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Eyewitness Testimonies

 

Chaya Lis-Wolkowicz, Brooklyn

In 1939, when the war broke out and the Germans expelled all the Jews from Ostrolenka, my husband, Lazer Zlocisty, and I moved to Bialystok. There we met many Ostrolenkans: Ben Cyjon Pianko with his family; his older brother and his family; the Flamenbojms and their daughter; the wife of Shalom Rozen with her children; her daughter-in-law, Chana Fejga Chmiel; Lea and Chaja Markiewicz; my neighbor, Beniamin Symcha Ma-Towu with his family; Chaja Sojka with her husband and children (now in Israel), and other townspeople.

In May 1940, we had to leave Bialystok. We moved to Zelva, a town in Belarus. From there, we moved to Slonim, a bigger city, where about eighty percent of Ostrolenka's Jews were concentrated. There, I met Icel Sojka, the entire Szron family, Noske Jabek with his family, and the Gedanken, Frydman, Zylbersztejn, Bomsztejn, Dorfman and Lachowicz (I was with them in the ghetto until the last minute) families. Among my relatives were: Jankel Dancyger with his family; my uncle, Daniel Medzowicz; the Perkal family; Jakow Herszel Zamelson with his mother and his wife; Czapnikiewicz with his daughter; the Skrobacz family; the Sredni family; Miriam Sztejnberg with her daughters; Reuwen Nachum Gercek with his family; Fajczarz the Barber with his family; Perel Nadborny with her husband and children; the Roszeniak family; the Benedon brothers with their wives and children; Gutman Grosman with Chana and the boy; Necha Roszeniak with her husband and their son (I was also with them in the ghetto until the end); Sara Gercek, her husband Zalman and the children; my mother-in-law; the Chomont family from Wojciechowice; the Szafran family; Kaplan the Shoemaker; Czila Sniadowicz with her children, and many other Ostrolenkans whose names I do not remember. I was with all of them until 1941.

Within two weeks after the Germans invaded the area, they carried out the first pogrom. One thousand, two hundred Jewish men were killed then, most of them young. Among them were forty Jews from Ostrolenka, including my husband, Lazer Zlocisty, Icchak Zaborowski, Chaim Benedon, Filar, Adonolam, Stelmach and others.

In November 1941, the second pogrom took place. There was great panic. The Germans made the work easy for themselves. Those who could work were gathered in a few streets; those who were not fit to work were separated from them.

One cold November day, the murderers surrounded the city and took out those who were unable to work. Women, men and small children were driven out of the city, where pits were already prepared. They threw them into the pits and threw grenades at them. After they finished their work, they lit fires around the pits, drank themselves drunk, sang and went wild. Two girls from Ostrolenka, one from the Bocian family and the second – the daughter of Reuwen Nachum, who sewed shoe uppers, succeeded in escaping from the pits. At night, they reached the city and entered the ghetto.

Many Ostrolenkans were killed in the second pogrom; only a handful remained. I was saved by chance. The next day, when things calmed down a bit, I went out into the street and what I saw made everything go black. I saw smashed doors, ruined apartments, all property stolen. Out of 36,000 people, only a few Jews remained, stunned, bereft. My cousins, Chaim Perkal from Mlawa and Reuwen Perkal from Makow, who were in Slonim at the same time, helped me, as did, my cousins, the Holcman brothers from Kaczyny, and the ritual slaughterer from Kaczyny, Reuwen Nachum Szlos and his family. Things continued this way until July 1942.

Then they surrounded the ghetto again, this time with the intention of eliminating all the Jews, to the last. They set fire to one part of the ghetto and people were burned alive, among them many Ostrolenkans: my cousin, Bazke Frydman with her husband, Szmuel, and her daughter; my cousin, Perkal from Makow, with his son, daughter-in-law and their children; Jakow-Herszel Zamelson, with his wife, Fejgale, and her father, Czapnikiewicz. I hid in a pit in the ghetto and lay there

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for twelve days. I peeked out of the hole every day and saw the ghetto burning. In the same courtyard, there was an old people's home, in which were Chaim Szyman and his wife, as well as Szaje the Butcher and his family. When it was quiet all around, I tried to get out of the pit slowly. Like a flash, I passed the place where Jews had been shot lay like flies. I quickly entered my hiding place in the pit and hid there. When it got dark, I came out of the pit and, with great difficulty, entered the small ghetto, where there were about 600 people and some small houses in half a narrow street. There I met the four sons of my cousin, Jankel Danzig (the parents were no longer alive), Chawa Bomsztejn and Czila Sniadowicz. Her children were already murdered. They gave me my first slice of bread. The family of Lachowicz the Carpenter was also there. They were the only family that had remained intact. I met Lea Sojka, Necha Roszeniak and Chana Benedon, all without their children and husbands, who had all been killed. Frydman, his son Zundel, his daughter-in-law, Peszka Finkler; Chomont and his wife, and Rywka Topola, who was married to Roszeniak's son. There was also Meir Gercek's daughter-in-law, Szejna Bloumenkranz (the daughter of the ritual slaughterer) from the Kaczyny station. This handful of Ostrolenkans was among the 600 Jews in the small ghetto.

I began to look for a way to escape, but to where? The partisans were spoken of there. I knew that my brother, Herszel Wolkowicz, and his wife, Chaja, were in Lomza. But my brother, Jankel Wolkowicz, with his wife, son and daughters, were in the town of Zelva. Aron Zusman with his family, Topola the Tailor, Welwel Gilda, my cousin, Icze Medzowicz, with his family, and others whose names I do not remember, were there, too.

I decided to run away from the ghetto. These joined in my decision: Michael, the son of my cousin Jankel Dancyger, Jakow Szlomo Lachowicz, Necha Roszeniak, Peszka Lewin and three other people – one from Slonim and two from Wyszkow. To my sorrow, not everyone did what we had decided. Jakow Szlomo Lachowicz, a healthy, strong man, gave up the idea of escaping under the pressure of his mother's pleas. She did not want to separate from her son. Necha Roszeniak and Peszka Lewin did not go either. I did not have anything to lose. I ran away from the ghetto, together with Michael Dancyger. With the help of a Gentile from Belarus, we “stole” over the border (of course, we paid him well).

We arrived in the town of Rozan, where the situation was still quiet. There, too, I met my fellow townspeople: my cousin, Jankel Perkal, Nachum Kaczor and his children, Dawid-Jehuda Finkelsztejn with his wife, Rachel, and their daughter, Chajale. The joy of our meeting was boundless. Everyone invited me to stay with them. Finally, I stayed with my cousin, Jankel Perkal.

When I was in Rozan, I tried to bring my three cousins (the sons of Dancyger) from Slonim there, but to my sorrow, none of them was alive anymore. And not just them – the entire handful of Jews that remained had been destroyed by the murderers. I stayed there only a short time.

Together with my cousin, Michael Dancyger, we continued to “steal” across the borders. We walked a bit, and part of the way we hitchhiked in the Germans' cars, until we reached Wolkowysk. There, too, in the ghetto, we found Ostrolenkans: Josel Litwer, his wife and children, and Szlomo Czapnikiewicz. I stayed with him for a few days. In the Wolkowysk Ghetto, I met Aron Zusman. I was with them for a few days. There I met his aunt, broken and sick, who lived on the Lomza Road Street and who was saved from the pogrom in Slonim. I was with them for a few days. Finally, I succeeded in getting a permit and left. At first, I went on foot, and then I continued in German cars… I knew I was endangering my life, but I did not have a choice. I was barefoot, minimally dressed and did not have anything to lose.

Finally, I got to Bialystok. I wanted to get into the ghetto, but that was not so easy to do. Sixty thousand Jews were in the Bialystok Ghetto then. I wandered around all day with my cousin, Michael Dancyger; only towards evening did we succeed in entering the ghetto. There was a terrible panic in the ghetto, because news had come of the murders of Jews in forests in the area.

In the Bialystok Ghetto, I met Dr. Gutman and his wife, Ben Cyjon Pianko and his family, the Flamenbojm family, the two Markowicz sisters and Janek Gedanken. Dr. Gutman was sick and broken, and when I told him about the Slonim pogroms – he collapsed completely. I had to cut the story short. Flamenbojm's daughter treated me just like a sister, which I will never forget. I was completely bereft. She told me not to feel embarrassed and to tell her if I needed money and, if so, she would give it to me. I did not want to take anything. I aspired to one thing only: to get to Lomza, to my

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brother. With the help of Ben Cyjon Pianko, I managed to send a message to my brother, Herszel Wolkowicz, in the Lomza Ghetto, that I was alive and wanted to get to him. The letter reached Zyskind Zusman in the Lomza Ghetto and he gave it to my brother. His joy cannot be imagined, because he knew that all the Jews in Belarus had been killed. My brother obtained a permit for train travel for me and passed it on to me, so that I could travel to Lomza. I sat on the train with my yellow badge and trembled with fear. I came with Michael Dancyger.

