The curse of G-d rests upon the filthy earth of Yedwabne. Nothing remains of its Jewish community. The courtyard of the old synagogue is no longer there. The Bet Hamedrash, the house of learning and prayer which was located in the midst of the city and was partly destroyed after the Jews were murdered, has been totally wiped out by the order of the city government. In its place they built dwellings that are now occupied by the murderers of our people. Among the Jews of Yedwabne were manufacturers, businessmen, public officials, social workers, and many scholars, both secular and Torah.
The Jewish community came into being two to three hundred years ago, and it ended with the beginning of the destruction of all Jewish presence in Poland. The Jews of Yedwabne were the first to be burned alive - because they were Jews. This was the accomplishment of the Gentile neighbors, the depraved and the defilers of humanity, with the permission of the Nazis, the monsters of history.
I feel it is my duty to do the Mitzvah of Kibud Av V'Em, honoring parents, grandparents, relatives and friends, by ensuring that the memory of these beloved ones remains with us forever. The horrible day of the 15th of Tamuz, 5701, corresponding to July 10th, 1941, must be made known to the world. The names of the murdered Yedwabne Jews must be added to the large list of the thousands of Jewish communities that existed before the Holocaust, and have been memorialized in books. The descendents of Yedwabne have tarried too long. In other cities, like Kolno, a common grave still exists as a memorial to the holy martyrs. Only in Yedwabne was there not even an indication that a Jewish community ever existed.
Yedwabne had famous Rabbis, Chazanim, Shochtim, Melamdim, world-renowned schools, modem teachers, and charity institutions. It was a thriving, lively place for and because of our people. Therefore it is frightful that not a word was mentioned in the newspapers of that time on the exact occurrences of that dreadful day of the destruction of the Yedwabne Jewish community. We can find only small paragraphs here and there. One is written by a woman from the Nilowicki family of Wizno, who came to Yedwabne for refuge. She, like many others thought this might be a safe place. A woman of the Finkelstein family of Radzilows, near Yedwabne, related that after the war was over, she was in Yedwabne and saw goyim occupying former Jewish homes. The children were dressed in clothes that had been worn by Jewish children. Through a window of Sorchie's bakery she saw some Jews and one was wearing a piece of yellow cloth on his arm. He told her that he worked in the food storage house in what had been the synagogue. He related also that the few remaining Jews suffered greatly because of the converted Jew, Israel Grondowski, who told lies about them to the anti-Semitic Polish gangs.
The son-in-law of the Shochet and Chasid, Dovid Nishtzonski from Radzilovo, at that time worked in Yedwabne. His wife and children refused to leave their father and grandfather, the Tzadik, alone in Radzilovo, so they remained with him. The wife wrote a note to her husband telling him that his being in Yedwabne would be worse than hers. She then wrote to someone else that only twenty Jews remained in that city by the end of November, when they too were sent to the extermination areas together with those from the Jewish Ghetto of Lomza.
A woman by the name of Rivke Kaizer from Wizno escaped from the market place in Yedwabne. In the Memorial Book of the city of Sokola, printed in Tel Aviv in 1962, she related that after the Churban of the Jewish community of Tykocin, they got word through escapees from Yedwabne and Radzilovo, about what had happned there. The goyinm ordered all the Jews, including the Rabbi and the leaders of the people, to go to the market place. There they were told to put on their Talaisim and Tfilin, and to dance and sing. Afterwards they were locked into a big barn near the Jewish cementery. The barn was then splashed with benzine and ignited. All were burned alive. May G-d avenge their blood !
I remember all my family. And this is a memorial to all those who were murdered at the hands of their Polish neighbors and German Nazis. I also include all those of our family who were either killed or died in the years before the Holocaust, but whose graves have been destroyed so that there is no knowledge of their final resting places.
|Avraham Yitzchak Piekarz and Chays Sarah Piekarz||Our Parents|
|Berl Pecynowitz and Raizele Pecynowitz||Our Grandparents (Mother's Parents)|
|Eliyahu Pecynowitz and Yenta Pecynowitz Children - Yosel, Frumke, Moshe, Sarah, Chone and their children||Uncle and Aunt- Brother of Mother, Cousins, Children of Cousins|
|Moshe Dovid Pecynowitz and Sheine Pecynowitz and Children Yosef Leibel, Devora, Yitzchak Eli'Ezer, Binyamin, Braine-Rivka and Chaya||Uncle and Aunt - Brother of Mother and Cousins|
|Rivke Weingerki and Yecheskiel Weingerki and their Six Children : Eliezer, Devora, Kreindle, Moshe E.c.c||Aunt and Uncle - Sister of Mother and Cousins|
|Sarah Rochel Weingerki and Zelig Weingerki Their Two Daughters and Grandchildren||Sister and Brother-in-law of Grandmother Reisele - Aunt of Mother. Nieces of Grand- Mother Raisele. Ggreat Nieces and Nephews of Grandmother|
|Feivel Piekarz Ranche Piekarz||Our Grandparents and Father's Parents|
|Moshe Lozer Piekarz and Wife and Children||Uncle and Aunt - Brother of Father|
|Golda and Husband Yoshua Daughter Faige and her Husband||Aunt and Uncle - Sister of Father, Cousin|
|Yaacov Shloma Piekarz and Wife and Two Children||Uncle and Aunt - Brother of Father, Cousins|
|Miriam Perlmutter and Ovadiah Perlmutter and Two Children||Aunt and Uncle - Sister of Father and Cousins|
|Aaron Piekarz and Wife and Children||Uncle and Aunt - Brother of Father, Cousins|
On Friday nights before the lighting of the Shabbat candles, the Shamosh dressed in his Shabbat "Capote" (coat) would pause at the left side of each water-well in the new and old market places and call out in a resounding voice; "Yiden in shul arain", Jews go to shul.
On Thursday the Shamosh again acted as crier. Once the Bath House was heated he would call out : "Yiden in bod arain", Jews go to the Bath House.
It was in this role the Shamosh remained an integral part of Jewish life in Yedwabne.
Yedwabne like so many other shtetlach, belonged to a time when life was simple, yet filled with pious devotion and honesty. Where people lacking modem luxuries none the less raised generations of spirited youth. But these simple people were to fall victim to a madness. Generations of Jewish life disappeared into puffs of smoke from chimneys.
The Lojewski and Gushatsky families who trace their heritage back into Yedwabne's past, remember this small town as a symbol of the continuity of the Jewish spirit.
My older brother Yehuda Arye and I began our studies in the schools of the shtetle and later continued in the well-known Talmud Torah and Yeshiva in Lomza. Our father died during the Polish-Bolshevik War (1921) and our mother found herself in a trying situation. It was very difficult for her to support herself and her three small children. When my older brother was fourteen years of age he went to study at a yeshiva some distance from home and was no longer dependant on our mother.
I decided to learn a trade and in due time I became proficient in the manufacture of men's clothing as it was carried on in the shops of the shtetle. I was involved also in selling the merchandise at the fairs (seasonal markets) in the surrounding communities and I was able to help my mother. In a short time I became manager of the shop of Lazar Chaim Peltinovitch where I worked, and in 1933, when he moved the shop from Yedwabne to Goniandz, I went with him. Later we became partners and in 1937 I opened my own shop.
