by Adina Eichenbaum (Alkon)
Small was our town Ostrow. One of thousands of towns throughout Poland. Such towns by the river and in the forest were integrated in the pastoral panorama of Poland for hundreds of years. Ostrow was not marked on maps or perpetuated in books.
Ostrow did not become famous because of its heroism and wasn't blessed with Famous people. However, the Ostrow Jews were God-fearing people, faithful to the Torah and its commandments, respectable and honest people without deceit. They gave their charity in secret and were not oblivious to their brothers' distress. They supported the poor, the orphans and the widow and joyfully fulfilled the commandments of Hachnassat Kalah, helping poor girls to obtain dowries and to get married. A holy Jewish congregation.
Their lives, like the lives of their fathers, were a constant struggle for existence, to support their families and to defend them against the inimical and harsh world. All that the fathers desired was to raise their children in Torah, in love of Israel and good deeds. And, despite the troubles, the gentiles' hatred and the insecurity of the morrow, they lived full lives in their families and communities. They knew the joy of Oneg Shabat, of holiday and festival, knew days of ecstasy and inspiration, joy, grace and love.
The young people too were open in their minds and hearts to everything that transpired and took place among the Jewish people and participated actively in the Jewish social and political movements, desiring to improve the lives of their people, each individual under his own flag and according to his world outlook, his road and beliefs.
Until the German Satan came from the kingdom of death and destroyed and slaughtered all of Israel on the soil of Poland, and among them, our dear community, Ostrow. Not one of our towns was saved, nor has a single survivor remained to tell us and future
generations what the German Satan did to the Jewish community of Ostrow. We do not have at hand the testimonies of any eyewitness from those terrible days. And, therefore, the duty devolves upon us, the embers saved from the fire that consumed our home, who, only by miracle, have remained alive, the duty and obligation to tell our children and our children's children after us about the town of our birth, to build a monument of mourning and tears, of words and cries, to perpetuate the memory of the relatives who were slaughtered by human monsters, the like of whom the human race had never known since God created heaven and earth.
The participants in this Yizkor Book do not, however, pretend to be writers and historians, but only, as we have said, Ostrowites for whom the memory of their town has never left their hearts for even a single moment, and all they have written, they wrote with the blood of their hearts – the memories and pictures always present before their eyes, in holiday and festival as in mourning and sorrow. We who have been privileged to witness Israel's rebirth and to find even a single moment, and all they have written, they wrote with the Exile, have brought remnants of the ashes of the slaughtered to Jewish burial in the State of Israel: in the words of the Prophet: I have set my spirit upon you and you will live and I have set you upon your own land.
We must confess this Yizkor Book comes very late since for many years, the early years after our aliya to Israel, we could not find the time, despite our pangs of conscience, to publish this book. We were few and penniless, and the pangs of absorption into our land – Israel, were difficult ones. Still, despite all this, we established and organization to aid our fellow townsmen in their early days after immigration. And always, in times of crisis and need, we cherished the memories on the estimated Memorial Day, the end of Shevuot (Simhat Torah) and at every meeting, celebration or party of fellow townsmen.
You, dear reader, when you take this Yizkor Book in your hands, you will feel the breath of tortured and slaughtered arising out of these pages, and your eyes will see our parents' homes that went up in flames. To the last of our days, we shall cherish their holy and precious memories in our hearts.
Some little comfort may we find in our children and grandchildren growing and flowering in our blossoming homeland, as the Prophet says: And I shall bring back the return of Israel and you shall plant upon your land and you shall never again abandon the land that I gave you. Amen.
This book is being published thanks to the initiative of our townsman Mr. Misha Eckhaus of Australia and his wife Bronya. We tender our thanks and congratulations to the editorial committee headed by Avraham Feierstein and the members: Yitshak Goldstein, Yaakow Liebhaber and Dr. Isidore Last. We also tender our thanks to the editor, Mr. David Shtockfish.
by Isidore Last
I am dedicating this article to the memory
of my late brother Monia.
The aim of this article is to depict the history of Ostrow and its Jewish community up to the Second World War and the Holocaust. The article is based on information which can be found in history books and encyclopaedias. Unfortunately, this information is scant since Ostrow has never been a big town and no important events are known to have happened there.
Ostrow is located on a small river – Timenica – in the Lublin region some 35km north-east of Lublin. There are numerous peat-bogs around Ostrow. In the old times the whole area was covered with big forests. Now, only the Parczew is left. The town of Parczew is Ostrow's closest neighbour, 16km to the north. The other neighbouring town is Lubartow which is located 29km west.
