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[Page 354]

Pain and Suffering in the Second World War[1]

by Elya Tzala

Translated by Allen Flusberg

My Home

Dobrzyń on the Drevęc – that is the name of my little town, the place where I was born and was brought up, and where I also spent the years of my youth. Across the Drevęc is the neighboring little town of Golub. In reality they are like a single town, separated from each other only by the Drevęc River.

My name is Eliyohu Tzala, born on the 19th of September, 1917. I am a son of Yosef Wolff and Miriam, of blessed memory – the third of five children, all of whom were still living until the Second World War broke out.

My oldest sister, Rochel, was one of the most interesting and intelligent young girls in the town, and furthermore also very pretty. Even back then she knew the Hebrew language well and participated in various types of volunteer social work. And after she was married to Avi Stoltzman they built their home in Bydgoszcz[2], Pomerania. Many years later they helped many Dobrzyń families set themselves up in Bydgoszcz.

My parents, of blessed memory, tended toward traditional Judaism. They conducted themselves tactfully and were low-keyed about their attitudes; and they were known for this in our town. They were devoted heart and soul to their children, giving them everything they could, ensuring that they had a decent education, and striving for us to grow up honest, respectable people, to both Man and God. Their love for their children knew no bound. We repaid them with our own immature love, respecting them for their good parenting. We were always sensitive to their feelings and sympathetic with them, whether in moments of joy or pain.

I recall my father's daily schedule, especially that of the cold days of winter. I can still see him getting up very early, when it was still pitch black outside, taking his tallis and tefillin[3] under his arm, and – wrapped in a heavy overcoat and with a lantern in his hand – leaving with measured steps, on his way to the synagogue for the Morning Prayer service. I can see him coming back after our mother had already prepared breakfast, as all of us were sitting around the table eating.

Only after we had left our apartment – some of us to school and some to cheider[4] – only then did our father sit down to do his work, which he continued to do diligently until late in the day. As the sole support of the entire family he carried a heavy burden on his shoulders. There was no shortage of friends who visited him while he was working, unintentionally distracting him somewhat from work. But he took everything in stride, and as a result was very well liked.

In spite of his serious worries about making a living he also found time for volunteer social work. He was the chairman of the “Bikur Cholim”[5], an organization whose objectives were to take care of the impoverished ill, to give them medical help and to make it possible for someone who needed an operation to undergo surgery. Many a time he would sit at the bedside of someone who was seriously ill. His devotion to help the needy was admirable. Often he would neglect his own daily work, the source of his own livelihood; but for him it was the greatest joy to have someone that he could help. He was also a member of the chevro kadisho[6]. All this charitable work was conducted mostly at the expense of his livelihood. But he didn't take that into account, believing that one must not miss out on a single mitzvo[7]. With respect to this Yid fun a gants yor[8], what was most noteworthy was his devotion, how much of his heart and soul he put into helping those who suffered, how he sympathized with the oppressed, and how he was always ready to help out, even with his limited means.

He himself was the type of person who was satisfied with the little he had. He hoped and dreamed to see his children grown up and successful. But unfortunately he did not live to see it. He passed away after a short illness – at the young age of 52. Our family experienced a difficult grief. The entire town shared our sorrow as well. People would converse about the admirable virtues of our devoted father, who was a dedicated member of the Dobrzyń community.

[Pages 356-357]

Childhood in Dobrzyń

When I look back on my past in Dobrzyń, I see before me the good-looking young people, most of whom tended toward Zionism.

I recall the Zionist club “HaTechiya”[9], to which I belonged. There we would get together often to study the Hebrew language, to sing, to participate in dances from the Land of Israel, and to discuss various issues. On nationalistic celebrations, such as Lag BaOmer[10], Chanukah[11], or Herzl's Yahrzeit[12], etc., we would march through the streets of Dobrzyń, carrying blue-and-white flags and singing nationalistic songs that expressed our great longing for the Land of Israel.

While among themselves they did disagree about many things, the Jewish youth of Dobrzyń lived like a single family that did not take class or status into account. We provided help to each other on a daily basis. Everyone understood that we had to be united against the Poles of the town, who were always looking for opportunities to do us harm.

In general the youth of Dobrzyń had plenty to do in their free time. In the summer we would go on various excursions and play soccer. We spent winters skating on a frozen part of the Drevęc River, several kilometers away. The summer excursions were dedicated to meeting up with young people from neighboring towns, sometimes in Rypin[13] and very often in Mława[14]. Even years later, when we were already grown-up young men and many of us had left our town to look for a livelihood in the larger cities – or even abroad – this friendship was not broken; we wrote to each other, keeping alive the spark of our old relationships.

That is what Dobrzyń was like.

[Pages 357-360]

In the Polish Military

Meanwhile anti-Semitism had been going on a rampage in Poland, and we young people were suffering a great deal because of it. I recall that when my younger brother, Sho'ul, left to serve in the Polish army, he suffered greatly from Polish soldier hooligans who used to look for ways to make the lives of Jewish soldiers harder. Even worse was the situation of the Jewish soldiers in the Polish army during the period in which Hitler took control of Germany. The state of security in the small towns also worsened, and no Jew felt safe when he left his home at night. Jews were constantly being beaten up by Polish thugs.

When I was mobilized by the Polish military I made up my mind not to let the anti-Semitic Polish soldiers push me around. More than once I was insulted as a Jew, not only by ordinary soldiers but also by officers. But I always stood up to them, not taking the consequences into account; in the same way I even helped other Jewish soldiers out.

In the year 1939, when there was already a whiff of war in the air, I was on maneuvers in a forest near Dobrzyń. At that time I asked my commanding officer to give me leave to go home for a day or two, giving him as a reason that my mother was ill. Although he really wasn't allowed to, he granted my request. Apparently there were still some fine Poles, even in the military. I would like to point out that thanks to this visit I had the opportunity to see my mother for the last time before she passed away.

The war began shortly after my visit to Dobrzyń. The Germans bombed us incessantly. We lay in the trenches that we had previously prepared, but in reality we had nothing to defend ourselves with. The few cannons that we had were not capable of standing up against the organized German military might. Quickly most of the army fled, leaving behind its weapons and looking for a place where they could hide out and protect themselves from the German bombs. I myself took cover underneath a cannon, laying there for a long time until the bombing stopped.

After that the Polish soldiers regrouped and began wandering through forests and fields, but with no destination, since we didn't know where to head for. Meanwhile bridges that had been destroyed by Polish sappers were impeding the Polish military no less than the German one.

Not until the third day, as we arrived in the vicinity of Kutno[15], did they tell us that we would mount our resistance when we got closer to the Vistula River. But soon afterwards it turned out that we were encircled on three sides. An order was given to open fire with all the weapons we had. Thousands of soldiers fired rifles and cannons all night, but with no objective. Then at daybreak we saw that we were already surrounded on all four sides, and that German airplanes were flying overhead.

We ceased firing, and tens of thousands of our soldiers began running away. I grabbed a horse and started riding in a completely unfamiliar direction. I wanted to get as far as I could from the large military camp. On the way I came across thousands of soldiers, most of whom were fleeing in the direction of Warsaw. But also along the way German airplanes reached us and bombed us unmercifully.

