This is not only the story of my life, during the Holocaust, but the story of the life of the whole kehila (community), and that of my parents, sisters, and my colleagues and friends. May these pages serve as a humble monument to their memory.
The Russian conquest, in l939, took place with almost no fighting. But the limited opposition, by the Polish nationalists in town, to the entry of the Russian soldiers, and the few bombardments and shootings, were regarded by us as 'the real thing.'
I was a young lad, age l2, when the war broke out in l94l. However, I was quite alert, and I grasped clearly the reality of the times. I followed closely as events unfolded.
The cruelty of the Germans and their attitude toward the Jews were well known. There were many Jews who tried to retreat with the Red Army into the interior of Russia. But only a few succeeded to do so.
The Russians, whose retreat was very hasty, were not interested in taking along members of the general population with them. They took only those who had fulfilled official duties during the Soviet occupation of the town. Most of the retreating Jews of Buczacz were caught by the Germans on the road, and a large number of them returned to town after a few days, or several weeks.
The period of the first German conquest was relatively easy, compared to what came afterwards. The persecution of the Jews at this time consisted mainly of the abduction of people for different kinds of work, the wearing of the Star of David on the sleeve, the marking of all the houses in which Jews lived, the confiscation of radios, and later also of fur coats.
Of course, it also meant the destruction of all the sources of income. Enormous taxes were levied - the term 'contributions' was used in their language - on the community, at whose head they placed the 'Judenrat.'
In the early days of the conquest the Germans and the Ukrainian militia used to seize Jews for work from among those who came within their reach: old people, the sick, pregnant women, etc.. The arrangement by the 'Judenrat' with the German rulers, regarding the supply of labor, appeared much more suitable.
After a specific order for man power was received, a type of 'employment office' was created, and it was to this office that the requests of the Germans for laborers were directed. The office then tried to supply the number of workers required.
The purpose of the 'Judenrat' was to mediate between the Jewish population and the German authorities, to soften the harshness of the edicts, and to attempt to divide the burden of the demands equally among the people.
I have no doubt that this was the aim of the members of the council, and that they truly believed that they would succeed in lightening the burden placed on the Jews, and that they were working for their benefit.
They did not see, at least at the beginning, that in the end they would be turned into tools in the hands of the Gestapo, and would be forced to participate and execute all the orders of the authorities.
At the beginning the 'Judenrat' was chaired by Mendel Reich, who had been head of the community council before the war. With him on the council were Baruch Kremer (he was the subsequent head of the 'Judenrat'), Dr. Seifert, Dr. Hecht (who was in the 'Judenrat' only a very short time) and others. Altogether, I believe, there were l2 people.
Many achievements and merits can be attributed to the 'Judenrat' during the period of the first occupation, especially its organizing of mutual aid. In the summer of l941 Buczacz was inundated with thousands of Jews who had been expelled from the Carpathian foothills, which were part of Russia. Most of them were very poor, had large families, and were extremely religious, so that even in our town they appeared somewhat out of place.
For about two months these refugees lived mostly in the different study houses and synagogues of the town, while a minority of them were billeted in private homes. One must note the great assistance that the townspeople, through the good offices of the Judenrat, gave to the refugees. After some time passed these unfortunate people were sent away to an unknown destination. Some say to the TransDniester region.
The Judenrat organized a kitchen for the poor, attended to housing for the refugees, who had come to Buczacz at a somewhat later period, from the small towns of Monastyszyska, Potok Zloty, Yazlovtse and others, when the latter were declared to be 'Judenrein.'
However, despite these activities, and despite the fact that the role of the Buczacz Judenrat was much more extensive than that of many other 'Judenrate', it is better to pass over its record in silence, especially during the period when its chairman was Baruch Kramer. I also prefer not mentioning the disgraceful role of the 'Ordnungsdienst,' which, at the nadir of its decline and decay was headed by M.A..
The various regulations and decrees came out with urgency and haste. Each one was more severe and cruel than the previous one. During one fall day in l94l an order appeared demanding that all men, aged l8-50, were to come to the town square (which was nicknamed hogs' square) for registration. Anyone who did not respond to this order, and did not appear, was liable to be punished by death.
A rumor spread that those who showed up at the town square would be transferred to labor camps. But despite the severe warning not to miss the registration, many escaped to the forests and the villages, and did not register.
