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[Pages 469-471]

Fleeing From the Slaughter and in the Woods

By Krusa Abramczyk-Feszkin

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Sukes 1939, I left Ostrowa with my parents, brothers and sister and crossed the Russian border peacefully, went through Zambrów and on to Białystok. At this time refugees were not allowed to live near the border, so we went to Slonim which is about 150 kilometers from Białystok.

When the Germans attacked the Russians in June 1941, they arrived in Slonim and proceeded to slaughter a large number of Jews. In the morning, when everyone was going to work, the Gestapo took the men and put them in the movie theatre. In the evening of the same day they kept one thousand men and let the rest go home.

Thousands of Jews were driven to a small village outside Slonim where a grave had already been dug. There, the Germans shot and buried them. Nobody knew what had happened to these Jews until one day later. That was when we found out that one Jew had survived. He came back to Slonim at night and told about the mass murder. The families of those murdered went there to see the place and found signs (some clothes, etc.) of their near and dear ones.

Some time later the Jews living in Slonim were put into a ghetto. Many Jews were working outside the ghetto and some also in the ghetto proper. The Judenrat that consisted of Slonim natives, did everything possible to provide for the needs of the ghetto residents. From time to time the Germans would arrest some of the members of the Judenrat and murder them.

In 1941on a Wednesday morning, the Germans closed off the streets and dragged entire families, among them many Ostrowers, from their homes. They loaded them onto trucks and drove off on the Baranowicz highway. They were shot and tossed into a mass grave that had been previously prepared. Ten thousand Jews were murdered in this “round up”. It was said that sixty Jews had been previously taken to dig the mass grave and members of the Judenrat were among them. These sixty Jewish men were never seen again.

During the “round up” the Germans were especially savage, beating and shooting Jews. It took a whole week. In the middle of the week they took my father, brothers, sister and aunt, among others. I, together with eleven other neighbours, hid from Wednesday until Friday in the cellar. At midnight we came out and climbed over a fence (we lived at the end of the street). Afterwards, unnoticed by the Germans, one by one we went through a valley and later arrived at a highway in the village of Skojwicz. As the peasants would do nothing to help us, we went into the woods nearby.

In the woods we met some herdsmen and begged them to find out what they could about Slonim. One of them took a letter and on Friday brought an answer – we can go, but it is not a good idea. Not having any place of our own in the woods, we went back to Slonim. The Christians we encountered on the way crossed themselves and advised us not to go.

I, with two others from the group, went to a Christian acquaintance to hide out. The peasant hid us in an attic full of hay. The others went back to Slonim. We went back to Slonim later to look for the group, as well as my mother and brother. But we never saw any of them again.

I am alone, wandering around Slonim, having no idea what to do. I found out that a group of Jews was working in a village, close to town. I went there and among others found Szolom Zylberman's son. Then I went back to Slonim to find my family. The town looked like the aftermath of a pogrom. There was broken furniture and rags everywhere. In town I met up with the Ostrower, Jankiel Dawid Sztefer. He told me that the Germans had killed all the Jews and he was a worker with a group of Jews who had remained in a workshop in the besmedresh.

Bewildered children without parents were also living there. One day at four o'clock in the afternoon the German Annihilation Team arrived and took away all the children and the elderly. I went to work and received a straw mattress that gave me the right to stay.

So as the remaining workers also were not safe, I found a way to get out. Once Jankiel Dawid received a visit from a young Polish acquaintance, who had a wagon. Jankiel Dawid introduced me as his grand daughter and begged him to take me with him and hide me. The Christian agreed and drove me to a village. I exchanged the straw mattress for a pair of shoes that I needed badly. On another day the Christian took me on his bicycle and left me with a strange Christian, in the village of Skojwicz, where I spent the night. Another day the host from the same place where I had been told me about a forest about fifty kilometers away where the partisans were.

Among the partisans was the son of our concièrge [watchman] in Ostrowa, Arcze Band, who had worked in Beuten camp (gathering and sorting war trophies). He stole pistols for the partisans and was in command. I also found my sister there.

At first I worked in the kitchen for the partisans in Walczynower forest. Then I became a nurse in their forest hospital. The partisans often went out on raids against the Germans…they blew up military trains and did a lot of damage. The Germans searched the forests, which often resulted in open conflict and both sides suffered loses.

In the “Szors” partisan group there were also anti-Semites who persecuted their Jewish comrades. My sister and I were with the partisans for two and a half years until we were liberated near Brisk by the Red army.

It is important to mention that during a “round-up” in Slonim, the Ostrower Hirsz Chaim Dessel (a son of Jankiel Tandetter) resisted when the Gestapo came to take him away. Using a large scissors, he cut open a German's head and then he was shot and killed.

 


[Pages 472-483]

In the Ghetto and With the Partisans

By Awiezer Imber

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

 

ost472.jpg
Awiezer Imber

 

The Germans occupied Ostrów Mazowiecka on the third day of the war and immediately we felt the severity and brutality of the occupying force. Stores were robbed, human dignity was assaulted and every soldier was permitted to shoot and kill Jews at any time.

From the surrounding towns and villages Jews came running to Ostrowa thinking that they could outrun the Germans. But the Germans very quickly defeated the Polish army and so they always caught up with the helpless Jews. Each day became darker than the previous. A large contribution had to be made by the Jewish population, houses were searched for hidden weapons, but the Germans took whatever they pleased. People began to lose hope, looking death in the eye, until a little relief came from an unexpected source. Around the 17th of September 1939 the Russian army expanded their borders and settled in Eastern Poland. Suddenly Ostrowa became a border town. The Red army went as far as Ostrowa. The real border was the railroad line just beyond the Church. Using various forms of transport the Jews left, some with rented horses and wagons, some with rucksacks on their backs. Luckily the border was just beyond the rail road bridge. The roads were black with refugees who were trying to leave Poland and were on the road that went through Ostrowa, because Ostrowa lay on the Warszawa – Baiłystok - Wilno Highway. Within days, the majority of Jews crossed over the border.

The problem for many Jews was how to leave their homes and possessions that generations had worked for. It was difficult for them to tear themselves away from everything they knew. The Germans had overlooked the mass exodus for a while, then suddenly they decided to close the border. All the Jews left in Ostrowa were murdered, or buried alive, along with a lot of refugees who had not been able to get across the border and were stuck in Ostrowa. The information about the mass murder in Ostrowa reached us in Białystok.

 

Białystok

The majority of Ostrowa Jews went to Białystok. Many also stayed in small villages such as Zaręby Kościelne, Czyzewo, Zambrów and others. Białystok was the refugee melting pot. But the peaceful existence in Białystok did not last long. The Soviet authorities ordered all refugees to leave Białystok as the city was only a hundred kilometers from the border. People said that the real reason was that the Russian administration would be arriving with their families from Russia and needed places to live, therefore the refugees had to leave.

With that news the Ostrower Jews along with many other refugees, took to the roads again. Many of the Ostrower refugees settled in Slonim and in the surrounding villages. In Slonim, the Ostrower refugees were welcomed with open arms. The Slonimers accepted the refugees without any problems even though the population doubled overnight. Slonim, which was a small town, had become a small town with forty thousand Jews. The Ostrower Jews settled into a new life: some worked, some traded. Everyone managed somehow. However they lived in fear of what tomorrow might bring. On one hand they feared deportation by the Russians and on the other hand what would the Germans do? Would they take over all of Europe? And then what?

