by Lusia Borten (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Claire Hisler Shefftz
with reference to a previous translation by Adele Miller
Donated by Dr. Ben Nachman
With frightful feelings of dread and apprehension, we sat in open boxcars on cannons and boxes of ammunition in September 1944, as we neared our our former home, the city where we once lived.
At the railroad station, the ruins could be seen right away. Destroyed houses without windows, doors, and roofs brought back memories of their former owners. In some houses, gentiles lived, the heirs and perhaps the direct or indirect murderers of their owners. Former servants had taken over the houses of their employers. We walked on the railroad street. We saw the the big building of Yonah Zager's prayer shawls factory with the sign high up under the roof printed in Polish and Yiddish.
But there was nothing left of the factory except for the sign; the sign was the only reminder of Yiddishkeit. The large windows gleamed with emptiness. The prayer shawls factory had been transformed into a cannery.
Here was the essence of the great destruction. There are no Jews- we don't need any prayer shawls. Never again would the skillful hands of the renowned talis makers provide Jews all over the world with their traditional needs.
We went further. We met Christians, former good friends. They were so happy to see us that they wanted to kiss us. Where were they in Hitler's time?
Why had they been silent onlookers who let the killing go on, or did they themselves do the killing? Their greeting was:
You're alive? Where did you come from? Thank God! Not one of them said, Come in, put your packages down, have a sip of water. After a exhausting journey of two weeks of cold and misery, shabby, and with two packs on our shoulders, we did not look our best.
We were told that there were Jews in the city. We walked with difficulty toward the city. Everything is frightful. We are like strangers. We don't see any Jews. There is a chill in our souls. But we still have a spark of hope left. Approaching Valava [Walowa] Street and not meeting any Jews, we suddenly, without realizing it, walked into our own street.
The street was overgrown with high grass and bushes. Aside from the corner houses which had belonged to the Eifermans and the Hegers and were occupied, all our houses were ruined and full of dirt. And soon, soon, we came to our house where I was born and lived all my years. It was the only house in the street that was still intact. It looked clean and swept as though someone had left only a few hours ago. Some doors and windows were missing. Maybe someone had just left, after hearing that we were coming.
I went through the whole house. It was still. I could only hear my own heart beat. I went up to the attic with only one thought: perhaps somewhere there will be sign, a letter, maybe a farewell letter could be found? Flying feathers from torn bedding were the only signs of the former inhabitants. If only the feathers could talk and tell...
I found other signs of the former inhabitants: a photograph of my brother, a picture of my sister-in-law ( drawn by my other brother) and a mezuzah. These treasures accompanied me through all the twists and turns of my travels to Israel (the mezuzah hangs on our door). From above, I glanced down to the open cellar. A terrible feeling kept me from touching anything. It turned out later that it was the right thing to do. Someone went there afterwards searching for valuables. He found the skeleton of a child of about ten years of age.
With a heavy heart, I left my house. We took our packages and went to look for Jews. Near the ruined market place, we found a Jew. The Jew showed us the house of the Premingers in Zalevska Street, where Jews lived now.
Mr. Shnabel greeted us heartily. The dwelling consisted of one room and a kitchen. A few people were there already. For the first time, we sat at a warm stove, worn out and shivering with cold after our day's experiences. We were five people sleeping on a straw sack on the ground, satisfied that we were in a Jewish house among Jewish people
This was in September 1944. The enemy was not very far away but everyone hurried to return home. Every day several people came back, believing that they might find someone from their families who was still alive. All the Jews stayed together in a few houses on these streets: Zalevska, Valava [Walowa], Shevtchenka [Szewczenki], Piekarska, Kamienietzka [Kamionecka]. Ten to twelve people lived in one house. All of them arrived ragged, hungry, and without money. All of them were miserable and didn't know how to begin again.
Slowly some people started working, others traded. They had to live. Others came to take a look and went away.
Our first trip was to the cemetery. The gate was closed, the burial house had become a locksmith's shop. We walked from the gate, going step by step, from grave to grave. We wanted to find just one grave of one of our relatives or friends. But the whole cemetery was covered with recent nameless graves. Only seldom, seldom did we see a gravestone with a name. A gravestone along with others had fallen on the Hamer family grave.