At this point the Nazis' psychological manipulation found its most brilliant expression, as a part of their total annihilation plan. Here is what followed. Those who appeared for the registration were duly signed up, and after several hours were permitted to return home. And those who had avoided the registration procedure lived for a time in the shadow of the terrible punishment that awaited them.
After several weeks passed the men, aged l8-50, were again ordered to appear at a specific time, at the same square, for an additional registration. And actually this time most of them, if not all, appeared, relying on the first such experience of presenting themselves for registration.
Over 350 men, the best and the brightest of the youth and the working intelligentsia, gathered in the square. But suddenly the square was surrounded on all sides by units of the S.S. and the German militia, and a curfew was announced in the town. No one could leave or enter.
There were those who said that they saw how the men were led, in small groups, in the direction of the 'Fedor.' And actually after several hours shots were heard from that direction. However, no one was able to find out what really happened to the men. Had they been shot on the 'Fedor,' or were they transferred to various concentration camps?
Unlike the other aktsias, which were carried out, periodically, more in public, this event remained cloaked in darkness, and I believe that to this day it is difficult to know exactly what the fate of those unfortunates was.
And so during the span of one day hundreds of parents were bereaved, hundreds of children were orphaned, hundreds of women were widowed, and there was hardly a house without someone who had lost a loved one.
It is impossible to describe the heavy sorrow that descended on the Jews. The 'Judenrat' tried to send gentile 'messengers' to bring back some news about the fate of the men, and it contacted the authorities to this end, but without results.
Rumor followed upon rumor. According to one the men had been taken out to be shot on the 'Fedor.' But this rumor did not make sense. With all the bitter experiences that we had been subjected to during the months of the first German conquest, and despite the rumors of the atrocities that reached us about the Nazi activities in other places, no one could conceive, that it would be possible in the middle of the day, in broad daylight, to take out several hundred men to be killed.
The next day I, and some other children, sneaked out of our homes. We climbed up to the 'Fedor,' where some of us looked for their father, some for their brother, and some for other relatives. This exploration almost cost us our lives.
When we approached the forest, an armed Ukrainian policeman burst forth suddenly from behind one of the trees, and he asked us why we were walking about in the forest. We answered that we were searching for members of our families who had been taken away from us the day before.
The policeman smiled and 'promised' to bring us to them. Who knows how this matter would have ended, had not the forest guard appeared suddenly and asked the policeman to let us go home. Obviously I did not tell anyone at home about this adventure in the forest.
Another rumor said that the men were transferred to the Borki Vilki camp, and to other labor camps. And actually once a gentile related that he met one of the men, named Zeidman, in the 'Yanovsky' camp in Lvov, and this news planted new hope in the hearts of the unfortunate families. But it is very doubtful whether the men had been sent to any camp.
The 'Borki' camp was more or less an open camp. It was possible to send the inmates packages and letters. Information from the 'Yanovsky' Street camp also somehow got through. The lack of certainty with regard to the fate of the 'registration' victims aroused new hope from time to time, but there was nothing substantial on which to base that hope.
On the day which was set for an 'aktsia' S.S. bands, Gestapo, and Ukrainian policemen would surround the town and close all its entrances. They raided houses, searched basements, attics, sewer pipes, etc. and rounded up all the Jews.
An aktsia generally continued for 24-48 hours, and whoever succeeded in saving his/her life during those hours, being in a hiding place, in the forest, in the field, or in a nearby village, was granted the gift of life until the next 'aktsia,' and then the cycle would repeat itself.
These 'murderous operations' were carried out with typical German thoroughness. They were planned according to the best Prussian traditions. The destruction did not happen all at once, but in stages, each stage more brutal than the previous one.
I do not intend at this time to touch upon the reasons for the lack of an uprising and the lack of rebellion among Polish Jewry. However, in my opinion, one of the most important reasons for this is due to the fact that the liquidation was carried out gradually, by stages.
Those who remained alive after the announcement that the 'aktsia' had stopped were, more or less, safe for several months (in the period between July l942 and April l943 the aktsias occurred in 3 to 4 month cycles), and Jews, who are optimists by nature, believed that perhaps the calamity would not extend to them.
