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[Page 429]

Eye Witnesses

 

Chaim Ostrow

Translated by Muriel Hauptman Goldstein and Judie Ostroff Goldstein

In 1941, when the war broke out between Germany and Soviet Russia, I was eleven years old. When my father left my mother and me, my heart was heavy, though I had not imagined he would never come back to us. A little while later, seeing that so many others who had left were not coming back, I began to have doubts. I could not ask my mother because I felt that would I would breakdown, that both of us would - and I tried very hard to avoid this. A few people still lived with the hope that when the war would end, they would find out. The war has ended and we have received information that my father was killed in combat against the German Fascists, at Leningrad.

I no longer have a father. I would like to find comfort and it is impossible. Still it is a little easier to grasp the tragic death of my father when I remember that he was not burnt in the crematoria of Majdanek, Auschwitz or Treblinka, only fallen in combat while helping to annihilate some of the German murderers of six million of our people.

My father, alive in my heart, forever thinking of you.

 


Lejbl Iwrejkes

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

At the outbreak of the war, when I left Ostrowa in 1939, I was fifty-eight years old and went to Białystok. A short time later the Red Army arrived. I was with my four sons, two daughters-in-law and grandchildren. A little while later we were all sent to prison where I was tortured and separated from my children. I was left with two sick sons, one of whom died from hunger; one son, his wife and children fell into Hitler's hands and a son and daughter-in-law went missing. It had been a while since I had heard from him. In 1940 I was sent to Siberia. I was sixty years old at the time and all these experiences made me feel older. I worked deep in the forest at temperatures sixty and seventy degrees below zero. I was given two hundred grams of bread a day and water-soup three times a day. I was barefoot, with rags on my feet until at the end of winter I received shoes with wooden soles held on with rags. I spent three years being hungry, filthy and swollen. Then the Polish citizens were freed. I was already sixty-three and I lived in hope of finding my children and with G-d's help I endured and was reunited with my three sons.

 


[Pages 430-431]

Benjamin Goldsztejn, Tel-Aviv

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Two days before the Germans entered Ostrowa (a Wednesday), the city was heavily bombed. One bomb landed on Szlama Kozuchowicz's house near the City Hall knocking down an entire wall. Luckily, nobody in the house was injured. I found out later that Grabina, the shoemaker, had lost his mind, due to the bombing.

In the morning, the Germans shot a Polish noble to death and burnt his palace that stood three kilometers from the city. Mordechai Ber Tarnowski and his son Menachem were staying with relatives in the city when their mill burnt. It was next to the palace. In despair they ran to save the mill, but on the way were shot by the Germans.

When the Germans had been in the city for three days, they spread the news that all men must sign up for work. What kind of work and where, nobody knew.

When I went with a friend, Lejzor Krakowski, to find out where to enroll, we met a German on a motorcycle. Seeing us calmly walking, the German aimed his motorcycle at us - hanging around a while to create a tumult. We ran from him to ulica Warszawska. The street was already full of running men, even old men. We still did not know where we had sign up for work. Seeing as all the Jews who were running were not going to the right place, a group of Germans with machine guns shot wildly over their heads. Everyone started running again. When we finally arrived at the right place (on ulica Komorowo near Jakob Domb's house) and had a chance to look around, we saw a lot of old men, dazed and bleeding, who had not able to run fast enough. Soon ulica Komorowo was full of Jewish men, including a lot of refugees from the surrounding villages. From somewhere a German yelled up at Jakob Domb's open window, that it should be closed. When nobody obeyed his order, he took a machine gun and shot at the window. Then we heard heart-rending screams. A bullet had hit Jakob Domb's daughter. The mother of the wounded girl ran out of the house, fell at the feet of a German officer pleading to be allowed to fetch the doctor so that he could stop her child's bleeding. The officer and the other Germans standing around watching this “spectacle” shook with laughter.

Among the Jewish men standing in the street was a sick Jew, an epileptic, a refugee from a nearby village. Suddenly he had an attack and fell to the ground with foam on his lips. A German went wild, screaming that the Jew was faking and hit the sick man in the head with the barrel of his gun.

Still nobody had signed up to work, but we were ordered to run to the Gymnasia Square. The crowd, in fear, once again ran. Those who could not run fast enough were beaten. The Gymnasia Square was packed. There were machine guns on the balcony and every ten minutes an airplane flew over making such a noise, as if they wanted to terrorize us.

After standing for several hours, a German officer came out onto the balcony and gave a speech calling the Jewish people all kinds of names. He warned us if any of the local Jews violated his orders the entire city would suffer. We were allowed to leave and the Germans again chased us. They chased us from one street to the next until we did not know where to go. As a result of being chased and the ensuing panic, a lot of Jews were injured and one of them later died. I began preparations to leave Ostrowa with my family for the Soviet occupied zone.

 


[Pages 431-432]

Judka Gutgold

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Several days after Rosheshone 1939, the Germans arrived in Ostrowa. The first thing they did was grab Jews with beards and ear locks and cut off their beards from one side of their faces until they bled. These wild SS men thought this was very funny and shook with laughter.

Later they grabbed people for heavy labour, forcing them to go to the Sadzawka and ordered them to wash the muddy trucks.

They often had a desire to order the Jews to dance in the streets. One Jew, whose beard had been half cut off, was given a mirror and forced to dance in the streets for many hours. The wild laughter of the SS men could be heard for quite a distance.

After the first days of the German occupation of Ostrowa, people were already standing in long lines to get bread. Jews and Christians stood in line together. One time the baker put aside a loaf of bread inside the bakery. One of the Poles noticed and created a fuss. When the young man took the loaf, a dispute quickly took place and an SS man ran after him and ordered him to stand still. The young man stood there shaking with fear. The SS man took him back into the same bakery and asked him from where he had taken the loaf of bread. As the young man put the bread down, the SS man stretched out his arm and shot him with a revolver. The young man fell dead on the spot.

Yonkiper, they dragged out those who were praying and took them away to work.

Three weeks later my family crossed over the border to the Soviet side. While I was there, I heard that the Germans had killed the remaining Jews, those who had chosen not to leave the city. Hundreds of them had been murdered.

Among those murdered were: our mother Chaja Liba Trejster, our brother Aron with his three children - Mendel, Symcha and Tewia; our sister Chana Przytik as well as our relatives Jeshija Gold and Abram Mendel Oland.

Also, we were told that our relatives Abram, Chana and Mendel Trejster were murdered in Warszawa.

 


[Pages 432-434]

Josef Jalon, Ramat Gan

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Before the Germans arrived in Ostrowa, I was with my family in Braińsk, near Białystok. In Braińsk the SS tore me and my younger brother Zisk away from the family and sent us to the German city of Königsberg to do hard labour. One of the others with us, an Ostrower, Jankiel Tachner (one of Abraham Icchok the W±sewer tailor's sons), died there from starvation.

A short time later, I was sent, along with six hundred fifty other Jews, to Sobibor. We travelled in cattle cars for four winter days, in the freezing cold. The trains went through Warszawa and stopped at a secluded station. Soon we found out that people from the Red Cross would arrive to take the Christian prisoners who had travelled together with us. People said that it was not very difficult for the Red Cross to arrange to take the Christians, but for us Jews, they did not even plead.

Very tired and almost frozen, on January 13, 1940 we arrived at Sobibor.

When we left the cattle cars, we saw that 1seventeen people had died on the way. Then we heard an order that we should all stand in rows of four. Once we lined up, they picked sixty-eight men and ordered them to get the bodies from the train cars. Four people carried each body to the nearby forest while surrounded by SS with rifles at the ready. When they reached the forest, the SS opened fire and all of them were killed. After that the machine guns opened fire and in a hail of bullets shot at everyone. Most were mowed down, but still some of us ran towards the forest.

I came out on another side of the forest with only two other Jews. We saw a peasant hut.

When we came close to the hut, a middle-aged peasant came out. We pleaded with him to have mercy and allow us to stay overnight. He asked us if we had any money. When we gave him all the money we had, he drove us out of his hut screaming wildly and threatened to alert the Germans immediately.

We ran away from him. Having lost our way, we suddenly heard shooting. We did not know where to run. Meanwhile it had become dark. It was a very dark night. So my two companions disappeared.

The next morning, I found a second hut, but the peasant would not allow me in either. He only showed me the road that would get me the town of Włodowa.

Going deeper into the forest, I saw a Jew hanging from a tree – sitting near him was a Jew with open eyes. I recognized him right away. It was the Sztuczyner rav. I was afraid of startling him and wanted him to hear me coming, but he had frozen to death.

In great terror I left there and wandered around the entire night in the dark. The next day, I arrived in Russian territory. There I ran into the Russian border patrol and was sent from prison to prison and finally to a slave labour camp.

In 1946 I returned to Ostrowa, where most of the Jewish houses had been destroyed. Both cemeteries had been leveled and the Sokolower shtibl had become a factory. Also, the brewery that had belonged to the Tejtels had been razed. A large cross was hung from a piece of the remaining gate. It was said that a lot of Ostrowa Jews had been killed at the gate.

I went to Germany. I found out that my family had wandered to Slonim and had been murdered there.

Those murdered were my wife Leja along with our children: Chana Dina, seven years old and Welwel, one and a half years old.