When we got to the Lomza Ghetto, it caused an uproar among the Ostrolenkans there. Everyone came to visit me. I knew that the apparent quiet would not long continue, and that the pogroms would also come here. I was happy to have succeeded in joining my brother and his wife and children, before I was murdered. Everything else was unimportant – although I did have a strong will to remain alive. In the Lomza Ghetto, I met Zyskind Zusman and his family, and Szajke Aszer and Josel Aszer and their wives. They all sat and cried about those who had been murdered. Rywczak Nadborny was also there, and I tried to avoid meeting her, so as not to have to tell her that her entire family was killed. Krymkiewicz the Electrician with his wife the teacher, and the Rebbetzin and her daughter, Syma, were also there. My brother helped many people, as much as he could.

I did not stay in the Lomza Ghetto for long either. From there, I went to my brother, who was in a village. After two weeks, the unavoidable took place: the destruction of the Lomza Ghetto.

While I was at the village, on 2 November 1942, early on a Sunday morning, they got us out of our beds and did not allow us to take anything. Then I knew that all was lost, that there was nowhere to run and that we had to go to our deaths.

My brother, Herszel, and his wife were stunned and did not know what to do. What did it mean, to get up, to get dressed and to leave everything?! I recovered first, dressed the children and gave each of them a small bundle. I kissed them, because I knew that the end had finally come.

The gendarmes noticed that I had not lost my wits, and therefore watched me, so that I would not escape.They loaded us on wagons and took us, together with other Jews who lived in the area of Ostrolenka-Lomza, to the village of Miastkowa, where I took advantage of the opportunity. The minute the gendarmes went to eat and left Poles to guard us in their stead, I got out of line, tore off my yellow badge and hid. When everyone else went on their way – I fled to the nearby forest. It was very hard for me. Where should I go now? I did not have a brother anymore, I had no relatives, no friends.

I lay in the forest all night, in the pouring rain, hungry. I trembled with cold. I lay curled up near a tree, at night, soaked to the bone. The whole time, I thought: What have I done? Why didn't I go with them?

Where will I run to now? How much time can I lie here in the forest like this? In the morning, I began to walk, posing as a Pole. I wanted to reach some farmer's hut. This went on for two days, until I came upon a farmer woman in the forest and told her who I was. She took pity on me, let me into her house and gave me food. Later, she took me to the hayloft, where I laid for eight days. Then, she came and told me that she was afraid to keep me there anymore, and ordered me to leave. I was at my wit's end. Where would I go? I decided to turn myself in to the gendarmes, because I had no other choice. I wet the straw in the hayloft with my tears.

This was on Sunday, toward evening. I asked the farmer women to let me stay with her one more day. I thought: It would be good to live another day. Suddenly, she came with news that my brother, Herszel, and his son were in the village, and that she had already told him that I was hiding with her. At night, my brother came to me and told me that he had slipped out of the ghetto because he knew that I had escaped – only he did not know where. From then on, we two hid ourselves in pits in the forest, together with a few more Jews who we met along the way. For twenty-four months, we hid in the groves around Ostrolenka. We were forced to move from place to place and dig new pits, because there was someone who discovered our hiding place every time.

We were in terrible distress: hungry, dirty, shivering with cold. I could write a long story about those twentyfour months that would curdle the reader's blood in his veins. We did not die, however, from all of this. We did not even get sick. We were strong. With us hid the Rucki Brothers – one of them was killed; Rostker and his son, too – the son lived, the father was killed; Meir Krymkiewicz and his family; Berel Zabludowicz and his wife, Rachel, and his children. (There was a rumor that the Gentiles in Ostrolenka killed him, when he, together with Pesach Hochberg and Mendel Szlafmic, tried to return to the city after the war); Cytryniarz the

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Barber and the Przystanczyk family – all these were killed in the town of Molczat, near Baranowicz. The Piaseczny family and Nowinski the Hatter were in a village near Slonim. The Bajuk family was in Brysk. My brother, Chackel Michael Wolkowicz, was in Pinsk, with other Ostrolenkans.

On 8 September 1944, we were liberated by the Russians, and our suffering came to an end.


Herszel Wolkowicz,

the Brother of Chaya Lis-Wolkowicz (Brooklyn) Recounts:

In 1939, when the war broke out and the Germans occupied Ostrolenka, they expelled the Jews from the city. Many of Ostrolenka's Jews went to Lomza. In February 1940, the Russians ordered the entire population to register to receive passports and to indicate where they had lived until 1939. Of course, everyone reported his true place of residence.

Before Passover, they began to issue passports. For anyone who indicated that he resided in a place occupied by the Germans, a special clause was written in his passport, saying that he was a spy and that he could not live here [Lomza], but at a distance of 100 kilometers from the border. The final date for fulfilling the order was Passover. Therefore, on Passover Eve, my cousin, Jankel Perkal, and I went to Slonim to get an apartment there. Unfortunately, we did not find an apartment, because the city was already full of refugees like us. Finally, we found an apartment with a Gentile outside the city. We rented a small room for two families and gave him an advance payment. When we returned to the city, we found that all the synagogues and study halls were filled with refugees. We decided to return to Lomza. There I learned that I could exchange my passport. People were prepared to pay a fortune for the right to stay in Lomza. I was the only one who could do so, because I had a bus permit, and on the license was clearly written: The Warsaw-Bialystok route, via Lomza. Thanks to this permit, and with the addition of bribery and “influence”, they changed my passport.

In Lomza, I met Ostrolenkans: Eli Zusman and Zyskind and their families; the brothers, Motel and Icze Szrejter, and their families; Josel and Szajke and their wives; Jechiel Rozenblum and his wife; Symcha Dublin and his daughter and son-in-law; Chana Granowicz and her mother and her children; Chana Wajnkranc, her husband, Tobjasz, and their children; Dr. Karbowski and his family; and Krystal and his family. Alter Granowicz and Chaim Pedowicz and their wives were in Kolno. Old Symcha Pianko (who died in the Lomza Ghetto), his wife and daughter, and the Widow Bobcia and her children (a son should be in Israel).

On 22 June 1941, when Hitler invaded Russia, many fled to Slonim, thinking to evade the Germans this way. It turned out, however, that the Germans got there even before them. On the way back to Lomza, the Germans caught Eli Zusman and Chawa Tobjasz's husband.

In September 1941, a ghetto was established in Lomza, and the Jews were taken from there for forced labor in Ostrolenka. They worked on the destruction of the border around the cemetery and were held there all winter. I was told that a Gentile bought the ruined synagogue in Ostrolenka from the Germans, dismantled it and used the bricks for building material. They turned the study hall into a garage for car repair, and the Talmud Torah into a tin smithy. They also dismantled the houses in the old market, from the side of the bridge until Kilinskaga Street – the houses of Skrobacz, Josel Wajncymer, Thylim, Zylbersztejn and Frydman.

At the beginning of the summer of 1942, they took Dr. Karbowski and Josel Aszer out of the ghetto and brought them to Ostrolenka. According to the story of one of the Poles, they were held in the prison and taken out every day for forced labor. Later, they were not heard of anymore. When the doctor's wife heard that I had spoken to the Pole about her husband, she asked me in the ghetto if I could talk to the Pole and ascertain her husband's condition.

In 1941, posing as Gentiles, the Rebbetzin and her daughter, Syma, came to the Lomza Ghetto from Warsaw. In the summer of 1942, a Gentile brought me a letter from my sister, Chaja, who was in the Bialystok

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Ghetto, and I made efforts to bring her to me. After two weeks, she arrived, disguised as a rural. She told us that the Germans caught her husband, Lazer Zlocisty, together with other Jewish men, immediately after they got to Slonim. Even before she came to Bialystok, she had been an eyewitness to two pogroms in Slonim. She stayed with us for about two months, until the final destruction of the Lomza Ghetto on 2 November 1942. Chaja went through a great deal before she arrived in Lomza. She was miraculously saved from the Gestapo more than once. I told her that if she had to escape from the Germans again, she should run to a certain village, and there seek out a Gentile whose name I gave her.

My oldest son, thirteen years old then, and I, plus another three Jews from Lomza (two bachelors and a married man) hid in the ghetto in an attic. On Monday, 2 November 1942, all the Jews were taken out of the ghetto. We laid in our hiding place from Monday until 7 o'clock on Sabbath Eve. We knew when the guard changed – and we decided to come out then. We drew lots as to which of us would go out first. We wrapped our feet in rags, so that our footsteps would not be heard, and went on all fours, so that they would not see us.

After we left the ghetto, we hid in the cemetery for a few hours, and then headed in the direction of Ostrolenka, where the roads were familiar to me. I was sure that I would find my sister with the Gentile I suggested that she should seek out.

On Sunday morning, we reached the village that was our destination. Our three escorts stayed in the forest. With my son, I went to a farmer I knew and asked him to sell me a loaf of bread. I took it immediately to our friends in the woods and returned to the village. I asked the farmer to let me stay with him until evening. I told him that my sister was apparently in the home of the head of the village, and that I would go to her at nightfall. He advised me not to go there that evening, because a party was to take place at the home of the head of the village, to which many police officers from the town of Miastkowa were invited. I heeded his advice and stayed until dark.

Suddenly, there was knock at the door. My son and I hid behind the large oven. A woman from another village entered and talked to our farmer about the war. I heard her say, “Since the Devil has taken all the Jews – the war will end very soon.” He escorted her to the exit and told her that I was with him.

