By Tuvya Evri (Yevreiski)
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The memory of my unforgettable father, Heikl Yevreiski. Thanks to whom my brother and sister and I lived through the Hitlerist horrors.
He became very sick as a result of the frightful events and died in the Bialystok hospital on the 22nd of Shevat 5705 (the 5th of February 1945), already having been freed.
The memory of my unforgettable mother Chana Yevreiski (née Khtiva), who sacrificed throughout her life for her children and who was torn away from us forever, lonely and forlorn, on the 2nd of November 1942, during the liquidation of Goniadz Jewry,
Honor their memory!
The frightening warning from the Hitlerist barbarianlike attack on Russia came to our attention in Goniadz immediately during the morning hours of Sunday the 22nd of June 1941. Chaos and panic engulfed the shtetl [town]: the Red Army ran around disorganized, young people prepared their bicycles to escape in the direction of Russia, wagon drivers drove out to the villages with their families and possessions. The wives and children of the Soviet command were evacuated to Russia on trucks. The lines at the cooperatives were long and wide. The population of the shtetl was confused and nervous… Others packed their possession and were ready to leave the shtetl.
German bomber squadrons circled
all day and from time to time explosions of bombs being dropped were heard in the distance. The bombers mainly were concentrated over the Osowiec fortress, aiming one by one for the Bober bridge that connected the two forts with the third. Several bombers flying over Goniadz flew low and with their machine guns shot groups of people.
Sunday night the Goniadz city council issued an order for a heavy mobilization of all citizens who had completed military service. Most of those mentioned above departed with the Russian army; only a small number, seeing the great panic that reigned over the army, took a risk and did not leave.
On Monday, the 23rd of June, the German artillery shells exploded
near the river; the shooting increased and the population began to leave the shtetl: one on a wagon that he was able to hire from a village Christian, one with a pack on his back, one with a smaller pack in his hand and one without anything on a bicycle. We ran and we went to the surrounding villages and colonies to hide from the shooting.
All of Goniadz was surrounded by members of the Red Army who lay hidden in the wheat fields in great heat, baking in the sun and asking the civilians escaping from the shtetl for a drink of water… Alas, no one had water; if someone was carrying a jug in his hand, it contained kerosene or oil.
The shooting in the shtetl increased at night. There was reciprocal shooting with machine guns. The Jews in the colonies and villages considered themselves fortunate that they had left the shtetl in time and were beyond the shooting.
The shooting stopped on Tuesday. The members of the Red Army began to withdraw from the shtetl. The Poles, seeing this situation, started to come from the surrounding area to the shtetl, half naked and barefoot to loot. They dragged civilian and military clothing, shoes, textiles, food, sacks of sugar, flour and the like from the cooperative. The artillery shells that fell in the shtetl and exploded near them did not frighten them. They ran around back and forth ceaselessly like hungry wolves after prey. Finally, a small group from the Red Army went through the shtetl and, seeing the looting, opened fire at a group of looters. Several fell dead from the bullets and the majority succeeded in escaping with the stolen packs in their hands.
The shtetl looked as if it were after a
pogrom. The doors and windows were broken, masses of various goods lay scattered around near the cooperative.
Clouds of smoke could be seen around the shtetl… The German artillery fire continued. The Osowiec Fortress burned.
The same situation persisted on Wednesday. At night the Red Army began to completely withdraw from the area. The withdrawal lasted the entire night and Thursday morning. Feeling that it had grown quieter in the shtetl and that the Red Army had withdrawn, little by little the Jews began to return home so that the Poles would not drag and rob everything that they had left in their homes.
The Polish population cleaned up everything that was left in the former Soviet cooperative. They grabbed the doors and windows from the other Jewish residences where Poles had not appeared quickly to drag out the furniture and take it to the village… In a word: they made good use of the time of the Jews' absence. They became joyous and jubilant: Thanks to God! We are finally rid of the Jewish communists, the Bolsheviks. In that mood and with those words they accompanied the Jews who returned to Goniadz. Powerlessness and loss hung in the air in the shtetl. The Germans were expected at any hour.
A rumor started on Thursday the 26th of June that German motorcyclists had appeared in the courtyard of the priest. The dressedup strolling Poles suddenly started to go to the priest en masse. The Jews all sat confined to their houses.
Not having time to pack, cook something to eat, they looked out of their windows with frightened expressions [on their faces] to see if they could see the Germans. Suddenly a German soldier on a motorcycle appeared in the street. All of the Poles, young and old, ran with all of their strength to be near him. It was only a few minutes and it already was dark with Poles around him. Two dressed up Polish girls, daughters of the old lettercarrier Soboski, carried bouquets of flower to him. All of those standing around him lifted the German in the air accompanied by great shouting: May our liberator, Hitler, live! Down with the communists! Death to Stalin! Right after, the majority of the young people went with hatchets and crowbars in their hands to the town's market where a Red Army stage stood. All of the holiday parades would be welcomed from it. The Poles tore it to pieces, then poured kerosene over it and set it on fire. Joy reigned among them: May the memory of Bolshevikism be burned! The crowd grew larger and larger and there was laughter, ironic shouts and finally singing…
The Polish population immediately began to worry about creating a regime in the shtetl so that anarchy and looting would not reign. A meeting was called in the former city hall that was located at the old market.
The Polish intelligentsia and leaders of the shtetl came to the meeting. A city council was elected at the head of which stood Jan Balonowski as mayor and Kempa as secretary.
Muca (Potocki Adas) was nominated as the police chief and he immediately built the city police out of a few dozen voluntary gangsters. They immediately put a white armband with a black swastika on their left arm and began their work… Dozens of policemen walked through the streets with white ribbons on their arms and clubs in their hands. The young Poles filled the streets and alleys and the Jews sat in their houses in fear and dread and were afraid to stick their heads out of the windows. Rarely a Jew sneaked into a back alley and made his way to a village or to Guzy to a Christian acquaintance for a piece of bread or a sack of potatoes for his hungry family. No Jews appeared at the market in the shtetl. Thursday also passed quietly.
Friday morning a large number of German soldiers marching through in the direction of Grodno, that is to the front, appeared at the market of the shtetl. The Poles separately stood around each soldier who was resting in the middle of the street from his long march. They carried water to them, polished their bicycles and pumped air into the tires. In a word: they made certain that, God forbid, no harm would come to them: they should be able to fight against the Bolsheviks. The German army march through [Goniadz] lasted without stop until Shabbos [Sabbath] afternoon.
It again became quiet in the shtetl. The regime again was in the hands of the Poles. They governed the shtetl.
As a considerable number of days had passed and the Poles had not seen any Zhidkes [derogatory Polish word for Jews], they wished to have a meeting with several Jews that day in honor of Shabbos.
There was an order from the Goniadz
city council to the police: bring several Jews who are considered to be communists to the city hall. They were severely beaten at the city hall and told to go home. In the morning of Sunday the 29th of June 1941 the situation looked very different. The local regime sent out all of the policemen to bring a sizeable number of Jews to city hall using a provided list.
The policemen left lightning fast for the Jewish houses, courtyards and alleys and dragged the demanded Jews to city hall. These [Jews] were supposed to be communists and Soviet activists: Elihu's son Yankl, Betsalel's son Leibl, Avrahamke the glazier with the grey beard, Henye the cantor, and others.
They gathered together about 30 such communists in the premises of the city hall. The police
tortured them terribly and murderously beat them. After, they were all told to go home, except for several who were detained. The young people could somehow walk, but the old, bearded Jews had to walk with help from those closest to them who held then under their arms. Several of them were ill for a long time from the wounds from the terrible blows that they had received over their entire body. After the little bit of work the city council informed the Jewish population of the following:
Every Jew must come three times a day to report to the city hall; they are threatened otherwise with a bullet in the head. Relief was provided for the heavily wounded: they could be represented [at city hall] by a close relative. In addition to this, it was ordered among other things that every Jew was obligated to go every day to forced labor. The concern and fear among the Jewish population began to grow even more
and more. Several Jews tried to escape to a nearby shtetl where they were not known, others to the Bialystok ghetto although making one's way there also was perilous, and others, most often artisans, to the villages [to stay with] peasants.
Groups of young people went to work every day: to build highways, to clear ruins and to break stones under the supervision of Polish policemen with whips in their hands that they would often stroll over the Jewish heads.
This situation lasted for several days until the sorrowful black Friday (3rd of July 1941).
On Thursday the Polish managing committee in Goniadz issued the following notice: All Jews who are in the villages must immediately return to the city. If a peasant is found with a Jew, the peasant and the Jews will both be shot.
The order threw great fear into the peasants in the surrounding villages. They drove all of the Jews who were with them back to the city. Friday, on the morning of the 3rd of July, during the morning check of the Jews, the officials from the city council ordered: Ten o'clock in the morning all of the Jews must go into the street, at the market of the shtetl.
The order immediately spread among the Jewish population and they began assembling in the street at a quarter to 10.
No one knew the purpose of this. Other Poles calmed the masses and said the German officer who had come with his accompaniment in two Mercedes automobiles wanted to give a speech to the Jews. A few people believed this and others
said: Alas, what kind of interest in us could the German officer have that he would want to give speeches to us? Not a half an hour passed and all of the Jews already were gathered on the street. Whoever did not come of their own will were dragged by force by the police. A search for the Jews began through all of the Jewish houses, courtyards, places of employment, attics and the like. Men, women, every member of the Polish population went to each corner, to each small shop to search for Jews. When small, gentile boys noticed a Jewish child somewhere, they immediately ran to let the police know about it and the Jewish [child] was dragged to the crowd standing at the marketplace while being beaten along the way.
After 10 o'clock several German officers suddenly were seen leaving Zaboszcziche's restaurant near where the Mercedes automobiles stood.
Their first order to the Jews standing in the crowd was: The Jewish women should isolate themselves from the men and stand on the side.
When the command was carried out immediately, the oldest officer ordered: All of the men should stand in two rows, one behind the other. When two rows of men formed opposite him he told the barbers to leave [the rows].
Both Goniadz barbers responded immediately. The officer told them to cut off the beards of all of the old Jews as they stood in their places in the row and the long hairdos of the young ones. The barbers began to do the ordered work lightning fast.
A large crowd of Poles stood in groups prepared with clubs and whips in their hands opposite the two rows of Jews and
dissolved in joy watching the Jews placed in the rows. The Gestapo officer then gave the Poles the following order: Choose all of the communists and members of the Komsomol [AllUnion Leninist Young Communist League] in the two rows and place them in a separate row. At these words, Kempa, the vice mayor and secretary of the city council, called out:
Why do we have to choose; all Jews are communists; one is not better than another. They all [without exception] need to be driven into the river and drowned. He ended with a shout: There is no way to choose.
The eyes of the entire Polish gang with the clubs in their hands turned to the Gestapo officer and waited for an answer. However, seeing that he did not change his order at Kempa's intervention, they began their work.
The entire crowd of Poles attacked the assembled Jews and began to drag members of the Komsomol. They had the best opportunity here to make use of their private and general anger at the Jews because every Pole was dependable. He had a personal hatred of whichever Jew; he went over to him and pulled him to the row of members of the Komsomol and communists. [They were] murderously beaten by the German Gestapo officers while going the short distance to the new row. They let out their great anger at the newly arriving Jews whom the police had pulled out of hiding and brought at that moment to the [market] place. Clubs flew over their heads from all sides and the shouts and moaning from the unfortunate ones echoed through the marketplace. The Jews were shocked to see such a terrible picture.