 


[Page 434]

Abraham Jakubowski

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Before the Germans arrived in Ostrowa, they bombed the town and a lot of houses were destroyed and Josel Prawda was killed. This was Wednesday. Shabes the murderers arrived and they set fire to ulica Malkinia and shot the porter Jankiel Kotke there. They also shot strangers from various towns. Sunday the Germans took all the Jewish men from the street and beat Nachum Lewartowicz. He was covered with blood and could not see where he was going. Everyone was forced to go to the Gymnasia Square where we stayed the entire day. We were told that we were not to be in the street after six o'clock in the evening and around seven o'clock in the evening they released us. As we were going home, we were shot at and how we remained alive, we did not know as people were falling dead at our feet. And this is how it went for two weeks with the Germans in Ostrowa. Then came the order that all Jews in Ostrowa must leave the town. The Jews took their children by the hand and left for the border near Ostrowa. We went to Białystok and there we lay around in the schools for eight weeks. Many died in Białystok from the dirt, because all the schools were full of Jews - young, old and small children. Then we were sent to Russia. Those who were sent further into Russia remained alive and those who were not sent far enough - were once again taken over by the Germans.

In Russia we lived through the war in hunger, but thank G-d, we were still alive. Afterwards we were sent back to Poland, naked and barefoot, and settled in Lower Silesia.

 


Noach Laska

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

September 7th, 1939 the murderers arrived in Ostrów Mazowiecka. Already on the 10th, the first order was issued that all the men must gather in one place at City Hall. It was an introduction to how the murderers would treat us. All the Jews were gathered there and the Germans gave an order that all of us were to run quickly, with hands in the air, to the Gymnasia Square. The running went on and on. A German on a motorcycle was riding quickly and all the Jews had to keep up with him. At the end, several Germans on motorcycles drove straight at those who could not keep up and ran them over. Arriving at the Gymnasia Square neither dead nor alive, there was an order to sit on the ground and that anyone who moves from there will be shot.

Hitler's murderers kept us until six o'clock in the evening (they had forbidden us to be in the streets after six o'clock). After a while we were all allowed to go home. Running home we met up with a German detachment and they started shooting at us. Many Jews were killed. That day was the beginning of tragic events for the Ostrower Jews. Day to day it became more difficult, they seized us for forced labour and did not give us any food. The Nazis tore the beards off the old Jews and threw them in the water. The nights were filled with terror and tragedy. The Nazis went around at night to houses robbing, beating up Jews and causing all sorts of trouble.

It is difficult to write about the two weeks when we had to live with the Germans. September 20, 1939 an order was issued that all the Jews without exception, children, old, and sick, must stand in the street and leave the houses open. If they find anyone in the houses, they will shoot them. And when everyone was gathered in the streets, the murderers told us that there was no reason for us to be here as there will not be any bread for us and that we can leave Ostrów and go to the Russians. There was a lot of anxiety among Ostrowa's Jewish population and from that day forth the Ostrower Jews began to leave town and went to Russia. About five hundred sixty Jews stayed in Ostrowa and their situation became more difficult. A short time later, the five hundred sixty Jews were gathered together and they were ordered to dig a large trench outside town. There they were buried alive. Also, not all of those who left Otrowa would survive. When the Germans went to war against the Russians, they soon took over the border towns where our Ostrower Jews had settled. It was too late for them to run further. And these Jews were murdered in the death camps, in the gas chambers and under other tragic circumstances.

Only a small number of Ostrower Jews, who were deep in the Soviet Union, were saved and of those who were among the partisans, an even smaller number remained alive.

 


[Pages 436-437]

Chaim Slomka

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Winter 1939 was when I arrived in Białystok after fleeing from the Germans in Warszawa. In Białystok I meet a Polish acquaintance from Ostrów Mazowiecka who told me the following:

In Ostrów Mazowiecka, Wednesday, the 5th November 1939 at night, a fire broke out on ulica 3go Maja. The fire could have easily been contained, but the Germans did not extinguish it and several houses were burned to the ground.

At the time, there were still a few local Jews in Ostrów Mazowiecka, as most had already crossed the border to get away from the Germans. Only old people and some artisans had stayed behind.

In Ostrów Mazowiecka were Jews from Pułtusk and other places. They had come there to cross the border into the Soviet Union. Altogether there were about five hundred.

Thursday, the morning after the fire, the Germans gathered all the Jews together and put them in the Tejtel brewery ice cellar on ulica Brokowska. There was no use hiding as the Germans had already decided to murder all the Jews. The Germans were offering to pay one zloty for each Jew caught and there was no lack of volunteers.

The five hundred Jews were put in the ice cellar until Sunday.

There was general confusion in town. Aside from the murderers, nobody was seen on the streets.

My Polish acquaintance lived in a corner of town. He decided Sunday morning to go into town to see what was happening. He went with his wife. At the marketplace he noticed a truck. The truck was standing still. In the truck were Germans and some Poles who had agreed to go along with them. The Germans took my acquaintance in the truck as well and they drove on the highway to the Warszawer forest, two kilometers outside town.

A long trench had been dug there. After a while, two loaded trucks arrived. Jewish women were taken out of the truck. All the women had blindfolds over their eyes and were holding a child by the hand.

The women with the blindfolds over their eyes were steered to the grave and there on their knees they were shot. When shot, the women fell into the grave. A large number of them were not yet dead. The children, who had fallen from the women's hands, were caught by Germans on their bayonets and thrown into the grave, or while still alive, were kicked into it. The loud screams of the women and children pierced the air.

Then the Poles were given lime to scatter on the bodies and ordered to fill the grave.

Only two women were saved from the slaughter. One was in hospital giving birth and the Germans did not take her and a second – the blacksmith's wife who was sick and when the Germans came for her, a German doctor would not allow them to take her.

How the men were brought to the slaughter, my acquaintance did not want to say.

 

ost437.jpg
Nazis shooting Jews at the edge of a pit

 


[Pages 437-438]

Jidel Slomka

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Ostrów Mazowiecka had eighteen to twenty thousand inhabitants – forty percent of whom were Jewish. The shtetl had a vast cultural life. There were various organizations: Bund, Zionist, Mizrahi, Poalei-Zion, HaShomer HaTsair, HaShomer HaLeumi, Agudah, a Communist movement, etc. A large Jewish library was founded in 1905. The library had four thousand books – Yiddish, Polish, Hebrew and other languages. Even the Christians used the library. The library had members and readers – only Jews were members

There was never a ghetto in Ostrów Mazowiecka, after the Germans arrived. The Russian border was half a kilometer from town. The first time, when the Germans arrived, the border was open. Those who wanted to cross over did. The German Commandant warned the Jews that they should leave. The majority of the Jews went across the border to the Russian side. My parents who lived in Ostrów Mazowiecka crossed the border to Białystok. According to the rumours and stories from the neighbours who had fled Ostrów Mazowiecka, only a few hundred Jews had stayed behind and they were all slaughtered. The slaughter in Ostrów Mazowiecka took place in November 1939. The Germans claimed that a Jew had burnt down his own house, thereby setting fire to the town. The Germans went from house to house, accompanied by Poles who showed them where the Jews lived. They took all the Jews to the forest and shot them. Three to four hundred Jews were murdered there, including my sister-in-law.

After the slaughter, when Jews from other towns and villages arrived at Ostrów Mazowiecka to try to cross the border, the Germans sent them to Warszawa. According to what I heard, after the slaughter there were never any more Jews in Ostrów Mazowiecka.

The Jews, when they left Ostrowa, settled in Western Russia. Some of them were sent deep into Russia and the majority of those Jews survived.

A well-known Jew by the name of Huss hid with his wife and children among the Poles during the entire German occupation from 1939. He returned to Ostrów Mazowiecka and is living there.[1]

Also in the villages surrounding Ostrów Mazowiecka, such as Brok, Rożan, Goworowo, Sadowne - there are no longer any Jews.

The first days of the German occupation in Ostrów Mazowiecka, they gathered all the Jews at the gymnasia and they stood from three o'clock in the afternoon until six o'clock in the evening. Then the German Commandant arrived and said that they could go home and they must never be on the streets after six o'clock. When the Jews started home, the Germans shot at them and there were several deaths.

 


[Pages 438-440]

Eliezer Knysiński, Ramat Amidar

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

After several days being bombarded, on Friday, the 8th September 1939, the Germans arrived in Ostrowa. The streets were full of military. Since I owned a print shop, the German occupation government used my presses to print things specifically directed against Jews.

In the first days of the occupation the greater part of the Jewish population had the opportunity to go to Zambrów, that had been taken by the Russians. None of them were eager to leave everything they had worked for and run off with small children into the forests, without a good reason. A few weeks later, when the town was full of refugees from surrounding villages, the Jews began to go across the border that was one kilometer from us.

In the dismal and cold autumn the Jews left, overburdened with small children and crossed the frozen fields with the expectation of being allowed to pass through the German border. After waiting for hours on end, the Jews were finally allowed to go through. Not everyone made it through the border crossing easily. Many were robbed of their valuables and then beaten.

My family also went across the border and settled in the White Russian town of Slonim. The Germans would not allow me to leave with my family, as I was needed to do their printing.

When the Germans had been in Ostrowa ten days, a lot of SS arrived and they issued evil decrees against the Jews. The first evil decree was that all the Jewish men must assemble at the City Hall. Once the square was full of people, an order was heard “hands up”.

All of us put our hands up – and we stood like that until night. Then there was another order: “Go home!”