The Gentile woman told me to come to her in the evening, knock on the window. She would come out and tell me exactly where my sister was. I did as she asked. She came out and took me to the barn where my sister was hidden in a pile of straw. A great miracle had happened! Two days earlier, she had ordered my sister to leave, but at the latter's request, she had let her stay until Sunday. If she had not visited the farmer's house where we were hidden and said, “The Devil has already taken all the Jews” – my sister would not be with us today. My sister did not know the farmers in the area or the winding roads that I knew – without me, she would surely not have survived.

We left together in the direction of Ostrolenka. Near the villages Przytali and Rydzewa, we dug a pit in the forest and camouflaged its entrance with a board covered with a layer of sand. Thus we laid and suffered for 23 months (!), until the Russians liberated us.


Zalman Wylozny (Taking Testimony)

a. World War II and the Expulsion from Ostrolenka

At dawn on Friday, the 1st of September 1939, the war broke out. In town, panic broke out. A rumor spread that the Fifth Cavalry Regiment invaded German territory, near Myszyniec, and carried out a great slaughter there. After the Poles retreated, the Germans entered Myszyniec and cruelly slaughtered men, women and children – without distinction. That same Friday, the Germans reached the village of Dylewo – 12 kilometers from Ostrolenka. In the city, the rurals appeared with loaded wagons and told of the Germans' cruel deeds.

Panic broke out among the Jews of our city, and everyone thought about how to escape. To leave the city

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as fast as possible, many asked the Gentile farmers to rent them their wagons and horses. Many Jews went in the direction of Goworowo or Czerwin.

On Sabbath morning, I saw the [Jewish law] judge sitting in a wagon, going in the direction of Kaczyny. When he was asked why he was doing this, he answered: “This is a matter of life and death, and I advise all of you to do the same.”

The Germans did not attack Ostrolenka, but went in the direction of Rozan, 26 kilometers from our city. My family and I turned toward the village of Borawe (nine kilometers from Ostrolenka), where our relative, Aron Laska, lived. On the way, we saw the Polish Army digging trenches all along the road. The soldiers told us proudly: “We'll show them!” That Sabbath, the German air force bombed a train on its way to Goworowo. The train managed to evade them and was not hit. For the first time, I saw the Polish Army fire at airplanes with anti-air cannons.

With my eldest brother, Mosze Beniamin (May God avenge his blood!), I went back to the city to see what had happened there. It was like looking at a cemetery. Only a few Jews had remained. I met Motel Dolowicz, our neighbor. He was in despair. We returned to Borawe, to our family. At night, we heard cannon fire. I saw Goworowo burning and the Polish Army fleeing in panic. My father said, “Children, we must run from here.” We took a little food for the road and went in the direction of Czerwin. I steered the bicycle on which we had loaded our bundles. In the village of Choiny, through which we passed, we saw many dead and wounded Polish soldiers.

At dawn, we reached Czerwin. Its Jewish inhabitants were already gone, and in their homes were refuges from the area. We grabbed the first empty apartment we saw. I will never forget the sight of Awraham Seke the Shoemaker, who walked with his wife and eleven children in the stream of people. Unable to rent a wagon with a horse – he harnessed himself to the wagon and so dragged his children and all the bundles behind him, until they got to Czerwin.

We stayed in Czerwin for a week, until the German Army attacked the place. They came to our house and asked whether we were citizens or military personnel. My father answered them in German (he knew the language well). They checked the rooms to see if there were any army personnel hiding there. Then, they gathered all the Jews in one apartment, under heavy guard. They threatened to kill us, just because we were Jews. “The Jewish Rothschilds, the rich, brought the war”, they said.

Panic took hold. Fathers put on their prayer shawls, and said the Vedui [final confessional prayer]. Mothers cried and little children screamed. They kept us for a whole day, without food and drink.

Then, a German general in his car passed by and asked, “What are these people doing here?” When the German guards answered that these were Jews, he ordered, “Release them immediately!”

The next day, a rush began back to Ostrolenka. The entire area was already full of the German Army. We rented a wagon and arrived in Ostrolenka on the same day, but the Germans were not yet there. The first reconnaissance company arrived only on 10 September 1939 from the direction of Lomza. They encamped in 3rd May Square. Their first mission was to plunder all the liquor stores, including the well-known wine shop of Bednarski. In exchange, they paid a few pennies.

On the same day, the Army regulars entered. Toward evening, they assembled representatives of all the areas of the city and announced, “For every German who is murdered here or who disappears – we will execute ten inhabitants.” A curfew was announced – it was strictly forbidden to be on the street after six o'clock in the evening. The first victims were Jews, of course. Right on the first night, thirty Jews were taken hostage, among them, Motel Czapnikiewicz the Miller, Aron Wylozny and Eliezer Mejrann. They were imprisoned in the city hall until morning. When the Germans saw that nothing had happened in the city, they released them.

Together with the Germans, the Poles began visiting the stores of the Jews and demanding merchandise. Of course, they stole it all without payment. The Poles organized a civilian police and apprehended Jews for forced labor. First, they took them to Wojciechowice to clean the barracks and prepare them for German soldiers. Many refugees began to return from Ostrowa, Zambrow and all the other places in the area. A rumor spread that, on the way to Warsaw, the Germans killed the Hebrew teacher, Rozenblum (the former teacher of the Culture and Yavneh Hebrew schools, and an excellent chess player), and his daughter.

Eleven to thirteen kilometers from Ostrolenka is the village of Choiny, where a few Jewish families lived. Among those who fled from Ostrolenka was Awraham

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Izrael, a horse dealer, who found temporary refuge in the village. His son and nephew were shot to death on the road, while escaping. Poles who knew the parents buried them near a tree at the side of the road. When the parents returned to Ostrolenka and a Gentile they knew told them what had happened, the mother fell, completely paralyzed. Awraham asked the Gentile to bring the murdered bodies back, in order to give them a proper Jewish burial. When the two bodies were brought back, the wagon was hidden from the Germans in the pig market. A few friends of the family gathered, myself included (the son, Reuwen Izrael, was my schoolmate at the heder). The wagon advanced, behind it those accompanying it, but everyone walking separately, so as not to arouse suspicion by walking in a group. At the cemetery, the graves were dug and they were buried in their clothes. I remember how their heads – which had been shot at – looked. The father was unable to say Kaddish [the mourner's prayer], and the grandfather, Julke Israel, said it in his place.

Meanwhile, the High Holy Days approached. We did not pray in public anymore, in the study hall or the shtebl; but everyone in his home, by himself. Many Jews were imprisoned in the jail in Ostrolenka, and every day they were taken out for forced labor, without food. Suddenly, a rumor spread that the Red Army was in Lomza and was expected to come close to Ostrolenka. The Germans had already removed their flags from municipal buildings and other institutions. After a short time, the reconnaissance company of Russian vanguard entered our city – one armored and two transport truck [units] – and encamped in the city square. The Germans asked if they could photograph them, but the Russians aimed their weapons at them and warned them not to dare to do so.

In the city, great joy broke out. The Jews especially were happy, knowing that their fear of the Germans was removed. To our regret, our happiness did not last long. After a few days, we learned that, according to the famous agreement between Molotov and Ribbentrop, Ostrolenka would be in the zone of the Third Reich, and it must be Judenrein (clean of Jews).

This was on the Simchat Torah holiday, 1939. At two o'clock in the afternoon, an order was published to the effect that the Jews must leave the city within two hours. Suddenly, the city filled with the wagons and horses of the farmers in the vicinity – they arrived on time, intent on stealing the property of the Jews from their emptied homes. Immediately, a representation of Jews was organized; it approached the German commander. On his office door, however, hung a sign: “Entry is forbidden to Jews”. The guard was unwilling to let them in. Finally, they persuaded him of the importance of the matter and he agreed to let them enter. The commander received them and extended the time of the expulsion by 48 hours. Then, the Jews opened negotiations with the Gentiles regarding transportation of their belongings by wagon. The carters were unwilling to accept money for transportation, but demanded valuables, such as expensive fabrics, boots, suits, etc. The borders were open and the Germans conducted cruel searches, breaking and destroying all moveable objects. The Jews tried to find places to live with farmers they knew in villages in the Russian zone. Lomza was completely destroyed because of the intense battles that took place there between the Polish and German Armies. We settled in the village of Laskowce.

I remember that the winter was very hard. When we crossed the border, the Germans robbed us and left us bereft. We traveled in the direction of Lomza. My father and my eldest brother, Mosze Beniamin, went there first, in order to earn something. They found a ruin, without a door or windows. Father moved us all there and the place served us as a shelter. After we were in the Russian zone for about two weeks, Father began to work in his profession – shoemaking – and we had a livelihood.

After a time, the border between the Germans and the Russians closed, thus creating an opening for “black” merchandise smuggling. The Poles, primarily, engaged in this. As far as I can recall, the Germans expelled the Jews from the towns of Rozan, Makow, Poltusk and their environs, and did not allow them to take anything with them. When they arrived at the closed border, it was the Russians, in fact, who did not allow them to enter. And so, they wandered around the demilitarized zone, in the terrible cold of a hard winter. Many froze to death. Those who tried to go over to the opposite bank of the river drowned or were caught and chased back toward the Germans.

