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[Page 541]

How I Survived

by Dinale Rotsztajn-Ricer/Paris

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Translated by Toba Ajzenstat

Edited by Toby Bird

 

In September 1939 the Germans bombed Kurow and almost the whole town burned down. The residents scattered to nearby villages. My family and I fled to a village called Choshtshuv [Choszczow]. We were there until Sukkos. When the Germans occupied the town [i.e. Kurow] many people returned but they didn't have a roof over their heads. My dear father went away to Vonvelitz [Wawolnica] on the first days of Sukkos, rented a dwelling from a peasant and moved us there.Vonvelitz had not been bombed. When the Germans started taking Jews for work my father had to go to work along with my older brother, Elia. This was in the spring of 1940. It wasn't long before they also started taking women and young children. From our home there were now three people going away to work in the fields, in the village of Drziwce. My father said that he would not go to work, he would pay money to the Judenrat. He went to Kurow to see what he could do. He wanted to put up a new house but the murderers came and were grabbing Jews for work. They held my father a whole day and gave him a sound beating. After he did the work he went to Kloda where my dear grandfather, Alter, was living with his son and his daughter, Chuma.

We moved to Kloda. This village belonged to the municipality of Markuszow. In April, 1942 all Jews were to present themselves at the town square [in Kurow]. We didn't go. There would be time enough to go to our deaths. Many people did go. On

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Yossel Hopenhaim, Chaya Ricer (Dinale's sister, in Israel), and Hennele Wajnberg (the daughter of Naftuli and Keila, granddaughter of Noech [Buchszrajber]

April 8th, 1942, the second day of Pesach, they gathered all the Kurow Jews at the market place and with one blow emptied out our shtetl. This date has remained in my memory because it was the anniversary date of my eldest sister's marriage (to Chaim Ricer, son of Moishe Duvid; they lived near the Jewish cemetery.) My dear mother had made a small parcel of food and sent my younger brother with it to my sister in Kurow. My sister was then in special circumstances and she

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couldn't come the three kilometers to us on foot. When my brother was on the way to Kurow people already informed him of what was happening in the town. He immediately ran away. The Jews of Kurow were forced to walk to Konskowola. Very few wagons were provided to carry the children and old people. Many people were shot on the way.

Only about thirty Jews remained [in Kurow] because they worked for members of the SS. When these Jews came home [from work] they found that their parents, their families, were gone. Avraham Goldberg (he was head of the Judenrat) approached the mayor to ask that more people be employed. The tens of Jews occupied the large house of Itshe Rozen and settled into a life of brutal constraint. All the other houses the Jews had left behind were taken over by Poles; there were many Silesian Poles among them. Still other Kurow Jews were hiding on their own. For them this was easier because of the fact that they maintained contact with the remnant of Jews in Kurow. The Poles at that time still let Jews into their homes and gave them a piece of bread. The little ghetto existed until the 9th of November, 1942. On that day Germans entered the town, went into the ghetto and shot all the Jews. Several ran away, but very few. There were a few young people who had weapons. When the tragedy occurred Motele Zalcberg jumped from a window and entered the home of a Pole. Seeing them shoot Motele Berls, the butcher, he came out of the Pole's home and shot the SS man. As soon as the shot was heard a second SS man appeared and shot Motele Zalcberg killing him on the spot.

I was often in the town with my brother, Elia, but a few days before the liquidation of the Jews we were already going very rarely to the town. We were already more in hiding. We were in the village of Kloda-Alempin which is near Kurow and Markuszow. I was in Alempin with my younger brother at that time. When our father came to see us the old woman hiding us said to him: "Moshke, I can't keep them any longer. I am afraid."

My father paid more money. She said: “I'll keep your children till the end of the month, not longer.”

 

“Live For Me Too!”

My older brother was with my father and mother in a bunker in the village of Kloda. We [Dinale and her younger brother] couldn't be with my parents because the two little children of Yankele Fajnszmit were already in that bunker. When the end of the month of December arrived I knew what awaited me. The woman hiding us had improved. She said to me:

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“Danushu, you will stay but Tadek (that is, my brother Simchale) won't.” I said: “No, Ma'am, I am leaving and my little brother will stay with you. I am almost five years older than he is.”