They comforted themselves with the hope that the Russian army would soon return , and the German front would collapse, and the Jews then would experience 'light and joy.' From time to time a baseless rumor would circulate, that America had warned Germany not to harm the Jews.
The rumors, the belief in an impending rescue, and the exaggerated hopes, were like a life-giving elixir for the people, and they held on to them like a drowning person holds on to a straw. Even intelligent people, experienced in the realities of life, were influenced by these false rumors and believed in them.
The Christians made a mockery of the hopes of the Jews. The city's local paper published an article with the caption: Zydzi mowia: s'wet zajn gut (The Jews Say That Things Will Be All Right), thus ridiculing Jewish optimism.
During the months of May, June, and July, l942 the murderous activities were carried out in the cities and small towns of the surrounding area, while Buczacz was spared for some reason at that time. Rumors were constantly circulating that an 'aktsia' was imminent, that the 'aktsia' would be on the following day, or week, or that there would not be any more 'aktsias' at all.
Meantime people did not sleep in their homes for weeks on end. There were those who stayed with a farmer in a nearby village, or who slept in the forest, or in the open field. The nightmare of the 'aktsia' pursued us for months, and when it did not come the tension was somewhat reduced.
One September day in l942, I believe it was a Saturday morning, a large number of units of German soldiers, along with the Ukrainian militia, surrounded the town and spread out through the houses in order to search for Jews. Most of the people succeeded somehow in hiding in bunkers which had been prepared in advance.
My parents, and sisters and I were then in a bunker on Gimnazyalna Street, in Zhaleznik's house. The search that was carried out in that house was very thorough. Several times groups of German and Ukrainian soldiers came into the house, one after the other. They ripped out the floors, broke walls, dug in the yard, but they did not find the bunker. The officer in charge of the 'aktsia' was Krieger, the commander of the Gestapo in Stanislavov.
During the day over l600 people were caught - men, women and children, and were brought to 'Hogs' Square', and from there were transferred by vans to the train station. Many tried to escape from the vans, and almost 200 people were shot in houses and on the streets.
The train took the people to the Belzec camp, which was near Lvov. Many dozens of people were put into a closed, airless freight car. The men used to carry with them small breakout tools (a saw, pliers, etc.) in order to be prepared for any trouble that might come. With the help of these tools, many succeeded in breaking out of the freight cars and in jumping out of the train.
The transport was heavily guarded, and many of those who tried to jump out of the train were shot by the Germans. Some were killed by jumping out the wrong way; some were run over by the wheels of the train. It was said that after every 'transport', many dozens of dead and injured people were found scattered, lying all along the train tracks, and the surrounding area, that led to Belzec.
Over time various rumors began to reach us about what was going on in this camp. It was said, that those arriving at the camp were required to undress, and had to go into a shower, so to speak, that was really a disguised gas chamber.
It was also rumored that in Belzec the Nazis were making soap from Jewish bodies. Most of the Jews, even the most informed among them, refused to believe that the Nazis had sunk to such a low point in their satanic madness.
On the same day that the murderous activities were taking place in Buczacz, similar activities were taking place all over the district. Later all those Jews who remained alive throughout the area, were expelled to Buczacz. Jews came from Monasterzyska, Yazlovtse, Potok Zloty, and from other small towns in the region, and the Jewish population in the city ballooned to more than ten thousand.
Jews who were broken and dejected, widows, orphans, people without any means of support, flooded the city by the thousands. There was the occasional person who could afford to rent a room, someone who found shelter with his relatives, but the majority of the people crowded into small, dark quarters, sometimes ten or more to a room.
It is not surprising that under these circumstances a typhoid epidemic broke out, and it consumed about l5-20 people daily. There was almost no house in which there was not someone struck by typhoid. The disease would spread and infect the whole household.
As a result of the epidemic the authorities became even more strict about not allowing contact between Jews and Christians. And the economic situation kept getting worse. Among the Jewish population a severe famine broke out. A kind of vicious cycle was created.
The famine helped spread the epidemic, whereas the epidemic tightened the noose around the Jewish population even more. That lead to more famine, and thus the cycle would repeat itself. The epidemic did not spare me either. One day in December, l942, I returned from a lesson with the 'Pinsker,' - whom I will discuss later - and I was consumed with fever. Within several days it was clear that I was indeed stricken with typhoid.