We left, but while on the way home the SS created a tumult. They ordered us to go both slowly and quickly. Obviously, we did not know which order to follow and they opened fire with machine guns. A lot of dead and wounded were left lying in the streets.

Later the situation of the Jews in our town became more and more difficult. We made sure that we observed the rule of not being in the streets after six o'clock at night and also that the window shutters were closed not allowing any light to be seen outside. Still the SS would knock at Jewish houses and come in to steal whatever they wanted and beat the householders, even women and children.

I could not work for the Germans with a clear conscience and wanted to go to the other side of the border. As I knew the mayor, a Pole, he intervened with the government and told them that I should be allowed to leave and join my family. I was allowed to leave and without any difficulty arrived at the border.

I soon arrived in Slonim and worked in Bialowarz in a print shop. When the N.K.V.D became aware that I had owned a print shop in Ostrowa, they had me arrested and after sitting in several prisons, they sent me to a camp in the far north in Archangel.

My three children – two daughters and a son – remained in Slonim and were murdered there during the Russian-German war.

My son Noach, was among the first to be mobilized by the Polish army and he was captured by the Germans. The Germans freed him and he managed to get to Slonim. Before the war my son was a leader of HaNoar HaZioni

 


[Pages 440-442]

Among Refugees and Escapees

By Miriam Cohen, Winnipeg

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Before the Germans arrived in Ostrowa, my family the Orzycers, were known as Hasidic merchants. My mother was Zawel Grain Merchant's daughter, from Ostrowa. My father came from Rożan, where his father was known as a learned man.

The Germans shot Jews in the streets and ordered that all the businesses be opened. Later, together with the Poles, they divided the Jewish goods between them. Nearly all the Jews, who were still alive, decided to flee to Russia. The border was not far from Ostrowa. My mother, with my younger and two older married sisters left with the others and went to Ciechanowiec, Białystok region. I stayed with my father in Ostrowa because he did not want to leave Ostrowa. He had worked hard for many years in his store and he did not want to abandon our house.

The two-three weeks of German occupation were terror-filled. Not only were we Ostrowers witnesses to the murder and robbery of our people, we also witnessed the death of thousands of other Jews from various towns and villages around Ostrowa. Thousands trudged through our town on their way to hard labour or to be murdered. A lot of young and old Jews succumbed on the roads around Ostrowa.

When the Ostrower gentiles and the peasants from the area had stolen everything they could, my father saw that living among the Poles was no longer possible. We were the last several Jews to successfully cross the border to Russia. The Germans took everything we had and shot at us. It was a miracle that we made it across. (Just one day later, Anszel Knorpel's two daughters tried to cross over to Russia. They were shot and killed at the border).

In Ciechanowiec we were united with my mother and sisters and lead a normal life. We, the newcomers, had brought a few goods that we could sell. The Russian soldiers and their families bought everything.

After a while, everybody had to register. The Russian officials told us to take out Russian passports and become Russian citizens. Many Jews from Ostrowa did this, among them my two married sisters. My sister Fejga and her child were ordered to go eighty miles further from the border. They went to Molczow, near Baranowicz. My sister Bracha, her husband and child were not on the list and they stayed in Ciechanowiec.

One Friday evening we, along with all the others who chose to remain Polish citizens, were taken to cattle cars and after a very long journey arrived in Archangel on a hot summer day. The young people were put to work.

Our work was to make rafts in the water. I, with my younger sister Chana and a lot other people from Ostrowa, Brok and Sadowne, did the hard work. Not once did any of us fall into the water.

During the winter we put the trees that had been cut down on sleighs and pulled them to the water. We were given bread and soup to eat. It is beyond understanding how we endured. Who can describe the barracks where all of us who had been sent here had to live? Black Siberian gnats [cross between a flea and a mosquito] were crawling all over the walls and at night they fell into our ears. From all the bites on their heads, people would become crazy…

In 1942 we were freed. As if from heaven came this freedom and we were allowed to travel to wherever we wanted.

We travelled to Uzbekistan, along with many other Ostrowers. We did not have money for tickets. We went exclusively on foot. After a long trek we arrived in Katakurgan. It was very hot and there was a lot of malaria and typhus. Many people died there.

My weak mother could no longer take the wandering and painfully died there. I was the only one who caught typhus and was already nearly in the other world.

There we all worked hard and sold a bit of soap or whatever fell to hand in order to keep body and soul together. To be caught selling or taking something from the factories meant years in jail. Both the Russians and Jews who came from Poland gambled and – sold. A little piece of bread to us was a dream…

And so it was until the war ended. From the thousands of Jews who arrived there as refugees, only half remained. Many, many were weak and even worse many died. When we heard the news that Polish citizens could return home, we were overjoyed. Everyone gathered what remained of their families. We were homesick for our country Poland, where Jews had lived for hundreds of years. People tried to forget how the Poles had behaved towards the Jews when the Germans arrived in our shtetl.

The long trek of weeks and weeks is too difficult to write about. At the border we learned what had happened to the Jews who had stayed in Poland. We were afraid to go to Ostrowa.

Along with my husband, my father, my sister Chana Levitt and her husband, we arrived in Legniec, Poland. There we heard that Jews were being pulled off trains. The Poles had prepared a “welcome” for the Jews with a pogrom in Kielce.

So we, along with many other dumbfounded Jews, went to Germany (the border was open) to the American zone.

We lived in a displaced persons camp in Wetslar near Frankfort on Main, in the country of the murderers and sadists, run by the Americans and the Joint. There we met other Ostrowers who had also been separated from their families. In Wetslar we were reunited with my brother, Abraham Mordchai, who had the good luck to be in England during the war. We had worried about him and we did not know what had happened to him after he had visited us just before the war began. Unfortunately he found only a half family.

Today I live with my husband, son and dear father in Winnipeg (Canada), where I often think about our Ostrowa, where we spent a beautiful childhood full of so many dreams.

Ostrowa – I can not tear you from my heart.

 


[Pages 442-443]

When the Germans Arrived in Ostrowa

By Chana Lewitt, Chicago

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

As soon as the Germans arrived in Ostrowa, they began shooting everywhere. They even shot dogs and cats. My friend, who looked out of a small window in the attic of her house thinking that she could see the Germans, but they could not see her, was immediately shot.

Many Ostrower Jews hid in Lichtensztejn the iron merchant's large cellar (Mendel Zundel). The Germans soon found their hiding place and immediately took them out. They wanted to shoot all the Jews. Several days later they tore apart all the Jewish stores. They had a lot of Poles with them showing where the rich Jews lived and threw the merchandise into the street for the Poles.

After, the Germans hung up posters in German stating that after six o'clock at night nobody was to be in the streets. After six o'clock they went around with the Poles to Jewish homes. The Poles showed them where to find pretty, Jewish daughters. They dragged young Jewish women from their homes and their parents had no idea when their daughters would return home…

One day there was an order that all the men must go to the square at the town hall. They searched every house, dragged the sick and weak from their beds to the Gymnasia Square.

When night had fallen, a German leader gave an order that they could go home. It was then after six o'clock at night, when people were not allowed to be in the streets so the Jews began to run and the Germans began to shoot. Many Jews were murdered. The next day they left the Jews lying in the street to rot. The laments and crying split the heavens.

My father, my brothers-in-law Jehuda Arija Popowski and Fejwel had been among those in the square. Through a miracle they were not shot by the Germans and came back to us alive. Later, when the Germans invaded Russia, my sisters Brocha and Feiga were murdered with their husbands and children.

The Germans had often said they would kill all the Jews, because their leader told them to. Even though we had already seen what the Germans were capable of doing, everyone still hoped, maybe, maybe. That is why hundreds of Jews did not want to leave Ostrowa where they had always made their home. Families separated. Some went to Russia, not far from Ostrowa and others, who did not know how to tear themselves from the thousands of memories that tied them to their home town, stayed a little longer under the Germans, waiting to see what would be…

We crossed the border to the Russian side with small parcels in our hands. Later, my father and sister Miriam also came over. The last Jews remaining alive in Ostrowa arrived in Russia almost naked; the Germans had even taken their clothes.

Many older Germans at the border, who had been living in Ostrowa since the First World War, also warned the Ostrowa Jews. They admitted the order from Germany was to shoot all the Jews.

That was the last news from our fellow Ostrowers, who for various reasons did not want to leave. They were all taken out of town, forced to dig a large trench and were shot…

So we, the Ostrowers saved by a miracle, were cut off from contact with our beloved town Ostrowa.

 


[Page 444]

The First Provocation From a “Good” Gentile

By Ester Nutkiewicz-Kuciński - Tel-Aviv

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

The Christians' accusation that the Jews had set fire to the city was false and it caused the round-up of the Jews. The guilty gentile, Anton Brzostek mingled with all the Jewish young people before the war and the majority of Jews thought kindly of him. He did more business with young Jews than with Christians. He always claimed that the Jews were his friends.

This is the story. After two months under German occupation, when many Jews had left Ostrowa and the rest remained voluntarily, the unfortunate incident occurred and essentially because of the “good” gentile Anton Brzostek. When many Jews had left their homes, the good gentile took them over. Guided by his ambitions, thinking the appropriate moment had come through the misfortune of the Jews to build his own luck, he first seized one of the nice homes of a rich man. Intentionally, so that the house would not look Jewish, he went to get some new wallpaper. He remembered that wallpaper could only be found at Berel Tejtel's, the Jew. When the Jew realized that Anton Brzostek did not own the house, he pleaded with him to stop. Anton Brzostek in anger exclaimed, “mangy Jew. I will teach you a lesson”.

