September 1, 1939 was a black day for the whole world and especially for us, the Jews. On that day, the war that ended so tragically for us, broke out between Poland and Germany. The sudden attack on Poland and the bombing led to a wild panic. In less than two weeks all of Poland was occupied. A rather large part of the Polish military forces rushed through Kolomey-Sniatyn-Kuty, to escape to Rumania.
The frantic flight continued. On September 16, 1939- it was Shabbos- the entire Polish government was in Kolomey, in the "Burse" on Shenkevitcha [Sienkiewicza], and on that very same day, all the Polish ministers crossed the border into Rumania. The Jewish community was in a state of uncertainty. Jews did not know what to do. Only a small number of Jewish men succeeding in obtaining passports to Rumania. In any case, men were packed and waiting for some kind of a sign. The suspense was soon over. News came over the radio that our area was to be occupied by the Red Army and Jews breathed easier.
On September 17, 1939, the first heavy Soviet tanks appeared in Kolomey. Among those in the tanks, there were several Jews who reassured us; they told us that in the Soviet Union there was no difference between Jews and others people. Jews lived there as equals with others. After the first few tanks, big armies detachments began to march in. The main force went through Stanislav-Lemberg, and in accordance with to the German-Soviet pact, up to the San River. The Germans "forgot" about the border and went in further. But they did pull back because of the agreement.
After the red flag was raised over the city hall, a committee, a militia, and an administration was formed in Kolomey and Jews took part in all of them. Among the Jews in our city, very few were engaged in maufacturing; there was a larger middle income group of large and small shopkeepers, workers, and businessmen. In the towns, there were large landholders, small farmers and various other occupations. The nationalization of small businesses was hard on many Kolomeyer Jews. Jews suffered from being deprived of their businesses and their large and small stores. Many of the nationalized businessmen were ousted from their homes and were in danger of being sent to Siberia. But a substantial number of Jews became government officials. Many Jews joined cooperatives. There were some Jews who were better off than they had been before the war. Life became, so to say, normalized. The Jewish populaton in the city increased, since in addition to the German Jews, Jews came in from the other side of the San River which had been occupied by the Nazis, and some also came from other areas since it was easier for them to live in Kolomey than in their own cities where they were known to be previously prosperous people.
The Jews from western Galicia who found themselves in other areas were tricked into registering so that they could be sent home but one night they were all brought together and sent to Siberia. They suffered greatly from cold and hunger there and many couldn't withstand it, and died there. Those who remained alive, however, were saved from Hitler's murderous hands.
The Soviet administration built us a network of schools whose official language was Yiddish. Many Jewish teachers were hired for the Jewish schools. Jewish children were also allowed into the Lemberg [Lwow] high schools and even the children of "nationalized" parents received stipends from the government. And so life went on for Jews under Soviet power until June 22, 1941, when, disregarding all the agreements between the Soviet Union and Germany, the German-Soviet war suddenly broke out.
A day before that, Shabbos, a uneasy feeling of anxiety and fear gripped the Jewish population, and that fear soon proved to be well grounded. We felt that something was coming. It was as though there wasn't enough air to breathe. And in that same night, -we did not know of any war yet- the Hitler hordes bombed many Soviet positions, among them Kornitsch near Kolomey, where the Soviets had built an air base. Sunday, before dawn, I went out to the marketplace. The radios soon announced that the German army had crossed the Soviet border. Panic, fright, turmoil- all of these- gripped our Kolomeyer Jews. They didn't know what to do first. People ran to stand in line at food stores in order to put away some food for themselves. The main question was, what could be done and how could we escape? We hoped that eventually, the Red Army would counterattack and it would then be possible be able to escape with the Red Army.
We knew that Jews had been insulted and we knew of the decrees imposed by the Germans. We had heard of murders. We had heard that with the entrance of the German hordes, Jews were buried alive, but afterwards the situation had just about "normalized" itself. Jews lived in the ghetto, but they lived. We saw no alternative for ourselves. The possibilities for escape were very limited. The roads were bombed by the Germans. Many had died trying to run away. And some were forced to turn back. All in all, the German attack was so unexpected and strong, that a mass escape was not an option.
On the first day of the war, I received a "notification" from the military. I gathered everything together, said goodby to my dear mother, may she rest in peace, and all my sisters and brothers. At the designated place I found a large group of people my age who had been called up. We remained there all day until late at night. Afterwards we were called together and all sent home. We were told to remain ready. We would be called several days later. A group of Jewish young men came to join voluntarily to serve in the Red Army. Among them I remember Dr. Shloime Wolf. The second day a broader mobilization was carried out. Everyone was mobilized, given military uniforms, and sent away. My brother, Majer Feder, was also mobilized then, and because of that, he remained alive
The constant air attacks and the feverish retreat of the Soviets gave rise to a frenzied panic. People fled by train, in automobiles, with horses, and on foot. Many of our youth who had been mobilized fell into German hands. The non-Jews were allowed to return home. All the Jewish prisoners were shot by the Germans. Still another group was freed by the Red Army on their way back and the rest were conscripted into the work detail, "Trudarmiya". They were able to survive in Russia. Regardless of the difficult roads, full of fire and danger, many Jewish youths started out, mobilized or not, to reach Russia. My brother-in-law, Pini Hecht from Berezhov, who had been mobilized to build the air base in Kornitsch, was immediately sent home. My brother, Isaac Feder, who had been mobilized for the Red Army, was sent home, and our youngest brother Shayke, a student in the university in Lemberg, tried to escape on an evacuation train with some other young Kolomeyers. They let the young women travel to Russia but the young men were thrown out of the train by the N.K.V.D. Some of them were shot on the road and the rest, together with my brothers, were killed in the ghetto. A group of Jewish doctors and young women joined the medical corps of the Red Army. Among those were Dr. Seller, Dr. Velvel Haber, Dr. Rosenkrantz, Dr. Krumholtz, Dr. Deligdisch, Dr. Neuberger, Dr. Katz, Dr. Rosenberg, Dr. Lederefeind, Dr. Fruchter, Dr. Heller, Dr. Sechestaver, Dr. Becher, and still others.
This state of mobilization, restlessness, and running went on until July 3, 1941. On that day the last Red Army soldiers left Kolomey. They had managed to destroy part of the Kolomey railroad station before dawn.
It was deathly still in the city that day. The streets were nearly empty of people. On the streets were seen young Ukrainians who still wore white bands on their left arms; they were following orders until the armed forces came in. The Jews were overwhelmed by the feeling that they were doomed. We were no longer free. We were at the mercy of all kinds of upheaval. We were abandoned. My neighbor, Sholom Blecher's wife, collapsed out of fear. I ran to consult Dr. Frisch. We could see a big fire somewhere in the hills and Dr. Frisch was so frightened that he couldn't tell me anything.
On July 4, 1941 the Hungarian army marched through Varachte Pass into Kolomey. Soon announcements were posted to confirm the orders.
On Friday, July 5, 1941, the Ukrainian nationalists, who regarded Hitler as their national savior, hung their national yellow and blue flag on all the buildings. People also had to display the flag with the swastika and the Hungarian and Ukrainian flags. For Jews, the swastika was forbidden. All the Jewish stores had to display a Magen David ( Jewish star).
The Commandant, Volkmann, (from Vienna) gave out new orders against the Jews every day, and inciting the people against Jews with his announcements, declared that the Jews caused the war, and that the Jews were communists. Because of the these decrees, Christians were afraid to sell a Jew anything. They didn't let themselves talk to Jews very often. It was hard to buy a piece of bread. They began to break into Jewish houses and on many occasions they stole anything that appealed to them. Such events occurred often.
Soon afterward, the so-called "Judenrat" [Jewish Council] was formed. It had an office, a hospital, a Jewish police (Ordnungs-Dienst), a kitchen, a department of "Materials Procurement", and also a labor office. And, complying with constant orders from the Germans, the Materials Procurement department took the best property, furniture, carpets, drapes, cloth, leather, and other things from the Jews. They were then delivered to the Germans. For the Jews it was a difficult task. Every day the best things had to be brought to the Germans. Around the end of July, the city commandant Volkmann ordered that Jews had to give up all their valuables. People stood all day at the designated place so that not only would their gold, silver, and jewelry be taken from them but their foreign currency as well.