In 1936 I married the elder of his two daughters, Leebe. We had two sons: Avram Yitschak, named for my father, and Moshe Beryl, after my wife's grandfather.
My older brother had been in the United States since 1932 and in 1938 my younger brother Yaakov Eliezer joined him. They suggested that our mother and I and family should come to the United States also. We did not consider it; we perceived no danger. Our economic situation was good and my wife did not wish to leave her parents and her sister. My brothers pleaded with our mother repeatedly, but- she was deeply attached to us, particularly to her grandchildren, and was unwilling to leave without us. In September, 1939, World War II broke out and the mail service was interrupted.
Shortly after the outbreak of the war, the Germans occupied Yedwabne as well as Goniandz. Their presence brought panic to the Jewish inhabiants of these communities. They robbed Jews of their possessions, and in Goniandz they burned the beautiful historic synagogue. When the synagogue was in flames Jews were not permitted to leave their homes.
A few weeks later, in accordance with the terms of the Partition of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union (September 28, 1939), the Russians advanced and the Germans withdrew. The Russians took over many parts of Poland including Yedwabne and Goniandz.
It was difficult to adjust to the regulations of the Communist regime. However, 'in a short time the Jewish community organized to provide supplies for daily living. They baked bread and opened cooperatives operated largely by Jews. Jews were employed in various positions and institutions. Jewish craftsmen went on doing their work in government owned shops, rather than in their own shops as before. Earnings were meager but the situation was quiescent. Most able-bodied men, ages 20 to 38, were taken to the Russian Army. I was not in this group because I had been an employer (in my own shop) and because I had brothers in the United States. I was among many in this category who were taken to forced labor (March, 1941).
During the period of the Russian occupation, my aunt, Golda, her daughter Feiga, and her father-in-Law, Reb Yankel, shochet of Wishkovo stayed with us. Her husband, Shia the shochet, was killed by shrapnel when the Germans attacked Wishkowe. Aunt Golda buried him herself near a bridge on the road to the village of Schonke. She was unable, however, to cover him properly. Later the Russians sent them across the border further into Russia. Feige married a man in Knyszyn and both of them were killed by the Germans with the other Jews of Knyszyn.
On June 28, 1941, after midnight, we heard the bombs falling and learned that the Germans were attacking the Russians. The Jews were terrified and as the sounds of the bombs came closer, they began to leave the shtetle.
The forced labor camps were not from Goniandz ; I ran from the camp, came to Goniandz and then left together with the other Jews of the community. We ran into the woods and hid from the shooting. There were Soviet soldiers hiding there as well.
As the Russians retreated, the Poles looted the cooperatives of clothing, shoes and food and robbed Jewish homes. A Russian patrol went through the streets and fired at the looters. Several were killed but most ran off with the looted goods. Doors and windows were broken, household goods and clothing were thrown into the streets. Doors and windows and anything that could be moved were thrown into the streets. The old Russian fortification, Osowiec, built during the time of the Gzars, was aflame. Within a few days all the Russians had 'left the area.
Gradually, the Jews returned to what remained of their homes and locked themselves in.
When the Poles saw the German Army approaching, they came to greet the Germans with flowers and cried : "Heil Hitler, our liberator. Down with Communism". They destroyed the huge grandstand which the Russians had built in the marketplace.
The Poles proceeded to create their own government: they chose a mayor, secretary, and police. They immediately ordered those Jews who had cooperated with the Russians to be brought to government headquarters where they were severely beaten and released.
The Germans quickly asserted their power and while the Polish government continued to function in such matters as controlling the militia, the Poles were subservient to German authority. Orders originated with the German High Command and were often carried out by Polish officials and police. There followed an endless succession of government orders and decrees. There were Jews who had to report three times a day. Every able bodied man and woman had to report for forced labor daily.
During this period I spent a great deal of time in the farm communities on the perifery of Goniandz, I avoided forced labor and was occupied with obtaining and bringing food into the shtetle. I arranged with a Polish farmer that he deliver dairy products and produce to my home in the predawn hours.
On July 14, 1941 my mother arrived in Goniandz. She had been running through the woods and fields from Yedwabne to Goniandz and was exhausted. She had been en route for three days and had escaped the slaughter which the Poles perpetrated on the Jewish community of Yedwabne. (She was able to escape because she habitually dressed in the manner of Polish women, spoke Polish without an accent, and could not be recognized as Jewish.) She related the following: On the preceeding day several wagons arrived from the surrounding villages. These were to have been used to take the Jews to concentration camps to work. The Poles, however, decided to kill the Jews right there. The Poles herded together all the Jews of Yedwabne and some from Wisneh and Radzilovo, a total of about fourteen hundred people. The aged Rabbi Avigdor Byalistotsky stood at their head as they were kept in the marketplace in the heat of the day. The Poles struck and mercilessly beat whomever they chose. The Jews were ordered to march along the road to the cemetery; and the Poles drove them into the barn, locked the doors, poured kerosene over the entire barn and ignited it. The Poles stood singing and pounding wooden noisemakers to drown out the piercing cries that emanated from the burning barn -- "Sh'ma Yisroel --".
After this my mother remained in Goniandz with me. She could not recover from what she had seen : the annhilation of the entire Jewish population of Yedwabne by the Poles. Among the martyred were her two brothers, Eliyahu and Moshe David, (the "Millers") and their entire families.
We had received no mail from my brothers since the outbreak of the war. In 1941 they sent a telegram through the Swiss Red Cross and requested an answer. I learned of this in the following manner. I received an order to report to the German High Command. Such orders had come to be known as preludes to disaster, and I was in a despondent frame of mind as I reported as ordered. The German officer in charge asked me if I had brothers in America. When I answered in the affirmative, he showed me the telegram and asked me what to reply. I said, "answer that we are all well". I returned to my home -, my brothers received the answer.
I noted earlier that the synagogue had been burned by the Germans in September, 1939, I, therefore, had a minyon in my home during the High Holy Days. (1941) My son Avram Yitschak (Zichrono Livracha) stood outside and watched. On one occasion when the Rabbi and community leaders were conducting services and praying, a passing German police officer asked my son, "Is your father at home ?" He answered "No" and indicated to us that we should hide.
The efforts of the Poles to increase Jewish suffering and pain were relentless. Their sadism was insatiable. The Germans looked with disdain upon the overt bestiality of the Poles. Their attitude was one of detachment and the outrages continued. The Germans often said to the Jewish leaders, "We are a cultured nation. It is not our aim to destory you, we require only that you work for us and those of you who do not cooperate will be severly punished". Many Jews believed this. They continued to hope and did not seek means to save themselves. One could try to escape or even strike back on occation by hiding in the woods (providing that one remained unobserved by the Poles) or one could run deep into the forests and join the Jewish Partisans. It was generally believed, however, that the Germans would tire of their murderous conduct towards the Jews ; that they would establish order and curb the bestiality of the Poles.