1. The history of the town.
At the end of the 12th century the place where the town of Ostrow is located was quite near the eastern border of the Polish Kingdom. The area's development was hampered by the invasion of the Mongols who destroyed most of the settlements there in the middle of the 13th century. Only at the beginning of the XVth century did the town of Lublin and its surroundings return to normal life. It is known that at that time, Ostrow already existed as a village where a wooden Polish church was built soon after 1442. More than 110 years later, on 25th January, 1548, the Polish king Zygmunt I
granted Ostrow the status of a town. Ostrow also obtained from the king some other privileges, particularly the right to hold fairs on Saturdays.
The middle of the 15th century, when Ostrow became a town, was a time of fast development in the whole area around Ostrow. Five year earlier than in Ostrow, in 1543, Lubartow was founded. Ostrow's neighbour town Parczew, which in our memory is a small insignificant place, at that time played a remarkable role in Polish history. It served as the seat of the Polish parliament (Sejm) sessions and the scene of important negotiations between Poland and Lithuania. In the previous 15th century, a wooden royal palace was built near Parczew. An organized Jewish community existed in Parczew from the start of the 16th century and in 1566, there were about 60 Jews there.
Taking into account the small distance between Parczew and Ostrow, we can assume that the first Jews came to Ostrow from Parczew, most likely at the end of the 16th or the beginning of the 17th century. It was the time of relative prosperity of Polish Jews who were mostly protected by the Polish kings. This prosperity was interrupted in the middle of the XVIIth century by the uprising of Chmelnicki's Cossacks who killed tens of thousands of Jews in Ukraine and south-east Poland. In 1648, most of the Lublin Jews were killed by Polish peasants who called themselves by the name of Cossacks. The Ostrow Jews apparently escaped the killings.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, Polish kings granted additional new rights to the Ostrow merchants. These rights reflected the growth of the town as a local trade centre. In 1660, the whole town was burnt down but this event could not hold up the development for a long time. The first known number of Jews in Ostrow dates from 1676. In that year, there were 60 Jews in the town. Some 50 years later, the area around Ostrow was severely damaged by the Northern War between Russia and Sweden. Thus, by 1718, only four
Jews remained in Parczew. We may assume that some of the Parczew Jews fled to Ostrow which was not hurt by the war. The number of Jews settled in Ostrow rapidly increased during the 18th century. In 1765, as many as 344 Jews lived in Ostrow – a 500% increase compared to 1676. The growth of the Ostrow Jewish community aroused anxiety in the local Polish authorities, and on July 21, 1789, King Stanislaw August restricted the liberties of the Ostrow Jews. This restriction may well be associated with Ostrow's rise as a local Catholic centre. In 1755, a beautiful Roman-Catholic church was built there. The church has remained until now as being the only real site of which the town can be proud of.
Polish rule in Ostrow ended in 1795 after the third (final) division of the Polish Kingdom. From 1795 to 1815, Ostrow belonged to the Austrian Empire. In 1815, after Russia defeated Napoleon, the whole of central Poland was annexed to the Russian Empire. Russian rule in Ostrow lasted exactly 100 years until 1915.
Under Russian rule, Ostrow was included into the newly-formed Siedlec province. Correspondingly, the town's name was changed from Ostrow Lubelski to Ostrow Siedlecki. According to the Jewish encyclopedia published in Petersburg at the end of the 19th century, Ostrow…belongs to the places where the Jews long since have not been restricted in their rights to settle there. In 1856 there were 851 Jews in Ostrow, 33% of the total population of 2579 residents. In 1897, there were as many as 3221 Ostrow Jews, an increase of 278% within 41 years. This increase cannot be explained by natural growth alone, so we have to suppose that in this period, many Jewish families came to Ostrow from other places. The Polish (Christian) population was also increasing, but far less rapidly than the Jews. In 1897 there were 2858 Christians in Ostrow and they formed a minority of the total population of 6079 residents. Most of Ostrow's residents (53%) were Jewish. It seems that at that time, the town of Ostrow was at the peak of its prosperity. At the end of the 19th century, after
the railway system was built, the town began to lose its momentum. Unfortunately, none of the railways went through the town and this surely affected local trade. It was also the time of the great Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe to America, and many Ostrow Jews emigrated as well.
We know nothing important about Ostrow at the start of the 20th century. It is known only that a Russian military unit was stationed in the town during the first Russian Revolution (1905-1907) and that there was some revolutionary unrest among the soldiers. In the summer of 1915, during the second year of World War I, Ostrow was occupied by German troops, apparently without any battles at all. The German occupation lasted until 1918. In November 1918, the Polish state was proclaimed and due to the new administrative division, Ostrow again obtained its old name – Ostrow Lubelski.
According to a census carried out in 1921, the number of Jews in Ostrow was no more than 1267. This number demonstrated an important decrease in the Jew population of Ostrow during the period 1897 to 1921. The number of Christians (2546) also decreased but only by some 10%. The total population was 3813 and the Jews made up one-third. The number of Jews in the villages surrounding Ostrow was a follows: Bobryk 11, Drozdovka 11, Gleboki 16, Kolehovice 42, Krasne 50, Zamiescie 17. Together with the Jewish residents of these villages, Ostrow's Jewish community numbered 1414 Jews. Although the natural growth of the Jewish population was relatively large at the time, the number of Jews in Ostrow most probably was also decreasing after 1921 as many Jews were leaving the town.