On July 21, 1941, it was ordered that all Jews over the age of 10 had to wear armbands ten centimeters in width with a blue magen david [Jewish star]. People who had a work number had to put that on the band also. If anyone forgot wear the armband, he was immediately shot. For this transgression many people were murdered. My cousin Chaytzi, Hersh Nateh Feder's daughter from Peczenizyn, forgot and came out on the doorstep of their house without the armband. It was enough that a Ukrainian boy saw this. Nothing could help her. She was immediately shot.
And so each day brought troubles anew. Our neighbors, the Ukrainians, were unable to quench their thirst for fury and blood. They couldn't get enough of it. They weren't satisfied with the German-Hungarian forces and regarded the Gestapo with great impatience. Like a wild horde, they descended upon the Jewish population of Otinye and carried out a violent pogrom. At the same time the local Ukrainians did away with all the Jews from Khlebitshin, which was located between Kolomey and Stanislav. Khlebitshin was just a village but it had a large Jewish population. The same thing happened to the Jews in the village of Harasimov Niezwiska. The hooligans there tied up Jewish children and threw them into the river. They also killed all the Jews from Keredov and Kosmacz, including my father-in-law Henech Hecht and his family. They were all awakened from their sleep at night and driven out of the villages. The murderers made themselves even happier by beating everyone brutally. Several of my father-in-law's Ukrainian neighbors told the mob that my brother-in-law Pichas Hecht, z"l, had buried gold. He was taken away along with his cousins Manye, Urcie, and Mendel Horowitz to the Szeparowice forest where they were forced to dig their own graves and then shot.
We tried everything we could think of, but we were unable to rescue them from those murderous hands.
I remember one Friday at the end of July 1941, the Ukrainian police with their so-called "heroes" invaded the Jewish streets and alleys, dragged young and old men out of their houses, and beat them murderously with clubs. The Jews were all taken to the marketplace where a big statue of Lenin stood (once there was a monument to Pilsudski there and another time a statue of Karpinskin). The statue was bound with rope and the Jews were forced to drag it around over the entire marketplace. Then the Jews were taken to the city park. A Lenin-Stalin monument stood there also. The hooligans tormented the Jews until it was night. They made them line up with their faces to the wall to be shot. The Jews all said their final prayers. Just then, the Ukrainian mayor, Alinkevitch, came and rescued the Jews. The Hungarian forces observed casually and didn't interfere.
All Jews from 16 to 60 were required to work. Young women also had to work. The work was arranged by the Jewish labor office. Jews worked at breaking stones on the roads, at the city hall, at sweeping streets, in all institutions. Every day 500 Jews were brought to the railroad. There the overseers were Germans who beat the Jews so much that every day, several severely beaten ones had to be taken to the hospital. Motek Horowitz, the president of the Judenrat, once tried to ask that they not be beaten so much. So they broke his hands and he went around with his hands in bandages for a long time. I had to work there just one day (since I obtained steady work in the bristle factory which had once been managed by my uncle) and I saw frightful things there. I remember: they brought us to a pit of lime that was full of water. They made us kneel there and the murderers enjoyed themselves at our expense. After that work we were forced to run, and when we were freed for the night, it was as though we were coming out of hell. Among the beaten ones on that day, was our friend Moshe Brettler.
Before dawn on August 5, 1941, a sudden turmoil and panic broke out. The Jews began to run away from the synagogue streets and Klebanye. They didn't know exactly what was happening. What had happened was that starting at 2 a.m, a group of German soldiers encircled those streets, dragged all the Jews out of their homes, and took them away. All of them had to go with their hands up to the work center opposite the city park. Several thousand Jews were brought together, tormented, and beaten. They made speeches to them and insulted them, because a Jew had supposedly spit on a German officer. They had to go on their knees over the sand and then they divided them up. Each group was supposed to be shot. Upon the intervention of the Hungarian commander, they were pardoned and freed. But several days later they were all called out again and soon they were seen no longer. They were all killed somewhere. Such things happened to us in our city very often then.
On August 16, 1941, they caught about two thousand Jews in their houses and study houses and took them to Kornitsch where they forced them to dig a grave for themselves. But thanks to the intervention of Miriam Horowitz -Motek Horowitz's sister- with the Hungarian commander, they were transferred to the jail, kept there for several days, and then freed. (Miriam Horowitz did alot for the Jews in the ghetto. But in the end, she and her brother Motek committed suicide.) The Jews who were freed had vowed to each other in jail that if they survived, they would all go to Eretz Israel. But none of them lived to keep their vows.
Many Jews from Hungary- thousands of people with their families, young and old, were brought to our city, because they were not Hungarian citizens. They arrived on trucks and trains. They were allowed to bring nothing with them and they were in great need. The Jewish soup kitchen at the Judenrat expanded. They were put up in private lodgings and also in synagogues and study houses. A large number just traveled through our city and were taken straight to the Dniester where they were killed. Several months later the Germans took all the Hungarian Jews to the Szeparowice forest and killed them. Only a small number of them were able to go back to Hungary with the help of Hungarian officers.
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Motek Horowitz (head of the Judenrat) came into the synagogue where I was praying, stood by the ark and spoke some reassuring words. He declared that according to a talk he had with the city commandant Volkmann, the Jews could pray without being disturbed and no ill would befall them. This calmed our spirits for the time being. The same thing happened on Yom Kippur. All the working Jews were at work. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, a Gestapo office was established in our city.
Hoshana Rabah, TSh"B - 1941, is a tragic date. That morning when many were still praying in the synagogues, ominous news suddenly came from the synagogue streets where there was a concentrated Jewish population. The report was: They were caught; they were beaten. A young boy who tried to run away was shot. Jews took shelter wherever possible in cellars and in bunkers. I and my two dear younger brothers, Isaac and Shmeyke, ran to hide ourselves with Christians. They told us what was happening in the Jewish streets.
The action lasted until the night. This was the first deep cut. That day they brought together 2500 souls and took them to the prison. The Germans said nothing about their fate. But we soon knew that their final road was to Szeparowice, in the forest. They shot them all there and buried them. That day, the Germans, along with the wild horde, set fire to the Great Synagogue, which was famed for its beauty. On the morning of the second day, they ordered all the Jews to go to their work immediately.
On Simchas Torah, TSh"B [5702; 1941], two days after the action in Kolomey, the Gestapo surrounded the city of Kosow, and rounded up not only men, but also women and children. The people there didn't know what was going to happen to them. They took them all to a one place, and the same Ukrainians enthusiastically helped catch the Jews who had fled to the woods. They shot 2800 innocent Jewish souls that day. Half-shot, fainting little children were torn by their little feet and hurled into the mass grave. After that there were very few Jews left in Kosow. The Kosover rabbi lived in Kolomey at that time. I went to him then to ask about the fate of my wife's brother, Yaakov Hecht. The rabbi answered, "A fire from heaven came down on Kosov and everything, everything was burned."
A Jewish man who had been in the militia during the Soviet occupation and did not escape with the Red Army lived on Mokra Street. The Gestapo found out about him and ordered the Judenrat to give him up. The young man hid and did not go to them. The Gestapo brought together all the Jews on Mokra Street (Nov. 15, 1941), 500 men, women, and children. Very quickly the news spread throughout the entire city. The 500 Jewish souls were taken to the prison and then to the Szeparowice forest where they were shot. The poor unfortunates realized what their bitter, black fate was to be and where they were being taken. The former "Jewish-Soviet" militiaman was later found dead. He had committed suicide.
At the end of November, 1941, the Jewish inhabitants of Kolomey had a monetary assessment imposed upon them. A special committee was formed by the Judenrat and used all sorts of threats to get more and more money from the Jews. The Judenrat also held some Jews under arrest until they gave up greater sums of money. They had to bring foreign currency and valuables as had been required by a previous order; now they were considered law abiding as long as they brought things. Understandably, they brought more than was needed with the thought that perhaps they could save their a little bit of their lives.