Shortly after the German occupation, the German High Command issued a forcefully worded order that all Jews in the woods and in the outlying farm communities return to the shtetle. Those remaining would be shot on sight and if Poles were caught hiding Jews they and their entire families were to be shot. The Jews were driven from the outlying areas and returned to Goniandz. They were ordered to be in the marketplace at 10:10 A.M. The Poles enforced the orders and drove Jews from their homes, their barns and attics. The young Pole's zealously sought out Jews from every hiding place. Then, the German commanding officer ordered that the women be separated from the men. The, men were, directed to stand in two rows. The barbers were, ordered to step forward and to cut off the beards of the old Jews and the long hair of the younger men. Many Poles stood watching with sticks and whips in their hands. The Germans commanded the Poles to pick out the Communists who were ordered into a separate row. The mayor and secretary of the City Council asked, "Why pick ? All Jews are Communists". The Germans said it was not so.
The young Poles rushed forward and eagerly made their selections and then proceeded to beat those selected over their heads with clubs. As the Germans left they instructed the Poles to send the remaining Jews to forced labor on the roads and to do with the Communists as they wished. The Poles drove the Communists into the Bet Hamedresh and wanted to burn them there, but the Poles living nearby feared that their homes might burn also. Whereupon the Communists were driven from the Bet Hamedresh. Their hands were tied behind them with wire and they were prodded into the market place' They were locked into a cellar and later removed, killed, and buried together in a trench.
It was well into 1942 when I was taken to forced labor by the Germans and for some months I was one of a group from Goniandz who worked in the Osowiec area repairing roads that had been damaged in the war. The work consisted of breaking rocks with pickaxes and leveling the road surface. The area was not far from Goniandz and we spent the nights at home.
One night in November, 1942, at about 3:00 A.M., the Polish farmer who had been delivering dairy products to our home in the predawn hours, awakened us with his pounding. He told us that the Germans had ordered the Poles from the surrounding communities to supply several hundred wagons (his included) to be delivered at 7:00 the following morning. He suggested that I leave. My family urged me to flee and hide outside the city. I left and hid in a barn near the church under a manure heap covered with whatever straw was available. Someone must have seen me enter the barn and informed the Germans. German soldiers came searching and pushed pitchforks into the manure. I felt the metal pass against my body. Miraculously I was spared.
Thus began my hiding and runing from one place to another. I overheard the Poles talking among themselves describing what had happened to the Jews of Goniandz. The Poles of the surrounding villages delivered the several hundred wagons as ordered. The Jews were driven from their homes and hiding places and shoved onto the wagons. The Germans told them that they were being taken to work at a site near Osowiec ; they were taken to the gas chambers of Treblinka. Included were my mother, my wife and my children.
I continued hiding in the farms on the outskirts of Goniandz. I hid in the attics and the barns and in the dug-outs meant for storing potatoes. I would knock on doors at night and ask for food. I had known many of these people and they wanted to help me but- they were afraid that they would be reported and their entire familes could be killed for this. The farmers in whose barns I hid did not know of one another.
Once, as I was running through a field of standing corn, I saw someone pursuing me with a gun. I lay still and waited till he came close. I managed to overpower him and tear the gun from his hands and I escaped into the woods.
Among my hiding places was a barn some distance from the city. The adjacent house was the home of a Catholic nun, her brother, his wife, and their children. The nun was interested in converting me to Christianity and spent long hours teaching me Christian theology. I listened and therefore was able to hide there. She provided me with food also. On occasion I hid there without anyone's knowledge.
She had a brother who was opposed to her helping a Jew. Once, when he was drunk, he ran out yelling "I don't want any Jews". ("ya niechtzen Zida") German soldiers heard him and asked what he was saying. The nun answered "M don't want any 'Zita' wheat". ("ya niechtzem zito") The German considered him demented and the incident was closed.
On another occasion I overheard a visiting cousin tell the family that they must get rid of the Jew because the Germans knew of me. I came out of the attic and disappeared into the dark night. Later that same night I returned unknown to the family.
Once, I noticed the small door to the attic open, and a German soldier was standing there talking to the nun about buying eggs. I considered shooting him but he soon left. He didn't notice me.
In time Jews hiding in the area found one another and formed an underground organization. When they heard of Poles who had reported hiding Jews to the Gestapo, they set fire to the homes of the informers. This became known and the danger of being reported was diminished.
After the defeat of the Nazi Army at Stalingrad (January 31, 1943) the tide turned and the Russian Army turned westward. When the Russians were retaking the area near Osowiec, I hid in a tree and as the Russians came to this spot, I jumped down. The Russians held me as a spy. I told them that I had seen many Germans with heavy ammunition not far from there and two officers were sent to check on the veracity of my statements. The officers didn't return. The high-ranking Russian officer was a woman ; she apparently believed me and asked the other officers if they wanted to chock. They replied that they trusted me and took me to Marshal Zacharov's headquarters, an underground bunker in the Krankofke Woods. I spent several hours talking to Marshal Zacharov telling him what had happened to the Jewish communities of the area.
When I was taken from the general's bunker I was brought to Rybaki not far from Goniandz. There I spent a few months till the Russians broke through the Osowiec fortification and continued into Germany. I instructed the Russians on how to take the fortification which was a difficult operation and took from July to December.
In early 1945 1 obtained a bicycle and traveled some 30 miles to Yedvabne hoping to find surviving Jews. The only one remaining was Israel Grondofsky, the carpenter, who had converted. I knocked at his door and a Polish woman opened it. When I asked to see him, she closed the door immediately saying, "He doesn't want to see any Jews".
I met a number of Poles with whom I had been acquainted before the war; several who were known to have taken part in the annhilation of the Jews. One of them asked me, "Hershek, are you still alive?' I understood the danger and left through little traveled byways.
Superficially Yedwabne didn't appear to have changed much, but the lively commotion of Jewish business and Jewish life was gone. It was no longer the happy shtetle of my remembered young years.
I revisited Goniandz several times. I went to see the farmer who had come to warn me that last night, to learn whatever I could of what had happened to my family. I was told that in loading the wagons, my son, Avrom Yitschak, had fallen from the wagon and may have broken a leg. I could learn nothing more. I returned to the remains of what had been my home. I removed buried bolts of cloth and gave them to those poles who had helped me, and I gave my house to the brother of the nun in whose barn I had hidden.
During the long siege of Osowiec, the survivors from Trestine, Yeshinofke, Knyszyn, Tictin and Goniandz found one another. After the Russians broke through Osowiec and moved towards Germany we all got together in Bialystok (March 1945) and decided to leave the area and go to Bucharest, Rumania. Our ultimate goal was to make connection with the Jewish Brigade of the British Army and, with their help, get to Palestine by ship through the Baltic.
We traveled by train and experienced considerable difficulty before arriving at Klausenberg, Rumania, where the Jewish community furnished us food and lodging. We were in Klausenberg on May 5, 1945 when the war ended and we attended the parade.
From there we went to Turda where we learned that those who earlier had tried to leave Rumania through the Baltic had been returned by the patrols. We rerouted and went through Transylvania to Budapest, Hungary, and from there to Gratz, Austria. In the woods near Gratz the Jewish Brigade of the British Army picked us up and moved us to Italy where we finally felt free. In Italy we were supported by UNRA.
I wrote to my brothers several times from Austria and from Italy, but received no answer as the regular mail service had not been reestablished as yet. I had met several American officers in Italy and sent post cards and letters through them. One day I was notified that a phone call for me had been received at the main post office in Rome. (An organization had been formed to monitor such calls.) It was requested that I phone back as soon as possible. I returned the call and spoke with my brothers. They obtained a United States visa for me. On June 12, 1946 1 arrived in New York on the Italian ship Vulcania. My brothers were there to meet me.
