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Ostrolenkans in the U.S.S.R.
at the Time of World War II

 

Zalman Drezner, Kfar Saba
Shalom Chamiel, Kibbutz HaMaapil

 

This chapter was not included in the original publication of the Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka in 1963. All our townspeople, after their expulsion from Ostrolenka in 1939, lived in Soviet territories and, therefore, all the Holocaust survivors came from those same places. Thus, we found it important to include a chapter about their lives in the F.S.U. in this edition of the book.

The Organization of the Jewish Community of Ostrolenka in Israel

 

Until September 1939, approximately 5,000 Jews lived in our city Ostrolenka, comprising about a third of the entire population. As is known, World War II broke out with the aggressive invasion of the German Nazi army into Poland's territory on 1 September 1939. After sixteen days, on the 17th of September, the army of the U.S.S.R. also invaded Poland and occupied its entire eastern portion, up to the River Bug, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Our city, Ostrolenka, remained in the occupied German area, as the border with the Soviets was established just four kilometers east of it, near Wojciechowice. When a German expulsion order was issued for the Jewish population from Ostrolenka, on 4 October 1939, the great majority turned east to Lomza, Bialystok and other small settlements in the area which were under Soviet occupation. Only a few families stayed on the German side, in Warsaw and other cities.

Right at the outset, it should be noted the behavior of the Soviet government toward the Jewish refugees from the occupied German area, several hundred thousand souls who fled of their own free will, was positive. The very fact that the U.S.S.R. agreed, on the one hand, to absorb the Jews and, on the other hand, the latter's negative and shocking experiences with the Germans, influenced the refugees' positive attitude toward the Soviets. Therefore, at the end of 1939, there was a positive response of the refugees to the government's request of professionals to volunteer to work in the U.S.S.R. On the one hand, it is estimated that a few dozen Ostrolenkans were sent east in this framework. On the other hand, a few dozen Ostrolenkans, mostly Zionist activists and others, crossed the border into Lithuania, Vilna and Romania. To the best of our knowledge, no Ostrolenkan tried to return to the German side, and also none enlisted in the campaign of fraud and deception that the Soviets carried on for the return of the refugees to the German side. Later on, it was discovered that all those who signed up were exiled by the N.K.B.D. to Siberia. Meanwhile, thousands of Ostrolenkans who stayed in place, tried to become acclimatized and adjust themselves to the new Soviet reality.

In April 1940, a sudden, marked change began in the situation of the Jewish and Christian refugees, as the Soviet regime presented them with the alternative of accepting Soviet citizenship or – ?!…The great majority of Ostrolenkans registered and received a Soviet passport, but they were required to move and live at a distance of at least 100 kilometers from the new German border. Thus it happened that the city of Slonim became a new settlement center for our townspeople, as it absorbed about 70% of them. Others settled in different cities and towns in Belarus, as follows: Lomza, Bialystok, Wolkowysk, Brisk on the Bug, Zelva, Dereczyn, Molczat, Stolin and others. A few dozen were in the city of Vilna.

All those who did not register to receive Soviet citizenship were arrested by the N.K.B.D. and exiled to Siberia or remote northern areas of Russia in freight trains. A similar fate was also shared by all our townspeople caught crossing the border illegally,

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or engaging in trade and smuggling. Zionist activists, Bundists and the owners of a great deal of property were also considered enemies of the regime, and were in continual danger. It should be understood and emphasized that the Soviet regime was of a totalitarian and ideological nature, and stood unequivocally for its principles: any one who is not with me – is against me and is my enemy, and must be expelled in any way possible…It is also important to add that the attitude toward different nationalities was the same.

According to estimates, some dozens of Ostrolenkans, families or individuals, were arrested and exiled for the above reasons.

We will present some descriptions and personal experiences below.

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A map of the U.S.S.R. showing work camps and routes of wandering

 

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A Personal Story

My parents, Chaim and Sara (née Szron), Zalman, my younger sister, Fejgale, and I were exiled on 4 October 1939 from Ostrolenka. After short stays in Lomza and Bialystok, we settled in the city of Lida, south of Vilna. As said above, in the spring of 1940, we were given the alternative, as refugees, of receiving Soviet citizenship – or not! After delays and repeated hesitations, we realized that the offer of citizenship had lapsed and we were “stuck in the air”, as former Polish citizens. It should be mentioned that the determining factor was the fact that our father, Chaim, served as a Polish soldier in the Polish-Bolshevik War in 1919, and was captured by the Soviets. His memories of his experiences there, in the very difficult post- Revolutionary reality, were of hunger, poverty, disorder and contempt for human life. These imbued him with disgust and fear, from which he could not free himself even after twenty years. All the other members of the (Szron) family received Soviet citizenship, left Lomza and settled in the city of Slonim, together with many other Ostrolenkans.