At the beginning of December, 1941, there was a new order: "Fur-Action"- all Jews should immediately give up their furs. They were supposed to go to Frost, because the weather was very cold then and the German army at the front needed them badly. The Jews promptly gave up their fur things. Several Christians revealed that Jewish furs had been hidden with them and because of this, entire Jewish families were taken away and killed.
At the end of December, 1941, the Gestapo gathered two thousand Hungarian Jews and killed them in Szeparowice forest also, and that was how the Hungarian Jews in our city were liquidated.
In January, 1942, they suddenly began calling men and also women for a special plan. It was called, deceptively, "Geizlen" (hostages). The people were from the intelligentsia- doctors, lawyers, teachers and so on. There were 600 of them. They were kept in prison for several weeks, and then they were taken to the Szeparowice forest and killed there.
And so it went from one day to the next. Every day brought shattering tragedies. Nevertheless, we gritted out teeth and still hoped. Always, as if through a small crack, a weak ray of hope came into the ghetto, and Jews believed in it. Maybe then, a bit of a miracle would happen? They said that the plan for making a ghetto had been cancelled because the situation at the front had improved. Unfortunately, all these stories did not turn out to be true. It was announced that within three days all Jews had to move into the ghetto.
This was just before Pesach, TSh"B [5702- 1942]. According to the plan, three dzhielnice (quarters) were specified:
The Christian inhabitants had to leave the area where the ghettos were established and move to the good, formerly Jewish houses, and since Jews had been forbidden to have horses, or animals, those were taken away and distributed among the Volksdeutsch. The Jews had to use baby carriages to bring only what they could fit into cramped quarters where several families lived in one room.
Jews were not allowed to leave the ghetto except to go to work. Very often, they caught a Jew who went out to try to find something to eat. They shot him immediately. From the second day of the move into the ghetto, the Gestapo were frequent guests. They rode around on their horses arrogantly.
On the second day of Pesach, it was ordered that all working men had to report to the work office in order to have their work cards inspected and stamped. From there they took a certain number of them away from us under guard. Later the same day, the first section of the ghetto was encircled. They rounded up young and old, men and women, into one area and then took them to the railroad, packed them into freight cars and sent them away.
The first day of Chol Hamoed Pesach [3rd day of Pesach], the second ghetto was surrounded by the Gestapo, and all day long the Gestapo and their helpers carried out an action (the Jewish police also helped the Germans). Then they set fire to a large area of the ghetto in order to drive out the Jews who were hidden away in the bunkers. There too, they gathered together a large number of Jews. After that we understood that the third section was next. It was a Christian holiday just then. So they made it a day later. Many people left early that day to go and hide themselves in the first ghetto where an action had already taken place. On the third day of Chol Hamoed Pesach [5th day of Pesach], the murderers burned most of the third section. The dragged out all the Jews: old, young, men, women, frightened children, and with wild screams, abuses and blows, they drove the beaten, starving people to the railroad. They put the poeple on the trains and sent them to Belzec death camp where they were killed. Six hundred souls were sent away. When we came home that evening, our house had not been burned but it had been robbed. Everything was broken, torn, or stolen, but that wasn't important.
After the Pesach action, severe hunger arose in the ghetto. Only a few remained alive in many families, and because of this, life became more difficult. Many people became swollen from hunger, fainted, and went into a death agony. Once well- to- do people were seen in the streets with swollen faces, dragging their two heavy swollen feet. Every day people died mainly from hunger. Every day the cart drawn by the white horse rode around, until it was filled with the corpses thrown into it; then they were covered with tselt and buried in the mass grave. People went through garbage piles to look for something to eat. "I beg you, give me something." There was no bread. So we took from our own mouths to give some cooked food. We thought that if this continued, everyone would certainly starve to death. Perhaps the hunger had also spread typhus. Working people took various things out of the ghetto and tried to trade with the Christians they met for something to eat. There were instances when people paid with their lives when Ukrainian police or Germans caught them doing this.
At the beginning of June 1942, the Gestapo again decended upon the Ghetto, collected three hundred Jews ( they "justified" it by saying that only the swollen old ones would be taken), took them away to the Szeparowice forest, and shot them there.
Dear readers, I write because I was asked to do so. I write because I was one of the very few who survived. I write because I, together with our dear sisters and brothers, lived and suffered during that tragic time of mass destruction. I am one of the few who went with them on their final journey. But is it possible for a person to adequately describe that time? However reluctant I may be to write, it so insignificant and pale compared to what actually happened.
After the so-called "test registration", which took place on September 7, 1942, people were uneasy. The felt and guessed that something murderous was coming. News spread about about what was happening in other cities.
Then came the "registration." That was their deceptive name for it. In fact, it was the beginning of the end. It was the 7th of September, 1942 ( the second day of Selichos, TSh"B ). That day, all Jews, young and old, men and women, were ordered to report in groups according to their jobs, to the work area at 6 a.m. There, on that large field, we were put into groups. The Gestapo had a list of all of us. All around the area there were German and Ukrainian police. They went to each group and took out certain people, and sent them to one side and the rest to the second side. The second side was the bad one.
I was with my work group. I worked in the brush factory with my uncles, who had owned the factory, and I was beaten and sent to the bad side together with my uncles, Joseph Isaac, Itche, and Shmuel Hager, and with the whole family. My wife's work was gathering medicinal herbs and various special plants that were needed for healing. She didn't know what to do. Should she go with me and my group, or with her group? Fortunately, she spotted her group which consisted mostly of women in the distance, and on the spur of the moment, she decided to go with her group, and was placed on the good side. Everyone in my group was taken away except for three factory workers.
It was a very hot day. The sun baked down as the Jewish people stood there. All day the Germans and the Ukrainians beat them mercilessly with clubs and fists. The Jewish police, who were one of the groups standing there, had thought that they and their families would be released. Their wives and children were soon placed on the bad side. And they themselves were quickly taken away to the ghetto to help out just in case there might be a Jew still hidden there.
There were some who tried to get over to the second side. They were brutally beaten for that sin. I must note, however, that there were cases where frantic men or women risked danger to get over to the bad side in order to die together with their families. The same thing happened with parents and children who chose to die rather than be separated.
I must add that everyone had started out that day freshly shaved and dressed in their best clothing, in order not to look bad because looking bad was always dangerous.
The bestial events that took place that day are impossible to describe. The Gestapo and their helpers were given beer and afterwards they aimed the bottles at Jewish children and cut their heads.
There were about ten thousand of us in that area. 1300 of us were sent to the good side and 8700 to the bad side. On the good side was my wife Shoshana ( daughter of Henoch Hecht), my two dear brothers, Isaac and Shmeyke, and my sister-in-law, my brother Meier's wife with a golden little girl, Aliza. The 1300 were later taken away from the area to a school building and kept there for less than a week. They sat there beaten, shamed, ragged. Perhaps they envied those of us who were going to die together.
After they took them away, they turned to us again. First they announced that whoever had gold, silver, foreign currency, or vaulables would have to surrender it. When I saw my wife going over to the good side, I told her that we would not see each other again. I signalled good-bye to her. I can rightfully say that at the time I felt more pity for her than for myself. I pitied her because she was alone. Her whole family, her sister Fruma and her husband Mendel Bernheit and children were sent along with me to the bad side. We had hidden my mother Pearl, z"l, (from the Hager household) and my sister Henie, z"l, (from the Shimel household) somewhere in the ghetto and they had, through some miracle, survived there so far.
We all had to sit on the ground and then they arranged us in columns, ten in each column, and guarded on all sides by Shutzpolice and Gestapo, we were slowly taken down Kopernik Street to the railroad. People who had poison with them committed suicide. With sorrow, I must remark, that this happened frequently in the ghetto.