Holding in his hand a container of kerosene, he threw it and started the fire. When the Jew saw this, in desperation he ran from the house all the way to Komorowo, three kilometers away. There he heard that the Germans were already searching for the Jew who had set fire to the city. He turned around and went back to the city where he saw the gray smoke from the raging fire.

Berel Tejtel became confused. Not seeing anyway of being rescued, in desperation, he hung himself. The next morning the Germans took the body down and hung it in the centre of the city at the town hall, with a sign “this is the Jew who burned down the city”.

So the good gentile was the cause of the extermination of the Jews of Ostrów Mazowiecka.

Translator's note: For the Polish and German versions of this tragic event, please go to the supplement, Shoah.

 


[Page 445]

The Destruction of Jewish Ostrów

By Helena Nejmark

(From the Jewish Historical Committee, Białystok)

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

The German army settled in Ostrów Mazowiecka Friday, the 8th of September 1939. All the Polish civil and military personnel had left. Only women and old people remained.

On Shabes they started stealing. The Germans went into the houses and took everything they wanted. The Jewish stores were cleaned out. The richest merchants were driven away in trucks and the Germans threw everything into the street, where the Poles were waiting to grab it.

That day the Germans hung up orders saying the Jews were to give their jewellery and valuables to the occupation authorities. Anyone found with gold or money would be shot on the spot. But the Jews were not in a hurry to give up their possessions.

Sunday all the Jewish men, fifteen and older, were ordered to gather at the Gymnasia Square. The Germans went through the Jewish homes and dragged the men there. Then they were told about the regulations. The Jews must follow, work and obey all orders from the German authorities or they would be shot. The lecture lasted until six thirty in the evening and curfew began at six o'clock. The Jews ran to their homes, knowing that their wives and families would be worried about them. At the time a new military company had arrived on ulica Warszawa and when they saw the Jews running, they opened fire with machine guns. Thirty Jews were killed, among them Glikman and Abramczyk. Many were badly wounded, but the Germans would not allow them to receive medical care. After that, Jews were afraid to leave their houses. The day after, the Germans told several well-known Jewish citizens, Rabbi Zinger, Dan Plocki, the merchant Lichtensztejn, that the Jewish population was to make a contribution of food products and cooking utensils. Until the supply of products was delivered the two bosses would stand as “guarantors”. The entire stock was immediately delivered. However, the Germans were not done yet. They broke into the botei medrashim and destroyed everything. They tore pages from holy books and then ran over them with their trucks. They cut off the rabbi's beard and ordered him to wash the German's feet. The Nazis took young children to work, they were immersed in the Sadzawke [pond], up to their necks in water and mud. They forced the old Jews to clean toilets with their prayer shawls. At night the Nazis would take wives from their homes and order them to do gymnastics naked.

In Ostrów Mazowiecka there were also concentration camps. One of them was on Rożaner Highway. It was full of Jews who had been grabbed on the roads.

One day there was a rumour that Ostrowa would be taken over by the Soviets. The Mayor called the Jews together and told them they should leave town. He was motivated by the fact that he only had sixty groschen per person a day and it was not enough to live on and so he could not guarantee their physical well-being. In any case, all the refugees who had come from the villages in the area would have to leave. The Jewish citizens of Ostrowa could do as they pleased. His speech did not make an impression on the Jewish population tensely awaiting the Russians' return. The town's Jewish population was made up of artisans and workers: shoemakers, carpenters, painters, tailors, etc.

When we noticed the Germans taking down the telegraph lines, our souls became lighter. We gave a sigh of relief – we would be free of the Hitler regime. However, the Poles were frightened and pleaded with G-d (they had arranged a special prayer) to keep the unbelievers from penetrating the town. The Germans remained in Ostrowa.

Seeing as the Nazis were putting back the telegraph lines, all the Jews began to flee to the Soviet side, with the exception of a few. The road to Zambrów, was a very sad picture: old Jews with parcels, others pushed wagons because while on the road, their horses had been taken. Others had only a piece of bread to carry.

The money-hungry, blood-thirsty enemy had not yet been satisfied: the Germans guards at the border undressed men and women until they were naked and searched for gold and anything else that remained.

The Germans blamed the Jews for burning the houses in Ostrowa so that the Polish population could not take them over.

On the 10th of November the Germans gathered all the Jews at Tejtel's brewery and held them overnight in the ice cellar. On the morning of the 11th of November they were taken to the forest on Grzybowski, ulica Brok, ordered to dig a trench and then shot with machine guns. Among those murdered were my good friends Dwojra Grossman the midwife, forty-three years old, her daughter Rywka, six years old and Lipsker from the hotel on ulica Warszawa with her twenty-two year-old daughter. That day they murdered six hundred Jews. I did not hear any more about the Jews of Ostrowa until 1945. Not counting the Ostrower Jews who had gone to the Soviet Union, only about 10 Jews survived.

 


[Page 447]

Dwojra Elson (from Rożan)

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

My father was well to do. He owned a candle factory and a wholesale food business.

On the 2nd of September, Germans airplanes bombed the town. Because the town was close to several army camps, the Polish government ordered the civilian population to leave. We had no idea where to go with our belongings. First we went to Goworowo, but the Nazis had killed all the Jews there, so we then went to Ostrów Mazowiecka to our relatives who were living there.

In Ostrów Mazowiecka we had managed to get a bit organized. The Russians arrived. Then they left and the Germans arrived. People were saying that the Germans would leave and the Russians would return.

We stayed in Ostrowa a whole month. The Germans gave us a lot of trouble. Many Jews had left and gone to the other side of the border – to the Russians. The old and weak or families with small children were the only Jews waiting for the Russians to return.

After a month all the Jews were ordered to gather on the square outside town and from there they would be driven to the Soviet border. A lot of Jews went to the square. My father fortuitously did not, because he was late. When he arrived at the meeting place, he heard shots.

We immediately ran back and went into an abandoned home and hid in the cellar. And so we were saved from certain death.

About two hundred Jews gathered on the square were shot to death and some were buried alive. Afterward they paved the square with asphalt and made it a bus station.

For two days we were stuck in the cellar. We did not have any bread or any water to drink and we could not hide any longer. We came out in the dark of night, left the town and took the road to the Soviet border. We arrived peacefully in Zambrów.

 


[Pages 448-449]

Surviving the Occupation Years 1939 to 1944

By Henje Kozszuchowicz

Translated from Polish to Yiddish by Izrael Sztejnberg

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

After Hitler's gangsters arrived in Ostrów Mazowiecka in 1939, their first activity was to hunt for Jews and drag them out of the houses – women with children in their hands. The Germans ordered all the Jews to the square at the brewery. After several hours, they were all driven outside town, on the Warszawa Highway, to the forest while threatening them with machine guns. The Germans ordered the Jews to dig a grave and then they shot all the Jews. Poles were ordered by the Germans to throw the bodies into the grave. A lot of Jews were still alive when they were tossed into the grave. The earth heaved. Among the unlucky ones was my father Moisze Berl Kożuchowicz, who managed to run away when they took the Jews from the brewery. Since then no Jews have been seen in Ostrów Mazowiecka. Jewish survivors later crossed to the other side of the Bug River. Among them, was my entire family. We were not allowed to take anything with us other than a kilo of food products.

Now we began to suffer greatly. Our family included nine people. My old grandfather Hersz Kożuchowicz died at the age of eighty-four in 1942 in Brzoza. My father Moisze Berl and my mother Chana (nee Kohen), my younger brother Chaim age ten, were taken away by the Nazis in sealed trucks, smeared with coal dust, to Treblinka where they were burned alive. My brother, Mordchai was shot while in bed, by the Gestapo. He was living in Brzoza. Three bullets made holes in his head. My sister Rachel starved to death in Warszawa ghetto during the liquidation. I was left alone with my ten year-old sister Rejzel. Our situation was dire. This was winter 1942. We did not have any money or a roof over our heads. Our house was the forest, our bed – leaves and moss, dug out from under the snow. A luxurious bed was one in a stable with straw, located in a village and it was ours as long as we could get in secretly without alerting the owner. The Poles were afraid to take Jews in, because if the Germans found out the entire family would be shot and their property burned.

Now we poor orphans were in hell. The Germans' frequent searches for Jews and partisans in the forest had driven me to despair and resignation, but I continued my struggle against death, because I had become a mother to my little sister.

During the most frightening time I remembered a Polish friend in Warszawa. With G-d's help, my sister and I went to him. The Pole, Mieczysław Cyalka, gave no thought to the neighbour who could turn him in for helping Jews and took care of us as if we were his dear sisters. Actually, he was also persecuted for sabotage, by the Nazis. He managed to get us false papers. Once we were Polish we felt safer, but we still lived in fear because accidents happen. The Pole took better care of us than of himself. He would say that he was prepared to die because he was alone without any family, but we must live, because we were two souls and moreover, Jewish…he comforted us by telling us the war would end soon.

For safety reasons we gave my sister Rejzel (who could pass as Polish) to a Pole as a maid. Later the Pole Cyalka and I began smuggling so that we would not starve to death.

