Even in the first days of the war, Horchiv was swamped by a tide of Polish refugees making for the neighbouring countries of Rumania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Hundreds of motor vehicles which had run out of fuel were abandoned by the roadside and people were prepared to pay astronomical sums for any form of transport which would enable them to escape from the danger zone. Many Jewish refugees, mainly men, arrived from areas which had been occupied by the Germans who were rapidly approaching. People began to talk of a place to which they could escape. The question of ''Where ? '' was answered in an unexpected way - the Soviet- German agreement determined that Eastern Galicia and the Western Ukraine would be under Soviet control.
The Jews were overjoyed, especially those who were Communists and who had suffered under the Polish regime, Everybody now began to make plans to meet the new set of circumstances.
The first encounter was somewhat disappointing. It seems that the Russians had not been expecting such a welcome. A few score miserable, half-starved soldiers appeared to be unaffected by the happiness of their hosts. Nevertheless, this first impression in no way detracted from the latter's enthusiasm.
No additional Soviet troops arrived, they were obviously not needed as it was thought that Hitler would honour the Soviet-German agreement. However, officials and party members were sent from Russia to organize the civil government, and to reopen the schools. They were accompanied by police and members of the N.K.V.D. whose task was to restore order after the confusion of the previous few weeks.
Economic life stagnated. Shops which were reopened had their stocks rapidly depleted by Soviet officials who bought enormous quantities of all types of goods. All manufactured goods had to come from Soviet Russia since the Austrian areas of Poland were under German control. People had to wait in long queues to buy even the most essential items. The peasants refused to take money for their products and would only trade by barter. There was a shortage of everything. It was hard to obtain bread in the Ukraine - the largest wheat growing area in Europe. One had to stand in a queue for hours in order to buy a loaf of bread. As is usual at such times, there was a great tendency to hoard food and all types of consumer goods, and prices rose steeply. The Soviet authorities promised to remedy the supply situation but nobody believed that there would be any improvement, because the same officials were buying anything they could lay their hands on.
The local inhabitants were very unfavourably impressed by these deportations and the way in which they were carried out. They could not understand what these honest farmers had done to offend the authorities. A few weeks later N.K.V.D. men reappeared with their vehicles and this time took away the families of Polish officers who had reached the town during the retreat of the Polish Army. It was the depths of winter and the journey to Siberia lasted several weeks. We heard that many children and old people could not stand the terrible hardships and died before reaching their destination. Several months had passed since the arrival of the Red Army and the Jewish refugees were still in the town. In the course of time they managed re-establish contact with their families in the German-occupied zone and some of them expressed a desire to return to their homes. With this end in mind they applied to the local authorities and notices soon appeared in public places calling on those who wished to return to Poland register at the police station. Many refugees took advantage of this offer and one night, several weeks later, all the men who had registered were shipped off to forced labour camps.
More and more deportations took place. At first only part of the population feared that they would be sent away but gradually everybody began to fear he was next on the list. Before the outbreak of war a number of Jewish young men had been released from Polish prisons where they had spent several years as a result of engaging in Communist activities. Among them were two expert tanners who came to the town from Central Poland. Because they had suffered for Communism they thought that they would be rewarded by the Russians but they now lived in fear of being arrested one night and one of them even moved to another town. Communist Party members who had been appointed to official positions also lived in a state of constant fear. One of them was sentenced to hard labour and deported for arriving late at work, another for neglecting his book-keeping duties.
It was now the turn of the Kulaks, the rich peasants. Thousands of them, with their families, were expelled from the Western Ukraine and Eastern Galicia. Among them were old people who begged to be allowed to die in their homes, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
Fear spread to the schools. Two pupils of one of the upper classes of the High School were arrested and deported without their parents being informed.
The news of the outbreak of war between Russia and Germany exploded like a thunder-clap.
It was morning, we had just come up from the cellar, through the window I saw an unarmed Russian soldier raising his arms in surrender to two Germans, they shot him with their pistols and he collapsed in a pool of blood.
The German soldiers broke into the houses, in the case of the Gentiles they drove out the men, imprisoned them in the ''Beith Midrash'' and the following day sent some of them off to work camps in Poland. The rest were taken out of the town, ordered to dig pits; and were then shot. The sound of the shooting from another quarter indicated that there were still some Russians in the town. The Germans ordered all the inhabitants to leave their houses within half an hour, doors were to be left open and the people were to assemble in the neighbouring forest. This order was quickly carried out and soon afterwards German aeroplanes appeared and dropped incendiary bombs on the area where the Russian troops were, causing a large fire in the town. People were allowed to return home only after several hours. Many families were left without a roof over their heads. The houses destroyed by fire were mainly in the Christian quarter. Our house, which was also in this part of the town, was not damaged and we invited a Ukrainian neighbour, who had lost his home, to come and live with us.
For two weeks the Ukrainian Police did as they pleased. The Germans, busy at the front, were not to be seen. Every day, Jews, mainly those who were considered rich enough to buy their freedom, were ordered to report to the police. They were accused of various ''crimes'' and tortured. When they had been held for few days, the prisoners' families received visits from the Police who emptied their houses and collected the sums demanded as ransoms. Those who were released were often ill for several weeks. The unbridled behaviour the Ukrainian Police lasted until a temporary German Town Commandant arrived.
An order was published to the effect that all Jews over the age of 14 were to wear a white armband bearing the Star of David - they were forbidden to appear in the street without it.