The entreaties of the Jews to the Poles that they not bring them to the bad rows were heartrending. One could hear a young Jewish man ask a Christian: Tell me, why are you dragging me? Did I ever do anything bad to you? Come psa krew The Pole answered: YOU once did not let me pass through a gate in Ostowiec. Where, when? the Jew asked in tears, I never stood near a gate. How can you say that about me? The Pole shouted, Come! Do not ask why, psa krew! and dragged him out of the row by his lapels and pushed him in the direction of the bad row. The young Jewish man was accompanied on his way by blows from other Poles and from the Gestapo officers. Beaten, bloodied, he was finally placed in the communist row. The distance between the rows was more and more moistened with Jewish blood that the murderers spilled separately leading each on through.
The selection ended in the course of two hours. In front of the entire gang stood two sections of Jews placed in rows. To the Gestapo officer's question to Mayor Balonowski's who are the communists? Balonowski answered: All of the Jews are communists. Only these (pointing to those remaining) are unofficial. And these (pointing to those selected) are official communists. Then the Gestapo officer said: Send the unofficial communists to work and you can do what you want with the official communists. After this he immediately sat in the Mercedes automobiles with
the remaining officers and left the shtetl.
The Poles also went to work The unofficial communists were driven to work on the highway under the supervision of many young, healthy Poles with clubs and whips in their hands. When life on the street became freer, the crowd of Poles became enraged and attacked the Jewish women standing in a line, gave them photographs of prominent men: Lenin, Stalin and the like, and asked them to hold the photographs with their heads to the ground, march through the streets and sing Soviet songs. The Poles laughed with great joy. They had rarely had such great satisfaction and such a happy day in their lives. Finally they began with the row of communists and members of Komsomol, which numbered around 200 men. After a short conversation among the prominent men of the shtetl, a large gang with clubs in their hands left for the smaller BeisMedrash [House of Prayer] Street. There they stood in two lines on both sides of the alley.
The unfortunate Jews in the line, tortured and beaten, with eyes full of tears, were taken to the BeisMedrash. Entering the BeisMedrash Street according to the order of police chief Muca (Potocki Adam): Bić Żydów! The gang of murderers attacked the Jews over their heads, shoulders, hands and feet, wherever it was possible, and beat kthem murderously with clubs and whips.
The Jews, seeing what was happening, began to run with their last strength to wherever their feet carried them. A significant number succeeded in escaping. However, there were more seizing them than those running away. Therefore,
the majority of those escaping were brought back as they beat them on the way. Everyone who ran to the left over the hill to the old market or to the sawmill near the river was brought back by the murderers. A significant number of those who ran to the right to the house of prayer, that is to Dolistower Street and to the boyna, succeeded in disappearing. The Poles gathered the majority of those in the lines and drove them to the house of prayer. Many agile gentile boys immediately brought bales of straw to set fire to the house of prayer along with the Jews, as was the plan. However, here several Christian neighbors immediately ran to the mayor and his representative and pleaded for mercy that the house of prayer not be set on fire because their house could be consumed by the fire. The plea was taken into consideration and the plan was changed; the Jews were driven back from the house of prayer and arranged in the courtyard, each of them with their hands tied with wire behind them and simultaneously bound one to the other by their arms in groups of three. All of the bound groups of three were placed behind the other in a line. Then Kaminski the carpenter lifted his club in the air and gave the command; they should lead them back to the marketplace. The rows began to move… Half dead people, bound with downcast heads, inexpressive eyes, open wounds, blood flowing, ripped clothing and unsteady feet, dragged themselves through the Goniadz market. A quiet lamentation, particularly from the older Jews, tore from their hearts.
The older ones lifted their heads, seeking the Jewish
God and reciting the vide [confession recited before death and on Yom Kippur]. The young ones turned their heads in all directions, looking at beautiful, blooming nature for the last time and parting with it for eternity.
Loud shouts and cynical laughter from the bloodthirsty louts [standing] around the line and satisfying their bestial instinct then and quieting their thirst for Jewish blood accompanied the unfortunate Jews on their way to their slaughter in Motke Kliap's cellar. They were shut in there and the doors were locked. Many of the voluntary accompaniers offered to stay on guard around the cellar so that, God forbid, no one escaped…
The Jewish women were told to go to their houses after they had taken part in the ordered demonstration in honor of the Soviet government.
The men who were taken to forced labor were brought back to the shtetl on Friday night and forced into a previously prepared barn at the corner of Dolistower Street. The doors of the barn were nailed shut and the police guard and volunteer guards all armed with clubs in their hands stood watch around the barn.
The lack of space and heat inside was indescribable. Only those who had entered first could lie halfsitting on the dusty, sandy ground and make a bed for themselves. The majority had to stand, one family member holding on to another or to a wall. The suffocating heat led to several weak, old Jews fainting and there was no water with which to revive them. Great fear
gripped everyone when night came. They heard more and more Poles assembling outside. At times several of them wanted to frighten the Jews by throwing stones at the doors of the barn. Each blow of a stone was accompanied with great laughter…
Their hearts were all full… They were tired, broken spiritually and physically. It was very rare to hear someone speak.
A little later a conversation among the Jews began to develop about their fate. The majority said that today they would surely ignite the barn with the Jews [inside], because nailing the door shut and the influx of many Poles pointed to this. They will now fulfill their wish, one called out. What they were incapable of doing during the day in the house of prayer they would do. The despondent conversations extended more and more deeply into the night until snoring by several people was heard. This had a very bad effect on the nerves as an accompaniment to the terrible mood that held sway over everyone.
Suddenly in the stillness of the night three rifle shots were heard in the distance that surprised everyone who was awake. Their hearts began to beat strongly and the fear grew from minute to minute. A voice was heard from a corner: Who knows which three Jews were just shot? A second voice called out: Will we enjoy such an easy death? The blow of a stone on the door interrupted the conversation and they listened to the noises outside with perked up ears.
The night passed peacefully. Gray rays of light sneaked in through the cracks and revealed that morning was coming. Everyone stood up on their feet and waited for something. What no one knew; their eyes
now turned to the door. They heard the nails in the doors being torn out outside. The guards opened the locks and opened wide the doors.
There was a new feeling among all of them. They began to have conversations among themselves. A happy look appeared on many faces. The women with pots of food nearing the barn and asking the guards to give them to their husbands and children was observed from afar. The guards fulfilled their requests. Little by little women from all corners of the shtetl began to come with baskets of food in their hands for their family members who were languishing in jail.
Several Christians appeared near the barn in the afternoon demanding Jews to work for them. A stampede of Jews began near the Christians. Everyone wanted to work in the open to wrest themselves from the crowded, dark barn. However the Christians only took their old Jewish acquaintances or the men and children whose families had paid for this well in advance. Little by little, more Jews left for work until the remaining remnant was taken for highway construction. The imprisoned Jews again breathed freer air and several of the older ones among them had gebentsht goyml, taking out a small prayer book from a pocket. They worked
|The rear part of Motke Kliap's brick building from the left (under the foundation) is the window of the cellar in which the Jews were imprisoned until they were murdered. Dr. Szer is accompanied by the commandant of the shtetl during his visit to Goniadz |
vigorously. The fear of receiving blows drove the momentum because if a Jew did not appear thankful for his work, one of the Polish foremen immediately hit him across his shoulders with his [the foreman's] club.
Little by little the hour for lunch neared. The women with the baskets of food and with…yellow patches on their chests began to appear. A shudder of horror went through everyone when they saw the yellow patches on Jewish hearts. The yellow patch is so much the frightening sign of shame. Yes!, said one of the Jews. The world has regressed back to 600 years ago. A great sigh and regretful look from hundreds of Jews welcomed their wives and daughters who had brought them food.
Everyone turned to the women with the question: What has happened to those imprisoned in Motke Kliap's cellar? The answer was: They are still there. Three of them had been removed the night before and taken away somewhere (This was: Shimeon Jewrajski, Alter Michnowski and Meylakh Feldman). What had happened to them was unknown… Many women had turned to Adam Potocki (Muche), Balonowski, Kempa and to the remaining bandits; they brought them much gold and dollars to free their men and children. We could not approach the priest, who called all of the
shots. There were expectations that others would free them. In addition, they [the Jews] had to have treasures; the bandits had received great control… They could only provide food for those in the cellar through the small and only window. Their cries and entreaties to be saved were heartrending. The fire is great! another woman called, They [the Jews] are running around as if crazy; they are carrying possessions to the bandits and they celebrate that there is something to give.
Everyone remained at a loss for words, with pale faces and sighing to themselves. Others, who had children in the cellar, wringed their hands and cried in grief. A louder shout, Do roboti!! interrupted the conversations and all of the men, many already with yellow patches on their chests, took their shovels in their hands and continued their work, but this time without as much energy and desire as earlier.
Night came and the foreman gave a shout: Fajrant! [Quitting time] the wellknown announcement that work was ending. They lay down their tools in one place and, tired, broken physically and spiritually, the Jews marched as one under the whips of their torturers into the large stall.
The barn containing the imprisoned Jews was at the disposal of every Pole, let alone to every German soldier, who would come to the shtetl, seeking people for work. The majority of them were taken away for work on Sunday, too, right in the morning. A smaller number also were employed by German soldiers, mostly with serving
them. The mood in the shtetl became one of devastation: when bringing the breakfast to the men in cellar they learned that 11 men had been taken out of the cellar on Shabbos. They were placed in pairs with their hands shackled one to another and taken somewhere. The wives of those taken away immediately began to have spasms and cry loudly when they heard the news. The policemen who guarded the cellar told them to go right home. When other women did not do so immediately they were beaten so badly they barely could reach home. Many women ran straight to Polish acquaintances in their houses to ask what had happened to the 11 Jews in the cellar. The answer was They all had been sent to work; they are all alive. A number of the women were calmed by the answer, but many of them did not want to believe it!
The stampede by the women to the Polish activists, to Balonowski and Kempa, became larger and larger. The wealthier women brought them all of the possessions as the price of freeing their family member from the cellar.
Several Jews were freed from the cellar and brought to the barn on Sunday. They were welcomed there with warm kisses and greetings, just as if they had come from the other world.
Meanwhile, there was a new tumult in the shtetl. The Poles provided the following rumor: armed Jews were hiding among the stalks in the wheat fields around Goniadz and today had shot a Polish girl as she worked in the fields. There was a hunt for the Jewish murderers. The Jewish women were afraid to appear even in the backstreets. The men were
suddenly taken away from their work and brought back to the barn. The policemen went from house to house and gathered small children of 14 years of age who had been free until this day. Everyone was dragged into the barn. The Jews understood that this was linked to great suffering.
Kempa appeared at the barn at night. He announced the following to the Jews: Today the Jews shot at a Polish girl who was working in the fields. She was wounded in the hand. So far we have not been able to find the murderers. If you yourselves do not give up the murderers, the barn will be burned along with all of you…
He left the barn after giving this order and everyone around began quickly to nail the door shut. A shudder went through all of the Jews. They remained as if frozen. No one could say a word. Many fell down with bitter tears. Others kissed their family members and one said: They searched for and found a nice blood libel against us; tonight we will burn. The rabbi began to recite Psalms and the Jews followed him. The desperation was great and very few closed their eyes in the nightmarefilled night.
The night passed quietly. Early in the morning the women brought the following news when they brought breakfast: five young men Hershl and Yehezkiel Kliap, Yisroel Lewin, Betsalel Zimnach and Zalman Niewodowski had returned home on foot from Bialystok. Nearing the shtetl, they met a gentile boy with whom they were well acquainted, Alfons Dolinski. The young men
asked him if it was quiet in the shtetl and if they could enter it. He answered them: I will ride to the shtetl on my bicycle and look over the situation and return immediately to let you know. But until I return I would advise you to lie in the cornstalks so that a bad person will not notice you. The young men obeyed their good friend. Not an hour passed when six policemen and the same young gentile appeared before them in the cornstalks. They dragged the young men out and told them to go with them to the shtetl. The policemen led them to the premises of the German command. Three policemen signed their names to something. Then they were accompanied by two German soldiers, took the five Jews to the cemetery. There they were told to dig their own graves and then they were shot.