Returning from a trip, I was grabbed in Siedlce to be sent to work in Germany. The men controlled the papers of young women. With the help of Cyalka, I was able to escape. This was in 1943. We returned to Warszawa where my dear friend managed to obtain another set of false papers for me under a new name. After that I was only stopped once by the Gestapo because they thought I was Jewish, but thanks to the false papers I was delivered from their hands. Spring 1944 – it is impossible to find a place to hide. My friend Cyalka and I ran off to the Holy Cross Mountains in the area of Kielce. There we were able to live in peace for a while.

In May 1944 I was captured by a group of partisans who were hostile to Jews and since they thought I was Jewish, sentenced me to death. My dear guardian once again came to my rescue. He swore on his life that I was Polish and that he knew my entire family before the war. I was set free.

Despite all the pain and torment we managed to live until the end of the war. My sister had been sent to Germany during the uprising and she remained there until she was freed. She returned in 1946.

We have Cyalka to thank for our lives. He put his life on the line for us for two years. He is a real mentsch [human being].

 


[Pages 450-455]

From Ostrów to Uzbekistan and Return

By Chaim Ciechanowiecki, New York

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

 

A sorrowful Shabes on Death Square

The 8th of September 1939 fell on a Friday; at four o'clock in the afternoon Hitler's beasts rode into our town Ostrów Mazowiecka. I was up in the attic of my house and from there I saw the wild Germans shooting at the windows, doors and Jews, who did not know to take cover. Soon we heard the doors of the Jewish businesses being broken down and display windows in Jewish stores breaking. They were enjoying their bloody work; beating, terrorizing and killing in various ways. The helpless screams and sobbing of the unlucky Jews was indescribable.

Night fell – the first night under the new bosses. The neighbours in my courtyard gathered in my home. They thought it was a good hiding place. We made barricades and locked the doors and windows. Nobody went to sleep. With trembling hearts we stood by the windows and listened to familiar voices that carried from neighbouring houses, which the murderers had broken into in the middle of the night. Terrorized, shamed, destroyed…

We were so afraid, we could not move. They tried to break down our door. My dear children clung to me hiding behind me for protection…several Germans tried to open our door and left…

Morning arrived. A group of soldiers were on patrol around the Jewish houses and grabbed Jews to be sent to work. They never came back…

First thing in the morning at our home: nine Germans came in with revolvers in their hands and screamed wildly: “hands up!” They put a revolver to my head. I must admit to them that I had run away from the Polish army. I am a deserter, they said and began to brutally beat me until I lost consciousness. I remained alive.

There was an order that all Jewish men must leave their homes and gather at the Gymnasia Square. Jews were coming from all the streets and lanes with their hands in the air – young, old, sick. Those who could not run with their hands in the air were murderously beaten. I saw the results of those beatings on Nachum Lewartowicz and others…

When I arrived at the square, there were already several thousand Jews gathered there, including the refugees from surrounding villages. We all sat on the ground. At first we thought we would all be shot. At the windows, on the balconies and on the roofs of the gymnasia were dozens of machine guns. We waited for death.

Several German officers selected some Jews from those gathered, stood them against the wall and photographed them. A second group of old men only had their beards cut off with bayonets by the Germans and others then photographed them…we were all terrified. The Jews began to say Psalms and spoke to each other.

When it was evening, a truck arrived with German officers and they ordered a delegation to meet with them. I went with the delegation. They laid out the martial laws. The German Reich has occupied the town. Everyone must pay attention to the laws. If they find a dead German, or even a little bit of opposition, one would be shot. The Jews were allowed on the streets between eight o'clock in the morning and six o'clock in the evening. No lights must show from the houses, no smoke from the chimneys, no screaming and no singing. (Who felt like singing?…)

Everyone, understand, everything? It was already six thirty in the evening and curfew was at six o'clock. We asked if we could go home. They said that the laws would take effect in the morning.

We left for home using various streets. I was with a small group of Jews who left through ulica Kościuszko, passing the post office. I made a detour to my uncle's; he had been arrested along with other Jews, the night before. My uncle was already back home and happy to see me. He asked that I stay overnight with him. I told him that my wife and children would not know what had happened to me. I left for home. At the post office I heard shooting from the street that led to Malkinia. As a former Polish non-commissioned officer, I had the presence of mind to call to the running Jews to fall to the ground. But not everybody knew what to do. In the morning, I found out that about seventeen people had been shot and killed. I crawled on all fours until I found a group of people on ulica 3go Maja. We had trouble there as well. We run into some Germans. They hit us over the head with their rifles and revolvers, kicked us, chased us and beat us. I took shelter at my friend Dan Lewer's house. Blood was pouring from my face and I could not move my arms or legs. How would I get back to my wife and children from there and how would they know where I am?

A terrifying night. At six o'clock in the morning I arrived home. There was a fifty year-old man there who had been chased by the Germans. I hugged my frightened children, who told me that my wife went to look for me at four o'clock in the morning. I was happy when I finally saw her coming back. She looked for me among the dead. Those were the first days of my sufferings.

 

In Hospital In Uzbekistan

When comrade B. drove me to the city hospital, my boss (a seventy year old, old Red peasant) came along in the carriage in order to get me help quickly. They directed me to the waiting room and I lay down on the bench (I could not sit up). My head was heavy and ached badly. I could not keep my eyes open. After a long wait, the doctor arrived. I heard the old man pleading for someone to see me soon, because afterwards, a lot more sick people arrived. They sat me on a chair and took my temperature; it was forty degrees centigrade. The doctor felt my head and opened my mouth. They examined me and I fell off the chair. I heard the old man groan when the doctor said that I would not weather this difficulty – typhus. He begged the doctor to have pity on me, as I am a father of children and must go back to my family healthy. I do not remember anything else.

When I woke up five days later I saw that I was in a hospital ward. To the right, left and opposite were beds. The sick were lying face up like dead men. At the head of my bed sat a young woman with blue eyes. They looked at me with great pity. She was dressed in a white smock and white hat. I understood that she was a nurse. She often straightened the pillow under my head, the blanket wrapped around my feet and changed the compresses. She spoke to me, but I could not answer her. There was a noise like a lot of motors in my head. I later lost consciousness. A few days later I came to and my entire body was aching. It felt like needles were pricking me. I could not move. I saw several doctors and nurses standing around me. There were all kinds of apparatus stuck into my body. I felt as if I was leaking liquid and on fire. I wanted to scream but I could not. I wanted to sit up, but did not have the strength. I breathed heavily and sighed. I thought, how unlucky lonely people are. How much suffering and trouble I had already had to bear in my solitude. Who should I blame for my being here in a sick bed? What sin had I committed? Why was I not strong and healthy and at home with my dear family? Nightmares and terrible memories assailed me. I will die in the Steppes of Asia. Nobody will know where my bones lay. Nobody will put up a tombstone, nobody will say kaddish for me…

I would be lucky to see my family, my dear wife and children again. I made my confession…I pleaded with the sister to write a few words to my dear ones. The first couple of words stuck in my throat and I do not remember what else happened.

In the morning the sister told me that during the night she had called three doctors. They told her that I had passed the crisis during the night. I no longer had anything to worry about. I wanted a drink badly. I pleaded for a little water and I felt a little better.

A little later a middle-aged woman with grey hair, deep dark eyes and a pair of gold eyeglasses hung on her white smock came to see me. Around her neck was a stethoscope. Two young doctors accompanied her. I later learned that she was a professor from the Moscow Medical Institute. With a strong gaze she examined every patient. When she arrived at my bed and began examining me, I looked at her with great respect. My fate was in her hands. She was sent by G-d. She would make me healthy. After examining me, she sat down on the edge of my bed and asked where I came from, who had I left at home, my name, my occupation and several other questions. Due to my weakened condition, I could not answer the questions. She laid her hand on my head and with a happy smile said that I would get better quickly. I thought that at least now I had some hope. The pain began to abate and my temperature went down.

Each morning the doctor came to see me. This time she came alone. She greeted me in Russian, asked how I felt and pleaded with me to answer her questions. I did not have the strength to answer. She told me that I would soon be healthy again. She also said that that she had come to say goodbye. She had to go to a military hospital. She gave me her son's address and told me to write her. She said goodbye and left… After that I missed her like a mother.

I stayed a little longer in the hospital. When I finally left, I looked like a skeleton. I weighed forty-six kilos. When I arrived home, my old boss came to see me, hugged and kissed me and cried from happiness. – “I pleaded for you day and night with G-d, that he should make you healthy again. My plea was answered and therefore I thank G-d”.

 

A Visit to the Former Camps Oświęcim-Brzerzińki

(Auschwitz-Birkenau)

I travelled with a group of friends from Bytom to our parental graves, to Oświęcim in the land of Rudolf Hess. We sat on the train with sad faces. I thought about men having locked our parents, sisters, brothers, wives and children into cattle cars and they had travelled this same road. Only they would never come back. In two hours we arrived in Oświęcim in a cheerless station. From the station to the camp was about two kilometers. We went through the town that showed no sign of being unusual or that it would be immortalized in the history of mankind.

Every day thousands of people come from all corners of the world to this infamous kingdom of sorrow, where millions of people found their death. Near the entrance to Oświęcim camp is a gallows – no longer used for innocent people, but to exact revenge. On this gallows on the 16th of April, 1947 the leader of Oświęcim camp was hung, the supreme executioner of two and a half million Jews and many thousands from other ethnic groups – Rudolf Hess.