Their fears were not groundless. There was a taste of gunpowder in the air. The unexpected happened on the 22nd of June 1941, when without a declaration of war, Germany attacked Russia. Within a few days they had captured the entire eastern part of Poland. With this news, we began to feel the taste of war and then fell into the terrible hands of the German murderers. Jews were running from one place to another. Men were grabbed in the streets, not caring anymore if they were murdered. Tuwia Grynberg's son, Josef the photographer, was shot and killed the first day. The Gestapo wanted a photograph taken of their arrival. After the photograph was taken, they ordered Grynberg to lie down on his stomach and shot him. That is how a lot of other Jews were murdered as well, for no reason, just because they were Jewish.

The Ostrower refugees were forced to work along with the Slonimer Jews. Ghettos were created and the Jews were dispersed among them. The Jewish population was divided into productive and non-productive, which really meant: who shall live and who shall be murdered…I was put into the work force. Many times when I left work I met Rabbi Zinger on the highway. He fervently believed that all of the Jews would survive. But unfortunately like most other Jews he was murdered with his family in the second slaughter of June 1942. Every day was darker than the previous one.

The 14th of November 1941, 28th Heshvan 5702, the Germans spread a rumour that all the men would be sent to work in the Third Reich without their families. The men, not wanting to leave their families, went into hiding. On that tragic day, the Germans brought in reinforcements and everyone understood that something terrible was about to happen. The women were convinced that they would only search for the men in the houses, so they remained at home. The Germans went from house to house and took everyone they found, forced them out of town to the village, Czepelów and shot all of them there. On this terrible day, ten thousand Jews were murdered, the largest percent of whom were women and children (among them my mother and sister). The surviving Jews were horrified. The news of the slaughter in Slonim reached the small villages. The Jews started building underground bunkers to hide in.

A short time later the Germans demanded a contribution: gold, fur coats and any other valuables. During this darkest time of our lives, even the religious Jews began to wonder how G-d could watch as his children were so vilely murdered. The Jews raised their hands to the sky with a loud shout of “shema Yisroel” on their lips.

Not only the Germans, but also the gentiles in the area, Russians, White Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians – they all wanted to annihilate the Jews. After every “round up” in the ghetto, the gentiles came around and stole whatever was left. It was frightening – a terrible struggle to gain the right to work, to be an “essential” Jew and become a specialist was good…so good as to signify protection against the Angel of Death. After a while my father and I went to work in the camp that was called Beuten.

In the camp we cleaned rifles captured from the Russians. The camp was located outside the ghetto. The daughter of the Komorower watchmaker Rejbsztajn worked along with me. She died the 13th of August 1942. I worked as a mechanic in the camp. I succeeded in gaining the confidence of the German non-commissioned officer Moytz. I had, in a way, a free hand and I found a way to establish contact with the partisans who were located in the nearby forests. The intermediaries were two Ostrower young men: Izrael Sokolik and Jozef Tyman (one of Motl Tyman's sons). They let us know they were in contact with the partisans and they wanted us to help them get guns, because without a gun they would not be accepted in the forest. I was so happy to have made this contact. We immediately discussed how we could get the guns to them. I immediately stole an automatic pistol.

After having a talk with my fellow Ostrowers, it was decided that getting pistols to the Jewish partisans was the right thing to do. My mind was focused in one direction: to get more pistols and more ammunition for the partisans. It became very dangerous. I had to be careful even among my own people because many Jews believed that if they obeyed the Germans and did not cause any trouble, the Germans would let them live. But we knew that a miracle would be needed if we were to survive with the Germans. There was no other way out except to run away with a gun in hand, to revenge all the Jewish blood that had been spilled.

We were in constant fear in the camp and the few remaining Jews in the ghetto lived from day to day – some were lucky, others were victims. The town lay in the hands of one person – Commissar Hick, may his name be erased. His greatest joy was to shoot the yellow star that was sewn on every Jewish breast and back and he did this with a particular sadistic pleasure. Again black, dark days were approaching, terrifying like the previous slaughters.

On the 28th of April 1942, in the afternoon, after work we were sent to the ghetto. We met many groups of SS and their collaborators: Ukrainians, Lithuanians and local White Russian Police. Everyone sensed that something big was about to happen. On the 29th of June 1942, the Germans surrounded the ghetto and started a search for hidden Jews. Actually, all the remaining Jews had prepared hiding places. Children and old people were in the cellars waiting in terrible anxiety. Even the smallest children knew that to cry out meant death. That day thousands of Jews were captured and killed inside and outside the ghetto. The streets ran with blood. Nobody came to our aid. The sounds of the Germans shooting and screaming in the ghetto were deafening. In the evening when the shooting had subsided a little the trucks arrived from Beuten camp where hundreds of Jews worked and with a megaphone announced that all those of the Beuten camp who were still alive must come out from their hiding places and nothing would happen to them. The military word of honour was given as assurance. Slowly, we came out of our hiding places and went to the trucks – what would be would be.

While the remaining workers were being taken away, there were heartrending scenes with many Jews who wanted to come with us, the workers from Beuten camp, knowing that this would save their lives. The Germans used their rifles to keep them from getting into the trucks. Some did manage to get in with us, but when we arrived at the camp they checked us carefully and they were taken away to be shot. It is very difficult to put into words all that had happened. The struggle against death is indescribable. These deaths and the burning of the ghetto had been accomplished with a savage hand. In the morning the Germans began searching anew for Jews in the ghetto. They had not yet murdered enough.

Not being able to find the hidden Jews, they decided to set fire to the ghetto. The workers from Beuten camp were being driven through the ghetto at the time. We saw the ghetto burning all along the river. What a tragedy! The Germans and their helpers set ablaze the wooden houses in the lanes and we Ostrowers knew some of the inhabitants of these houses, such as the Wejlach family of Ostrowa, from the “shoe branch”. I pleaded with an officer to be allowed to help save my family, he told me: “be happy that you are still alive”. We saw people jumping out of windows and running to the river, but death was waiting for them there as well. That is how the Wejlach family was killed along with their two sons-in-law, Szapiro and Segalowicz. It was, as someone said, “like fire in water”. The flaming ghetto was like a vise on my heart and I felt as if I would never rest peacefully again. A nightmare from hell was spinning in my mind, from having seen the desperation of the Jews and the total unconcern of everybody else.

During this “round-up”, Rabbi Zinger and his family were murdered. The “round-up” lasted a long time and the majority of Jews who had been living in the ghetto were murdered. It had lasted sixteen days because the Germans had to reach a certain amount of deaths, as decreed by the high command, so the Jews were delegated. Now we were racing to prepare guns. It was now my job to get the guns out, as I worked close to the exit to the workers' quarters. We hid the guns in a wall where we lived and from time to time couriers arrived from the newly established ghetto containing the few remaining Jews. They would come for the guns at a prearranged time. At the end of July when our contacts arrived, we were told to prepare to go into the forest.