The 20's and 30's were years of high political activity among the Ostrow Jews including the Zionist movement. It was also the time of the beginning of the aliya of Ostrow Jews to Palestine (Mr. Faiershtein was probably the first oleh from Ostrow). This period of the Jewish life in Ostrow is well portrayed in the memories published
in the present book, so we no longer need to linger on this subject.
2. The Second World War and the Holocaust
On September 1, 1939 German troops invaded Poland and unleashed World War II. Ostrow was located deep in the rear so at the beginning of the war, people were only afraid of air bombardments. Although German war planes indeed flew many times past Ostrow, they fortunately did not find anything worthy there of a bomb. In the middle of September, the Germans were moving rapidly from the west to Lublin and from north to Siedice and Wlodawa, approaching Ostrow. The Polish line was formed by the army of General Przedzymirski some 20-40km from Ostrow. The Polish cavalry was concentrated in Parczew under the command of General Anders who later became famous as the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish army in exile. On 17th September, Lublin was taken and a cavalry brigade was moved from Parczew to the south, apparently via Ostrow, in order to stop the German advance. On the same day, the Germans took the town of Wlodawa located 60km to the east of Ostrow. However, Przedzymirski's troops drove them away.
On 17th September, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. This invasion destroyed the Polish defence ability almost completely, but it saved the lives of many Jews who found the opportunity to escape from the Nazis. Soviet troops were moving westwards without any serious resistance and already on 22nd September, they were on the east bank of the Bug, opposite the town of Wlodawa. Ostrow, as well as Parczew and some territory around it, remained for almost a week free of German occupation in spite of the closeness of the German troops. This delay in the German advance can be explained, at least partly, by the resistance of the Polish troops. The last pocket of this resistance was destroyed by the German with some Russian assistance on October 5th. This battle, the last battle of the
German-Polish war, took place about 40km from Ostrow. Ostrow was occupied by the Germans at the end of September.
From the very beginning of the German occupation, the Polish Jews were deprived of all their rights and exposed to severe persecutions. One of the first actions was a forcible transfer of the Jewish population. In November 1939, Lubartow Jews were moved to Parczew and Ostrow. Later, however, they returned home. At the end of 1939, the Nazi leaders decided to move Jews from various territories to the Lublin region, planning to make this a Jewish reservation. Many of these Jews were settled in Ostrow. The plan to form the Jewish reservation was abolished in the summer of 1940. The physical destruction of the Polish Jews began in February 1942 in the Lublin region. Among the first victims were Lublin Jews who, on March 16th, were dispatched to the death camp of Belzec. In the spring of 1942, the Germans began to move Jews from various occupied countries to the Lublin area, either directly to the death camps or to some ghettos. On April 13th and 15th, 1942 two trains with Slovakian Jews, mainly women and children arrived at Lubartow. 330 of these Jews were immediately dispatched to Ostrow.
In the beginning of May 1942, a secret order was sent to all local police commanders (Kreishauptmanns) to prepare for deportation of Jews from the small towns in the Lublin district. In his answer of May 19th, 1942 Kreishaputmann Ziegenmayer recommended the deportation, in the first place, of Jews from six towns including Ostrow. The number of Ostrow Jews was indicated by Ziegenmayer as amounting to 3062. This number probably includes 300 Slovakian Jews. Since in 1921 there were only 1267 Jews in Ostrow, we may assume that in May 1942, most of the Jews in Ostrow were not of local origin.
Any further German orders concerning the fate of Ostrow Jews are unknown to us. According to information provided by survivors, Jews were moved from Ostrow to Lubartow in October 1942. On the
way, many of them were killed. The Jews who reached Lubartow were most likely deported together with the Lubartow Jews to the Sobibor and Belzec death camps on October 11th, 1942.
Ostrow Jews were sent to death at the time when the Nazi machinery for the physical destruction of the Polish Jews was working at full speed. Most of the Jews of such large cities as Warsaw, Cracow and Lublin were already dead. They were killed mainly in death camps which were built in the spring of 1942 in the Lublin area, not so far from Ostrow In the autumn of 1942, the Ostrow Jews probably knew, at least, vaguely, these terrible facts.