Weighed down as they were with the further harsh decrees which appeared almost daily, the Jews paid little attention to the arrival of two truckloads of Ukrainian Police and Gestapo men at noon on an August day in 1941. Within minutes the new-comers were joined by all the local Ukrainian youths and in the space of an hour they had rounded up 300 Jewish men, among whom were 14 year old boys. The Germans took no part in the round up, but left it to the local Ukrainian youths who displayed great energy in betraying their Jewish fellow-pupils and neighbours, with whom they had lived for years.
Those taken, including my husband, Dov Berger, my brother-in-law, Shmuel Kolchinski, and my brother, Shmuel. Were assembled in the courtyard of the police station and from there were herded into the near-by forest where they were ordered to dig a large pit. The Ukrainians made sure that nobody escaped and the Germans then killed all the Jews. The bodies were thrown into the pit which was then covered over and the Germans went on their way.
We only learned of what had happened after some time had elapsed, as on the day of the killing we were confined to our houses. We could not at first beileve that men, who had been rounded up, for what we assumed to be forced labor, would have been murdered. We knew that the Germans often took people away for forced labour, and did so in a most brutal fashion, but it was then inconceivable that so many innocent men had gone to their doom
In the morning, when we were allowed out, we heard about the grave which had been dug. We went to the forest, and saw that a large area bore the marks of digging. Close by there were signs of a fire and the ashes of papers documents of the murdered men. When we asked the Ukrainians, they either did not know, or did not want to tell us what had happened. A baseless rumour spread that the men had been taken off to work. As regards the grave it must have been that of the two Jews who had been killed by the Ukrainian Police for having cooperated with the Russians.
Shortly afterwards we learned that similar murders had been perpetrated in neighbouring towns. In Rovna, so the stories went, fifteen thousand Jews had been put to death in the same way. In Luck all Jews between the ages of 14 and 40 were ordered to report, all those who did so never returned and thus two thousand people met their end. We now began to understand what had happened to our men.
After rain had fallen, the earth of the grave subsided arid it was possible to see that it was large enough to contain three hundred bodies. The Ukrainians kept on bringing false reports to the effect that people had met some of our men in work camps, but we realized that all hope for them was lost.
A Jewish council was set up and was charged with fulfilling the increasing demands of the Germans, which could not be opposed. All gold, silver and furs were confiscated. Anybody who resisted did so at the cost of his life. Furniture, pianos, radio sets and chandeliers were taken from Jewish houses, Jews were forbidden to use electricity.
A rumour became current that a ghetto was to be erected in the town, but we paid no attention to it. Then the Germans began making surveys in the town. One day in October 1941 we were thunderstruck to hear that by five o'clock all Jews had to leave their homes and move their belongings into houses in the side-streets which had been allocated to them and they must not show themselves in any other part of the town.
It is impossible to describe the confusion as people were squeezed into the crowded slums that had become the Ghetto. Any hole in the wall was considered a room for a family, regardless of the number of people in it. The degradation and discomfort were indescribable. Our hearts bled from the shame and hopelessness of our situation, but it seems that fear lends wings and by five o'clock all the Jews were within the bounds of the Ghetto, The following day a barbed-wire fence with one entrance was thrown round the Ghetto and a new life began.
On the first day in the Ghetto we were ordered to exchange our white ribbons for yellow patches to worn on the chest and back. We were ashamed of ourselves, as if we were criminals. The Nazi beasts granted us no respite, one trouble followed another. On the second day in the Ghetto, two boys, aged 8 and 9 years old, crossed the barbed-wire fence and entered a building where they took two boards to serve as a bed in their new ''home''. Unfortunately, they were spotted by the Town Commandant who gave the order to the Jewish Council - hand over the two boys to the Police within the hour or ten Jews would be shot in their place. The Jewish Police had no alternative and surrendered the boys, hoping that they would not be punished because of their age. In the meantime, the head of the Jewish Council went to see the Town Commandant about the matter, but the two boys had been shot by the time he returned. On the same day, a girl called Radler, who had quarreled with a Polish woman, was brought to the Police Station. The Polish woman laid information that the girl had said that she would kill all the Germans if she got the chance. The girl denied the charge and said that the Polish woman had accused her because of their quarrel. The officer in charge listened to the complaints and asked the Polish woman if she had any witnesses. These were found immediately and that night the whole Radler family was arrested, taken to the cemetery and shot. The girl's brother, who was not at home because he was working in the forest some 10 kilometres away, was also shot.
Today, when the extermination of the Jews in Europe is discussed, one sometimes hears people express a kind of annoyance with those who were murdered, they ask ''Why didn't they resist the Nazis ?'' The two instances described above go some way towards explaining the circumstances. Anybody showing the slightest resistance endangered not only himself but also his family and the whole community. In addition, right up to the last moment, people refused to believe in the wholesale extermination of the Jewish population. In view of this, nobody dared to do anything which might bring down disaster on the heads of his family and his community.
The workshops were situated in houses outside the Ghetto which had been abandoned by their Jewish occupants. People working in these places wore a green armband. They were allowed out of the Ghetto and were known as ''useful'' Jews. They were mainly tanners engaged in the preparation of leather for military use, The rest of the Jews were employed in unskilled jobs, and because there was not enough of this type of work to go round, useless labour was invented, work that was done one day and undone the next. Those doing any kind of labour assembled at the gate of the Ghetto each morning and were marched to and from work by an escort of Ukrainian policemen.