The news made a frightful impression on those listening. Many could not eat their breakfast. Others cried terribly.
The breakfast hour ended. Little by little everyone with his group and its guard began to go to work. On Monday a considerable number of the Jews ransomed from the cellar joined those in the barn.
Monday night the bandits again wanted to hunt for the Zydkes [Jews]. A band of Poles burst in; the greater number of [the band] in the barn were policemen and they began choosing again. They looked for fresh candidates for the cellar because the number there had decreased. Heartrending scenes took place when children were torn from fathers, brothers from each other. The entreaties and crying did not help. One motion with his hand
|1st row, standing (from right to left): 1. Layzer the blacksmith (Sodorowicz), 2 ____?, 3. Cantor Centure, 4. Yosl Wercilinski, 5. Hilke Biali, 6. Yosef Sztrikdrajer (the son of the ropemaker), 7. Yehosha Cwiklicz and his wife.
2nd row, sitting: 1. Leibtczuk's son Motele (Malazowski), 2. Shmuel Ber Malazowski, 3. Itshe Biali. 4. Shaymele's son Yosl (Silocki), 5. ___?, 6. MosheMendl Blum, 7. Alter Garber.
3rd row: 1. ____?, 2. Yerakhmiel Guzowski, 3. ____?, r. Sztrikdrajer (the mother), 5. MosheMendl's daughter, 6. Chaya Biali (Itshe Biali's wife).
The photograph was taken when the Germans led a group of Jews who were praying.Sent by Dr. Szar during his visit to Goniadz in 1956.
by a bandit to a young Jewish man decided whether he would live or die. A group of young people was brought together that immediately was taken to the cellar.
On Monday and Tuesday there again was success in ransoming Jews from the cellar, until 17 men remained there. During Tuesday night (15th of July 1941) they disappeared without a trace in the same manner as the previous 11 men.
The Jews were held in a barn for another week until Balonowski came and announced the following: All Jews are now freed from the barn. Everyone can go to his residence, but everyone is obligated to go to work every day, wherever they
are sent by the German representatives. He immediately designated three of the formerly rich merchants as Jewish representatives to the Polish city council. These were: Hirsh Finkewicz, Asher Kobrinski and Shmuel Lipsztajn.
Those listening accepted the news with great joy and surprise and everyone quickly went home.
The question of creating a ghetto became timely immediately after the liberation from the barn. All of the commissions accompanied by the city council members strolled around through all of the streets, alleys and courtyards of the
shtetl looking for a suitable place for a ghetto. It was decided to create the ghetto at the old marketplace after long quarrels at the city council among the various commissions. The decision was accepted. The plan for driving the Jews into a ghetto was worked out by the German members of the Gestapo who were supposed to come down from Bialystok for this purpose. The official announcement to the Jews was supposed to be given suddenly and the move was not to last more than a half hour so that the Jews would not be able to take their possessions from their houses and would take along only small packs in their hands under the whips of the Gestapo and the Polish hooligans. The news unofficially reached the Jewish representatives who had formed the socalled Judenrat [Jewish council] (through Polish acquaintances). These [the Judenrat members] did not want to cause an uproar and panic among the population that could disrupt the negotiations with the city leaders about abrogating the decision, it should be understood with the payment of money. Therefore, the Judenrat members entrusted the secret only to their close friends. They told the population They are preparing to create a ghetto and enclose all of the Jews in the ghetto. We need giant sums of money in order to pay a bribe. The Judenrat also sent wagons across the shtetl for the women (it was not healthy for the men to hang around) to gather money and gold. Hearing the announcement, very few refused to give. The wealthier ones gave gold coins and gold watches. The poor jewelry, rings, chains that they had received as an inheritance from grandfathers and great grandfathers. Poor women gave their wedding rings everyone gave whatever was possible. They collected 750
grams of gold. As the Judenrat members said, a certain sum was immediately given away. To whom and how much this was a secret because the city leaders had strongly warned against this. Naturally it was thus that the mayor, Balonowski, his representative, Kempa and the police commandant Muca Potocki received the largest portion.
On the 20th of July, pairs of women again went to the wealthier Jews for more money. A fire again is burning, they said, and this already was enough to get what they wanted. The foreign currency that the swindlers with the gang would take was American dollars. They also ripped [money] from the dead and from the living. Whoever did not have any dollars but did have other valuable things was forced to give them to someone else as a pledge [collateral] for a few dollars for the assessment. The fire was so great the fund needed to be collected in a few hours…
Later, a rumor appeared at the noon hour that the military headquarters was leaving the shtetl and the population again remained without a government. Everyone was filled with fear at hearing the news. A Pole would again be the leader and judge! Anger and fear of the arbitrary regime that would again begin to rule the shtetl spilled from everyone's face.
Other Jews did not believe the spreading news at first, but when the residents at the market saw through half closed windows how the headquarters was being packed onto military trucks, there was no longer any doubt that it was true…
Night arrived. The gloom among the Jews became greater with the arrival
of the commandant. On the other hand, the Poles became lively. Crowds full of young Poles and families with children strolled through the sidewalks of the market with happy faces. Their laughter penetrated into the Jewish houses and was like bullets in the hearts of the Jews who sat there in fear and dread. At times a stone or a stick banged against the closed Jewish doors and shutters. In several Christian houses they became intoxicated with the two barrels of whiskey that had been found buried in Rudski's cellar. The screams and singing of the drunk resounded throughout the market in the shtetl. Evening arrived. The tumult lessened from time to time and it became completely quiet later in the night. The Jews then became a little calmer and they went to sleep.
Suddenly a shout from of a woman's voice was heard around one o'clock at night: Fire!!!… It's burning!!!… Save [me]!!! We woke up in our house and everyone ran to take a look in the direction of the market through the closed shutters. My mother said: There is nothing to see; only a tumult can be heard in the distance. My father and I ran up to the attic to look at the street through an opening in the roof. And thus I saw before my eyes a light summer night. Bands of young, gentile men armed with clubs in their hands walking around through the market of the shtetl. A significant number of them were concentrated near Sonia Luria, the midwife, and the rest left for the old market. A wagon stood near ChayaRuchl Luria's brick building on which sat several Jews. From time to time more Jews were brought and they were thrown into the wagon. Afterwards several Poles were carrying badly wounded or dead bodies that they slid onto the wagons just like slaughtered cattle. From time to time
we heard quiet moaning from dying Jews. When about approximately eight people were on the wagon (in addition to the dead that lay at their feet), the wagon began to move from its spot. It was accompanied by about 10 hooligans and traveled in the direction of Tifle Street. Heartrending screams of men and women were heard at that moment. But they suddenly became quiet. The hooligans beat them murderously over their heads with the clubs, probably as punishment for the screams. We also saw that the hooligans, about 10 men behind the wagon, were leading several Jewish souls and beating them with their clubs from time to time. The wagon entered Tifle Street and disappeared from sight. Bands of Poles with clubs in their hands filled the market of the shtetl even more. A number of them went to the old market. Suddenly a shout was heard: Zlapiacie!!!… Trzymajcie go!!!… and we immediately saw a man run from the old market lightning fast and several hooligans ran after him at a distance of 15 meters. Several of the strolling bandits at a second corner of the market shouted loudly and ran to catch the Jew. Seeing his situation, the unfortunate one ran to Hershl Khine's brick building with his last strength and knocked on the door of the Pole Woronecki, pleading with him for mercy, that he should open the door and let him in his residence. However, the door did not open. Meanwhile, the bandits caught him. It appeared from afar that they were tying him up and he remained lying on the ground. He was beaten murderously without end. I only wondered at his silence during such a long period of torture. Mostly one murderer, who was the last to remain near him really excelled, after all of
those remaining left him alone. Finally he also left him and went further into the old market to his earlier work.
The tortured bodies lay drawn out near Woronecki's small bridge and died out like a light.
The traffic did not lessen. Hordes of young and old Poles carried packs with looted Jewish property on their shoulders and in their hands. Finally they were seen carrying kitchen utensils and pails. Suddenly two bandits stopped near Nisen the butcher's house (our neighbor to the right) and knocked with strength on the door, shouting in Polish: Open it quickly! A woman's voice was heard: Immediately! We are coming! However, the knocking did not stop, but strengthened. The door opened and both bandits entered the residence. Five minutes did not pass and the bandits left. They walked in the direction of the old market where they disappeared. They were there for a short time and returned, accompanied by about 20 bandits with clubs in their hands. They marched from the old market straight to Nisen the butcher's residence.
Around 10 men remained standing, hidden behind the front wall and the rest went inside. Through the opening of the gable that was located five meters from the tragic place, we saw the bandits light matches, candles and go around with the homeowners, looking in every corner and crevice. They asked the owners to open the oven door; it was thoroughly searched, too. In the end, everyone was told to go out. Whoever did not move fast enough received a sharp blow from a club so that he ran in pain on all fours. Finally the entire family left: Nisen the old butcher with both of his daughters, their husbands and small children who numbered
in total 10 people. They were all placed in the alley. One of the bandits immediately began to beat Nisen's soninlaw. A second bandit, a better one, told him: Do not hit him so hard! Leave him alone! When all 10 were outside they told them to walk… Quiet crying was heard. Nisen's daughter held the small hand of her threeyear old daughter in one hand and she carried her twoyear old little girl with her other hand. The family left the alley and walked along the market.
The bandits who were hidden outside the front wall watched and immediately entered the residence where they robbed everything from the bedding, the furniture to the kitchen dishes. Suddenly a terrible, heartrending shout from the distant, unfortunate Jewish family.
Mostly, the despairing shouts of the women were heard, but their voices suddenly were silent.
Looking at the market of the shtetl that stood in the grayness of the morning I saw several bandits who were still moving around hurriedly with the clubs. Among them I recognized the wellknown bandit, Kuc Branek, both Czajkowskis (brothers) and the Kaminski brothers. The bandits entered Tifle Street where they also had taken Nisen the butcher's family. It already was very light in the street, but we saw no living souls. It appeared that all those taking part had gone with the Jews who had been taken outside the city to finish the work that they had begun at night.
The sun rose normally as every day and sent its golden rays to the Goniadz market. The birds flew opposite it with song… At the same time, the bandits did their sinister work…
Early on Monday, the 21st of July 1941, the following information about the terrible Sunday night was provided by an eyewitness.
Twenty victims fell: Sonia Luria, the midwife, Wolf Rajgrodski's entire family five people, Yosef Kobrinski, and Nisen the butcher's entire family 10 people. The first visit by the bandits was to the midwife. The bandit Olszewski murderously beat her over her head with an iron bar until she fell dead. Her husband tried to escape through the window. Noyza, her daughter, was beaten murderously by Olszewski. She fell on the ground in a faint and gave the impression that she was dead. Therefore, the bandits went to their further work. Meanwhile, Noyza came to and escaped through the back window into the courtyard to a hiding place. The bandits, returning in a much greater number to take the dead bodies, found only one instead of two. All of their searches brought no results. Therefore, the bandits, alas, had to be satisfied with only one murder victim. The dead body was carried outside and thrown on the previously prepared wagon that stood not far from the residence. Further outrage happened to the Biali family. A large band of murderers led by Bronek Kuc and the Czajkowskis went there. They knocked on the door that it should be opened.