When they led us along, I noticed that a little door to a yard was open. Without hardly a thought, I went into the yard to try to escape. A Ukrainian who lived there came out and ordered me to go out quickly or he would turn me in. That meant that I would be certain to be shot to death. I went out right away and slipped back into the line. My uncle Shmuel Hager told me that the guards hadn't seen me. Freight cars were ready and waiting for us at the station and before loading us they counted us along with blows and wild screams. We were driven into the freight cars where little children were lying, dead and half-dead. All were packed into the cars with the doors closed tightly. Someone came around and made sure the small barred windows were nailed shut. In the freight car, we could hear the wailing cries and screams of the innocent victims along with the curses and insults of the murderers. >From time to time, we could also hear a shot. They were shooting Jews who tried to escape.
I found a spot for myself in the freight car and soon dozed off while the train was moving. So be it, I thought, it's all over. I must die.
It was soon dark outside. It was the time of Selichos [before Rosh Hashanah]. The days of mercy...
Suddenly I heard a woman's voice on the other side of the freight car. I heard her plead with her husband, "Moshe, don't leave me all alone!" I struggled over to them and saw that the husband had taken the wire off the small window opening and wanted to jump out of the moving train. People went to the woman and pleaded with her, "What's bothering you? What harm will it do you Moshe saves himself?" She was stubborn, however, and did not want to die without Moshe! Regardless of the conflict between husband and wife, Moshe suddenly went out. The wife cried out, "Moshe!" but he was already gone and the train went on. Having seen what Moshe had done, I thought of doing the same thing. I didn't think very long. I asked people to lift me up a bit and soon I was sitting on the edge of the small window with my feet sticking out and then, turning around on my stomach, I slowly freed myself from the barbed wire with one hand so that I wouldn't remain caught on it, and in the dark I flung myself from the train in the direction the train was going. I quickly ran away from the train since the last car was full of Germans who had orders to shoot us in order to frighten us into not trying to escape. They really did shoot many who jumped out badly, fell down hurt, and gave up their souls on the railroad tracks.
Lying there in the dark, I watched the heavy freight train carrying away thousands of our Kolomeyer Jews to their death. I found a little stream to drink from. I found corn in a field and ate it. I breathed more freely and my feet carried me along in the deep darkness.
I followed a path through the field that went toward Kolomey, and as I went along in the dark, I suddenly heard, as if it were coming out the ground, a Ukrainian shout to me "Shtoi!" (Stop). And there he stood before me and asked, "A ve kuda?" [Where are you going?] I answered him, "Da Kolomey, pane." [To Kolomey, sir.] "A Vitki?" [Are you a Jew?] I understood that I had to answer, "Z'karashava". [Yes.] He looked at me and called out: "Aha! Te z' payzhdu utik!' [You're running away!] And he started to drag me to the police. I pleaded with him. I asked for his understanding, but it was in vain. I was all alone with him. I looked him over. He was healthier than I. I was hungry and worn out from the ghetto. Since he did not let go of me, I begged him to give me a minute to take care of a human need. It was very dark and even though he was two steps away from me, he could not see, and sitting there I decided that I had to fight with him since I could also die here. I decided that I still had a chance and I began to run. I ran through the fields and the peasant ran after me. I felt that death was two steps away from me. And so I ran and ran. Until I heard shouts of "Tebe zhere shlak trafet!" I understood that that he had resigned himself to pursue me further. Fear drove me further and I ran until I came to a field of barley. I went into the barley and lay down there. Lying on the ground that way in the still night, I could still hear from far, far away, the heavy train locomotive chugging along, carrying away the 8700 Kolomeyer Jews.
I had chosen this barley field because the grain had already been harvested in the surrounding ones. I lay and looked at the cloudy sky. I found myself in a situation where I didn't know what the next minute would bring.
Suddenly it began to rain. I was a little wet but it didn't bother me. I breathed the air deeply. I decided that even if I were to be caught tomorrow and have to die, it wouldn't bother me. I was caught up in the desire to live, to struggle, to fight, to grit my teeth, and make every effort as far as possible to take care of myself. I decided not to go any further until daylight so that I could see where I was going.
When it became light, I went on the road again but I couldn't figure out which way to go from the field and I wound up in a village where a peasant showed me which way to go. Along the way several Ukrainians fell upon me like hungry wolves, captured me and took me to a railroad inspector. I met several other Kolomeyer youths there, among them Bubi Kerner, Nachman Kerner's son, and from there we were taken to another train inspector. We pleaded with them to let us go. But we were answered with such blows that we said no more. On the way, following the train tracks, we saw many dead Jews who were shot trying to escape or who died jumping off the train. After several hours, they came with a small railroad car and took us to Kolomey. One of us had a broken foot. So they said: "This one we will bury somewhere". Unfortunately, he overheard their talk, but he could do no more than stare with his eyes.
In Kolomey we were turned over to the railroad police. They were opposite the railroad station. There they insulted us, beat us, and threw us into a room that was so dark that we couldn't even see each other. There were twelve of us. From there we were taken to the Gestapo on Krashevska Street and then straight to the ramleruvke in the prison yard, and there they began bringing transports of Jews from all the little towns: from Peczenizyn, Jablonow, Kosow, Kitev, Pistyn, Zablonov, and from other nearby areas. Each transport brought frightened Jews with women and children. The Jews obviously didn't know that they were being led to the slaughter since they brought provisions with them. They had again gathered ten thousand Jews. Among them were quite a few Kolomeyer Jews who had taken shelter from the so called "registration" in the outlying towns. They also rounded up some Jews from the ghetto and took them all to the prison.
At the prison we lay in the mud. At night we were not allowed to get up but had to remain sitting down. Every time they allowed the Judenrat to take out the dead ones, they didn't spare any beatings. The Ordnungs-Hiter (Jewish Police) brought something to eat but it was seldom taken because beatings came with it. They once brought a pail of water for drinking, but we didn't drink. They poured out the water.
On September 10, 1942, they told us to get up and called out: "Anyone who can't run has to step forward." All the sick people came forward. They came and took them away in large wagons. We did not know where. I spoke to those around me to try to persuade them that the only chance we had to escape was to run away. Later they took those of us who could still walk out of the prison yard and they also took the Jews we didn't know about out of the prison building. They took us out and counted us. They did not take us to the left to Szeparowice but to the right, to the railroad.
It took a long time until everyone was sent along the road. They sent several Jews from Obertyn with us; among them I saw my former friend Shlomo Provisar. We were then led along the Railroad Street. Doors and windows were not allowed to be open. Children were not allowed to be on the streets. We went along like a big quiet funeral procession, carrying little children, until we reached the railroad. There they put 160 souls in each freight car. That's what I heard the Gestapo officer call out.
I hoped to be in a freight car with barbed wire on the windows since the iron bars couldn't be broken so easily. And it turned out to be so. This time there weren't just 160 people in the freight car, but as many as possible were crammed in so tightly that I stood on only one foot. I had nowhere to put the second one. There was such a heat that hot droplets began to fall from the ceiling. The door behind us was tightly closed and people threw all their clothes off. Some people fainted and some were suffocated.
In the evening when the train began to move, I immediately removed the barbed wire and I was the first to jump out. I again threw myself to the side. First I drank some water and started out for home. I feared daylight. And again two Ukrainians ran after me and again wanted to turn me over to the police. I managed to influence one of them somewhat. I gave them what I had and they let me go. At dawn I went through the Turka woods and went through the village of Pyedin. I was afraid to go through Banigsberg. So I went by the way of Kosachov [Kosaczowka]. On the road I noticed a Ukrainian policeman coming toward me. So I hid until he went by, and soon came to a place not far from the railroad. I wanted to go to the cemetery because they were still bringing the dead there and I could go back to the ghetto with the hearse. Wanting to cross Kosachov Street before dawn (it was the eve of Rosh Hashanah, TSh"B ), I heard someone tapping on a window to me. I turned around- a woman was calling to me. I was afraid to go. I hesitated, I wasn't sure. But she opened the window and said to me in Polish: "Nie boj sien, i chodz to. Tylko uwazaj ty niekaga nie uwdage!" [Don't be afraid, sir. I won't betray you to the Germans. Only be careful that no one should see you.] I went into her kitchen. I was so exhausted and beaten that I didn't even greet her. I began crying hysterically. I couldn't stop. The Polish woman said to me: " Widocznie ze panu przeznaczono zeby pan zyl." [Apparently, sir, you were destined to live.] And she gave me potatoes with sour pickles and a hot pot of milk. Afterwards the woman asked how she could help me. She got dressed and went to see my youngest brother Shmeyke, who worked in a big store for Otto Mayer in the Kneffers house but she came back with nothing. She told me that she didn't have the courage to go in and ask for a Jew. She took me into her garden where there was still corn and and handed out to me- careful that no one should notice- an iron pot with hot soup and crackers. I pleaded with her to let me stay there overnight and she agreed.
