wood that was in some of the barracks that had beds. We made fires outside and cooked some potatoes. We took bread and water and cooked it into a soup. The British gave us some cookies and pork and beans, which was in cans. The next day they made all the Germans from the town come and clean up the camp and remove the bodies to a common grave.

They separated the very sick people who had typhus (typhoid fcver) from the other people. They burned down the barracks. They were all infested with disease and germs. We were then taken in trucks to another camp about a mile away. It was a very clean camp. I think the German military quarters were there. The British opened a kitchen for us, and then food was ample. We could get as much as we wanted.

Slowly, I started to recuperate. We were free to travel now. We started to meet with other people looking for survivors. We were looking for family, friends and relatives. A committee was set up to try to help with this. We gave our name, age, where we came from and other information that might help us find one another. I went into a house where some women were living. We were talking about where we came from. I mentioned that I came from Mlawa. One of the young women mentioned that she had met two young men who came from Mlawa. She mentioned their names. One was Fishel and the other Mottel. They had also left a picture. I saw the picture and recognized my cousin Motel, and Fishel was a friend. I was overjoyed to see that they had survived.

Later I met another man from my hometown. His name was Gershon Ryszow. We were very happy top see each other. We hugged and kissed. He told me he was going to live in a city called Marburg; he gave me the address to which he was going. He told me to come to live there. To my surprise, I met my friend Fishel there when I went there about a week or two later. Fishel asked me to go back to Bergen-Belzsn to fetch the young woman Rifka, the one who had shown me the picture of him. I went back and brought her back to Marburg.

I was also reunited with Motel later on. We moved in together in Marburg. Rifka and Fishel didn't marry. She married someone else. She lives here in the United States in Boston and has two sons.

Later, we heard that my father's younger sister and her family had survived. They were somehow in Russian territory. They were the family Orlich. They went there to take the grandmother and figured they would come back to Mlawa. They couldn't get back. There was no transportation. The Russian government asked people to take a passport. People were aftaid to take one as they didn't know what would happen or if they could ever get back to their homes. Whoever didn't take a passport was sent to Siberia. The ones who took a passport remained. The Germans invaded a few days later. My brother and his family were there and they were all killed. I am the only one who survived in my family.

The Orlich family came to America later. I got a chance to see them in Germany, while I was living in Marburg. I went there to visit them. I came to the United States in 1949.

 

Graduates of Beis Yaakov, 1932

From right to left, standing: Beila Bekerman, Gella Roda,
Tova Lichtman, Sheina Drobiner.
Sitting: Feiga Szklar, Gittel Zalczsztejn, Feiga Goldsztejn
Bottom: Ester Wilodroz, Itta Hamburger, Malka Rajiczik.

 

Girls of Beis Yaakov, 1932

From right to left, standing: Breina Feiga Zakszev, Beila Konpandrok, Feiga Karta, Rivka Baumberg.
Sitting: Rozia Braun, Roda Kohen, Gella Roda, Yenta Kaposta, Shifra Riczik, Sara Roiza Strogowski.
Bottom: Itta Migdal, Chana Rachel Abramowicz, Adina Hamburger

 

Girls of Beis Yaakov, 1935

Standing: Perl Rozensztejn, Tova Lichtman, Malka Riczik, Shifra Lanet, Leah Listopad, Reizl
Listopad, name unknown, Tzirel Zylbersztejn.
Sitting: Feiga Szklar Sara Rivka Szymsza, the teacher Rozenik, Chana Szlesinger, Sara Listopad,
Miriam Rozenblum.
Bottom row: Esther Fuchs, Hadas Ber, Itta Hamburger, Esther Rivka Lewkowicz

 

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