When we were in Lomza, Mother decided to bring her sister (a widow with five children) from Wolomin, which was on the German side. Her sixth son grew up with us. I took the execution of this mission upon myself. For this purpose, I met with two Gentiles we knew, who engaged in smuggling and knew all the borders. I packed a few personal belongings and we set

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out. We reached Ostrolenka, in which there were already no Jews. We stayed in the home of the Krap family for the night. The next morning, I went out into the street and saw that our study hall had become a horse stable. A similar fate was visited on the church. I met a few Gentiles who knew me from birth, and they asked me, “What are you still doing here?” I explained my purpose to them. They told me that when all the Jews of Ostrolenka were expelled, one mute person did not want to leave the city. The Germans took him out by force and shot him to death among the weeds on the riverbank. “If you do not want the same fate to befall you – run away from here as fast as you can”, they told me. I immediately left in the direction of Kaczyny. On the way, I passed near Staronia's drug store, in Srolke Szron's house. I peeked inside and was stunned: the druggist, Staronia, was hanging by a rope, and his body swung in the empty drug store…

I continued on my way to the Kaczyny railway station, in order to reach Wolomin. I wanted to get on the train, but encountered some Polish railway workers who demanded that everyone identify themselves. I tried to board without presenting my papers, but the Poles began shouting “Judeh, Judeh! [Jew, Jew!]” I immediately ran and decided to make my way on foot. I walked more than thirty kilometers on that day. I passed the town of Goworowo, which was completely burned, and its cemetery destroyed. Meanwhile, night had fallen and by six o'clock, curfew was in effect. At Pasieki (a railway station six kilometers from Rozan), I went to the poretz and asked permission to sleep there. He asked me, “You are a Jew – how did you get here?” I told him that my goal was to get to Wolomin and to this he replied, “You Jews like the Bolsheviks. Why don't you go to them?” I did not want to tell him that I had already been with them, so I just asked permission to stay for one night. He refused and stressed that every night the Germans came to him, and he could not possibly allow them to see a Jew with him. He suggested that I go to one of his servants. And so, the servant prepared a bed for me to sleep in, gave me food and also warned me that I must leave before morning. Only then did I go on my way. I got as far as Wyszkow. Two kilometers before Wyszkow, I met two Poles. They said to me, “Jew, give us your money”. I told them that my money was hidden in the forest, and that if they would come with me, I would give it to them. I went deep into the forest with them. There, I took a heavy branch of a tree and “treated them” to respectable blows. Then, I began to run in the direction of Wyszkow. At the entrance to the city, were two bridges, one for pedestrians and the second for trains. Both had been bombed. On the side was a temporary wooden bridge. A German stood there, checking everyone who passed over the bridge, so I found another way, thus avoiding inspection. Luckily, because of the tumult of the market on that day, I succeeded in escaping in the direction of the city of Radzymin.

Wyszkow, too, was destroyed because of the intense battles between the Poles and the Germans that had taken place there. All the Jews had been expelled from the city to the opposite bank of the River Bug, the borderline between the Germans and the Russians. I decided to go toward Radzymin. On the way, I saw convoys of Jewish refugees, all of them from Warsaw and the area. Their only goal was to reach the Russianoccupied zone (if I am not mistaken, this road led to the Treblinka railway station). Jews asked me why, in fact, I was going in the direction of Warsaw, when everyone was running away from there. I replied that I had already been on the Russian side, and that now I was returning, to bring my aunt and her five children. Most of the refugees were young people, young men and women with knapsacks on their backs. This was Friday. I reached Radzymin and immediately continued in the direction of Wolomin, a distance of nine kilometers. I saw German gunners, and they shouted, “Die Yuden werden alle erschossen!” (All the Jews have been shot to death.)

Night fell. After six o'clock, a curfew was in force, and it was forbidden to be found outside. Despite this, I decided to go on to Wolomin. I arrived there at eight thirty in the evening. I had to pass near the big railway station, which was under heavy German guard. Still, I took a chance.

I arrived at my aunt's on Sabbath Eve, and the joy was great. I told them that I had come to take her and her children to the Russian zone. I bought a horse and a wagon. We loaded everyone on it, together with their bundles, and left. I got as far as Jadow (about 30 kilometers from Wolomin) with them. The entire road was full of many young Jews. All the convoys hurried in the direction of the border, around Malkin.

While we were in Jadow, rumors reached us that the border was closed. People wandered around the narrow strip of unclaimed territory. The Russians did not allow people to enter their zone; on the other hand, the Germans allowed anyone who wanted to, to return.

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The refugees' main goal was to cross the border to the Russian side, come what may! There were those who hired “people who knew the way”, and thus succeeded in slipping in. Russian soldiers also allowed people to cross, in exchange for a watch or another valuable. Many lost their lives because of the bitter cold.

When my aunt heard this, she decided that she preferred to return home to Wolomin. She thought that she would not be able to withstand the hardships of the trip with her five children. Having no other choice, I took them back. I sold everything of value and left her a sum of money for subsistence. I myself returned to my parents in Lomza. When I arrived in Radzymin and passed near the city hall there, a German arrested me and threw me into a cellar in which I found fourteen other Jews, some of the town's wealth people. They were sentenced to death. The Germans demanded all their money. I saw that my fate was sealed. I had a gold watch with me. I spoke to the German who guarded us and told him that anyone who freed me would get the gold watch. The German replied that he would do this, but only at five o'clock, when it got dark. And that is what happened. (Later, I found out that all fourteen of the Radzymin Jews were shot to death.)

I went in the direction of Lomza. Near the border, around Ostrolenka, they caught me, with a few other people. This time, it was a Russian soldier. In exchange for a watch, he released us and we reached Lomza safely.

 

b. The Vilna Ghetto, the Partisans, the Land of Israel

From Lomza, I went toward Vilna with my two brothers. We knew that Vilna was annexed by Lithuania, and that, therefore, it would be easier to get to Israel and the wide world from there.

In Vilna, out of the tens of thousands of refugees from all over Poland, more than twenty of us were Ostrolenkans. We elected a committee from among ourselves, headed by Reb Mosze Aron Kaczor. The committee immediately appealed to our townspeople and relatives in America, requesting help. Sometimes we received help from them. Some of us succeeded in emigrating to Israel; the others stayed there until war broke out between the Germans and the Russians in June 1941.

When the Germans entered Vilna, two days after war broke out, most of the Jewish youths fled the city on their way to Russia, but the Germans caught them.

My father, my two brothers and I were also among them. Many young people were shot by the Germans on the road. Our treatment by the farmers on the way was the worst. They claimed that every Jew was a Communist. Sometimes, they agreed to sell slices of bread for huge sums. My father, my two brothers and I returned to Vilna. On the roads, we were exposed to mortal danger.

Helped by the Lithuanian police, the Germans began abducting Jews for forced labor. I worked at the railway station, loading Russian weapons on German railway cars. We worked 14 hours a day, without food and without water. The Germans and Lithuanians endlessly “treated” us to murderous blows, with shouts of “Damned Jews, you made the war! Rothschilds!”

In a short time, an order was issued that Jews must wear a white band with the Star of David on their left arms, to distinguish them from the Aryan population. The Germans and the Lithuanians had a special system for catching Jews for work. They arrived at five in the morning and asked the house porters in which apartments Jews lived. After they got the apartment numbers, they knocked on the doors and took all the Jewish men out to work. The families were happy when the fathers came home in the evenings – hungry, dripping blood, dispirited.

Later, they ordered the Jews to bring in all items of gold and silver as well as another large sum of money. Immediately, a Jewish committee was organized, headed by the well-known public figure, Dr. Jakow Wigodski. He tried to intervene and explained to the Germans that the Jews did not have such a large sum as that demanded. The German commander opened the door and threw him down the stairs. After a few days, Dr. Wigodski died of his injuries.

After a short time, another decree was published: Jews were forbidden to walk on the sidewalk. They could walk only in the road. In addition, they had to wear a yellow badge in the shape of the Star of David, ten centimeters in diameter – one on one's back and a second on one's chest. Another decree was to take Jews who were caught to forced labor outside the city; any Pole or Lithuanian who caught a Jew got a kilo of salt or sugar. When the Jews stood on line at the bakery to buy bread, they had to stand on the right side, and the Gentiles on the left. The Poles exploited this situation and began to kidnap Jews.

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We found out that the Lithuanians and the Germans were taking groups of 100-200 Jews into the forest, a distance of thirteen kilometers from Vilna, and shooting them. This information was brought by the rurals in the area.

My father, my two brothers and I worked in the shoemaking workshop and, thanks to this, we remained alive. We received an official permit under our father's name and, therefore, they did not touch us. We worked for them and they gave us the leftovers of their food. After September 1941, the Germans and the Lithuanians besieged certain Jewish quarters with a population of 8,000-9,000 Jews, took all of them out to the Ponary Forest and shot them. Their homes were closed and sealed.

After a week, early on Sabbath morning, German and Lithuanian police surrounded the entire city and began expelling Jews from their homes toward the quarter where the Jewish inhabitants had been murdered. They were forbidden to take anything, except a small bundle of clothes. The Poles exploited this, pillaging and plundering property from the empty houses. This happened on 6 September 1941, the day the Vilna Ghetto was established. (There were two ghettos, the first and the second.) Immediately, a Jewish committee (Judenrat) was organized, with departments for matters of work, housing, etc. The Jews tried to work outside the ghetto.