I joined my older brother in Columbus, Ohio where I have made my home. I translated my name to Baker as my brothers had done. After several months I met my present wife Bessie Marks. We have three children: Samuel Mark, Harriet Sarah, and Elliot David.
For a few years I operated several general merchandise stores and then began to build homes for sale. For the past thirty years I have been involved in land development, apartment building construction, and real estate management.
During this period our children have completed much of their formal education. Samuel Mark is an attorney, Harriet Sarah has a B.A. and M.S. in Biology (She is married and has four children), and Elliot David is a Ph.D. in Physics.
Herschel Baker, Columbus, Ohio, November 10, 1978
One day my Uncle Moshe Dovid had a visitor. His daughter Devorah's Gentile friend came with a warning. "Tomorrow there will be a pogrom on the Jews of Yedwabne", she said, "and they should all run away" My Uncle and his brother did not believe it, but the younger folks followed my advice to take refuge in the fields of tall corn. We lay hidden there the entire night. Early in the morning we noticed a great number of villagers traveling at great sped toward the city. This was very unusual except on a market day. Suddenly we heard windows being broken and the terrible crying of women and children in the city. I decided then to go back home to Wizno and meet my parents and family who had already returned there a few days ago. They wanted to see what had happened to their possessions. I tried to run through the road of the cemetery, thinking thereby to avoid contact with the goyim in the city, but a group of shkotzim caught me and after beating me mercilessly brought me to the large market place. The entire Jewish community, men, women and children, including Rabbi Avigdor Bialystocki and all the leadership, were gathered there.
In the middle of the market place was a statue of Lenin. The goyim forced the old Rabbi to carry the statue and recite, "We Jews are responsible for the war and want the war to continue". Then they ordered a burial for the statue on the Jewish cemetery. With guns and knives in their hands they chased the tired, hungry, thirsty people who were faint from standing all day in the hot, bright sun, and they beat them savagely. Some of us succeeded in running to the corn fields. Many were caught and killed on the spot. Those of us in the fields could hear the Rabbi saying "Vidu" (confession) with the people, and then we saw smoke rise, and there came the smell of burning flesh. Later I was told that they were driven into a big barn near the cemetery, and then they ignited the straw roof and the Jews who were locked inside were burned alive. The remains were buried near the cemetery.
Eight Jews, including the writer of these lines, survived.
The sisters, the wife of Avraham Kubzanski and the wife of saul Binshtein, whose husbands left with the Russians after enduring horrible punishment at the hands of the Germans, decided to end their own lives and that of their children. They exchanged the children between themselves and together they jumped into deep water. Gentiles standing nearby pulled them out, but they managed to jump in again and were drowned.
Jews then began to look for ways and means to survive. 1, Rivka, and my husband Yankel Rurz, together with our children Hershelle and Leibele, joined the Pravde family who also had two children, and we all ran to a nearby village five kilometers away from Yedwabne. We hoped that our friends among the gentiles there would help us to hide.
But our friends were afraid. We had no choice but to conceal ourselves in the fields of tall-standing corn. Mrs. Pravde, with one of her children and one of mine, went back to Yedwabne to find out what happening there. They never returned to the fields. One day we received a message from Mrs. Pravde which was delivered to the home of one of our gentile friends in the village who had permitted us to sleep one night on the floor of his house. She asked us to return to the city because her conscience troubled her that she was home and we were in the fields. As we were reading the message, a man came and said, "Run away fast. The bandits are coming after you". We saw them coming, so we all jumped into the cellar. They took us out at gunpoint, took away all of our belongings, pushed the men into a wagon and drove away. They took them into a nearby forest and ordered the men to turn their backs to them. Mr. Pravde begged them to allow him and my husband to say Viduy (confession), which they permitted. My husband then recognized one of the goyim, fell to his kness and pleaded, "You know me, and you know I am not a Communist. Please do not shed innocent blood. Have mercy for my wife and children". His words made an impression upon the murderers and they did not kill them but instead took them to the city.
At that time there was a chief magistrate of the city by the name of Karoliak. He was known as the most dangerous, vicious anti-Semite and criminal. He organized all of the criminals and anti-Semites, including the father and son Kuzenietzki, the infamous brothers Yerdanski, and other bandits. They asked the German authorities for permission to kill all of the Jews of the city and the surrounding areas. The Germans permitted them to kill only the Communists. At that time all the Jews were considered Communists, except the craftsmen, whom the Germans needed for their workshops.
On July 10, 1941 (the 15th day of Tamuz), the Jews of Yedwabne were ordered to go to the market place with brooms in their hands. Men, Women, children, old and sick were chased out of their homes and driven like cattle to the gathering place. My husband took our two children and went there. I stayed at home for awhile trying to put things in order and lock the windows and doors properly. Mr. Pravde was in his dye shop dyeing trousers for a German officer, thinking that this might save him. Suddenly Mrs. Pravde came in and with a loud cry told her husband Hayim Yosel Pravde to escape. She said it was very bad. I too ran with them to the grounds of the poritz (nobleman) and we hid under the trees. We could hear from there the terrible cries of a young boy, Joseph Levin, whom the goyim were beating to death.
The Jews were kept in the hot sun from eleven in the morning until that evening. They selected forty people at a time and sent them to the cemetery where they were forced to dig ditches in which they were buried alive. In the market place the goyim put Lenin's statue on a board, and forced the Jews to carry it and sing Bolshevik songs. They put a big stone on the head of Rabbi Avigdor Bialystocki and made him carry it through the market place. The goyim grabbed Yudke Nadolnie's daughter Gitele, cut off her head and played with it as if it was a ball. Before nightfall, a man by the name of Weshilewski came and proclaimed the death sentence upon all the Jews by burning them at stake. He further said, "Because you are decent Jews, we therefore have chosen for you an easy way to die". They had already prepared cans of benzine and ordered the Jews to move on to the cemetery. The goyim, with guns in their hands, beat and killed right and left and then after finally overpowering all of them, pushed the Jews into Shelansky's barn which was near the cemetery. They then poured benzine onto the barn and ignited it. From where we were hidden, we saw and heard the crying and lamentations of the suffering people before they died.
Michel Korepatfo, the coachman, was a simple man. The goyim wanted to save him and his family because he had saved the life of a Polish pilot who was escaping from the Russians. His wife begged him to accept the favor and go home, but Mr. Korepatfo answered, "Where the Rabbi will go, I will go". One of his daughters fell to his feet and said that she and all his family would go with him. This simple man truly sanctified G-d's name.
By contrast, there was one Jew whose name was Israel Grondowski. He was a carpenter and a well-known citizen, who during that time of distress profaned G-d's name. He and his family ran to the Catholic Church, fell to the feet of the priest and asked him to convert them to Christianity, thereby saving their lives. This same man turned against his own people. About one hundred and twenty-five Jews had been lucky enough to hide out and escaped being burned alive. The new Christian told the goyim where the hideout was located. However, after that terrible day of horror, the anger of the goyim against our people had subsided. They put the Jews to hard labour and insulted them, but did not kill them. This lasted only two months. Suddenly there was an order that all Jews were to assemble near the Magistrate Building. We knew that something bad was going to happen, and along with the Pravde family we escaped to the city of Lomza. The Jews there had been into a ghetto where the conditions were very bad. They had no food and no shelter during those cold, frosty days. With great risk to our lives, we managed somehow to get outside of the ghetto and purchased some food from the goyim.