In May 1940, we were terrified by the sudden nighttime visit of an N.K.B.D. gang, the purpose of which was to exile us to a distant and remote Soviet area. It is interesting to note that among the security people was a Jewish officer, who, when he saw that we were frightened, tried to calm us in Yiddish. He claimed that we were to be moved to another place where we could work and support ourselves honorably. Moszke (Moniak) Szron, my mother's brother, who was visiting us as a guest from Slonim, slept at our home that night. Because he had a Soviet passport, he expressed his desire to join us, but the security people did not agree. We were taken to the railway station in Lida, where we were crammed into freight cars, together with Jews and Christian Poles, and traveled a long way, in a direction and to a place unknown.

Escorted by security people, we traveled for weeks, stopping and passing endless stations and villages. The soldiers treated us reasonably well, but conditions in the cars were difficult. We received a little food and boiled warm water (kipjatok) at the stations. Thus we arrived at the city of Kotlas, where we were transferred to small ships. We sailed along the northern River Dvina, in the direction of the northern port city, Arkhangelsk. We disembarked midway and were transferred to a work village (poslok), Gladzilo, where there were a number of two-story wooden houses. The family settled in a large hall, intended for eight families. Each family was assigned to bunk beds, 2 x 2 meters, which served it as an apartment and its private corner. In our hall, there was only one Polish Christian family (the Raclawski family from Suwalk). The rest were Jews. There was a small administration, headed by an N.K.B.D. officer. No one guarded us, but permission was required to leave the place. Where could one escape to already? In the endless virgin forests surrounding us, were animals (wolves and bears) and a very sparse population of Soviet exiles.

In Gladzilo, we were a few hundred former Polish citizens, all with families; the majority was Jewish. In a short time, our true situation became clear to us. Usually, we were treated reasonably well, and the village commander, the N.K.B.D. officer, was revealed to be relatively humane. All the men engaged in the only work available in the area. It was, primarily, chopping down the trees of the forest. It need not be said that the people were either not used to or completely unsuited to this work, especially during the long and freezing winter months, when the cold reached 50 degrees below zero. In addition, food was very sparse. No wonder people endured crises and no small suffering, although there was no pressure whatsoever to increase work productivity. The amount of payment in rubles had no great value; it was possible to purchase only very little food or other items of very poor quality. After a few months, we displayed many symptoms of exhaustion and disorders resulting from the lack of basic nutritional elements, such as night blindness due to lack of vitamin A. Our family was in relatively better condition, because we received bundles of food from two of my mother's cousins, from the Farber family in the Russian city of Tambov. (They were from Goworowo and, since the World War, they had remained in Russia. It is piquant to note that one of the family's granddaughters is married to the nephew of the wife of Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov; the couple now lives in Israel.) Of course, we also had in our possession a quantity of shoes, fabrics and haberdashery (my mother engaged in trade) that we managed, albeit with great difficulty, to exchange with the rurals in the area for potatoes or other food. Although, generally,

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there was no agriculture in the area, most of the exiles had small auxiliary farms. I would like to add that there were no schools for our children. The women, especially mothers of small children, did not have to go to work. Together with other youths, as a youth of sixteen, I volunteered to work in disassembling unprocessed wooden rifle stocks.

To our great fortune – and paradoxically – the Nazi German aggression against the U.S.S.R. in 1941 saved us. As is known, the U.S.S.R. made an agreement with the West, with the exiled Polish government in London. At the end of the year, we were freed as Polish citizens, and received “Azyl” rights – to live and work in Russia without citizenship. After a short stay in the area of Moscow – battles with the Germans were already taking place near it – our family continued south, to Uzbekistan in Central Asia, where we settled in the town of Drzuma, near Samarkand.