I spent the night in the garden. Toward morning -it was the first day of Rosh Hashanah- she fed me again in the garden. The Polish woman told me that a German lived in her house and he would be coming home after work. So she couldn't let me into the house. I looked upon her as an angel. In the evening she brought me a white arm band (shame-band) and led me to a group of Jews who worked nearby. I went home with them. "Home"- that meant the ghetto.
It was dark when I entered the ghetto. We were not allowed out in the street after 7 p.m. I went in to my cousin Isaac Kesten. At that time he lived with his sister-in-law; Sternberg, the dentist; and also Gisele Herman. They were very happy to see me. The gave me hot water to wash myself and I spent the night there. Early in the morning Isaac Kesten found my wife in the ghetto in the first quarter since the other two quarters no longer existed. And so I came home again to my wife on Zhelana Street on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Food was easier to get. Several families lived in the building. At night we worked, digging a kind of cellar under the house so that we could hide there is case of an action.
The 1300 people who were left at the assembly place had been taken back to the ghetto. Their permits were stamped and whoever did not have such a stamp had no right to exist. My wife and my two brothers, Isaac and Shmeyke, moved over from the third quarter and the first quarter because those had been declared liquidated. With great effort and suffering- fearing even a Jewish policeman- my mother and my mother-in-law also came over.
My father-in-law Yekhiel Hecht from Kosov and many other close and distant relatives had been in the province-registration. Several of my uncle Hersh Nateh Feder's children and still others had been there.
I had no stamp on my work permit and I went about illegally. Later, other such illegal Jews also came in from the provinces; they were the hidden Jews who had been caught and sent to the Kolomeyer ghetto.
And again, every day we heard about Jews who fell into the hands of the Gestapo. Among them was Doctor Marmarash. They took him to the cemetery and shot him. We heard of such things almost every day. Those who were caught trying to escape over the Rumanian or Hungarian border were shot right on the spot.
Meanwhile the typhus epidemic spread in the ghetto. The last remnants of the Jews in Zablatov were brought to Kolomey as well as the Jews from other towns. Among them was my sister Ruchl. She was the wife of Leib Bloch of Zablotov. After the newcomers were kept at the prison for several hours, they were freed and taken to the ghetto. Jews struggled again to be hired for work, hoping to gain security that way. It was known, however, that entire groups had been taken away from their work. An epidemic of suicide began. That did not appeal to the scoundrels among the Jewish police who had to choose people for death. Since the ghetto had been greatly diminished after the actions, and the remaining Jews from the provinces who had been found somewhere had been brought in, as well as many Jews who couldn't stay with Christians any longer- there was great crowding. People lived packed together. Jews even were on the roofs of the houses.
And again we began to hear the dark news that they were again digging graves in Szeparowice forest. Such information was often passed along and it was always true. And again the air seemed heavy. We could not know what each moment might bring, and the fear, anxiety and knowledge of that from which there was no escape, made our hearts heavy. And nevertheless, we still, still, always hoped. We stood between life and death and at the same time we heard the voices of those who sold popular cigarettes. People ran to their work early every morning.
Then there came the black Sunday of September 11, 1942. That Sunday, before dawn- I slept in the attic then (on Zhelana Street)- my wife called to me with a warning: "Get down from the attic!" When I came down, the action was well underway in the neighboring streets. With wild cries, men, women and children were taken to their bitter frightful deaths. They didn't have to work hard that time, since the ghetto was in a small area and very compactly inhabited. As in the previous action, this time they also took the unlucky ones to the fenced in "Work Area". That day they took out nearly four thousand souls. My sister Leah from the Axelrod household in Halitch, with her golden little girl, Aliza, was also swept away by the black tide. The four thousand Jews were held until evening. Afterwards they were loaded into freight cars and sent to Belzec.
We spent days lying in our bunker, suffering from heat and fright, and afraid to stick out our heads. My brother-in-law, Leib Bloch, came to tell us that the action was over. Leaving the bunker we came across the body of a Jewish woman. The Germans had shot her. Whe we were in the bunker we had heard her pleading with the Germans for mercy and immediately afterward, we heard the shot from the revolver. Many dead still lay in the streets and in the yards. It took many days until the corpses could be taken to the cemetery and buried in the mass graves. Some Jewish children were found dead in the bunkers that the Nazis had set on fire. Afterwards, pieces of their burnt bodies were carried out.
On September 12th, they again captured - this time the work was carried out by the Jewish police with the help of the S.S.- two hundred people including plenty of older men and women; they were brought together in "Pacht" (the poultry slaughterhouse) and the Germans shot them there.
And even after all this, anyone who remained alive went on living.
The "Hallerbach-Group", named after one of the Gestapo, was a group of men and women who worked in the houses of the former ghettos collecting the clothes, furniture, and other things that had been left behind. It was considered the best work group. To get into that group was not easy since it was believed that whoever worked in that group would not be taken away. Every morning, the group assembled on Kopernika and from there they marched in columns to their work. On their way to work, the marchers often had to sing "Hatikva" and other Jewish songs. That was how the Germans made fun of the Jews.
This went on every day until Thursday, November 5, 1942. The group assembled as always on Kopernika near the ghetto gate. The Jewish Ordnungs- Dienster [A.D.] rushed out and herded even more people together. But instead of taking them to their work, they led them all to the prison. My brother-in-law Leib Bloch and his brother Avraham were also trapped then (people wanted to go out to work in order to stay in touch with the world outside the ghetto). After all their efforts to get into that group for protection from actions, now the whole group was caught. At 11 a.m. that same day, they fell upon upon the "Umschlagshtele" (the "Paka" house opposite the former Jewish hospital), and there they took all the craftsmen and skilled workers and with shouts and screams brought them to the jail as well. (The Umschlagshtele was the headquarters of the Judenrat. All the craftsmen were concentrated there and some worked for the Christians and some for the Germans.)
Done with the "Hallerbach Group" and the "Umschlagshtele", the Gestapo started to set fire to one house after another. Jews who tried to run away from their hiding places were shot and thrown into the flames. Many Jews, half-burnt and badly wounded, were also taken to the prison.
The ghetto stood in flames. One house after the other was set afire. We lay hidden in the bunker. After a long time I left the house and saw burning buildings all around. The former Talmud Torah behind us and all the houses around us were burning. A woman, the wife of a Gestapo, was riding on a horse, and was taking photographs of everything with obvious enjoyment
We were in great despair. We didn't know what to do now. Staying in the bunker would doom us to being burned to death. It would be easier to die from a bullet. I ran up to the attic, took the few gold coins and divided them equally among us so that in case someone could escape, he would have some with him. Soon the roof was burning over us, and the smoke was choking us all. I went first. I took my mother-in-law on my shoulders and ran out. After me ran my wife, my two brothers, Isaac and Shmeyke, our mother and our only sister Ruchl. Outside, the flames blinded our eyes. And to add to all this, rain poured down and a cold wind blew. Running with my mother-in-law, I slipped in the mud and fell. I got up quickly and we ran to the houses across the way, having no idea of what we were we were doing or where we were running. In a house on Legionova Street, in the attic, we came together and looked out into the dark.
We heard the city fire engines come to control the fire. We could see people's shadows. We did not know if they were Jews who were looking for a place to hide or Germans. We later found out that they were Jews. We sat there overnight. The action was over. This time all the Jews in the prison were taken to the Szeparowice forest where they were killed.