One week later the Germans made a selection of two thousand Jews, sent them to Gelcziner Forest, and killed them. I was standing by chance in a line of pregnant women, and in that way I was saved. At that time I lived with a family from Ostrolenko, whose name was Holtzman. There was a Mother, a son and four daughters.
While I was a guest at President Bet Tzvi's residence, the Polish Embassy called to advise me that my invitation to Poland and my Visa were waiting for me. The very next day I left for Poland. I felt depressed thinking about the difference in conditions during my visit in 1941 and the present. At that time six million Jews, and among them my family, were still alive. Now I was coming to a destroyed world. Of all my family there were only three survivors, my brother Meyer's son Avram, my brother Moishe, and myself.
On our arrival in Warsaw we were settled in the Hotel Warshawa. On Saturday I visited the only remaining synagogue, Nozik's Shul on Twarda Street. I walked through what was once the ghetto area and saw the monument at Mila 18. I went with our group to Krakow and from there to Aushwitz where millions of our people were murdered. We saw Block 19, the gallows, the gas chambers, the train station through which millions of Jews went to their deaths. There were mountains of shoes, men's shoes, women's shoes, and children's shoes. And there were huge piles of women's hair. The Rabbis lead us in saying Kaddish.
Returning to Warsaw, we stopped in Krakow. There we visited the Ramo Shul, and the historic Jewish cemetery. In all Krakow there were only about a dozen Jews. We arrived in Warsaw. I went to the very old cemetery on Gensha Street, to visit the graves of Y. L. Peretz, Rachel Kaminska, and the grave of my sister Gitel who died in childbirth in 1929.
I began planning to visit my home-town Yedwabne. Travelling was still dangerous. Many bandits were holding up travellers and Jews were a favorite target. Since I was a guest of the Government, I was promised protection and given a car and driver. I was, taken through the cities of Makow, Ostrolenka and Lomza. Nowhere did I find a Jew. However, in Lomza there was one by the name of Greenberg, Before the war he was in the rag business and now he was busy redeeming properties that belonged to murdered Jews.
On the way from Lomza to Yedwabne, I stopped at the village of Yezork, near the forest. There, were buried alive the most intelligent Jews of Lomza. We arrived in Yedwabne and stopped in the new market place across from Chodnitzki's. There I was awaited by the chief of police who received word from Warsaw to give me protection. He took me to the house where my parents had lived. I talked with the people who were living there, They told me all the horrible details of the destruction of the entire Jewish community, including my parents, on that fateful day of July 10, 1941.
Israel Grondovsky, the carpenter, who converted to Christianity, remained alive. He came to see me. He tried to convince me that he was still a good Jew by showing a Jewish calendar. But the stories I heard about him from the goyim convinced me otherwise. He extorted money from Jews in America by telling them that he looked after the old people who remained alive. He also told them that the Bet Hamedresh needed repairing, as did the Jewish cemetery.
I went to see the old druggist who was known to be an anti-Semite. He recognized me and started to cry with crocodile tears when he told me what had happened to my family. "My hands are clean from blood", he said.
I went back to Pshitula Street up to the Zaganic, passing the place where the wonderful family of the millers lived. The old man Berl and his clever wife Reizale had raised, near the mill, two sons and two daughters. One daughter, Rivke, married Yocheskel Weingerki from Lapi. He too was a miller. The other daughter, Chaicha, married a young Chasid from around Wishkow, Avraham ltzchak Piekarz, who was a great Talmid Chacham and a handsome man. One son, Eliyahu, married a girl, Yente, from Ostrow-Mazowieck. The other son, Moshe David, married a daughter of the miller in the village of Chludness. We would see them on the Sabbaths and the holidays walking together to the synagogue. Elilahu was very close with my Father. Both of them were for a long time the leaders of the community. Chaiche had three sons, of whom two learned in Yeshivot, became rabbis and held rabbinical positions in the United States. The third son, Herschel, became a successful businessman in Goniondz and presently also in the United States. The millers' home was always the gathering place for the intellegencia of Yedwabne.
I went to visit the Jewish cemetery, hoping to find at least the graves of my ancestors, and perhaps the ashes of those burned alive on that day of horror. But the goyim saw to it that there remained not even a sign of their evil deeds. There was nothing left of the 200 year old cemetery.
I left Yedwabne a broken man and returned to Warsaw where I wandered about for a few days, and returned to Israel. Here I found comfort for my shattered spirit when I met with many Indian Jews. They were comfortably established in the land for which they had yearned for two thousand years. I felt much satisfaction that I had been instrumental in their returning home.
It was at this time that a Polish friend of mine came and told me that in the town of Radzilow, all of the Jews were burned without mercy by the Polaks. I was told that this was precisely what they planned to do in our town of Yedwabne,,
I came home with this terrible news and told my parents and others about it. They thought that I was totally crazy.
As it turned out - and regretfully so - I was not crazy after all. The nightmarish rumor became a reality. I was taken away by the German military to work for them, while within the town, the liquidation of the Jews went on.
From every corner of the town, Polish murderers chased the Jewish people into a large barn. One Pole had the pleasure of pushing everyone through the doors of the barn to their deaths. They were burned alive.
My ear drums felt like bursting from the pitch of human voices screaming and crying in the barn. The smell and smoke of burning flesh was impossible to take. Knowing that my family was among them made it even more unbearable.
At this time, the Polaks came to the Germans for whom I was working and demanded that they release us to the fate of the buming barn. The Germans refused, preferring to keep us as laborers, but later changed their minds and let us go. We Jews ran in every direction to escape the awaiting Polaks, who succeeded in killing many of us. Luck was with me and I was neither caught nor killed.
I ran to Lomza, a ghetto where a cousin of mine lived. There, much to my joy, was my father, who had run away from the fire. It was here, living with my father also, that I met a girl from Sczuczyn named Leika Amrofel, who was to become my wife. Living with us were Mojszo Olszewiez from Yedwabne and his wife Elka Sosnowska, also from Sczuczyn. Mojsze's brother, Berek Olszewiez, shared the household with us as well.
My joy in having found my father was short-lived, for he was soon to be taken away by the black truck-that ominous vehicle which used to come into the ghetto, catch people, and take them away, never to be seen again.
I was crushed. In this atmosphere of not knowing who would be taken next, life went on. I was taken to work in Zambrow at the "shteinbrook" during the weekdays, and returned home to join my wife and friends in the ghetto on the weekends.
One Sunday in 1942, a great panic broke out in the ghetto. News came that the ghetto would be liquidated and that all the Jews will be sent to concentration camps. I decided that the time had come to run. With my wife and many of the other ghetto Jews, we broke the barbed wire fence and ran into the night in different directions.
We had no idea where to go, but knew with certainty that we had to find a place to hide before dawn. Without knowing it, the local farmers became our protectors, for we crawled without their knowledge under the hay piles in their barns and remained there unnoticed by the Germans and Polaks.