It is doubtful that there were any contacts in Ostrow between the Jews and the Polish underground movement and partisans although the conditions for these contacts were better than in many other towns. The resistance movement in Ostrow and around it was extremely active. The first resistance group was formed in Ostrow as early as the autumn of 1940. (A. Respondek, a teacher) and more resistance groups were formed in 1941-1942. (W. and K. Markiewicz, K. Sidor, etc.); most of them were connected with the Communist GL (Gwardia Ludowa). The Parczew forests located several kilometres from Ostrow served as a partisan centre beginning with the winter 1941-1942. We do not know anything definite about the attitude towards the Jews of the Polish underground movement in Ostrow. Most probably the fate of the Jews was not of interest to them. This is well demonstrated by the testimony of L. Doroszewski, who describes the underground organizations in Ostrow and the situation there at the start of 1940 without mentioning Ostrow Jews at all. However, taking into account the Communist background of most of the resistance groups, we can hope that they were at least not hostile to the Jews.
The attitude towards the Jews of the partisans around Ostrow was surely not negative. They were mainly Soviet soldiers who had fled from German captivity. The first commander of these partisans was a former Soviet officer David (killed in a battle in
1943). His real name is unknown but, judging from his pseudonym, he could have been a Jew. In the spring of 1942, David's group joined a partisan unit under the command of Flodor (Theodor Albert), a former Soviet officer of Polish origin. Flodor cooperated later with Jewish partisans.
The first battle of Flodor's partisans took place in November 1942. The partisans tried to beat off a German assault in a forest where a group of Parczew Jews were hiding. Unfortunately, the partisans were forced to retreat and most of the Jews were killed on the spot. On December 17, 1942 the Flodor unit captured the town of Ostrow killing a policeman and wounding a few others. In the spring of 1943, the Jewish partisan unit of Chyl Grynszpan for formed, operating mainly in the Parczew forests together with the Flodor unit.
In the second half of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, Ostrow was under the control of the Communists AL (Armia Ludowa). The German recaptured Ostrow only in April 1944 after a short battle. The Soviet troops entered Ostrow on July 22, 1944.
English and German
by Bronya Wasserman-Eckhaus, Melbourne
I survived the Holocaust with my child by a miracle and like every survivor, I should write my testimony; a document to commemorate the millions of innocent murdered victims - children, young and old; leave a record of this dark age of the tyrannous and barbaric acts of the German Nazis.
I wish to share these memories with the readers of our Yiskor Book so that the future generation never forget… I will tell about Ostrow, the native town of my father and my husband. My father used to tell us often about his family, his relatives and his neighbours and friends - all honest people who were brutally murdered by the German barbarians.
My father, Moshe Wasserman, who was called Poleszuk, was born in Ostrow-Siedleck. His stories about his family and friends embraced the period before World War I, when Ostrow was part of Russia. The Jewish population was well-situated. Like in all the small towns, they maintained their own national and cultural autonomy. The gentile neighbours respected them.
My father's parents, Itzel and Sarah, were well-established and beloved by their neighbours. They were well-off. They had a large farm, a comfortable house, a grain mill and an oil press. Peasants from surrounding villages brought their products to be turned into flour and oil. The mill was powered by a horse. All around was a large square for the wagons and horses. There was a ditch in the square which was jokingly called the Donau since, during the fall rains, it used to overlow and flood the surrounding neighbourhood and cause great damage. In the winter, children used to slide on the frozen water and had a very good time.
My father had a large family. Together, they were seven brothers - Simcha, Abraham, Moshe (my father), David, Asher, Leizer and Yossef. Generally, there was a maid at home since the mother Sarah was occupied with the business, with the mill. His father studied a great deal and prayed and discussed religious subjects. From time to time he left town on business matters and also for religious purposes.
The children were educated in the Hassidic spirit but secretly also learned to write and read Russian and Polish. They didn't learn any trades since this contradicted the established conceptions of prosperous religious families. When they grew up their spouses were chosen by their parents. After their marriages, uncles Simcha, Abraham, David and Leizer stayed with their families in Ostrow and made their living from the same flour mill and oil press. As one can imagine, their economic situation was not too good since there were many families making their living from the same source, especially since the mill's motor was not replaced by a new electric one and the horse remained the main source of power.
My parents lived in Lublin. Uncle Asher and aunt Mindele settled in Markusow and youngest uncle Yossel, with his wife Perele, in Lubartow.
During and after World War I, the inhabitants of Ostrow underwent many troubles since the front had passed through the town. The frequent attacks by bands of all kinds and fires made ruins of the town. Our father used to tell us that anti-Semitism and the difficult economic conditions complied many young people to leave the town and their families and move away - some to larger cities and some overseas - to Brazil, Argentina and the U.S.A.
I recall that in Lublin we were often visited by our family, neighbours and friends from Ostrow. They used to come by wagons which had their gathering places at Finkelstein's Square on Lubartowsky Street. My father knew every Jew from Ostrow even by his first name, since he was close to everyone. They came to Lublin on
business very often with a sick person to see the doctor or to go to the hospital, and many times to arrange a wedding match. Mostly, they arrived at our home very early for the morning prayers. After breakfast, they went away to arrange their affairs. More than once they stayed overnight. My parents received them very friendly and with a great deal of hospitality.