When Mrs. Biali heard the knocks she immediately told her husband (Hilel [the diminutive is Hilke]) and her oldest son to hide in a hidden room, sure that they would not do anything to women and small
children. Her husband and son did so and Mrs. Biali and her 10year old son, Yosef, remained lying in bed. However, when the knocking became stronger, Yosef Kobrinski, who lived in the garret, awoke from his sleep and boldly went to open the door. As soon as he opened the door, he received a club over his head. Despite this he oriented himself, ran through the band and escaped. Four bandits started after him and after a long chase through the courtyards and alleys, Kobrinski ran to his good Christian acquaintance, Waronecki, and asked him for mercy and to let him in. However, the Christian did not open the door for him and he met his terrible death there. As described by the Christian, they bound his hands behind him with telephone wire. They stuffed rags into his mouth and murdered him with clubs.
Meanwhile, the majority of the band entered Biali's house and dragged the woman, Miriam Biali out of her bed in her nightshirt and heavily beat her and led her out on the balcony of her garret. There they bound her throat in barbed wire and hanged her on the balcony until she was dead. The son was murdered with an iron rod. They also murdered Hilke Biali's brother, Motl. The dead bodies were then thrown on the wagon.
The Rajgrodski family, it appears, were placed alive on the wagon. Avraham'l, the oldest son, successfully jumped off the wagon and disappeared. However, not a half hour passed and the Christian woman, Lubecki, came to tell the bandits that Avraham'l Rajgrodski was lying hidden in the bushes in her garden. He also was immediately caught.
A Part of the Old Market
|First building on the right (two stories) Hilke Biali's brick building. Miriam Biali (Hilke's wife) was hanged from the balcony. The second building was Chaim Poliak's (Kobrinski's) brick building|
Jewish residents of Tifle Street said that when Nisen the butcher's family was led through their street one of his sonsinlaw lay in the wagon in a pool of blood and the bandit Witek Roszinski went after it with a rag in his hand and wiped the blood off the cobblestones so that there would be no trace! They were all taken to the Majewo Hill and they were murdered there in a terrible manner and buried. A few days later a Polish peasant acquaintance from that area said that Nisen the butcher had been buried alive. During the early morning hours he succeeded with hard work in crawling out of the grave. However, when a small shepherd noticed this, he immediately ran to the shtetl and reported it to the city hall. Suddenly
two policemen with iron bars in their hands rode there on their bicycles and completed the work. As was corroborated later, at the beginning Nisen the butcher's family strongly resisted the two bandits who came to take them from their residence. However, the bandits returned and brought help.
On Monday the 21st of July there was not yet a military regime in the shtetl. Therefore, fear among the Jewish population increased as the witnessed the new methods of annihilation implemented by the bandits. There was no one to complain to about this because there was no military regime in the surrounding area. Their only hope was placed on the Jewish girls who
would go on foot every day to the Osowiec Fortress to work for the German officers. They were told not to be afraid and to tell everything that had occurred during the previous night.
With great tension everyone waited for the 15 girls to return from Osowiec, wanting to hear the report from there. It was later revealed that the fortress commandant immediately intervened with the uniformed military police by phone. The answer from the uniformed military police was that they would come to Goniadz on Tuesday (the next day) and make order. The fortress commandant also asked the Jewish girls to write the names of the bandits. The report calmed the Jewish population in the shtetl to a certain degree. However, another night of powerlessness and neglect was approaching and it was possible that the bandits would continue their work of the previous night. A plan was created by a group of young men to organize and stage a resistance against the murderers. However, it was unworkable because they did not have any weapons. They also established small groups in many residences, arming themselves with axes and large hammers. It was decided that the first bandit who appeared in the window would have his head chopped off. Then they would wrestle with the remaining bandits with their last strength.
The residences where the older Jews lived remained empty because their owners had left to spend the night in various hiding places and bunkers.
The night passed in complete quiet. The next morning, Tuesday at noon, four uniformed military police appeared in the shtetl on motorcycles, armed with automatic weapons. They immediately
went to the residences of the murderers who had been pointed out to them by the Jewish girls. They only found seven of the murderers. The military police carried out thorough searches [of their residences] that provided better results than imagined. In addition to the looted Jewish possessions, they also found looted Soviet military clothing and canned food from the military storehouses. According to the law, death was the punishment for this. The uniformed military police shackled the hands of all seven bandits in chains and took them away to Osowiec. After such a long wave of pogroms, a ray of light and joy appeared for the first time in the dark, frozen, Jewish hearts. The Jews began to breathe more freely. On the other hand, the Poles became fearful. Their commerce in the shtetl decreased greatly and many bandits hid, fearing the uniformed military police. Several days passed and the seven bandits were still being held in Osowiec. The investigation of [the bandits] was continuing. The city council members could not rest and the mayor, Balonowski, and his representative, Kempa, every day would ask the local military regime on their [the seven bandits] behalf for their freedom.
They cited the law, that it was permitted to murder Jews and, therefore, their imprisonment was unlawful. The fortress commandant answered them with these words: We will annihilate the Jews ourselves without you. With regard to the arrest of the seven Poles, it was not for murdering Jews, but for stealing their possessions. According to the law, the penalty for that is death. The city leaders, alas, had to return to the shtetl with empty hands. Hearing this report,
the sorrow of the Polish population increased. However, they did not rest and made every effort until it finally succeeded in freeing one bandit, Paszkowski. Immediately in the morning after his liberation the uniformed military police shot all of the remaining six bandits. From that time on, safety in the shtetl increased from day to day, particularly when a fresh German command arrived in the city three days later.
The situation in the shtetl stabilized. Groups of young people would go every day to various work in the shtetl and outside it. The Judenrat, which added three more members and became the official representation of the Goniadz Jewish population, would designate the people for work. It received permission for a premises and arranged it as it wished. Finkewicz was designated as the chairman of the council and Brzaczinski as secretary. Every night, an errand boy would carry the names of the Jews capable of working the next morning who were promised for the needed work. The members of the Judenrat were not freed from wearing the yellow patch, except for the chairman who wore a blue band on his left arm with the lettering Judenrat.
Even though the shtetl had become quiet, the danger again grew during the time when the remaining main bandits strolled freely through the streets and the German uniformed military police did nothing to them. Their selfassurance increased and little by little they again lifted their clubs
in their hands and lay stretched out in the dozens at the Jewish Frantowe bridge waiting for the sun and teasing the Jews.
The city council members sat at meetings day and night without interruption. The agenda was always the same and well known the Jews. The ghetto question again surfaced. The city council members went to the shtetl market, down in the valley, after it was decided to create a ghetto, and reached the decision that this area was suitable and able to receive the 980 Jewish souls in the shtetl. The living conditions needed to be: six men in a small room.
When the Judenrat was informed about this information through the city council, it immediately went through the shtetl for contributions for the city leaders to suppress the plan.
For many in the population their last few dollars had gone for the earlier money collections. Many already had pawned their last holiday suit of clothes. A certain sum of dollars was collected successfully with great difficulty that was divided among the city leaders. It was impossible to talk to the priest himself because he had extracted [bribes] quietly while publicly he made the pretense of being good. Balonowski received the largest sum of dollars as well as a gold pocket watch with a long golden chain. The remedy immediately worked on them and the work of burying posts for the ghetto fences was stopped the next morning.
Several quiet days passed until the city leaders were again hungry. Then they remembered that it had been too long since Jewish victims had fallen. They also made
a list of 50 men and told the policemen to bring them to the city hall. When the policemen delivered the requested Jews, another four policemen were told to take them to the fortress commandant as communists. The order was carried out immediately and they began to lead the Jews… A significant number in the group consisted of older Jews. There were women among them and the remainder…the young ones. One [member] of the group succeeded in escaping while still in the shtetl, at the old market. The police all shot at him, but without any success. He jumped over a fence in a fruit garden and disappeared from the shtetl. The majority of the group had no idea why they had been chosen, while there had been certain criticisms of others. For example, the old Moshe Grin had expressed [the opinion] to a Pole during the time of the Soviet regime that the brick cross monument that stood at the market of the shtetl would be taken down. A woman at that time said to a Polish woman when she attacked her: Do not act like that! Your antiSemitic regime is finished! The Christians remembered this and when the city council announced in the shtetl and in the villages Whoever has a complaint against a Jew should report it at city hall. This was enough for the city council and they immediately crowned them [the Jews] with the name communists, so that they would be shot by the Germans.
When they arrived in Osowiec with the group of communists, the fortress commandant fortuitously was not present. The police stood with the Jews and waited for a considerable time near the headquarters' building. The waiting old Jews with beards and the women aroused astonishment with every German officer driving through and attracted their attention. They stopped and asked the policemen what kind of criminals they were. They were surprised when they heard that they were supposed to be communists, stared, shrugged their shoulders and went further on their way.
Finally the policemen waited for the fortunate hour when a Mercedes automobile arrived from which emerged a gray old, bent oberst (colonel). He summoned a policeman. The policeman ran quickly to him with a smile on his face, convinced that finally he would achieve his purpose. The oberst asked him: Who are these people? These are communists, Herr Oberst!, the policeman answered with pride. Hearing such talk, the oberst scowled at him and said: Whom have you come to confuse? Such old men and women are communists? He shouted at him: Let them go home immediately and do not bring them here again! The oberst went back into his Mercedes automobile and left right away.
Sulczinski, the policeman, remained standing, ashamed, with his head downcast to the ground and did not know how he should give such a sad answer to the Jews. He was unable to tolerate that they would be happy, but, alas, he must. Little by little, bloodthirstily he moved towards the group of Jews, because he could not wait any longer and he said to them: Listen, you know what I will say to you, come! We will go home. The Jews already understood what was happening because they had heard every word of the oberst that rang through the square. Smiles appeared on their faces, many
began to kiss each other in great joy. One woman had spasms and, after half an hour of resting in the nearby pine forest, the policemen returned to Goniadz shamelessly with the Jews. It is impossible to describe the joy among the Jewish population. Wives, husbands, children and grandchildren ran out to their dearest ones, kissed and hugged each other with tears in their eyes. On the other hand, there was great gloom and sadness among the Polish population in general and the state leaders in particular. They were ashamed to show their faces to the Jews. However, the Jews did not celebrate for long and the Poles did not grieve for long. The city council held more meetings and baked a fresh plan that it began to carry out three days later.
Just as every afternoon, on Sunday, too, the labor director of the city council announced the number of required workers for the next day to the chairman of the Judenrat. The only difference was that this time the chairman Finkewicz received a supplementary, detailed list with names of 18 men in addition to the general daily number of workers. These had to appear early in the morning on the synagogue hill to dismantle the only remaining wall of the synagogue that had been burned by the Germans in 1939. The pretext was that the destroyed wall could lead to catastrophe. The representatives immediately gave the news to the Jews of the shtetl and informed them about the 18 people on the list. A number of the requested people had been among those taken to Osowiec a few says before. It
should be understood that it was clear to everyone that something was happening.