We realized we had to find another more safe place. We knew that Szmulek Waserstein was working at the home of a woman named Antonina Wyrzykowska in Jancewko while we were in the ghetto. I decided to go to see if Szmulek was still there and if perhaps these people could be of help to me and my wife. Leaving her hiding in a ditch alone, I traveled during the nights and hid in the woods by day. After several days, I came upon the farm to find that Szmulek was still there and that Mojsze, his wife and brother Berek had run straight there from the ghetto.
Antonina was known to me, for she had often risked her life by smuggling as much food as she could into the Lomza ghetto when I was there. Now, I was quite happy to see my friends from the ghetto there. They had already built two bunkers in the barn, where they could hide under the floor of the barn with hay covering them and sheep walking above them. Upon seeing me, Antonina told me to join the others, that she would try to do for us what she was trying to do for the others and that maybe G-d would help us all to get through it. My gratitude was overwhelming, and I went to retrieve my wife so that she could join us.
It is impossible to express what it meant to us to have a place to stay. During the 28 months in which we were there, Antonina shared many frightening moments with us. On one occasion, the Gestapo came to look for us with dogs and poked around with their bayonnets into the bunkers, but did not discover us. Our safety had been insured by Antonina, who had poured gasoline around us as soon as she had noticed them coming so that the dogs would not detect our presence.
Risking her life, the lives of her entire family, and her farm, this remarkable woman made it possible for the seeming miracle of Liberation to be one that we could experience.
In 1945, after the liberation, we went first to Yedwabne. Our lives were again in danger from the A.K., who didn't believe that Jewish holocaust survivors should exist. We went, therefore, to Lomza, and from Lomza to Austria.
It was while we were in Austria that I had the good fortune of finding an uncle in New York who became our sponsor for our immigration to America in 1949. Having lived for a short time in New York upon our arrival, we then moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where we settled and had a family of three children, all of whom are now married.
Bloomfield - "Good Will' - the season, the theme - has been very much in evidence in recent months at the Kubran home in this town. Jack and Leah Kubran - whose lives would have been snuffed out in the Holocaust but for the kindness of a Polish woman - have enjoyed having her as their guest. Their parting this week was tearful, tempered by the fact that they hope she will return from her job as a maintenance worker in a school in Poland.
When the Kubrans first tasted the kindness of Anotonina Wyrzykowska, it was 1942. The 18-year-olds who had just recently been -- married in the Lomza Ghetto (near Bialystok) fled that ghetto to escape a Nazi round-up. Together with five other Jews from two area villages, they found refuge in a barn on Antonina's farm.
For 28 months this selfless and generous woman protected her charges, giving them bread, water, potatoes as they hid in two bunkers. Antonina kept her sheep on a floor over the bunkers for further camouflage.
The Kubrans recalled this week how the Germans took away most of the farm's produce. Constanly, the Gestapo poked its guns around the farm looking for the hidden Jews.
"We were ready to commit suicide if they discovered us", the couple said.
Ingeniously, Antonina had spilled gasoline around the area covering the bunkers so that the Gestapo's bloodhounds could not smell their prey.
After the Russians liberated the area, Antonina's Polish neighbors tauneted her for having hidden the seven Jews. She was even beat up once and she and her husband were forced to leave the farm. (He himself had only known about four Jews being hidden -- not all seven.)
As a token of their gratitude, the Kubrans over the years have extended whatever financial help to Antonina that they could. They came to the United States in 1949, staying in New York for three months before moving to Hartford and, eventually, to Bloomfield, and then Simsbury.
For the past 22 years the Kubrans have been members of Congregation Tikvoh Chadoshoh which, significantly, was founded in 1941 by those who escaped Nazi Germany and Austria in time, before the Holocaust, and which has many members who survived the Nazi slaughter and came here after the war.
Tikvoh Chadoshoh's Mr. and Mrs. Club recently honored Antonina at one of its major affairs, with Rabbi Hans S. Bodenheimer leading the tributes.
The modest Polish visitor, embarrassed by the honors paid her, said she would like to live here but "M have my family -living and dead - in Poland". She loved her stay here and remained a month longer than she was going to.
Commenting on Antonina's visit, Mrs. Kubran said:
"In gratitude for her saving our lives, we wanted to have her come and visit with us and enjoy life as we do and she did for four months.
"We also wanted to do everything possible to make her happy and we hope we achieved this goal. She has been like a mother in our house. Hopefully, she will be back in two years when she retires from work".
Before the second World War, I was single and took care of my aged parents. Soon after the war, I married my present wife and settled in Australia. We were blessed with two children, a son Shimeon and a daughter Chaya. Our son, now 31 years old, gifted us with a grandson and our daughter also gave us a grandson. We are thankful to G-d that after so many years of terrible struggle he has given us much nachas from our children and grandchildren. My wife was born in Chechoslavakia, and she too went through almost the same trials and tribulations as I did. No one of my family in Poland remained alive and no one knows where they are buried.
In 1939, one week after the war began, the Germans started with their calculated annihilation of the entire Jewish population of Poland. First they took out all the young men, myself amongst them, and drove us from village to village until we came to Stalogo, someplace in Prussia. The Pecynowitz family, the millers, including Eli Pecynowitz were among the three to four thousand Jews that were there.
They kept us under the open sky deep in water and mud without food 'or drinking water. After a few days of terrible suffering a German officer came and selected 26 of us for work in the fields. But as soon as he found out that we were Jews, he ordered the guards to beat us mercilessly and left us again without food and water.
A few days later another high officer came and took 40 of us to clean the barns of the horses that the Polish army had left behind. There we received a bit of food that I tried to share with the hungry Yedwabner people. When the Polish Goim saw what I was doing with the food, they took it away from me and beat me up.
Then they ordered us to put up shacks for own shelter. We received some food which again I shared with others who were by then almost starving. We were there between 4 to 5 months.
A friendly German told me the secret that Russia and Germany had already divided Poland between themselves and that in a few days 600 Jews would be permitted to go wherever they desired. He warned me that if I'd be asked where we wish to go, we must say : "we want to go home". He also warned me not to go to the train station because there the Germans were in readiness to shoot any Jew who would approach. I informed all the Jews in the camp of this. All those who did what I told them remained alive and reached home, including the Pecynowitz family.
When I came back to Yedwabne I found the Russians in control there. We first thought that under the Russians we would be saved. But to our sorrow, they too arrested many Jews, accusing them of being anti-communist, and from the remainder, they confiscated all their possessions.
I started again in my business with a horse and wagon. Shortly before the Germans began their war against the Russians, Chaya Piekarz (from the miller's family) came to me and begged me to take her to Bialystok. The Russians did not permit us to carry passengers. But I took a chance and took tills wonderful woman to Bialystok and left her there with my sister for several days. Chaya Piekarz told me that she had a passport and visa to go to her two sons in the States. She tried to get to Japan and from there to the States. Since that time I haven't seen her, nor have I heard from her.
When the Germans attacked the Russians in the year 1941, many Jews ran to Russia. I couldn't do it for I had to care for my aged father and a sister with a child whose husband was then in Uruguay. I also had to help my brother's wife and 4 children. My brother was also in Urugvay.