It is difficult to describe the situation prevailing then in that region, in Uzbekistan and in the Asian south of the U.S.S.R. in general. To this undeveloped and primarily agricultural region came hundreds of thousands or millions of refugees, who fled from the western regions of the U.S.S.R. because of the war and, among them, many Jews. Tens of thousands of refugees, Jews and others released from labor camps or prisons, came as well. The situation was extremely difficult. There was disorder, disease, hunger and lack of housing. Every morning, homeless people could be seen lying dead along the streets, due to exhaustion or infectious diseases such as dysentery and typhus. Despite this difficult situation, life somehow continued. My mother (Sara, of blessed memory) was the family's main provider. Together with my younger sister, Fejgale, she traded in the market in special clothing (brought from afar by Soviet war invalids), selling them to Uzbek rural women. We made quite a bit of money, for which it was possible to buy abundant food and other products in the free market for high prices. My father, Chaim, a religious and conscientious man, volunteered for work, digging the plumbing and sewage system (he maintained that during the war against the Nazi enemy, everyone had to contribute to the war effort) in various public institutions. I began to study in the Russian upper school. I completed the first year at the medical faculty in the city of Samarkand.

In 1946, as Polish citizens, we were returned to Poland. We did not dare visit Ostrolenka then, because rumors reached us of the murders of two of our townspeople who had returned – Pesach Hochberg and Berel Zabludowicz. In 1949, my parents and sister went to Israel. In 1952, I joined them, after completing my medical studies in Frankfurt, Germany. I am married, the father of three children and the grandfather of three granddaughters.

*

I would like to add that at the time of our (the Drezner family's) stay in Uzbekistan, we met some Ostrolenkans. My parents visited the Kalina family, Josef and Rachel, which lived in Samarkand (see the description by their daughter, Chana, below). My mother, Sara, located Eli Bajuk, a well-known and major figure in Ostrolenka, in Samarkand. At the railway station there, he ran a big public restaurant, which provided meals for large numbers of refugees of all kinds. (According to one source, he attended to matters of sanitation there.) The meeting was very emotional, because the Bajuk family lived in the house of our grandfather, Srolke Szron, in Ostrolenka, on 11th November Street, number 4, and in addition, they were almost the same age. All the Bajuk family, after the expulsion from Ostrolenka, lived in the city of Brest- Litovsk; the father of the family, Jakow, came from there. It appears that Eli, at the outbreak of the war, was at an advanced study course in Minsk or some other city. As is known, Brest-Litovsk is on the River Bug, right on the border with Germany. Therefore, none of the Bajuks succeeded in escaping. They were all murdered in the Holocaust. Of the family, only one, Welwel, survived. Before the war, he immigrated to New Zealand with his family.

May their memory be eternally blessed, and may God avenge their blood!

When we were in Drzuma, we received the sad news-rumors that a townsman, Jakow Sztejnberg (head of the “nest” of HaShomer HaTzair in Ostrolenka) had fallen ill with dysentery or typhus and had died in the street, or on a train, in our area. Shalom Chamiel also writes about him below.

May his memory be eternally blessed!

I would like to relate more about our townsman, Jechiel (Chilke) Szafran. As is known, he was one of the important Zionist activists in Ostrolenka. He belonged to Poalei Zion and even emigrated to Israel, from where he was forced to return to Poland. We met him, too, in Samarkand and brought him to our home in Drzuma.

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We all lived in one room in a house made of clay. Chilke, when he was still in Lomza, together with the Ostrolenkans Mosze Sarniewicz, Alter Cuker and others, engaged in illegal trade. They were sent to prison and transferred east. There were rumors that they had all passed away there.

In Drzuma, as a former prisoner, Chilke began to rehabilitate. He sold potable water in the local market and supported himself honorably. In 1943, he volunteered for the National Polish Army, Kościuszki, established under the sponsorship of the U.S.S.R. (the previous Polish Anders Army left U.S.S.R. territory). He participated in battles for Berlin and died a hero there in April 1945, near the German city of Ludnel. He was 42 when he died. May his memory be eternally blessed! (Recently, efforts have been made to commemorate his memory and establish a memorial plaque in Ostrolenka, where his family lived, opposite the Municipality, on Gomolicka Street. The Ostrolenkan authorities have promised to implement this soon.)