In order to keep more people occupied, the Jews endeavoured to set up more workshops for skilled crafts such as the knitting of socks and the manufacture of brushes.
My brother set up a small chemical factory for the production of various pastes and paints made from materials that he had left over from his shop. In this way he provided work for himself, another brother and my son who was 15 and was therefore eligible for forced labour.
All the workshops were managed by two Jews, Moshe Feldmann and Zvi Zimmermann, who were responsible to the Germans.
The situation worsened from day to day. The Ukrainian Police increased the guard and were especially suspicious of those who worked outside the Ghetto.
One mother sent her two small children to buy food from some Christian neighbours with whom she had been friendly. She dressed them in peasants clothing so that they would look like Ukrainian children. The Christian ''friends'' handed the children over to the police who shot them on the spot.
The police conducted a search in one of the houses and found meat cooking in a pot. One of the women in the house admitted that it belonged to her. She was taken to the Police Station and shot. Another woman was shot when she was caught outside the Ghetto with a few beetroots in her basket.
Arrests and executions were everyday occurrences. Anybody accused of being a Communist was put to death. In spite of all this most people expected to survive and be revenged on the murderers, this hope alone prevented many Jews from committing suicide.
At the time I was working with a group of women engaged in building: we passed up bricks to the men. A Polish engineer was in charge of the work, an acquaintance of my husband and a decided anti-semite. Every day he informed me of mass killings of Jews in neighbouring towns. When I passed on this information to my fellow workers, they refused to believe me. However, a letter from somebody called Dickstein, was smuggled out of Luck. He wrote to his brother that there were no more Jews in Luck, they had all been liquidated. By chance, he was the sole survivor. He advised anybody who was able to, to escape to the forest. At last people began to believe. We knew that our days were numbered. Hiding places were built in the miserable houses of the Ghetto. Corners of rooms and attics were partitioned off to act as hiding places in the event of an ''action''. My brother, who had set up the chemical factory in our parents' house, which was now occupied by Poles, decided that this would be the best hiding-place for us. He built a wall in the factory, behind which all the family could take refuge. The will to live was so strong that we were prepared to believe that these hiding-places would save us. We naively believed that if we were not found during the ''action'' we should escape with our lives.
There were rumours that the Town Commandant wanted to postpone the liquidation of the Ghetto for three months and that he had received permission for this. We did not believe this but some people, for example the tannery workers, who had proved themselves so useful to the Germans, did. Jews who had dealings with the Germans also believed that they would be spared, but these illusions led them to be the first to die.
All work stopped in the Ghetto and people began to run around as though possessed. I was with my mother, we were discussing whether I should accept the Polish engineer's offer of help and take the children to him. My mother advised me not to because she knew that he was such an anti-Semite. Suddenly I had an idea. In the days of Soviet rule, my husband had managed carpentry factories. One of the workers was a Pole, Wybieracki, who used to visit our house where we supplied him with drink. I had never met him before he worked in the factory, but I knew that he now lived in a small house on the outskirts of the town and was employed in a Christian owned carpentry shop. I decided to send my son to him to ask him to come and see us in my brother's chemical factory because I wanted to speak to him.
He came at once. I explained our plight to him (he knew that my husband was no longer alive) and I asked him if he could take us home with him for a few days until the danger had passed. There were sure to be some Jews left in the Ghetto and we should return there. He answered that he would do anything to help the Berger family (he had respected my husband greatly), but he would first have to ask his wife. He would go home, and if his wife agreed, she would come to fetch us.
He left and went outside. There was a great commotion over by the Jewish Council building. All the Jewish workers had been brought back from work. A group of young men was making plans to leave the Ghetto and flee into the forest. I went back to my brother's factory and decided to wait there till our saviour came. I waited for a long time. It was five o'clock and I was thinking of leaving the factory and going to our hiding-place, when a kindly looking woman of about 35 appeared and introduced herself as Wybieracki's wife. She excused herself for being late. She had not been at home and her husband had not been able to find her. She agreed to help us. We had to go to her house immediately - following a litttle behind her in order not to arouse suspicion.
I returned to the Ghetto and bade my mother, sister and brother a rapid farewell, conscious that we would never see each other again because Death was already hovering over the Ghetto.
Mrs. Wybieracka was waiting at the factory for us. We could take nothing with us but she offered to come back and take our things from my brother. We had a long way to go. We passed through the streets inhabited by Christians, then into the open fields and finally arrived at the house, Next door to the Wybierackis was a house occupied by her brother, a Ukrainian. Fortunately he was not at home. We went in unobserved. It was a small house; one room and a kitchen and a small corridor divided by a partition, from where it was possible to enter the attic by means of a ladder.
Our hosts had several goats and they had stored hay for them in the attic, and on this we prepared our bed.
At midnight we heard rifle-shots. I was lying down but I could not sleep because l kept thinking of my family. How were they now ? Had I done right in bringing both my sons with me ? Maybe I should have left one of them with my family. I consoled myself with the thought that my sons had made their own decision. They were already quite grown up; Yaakov was 16 and Shmulik 13. Events had made them mature. They did not want to be parted; ''Whatever happens to us will happen to all of us together''.
I was thinking of my mother who had just recovered from a severe attack of pneumonia. Maybe it would have been better for her to have died from the illness. In the meantime the shooting continued.