Dr. David Hamer perished on his 50th birthday. Two small tin tablets, put up by the community, mark the graves of Miriam and Moti Horowitz. They say that they committed suicide. We went further and saw an open uncovered mass grave. The wall between the cemetery and the railroad had been knocked down. Cows graze there. Many stones are missing, many lie overturned, but most of them are still there. Due to the initiative of my husband, the city government covered the grave, rebuilt the wall, forbade cows to graze there, and only permitted entry to cut the grass.
We Jews often went to the cemetery. Once we went there with two doctors, Dr. Haber and Dr. Seller. They found what we had not seen. They gathered together the bones of poor little Jewish children and buried them.
A second time, we were there with Dr. Hubschman, known as Pusch, and we still found human bones scattered there.
My husband was the only Jew who went to the Szeparowice Forest and saw the five mass graves. There were buried almost 72,000 Jews from Kolomea and from neighboring towns who without pity, dead or half alive, were thrown into the pits. The mass graves were fenced off and watched by the city government. No one wanted to go there. The route was dangerous because Ukrainian hooligans were in that area.
The old cemeteries were a sorrowful sight. There was no sign of the brick wall which once surrounded the cemetery on Tarnovska Street. The old gravestones were taken down and carried away. One part of the emptied area was turned into a garden.
The same can be said about the old cemetery on Kamenker Street, behind the city hall. Everything is destroyed, broken; only a few gravestones with their old inscriptions remain. The torn out gravestones from our holy ground were used to pave the courtyard of the S.S. on Krashevska [Krazewskiego] Street, Dr. Herer's courtyard, the courtyard of the city hall and other places.
We walked through the former Jewish streets, and went up to former Jewish synagogues, and Jewish houses. Everywhere there were signs of Jewish suffering. Flying feathers, a little rag, a shoe, a broken pot, a broken plate, a candlestick, human excrement.
We saw whole streets that were burned together with their inhabitants. The densely populated Jewish streets between Valava [Walowa] and Lenyanava [Legionow] Street and the Ring Platz, the former first ghetto with the Talmud Torah, Bais Hamidrash, the Kosover Synagogue, the Vizhiner, the Boyaner, and little shuls along with the large and renowned Great Synagogue- they were all destroyed.
There isn't much to say about the areas of the destroyed ghettos. They existed- they're gone. A white line on the surrounding buildings remained as a sign of the three ghetto borders.
The beautiful center in Kolomey, where once thousands of Jews traded, the Rynek, the so called Canal", the Hai Platz, Pilsudski Street with its many stores: all are empty.
The gentiles that I formerly knew are almost all here. Market Day looked as it did before (only without Jews). Many good things were for sale. On display for sale were old furniture, bedding, clothing, underwear, entire Jewish households- even candlesticks and prayer shawls. And everyone bought. Jews had no choice. They spent their first and last earned groshn. They were in effect, naked and barefoot. They were afraid for their lives. A Jew couldn't go to a village. Their lives were in danger. Once we were shot at in the middle of the city. Luckily, the bullet missed my husband's ear.
The Soviet adminstration had taken swift action to round up and punish the murderers and the Nazi collaborators. The jails and barracks were overflowing with them. A Jewish Kolomear boy, 17 year old Herzl Terner, known as Grisha", was actively involved in the revenge movememt. Afterwards he immigrated to Israel and sacrificed his brave young life in defense of the Jewish State.
Those in power at that time showed some understanding of Jewish concerns. A Jewish Affairs committee with four members was established. A member of the City Council who was a Russian was assigned to this committee.
Very moving letters began to arrive from within the country and from abroad. They were searching for fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children. The committee answered all the inquiries addressed to it. Letters that were sent to private addresses went unanswered. The residents were no longer there. At my husband's request, they assigned all the private letters to us. We worked day and night looking for information, putting together a list of those who were still alive, and we sent it to the Kolomear organization in America and asked them to publish it in the newspapers.
The great day finally arrived, May 8.  The war was over. A great joy over the whole world. The worn out remaining Jews in the concentration camps were free. They left the barracks.