The more welltodo Jews on the supplementary list immediately ran to certain Polish leaders with money to ask to be freed from the next day's work. However, there were weak results from all of the efforts. No more than two young men were freed from work. A number of the 18 wanted to hide somewhere for the day. However, this, too, was not so easy because Christian acquaintances were afraid to let Jews [into their house]. Yet, five Jews succeeded in hiding somewhere. When during the work at the synagogue hill, the policeman learned that five Jews on the list were missing, in addition to the two who were freed, they left immediately to carry out searches in their houses, but no one was found there. The 11 Jews worked hard that day and at night, after the work, the policemen took them to Cerela's new, concrete cellar. They were held shut in there for about two weeks. It was impossible to ransom any of them. No one knew what they planned to do with them. After the 11 Jews in the cellar had been under arrest for two weeks, two Mercedes automobiles of German gendarmes appeared at the market of the shtetl. A great panic occurred in the shtetl. Other men tried to escape somewhere outside the city. Women ran through the side alleys to learn something about this. Meanwhile, the group of gendarmes entered the residence of the city leader, Balonowski, where they lingered for about half an hour. Then they left accompanied by Balon
owski, Kempa and several Polish policemen to visit the city council, militia and so on, until the door of the cellar was opened for them and they saw before their eyes 11 imprisoned, miserable Jews. When the gendarme commandant asked who these people were, Balonowski answered: these are Jewish communists. Then one of the young men (Shmul Hirszfeld) went to the oldest gendarme and said, pointing to Balonowski and Kempa: The bandits previously took our gold and dollars and then imprisoned us for an unknown reason. Meanwhile, they will not bother those who are rich and still have money, but they want to take our souls from us, the poor Jews. The bandits have already murdered over 60 innocent Jews by their own hands while the shtetl was without a commandant. Not being satisfied with this, they are using the opportunity of there not being a German civil regime in the shtetl and little by little they will murder all of the Jews in the shtetl. Save us, Herr Gendarme Commandant!… Have pity on us and free us from their murderous hands!… The young man cried, joined by all of the remaining Jews. Balonowski and Kempa stood with bowed heads and pale faces, not saying one word. All of the gendarmes turned to both city leaders and looked at them from head to feet. Suddenly the gendarme commandant shouted out to Balonowski and Kempa: Do not torture the Jews anymore! Free them immediately! Both city leaders stood at attention and answered: Jawhohl [Of course]. The commandant said to the Jews: Go home! You are free! The
Jews, astonished by the sudden fortunate change, lifted their hats in the air, in honor of the gendarmes, thanking them sincerely for their liberation. The gendarmes, in answer, nodded their heads to the Jews and the imprisoned Jews ran lightning fast to their homes. The gendarmes went back to Balonowski's residence where they carried out a thorough search looking for Jewish gold and dollars. However, it appears that Balonowski had taken care of this and there would be no treasure found in his residence. Thus the search had no positive results. The gendarmes returned to their Mercedes automobiles and left the shtetl.
After the last two defeats, the ambition of the two city leaders increased. They did not rest long until it occurred to Kempa to send an official report to the central office of the Gestapo in Bialystok about the 11 freed Jewish communists and he requested that the Gestapo come to Goniadz and take them. The official report was signed by Balonowski and Kempa and was sent in secret to Bialystok. Meanwhile, five gendarmes arrived, who settled in the shtetl and formed a municipal gendarmerie guard. The commandant of the gendarmes immediately called the chairman of the Judenrat and gave him a list of household articles that the Judenrat had to provide. The list began with furniture, bedding and ended with kitchen utensils. The Judenrat collected everything on the list in the course of 24 hours. Contact was made between the gendarmes
and the representatives of the Judenrat and in an intimate conversation, the gendarmerie told them: If the Jews are good to us we will also be good to them.
The Jews, on their part, did everything to the satisfaction of the gendarmes and found favor with the commandant of the gendarmerie, who was the actual boss of the shtetl, although Balonowski still appeared as the mayor. As it turned out, the Polish city leaders lost their power over the shtetl with the arrival of the gendarmes.
The Jews already began to feel freer in the shtetl. Some would go to the villages to work with a peasant and there earn their piece of bread. The peasants from the surrounding villages would come to the shtetl to the Jewish artisans. In a word, contact between the Jews in the shtetl and the village peasants, from whom they drew their livelihood, began to revive.
They again went to the designated places for forced labor every day. Understand that there was no talk about taking off the yellow patch or going for a stroll. Work also began again at the shtetl sawmill. A German military engineering division from Osowiec sent its staff sergeant as its foreman and manager. The sergeant named Franz would employ approximately 30 Jewish workers every day, who would be provided for him by the Judenrat. A small number of Poles, tradesmen who would be employed for the more skilled work of driving the cars, working as blacksmiths and wood sorters and the like worked there in addition to the Jews.
Every three days another group of Jews would go to work, which was
extraordinarily difficult, literally forced labor. Franz was a terrifying enemy of the Jews and a sadist. He was a little emotionally abnormal. He would beat [the Jews] murderously while they worked. They would work beyond their strength because not more than three men were permitted to carry a large log on their shoulders. When he would summon a Jude to lift a heavy log and the young Jewish man could not move it from the spot, Franz would stroll his club over the shoulders, back, feet and nape of the neck, so that the momentum would lift the log not one's strength. Franz would stand the entire day, in heavy downpours, under the open sky, with a rubber cape over his head and club in his hand, behind the backs of the working Jews and again beat them so that they would run up the hill rolling the giant log to the saw of the sawmill. He also would often say in great irritation: Because of you Jews my comrades are rotting in the fields. Mainly, he carried a terrible hate for the rich Jews. When one of the workers looked better or wore an entire pair of pants, he would summon him, take him to his small room and brutally torture him there.
It was enough that Franz noticed that one of the Jews had a piece of bread with butter during lunchtime. He would bellow to the Jew Ah! You are eating butter?! The Jew was then not one of whom to be envious. Franz also introduced a custom. Every night at around nine o'clock at the change of the 14hour workday, he shouted: Listen all of you Jews! When all of the Jews immediately stood in two lines opposite him, he would give an order, saying aloud three times: God punish England and the damned Juden! When the prayer was said loudly
there was a second order: run home. The tired Jewish workers would run uphill to the shtetl with their last strength. However there were always one or two, mainly among the older ones, who had no strength to run up the hill. Franz, standing at the courtyard of the sawmill with his Nagant automatic pistol in his hand, pointing at the running Jews, immediately opened his mouth with resounding shouts to the last Jew in the group ordering him to return immediately. When he obeyed, he was terribly tortured by Franz hearing the same words from him again: Can you not run, accursed Jew?! The Jews ran up the hill on all fours until he barely dragged himself to the shtetl. The name Franz threw fear into the Jewish population. Therefore, it is no wonder that other Jews wished death for themselves rather than going to work.
Several weeks passed during which the gendarmes ruled the shtetl and the Jews appeared to breathe a little easier. Suddenly a report arrived that a district commissioner was coming to Goniadz. The Judenrat had already received an order to prepare a residence, furniture and entire wardrobe for him. Two days had not passed before the district commissioner arrived. He was given Chaim Kopelman's brick house as a residence. The Jews began to fear the new boss. He also immediately summoned the chairman of the Judenrat and asked him to provide a list of valuable articles. Everything was gathered from under the earth to satisfy him. Meanwhile, a fresh misfortune occurred. Three weeks after
the freeing of the last 11 Jews from the cellar, an answer arrived from the Bialystok Gestapo for the city council and gendarmerie in Goniadz about the sending of the official report about the 11 communists, that they should be prepared for jail on the 12th of September 1941. On the date mentioned, the Gestapo would come to take them.
The city council members kept the happy news a secret.
On the night of the 11th12th September 1941, the Polish policemen accompanied by the gendarmes took the 11 people from their beds and imprisoned them in the same cellar as before. In the morning, at exactly eight o'clock, a German truck with Gestapo members appeared in the shtetl and went directly to the house of the gendarmes. They ordered the Polish policemen and two gendarmes to bring the 11 arrested communists.
One of the Jews succeeded in escaping from police hands and disappearing while they were being driven through a small alley. Several policemen chased after him, but they did not succeed in catching him. They immediately reported this to the Gestapo commandant who was waiting with the truck at the old market. The Gestapo commander immediately ordered that five other Jews be caught instead of the one who had disappeared. The answer to the policeman's question of which Jews was: Take those first, best Jews that you meet. The policeman went to the houses at the market in order and took whomever he found in each residence. No one even knew what had happened because the policeman
said that he was only taking them to work. Therefore, no one refused to go with him. Arriving at the old market, the Jews saw what was happening, but it was then too late to do anything. The Gestapo member ordered them to climb into the covered trucks at once, where the Knyszyn police commandant Wonszikewicz stood guard. The vehicle with the captured Jews left. The five captured Jews were: Noakh Barski and his 15year old son, Avraham'le, Asher Kobrinski (member of the Judenrat), Brzizsznski (secretary of the Judenrat) and Feltinowicz.
The wives of the men taken away, learning what had happened, ran into the street. There they saw no one… They cried aloud in great sorrow and had spasms until they returned home barely alive.
Learning that the Gestapo members had taken the Jews to Knyszyn and imprisoned them there, the wives of the five captured Jews immediately left for Knyszyn the next morning. The Judenrat tried with a large amount of money to obtain permission from the district commissioner for the wives to travel there and confirm that their husbands were not communists and had no connection to the arrestees in the cellar. Having received this [permission], the wives were certain that they would free their husbands immediately. However, it turned out differently. The Gestapo demanded a specific amount of gold, two Persian lamb women's coats and other valuables for the freedom of the five people. The demanded items had to be provided within two days. They
began collecting from everyone. Early the next morning, not waiting for the [two days to pass] the members of the Gestapo placed all of the arrestees on a truck and took them away to Bialystok. They only freed Barski's 15year old son Avraham'le in Knyszyn because of his young age. From then on, the 14 Jews were lost and vanished without a trace.
Life again began to flow as usual in Goniadz. The damage by the Polish city leaders returned with interest: they [the Polish city leaders] no longer had any worries.
The regime of the district commissioner and the gendarmes strengthened from day to day while the power of the city council was weakened from moment to moment since the arrival [of the district commissioner and gendarmes] in the shtetl.
Finally, after two weeks of rule by the district commissioner, he abolished the Polish civilian city council completely and took over complete control of the shtetl in his own hands.
The district commissioner hung the red Hitlerist flag with the black swastika over his office and the routine Hitlerist civilian rule began to reign in Goniadz just as in all of the surrounding cities and shtetlekh. The number in the work force from the Jewish population rose with the growth and scope of the work. The district commissioner would often summon the chairman of the Judenrat, mainly when he needed something, or about labor questions. As the Judenrat members would describe it, the district commissioner was not bad by nature, except for one defect: He quickly forgets what we give him. Therefore, the chairman of Judenrat often was forced to travel to other shtetlekh to gather the articles for him that were impossible to obtain in Goniadz.
For this the district commissioner would provide a travel certificate because it was strongly forbidden to travel somewhere without a certificate.
It was clear that the Judenrat drew its monetary means from the shtetl and, particularly, from the wealthier Jews. In addition to the district commissioner, the Judenrat had to provide new clothing to the five gendarmes and their families living in Germany. In a word: They ceaselessly drew the blood from the Jewish population in Goniadz!
The Jewish population consisted of three classes: The wealthier class these were the prewar merchants, mainly the manufacturing branch, leather branch, footwear and the like. They did not need to look for work for their income during the uneasy times because beginning at the end of 1939 the majority of them had hidden goods in various bunkers or with wellacquainted peasants in the villages. From time to time they would slice off a bit of goods that were then terribly expensive and exchange them with a peasant for life's necessities. This secret business could provide good nourishment through the years.
The second class was the artisans. It also was not bad for them. Their ten fingers were enough to earn food for their families. At that time, the peasants paid them well for their work because there were not many artisans; there was a particular lack of tailors. The peasants had more than enough cloth that they had looted from Russian warehouses during the sudden withdrawal of the Red Army. Thus, the majority of the artisans also had enough to eat. It should be emphasized that the artisans
were freed from forced labor because they would pay a certain monthly tax to the Judenrat. Understand that this did not free their workcapable children.