The night passed. In the morning Mrs. Wybieracka told me that the shooting had been directed at Jews trying escape from the Ghetto. During the night two hundred young men had fled from the Ghetto. They had crossed the river into the forest. Only eight of them stayed alive, the rest were either shot by the Ukrainians or died of hunger.
We heard of the preparations and prayed for a miracle. Mrs. Wybieracka also let her imagination run wild. She came up to the attic and told us that she had seen a great many aeroplanes - they must have been sent by the Americans or the British in order to stop the massacre of the Jews. Even the Germans were not behaving as usual. She was sure a miracle would happen.
There was no miracle. The Nazi beasts, with the full cooperation of the Ukrainian murderers, performed their task to the full. They were helped by people whom we had trusted and begged for help. The murders began on Tuesday morning ** ) . As long as I draw breath I shall never forget the sound of the trucks taking the Jews to the grave at the top of the road, not far from our hiding place. To me the noise sounded like weeping for the fate of the poor wretches being led to their deaths. The trucks deposited their cargoes and returned for more victims.
What was in the minds of the doomed ? Did they call to God who was being cruel to them, or to the world at large which heard their cries and turned a deaf ear ?
The killing lasted three days, then there was silence. Had anybody been saved ? According to Mrs. Wybieracka not one of the Jews had escaped death, not even the ''useful'' Jews.
What had happened to the members of my family who had hidden themselves outside the Ghetto ? They must be alive. What would happen to me and my children? We had asked to be hidden only for a few days. It seemed that in view of the situation, we had nowhere to go. Our saviours were very worried. Announcements appeared, proclaiming that any Gentile discovered to have hidden Jews in his house, would be shot before the Jews.
Several days elapsed. We heard the sounds of a quarrel in the house below. We seemed to be the cause of the trouble. I asked them to come up and talk to me so that we could discuss what we were going to do and where my sons and I could go.
At twilight they game up to the attic. I apologized to them for having caused them any trouble and told them that they, like myself, could not have conceived of the present situation in which none of the Jews had been left alive. I asked them to think of a way out. We talked for over an hour about finding a way of moving to a nearby village where there were some friendly farmers. However there was no safe way of getting there. They left us saying that would think of a solution.
The next day, Mrs. Wybieracka told me that they had decided not to abandon us, we could stay with them for the time being. There might be a more favorable opportunity for us to move somewhere else without falling into the hands of the murderers. As long as the searches were going on we should stay there. They hoped that their house would not be searched. We were deeply moved by their humane behaviour.
The days dragged on. The boys found a box full of old newspapers, magazines and books, amongst which there was a Bible and a cookery book. This was a veritable treasure for us, it meant that we would have something to help us pass the time.
We had to be very careful. We could hear every sound in the house below and it was possible for them to hear every sound that we made.
Mrs. Wybieracka's brother, sister-in-law and mother lived next door and were in and out of ''our'' house all the time. If any one of them had taken it into his head to climb up to the attic we should have been discovered immediately. We shrank with fear whenever we heard steps in the corridor.
Mrs. Wybieracka worked as a cook in the Town Commandment's house, but only in the mornings. When she went to work the house was locked up. Her husband worked all day and only came home in the evening. While they were out, their only son, Wladek, a boy of 11 years old, was our guardian. To our surprise, he treated us with the greatest understanding. In the absence of his parents he tried to keep the door of the house closed whenever he went to feed the goats or meet his friends.
When Mrs. Wybieracka was at home she sewed and repaired clothes for Germans who used to bring the work to the house. On these occasions we were petrified and only calmed down when the Germans went away. Winter was approaching. We were still wearing our summer clothes. The goats had already eaten all the hay in the attic which was now empty and dangerous. Mr. Wybieracki planned to put up a partition which would turn part of the attic into a small room for us and would also protect us from the cold, but he had to wait a long time until he could obtain the wood that he needed.
Mrs. Wybieracka brought us a pillow and a quilt, We spread the little hay that remained on the floorboards and covered it with a sheet. We placed the quilt in such a way as to cover all of us. We also obtained three woollen blankets, one for each of us. We were now ready to face the winter.
The frost was bitter. Every night the snow, which forced its way through cracks in the wall, covered us. It was difficult to understand how so much snow could find its way through such small openings. We did our best to stuff them up with rags. Fortunately the roof was covered with straw : if it had been covered with tin we should have frozen to death.
Stuffing up the cracks meant that we were now deprived of any light whatsoever and we were no longer able of read. However. we became gradually accustomed to the dark and were able to read in the mornings when there was most light.
The entrance of our little room was by way of a small hatch in the partition, which was 70 cms. high and 35 cms. wide. It could only be opened from the inside, the outside being well camouflaged. Small as it was, I could get through easily as I had lost a great deal of weight.
Mrs. Wybieracka informed us that the Germans at the front were in a bad way. People were saying that they were almost finished. We were greatly encouraged by this news. We continually dreamt of being revenged on the murderers. We thought of our family : maybe they were still alive in their hiding place and were being helped by their Polish neighbours. I wondered how I could help our own saviours who had endangered their lives for us. My mind was full of hopes and plans. These dreams were the only thing left to us and were the only luxury in which we could indulge.
Mrs. Wybieracka had own flights of fancy. She imagined that not only the Jews would take an interest in people, like herself and her husband, who had shown such courage and compassion, but the democratic governments would also be sure to reward them, as there were so few of them.
