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[Page 505]

Destruction of Chelm

 

The Slaughter of the Jews in Chelm

by Lazar Kahan, America

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

This was written as soon as the news of the death march reached America.

A slaughter of Jews took place in Chelm on the first day of the month of December [1939]. The Hitlerists shot hundreds of Chelm Jews! At the beginning, nebulous rumors circulated about the gruesome death; it was difficult to find out the truth about this violence. Of course, we were unable to learn any facts. Chelm, of course, lies far from here. The city was also severed from the Soviet realm, so that Jewish refugees seldom emerged through there. And if a Jew from that area did sometimes escape from that gehenem [hell], he remained in a small shtetl in Wolyn or in Galicia and the world did not know what happened there.

In the beginning of January 1940, we first received conclusive information about the ruthless slaughter of the Chelm Jews. Several young halutzim [agricultural pioneers, whose goal was to settle in Eretz-Yisroel] from Chelm arrived who had actually left there before the slaughter of the Jews had been carried out there. However, they received the news from there from several Chelm Jews who were saved from the slaughter. In addition to this, a woman also came, who had been in Chelm until the middle of December and herself had been present for all of the horrible events in Chelm.

On the basis of this information and particularly on the basis of what was said by an eye witness to everything that occurred in Chelm, I now have the opportunity to tell the world all of the frightening details of the slaughter of the Jews in Chelm.

The slaughter of the Jews was carried out on the first day of the month of December, as said. However, the Germans had occupied Chelm at the beginning of October. In the course of two months, the Nazi youth in Chelm did not have idle hands. Earlier, they did “something” to the local Jews before their savage death.

Let us first acquaint ourselves with the persecution that the Hitlerists imposed on the Jews in the first two months. We will not stop at any “trivialities” – on grabbing Jews for work, on arresting Jews and torturing them, which, for example, happened to Dr. Zajfen, a popular Jewish community worker in Chelm. He was arrested because he was said to have declared that a Hitlerist newspaper was a rag… He was tortured terribly in jail and it is said that he no longer is alive…

These were all “trifles.” And here we will jot down several events that were characteristic of the Hitleristic administrators in Chelm. Similar persecutions also took place in other cities in the German area of occupation. However, Chelm was a bit of an exception in the forms and manner of torture.

The first fear was tossed down onto the Chelm Jews by an announcement that was posted on the Chelm

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streets on the 7th of October. A fat line, “We warn the Jews,” published in German and Polish, drew attention. These words were published with bright white letters both in German and in Polish. With smaller letters it was announced that whereas the Jews were spreading rumors that the Russian army would ostensibly return to Chelm, the German commanding officer disclosed that all of the rumors were false and the Jews were warned not to spread such lies…

A thick, dark cloud in the sky was cast over the Chelm Jews. They felt that now would begin a series of decrees and persecution against them and so it was. A few days later the Germans began to grab Jews for work, both men and women. A series of wanton plundering began. The Germans also were occupied with “Europeanizing” the Jews, that is, with cutting and pulling beards.

An eye witness in Chelm told me the following particulars of how this Hitlerist “work” appeared in Chelm: By chance, I was then at a dentist at the market. Suddenly we heard a tumult. We ran to the window and we saw such a picture of arbitrariness and moral as well as physical torture. A horde of Polish boys and girls as well as older Poles stood at the market and German soldiers and officers arranged a “spectacle” for themselves and for the Poles.

Jews were caught at first to clean and to polish the German autos that stood at the market. Poles also helped to catch the Jews or pointed: “Jude”… Then the Germans, again with the help of the Poles, grabbed Jews, mostly with beards, and forced them to push motorcycles and autos… If a Jew did not carry out this work in the way the German wanted, he would leap from the motorcycle, beat the Jew and step on him with his feet… They plucked out the beards of many Jews… The Nazi brutes even tore out a beard along with the flesh of one Jew…

Here, by chance, the rabbi of Chelm passed. He was a young man, tall, good looking, had graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy from a Viennese university and received rabbinical ordination from his now deceased father-in-law, the previous Chelm rabbi. The Hitlerists had a weakness for tormenting good looking Jews and for torturing rabbis. The Germans found both things in the Chelm rabbi… a rabbi and a good looking one… It was no surprise that they so vilely tortured him.

First of all, the barbarians shaved off the rabbi's beard. The mob of Poles, who stood around, were delighted with pleasure… Then the rabbi was asked to push an auto; when he did not carry out this “work” well – they beat him… Later, the Hitleristic inquisitors forced the rabbi to clean out the horse manure from the market…

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And he had to do this dirty work with his hands and clean it out so that there would be no sign [of dirt] left over… To great laughter from the mob, the sadists forced the rabbi to pack the horse manure in his hat and to immediately put on his cap…

This shameful spectacle, which was carried out at the market opposite the City Hall, made a shocking impression on the Jews in Chelm. The representatives of the kehile [organized Jewish community] ran to the German commanding officer to intervene, but it was of no help. Meanwhile, the “performance” continued.

When the Germans released the rabbi after the shameful torturing they caught Jews with beards, they cut and tore out beards and even set fire to the beards of several Jews. Then they dragged Jews with burning beards to the fence and poured water on them without end… The Jews were drenched and, as it was cold, they caught colds from this “shower” and became sick…

It is easy to picture how the Chelm Jews felt after such a “spectacle” at the market… A few weeks passed calmly – an uncommon event. Then, atrocities again occurred.

This was in the beginning of November. A flying brigade from the Hitlerist assault troops with the insignia of the black totenkopf [death head] entered Chelm. In one day this punishment expedition carried out a pogrom against the Chelm Jews and administered severe torture.

The flying brigade was divided into groups; each group had a list of a score of rich Jewish men and rich businessmen whom the Storm Troopers had to “visit.” They announced their “visits” through soldiers. They set aside a separate hour for each rich Jew. And ordered all of the residents of a house to be in the home at the appointed hour – if not it would be bitter…

The task of the Storm Trooper flying brigade was: rob the money, gold, silver and the objects of value from all of the Jews in one day. And this happened after the kehile had already paid contributions twice: once 140,000 zl. and the second time – 180,000 zlotes

However, the Nazi Youth had information from their local Volks-Deutschen [ethnic Germans living in Poland] and from Polish “informers” that more money was still with the Jews in Chelm – the S.S. had to rob it. They went from house to house and robbed money and other expensive objects from the Jews.

As soon as they entered a Jewish house they tore off the rings from the fingers and took the watches and other things of value. Then they began to make audits. Everyone had to get completely undressed – even the women and small children.

When Jewish women did not want to undress naked, the S.S. bandits cynically said:

– “We do not need your body… You have nothing
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to be ashamed of… we are only looking for money and jewelry…”
If they found large sums of money, more or less appropriate to the information they had about each, they took it and left. If they received less than the Jew should have possessed according to their information – they began to torture and beat all of the residents of the house.

Their tactics were then thus: For example, they took the man in one room, the woman in a second room and the children in separate rooms. In another way, in each room they beat, tortured, threatened with shooting. Jews were thus beaten and wounded during these executions so that they lay sick in bed for many days after…

The murderers tortured one weak Jew extraordinarily ruthlessly. His wife could not bear her husband's moans and screams. She jumped to the balcony in order to throw herself from it and commit suicide. The brutes caught her by the clothing, pulled her back into the room and began to cruelly beat her and trample her with their feet, why did she want to take her own life…

In the morning, the Storm Troopers left and after the pogrom, it was again quiet for a few weeks.

Then the following ruthless slaughter of the Jews took place:

On the 30th of November, the German command gave orders to the kehile managing committee that on the 1st of December in the morning, all of the Jews 15 to 60 must appear at the market. No one knew what this would signify. The kehile managing committee immediately informed all of the Jews about this order. This order evoked an understandable unease and panic among the Jews. The rich and the more secure Jews immediately decided to escape. A few hundred Jews left for the surrounding shtetlekh and villages in order to hear from afar what the Germans had done with the Jews at the market. Hundreds of Jews hid with Christian acquaintances, or hid in closed up cellars, in stalls and did not appear at the market on the 1st of December.

However an enormous group did appear. The number that was found at the market was estimated at 18,000. This was at 9 o'clock in the morning. The hundreds of Jews at the market had to stand in rows. The Jews at the market did not know what awaited them. The Hitlerists had spread rumors that the Jews would be exchanged for Germans in the Soviet realm and that those assembled would be sent to the Soviet Union. Many Jews were satisfied with this, that they would be finished with all of the Hitlerist edicts. Not all of the Jews at the market were desperate.

When the Jews were already assembled and standing in rows, a German officer arrived and gave a speech – a speech full of defamations and curses on Jews.

Then an entire horde of Gestapo agents arrived on

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bicycles. They checked all of the assembled Jews and took all the money that people had with them from everyone, as well as their passports and documents. During the pause, several Jewish doctors who also had appeared at the market turned to the officers [and said] that they had to go to the hospital to the sick and asked to be let out. They were freed. The officers also let out a score of Jewish craftsmen who showed notes that they worked for the Germans…

However, the great mass of Jews remained at the market where they were held until 12:30 in the afternoon. When the Germans had bullied the Jews enough, searched and robbed them, they ordered the gathered Jews to sing Jewish melodies… But not one Jew opened his mouth to sing… The Gestapo agents were angry and began to beat the Jews so that they would sing… The Jews sang…

They sang “cheerful” melodies, mainly Rebeka, which the Gestapo agents had demanded… But this was not a cheerful song. This singing was soaked through with blood and tears.

At around 12:30 in the afternoon the gathered Jews were told to stand in rows of four people and to begin marching out of the city. The Jews were taken through the main streets to the road that went to Hrubieszow, 50 kilometers from Chelm. They were not led quickly in the city. As soon as they reached the highway, the Gestapo agents on the bicycles began to ride quickly and forced the mass of Jews to run after the Germans on the bicycles.

The Jews were accompanied by 60 armed Gestapo agents. If a Jew lagged a bit behind the group, he received blows. A few hundred Jewish women ran behind the group. They wanted to know what would happen to their husbands and children. The Gestapo agents forced the women who staggered from behind back to the city. However, many women hid on the side roads and followed for a score of kilometers after the Jews being dragged away. These women, who returned to the city in the evening, brought appalling news about the “march” of the mass of Jews…

They said that they heard shooting several times, that they themselves saw a few score corpses in graves even in the middle of the road…

There was a tumult in the city. What could be done besides crying and shouting? On Shabbos many women went away in small wagons to look for their husbands among the corpses. But they learned from the peasants that the Germans had immediately buried those shot – 50 men to a grave… The women only saw blood stains on the road… Jewish wounded were found in several villages. They had been taken away to surrounding shtetlekh and many of them were saved.

Sunday in the morning, a peasant brought a letter from the 16-year-old, Mietek Welczer to his grandfather stating that he was still alive and was with the peasant. The peasant was immediately asked to

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bring the grandson, changed into the clothes of a gentile boy, back to Chelm. The peasant was well paid and on Monday he brought the young boy. Mietek, the young boy, was the first one who described the facts about the murderous slaughter of the Jews for the Chelm women and old men. The following is what he described:

“My father, Hersh Welczer, a rich Jewish manufacturing merchant, and I found ourselves in the middle of the large marching group. As soon as we arrived beyond the city, the Gestapo agents began to chase the Jews. Not everyone had the stamina to go through the march. If a Jew just stopped and remained behind the group, he was shot without hesitation.