Our ghetto population was now barely 1500 Jews. We were left with nothing and without a roof over our heads. Chaim Teitelbaum's wife (he was no longer alive) and her father, Breier, took in my mother with the children. I, my wife, and my mother-in-law stayed with the Schiber family (they were already alone without their children). In the morning I decided to go out of the ghetto and my wife's former teacher, Sonoitza, gave me a loaf of bread. I brought bread, potatoes, fruit, and meat back to the ghetto and we ate. My two brothers were afraid to go out; I was the only one who risked going out without a work permit.
A new turmoil: the Judenrat received an order to collect a few hundred souls and Jewish police headed by Mendel Green, Shpiegel, Lany, Fisher and other "Ordnungsdienstler" grabbed anyone who looked bad. They caught a number of people every day. They sometimes released someone for alot of money in order to have something with which to live well. Avramtche Schiber was brought in all bloody after an encounter with them. The action took several days. My mother and my mother-in-law, z"l, were taken out of a cellar by the Jewish police. All the captured ones were taken to the jail. About 500 to 600 men and women were caught by the Jewish police. Our mothers had been hidden in a cellar when they were searching for old people and we did not even hear when they took them out.
The ghetto now consisted of a small number of people bordered only by Walowa Street. The few people who were left did not know when they would be taken to die. But perhaps they would leave these few alone. So we lived anxiously. We slept in our clothes. The president of the Judenrat, Motke Horowitz, and his sister Miriam committed suicide. We felt as though the end was coming
We got in touch with Ukrainian acquaintances to take us to Hungary. We had little to lose. But the deal with the Ukrainians was called off at the last minute. Later I was able to arrange a deal with a Shvertzer for our only sister Ruchl and my two brothers Isaac and Shmeike. In the meantime I met a peasant from the village where my sister, z"l, had lived. He was willing to take my wife to his house but only she. My wife did not want to go alone. We thought that after our sister and brothers were taken to Hungary, we would also go there.
On February 2, 1943, we slipped my sister out of the ghetto. It was in the evening. The brothers were supposed to go out the next day. But it was too late. Toward morning the next day, February 3, I was sleeping in one corner of the house along with my wife, my two brothers and our Mordchile Bloch. Suddenly, my wife heard a shot. We regarded that as a signal, and we were not mistaken. Soon we saw that we were were surrounded by Ukrainian policemen. We got together quickly. We understood that we could no longer hide. We had to get out of the ghetto and try to save ourselves somehow.
There was a bunker in the house where we lived. The other neighbors went into the bunker, but we tried to go out. We planned to go to the ghetto fence and jump over it. As we went out we noticed the great danger all around us, and also that there was rain falling on the frozen snow so that we could hardly put a single foot down. We ran back to the house and hid under the porch. I was the last one in and wanted to pull the board shut but I couldn't because it was wet and frozen. I closed it as much as I could. In the meantime Lomtzi Petraver came running and told me that he was closing another bunker with wood and would then come over to us. But he couldn't do any more. They caught him right away. I threw something on the loose board and we anxiously lay there.
We could hear the savage Gestapo with their helpers and their big dogs run from house to house and drive out the people. They were all assembled somewhere. We could hear the wild screams of the murderers mixed with the crying of our women and children. We could hear the Jews pleading with the murderers, but the murderers- with their bestial screams and clubs- only yelled: "Go! Go!." We heard screams from the next house where Isaac Kesten, Celia Herman, and Sternberg, the dentist, lived. We heard Sternberg, the dentist, pleading with them, but they cruelly chased them all out.
It was deathly still. They had taken them all away somewhere.
But suddenly a cry rang out again over the stillness. A Gestapo saw a woman somewhere and he shouted at her: "Come, come, you old witch!" She pleaded with him and it was all quiet again. Usually after an action, those who were left alive came out of the bunkers right away, but this time they didn't. The silence lasted the whole day. In the evening we heard footsteps. Someone went into our house and then went away. Who knows who that was? Perhaps robbers. We heard shooting at night. They were probably catching Jews who came out of their hiding places somewhere. Because of the frequent shooting, we decided not to go out. We stayed on in the cramped bunker without bread or water.
The next day, in the evening, horses and wagons came to take away the Jewish belongings. We heard someone come near our hiding place and say, " A mozhe y tu son zhidzhi?" [Perhaps there are Jews in here?] He stomped with his heavy boots above us. We held our breaths so that we wouldn't be discovered. We heard one Polak say to the other that he had never done such dirty work in all his life. They carried out the things over our heads and it was quiet again.
In this action in early February, 1943, the last few Kolomeyer Jews and the Jews from the provinces (about 1500 souls), were taken to the Szeparowice forest. And so this large venerable Jewish settlement became "judenrein" [free of Jews].
Several doctors like Dr. Bunye Frisch and a few others had been left alone. But a few days later, they were no more.
We stayed on under the porch. Around us was silence and frequent shooting. We stayed there another night. Before dawn, Grinstein's frightened young son ran to us and said that the Feders had hidden themselves in the burned houses and then he ran back.
We decided to leave that night. It was the third night. I told everyone that I would go first and they should follow me and do everything that I did. Halfway through the night I removed the board. I went out and everyone followed me. I saw that in the meantime a heavy snow had fallen and the houses here were far apart. We could be seen from somewhere. I told them to slip into the first house.
I watched and listened carefully, and we safely crept into the next house. And so we went along safely from house to house until we came to Legionova Street and to the emptied houses of the ghetto. We lay there quietly. We heard and saw the pre-dawn train on its way to Peczenizyn. The windows of the house looked out upon the street. We were already outside the ghetto and the windows were nailed shut because windows were not allowed to be open. We finally opened a window right outside the ghetto. My brothers Isaac and Shmeyke and Mordechai Bloch went out to Kamionka Street where we once lived and hid themselves in the attic. My wife and I took off our Jewish armbands and quickly walked on Wintsetoavke to my wife's former teacher.
We arrived there safely. I stayed close to the wall while my wife tried to reach the teacher. She knocked at the kitchen where the old mother and the servant girl were sleeping. The girl was related to the teacher. She opened the door and we were taken into the new house which wasn't finished yet. Later the teacher found out that we had come. She was very frightened. She told us that her brother-in-law mustn't know about us. She told us that if she had lived alone with her sister, she could have kept us. But now it was not possible.
It was almost Friday evening. I borrowed a fur hat ( since Jews had been forced to turn over all their furs) and went to an aquaintance of ours, a Ukrainian professor. The professor wasn't home. His wife crossed herself. She was afraid of me and said, "Dobre shtcho we zeyjsze" (It's good that you're alive). She told me to go near the high school with my wife on Shabbos at 6 o'clock. From the professor's house, I went to my two brothers on Kamionka Street. They were very happy to see me. I brought them food and decided to stay overnight in the attic with them. It was terribly cold. So we went down into the cellar. We settled ourselves into a corner and spent the night. Before dawn I parted with them and went to my wife. My wife was very worried about how I would survive such a dangerous journey and she arranged for the girl to go along with me since the dog might wake up all the neighbors when I came. I arrived safely and and repeated what the professor's wife had said: "Michiala skosov, treba byla was wzity." ("Michiala said that you must take us.")- were her words.
On Shabbos, we parted with the Sonoitza, the teacher. She dressed my wife in Ukrainian peasant clothing and her heartfelt parting words were: "Mani yednega boga." (" We have one God.") On Mickiewicza Street, near the high school, they were waiting for us as we had agreed. I went again to my brothers, told them where we were going and we went out through Slowackiego, Tarnovitzia, over the Werbishe bridge, to Werbish. We spent the night with my wife's acquaintances, who were of Ukrainian nationality. The wife had gone to school with my wife. On Sunday we persuaded the peasant Nikolai to take a big pot of hot food to my brothers in the attic. Then he took bread and apples to them and after two days he brought them to us.
Both of my brother Isaac's feet were frostbitten. We brought him up to us in the peasant's attic. The peasant's wife did not know about the brothers and Mordechai Bloch since the peasant was the one who brought us food. The wife just wanted us to leave as soon as possible since she was very fearful.
Finally a peasant came from the village of Berezov where my father-in-law, z"l, used to live, and agreed to take us to his house. He would take me and my wife first and then my brothers. He sat my wife, who was wearing a kerchief like a peasant woman, up on his wagon next to him, and I sat inside the wagon. We had decided that in case we were caught, we would say that that we had met him on the road and begged him to give us a ride.