One by one, we stole from the camp in the dark of night. Thirty Jews, among them my father, Sokolik and Tyman. In the dark we took the guns and left Slonim for the forest. I was filled with misgiving. Was I doing the right thing by leaving? There were only a few Jews still alive in the work camp and the ghetto. The situation made us uneasy. It was clear that not all the Jews would be able to survive in the forests. But staying in the ghetto was not the way out either. My family, close friends and acquaintances had been murdered for the sin of being born Jewish. Revenge, revenge said an internal instinct, for everyone we must take revenge. With thoughts of revenge on my mind, we arrived in the forest early in the morning. There began a new chapter in my life, for which I had no prior experience.

The first day in the forest was like another life with other worries, but a cautious life in all respects. We had more guns in our group than we needed. That was accomplished during our preparations in the ghetto. Also, the excess of guns would help in determining the way the Russian partisans perceived us. The spirit of the German propaganda had reached the local Russian partisans and seeing that we arrived well equipped they respected us. We were proud that our having guns would refute the claim that Jews were not fighters.

When a Jew came into the forest without a gun and he wanted to join the partisans, they would send him back to where he came from. Knowing this we had prepared a lot of guns, more than we needed, so those who came later would have weapons. I must mention that a lot of people helped us to get out and into the forest and also in organizing this effort, such as the young man from Lithuania, Zorach Korman, who managed to do a lot of harm to the Germans (today he lives in Israel).

There in the forest I had only one desire, to take revenge on the Germans. We could not rest easy until we had made the Germans pay for their bestiality. We did not stay long in one place. After several assaults against German soldiers, we became a bother to the Germans. It was decided that we should leave the area. In August 1942, we left the area with the Russian partisans, leaving behind many Jews the Russians did not want to take along, on the pretext that they were not fighters. A lot of those left behind died. One of them was a young man from Ostrowa – Benjamin Wassenberg. During the freezing cold of January 1943, his feet froze and when the Germans attacked, he could not run and he was murdered. Then we moved further east and ran into the Germans. After many skirmishes, on the 13th of September, 1942 we ran into a large German force and a large battle ensued in which a lot of people died, among them my father (Icchok Imber) who was young and always in good spirits. He was 47 years old and no different from anybody else. A murderer's bullet hit him in the temple and he died instantly. I dug the grave in the hard earth of that field with my own hands and left my father there. At some point the Germans dug up all our dead and burned the bodies. Josel Tyman was also severely wounded in this fight. He was a good marksman, kept shooting at the German positions and he was wounded by a bullet in the shoulder from which he recovered. He was later killed during a heavy battle at the end of 1943. Josel Tyman was a fearless young man and went into battle as if he were going to a dance. May his memory be honoured.

After that fight I was alone. My father, who had never given up for a moment, was always anxious that we never do anything shameful or evil and that stayed with me. It had an effect on me even when I requested a transfer to more dangerous missions in order to take revenge on the German murderers. After a while I became part of a group that blew up railroad tracks, bridges, trucks, etc. This group was made up of seven men. The night was the best time to blow up trains. I have to admit that the greatest joy of my life was blowing up trains. I knew we could do more to disrupt communications, but that would come later.

 

I Became a Destroyer

Soon after the first day that I began a new life, we were given a machine gun, whose “honour” I never disgraced. We never complained about how heavy it was and we never parted from it during all the raids and skirmishes. After disbanding the Jewish group, whose fighting spirit had even impressed the Russians, I became a part of the Russian partisan group, first named Number 56 and later named Budennji, after a Russian General[1].

Then I was ordered to see the commandant of the partisan camp and he asked me to join a group that blew up railroads, trucks, etc. In the same manner and for the same purpose, six other men were gathered as well. The seventh was Sergeant Glaczow, the group leader. We learned about mines and explosives and then went on our first mission to blow up a train. The place where we waited was dangerous. There was a heavy German presence protecting the train station and around the railroad line were fortified positions that could fire from all sides at the same time.

While we spread out at the place that we had chosen to blow up, we came to a guard post that opened fire on us. In the dark of night, when they felt safe that we would not make an attempt to infiltrate the area, we silently crawled to the rail line. At the last moment I volunteered to lay the mine on the track, to revenge my brothers. We waited a long time for a train coming from the west to the east. Our orders were to blow up a train heading for the front. We lay on the damp ground for hours and thought that perhaps that night there would not a train in the “demanded” direction and we would have to go “home” with nothing. And suddenly we heard a train coming. The lights were extinguished. I began to get closer to the rail line, with a Russian comrade while the Germans opened fire in our direct. There were no flares set off to pin us to the ground. We crawled and in our heads was only one thought: can we manage it? We could not speak to each other - one false move could put an end to our entire effort. Just a little further and we would be at the rail line. With a revolver in one hand and the mine in the other we quickly attached the detonator and moved away trailing a long cord that was attached to the detonator trigger. In the dark we see how close the train is to our position. I hold the other end of the cord in my hand until the locomotive is opposite us. I pull the cord and the quiet is interrupted. A bright flash and a terrifying thunderous roar put an end to the lives of one hundred Germans soldiers, guns and ammunition heading for the front. That night we did not know what damage the explosion had

inflected. But one thing was clear, we upset their plans and that was our goal. We knew that every obstruction to their communications weakened the front. We clapped our hands for joy. Personally, I was especially happy. My first explosion was a success. At the last moment the Germans had discover the mines and they got rid of them. But these mines did not have cords…

On another raid, we were to place a mine at the Brucha-Gur railroad station near Kartuz-Bereza, the town that became famous in pre-war Poland for its concentration camp for political prisoners. The fuse, covered with gravel, went out. In the morning the Germans uncovered the mine and wanted to take it away – We gave the fuse a jerk and four Germans were blasted into the air and they could not find a trace of them. No matter who the volunteer was in this group, he always upheld our honour.

If any cowards were found, we lectured them. They must not “move off” during a fight because that would be like pouring oil on the anti-Jewish fire that was already burning. Oh, how proud we were when we heard that the Jewish partisans took part in the raids and the destruction missions. The Russian partisans showed us respect and little by little put to rest the old wives' tales about Jewish cowardice.

There was another Jewish partisan in the brigade, Nonje Cyrinski, from Slonim. He was a capable young man and together we blew up trains. Once we were sent to Brisk – a hundred kilometers from our base. On the way we had to find material to make a mine. We had to get material from guns, bombs that could be found on certain battlefields. When we found them we had nothing to use to open them with in order to remove the gun powder. We found a bomb and decided to break it open. It weighed sixty kilos and we managed to dismantle it at the risk of our lives, but we both came away alive.

We took out the detonator and took the rest with us to the railroad tracks. We had to cross the Muchawiec River and go through a forest among a population who were our sworn enemies.

Through an open field that had searchlights that kept us pinned to the ground, we closed in on our target. The area was heavily guarded. Thousands of Germans with their followers were keeping watch. We found a place that we could defend and waited for a train. Suddenly we were noticed and not wanting to get into a fight, we left using the dark night as cover.