As soon as the Germans conquered our section, the Polish goyim of the surrounding villages began planning with them how to exterminate the Jews. They drove all the Jews of Yedwabne, among them also were Jews from Wizno, and Radzilova, into the market place and left them in the burning sun without water to drink. They had there 1440 people including men, women and children. After merciless beatings and many killings on the spot, they drove them into a barn belonging to Bronek Shlishenski. Standing nearby were the known Jew haters : Jack and Stephan Kozlowski, the blacksmith from Pshestreler Street near the cemetery, the baker Kurlevski, Aurbach and his son-in-law, and the entire family of the Osetzkes who lived near the barn. With joyful songs they poured benzene upon the barn and ignited it with the Jews packed within. At the door stood Stashek Shilaviuk with an ex in his hand ready to behead anyone trying to escape from the barn. I was standing with my family at the door, for I had the good luck of being among the last ones forced into the barn. Suddenly, by the force of the flame, the door opened up and when I saw Stashek Shilaviuk at the other side of the door ready to hit me with the ax, I managed to pull the ax from his hands and managed also to take with me my sister, her five year old daughter, and Itzchak Aaron Mendel's son. The latter's back was already scorched with wounds that never healed. He later perished in Aushwitz. I could see my father falling burned to the ground. We ran to the cemetery and lay there till night fell.
In these terrible moments, I noticed that my sister and her little daughter became totaly gray. In the darkness of the night I took my sister Esther-Lea and daughter Reizale to the priest of the village of Pshitul, and I myself hid at the house of the Doctor Kowaltzuk. After the war I was told that they killed my sister Esther-Lea just two weeks before the war ended. Someone recognized her as a Jewess. About her daughter Reizale I could never find a trace.
At the Doctor's place I could hide for only a few days. It was not safe to be there. At night I walked through the fields till I reached Zavad where I worked for a farmer about three months.
On one Sunday I heard that the Priest of Zavad had warned his congregants to report every Jew they knew of in Zavad to the German authorities. I managed to run away and hide at the barn of the Priest, and in the next night I wandered through the fields till I reached a house where there was a small fight visible. I entered and found a woman with 4 small children. All of them were hungry. The Germans had killed her husband because he had shown friendship to the Russians. She permitted me to stay in the house. I took her horse and rode to the forsaken Jewish houses where I found food and clothing. With these I paid for my lodging in her house.
When the big snow came down, I received work by cleaning the snow. When I was outside I saw many wagons passing by. I asked where they were going and was told, "we are delivering potatoes to the Jewish ghetto in Bialystok". I then decided to go with them figuring that I may find my sister Nechama there. I had received word that my brother-in-law, Chone Berenshtein, the chemical engineer had been killed by the Germans. My sister didn't have children and had gone to Pruzina. I went to Pruzina and brought her back to Bialystok. Three weeks we were together in Bialystok. Then I was told that my other sister Bluma and her two sons 9 and 4 years old were in the Lomza ghetto. Her husband David had been murdered by the Germans. I went to Lomza to help her with the children. We were there for two months. Then the Germans transferred the ghetto to Zambrowa. Being on the road from Lomza to Zambrowa I had many chances to escape but I didn't want to leave my sister with her children alone. We then received word that my sister in Bialystok had been sent to the death camp of Treblinka.
After four weeks in Zambrowa, the Germans poisoned the drinking water, and those who drank the water died. T managed to find good water and food to remain alive.
From Zambrowa they transferred us to Aushwitz. They then separated me from my sister. Later I found out that she and the children found their death in the gas-chambers.
In the camp of Aushwitz I received on my left arm #89879. I was there three years. It is impossible to describe what I went through those three years. Death would have been the easiest way out. But the desire to remain alive and to be able to tell what has happened, and what our Polish neighbors did to us was very strong in me and kept me alive.
One evening I was chosen to bring the Doctor. On the way I found a purse with diamonds and money. I gave it to one of the Jewish leaders of the camp. He was from Krakow, the son of a Rabbi. He helped to get me a good place to work inside the camp. A bit later I was chosen to work in a place of food distribution where I received enough food for myself and helped other Jews from the Lomza section. A few girls who came daily for their ration of food received from me double portions. I also saved several girls from Lomza whom the Germans wanted for medical experimentations.
One day I recognized a goi from Yedwabne who helped with the burning of the Jews there. I told this to Hershel, the butcher's son from Wizno. This goi reported me to the SS that I am seeking to kill him. The SS took me out from the food supply place and sent me to the camp for punishment. There, they used to select every night people who were forced to hang themselves. At that time I was a member of the Jewish underground of that camp. My friends of the underground who were already outside of this cursed camp managed to get me out from there.
After the war I was seeking the mentioned Herschel from Wizno, but couldn't find him. I have heard that he is in Israel, but up to the present time I haven't succeeded in finding him.
In the beginning of 1944, the Germans sent out the first transport of Jews from Aushwitz. I was amongst them. But we went through several concentration camps, such as, Buchenwald, Grosrozen and Il-Kupering. Bavaria, where we remained until the end of March.
My wife's sister became very ill. She had a constant fever that was destroying her red blood cells. There was nothing in the camp to help her. I worked outside so that I was able to get her enough onions and sour cabbage, and in this way I saved her. She is now in Philadelphia, U.S.A. with her three children.
At the end of March 1945, as the American Army approached, we left the camp on a death march and were driven deep into Bavaria. They had intended to destroy us there by drowning, but the American Army reached us in time.
During this time my wife's sister weighed only 23 kilograms. I carried her on my back, for if I would have left her on the wagon, she would immediately have been taken to the gas chambers in Dachau.
I tell all this with a feeling of pride, that in spite of the deadliest of circumstances, I still remained a human being, woven and inspired by Jewish Morals, while others stumbled, allowing themselves to be lowered to the standard of wild beasts.
I've always helped people whenever and wherever it was necessary. As a result, wherever I go I often meet thankful people.
On May 4, 1945 we were liberated by the U.S. 3rd Army in Buchberg near Wolfrathausen in Germany. We were there under the U.S. Army auspices until I married my wife.
There is nothing to speak of Israel Grondowsky, for he did convert, and informed against many Jews of their hiding places thereby causing their immediate annihilation.
The miller brothers Eliyahu and Moshe David Pecynowitz and their families here hiding in their flour mill during the destruction day at 10 A.M., when Stashek Shilaviuk with other gentiles, such as their neighbours Ludansky and Shnitshtuk from the village of Kosaki, ran to the windmill seeking out their prey and murderously beat them to death. On the way lie murdered the daughter-in-law of Mr. Chone Goldberg who was in the 9th month of pregnancy - her belly was cut open by Rukofsky the gentile who had previously worked for the Goldbergs. Mr. Goldberg and his son escaped, but the gentiles pursued and caught them in the fields where they were murdered.
Chatskell, the son of Shmuel and Peshe Weinshtein, the blacksmith, was mureded through the hands of Rugalsky by a heavy piece of leather from the horses harness.
I saw with my own eyes how Mr. Avrom-Aaron Ibram was lying on the street dead with a cross cut out upon his front breast. Chana-Yenta's grand-daughter, a little girl of 3, was hiding in a chickencoop, so a gentile took her out and threw her into a flaming fire like a piece of wood.
No Germans took part in the actual murder day. -- the opposite. Two officers came to the death-barn asking the murderers to let alive the following professionals : shoe makers, tailors, carpenters and blacksmiths, but the gentiles answered ; "we won't allow a remnant of the Jews to be left alive. Professionals we'll supply from the Christians". A brother-in-Law of Rugalsky tried to save someone, but was forced to escape to Warsaw, otherwise he would have been killed by his own cronies. An American gentile who did not want to take part in the slaughter was also thrown into the flaming barn.