As far as I can remember, it was on Yom Kippur, when the Germans took 16,000 Jews out and shot them in the Ponary Forests. Thus, one ghetto was completely destroyed. Reb Mosze Aaron Kaczor and his wife, Motel Dolowicz and Menachem Zabludowicz were there. They were murdered in this aktzia.

The second ghetto remained. Different work groups were organized to work for the Germans. Every morning, the Germans came to the gate of the ghetto, and each of them took “his” Jew. At night, he returned him to the ghetto. While working outside, each Jew tried to develop a personal contact with a German, Pole or Lithuanian, in order to get bread and various goods. At the entrance to the ghetto, however, everyone had to undergo an inspection, and it was not easy to smuggle food. Often, the S.S. guarded the gate, and sometimes even Murer himself, the Deputy District Governor. Whoever had goods on him was beaten cruelly or imprisoned and shot to death in prison.

This was the daily picture near the ghetto gate.

Over time, the Germans decided that, in the entire city of Vilna, no more than 16,000 Jews would remain, primarily the “necessary ones” – professionals who worked in German institutions and private companies as well. All these were furnished with special yellow permits, which the Jews considered “life certificates”. A man who had such a certificate was allowed to add a wife and two children to it. A woman who had a profession in demand added a husband and two children.

The “yellow certificate” operation was carried out this way: anyone who had a permit went out to his place of work early in the morning. Those who remained in the ghetto were loaded on trucks, taken by the Lithuanian and German police to the Ponary Forests and executed there. The few who managed to hide in attics, in chimneys or in double walls enjoyed a brief existence. The tragedy cried out to the heavens. Families were torn apart – fathers from their sons, women from their children.

The ghetto youth, as well as the Zionist movement, from the right to the left, and the Communists, began to organize as an underground. Two movements arose in the ghetto to fight against the Germans. One was the F.P.O. (United Partisan Organization). Their goal was to resist with weapons in hand when the Germans decided to destroy the ghetto, and to fall in battle as heroes. On the other hand, the second group, the Partisans, were for taking Jews out of the ghetto to the forests, to join the general partisan movement. Thus, they could avenge themselves on the enemy at a cost of fewer losses.

At the head of the F.P.O. stood Icchak Wittenberg (a Communist); his deputy was Abba Kovner. At the head of the second movement were Fried (from Warsaw) and his deputy, Ring (from Wyszkow). The ghetto people began arming themselves with weapons. The ranks of the fighters were joined by select youths, who could be relied on – unfortunately, in the ghetto there were also elements that cooperated with the Germans…

In time, the F.P.O. saw that their plan to fight inside the ghetto had failed. Therefore, they began searching for ways to get their fighters out to the forests. At that time, a group headed by Fried had already gone out to the Rudnicka Forests.

I belonged to the group that supported war in the forests. We received information that the first group had arrived safely and we were asked to send new fighters.

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As far as I remember – the famous Nazi criminal, Kittel (an actor by profession) arrived to destroy the Vilna Ghetto. He had participated in the destruction of the ghettos in Warsaw and Bialystok. Now, it was the turn of the Vilna Ghetto.

By the way, in early 1943, when we were in the Vilna Ghetto, a man named Szaje Rozen came to us. He was an Ostrolenkan, formerly a wood and coal merchant. He told us that all of his family and many Ostrolenkans were killed near Baranowicz. Another Ostrolenkan, a young man named Hone. His father was a porter.

At mentioned, the F.P.O. began sending its fighters to the forests. They sent reconnaissance companies there. I remember that such a company clashed with a Lithuanian-German platoon and a battle developed between them. Some of our people were killed and the rest reached the forest. Today, it may be positively stated that the F.P.O. method was illogical. They sent people to a forest approximately 180 kilometers from the Vilna Ghetto. On the way, they were supposed to pass by Germans, Lithuanians, Poles and Ukrainians, who were worse than the Devil himself. Therefore, they paid with a great deal of blood. In comparison, the second organization made contact with the partisans in the Sorok Tatarow Forest, only 14 kilometers from Vilna.

I remember: on the morning of 1 September 1943, the Germans surrounded the ghetto and the aktzia began. The fighters of the two groups immediately organized for the purpose of armed resistance. Some were caught, because they had not received an order from their headquarters to act. They were loaded on trucks and taken to the railway station. The aktzia continued all day. People were taken out of the ghetto and loaded on freight cars. They were told that they were going to Estonia to work. In this aktzia, Ilia Szejnbojm, the commander of my unit, was killed.

Most were actually taken to Estonia, to a work camp. Later, in the ghetto, we received letters from them. My brother, Jakow, was among them. In his letter, he stressed that it was preferable to go to the forest – the way, to his regret, that he had not chosen. The underground organization I belonged to began to organize to go out to the forest.

On 13 September 1943, I received an order to be ready to go out to the forest at six o'clock in the evening. We were a group of twenty-seven people. We left the ghetto for the price of 300 gold rubles, which we paid to the Lithuanian Gestapo commander and his driver, who took us to the Sorok Tatarow Forest (Forty Tatars) in his truck. I knew the forest well, because I used to chop down trees there. From there, a guide named Kuzminski took us to the group of fighters that had left the ghetto a day earlier. Among them was my brother, Meir. We stayed in a small grove until the next night, when we proceeded and reached the virgin forest called Puszcza Rudnicka. There we met all our groups that had left the ghetto. I remember this detail: in the forest, Russian partisans met us and asked, “Why did you come here? To hide? You worked for the Germans all the time. You Jews are cowards.” We tried to explain the situation to them, that until now we did not have the opportunity to reach the forest to fight. Our main problem was weapons. We looked for ways to acquire weapons from the farmers in the area and found some in exchange for money and threats.

We were 270 fighters in the forest, all from the Vilna Ghetto. We split into four units under the united command of the staff. Another problem arose: how to get food. In total, we had fifteen rifles and ten guns. We got food from the farmers in various ways, primarily, with the help of weapons. They would not have given us food out of good will, so they became our sworn enemies.

In time, we made contact with Moscow and began to get weapons that were parachuted in. (They were not necessarily meant for the Jewish groups).

In the summer of 1944, on my way to a mission, I met Mosze Bonciak, an Ostrolenkan, who was also a partisan. We were very glad to meet unexpectedly. He told me that most of our townspeople had been killed in Baranowicz, Slonim, Molczat, Lachowicz and the area.

That same summer, we were liberated by the Red Army.

We arrived back in Vilna, where the Zionist movement began to organize. From Vilna, which belonged to Russia, we went to Poland. We arrived in Bialystok and then we went to Lublin, where the temporary Polish government had already organized, although the war was still going on.

In Lublin, I saw a spectacle that I will never forget. In the beautiful I. Peretz building, I met the first Jewish women released from the concentration camps. All of them had shaved heads and were dressed in their tattered and filthy prisoners' uniforms. Plagues raged and many people died – even after the liberation.

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I left Lublin, equipped with a Polish document from the International Red Cross, as a Greek Jew. My brother, Meir, was also with me. We went through Czechoslovakia, Hungary and arrived in Romania. There were already emissaries from Israel there, who arranged emigration in two ways: Aliyah [emigration] A (legal) and Aliyah B (illegal). On Rosh HaShana Eve 1945, I arrived in Israel from Italy, as a soldier of the Jewish Brigade.

Holon


My Sisters Tell

Reported by Hone Holcman, Buenos Aires

This is what my three survivor sisters, Sara, Henja and Rachel, tell about the destruction of our city and the fate of our townspeople.

 

Sara

On Friday, 1 September 1939, I was a girl of ten, preparing for the start of school studies after summer vacation. Suddenly, I noticed that something was happening and that the atmosphere in the house was not as usual. I heard strange words, unfamiliar to me until then, such as: war, Nazis… we must escape, etc. My mother lit Sabbath candles, but her prayer was different. She prayed more than she ever had and cried more than she ever had. Suddenly, Father came in and, instead of making kiddush [sanctifying the Sabbath or a holiday by reciting a blessing over wine] – he extinguished the candles. I did not understand this, for it is forbidden to extinguish candles on the Sabbath. In a short time, we had already loaded a wagon with bundles of our household possessions. The entire city did this, and on the Sabbath yet! And here I was, sitting high up on the wagon and we were on our way. Many Jews were traveling. We had already passed the last houses of Ostrolenka. I was cold, I was afraid… I fell asleep. When I woke up, it was already dawn. Around me, I saw bodies lying on the road, overturned wagons, scattered possessions… I listened to the grown-ups' conversations. They had bombed here. The Nazis had fired at escaping crowds. We must hide… The Nazis caught Jews and abused them.

We were in Ostrowa. Out of curiosity, I went out into the street. I saw soldiers putting ribbons with the swastika on their sleeves. They took some Jews in the direction of the market and I ran after them. I hid at a corner and watched what happened. The soldiers ordered them to run, to fall; they pulled their beards and beat them with their rifle butts. I was frightened and ran home crying. I was terribly afraid of those soldiers.