A huge crowd had gathered in front of the Mars movie theater. After hearing the official announcemment over the loudspeaker, they broke out in a wild jubilant celebration. People were kissing and dancing. We Jews cried bitterly. There wasn't one of us who hadn't lost his whole family. We gathered in a little shul which was in good condition, and carried there the books and sidurim (prayer books) we had found. There we held a heart rending memorial serice. The survivors poured out their hearts. Every one remembered father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, child, grandfather, grandmother, friend; scream, weep - they are no more!
In order to illustrate how few Jews there were in Kolomea then, I have to tell this story:
There was a day afterwards when a great portion of the Jews had just left Kolomea to be repatriated in Poland. Walking along Pilsudski Street before noon, I met an acquaintance. Once he was a cheerful young man. He gives me a bitter smile and says, It's good that I met you. I have been walking along the street already for quite some time and have not yet found a Jew to whom I can say 'Gut Morgn.' [good morning]
In the winter of 1945, Mrs. Reitzes died in the house of the Christian woman who had saved her. The Jews were notified. Burying her according to Jewish law was a big problem. She lay for two days. After that three men went to the cemetery and dug a grave for her and two women attended to the ritual cleansing. Three Jews and a Christian (Mr. Dolinski) as a fourth carried the body out and laid it in a wagon. My husband drove the wagon through the city and two more men and three women accompanied it to its final rest. We could not get a minyan together. [10 men]
It was was not possible to live in this once very Jewish city or even to die there.
At the end of May 1946, we left Kolomey with great sorrow.
Translated by Claire Hisler Shefftz
with reference to a previous translation by Adele Miller
Dr. Ben Nachman
It is difficult to provide an accurate and reliable account of the Jews who were members of the Judenrat. Reports of eyewitnesses are contradictory. If the Judenrat had wronged one of the surviving witnesses, the reports of that witness would be one hundred percent negative.
On the other hand, if the Judenrat had helped someone, he would understandably have a favorable opinion.
They never speak only in personal terms. One never says: they abused me, or they did me a favor, only: They helped the Nazis destroy the Jews, or They tried to save Jews whenever it was possible.
We have a negative report about the Judenrat and its chairman, Markus (Mordechai, Motek) Horowitz from a Jew named Hirsh Birnbaum.
Hirsh Birnbaum now lives in Caracas, Venezuela. As a well established resident of the nearby town of Gwozdiec, he arrived in Kolomey on September 3, 1941, and remained in the ghetto there with his family until June, 1942, nearly nine months. Then, he was fortunate to be able to escape to Chernowitz. Hirsh Birnbaum's accounts of the Kolomeyer Judenrat and its chairman are almost entirely accusations.
Hirsh Birnbaum has written his report in the form of a long poem with 27 stanzas. The positive aspect of his negative report is that it reveals to us the names of the members of the Judenrat.
According to the poetic report of Hirsh Birnbaum:
1. The Head of the Judenrat was
R' Motek Halevi Horowitz
Carrying out his chairmanship with ease
To his four ready cabs
That stood at his door each day
2. The vice-chairman-
Dr. Moshe Hutschnecker,
A Stanislav lawyer,
Who during the Soviet occupation
Returned to Kolomey
3. Their personal assistant,
That fellow Lazar Biber,
In every hole and pit.
4. The secretary:
Judge Isser Reichman.
5. The head of appropriations:
6. The head of housing:
7. Liaison between Judenrat and Gestapo:
(as Birnabum named him)
Joel Jacobi and his helper
( It is not clear from Birnbaum's account if they were members or merely appointed by the Judenrat.)
8. The head of materials production:
Solomonovitch and fellow dealers
Each time on a different hunt, registrations,
Taking Jewish belongings, profiteering.
In his footnotes, Hirsh Birnbaum tells that Solomonovitch was originally from Tchekia from the city of Mehrish Austroi and had been deported to Poland in 1938. Solomonivitch arranged work cards for Jews.
Hirsh Birnbaum emphasizes that the majority of the Judenrat members were not from Kolomey. Jacobi, the Hutschneckers, Fish, Solomonovitch, and also Mandelgreen, the head of the Jewish Police, arrived during the Soviet or the Hitler occupation.