The night of December 31st, 1942 arrived. I had an eye problem. I had no socks on my feet. I broke into tears, my little brother and I kissed each other and I said to him: “Live for me too. I don't know if I will be able to see you all again. I don't know what will happen to me. Today is Sylvester Eve[1]. Today Poles drink a great deal. I have nowhere to go.”

I say “Good night” to him once more and go on my way. I walk towards Plynek [Plonki]. To get to Plynek I have to go through a great many fields. The worst thing is crossing over the main Kurow-Markuszow highway. It is cold, it is snowing, there is a strong wind. I knew the way very well but when the wind pushed me I got off course and came to another village. It is late, where I am I don't know. I see a light on in a house. The dogs are barking loudly. I hold out my stick and give the dog a little piece of bread so I'll be able to go into the house of the Christian. Who he is I don't know, but I have to know where I am. I knock, enter and ask what the name of the village is. He says “Kalin.” He asks me: “Where are you going?” I say to him: “I am going to Kurow.” He asks me to sit down and he looks me in the eyes: “Who are you?”

I say: “You don't know me. I am from Konskowola. If I tell you my name you still won't know.”

He says to me: “You don't have to say anything, I know you are Moshke's daughter. Your father is called Moshke krupnik[2]. Your mother is Alter's daughter and you are telling me that you are not from Kurow! I know you very well. You were a child when I rode with your parents.” And he says to his wife: “Bring in a bread and cut her off a piece to take with.”

I thank him. I don't want bread because I am afraid he is telling her to give me bread in order afterwards to take my life. He asks about my parents. I tell him that no one remains, I am alone. He expresses his regrets and says to me: “I can't keep you.”

His wife tells me how to go to Kurow. So I go. On the way I see three men walking with flashlights in their hands, but I have to keep walking because there is no time to hide. They come up to me, look me in the face and stop me. They ask: “Who are you?” I reply: “Svoya.” They say: “Who is Svoya?”

Someone shines a light in my eyes. I can't see who

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it is. It is only when he puts his flashlight in his pocket that I can see who it is. He says to his companions: “I know her.” And he explains to them that I am Moshke's daughter. They say to me: “Go, but be careful. Not everyone will be like us.”

 

The Poles Don't Give Bread Because They Don't Trust The Jews

I continue on, to where I don't know. I arrive in Plynek. I get up into the loft of a Pole, in the place where his horse is. I lie there a whole day because I have nowhere to go. I worry about my parents, about my little brother. No one wants to take in Jews. Whenever I enter the home of a Pole the people say to me: "Poor child, it's bad for you, but we can't keep you."

They are afraid. A law has been made that whoever hides Jews will be killed along with ten neighbors. If a Jew is found on the road and he has a piece of bread the Jew is beaten to make him say where and from whom he got the bread and so the Poles don't trust the Jew; he will betray them. So now they are afraid to give you even a piece of bread. It is very bad. For a month I wandered around like this from one place to another, from one hayloft to another. In the middle of February 1943 I go back to the place where I left my little brother and beg the woman, crying, to keep both me and my brother.

While I was in Plynek I met children from our town, a little boy and girl, the children of Ajzik Sznajder. They told me that they too had no place to live. I arranged with them to come and see me on such and such a night. I told them the date and place. I waited for them. I pressed my landlady to take them telling her that it was the same punishment for hiding one Jew as four Jews. So they actually stayed with me and my brother for a while.

 

The Pole With the Beautiful Boots

Within a short period of time she says to us again: “I won't keep you.” She is going to send us away in the night. She doesn't want Jews anymore because the Germans are supposed to come and search for grain to see if people have supplied the amount levied on them. She is afraid. Again we go away, but this time my brother and I are together. The two other children go somewhere else to search out a place to hide themselves. It is still winter. The summertime is easier we at least were able to lie in the fields or the woods. But winter is bitter and hard. I go with my brother to a certain peasant who lives far away from any neighbors there are, all told, only two houses there. We go to his house

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and ask him to keep us at least for a short while. At first he won't hear of it but he does let us come in for the present. In case we hear something the forest is not far so we'll go into the forest. This was March, 1943. I don't remember which day. Ten to twelve days elapse and no one has seen us. One day we were sitting in the house because the loft was cold. Looking out the window we see a man wearing beautiful boots walking towards the house. We thought it was the forester. My brother went up on top of the stove while I crawled under the bed. The visitor opens the door and exclaims: “Send out the Jews!”