Dreams enabled us to overcome the suffering, the cold, the diet and the degradation.
The German left the house. The Wybierackis came up immediately and told us that the Police had been ordered to search all the houses in the vicinity in an attempt to recover some articles which had been stolen from a German officer. The fact that we had not been discovered was a miracle, a clear sign that nothing was going to happen to us.
It was hard to calm down. It seemed as though we had dreamed the whole incident. I was particularly happy that no harm had befallen our rescuers who had been so kind and understanding to us.
It was a long winter. Snow, storms, and endless frost. The diet and lack of comfort made life bitter for us. I tried to cheer up the children by telling them that help was close at hand and that our troubles would soon be over.
Mrs. Wybieracka told us that gangs of Ukrainian nationalists, led by a man called Bandera, had been formed in the villages. These gangs were attacking small groups of Germans and were penetrating into villages and cruelly murdering Polish farmers and their families. To us, the daring of the Ukrainian gangs seemed a clear indication of German weakness at the front. The Ukrainians were interested in trying to prove that they were also fighting the Germans. The latter did not react strongly to these attacks which were costing them quite severe losses. They organised searches in the villages, and contented themselves with deporting farmers to concentration camps. The Germans had not reacted in such a mild manner at the beginning of the war, when they had taken ruthless reprisals.
The winter was over at last. The frosts ceased. We were able to move about in our room because of the increased light. In honour of the spring, Wybieracki decided to let us have even more light. One Sunday, when he stayed at home, we heard him mount a ladder, placed outside, until he was level with our hiding- place. He began to saw one of the boards of the roof and had soon cut a small window in the shape of two triangles. The little room was flooded with light. At first we were afraid of the unaccustomed brightness, but it did not take us long to get used to it. We washed and refreshed ourselves as well as our cramped surroundings would permit. I asked Mrs. Wybieracka to give me some work and she sometimes found sewing, knitting or various repairs for me to do. I was very pleased with the work, firstly, it made me feel I was helping Mrs. Wybieracka in some way, and secondly, it helped to pass the time.
The Ukrainians were no longer loyal to the Germans and the latter set up a police force of young Poles, many of whom volunteered for service in order to avenge their families who had been slaughtered by the Ukrainians.
Notices, put up by anonymous hands, proclaimed that the National Ukrainian Army was going to attack the town that night. There were very few Germans left and they took the notices seriously and gathered in one house for greater protection. That night a Ukrainian gang appeared and was particularly active in the quarter where we were hidden. We heard the whistle of bullets for several hours until the gang was ordered to withdraw from the town.
In the morning we learned that all the Ukrainian Police had disappeared with the gang and had helped to raid the arms stores which they had completely emptied.
We thought that the Germans would bring troops to the town after this incident, but they did not. Instead they threw a barbed-wire fence round the quarter which contained our refuge.
Through our little window we saw Wybieracki talking to a German, who was none other than the District Commandant. The German had been looking at our house and had spotted our window. He told Wybieracki that the window would be ideal for observing the movements of the gangs. We were terrified lest he should want to come up to the attic to see if there was a good view from the window. lf he had done so we should all have been lost. While listening to the German we heard the boy, Wladek shut the door and run away. Wybieracki told the German that his naughty son had taken the key and there was no way of entering the house. They walked round for a few more minutes and finally the German left.
From that day on, every time we heard the hated sound of German being spoken we lived in fear and trembling that someone was coming up to examine our window to see if it would make a good observation point.
Spring came in all its glory. The birds began to build a nest in the roof just above our heads. I watched them working. They either did not see us or were not afraid of us. They were more secure than we were. Opposite our house lived a Polish gardener and his family. A barbed-wire fence divided the houses. The family worked in the vegetable garden by the house and every morning we heard them talking to Mrs. Wybieracka who was working in her own garden. They were very worried about the situation. The Ukrainian gangs were growing stronger and more daring. There were very few Germans, none in the villages. The Germans could not station troops in the villages in large numbers and it was dangerous for them to leave small garrisons. In view of this they were concentrated in the towns. They organised searches by day, using special units, but these searches became more infrequent. It seemed that they had greater worries elsewhere.
The Wybieracki family built themselves a hiding-place where they could seek refuge when gangs overran the town. A curfew was imposed - no civilian was allowed on the streets during the hours of darkness, under pain of death.
Mrs. Wybieracka brought us reports of what was happening in the town, if they were correct we should soon be free. It seemed to me that there was at least a grain of truth in the rumours of an imminent defeat for the Germans. In the meantime we were physically weakened and psychologically depressed. Only hope for the future enabled us to carry on. Our rescuers were also hopeful, there must be an end to everything, the situation had to take a turn for the better.
The Wybierackis began to give parties in their house in order to forget their worries and to avert suspicion. They would drink a large amount and their guests would stay the night. Occasionally quarrels broke out. We dreaded that drunkenness would cause our hosts to give us away. I mentioned this to Wybieracki and he assured me that, as regards our secret, he was never drunk.