Hirsh Birnbaum had no favorable opinions of anyone in the Judenrat. All of them, according to his account, were out to do evil and make money.
About the chairman of the Judenrat, he says:
The head of the community Horowitz,
His behavior coarse, brutal, cruel,
Inflicted upon Jews terrible misery.
A completely contradictory report about the head of the Judenrat, Motek Horowitz, is given by Eliezer Unger in his book, Zkhor (Tel Aviv, 1945, pp. 59-64). Unger lived in the Kolomeyer ghetto from June 1941 until November 1941, and then from December 1941 until May 1942, also nearly nine months.
Eliezer Unger writes:
When Chaim Ringelblum refused to be chairman of the Judenrat, the German district commander, Folkman, appointed a Jew by the name of Horowitz to take his place. Markus Horowitz was a grandson of the respected and brilliant Reb Meshulam Horowitz of Stanlislaw. He was the owner of a large factory and a man of great initiative and energy. In normal times Kolomeyer Jews had wanted to elect him head of the community and for city council. But Horowitz refused. In these critical difficult times, however, he agreed to accept this obligation. He handled very difficult matters. The people from the Death Organization broke his right hand while he worked as supervisor at the railroad tracks. They held him in prison and sentenced him to death. These incidents weakened his will. Horowitz accepted the enormous and responsible position of chairman of the Judenrat with good intentions and some pride. And from the day he began, he devoted all his time and thoughts to the work of the council.
The Judenrat included about three hundred employees amd workers. They were exempt from slave labor. But they lived in constant fear of the frequent visits from the Gestapo. The direct and frequent contact with the Gestapo and their threats led the chairman of the Judenrat to believe that the Jews must fulfill the Gestapo demands since trying to evade them would only make things worse. The Jews in the city were afraid of Horowitz and obeyed his orders promptly. Markus Horowitz gave away his entire wealth to the treasury of the Judenrat and proposed that other wealthy Jews should do the same. When the Gestapo required payments from the Kolomeyer Jews, Horowitz personally went to the homes of the wealthy Jews to collect the required sums.
Motek Horowitz who had been a wealthy man all his life and had associated only with those of his own kind, now, as chairman of the Judenrat, paid attention to the poor. He was concerned about the poor in the city and tried to help them as much as he could. If a poor man called him Herr Horowitz", he rebuked him and told him to say Du", because don't you see that we have ceased being Herren and have all become slaves and brothers in misery?
When he became chairman of the Judenrat, his family life ended. He moved to the Judenrat building and ate with all the poor people in the soup kitchen. He was not a religious Jew, but when he became chairman of the Judenrat, he changed completely. He began to pray every day with a minyan in his office even though putting together a minyan was dangerous. He also became a frequent visitor to the Kosover rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Hager, who had fled from Kosov and was hiding in Kolomey.
From time to time, the members of the Judenrat had to go to the Gestapo to give reports about the work of the Judenrat, the changes in Jewish life, the deaths and births among the Jews of the city, and the slave labor work. The Judenrat members were always filled with fear when they had to go to the Gestapo office. Horowitz always walked erect, well dressed and without the least bit of fear. More than once, Frost, the district head of the Gestapo, pointed his revolver at Horowitz's chest, but Horowitz was not frightened. It was as though that freed him from the fear of death. His confident bearing even evoked some respect from the Gestapo. Feelings of harshness and pity flowed together within Horowitz. When he stood in the square in the morning watching thousands of Jews assemble to go to their slave labor as ordered by the German labor commander, Horowitz would shout and swear at some Jews, but very often he would cry like a child when he saw Jews led to off to work like slaves.
It was told about him that on September 12, 1941, when the Gestapo rounded up two thousand Jews in Kolomey with Horowitz's wife among them, friends advised him to go to the Gestapo to ask that she be released. Horowitz refused: If I can't free other Jews, - he said - I do not want the exclusive right to free my wife. His wife never returned.
At the beginning of November, 1942, when there were only three thousand Jews left in Kolomey, Motek Horowitz and his sister Miriam were found dead in the Judenrat office. They had both poisoned themselves. Horowitz left a letter in which he wrote that he had hoped to save at least a part of his community, but since he saw no possible chance of achieving that, he would rather be dead.