And again, wagons and horses, and again we were traveling. Marching toward us were soldiers – they, too, with swastikas on their sleeves, but goodhearted… They tossed rusks at us. We arrived at the grove and stopped to eat something. My father said that he had once traveled the same road, and that he thought that it would not be so terrible. They were not chasing us and not beating us (he referred to the German invaders in 1915-1918). Therefore, we returned to our Ostrolenka. It is difficult to describe my happiness. Again, we were home, again we saw the chestnut tree opposite our window. I also saw new people who were our guests. Mother said that these were homeless refugees, and asked me to take pity on the children and not to hit them…

On the Simchat Torah holiday, large notices were hung in the city, in German and in Polish, announcing that all Jews must leave Ostrolenka within 24 hours. The grown-ups were very worried. Again, we packed and left. Although it was Simchat Torah, the atmosphere was like Tisha B'Av [the dates of the destruction of both Holy Temples, the 9th of Av, a major annual Jewish fast day], if not worse. At the exit from the city, the Nazis stopped us, searched Father and took all the money he had with him. Mother thanked God that they released us.

We arrived in the town of Czerwin, in the Russianoccupied zone. We met many Jews from Ostrolenka there. I remember: my father's partner, Szmuel Klejnman with his family; our cousin, Berel Lisowicki with his children; my friend, Jochka Przystanczyk with

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her parents; her uncle, Dawid Jehuda Finkelsztejn with his wife, Rachel, and their little daughter; our aunt, Sara Rywka Lisowicki with her six children. We stayed in Czerwin for the entire 1939-1940 winter season. Before Passover, we began traveling again, this time to Kopisk (a village near Lomza), where father engaged in agricultural work and my older sister worked in a cooperative. We, the little children, went to school and learned Russian and Polish, until the miserable date of 22 June 1941.

 

Henja

It was on Sunday, at dusk. A blitzkrieg. Echoing cannon roars, the noise of airplanes above our heads. Endless army convoys, tanks and trucks fill the roads, and we, too, go on and on without rest, day and night. Where? Day and night, on Sunday, on Monday, on Tuesday… On Wednesday, the Germans showed us what they were capable of; members of the Gestapo took Jews for forced labor, among them my father.

In the evening, a Jew entered our home, beaten and wounded, his clothes torn and matted blood on his face – it was my father, who had returned from his work. It was barely possible to recognize him. Mother washed his wounds. We, the children, looked at him and a howl with a curse was torn from us. Lying on his bed, Father told us about his “work”. The Nazis gathered a few Jews, took them to a deserted barrack, forced them to climb up and then to jump down onto a pile of sharp stones. This was a sort of selection, an experiment to see who among them was able to work.

The next morning, Father woke me. I got dressed. The four of us left in the direction of Lomza. Chaim and Sara also joined us. Chaja Frejda had left before us. That same day, Rachel came running to Lomza, barefoot and bruised all over. She told us that a minute after Father and the children left for Lomza, the mayor of the village, Kopisk, came and asked to see Father. When we replied that he was not at home, he left and returned immediately with a group of S.S. men. They lined up in the courtyard in two rows and ordered all of us to come out of the house and pass before the rows.

At first, they just laughed and mocked us. Then, one of the Nazis ordered us to line up in a row – me first, then Grandfather and Grandmother, and last, Mother. He ordered us to walk, to run, to stop and to run again, faster – and so on. Finally, they showered us with murderous blows with their clubs. We ran quickly to prevent the blows from landing on our heads, but we became entangled and fell on each other. The blows were more frequent and harder. Blood flowed from us, but they continued beating us. Mother fell, fainting, and they ordered one of the soldiers to bring a pail full of water and spill it on her. They waited, they had time. No one prevented them from enjoying the game. They sang: “Wenn Yuden blut oifn messer shpritzt” (When Jewish blood sprays from the knife's edge). Running again, beatings again. Grandfather and Grandmother fainted, Mother fainted again. They poured water, but no one got up. The Germans locked us in a deserted storehouse and placed a guard before it. Meanwhile, I waited, trembling from not knowing what would happen to me. After a few minutes, they also put me into the storehouse, so that I would see that everyone was alive, and then they took me out. I was given an order that within an hour, I was to bring Father, and if not – they would murder them all.

 

Sara

I went to Kopisk with the four work-cards that our sister, Chaja Frejda, had obtained for us. In the home of the mayor of the village, I saw S.S. men. They sat there, gorged themselves, drank and laughed loudly. I presented the work-cards to the mayor of the village and he handed them to the Nazis. I stood there, frightened, my whole body trembling, my teeth chattering. Every minute seemed like an eternity. Finally, the Nazi ruled: “The seal is missing!” I ran back to Lomza. Chaja Frejda took the cards and arranged for the seal to be affixed. This time, Henja went to Kopisk. We waited in dread for her return, but she did not come back. We overturned heaven and earth until we saved everyone. Finally, she arrived and we were all in Lomza.

 

Henja

When I gave the papers to the mayor of the village, they told me to go. I wanted to know if Grandfather and Grandmother were still alive, so I hid behind the stable.

A Nazi caught me and put me into the stable. When Mother saw me, she burst out crying. “All right”, she said, “We are already lost, but you, young girl, why did you walk into the lion's den?”

 

Sara, Henja and Rachel

On the streets of Lomza, they caught Jews, loaded

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them on black trucks and took them to a place unknown. The Nazis demanded money and gold. To save themselves and their dear ones, women gave them their wedding rings. Severe plagues of typhus, dysentery and other illnesses raged without stop. Lacking any medical assistance, people died like flies. More Jews came from towns and villages in the area. There was a great shortage of apartments. More than one family lived in each room. Every day – new decrees. Jews must wear the yellow Star of David and they are forbidden to walk on the sidewalk.

A ghetto, Judenrat and Jewish police were established. Jews were abducted for forced labor and if someone returned – it was regarded as a miracle.

The Jews who came from the towns told us terrible things. Rywka Kurc (now in Australia) told us that in Jedwabne, the S.S. enclosed all the Jews in a hayloft – men, women, children and old people, among them her husband and two children. They set fire to the building and everyone was burned alive. Similar things were told to us by survivors from Stawisk, Szczuczyna, Grabie and the area.

In the Lomza Ghetto we met Jews from Ostrolenka: the Krystal family; Krymkiewicz the Teacher and her husband; Fisz the Carpenter and his family; Michael Dancyger, who had come back from Belarus, where his entire family was killed; Fejga Gercek, who was in Auschwitz and survived. Golda and Aszer Zusman and their son (we saw them for the last time on 1 November 1942); Rejzka Zusman; Nana Zusman (the daughter of Aron Zusman, she passed away from dysentery in the ghetto); the Goldsztejn family (their son, Adek, was saved); Dr. Karbowski was imprisoned in the Lomza jail. Awraham Zelig Nowinski and his wife, their son and two daughters; Awraham Zelig was caught by the Germans. Zyskind Zusman and his family; Chawa Wajnkranc and her children – her husband got lost; the widow Granowicz with two sons; Zlocisty the Shoemaker; Chaja Zlocisty survived, as did Wolkowicz the father, and his son, Noah; Mosze Lang; the widow Zlotowicz and her son.

The S.S. man, Mankin, a beast in a man's body, imposed fear and terror on all the Jews of the ghetto. Every time he came into the ghetto, he was accompanied by a light truck, which left the ghetto full of Jews or their stolen property. He used the Jewish police to help him steal. Mankin was not a common thief; for him, stealing was an amusement and a real pleasure. He used to go into a Jewish home, sit down on the sofa and rock. Meanwhile, he ordered the Jewish police to empty out all the contents. He ordered elegant furniture belonging mainly to rich Jews, put in the truck.

He ordered used and damaged things thrown away. Finally, he would defecate like an animal in the middle of the house, in front of everyone, and burst into a great laugh… To shoot the Jews in the ghetto – this was his pleasure. He would order a Jew to run and then shoot him in his back.

 

Rachel

Once, something happened in the ghetto that was talked about by everyone. The S.S. came to the ghetto to abduct Jews. From the window, I saw the truck approach our house. They took out our neighbor's young, beautiful daughter and put her into the vehicle, and then they were already at our home, and took Father. I hesitated about what to do. Why was I still standing there? Father was already approaching the vehicle. I ran outside and faced the Nazi. I asked, I pleaded, I cried. He burst out laughing and released Father.

I remember something else that happened when they carried out a search. A Jewish policeman whose name I have forgotten, a young man of about 18, was ordered by the Nazis to enter a house and take all the elderly Jews out of it. The young man entered and left immediately, saying that he had not found any elderly Jews. Not content with this, the Nazi went into the house himself and took two elderly Jews out of it. Then, without saying a word, he shot the young policeman to death.

 

Rachel, Henja and Sara

In September 1941, the Nazis hung notices in the ghetto, that all Jews from the age of 14 who did not have a work card must present themselves on 17 September in the city square, to receive a work referral.

On the appointed day – it was a Tuesday – Father, Mother, Grandfather and Grandmother went to the square where the selection was held. Then black trucks came and one thousand, five hundred Jews were loaded onto them. They were taken in an unknown direction and never heard of again. There were rumors that they were taken to Treblinka. Some said that they shot them in the forest near the city. Our mother was miraculously saved and returned home. After they annihilated three members of our family, we thought we would not be

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able to overcome the catastrophe. The pain even increased when we discovered that no examination was held as to whether all those who did not have work cards had presented themselves. “They went for no reason”, we cried. After this, we were in the ghetto for another 13 months. “We lived” like everyone else did – about this, more than enough has been written and told, and we would not contribute anything new here.

