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[Page 322]

With The Russian Army

Moshe Schuchner

Translated by Dalya Yohai

On June 1, 1941, nine days after the Russians started retreating, there was a great fear and depression in Horodenka. I never saw anything like it. At the same time, we started hearing that the Germans were approaching and about other towns and villages that were under their occupation. We didn't know where they were coming from and nobody knew what to do —to stay or to go with the Russian army. We saw on the faces of the Ukrainians what could be expected from the Germans. They [the Ukrainians] walked in the streets, happy and celebrating our helplessness. They even said it quite clearly that they hoped it was judgment day for the Jews and a day of revenge for them.

Many of us started realizing that the only solution was to go with the Russians toward the East. The Russians were willing to help anybody who joined them. They asked the Ukrainian farmers to use their carts to help with transportation. Each of us could take only a few personal belongings because most of the space was saved for transporting food. The Jews who had carts could join easily. Mendel-Shmuel Gotlief and his family came with their cart and we packed in it all the shoes we had in stock from the shoe cooperative in town. People who ran away felt very heavy-hearted about leaving. We left without any knowledge of what the future would bring and what would happen to us.

After traveling some way, we looked like Gypsies. At first, we hoped we would be able to return to Horodenka in a month or two. But we lost this hope after seeing that the retreat was taking forever. Among us, there were people who regretted leaving; some Ukrainians also told us to go back since all of Russian would be conquered anyway. But most of us didn't listen and continued with the army.

On the way, we were attacked a couple of times by German planes; but nobody died. Toward the evening, we arrived at the Zbrutch River. We crossed the bridge that was once the border between Russia and Poland. With us we had German prisoners under heavy guard. At night we heard planes again. They discharged parachuters who landed next to the place where the prisoners were being kept. There was a big battle between the Russians and the Germans with lots of dead on both sides. In the chaos the prisoners ran away. Our camp — the refugee camp — was far away from there, but still we suffered casualties. We then started running eastward to get out of danger.

Many of the Ukrainians used the chaos to disappear as well. We were left a little band of refugees without any food or supplies.

I arrived at Viniza with 10 other refugees, two carts, and no food whatsoever. I met there the Gotlieb family, the two sons of Wolf Ticker, and the youngest daughter of Gutman, the Kleizmer. I continued on my way with the Gotlieb family. On the way, we met Itzi Pettner, the oldest son of Efrain Pettner. He enlisted in 1940 and was serving as a commander in the Russian army.

We traveled around 800 kilometers and got into Russia, almost 100 kilometers from the Dnieper River. I was so exhausted that I couldn't continue and they left me behind. The day after, I recovered and continued with the army until we reached the military base. There I enlisted!


[Page 323]

How I Saved Myself

Yatke Kiehl-Piekarek

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

In 1939, as the war was just beginning, Horodenka was taken from the Russians. The lot of the Jewish population wasn't too badly off. There were eight children in our family, six sons and two daughters. In 1941 three children were preparing to get married: my sister Raiza, my brother and I. My sister and I did indeed get married, but my brother was not destined to say his vows, for in August 1941 the Germans advanced upon our town, worsening the lives of the Jews.

On December 5, 1941, the first "action” occurred. The Germans assembled all the Jews in the Great Shul. Then the elderly were loaded onto trucks and driven to Semakovitse. The younger ones, both men and women, were marched there on foot. Graves already had been dug; they were then shot.

After that action, few Jews remained in the town. The Germans then created the Yudenrat (Council) and declared that the Jews who were left would have to pay for the bullets that had been used to annihilate the Jews who had just been taken away.

The sense of fear was palpable. After the first action, there were two smaller actions. Thus the Germans were able to decimate the Jewish population. I remained with my family and by the end of the summer of 1942, we left for Tlusle, where Jews were still living undisturbed. But this didn't last long. Two weeks after our arrival in Tluste, close to the High Holy Days, the very same SS criminals came and began to make the Tluste region "Jew-free" (Judenrein). They assembled us in the town square. My husband and I were there, along with my husband's sister and her husband and their three children. They took everyone to the train station, pelting us with their fists unmercifully along the way.