I hid out in a forest, but after two days of not eating I started to look for a bit of bread to still my hunger. I went into a village farmyard and there noticed a familiar face – it was Nachman Engler of Dobrzyń. His helmet had been shot through by a stray bullet. Even before we got a chance to speak to each other properly, I had already lost sight of him and didn't see him anymore. (Later I found out that he, together with dozens of other Jewish soldiers who had been in the Polish army, was shot by the Germans in a prisoner camp.)

Meanwhile tens and hundreds of soldiers arrived, and the camp grew from hour to hour. When their number reached a couple of thousand, the order was given to break through the front and to try to reach Warsaw at any price. We marched through fields, but the German airplanes bombed us incessantly. Dozens of soldiers fell down dead around me. I was actually stepping on their bodies, but I had no alternative. I had to keep going, since the officers had adopted the tactic of circulating among the soldiers with their revolvers drawn to make sure we didn't run away and didn't turn ourselves in to be taken prisoner.

[Pages 360-362]

In Captivity

In this manner we walked through a thick fog, but as it got light outside we could make out from far away German artillery spread out across the fields. At this point the soldiers didn't wait for any more orders. Hundreds of them hung white handkerchiefs on their rifles to signify that they were surrendering. Needless to say the Germans surrounded us, taking away our weapons as well as various other items of even minimal value. They crowded us into an open field. Around us were a few dozen armed German soldiers who continually threatened to shoot us for the terrible sin of having wounded – in the midst of battle – a German officer as well as several soldiers. As a Jew I understood the implications of the threats. But I was a prisoner; my fate, as well as that of the other Jewish soldiers, was dependent on [the whim of] each German soldier that guarded us. They gave an order that all Jewish soldiers who were in the large camp – consisting of thousands of Polish soldiers – should come forward to identify themselves, but very few did. Later they led us, one group at a time, to a large outdoor area that was surrounded by barbed wire.

It began to dawn on us what power the Germans had over the Polish territory. I was thinking: Poland wanted to wage war against this military and against such weapons!

We have now been staying in the field for two days, and we are overcome by extreme cold. Having nothing at all to cover ourselves with, we lie right up against each other to keep somewhat warm. Others among us walk around all night, since they feel the cold even more strongly when they lie down. Also we are not given enough food to still our hunger. Women from a nearby little town throw some bread and other food, such as sausages and the like, over the fence to us. Occasionally some bread gets caught in the barbed wire. Any soldier that rushes over, reaching into the barbed wire to take out the bit of bread, gets a bullet fired at him by the German guard, and he falls down dead. These are daily occurrences. This is how the German soldiers treat Polish prisoners of war in the camps.

After we had been in the camp for a week, an order was given to bring us to a different camp. We went on foot for several hours, and then found ourselves in a place where there were barracks. They divided us up – officers separate from regular soldiers – but in general the new prisoner camp was no better than the previous one…Cold and hunger, with no possibility for anyone to acquire anything to buy from anywhere…Once imprisoned soldiers who assaulted a wagon full of bread that was meant for the camp prisoners were shot. The Jews, who were confined in special barracks, were forced to do the filthiest work. I was still hiding myself among the Polish soldiers and was considered a Pole – all thanks to my corporal, who asked the Polish soldiers among whom I stayed not to inform on me.

One day several dozen prisoners, I among them, were called out to come to the central area. The announcement was as follows: “Each of you must bring five horses to a certain location that is about 200 km away from the prison camp. Each of you who succeeds will be freed and will be allowed to return home.” Although the task to be carried out was not very easy, I was overjoyed.

We set out, and one time after another it appeared to us that we would not be able to reach our goal. As tired as we became, the horses suffered even more fatigue, and several of them collapsed along the way.

I recall that as we went along our long journey we passed through Lodz. Seeing us in our Polish uniforms – blackened and worn out – dozens of women brought us bread with sausages, as well as candy and other things to eat.

The last day of our march I felt as if it was all over – my feet were full of blisters, and I couldn't really take another step. But my desire to live was so strong that I overcame all my pain and finally reached the designated place. Of the five horses that I had taken with me, only two were left.

Along the way we would pass German soldiers, and I would eavesdrop on their conversations. Each of them was bragging about the number of Jews he had slaughtered.

Those horses that couldn't keep going were shot by the Germans. The remaining horses were distributed by the Germans among the farmers who lived in the vicinity.

On the second day after I had arrived, a German soldier realized, just by chance, that I was a Jew. He started shouting and telling everyone that they had to get me. I hid, and nothing came of it.

[Pages 362-364]

On the Path Home

The next day they announced to us that all those who had brought the horses were being liberated and could go home. My joy was unbounded.

Meanwhile I found out that dozens of Jews had been segregated in one of the barracks. I looked for a way to communicate with them. I thought that they might have some messages they would like to have delivered, and in any event I figured that there must be some way to get to talk to them. After a couple of hours I was already in their barracks. A few of them recognized me; they were very glad to see me and asked me to tell their parents that they were here.

I went straight to Lodz, where I still hoped to meet up with my sister. When I first got to Lodz I went over to a friend of mine with whom I had worked for the last three years before the war broke out. This person was now completely desperate. The situation in Lodz was getting worse from one day to the next. And this was even before the ghetto was established. I went out into the street to buy a loaf of bread, which was already somewhat difficult to obtain. Long lines of people stood in front of the shops to buy a little food. I got in line with everyone else. A police corporal who was maintaining order immediately recognized me. He was a friend that I had worked with before the war. He was actually German, but he was far removed from doing any harm to Jews. As a sign of good friendship he immediately provided me with some slices of bread. Thanking him profusely I paid him, and went back to my friend.

The very next day I found out that my dear brother Sho'ul had arrived from Bydgoszcz and was staying with the Kirstein family on Pomorska Street. I went straight over to him. When he saw me he could hardly believe his eyes, since everyone had been sure that I had perished in the war. He had a chance to tell me all about the entire family…the misfortune that befell my younger brother, Shloime, who was shot in a Bydgoszcz street by an SS officer…My sister Rochel and her husband, Avrohom Stoltzman, had gone to Kutno, to Isaac.

Without much thinking I made my way to Kutno, but unfortunately I didn't meet up with them there. People there explained to me that they had gone off to Warsaw, hoping they would make it to Russia from there. I thought I would try to get to Warsaw, but as I reached the train station I saw that it would be impossible – the train was full of soldiers, and they weren't letting any private passengers on. At that moment I made the decision to go home.

As I traveled past the town of Krośniewice, 9 kilometers from Kutno, I remembered that an uncle of mine lived there, and I went over to see him. When I came into his place I noticed an air of sorrow in the house – they had taken my uncle away to work at hard labor. It had already been two days since he had last been seen. A German officer who observed that I was in their apartment – dressed in my Polish military uniform – immediately ordered me to leave. I got out of there as quickly as I could. Only later did I find out that the Germans shot my uncle in the middle of the town square.

On my way to Dobrzyń I stopped in various little towns, where I witnessed the misery the Jews were in. Everywhere the same destruction: they were beating and murdering Jews – never mind the hunger and hardship.