We retreated in a different direction, to the main train station in Brisk. The station was full of trains and various maneuvers were being carried out. We used the commotion going on there to try to get to the tracks. We were not discovered because at the same time a guard arrived to examine the tracks to be sure that there were no mines. By the maneuvers taking place we realized that a train would soon be leaving. Soon we heard a long whistle from the stationmaster. Cyrinski and I crept up to the tracks with the heavy bomb and a third comrade covered us. Laying the mine took only a few moments and we withdrew with the hope that our work was effective and we would not have long to wait for the explosion. A train began to move and we heard the soldiers singing in the train cars. We withdrew further, further, looking around all the time and wondering why we did not hear an explosion. The explosion was so destructive that all the munitions on the train, destined for the front, exploded and smashed the trains cars along with the soldiers on it. It took them a whole day to clean up the tracks and extricate the dead and wounded from under the destroyed train. According to the German Secret Police, there were more than four hundred killed and wounded.

By the time I left the Budennji group to join the parachute group, I had been responsible for destroying nine trains that disrupted German supply lines, destroyed ammunition and killed or wounded officers and soldiers headed for the front. Doctor Blumowicz, who was the chief medic for the partisans in the Brisk region (later served in the Israel Defense Force under the name Doctor Atzmon), informed me that the partisan headquarters had written to Moscow about recognizing my distinguished efforts.

In October 1943 a parachute group was attached to us to carry out raid. Because they did not know the area they asked partisan headquarters to “borrow” two guides who knew the region and where the Germans were vulnerable. I was assigned to them along with a Russian comrade. In a couple of days we were already blowing up trains. It was interesting work. As this was a special sabotage group, I did not have to find my own detonation material. They had been supplied with plenty of dynamite. After our first raid together they decided not to “give us back”. I was the only Jew in the group.

The commander of the group Captain Szumilin held a meeting to discuss possible target. I told him that every place was important to the Germans and they were watching everywhere. Time wise it was necessary to choose a central station. If only from a psychological viewpoint, because the Germans maintained that the partisans only went do distant place and they did not want to risk crawling into the lion's mouth. Because of this we selected the Jewcewicz Station in February 1944. We filled a fourteen kilo mine with the inscription: “a gift for the murderous Hitler military”. When we arrived in the village close to the railroad line, we reconnoitered the area. Through our connections we received the news that the Germans were aware that a parachute group was active in the area and they wanted to annihilate us. They advised us not to go because every evening they posted guards on all the roads to the railroad. After deliberating we decided to go ahead. I assured the comrades if they were afraid I would volunteer even if nobody else would help me, but they had to protect me if necessary. Lately the Germans had “planted” mines around the tracks by digging deep holes and covering them so nobody would know where they are. The place we went to looked like the battlefront. Rifles and machine guns were fired in succession. The roads to the tracks were full of guard posts prepared for the partisans. In the dark we found a place to crawl through. The Germans that winter night were not the best guards because we found a way through. The smoke from their cigarettes helped us find a route. We crawled through between two guard posts. No train was in sight. But we chose to lay a mine and cover it. We waited near the tracks until the guard has passed. We did not feel the cold as we were dressed in snow white clothes that were warm. When the guard had passed we ran to the tracks, dug a hole with our hands the size of the mine, put it in and covered it with snow. Leaving behind our gift we withdrew three hundred meters and lay in the cold snow behind the German guard posts. We did wait long for a train to arrive. We heard the noise of the locomotive and the train was getting closer with illuminated cars. In another minute the reason for risking my life would become evident. My heart was full of joy and full of revenge. Just another minute and the train would “come in contact with” the mine and suddenly the Germans discovered the mine. They sent out the alarm signal to the engineer to stop the train. But it was already too late. The train ran over the mine at full speed. With a flash and thunderous noise the train derailed and the cars jack-knifed into each other, smashing everything. More than one hundred officers were killed. They were on their way from Germany to the front. When the explosion occurred, we opened fire with automatic weapons on the guard post that was there to keep partisans from reaching the railroad tracks. We killed six solders. When we were finished with them we withdrew to a nearby forest. The Germans from the entire area were soon mobilized and soon has us surrounded. It was almost dawn and we were able to see a wonderful sight: Dead and wounded Germans were being taken away by ambulance. My heart was full of joy and I thought if the Germans only knew that a Jew had a hand in this work, they would put a price on my head. The Germans were successful in finding out from the villagers that a group of parachutists, among them a Jew, had carried out this “bit of work”. They did everything possible to capture us. About a couple of days later we blew up a train in the same place and left behind flyers, that we had written, that this is a “gift” for “Mother's Day” (the 8th of March in Russia) and to revenge the Jewish blood that flowed freely under their rule.

All the raids of this kind resemble one another so I will tell about one incident where the commander of the parachute group, Captain Szumilin, who I especially esteemed for his regard and understanding of the Jewish question that arose among the partisans.

I received the order to blow up a train. This time it was not the usual Brisk-Moscow line but the one between Brisk and Pinsk. Now I had a lot of experience in this type of warfare and I heeded the advice not to drink vodka before a mission, as the Russians were in the habit of doing. As a result a lot of them were killed.

The group approached the rail line. In the dark of night Commander Szumilin turned over the group to me, gave us last minute instructions and we would meet up again in the village Tarkon, near Antopol. He went back to the village alone. At the time, the Germans, together with the Hungarian guards, already knew that a group of partisans had gone through the village and that night they surrounded the village and waited to spring their trap. In the meantime we were waiting for a train along the railroad tracks, not aware of what was happening around us. This was in May 1944. The weather was mild and the grass had started to grow. We lay there and the sparse grass was our only cover. The Germans had found ways of fighting against the mines. From time to time they sent a panzer machine ahead of the train to detect mines. But against us, this machine was no help. We also knew that if they used the machine, we were not waiting in vain and that a train was due soon. We left the tracks at the last minute, after having lit the fuse because the partisan doctrine was “hit and run”. Suddenly during our withdrawal we noticed the hidden Germans. At that moment they opened fire. We did not want to get involved in a fire fight, as we had to get back to the village where Captain Szumilin was waiting for us. While withdrawing we had not forgotten to look back to see what was happening at the tracks, if the mines had gone off. This was our main concern. During the short time that we had tangled with the Germans, the train had blown up. What a glorious site! Suddenly, not knowing from where, we were receiving heavy fire. When we arrived in Tarkan the Germans were waiting. Unaware of this, we began searching for the commandant. After a couple of minutes, we had all gathered together and were ready to leave the village. Suddenly, we were under heavy fire again. We were able to spread out, find cover and fire back. Captain Szmilin was killed. We were not able to take him with us because of the ricocheting bullets. Several comrades were wounded, I among them, before we were able to fight our way out of the village. The Germans were very pleased with their ambush because from the documents found on the commandant, they knew that they had killed one our leaders. We swore to take revenge. About a couple of days later, we laid an ambush on the highway that goes through Pinsk and destroyed two trucks with eight Germans. After Szumilin's death, I was appointed commander of the group and together we participated in twenty-two successful attacks on the rail lines, where the Germans paid a high price in material and manpower. I had achieved what I had sworn to do. Unfortunately my friends had gone away by that time and they will never again return.

 


[Pages 484-486]

A Townsman Among the Partisans

By Jonah Szumowicz, Israel

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

 

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Jonah Szumuwicz now in Israel

 

A series of raids and ambushes that a group of partisans, among whom was the Partisan Jonah Szumowicz from Ostrów Mazowiecka, carried out in the area around Vilna and in the Rudniki Forest.

Excerpt from the newspaper

(“Far der Freiheit” [“For Freedom”])

A group of partisans stopped a train loaded with heating material. The goods were liquidated. Killed five Germans, three prisoners and took machine guns and rifles.