*

During the first years of the war, 1941-1945, no news about the Holocaust that was taking place in the German-occupied territories reached us in Uzbekistan. The first vague news about it began to reach us at the end of 1944. Only in 1946, when we returned to Poland, did the extent of the great tragedy become clear to us. We did not dare to think of visiting Ostrolenka then. Rumors reached us of the murders of Jews who returned to various places in Poland, and of the murders of two of our townspeople, Pesach Hochberg and Berel Zabludowicz, when they returned to Ostrolenka at the beginning of 1945. (For years after, we tried to inquire into this. We believe that it is possible to state almost positively that they were not murdered in the city of Ostrolenka, but, if at all, in one of the villages in the area.)

When discussing the lives of the Jews and Ostrolenkans in Uzbekistan (part of the U.S.S.R.), for the sake of history, I want to note that a pogrom took place in Drzuma against the Polish Jews in 1942. One day, the young conscripts to the Soviet army from among the Tatars and the local Russians, began to run wild in the streets and to strike any Jew they happened upon. It is interesting that they were brought up before a local court, which found them guilty, but did not decree any punishment for them, because they were about to be sent to the front. The background of these outbursts was the fact that the Jews, as Polish citizens, were not drafted into the Soviet army at the time, but could only volunteer for the Polish army; sometimes, some of them were conscripted to work in distant places.

Zalman Drezner, Kfar Saba, Israel

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Zalman Drezner (standing, first on the right) in a commencement picture of the first year of medical studies at the Uzbek University. Samarkand, 1945.

 

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A Personal Story

October 1939 – Occupied Poland. The HaShomer HaTzair movement deliberates how, under conditions of occupation, to advance in the direction of the Land of Israel. In the current situation of a Germany possessed by hatred for the Jews (we had not yet conceived of the danger of the Holocaust), and the U.S.S.R., which ruled Poland, possessed by hatred of the Zionist enterprise, we knew that the chances of emigration were very small. Therefore, many members decided to escape to Romania and get to Israel through it. I was the second member of HaShomer HaTzair who went that way.

It was known that if this route was successful, life and the possibility of emigration were in your hands, and that, if you were caught, the guardians of the Garden of Eden or Hell would spread a carpet at the entrance and await you… I was caught lying on the wet ground, with my face pressed to the earth. A Soviet soldier had a loaded rifle in his hand, and a bayonet aimed at my head. At that moment, thoughts of the end of life come to mind and, then, feelings of parting from all those who care for your well-being. To my good fortune, this did not occur. At an order which I did not understand, I was stood up and led to the headquarters of the border guard and, from there, to a cell in a dark house of detention, crammed with frightened people, expecting to be executed the next day. Among them were Polish officers, disguised as civilians, caught during their flight to Romania, like me. There is no execution the next day, but endless interrogations. Everyone is accused of spying. Denials do not help. Cursing, shouting, screaming, threats to our families, spitting left and right – the charges and interrogation methods of the interrogator or interrogators keep changing, but, to their credit, let it be said that they do not subject us to physical pressure or torture. We are transferred to different detention houses, such as Kuti, Kołomyja and Stanislawow. The interrogations continue. The interrogators promise to free us when they end. Should we believe them or not? My own personal naiveté, and that of the [Zionist] movement, disposed me nevertheless to believe. But, instead of release, disappointment comes. We are transferred and loaded onto freight trains, and travel to an unfamiliar and unknown destination. Thoughts of escape begin to take over. But how and to where?

 

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Shalom Chmiel at a work camp in Kazakhstan, 1942

 

Very slowly, the horizon comes closer and becomes clearer. We reach the point of the old border between Poland and the U.S.S.R. – Wlocziska and Podwoloczyska. The hope of release vanishes and I am in U.S.S.R. territory. At night, surrounded by Polish officers, I get up from the bunk bed, stand in the middle of the car and from my mouth bursts: “Our hope is not yet lost, the hope of two thousand years…” All those around me are stunned. “He has gone crazy,” they think. Clearly, they do not understand or know the meaning or contents of the words…In my despair, this gave me hope and strength of soul.

At first light, local civilians gather around the cars and ask the guards, “Who are you transporting?” and the answer is “Counter-revolutionaries”. The response is, “Why transport them? Why not shoot and kill them?” This is our warm reception. At the entrance to the U.S.S.R., as a warm addition to the daily menu doled out to us to keep us alive, is a box of sugar (in a matchbox) and hot soup.