This was someone in the Polish police. He sets about searching and finds me and my brother. Now we are in the hands of murderers. He questions us about how long we have been here. Each of us says "one day" as if we had pre-arranged with each other to answer this way. The householder asks the policeman not to betray us to the Germans. He says to him: “I will give you money if you let them live. You see, after all, that these are young children.”

At that time the Germans ordered that every Jew who remained alive should come to Konskowola. Things would be good. The policeman tells the peasant this. “Send them there. Don't hide Jews because if they find a Jew in your place they will kill you.”

The peasant says to us: “Go to your parents, bring me the money and then you won't stay any more at my place. My place is finished.”

 

My Brother Speaks Like a Father…And Our Father…

At nightime we left. Our father gave us money for the payment. Now again we don't have a place to go to. My father says to me: “Dinale, you will go to Konskowola. There are already a lot of Kurow people there. If it's good we'll all go there and be together, not separated from one another anymore.”

Then my older brother says: “Dear Father, for the moment we are hidden and no one sees us. Don't forget that if Dinale goes away and something happens to her it will be your fault. No, sister, you are not going.”

My mother cried bitterly and begged their landlady to let me stay together with them for a few weeks. I would be a day here, a day in another village, until the start of spring. In the middle of this my cousin, Shaya Rozen, arrives. He tells me that his family is all together in one place. But their landlord has already told them that just as soon as the grain is high they should go and hide in the fields. I decided to go to a place within one kilometer of Kurow to a certain Pole who was the custodian of a meadow.

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Shaya Rozen (the son of Alter and Chuma), Paris

When the work camp existed in Kurow people said of this Pole that he gave a place to sleep to any Jew who wanted to stay over a night. I discussed this with my cousin and told him to whom I was going. I told him that if I stayed there he should come and see me.

I went to that Pole's place. He said to me: “You can stay with us but not in the house. We can't keep you in the house. We have seven children and the two of us altogether nine souls. We'll make a bunker in the earth and you will be there all day long. At night, between 1 and 2, you'll come out into the fresh air.”

 

It's Hard to Get Used to a Bunker

I had slept in lofts a number of times but I had not yet been able to accustom myself to hiding in a hole in the earth. But meanwhile the bunker wasn't dug yet. So I went back to the same place I had been until the 31st of December, 1942. Now it was already the end of June, 1943. They let me stay at their place just a few days. Again you have to go to another place.

I ate supper there and tried to beg them “Maybe I can stay for another day?” “No. But you will be able to come again to us for a day or two.”

I left. Where do I go now? Maybe to my mother's brother and his family? But go search for them in the fields. The fields are vast. I am afraid to go and shout “Uncle Yoina!” because it's very quiet at night, someone might hear me. In the meantime I walk. It is already for sure 2 o'clock at night. I am going towards Plynek. I walk with my stick and my piece of bread. This piece of bread is not mine alone. I have to share it with the dogs because at night they are unchained and attack you.

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Chuma Rozen (Dinale's aunt, a daughter of Alter Sznajder [Shabenmacher] with her little daughter (both perished), and with her son Shaya (living in Paris)[3]

I come upon a peasant I know who is getting ready to go to Kurow. He lets me stay with him over the day. When he comes home from the town he tells me (this was the 1st of July, 1943) that they have killed fourteen Jews there; among them are my mother's sister and her daughter, my mother's brother and his wife and children and other Kurow Jews from the Kenig family. It becomes dark before my eyes.

That same night I had to leave him and I went away to Bronic. I believe that people from Kurow still remember the home of Lanieskin. Nearby there was a Pole to whom my father had given a lot of goods, so I went to ask him if my parents were staying with him. He told me that my brother had gotten dressed in four suits and was now in Kloda. If I wanted I could go there. But I went to the person who assured me that when he had dug the bunker in the ground he would hide me. The bunker was for sure not even one meter deep, maybe it was 60 to 70 centimeters. It couldn't

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Dinale's parents and the children

be made deeper because water started to seep in when peat for burning was cut in the meadow. I couldn't sit in it, I could only lie down.