At the train station they loaded us as if we were cattle into filthy boxcars. We traveled for an entire day without knowing our destination and without any hope whatsoever. With us were the following persons: Elke Glager and her sister; Yossel Landerheim's wife and children, and many other Horodenka folk. All cried out to God Almighty to perform a miracle, to strike the Germans with lightning or bombs. But no miracle occurred, and so we traveled along, endlessly.

Then a thought came to my husband. He had a pocketknife with him, and he began to pry up the nails in the boards of the wagon. Others started to do the same. Some people in the boxcar didn't approve of this and they began to scream: "You are making sure we will all be shot! You are bringing about bad things for us!" But those who were removing the nails paid them no heed and went back to work. Thus, they succeeded in ripping off a few boards and then they began to jump through the holes in the bottom. I was then eight months pregnant. Nevertheless, I also jumped and thereby saved myself from certain death. It was evening time, and I found myself all alone. I began to go back, running rather than walking. On the way, I encountered Tansi Schuchner, her sister and young boy. We were now a group of four. We came to Terebovlya. We went to a house and knocked on the door, but they didn't let us in. We had no luck at all; we slept in the open air. In the morning we went back to the same house and they gave us something to eat and drink. They also told us that a new assault was in the works, and that was why they hadn't opened the door.

I had wanted to meet up with my husband and his family, so we continued on foot. We spent that night in another town. In the morning, my husband appeared! He had also spent the night in this town, in a nearby house. He related that he had also been in Terebovlya, in another part of the same house where I had spent the night. Our happiness in finding one another cannot be described. We again departed. Each town that we encountered had a few remaining Jews.

In Kopychintsy, the Jewish Council provided us with a place to stay. Then we went back to Tluste. On the way, goyim assaulted us. We slapped one of them in the face so hard, that he ended up bleeding all over me. We barely escaped with our lives. I sometimes lost touch with my husband; each time we encountered German soldiers or others who would harm us, we would scurry to the fields to hide. With great effort, we succeeded in returning to Tluste.

In December 1942, I gave birth to a sweet, bright little girl. There was still constant military action going on around Tluste. I once ran away with my child in hand, bullets flying scarcely above my head. 1 ran off to the fields and stayed there for three days without even a bit of water. My husband crept about looking for me among the dead. When I returned, alive, we were truly in heaven. I once received a telegram from my husband's sister saying that she was in Terebovlya, but from then on, I no longer heard from her.

After a short time, they liquidated the ghetto in Tluste. Abraham Schneiderman's wife encountered me, along with Busieh Steiner and other folk from Horodenka. They told me that they were going to return there. They said good-bye to us and it saddened me greatly that I had to remain there atone with a small child. There was a labor camp in Tluste. My family and I ended up at the camp. We did field work there, always suffering terribly from hunger and cold. In 1943, my own child was "'liquidated." We stayed in the camp until 1944. At that time, the Germans retreated, abandoning us. Soon, the first Russian tanks appeared. Everyone celebrated, kissing and crying with happiness. But then a squadron of German airplanes flew overhead and began to bomb the camp. I fell down alone, sick, solitary, and broken. And then I spent a long time in the hospital in Tscharkov where they removed shrapnel from me; symptoms of this still remain with me.

In 1946, I married a fine man in Poland, and now we are living in Israel, in Haifa. We live a free and decent life. But I will never forget the years of my bitter experience.


[Page 324]

Escape to Romania

Zvi Reiss

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

Following the second wave of assaults in April 1942, the remaining survivors began in earnest to devise a survival strategy. The Germans had begun to divide the Jews according to their vocation (or according to the bribes that were paid) and everyone began to guess which of the groups would be the "fortunate ones," the ones who would be able to stay alive until the end. The groups weren't just composed of Horodenka folk, but from those who remained alive from the whole region. People from one region didn't necessarily know people from other regions. Thus, it was difficult to organize a plan. Each had to concern himself with his own plight, and that of his family, if he still had one. Our family, my father, my brother, and I began to search for a way to save us and remain alive to the end — the end of the war.

One of our peri1ous options was to cross the Romanian border, but his was full of difficulties and extremely dangerous. Also, a great deal of money would be needed and one cou1d never know what wou1d happen if you succeeded in crossing, or if you could hide once you got across. So we left the door open to all possibilities. After the second wave of assau1ts, we received news that severa1 had succeeded in coming to Czernovitz with the help of border smugglers and with lots of money to bribe the border police. But this route was treacherous because all of the Ukrainian villages on the way to Czernovitz were already "free of Jews" (Judenrein); the peasants worked hand in glove with the German police who posted rewards for those who would come forth and betray hidden Jews.