The monotonous clatter of the train's wheels blur your sanity and your rest. After a few days, you find yourself at the “hidden destination” – prison in Odessa. With another thirteen prisoners, you are sent to a cell of 3 x 4 meters. Wooden shutters nearly cover the light that “penetrates” from the gloomy courtyard. You leave

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the cell once a day, to the toilet. There is no yard duty, as is customary in prisons. The interrogations continue.

After nine months (birth…), an elegant senior officer appears in the cell, with news of “the redemption” – verdicts have somehow been handed down by the “the triplets” [three judges]. There is no trial, no defense, and it is doubtful whether the judge even heard the prosecutor. I am “acquitted” – to five years in a forced labor camp for character reform. The education process begins anew, although I am already 23 years old and do not know its reason or nature.

Again freight cars, and this time to the area of the northern sea, near the Soviet-Japanese border. The former group of prisoners is dismantled. It should be mentioned that, all this time, we were individual prisoners, without families. This fact had the most negative impact. I find myself among Russian and Polish prisoners also designated for “re-education”. They are my partners in carpentry work and in housing in miserable wooden shacks, under cruel, freezing winter conditions. As is my habit, I treat the others with respect and see myself as an equal among equals in every situation. Maybe this is the reason that those who share my fate, the Poles and the Russians, give me dubious compliments, such as “You are not a Jew”, despite the fact that in these conditions it was impossible to hide the “covenant” [circumcision] between me and Our Father Abraham…

Out of “great friendship”, Nazi Germany opened an air attack on the U.S.S.R.'s Japanese border as well. Our camp was bombed and there were casualties. We were transferred to another camp near the North Pole, to a bloc of camps spread along the River Petchora. In the first camp, we had worked on constructing an aluminum factory. Here, the “educational pursuit” was expressed by digging the infrastructure for railroad tracks to the city of Varkuta; coal mines had been discovered nearby. Climactic conditions in the two camps were the same: freezing cold and total darkness on winter days, and the opposite during the short summer months. At both of them, conditions were hard – freezing cold, bad housing conditions, physical work, sparse food and diseases that took a toll of many victims among the prisoners. All this, however, did not particularly disturb those in charge. A wagon driver took care of taking the bodies out, and no one was interested in their place of “burial”.

Because of Nazi Germany's aggression, in the summer of 1941, an agreement was signed between the U.S.S.R. and the Polish government exiled in London, including a pardon for imprisoned Polish citizens and the establishment of a Polish army (“Anders”) in its territory. Three alternatives were given to the prisoners: to stay in place as citizens, to move to another place without the rights of citizens or to be drafted into Anders Army. Like many others, I chose to be drafted into the army. Our treatment changed beyond recognition. For two weeks, we were given meals in a convalescent home. We received clothes and new underwear, a grant of two hundred rubles and even the return of possessions, or a replacement for those taken away at the time of arrest. (I did not enjoy this privilege, because my receipt was used by my cellmates in Odessa for rolling cigarettes…)

The establishment of Polish army regiments began. Those of high rank and priests reported from all corners of the region. Their presence had not been felt during the stay in the camps. All the recruits were sworn in and led in the direction of the Chief Army Headquarters in Bozolok. Rumors flew. Some said that the army staff had temporarily stopped drafting Jews, and that we Jews were being taken again to dig a canal. Another movement member and I decided to get away from the train (from the aszlon [the transport of people in many railway cars]) and we did so, without knowing where we were. In the dark of night, we went in the direction of the lights shining in the distance. This was the city of Buchara, in Uzbekistan.

In Uzbekistan, we very quickly discovered friends who, sponsored by HaShomer HaTzair in Vilna, had succeeded in getting there when the war broke out. The joy and interest in us, and the assistance given us, were great. Nearby, in the town of Karshi, we discovered a commune of members.

The excitement was great, especially when I met a dear friend from school and from the same age level in Ostrolenka's HaShomer HaTzair movement there – Jakow Sztejnberg. We cooperated closely in the administration and work of the “nest” in our city. The two of us bore the yoke of educational work and the burden of maintaining the “nest”, after the graduate level went to hachshara [a training program for settlement in Israel]. Jakow was a gifted fellow of great ability. Primarily, he related with great responsibility and dedication to any task he took upon himself, or that was imposed on him. Jakow was orphaned when he was young. He shared with his mother the burden of supporting the family and running their haberdashery store. Their home was always open to all members for

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meetings, conversation or a game of chess. His mother was proud of him and expected great things of him. As will be recalled, the Sztejnberg family lived at the beginning of Lomza Street (now Kościuszki), near the municipality. There were also two daughters in the family.