When the Gestapo Frost heard about Horowitz's suicide, he smiled cynically and said: A proper Jew, he was. He saved us work and a bullet.
Which of these reports tells the truth: Birnbaum's or Unger's?
The one thing that cannot be denied is that Unger's report, shows not only the desire to speak favorably, but also to be objective.
Translator's note: The Judenrat were Jewish councils, a form of self government that the Nazis imposed upon the Jewish communities of occupied Europe. For a complete examination of the topic, read Judenrat by Isaiah Trunk, originally published in 1972 and reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press in 1996. Markus Horowitz is listed in the index.
Trunk believes that Unger's description of Horowitz's suicide is not accurate since two other survivors who were in Kolomey at the time ( one is Hanna Weinheber-Hacker's account in Pinkas Kolomey) report an unsuccessful suicide attempt in November 1942, followed by a succesful one later. Unger was not in Kolomey in November 1942 since he had left the previous March. Horowitz and his sister Miriam were buried in the Jewish cemetery; Lusia Borten's In Kolomey Between 1944 and 1946 in Pinkas Kolomey, mentions seeing two small tin tablets that marked their graves.
Translated by Claire Hisler Shefftz
with reference to a previous translation by Adele Miller
Donated by Dr. Ben Nachman
The main murderers of the Kolomear Jews were the chief of the Gestapo in the Kolomear district, Peter Leideritz, and the head of the Shupo (Shutzpolitzei), Herbert Hertl.
According to testimony gathered by attorney Yaakov Sack for the Center of Jewish Documentation in Vienna, Kolomeyer Jews in Germany recognized Leideritz on the street after the war. He was arrested and sent to Poland and there he was sentenced and hung. And that was the end of him.
Whether the hand of justice also reached the second murder commandant, Herbert Hertl, we do not know.
But about fifteen smaller' murderers were arrested in Vienna in 1947. The accused and the witnesses were questioned and everything was written down. However, the Soviet Union required the deportation of the lawbreakers and the prisoners were repatriated to Russia at the end of 1948. One of them, Leopold Winkler, who was the in charge of the prison in Kolomey during the years of evil, hanged himself in his jail cell just before he was to be deported to Russia. The others were sent back to Russia for a mere seven years and returned to Vienna in November 1955.
When the organization of Former Inhabitants of Kolomey and Vicinity found out about the return of the murderers to Vienna, they insisted that they be brought to justice.
The organization, under the direction of the well known Tuvia Friedman of the Vienna Historical Documentation Center, and with the help of Israel Zweig from the World Jewish Congress, had published a copy of the German collection of testimony and documents several months earlier (Haifa, 1957). This was the basis for the trial of the murderers. To this material, Tuvia Friedman added a strong preface about those who were the murderers, how they were found and questioned, and the procedures used to bring them to justice.
Here is a short version of Tuvia Friedman's report:
Among the refugees who lived in Vienna from 1945-1948, there were also a few Jews who were survivors of the Kolomeyer ghetto.
In the summer of 1947, several Jews came to the office of the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Vienna, and said that they had lived in the Kolomeyer ghetto from 1941 to 1943 when there were about 60,000 Jews there and that of that number, only two hundred survived. The described the atrocities committed by the Nazi murderers and gave several names that they remembered.
The refugees who survived the Kolomeyer ghetto were: the brothers Joseph and Moshe Schliesser, Herman Zener, and the cousins Mordechai [Markus] and Itzik [Jsak] Krauthammer. Later a few more witnesses appeared.
In 1941 and 1942, the witness Itzik Krauthammer was a servant for the Shutzpolizei in Kolomey and was a bootblack for Police Sergeant Alois Steiner. Krauthamer also remembered the names of the chief police commandant Hertl and of police officers Kleinbauer, Gall, and policemen Steiner, Schipany, and Pernek. The Schliesser brothers and the witness Zener named other policemen.
According to this evidence, the first division of the district police of Vienna brought in : 1. Alois Steiner, 2. Franz Schipany, 3. Jahan Gall, 4. Franz Pernek, and 5. Otmar Kleinbauer. They were questioned and arrested. From their interrogation, they obtained more names of those who took part in the murders of Kolomeyer Jews.