All the Ostrow Jews treated my parents with great respect. As I remember, most Ostrow Jews were good-hearted, honest people. They worked hard to support their families. They all perished in the Holocaust… My mother and father, Golde and Moshe and my youngest sister Sarah, who were then in Ostrow, were among the victims of the Nazi murderers as were also my uncles, aunts, cousins and friends.
I was born in Lublin. When I was a little girl in primary school and later a student in high school, I had so many plans.. so many dreams. That was the time after World War I - the era of the League of Nations and, I believed that there would be no more wars, that mankind would live in peace without apartheid, without anti-Semitism. I have had many disappointments. The worst was World War II when the Nazis murdered innocent people; thousands, millions of children, women, men, old and young. Why? Why?
In September 1939, I escaped from Ostrow-Lubelski, which at that time was occupied by the Germans after overcoming the only weak resistance of the Polish army. My parents and my sisters were at that time in Ostrow. I escaped together with Misha Eckhaus, my future husband, since we were known for our socialistic views. We escaped to the other side of the Bug River, to the territories occupied by the Soviets. The separation from our parents and families was a very sad one. Everyone was in tears but nobody imagined that we were separating forever.
The highways and roads were filled with refugees walking or riding in wagons. Carrying our few belongings in small packages, we finally arrived at the city of Kovel (a Jewish population of about
20,000) where we found a place together with many comrades from the socialist movements and some former political prisoners. In that house, we were fed, very often we heard lectures, held meetings and discussions, but it was not permanent.
One early morning in June 1940, the Soviet army arrested all - her husband Getzl, Misha's brother and my youngest sister Tamara, all arrived in Kovel. My youngest sister Sarah remained in Ostrow with our parents. My sisters and brother-in-law tried to find a place in Kovel but it was not easy to find a decent place to live and work and, like many refugees, they decided to register to go back to German-occupied Poland. Unfortunately, the Kovel Jews did not show any sympathy or hospitality for the refugees - they were unable to understand or believe what the Nazi murderers were capable of doing.
I obtained citizenship and started to work at the railroad station.
One day, at the end of October 1939, my older sister Shasha, with those who had registered to go back to German Poland. My two sisters and my brother-in-law were among those arrested and were sent deep into Russia - to Novosybirskaja Oblast. Who could then imagine that they had a better chance to survive than we who remained in Kovel?
Misha and I decided to get married. It was a small ceremony in the present of some friends. My parents and my little sister Sarah and Misha's parents were in Ostrow. My two sisters and brother-in-law were in Siberia. Their letters were desperate ones; they suffered from cold and hunger. I remember how we started to send them parcels of food and clothing. We shared everything with them and they were very grateful.
In October 1940 I became pregnant. Through my working at the railroad station's bookkeeping department, I made friends with many Polish railroad workers and also with a Jewish girl, Basha, who
Came every day to the office from Kamen-Kashirsk. We became very good friends.
At that time, the political situation was not a very happy one. The news told about Germany's military victories in Western Europe. The world was dreaming, indifferent. But still, we believed in miracles. We were young and enthusiastic. At the end of March 1941, my husband Misha was called to military exercises for a few months. Actually, we could have arranged for him to stay home since I was pregnant and without any other relatives, but our views did not allow us even to consider this. We believed that it was our duty to be prepared to fight against the enemies - the Nazis.
Our separation was a very sad one. Misha was to return from his military service at the end of June 1941. I tried to manage the best I could. My friends at work were helpful, especially Basha. She often brought me tasty food. She looked after me. She was so good…
One Friday evening, June 19, 1941, my son was born in Kovel State Hospital. On Sunday, early in the morning, sounds of air bombardment aroused us. There was turmoil but soon high-ranking Soviet officers assured their wives and us that these were only aviation exercises. They were mistaken: it was the beginning of the war. German airplanes and bombs were making the noises. At the hospital there were many patients: sick people and women with new-born babies. Husbands and relatives came in a hurry to take them home. I asked myself constantly: What to do? Where to go? To whom could I turn?
My husband's parents and my sisters were far away. The house where I lived was closed because it was situated near the railroad station and that area had been heavily bombarded. What to do? On Tuesday morning, my friends Henia and Fajvel Hammerman, came to the hospital and took me and my child to their home, even though they themselves lived in one small room. They told me that on Monday most of the Soviet citizens, officials, police and military personnel
had fled Kovel but had returned on Tuesday morning. However, no one knew what any moment or any hour would bring. My friends Henia and Fajvel were in the streets attempting to hear some news. On Wednesday evening they returned with the news that the Soviets were leaving again and that empty cars were waiting at the station to evacuate the people - to take everyone who wanted to go. On Thursday my friends left in a hurry. I with my six-day old child didn't feel the strength to go with them. I was too weak.