As though to spite us, it was a moonlit night. Ukrainian police were travelling back and forth. We went safely as far as Jablonow and then the peasant saw several people he knew up ahead. We stopped until they went away and then went on, reaching Berezov near his house, and then we saw three policemen. They were going along peacefully, slowly approaching us, and our peasant also began to go slowly so that we wouldn't look suspicious. The policemen looked at us and didn't say anything. We breathed more easlily. The peasant took us into his cottage.
We were given some food. Afterwards we were taken to the stable and there we slept in the hay. Then the peasant took us into a bunker that he had made for us and we wrote to the brothers often. Isaac suffered so much from his frostbitten feet that we were afraid he might not succeed in crossing the border. The peasant promised to bring them. In those days there were frequent police raids in the villages. They would catch people- Ukrainians- to send to Germany to work. Because of that the peasant was afraid to go to get the brothers and decided to wait.
Finally, one time- when I was waiting for Michaila to come and give us a message- he decided against the plan. So we soon realized that something had happened. Finally he told us that the peasant with whom we had left our brothers had taken them to another house- an empty house, that only had hay in it. Another peasant noticed them there and turned them over to the police. So the Gestapo came with the Ukrainian police and took the boys away. They were killed somewhere in Werbish.
Our peasant was trying to find someone to take us to Hungary. One night he came to us, frightened, and told us that his wife had a dream. He took us out quickly and fled with us into the forest. My wife couldn't run uphill. Our peasant said that we had no choice. He said that since it would soon be dawn, he would hide us for the time being. He led us into a young deep little forest and the went home alone.
We both sat in the woods. We heard shouts. My wife said she recognized the voices of the forest guards. We sat huddled together. We were afraid to move from that spot. It was a nice day in March. The sun warmed us and soon we heard someone coming. We saw a dog and we were sure that someone was coming after him. He came very close to us- and we saw that it was a wolf. He came to us and we looked at him, and he quickly ran away. Good that it wasn't a two-footed beast...
We sat this way until the dark night came. The peasant came late at night and led us away. We didn't even dare to ask him where we were going. We felt ourselves to be alone, worthless, insignificant. Then we saw that he was taking us back to his house. He told us that his wife was against having someone else take us away at night because they would kill us.
We felt very lucky to be back in the little bunker in the stable even though it was terribly cramped and dirty.
Several days later the peasant again decided to take us into the forest and hide us there. And so it was. One Sunday night, he went away with his brother Haretzi and his brother-in-law. One of them stood and watched to make sure no-one could see them and the other two worked. They prepared a bunker for us.
That night the peasant took us into the forest. We went far, very far, deep into the forest, through valleys and over hills, in the dark, often falling, paying no attention, and going further. Finally we came out from the forest path to a deep, endless abyss. We went on this way downhill for several kilometers and then, in view of the Berezover forests, we came to a heavy rotting log. This was a tree which had been toppled by the wind and was about 80-100 cubic meters in size. We all stopped there and in the stillness I asked the peasant: "Ba sztyche dalka, Michailka?" [Hey, where's your shovel Michailka?] He laughed and said to me: "Uzhe nie daleka." [I don't have a shovel.] Then he told me to figure out what that was. I looked around in the dark forest and saw nothing. Then he bent over the side of the thick log and called out something into the ground. I small lamp was lit inside the log and he told us to crawl in there. We crawled in on our stomachs through a small opening and it became clear to us that he had been hiding a Jewish family there.
It was David Tillinger and his wife and ten year old little girl. The peasant had made the bunker very far from any settlement so that no one could travel there. And there was no reason to go there.
We were now five people in the deep hole in the bunker. It was very crowded. We had to lie on the narrow side and we couldn't sit there because if we sat, our heads bumped against the ceiling. But we were very happy to meet other Jews.
Every Shabbos, 1 to 2 o'clock at night, the peasant brought us food for the whole week. When we expected him, we could hear his heavy footsteps breaking the twigs under his feet. He used to come with his brother-in-law, both laden with heavy bundles- with bread, a little cheese, and sometimes two bottles of milk. This was our food.
The food was very limited. We lived on a little piece of salted bread. We had water near the bunker and we used to divide up the little pieces of bread. If it rained or snowed, we lay in water. We did try to arrange, as much as we could, for the water to drain out. Basically, if someone had placed another kind of material down there, iron instead of people, it would never have lasted. In the great heat of summer, we choked there.
The peasant brought us Polish, Ukrainian, and German newspapers, and we used to tell him that the war would eventually end. But the worst was that we didn't see that end. And thus the days, weeks, and months went by. The peasant often went to Kolomey and afterwards he told us that Jews had been betrayed and turned in there. This caused our peasant great distress.
The peasant used to remind us that we might be discovered. We used to assure him heatedly, that we would go to our deaths silently without ever betraying him. He used to say to us: "Never mind, I am ready to die with you. But my one and only child, my one and only innocent child- why should he die because of you?" (They used to threaten that if hidden Jews were found, the entire family would be liquidated.) We always reassured him.
Early every morning we used to go outdoors. We washed ourselves in the little ditch of water that we used as a reservoir. But we were still very dirty because we had only the clothes we wore.
We knew about what was happening on the battlefields from what we read in the newspapers that the peasant brought us. Then we got the news that Mussolini's Italy had surrendered. Our hearts grew lighter. Afterwards, we read in the newspapers that the Soviet army was advancing. We once more saw that we could afford to hope. Perhaps? Perhaps then? Perhaps we would be out of danger? And then we read in a newspaper that our peasant brought us that Kiev was in flames. They were fighting around Kiev, D. H. [Thank heaven]. We soon heard about places that were closer to us.
In the meantime the peasant found out that the area of the forest where we were hidden was to be cut down. He told us that he and his wife would come to us at night and take us to another part of the forest. He brought us to a temporary bunker and we lived there in fear and anxiety since it was closer to the village. We could hear the voices of the shepherds in the distance.
We stayed in the temporary bunker for two weeks. In the meantime the peasant built a better bunker, better hidden, better camouflaged. But once my wife saw a peasant not very far away and we were very frightened- who knew if he hadn't seen us?
Meanwhile, it was winter again. Deep snow came and our peasant couldn't bring us food. We lived on the little bit of bread we had hidden but we suffered greatly from hunger. Then once in the middle of the day when snow was still falling, the peasant packed two, three loaves of bread and with a saw and a hook in his hand, started out to see us. He did that so that if he met someone, it would seem as though he were going into the forest to chop wood. He came in the middle of the day, spent two hours with us and then went away.
He left and then suddenly, a frightened Michaila returned and said that judging by the footprints he had seen in the snow, someone had followed him, and even stood still to listen to us. Our peasant ran all over the forest to find that person. But he didn't find him and we were terrified. We were convinced that soon they would capture us and would mockingly, after much suffering, lead us to our deaths. We thought of running away somewhere into the forest, but the deep snow would obviously show where we had gone and we could be caught anytime.
Our peasant told us that we should wait quietly and that he would come and get us at night. And he did. The peasant took us to his home and hid us in his stable in the leaves.
The was around February, 1944. The front was coming closer. We were still in danger. Any second, we could have been seen through the walls of the stable. In the pile of leaves where we were hidden, it was different than it had been in the forest. We were given more food and cooked food. But we were very uneasy about other things. The peasant used to bring us our food in a container at the same time he gave the animals water. That was how he fed us. It was drafty there but we were glad because we weren't in the forest any longer and the front was coming nearer.
We heard that the Soviet army had crossed the former Polish border. We thought of freedom already, but our hearts were troubled. How many of us were left and who would be freed here- very few Jews!
I don't remember any famous dates- I do know it was a Friday- when we were told that Soviets were already close to Horodenka. On Shabbos, March 27, 1944, we were told that the high school in Kolomey was in flames and the Germans were pulling out. Our peasant called us out into the stable so that we could see how they were running away. The peasant was a Ukrainian nationalist. He even took part in an action to disarm the Germans.