We come to a brick building without windows. This is the crematorium. The ovens were dismantled in the last days before the retreat. Only the steps remain which lead inside to the ovens. Iron doors and various tools remain in a part of the crematorium. Who knows what they were used for. There are two iron wagons with thick troughs – the bodies were laid in the troughs and were sent mechanically into the ovens. Our blood runs cold. We can not stay here any longer. We go on. We come to the gate over which hangs a saying in German “Arbeit Macht Frei”. What a nice slogan - work and freedom, what a lie and blackmail to fool the unlucky victims.

 

ost454.jpg
Gates to Auschwitz

 

A shudder goes through us as we remember that our dear ones went through that gate. Very few came back alive from the “freedom work”. On both sides of the gate is an electrified fence with several rows of barbed wire so that one could not escape.

We went further, the supervisor who was leading us, gathered the group together and said: “you see the nice road. This road was covered with blood from thousands of people, chased and beaten by the SS and those who fell were killed on the spot and their moans were mixed into the earth and stones”.

On both sides were several small red brick houses. There was a sign on each house like a company: Belgium, Romania, France…on one block the inscription: “the death of millions”. This is the Jewish block and the terror filled rooms have now become a museum. One sees boxes of ashes of the people burned in the crematoria, pieces of soap to fool people into thinking they were going to wash, and soap with the writing “RIF” (clean Jewish fats). In a large glass box are eyeglasses from thousands of people. A box with toothbrushes, razors, combs, knives, spoons, forks, tea kettles, cups, cans of shoe polish with writing from various countries; valises with addresses from various countries – the majority with Jewish names.

We arrive in a hall where the shaved women's hair lies in a glass box that takes up the entire length of the room. One sees, white-grey hair like a grandmother's silver; short, long braids from young women; short curly hair from small girls. Tears pour from our eyes, each one of us thinks that he recognizes his child's hair, or his father's, mother's, sister's, a sack with shoes: elegant, simple and heavy boots; in another place – only children's shoes and boots, in another house we see children's clothing, skirts, blouses – all used.

We come to the Jewish pavilion, arranged through the Jewish Central Committee in Poland, dedicated to the Jewish tragedy - to the millions of Jews who were murdered in Oświęcim. At the head (seat of honour): an inscription “In memory”, a black curtain hangs from a pillar, the walls are decorated in black with a menorah and candles.

There are various pictures showing how the Nazis tortured Jews. A tablet hangs on the wall to perpetuate the names of the murdered Jewish cultural activists, writers and artists. In another house lie talaisim with silver collars and ordinary talis-kotan. One also sees how Jews were killed while praying. It seems that they lay down with a talis for a cover. It makes a deep impression. Why did we receive such punishment? We went to the cellars of the block. The death block with various cells for those arrested. The supervisor who guides us is a former prisoner and tells us anyone sent to the prison had the right to live fourteen days; a Jew only three days. Rooms without light and without air. On the walls we notice the inscriptions, written with a nail by the tortured. So many Jewish names.

In the courtyard of block eleven is the execution square with a black death-wall. Tens of thousands of people were murdered at this wall. Today people come from everywhere in the world, they bring flowers here, in honour of the heroes and martyrs.

We go to the second camp Brzerzińki (Birkenau). Three kilometers later we arrive at a long building with two gates. Through one gate went the trains with hundreds of thousands of victims who were driven from the station right to the crematoria. We went through the gate. A province: highways, roads, double railroad tracks, dozens of brick houses and a lot of wooden barracks. We arrive at the crematoria that are in fact no longer there. Before retreating the Germans blew them up. All that remains are pieces of iron and concrete, holes from the gas chambers, the pulleys that mechanically threw the bodies into the ovens. We are then taken to a field, where people were also burned. Several long pits were laid out with a layer of wood, a layer of people and so on up to seven to eight layers. Then gasoline was poured on the pyre and it was set on fire. This work went on until late at night.

On the field we find burned pages from prayer books, ashes and crushed bones. I took several pages from Exodus in remembrance of our dear martyrs.

 


[Pages 457-460]

In Ostrów and in Slonim

Szmul Konopiaty, New York

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

The 8th of September 1939, a week after war broke out, the Germans arrived in Ostrowa. They soon began persecuting the Jews. When a Jew went out dressed in nice clothes, he was attacked, his clothes were taken and given to a Pole. The Poles moved into abandoned Jewish houses. The Germans went from house to house robbing in broad daylight. They broke down the doors of Jewish businesses and the Poles, with wild enthusiasm, robbed and carried away everything they could. Meanwhile the Germans filmed everything to show the world that they had not terrorized the Jews. They had not created fear in the Jews, only the Poles had. The Poles who Jews had always lived with and now the time for revenge had arrived.

Several days later all the men in town assembled on the square at the gymnasia. Facing them were machine guns and barbed wire. It was announced if anyone shot at a German soldier, the entire town would be burnt. It was after curfew when the entire mass was told to go home. It was forbidden to be on the street. When the patrol noticed this mass of people that they had suddenly come upon in the street, they started shooting and many people were killed.

Our town was close to the Soviet border and therefore it was very easy to cross. Shortly, almost all the Jews had crossed the border. There were very few Jews left in Ostrowa. The last of those to leave town and arrive on the Soviet side told us that the Germans had set fire to the town, but blamed the Jews. Because of the fire, they ordered all the Poles to take over Jewish homes, or they would pay with their lives. There were about seven hundred Jews still in Ostrowa, the majority newly arrived refugees who wanted to cross the border, but were resting after their long wandering to Ostrowa. In the end they found death there.

They were all forced marched to Ostrowski's garden near the governor's house, were stripped naked and ordered to dig a grave. They were shot with machine guns and those still alive were thrown into the grave.

My sister, mother and I, along with the majority of Jews, crossed over to Soviet territory prior to this. During the mass slaughter were already in Slonim.

In June 1941 the Germans arrived in Slonim. In about eight days a round up of men occurred. We successfully remained hidden. In that round-up two thousand men were murdered. Among those murdered were many Ostrowers: Jozef Grynberg, Jidel Knorpel, two Olszaker brothers, Jankiel Cynamon, Boruch Sokolik, Jankiel Grudka, Szmul Rybka.

After the round-up of June 1941, the Germans arranged a quarter for workers and non-workers. From the 14th to 15th November the town was guarded by Lithuanian, Latvian, White Russian and Ukrainian SS. They gathered together ten thousand Jews and chased them to the graves that had been prepared seven kilometers outside town on the road Czepelów-Baranowicz. The mass grave of ten thousand Jews is there. Jews were tossed into the grave half-dead, half-alive. A large percentage of Jewish Ostrowers had taken refuge in Slonim and that is where Szmul Ryba and a sister, Sender Grudka and his family, the Szumowicz family- the teacher, Potasz (wheel-wright) and family, Mosze Rodziewicz and family (blacksmith) and many others were murdered.

Because I was employed, I lived in the worker's quarter with my mother and sister and we were not included in the pogrom that winter. In May 1942 they began systematically annihilating the surviving Jewish remnant in Slonim. Many Ostrowers were among those murdered: Sara Pajos, Lejzor Pajos, Zakchajm with his wife and son, Bendet Lichtensztejn and family, the Fiszman family, Chawa Gorzalcany and family, the Szkolnik family (quilter) Jakub Dawid Zylbersztejn (quilter) his wife, daughter. Many others were burnt when the Germans set fire to this part of the ghetto and destroyed it.

Murdered Ostrowers whom I remember were: the Wejlach family, Alter Jagoda, Tuwia Grynberg and family, the Ostrower Rav, Rabbi Zinger and family, the Jaszynski family, Abraham Pecyner and family, Izrael Luzym and family, and others.

We were successful in remaining hidden with Aron Szymon Margolis (expediter) and family, Frydman, Szulc, etc. I decided with Michel Strykowski, my mother and sister to run away to the forest. When we started to break out through the wire, which fenced the ghetto, the field-gendarmes saw us. We were successful in getting away and I returned to our hideout. Strykowski successfully returned an hour later. My mother and sister were in another hideout. The same night we decided to break out again. This time I was captured by White Russian policemen who beat me so that I would tell them where the others were. When I would not talk, they took me to jail. Fourteen hundred people were already in the jail, among them many Ostrowers: Raf the teacher, his wife and two sons, Sztatman, Modrykamień (dairyman), Oracz, Piekarz, Dan Lewer, Michel Estryk, etc. We were kept there five days and nights without food and then driven to the graves, which had been prepared for us. First they beat us, then we got into open and covered trucks. I decided it would be better to jump from an open truck. In the uncovered truck were other Ostrowers as well: the teacher Raf and Michel Strykowski. I organized people to resist because I thought everyone one of us would be shot. I had been badly beaten, but I had not abandoned my struggle and I threw two SS-men off the truck and kept their rifles. The two brothers (Ostrolenker) Lewitan, and Michel Estryk, had thrown off the others. Meanwhile the driver stopped the truck, started to shoot at us, but everyone was successful in fleeing to villages around Slonim.

