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[Hebrew page 145 & Yiddish page 340]

The Tragic Destruction of Bolechow Jews

by Benno Reisman

Translation from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

As an eyewitness to the final days of the Jews of Bolechow, I wish to describe them.

I was captured numerous times by the enemy, but I was saved from death by miracle or by coincidence. At first I wandered around in the forests, and then I found refuge with the farmers of Jaworow. My friend Munzio Turkel, a youth from Bolechow, was together with me. The aforementioned farmers demanded a specific sum of money from us in return for refuge. We were forced to give them our savings from home. The transfer of money was fraught with mortal danger. We succeeded in this difficult task, and in return, the farmers put a barn at our disposal. The only exit was from the attic. We spent 21 months in the small, dark barn. We breathed a restricted amount of air through a tiny window in the attic. An opening was made in the wall through which our food was served once a day. Our daily fare consisted of four potatoes and a half a loaf of bread. We lived in these dismal conditions until August 1944, when the Soviet regime conquered the town.

One day during that time, in the morning when I was still sleeping, they came to draft me to the Red Army. This step was taken thanks to the Ukrainians, because 15-16 Jews returned to Bolechow after its liberation from the Nazis. The Ukrainians feared that we would give testimony regarding their “good deeds” during the Nazi occupation, so of course they wanted to remove us from the city. Therefore, they approached the Soviet authorities to carry this out.

Almost all of us were drafted and sent to the front. I was wounded there. After I recovered, I was discharged from the army, and sent to Bolechow as a civilian. The local authorities recognized my military activities, and therefore employed me as a supervisor. To my dismay, I could not maintain myself in that job, since the Ukrainians stalked after me at every step and turn, and investigated my deeds.

When Poland was liberated, I decided to leave the city to search for my brother, the engineer Gustav, who served in an important role in De Gaulle's army in France. My other brother Max succeeded in making aliya to the Land.

The German Conquest

The Red Army was forced to retreat on July 2, 1941. The citizens and the military government left the city. A small group of sappers destroyed all strategic points, such as the bridges and storehouses. The residents of the city were in a state of confusion and perplexity because of the bombardment. Even though it was a clear summer day, the streets were empty of people. The stores were shut. Ukrainian gangs took advantage of this propitious time to ransack and pillage Jewish stores as well as Soviet storehouses. A Ukrainian militia was then organized whose members organized themselves to patriotic duty. First of all, they arrested Jews who were suspected being Communists or Komsomolets (Communist Youth). In truth, this was personal revenge.

Leah Schindler, Ben-Zion's daughter, was among the first victims. She was murdered in a cruel and unusual fashion.

Battalions of the Hungarian-Slovakian army entered the city on July 6, 1941. The Ukrainians greeted them with joy and offered them flowers. All at once, shouts filled the air: Long live Germany! Death to Jews and Communists!

The Hungarian army took over the government of the Stanislawow region. The Ukrainians were not happy with this, for the Hungarians set limits to their freedom and “good deeds”, and fined them. In this regard, the Ukrainians turned to the supreme German authority in Stryj with the request that the government be turned over to the Germans. They acceded to their request. The German regional minister and his official took up residence in Bolechow.

The minister ordered the establishment of a Judenrat. Its members included Dr. Schindler, Dr. Archie Reifeisen, Pressler, Buma Krauthammer, and others. The aforementioned committee was put under the direction of the official and his officers.

Dr. Harasimov was appointed as mayor of the city. His son-in-law, the former police chief Simkov, was appointed as head of civil defense.

The German city commissar took up residence in the home of Dr. Kleinberg. The cleanup and furnishing of this house to make it fitting for the residence of the commissar was the task of the Judenrat. Archie Reifeisen was made responsible for everything. The Judenrat turned to the residence of Bolechow to donate furniture, rugs, pictures, crystal, and valuables without delay, since the task had to be finished in seven days. Of course, a thorough cleanup had to be arranged from a technical perspective. A day or two was required for this. The day the task had to be finished was the Sabbath. The official summoned the members of the committee, lined them up, and shouted in a commanding voice, “Who is responsible for this task?” Dr. Reifeisen came forward from the line and said, “I!” The “refined” official got angry with him and slapped him on the cheek. He did the same to the rest of the committee.