On the road Wilno-Lida, blew up the rail line, fifty rails and two hundred meters of line damaged.

On the road Wilno-Grodno the partisans blew up a train bringing guns to the Eastern Front. Thirty-two cars and one locomotive damaged.

On the railroad line to Olkenik, blew up a train that was bringing flour to the front. Four wagons and a locomotive destroyed.

On the highway Wilno-Eisyshok - the partisans await the German cars – open fire on the armoured trucks with machine guns. Thirteen soldiers killed and one officer. Also captured two machine guns, six rifles, four grenades, bombs and various other weapons.

On the rail line Wilno-Grodno at Radiszki, blew up a train with military personnel. Number of victims not determined.

On the road Wilno-Kowno blew up a train with military personnel. Four cars and locomotive overturned.

A partisan group blew up 2 locomotives that were standing in the station Z'grin, also burnt the bridge over the Marcienka River and smashed the large bridge over the canal.

The partisans blew up the dam on the Marcienka River at Z'grin, that used to moved the machines for the large factories in Gz'giz'wo. After the explosion the water flooded the fields around and the water kept flowing to Gz'giz'wo. The paper mill, saw mills and most importantly the arms factory were all flooded.

Between Waka and Melchowicz the partisans blew up the Germans bringing wood from the forest. An officer and a soldier died who did want to give up. Captured seven soldiers and their arms.

On the rail line Wilno-Kowno a partisan group by laying a mine stopped a train that was going to the front, with officers and non-commissioned officers. Opened concentrated fire, the Germans ran in confusion. One hundred fifty dead and ninety wounded.

On the road Wilno-Kowno the partisans blew up a train loaded with arms, four cars and the locomotive were overturned.

Olkiniki, with help of powerful mines the partisans blew up the ovens at the tar manufacture that made tar for the German military. The ovens have ceased working.

Stasili. A partisan group blew up a train with military personnel. Seven cars and the locomotive smashed.

Between Jaszuni and Stasili, disrupted four hundred meters of railroad tracks with mines.

Ochani at Oran, a partisan section blew up a train that was taking military from the front for a rest. 9 cars and the locomotive overturned. More than one hundred military personnel were badly wounded.

A partisan section set fire to the large bridge on the military highway Wilno-Grodno, during the raid a fight ensued and the Germans opened fire with machine guns, but the partisans managed to hold until the bridge was destroyed. The raid lasted three hours.

The partisans spread out to the south side, north and east of Wilno. In one night smashed the communication links around the city, Wilno was cut off from the rest of the world. Five hundred telephone and telegraph poles were damaged for tens of kilometers. The Gestapo was in turmoil, they were in the barracks, afraid of an attack.

* * * *

A partisan group set fire to the Colony Jorkiszki that was a strategic base as well as a sheep, cow and horse crossing. In the books was found lists of partisan attacks that were not correct. The administrators had credited too many attacks to the partisans.

Wilno. A partisan detachment blew up the transformers of the city electric station and two underground filters of the city water lines.

Rudniki. A partisan section stormed the prison in Rudniki, burned two workshops, freed twenty-seven prisoners and killed two guards. The warden and two guards taken prisoner. The partisans lost thirteen comrades.

Olkinik - A partisan section waited on the road Wilno-Grodno at the village of Parcuba, for German trucks. With concentrated fire from the machine guns they stopped a truck driving twenty officers from the German headquarters. Ten officers killed, five captured, four got away. One who tried by jumping from the truck to get away, got stuck and suffocated.

 


[Page 487]

An Ambush on the Railroad at the Jiwacewiec Station
on the Line Pinsk-Baranowicz-Brisk

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

 

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Partisan Szlama Kitejewicz, an Ostrower, now in Russia

 

After reconnoitering for a long time the activity of the railroad, a detachment of the 18th Partisans decided on a certain day in January of 1943 to conduct an operation to destroy the rail line that helped the Germans deliver ammunition and food to the surrounding area. In order to blow up the train, mines were laid in three places. After the signal was given, the train flew in the air and all the military, police and Germans civilians were blown to bits.

When our detachment approached, and our commander Sergei Orlow tried to open one of the damaged cars, he was shot by one of the Germans. He lingered for three days and then died.

Our detachment, with the exception of our fallen commander, came away without any further losses. We took everything that had not been destroyed: rifles for thirty odd people, food and other necessities, a big victory – and a heavy heart because of our fallen commander – we left that place and went back into the forest.

 


[Page 488]

A Partisan Episode

Told by his brother Abraham Kitejewicz in Israel

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

On a certain day a group of partisans met an armed group of Germans. A fight developed between the two groups. One German left his position and jumped on the leader of the Russian partisans. In hand to hand combat the German was winning and threw the Russian to the ground. The German was going to bayonet him. Then the partisan Szlama Kitejewicz ran over and threatened the German with his revolver. On seeing Szlama, he let go of the Russian, raised his hands in the air and gave up. The German was taken to the partisan command post and when the German was shot to death, the men had respect for the aforementioned Jewish partisan, my brother Szlama Kitejewicz, who is now living in Russia.

 

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The hero Hirsz Chaim Desel hy”d

 


Revenge Taken

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

In those dark days, when millions of our brothers were lead to the slaughter, several did not give up their lives without exacting a high price, first murdering Germans and then going alone to a hero's death. This is how our townsman Hirsz Chaim Desel (Jekel Tandetter's son) died. This happened in 1942 in Slonim. The Gestapo murderers were coming to arrest him. But he decided that he would not be taken without a struggle. He stood with an axe, at the door and when the uniformed murderers crossed his threshold, they lost their heads. Hersz Chaim was killed immediately afterward.

 

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Road sign for Treblinka

 


[Pages 489-502]

A Day in Treblinka

By Symcha Poliakewicz, Tel-Aviv

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

The freight train comes to a stop and a dreadful tension grabs everyone. The moment lasts only a short time. We hear movement between the freight cars and soon the train starts to go further, but already with a second lurch it slows, as if to be sure that it is in the right place. Shortly, the train stops again. Murderers' hands tear open the locked doors and like wild beasts, shout at us to get out.

I was dizzy, but I managed to stay on my feet. I tore myself away from the mass of people pressed together in the freight car. A lot of those who had been standing previously and had fallen when the train stopped, now pick themselves up, the majority appear half-dead after climbing down. When I get out I notice that the train is about half as long as it was when we started and I do not understand. I resent that I am not in the other part of the train that did not go to Treblinka. I look around and see not far away a railroad station with a sign Treblinka. An orchestra is playing. At first I feel mixed up. What is the orchestra playing? Why at the train station? I realize that I am going straight to the death-rooms. From that moment I do not look around anymore – I am dead. I start to control painful memories, mixed up with incomprehensible feelings of hope. Perhaps I am not in the annihilation camp, only the work camp Treblinka I? I feel the fresh air that mixes with the stinking smell of the death-train. Four Ukrainians in dull green uniforms begin hitting people over the head with a rubber truncheons. They gather these people together and order them to carry the dead out of the cars into the already prepared open graves. I am among the many chosen for this job because there are a lot of dead in the cars.