“When we found ourselves 10-12 kilometers from Chelm, the Gestapo agents stopped the group, chose 20 of the youngest and best looking Jews in the group and the group was again chased. The 20 chosen Jews were taken away by several agents into a woods. We then heard several shots… Then nothing… We were not permitted to turn around. We were threatened with shooting… Later, we only saw that the Gestapo agents returned without the 20 Jews… We understood what had happened to them…

“In around half an hour, the Germans again stopped the march, again chose the 20 best looking Jews and also led them to a woods. This time we only heard screaming and not shooting…

“When we went 30 kilometers and found ourselves not far from Bialopole, my father became so tired out that he whispered to me: he would remain behind the group and I would go further… I understood what this meant and said to my father that I would die with him… We were then located at the end of the group.

“Suddenly things became bad for my father. He remained behind. I also stopped and led my tired father to the side. A Gestapo officer came galloping and began to beat my father. Everything became clear to me – I delivered a push to the officer and he fell down… However, the officer immediately stood up and gave me a terrible push, so that I fell into a grave… He shot several time at my father. I lost consciousness.

“However, I heard two bullets fly by my head… As in a dream, I saw that the grave was being lit with reflectors… I recovered in a few minutes. I saw that the group was far away. Apparently, the Germans thought I was dead. Several corpses lay around me. I began to search for my father and found him severely wounded. I wanted to save him.

“By chance, an auto went by in which sat several Poles. I asked them for a little benzene to wash around my father's wounds. However, they did not give any benzene. I saw cottages in the distance; I

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ran to ask for a little water. But the peasants were afraid to give me a little water… Finally, one peasant gave me water and he himself went to help me save my father. The peasant and I carried my dying father to a Jewish villager. They tried to save my father, but the agony of death did not last long; he died… I remained with the peasant and, later, sent a note with him to the Jews…”
This is the terrible account of a 16-year old young boy who was saved from Nazi bullets by a miracle. And what happened to the crowd of Jews? The others who were saved said: More than half were shot by the Germans and murdered on the road. Many were wounded and escaped to the surrounding villages. A sum total of 300 living Chelemer Jews arrived in Hrubieszow… There they were held in a stall for 24 hours without food and without anything to drink. Then the Germans in Hrubieszow also organized a bloody game at the market, took the 300 Chelemer Jews and a few hundred Jews from Hrubieszow and dragged them together to the Bug. At the bank of the river, the Germans

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stopped the dragged Jews and forced them to go over to the Soviets. However, the Red Army did not permit the Jews to cross. Scores of Jews threw themselves in the Bug. The swimmers somehow went over to the Soviet side and were not stopped by anyone. The Jews who could not swim were drowned in the Bug… A few hundred Jews, who remained on the bank, were then taken away by the Germans to somewhere in a concentration camp…

In addition to the already mentioned Hersh Welczer (his widow and his orphans later escaped from Chelm to Wolyn), the following popular Chelm Jews were shot during the slaughter: Dr. Oks, the photographer, Rozenblat, the three Lewensztajn brothers – rich iron merchants, Gamulke, a former lieutenant in the Polish military and Itshe Sznicer, owner of the perfumery, Sklad… Their dead bodies were then handed over by the peasants who knew them to their orphaned families. The other Jews who were shot were, as has been already said, buried in mass graves of 50 men in a grave…

[Pages 511-512 bottom]

(Photos:

Top right, caption: Reb Matye Finker, of blessed memory (brother of Chene Zigelboim), whom the Hitler murderers annihilated.

Bottom right, caption: Betzalel Goldman, of blessed memory

Center, caption: Tzipe Gewant with her children all perished in the gas ovens of Sobibor.

Top left, caption: Lipe Goldman, may he rest in peace, perished in Chelm from the Hitler tragedy.

Bottom left, caption: Chene and Chana, the daughters of the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], Reb Pinye Szajdwaser, may the memory of a righteous person be blessed, who were annihilated by the Hitler murderers.)


[Page 513]

The Death March – Chelm-Hrubieshow-Sokal

by Ben-Tzion Bruker, Israel

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

(Photo, caption: Ben-Tzion Bruker)

My hands tremble writing and my heart hurts from all that has been told of the destruction of Chelm. Nightmares, specters and pictures of the annihilation of my blood and flesh appear, of people who are close with whom I was brought up and lived… Every language is too poor and pale to describe the death of the martyrs and will be too mild to express the brutal stories of the murders. The survivors, Shlomo Atlas and Ahron Josef Wajnsztok, suffered through the Chelm-Hrubieshow-Sokal death march.

I heard how their voices trembled as they spoke… They could not forget each horrible day of slaughter that took place only a few years ago…We Chelemer Jews also must not forget…

I write the savage facts told with bloody words. All of our brothers and sisters, who are spread across the world, need to tell their children and their children's children these recorded stories, so that they will be engraved in their memories for eternity. The Chelm-Hrubieshow-Sokal death march, which was a depraved chapter of martyrdom, was the vicious start of the destruction of Chelm.

* * *

Shlomo Atlas and Ahron Josef Wajnsztok told me the following horrible details of the death march:

“The autumn of 1939 was uncommonly beautiful and did not permit the entrance of winter. It was usually dreary and cloudy but, in 1939, it was sunny and bright. Everyone wanted the weather to be the way it was in their hearts because the heart of each Chelemer Jew was then in pain. Death lay in wait from everywhere. Screaming was heard from the tormented Jews and clouds were wanted; that the world should storm… But no! Despite the fact that it was the 1st of December, 1939 – no autumn rain jarred the window panes of the Chelemer Jewish houses. But the “hostages” knocked on the doors and said to be at “Okrąglak” at 8 o'clock in the morning…

The “Okrąglak” (Rinek [marketplace]) is a round place where the center of Chelemer commerce was located. There were

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always merchants, customers, brokers, assessors and ordinary Jews who told of “news” and heard “news.” In 1939, just before the World War, the Polish government – from Koc and Pristarowa[1] - worried little that Hitler was sticking out his paw towards Poland, but worried a great deal that a bunch of Chelemer Jews could have their poor livelihood and under the subterfuge of beautifying Chelm, tried to destroy economically the Jewish merchants; one of their methods was: liquidate the “Okrąglak.” All of the Jewish protests and pleas did not help. The Owshem[2] Premier, Skladkowski, with one stroke of the pen ordered that the shopkeepers on the “Okrąglak” be thrown out and in their place a park would be created. However, the Polish government was not successful in placing a park in this place. Therefore, the Hitler devils had an empty spot for the Chelemer Jews.

No one wished to go to the “gathering.” They went to neighbors and sought advice: why would they be calling the men – from 15 to 60 years old? One said that it probably was because of the yellow patches, a second interpreted it as a new contribution [money demanded from the Jews]. They consoled themselves with smelling salts, but for several, their hearts beat fiercely. They had premonitions of the maliciousness. Some stubbornly decided not to go, considered where to hide, run to the other side. But a number went to “ Okrąglak” out of “curiosity.”

At 8:30 in the morning, several score of Jews were assembled at the “ Okrąglak.” The arriving Jews consoled themselves: Well, lost, we will see what will be; what happens to all of the Jews will also happen to us. And thus the Jews gathered and the number gathering grew minute by minute.

At eleven o'clock in the morning a group of about 2,000 Jews was already assembled and immediately realized that they were in a dark vise. A thick cordon of armed S.S. men surrounded them on all sides and the tragic spectacle began.

A band of S.S. men were let out on a rampage against the Jews. With sadistic pleasure they “enjoyed themselves” with the Jews with beards. The doctors were immediately murderously beaten: Walberger and Oks. The red crosses on their arms were spat upon. The screaming and crying from those beaten reached to the very heavens and they were joined by the crying and laments of the wives and children who watched from the balconies and windows. Each thrust from the wives and children who tried to snatch their unfortunate fathers, husbands and brothers was pushed back by the blue-eyed beasts. There was crying and shouting: men, women and children.

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But no one heard their shouts. The S.S. men and the Poles watching with hate responded to the shouts of the Jews with cynical laughter. This was not only a gehenim [hell] because this word is too poor to explain, too modest to record the dramatic scenes which took place then.

The violence and the beating stopped the moment when an oberleutnant [senior lieutenant, a commissioned officer], whose strange face was deeply engraved in our memories, appeared. The oberleutnant ordered: “Everything you have with you should be freely given up! If not when we – on the road – find somebody with something, we will shoot 20 Jews as punishment.”

Entire sacks of Jewish possessions were gathered by the S.S. beasts. It was decreed that everyone stand in rows of six people, take off their hats and sing. Meanwhile, the S.S. men surrounded everyone. The bangs of their rubber clubs, their wild animal screams resounded and at 12 o'clock, the 1st of December, 1939, the great, great grandchildren of the “mourners of Zion” with bare heads were forced to sing “Deutschland, Deustchland über alles [“Germany above all”]. They left the city Chelm where they were born and lived so many years. All of those who had just set foot on the “Okraglak” were taken out of the city. With them went many Jews whom the cannibals caught in the streets and found in their homes. The procession was accompanied by wives and children who were brutally repelled.

The S.S. bandits, who rode horses and went on bicycles, constantly chased the Jews. We were not allowed to go slowly. They followed in autos with ammunition. They were also accompanied by heavy machine guns. We saw that those who stopped were lined up to be the first victims. And right outside the city, the first victim fell. This was Menasha the headstone engraver's son (Mandelbaum). He, alas, was lame and could not keep up, so his fate was immediately sealed.

But those not lame and other invalids stopped. It was impossible for everyone to endure the pursuit by the S.S. animals. Therefore, many “stopped” and in fact the bullets from the pistols were heard. With each shot a Jewish victim fell and remained lying on the road. The road was covered with the dead… Birds of prey went to help – the Polish and Ukrainian peasants – and began to rummage in the still bloodied pockets,

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removing the last remaining things from them and then they took off the clothing and carried home dos groyse gevins [the jackpot]. The peasants came from every village and watched the bloody show with pleasure. But from one village, the peasants came with bread and wanted to give it to the barely living Jews, but the brown beasts repelled them.

Josef Wajnsztok related: “ A peasant woman wanted to give me a piece of bread, but she could not give it to me and she did not want to throw it in the mud. But I told her to throw it in the mud. When I received the muddy piece of bread, I shared it with Lipe Herc's son. The muddy piece of bread was like bread and butter or marmalade for we hungry ones then.”