About four days later I returned to Slonim. In the worker's quarter I met Siedler (the mechanic). He was very pleased to see me. Michel Estryk had returned two days previously and had told everyone about our successful escape. Siedler told me that my mother and sister were in the new ghetto. I also met Sara Strykowski (the seamstress), Michel Strykowski, Michel Estryk, Wolf Augustower, his two sons, Mrs. Lubitonowicz-Frejder, Lewitow, Izrael Sokolik and Krusa Abramowicz. I received a nice welcome back in the ghetto and met many Ostrowers there. We organized a group to escape to the so-called “Third Reich” (Białystok middle region). Thirteen of us went to a locksmith's workshop where Izrael Sokolik worked. The owner threatened to denounce us to the German Police if we did not leave. We returned to the ghetto and were there for several days until we had another chance to escape. Eight of us escaped together: me, my sister, Sara Strykowski and her son, Michel Estryk, two Bronak brothers and a Jew from Ciechanów. Our mother had, to our regret, not come with us because after all the terror she had lived through, she felt very weak. We later had proof that she was saved. We had hired a driver with a truck, but he did not show up at the appointed rendezvous.

We were shot at on the road and withstood many hardships and misery until we arrived in Ruszany (the Third Reich) and at the local cemetery asked the shames to notify the Judenrat that Jews had arrived. A representative arrived and to our amazement he demanded ten gold rubles per head. We told him that to satisfy his demand he should takes us to our fellow Ostrowers. There we met Frydman (Fiszman's son-in-law) and Pejsach Knoblsdorf. We had several days to rest from our journey and obtained a certificate to travel legally to Wolkowisk. From Wolkowisk we travelled to Białystok and met many Ostrowers there. In Białystok ghetto the Judenrat forced us to work. We understood - it was the same in Slonim: When people do bad work they get a bullet in the head, when they do the work well they live a while longer, then get a bullet in the head. We left Białystok and arrived in Sokoly. We had not been able to rest after the Slonim pogroms and the 2nd November 1942 the Germans started the annihilation of Jews in the “A.G. Third Reich”. We decided to go into the forest and remain hidden. On the 4th November 1942 the Germans surrounded the forests and searched for escaped Jews. When they had caught several, they shot them right there. Twenty Germans chased us as far as the Narew. We hid in the water an entire day. That night we found a haystack and we hid in it for a day and a night. Then we decided to return to the forest and build a bunker. We did not get any rest because our bunker was discovered. Again we were lucky and succeeded in fleeing to another forest. We built a bunker and stayed there until the 27th March 1943. We were discovered in this second forest and we had to make a run for it. We wandered until winter, numb with cold, in peril every moment - between death and life.

We built a bunker three times in December. In two weeks we built the bunker. We could build only at night. During the day it was too dangerous to be in the open. The forests were packed. Besides the Germans, there were Polish bandits who would murder Jews and Russians. We gathered potatoes, berries, cabbage and wood. For water, we melted snow. In the spring, we were once again discovered. By this time the Soviets had launched their offensive and the forests were full of retreating Germans attempting to establish a line of defense in the area where we were hiding. We thought it would be better to stay in a field behind a mountain covered with several trees. This is where we decided to build our bunker. We stayed there until the 18th of August 1944 when we were liberated by the Soviet army.

Please understand that I have made this short and mention only the important events and facts that epitomize our survival.

 


[Page 460]

Jakob Gruszniak (or Ruszunak)

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Jakob used to drive freight to Warszawa and was in Slonim. He was caught in a German round-up when thousands of Jews were murdered. Having been shot in the foot, he remained lying in the mass grave, with dozens of other Jews the Germans thought were dead. That night he climbed out of the grave and went through the villages where the peasants helped him by giving him a bandage and something to eat.

After walking for two days, he returned to Slonim. I do not know what happened to him later.

 


[Pages 461-466]

Jews Fighting Against the Nazi Occupation

By Alter Rostkier, New York

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

During sleepless nights, when various thoughts run through my mind, memories from the sad past, from that nightmare of the terror years, it seems that it all had happened this week; as if it is reality; all the people, friends, dear ones and acquaintances who were so viciously murdered. I would like to tell about four people, who merit being written about so that they can be a part of the history of Jewish strength in the Warszawa, Białystok and other ghettos.

The first of my heroes, is a ten-year-old boy. I have forgotten his given name, but his family name was Lejbowicz. His story is very short. In 1939 when the German troops occupied our town, Ostrów Mazowiecka, the majority of the Jews ran across the Soviet border. I, along with my family, lived like a lot of other refugees in the White Russian village Swirzne, three kilometers from Stolpcy – at the Polish Russian border until 22 June 1941.

Some of the White Russian population and also some of the rich peasants responded joyously to the war; they had not lived badly under Soviet rule for two years. There were various reasons for their behaviour: The rich peasants were afraid of the cooperatives; others simply wanted to steal; they had already tried this in 1939 when the Soviets settled the eastern part of Poland. Then the White Russian peasants stole the property of the Poles, the so-called “Osadnikes”, who were sent by the Polish government to settle in White Russian territory and were given incentives to Polishize the territory.

The only ones to look on with grief, pain and terror as the last Soviet military retreated, were the Jews. With the arrival of German troops, a real hell began for the Jews. Some of the White Russians raced to become policemen with the idea that they could rob Jews of their possessions. This was the beginning of dark grey days and nights. Lawlessness ruled. Every White Russian peasant could do what he wanted. At night they shot into Jewish homes. The children were scared to death and clung to their parents. They would come at night and take Jewish young women, supposedly to wash the floor in the Police Station. There they tortured and raped the young women. The A.G. would grab some Jews and drag them through the streets, not sparing the blows. Our lives were ruled by the worst kind of criminals. We were sick with fear. We were degraded and debased even by the non-Jewish population who did not take part in the torture. Even they thought of us as sub-human, whom they should not have any dealings. We were forlorn, broken and surrounded by enemies. It is therefore no wonder that people were indifferent to their own deaths. The spies Dr. Sztors and Szkutka lead an alarming anti-Jewish agitation campaign. They were Russians who had fled to Berlin, when the Polish government dissolved the White Russia Party “Haramada”, to which they belonged. Hitler cultivated them and waited for the moment when they could be used to carry out his predatory policy. They were candidates of the aforementioned White Russian government. Meanwhile, they travelled to all the White Russian villages giving venomous speeches that further strengthened the poisonous atmosphere.

On the 10th of October 1941 the Gestapo arrived and grabbed thirty young men and women and shot them. After that everyone understood our fate was sealed. On the 5th of November 1941 they selected some workers and the rest were taken as a group to the cemetery, where a horrible, large grave had been dug. The victims were told to get into the grave and then were shot. They shot all the Jews from the village; old people, women and children. The White Russian women sat in the cemetery and watched over the clothes that were taken from the victims. The young Lejbowicz boy's appearance always drew my attention. His face expressed stubbornness and certainty, mixed with nervousness. I would see him playing with other children. He was an original child. This day, the 10 year-old Lejbowicz, together with his mother, brother and sister, were at the cemetery. He would not go into the grave. He wrenched himself away from his mother's hand, grabbed a handful of sand and pebbles and threw them. This happened very quickly and they shot him – but not in the grave. They had to throw him into it. And so David's descendant fought, with enemies all around him, with a little sand from the cemetery…

The second hero is a Jewish peasant from Kisielojszczyna, three kilometers from the village. His name was Fajwel – known in the entire area as the best peasant. He worked alone, sowing and cutting his fields. He lived the life of a peasant. When the hangmen decided to clean out the Jewish peasants from the villages, the same fate befell Fajwel. The White Russian police surrounded his house and waited all morning for the arrival of the Gendarme chief. When he finally arrived, the police wanted to take Fajwel and his family to be shot. Fajwel did not allow them into the house. He locked the door. Then they started shooting, killing his wife and two children. Fajwel then opened a window and began a desperate fight with his murderers. He threw stones, bottles, heavy objects, whatever he could get his hands on. He hit the Gendarme in the head with a bottle and wounded him. They began firing again and drove him back from the window. He set fire to the house and left through another window, ran about two hundred meters and was shot dead in his fields, where he had toiled for so many years. The peasants from his village later boasted that “our Fajwel did not go to the slaughter like a lamb”. The German murderer wore a bandage on his head for a long time. Somebody from our camp asked him who had hit him. He answered with the typical German answer: “What did he want from me, the Jew? I had to carry out the order”!

The third hero is a Jewish young man from Warszawa, Hersz Patesorski, whose destiny brought him to Stolpcy. He was also a refugee, had gone through the hell of the ghetto and worked at the railroad station for the Germans. He had figured out an escape plan. He had taken an automatic rifle from the Germans and escaped to the forest with two other men. One of them was killed on the way. After enduring a lot of difficulties they decided to go to the partisans. Hersz went to the partisans and asked the leader to give him men to help free the ghettos and labour camps. The group commandant, as well as his political officer, were Russian Jews. They listened to him. They gave him eight partisans and he left for Stolpcy. In a village, ten kilometers from town, he left behind the partisans and he went off alone to the train station to kill the German stationmaster he had worked for. That day, the stationmaster was not at work, so he came to the labour camp to see us. It was very difficult for us to escape because there were two fences. The first one was barbed wire and the other one was made of thick wood. But for Hersz, nothing was ever too difficult. He organized the escape. It had to be kept very secret as there were some Jews who had hidden their children and they were against escaping. There were also women who were against leaving because they would not be able to manage with the snow and cold and life in the forest.

At ten o'clock at night people where running around in chaos. There were no Germans manning the watchtowers, probably because it was so cold. Those who were against the escape were getting in the way, bet they quickly resigned themselves to the situation. The Germans heard the tumult and people were killed and wounded.