After a time, Jakow went to Samarkand in Uzbekistan, to look for a possible way back to Poland, as a stage on the way to emigration to Israel. During this long trip, he fell ill (some say with typhus) and died on the train. All my efforts to find his place of burial then failed, and it remains unknown even now.

I regret his absence and, even though his life was focused on emigration and fulfillment on a kibbutz, his failure to reach Israel.

May his memory be blessed!

For an eternal memorial of the rest of his family, murdered in the Holocaust, in a town near Slonim!

*

My wanderings did not end. This time, I was conscripted into a labor camp in the framework of contributing to the war effort. In 1942, I was sent to the city of Omsk, in Siberia, to work on building a tank factory which was moved from Kharkov, in the Ukraine. In the same framework, I was transferred to North Kazakhstan, to a settlement called Kazakhstanian Samarkand, where an extensive steel factory was built. Here I met my beloved future wife, Chawa. Like me, she had been conscripted as a refugee from Lithuania, and worked as a builder, while I worked as an electrician. At the end of the war, we married and have been together for 57 years.

There, in Kazakhstan, conditions of life improved. Worries of obtaining a slice of bread ended, housing conditions were better, we began to enjoy the local cultural life and our social-public status even improved. The movement “discovered” us and sent us material assistance and encouragement for the future. Despite this, a new danger began to loom over our heads: the refusal to allow Polish citizens to return to Poland. Again, the fear of repeated imprisonment grew; the threat arose anew that the dream of my youth – to reach Israel – would not be fulfilled. Despite everything, I believed that the day would come when I could leave the U.S.S.R. and be welcomed in Israel – and it came to pass.

Thanks to the intervention of certain agents, especially the Polish Embassy in Moscow, my right to return to Poland was recognized. In April 1947, together with my wife, Chawa, I opened the door of my parents' house in Lodz. The meeting was very warm and emotional and accompanied by endless tears. The family welcomed its lost son, and the addition of a wife. From here, the way to Israel was paved without any problems. But this way took about nine years. What happened is not to be forgotten. One should not live feeling like a “victim”. I take great pride in the fact that, despite everything, I succeeded in surviving and fulfilling the dream of my youth: the return to Zion and life in our homeland. As if the circle of my life had closed, and I have achieved my real identity!

*

After the expulsion from Ostrolenka, my parents, Pesach and Ester, my younger brother, Mosze, and my older brother, Israel Symcha, with his wife, Gitel (née Zysman), all lived in Bialystok, near my sister, Sara, her husband Icchak Kozlowicz and their two children, who were permanent residents there. When, in the summer of 1940, refugees from German-occupied areas of Poland were given the alternative of receiving Soviet citizenship – Yes or No – for some reason, the entire family mentioned above (except for the Kozlowicz family), were not registered to receive it. Therefore, as Polish citizens, they were imprisoned one night by the N.K.B.D and transferred to the railway station. From there, they were taken as exiles to northern, remote areas of Russia in freight cars.

My parents and my brother, Mosze, were exiled to the Komi S.S.R. Republic, the capital of which was Syktyvkar. Unlike them, my brother, Symcha, and his wife, Gitel, were sent to the Arkhangelsk region, west of the Republic. As stated, I was first in a work camp northwest of them in the Murmansk region and, later, in a work camp northeast of there, part of a bloc of camps along the River Petchora. I must mention that, because of his professional status as a carpenter, Symcha succeeded in bringing my parents and Mosze to him. They did not know anything of my fate. All the areas of northern Russia mentioned above belong partly to the Arctic Zone, and are characterized by virgin pine forests and rivers, and border on the White Sea and the Barents Sea. Climactic conditions there are hard, especially in the long winter months, with cold reaching more than 50 degrees below zero. The summer is short and there

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are polar nights. Hard physical work and inadequate, sparse food made things even more difficult for us and, in the long run, endangered our lives.

Despite all these difficult experiences during the period of the war in the U.S.S.R., my entire family succeeded in returning to Poland from 1946-1947, and in emigrating to Israel. Now, we are the parents of two children and the grandparents of five grandchildren. All of them live on the kibbutz.