The SS and Ukrainians hit us with cruel blows from rubber truncheons and billy clubs. The faces and head of the half-crazed Jews are bloody. Jewish blood sprays from the rubber truncheons and billy clubs. A wild, deafening shout: Line up.

There are several thousand people with parcels, sacks, valises, rucksacks on their shoulders, among them some women holding children by the hand; old people who can barely stand, lean on their relatives. A mother shouts with a sobbing voice and shakes her child, who is already

 

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Hand drawn map of area around Treblinka

 

dead, keeps shaking as if to wake the child from a nap. The sick with pale faces try to make themselves look healthy and lively under strict orders from the murderers.

Parents watch their children closely so they will not get lost. From other places we hear screaming, crying children searching for lost parents. We hear names being called by several people who have been separated from their loved ones, the cries of despair from those whose relatives died on the train. A grief stricken young woman is standing in a nearby freight car refuses to leave. Her mother lies dead in the car and she does not want to leave her. Murderous hands quickly grab her and pull her down from the train. This throng of thousands of Jews, old and young, sick and healthy, pushed together into lines, moves slowly towards the railroad station, while the Ukrainians and Germans keep everyone in order. Some of the murderers give the Jews suspicious, bestial looks and with sinister laughter order them to quickly finish up with the registration…on the other side of the station…

The platform has already been cleaned of all signs of those who have gone through the station. All that remains are those chosen to bury the dead from the freight train. We are sorted into groups of ten men. There are approximately twenty such groups. We are pushed into the freight cars, the train starts, then stands still. We are on sandy ground, surrounded by a small pine forest. We dig graves. The murderers order us to carry the dead and to throw them in the graves. The work must be done quickly, by orders of the murderers. In my group, one person stands in the car and pulls out the bodies and those on the ground carry the bodies to the graves.

The murderers stand around and watch as if this is ordinary work. We carry the dead and break our backs carrying the bodies. We carry and drag the bodies, racing, so as not to be hit. We are like living mummies, moving as if hypnotized, carrying out the orders of the murderers, driven by wild shouts and severe beatings. SS troops with rifles stand on the side and make sure that everybody does as they are told.

Many of those doing the burying recognize their relatives among the dead. Some of them openly displayed their feeling and the murderers quickly prod them with the help of billy clubs and rubber truncheons. Many were shot to death because they had been physically exhausted by the work. My petrified limbs trembled when I had to carry my old friend to the mass grave. He died before arriving in Treblinka…I envy him, that he cannot see and feel this horror. The train is emptied quickly and it leaves with the empty cattle cars and goes back in the direction it arrived from. One of the murderers goes with it and we stay behind. It seems that we are not yet finished working.

The murderers order us to sit down. If we move from this spot, we will be thrown into the open grave. We stay seated, each group separately. Everyone is silent. Nobody speaks. We do not even look at one another. Nobody can speak. The deadly atmosphere controls us. Everyone is paralyzed, feelings and thoughts are numb. We are now shadows of ourselves, people whose lives have already been taken away.

We sit without moving, surrounded by forests and open mass graves. The horror and fear of death has ceased. We have lost the will to live and have stopped thinking. We do not feel the warmth of the sun and we do not tremble when thinking of our destiny. We have ceased being human beings.

An hour goes by, two, it seems like an eternity. The sun is already high in the sky, warming the murderers and exposing their work to the light of day.

We hear noises. The other half of our train is approaching. It had been in the forest.

Orders from the murderers: Stand up! Once again the same wild race to get the dead bodies off the train. This time there are only a few bodies, but most of them are women and children.

In one car we find a dead woman lying pressed against a child, who is still held tight in her hands. Obviously the mother did not want to let go of her dead child and held the child close with motherly love and despair, wanting to die together with her child. The mother's mouth remained twisted from her last curse of the murderers' world.

We find in the cars, lying in chlorinated powder, children's toys, white bread, wrapped smoked meat, cigars, diamonds, the last possessions of those whose final journey was made in this death-train.

When the murderers determined that we had finished the work, the group was divided. The larger part stayed there and I never saw them again. I am in the group that is sent along the railroad tracks, where trees grow on both sides, in the direction of the death camp.

With slow steps, barely able to drag our feet, we come close to the place of those condemned to death, then the railroad station. Now we no longer hear the orchestra playing. There is nobody to fool. For the twenty victims now prodded along, there is no need for an orchestra, as we are already dazed and powerless.

There are Czech Jews in my group who do not know what awaits them. We are not allowed to talk to each other. If we do not obey, our heads will be split by the wooden rifle stock.

We go through the railroad station. It has the look of a real station. It has a cashier's window, posters from various cities, closed doors with writing on them. An official watches as the murderers take us through the now vacant building. We go through a trampled down square and it is easy to see that hundreds of thousand feet have passed here. The appearance of the square is somewhat frightening and alarming because of the high barbed wire fence. We see things scattered around, like old clothes and torn valises. The frightened Czech Jews look around and a dreadful feeling comes over us. We stand there a while and soon we are taken further, between a high wire wall, covered with branches.

We go by a long, wide ditch. Beyond the ditch is more barbed wire. Soon we see wooden towers from which the murderers look out and on which are mounted heavy machine guns on all sides. Once again we are filled with fear. There is no way out.

We reach another square, with an immense fence, very high and strung with wires. In the middle of the square is a large building and beside it are barracks. We see trucks, civilians, military armaments, murderers dressed in black and green uniforms. There are murderers everywhere with hand grenades, automatic weapons and revolvers in their hands. We see the rest of the previous train and the thousands who travelled here in it are already being put to death. They are naked and forced to the baths, on the way to the large barrack that stands in the middle of the immense square. We hear terrifying shouts from the murderers, screaming at despairing Jews, who have discerned that they are about to die. The screams mix with the barking of the excited dogs. All of this spells the end of life.

The newly arrived Czech Jews look around uncomfortably. They cannot understand where they are. In their frightened eyes and pale faces we recognize that they are tortured by wild thoughts. Where are their relatives? Where are those who arrived previously? Where is the work in the camp they were promised? Where are the naked people going? What is the meaning of this wild shouting? A terrifying fear and hopelessness controls everyone. For me, everything is clear. I am waiting to die, which is inevitable in this hell.

We stay there a short time with downcast eyes. We are afraid to look at the eyes of the triumphant murderers. We look at the ground, which will soon be thrown over us. So we stand surrounded by murderers, who wait for an order telling them what to do with us.

An SS officer arrives with a death head on his chest, a pistol in his hand and accompanied by a Ukrainian. They push us around, dividing the group again. I am taken with another Jew to a large barrack that is filled with clothes and foot ware. In a corner of the barrack some Jews are putting rings on strings. We sit the same way they do, with our feet under us, close to boxes full of rings and pull them onto strings. When the string is full, we tie it.

Standing there before us are boxes filled with cigar holders, children's rings and wedding rings. Each ring that I hold, seems to be the ring I gave my wife. In each ring I see my wife's hand that wore this ring. I see her. Each ring stands for my mother, my sister, who wore such rings. They have been in Treblinka for three weeks already and soon I will go to them. A sea of fingers, that only a short day ago, an hour ago, were on living hands, that had on their fingers a “symbol” of love and generosity. And so we sit, as if hardened and do this accursed work.

Our mouths are dry from the dust. We would like a small sip of water.

