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VIII. Persecuted



[Page 379]

From the Nazi Frypan to the Soviet Fire

by Haim-Tuvia Garbowicz / Be'er-Sheva

Translated from the Hebrew by Shlomi Regev (grandson of Haim-Tuvia Garbowicz)

Edited by Warren Blatt


On September 2, 1939, a day after the war between Poland and Nazi Germany broke out, the Germans were already in our town, since it was located near the border. We tried to run away towards Lomza, expecting the invadors to be blocked by the Polish army near the Narew river. But we've made a terrible mistake. They entered Lomza too, and we had to return to our town, where we left our families. On our way back, we passed through many camps of Germans, who were shouting at us: “Jews, slaughter awaits”. When we reached the bridge, we found it had been exploded. The only way to cross was through the water. When we approached town, we witnessed a horrible sight: The town's shochet, Rabbi Haim Shimshon, was dragged by a group of Germans, who were beating him and pulling his beard. Helpless, we entered our town, now under complete German control.

The next day, an order was issued. All Jews ages 16 to 60 must report at the central market square. We had no choice but to report, so we came, standing in lines. The Nazis selected the youngest of the Jewish population and told them to step aside. When this census ended, they led us, the young people, to the village of Gross Kessel in Germany [now Kociol, Poland, located 10 miles due north of Kolno], the hometown of the estate owner Johan Friedrich. They put us in a barn and forced us to work very hard. There was little food, hunger bothered us, but we had to keep on suffering. One day, the estate owners didn't come to take us to work, and we kept on sitting in the barn, with no food. While frightened by the thought that they'll let us starve, two Germans came and surprisingly said we are free to go.

They led us to the village of Wincenta [3 miles north-west of Kolno], on the German-Polish border, and said: “You complained we mistreated you. Now you got the Russians – they'll teach you a lesson!”. They left us and we marched on, till we got back to our town. The Soviets were in control. According to the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty [23 Aug 1939], Hitler gave our town to the Russians. Then troubles began. All of the town's residents were now broke. All shops and factories were taken from their owners and turned into cooperatives. The pepole had to work, of course, but not for their own benefit. Among the tailors and shoemakers were old Jews who refused to desecrate the Sabbath, but they were forced to work on the day of rest. They were working and crying.

I remember our late Rabbi, who addressed the praying crowd in Beit-Hamidrash one day. He demanded us to repent, beacause a dark cloud was hanging above the Jewish people. While addressing the crowd, some Russian named Bluck stepped on the podium, and said that the words the Rabbi had just said were illegal, and thus he had broken the rules set by the NKVD (The Soviet secret police). The Rabbi had to step down the podium.

One Saturday night, when I returned with my father from the synagogue, we found NKVD men in our appartment. They searched my body and ordered me to follow them to the police station. My family was terrified. My sisters asked where they were taking their brother. I asked the detectives whether I should take something with me, but they said that I would be back home shortly, so there was no need to take anything. Instead of leading me to the police, they took me straight to prison, where I met some of my townsmen. Those whose names I still remember: Yehoshua Burak, Mordechai Garbowicz, Moshe Leiv Stawiski, Binosh Eliyowicz, two of Burak's sons and Israel Chalupowicz.

They held us in prison a few days. One night, at midnight, they ordered us to pack a few things, and brought us by foot to Lomza. They locked us in the local prison, which was much larger than the one in our town. They held us there for about a month, then sent us back to Kolno. I remember that when they led us by foot, my father went by. I shouted at him from distance: “Dad!”, to say goodbye, and my guard hit my head hard with the butt of his gun.

They brought us to court in Kolno. The trial was held in a cinema and lasted four days. During the trial it was not allowed for anyone to get near us or speak to us. The sentence was given at midnight, after we'd heard the prosecutor and the judge, accusing us of crime, I still fail to understand. The judge's words included the sentences of each one of us. Some received shorter sentences and were transferred to a rehabilitation camp near Minsk. Me and some of my townsmen received longer terms, and were moved to the Lomza prison.

After a while in prison, they moved us one night from our cells to the railway station. The cars were full to the limit, and we choked inside. We asked the guards to open a window, so we can breath fresh air, but instead they lit a fire inside the cars, and the heat was unbearable. For many days, I can't remembers how many, the train took us east through woods covered with snow.

Then the train stopped. We were ordered to step down, near what turned out to be a concentration camp. Out of the camp came the commander. He counted us as we were sheep, brought us to some hole and said: “This is where you'll live”. Inside that hole we found other Jews who were probably brought there a long time before that, because their faces looked awful. At night, the guards took our few belongings, which our parents gave us, and we were left with nothing. At night we slept on the frozen floor. In the morning, when we went out of that hole, we found out we were in Siberia. They took us to work every day. Our rations included a slice of black bread and a cup of water. Our job – laying railway tracks across hundreds of kilometers -- was tough and torturing, and we grew weaker and weaker from starvation. We had to cut woods and carry the timber across great distances. In addition to hunger, the freezing cold reached our bones. We turned into icebergs.

One day, when we returned from the woods, the camp commander came and said: “Good news for all of you! You are about to free your homeland from the Germans!”. They gave us weapons and recriuted us. As the war's end drew near, we were moved to a Polish unit and sent to the front near Lublin. We stayed there until the news came – the Germans lost, the war ended, and our town, Kolno, was liberated. During all those years, we knew nothing about the suffering of the Jews in Europe. Naturally, we made our way to our town, hoping to find our relatives. On our way, we met Jews who told us about the disaster of Poland's Jews. We reached our town, which was almost completely burned down. In one house, which remained intact, lived three Jews, and they told us what happened during the war. They told us all about one Pole name Bochkewsky, who organized a Polish lynch mob. They entered the town armed with hatchets, and killed 37 people in Vincenty Street: [1] My mother and sisters, Israel Dolowitch, Shlomo Brisman, Israel Kaufman, and their families. They also told us about the massacre the Germans did – taking the town members, led by their rabbi, and shooting them near the village of Maschtshevoya [Msciwuje?]. We wandered the streets. The Beit-Hamidrash was turned into a cow shed. The cemetery was ruined, and gravestones shattered. Jewish homes were now populated with gentiles. When the local gentiles so us, they invited us: “Come, let's say cheers!”. We refused. I told them we would not drink with those who drank the blood of our families.

Then the Christian who told us about the massacare approached. He warned us that if we stayed in town among the gentiles, who'd killed our relatives and stolen their property, our lives would be at stake.

We told all of this to a Polish court. I summoned the gentile who told us about the Polish mob to testify, but when the trial began, the gentile refused to testify. One day we received a letter from court in Warsaw, saying that the Christian I accused of the murder of my family was found innocent from lack of evidence. The killer now walks free, and the law never punished him for his doings.


Footnote:

  1. I assume that this took place on the night of 5-6 July 1941, based on Dinah Koncepolsky's article "The End of the Kolno Community" (English section, page 49). Return


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