My mother went to the pharmacy to buy medicine for me. To our misfortune 'street abductions' were taking place at that hour, and she too became one of the kidnapped. No one knew what was done with those who were kidnapped or where they had been taken. However, it was clear that the chances that they would be returned to their homes were very slim.
During that period I lay with a 40-degree temperature, without much hope of overcoming the disease, and my heart trembled with longing for my mother. My mother, whose soul was so tied up with mine, and who was dearer to me than anything, had been suddenly taken away from me. My distress grew even more with the knowledge that she had endangered her life for my sake, and because of me she had fallen victim to the beasts of prey.
That day several hundred people were rounded up and transferred to Chortkov. There they were put into prison. For two weeks during their incarceration they were given a piece of bread and a little water only once every 48 hours. Many died from hunger and thirst. My mother was among the lucky ones, who, through an open hatch, were able to gather some snow to break their thirst.
On January 4, l943 the prisoners were put on freight trucks that drove to the mountain, where they were supposed to take out the victims to be shot. But something unbelievable happened. Because of a heavy snow storm the road was in bad condition and the trucks could not go up the mountain.
The Germans spent half a day trying to move the trucks up the mountain, but in vain. In the end they freed the people and allowed them to return to their homes. Among the lucky ones who returned home was my mother.
One cannot describe the joy the night that we saw her again, after we had almost lost all hope. That night I slept with a very high fever, and I believe that my consciousness was somewhat blurred. However, as soon as my mother opened the door, my eyes lit up. For hours she sat by my side as I looked at her, and could not get enough of that vision. How much nobility, love and intelligence were reflected in her eyes. How beautiful and fresh she looked despite everything that she had endured during those weeks.
The Nazis, trying in various ways to weaken the vigilance of their victims, exploited the above-mentioned incident to prove that there would be no more 'aktsias,' and that from then on the Jews had no need to fear for their lives.
Rumors circulated in town that an order had gone out from the world's leading powers, in the wake of American intervention (for some reason the Jews believed that America was not silent and was making many efforts to save Jews), indicating that henceforth there would be no more 'aktsias', and that the living conditions of the Jewish population would be restored to their normal pattern.
It is possible, indeed, that this assumption was strengthened somewhat by the fact that certain concessions had been granted by the authorities. But little time was granted to the Jews for diverting themselves with vain illusions.
One night, at the beginning of February l943, after midnight, a Jewish girl (my sister's friend), knocked on our door and told us that there were rumors in town that an 'aktsia' would take place on the following day. A Ukrainian policeman reported this to Duhl, the shoemaker.
Panic erupted. It was impossible to flee to the fields and forests because it was winter and the footprints in the snow were bound to betray those who fled. Accordingly, most of the people fortified themselves in the bunkers, which had been prepared some time earlier.
It was customary to call every hiding place a bunker, but the hiding places which could be regarded as real bunkers, were few in number. Mostly they were built in basements, and attics, etc., and were disguised as well as Jewish inventiveness could make it.
In order to build an underground bunker it was necessary to overcome many difficulties. First, it was essential that no untrustworthy persons become aware of it. It happened that the Nazis would torture one of their victims so that he would reveal the hiding place of the other Jews in the house, or they would promise to free the victim if he would reveal the hiding place.
Many actually did not pass the test. Of special note is the notorious case of N.L., the owner of the kerosene warehouse on Podhayetska Street. In return for the Nazi promise, that his life would be spared, he exposed the location of a bunker with dozens of people, among them members of his own family. One of the people in that bunker, attacked Landes with an ax. The Nazis allowed the unfortunates to avenge themselves on the traitor and the man killed him on the spot.
The major difficulty with building a bunker was where to dispose of the soil that was dug up (the Ukrainian militia carefully followed activities in the Jewish houses), and how to get an adequate air supply.
Somehow they overcame these difficulties, and in many homes bunkers were built which could withstand the most exacting searches. Much inventive talent, arduous labor, and lots of money were invested in their construction.
During the second 'aktsia' we lived in a house on Koscielna Street, in the long alley, where there was a coffee house. Our family lived in that house along with the Koffler family (the Hebrew teacher), the Dretler family, the Bick family and the rabbi from Pinsk.
The hiding place in the basement was too shallow, but it was well concealed, and the moment news about the 'aktsia' reached us, all the inhabitants of the house went down to the hiding place. We spent over 24 hours in that terrible hiding place, when each minute seemed like an eternity to us.