A boy across from us, who is doing the same work, asks a murderer for a little water. The Ukrainian shows him the pail of water standing not far from us. This terrorized Jewish boy with parched lips gets up to go to the pail. The Ukrainian goes after him. The boy leans over the pail, with his mouth open as if to swallow all the water in the pail. As the boy leans over the Ukrainian kicks him in the face with his boot and hits him straight in the eye. This poor boy grabs his knocked out eye. A stream of blood pours into his open mouth – instead of the water. The Ukrainian laughs sadistically and asks in Polish: “Who else would like a drink? March to work!” The boy looks from one to the other and is dragged away from the murderer.

And we are putting rings onto strings. Our hands tremble seeing such a scene. I feel nothing. My mouth is so parched and my tongue so dry it is pasted with sand. I do not have a drop of water in my mouth.

It is quiet now on death square. The screams of those who were lead to the “baths” have ceased. The voices have been consumed in the death chambers. Only our torture does not end. We see a lot of drunken murderers wandering around. Trucks leave the camp square and others arrive, making incessant noise. A new comer to this nightmare will not understand that he is now in such a terrifying death-camp.

For how long will these murderers continue to torment us? Why could I not die as my old friend in the freight car? Why do the murderers not shoot us dead? They wring the last bit of strength from us. Why do they need to pull off the rings? It breaks limbs. I cannot feel my feet. They have fallen asleep from sitting on them. How long have we been sitting here? Days? Years? An eternity of endless torture.

The sun is under the barracks walls. In the shadow, the gold hill of rings shines before it is packed into sacks.

Suddenly we hear whistles. Drunken murderers shout with wild voices: Stand up!

I get up from where I have been sitting and trembling, fall back down. My feet are broken. I cannot stand. I try to hold onto somebody working with me. At that moment a Ukrainian comes running and starts to hit us with a rubber truncheon over the head. Blood is running from faces and heads. Other murderers come running to help him and hit us all over our bodies. Their rubber truncheons are covered with our blood. Now at least I can stand on my feet. Half-crazed, we do not know what we are supposed to do or what the murderers want from us, in their drunken state, with their animal sounds, crooked teeth and wild eyes, that are so blood thirsty. The fear and horror that pours from every tortured Jew's bloody face announces that our fate is sealed. Who knows what kind of death the bestial murderers have in mind for us to feed their savagery?

An SS man arrives and calls everyone together at the exit. We go out the door and are near the railroad where a freight train stands idle and where trucks are arriving loaded with rolls of clothing.

What does this mean? We are not being taken to our deaths? The murderers are still playing with our fate? We have more work, but no more strength.

Other Jews are being brought to join us. From behind the partition we hear a weird song, that grates on my ears. The song sounds like madmen screaming and is mixed with mocking laughter as the murderers gasp and cry like their Jewish victims. Our group is taken to a place not far from the freight train. We stand there and wait for the group behind us to arrive. The approaching group is singing and they are forced to march in military step. They march by us, surrounded by armed murderers.

They are dead-men walking, dragging their feet in time to the music. They are singing a weird song directed by the vandals. A devil march, with a “ghostly” scream from the hundreds of thousands of Jews, that the coal ovens have already consumed.

The last group to arrive is made up of about twelve to fifteen Jews. They drag themselves along and with them is a young man, who is being badly beaten. He writhes under the rubber truncheons, screams and shouts with an unnatural voice. This group is quickly isolated from the others. In terror we look at them and cannot understand what is happening. The screams of the young man are now joined by screams from others in the group. We hear somebody say “Jews, Jews, you are dead men”. Other murderers quickly appear to surround this group and drag them away to the fields. They are further away now, but the air carries the sounds of the screaming, beaten men. The murderers take control quickly and drag away the victims. The murderers start to beat us and force us to head in the same direction. We are ordered to undress quickly. All of us take off our clothes and stand there naked. This all happened very quickly, because it was an order from the murderers.

With wild shouts the murderers order us to kneel down with our hands behind our heads. The group that had previously been dragged away received murderous blows. The young man, who had been shouting, already lies dead on the sand. The entire group was executed. A murderer arrives with a dog that jumps around and bites. I close my eyes. It is better if I cannot see what is happening. Why do we have to suffer so much torment before dying? Death itself is not as terrifying as the preceding torture. Why is my heart still beating? Why am I still alive?

But in this horrible hell called Treblinka, death does not come easy. The murderers love the sadistic bloody games they play with their victims.

When the entire group has become a bloody mess, they shoot over our heads. Now I allow my eyes to stay open. Soon a bullet will end our sorrow.

My G_d! None of us are dead! The machine guns fired and we are all still on our knees with our hands behind our heads! They are toying with us again. For those not sent to the gas chambers immediately upon arrival, death does not come easily in Treblinka.

I am numb. I feel heavy blows on my body. This has been going on for how long before the rubber truncheon tore away my numbness. I do not know. I see naked Jews around me who are already on their feet. The murderous blows brought me quickly to my feet. With wild shouts we are ordered back to the train.

I run naked without knowing what I am doing, as if carried by a strong wind. There are Jews at the train filling the freight cars with large parcels of clothes. We are taken to a freight car. Seven of us climb up into the car and pack the clothes that are passed up to us by other men. The cars are slowly being filled.

I am afraid of the kind of death that I saw a few minutes ago. I am dizzy. I want to escape! I have an idea: perhaps I can hide here, make a space between the rolls of clothes. Who would see me? The murderers are drunk and will not see me. The Jews, who are with me, will allow me to leave. I will be the last one in the car and then I will hide in the hole I prepared. I must escape this horrible hell!

Every second that I sit here seems like hours. The little window in the car is covered and there is very little light. This need to escape was spontaneous and now I start to shake, my naked body is not shaking from the cold, but from nerves. My hands and feet are shaking.

Whistles blow and orders are given to get out of the freight cars. Wild shouts from the murderers and more beatings. I see the half-dead Jews who worked with me in the freight car start to leave. Nobody looks behind. They get down from the train into an endless deep abyss that will consume them.

And I am already lying in my hiding place among the clothes. I close my eyes. My heart beats so quickly.

I hear footsteps. I hold my breath. The door is slammed shut.

A cold sweat covers my naked body and I feel as if I am far from this place. The door is closed and I am hidden from the murderers' eyes.

Suddenly I feel the train start to move! Is it really moving or is it my imagination? Yes! The train is moving! I crawl out of my hole and get free of the rolls of clothes that covered me and uncover the little window. The rising moon is bright. It feels as if the train is going very slowly. I gather my thoughts and concentrate. Where and how to jump. I put my head out the window and look around – now there are no murderers on the cars prepared to shoot. Telephone poles and trees fly by as the train goes faster. I concentrate on the window because to get off the train I must jump from it. The train rushes on with my head stuck out the window and I think about freedom. I'm like a wild beast stuck in a cage.

Is it the noise from the rushing train speaking in my ears? Or is it the dead men coming out from the clothes? Every dead man from the immense mass grave in the forest. No clothes lie there. The dead are lying pressed together, who only yesterday were wearing these clothes.