On one occasion Wybieracki came back from a party extremely drunk. At the party he let slip that he was defying the Germans by having arms and radio equipment in his house. The next day S.S. men came to look for the arms. Only Mrs. Wybieracka was at home, We heard voices below demanding that she show them the place where the arms were hidden. She denied all knowledge of arms : they had never had arms. The Germans searched the house thoroughly, knocking on walls to see if they were hollow and digging in the cellar, where they found the hiding-place which Wybieracki had prepared in case the family had to take refuge from the Banderist gangs. We were sure that they would discover us this time. We dressed quietly so that we would not be led barefoot and half-naked through the streets of the town - and we waited. We heard the door of the attic opening, then the ladder was moved and finally they went out, promising to return. They left the house without entering the attic at all. This second miracle was greater than the first. We could not believe our luck that they turned the house upside down and had not thought
searching the attic.
Soon afterwards Mrs. Wybieracka came up to see us, she was trembling, angry at the brutal behaviour of the Germans and terrified that they would be back.
Wybieracki came back from work. He already knew about the search : his son, Wladek, had informed him of it.
We were all depressed, certain that the Germans would be back. We decided that, since the Germans only conducted searches during the day, nobody must be in the house until evening. The daily routine was now as follows : Mrs. Wybieracka rose in the middle of the night and prepared food for the middle meal. They ate breakfast whilst it was still dark outside, also giving us some soup, and left the house for the rest of the day. In the event of the Germans coming to search the house they would find it locked up and then they would either go on their way, or break the door. If they did so this and entered the house, they would of course find us, but the Wybierackis would be able to save themselves by running away.
A week passed and no Germans appeared. The Wybierackis calmed down. In the mean- time Wybieracki became acquainted with some S. S. men at a drinking party at the house of a Polish woman. He invited them to his house for a meal and took the opportunity of mentioning the search. The S. S. commander apologized for any inconvenience caused, and to their great relief, assured them that the matter would go no further.
It was a warm autumn day. None of the Wybieracki family were at home. We were keeping our ears open for any sounds which reached us through our small window. Suddenly a group of Ukrainian prisoners appeared, escorted by armed Germans who directed them into the valley, some 50 metres from our house. The Ukrainians knelt down and crossed themselves. They were sure that they had been brought to the place to be shot, a common practice of the Nazis. However, the prisoners had been brought to erect the concentration camp. They strung wire round the valley and put up four poles, surmounted by a wooden roof , in the middle of the compound. Thus we now had a concentration camp directly opposite our window.
Hundreds of Ukrainian peasants, mostly men, were crammed into the confined space within the wire. They were closely guarded by Polish police, One group of guards was posted right next to our hiding place where the roof of our house was at ground level. We could hear them talking and walking about, but we could not see them as there was no opening in the roof on that side. However, we could see into the camp and had a clear view of everything that happened there.
The Wybierackis warned us to be very careful not to draw any attention to ourselves, especially at night when it was much quieter and the children might give us away by snoring in their sleep. I made an effort not to sleep at night so that I could keep watch.
Every morning a number of Germans came to the camp and conducted a parade of prisoners. Anybody who did not hold himself erect or did not move quickly enough was beaten by the Germans. When the Germans left, the prisoners threw themselves down and lay on their backs for the rest of the day.
Mrs. Wybieracka somehow got hold of some German newspapers and brought them to us. I read and reread them. Reading between the lines it seemed to me that the Germans were admitting defeat. They complained bitterly of ''barbaric'' American and British air attacks on ''undefended German cities''. It was strange to hear such whining in the mouths of murderers who had lost all claim to human dignity. We were comforted to think that the day of reckoning was at hand and we prayed that we should live to see the downfall of Germany.
More and more rain fell. The camp was flooded. For several days the prisoners were left out in the open until the camp was broken up and they were sent to other camps in Poland.
Once again the valley was quiet and we were able to move about our ''cage'' more freely. We dreaded having to spend the winter dressed in the filthy clothes we had worn the previous year. During the summer we had been able to keep ourselves in a somewhat cleaner state. The children refused to put on the dirty clothes, they kept saying that there was still time. In actual fact we had become accustomed to the cold, but even so the weather grew worse, until one morning I noticed that my elder son, Yaakov, was ill. He had a high fever and complained of stabbing pains. I did not know what to do and told Mrs. Wybieracka, but what could she do to help? Few days passed and the Christian New Year arrived. There was great deal of noise in the house below. Mrs. Wybieracka had been cooking and baking for several days. She brought us some of the delicious things she had made. My younger son Shmulik and I gave all the food to Yaakov in the hope that it would help him to get better. His fever had gone down but he was still perspiring liberally. I covered him with everything that I could lay my hands on. Since we were virtually outiside in the freezing cold, it is hard to understand how he recovered. We were especially frightened that he would cough, because this would have given us away. The illness dragged on for several weeks and all we could do for the patient was to make sure he had plenty to eat by giving him all our food. This is how the second winter began.
The worsening situation of the Nazis was reflected in the newspapers which Mrs. Wybieracka brought us. They admitted that they had been defeated at Stalingrad. The Poles spread rumours that the Germans were surrounded on every front. Maybe we should wake up one morning and find the Russians had taken the town.
Soviet Partisans appeared in the near-by forests. They paid visits to the villages at night, confiscated food from the peasants and then they disappeared. At the same time the Banderist gangs, who had no connection with the Partisans, were also active. There were rumours of Partisan activity against the Germans. They blew up railways and arms dumps and the Germans were powerless to stop them. We began to hear the sound of guns and bombs, a sign that the front was drawing nearer. These sounds delighted us, we used to listen to them as if they were music.