It was evening when I arrived in Dobrzyń. I went over to Hersch Boruch Dratwa, who lived at the edge of town. As soon as I got there he let my uncle Mechel Tzala know, and my uncle immediately sent me civilian clothes. I changed my clothes, but after I had heard about the “good deeds” that the Hitler bandits had been doing in Dobrzyń I didn't leave the house.

One day followed another and various rumors were going around, but no one knew what the morrow would bring. I heard about the bitter fate of the Jews in Bydgoszcz, and therefore didn't go there. Wives were waiting for their husbands – and parents for their children – to return from the unknown place the Germans had taken them away to “work”[16]. But the relatives' hope was only a false illusion. These men were long gone from this world. Two days after they had taken them out of the synagogues and houses they killed them in a forest near Inowroclaw[17]. The few men who were left in the town had been mobilized to labor daily.

[Pages 364-366]

We Flee from Dobrzyń

I didn't dare step outside the house until the 9th of November, 1939, when the grievous order was given to expel all the Jews from the town. This occurred two weeks after I had gotten back to Dobrzyń. Without much thought I joined the large number of Dobrzyń Jews traveling on the highway to Rypin. We traveled by day, and at night we stayed over at the homes of local farmers, who gave us a place to sleep. We purchased a horse and wagon in which we could put the small children and elderly people, who no longer had the strength to walk. After several days of travel we reached the Russian border. But the Russian army would not under any circumstances let us cross the border. In our group we were two men, four women and five children. After enduring two days and two nights of cold weather, we, being families with small children, were forced, with no alternative, to turn back onto the same path we had come on. Traveling back the other way, we entered Plonsk[18]. The condition of the Jews who had remained there was terrible, and we discovered that there was no place for us there.

Continuing on our way we arrived in a small town called Drobin[19]. Although here too it was not easy to find a temporary place for ourselves, we decided to stay here. My uncle and I took the initiative to take the horse and wagon out in the vicinity to make some food for ourselves and to obtain some wood that we could use for a fire to warm it up. We slept in a cold house that we happened upon, and we made sure that at least the children were warm. My uncle was with me, together with his elderly mother whom he had taken out of Rypin and brought over to us under very dangerous circumstances. A couple of weeks later she died in Drobin and received a proper burial there in a Jewish cemetery.

As time went on it became very hard to get even a little food to buy, because the Germans took everything away. We were literally starving. But through happenstance we succeeded – thanks to my uncle – to settle ourselves in a village near Drobin. My uncle was a tailor, and the local farmers were interested in having him sew for them. So they provided him with a room, and all of us took advantage of the opportunity. We now had a place to lay our heads down, and we had no lack of food. And this is how we spent the harsh winter of 1939-40.

[Pages 366-368]

They Persecute Us

Later on an order was given to present ourselves to work for the Germans. I should emphasize that each order to present ourselves to work was accompanied with a warning that anyone who would not come forward to work was under a threat of execution. It goes without saying that almost everyone came forward. I left to work at a German company that constructed roads. The advantage of working was that we were paid and could buy ourselves food.

They never seized me to do any other kind of work, and in this manner several months passed quickly, until a new order was given – that all Jews who had not been living in Drobin before the beginning of the war had to report to the market place. My uncle Mechel and I came from the village to present ourselves. As we stood in the square, a German soldier who had come over to pick on me tried to knock my hat off my head. When I didn't let him, he beat me till he drew blood. Fortunately for me the trucks that were supposed to take us away were already there and began leaving immediately – otherwise who knows how I would have ended up. They took us away in dozens of trucks, and we had no idea where we were going.

Finally we were let off in a camp near Dzialdowo[20]. There we already saw from far away the accursed members of the SS, their whips extended to provide amusement for themselves over our bodies. They were lined up in two rows, and we had to pass through these two rows to get into our barracks. The cries and screams of the unmercifully beaten men were indescribable. Dozens of bleeding men, and those who couldn't even stand up anymore, particularly elderly men, remained laying on the ground at the entrance to the barracks. I landed only a few harsh, dry blows, but I felt them for quite a long time afterwards.

The camp that we had gone into was a transit camp. After a few days they put us in a train that brought us to Piotrkow Trybunalski, not far from Lodz[21], where they gave us neither the means to live nor a place to live. My uncle, Mechel, looked up an acquaintance, who provided him with a sewing machine and a corner to work in. Generally the camp in Piotrkow was not a very good place. All kinds of diseases were going around, and as a result many of the people caught them and died. There wasn't any food. So I decided to leave Piotrkow as quickly as possible. (As I found out later on, my uncle Mechel and my entire family [who had stayed behind] were sent to Treblinka, where they all perished.) One evening I took off the blue-white stripe, went off to the train station, bought a ticket to Warsaw, and with it ended my stay in Piotrkow.

The trip to Warsaw was very dangerous for a Jew at that time, but as it turned out I made it there. It was evening when we arrived. All the passengers stayed in the train station and took the opportunity to get some sleep. I was sitting in a corner with my head down, so that the German police should not take much notice of me.

I went out into the street at dawn and took a taxi to get over the bridge to Praga[22]. From among the group of taxi drivers one of them shouted “But this is a Jew, don't take him – he'll cause you trouble!” However my cab driver didn't pay any attention to this comment, and so luckily I crossed over the bridge and arrived in Praga. Interestingly, the driver didn't demand any more than I offered him, so he got paid for the ride only.

One hour later I was already sitting on a train that was headed for Mława[23]. To play it safe, I didn't get off at the Mława station, but instead one stop before. At this village station I met Polish farmers, who warned me not to go to Mława, where, they said, the Germans seize Jews and either send them away or shoot them on the spot. Therefore I set off in the direction of Ciechanów[24]. That day was Sunday, and I went along with the farmers as if I was one of them. After a tiring trip I arrived in Ciechanów.

I found out that there was a Judenrat[25] in Ciechanów. I was looking for some way to get in contact with them when a commotion broke out. The Germans had blocked off several streets to look for Jews who were in hiding. I hid in an abandoned house, where I stayed until it got quiet. Later I heard footsteps of people walking nearby, but since I could see that these were undsere[26] I came out. They explained to me how to get to the Judenrat. When I got there one of the Judenrat told me that harboring an illegal Jew in Ciechanów would be dangerous; they advised me to go to Mława, where there was a Jewish ghetto in which I would be able to hide out. They also helped me solve the problem of how to get into Mława. They secured a place for me among the boxes in one of the trucks that transported vegetables and potatoes. In this way I arrived safely in Mława and entered the ghetto after much effort, fatigue and fright.

[Pages 368-372]

In the Mława Ghetto

Despite my difficult situation it gave me a real fright to see the state of the Jews in the Mława Ghetto. The hunger was extreme. In each home one or more people lay ill. The sanitary conditions were not tolerable. And in addition every day the Germans gave new orders designed to shorten our lives even more. As a means of provocation the Jewish police were ordered to guard the periphery around the ghetto, so that no one could enter or leave. At the entrance they hung large signs with the word “typhus” on them. Regardless, the terror continued to grow.