Much worse was the poor class. These were: prewar poor people, employees, and former small businessmen, particularly food sellers. The latter had eaten up their goods a long time ago. A larger total of their goods could not be kept for long; they sold it during the first months of the war. Therefore, they were forced along with all of the oppressed Jews to barter their good Shabbos clothing, household furniture received as a dowry, various work tools, linen, and finally, their bedding with the peasants for life's necessities. The monetary system did not actually exist among the peasants. The reason for this was because there were no open shops. Thus the peasants could not buy anything with their money and therefore requested that they be paid for their goods with other goods. All of the transactions would take place in secret because there was the threat of great punishment for this. Right after the occupation by the German regime, the majority of the poor class had enough for their nourishment because every family found something to sell and they could prepare flour and potatoes for the winter. Even the wagon driver received potatoes for the entire winter for his family for two wheels from his wagon. The situation worsened for the poor class with the arrival of spring. Many of them were forced to go to the villages to help the peasants cultivate the ground for which they received food for themselves and their families. The Jews who were not capable of
such work such as: older people, shoykhetim [ritual slaughters], the rabbi and the like would receive support and food from the wealthier class who willingly helped them. Thus no one suffered from hunger. The difference was only in the quality of the food.
And a fresh source of work opened at the Osowiec fortress with the arrival of summer 1942. One hundred and forty Jewish workers, men and women, aged 16 to 50 were employed there daily. Many of them would bring new Russian gas mask sacks from Osowiec every day that were willingly bought by the peasants. They would make various clothing from them, mainly pants. Some of the workers worked sorting leftover Russian ammunition: artillery shells of various calibers, various kinds of grenades and the like. There were no weapons there. The
second and larger number worked at the train station loading and unloading tents that arrived from German factories from the train wagons. Osowiec was transformed into a base for various wood and pup tents that would be transferred from there to the front for the German soldiers.
After long efforts and entreaties to the district commissioner, the Judenrat was successful in receiving permission to bring the 20 Jews murdered during the Sunday pogrom night of nine months earlier to the Jewish cemetery for burial. It was learned that the bandits had buried them at the Majewo Hill. The image was terrible and frightening when they were dug up. The murder victims
lay on the ground and the family members lay near each dead body and wailed terribly. The frightening crying gripped every Jew standing there. There simply are no words to describe the tragic scene.
It still was possible to recognize the faces of some of the murder victims, others could be identified by their clothing, which was recognized by their family members. Mrs. Biali lay only in her nightshirt in which she was dressed when they had dragged out her out of her bed. The barbed wire with which she had been hanged was still bound around her throat. Her right foot was broken. Yosl Kobrinski lay with his hands tied behind him; his mouth was stuffed with rags and wire. There was an opening in his head and his left foot was broken. All of those remaining had open wounds in their bodies, particularly in their heads. Wolfke Rajgodski's skull was split. The young men standing around tried to lay the murder victims on stretchers to take them away to the cemetery. However, the close relatives of the annihilated ones would not permit it. It was simply impossible for them to take away the murder victims from them. They began to carry them to the Jewish cemetery an hour later. The cries that had been decreasing in the last 10 minutes again increased and they really split the heavens. One word was heard from every mouth: Revenge!!! Jews. Whoever among who you survives the war should take revenge for the innocent blood that was spilled! One called out: Jews! We all implore you, by the open mass graves, that you take revenge on the bandits!!!…
They brought the 20 murder victims to the Jewish cemetery. Many Jews immediately went to search for the graves
of the Jews in the cellar who had been annihilated, the five found in the wheat field and so on.
After long attempts at digging, they uncovered a mass grave of 17 of those from the cellar (the last group). The tragedy increased more: wives recognized husbands, parents children and viceversa. The lamentations, screaming and shaking increased even more at the Jewish cemetery. The 17 murder victims also were murdered in a terrible manner. Several were found with nails hammered into their heads and into their hearts. Others had their heads split completely as by an axe. One had his tongue torn out. Many had broken feet and hands. Eight men had their hands tied behind their backs with barbed wire. Others had deep holes in their heads and necks.
The grave of the five who were shot because of a blood libel, which the Poles had accused them of when they lay hidden in the wheat field, was uncovered after a long search. The documents had not been taken out of their pockets. A pocket watch was found still in the pocket of one of them. The first three shot in the cellar were found lying in separate graves. They were shot in the head.
Because of the limited time for which permission was given, no fresh graves could be dug for the found murder victims. Therefore, all were placed in the same mass grave. The grave of the 11 men from the cellar was not found. As was later learned, the bandits buried them somewhere at the Majewo Hill.
The entire multitude of Jews returned in groups to the shtetl leading the unfortunate family members of the uncovered murder victims, lamenting and crying, with their heads on their shoulders, to their homes at six o'clock at night.
Life in the shtetl in time became calm. Some went to work in Osowiec daily, some went to the villages to seek income, others in their workshops and others lamented and cried, day and night, at the misfortune that had happened to them. The relationship between the district commissioner, the gendarmes and the Judenrat grew better from time to time so that one could almost feel that the Hitler regime did not rule the shtetl. At times, after a new Polish denunciation, the district commissioner would become angry with the Judenrat and attack its chairman. Suspicion would fall on the district commissioner's chauffeur, Alszewski, the wellknow bandit involved in the Sunday night pogrom. They would also suspect Waliniewicz because of his brotherinlaw, the wellknown bandit Kaminski. However, the Judenrat would immediately calm the district commissioner with a nice present and he would cool off immediately, as if nothing had happened. Mass employment of the Jewish labor force at Osowiec made the Jewish population important to the district commissioner and to the military commandant in Osowiec. At times it simply brought the assurance of the district administration in Osowiec with the words: If the Gestapo does something to the Jewish population in the surrounding cities and shtetlekh,
it absolutely will not touch the Goniadz Jews.
The work at Osowiec was never exhausted. No matter how much work was done, more new work would arrive because with the approach of autumn and winter the provisions of tents for the fighters at the front increased even more and, therefore, the work took on a faster tempo. Train traffic at the Osowiec station was greater. It boiled like a kettle. Trains always were seen traveling through, full of the military, from the front and to the front. Many of the soldiers traveling through would shout out from the wagons Accursed Jews! when they noticed the working Jews. Others would [indicate the beating of heads] with their canes and so on. It should be understood that such depictions did not give the working Jews any hope for a better tomorrow. They would often console themselves with false rumors that would be spread the Russians have marched into Kiev, Minsk, Vilna and the like. But the truth was revealed quickly when they secretly received a German newspaper in which the map of Kavkaz [Caucasus] was published just that day with the following news: The German divisions marched into Kavkaz and are stubbornly continuing their great victories. The Jewish reader actually would shudder with great surprise and disappointment. Often they would be drawn to a secret conversation at work with Russian prisoners of war at Osowiec. Alas, they also could not learn anything from them. The unceasing news about victories spread by the German information and propaganda ministry were, it should be understood, not believed very much by the Jews. Often they simply did not want to believe because they
knew very well what would happen… In a word, it was as if they were enclosed in a sack. The Jewish workers were well acquainted with the Russian prisoners as companions in bad misfortune. Every day the majority of the Jewish workers took [the same amount of] bread sacks of food for the prisoners as for themselves. Arriving in Osowiec two young men gathered the food in several large rucksacks for the Russian prisoners of war and placed them in a designated bush, every day in another hiding place so their enemies would not find any trace of them. One of the prisoners would secretly remove the food from the designated spot. The danger was double, both from the Germans and from the Polish workers who searched for material for denunciations. However, everyone would feel fortunate that it went peacefully.
The good bit of time came to an end several months later.
On a beautiful morning the district commissioner announced that he had received an order to create a ghetto for the Jews, just as in all of the surrounding shtetlekh. The Jewish population in Goniadz had foreseen the great danger to its existence. Therefore, it did everything it could to succeed in having the edict rescinded. The chairman of the Judenrat immediately traveled to Bialystok and bought a leather coat for the district commissioner and a Persian lamb coat for his wife. In addition, he took everything he could from the population and carried it to the district commissioner. No one could understand why he [the commissioner] had suddenly changed.
And so on one Shabbos morning, the district commissioner ordered all
the Jews of Dolistower Street to leave their residences over the course of three hours. There was a tumult and chaos in the shtetl. Every Jew from the abovementioned street ran to a peasant acquaintance for a wagon to carry his things. People from other streets ran to their acquaintances and helped them move into their residences. Wagons fully loaded with bags and baggage left Dolistower Street for other streets and alleys in the shtetl, to occupied Jewish residences. Three days later the district commissioner announced to the Judenrat that the Jews should leave Tifle Street. However, at great cost, there was success in canceling this. Several days passed without any changes. Little by little the Jews began to believe in an improvement of the situation; still greater was the belief when the district commissioner decided to distribute potatoes for the winter to the Goniadz Jews at a lower price than the government price. He ordered the peasants in the villages to provide the designated portions of potatoes for the Goniadz storehouses. When the storehouses were full, every Jew had the right to take his portion from them. It did not take long until this joy also was disturbed. The district commissioner suddenly summoned the chairman of the Judenrat and ordered him to provide 200 furs. He immediately gave the chairman the use of a wagon with a Polish wagon driver for this purpose. The chairman of the Judenrat promised him that he would do this.
At around three o'clock in the afternoon the loaded wagon already stood in front of the district commissioner's house. The member of the Judenrat who gathered [the furs] went in to announce this to the district commissioner. The district commissioner came out of his office accompanied by the
Judenrat member and went to the wagon to look over the goods that were brought. Then the Polish wagon driver, Czajkowski, who had brought the furs spoke up saying: Herr District Commissioner! The Jews hid the good furs and they gave away the worst rags. The district commissioner, hearing such talk, immediately gave the Judenrat member two slaps across his face and said: If we are not provided with two hundred good furs within three hours, you should send all of the Jewish men into the street. There was turmoil in the shtetl. Jews ran to the nearby villages where they had hidden their possessions and brought the best furs that they had. In a word, they raised the demanded number [of furs] from under the earth and provided them in time. The storm was calmed.
On Shabbos, the 20th of October 1942, during the weekly meeting of the soltisn from all of the villages around Goniadz, the district commissioner announced that on the coming Monday, the 2nd of November, all of the villages should provide him with 200 wagons with high ladders at seven o'clock in the morning. The wagons should be placed in rows that would extend from his office along Dolistow Street. The announcement evoked surprise among the soltisn. When one of them asked him why they needed so many wagons, the district commissioner answered: to bring young tree plants from the Grajewo area. After the meeting, when the news spread among the Jewish population, it surprised a certain number them. However, it did not awaken any bad thoughts among the majority in connection with this. The Judenrat
sent its chairman to the district commissioner to learn something about this. Returning from the district commissioner, the chairman said that the district commissioner assured him that the 200 wagons had no connection with the Jews. The Judenrat calmed down…
Just as every day, on Monday the 2nd of November 1942, all of the workers employed in Osowiec awoke at five o'clock in the morning and everyone left for Osowiec in the darkness with their sack of bread.
Leaving the highway near Guzy where the workers were sent from various corners of the city, met and marched together, not one word of mockery was heard about those who had been afraid of today. Walking a kilometer along the highway, they met German military trucks that were going in the direction of Goniadz. Armed soldiers sat on them. This fact evoked unease among the workers and they began to talk about various hypotheses. Walking two more kilometers, they could see a group of people standing on the highway in the morning grayness. Coming closer to them revealed that two Polish policemen and a German gendarme armed with rifles stood there for a long time and stopped all Jewish workers. They announced to the workers that they must remain standing in this place and not move from the spot. The influx of workers grew larger from time to time until it stopped. It was already light at seven o'clock. Several of the workers asked the Polish
policeman Olcik what had happened. With a smile on his face, the policeman answered: I do not know, and then sang a tango melody under his breath and danced to its tempo. At seven thirty all of the workers were given the order to return [to Goniadz] in close order and whoever dared to escape would be shot.