There were very few Germans in the town. Mrs. Wybieracka thought their days were numbered. I asked her to pay a visit to my parents' house where a Polish acquaintance of hers was now living. I wanted to know how my family was. She came back and told me the sad news that they appeared to have been killed in the first days of the general extermination of the Jews. My hope that they had been helped by their Gentile neighbours had not been realised. It seems that they had not trusted their neighbours, and when they were discovered they had left their hiding place, thinking that they would find refuge elsewhere, and so had fallen into the hands of murderers. The Germans were in a bad way. Mrs. Wybieracka said that you could tell by their faces. They went about silent and downcast.
The peasants took advantage of the situation to loot the food and clothing stores which the Germans had abandoned. Near our house was a pigsty which had supplied soldiers at the front. Within hours all the pigs had been carried away and the sty was now completely empty.
Our rescuers took no part in looting, not because they considered it a crime, but because they feared that the Germans would conduct searches for looted goods if they were to return, and this would place us in great danger.
There was a great deal of activity in the streets. All day long people ran to and fro carrying loot. The following day Partisans, dressed in rags and barefoot, entered the town. We saw them from our little window. They spoke a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian and we could not tell if they were Russians or Banderists. They entered the houses and seized everything they could lay their hands on. Nobody made any resistance to the Partisans, who said that they were forward units of the Red Army which would enter the town in strength the following day. After staying some time and taking what they needed, the Partisans withdrew.
Long lines of carts continued to pour into the town as the peasants came in for more booty. Since there were no longer any Jewish shops, they contended themselves with destroying Jewish houses removing doors, windows and tin from the roofs, and taking furniture from the houses which had been occupied by the Germans.
At nightfall Banderists appeared carrying incendiary materials. They set fire to Jewish and Polish houses and government buildings.
It was terribly to see the town in flames. The High School near our house was burnt down. In the morning the fire-raisers had vanished and the looting continued. A growing number of peasants came into town. They were all taking advantage of the state of anarchy. The fire-raisers, fearing that they would not be allowed to finish their work, now carried on in broad daylight. Houses blazed and there was nobody to put out the fires.
Our rescuers slept in Mrs. Wybieracka's brother's house. He was a Ukrainian, and there was a possibility that our house, which belonged to a Pole, might be burnt down, even though it was small and was next door to a Ukrainian house. Both houses had straw-covered roofs, so that if one had gone up in flames, the other would certainly have suffered the same fate.
We lay in the attic, not knowing what night would bring. We could not sleep. We could hear the joyful shouts of the fire-raisers and we prayed for a miracle. Once again our prayer was answered- our house was not touched.
The Germans were the same ones as had formerly been in the town, but they had greatly changed. They paid no attention to the looting and destruction that had taken place during their absence. They were silent and frightened.
The Polish families were taking advantage of the Germans' offer to provide them with transport to Poland. Our rescuers had also planned on leaving. What would become of us? All day long Mrs. Wybieracka made enquiries amongst the Polish families. It seemed that the Polish men were to stay on. The family of the gardener who lived next door were to stay on, and would wait and see what happened. Our rescuers were sorry to leave us now that liberation was so near. They decided that the husband should stay for a few days and that the rest of the family should go. We were all sad. Mrs. Wybieracka had got used to looking after us and knew exactly what our needs were, how could her husband manage, especially in view of the fact that he was subject to fits of moodiness. However there was no alternative. Mrs. Wybieracka took her leave of us, expressing the hope that we should all meet again. She was sure that we should be liberated after experiencing so much danger and discomfort.
Mr. Wybieracki now began his duties as a housewife. He was very active. Early in the morning, while it was still dark outside, we heard him lighting the cooking stove. He fed and milked the goats, ate his breakfast and. before leaving the house, he knocked at the door of the attic as a signal that he had prepared food for us. The house was quiet until he returned in the evening, when he finished the housework, cared for the goats and cooked coffee or soup for himself and for us. Sometimes we heard him talking to his brother-in-law or to another neighbour who came to the house. This state of affairs lasted for two weeks and the Germans were still in the town and showed no sign of leaving.
From experience, we decided to divide our food into three parts, thus making allowance for Wybieracki's return being delayed. By Tuesday he had not returned, perhaps he did not intend coming back at all. Our food ran out. We could only go one day without anything to eat- after that we would be forced to leave the attic. I made up my mind that if he did not return by the following evening (and I was sure that he would not) , I should go down and ask his brother-in-law for help, even though I had heard that he could not be relied on.
Thursday came. Our troubles made us forget our hunger. We lay motionless, occupied by dismal thoughts. I cursed fate for letting us die when salvation seemed to be at hand. Suddenly we heard the neighbour's wife greeting Wybieracki and asking him about his wife. We burst into tears of joy. Wybieracki soon came up to the attic, he brought us food and told us that he had been unavoidably delayed. He had realized that we had nothing to eat, but he had come as quickly as possible and had brought his son, who was homesick, with him.
We were very pleased that the boy had come home, because he was always willing to do anything for us, and we could ask him to do favours which we hesitated to ask of his father.
Mrs. Wybieracka's fears were justified. Once more the Banderists proved their daring.