(Photo, caption: Living witnesses of the death march.
From the right: Ahron Josef Wajnsztok and Shlomo Atlas, who survived and are now in Israel)
“When the death procession was 13 kilometers from Chelm – at the Poplawicz Forest – the oberleutnant ordered that they stop, declaring that the Jews had tried to escape and as a punishment he would shoot 25 Jews. Said and done. The totenkopf[3] heroes chose 25 Jews, among them the Rozenblat brothers (owners of the photo-business, Sztuka), Zajdenfeld the tailor and my sister's son. The Jews were driven five meters deep into the forest and immediately shooting was heard. Twenty-five martyrs fell then with Shema Yisroel[4] on their lips…”

“The six S.S. men returned from this 'work' calmly, with a casual smile, and the 'death march moved again. We actually ran because knowing that stopping in the line meant death,' everyone tried to run, to push themselves ahead. One ran after the other; the road was narrow and everyone could not go on it. Therefore, many ran in the ditches and every Jew who fell in a ditch was shot. And thus the ditches became full of corpses…

An episode occurred: The tailor, Berl Guterman, bound his white beard with a piece of cloth.

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The old Jew could not go farther, so he sat and cried… An animal, who was born from a human stomach, ordered him to stand up. The old Jew asked for permission to rest a little, but a bullet was the answer to his request and a red stripe of blood flowed over the white beard.

“The elder of the purse making guild, the parnes [elected member of the organized Jewish community] Herszberg, also fell. His wide coat spread out and the bullet only made a hole in the coat. But Herszberg fell unconscious from fear. The S.S. member thought that he had shot him. Herszberg remained lying there, then he escaped to the Russian border and crossed it in peace.

“We ran with our last strength… We threw off our coats and jackets. Our feet became covered with pokhires (blisters); we took off our shoes… The wounds opened and blood colored the black muddy road. Large puddles of blood gave witness that an unfortunate one of the 'death march' had passed. I, Wajnsztok, had trudged with him, but an S.S. man shot him. For helping the doctor, I received an iron glove over my head from an S.S. man…[5]

“The S.S. men were 'humanitarians' – they were unable to look at the dead bodies. They ordered two Jews to bury the dead. The Jews dug graves with their last strength and when their graves were completed, two shots were heard and the gravediggers fell into the graves…

“Our strength ran out: no eating or drinking for the entire day. Toward evening a peasant wagon appeared with bread; the S.S. men purposely threw the bread in the air so that it would fall on the heads of the unfortunate. The bread actually bounced off their heads and fell into the mud. The people grabbed the bread and divided the last morsel. We took water with our hats from the mud and that is how we drank. Two Jews tried to go to a well, but they were immediately shot.

“Night fell. The S.S. men lit the way with search lights so that no one would dare to escape. A Jew dared to run into the woods, but a German caught him and stuck a dagger through the Jew's spinal cord. Everyone ran unconsciously; we did not know where we were going and how we were going and from where we got the strength… 'I, Shlomo Atlas, with my own strength led Helfer, the perfume merchant, and another Jew.

“The wild screaming of the Hitlerists quieted down a little. The crack of the rubber clubs was also quieter. Only the rush of the autumn wind, the heavy breathing of the tortured Jews was heard...

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“From the distance small fires appeared – these were the lamps in Hrubieshow. We neared Hrubieshow. It was exactly four o'clock at night.

“A storehouse, where the Jewish merchant kept his flax, stood a kilometer before Hrubieshow. This storehouse was the 'night hotel' for the Jews surviving the 'death march.' But entering the 'hotel' was not so easy. The S.S. men again had to count how many living victims they still had and they counted with whips. Each Jew entered the 'hotel' bloodied. From the counting it was shown that only 800 remained of the approximately 2,000 Chelm Jews who had left Chelm on the same day at 12 o'clock. All of the old and weak were dead somewhere in the ditches and the living in the 'hotel' envied them.

“The few Jews just squeezed together in the storehouse and in the attic. They did not sleep; they lay unconscious. They could not breathe and they also could not move. They wanted the night to last forever. But the world remains the world: the night disappeared and in came the dawn which threw streaks of light through the small crevices and holes in the warehouse. The points of light threw fear in the squeezed together, helpless Jews. Everyone, being sure that the end of their life would come today, said Vide [confession of sins on Yom Kippur]. But they could not think for long; the wild screaming of the S.S. men – “Heraus, heraus! [out, out] ...” interrupted the thoughts of the Jews and they met the morning with an anguished feeling. However, they had to go again.

“There was a small river on the way. Going over the bridge, many Jews threw themselves into the water. The S.S. men shot after them and the water became red with blood. From the distance, we saw many people. These were the Hrubieshow Jews who were people in the same situation as us. And the sadistic whims against the Chelm and Hrubieshow Jews began to be repeated. Jews with beards were chosen for dancing and the impartial lens of a film camera noted it all. One Jew was forced to lower his pants. Yairn, the treasurer of the old age home, was placed to clean the boots of an officer and when he had polished the boots, the officer constantly beat him with a whip. There was no help; the heavens did not hear the shout of Israel and the earth did not shake. Everything remained as it was.

“But it again became worse. The shooting did not cease. Large numbers of victims fell. But all of this did not satiate the blood thirsty sadists.

“The S.S. men dug a pit and threw in the living iron merchants – the Lewensztajn brothers, the perfume merchant Sznicer, Helfer and another Hrubieshow Jew.

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“The continuation of the march was unbearable. There was a downpour from above and underneath, there was terrible mud up to the knees. Shoes, boots remained in the mud. Whoever remained stuck in the mud was shot. One tried to help another. I, Josef Wajnsztok, helped lead Jakov Wlodower (a hairdresser) and Arkel Tenenbaum.”

We looked around a little at the straight road. Our rows were very sparse and many were weary from our pains. A few had the idea of staging a revolt. It should be understood that the idea of a revolt was not connected with saving one's own life, but we only thought of an honorable death – “Let me die with the Philistines.” And in the midst of running, an idea was carried among all of the Jews: “Maybe something should be started, if we dare?” But a quiet, sorrowful look was the answer to the question,

(Photo, caption: Hitler assassins shoot at Chelemer Jews during the Chelm-Hrubieshow-Sokal death march)

that is: “And what will become of our wives and children? – They will shoot all of them!” In the last moments, the worry for their wives and children still lived among the unfortunate, and therefore, the idea of a revolt was tainted.

Another day of sorrow, of pain and death passed. The rows of the Chelemer and Hrubieshow Jews became even sparser. Night came again.

After everything, the road was very muddy. The S.S. men thought of a place – for the Jews to “go to sleep” and, of course, in the mud. The oberleutnant ordered everyone to lie down in the mud with their faces down. The entire area was fenced in with barbed wire. Whoever wanted to raise their head was immediately shot. And the S.S. men stood around and warmed themselves at a bonfire. The searchlights lit the muddy area. A downpour came down from above and everyone murmured in the quietness: - “Look down from heaven and see!” See, God, how the sons of Israel, who said, “Ata Bichartanu” [You have chosen us], sleep here!

In the morning, right with the coming of dawn, the order came to wake up. Every Jew was transformed

[Page 520]
into a muddy mass, from which a pair of eyes looked out in deadly fear. One recognized the other only through his voice.

We again went over the muddy, dirt roads accompanied by the shooting, bangs of the rubber sticks and wild voices. The rain poured down without interruption and this greatly sharpened the joy of the blond barbarians who enjoyed seeing how the rain cascaded over the Jews. The “provisioning” took place in the same way – by throwing bread on the heads and water was given at night when we entered a village.

With precise German accuracy, a plan had already been worked out about how to cause even more humiliation and to cause internal torture. There was a club in the village with a stage. The S.S. members chose the club for a night's lodging and the entrance had to be through the stage. It should be understood that entering had to be by counting and beating with whips. The Jews, not knowing that there was a stage, entered the club quickly and continued to run so that everyone fell off the stage and one fell on the other. They remained lying thus the entire night. It was impossible to move; even to take care of natural needs, one had to empty himself on another. The air was foul, but the Jews were already indifferent to everything. They lay half dead and asked God that the end come even quicker.

However, the end did not come. In the morning, we went to the window to swallow a little of the rain water which freshened the smell a little. We were not permitted to stick out our heads too far; we were threatened with a bullet.

The Nazis chased everyone out onto the street where there was still a downpour. Everyone was arranged on a square, face to face in two rows. The oberleutnant then announced: “Now the time has come and we will no longer chase you – now we will shoot everyone.” A bitter feeling enveloped everyone. Many thought – Would it not have been easier to fall on the road. Several received the announcement with indifference. Children ran to fathers, brothers to sisters; they wanted to be together at the last minute. But the S.S. men did not allow this. A machine gun was erected, ready to shoot. Meanwhile the lieutenant summoned Tenenbaum, the Chelemer photographer, and asked him to take off his coat and lie down on the ground. Tenenbaum lay down with his face up, but the lieutenant ordered him to lie with his face down. He took out his revolver and said: “Now I am shooting you!” Tenenbaum awaited his death. A shot was immediately heard. However, the shot was in the air. But Tenenbaum's black hair turned grey-white. He became an old man.

[Page 521]
The S.S. men again began to count. Only 406 Jews remained. Six more Jews were shot so that the figure could be rounded off. The remaining – it was declared – must go to their “holy land” – to Russia. In addition, they sadistically consoled that they would have the occasion to cross a river that would not be deeper than their chests. One row needed to go through Belz and the other through Sokal. We went in the row that went to Sokal.

The farther road again led through mud up to the knees. There was no strength to go farther. In the last 10 minutes, another 50 Jews were shot. The remaining Jews saw a shtetl in front of their eyes and this was actually the German zone of Sokal.

Very few Jews remained. They were all ordered to sit on the ground. The Poles, who were permitted to enjoy themselves at the expense of the bloodied souls, looked at the Jews as at an amazing site. The Nazi amateur photographers left no stone unturned… Finally an order came to open the bridge and the Jews were let through to the Soviet side. The S.S. members told them that if they came back they would be shot.

The Soviet border guards were surprised by the half-naked, muddied and barefoot Jews… The border guards were frightened and blocked the bridge, not letting anyone go farther. The Jews immediately tried to throw themselves into the water, but the soldiers threw grenades there. The Soviet Sokal garrison was mobilized, taking control of all of the outlets from the bridge.

The news about the Jews on the bridge spread lightning fast among the Sokal Jews. The entire shtetl of Jews came to the bridge. One great joint cry was heard. The Jews of Sokal cried together with us. The terrible picture of the unfortunate Jews demanding their due: “Shout, Israel!” and the Sokal Jews left for the Soviet city commandant asking that the remaining Jews be saved. The request was rejected. Meanwhile the Sokal Jews – young and old – men and women – gathered near the bridge and threw bread, sugar, fruit and so on, over to the bridge Jews. The Jews on the bridge bared their muddied hearts to the Red Army, shouting: “It is better if you shoot us than return us to the Germans!”

A committee of the Soviet boarder guards turned to the Germans asking the reason that the Jews were being deported. They received an answer that the Jews had mounted a rebellion: they attacked the Germans and demanded that they be taken to the Russians. So the cynical answer did not solve the problem and the Jews had to go back. The Jews lay down on the bridge declaring that they would not go back. Because of this, the Soviet commandant decided that two members of the Red Army must

[Page 522]
take each Jew by the hands and feet … and thus they were carried over to the German side.