All the time we could hear the heavy boots and footsteps of the German and Ukrainian murderers, who turned the house upside down in order to find the hiding place. We also heard the footsteps of our Christian neighbors, who came to plunder booty. To their credit it must be noted that they were very selective and did not take everything that came into their hands.
During all those hours, I recall, Chaim Koffler, who was both my Hebrew teacher and a man that I highly respected, sat and took notes. He told me that he was recording the last events of the town's Jewish population, because, even if we didn't survive, the world had to know about the Nazis' savage and murderous acts. And one day the world would take revenge for us.
How naïve that belief looks today - that those condemned to death believed the nations of the world would avenge the spilled Jewish blood, after the victory over the Nazis.
Just as the Jews were certain of a victory by the Russians and the West over Hitler, they were also certain of the revenge that the victors would take on the Nazis. I recall a conversation between my father, may he rest in peace, and our neighbor Arthur Bick.
Bick argued, whether facetiously or in earnest, that at least we were assured of one thing after the Russian return: a military band and floral wreaths on an annual basis on memorial day. My father told him that he was deluding himself, and that in his opinion the Russians would be secretly pleased with Hitler's acts of destruction, and that, in any case, one could not assume that they would mourn these actions. To our regret, my father was right.
About l600 people fell victim in the second 'murder action'. Most of them were driven out of their hiding places, or were caught trying to flee the city, around which a tightening noose had been placed. They had planned to stay in the nearby villages until the danger would pass.
The people were transferred in groups of 50 to the train station, loaded onto freight trains and transferred to Belzec. The elderly, the sick, and those who attempted to flee on the way to the train station were killed by the murderers on the spot.
The day after the 'aktsia' the city streets were strewn with the dead. The Nazis used dumdum bullets on the Jewish victims, and as a result the victims' faces were disfigured to the point that most were not recognizable.
The responsibility for picking up the corpses in the streets and their burial was placed upon the 'Judenrat'. In spite of this many of those who were caught succeeded in escaping. Some of them were able to bribe the Ukrainian police guard, who turned a blind eye to their escape. However, the larger part of those who returned consisted of persons who had jumped from the train that was taking them to Belzec.
On the other hand a large part of the population felt that the destruction would not reach them. There were those who hoped that with the help of God, or with the help of a 'miracle', they would be granted life until the coming victory, and be able to witness revenge on the enemy.
This part of the population felt that with time they would prevail, and that the main problem was how to hang in there under all circumstances and under all conditions. These people were under the illusion that whoever succeeded in holding out during this 'aktsia', would be assured of staying alive in the coming months.
In the meantime salvation might come. There were those who hoped that the war would end, or that the Nazis would be forced to end their murderous activities, because of the pressure of world public opinion.
They heard nothing in Buczacz about Treblinka or Auschwitz, and with regard to the Belzec camp many tended to believe (at least during the first period), that it was not an extermination camp, but only a labor camp.
The Nazis, in order to make their work easier, wanted the Jews to live with such illusions, and all their planning was directed toward this goal, to the point where they themselves would spread good rumors. They divided the Jewish population into carriers of 'good' certificates (skilled workers, specialists), which made one immune to the 'aktsias', and into those who carried regular certificates.
The purpose of the interludes between one murderous period and the next was also to reinforce the illusion that all would be well. The interludes sometimes lasted several months and sometimes one month. Meanwhile life made its own demands, and between one 'aktsia' and the next the Jews of Buczacz tried to carry on the best they could.
They loved and hated, envied and competed, and searched for ways to make a living, etc There was also much resentment on the part of the poor toward the rich, because the poor were the first candidates for extermination (mostly because of their lack of means to build good hiding places) and they were hit the worst by hunger and the epidemics.
A moral decline was felt among a large part of the youth, and the most widespread slogan was: 'This way Fedor and that way Fedor' (no matter how we conduct ourselves, our ultimate fate is on the Fedor). There was no way to make a living. The Jews followed the dictum, 'make your living one from the other.' Of course, they also traded with the Christians, but from time to time various edicts were enacted to prevent any contact between the two groups.