One day they demanded that all the Jews of the ghetto report to the market place. It turned out that they had caught two Jewish boys with several potatoes, accused them of stealing, and sentenced them to death. As we arrived at the square we saw four gallows that had been prepared, and immediately they brought the four victims: the two boys, the father of one of them, and some other Jew. We were surrounded by soldiers, and the order had been given that anyone who showed any sign of grief by crying or shouting out would be shot. With pain and anger we watched the terrible tragedy unfold, and with heads bowed we returned to the ghetto.

One day a notice appeared in the ghetto that all men capable of labor should present themselves at the work office. I was one of the first to get there. They sent us out to build roads in the nearby village of Czernice. They put us up in barracks, and we were allowed to go back to the ghetto once a month.

Not far from our camp was a prisoner camp for Russian soldiers, whom we saw almost every day marching in groups of tens. They looked terrible – thin, pale, barely able to stand. The Germans were letting them starve. They did get some food from some Polish farmers who were transporting stones in their wagons, to be used to pave the road. Risking their lives, the farmers managed to find ways to give these prisoners small amounts of food to eat. But two of the farmers did pay for this with their lives. When the Germans caught them they took these farmers to the nearby town of Prosnicz, assembled the entire town in a place where two gallows had already been prepared, and hung them.

The situation in the Mława Ghetto worsened from day to day. There was just no food at all. So each time we returned to the ghetto we would collect some clothing or shoes, and on the way back to work we would barter with the farmers who were there. We would give them a pair of pants, a skirt or a pair of shoes, and we would receive some food in exchange. The day on which we would bring some of this food back to the ghetto was celebrated like a holiday.

One day when I was returning from work to the ghetto I developed a high fever. They brought me to the hospital, where I received the appropriate remedy, the application of bankes[27]. When the nurse lit the alcohol she accidentally spilled a little of it on the bed, setting it on fire, and I myself was also badly burned. It took a long time, but my wounds did heal, thanks to the devotion of the Jewish doctor in the ghetto, who soon thereafter died of typhus. When the weather got a little warmer I started going outside again.

Meanwhile the Germans intensified the terror in the ghetto. Once they called the Judenrat representative to the commandant's headquarters. He never returned. They sent a coffin with his dead body back to the ghetto, with an order not to open it, but rather to bury it immediately. Later they arrested the Jewish police who guarded the ghetto periphery and murdered them all. Aside from this they once took away 50 young Jews together with 50 elderly Jews, ordered them to dig a long pit, and then sent them back into the ghetto. That night it rained very hard, filling the pit with water. But this didn't bother the Germans, and before daybreak they led the same 100 Jews back out, shot them all and tossed their bodies into the water-filled pit. Their blood mixed with the water, forming a large lake of blood.

The Germans began to visit the ghetto more frequently, with the intention of murdering the people one by one. The summer of 1942 had almost passed when the Germans suspended the road-building work and split us up to work in the fields that belonged to the farmers from the surrounding villages. Suddenly an order was given that all the Jews had to return to the Mława Ghetto. So within a day or two all the Jews who had been working in the vicinity were gathered together in the ghetto. One rumor followed another, and no one knew what the morrow would bring.

One day an order was received that all the Jews of the ghetto must gather in the market place. After the square had filled up they conducted a selection, separating the young people from the elderly. At that time we already knew to some extent of the existence of death camps for Jews, and the rumor was that the Germans were preparing to send some of the Jews to a death camp. During the selection various interpretations of what was going on were circulating. One person would say that being on one side was good, while another argued that being on the opposite side was better. People were running back and forth. In the turmoil the Germans began to fire their weapons, and a young woman fell down, shot dead. When things quieted down they registered everyone who was in the square, and we were told to be ready to be called back at any time.

Two days later they called us back to the square. Nearly all of the residents of the ghetto – the young, the old, women and children – they registered us all and sent us to the train station. There they locked us inside freight cars, first taking away from each of us whatever he had: gold, money or other valuables. No one tried to hide anything. One woman had hidden a ten-mark note, and she was immediately shot.

Since we already knew about the death camps Treblinka and Auschwitz, we could, as the train moved, tell from the stations that we were on our way to Auschwitz. The train stopped after two days of travel, and we were ordered out of the cars. After walking for several minutes we found ourselves in front of a high barbed-wire fence with a large inscription, “Work makes one's life free”. We soon found out that this was Auschwitz.

[Pages 372-373]

In Auschwitz

It was the 18th of November, 1942. An officer stood at the gate of the camp, and with a short stick indicated who should go to the left and who to the right…Women, children and the elderly on one side; and healthy, young people on the other side. The implication of the directions was clear.

It would be superfluous to describe the camp with its gray atmosphere…The high barbed-wire fence with the giant light tower, the shouting and screaming and just plain tumult was deafening. They locked us up in a large barrack and immediately tattooed us with numbers on our left arms. My number, 76249, accompanied me [as an identification number] all the way to the liberation.

The first few days we hardly did anything. We stood around outside, and we saw the half-dead people who worked in the camp as cleaners and garbage collectors – pale, emaciated, and dressed in striped prison clothing. Several days later they took us away to another camp, about 7 kilometers away from Auschwitz. This was a camp that they had just begun to build: a total of 6 large barracks with 800 prisoners; knee-deep mud; a fence with towers, like that of Auschwitz, but with fewer people moving around. They gave us a place to sleep in one of the barracks, and slowly I began to get used to camp life. Our work was to build new barracks, which were soon filled up with people, mostly Jews whom they had brought from various ghettos. There I recognized several Jews from Dobrzyń and Rypin, but most of the Jews were from Holland and Germany. They also brought in German criminals who served as camp guards. There were also Christians from the German-occupied countries – those whom the Third Reich considered undesirables.

[Pages 373-376]

In a New Work Camp

After we had finished putting up the barracks, they attached us to the building commando, whose mission was building factories and refineries to extract gasoline from coal. This was in a giant area of greater than 20 square kilometers. We dug kilometer-long lengths where they placed electrical cables. We also dug trenches for pipes, and we built bridges. Hundreds of laborers were employed to set up the giant plant. But the work was not conducted as envisioned by the engineers, simply because the laborers didn't get fed.

We would get up while it was still dark, in cold weather when the temperature would drop to -5°C. We stood around for a half hour until the camp director arrived and counted us, and then we received a small slice of bread and a cup of black coffee – at least it was referred to as coffee. After that we marched off to work in a place located not far from the camp. We marched in groups of 30-50 workers, each of which was headed by a kapo[28]. At noon we received lunch, a grassy soup containing biscuits. This lunch was supposed to sustain us until dinner, which we received after returning from work. Dinner consisted of a thick soup with a small slice of bread, not enough to even satisfy the hunger of someone who was not working hard. It goes without saying that under such conditions of sustenance many of us became ill and unfit for the work after several days. Once the camp director observed that a particular worker was not capable of labor, that worker was not seen again.

The winter of 1942-43 was characterized by severe cold. The striped camp clothing that we wore at work provided the body with minimal protection from the cold, and many times one of the laborers' limbs became frostbitten. The cold prevented many of the laborers from properly carrying out their duties. The German supervisor would take note of such a laborer, and on the way back to the barracks he would knock that worker's hat off his head and tell him to go back and pick it up. We would then hear a shot ring out and the worker would fall down, dead. The report that the supervisor would give the commandant stated that the worker had tried to escape. The next morning the supervisor would receive a commendation. The cruelty of the supervisors was so extreme that they would severely punish us for wrapping small bags of cement onto our bodies for insulation on very cold days. Daily one could see the diminishing number of laborers who went out to work. The weak and ill were being taken away and murdered.