It was already pitch dark when the small remnant of Jews found themselves face to face with the Germans. Several S.S. members assured the Jews that in the morning they would be able to go home. Now they told the Jews to go to the train station. The S.S. was waiting for the Jews at the train station, accompanied by violent blows. The Jews immediately dispersed and arrived in the nearest village where the village magistrate permitted them to sleep in the school building.

The S.S. assassins could not rest… They set out for the synagogue and chased out all of the Jews to the river. A number immediately went into the water. Those who could swim swam across and others drowned. Others ran along the shore of the river.

“I, Shlomo Atlas, swam to a broken bridge. But with luck, a board from the bridge lay on the other shore. I went onto the posts of the bridge and going deep into the water I reached the other shore. Then the rest came over to the other shore in such a manner.

Wandering on the other shore, we met Jewish members of the Red Army who took us to the office of the border guards and instead of giving us a bed for the night, they arrested us. Despite all efforts by the Sokal Jews, we sat in jail for a month and in the end, the commandant instructed that we be sent back to the German border. While being led by a Soviet patrol for a distance of 40 kilometers to the other border point a message arrived that there was an order from the Sokal commandant that we should be taken back to the part of Sokal in the Soviet realm.

The Sokal Jews welcomed all of the survivors from the Chelm-Hrubieshow-Sokal death march like their own brothers. They gave us clothes, shoes and fed us for a long time. The first Shabbos, the saved Jews went to the synagogue and gebentsht goyml [said the prayer for escaping from danger]. Alas, five Jews who had been lucky in coming to Sokal died from their wounds in the Sokal hospital.

* * *

At the conclusion, the above mentioned narrators – Atlas and Wajnsztok – ended with the following thank you to the Sokal Jews: “We hold it as our duty – at this opportunity – to express our sincere thanks in the name of the surviving Chelm Jews wherever they are found, all over the world. We stand firm that the Sokal Jews at that time showed full humanity and national solidarity and mercy.


[Page 523]

The Death March

by Y. Herc, Canada

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Thursday night, the 30th of November, 1939, there was a great panic among the Jewish population in Chelm. The Jewish kehile [organized religious community] let it be known that all of the Jews – men from 16 to 65 – should gather in the morning, Friday, the 1st of December, 1939, at 8 o'clock in the square where the stores of the small market stood (the Okrąglak [Rynek or marketplace]) and any men found after that time outside the gathering spot would immediately be shot.

A strong fear fell on everyone. One ran to the other for advice on what to do: go or not go? Why were they calling only the men?

Anshl Biderman, president of the Jewish kehile, personally went from house to house to inform the Jews calmingly that the formal notice from the Germans was only a formality and after everyone listened to the decrees, the Germans would free everyone.

As in every Jewish home in the city, it was also gloomy in our house. No one went to sleep. My mother, sensing the worst, cried without stop through the entire night. All of the men in the house – my father, two brothers and I – did not speak among ourselves. We communicated the fear, pain and worry and anxiety about the fate of the women left behind in the home without any support – a mother and two sisters – with each other only through looks.

We decided that I would go alone to the Okrąglak. The women would remain in the house or go away for a few hours to Christian neighbors and the men would hide for the day.

The morning of the 1st of December, 1939, was cloudy. I said goodbye to all of those dear to me and to my unforgettable parents – Lipe ben [son of] Yehoshaya, may he rest in peace, and Chana bas [daughter of] Nakhum, may she rest in peace, as well as my dear sisters, Chaya, may she rest in peace (she was 18 years old), and Feyge Leah, may she rest in peace (she was nine years old), whom I saw no more, as well as my two brothers Shalom and Fishl – and went with a heavy spirit to the Okrąglak. There was a large group of Jews already assembled: small and large, young and old – fathers and grandfathers with their grandsons. The number of Jews grew larger with every minute. And when the Okrąglak became full of Jews, heavily armed S.S. men marched out from every street and alley

[Page 524]

to the collection point and surrounded all of the gathered Jews.

We immediately had the most frightening premonition, understanding that we were called here not to hear any German orders and arrangements. But we could no longer go back. They immediately stood us in long rows and the Polish police went among the Jews, ordering us to give them everything that we had in our pockets, that if anything were found in someone's pocket, he would immediately be shot. Then an S.S. officer gave a talk, declaring that they were taking “the worthless, lousy and dirty Juden [Jews]” to work. This same officer ordered us to dance and sing songs. I remember how Motele the cabinetmaker (I do not remember his surname) was harshly beaten by an S.S. man during the dancing and he was a strong man, but he could not even go one mile with the death march before he was shot.

Before we moved on the road of death, the S.S. men selected the kehile member, Dr. D. Wlaberger, a small number of craftsmen, such as shoemakers, tailors and others and they remained in Chelm.

After the selection the death march began. The shootings started right after the city hospital and the following first victims fell: the above mentioned Motele Stolier, Mandelbaum (the gravestone engraver who was lame), Palewski and so on. The S.S. ran wildly among the rows of Jews like blood thirsty animals beating with whips and chasing us so that we would run quickly – and anyone who just stopped was immediately shot.

German trucks with armed machine guns drove before and after us. We ran like a flock of sheep clustered together and frightened, ruled by just one feeling: “Run, run – perhaps we will escape from the Hitleristic dogs.” Today, while the international tribunals free the German criminals sentenced to death, it will probably sound laughable and anachronistic, but then each one wanted to survive for only one purpose, in order to see the German defeat and have revenge on them. We exerted our last strength to run ahead and ahead… Shlomo Frajman, who worked for my father, was in the ranks near me.

We were counted in the Poplawiczer Forest, 16 kilometers from Chelm, and the first 20 people were shot by the S.S. a few dozen steps from my row. I heard the cries and pleas of the unfortunate people asking to be allowed to live. After every shot, their cries became weaker, quieter, until it became entirely

[Page 525]

deathly still. One S.S. officer boasted that he had shot “20 swine.” Among these 20 martyrs who were shot in the Poplawiczer Forest were: Ben-Tzion Salon, Feywl Rozenblat and his brother Yakov Rozenblat, Dovid Kornfeld, the photographer with the long hair, Aba Feldmois.

The shootings lasted in this way until Hrubieszow. The number of victims grew larger and the pits along the road from Chelm to Hrubieszow were seeded with the bodies of Jews who could not run, who had been shot. These Jews were particularly those who had sat over a page of gemara [Talmud]; not being able to run, they were among the first victims to fall. It is as if engraved in my memory how Moshe Rozenbaum's brother – lame – ran with great effort, perspiring in only a shirt and with a great panicky fear in his eyes until he fell, crying out: “Jews, save me! They are about to shoot me; Jews save me!” A shot was soon heard and a young Jewish life was annihilated by the beasts in human skin.

Not far from me, Yakov Tenenbaum stood with his father Pesakh, who began to lose his strength near Biala-Pole (25 kilometers from Chelm). Two Jews took him under the arms and dragged him with them. Yakov, his son, could also barely walk. He entered my row and I took him under the arm and “pulled” him with me. In order to encourage him, I also gave him a piece of challah that I kept in my pocket. But he divided the morsel of challah with his father who was being led by the two Jews and they all fell. But it did not last long and they were both shot. It was at a difficult spot to pass over and the son helped the father go over and the Germans noticed this and they killed them.

Children sacrificed their lives to save their parents and the following facts say this very clearly: Grunwald the hatmaker marched with his two sons: one 22 years old and the second – a 15-16 year old. The two sons pulled their father with all of their strength, but the moment arrived when he could not go farther and he pleaded with the children: “Children, leave me, I cannot in any case go another step; I am already old, save yourselves.” The children, crying, pleaded with him to strengthen himself because it was not far to Hrubieszow and they would rest there. Regrettably, the S.S. man observed this and immediately shot the old Grunwald and also the older son who did not want to be separated from his father. The younger son went among the crowd, running with a heart-rending lament for the deaths of his father and brother.

Ephraim Meler (an owner of the import business on Lubelska Street, near the hill) ran with his 15-year old son. At night, when we ran through a thick part of the woods and there were trees along the way,

[Page 526]

the Germans – out of fear that we would try to escape – increased the speed of our run with more continuous shootings. He, Ephraim Meler, did not have any more strength to run and a tall S.S. man – in a steel helmet with a badge of a skull and hung with medals and awards – took him out of the row, shot him in a ditch near the highway. The S.S. man had first shouted out to the son: “Jew, get your father” and also shot him.

Hersh Welczer, Yehoshua Barnholc's son-in-law, ran with his 16-17-year old son, Mietek. They marched together until sundown. At night the Germans began to shoot into the crowd and Hersh Welczer met a bullet. His son, seeing that his father had fallen, ran into the forest and waited until everyone had gone past. After, he looked for his father who was still alive and he dragged him deeper into the woods. He tried to save him but, after a few hours, his father breathed out his soul in his son's arms. His father informed him before his death that he now needed to be the father for the entire family and he should take care of his mother and his younger brother.

Moshe Cwiling, who was called Dwadcat Kopeyeknik[6], when he felt he was losing his strength and the end was approaching, took out a stack of 100 zloti banknotes from his fur and while walking continuously tore the money into pieces, calculating that the Germans would not later benefit from this. Those who walked with him said that in those moments,he had lost his mind.

* * *

At night we arrived in Hrubieszow. We were led into the oakum storehouse of Warman, the Hrubieszow Jew, where we spent the night. We made an account of how many Jews were murdered during the course of the day. It appeared that hundreds of Jews were shot on the way. It is difficult for me to calculate all of the names of those shot along the road. I only remember the following murdered: Berele's son, Fishl's two sons (Lewensztajn), Yakov Yehoshua, the owner of the hotel – Achtman, who worked with the notary public; Moshe Wilder; Beyle Trayst's son, Yakov; Yitzhak Szlechter (came from France); the alderman Szajn; the bookkeeper Fryd.

I was side by side together with Shlomo Frajman in the storehouse. We were all hungry and very thirsty and tired. No one could fall asleep because we did not know what would happen during the coming day and the atrocious scenes and experiences during the course of the day floated before our eyes.

The night passed with great and difficult cold sweats and the morning came. This was early Shabbos, the 2nd of December, 1942. We were again arranged in rows and taken to a place in Hrubieszow where Hrubieszow Jews stood arranged in exactly the same number as in Chelm.

[Page 527]

(Right - photo, caption: Pinkhas Szajdwaser, Chelm shoykhet, perished at the hands of the Hitler murderers

Left – photo, caption: Leibel Szajdwaser, son of the shoykhet, Pinkhas Szajdwaser, who was murdered by the Nazis.)

Then we were taken together and we were chased and shootings again took place. The weaker, older Hasidic Jews in their traditional costumes lagged behind and they were shot.

We were taken from Hrubieszow by the Storm Troopers (S.A. [Sturmabteilung]), who leaving Hrubieszow, had dug a pit and thrown in six living Jews who could no longer walk: Josef Lewensztajn, Gomulke (Lewensztajn's brother-in-law), Sznicer from the apothecary storehouse on Lubelske Street, Avraham Helfer (apothecary storehouse) and two more Jews whose names I do not remember.