After this embarrassment and degradation, Dr. Reifeisen turned to his friends and said, “The Germans will not be able to slap my cheeks again”.

The next day, we were shaken up to the depth of our souls. The wonderful man, lover of his fellowman, Dr. Reifeisen, put an end to his life! He hanged himself in the garden next to his home! With is tragic but honorable death, we lost one of the fitting members, most reliable, who took responsibility and protected us.

At this point, the gloomy era began, full of suffering and tribulations. The Jews were forced to work in backbreaking labor: the building of bridges, the laying of railway tracks, etc. Every worker was given a quota that had to be filled, and he bent under his burden. It was particularly difficult for those people who were not fit for manual labor. The taskmasters punished and tortured in a cruel manner, without a scintilla of mercy.

The Jewish committee was established, and it had many tasks: the work office, the office of living arrangements, and the supply division. The headquarters of the committee was in the Jewish public school on Shuster Street. Dr. Schindler was the chairman, and his son-in-law Pressler was the director of Jewish civil defense (the “militia”). The task of the militia was to supervise that the citizens were following the orders of the Judenrat. These orders were effectively the orders of the Germans.

The commissar utilized his position for his own benefit and personal objectives. For example, he demanded that within a short time he be provided with butter, hides, textiles, foodstuffs, etc. These provisions were difficult to obtain even without this command. Not only the commissar, but also the Gestapo, jumped upon such items. The members of the committee were cruelly beaten if they were not able to provide the provisions.

After this time, the order was given that all Jews were to wear a blue band with a Star of David upon it. The hours that one could be on the street were restricted. Entrance to restaurants and places of entertainment, travel by rail, use of the post office, etc. were forbidden. Radios and other valuable items were confiscated. With the threat of death, all Jews were ordered to give over their furs, including their fur scarves.

The Ukrainian “militia” pillaged the houses during the daylight and the darkness of night. They conducted “searches” so to speak – and at such a fitting time, they would steal and take anything that they came across, despite the fact that this was against the law. Those who were robbed had to be quiet, without any recourse for complaint.

The committee rationed food. The portions were small and filthy. Since it was difficult to purchase additions to the scanty portions, a barter market was created. On account of the shortage of food, the elderly, weak and young swelled up and died of hunger.

In 1941, the regional minister, under the direction of the Gestapo of Stanislawow, commanded that a contribution be imposed upon the Jews of Bolechow. The value was 4.5 kilograms of gold, a vast sum of cash and valuables. This had to be collected within a number of days. If the property was not given over, lives would be taken (in an aktion). The committee asked the residents to give over money and jewelry without delay. The requested amount was given over quickly. The poor, unfortunate donors thought that the property would save their lives. The naivete! The aktion was carried out within a number of days.

The First Aktion

It took place on October 28. Giant Gestapo wagons converged at the magistrate (the city hall). The atmosphere was tense and electric. The Jews felt that a terrible disaster was impending. Confusion ensued. People fled, hid in the houses, in the gardens, each person to the best of his ability.

The militia and Ukrainian volunteers assisted with the aktion. The Jewish council was asked to provide a list of a portion of the residents of Bolechow. Since many had hidden, they snatched anyone who appeared by chance.

Those captured were concentrated in the “Dieka” house in Woloska Wies. They snatched men, women and children for the entire night. When the hall was filled, they sealed the windows and doors and mounted a guard around. They lit ovens with coal, and sealed the chimneys while the coal was still burning in order to cause fumes. The victims lay prone, faces to the ground. Young women and girls were stripped of their clothes and commanded to dance. Rabbi Mendele Landau recited the confession with the tortured crowd, and the pianist Brukenstein accompanied him with a mournful tune. The drunken and crude Gestapo men frequently broke into the hall and trampled on the martyrs with their boots with satanic cruelty.

The episode lasted an entire day.

I only remember a few of the victims: Itzi Landes, Zimmerman (Jagar's son-in-law), his son Julek, Weitz (Blumenthal), Baruch Pepper, Sruli Schindler, Ben-Zion Schindler and his son Davidze.