I was very satisfied with the place but I longed for my parents. I had a very strong desire to see them. I told my landlords that at night I would go to see some Poles I knew and bring a bit of food from them. I did not tell them that I was going to see my parents. I always said over and over again that I didn't know anything about them nor they about me. This was Monday, the 9th of August, 1943. I got there and they let me down into my parents' bunker. There was only my mother and my older brother. Where was my father? He was in Plynek, already for several days. My older brother had sent my little brother away to a peasant in another village. He didn't tell this peasant that he was a Jew and he started taking the cows out to pasture there. My older brother and my mother were so happy to see me that both of them were unable to let go of me. They kissed me and were happy that I was doing everything for myself.

 

I Saw My Mother and Brother For the Last Time

My brother asked me: “Dinale, how does your hiding place look?” I told him. He said to me: “Dinale, take Mother with you and I will also leave here for a little while. There is too much talk now about our presence in the village.” But my mother

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said to him: “I'm not going. I am staying here with you, my beautiful son.” And that's how it was. On Tuesday night I left them and never saw them again. This was the last time I saw my dear mother and my beloved brother whom I loved so much and who was so devoted to me. Wednesday, the 11th of August, at night, I am sitting with my landlords outside on a bench this time I had come out of the bunker earlier and, hearing shooting, in my heart I suspected something bad. I asked: “Why are they shooting?” My landlord said to me: “But you know that the Germans often shoot here, why are you asking?” I sat a little while longer and then went again into my bunker hiding place. I lay there and cried over the bad fortune we Jews had that this happened to us.

Thursday morning when my landlord brought me my piece of bread I tell him I'm not hungry. He says to me: “Eat!” For the midday meal he brings me potatoes in milk. I show him the piece of bread from the morning; I wasn't able to eat. I want him to tell me why they were shooting at night. He says nothing to me. In the evening my landlady says to me: "Come out, my child."

 

Poles Shot Them

I somehow didn't like the sound of this. She asks me: “Where are your parents?” I say to her: “I don't know.” She says to me: “Till now, they were here, but they've been shot! And they weren't shot by Germans, but by Poles!” I became sick.

After some time a little girl came to visit me, a daughter of Yankele Fajnszmit, Dinale, (she is now living in Israel), and she brought me a few things from my beautiful mother. I gave everything away to the Christians with whom I was staying. A little while after the tragedy that befell me I longed even more strongly for my father. I set off for Plynek. I arrive and meet my father. He looks very bad, without the will to live. I tell him I will search for a place for him. He says to me: “Every door is closed for me.” I go out looking and talk and plead for my father, but everywhere people refuse.

And yet with one person I did have success: “I'll take him, but be careful with food so that no one sees you carrying pots.” At 2 a.m. we entered the barn. There was a lot of straw there. I spent two days with my father and then went back again to my former hiding place. But I couldn't be long without my father. In a few weeks I went to him again and stayed for three weeks.

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Alter Shabenmacher and his wife, Rivka Ettel. He was a longtime gabbai of the synagogue. She was a longtime warden of the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society]

By then it was the 9th of November. The landlady said: “Moshek, you go away and let Dinale stay because something could happen on November 11th (a Polish national holiday Independence Day.) I have two sons. My husband is old. I mustn't risk so much.”

 

The Good Pole Was Killed By Poles

My father went again in search of a place somewhere. I remained by myself in the barn. For the first three nights my landlady called me into the house to warm up but then afterwards not. It was cold. I was there until the 12th of December. On a beautiful bright day I emerged from the barn and went to Kurow.

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I didn't want to be alone any more. I went back to my poor Pole. There I often saw Jews and my cousin, Shmuel Chanysman with his son, the son of Manes Luzer, and Chaim Pesach, with his wife and children. They all came to me. The Pole was very good. I lived through the war at his place. They wanted me to live and to survive the war. When his wife brought me food in the bunker she often said to me: “The world is beautiful, the sun is shining, but for you it is dark.”

After the war “Akovtzes” [Polish Nationalists] killed this man in his own house. They said to him: “You will fall from our bullet because you are a communist. You hid Jews!”

 

Translator's notes:
  1. Sylvester Eve is the Polish name for New Year's Eve. Return
  2. Members of the Ricer family in Kurow were called by the nickname “krupnik.” The literal meaning of the word “krupnik” is “barley soup.” Return
  3. The English translation that appears underneath the Yiddish caption in the Yizkor Book mistakenly identifies Chuma Rozen as Dinale's mother. The Yiddish caption identifies her correctly as Dinale's aunt. She was a sister to Dinale's mother. Their father was called Alter “Sznajder” in Kurow but the family name was Shabenmacher. Return

 

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