The director of the Chelm Tarbut school, Bloch, wrested himself from a young, blond German's hands, who wanted to shoot him because he wanted to take care of his physical needs. To this day, the picture floats before my eyes of how the young S.S.-man pulled Bloch to the pit and shouted: “Jew into the pit!” And Bloch asked: “I have one wife and one child; give me her life.” And the murderer still dragged him to the pit. Abruptly, he broke from the Hitleristic assassin's hands and ran into the ranks. The German chased him and losing him from his sight he substituted another shot Jew for him.

The road from Hrubieszow was a bloody one. It rained and snowed and we walked with our last strength, until we came to the shtetl, Uhrin (I think that is what it was called). We were given “food” in such a manner: a goods truck arrived with bread and the Germans threw it in the air, photographing how the Jews caught pieces and morsels of bread. They derived pleasure from this spectacle. Then we were again chased. I almost lost my strength.

Night came again. We were driven to a place for the night in a school in a small settlement. It was very crowded and we had to stand on our feet until dawn. And standing this way we took care of our physical needs. The stench from the human excrement was very heavy and we dared not open a window.

[Page 528]

The Germans bolted the doors and windows of the school premises. I was very thirsty because I had swallowed pieces of mud instead of water and in order to quench my thirst I licked the moisture from the window panes. It was a nightmarish night and we could barely wait for morning to come.

We were again placed in rows and chased. Going through villages, the Ukrainian residents wrung their hands over our fate and threw bread.

* * *

Sunday, the 3rd of December, was the third day of our death march. We walked across marshes, mud above the knee and often up to the stomach. I wanted to throw away my coat, but Shlomo Frajman took it from me and wore it for a few hours until it became easier for me.

Hundreds of victims fell on the third day. The S.A-members [storm-troopers] shot almost without interruption. One young S.A.-man distinguished himself with his savagery. I heard how he begged for bullets from one of his comrades because he had none.

I remember well the following savage picture: Feywl Rozenknop – a butcher, a tall, solid person, went into deep mud and sank even deeper. He shouted and pleaded that we offer him a hand, but no one wanted to go to him because they feared for their own lives. He was shot and the large body of Feywl Rozenknop remained stuck in the mud a little bent over and red streams of blood trickled from him without stop.

Seeing all the horrible things, I also became indifferent to death. On the first two days I ran as if crazy and made a superhuman effort in order to remain alive, but then my will to live dulled. Looking at those shot, I imagined that clothing or dead objects had fallen, not people.

I remember when we stopped to rest for an hour, not, God forbid, because of us, but because of the exhaustion of the Germans. Leibl Lewensztajn (Fishl Berele's son), who was half a corpse, came to me then, with a broken hand, holding it in a kerchief tied across his chest and without a coat (he had thrown away his skunk fur coat because it was heavy) and he said to me: “No one can help me any longer. You see that my three brothers were shot in two days, now my turn is coming because I can no longer go along. I will be shot after another kilometer. At least I have been lucky that my son, Motek, is on the other side of the Bug [River] and his life is secure. Yes, it was worthwhile to return from Italy.” (I studied medicine in Italy with his son and we returned home a few months before the war). I tried to calm and console him, but during the second rest stop, he was already in the World of Truth [dead].

[Page 529]

I want to relate these facts: Among the S.A.-murderers was one with the name Buchholtz who could not watch the bloody actions against the Jews and did not laugh at and did not shoot any Jews. In the evening of the third day of the death march, he came to a group of Jews and quietly said: “Have patience, it is not far to the Russian border. We are taking you to the Russians.” His talk encouraged us a little, although we did not have any confidence in any German. As has been told, in the morning, the same German shot Jews on the last day of our march.

Once the Germans got lost in the marshes and night came. The weather was frosty. It snowed a little and the ground was frozen. We lay to rest on the muddy earth. We huddled next to each other seeking a little warmth because the majority of us had thrown off our coats and even our jackets when walking. Many of us also did not have shoes, which lay stuck in the marshes. We were happy that we had pulled our feet out of the marshes. We were very thirsty and, consequently, we sucked the dampness from the mud. The desperation was very great. Several pious Jews, because of bitterness, spoke about God and of his anointed, that God was not just, and concluded that there was great doubt if He was anywhere here.

After the night here we again went. This was Monday, the 4th of December. We were again chased and again we were shot. We came to a village, Zulabicz (I think) at 12 noon where we were counted and seeing that according to their plan of annihilation there were too many Jews, they removed Jews from the rows to shoot.

There, near a whisky brewery, the 400 Jews were divided into two parts, seating us with one group opposite the other. The owner of the brewery began to befriend the Germans, calling out that the “Zydes” had still not been killed enough and that they are guilty for everything. The German officer stood two machine-guns opposite us, aimed at each group of Jews. He gave a speech, concluding that this was now our end – we would soon be shot and, on the spot, he ordered, “Shoot.” Both machine guns sprayed fire and bullets flew over our heads, several centimeters higher. Each of us bunched together and twisted our bodies in order to make ourselves smaller, even with the earth. This probably amused the Germans who had great pleasure from the fire-spectacle and took photographs of our various poses.

Finally the officer ordered a stop to the firing and gave us a short speech that we would soon be taken to the Russian border and one group of Jews would march in the direction of Belzec and the second group would go to Sokol. But he underlined that during the coming night everyone would need to cross the

[Page 530]

border because whoever was found in the morning would immediately be shot, adding: “And this is not a joke – you have had one example.”

The Jews began to thank the officer and several shouted, “Heil Hitler,” for which they received a considerable portion of whips because “The dirty Jews should not mention the name of the Fuehrer.”

* * *

My group went to Sokol. In a few hours we were there. The city was divided into two parts by the Bug River; the suburbs and the train station were in German hands and the Russians had the actual city. We were on the German side until darkness. No shootings took place; they had absorbed enough of our blood. The above mentioned small blond murderer decreed that Juar, the treasurer of the Chelemer old age home, lick his boots with his tongue and he beat him during it.

When it became dark, we were again counted. Then we were taken to the bridge and told to run to the Russians, while they shot over our heads. We ran with cries and shouts and with upraised hands, as a sign that we were not armed. The Soviet border guard stopped us and demanded clarifications. When they saw our desperate situation and heard the entire tragic path, they calmed us, saying that they would immediately ask their commander who had to decide if we would be permitted to enter the Soviet side.

Soon the Jews of Sokol knew of our situation and their loud crying could be heard from a kilometer's distance. The Soviet soldiers gave us food, drinks and the bloodied, frozen Jews, bandages. I remember how a young Soviet soldier seeing a barefoot young Jew without a coat (I think this was the youngest son of the hatmaker, Berish Grunwald), with bloodied feet who looked like one piece of gelled blood, gave him his great coat, made him a bandage saying, “Zapatim im' (we will pay them).

The procedure for letting us in lasted a long time. Several managed to mix themselves in among the soldiers and entered the city of Sokol illegally. Bloch, the director of the Tarbot School [a secular Hebrew language school] also did this. Each time different village chiefs came with questions. In the end one Soviet office came and gave a speech to us: “We have sent a telegram to Lemberg about your matter and also communicated with Kiev. The answer was – Do not allow them in, motivated [by the fact] that first we do not know if there are spies among you and secondly we cannot do this because Hitler could send us all of the Jews who are under his government.”

[Page 531]

The officer asked us to go away on our own in order to avoid undesirable measures.

Hearing the talk, we lay down on the bridge, calling out that we would not move from the spot and it would be better if they shot us because in any case death awaited us from the Germans. But this declaration of ours did not alter the decision of the Soviet guard. The Soviet soldiers carried us one by one back to the other side of the bridge, which was not guarded by the Germans.

Groups formed immediately. Several decided to go back to Chelm and other groups looked for a way to swim across the Bug River and go over to the Soviet side.

Shlomo Frajman and I searched for an opportunity to ferry ourselves across to the other side of the Bug, but reaching the other side involved great difficulties. The peasants did not want to ferry us across at night because the Soviet guard was larger then and there was the threat of death. One peasant advised that we go a half kilometer on the shore of the river with the tide until we found an old bridge that had been blown up. There, he said, the water was at a depth up to our neck and we would be able to go across.

Thus we did. We grabbed the beams of the bridge and we swam from one scaffold to another. We tried to stand up, but we did not feel the ground. So with great weariness and danger to our lives, we swam. The water was torrential and cold. It was then the night of

[Page 532]

the 4th into the 5th of December. We just barely reached the shore.

Wood piles smoked from the Russian guards in the distance. We heard their voices. We lay for, perhaps, half an hour in the great silence. Waiting until the guard withdrew a little farther, we then crept into the alleys of Sokol.

We knocked at the first Jewish door with a mezuzah [small box placed on door frames of Jewish homes containing the Shema Yisroel – Hear O, Israel – the central prayer of Jewish worship]. We were let in right away. The residents of the house took off our wet clothing and gave us food and gave us their own beds.

The owner of the house was the owner of a brickyard. He kept us in bed for three days until we regained our strength and until the Soviet regime in the shtetl stopped looking for illegal residents.

A committee was created in Sokol to help the homeless Jews. I also received several zlotes from the committee for a train ticket to Luboml (Libivne) from which, through a messenger, I told those at home that I remained alive.

Many of those who took part in the death march became sick with infections and with pneumonia, as well as having frozen feet. Several of us were sent to Siberia by the Russians because they had crossed the border illegally.

* * *

The above mentioned horrors and the ruthless deaths took place in the year 1939 when there were not yet any gas chambers.

(Photo, caption: The rynek in 1900-1905, where the Polish regime later erected a Monument of the Unknown Soldier.)


Translator's Footnotes

1. Colonel Adam Koc was associated with OZN [Camp of National Unity], an organization many considered Fascist, and Mrs. Pristarowa was instrumental in restricting kosher slaughtering. return
2. Owshem – Our Own, a government policy of a general boycott of Jewish products and workers. return
3. “Death head” or skull, the insignia used by a division of the S.S. return
4. “Hear, O Israel” – the central prayer of Jewish worship. return
5. It is unclear as to the identity of the doctor whom Wajnsztok mentions. return
6. 20 Kopeyeknik – a kopeyek or kopeck is a Russian coin. return

[Page 537]

Chelm at the Time of the Hitler Occupation

by Yitzhak Groskop

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The author of this article, who through a miracle escaped death, lived in Chelm during the German occupation. He describes his own experiences and observations as well as episodes and facts from other Chelemer that were told to him.

On Friday, at dawn, on the 1st of September, 1939, German airplanes appeared over Polish cities that warned of the coming ruthless war. Chelm was bombed on the 2nd of September. Many people died. The population ran outside the city to seek protection from the bombs.

A week later, on the 8th of September, Chelm was heavily bombed by hostile airplanes, mainly the “Kalejawa” and the neighboring streets. 250 people were killed then – Jews and Christians. Mr. Soloweitchik and other Jews perished then in the bombing. Their bodies were not found.

On Monday, the 7th of October, at nine o'clock in the morning, a division of the German motorized army appeared in the city. The Germans first visited the beis-hamedrash [synagogue or house of prayer] and whoever was found there was beaten and all of the religious books were thrown into the street. Hitler soldiers stood outside and dishonored the books. Then groups of soldiers went to the Kuzmir shtibl [one room prayer house] No. 2 that was found in Yehoshua Binsztok's courtyard. The wild Hitlerists broke open the door and dishonored all of the Torahs.