Some of the victims died there. The rest were dragged out alive by the Gestapo, hauled to the forest near Tenyava, where a mass grave was dug. It was surrounded by a strong guard. Those who had been designated to die stood near the grave, ten by ten. The Nazi evildoers pointed their guns at them. On account of rationing, the commander ordered the shooters not to miss their target, since one bullet was designated for each person. The German and Ukrainian buriers therefore dragged the wounded victims into the grave while they were still moving, and buried them alive.

Davidze Schindler was a witness to this monstrous deed. He was able to escape the talons of the Nazi beast due to his cool temperament and straight thinking. He grasped onto a tall tree on the way to Tenyava, and witnessed the awful and terrifying slaughter from his treetop. At the conclusion of the aktion, he succeeded in returning to the city, overtaken with fear, and hiding from the farmers of the region who cooperated with the Nazi beast.

After the frightful aktion, fear and apprehension overtook the Jews of the city.


There was no shortage of decrees. New ones were issued daily. Every man, woman, and even elderly person had to obtain a 'ken karte' (identity card), which was a work card that was obtained from the work office of the Judenrat. A workplace was defined on the basis of that certificate. Holders of the 'ken karte' worked at backbreaking labor for starvation wages.

Aside from the band with the Star of David, Jews had to wear a badge with the symbol A., which meant: Black Worker, or W.A., i.e. “Wehrmacht Arbeiter”.

The restrictions on freedom of movement and the backbreaking work were the lot of our unfortunate Jews. However, even this dismal lifestyle, devoid of any hope for improvement, did not last long.

The Second Aktion

The second aktion began on August 20, 1942. A few hours before, the news reached those destined to die about what was awaiting them. In addition, they knew that Jews had been killed in aktions in other cities. They hurried to take refuge through the various means that they had prepared for themselves. That day at dawn, the Germans enlisted the militianists, the Ukrainian citizen volunteers, and the Jewish militia, and commanded them to find and take out all who were in hiding, arrest them, and bring them to the yard of the city hall. The searching and snatching lasted for 36 hours.

My parents, my sister of blessed memory, and I were among them.

Masses of people were brought along with us. Everyone was forced to lie face down. The wicked militianists were permitted to perpetrate any acts that their hearts and eyes desired. Very many people were murdered on the spot by their hands. Among the victims was Dr. Blumenthal of blessed memory, who loved his fellowman. He was a popular man, revered by the community.

The aktion in the yard of the city hall lasted for 60 hours! The Satanic executioners took their vengeance upon us for two and a half days!

A significant number of the afflicted people died from the torture, beatings, hunger and thirst. The extent of the cruelty went beyond anyone's imagination. Pregnant women were beaten mercilessly. The wicked people beat their bellies. They snatched infants from their mother's arms, tossed them, and broke their heads against the stone walls or the telegraph poles. I was an eyewitness to the atrocities that took place in the yard of the city hall. Therefore, I permit myself to describe them.

The nationalist Strotinski presided over the actions of the Ukrainians. The monster Strotinski, a trampling beast, a hater of humanity, overtook even the Nazi mass murderers with his evil. May he be cursed, may G-d curse him when he sleeps, when he arises, and when he goes along his way! May his name be blotted out forever! This despicable evildoer, this destructive demon, is responsible for the murder of thousands of martyrs.

After the slaughter in the yard of the city hall, those who remained alive were brought to the train station, where they were loaded upon train cars. Each car was designed for 20-30 people, but they packed 100-120 people into them. The small windows were covered with barbed wire. An armed German guard stood at each door. This “load” was transported to the crematoria of Belzec.

Aside from me, one woman by the name of B. Glass (with us today in Israel) saved herself by jumping from the moving car. One by one, including my unfortunate family, they were murdered at Belzec. Approximately 4,000 of our Jewish brethren were murdered in the second aktion.

How I was Saved

The director of the “Union of Civic Manufacturing” (Fareigente Stadt-Industrie) recommended me to the Gestapo director as a fitting worker. Thus I was removed against my will from the transport train. At this decisive and tragic moment, I refused to leave my family to their fate. However, the militianists did not pay attention to my refusal, and they forcibly dragged me from the train.