The matter was now clear to everyone. Many of the girls immediately began to cry. Both policemen accompanied the line on each side and the gendarmes with the machine guns from behind. Arriving at the village of Guzy they saw many Jews escaping on the Trestine Road. Two Polish policemen were chasing them on bicycles, opening fire at them until they were caught and returned to the shtetl. The sound of continuous shooting reached them from Goniadz. Armed Gestapo posts ringed the shtetl with machine guns, manning all of its exits. When the closed line of workers left the highway for the shtetl they already saw the members of the Gestapo stopping a group of Jews who had tried to escape from the shtetl. When the group of workers went by a member of the Gestapo, he incorporated them into the line of workers and told the gendarme to lead them into the shtetl. They were agitated and could not speak because of their fear. One answer was heard to all of the workers' questions about what had happened in the shtetl: It is not good! The workers group was enveloped by terror. A father held his child, a brother held a brother or a sister. They held each other's hands. Everyone wished to be with those closest to them at their last minute before their death
and to die with them. The Poles stood arranged along the streets and watched with joy as the Jews were led to the slaughter. Arriving in front of the old market, they saw masses of Jews, young and old, running with one breath, wanting to flee from the shtetl. The members of the Gestapo were running around the fields of young, sprouting, green blades of rye, shooting [at the Jews] ceaselessly. Those escaping returned to the shtetl. Arriving at the old market, it was not easy to see Jews on the street. Going closer to the Jewish houses, a Jewish woman ran out of a residence and ran rapidly into the line to take out her son from there. However, a German gendarme immediately ordered her to go back into the residence, sticking out his revolver against her breast. The woman turned back with great sobbing. The working masses, women, men, children, were seized by echoing, frightening crying all crying and lamenting aloud.
The packed group neared the market of the shtetl. On the porch of the former city hall stood: Balonowski, Kempa and their close friends and stung the passing Jews with their cynical laughter. Now their dream would be accomplished.
The 200 ordered wagons, whose purpose was now clear to everyone, were already there when they arrived at the market of the shtetl. Several Gestapo automobiles and Mercedes also stood in the center of the market.
A Gestapo officer, with a pale face, black, long sideburns and murderous eyes, appeared before the masses. Several women, seeing him from a distance immediately began to shake. The entire group was told to stand in
a row, in twos. When this was carried out, several uniformed and secret members of the Gestapo neared the rows and one of them, holding a paper in his hand, said the following: You are all being taken to work. Each of you is going home now for a half an hour and take: a suit of work clothes, a pair of work shoes, two pairs of underwear, two blankets and small pillowcases, a spoon, a fork and a knife. Everyone must return to the street having the abovementioned with them.
Hearing such words, the distressed workers breathed more freely. Everyone ran to their houses with renewed hope, to carry out the Gestapo's order. My brother, Zalman and sister Kayla and I found our residence locked. We tore off the lock and went inside. After a short deliberation we decided not to go back out to the street, but to try to conceal ourselves in a hiding place that our father had prepared in the attic until the situation became clearer. We carried up food, water, bedding and other needed things. We closed the disguised door of the room and remained lying there. Little by little we gouged out a small opening in the roof, from which we saw everything that happened in the street.
Jews were gathering more and more. They stood in a long line beginning at Dolistower Street, near the waiting wagons. Their small packs lay on the ground near each family separately. Police and members of the Gestapo walked around the street and shouted out loud to each Jew coming out: Louse! Louse! Faster, accursed Jew! When the majority of the Goniadz Jewish population was standing in the street, a series of searches began
in all of the Jewish houses and courtyards. When they encountered a Jew who was late, the members of the Gestapo severely beat him and chased him in the street. The Polish population helped the members of the Gestapo search for hidden Jews very energetically. When several Polish young people successfully found a Jewish boy in a cellar on Dolistower Street, they brought him straight to the Polish policeman, Gogol, who immediately shot him on the spot. From time to time more Jews, who had been pulled out of hiding places, were dragged to the crowd standing in the street.
The shooting in the shtetl continued. At 12 o'clock noon, when it became completely calm and no further Jews had been found, the Gestapo ordered [the Jews] to get on the Christian wagons by rows. That lasted approximately half an hour until everyone was sitting on a wagon. The members of the Gestapo were scattered through all of the rows of wagons in order to guard the transport. The Sturmführer [assault leader] gave an order: Abführen [Lead away]! the transport of heavily loaded wagons began to move…
It was a horrible picture of how in one moment they had erased a kehile [organized religious community] of about a thousand Jews from its birthplace, which had been inhabited by their grandfathers and great grandfathers over hundreds of years. Many of the Jews driven out cast their last looks at their homes, riding past them and said goodbye to them with bloody tears… Old and young women lay stretched out on the wagons [having] fainted and leaned their heads against their family members who stroked and kissed them. Other old Jews raised their hands to heaven looking for salvation there, but no miracles happened…
Poles stood lined up opposite the
moving wagons with happy faces and deriving pleasure [from the scene]. Little by little the last wagon, with which the entire community disappeared and was erased from its old home for an eternity, neared Tifle Street.
After the transports of the Jewish community, there immediately were new police searches in the shtetl in which the Polish population excelled with its armed policemen at the head. One truck and a Gestapo Mercedes automobile still remained in the shtetl. The Poles apparently advised them to wait several hours while they would cover the expenses. They [the Poles] would certainly succeed in capturing hidden Jews. A half an hour had not passed and a Polish policeman accompanied by a band of Poles led two Jewish boys from BeisMedrash Street. They were taken to the members of the Gestapo who were standing at the market of the shtetl near their automobiles. A member of the Gestapo asked the Poles to leave both Jews near the truck and proceed to their work…
Whole crowds of Poles, from six yearold gentile boys to 50 yearold men and women with clubs in their hands went with full courage like wild beasts to loot. They searched, rummaged through every street and alley, every courtyard and pathway, every house and stable, every attic and cellar they actually searched for Jews with a candle. In our residence, too, and in the attic we heard the noise of the guest. It seemed to us that they had discovered us. We remained lying without breath and did not move any limb. Each of us was as if paralyzed from fear, thinking that we were in the last moments of our lives. However, everything passed peacefully. Not finding anyone, they looted our possessions
and left on a further hunt. Little by little we became a little freer and we became ourselves. One of us again crawled on our stomach to the observation point. We saw how captured Jews were being taken to the Gestapo trucks. It was possible to recognize some Jews from afar; [to recognize] others, mostly women, was more difficult because they often wore shawls over their heads that completely hid their faces. The Poles succeeded in gathering 11 Jews over two hours. Among them was my grandfather, Shimkha Khtiba. The Gestapo officer ordered them to go up onto the truck quickly and they were taken away in the same direction that they had sent all of the Jews several hours earlier. The Gestapo Mercedes automobile also went along. No members of the Gestapo remained in the shtetl, only the local regime. The hunt for Jews continued; it appeared that the youngest gentile boys did not tire of the work. A sort of competition to catch Zydes [Jews] went on among them and the parents experienced pleasure from their brats.
Night approached little by little. It grew calm at the market of the shtetl and there were fewer Poles. Firlus, the policeman who was leading two newly found Jews, reappeared. A gang of young, gentile boys, who were celebrating their success, also accompanied them. They were taken to the district commissioner. Not five minutes had passed and the same door to the district commission opened again and the policemen were leading [the Jews] out and walking in the direction of Tifle Street until they disappeared from our sight. From below, near the wall of our house, a conversation among a group of Poles who were gathered there reached us. It was impossible to see them from the opening in the roof because they were standing right against the wall. One of them called out with great joy: Janek Staczinski
is a skillful person. He was successful in getting a hold of both Fuls brothers, who were hiding in the bathhouse. A second called out: What do you need more than the blind Szenka, who with one eye found Shmuel Penski and his son in a dark, narrow side street and Firlus, the policeman, just took them to be shot at the Jewish cemetery. A third called out with regrets: What is the use in catching individuals when so many succeed in escaping? Do not worry, another one answered the first voice. We will get a hold of each one to the last. They began to enumerate the names of the Jews who they had not seen on the wagons. The number reached 30. The pessimistic voice said again, We know of 30. How many do we not know? There was no answer to this. However, they quickly consoled themselves that many Jews had been wounded during their escapes. They said that the chairman of the Judenrat, Finkewicz, had been shot through his hand and cheek. They lay him bloodied on the wagon. Several unknown women were also severely wounded while escaping. (They did not mention their names.) The conversation ended little by little and the group dissolved.
It already was twilight. A dead stillness reigned over the shtetl. All of the Jewish houses at the market stood sad and lamenting for their residents who had been torn away from them today. Somewhere from a Jewish stall the chattering of a goose who wanted something to eat or drink was heard. From time to time the lonesome meowing of a cat also was heard. It seemed that everything was lamenting and crying at the great misfortune, at the destruction of Goniadz…
The Polish policemen went from one Jewish house to another and sealed the doors and windows ostensibly so that Jewish possessions would not be stolen. Around
six o'clock, when it became very dark, Poles with clubs in their hands were divided into groups as night watchmen, near each Jewish house. Our plan to go out from our hiding place at night and escape came to nothing. We remained lying in fear and dread, desperate and waiting for a suitable moment. The first night after the destruction was frightful. From time to time we heard discovered Jews being taken, who could be recognized by their crying and shouting. Sometimes the moving cries of a woman also was heard that shocked the soul. The frequent shooting during the first half of the night rang in the dark, quiet and shook us, knowing that each shot cost a Jew his life. Our faces began to burn; our hearts beat fast, our bodies trembled and we could not take a deep breath. The hooliganwatchmen, who stood below and sniffed around like bloodhounds, might hear us.
None of us closed our eyes during the entire night. Morning arrived. A golden beam sneaked in through a small opening in the roof onto us. One of us moved to the observation point on his stomach. It was empty and free of people. The entire Polish population was still sleeping. It was very tired from its heavy day of work the day before. At around nine o'clock, movement began at the shtetl market. Polish policemen appeared, armed with rifles and, little by little, the civilian population crept out of their houses. They again continued with the work arranged by the Gestapo the previous night. Not
half an hour passed and a shout was suddenly heard: Help!!! Save me!!!… There was a horrible scene in the street. Gogol, the Polish policeman, led Menasha Krawiec (the blacksmith) and beat him murderously over the head, back and feet wherever he could with the butt of his rifle. He took him to the district commissioner and then to the cellar where the arrestees were always kept. Five minutes had not passed and another policeman, Firlus, led the fiveyear old Sholem'ke Rozental under a gun. He led him into the same cellar. Returning from there, a group of small Polish children ran with him [Firlus] and asked him to go with them to Maysim Gesl [the alley of the dead]. After 10 minutes, Firlus, the policeman led three new Jews, among them two women. Firlus led them to the guard post of the gendarmes and returned in a quarter of an hour, only with the women who he led to the same cellar in which the previous Jews had been imprisoned. The Poles' productive work gave the Germans approximately 30 Jews during the first three days after the destruction.
On the fourth day, Friday, the police led the Jews out of the cellar. They were placed in a line near the district commission. There the guests waited, three wagons and the gendarmes' carriage. Then, when the Jews had been standing for a considerable time, the district commissioner went over to them. He slapped several in the face and told them all to go up into the wagons.