At the same time, the Germans began to grab Jews for work. Every morning the members of the S.S. would go across the city in pursuit of Jews. They forced those caught to clean toilets, gutters and to do other dirty work with bare hands.

The Jewish population in Chelm immediately had a premonition about the Hitleristic regime and all of its horrors. Jewish houses and businesses were plundered by the Germans. A great deal of goods and articles were immediately sent to their families in Germany. The Gestapo immediately took hostages, demanding that Jews give one payment after the other. In addition to this

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they themselves went through Jewish houses to rob the belongings.

They saw every opportunity to extort money from the Jews. It happened that someone stole a horse from a German; the Rabbi Gamaliel Hochman was immediately arrested, making him responsible for the theft. Yakov Sztol paid the Germans a ransom and the rabbi was freed.

In addition to the persecutions, the Hitler regime took care to defile the Jews in public. A Chelmer newspaper was published in which they mentioned the Jews with

(Photo, caption: Gestapo forcing Jews to pray outside.)

the most insulting words, such as: dirty one, mangy, lousy and unclean. This newspaper was spread in many copies and it was also distributed in the city and its surroundings. The Germans' purpose was clear: to incite the Christian population against the Jews.

On the 30th of September, 1939, the sorrowful, well known German general, Franko [Governor General Hans Frank] came down to Chelm. The doors of the Jewish houses were bolted. The Polish police went through the Jewish houses and warned the Jews not to go out in the street because it was strongly forbidden by the Germans. The same General Franko arranged to “reduce” the Jewish population in the city because there were too many Jews in Chelm.

On Thursday, the 31st of November, 1939, S.S. men came to the Jewish zoklandinkes (hostages) at night and ordered that on the 1st of December all Jewish

[Page 539]

men from 15 to 60 gather at the Rynek (market place) where the German commandant would give a speech to them in which he would declare how the Jews needed to behave under the German occupation regime. There was then a warning that each Jew should come in his nicest clothes.

The Jewish population was alarmed by this news. The zoklandinkes ran through the city at night, telling the Chelemer Jews that they should go to the market and if they did not fulfill the decree, the S.S. men would themselves search for the men in the Jewish houses and whomever they found would be shot.

A panic arose among the Jews. They did not know what to do. They asked each other. Despair was great. Many Jews ran to the surrounding villages, others – to the Soviet border. I, myself, ran to the Soviet border, but at the border, the watchmen forced me to return.

Approximately 2,000 Jews assembled in the city center at the Rynek. When the Nazi bandits saw that the square was already filled with Jews, they surrounded the Rynek with armed S.S. men and vicious dogs. The Jews understood that a great danger lay in wait. The S.S. men first called the youngest Jews to them and they were heavily beaten. Then they decreed that all of the Jews should give them everything they had with them: money, jewelry and documents. One Jew did not move quickly enough to give up his things; therefore, he was heavily beaten until he lost consciousness. The victim was Motl Bakalczyk of Lubliner Street.

The Jewish wives and children of the detained men stood from afar in great fear and when they started to cry, the S.S. men shot in the air and decreed that the Jews should stand in lines and march away on the road to Hrubieszow, ordering them to sing Jewish songs. The women also wanted to march with them, but they were not permitted to do so.

Outside the city, the S.S. men shot at every Jew if he did not march fast enough. The Jews threw off their hats, clothing, shoes so that it would be easier to walk. The S.S. men on motorcycles chased the Jews faster and more quickly. And each Jew who stopped on the road was immediately shot.

Several kilometers from the city, the S.S. men removed 25 Jews from the first rows and ordered them to go into the forest. Shooting was immediately heard: the 25 Jews were killed. Among the murdered were: Salan, Dr. L. Aks, Shmuel Kac (from Szeliszcz) and others. The German city commander was present at the action and later declared that the dog-like Jews wanted to escape, and therefore had to be shot. The same commander warned that whoever escaped would be shot… The entire road was seeded with Jews who had been shot. The peasants from the villages buried the murdered Jews in the forest.

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(Photo, caption: Chona Nisenbaum, the son of Reb Yakov Nisenbaum, may the memory of a righteous man be blessed,
who fell as a victim of a Nazi bullet during the Chelm-Hrubieszow-Sokol death march.)

Thus were the Chelemer Jews chased by the Nazi sadists. Fathers fell arm-in-arm with their sons. When the three Lewensztajn brothers stopped on the death march, they were placed on a wagon and taken to a nearby place where there were pits and they were shot there.

Upon arrival in Hrubieszow, barely 600 souls of the 2,000 Jews remained. On the second day – this was Shabbos – the S.S. men in Hrubieszow prepared the same aktsia [an action, usually a deportation] as for the Chelm Jews. They were gathered together and chased toward Sokol with the Chelm Jews – to the Russian border. The earlier procedure was repeated again on the way: They shot into the Jews from Hrubieszow and from Chelm. Of the Chelemer only 400 remained. In Sokol, there was the Russian border. However, the Russians did not want to let the Jews enter and the S.S. drove the Jews into the river. They stood thus for a considerable time. It was then a cold winter day – a number of the Jews secretly swam across to the Russian side. Others perished in the river and a still smaller remnant of these unlucky Jews returned to Chelm weak and exhausted. Many of them then died from the cold and atrocious conditions.

In the morning – after the death march – the Nazi executioners issued an order that all Jewish women whose husbands had left on the march for Hrubieszow-Sokol should report to the Germans because they needed to be sent to their husbands. A new panic arose in the city. They did not know what to do. The women and the children cried in desperation. Knowing what had happened to their husbands, they had great fear of reporting to the Germans.

* * *

In 1940 the Hitler regime began to arrange Juden-Ratn [Jewish councils]. Jews then were not supposed to buy from Christian businesses. The Jewish badges with the Mogen-Dovid [shield of David – the Jewish star] were introduced. Young and old had to wear the “yellow patch.” There had to be a Mogen-Dovid sign on each Jewish house or shop. Jews became entirely forsaken and had to take off their hats and bow for each German.

It happened that if a Jew forgot to wear the “yellow patch” on his clothing, he was taken to the

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Gestapo from which he did not return. Jews were not permitted to wear any shoes with leather soles, only wooden in order that they could be heard, that here goes a Jew.

A true hell for the Jews began in 1941, after the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. Jews then became completely cast off. The Hilter regime immediately created a ghetto which ran from Uscilugska Street through Pocztowa, Szedlecka, Katowska, half of Lwowska to Podgurna – near Lederman's mill. On the other side of Lederman's mill – the Pakrowka – was located the camp for Russian prisoners of war. All Christian residents from the above-mentioned ghetto streets were moved to other quarters of the city and they were given Jewish houses – outside the ghetto – to live in.

All of the Jews from Chelm and the surrounding shtetlekh were driven into the Chelm ghetto. Others were deported to Chelm from outside the country, such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other countries. The Judenrat had to send the Jews to work every day – according to the decree of the German regime.

Ukrainian sitchevekes [recruits] were then in Chelm for marshirungen (military exercises). They were being prepared militarily in order for them to be able to fight against Russia. These Ukrainian groups extorted still more money from the Jews, threatening them with excesses and pogroms. The Germans ignored it when the Ukrainians robbed and terrorized the Jews in the city.

A certain person unexpectedly appeared in Chelm passing as an administrator of Jewish possessions. At the beginning it was not known if he was a Jew. Later it was learned that the “administrator” was a Jew. He was called “the Jewish overseer” – Reb Pinkhasl. He had a dislikable appearance, was of short stature and with a shaved head – a true German. He always held a whip in his hand like every Gestapo-man. To the Jews he said that he was defending

(Photo, caption: Jewish police with Polish labor foreman at the entrance to a labor camp in Chelm.)

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their interests; he was their “overseer,” but, in fact, he worked with the Gestapo.

Once, the “Jewish overseer” entered the ghetto and told those Jews there that he was authorized – by the German regime – to create a Jewish self defense group – Jewish police, so that the Jews could defend themselves. A Jewish police [force] of 150 people was created, over which there was a commandant. The jail was on Pocztow Street and there were arrests for every trifle. If a Jew escaped from the jail he was then shot by the Gestapo. The “Jewish Guardian,” Pinkhasl, caused the Jews in the ghetto a great deal of trouble.

Erev Shavous [eve of the holiday commemorating the Jews receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai], 1942, this Reb Pinkhasl came to the Chelemer Judenrat with a demand for the surrender of 3,000 Jews who were not capable of useful work. The representatives of the Judenrat were then, among others, Meir Frenkel (son-in-law of Dovid Liberman), and Anshel Biderman. They called an urgent meeting of all the members of the Judenrat and of the Chelmer businessmen. The meeting took place in the butchers' synagogue and lasted an entire night. It was a bitter and dark night. They did not know what to do. There was great despair. They wrangled for a long time, but in the end they decided to surrender the demanded Jews to the Gestapo.

On the 22nd of May, 1942, on the first day of Shavous, the most sinister attack was carried out. Terrible screams and loud noises were heard in the morning hours, when old and sick Jews were taken out of their beds. These Jews were sent to the women's beis-hamedrash and the Belzer shtibl [one room house of prayer]. The Jewish police stood guard over them. At nine o'clock in the morning the members of the Gestapo came to the courtyard of the beis-hamedrash. The person, Pinkhasl, reported with flattery that the decree had been carried out and the Gestapo men cynically laughed at that.

Uniformed Gestapo men, Ukrainian bandits, Volks-Deutsch [ethnic Germans] and other angels of destruction immediately appeared on the Chelm streets and grabbed Jews, young and old. Jewish blood ran through the streets. Those Jews who were caught were led to the train; they were loaded into dirty box cars like cattle. The Jews were held in the riveted closed box cars for two days – without food and water. They had to stand due to the crowding. Then they were taken to the gas chambers of Sobibor. Many Jews breathed out their souls – were suffocated in the box cars.

The S.S. men constantly carried out hunts for the Jews. They were sent to work in the gas chambers for the Russian prisoners of war who were in the jurisdiction of the S.S. regiment. The Jews were forced to pull those murdered out of the gas chambers and remove their clothing. Several days later, these Jews were murdered to blur the traces of the horrible murders. Thus did

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it happen. Every few day there were several hundred Jews missing from the Chelemer ghetto.

* * *

In June, 1942, the second aktsia began in Chelm. On a Shabbos day a Gestapo delegation from Sobibor appeared in the city which demanded several thousand Jews for work. For appearances sake, the Chelemer Gestapo argued with the Gestapo from Sobibor, saying they themselves needed the Jews to work in the city. Understand, they came to terms… A decree was issued that everyone had to assemble on Szedlecka Street, near the Belzer shtibl within half an hour.

Although there was great turmoil among the Jews – the significance of the aktsia was understood – there was no alternate choice: they assembled on the square. Those who did not report were shot. The Gestapo went through the houses and shot those not reporting, even those with work cards. Around 600 Jews were chosen on the gathering place for Sobibor.