Kovel was occupied by the Germans. On June 29, 1941 hell broke loose…. My landlords asked me when I would be leaving the room since they knew my marital situation and didn't want to have such a tenant… where to go now? I don't know how but I remembered the Silberman family which I asked if I and my child could stay with them. Abraham Silberman, born in Lublin and his wife Malka, born Kagan in Kovel, had three children: Marale, Sheivale and Menashele. They accepted us: they were very good and noble people. Malka's mother, her two married brothers with their wives and children, sister, nieces and nephews, were friendly to me and I felt like part of the family.
Right after the first days of the occupation, the Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators, began their sadistic actions against the Jewish population. Every day, every night there were different orders, arrest raids, groups of Jewish people killed. Abraham Silberman was one of the first victims. The Ukrainian police arrested him together with more well-known Jewish citizens and massacred them. They were forced to dig their own graves. I saw this. I was a witness. Malka, the unfortunate widow, the three little orphans, together with the whole family and I mourned Abraham Silberman's death.
Notices appeared to volunteer for work but not one of those who went to the labour camps was ever seen again. We lived in continual fear. The names of Kassner and Manthel, the district commandants,
were enough to frighten the Jewish population. I was watching when Mr. Motel Kagan, Malka's brother-in-law, was killed - shot - together with some other strong young men. (I was a witness in Oldenburg, in Germany, in 1965 against the two Nazi murderers - Kassner and Manthel).
My parents wrote that I with my child should come back home to Ostrow; how could I appear with an uncircumcised child? By the end of July, my son was circumcised. An old mohel with trembling hands carried out the operation. Pesha Kagan, Malka's sister-in-law was present. My son was named Reuven after my husband's grandfather. It was a very sad ceremony, never to be forgotten.
At first we were marked with arm-bands bearing a Star of David, later with yellow patches. Every Jewish house was marked. In the spring of 1941, two ghettoes were constructed - one in the old city around the old synagogue not far from the market and the second, in the new city, not far from the railroad station. At first there was a free choice where to stay but one morning before Shavuot, an order of segregation came: people with work certificates should stay in the New City Ghetto; the others - the elderly, people with children, the sick, were to stay in the Old City Ghetto (without) work certificates). By the afternoon, everybody must be in his place. The whole day was a shocking chaos: turmoil - impossible to describe. People were running back and forth; families and friends were separated.
I and my child should have gone to the Old City Ghetto, but I decided to stay in the New City Ghetto and to wait for an inspection. I took the risk.
I remember well that day, the evening…. The people around me… The night and the early next morning when the rumours came to the New City Ghetto that thousands of Jews had been shot and killed….dragged off in trucks from the market place to sand pits and thrown in, dead or half-dead and covered with soil…. Can we understand such things; that such murders can happen?…Rumours came from Polish people that the earth was shaking a long time afterwards.
I and my child were supposed to be in those pits: we were saved by chance.
Now we remained alive and were ordered to go with our bundles to the Old City Ghetto. We were cramped together, thousands on thousands, the remnants of many previous selections, all humiliated and in a state of continuous danger. Together - the sick and the healthy.
There was a shortage of food and medicines. Everyone had one desire - to survive. To survive, to take revenge…. Revenge!
The second ghetto had a short and tragic end. One day in July 1942, rumours came that Kassner and Manthel, the Nazi commanders, had appeared in the city, that the ghetto was surrounded. This was always an ominous sign. Everybody went into hiding in hiding places prepared in advance. We did not have any choice. Together with my child, I hid in a shelter on the roof together with the Silberman family, the Kagans and others…. Twenty-two people. The shelter was dark and small. We hid behind a wooden partition. We were cramped, thirsty, hungry, dirty… The few chamber pots were emptied downstairs at night. All the time we heard gunshots and screams, orders in German and Ukrainian. Days and nights passed in fear, cramped together but still with the hope of surviving. Hope that after a few days, the action would stop…
My child was hungry, dirty and wet. He was suckling. What did he have to suck from me? I hugged him but he cried and one afternoon we heard knocks on the wooden wall of our shelter and voices in Ukrainian: Fellows, a child was crying here. We must get an axe to destroy the wall. They left and didn't come back - they were sure we could not run away.
There are no words to describe the tension in the shelter. I felt guilty. As night fell I heard whispers: You have to do something
with the child. He can't stay here alive…. We must do everything to survive, to take revenge… Somebody gave me a big scarf… I was holding the child and the scarf… I knew that my unfortunate friends were right. The child was looking at me and I didn't know what was going on in my mind. The friends around me, the women, men, girls, boys, the darling children: Marale, Sheivale, Menashale, Esterl, Dvoshale - they all love my child very much… They were all frightened… The suffering - the sadness in their eyes. I looked around and I whispered: no…no…. I am not going to kill my child… I am going down with the child. It was dark - very dark for all of us. Somebody prepared a ladder and I came down to the empty, plundered house with gaping doors, open windows, wrecked and robbed.