By chance I got acquainted with a Czech kapo, who was in charge of high-elevation construction work. He himself was a political prisoner. He arranged for me to be in the group under his command, and I worked there for almost two years. The supervision of the work was in civilian hands, and in any case we felt freer. The work was not so easy because of the cold that we felt more strongly higher up than on the ground. But they let us warm our hands around a fire, and they provided us with other similar comforts that made the day's work easier. We also found a way to get food for ourselves. I would just bring the kapo a shirt, and in return he gave me bread several times. All the supervisors were civil and, seeing our bitter fate, were sympathetic to us.

Meanwhile a new class of Jews arrived from all over Europe: Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Holland, etc. They were brought in special trains. They were ragged, but they didn't look that bad. Needless to say, however, they became weak, pale and emaciated after a short time in the camp. Mostly this happened to the middle-aged people, who couldn't adapt to the difficult living conditions in our camp. Every day they took away dozens of the ill, and we never saw them again.

There was no shortage of tragic events in the camp. The Germans accused a young Jewish boy from Lithuania of trying to smuggle arms into the camp. To carry out the verdict – death by hanging – they brought in a German officer from Auschwitz, a specialist in this profession. They ordered everyone to come to the place of execution, and before the eyes of thousands of spectators they hanged him. It should be noted that hangings were very common occurrences in the camp. Once when some kapos got into a fight with each other, they were put on trial and sentenced to hang.

Reports from the Russian front began to worry the German forces, and their behavior became more erratic from day to day. Their treatment of the Russian prisoners became more brutal after the latter had organized several escapes. The workers and also the supervisors didn't suffer any less: they had been negligent at completing the great plant in which the Germans were supposed to extract gasoline from coal. And slowly they were beginning to feel the shortage of gasoline. Rumors about their downfall on the Russian front also began reaching them. One could see it from their fallen faces.

One day, as I was leaving my barrack, I heard a whistling sound, and suddenly several bombs fell not far from the camp, towards where we had been building the great plant. In this manner several airplane sorties passed over, continually bombing the great plant. On that first day 30 British prisoners who had been living in a particular barrack were killed. More than 100 laborers on the great plant, where 30,000 workers had labored, were also killed. The great plant, which had almost been completed – and whose construction had been going on for more than two years with the help of tens of thousands of workers – was completely destroyed; it burned for weeks, and no one even tried to put the fire out. We were all happy about the downfall, but at the same time we were mourning for our 100 innocent victims who were killed in the bombing, nearly all of them Jews.

The Allies' planes paid us visits almost every day, and the panic that ensued as they approached was awful. The German experts and the engineers began leaving one by one, and we began to think about what might become of us. The German downfall was now already certain. Information reached us that Krakow had already been taken by the Russians. The German civilians began treating us in a very fawning manner, but we didn't trust them.

In the meantime a group of Russian prisoners succeeded in constructing an escape tunnel. The Germans found it, and only a few days before the liberation they shot them all.

Daily the German decline became more noticeable. The trains were now fueled by wood, and one automobile was forced to tow another – all these were signs showing that the war was ending and the downfall of the Germans was certain. But the question that the Jewish prisoners now had was whether they would live to see this downfall.

[Pages 376-379]

We Leave the Work Camp

One day we were given an order that we were all to leave the camp and to be brought in the direction of Germany. I provided myself with enough food. This was on the 20th of November, 1944, just two years after my arrival in the Boyna[29] camp. Accompanied by older soldiers – the young soldiers were all on the front – we began to march until we got to the train station at Gliwice[30]. There we were [about to be] loaded into freight cars, but just then airplanes appeared high above us, lighting up the sky with their incessant bombing. We were gripped with fear; many ran away, but no one knew where they had gone. On the way I had met someone from Dobrzyń, Yitzchak Nussbaum, but right away I lost track of him.

Even though I was wearing civilian clothes, I had been afraid to run away. We sat in an open field and waited to see what would happen. Then an order was given to load us into the freight cars. We stood inside them, pressed right up against one another. Those who were unable to stand and tried to sit down were trampled to death. The train went slowly in the terribly cold winter night; we were without food and even a little water. People died like flies. Every morning, when the train stopped for fuel and water, we found dozens of dead bodies, which we simply tossed out of the car. We arrived at the Mauthausen[31] station and they wanted all of us to get off there, but the German military forces didn't allow it. They said they didn't have any room for us. We continued onward in the direction of Oranienburg, near Berlin. The entire path to Berlin was covered with dead bodies from our train, which we were tossing out every day. When we got out in Oranienburg, after 11 days of travel[32], we were a total of 3,000 people who were left from the 10,000 that had started out in Boyna.

We were in the Oranienburg camp for only a few days, since Berlin was being bombed continuously. An order was given to bring us to the Flossenbürg[33] camp, which was located on a mountain. This was a camp that Hitler had constructed in 1933, soon after he came into power. The situation there was very difficult. There was nothing to sleep on, nor was there any food. Even worse, dozens of dead bodies lay around the barracks. They couldn't bury them because the mountain was made of stone[34].

I was lying on some boards, engrossed in thought, when suddenly I heard someone calling my name. It was two fifteen-year-old boys who had travelled with me the entire way. They had brought me some food, but I didn't want to take it from them until they assured me that they had enough food for themselves, as well.

I started thinking about how to get out of this camp, and when I became aware that they were preparing a new transport to bring us to a different camp I immediately signed up and attached myself to the group that was going to the new camp. As I was leaving, I noticed one of those two boys waving to me through the window to say goodbye. To this very day I don't know what happened to those two boys.

We went inside sealed train cars and arrived at Lansburg[35], near Stuttgart. This was a small camp with a few barracks near a large tunnel. Within the tunnel we worked in an aircraft plant. The Americans were bombing it incessantly, yet weren't able to do it any harm. We worked the night shift. Weak and exhausted, I was hardly able to stand. Knowing the Americans were already not very far away, the Germans had placed explosives along the walls of the plant, so that if the Americans approached they would be able to blow it all up.

Meanwhile the order was given to take us away from there. This was already in March, 1945. In the darkness of night we got together and began marching. We got onto a train and got off after one hour. As we exited the cars we found ourselves surrounded by soldiers. We all sat down. Meanwhile it started to rain. Some of us tried to stand up, but were immediately given a warning that whoever tried to stand up would be shot. We sat this way until morning. Wet to the bone, we were led to a camp named Kaufering[36]. There were no barracks there, only bunkers under the ground. We found out that not long before, several thousand prisoners died here of an illness that the Germans had not at all been interested in diagnosing.

After a few days they loaded us into train cars again and took us away, but with no destination. The Germans simply didn't know what to do with us.

During this trip I began to feel unwell. Unable to hold my head up, I fell asleep. The German soldier who came through the train car hit me in the head with his rifle. As the blood dripped down my face, my friends bound the wound.