The most common form of trade with the Christians was 'barter,' or as they called it then 'minyalo.' In this market one did not use currency, but paid with clothes, furniture or other valuables for basic food necessities. For a fur coat, for example, one could get a certain number of potatoes, for a gold watch, a certain amount of flour, etc.. The prices in this 'barter' market were, understandably, dependent upon the season and were subject to change.
Cultural life was also not entirely neglected. Whoever was able to do so looked after their children's education. I do not remember by whom, and how, the thousands of children in the town were educated during the period of the first occupation. However, if one is to judge by my own case, I think, that even in this area not a little was accomplished.
My father, of blessed memory, made great efforts to continue my education and that of my sisters. He did it either because he felt that very little time was left for us to acquire an education, or because he wished to remove us from our environment of persecution and humiliation, to an environment of Torah and learning.
I had time to finish only five grades of public school before the Nazi invasion. There were three grades in the Polish school, until l939; a year in a Yiddish grade (l939-l940), and a year in a Russian grade (l940-l94l).
As is known, with the Russian entry into western Ukraine in l939, the government established Yiddish schools in the Jewish centers, in accordance with the principle of the cultural and linguistic autonomy of each and every nationality within the Soviet Union. This arrangement was abolished in l940 and, I believe, no one was sorry to see it happen.
This Yiddish school created many problems. First, there were no competent teachers (the principal of the school was a Ukrainian named Lutsiov); there were no textbooks for most of the subjects, and there was no coordinated program.
The result was a very low standard of education. But the basic problem was that the grades that followed were all in Ukrainian or Russian, and the transfer of children from a Yiddish school to continuing grades in Russian or Ukrainian, was bound to create problems both for the class and the student.
Obviously five years of such fragmented learning could not give a child what he would learn in five consecutive years at one school and in one language. My father taught me math, reading and writing. I learned Hebrew and Hebrew grammar with the teacher, Chaim Koffler, who lived in our neighborhood. I learned Bible and Talmud with the 'Pinsker.'
The 'Pinsker', or as was his full name, Rabbi Yosef Halevi of the Horowitz family, was, until the Russian Revolution, a rabbi in Pinsk. With the outbreak of the Revolution he fled to Poland, like many others of the 'Klei Kodesh' (religious ministrants). His wife and two daughters remained in Russia, and the rabbi knew nothing about what happened to them during all those years.
The 'Pinsker', as he was known among the people, was a Torah genius, learned and erudite. He established new interpretations of the Torah, and he was a fiery Zionist (a member of Mizrachi, I believe).
I don't know what the rabbi was doing in the years l9l9-l940, even though he talked to me a lot about it. I believe that he used to travel from town to town, and from village to village, in Poland, as a maggid (itinerant preacher), preaching and advocating a return to the land of Israel.
His appearance bespoke dignity. A long white beard framed his face and his words were like sparks of fire, brilliant and witty, and they were flavored with a subtle but sharp humor. To this day I remember several of the Pinsker's speeches, that he used to read to me in the evenings. They made a very strong impression on me.
In l940, for some reason, the rabbi settled permanently in Buczacz. There he gathered a group of students around him and disseminated Torah study. With the Nazi invasion, and because there was no possibility of attending a school, my father decided that I too should study with the 'Pinsker' (until then I had private lessons with Kirshner).
After a short time I did very well in these studies. I became very close to the rabbi and his influence on me was tremendous. Even though a long white beard framed his face, he was a considerably progressive man, with a broad general knowledge, and well informed about the ways of the world.
From among the group of students that he had four of us have survived: Mordechai Halpern, Menachem Kriegel, Yona Tsaler and I. Three of us became in the meantime 'apikorsim' (skeptics), while Yona Tsaler is still keeping the 'flame' alive, and is a student at the Ponevich Yeshiva in Bnei Brak.
On winter evenings the 'Pinsker' liked to reminisce about Bialik, with whom he had studied together at the Volozhin Yeshiva, and about different Zionist personalities. He especially liked to tell humorous tales about the 'rebbis' (Chasidic rabbinic leaders). He himself was, like all the Halevi Horwitz family, a strong 'mitnaged' (opponent of Chasidism).
Another person who had much influence on me at that time was, as I mentioned earlier, my Hebrew teacher, Chaim Koffler. He succeeded in bringing out in me a love of the Hebrew language, and within a short time, relatively speaking, I knew the language and grammar fairly well.