On Sunday, 1 November 1942, we saw a suspicious sort of movement of Germans in the ghetto. They came to the workshops to get work they had ordered and, in many instances, took unfinished work. We sensed that something terrible was about to happen. We asked neighbors, acquaintances, but no one knew anything. Everyone was worried. In our house at the time was Chaja Etka Dronzek, her two-year-old son and twelveyear- old stepdaughter, Rojza; Rywka Kurc; our mother, Fejga Lea; our sister, Chaja Frejdel; our brother, Chaim Judel, and the three of us. We were helpless, we did not know what to do.

Our apartment was on Senatorska Street, and the courtyard bordered on Dworna Street, which was outside the ghetto – one of Lomza's beautiful streets. Many Christians lived there and the barbed wire fence that separated us was near our house. In a house near the border lived a Gentile named Przechodzien, who we knew. We had a secret passageway in the barbed wire fence, exactly opposite his house, through which we would go out and smuggle food into the ghetto for our family and those living with us. On that very day, Chaja Frejdel went to the Gentile and persuaded him to let us hide in his apartment. Not everyone agreed to this plan, however, maintaining that it was too dangerous. Perhaps it was just a false alarm? Chaja Etka Dronzek was especially opposed to the plan. But the events that followed tipped the scales toward escape.

Security was increased in the ghetto. The Judenrat announced that tomorrow, that is, on the 2nd of November, all Jews must present themselves at the “Green Square”. Everyone was permitted to take only five kilograms of baggage. We waited until it got dark. Our nerves were stretched tight. Suddenly, crisscrossing searchlight beams continuously lit our passageway, until we nearly gave up on our escape plan. Brave Chaja Frejdel, however, encouraged us and we decided to go. She counted the passing seconds between the times when the searchlight fell on the spot, and decided that in the short pause, when the passageway was dark, one person could succeed in getting through. She, herself, went first; after her, Henja (who had just recovered from typhus), Sara, and Rachel with Chaja Etka's son.

We were already in Przechodzien's house. A minute went by, two went by, ten minutes, an hour and more, but no one came. We did not know what had happened. The child cried. The Gentile went out into the street to see what had happened and when he returned, he told everyone to go down to the cellar. He was frightened and ordered us to be quiet.

Toward morning, he came down to us in the cellar and told us that notices were posted in the city's streets, warning the Christian population that if someone hid a Jew and was caught – he and his whole family would be executed. Whoever turned a Jew in, however, would get a prize of three kilos of sugar and a kilo of salt. We were silent. We did not know what he intended to do with us. He calmed us and gave us instructions as to how to get to his friend in the village.

We left through a breach in the shed in his courtyard – four sisters, the oldest 20 years old and the youngest twelve, and, with us, Chaja Etka's two-yearold son. We went to the village.

The farmer had just returned from Lomza, and told us about the shocking spectacles that took place there. The road to Lomza and the streets of the city were strewn with corpses of Jews who tried to escape. The Gentile told us: “Take whatever you want and get out of my house. If you stay here, it is dangerous for you as well as for me.”

We wandered through the fields and forests. Along the way, we met a farmer. He told us that in Sziadowa, too, the same thing had happened as in Lomza. He told us to hide in the forest, in the hope that it would not go on for a long time, and we could come out.

For two days and two nights, we wandered around the forest with the little boy. We decided to take a chance and go back to the first farmer to whom we went from the ghetto. There, we met our mother and our brother, as well as those who had lived in the apartment next door. Przechodzien had brought them there. We all went to the forest. Przechodzien helped us dig pits in order to hide in them from the Nazi beast. He promised to provide us with food. Indeed, he helped us a great deal, until… The farmers from the nearby villages began to harass him. They called him “the servant of the Jews”, they cursed him, they threw stones at him. After the Liberation, we found out that they had killed him. May God avenge his blood.

We lay in the forest all that winter. The long nights

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seemed endless to us. During the day, we prayed that night would come, and at night, we craved the coming of the day. Every rustle of the wind, of the birds or the squirrels, frightened us. We told each other about everything we had gone through and experienced.

 

Rojza

When I crossed Dworna Street, a Gestapo man caught me and brought me to the police station. They interrogated and tortured me there and, finally, returned me to the ghetto. Immediately, we began building a hiding place from boards and we all hid there. Toward morning, the destruction of the ghetto began. In our hiding place, different sounds reached us – crying, shouts, curses, shots. This continued all day and into the night. When silence prevailed, I came out of our hiding place. Through the passageway between the barbed wire fence, I went to Przechodzien. After he told me what had happened, I returned to the ghetto to calm Mother. The next day, all of us left the ghetto.

 

All Three Sisters

Winter 1942/1943. We laid in the forest. Everything around us – the trees and the fields – was covered with a thick layer of snow. We were nourished by the poor food that the good and merciful farmers brought us. They gave us a little bread and sometimes some slices of pig fat, too. They put it in a prearranged place and, at night, we took it. We were a large family and this was barely sufficient for us. The farmers were already tired of giving. Other hungry Jews were hidden in the forest. We sometimes stole pigs or chickens from the farmers at night.

Chaja Frejdel went to a distant village. We waited for her to return for a long time. We thought something had happened to her. She came back dressed in a coat, wearing boots and wrapped in a large scarf. She looked like a real farmer woman, and brought bread, a little flour, salt. Mother divided the bread equally among us, and put the flour and salt aside. Chaja Frejda said that, from now on, we should call her Helka. We must get used to this name and, from now on, we must speak only Polish, in order to acquire a pure accent. She intended to find us places with farmers, so that we could hide with them. We studied Christian prayers diligently and practiced pure Polish speech. We got places in villages, staying there as Poles. We looked like Aryans and this helped a great deal. Only for Mother no place could be found, because of her typical Jewish appearance. Chaja Frejda did not want to part from Mother and stayed with her in the forest.

We had to change hiding places often and, because of these changes, we went through enough troubles and mishaps. We will tell about this below. Before, however, we would like to tell about someone we met in the forest:

Szlomo Gurfinkel – a small boy, barefoot, dressed in rags, bleeding and dirty. We met him in the forest, we spoke to him in Polish and he did not answer. He only made motions with his hands. We thought he was mute. We brought him to our pit and Mother asked him in Yiddish what his name was. Now, his eyes lit up with joy and he answered immediately: Szloimke. We washed him and dressed him in girls' clothes (we did not have boys' clothes). Out of great happiness, he began to sing. “I am a person equal to any other.” He had a pleasant voice, and he sang us songs in Yiddish and entertained us. We settled him with a Polish farmer as a mute, because his Polish was bad (Mother hoped to take him with us to Argentina after the war, but she passed away and did not succeed in doing this. A Jewish officer in the Red Army took him to Russia.)

Szlomo Gurfinkel, nine years old then, was the son of a watchmaker from Goworowo. Later we met the families in the forest: Henja Geluda; Fajwel, Mendel and Herszel from Drogoszeva; Rachel Perkal from Zarzy; Aron Koen from Ostrow-Mazowieck; Mendel Piasecki from Makow; Bolek Szedler and Henjek Wajncyer from Warsaw. Zalman (to my regret, I have forgotten his last name) from Tarnovo, a carpenter by profession, his family lived in Israel until before the war. Rywka Kopyto from Szczepankowa (now in Israel); Duwcia Kachan from Dlugosiodla; Mosze Chassida from Stawisk; Chaim from Luby; Fiszel Kafko from Tarnowo (now in Australia); Shalom Lipinski and his father from Lomza (now in Argentina); Golombek from Lomza (he survived).

 

Henja

My first hiding place was with a Christian family in Tszasek. They were nice people and treated me well. They prepared a hiding place for me in the barn, so that I would have a place to hide if necessary.

Once, toward evening, their son, Stasiek, came running and called to me: Geniusia (I had changed my name from Henja), hide quickly! I peeked out of the

[Page 387]

window and saw German gendarmes approaching. I could not have gotten to the barn, so I climbed up into the attic. Stasiek came up after me, covered me with a pile of rags and laid an old mattress over them. I held my breath. A minute after Stasiek went down, I heard steps climbing the ladder. They spoke in German and removed the mattress. I thought: I am lost. I lay without moving. They searched every corner and finally left. I went down and saw Stasiek beaten and bleeding. It turned out that the gendarmes found the hiding place in the barn, and they beat him so that he should tell them for whom the place was prepared.

The next day, I had to leave their house. I roamed the fields all day. Toward evening, I went to another village and knocked on the door of a house. A woman opened the door, let me in and gave me food. After the meal, we prayed; she splashed me with holy water, and we went to sleep in the same bed. This “happiness” continued for two days.

Sara For some time, I hid with a poor Christian farmer woman. Many Jews came to her poor home. Each received a slice of bread here and, on winter days, they warmed themselves near the oven and cleaned their filthy clothes. Her name was Golobiescicha. In the summer, I went out to the pasture with the cows; in the winter, I carried wood and water, heated the oven and listened to her curses… Finally, she drove me away. I wandered around the fields and met Helka (that is, Frejda). She took me to the forest and then found me a place with another farmer. He also drove me away and I went back to Golobiescicha.

A month passed and I did not hear anything from anyone. I began to worry. I looked in the direction of the forest all the time, in case someone appeared.