More Kolomeyer Shupo people were arrested: 6. Franz Stanka, 7. Franz Straka, 8. Karl Gross, 9. Josef Ruprechtshofer, 10. Jacob Uitz, 11. Leopold Winkler, 12. Reisenthaler, 13. Layer.
Leopold Winkler had been the prison governor in Kolomey and after his return from the war, he was a prison inspector in Vienna until September 1947. Franz Stanka and Franz Straka and a few others also served in the Vienna police until their arrest.
More than twenty extermination actions were carried out in Kolomey: in the slaughterhouse, in the Jewish cemetery, and in the Sheparovitzer [Szeparowce] forest. Although the main orders to deport Jews to the death camps came from higher officials, the local murderers killed about a third of the Jews in Kolomey.
Oberlieutenant Kleinbauer told how he carried out the liquidaton of the Jews at the cemetery. Schipany, Pernek, Steiner and Uitz admitted that they personally had killed Jews. Others further declared that they were present at all liquidations and deportations.
In Sheparovitz Forest, where the liquidations were carried out by the Kolomyer Gestapo and Shupo, no one was left alive.
The Gestapo and Shupo of Kolomey also carried out the deportations and killings in the nearby towns of Kitev, Kosow, Jablonow (Stopchet), Pistyn, Peczenizyn, Horodenka, Czernilicia, Gwozdiec, Zablotow, and Zabie. Forty thousand Jews were killed in these towns.
One of the master murderers, Shupo chief constable Franz Shipany, declared during his interrogation, Yes, I know I am a murderer. Shupo Oberlieutenant Otmar Kleinbauer stated during his interrogation that he used dum-dum bullets during the liquidations which caused pieces of of the victims' brains to splatter on his face. As he spoke, the accused murderer wiped his face as though he were still wiping away the brain fragments.
During the questioning at the Vienna Police Bureau, the murderers quarreled with each other and each one tried to accuse the other of his crimes. If there was anything ugly missing from the description given by the murderers, each of them added to the ugliness during his interrogation and with his arguments.
The Shutzpolizei who worked in Kolomey, together with other war criminals from Boryslaw, Drohobycz, Stryj, Stanislaw, and Lemberg (Lwow) were deported to Russia at the end of 1948.
When they returned to Vienna in November, 1955, some of the Vienna newspapers as well as the world press, demanded that they be brought to justice.
The organization of Kolomeyer Jews in Israel went to the Austrian ambassador in Tel Aviv in 1956 with a petition signed by 130 former Kolomeyers requesting that the lawbreakers who had returned from Russia be brought to trial. To the petition was attached a list of of Jews who had lived in the Kolomey ghetto and were ready to be witnesses and testify.
Through the intervention of the Vienna Community Council and the World Jewish Congress, the Austrian Ministry of Justice agreed to question the witnesses in Israel, and postponed the trial until their testimony was completed.
In February, 1957, the first witnesses were questioned in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa and one could be sure that the entire testimony reached the Austrian Justice Ministry in April.
It is difficult to understand - writes Tuvia Friedman - why only six of the murderers were put on trial, since in 1947 fifteen had been arrested. Winkler committed suicide. That left fourteen. Why wasn't Oberlieutenant Otmar Kleinbauer, who admitted that he took part in two liquidations, put on trial?
Also difficult to understand is why Jakob Uitz was not among the accused ( unless he did not return from Russia). He admitted during questioning that on the 15th of September, he personally shot twenty Jews.
The photocopied collection of testimony begins with a We accuse! signed by the Organization of Kolomeyers in the State of Israel". We reproduce only a part of the accusation in Yiddish translation. This is no doubt a fitting ending to the Holocaust section of Pinkas Kolomey.
In the name of thousands of men, women, and children who were killed in Sheparovitz Forest and in the Jewish cemetery in Kolomey; in the name of the last ghetto orphans who were left without a roof over their heads and died of hunger or were shot in the streets of the ghetto; in the name of the elders and little children who died of hunger, thirst and exhaustion in the trains on the way to the Belzec concentration camp; in name of thousands who were dragged naked from their beds and driven to their deaths; in the name of all who were shot trying to escape,
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