I recall at that time we went over the novel, The Love of Zion, by Mapu. The book made an enormous impression on me and planted within me a strong love of Zion. With what love and longing did my teacher read to me, and explain those chapters which describe the Judean hills, Jerusalem, and the life of joy and tranquillity in the lap of nature. Once he even expressed his feeling that he would never forgive himself for not realizing his lifelong dream of going to Israel and settling there.
All his life he preached to others to go to Israel, but he himself did not go. He had by then already lost his two sons - Hebrew teachers also - and his crippled daughter was with him. A year later he died of typhoid fever (if I recall correctly), and his wife and daughter were lost in one of the 'aktsias.' It was said that the Nazis wanted to take his wife to the Belzec transport train, but they wanted to leave the crippled daughter behind (in order to kill her in the immediate vicinity). However, the mother refused to be separated from her daughter, and both were shot by the murderers in their apartment.
Jews were permitted to live in the western section only. The reason is understandable - to make the work easier for the Nazis. Every Jew who was found in the second section, would be punished by death, along with the Christian, at whose place he was caught.
And again there was horrendous crowding, poverty and shortages. But the Nazis saw to it that the excessive crowding in town would not last, and a month after the second murderous aktsia, that is in March l943, the town was suddenly surrounded by powerful Gestapo forces and Ukrainian militia units.
The third 'aktsia' had begun, and it was the most terrible of all that had taken place previously. For almost three days and nights the blood thirsty beasts of prey went mad, and the number of casualties in those three days and nights came to 2800.
My family left the apartment on Koscielna Street, which was in the Christian section, and we moved to my uncle's place in Folkenflok's house, on Podhayetska Street.
On the other side of that street, in a small house, the residents had built one of the best bunkers in town. From the basement they dug a seven meter deep tunnel, and from there they extended a trench which was several dozen meters long, and about three meters wide.
The entrance into the basement was through a well concealed stove. The entrance from the basement into the bunker was also extremely well concealed. Even if the Nazis discovered the basement, it is unlikely that they would have succeeded in discovering the hiding place.
When the rumor spread at night about the approaching 'aktsia', several of us went down into that bunker. The entrance was most complicated and was particularly difficult for the older people.
A special challenge was involved in taking my uncle down, because he was crippled in both legs (having been wounded during World War I). The bunker was closed and covered up by someone on the outside. That person had to seek shelter elsewhere, and at the end of the 'aktsia' he was supposed to come and inform us that the aktsia was over.
After a 24 hour stay in the bunker we felt a serious shortage of air. The air tube had been blocked, it seemed, and we were facing the danger of suffocation. A match could not be lit because of the absence of air. Women started to faint, and breathing became unbearably difficult.
As for me, I was a very healthy youth and during all those hours when the danger of being suffocated threatened us, I was in a deep sleep and didn't feel what was going on around me. Because of the danger to individual lives, and the risk to the bunker as a whole, several men went up at night and dug an additional opening for air to come through. This way we felt some relief.
During this 'aktsia,' unlike the earlier ones, they did not transport the people to Belzec. They transferred them, in groups of 50 people, to the 'Fedor', and killed them there with machine guns. The harvest of death was formidable, as was already pointed out: almost 2800 souls.
The streets were strewn with dozens of bodies of those who had attempted to escape during the transfer to the 'Fedor.' The Christians from the area pillaged and laid waste to the Jewish homes. As soon as the rumor spread in the villages that the 'murderous activities' were taking place in town, the farmers immediately rushed to town to plunder and to seize the spoils.
There were even those who removed gold teeth from the mouths of the victims and removed the gold rings from their fingers. Some of them cut off fingers to make it easier to remove rings. In contrast there were few cases when Christians actually did something, for humane reasons, to save Jews.
It was said that on the 'Fedor' one woman, Dr. Gross, addressed her fellow victims, before she was taken out to be shot. She denounced the murderers as 'heroes' against an unarmed population, and she prophesied for them a speedy end and vengeance for their crimes. She was taken first to be shot, and they even mutilated her body.
Had there been any illusion whatsoever, before this 'aktsia', about the fate of those who were captured in previous murderous actions, and taken to Belzec, this massacre, committed in the open and in public, proved to those who were still deluding themselves, that only one fate awaited all those whom the Nazis targeted.
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