In the barn the whole Jewish Community together with their Revered Rabbi Avigdor Bialystocky hugged and kissed, said 'Vidui' (Confession) and with Shma Israel and B'rocho of 'Kiddush Hashem' succumbed to the flames.
Michael (Screcky) Kuropatva was taken out of the barn and offered his life because the Russians bad taken away his son, but he screamed out; "I want to go where the Rabbi and all the Yedwabner Jews go", and returned into the flaming barn.
Mr. Rodnicky who was police chief in Yedwabne before the Germans entered, didn't take part in the atrocities. Aaron Dovid Kubzansky's wife and sister had tried to escape, but when they saw that their pursuers would reach them, they ran into the water cutting open their veins, in order not to go through embarrassment before being murdered. They killed Yankel the harness-man (rimarz) in his home.
Among the many experiences during the terrible period of time under the furious German Nazi rule in Europe, when millions of Jews, young and old, were mercilessly persecuted and destroyed, we, a group of Jews from all parts of Europe, made careful preparations to celebrate the Holiday of Freedom, Passover. Passover of 1943 was an experience that I shall remember always. The observance of it took place at Birkenau near Auschwitz, one of the greatest annihilation camps, built by slaves to exterminate themselves and the innocent people that would follow. Planning and preparations started right after Purim. There were many things to be taken care of. The main problem was how to get the two most necessary items, matzoh and wine for the Seder.
Greece, an independent, peaceful nation, was seized and brought under the terrifying Nazi yoke. Many Jews were living there, especially in the harbor city of Salonika They did not expect to be removed from their homes to be killed. They prepared matzot, raisins and other things for Passover. The Nazi machine took these unfortunate people out of their city just two weeks before their Holiday of Liberation. Many transports of Jews, Squeezed into unbearable sealed freight cars unfit even for animal, reached the last station of their lives - Birkenau. Their total Possessions were in the small package each tied on his or her shoulder, and they were accompanied by lovely children, many of whom were carried in the arms of the parents. They were separated from their poor worldly goods by force, and the parents and the children were sent to the gas chambers.
At that time, I was assigned to a special unit, called by the peculiar name of "Canada", whose job was to assort the belongings of assassinated Jews. Thus the worldly goods of the slain Greek Jews came to our place of work. We opened the miserable packages and to our surprise found hand-baked matzot, raisins, and other necessary Passover products carefully prepared for the Seder. With trembling hands, knowing how meaningful these items were to the dying Jews, we hid them in a secret place to make good use of their sacred purpose. After hard and dangerous preparations in order not to be caught by the S.S. men, we finally accomplished our first task and hoped to celebrate the lovely Holiday of Freedom while being slaves in a concentration camp under the yoke of Nazi Germany.
Erev Passover 1943 was a very busy day for our special small group.
All products accumulated for the Seder and piled up at our working place had to be brought to the camp. There was great danger that the Nazi guard might search through the unit and confiscate all the things that we had so carefully saved, and in addition would administer severe punishment. Therefore, we needed the cooperation and help of our Cappo (group leader) who was also a Jew. He gladly accepted sharing the responsibility. He also advised us to make very small packages and to distribute them to many people, and he would see to it that everything reached the camp in the best order possible.
With joy and thanks to G-d that we had succeeded in our undertaking, we came to the camp. The Profound holiness of Passover made us feel neither hunger nor weariness, although we had worked very hard all day without food. We did not touch anything that was prepared for us by the camp kitchen. Our block leader, a split personality and a Pole, was informed in advance of our intention to celebrate the Passover Seder, and he promised not to interfere with our observance. Nevertheless, we had to give him a big bribe beforehand, besides a share of our meager food
When night fell and darkness covered the earth and no other light was permitted in the block, we managed to light several candles and distribute them among the people lying in the bunks. A man guarded the door in case an S.S. man should come unexpectedly. We filled the first cup and made kiddush by heart without any hagadot. A young boy, twelve years of age, asked "Mah Nishtanat" saying, "Why are we Jews different from other people ?" Tears flowed from everyone's eyes and question after question found each one pondering why it is so. And since we had no hagadot, each one tried to give his own interpretation of the eternal question of why do we Jews suffer so much more than any other nation. Some brought out the idea that the Maror (bitterness) that we suffered is due to the fact that we tried to run from one Galut (place of exile) to another Galut because we thought that what happened to our brethren yesterday will not reach us in the new places today.
All night long we were discussing the history of our people and what we expected in the future and what would happen if some of us would come out alive. No one slept and all celebrated the Pesach the entire night with tears and hopes. The discussion did not end until the gong rang that it was time to get up and go to work. And as it rang, we wished each other that we live to come out of this hell and again celebrate the Passover as free people.
The celebration of this Seder night left imprints on my soul. Now, when I perform the Passover service, I understand the meaning of the statement that each man in every generation is obliged to consider himself as if he personally was redeemed from slavery into freedom. I have some garments which I wore that Passover as a reminder of Moror, "ze sh'anu ochlim, al shum mah". This garment that I keep, why? Because of the holocaust that befell the Jewish People during World War II.
It stood on an open ground surrounded on all sides by dilapidated wooden houses, which formed themselves into crooked and narrow little streets with alleys constituting the principal part of the so-called town. It was square in its main outline with two sloping wings on two sides of it, right and left ; a flat fantastic roof, projecting all around like an umbrella, protected it from the rain. The inside did not greatly differ from the exterior-the same shapes but hollow like a shell; only its walls were not so black.
It looked serene and impressive during the day, yet mysterious and awe-striking at night. Even the thickest darkness could not hide its black shapes - they stood out sharply, staring at you with their weather-beaten and dusty windows like the persistent and vacant eyes of a corpse. At that late hour only a few cared to come near it, but not one would ever dare to go within. It was believed that the spirits of the departed, from the not far-off cemetery, assembled there at midnight for their prayers. Some had seen them, some had heard their wailings, others had noticed lights in the windows, a few, even while passing near it, had been called by their names. Once a man, who fell asleep during the evening prayer and was left behind, was suddenly awakened by a voice calling him by his name. When he opened his eyes he found the whole place rifled with strange human beings wrapped in white. One of them had been reading from the scrolls-he was invited to join in the prayers, and he did - he died the same year. This and many other weird stories used to be told at the late hours of the night. They used to make me shiver, yet I loved to listen to them.
Many years have passed since then. In my wandering over the world I have visited many temples, many places of worship, some grand, others beautiful, but none equalled the one I remember so well.
Fate brought me to my native place. With a beating heart I hurried my steps to that dearly beloved spot, but to my despair only a few stones, half-burie din the ground, met my bewildered gaze. It had been burned to the ground some years ago by a fire which suddenly broke out. It disappeared together with the flames, it was said, before the people had time to regain their breath. It went straight up into heaven. An old man told me it was taken away from us because we were no longer worthy of it.
On the same spot, and at the same hour every night, the souls of the departed from the not far-off cemetery meet together and pray and weep over the loss of the grand old synagogue. People have seen them with their own eyes, and some have heard their wailing, but no one has ever since seen any lights.
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