Accompanied by two gendarmes and three policemen they were taken away in the same direction as all of the Goniadz Jews.
After the gathered remaining Jews were taken away, the Poles succeeded in catching another
Jew. Others would surrender themselves at the gendarmerie, there being no other choice when none of their peasant acquaintances would allow then over their threshold. The district commissioner did not play with them and ordered the police to take them to the Jewish cemetery at night and to shoot them. Many Jews were murdered in such a manner during the first few weeks after the destruction. Now the Polish population could calmly begin to rob the Jewish possessions. Understand that the work would be done at night when they themselves were the watchmen of the Jewish possessions. This robbery was officially strongly forbidden according to a law that threatened the death penalty for doing so.
The joy of the Poles was mostly obvious on the first Sunday after the destruction of the Jews. All of the Poles dressed up in holiday clothes, a large number in newly stolen Jewish [clothing], and strolled through the market of the shtetl. The happy conversations and laughter could be heard from afar. They gathered in groups and had joint feasts, sharing among themselves the great joy that had suddenly and unexpectedly arrived. One such revelry occurred at the home of our nearest, next door neighbor, the former policeman and famous bandit, Kaminski. He invited many guests and they got drunk together. The voice and every wish from each one reverberated at the open doors. The call, Let us drink in honor of the fact they we have lived to see a Jewishfree Goniadz, could be heard often from afar. The voices and the singing of the drunk people, which increased from time to time, had a terrible effect on us and really tore our troubled nerves. The rampage lasted until late at night.
Lying for a long time confined in hunger, thirst and cold in the narrow, low hiding place, we looked for a suitable moment to get out of there and escape from hell. After two weeks we succeeded in grabbing the moment when the night watchmen had left our residence a half hour earlier than usual. It was six thirty. The gray day began to dawn, but the gentiles, sated with Jewish blood and goods, still slept soundly. At that moment we stood at the edge of a knife and dared quietly to come down from the attic to the residence. We opened the back window that led to the courtyard and one by one we went out through it. We ran through the empty courtyard and alleys until we found ourselves outside of the shtetl and from there we ran to wherever our feet took us… When it was already very light, we were on the other side of the highway. The first snow that had fallen two days earlier had not yet covered all of the fields; it moistened them even more and therefore the way through the wet area was very difficult. Our feet would sink so deep that we had to work hard to pull them back out. The wet wind and the snow slapped us in the face, as if nature was trying to make us equal with all of the Jews. Finally after walking for four kilometers without stop with our last strength, we succeeded in reaching a colony, to a peasant acquaintance. From the beginning, he did not want to let us over his threshold, saying that he would face the threat of a bullet in the head for doing so. After we assured him that we had good clothing in our rucksacks and we
would reward him well for [letting us in], he let us come into his residence. We immediately gave him a new man's shirt and two silver spoons and asked him to permit us to stay for the day and as soon as it got dark we would leave from here. The peasant agreed to let us. We learned the following from him: all of the Goniadz Jews were taken to the Bogusze camp, which was located near the eastern Prussian border (three kilometers from Grajewo). Dozens of Jewish communities in the Bialystok and Grodno areas were taken away on the same day at the same hour. Only the Jasionówka community, the Bialystok ghetto and the Grodno ghetto remained in place. The Jews from eight shtetlekh around Grajewo were taken away to Bogusze, including Goniadz and Trestine. The Jews from the shtetlekh around Bialystok were concentrated in the former military camps in Bialystok itself: from the Grodno area in Kiełbasin [now Kolbasino] (near Grodno). He advised us to turn ourselves in to the German gendarmerie because no on would allow us over their threshold because of the order given out by the district commissioner: Every Pole who hides a Jews will be shot along with his entire family and his buildings will be burned. We answered him that we would try to struggle as much as we could. We left at night to continue our journey after sitting for the day at the peasant's [house] in a closed, small room in fear and terror…
The door was closed to us wherever we went. None of our peasant acquaintances would allow us to cross their threshold. They just set their dogs against us to chase us more quickly from their courtyards. We also were forced to leave on
the most hazardous journey and went through fields and forests to Jasionówka. There we found our father and 26 other Goniadz refugees. Our father told us that on the day of the aktsia he succeeded in escaping from Goniadz during the morning hours, forcing himself through the armed Gestapo guard on the highway near Rowy. Our mother, who was following after him was turned back by a member of the Gestapo. She was forlorn, probably the only family member taken to Bogusze.
Around 500 refugees from all of the surrounding shtetlekh had come together in Jasionówka. They sat there for another three months until the Gestapo created another aktsia like the one in Goniadz on a beautiful winter morning on the 25th of January 1943.
A small number of Jews successfully left the shtetl during the morning hours. A number escaped from the sleds that took us to the Knyszyn train station where a special train to Treblinka waited for us and a greater number succeeded in jumping through the small windows of the freight wagons in which hundreds of Jews were being taken to the slaughter.
On our long road of suffering, fear of death, struggle and a fight for existence, each of us then was accompanied by a powerful, heartbreaking lamenting shout of tortured, half dead Jews pressed together to the point of asphyxiation in the dark wagons. This was the shout of a testament and request in the last hours of their lives Jews! Take revenge for our innocent blood!!! Revenge!!! Revenge!!!…
Everyone in our family was successful in saving themselves from the aktsia in a different way. My brother Zalman immediately during the morning hours of
the aktsia in Jasionówka escaped from an armed Gestapo guard who held him and guarded him nonstop. The member of the Gestapo chased after him shooting and through a miracle [Zalman] succeeded in disappearing and hiding until night in the barn of the Jasionówka priest. I succeeded in escaping from the sleds loaded with Jasionówka Jews during an evening hour when we were going through Knyszyn in the direction of its train station where the train to Treblinka already was waiting.
My father Khaykl Yevreiski jumped out of the small window in the freight wagon while the train was moving. My sister Kayle remaining alone in the dark, crowded, packed wagon, could no longer bear the terrible tortures and decided to kill herself by jumping from the small window of the freight wagon while the train was moving. She fell on a stone, hit her face and lay unconscious in the snow, in the frosty winter night. A young man who had jumped from the wagon after her, carried her to an unknown peasant in the village of Starosielce (outside of Bialystok) and left her there. She woke up and was surprised to find herself there. The wife of the peasant told her the whole story, gave her breakfast to eat… and told her to go. Kayle then wrapped her wounded, swollen face with her winter headscarf and left on her way on the clear day in the direction of Goniadz. Arriving late at night at [the home of] a peasant acquaintance in the village of Rybaki, she found me. After that we found our father and brother Zalman at Christian acquaintances in the village of Krężce. Then a new hardship began. It was impossible to find a place for us.
Our father wandered around the entire night until he finally found a peasant in the village of Kosoirki who was ready to hide us in exchange for our possessions (we had succeeded in bringing some of them to a Polish acquaintance in time). We were hidden in Kosoirki in the peasant's stable attic for nine months. Our lives often hung by a hair, mainly when the Goniadz gendarmes visited the peasant, entered the stall to look at his cow and we then lay in the attic over their heads. It was
a miracle that they did not notice or detect us. After the peasant had received a considerable wardrobe from us for him and his family, he told us to leave… Again death lay in wait for us on all sides. We wandered around the forests, fields, in potato pits and haystacks for a considerable time. The peasants often noticed us in the fields and ran to inform those in the village. However, we disappeared before the residents of the village came to catch us and turn us in to the Goniadz gendarmerie. In such conditions
we wandered around day and night, hungry and cold, trudging in winds in the moist forests (alder groves), in marshes where no one usually would be able to reach. Our father would spend the entire night searching for a place for us. The first approach to a gentile was frightening and the most hazardous, not knowing how he would react when he would first see him [our father]. It is not easy to imagine our suspense and anxiety until we lived to see our father returning from his terrible journey. However, nothing stopped him and despite his age (52) he was agile and hearty. He went to all of the perilous places where certain death was a threat. When my brother and I would want to replace him he did not allow us to do so, saying: You are still young, children. You must still live. If something happens it is better that I be the victim before you.
We were tormented in such conditions for 20 months. At that time our father felt sick and said to us: Children! Who knows if I have gotten cancer? (Alas, he was not wrong.) Although life for him was not dear, suffering so many blows, he did not lessen his heroic efforts to save us until he led us to redemption with his last strength.
He died of cancer on the 22nd of Shvat 5705 (the 5th of February 1945) in the Bialystok hospital after an operation.
Honor his memory!
Bogusze is a village that is located on the border of Poland and eastern Prussia, three
kilometers from Grajewo. Before the Jews were brought there, Bogusze was a camp for Russian prisoners of war. This was a large field, fenced in with barbed wire. There were barracks erected in the field, actually dug out pits covered from above with roofs. Inside, in such a barrack, were shelves along the walls made of boards (plank beds) that served as beds.
On the 2nd of November 1942, the Goniadz Jews were brought to Bogusze. They found the Jews from Grajewo, Rajgrad, Szczuszyn, Radzilow and other surrounding shtetlekh already there.
One of the internees wrote the following about Bogusze:
The confined Jews were not given any food during the first threefour days. Everyone ate what they had brought from home. But on the fifth day, the German regime created four kitchens that were to feed more than 7,000 confined Jews. They cooked potato soup in the kitchens four or five times a day. Everyone received a halfliter of watery soup and 100 grams of bread a day. The people were starving and besieged the kitchen, grabbing the potatoes peels and swallowing them uncooked.
Terrible hunger and filth truly reigned in the camp. There was terrible mortality. Every night the dead bodies would be laid in a pit and taken to the camp cemetery for Russian prisoners of war in the morning. From time to time a selection would take place in the camp a designated number of Jews who had been told that the next day they would be sent to work, were separated [from the rest]. In the morning the Jews were taken away, but
not one of them came back. It is notable that a rumor already had spread among the Jews in Bogusze that Jews were being sent to Treblinka and Majdanek and they were being burned in the crematoria there.
On the 22nd of December 1942, at five o'clock in the morning, the Gestapo entered the camp as a group and ordered all of the Jews to leave the barracks for the camp square. When about half of the Bogusze Jews had filled it, the Gestapo told those remaining to remain sitting in their places. The Gestapo told the assembled Jews to stand infours in a long line and to march in a circle near the fences of the camp square. No person could be recognized because of the deep darkness. The only thing heard were the steps of people marching and continual shooting from automatic weapons. Later, there was a terrifying picture when the Gestapo opened the gate of the camp and took away the Jews to the train station in Prostken [Prostki]. About 70 Jews lay shot in pools of blood, frozen to the ground. Others were still alive and wrestled with death. However, they could not withstand the terrible suffering and therefore asked the members of the Gestapo to shoot them. The members of the Gestapo did them this
favor. In the later morning hours, when the remaining members of the Gestapo in the camp sent out a group of the remaining Jews to gather the dead bodies, it was revealed that the Gestapo had not only shot into the lines of the Jews marching at the camp square, but also along the entire road without end, for a distance of a kilometer to the Prostken train station. Over 50 dead bodies lay on the road, frozen to the ground with their blood. On the same day the train took the Jews from Prostken through KnyszynBialystok to Treblinka.
The number who remained were sent out on the 3rd of January 1943 in a second transport that numbered approximately 3,000 Jews.
My sister Kayle told of the last journey of the Jews to the crematorium at Treblinka in her description, On the Road to Treblinka. Fate wanted her to survive the terrible trip on the death train to Treblinka with 20 other Goniadz Jews during the liquidation of the Jasionówka Jewish community three weeks after the Jews from Bogusze were taken on the same journey by such a train. These documents that tell of the terrible suffering during the last hours of our martyrs completes the tragic history of the destruction of Goniadz.
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