During the summer, we occupied ourselves with thinking and planning. In September 1942, the third and decisive military assault occurred in Horodenka. Following this one, the town would be free of Jews (Judenrein). My family and I were at this time outside the ghetto in my grandmother's house, outside the city limits, on the road to Serafinitz. There we made ourselves a temporary hiding place. The military action lasted for three days, unlike the previous one, which had lasted on1y a day or two. We didn't have any food for a long while. After the third day, we had to get out of the shelter in order to find food and find out what was happening in town. We found out from the peasants that Horodenka had been declared free of Jews. We still had a strategy, but we knew that we would have to get to Czernovitz. Because there was no time to find a border smuggler, and knowing that even with one, the route was uncertain, we decided to try our luck and penetrate the border, relying only upon ourselves. In that same night we fled from Serafinitz and slipped through the border to Romania.

The group which had been hidden in the shelter (and which crossed the border) were seven souls: my father, Fishl Reys; my six-year old brother, Smireh Reys; and myself, along with my four cousins: Leisa, Rochel, Hirsh and Abraham Ladenheim. In considering the border, we chose a spot on the Romanian side on a hill approximately two kilometers from our point of departure. And so we broke up in order to cross one-by-one. The border was guarded and always patrolled with spotlights, and so we had to cross by crawling along toward the appointed meeting place.

Although we all crossed the border, not everyone met up at the appointed place. My father and my brother, who had taken off together, got lost. We waited for them two hours — two precious hours. I went around everywhere in search of them, but I saw nothing tin the darkness, nor did I hear anything. So I made my way back to the meeting place in order to go on. We arrived at a field where there were kukurudzes and we thought we could remain in hiding for the day. But early the next morning, the peasants who came out to work noticed us and went to the village to call the Romanian police.

The police allowed us live. They rounded us up and delivered us to the police in Bararutz, beating us along the way. There we suffered the punishment of Romanian "interrogation." They made us strip naked and one by one marched us to the interrogator who also beat us. As they returned us to our holding cells, they took off with our clothing, all except the bare necessities, leaving us with absolutely nothing.

We begged for one thing only at the interrogation: that they not send us back to Poland. After being jailed for a day, they agreed to honor our one request. They would not send us back, but rather take us to Czernovitz. We found out later that this was indeed a stroke of luck because we were the first ones that had been caught and detained. The groups that were captured after us were all shipped back to Poland and were then given over to the Gestapo.

We walked from Bararutz in three days, escorted by Romanian police. At each station, we were "interrogated" the Romanian way, accompanied by a beating.

In Czernovitz we were jailed in the osterplatz (square) and the "interrogation" began anew. But this time, it was more humane. They even asked us if we had any complaints about the way the police treated us in Czernovitz. We answered the only way we really could, that the treatment was good. We remained in jail awaiting the decision of the regime about what to do with the Jews who had been detained, those who had fled Poland. With us were approximately fifty detainees out of the thousands who had attempted to cross the border, most of whom had been unsuccessful.

The treatment by the police in Czernovitz was humane, thanks to the concern and intervention of the lehiloth (Jewish community council). Even though the country had suffered greatly in the war, twelve thousand Jews still remained in their homes, out of total of seventy thousand before the war. The Kehiloth provided us with food and clothing and they appealed on our behalf (to the government) that we be allowed to work. Still we didn't know what would finally happen to us,

A few Jewish detainees who became ill were taken to the Jewish Hospital, without guards, under the eye of the hospital management. After I had been in jail for a week, I spiked a high fever and they took me to the Jewish Hospital as well. My cousin Leiza Ladenheim had been taken there earlier. While I lay there with a high fever, I found out that by order of the Romanian regime all detainees were to be taken back to the Polish border and handed over to the Gestapo. The detainees who were in the hospital were not taken away because the police ordered that the sick not be disturbed until their health improved. This provided a way out for the fourteen hospital patients. The hospital staff went out of its way to make sure we would not get well too quickly, that we should be under medical care and not under the thumb of the Romanian police. The hospital staff, Dr. Landay (he is now living in Israel) showed unselfish concern for us. In addition to the hospital staff, the members of the kehiloth, and especially the Jews from Czernovitz, extended themselves to us in every way. They spent all of their waking hours with us in the hospital. At the High Holy Days they took us to Jewish homes, Dr. Landay always risking himself by allowing us to leave the hospital grounds.