Shortly afterwards we got off the train again, this time in a camp called Ganacker[37]. Here there was an airfield in which airplanes were parked, but with no fuel to make them go. I was ill and weak. My friends brought me some water with a little sugar. This was the aid that I received, while next to me lay a Russian prisoner who was near death.

Meanwhile the British had bombed the airfield, and all the airplanes in the airfield were burning brightly. The Germans fled. Left to ourselves, we used the opportunity to look for food.

Eventually SS police arrived and ordered us to march. Those among us who were too weak to walk were immediately shot by them. After 26 km of walking we came to a village named Arensdorf. There they didn't guard us very well. A few of us went into a barn full of bundles of hay and straw, hiding between the bundles. I had decided that, come what may, I would not go any further. Knowing that the day of liberation was just around the corner, we were willing to take our chances.

But when the police came back and saw that eleven prisoners were missing they began searching, and among other places they also searched inside the barn. They stabbed at the straw with their bayonets but didn't find anyone. They then took a group of 10 prisoners and shot all of them. This somewhat defused their murderous feelings, and thanks to that we were saved.

[Page 380]

The Liberation

After some time had passed, when we felt that things had quieted down outside, all eleven of us crawled out. The Americans hadn't yet arrived, but the Germans had organized a civil police force that protected us to make sure no one would cause us any harm. This was in April, 1945.

Meanwhile a German man who owned an estate appeared and invited us to come over to work for him. When we arrived he served us the best of food at his table. In this way he wanted to rehabilitate himself with his good deeds for what he had done to Polish and Russian prisoners during the war years.

A few days later, while we were sleeping in the barn, we heard a commotion, followed by the firing of machine guns. We understood that the war had ended and we were free. It was the 1st of May, 1945.

Although we felt as if we were newly born, we could not forget the thousands of victims whom we had lived with in the Boyna camp for two years, and who did not merit to see the downfall of Hitler, yimach shemoi le'oilomim[38].

Weak and broken, I began to establish my life anew, but with a bitter feeling – knowing that I was the only survivor from among my large extended family.

Let these lines serve as a memorial to my dear unforgettable parents, Miriam and Yosef Wolff Tzala of blessed memory; my sister Rochel with her husband Avrohom Stoltzman; my dear brothers Sho'ul, Shloime and Avigdor Tzala; and my uncles and aunts together with their families.

Yisgadal veyiskadash shemay rabbo[39].

 

gol377.jpg
Eliyohu Tzala, in garments of a death-camp inmate[40]

 

gol378.jpg
Yaakov Dratwa, in uniform of a Polish soldier[41]

 

gol379.jpg
Directors of Dobrzyń Association in Yaar HaKedoshim[42]
Right to left: Avraham Dor (Dobroszklanka), Yehuda Rosenwaks, Yehudit Polinicki (Lipka), Yaakov Cohen, and Yaakov Yechiel Bielowski[43]

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn-Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn-Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 354-380. Return
  2. Bydgoszcz is a large town located about 80 km west of Dobrzyń, in the Polish province of Pomerania. Return
  3. Prayer shawl and phylacteries Return
  4. Jewish religious school for small children Return
  5. Bikur cholim (Hebrew) = visiting the ill Return
  6. Chevro kadisho (Aramaic) = Jewish burial society, whose members prepare the body and ensure a proper burial Return
  7. Good deed (literally, a Torah commandment) Return
  8. Yid fun a gants yor = a Jew who is careful to observe both the ritual and ethical precepts of Judaism (literally, a year-round Jew) Return
  9. HaTechiya (Hebrew) = the revival or renaissance Return
  10. 33rd day after Passover, celebrated with archery and other sports, possibly in commemoration of a military victory during the Bar Kokhba rebellion in Israel in ~135 CE Return
  11. 8-day winter holiday, celebrating military victory of Maccabees in 165 BCE that later led to an independent Jewish state in Israel Return
  12. Anniversary of death Return
  13. A town 25 km due east of Dobrzyń Return
  14. Mława lies 100 km due east of Dobrzyń. Return
  15. Kutno lies about 120 km south of Dobrzyn. Return
  16. See the article by Yehoshua Flusberg, “The Men Left and Didn't Return”, on p. 137 of the Dobrzyń Yizkor Book (cited in Footnote 1). Return
  17. Inowroclaw lies 40 km south of Bydgoszcz. Return
  18. Plonsk lies about 115 km southeast of Dobrzyn. Return
  19. Drobin lies on the road back from Plonsk towards Dobrzyn. It is some 25 km northwest of Plonsk and about 90 km southeast of Dobrzyn. Return
  20. Dzialdowo is about 80 km north of Drobin. Return
  21. Piotrkow was a ghetto for Jews, located 26 km south of Lodz, in central Poland. See the following link: http://www.deathcamps.org/occupation/piotrkow%20ghetto.html. Return
  22. Praga is a borough of Warsaw that is located on the east bank of the Vistula River (see the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praga). Return
  23. The town of Mława lies about 130 km north of Warsaw and about 100 km east of Dobrzyn. Return
  24. The town of Ciechanów is located about 35 km south of Mława. Return
  25. Judenrat = German word for Jewish Council – a governing body, made up of Jews, set up by the Germans to administer a Jewish community in the German-occupied territories. Return
  26. Undsere = [some of] ours – a Yiddish expression for Jews. Return
  27. Bankes = suction cups placed on various parts of the body, a folk remedy commonly used in Eastern Europe. The variant used here appears to have been “fire cupping”, in which a cotton ball that has been doused in alcohol is lit and placed inside the cup for a short time to heat the cup and the air inside it. The cup is then pushed firmly onto the patient's skin in the desired location to make an airtight seal, and as the air cools a vacuum forms inside. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupping_therapy . Return
  28. A “prisoner functionary”, a prisoner who was assigned to supervise forced labor. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kapo_%28concentration_camp%29 Return
  29. The name of the plant was “Buna Werke”. See the following link, which describes the history of this camp: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monowitz_concentration_camp Return
  30. The Buna Werke site in Monowice was about 6 km away from the main camp of Auschwitz. Gliwice is located about 60 km northwest of it. Return
  31. Mauthausen is in Austria, about 500 km southwest of Gliwice, Poland. The train from Gliwice would probably have passed through Slovakia to get there. Return
  32. Oranienburg, Germany is about 700 km north of Mauthausen. The entire trip from Gliwice, Poland to Oranienburg (via Mauthausen) would therefore have been about 1200 km long. Return
  33. Flossenbürg is 450 km south of Oranienburg, back in the direction of Mauthausen. Return
  34. The Flossenbürg camp slave laborers quarried stone from the mountain. Return
  35. What is probably meant is Leonberg, the site of an aircraft plant hidden in the Engelberg tunnel, where slave labor was used extensively during World War II. It is located near Stuttgart, about 300 km west of Flossenbürg. See the following link for its history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engelberg_Tunnel Return
  36. The Kaufering concentration camp (near Munich) lies 200 km east of the Engelberg tunnel that is near Leonberg. See the following link for its history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaufering_concentration_camp Return
  37. Ganacker is located 200 km northeast of Kaufering. Return
  38. = “May his name be blotted out forevermore”, a Hebrew expression used to curse the memory of someone particularly heinous following mention of his name. Return
  39. = “May His [i.e., God's] great Name be exalted and sanctified,” the first few words of the Kaddish prayer that is recited in by mourners Return
  40. p. 355 of Reference cited in Footnote 1 Return
  41. P. 359 of Reference cited in Footnote 1 Return
  42. Yaar HaKedoshim (Hebrew) = Forest of the Martyrs, established in Israel as a memorial to victims of the Holocaust. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_of_the_Martyrs Return
  43. p. 369 of Reference cited in Footnote 1 Return


[Page 381]

After the Liberation[1][2]

by Gorny Frum

Translated by Allen Flusberg

In August, 1944, my brother and I were liberated in a far-flung village not far from Warsaw.[3] The war was not yet over, Warsaw was still in the hands of the enemy, and in the extermination camps thousands of Jews were still dying on a daily basis; the heavy, dark clouds that had been obscuring the heavens had not yet been swept away.