After the second aktsia, life in the Chelemer ghetto became more savage with each day. The remaining Jews understood that their death was unavoidable. The streets in the ghetto became desolate and empty. The Gestapo automobiles like wild destroyers caught Jews for Sobibor from which no one returned.

* * *

The Germans called the third aktsia, auszidlung [deportation]. General Frank, the hangman, specially came to Chelm and decreed that 3,000 Jews be “deported” to Wlodawa. The 3,000 Jews were forced to go to the location of the railroad management, forced to go to Wlodawa – on foot.

(Photo, caption: The destroyed Jewish street, the Nei Tsal, on which the ghetto was located.)

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(Photo, caption: Chelemer Jews, after digging a hole and completely undressing,
were shot by columns as forced by the Hitler murderers. This took place in the Rejvicer woods.
The Jews in the photograph, from left to right: the first, name unknown, second, A. Binsztok,
Mendele Kowal, Bel Helga, the child his grandson is nearby and Feywl Hiz, a worker in the
slaughter house in Chelm. The civilians are Polish police and Gestapo.)

The Gestapo wanted again to assemble the Jews on a false pretext for the last aktsia. The Jews knew what such an aktsia signified and they dug caves and bunkers. The Gestapo searched for all of the Jewish bunkers, taking the Jews out of them. The Germans shot into or threw grenades into those bunkers that were very deep, in which the “enclosed” Jews were annihilated.

After the “Poczt Steps” – on Pocztowa Street – at Zalmele's bakery – 40 plus Jews were hidden in a bunker. The entrance was through the bakery. The Germans learned of this and entered the bunker from which the hidden Jews were led out. The Germans crucified Zalmele the baker with nails, dipped him in tar and burned him.

The last aktsia in Chelm was called by the Judenrat. It began on the 6th of November, 1942, and lasted 24 hours. For an entire day the S.S. members – together with Ukrainian and other dark elements – searched for Jews and ransacked every Jewish house, dragging out all of the Jews from the bunkers. All of the Jews were forced to go to Lubliner Street, to the courtyard of the Catholic Church; the Jews from the surrounding shtetlekh and villages were driven here, too.

The day was rainy, bleak. The street cried, too, at the Jewish catastrophe. The screams and wails reached to the very heavens. Jewish children were flung from high windows to the thick church walls by the Gestapo.

When the S.S. members had assembled everyone, they ordered the Jewish policemen to be taken away to Saxon Garden on Lubliner Street where they were shot. (Pinkhasl, the “Jewish overseer,” disappeared.

[Page 545]

It was said that he allowed himself to become a groom for Danutsie's daughter and he escaped with his wife.)

All half-dead Jews were led to the train. A camp of Jewish workers was located near the cemetery. The German camp commander chose several hundred healthy Jews from the mass “deported” Jews, leaving them in the labor camp. The remaining Jews were loaded into sealed boxcars, just as cattle and sheep and they were held there without food and drink. There were all taken to the gas ovens of Sobibor. A large number of the deported Jews died in the boxcars.

After the last aktsia, those Jews caught were not deported elsewhere, but they were shot on the spot. The murdered Jews lay on the Chelemer streets and the Germans' dogs tore pieces from them. Several

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days later, the firemen came to bury them.

Only the Jews in the above-mentioned labor camp remained. The work consisted of pulling down Jewish houses. The Christian population would buy the wood or bricks from the German commandant. For their hard labor the Jews were given a dry piece of bread. They were counted several times. Hungry and barefoot, they worked from dawn until late in the evening. If a Jew became ill he was immediately shot. No medical help was given to any Jew, so therefore, they would keep silent about their illnesses. With a temperature of 40 degrees [104 Fahrenheit], with their last strength, they barely dragged themselves to work, one Jew holding up another.

Thus they worked for four months. Half of the remaining Chelemer Jews died, and the remaining Jews were taken to the death camp, Sobibor.


[Page 545]

About the Last Two Actions In Chelm

by J. Grinszpan

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

On the 5th of November, 1942, still in the dark before daybreak, some of the ordnunsdinest [auxiliary Jewish police in the ghetto] started to go through the ghetto in Chelm calling out: “Everyone needs to go to the assembly grounds! Jews, everyone go to the assembly grounds for the selection!”

A beautiful day dawned; a pure sun meandered still higher. The day was radiant, but not for the Chelemer Jews. The day was a dark one for all of us. What took place in the two days – the 5th and 6th of November – no one had imagined before. Even Dante's fantasy could not imagine such savagery.

The hundreds of S.S.-men, the S.A. [storm troopers] gendarmerie with their murderous Ukrainian and Lithuanian assistants stood against the powerless and unsupported Jews. Their orders were heard that every paper and thing of value, foreign currency, gold and silver should be turned in.

At this moment, mothers pressed their children to their hearts. Children cried bitterly; hands were raised to heaven that God above should have pity on the innocent children.

However, the fascist murderers did their murderous trade. First they took 200 children out of the lines. The spasms of crying from the children, mothers and fathers had no effect on the hearts of the Nazi

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devils. The children were taken to a nearby house through which they [the Germans] shot and which they set on fire along with the children. A volcano of fire tore toward heaven.

Fathers and mothers screamed: “Oh, our children are burning! Oh, look, look there in the fire! Oh, God in heaven.”

The 3,000 assembled Jews on the square were placed in wagons and taken to Treblinka, Sobibor.

On the second day, the 6th of November, 1942, the same ruthless spectacle was played again and 2,000 Jews were taken to Sobibor.

* * *

On the 6th of November 1942, the total deportation took place. The order from the S.S. was that 100 Jews should dig mass graves at the cemetery… When this work was finished, the S.S. men told them to sit on the ground with their faces to the graves. The Jews, knowing what awaited them, did not carry out the order and began to escape. The murderers opened fire from a machine gun; all of the Jews except for two fell dead like chopped down trees. The Jews who survived were: Shlomo Margolis and Yankl Goldberg who perished in the partisan struggle several days before the liberation of Chelm.

On the above mentioned day, the Germans led 3,000 Jews to Sobibor. Chelm remained almost juden-rein [free of Jews].

Several Chelm Jews avoided this deportation, thanks to the fact that they were hidden on the Aryan side and in the forests. Those who escaped to the forest fought in the partisan camp with great heroism.


[Page 547]

Eyewitness Testimony of Iser Zilber

by Iser Zilber

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The cry of my Chelemer Jews echoed in the distance. The air was full of sorrow and rage. Women and children and the surrounded ghetto Jews cried. The day was beautiful and the sky was blue. I was on the roof of the Czarniecka Gymnazie [secondary school], where I worked. I observed my brothers being led to slaughter, and the echoes of rapidly running German military shoes were carried to me.

I could no longer work. My head hurt. My feet shook. I was afraid that I could fall off the roof, but the day passed. I left for home carrying a box of tools, in the evening, under the watch of Nazi guards.

I entered the house. It already was dark. Those in the house were crying. We cried about today's death march, about the destruction of the city and about my fate. My wife advised me to escape immediately to save my life.

The Szmern brothers, Avraham Las and I left our homes in the grey fog of the autumn morning. We avoided the central streets and, going through the back alleys, we arrived outside the city. We went through side roads and paths, through marshes and small damp woods. We went to the Bug [River] – [separating us from] the “other side,” where the German angels of death did not rule.

We arrived in Dorohusk, where we met many Jews who wanted to go over to the “other side.” It already was night. We were dead tired. A good Dorohusk peasant offered us hospitality. His entire house was filled with Jews. We also found a place there and we fell asleep in great fear and weariness.

The morning chased us out again. We came to the Bug in a half hour. We met many Jews there who were carrying on negotiations with the Ukrainians to arrange for them to take the Jews to the “other side.” We also negotiated with two Ukrainians and came to an agreement about the price, but they were sorry because they wanted dollars and, given that we did not have dollars, we had to return embittered to the peasant in the cottage.

We lay on the floor and we did not sleep. The idea about what to do now tormented us. I did not think for long and I said that I was returning to Chelm because it did not make sense to save myself and let my wife and children perish. No! What happens to my wife and children will also happen to me! We all decided to return to Chelm.

The road was full of danger and we tried to go with side roads to avoid the Germans, but nevertheless

[Page 548]

we came upon two S.S. men. They approached us with triumphant expressions. I fell over in fear. My box of tools opened on the ground. They stepped on my body.

A Jewish woman from Chelm, who was going with us, woke me from my faint and led me into a Jewish house. But there was also gloom. The S.S. member had paid a visit and warned the Jews not to take in any Jewish strangers because they would be shot for doing this. However, a Jew remains a Jew. He took us into a stable. I lay down on the straw and cried bitterly. The S.S. members led away the remaining Jews and they were forced to do the heaviest work in the Dorohusk sawmill. Despite our despondency, in the morning we decided to return to Chelm.

I lay in bed for three weeks after returning home. I could not move. The “trip” to [go to] the other side and back had its effect. My feet were swollen and I had pneumonia.

Meanwhile, the Judenrat [Jewish council created by and beholden to the Germans] needed tinsmiths. They sent for me to come to work. I could not move, had pains. However, they did not believe me. Dr. Walberger was sent to me and he also established that I was incapable of working.

I barely stood up after lying in bed for three weeks. My workplace then was in the “Gestapo.” The chief of the Gestapo – Pan [Master] Walter – liked my work and he ordered me to remain there to work.

The S.S. once took me to work in the hospital for the insane. The Gestapo chief, Pan Walter, argued with the S.S. and demanded that they bring me back to the Gestapo. However, the S.S. did not want to and the Gestapo was sent Yosef Goldberg, who did his work badly in my place. Therefore, the Gestapo chief threw him from the second story. He barely returned home, bloodied and broken. After this, the Gestapo sent a vehicle to the hospital for the insane for me and succeeded in removing me from the S.S. I again went to work at the Gestapo.

Day after day passed quickly in great hardship. Gloom hung in the Jewish houses. We did not sleep at night, fearing the arrival of the day. Every day brought new edicts on Jewish heads. Although it was spring, it had the face of the gloomiest autumn.

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After spring came the summer of 1940, which brought the ghetto edict to Chelm. The Chelemer ghetto began in the quarters and streets of Krzywa–Kopernika, a part of Seminarska through Szkolna, Przychodnia [Clinic] Uscilugska, Neye Tsal to the Neye Welt and Lwowska Streets. There the surviving Chelemer Jews were forced into that part of the city. To them were brought the Czech Jews, their companions in misfortunes, who even earlier than all of the Chelemer went to the sacrificial alter of Sobibor.

We were not supposed to leave the ghetto without permission. Everyone had to wear a white armband with a Mogen–Dovid [Shield of David – the Jewish star]. A Jewish milk seller and his wife had left the ghetto at one in the morning to receive milk. They met two members of the S.S. on the way and they were shot on the spot.

The Jews in the ghetto drew some of their income from the little bit of possessions that remained from before the war. Poles entered the ghetto and bought everything for pennies. A large number of Jews were hungry and died, among them, I remember, was Manis Beker, the gabbai [synagogue sexton] from the synagogue in Chelm.