For a brief moment, I was able to see the receding trains, which carried all of my loved ones. I loathed my life. I could not shed tears. It seemed as if the earth was opening up beneath me, and I was sinking.

At that time, I lost my faith in the goodness of humanity. I saw it as a bloodthirsty beast. An evil beast, lacking a heart, not created in the Divine image. I only had one burning desire in my heart: Revenge! Revenge!

After the second aktion there was a brief lull, a respite from the diligent destruction of our Jews.

The Ghetto

Once again there was a decree. The Jews were ordered to leave their homes and go to the ghetto. It was located on Shuster Gasse, Ringplatz (the market square), Bahn Gasse, and the side alleys.

Jews of Perehinsko, Rozniatow, Weldzirz, and surrounding villages were brought to our ghetto.

It was forbidden to leave the ghetto. Violation of that decree was punishable by death.

The Jewish Work Camp

The Jews who were employed in the factories and workshops were housed in special premises on the Train Street. These were surrounded by barbed wire fences, and it was forbidden to leave them without a permit. Permission was only given to go to and return from work. The supervision of the camp was in the hands of our own militias and the Ukrainians. The latter, may their names be blotted out, degraded, cursed, and acted with cruelty to the workers, as was their way.

Pregnancy was forbidden for women. If perchance a woman gave birth, she had to turn over the infant to the hands of the Gestapo. On occasion, a mother succeeded in hiding her child. When the Nazis, may their names be blotted out, discovered this, woe to the poor mother and her child.

Our brethren worked in this abyss and hell until December 1942.

The Liquidation of the Camp

It was the beginning of December, 1942. After the paltry supper, tired and worn out from all the toil, the workers lay down to sleep without realizing that this was their last night. It was midnight. The Gestapo and the Ukrainians, may their names be blotted out, surrounded the camp, attacked the innocent workers, and shot many on the spot. The rest were dragged to the cemetery. They were shot and buried in a communal grave.

With the liquidation of the camp, our militias were superfluous. They were no longer needed, so their members were shot one at a time.

Very few Jews remained in the ghetto after this murder. The final victims were known as “fulverte” or “zamler Juden” (valuable ones, or trash collectors).

The Third Aktion

In March 1943, a small group of our tortured brethren remained, living the life of dogs. Before dawn as they were sleeping, the Gestapo men and their Ukrainian accomplices entered the houses of the ghetto, took out the sleeping people with pretexts and brought them to an open area. They were brought in rows to the cemetery, where they were shot and buried.

The Witnesses who Remained

Our brethren who hid left the city and joined the partisans, or hid once again with the gentiles of the villages. My friend Munzio Turkel was among those who survived. The Germans knew that there were Jews in hiding. Therefore, they threatened with death anyone who would give refuge to Jews or assist them. As a result, obviously only very few people jumped onto such rescue actions.

The Brave Ones who Perished

Not all of our brethren were taken out to be killed like sheep to the slaughter, without opposition and without revolt. Many fought and inflicted casualties upon our enemies. Let my soul perish with the Germans and Ukrainians!

There was not an equal situation. The man-eating enemy was armed a thousand times stronger than we were. Despite this, we fought.

I do not remember the names of all the mighty ones who took revenge before they died. However, I do remember two: Davidze Schindler of blessed memory (the son of Ben-Zion), and Yossi Nagal (the son of Shalom Nagal, the owner of the restaurant).

Conclusion

Thus were our brethren killed and slaughtered. Not only the elderly, the sickly, the weak – people whose time has come. No, no! Most were children, adults, and healthy people; thirsty for life, desiring of life, loving of life, embracing the arms of the world.

Members of all social classes, workers, craftsmen, teachers, maskilim, scholars, simple folk, officials, merchants, members of the free professions.

People who, thanks to their efforts, diligence, persistence, talents and culture, raised the level of the town, so that it served as a sign and example to other towns throughout Galicia.

May their souls be bound in the bonds of eternal life.