The mountains of dead scream, naked feet on the mountain of dead men go to the window, from which the Jews who were taken to Treblinka tore out the iron bars with their hands. The train goes by the station at Kossow-Lacki. I shake with excitement, I am a bundle of nerves now. Everything in me is concentrating on one goal: throwing my self from the rushing train. With superhuman force, I manage to raise my feet to the window. I stick out one foot, then the other, shove my head out. My body will be broken in two, my hands cling to the rim of the window. I clench my teeth in fear and throw myself from the moving train…

* * *

When I regain consciousness, I feel a cold that makes me shudder. I look around - where am I now? How long have I been lying here? I try to remember how I got here.

I feel wet grass under me. I am lying face down on the wetness. My parched lips and swollen tongue soak up the moisture and put out the burning in my throat. I swallow the moisture as if it was the most expensive wine and I feel encouraged. The cold and the moist grass have revived me. I begin to understand what is happening. I do not believe that this real.

But I am still naked! I see sky and earth and me – naked.

The moon skims through the sky and my eyes follow it and drag me off to endless worlds.

A passing train brings me back to my senses. I look around, and begin to understand that I have fallen into a deep ditch beside the railroad tracks.

Where should I go? How can I be rescued from nakedness? I had been surrounded with clothes. Why didn't I put on some of them? I begin to feel that my nakedness controls my resistance to my bitter fate, it has me in its power. I tremble all over. My teeth are chattering. My body covers the night dew, I fight the desire to give into the cold. I try to get up, but I can hardly stand. I am very upset, but try not to think about it. Now I want to fight the cold that torments me. I see a forest in the distance and I feel it pulling me there. It is certainly not as cold there. I run towards the forest. Now there are no murderers eager for me to die. Now I follow my inner instinct that shows me the road to rescue and I set off for the forest.

I am surrounded with motionless trees. I cling to one as I jump up and down from the cold and my shadow dances with me. I am not afraid to stay in the forest overnight. But I am still naked and I want the trees to push together, hug me and protect me from the cold that cuts through my skin.

Suddenly I hear a whistle - a second and a third.

Who saw me and is giving chase? I quickly climb a tree like a monkey. Here nobody can see me.

I sit on a sturdy branch, that holds my weight and hold on tight with my hands. I sway with the top of the tree that rocks me back and forth.

The trees sway as if they want to whisper a sad prayer over the Jewish mass graves in Treblinka. I sway along with the praying trees. I see now all the Treblinka dead over which only the trees remained to say kaddish. The tree rocks me and I hear the leaves whisper to each other and relay their secrets from one tree to the next, as now they bow in sorrow for the martyrs of Treblinka.

Once again it is quiet in the forest. I cling to the branches, fighting fatigue and sleepiness. I am trembling from the cold and this shaking tries to throw me from the tree.

Slowly the moon leaves, taking her night light with her and the grey pre-dawn drives away the night. The sun starts to rise and with her golden rays burns away the grey.

Once again, sunlight! I am afraid of the light, but need the warmth. I look over where the sun is rising, wishing it were already over my tree, over my naked body. The branch is wet and I shake the drops into my mouth. I stop shaking from the cold, but now I am tormented by hunger. I want to find a way to stay alive. Since I found a way out of Treblinka's hell, I must now start searching for a way to stay alive.

I look around from my tree and see villages, settlements and wide fields on the side of the forest.

What does one do about nakedness? Will I be able to find somebody here in the forest prepared to help me?

I hear steps. Fast steps like somebody is running. Who is this? A dog is running. Behind him is a forest guard in a dull grey uniform, but I am afraid of him because the guards in the forests notify the Germans about Jews hiding there. I cannot get help from him. He will have me sent back to Treblinka. He whistles to the dog, as if he is afraid of being alone in the forest.

So I sit in the tree and as the day wears on, I lose more of my strength and I still have not found a solution to my desperate situation. The sun starts to go down and I am afraid of the oncoming night. I feel that the night cold will throw me out of the tree. While I am absorbed in my dark thoughts, I hear cattle leaving the forest. I look around and see an old peasant woman and a small peasant girl coming my way. The girl is carrying a basket and the old woman has a switch to prod the cattle. I grab the branches and quick as a monkey I climb down from the tree. When I jumped down, I heard a scream.

The old peasant woman, wearing a peasant shirt, a long skirt over which she wears an apron, was so afraid that she let go of the corner of her apron where she had put the twigs she had gathered. The young girl, keeping a firm hold on the basket, clings to the old woman, seeking protection from her grandmother. Giving them a few minutes to recover from their fear, I tell them quickly where I came from. I ask them to have G-d in their hearts and to please help me. The old woman was very touched and gave me bread and milk. She also gave me her apron to cover half of my naked body and pointed out the path that would take me to the city. I was sixteen kilometers from Sokolów-Kosów. I never saw the woman again.

I was once again alone in the forest, torn from the living world. The help from the peasant woman had also encouraged me. I decided to set out on the path that she had indicated at nightfall. That night I started off through the forest in the direction of the city, heading towards an undetermined fate. I wandered through the forest in the moonlight. Suddenly, I was terrified and ran as if a ghost was chasing me.

I finally arrived at the edge of the forest, not knowing where I was. I came out at some fields and saw scattered peasant settlements. I decide to put my destiny in the hands of one of these peasants who would perhaps prove to be a good person.

Quietly, on all fours, so nobody will see me, I crawl to the nearest peasant farm and hide among the piles of straw outside and wait for the peasant to show up in the morning.

I lie buried in the straw that covers and warms me and can no longer fight my fatigue. I start to nod off and fall into a deep sleep. I have a terrible nightmare about hellish Treblinka. The murderers chase me through the fields and forest and they catch me when I am lying stuck in a hole. The murderers drag me to the mass grave in the forest. I twist and turn in deathly convulsions and it seems to me, that I am lying among the dead.

* * * *

I was awakened when the peasant tried pulling me from the hole I had made in the straw, by my naked foot. I was confused and could not understand where I was. Then everything comes back to me and I explain to the peasant where I come from and beg him for help. He took pity on me and took me to the hayloft, gave me a pair of pants and a peasant shirt to wear, gave me food and water to wash with. Having covered my naked body and stilled my hunger, I felt like a human being again. Once again I was ready to search for a way to stay alive and blindly hoped that my good luck would not desert me later. I stayed in the peasant's hayloft the entire day.

That night he came to the barn and told me I must leave the hiding place because the peasants are expecting a raid by the Germans. I thanked the peasant and as I am leaving he said to me: - as you escaped Treblinka, the devil cannot get you.

Dressed in peasant clothing, I left on the road to Sokolów, only ten kilometers away. I walk on roads already trampled by thousand of Jews, who wandered through here trying to find a road to life. I already knew every path and trail.

 

ost502.jpg
The crematorium in Treblinka

 

Footnote
  1. Budennji (1883-1973) Commander of the Red Army, Soviet Union marshal, Semjon Michailowicz Budennji was the son of peasants in the Don region and served as a private in the Crimean War of 1904-1905. In 1918-1919, he was active at Stalin's side at Czaritzin. Budennji then answered Trotsky's call and led the organization of the Red Cavalry. He fought on the Ukranian front in the war with Poland in 1920. Episodes from the life of the formation of the Red Cavalry are immortalized in Isaac Babel's book The Cavalry. During the Soviet Union's war against the Nazi invasion, Budennji was made commander of the southwest front, but failed to cope with modern warfare and was removed from command. Return

 

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