The Poles did not always enter the ghetto to buy something from the Jews because the Germans also did not spare the Poles when they were in the ghetto. Poles also were shot by the Germans, among them the former city president, the lawyer, Tomaszewski.

The annihilation of the Jews of Chelm began. The first victims were the children. One morning, S.S. members and Jewish policemen appeared in all of the Jewish homes. All of the children were removed and taken to the synagogue. From there they were taken to the Chelm train station from which they were taken away to the gas ovens of Sobibor.

My eight–year old son Dovidl also was caught by the S.S. We were informed of this by my daughter, who came running to me at work and brought me the “good” news. I immediately went to the chief of the Gestapo, Pan Walter, and asked him to free my child. The dog “consoled” me that the same would happen to me. I told him that if my child were killed I would not work. He told me to go to the sadly well–known Raschendorf, who led the children's aktsia [action, usually a deportation]. Arriving at the train, I reported to Raschendorf that the chief, Pan Walter asked that my child be given back. He laughed at me cynically and asked two S.S. youths to chase me away. The S.S. hooligans did not let him ask for long and “served” me with the handle of a vending machine. I fell in a faint. One bit of luck was that my daughter had gone with me and she revived me and led me home.

My wife ran in front of my house with joy that Dovidl was home. It turned out that my child had escaped while being led to the train and hid in the attic of Yehiel Fiszer's house on Szkolna Street.

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The Jewish police, dressed in black round hats with Mogen Dovids and carrying rubber sticks at their sides, paraded in the gloomy streets of the ghetto.

The synagogues and houses of prayer were closed. Only the small hakhnoses–kale [organization providing help to poor Jewish girls whose families could not provide a dowry] synagogue was open (near the slippery steps), but the S.S. bandits stormed in often and carried out a pogrom on the worshippers. The fate of the Jewish women was particularly difficult. They had to work at heavy labor in the water system. They dug canals, dried swamps and they did not receive anything to eat.

The second aktsia in Chelm arrived unexpectedly. Now it was the turn for the surviving older Jews from Chelm and of the Czech Jews. The S.S. murderers and their Jewish assistants, with their elaborate lists, went to all of the older Chelm Jews as well as the Czechs and drove them out of their homes and took them to the Belzer shtibl [one room house of prayer]. They were held there for the entire day and at nightfall they were taken to Sobibor.

The last aktsia took place on the 6th of November 1942. This aktsia had the purpose of making Chelm Judenrein [free of Jews]. The 6th of November was a Friday. All of the Jews in Chelm knew of it by Tuesday and the city was in turmoil. Everyone ran wherever they could. They mainly ran to the neighboring villages. The women who worked in the kasherne (military barracks) went there with their children to hide. However, the hands of Hitler reached them.

Chelm was surrounded by all of the bloodhounds on the morning of Friday, the 6th of November 1942: members of the S.S., the usual Germans and Ukrainians. All of the Jews were chased from the ghetto in the direction of the church square. Many Poles had gathered there and watched the spectacle with pleasure at the great Jewish pain and great misfortune.

An S.S. man came in the afternoon and ordered all artisans and intellectual workers to go

(Photo, caption: Chelemer Jews being led to an aktsia accompanied by the Jewish police)

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with him. A larger number were led to the train station. We were all shoved into a small room and we stood in terrible conditions and waited for the night to end.

In the morning we were divided into two groups. The intellectual workers were sent to the heaviest labor and the artisans to various work. At the bahnhof [train station], or as we called it, toythof [death station], Abish Szpan, Shmuel Oksman, Bertsha Faygbaum (a carpenter) and a Czech Jew and I were sent to the directorship of the Gestapo.

Almost all of the Jews were deported to Sobibor. A few Jews still worked at the bahnhof, but 20 often were taken out and they were shot in the Hrubieszow forest (near the military hospital). I again worked in the directorship of the Gestapo. I was sure that I was the only one [left] in my family. My wife and children must surely be in Sobibor. If so, of what use is it for me to live?

A Pole came to me at work once and told me that my oldest daughter, Chaya, was alive. The Pole gave me a short letter from her and in it I read: “I am naked and barefoot. Tatele [Daddy]!” I decided to do everything possible to help my daughter.

At night I specially made a key to the S.S. storehouse of stolen goods. And the next night I entered there and took out a packet of women's clothing. I understood that these things came from the Czech Jews. I buried the things and, wanting to see the Gestapo chief to receive permission from him to go the barracks where my daughter was, I did a bit of work and damaged the water pipes. Immediately afterwards, the chief called me to repair the water system and then I succeeded in receiving permission to go to the barracks on Sunday.

I actually did go to my daughter with the things on Sunday. She was in terrible condition. Both of us cried like small children. My daughter consoled and calmed me. I learned that several more Jewish girls and women worked in the barrack. Saying goodbye to my child was not easy, but I had to leave. I visited my daughter several times in this way. Later I learned that the Jewish girls and the Jewish women were taken to Sobibor and among them was my dear and unforgettable daughter.

The number of Jews at the bahnhof became smaller and fewer. I still remember those who were the last victims, such as: Ahron Fus, Goldman's son, Yona, Welwe Cymryn, Shaul Walter, Rafal Dech and Abish Szpan. Each of us waited in the ranks for when we would be taken to the “mountain” to be shot.

[Page 552]

They did not wait for us on the “mountain.” One day, vehicles waited for us in front of the bahnhof. There was a heavy guard from the S.S. on the vehicles. As always, we thought that this meant our last hour. The vehicles took us further on the street of the train to the jail.

The gate of the jail opened and we immediately found ourselves in the jail courtyard. We were taken to a dark cellar and we were thrown into it with great brutality. We could not see; we felt that we were falling on human bodies. We were horrified when we learned that this was the death cell of the Chelm jail There were 23 Jews here and they were waiting for their fateful hour. We all cried bitterly.

There was a knock on our door in the morning. We were afraid. However, a little piece of bread and cigarettes fell in and we had the first greeting from a group of Jews who still were here and could move around more freely. They threw bread and cigarettes to us. The always courageous, Shlomo Bubys, was among them.

Every time we were called, we thought that death had come and I also thought this. On a certain day there was a knock on our door and Tantshe Nisbaum and I were called. We were called by the jail chief who sent us with a guard to the bahnhof to make “stretchers.”

We were taken to work for several days and in the evening we were brought back. On the way I once met Mrs. Libhober going under the guard of the S.S. members. Her son was in the death cell. As I learned, Mrs. Libhober, who was a good seamstress, told the Gestapo that if they shot her son she would under no circumstances work – and her son did remain alive.

At work I once met the regrettably famous Raschendorf. He carefully considered our work and said to us that the Jews in the death cell would remain alive. Returning “home,” I told this to my suffering brothers. However, no one believed it. Certainly, there was no one to believe because in the morning we were all led out and [we were told] to undress down to our underwear. We understood that these were our last minutes. However, we again were led to the death cell. Our only food was that which we received from Shlomo Bubys.

Several days passed and a group of Jews was separated from [us in] our jail and did not return. We remained few in number and indifferent to everything. Yet, we no longer wanted to remain in such a condition. We called to the director of the jail and

[Page 553]

and said that he should either shoot us or take us out to the working Jews. He agreed to the latter condition and we left for work.

Fifteen Jews worked with us in the jail workshops. These were: Shlomo Brustman, Moshe Neiman, Kelberman and his wife, Hersh Boksenbaum, Shlomo Bubys, Gitl Libhober and her son, Ben–Tzion Micfliker, Tantshe Nisbaum, Yehiel Szczipak, Manis Cymryn, Golda Laks, Chaim Sobol, Binsztok and me. Life was more or less bearable. We often went into the city under guard and bought various things for the workshops. We did not recognize Chelm. There were no Jews; there were Poles in all of the Jewish businesses. We returned broken from the city. The electrician, Binsztok, had informed us that the Germans were suffering constant defeats. We were afraid that the defeats would [land on] our heads.

The front came all the more closer to Chelm and with it also the danger for us. Meanwhile we were called to the Gestapo to work for the chief. We arrived there at night. It was very merry there; whisky and wine flowed like water. The noisy and impudent laughter was tempting and exciting. Half–naked women lay around drunk. The chief came to me and ordered Tantshe Nisbaum and I to make crates in which to pack things. We began to work and we understood that the Germans would not be with us for long, but what would happen to us – would they let us live?

We finished the work late at night. We were given a bottle of wine to drink and were taken to a Russian prisoner, Misha (Misha actually was a Jew), to spend the night. There also were set aside all kinds of good things on the table with Misha. He treated us to everything and told us that the Germans were leaving and we needed to escape.

We again made the crates in the morning. An S.S. man ordered us to pack the crates in the vehicles. Bramiler, the vice chief of the Gestapo came to see if everything already was in the vehicle. He got into the vehicle and called over to the guard. I heard the way he ordered: “Kalt machen die Juden!” [Bump off the Jews!] I was terrified. My only wish was to perish with everyone in the jail and not here at the directorship. However, we immediately were ordered into the vehicle with the people and Misha. We were taken to the jail. On the way, Misha jumped out of the vehicle. The Germans chased after him and did not catch him. I enjoyably breathed the fresh air and thought: how long would I breathe such air?

Arriving in jail, I told my suffering brothers what I heard from the vice chief, Bramiler. Everyone lowered his head listening to me. Immediately after this, we again were chased into the death cell.

[Page 554]

We were not in the death cell for much longer. The Russians came closer to the Bug and the ground burned under the German feet. They prepared to leave. They again needed more workers. Therefore, they again called us out and ordered us to help them pack. To our good fortune, the Soviet troops began to bomb Chelm and, particularly, the train station and close to our jail. The members of the S.S. departed like mice for the air–raid shelters. We were left without a guard.

I told everyone the situation, told everyone to save themselves. I said to go to the cellar of the water system and hide. We did go there and hid.

There were constant bombardments for three days and three nights. The entire fence [around] the jail was destroyed; dust, soot and scraps covered everyone. We were all close together. I did not understand what power maintained us then. Finally the bombardments ceased. We no longer had any strength. We decided to explore what the situation looked like and, again, the daring Shlomo Bubys told us that a guard stood near the broken fence, a member of the Red Army.

He went over to the Red Army man and told him that there were 15 Jews in the jail. The Red Army man told him that we should leave the cellar and told us we were free. A movie camera was taken out and filmed us.

I immediately went to the city with Shlomo Brustman. The first greeting I had was from a Pole who welcomed us with mockery and shouted: “The Jews again are here. They have not yet all been shot!” We went further on our way to the Red Cross where we washed a little and received coffee.

The city hall took us in and gave us the house at Post Street number 39 to live in and a little bit of [food]. We immediately created a kitchen and the women Kelberman and Libhober cooked.

We created a committee and Shlomo Brustman was the chairman. Our house became a place of refuge for all Jews. Jews from the Aryan side with Aryan papers, partisans and Jews from Russia arrived. I was indifferent to everything. Just as I earlier had the desire to live, now I wanted to die. However, the constant letters that arrived from Russia searching for relatives also brought a greeting from my son who was looking for me. New blood poured into my veins. An impulse to live again awoke in me. I began to work again and awaited my son, the only survivor of my large family.

 

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