My sister, Sara Kozlowicz, and her family, and the greater part of her extended family remained in German-occupied territory – and they were all murdered in the Holocaust.

May their memory be blessed!

Shalom Chamiel, Kibbutz HaMaapil

 

A Personal Story

There were the four of us: our parents, Josef and Rachel, me – Chana – and another sister, Syma. My father was from Czerwin. We had a textiles store on 11th November Street (now Glowackiego), near the police station in Ostrolenka. Our family was exiled from Ostrolenka in October 1939, and we managed to transfer a quantity of fabric to the Soviet side. After a short stay, we continued on to Bialystok, and tried to remain there. But in Bialystok, something unpleasant and even dangerous happened to us. Someone informed on us – that we had in our possession a large quantity of textiles. The police visited our apartment and confiscated the cloth. They also intended to arrest my father, who, luckily, was not at home. My mother was not injured, nor were we, the little children. Because of this incident, the family moved to live in the town of Molczat, near Baranowicz, where our relatives resided.

This incident also influenced our decision not to register to receive Soviet citizenship. Therefore, after a short time, we were “loaded up” by the N.K.B.D. onto a freight train and taken east, together with other Jews and Poles, to the area of Sverdlovsk in Orel. There, we were taken to the Lyushinka work village as political prisoners.

Difficult conditions prevailed in the work village: a hard, long winter and meager food. My father did physical work, digging a route for railway tracks. Despite this, our family somehow managed to survive and hold on, until we were released at the end of 1941, because of new German aggression against the U.S.S.R. and the signing of an agreement between the latter and the exiled Polish government in London.

In light of the fact that the German army already stood at the gates of Moscow, we continued on the train south to Uzbekistan, where we settled in the city of Samarkand. It was “bursting” with an endless stream of Jewish and Christian refugees coming from the western part of the U.S.S.R. Diseases broke out in the region – dysentery and typhus. My younger sister, Syma, also became ill on the road and passed away near the city of Buchara.

In Samarkand, we met some Ostrolenkans, such as the Drezner family, which we knew, Eli Bajuk and others.

In 1946, the family returned to Poland. After two and a half years in Austria, my family reached Israel in 1949.

Chana Friedman (née Kalina), Tel Aviv

 

A Summary and a Conclusion

In fact, it can be established that almost all Ostrolenka's Jews, nearly 5,000 souls, were murdered in the Holocaust in U.S.S.R. territory or, more precisely, in western Belarus, most of them in the city of Slonim. By the same token, a large number of our townspeople survived in the U.S.S.R., although to our great regret, it was only a small minority of about 100 souls. Most of those who were saved were either imprisoned in work camps as Polish citizens in the U.S.S.R.'s sub-artic northern region – and a few in its eastern part – or they voluntarily enlisted to work in the U.S.S.R. in 1939.

Very few, about twenty people, survived the Holocaust

[Page 299]

in former Polish territories, including the eastern ones occupied by the U.S.S.R. in 1939. Only a few succeeded in evading the Germans in Slonim, Vilna and other places in 1941. Most Ostrolenkan survivors live in Israel, Argentina, Uruguay and North American countries.

In general, it may be said that the Soviet government's treatment of Jewish refugees from German-occupied Polish territory was not bad – on the condition that they did not clash with their ideological and dictatorial principles. All those who engaged in illegal trade were imprisoned, did not receive Soviet citizenship, were incarcerated and transferred to work camps. As stated above, those who had great wealth, Zionist activists and non-Zionist Socialists, such as Bundists, were in constant danger. (Thus, in 1942, after their release from prison, two prominent leaders of the Bund in Poland were murdered by the N.K.B.D.: Victor Alter, from Mlawa, and Henryk Erlich.)

At the same time, this is the proper place to point out and emphasize three obvious key facts in favor of the U.S.S.R.:

  1. Despite the harsh conduct of the Soviet regime against its political enemies, it did not discriminate between nationalities; its treatment of women, the elderly and children, in particular, was relatively humane.
  2. The role of the U.S.S.R. in the defeat of Nazi Germany was decisive. It paid a very high price for this: tens of millions of victims, both army personnel and civilians.
  3. Despite all our hardship and suffering as refugees and prisoners of the Soviet regime, at the same time, we, as Jews and survivors, owe the U.S.S.R. our deep thanks for our survival of the Holocaust on European soil and our success in reaching Israel.

 

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