We crashed through deep snow all night. Those with heavy feet died because they stayed on the road. Hersz was our guide. He was point man until we arrived in the village where the eight partisans were waiting.

We rested and then went on. Hersz was everywhere. He made sure everything was in order, everyone had something to eat; the sick and weak were driven; told the guards where to stand; showed us the best places to go through and he always went first. He did not know what fear was.

We finally arrived at the partisan camp. The Commanders, Russians, were already regretting their decision to have us brought to the camp. We did not have weapons, only one rifle and two pistols. The two Jewish Commanders could not go against the Russian Commanders who outranked them. Here I must mention a Jew from Nieswirz, by the name of Fisz, who worked at headquarters. He did a lot for us. He defended us and took our side. He was killed a little while later in a skirmish.

Ten men volunteered to find weapons. Posesorski immediately took over as leader of the ten men. His sister and brother did not want him to go, but he went just the same. As previously, he was point man. He made a plan and decided where to go. They quickly picked up a trail and then bad luck overtook them.

They met up with another group that was also looking for arms. These were escaped prisoners of war under the leadership of a Ukrainian bandit Onaczenko, who wanted to create a partisan group. He saw the Jewish group as competition. He also noticed that Hersz handled the group like a true leader. The Ukrainian looked for a way to stop Hersz. He had seen Hersz with binoculars and he insisted that Hersz give them to him. Hersz proudly told Onaczenko that he would get the binoculars over his dead body. The heated exchange of words continued. They each grabbed a gun. Hersz was shot and died from a Russian bullet, one of “our own”. So Onaczenko took the binoculars. Our dear Hersz lies at the edge of a forest, with a little board at his head. His men did not dare write what had really happened and so they wrote on the board that he had been killed fighting the Fascists…

The group returned shortly afterward. They brought weapons and a machine gun that Hersz had found, but without Hersz. Fela Wajnberg, a woman from Łódż, accompanied the group. Although the group had returned to our camp with weapons, the situation for the Jews did not improve. At least we made it through the raid that the Germans, together with traitors from the prisoner of war camps, launched against us.

All those with frozen feet and ordinary people where left on the road and they died. About twenty Jews had already died. I will tell you about four Jews, whose story I was the only eyewitness to. They were lying in the mud when the Germans surrounded us. We had only one way out, through the terrible swamps and forest, where there was no civilization, only sky and swamps. Even horses and animals could not find their way in these swamps. There was a Jew Slucki, with two sons, whose feet froze fleeing from the camp. Only the younger son, fifteen years old, a bright boy, ran from the slaughter at the cemetery. He travelled on his own until he found his father with us in the camp. His toes were frozen. A couple of days before, the doctor in the forest had cut off his toes. When we began to run, he fell. He was put on a horse, but the horse went so far and could go no further. Then his father carried him.

The other son needed help. He also had frozen toes. There came a time when he could go no further. Healthy men were having problems in the mud and needed help. The father was in despair. He did not know what to do. H wanted to save his eldest son, so he decided to leave the younger one in the mud and left.

A woman, Mrs. Binimowicz, was sitting thirty meters from there. Her husband had died in the forest two weeks before. She remained sitting because she could not go any further. Her children, a daughter of eighteen and a son of seventeen, stayed with her and would not leave. They decided to die together.

In the morning I went back to this place with a group. I found them all there, where they had been left. The young Slucki boy was lying there half-frozen, pleading for somebody to save him. Then he pleaded with G_d. The group that I had gone with (only Russians), did not want to stop. Then he pleaded with me to throw him into a nearby ditch. I could not do it. I went to the three Binimowiczes who were sitting on a lump of earth, huddled together. I tried to speak to them. I tried explaining to them that they should try going on. They did not answer. They opened their eyes and looked at us. I still see that look full of resignation. There was no light in their eyes, no hope left. When we left, I looked at them for a long time. If they had only tried, they could have been saved, but they had already mentally given up.

We returned along another road and did not see them again, so that is how they died from hunger and cold in a wild forest.

The old-man Slucki – I met him later. He saved his eldest son who was later killed in battle while serving with the Russian Army at the front.

During our later marches, we saw a lot of dead, but this was not important to our Commanders, who were educated in the country of humanitarian ideals and even had party books.

Fela could not live in this atmosphere. She decided to fight the enemy. She claimed that we must act with conviction because we are good partisans. She went to Sluck and blew up a factory. She had made her point. Once again she went to the valley to blow up an electrical plant. She fulfilled her mission. On the way back she had another mission: to go to the village, where there was a White Russian Commandant belonging to the German Police, who had lead a grim war against the partisans and he was to be captured at any price. Our Fela had the mission to take him. Leaving from Sluck she tracked him – and she fell into his hands. After they had tortured her, they hung her in Sluck.

That is how Fela died. She wanted to rehabilitate respect for Jews through her missions and take revenge for our martyrs. But in the end, our Commanders never mentioned the Jewish heroine, Fela Wajnberg.

 

ost466.jpg
Mass grave of those murdered by the Nazis in Stopcy. Among them are Ostrowers: the Rubin, Elbling and Chan families, Lejbl Palgon's families and others

 


[Pages 467-469]

The Large Slaughter in Czepelów Near Slonim

(14 November, 1941)

By Jakob Kackielewicz

(From “News of the Slonim Population”, Tel-Aviv, 1946)

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

One of the most frightening blood-baths that Hitler's butchers ordered for Polish Jewry took place in Czepelów near Slonim. Many Ostrower Jews had run there thinking that they and their families would be safe.

Whereas among the martyrs who were murdered there, were our Ostrower brothers and sisters who ran there to save their lives, here a translation of the dreadful description.

…At night, Thursday, the 13th of November 1941, the Jewish quarter in Slonim is woken up by deathly screams. In each Jewish house, the inhabitants clung to each other and asked: “What is that? What will tomorrow bring?”

Frightening talk was floating in the air – we will be sent to labour camps or airplanes will bomb the town.

Many were expecting to be killed, but were afraid to allow the words to escape their lips. They quieted and thought: “Is it possible that they would take young, healthy, innocent people and kill them?” But, they were thinking out loud. When they saw the bitter reality – ten trucks full of gendarmes entering the town, that put an end to the optimists' hope that nothing would happen…

You could taste the terror, when all the Slonim factory workers had been gathered together and yellow passes were given out.

The night passed peacefully. The freezing cold, which had taken hold in every region, decorated the windows with ice flowers. People had calmed down a little and were preparing for Shabes.

But, suddenly all the streets were surrounded by gendarmes, police and White Russian Militia. They pushed the Jews “home” into their houses. Wild shouts were heard from the German gendarmes and the destructive smashing of doors to break them down.

We were lucky to still be alive – my mother had hidden me in a woodshed and ran to open the door. From my hiding place I heard their wild shouts which were mixed in with the screams for help from mothers, children, old and young. The murderers had suddenly launched a pogrom – breaking all the dishes, overturning the furniture, everything was smashed.

Suddenly it became quiet. I could hear their shouting and shooting in the distance. This was about three o'clock in the afternoon.

When it was quiet everywhere, I came out of my hiding place to great destruction. Thirty-six people had lived in the house and none of them remained alive. The furniture was broken. I went out into the street and saw that the entire town of Slonim had been transformed into a cemetery. There was not a living soul to be found in Jewish Slonim. Even the murderers had left.

As my aunt lived in the Christian quarter, I went to her house. Luckily, they did not come for her and she had survived. She had hidden in an attic and through a shutter had seen everything…and this is what she told me:

“All the Jews, old and young, sick, babies and children, were taken to the market and forced to keep their hands in the air. They shaved the beards from the old men and made them dance and then hit them with murderous blows.

A dreadful scene took place when they started to separate the men from the women and children. The men were forced onto trucks and driven away on the road to Baranowicz. The women and children were sent on foot and took the same road through Skarbowe Street. This took place with beatings and wild shouting.” What happened later my aunt did not know as that is all she could see…

In the morning I received greetings from my friend Jizia Borecki, who virtually, had risen from the dead. He told us: -

“I was dragged out of our house together with my mother, our hands in the air and then I was hit hard and pushed to the market place. There I was separated from my mother and packed into a truck like herring. We drove through 3go Maja Street (Skarbowe Street) to Baranowicz Street. They pelted us with stones and shameful words. When the trucks arrived at the Czepelów highway we understood that they were driving us down the “last road”…

We saw that a very large grave had been dug…the Germans stopped the trucks and ordered us to take off all our clothes. Then we were pushed into the grave and they began shooting us.

MI was lucky - in this great mass of people, some of them had fallen on me and I was covered. The murderers' bullets could not get to me.

My body was covered in warm blood from the dead and the mortally wounded, who died from their wounds….

Suddenly I heard a low voice saying a prayer “G-d Have Mercy On Us” – a lament for the Jews who were so brutally murdered in a large mass grave. I knew that voice: It was the old Slonim shamas, Abraham Mosze. That dear Jew, who used to recite that prayer for the dead for his bosses, was now saying the prayer for all his friends and himself.

Using all my strength I climbed out of my living grave. My entire body was covered in blood from the martyrs. Like a wild beast I ran through the forest and fields until I came to the house of an old Christian who took pity on me and gave me a pair of old socks and a jacket and pointed out the road to Slonim and demanded that I leave.

I found Slonim – but no Jews…”

That is how our dear ones from Ostrowa were murdered.

 

Footnote
  1. This testimony was given in Białystok immediately following the war Return

 

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