I found a place to wash my child and to feed him. I even found some aspirin tablets to make him sleepy. Nobody came in. Outside there was shooting. I stayed in that open house for a few long days and long nights. There was less shooting, less screams and I began to think that I should go out and that the aktzion was finished. I was mistaken. I left the house with my child in my arms. It was a hot day in July - summer in Poland. I came to the high fence of the ghetto not too far from the gate of the unfinished bridge, and I could hear orders in German and Ukrainian: Halt? Halt - come here, come here!.
I remember that I was thinking that we were going to be killed. I came closer to the gate and a Ukrainian asked me: Where are you going? and I could hear my answer in Polish: I came in and I don't know how to get out.
The only possibility was to have fallen from the sky, but surely they were all drunk! I can hear the answer: Go through the gate. I went through the gate. We were out! Out of the ghetto… A big free world - but not for us… a homeless woman with a child without a right to live….
Days, nights, weeks, months, years passed! Life was not easy for us.
I was young, healthy and I didn't look Jewish. Still, I wondered where I found this strength and courage to fight for life for myself and my little circumcised son.
How many nights I spent in the open, in the cold and in the rain and snow. We were lost in the forest, in swamps. I wanted to meet partisans but I didn't know where to find them. All there was to eat was grass, leaves, raw potatoes. I cleaned my child near every stream and by every river. I saw big farms, small farms but where was I to go?
Richard was a very good child. Sometimes I thought that he understood our fear and hunger. In sickness and in pain, he never complained too much. He didn't cry much either. He smiled and his smile helped me a lot in the most desperate moments. More than once people wondered at his behaviour. I met different people… Some were friendly, some helpful, some were mean. In a lot of places, I met hostility.
How many times was I ready to give up and to surrender, to go to the first person, to the police and to scream: Here I am, a Jewish woman with a Jewish child and at the last moment, I looked at the child who had suffered so much and who still had a smile on his little face….. I carried on. Why do I have to give up? and started walking again.
August 1942. I was working on a Polish farm in Janowka. There, I met a woman from Kovel. Her name was Mrs. Voloshinsky. She came to exchange clothes for food. Despite the fact that she recognized that I was Jewish (the child was circumcised), she gave me her address in Kovel and suggested that whenever I came to Kovel and was in need, I should visit her. Mrs. Voloshinsky was surely aware of the danger this involved. The slightest help given to a person of Jewish background threatened the penalty of death.
A few times when I was in a hopeless situation, I visited Mrs. Woloshinsky. She was always very friendly and helpful and she encouraged
my faith in fighting for survival through this nightmarish period. Mrs. Woloshinsky more than once displayed her good-heartedness, courage and heroism. I remember one night in March 1943, a cold winter night, I was homeless and I wanted to stay overnight in the open entrance to Mrs. Woloshinsky's house. With my child pressed close to me, I was sitting in a corner when somebody unexpectedly opened the door and I was compelled to stand up and go in. Mrs. Woloshinsky and her older children, a son of about 20 and a daughter of about 18 years of age, were very frightened. Her husband and her little son, if I remember correctly his name was Leshek - a 3-4 year old, were asleep. Death faced the whole family for any help to a Jew. However, what that woman said to her children, I will never forget: If you are afraid go and stay overnight with your friends but that woman and her child will stay here. The children stayed home. The night passed. My child and I were able to rest in a friendly place. Next morning, after breakfast, Mrs. Woloshinsky and her husband and children told me the latest news from the front. The Germans had started to withdraw from the Russian territories and the Soviet Army was not far away. These were happy news but my situation was still a hopeless one. My friends advised me to go back to the countryside and not to give up.
Mrs. Woloshinsky gave me a package of food, a coat of her little don's for Richard and a shawl for me. She even accompanied me a few kilometres out of the city… She spoke to me kindly and wished me good luck. We parted. I had more courage, more confidence, more hope. I had met good people.
I survived with my son…. In 1944, my husband was transferred from the Russian Army to the Polish one, which was then in Lublin. While stopping over in Kovel, my husband met a Ukrainian woman who had known me and she told him that I was staying in Rozyczcze. He came to find us and we were reunited.
After the liberation, we were physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted - wrecks after the war. We had to start from the beginning. It was not easy but we did not complain.
Many years later, I was able to find Mrs. Woloshinsky thanks to the Red Cross in Warsaw. I am happy that Mrs. Woloshinsky was rewarded for her noble behaviour with the title of Righteous of the Nations from Yad Vashem. The medal she was awarded testified to the good in humanity and offers hope that the years of Nazi barbarism will never be forgotten and hopefully never repeated.
by Mechl (Micha) Eckhaus (Melbourne, Australia)
I was born in 1915 when almost all of Europe was in the midst of a conflagration so widespread that it even reached our little town of Ostrow-Lubelsk. I think that the first memory of my town and home that I can recall was the Friday evening when we knew that, like all the other Jews in the town; we too had to flee our home. The Bolsheviks were retreating and the Polish and Balachov soldiers were soon to arrive. On the way, my father went to tell Mendel Krentzer, a shoemaker, to leave also but he did not want to leave his home.