The next day, March 28, Kolomey was freed from the evil ones. The Soviets entered Jablonow, Kosov, Kitev, Tchernovitz, and even Peczenizyn. But we were five kilometers from Jablonov and we weren't free yet.
The peasant's wife came to us joyfully to tell us that she was getting ready to bake bread for us to take with us on our way home. Not for home, because we no longer had a home, but for freedom. Freedom to live, freedom to breathe. What we felt then could only be understood by those who had no freedom. But we still could be disappointed. The Soviets did not really know how anxiously we waited for them.
The peasant told us that we mustn't go out until the Soviet army arrived since a Ukrainian nationalist group named "Banderavtzi" had been organized. They were against everyone; they fought against the Germans, they had killed several high Soviet officers, generals, when that army moved out. In the confusion that followed, the Banderavitzi had also caught all the Poles they could, many of whom spoke Ukrainian as their native language or were from mixed families. They killed Jews, Poles- whoever they happened to catch. We were aware of such incidents when they tied up Poles with barbed wire and slaughtered Poles. Some dead bodies lay near our stable and they couldn't be buried for several days. The peasant told us that they were stationed along all the roads and forests looking for Poles, and if he let us go out, by the time we went one kilometer, they would stop us and certainly kill us. At that time and even later after the Soviet army had arrived, they killed Jewish survivors.
But in the meantime, our wait was in vain. The Soviets did not come to us. The area of Delatyn-Stanislov was still occupied by the Germans and and the Soviet strategy obviously did not require them to march here right away.
We waited each day for the Soviets to come, and suddenly big tanks arrived from Delatyn and Mikulitchin with Hungarian troops. They established camps all over the forest and the villages, and requisitioned all the houses. Our stable was full of Magyars. Over us, on the leaves lay perhaps 200 men. They made their beds on the leaves and lay down to sleep over us. We could barely let ourselves breathe. Even the slightest move could give us away. Not far from us, they dug in heavy cannon, and all around the woods, they dug trenches.
And battles went on day and night. There was shooting all around us for four months. Our situation became more precarious and frightening each day. The inhabitants of the neighboring village had been evacuated and our village was scheduled to be evacuated as well and we might finally be discovered because of that.
Then the situation changed, and the evacuation order was cancelled. The whole area was occupied by the Hungarian army and in our peasant's house there were five Germans who ran a radio post. The peasant used to give us their army rations since they ate more homecooked meals at his house.
In this dangerous, anxious state of affairs, we regretted more than once that we had not left there when no one was there. It would have been risky, perhaps, but maybe we might have succeede in running away. And we were tired of the peasant.
I would like to add that when we looked through the boards of our hiding place, we could see that the Hungarian army had many Jewish workers who were assigned by the Magyars to special divisions. They were sent to work in the worst places.
And suddenly, one morning in August 1944- we noticed a feverish retreat by the Hungarians and heard heavy shooting. Our peasant and his family and their animals also fled into the woods behind the house, and they told us that in case one of us met with a bullet, we should be quiet. It went on this way until evening and soon we saw the first Soviet soldiers creeping out of the woods. We saw them crawling on their stomachs out of the woods and we breathed more freely. We wanted to run to them but the hail of gunfire didn't allow that. And finally- our peasant wouldn't allow it.
We couldn't sleep all night and we prepared to go out in the morning. The peasant stopped us again. He wanted us to remain hidden away longer. But he saw that he had no choice with us so he took us out to the woods.
We were fired at from the front, and from the other side of the hill by the Magyars. All around us were bullets and fire but we came safely to the woods. The path was all shot up and the peasant led us through the woods and later left us alone.
We went out of the woods and soon went through the fields and "talakes" [meadows]. We came upon abandoned, half ruined peasant huts. Most of the population had been evacuated. We went down the hills to the former Jewish town of Jablonow (Stopchet). We met Soviet soldiers and we greeted them with tears in our eyes, "Zdrastvoitye!" [Hello!] They answered us in a friendly manner. We came to the highway. All the houses and the courtyards were filled with Soviet soldiers. Most of the houses were damaged. But what difference did it make since most of the people who had lived in these houses were no longer alive. We went on the road to the market and then we planned to go further to Kolomey.
Suddenly we were stopped and were told: "Zaiditye padjoloiste!" [Come, please]. They asked us to come into a house. We went in and saw that we were in a command post of the N.K.V.D. [Soviet secret police]. We looked very shabby. They could see what they had to deal with. There were five of us: Dr. Tillinger with his wife and their ten year old daughter Fraydele, and I and my wife. Their manner toward us was warm and courteous. They asked us to be seated. We all sat down, and one of them, an official, came to us: "Vi skazhiteh tchto vi za yedni- Banderavtzi?"- he asked us with a little smile. I answered him as if to say: you see who we are. "Da-" I said to him- "Banderavtzi ale Yevreyski". [Yes, all Jews are Banderavtzi.] The conversation between us was a warm one. Across from us, next to the official, stood a young man, a captain. It was a pleasure to look at him. I said to my wife that he must be a brother. He smiled at us. They asked us for all the details and we told them our troubles. The officer told us that since it was already past noon and would soon be night, it was not wise for us to go further, since the road could be dangerous.
The Jewish captain took charge of us. He wanted to arrange for us to go to a peasant overnight but we begged him to let us go free because we couldn't trust anyone. So they took us in among the soldiers, near the kitchen, and invited us to eat and drink.
We didn't want to drink very much, only a little. And they gave us as much food as we could eat. I would have liked to keep on eating forever but we couldn't. I had never in all my life picked fruit from a tree, but that day I climbed up a tree and picked good ripe sour cherries.
At night our captain came and led us to a barn full of straw and we lay down to sleep there. He stationed a Tshasavai (a guard) outside and we heard him say: "A ti atvietchayes za etikh ludei". ("And you are responsible for these people with your head.")
The soldier guarded us all night. In the morning our captain (Yakubovitch from Leningrad) came and brought me a pair of army shoes; I had no shoes since they had rotted in the ditch where we hid. He also brought us all kinds of canned goods, gave us a "Bumageh" ( a document) and apologized very much for not being able to escort us to Kolomey; he had been ordered to move on further. And in the meantime they were marching out a great many Hungarian prisoners. I and my wife prepared to set off on the road to Kolomey. I asked the captain how I could repay him. So he asked me to write a letter to his elderly father. I took his address and made sure to write his father about how his son had conducted himself with Jewish survivors.
We went toward Kolomey. A difficult journey. After lying in a bunker for 18 months, our feet didn't want to carry us. So we walked heavily. We kept going. We met native peasants who greeted us quite heartily: "Dobre dzien." [Good day.] On the way we met a captain on a a horse. We gave him a lively and friendly greeting. I said once more to my wife in Yiddish, "It's a brother." As soon as he heard that, he quickly turned his horse around, "You are Jews?" "Yes," we answer, "Jews." He sprang quickly off his horse, embraced us as though we had known each other from somewhere sometime. We kissed each other and he put his arms around us: "Come, my children, come! Tell me how it all happened. Where are you from?"
All three of us, I, my wife, and the Soviet Jewish captain sat down together. We told him what we had been through, and he told us how he was one of six brothers who went off to war. Four of them were killed in battles against Hitler's hordes.
We waited until a few automobiles came from his detachment and we were driven to Kolomey.
At the beginning of August, 1944, there were no longer any Jews in Kolomey except for Isaac Feuerstein, the Neiders, Spiegel, and the Gottfrieds. We stayed overnight at the home of my wife's former teacher.
The city of Kolomey was mostly burned, ruined, empty, vacant everywhere; streets and the courtyards were paved with gravestones.
After a year went by, we went away to Poland and from there, in 1948, to the land of Israel.
Translator's note: Words in square brackets, [_] are explanations or translations by the translator of transliterated Polish, Ukrainian, or Russian words. Round parentheses are from the text. For street and town names, the Polish spelling is used in many instances and the transliteration of the Yiddish pronounciation in others. The same is true for the names of people mentioned. Sam Goldin helped with the Polish and Ukrainian spelling and meaning. More information about the author of this narrative and any corrections are welcome.
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