[Hebrew page 151 & Yiddish page 347]

My Gloomy Visit to my
Hometown after World War Two

by Esther Jakubowicz (Vitashka)

Translation from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

In October 1945, after the defeat of the Germans, I returned to Lwow from Russia. When I was in Lwow, I thought to myself: The last appropriate chance to see your hometown is now given to you. Despite the danger from the Ukrainians who fought against the Bolsheviks, I set out towards Bolechow. Woe to my eyes for what I have seen! A terrifying vision!

This town, the majority of whose inhabitants were Jewish, and in which a vibrant Jewish life pulsated, was now desolate and left without Jews.

The Ukrainians organized themselves into groups in the forests and fought against the Russians. The Poles moved to western Poland, and the Germans retreated with Hitler, may his name be blotted out, to Germany [1].

Shaken to my foundations, perturbed and dumbfounded, I began to wander through the streets of my town, seeing if I would meet anyone. I arrived at Salina. There was no change in it, except that its workers were Russian. From there, I arrived at the section of the street where Salka Schneid, Dr. Blumenthal, and Fishel Brokenstein had lived. I returned to the German Settlement and went until the “Large Bridge”, but I did not come across a living soul.

The Civic Garden was as if it was in mourning over the destruction of its inhabitants. The Evangelical Church, Forestry School, and Sokol Hall were all destroyed.

The small bridge (The Lawka) was half destroyed. The waters of the Sukiel had dried up. The “Lazenes” were cut down. Among everything, there was no trace of our existence.

The Houses of Moshele Taffer, Shlomo Sheps, the teacher Hendel, and Rabbi Mendele Landau (a personality worthy of special mention) were standing in ruins. The pharmacy and the houses of Rabbi Yosef Horowitz and of Kurtzer had been bombed. Most of the houses had either been pillaged, destroyed, or occupied by the Russian Army.

The street of the synagogue and the “Kleine Kloiz”, “Polishe Kloiz”, “Sadigura Kloiz” “Groise Kloiz” Beis Midrashes – were in mourning. They stood in silence. Their holy arks were empty and gloomy. There were pieces of Torah scrolls rolling in the garbage heaps.

The “Shul” that had once been so full of splendor and glory, was used by the Russians as a warehouse for merchandise.

The cemetery, including the communal grave that had been dug by our pure brethren, may G-d avenge their souls, prior to their being shot by the murderers, was destroyed. Its gravestones were broken and cut down.

The lot of Bahn Gasse was the same as the lot of all of the streets. The chair factory and the mill of Yisrael Laufer, Alter Schneid, and Yaakov Kramer were still standing, as was the printing shop of Hirsch Mordechai Elendman, but they were boarded up. What about the house of the Russian rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Perlow? In that house, weddings used to be conducted with great splendor, in which Hassidim from all over Galicia participated, with the dressed up relatives riding on horses, literally like Cossacks, as they were happy and rejoicing. Now, death and bereavement emanated from it. Fear! Terrors!

Furthermore, the butcher shop, the tannery of Jerzy Frei and Yudel Kimmel, the candle factory of Yoel Halperin, and the cheder of Wolf Diengott – in all, there was destruction and death.

At the sight of the extreme destruction and desolation I thought: To what shall I compare you, oh my dear town? To a bereaved mother, a mourner, a mother that had been cut down in her life. Gloomy, downtrodden, bereaved.

As my lips murmured, “remember, and do not forget”, I left my destroyed childhood area, my hometown of Bolechow.


[Hebrew page 152 & Yiddish page 349]

Information from Yad Vashem

Translation from the Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

On May 3, 1946, testimony was presented in Munich by a resident of Stryj, Shmuel Zeliger (file number: Munich archives, testimonies, 191/76). He related: “On a frightfully cold night in January 1942, Ukrainian gendarmes and policemen invaded the homes of the poor people (in Stryj), and rounded up about 800 people. Several hundred were also brought from Zydaczow, Mikolajow, Zurawno, Chodorow, Bolechow, Dolina, Bobrka, and Skole. They were all loaded on village wagons and transported to the mountains. Many froze along the way. Almost all of the children froze. The rest were left in abandoned farmers' cottages. The strong ones fled and returned to Stryj. The rest of them, that is more than 80% of them, died of cold and hunger.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Obviously literary license, as Hitler was not personally involved in the war with Russia. Return

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