Early on Saturday evening, a Pole came to Wybieracki's house. He brought a letter from Mrs. Wybieracka and stayed the night. I woke up at two o'clock in the morning and heard footsteps of people speaking Ukrainian. Afterwards there was a cry for help and pistol shots. I could hear people trying to tear down the barbed-wire fence but they were apparently not finding this too easy and they seemed to have abandoned the task because there was no more noise. In the morning we learned that the Banderists had broken into the Polish houses and had murdered anybody they found in them. The cry for help had come from the gardener's house, next-door. The old woman had been killed and the younger woman had been seriously injured. The young gardener, who had been on guard duty at the power station, was unharmed. The murderers had tried to break into our house, but had been stopped by the barbed-wire fence. They had not had much time at their disposal and had given it up as a bad job. Thus Wybieracki and his Polish guest were saved from certain death.
Wybieracki came to tell us that all the Polish inhabitants were leaving town. He promised to leave us food for a few weeks which should last us till the Russians arrived. I thanked him, but told him that we could not remain in the house alone ; we should be discovered after a day or two. I asked him to tell his brother-in-law about us and to ask him to help us for the short time we had to wait till our sufferings would be at an end. Wybieracki saw that we had no other alternative. Although he did not really trust his brother-in-law, he called him and his wife and made them swear on the icons that they would not disclose what he was going to tell them to anyone. After revealing our secret he said that he was sure that he had been saved from the Banderists because of us. Heaven had rewarded him for the compassion he had shown in saving us. Liberation was not far off . He asked them to carry on where he had left off. They agreed. We took our leave of Mr. Wybieracki. He expressed the hope that we should all meet after the liberation.
Our new guardians were disappointed. They thought that they would have to care for us for a few days and now a week had passed and there was still no sign of the Russians. The woman came up once and told us that her husband did not want to take any more risks by helping us for God knows how long. In his opinion we could already go home as there were very few Germans about in the town and our former Ukrainian neighbours, who were still living in our house, would put us up for a few days until we were liberated. (Our ''guardians'' well knew what such a step would have meant for us).
We were in a very difficult position. To have gone home and asked our neighbours for help would have amounted to handing ourselves over to the Germans. I did not trust the Ukrainians, we knew from bitter experience, that they would betray Jews to the Germans at the slightest pretext. These same neighbours had taken all our property and were therefore not interested in keeping us alive. On the other hand we could not stay where we were. Who knew, maybe our ''guardians'' would betray us if we did not do as they suggested.
After talking things over and after discussing the brother-in-law's character we decided to get away as soon as possible. We decided that I should first go out alone. lf our former neighbours were willing to help us, I should come back for the children.
I put on Mr. Wybieracki's coat; I did not have one of my own because we had gone into hiding in the summer. I put a green knitted scarf over my head and pulled it down over my eyes to avoid recognition. The children came down and opened the door for me and I went out. They went back up to the attic and followed my progress through the crack in the boards. Once out in the daylight, I realized what a peculiar sight I was, dressed in a long man's coat and my summer shoes, which were still new as I had not worn them. I looked around. Everything seemed strange because so much had been destroyed by fire. A seemingly endless barbed-wire fence stretched into the distance. I could not find the way to where I wanted to go and so I returned to the house. The children ran to open the door for me. Wybieracki's brother-in-law's family also saw me and the woman came to asked me why I had returned. I told her the reason and added that I did not understand why our presence caused them so much anxiety. The Wybierackis had left only a few days ago and we were in their house. In addition to this, nobody was going to search for us at the present time. Liberation was only just around the corner. If they did not want to help us we would help ourselves. We had food in the house. The main thing was that they should not inform on us. The woman promised that they would not give us away.
We had been left on our own for two weeks. In the early evening the woman came and told us that the Germans had left the town and she had reliable information that the Banderists were going to burn down all the Polish houses that night. We had to leave our hiding-place immediately. It was dark in the streets, all the houses and their doors locked and even the Ukrainians were frightened. We left the attic. Our ''friend'' was down in the courtyard finishing his work. I asked him if he would allow us to spend the night in the pit used for storing potatoes in the courtyard. He refused. I then remembered that a Ukrainian, who had worked for my parents, lived not far away and decided to go to him. It was pitch-dark outside and the path was slippery. We had great difficulty in reaching the house. There seemed to be no one at home. I knocked on the door but there was no answer. We went round to the other side and knocked on the window, again there was no answer. The house was empty. We discovered that the door of the pigsty was ajar and went inside where we found a broken packing case and bucket. We sat down on them. It was freezing cold and deadly quiet outside. It seemed that even the Banderists did not dare to venture out.
Instead of going back to the attic, we spent our time in the house below, making preparations for the road. I knew that we had to hurry as the front could change its direction and the Germans might be back. However, because we were so near the front, we needed travel permits from the Army. I applied to the Russian Town Major's office. The Town Major was friendly. He scolded me for not having confidence in the Red Army which did not abandon territory it had occupied. He advised me to go home where we could be perfectly safe, we were citizens like anybody else and had nothing to fear.
It was really time to leave the house. I packed some food and a little clothing and we set out.
The District Headquarters of the Red Army was situated in Skovalka, a suburb of the town and we made our way there. That night we slept in a Ukrainian cottage where several Russian officers were quartered. The Russians retreated the next day and we went with them. The Germans came back and stayed for another three months. It seemed that providence had intervened and saved us from this last danger. However, our luck was not to last - six months after our liberation, in Rovna, I lost my younger son Shmulik,- he was fourteen years old.
* The Soviet Security Police. return
** The 22nd of Elul, 5702 (The 14th of September, 1942). return
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