After we had left the bunkers we decided to leave the village because of the enmity of the local peasants, some of whom were ready to murder us—so as not to leave behind any living testimony that might yet, with the passage of time, reveal their hooligan-like anti-Semitic behavior as active facilitators of the Nazis.

In this rather indeterminate situation we set out for Minsk Mazowiecki (our father's birthplace), where we joined a group of about 25 men who had been rescued from bunkers that comprised a kind of ghetto.[4] The war was still continuing. In the distance one could see giant flames that we thought must be burning within the capital city of Warsaw, engulfed in fire. The sound of cannon was also quite easily audible.

Along the roads the Russian tanks were traveling in the direction of Warsaw. Large military legions marched through the town, among them a significant number of Jewish soldiers.[5] I recognized one of these Jewish soldiers as a fellow townsman: Leon Tinski[6], a grandson of Herna Lent. While he was around he would visit us often, each time bringing us food, a little each time. But after a short time the brigade he was in was called to the front and he disappeared. We never saw him again.[7]

Each day brings more earth-shaking news: we hear that part of Pomorze[8] has already been taken by the Russian army. With our last few pennies we buy a newspaper in order to know what is going on. All sorts of thoughts are going through our minds: possibly Dobrzyn is already liberated. I am already imagining my upcoming visit. Perhaps I will find someone I know there: a survivor from our extended family, neighbors or friends. Maybe I will be able to find out the fate of those precious, prominent Jews, among them my father, whom the Nazis arrested on Rosh Hashana.

The war ended in April, 1945. After much preparation, I was ready for the trip. I made sure to take along enough food for several days. Because of the danger facing Jewish travelers, I wrapped my head in a red, flowery kerchief that made me look like a Christian. Rumors were going around that Jews were being beaten and murdered—thrown from trains. But even in this situation I had prepared myself for my journey to Dobrzyn.

I travel in a freight train, and the journey takes six days. Finally I reach the Kowalewo station[9], from which I proceed to Golub on foot. Along the way I walk along with a group of young Polish men who are returning from incarceration[10] in Germany. They are joyful for their good fortune; they sing as they march along. They are back on their own terrain, on their way home to their parents and friends.

Just then the castle of Golub appears before my eyes. My heart begins pounding and I feel dizzy as I approach my beloved town, which I left five-and-a-half years earlier together with my mother and sisters. I recall the cold winter day when the Nazi beasts chased us, beaten and broken, out of the town, together with the other Jews of Dobrzyn. And today I am going back there alone, lonely and exhausted, after having gone through the seven sections of Hell.

Now I have reached the built-up section of Golub; with measured steps I walk along the streets that will take me to the bridge leading to Dobrzyn. I don't recognize the passersby that I see along the way; clearly they don't know me, either. With a feeling of despair I cross the bridge and go straight to the town square. It is Tuesday, a market day, but it almost doesn't feel like it at all. Only a few meager shops are serving the small number of peasants who have come from the surrounding area; gone is the tumult and commotion of the thousands who used to come here on market day. The dozens of shops, filled with all kinds of merchandise, and the stands in the square with various items for sale are no more. The handicrafts of the Dobrzyn tailors and shoemakers that were renowned throughout the entire region are not here. I turn onto Die Goldene Gass[11], the center of Jewish commerce in Dobrzyn. Dreadful! Barely a single house left standing; the street looks like a plowed-up field. I keep going and come to Die Lange Gass[12]. From far away I notice a group of children playing and laughing. As I get close to them they fix their blue eyes on me.[13] From there I turn into Die Shul Gass[14], where all the religious institutes and institutions, such as the synagogue, the beis medresh[15], the Alexander shtibl[16], the Talmud Torah[17], the Beis Yaakov Ulpan[18], the Community Board and the slaughterhouse. I think back to my childhood, when I studied in Beis Yaakov in the class of our beloved, unforgettable teacher, Gutmorgen of blessed memory. I look for some traces of the synagogue, but unfortunately all has vanished. Only small mounds, ruins, greet me from all sides.

Overcome by grief, I simply cannot hold back my tears.[19] My heart in pain, I wend my way in the direction of the Jewish cemetery, where I believe I will be able to find my grandparents' graves, and there bewail the great destruction. But I can't find the iron gate that stood at the entrance to the cemetery. I notice two shepherds nearby. When I ask them where the Jewish cemetery is, they reply as follows: “Here, on this very spot where you are standing, there was once a cemetery. Nowadays shepherds come here from far away for the good grass, to graze their flocks here.”

Mournfully I sat down on a rock, thinking: Even the graves of our dear ones, on which I would have poured out my tears, are also gone.

Downcast and dejected, I bemoaned the ebullient town—with its precious Jews—that had once existed, the Jews who for generations had woven colorful lives, and the beautiful young people who had been so full of hope. Now it was all gone.

I stood up and recited a tremulous kaddish[20], a lament over the plowed-up earth where the bones of our beloved and faithful once rested.

And now I understood that there was nothing more for me here. My heart was filled with a deep sorrow as I dragged myself back to the town, taking for the very last time a long look at the ruins of the town, where not so long ago an intensive Jewish life had flourished.[21]

When I got back to the town square a woman recognized me. She was a former neighbor of ours, who once worked for us as our shabbes goye[22]. She cried out hysterically, “Manya, you are still alive!” And immediately I was surrounded by a large number of Polish women from the adjoining houses, crossing themselves as if they had just seen a creature from another world.

They put on a pretense of pity for the destruction of the Jews, but the true inner expression that could be read on their faces was the very opposite, gladness and satisfaction.

My neighbor invited me into her home. I tried to decline, but finally I did go in. Inside the apartment I noticed several items that had once belonged to my parents.[23] I turned my gaze away from them.[24] As I drank the glass of tea that she served me, I felt as if I was being served a beverage tainted with poison. Here, too, I felt the horrible tragedy that had befallen our people.

With hurried steps I went back to the train station to distance myself from everything that had once been so dear to me.