The detainment camp lasted only a short time before the Russian front advanced to Romania. Two weeks earlier, the Romanian police hadreleased us and provided us with documents allowing us to go wherever we wished. But it should be known that this was essentially a cover-up: all they wished to do was put on the appearance of having conducted themselves benevolently with the doomed Jews.


[Page 326]

How We Saved Ourselves

Shaindel (Sophie) Yungerman Alfert

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

As soon as the Russians retreated from Eastern Galicia in 1940, the Hungarians arrived in Horodenka. The town was then relatively quiet. The Hungarians ordered the Jews to perform the forced-labor task of building the bridge in Siemakowcze. In the performance of this task, one Hungarian officer stood out for his cruelty and sadism. Around the town and in the villages, pogroms against the Jews had already started. The Ukrainian peasants had viciously murdered entire families or had run them off. Because of this, all Jews in the villages had to abandon their homes and flee to the towns.

A few weeks later, the first Gestapo arrived and declared the establishment of a Jewish Council (Judenrat). My husband, Dr. Alpert, didn't want to serve on the Council because he knew he would have to cooperate with the Germans. But other members of the Jewish intelligentsia worked with the Council.

Shortly afterwards, the Gestapo in Horodenka warned the Council that a pogrom would start unless they were bestowed with "expensive presents." Two members of the Council, Dr, Schneider and the dentist, Koyfman, went around collecting the "gifts'" for the Gestapo. The also visited my daughter, Rena, who without thinking, gave them a precious ring with two diamonds in it. By doing so, she had hoped to save some of the Jews of the town. But a few weeks later the Gestapo came back and forced the Jews to abandon their homes and move into the ghetto. To bring this about, they closed several streets around the Great Shul. They were cordoned off and guarded by the Ukrainian police. Only a few Jews received permission to live outside the ghetto — mainly those who worked with the Germans. But even they were still not fully protected from all of the persecution which the Jews inside the ghetto were condemned to suffer.

As the first wave of assaults was taking place, we went into hiding with a Polish neighbor. We were hiding in the attic, on straw, when we heard the German police ask if there were any hidden Jews. The woman answered that there were no Jews hiding with her. Twenty-five hundred Jews perished in the first wave of assaults. All of them, men, women, and children, were brutally removed to Siemakowcze. Once there, they were shot, their bodies falling into freshly dug graves.

A few weeks later, another pogrom was enacted against the Jews. But this time they knew beforehand and hid, so that the persecutors nabbed only one hundred and fifty — shooting them all inside the Great Shul.

When the third wave of assaults came, at Passover 1942, we went into hiding with the Polish teacher Vartanovitch. On the last day, when the assault had ended, someone informed on us and the Ukrainian police chased us from the attic and took us to the place where Jews were "assembled" to be sent away. As luck would have it, the transport had already left, so they released us. The teacher's wife was arrested as an example to others of what would happen to those who hid Jews. She was paraded with the captive Jews all around the town. My nephew Weissinger bribed the Ukrainian home-police to return her home. After the assault, my daughter and her husband Aaron Weissinger and son Mundek escaped to the other side of the Dniester River, toward Azieran, where Jews could still live freely. My husband and I, along with our small grandson, Leon, soon left for there. In Horodenka, all that remained were about one hundred Jewish families of doctors and artisans who worked with the German police. In Spring 1943, Horodenka was declared Judenrein when the last Jewish families were chased to Kolomyja, and then, in various sites, liquidated. Among them were Sigghe Zeidman and his wife, Felah, who was a nurse and who had worked for the Germans in the hospital. My sister, Anna Zeidman, was also murdered while she attempted to save herself and her small grandson by getting out of Kolomyja with Aryan documents. A Christian recognized her at the Kolomyja train station and informed on her. For using Aryan documents, she was executed. My oldest sister, Giselle Bartfeld, held out in Horodenka until 1943. After that, she was recognized and then arrested. At that time, there were no longer Germans in Horodenka, only the Ukrainian home-police and the native, so called folk-Germans. The folk-Germans took my sister to the Jewish cemetery and there beat her to death with sticks. Christians who witnessed it told me how in her pain she cried out that Hitler would lose the war and that his accomplices would be painfully murdered.