On Passover 1943, Helka came again. We went into the nearby grove. The lads had “organized” a bit of flour, meat and horseradish for the holiday (although we did not lack bitter herbs). Mother kneaded dough from the flour, rolled it out into the shape of sheets and baked on white-hot rocks. Thus, we had “matzo”. In the evening, we held a “Seder” [Passover ritual feast], we recited the “Haggadah” [the book containing the order of the Seder] and prayed “to leave the forest” and for a quick downfall for the Nazis. I told them that the daughter of Golobiescicha had arrived from Warsaw and had told me that the Warsaw Ghetto went up in flames, that the Jews fought against the Germans and that the Germans took many of their own fatalities out of the ghetto. It is hard to describe our joy. Helka immediately went to the forest with this news. When I met her again, she told me that the news about the uprising in Warsaw so excited the lads in the forest, that they decided to organize self-defense. After consultation, they decided to exchange Mendel Piasecki's suit for a handgun… They set the exact place for the deal with a farmer they knew, but the Gentile set a trap for them. When they approached the place, Polish bullies from the Armia Krajowa [Home Army] beset them and murdered the three of them – Mendel Piasecki, Bolek Szedler and Henjek Wajncyer. May God avenge their blood.

 

Rachel

I did not have the luck to be a “Christian” because of my “deplorable appearance”. All the farmers I went to drove me away. I stayed at the first place only two days. They were afraid of informers. Others drove me away in the middle of the night. I wandered around barefoot in a snowstorm and the freezing cold, my shoes in my hand because I had not had enough time to put them on. Once, I tapped on a window. Even before I could say a word, the farmer began shouting “Get out of here, Jewess! My dogs are hungry for Jewish meat. If you don't get out of here now, I will treat them to a good meal!” I ran away quickly.

The wind calmed a bit. I was completely covered in a cold sweat. In the distance, I saw twinkling lights, like small stars. I drew near and saw that it was a village. Afraid to tap on a window, I went into a cowshed and the warmth of the cows enfolded me. I was tired and wanted to sleep. I found a place on the floor clear of cow dung, sat down and fell asleep. The crowing of a rooster woke me. I quickly put on my shoes, which had no laces, tied them with something and went on my way.

In the middle of the day, I came to another village. I met a farmer and he let me into his house. Through the window, I saw two German gendarmes approaching. The Gentile forced me to run away. I left with quick steps, but not running, so as not to arouse the gendarmes' suspicion.

On the road, I sensed that someone was following me. I thought – I am lost. I turned around and saw a fellow with a forelock of hair falling over his forehead

[Page 388]

and a large beard. I stopped. “I am Jewish, too”, he said in Polish, but I did not want to believe him. “What do you want?”, I asked in Polish. He tried to convince me that he was indeed a Jew and that I should not be afraid of him. “Then speak in Yiddish,” I tested him. Thus, I met Mendel Piasecki, who was shot by anti-Semitic partisans, as related above.

 

Szlomo from Zbojna (after the Liberation, Rachel married him in Lomza) recounts:

Immediately upon the outbreak of the war, Zbojna was occupied by the Germans. Our family escaped to Rutek and then to Tarnovo, which was given over to the Russians. After two years of the Russian regime, on 22 June 1941, we were occupied by the Germans again. On that very day, they carried out a pogrom against the Jews. The ritual slaughterer, Reb Szabtaj, and many other Jews were killed then.

Until the destruction of the Lomza Ghetto, we were in Tarnovo. On 1 November, all the Jews of Tarnowo were gathered together and they took us to the Miastkowa Forest. I succeeded in escaping and hid in the Christian cemetery. The next day, I went back to the forest after I “organized” some food in a nearby village. In the forest, I met Mendel Piasecki.

This is how I met the Holcman family. One very dark night, I went to a farmer in a nearby village to ask for bread. Near the barn, I saw a figure wandering around. I wanted to run away, but immediately I heard the voice of a woman, which calmed me. Thus, I met Chaja Frejdel (“Helka”).

After I met the Holcman sisters and their brother, Henjek, we decided to unite into one group, in the hope that our lives would be easier this way. We dug pits and organized a workshop for the production of felt boots, which we exchanged with the farmers for food. Henjek had a typical Aryan appearance – blond hair and blue eyes, and he became our liaison.

In the summer, we were afraid to stay in the forest because the Gentiles often went there, so we moved our place to the marshes. In the marshes, the water came up to our knees and, sometimes, to our belts. We began to put up a shack there, using a method of crisscrossing poles over trimmed tree branches, on which we put straw and leaves. The roof was made of the tall grasses that grew there abundantly. We put up three shacks like these, 100 meters distant from each other. We were twenty-five people then. On the night of 6 June 1944, a gang of “heroes” from the Armia Krajowa beset us and killed twelve of us. Mrs. Holcman was wounded and stayed in the shack, and burned when the bullies set fire to it. All the others fled. They succeeded in catching Aron Kon, one of the lads of our group, tall and strong, and turned him over to the Germans. They interrogated and tortured him and then shot him in the marshes.

From the outset, we agreed that, in the event of a catastrophe, we would flee and meet the next day at the same place. And so we met the next day and saw the extent of our destruction. The victims' bodies were torn to pieces. We wept silently and clenched our fists. We were afraid to bury them, lest we be discovered. After a few days, when we went there again, the bodies had already been buried. We covered their graves with leaves (Chaja Frejdel and Henjek were also among those killed). Then, we wandered among the wheat fields in small groups until the Liberation. On 5 September 1944, a soldier of the Red Army came upon Rachel and me in the forest. Rachel wore a dress made out of a sack. She was barefoot and had wounds on her legs. I looked just like her. The soldier took us to the village where the army headquarters was. A Major, a Jew, took an interest in us, and ordered that we be fed and given clothes.

The redemption did not come all at once. There were still wanderings and difficult experiences to come. We were in Sziadowa, Zambrow, Bialystok and Warsaw. In Lomza, I married Rachel, and then we were in the Landsberg displaced persons camp, where our eldest son was born.

In 1948, we arrived in Argentina.

*

22 June 1941 – 22 June 1961.

Twenty years have passed since them. Did we indeed go through all that? Is it possible? Did it happen to our generation?

To this day, we mourn our brothers and our sisters, Grandfather and Grandmother, our friends and acquaintances – all those who were martyred by the German murderers; all those who were tortured and humiliated, shot, slaughtered, hung, burned and buried alive!

In those dark days of horror, we did not just cry and clench our fists. With all our instincts and every inch of our bodies, we sought a way to save ourselves, to exist, to stay alive – to fulfill our father's Will.

[Page 389]

He said:

“Children, hard days are coming. A rabble of beasts of prey in the image of men has risen up to destroy us. They want to erase us from the face of the earth. Remember: if you see them taking your father or killing your mother, brothers, sisters – do not cry, just look for a way to flee, to escape, to save yourselves – so that you will remain living witness to tell everything and revenge their blood. There must come a day of revenge, a day of judgment!”

Did we revenge ourselves?! Did we judge enough?!

The rescuers, the Christian farmers should be mentioned here favorably. They risked their lives, the lives of their families and their property, and helped persecuted Jews with shelter, board and food, and often hid them in their houses for long periods. Sometimes their lives were taken for this by the Germans, and also by their Christian brothers, anti-Semites and enemies of Israel. This was more than mercy on their part, this was devotion! A human spark in hours of cruelty of the worst kind. Thanks to these goodhearted farmers, we were saved – the three sisters and, with us, other Jews from Ostrolenka and other cities. To them we give our blessing and our Yizkor prayer. To the poor farmer woman Golobiescicha – although, from fear of the Germans, she cursed and threatened to drive away those she had hidden. Despite this, many Jews found shelter for many months in her home.

To the farmer Zyskien, who hid one of our sisters in his bed during a sudden visit of the S.S. He did not imagine that, meanwhile, they would rape his twelve year- old daughter. Despite this, he still kept our sister until the Liberation.

To the Christian lad Stasiek, from the village of Stasiek, who absorbed murderous blows from the German, but did not turn in the Jewish woman he hid!

To the holy and goodhearted man, the Pole Przechodzien from Lomza, who sacrificed himself for us and for many other Jews, and helped us with food, clothing and advice. His house was a “free point” for the Jews from the Lomza Ghetto. Therefore, he was persecuted by his own people, who finally killed him.

To them, to the many other unknown Righteous Gentiles – honor to your memories! May God remember you favorably and avenge your spilt blood!


Among the Partisans in the Naliboki Forest

(Reported by Hanan Czernowin [Hone “Szczot” Klezmer from Ostrolenka, he passed away in Israel]. He was born in 1910 in Ostrolenka as the son of Jechezkel Meir. He was in the Baranowicz Ghetto, and then in the Oszmjanski work camp, from which he escaped to the forests. He joined the Kadima partisan unit, in the Siberiak Platoon in the Naliboki Forest. After the Liberation, he fought in the Red Army and lost his right leg. Lately, he has resided in Bialystok.)

In 1939, when war broke out between Poland and Germany, I was drafted into the Polish Army, 18th Division. We fought near Ostrolenka, near Myszyniec- Dombrowa. After the defeat of Poland, I was taken captive by the Soviets near Czerwoni-Bor. After a short time, I was released and went to look for my wife.

In September 1939, the Germans published an order that all the Jews of Ostrolenka must leave the city! I went, with my family, to Baranowicz…

June 1948
(The Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw)

 

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