 

gol384.jpg
Rushka Frenkel-Kahn, Daniel Itche's daughter. Died in New York. [25]

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn-Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn-Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 381-384. This article is written in Yiddish. Return
  2. A version of this article written in Hebrew appears on pp. 164-167 of the reference cited in Footnote 1. The Hebrew includes a statement that the article has been translated from Polish. Additions appearing in this Hebrew version are listed in several footnotes below. Return
  3. For a description of the author's experiences during the Holocaust period 1939-1944 see G. Frum, “Seven Sections of Hell,” pp. 149-160 of the reference cited in Footnote 1. Return
  4. Hebrew version adds: “They had been concealed by Polish farmers.” Return
  5. Hebrew version adds: “They come to visit us, bringing along food.” Return
  6. Hebrew version has: “Lieutenant Leon Tinski” Return
  7. Hebrew version adds: “He vanished without a trace in the chaos that prevailed at that time.” Return
  8. Pomorze is located about 120km east of Dobrzyn and 90km north of Warsaw. Return
  9. Kowalewo is about 12km northwest of Golub Return
  10. Hebrew version adds “in work camps”. Return
  11. Die Goldene Gass = Golden Street, or Street of Gold Return
  12. Die Lange Gass = Long Street (the Yiddish name), called Piłsudskiego Street in Polish Return
  13. Hebrew version reads: “As I approach them my eyes cloud over: the children are blond and blue-eyed.” i.e. she can tell they are not Jewish. Return
  14. Die Shul Gass = Synagogue Street, at the end of which the main synagogue stood Return
  15. Beis medresh = study hall for religious studies Return
  16. Alexander shtibl = prayer house (small synagogue) used by the Alexander Hassidim Return
  17. Talmud torah = older boys' religious school Return
  18. Beis Yaakov Ulpan = girls' religious school Return
  19. Hebrew version reads instead: “I am weeping inside, but I am making an effort to suppress my tears.” Return
  20. Kaddish = prayer recited by mourners Return
  21. Hebrew version adds: “And now the houses and streets were filled with murderers and collaborators.” Return
  22. Shabbes goye = Gentile woman who was employed to regularly come by and perform critical tasks for Jews on the Sabbath, tasks otherwise forbidden to Jews according to Jewish law. A typical task might be the stoking up of a previously lit fire that was being used to warm the home. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shabbos_goy Return
  23. Hebrew version adds: “The Gentile woman's daughter had been trying to hide them just as I was coming in.” Return
  24. Hebrew version adds: “And what value do these items have compared to all the precious things I have lost?” Return
  25. From p. 384 of reference cited in Footnote 1. Return


[Page 385]

Memories[1]

by Joseph Dratwa

Translated by Allen Flusberg

The 1926 Gypsy pogrom in Dobrzyn, which resulted from a blood libel against the Jews, is one of my early memories that engraved itself deeply in my mind. Although I was only a small boy in 1926, I already understood the danger that confronted the Jews, particularly in the small towns of Poland where they did not have adequate moral and physical protection. The favorable verdict that the Polish court reached with respect to the accused Jews—with Mr. Avrohom Flusberg the principal accused—stirred up the anti-Semitic circles in our little town, which immediately began a campaign to suppress Jewish business by picketing Jewish shops. Attacks against Jewish passersby also became common occurrences. Meanwhile, the inciting sermons given by the bishop every Sunday during church services supplemented the anti-Semitic passion and led to ceaseless persecution of the Jews in the town.

The economic situation continued to become more acute, causing a large number of the young people to look for a place to live far from home. As members of Hashomer Hatza'ir[2], Chaim Lord and I traveled to Rovno[3] for hachshara[4]. After we got there the war between Germany and Poland broke out[5], and Rovno was occupied by the Russians[6].

The roads around Rovno were threatened, with danger lurking over each and every step. Nevertheless we decided to travel to Vilna, which at just that time had been ceded to Lithuania[7]; we believed that from there it would be possible for us to get to Palestine.

Meanwhile the Russian-German war broke out[8], and we began wandering from town to town to avoid falling into the hands of the Germans. Finally I arrived in Russia, where I was interned in a camp. I underwent not a small amount of suffering in the several years during which I was imprisoned in the camp. When the Russians freed us, in the year 1943, it was with the purpose of establishing a Polish army that would have to fight together with the Russians against Germany. I allowed myself to be mobilized because I felt a strong desire for revenge, knowing already then of the complete annihilation of Polish Jewry.

Pursuing the fleeing German army, which was retreating in disorder and terror from the occupied territories of Poland, we arrived in Lublin. Not far from there, in the extermination camp of Majdanek, the terrible image of the great tragedy was exposed before our eyes. Only then were we able to properly appreciate the frightful destruction!

After a few days in Lublin, our military forces continued onward in the direction of Warsaw. We took the city without meeting any serious resistance by the enemy. Then, while taking a walk along the Vistula River in Warsaw, I met Leib Miller[9]. He was a political officer in the Polish army, very removed from Jewish nationalism, but after a long discussion on the age-old Jewish problem he agreed with me that the only solution for the Jews was—Palestine. Later, in a battle with the Germans in the forests of Bydgoszcz[10] he was taken prisoner, together with his entire unit. His fellow soldiers sold him out, and the Germans, finding out he was Jewish, immediately shot him.

After several weeks of expanding the fighting to a final offensive, we left Warsaw. There were serious battles on the way to the Oder River, but the German army was retreating incessantly. As we approached the Oder we began preparing for an offensive against Berlin. By then the German army was broken and beaten down; resistance was weak, and the city fell after a short battle in the streets. We saw and understood that this was the end of the war. The Jewish soldiers in the Polish-Russian army immediately began taking an interest in and searching in the surrounding camps for acquaintances, friends or relatives. My comrades went to a women's camp in which, after a short inquiry, they found a woman named Dratwa who originated from the city of Pomorze[11]. They immediately told me about her. When I got together with her I felt a cold sweat, and the two of us were paralyzed with shock: she was my sister. Right away, when I told my commanding officer about this turn of events, he suspected me of being involved in a Jewish scam[12]. But once he was convinced it was true he gave me permission to stay with her.

The path to a tranquil, pleasant life was still far enough away. After I was freed I traveled with my sister to Dobrzyn, but we found no one there. From Dobrzyn we went to Lodz. There we met many members of Hashomer Hatza'ir. Together with some of them I was transported to Germany and from there to Israel. On the way the British interned us in a camp in Cyprus. With the establishment of the State of Israel I arrived in Israel and participated in the War of Independence. And only then was I able to build up my own home.

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn-Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn-Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 385-387. Return
  2. A socialist-Zionist youth movement that encouraged immigration to Palestine and settling in kibbutzim Return
  3. Równe, Poland; now Rivne, in Ukraine, a town about 700 km southeast of Dobrzyn Return
  4. Training in farm work to prepare for moving to an agricultural settlement in Palestine Return
  5. September, 1939 Return
  6. After a pact with Germany, the Soviet forces occupied what had been eastern Poland Return
  7. The Soviets ceded the city of Vilna (now Vilnius), which had been in Poland, to Lithuania, which for a short period (until being incorporated into the Soviet Union in August, 1940) continued to retain some independence, thereby providing some opportunity to escape from Europe. Return
  8. June, 1941 Return
  9. A fellow native of Dobrzyn Return
  10. A city in Poland, about 80 km west of Dobrzyn Return
  11. A town in Poland, about 150 km east of Dobrzyn Return
  12. i.e., in a concocted story to obtain leave from the military Return

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