When we crossed the Dniester and came to Azieran, there was total panic and great sadness among the Jews. A few days earlier the German police and the Gestapo fell upon the Jews and drove them all to one site, shot some of them there, and packed the remaining ones onto trucks and sent them off to a faraway camp. Shortly afterward, Azieran was declared "free of Jews," and the few Jews who remained had to go over to Bartshub where another ghetto had been established. For a few months, we lived together with the other Jews in the ghetto. A few were taken to the work camps at Lisoowce, while a few escaped to the woods, where they were often hunted down and murdered by the peasants. This is what happened to my dear son Mundek: In the ghetto and in the camps a typhus epidemic broke out, and Germans liquidated a great many of those who fell ill. My husband, Dr. Alpert, also died this way.

Through all of these horrible experiences, a very few succeeded in staying alive. And so I remained alive, along with my two remaining sons. Now we live in New York.


[Page 327]

The Murder of the Jews of Serafinitz

Yitchak Hoffman

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

One goes with a heart laden with grief to the graves of our parents. Still more grievous is the disinterring of the graves (revealing the memories – trans.) and tearing at the wounds, still unhealed, never to be healed. Herein, I will relate the holocaust of the forty families of the village of Serafinitz, from which only two or three solitary persons were saved.

1939. This is the year of the first wave of German assaults upon Poland and the beginning of troubles for the Jews. The Russians, eager to take back a piece of the Polish "inheritance," quickly march into Galicia, and what the Poles and Ukrainians were unable to carry out in the space of years, the Germans accomplish in one day. They fashion a pauper from the Jewish community. The little shops are closed; all property is nationalized; the rich Jews are exiled to Siberia or some such place in Russia. The remaining Jews have to seek whatever work still exists. A portion of the Serafinitz Jews abandons the village and goes to the town of Horodenka. Our hearts are anguished as we witness the ground being slipped beneath their feet. And yes, the Russians call this "liberation." But the "liberation" is short-lived. A year later, other 'liberators" arrive. This is the German army which begins the process of liberation anew, and not with the finesse of the Russians. They take on an additional partner, the Ukrainians, and that is when the troubles really begin.

As soon as they tossed the Jews from their homes, they forced them into backbreaking work, goaded by beatings and terrorism; forbidding the selling of food to Jews; not allowing Jews on the sidewalks; forcing them to wear a white band on the right arm. And finally, cold-blooded murder. I will never forget the 4th of December, 1941, when 2,800 Jews were forced out of Horodenka to Mikhal'che in one day, and there, in the middle of the forest, buried — buried alive in a mass grave.

Thereafter, as the greater part of the Jewish families of Serafinitz went willingly or were forced to go to Horodenka, four or five families remained behind in Serafinitz as "useful" Jews. I was in this group, and I survived all the suffering that is possible to endure. I saw death come more than once before my eyes. More than once I shouted, “So, this is the end." The fear of death engulfed me day and night, but when the will to live is strong, you stay alive.

When the Germans came into Serafinitz to see what was happening, there were only seven families: Bergman, Hoffman, Reif, Singer, Ekerling, Geniger, and Reys, and also two sisters from another Bergman family. The rest were already in Horodenka. The first casualty from the Serafinitz Jews was a girl from the Ekerling family who was taken from them very quickly. She was found a few weeks later lying in a field, dead. On the 4th of December, 1941, the Geniger family was murdered in Miklal'che along with the two Bergman sisters and the Ekerlings. The family members who remained lived together and worked for the Germans at the border-crossing station — the women as housekeepers; the men as wood-choppers, restroom cleaners, and other hard and dirty work. This lasted until August 1942. In the month of August, all the Jews were assembled, "concentrated" in the Horodenka square near the train station and transported to Belzetz. A small portion of them had attempted to flee to Romania on several difterent roads, but only a very few were successful in getting across the border. The others were captured by the Germans and shot.

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