Our journey like that of so many Jews at the time was long and hard, with our first stop in the village of Yedlanki and our first bed for the night was in a barn. In the morning, we woke to find that we were surrounded by Polish soldiers who didn't ask too many questions, but drove us into the nearby woods. All the men were made to stand in a row, my father first in line. The soldiers' rifles were drawn and the rumour was that they were going to kill all the men. As they waited for the order, the women and children wept and cried making a sound so pitiful that it is forever etched in my memory. The soldiers began to search everyone, taking everything of value that they found. Amongst Shaya Azshis' belongings they did not recognize the green papers until an officer told them that they were American dollars. The soldiers confiscated the money. Suddenly another officer appeared, ordering the soldiers to move on…. We were saved. (Shaya, who had spent half his life in America and managed to save a few dollars, had returned to Ostrow-Lubelsk before the outbreak of World War I. Now he had lost all his savings, but he survived the war and later became a caretaker in a bath-house).
On the following Sunday, we returned to Ostrow-Lubelsk and my father and I went to call upon Mendl Krentzer. We found the cellar door open and the shoemaker lying dead in a pool of blood. Many Jewish homes had been burnt and in some cases, the fires were still burning. We all joined the priest and the other inhabitants who were carrying water and attempting to put out the fires. This same priest had hidden the Jew, Leibish Boger, but the Poles showed the Balachov soldiers where he was hiding. When he was discovered, Leibish jumped through the window and escaped, but the priest was not so lucky. The murderers took their revenge on him and he was tied to a tree and severely beaten. These were my first memories of my town.
Happier memories are those of my family and we were a large family of eight children: four daughters and four sons. They were called: Dvora-Hinde, Maika-Leah, Shaya-Yidl, Getzel, Mechl (I), Gold, Chavele and Mendel. My father, of blessed memory, came from Tshemanik and although his correct surname was Eckhaus, he was always known as Yossel Reuven Mechels, after my maternal grandfather. My mother, Ester-Miriam, was born and had always lived in Ostrow-Lubelsk. She was known as Reuven Mechel's daughter or the feltsherke, which was the name given to those who attended the ill and decided whether or not a doctor should be called. My parents kept a shop in which they sold leather, shoes and dry goods. The Poles called the store to tzarnieh which meant to the black people as the storekeeper and all the children had black hair.
We had our business on the Rinek and lived on Partshever Street. Whilst my brothers and I studied in cheder and school, my sisters went to school. Our home was a religious one; my father was a well-known Gerer Hassid, and until the age of 14, I had long earlocks - a Jewish hat and a capote. One episode from my cheder is engraved in my memory. I studied with the hot-tempered rabbi Moshe Noah Album. One day, I talked
his son Abraham into going to the river to bathe and we set off. This event, however, happened to coincide with the middle of our studies and the rabbi noticed that we were missing from the long table. He also knew where he would find us so he went down to the river, took all our clothes and returned home. A miracle occurred, the rebbitzin (the rabbi's wife) saw what the rabbi had done and argued with him taking our clothes back to the river where we were standing naked, very frightened and crying.
The last two years of the World War I, and also the first years of Polish independence, were very hard years for the Jewish population. The housing conditions were poor, there was not ways enough food to eat and people were frequently ill. Our situation would have been much worse were it not for the assistance we received from American Jews. I can remember the kettles of soup placed in the streets with everybody crowding around them to obtain a little of the soup and dry food which was being distributed. Life became more normal after a time, and shopkeepers once again opened their shops and sold whatever goods that had been saved from the war's tribulations.
Before World War I, Ostrow-Lubelsk had been one of the major leather-producing and beer manufacturing towns, and my maternal grandfather, Reuven Mechels Winograd, a native of Ostrow-Lubelsk, was both a successful merchant and a respected household of the town. After the war, my grandfather once again began to buy up leather and carry it to the Polish cities, just as he had done before 1914. The town's shoemakers, tailors, furriers, harness-makers, hat makers and other craftsmen resume work, finding it a bitter struggle simply to exist and feed their large families. Not everyone could manage even such a meagre existence as this, and many were compelled to leave their town and seek their livelihood in Parczew,
Lublin, Warsaw, Lodz. Some left for other European countries such as France or Belgium; others went overseas to Brazil, North America or Argentina. It is self-evident that because of all this emigration, the population of Ostrow-Lubelsk was diminished.
In addition to the burden of eking out a living, the young people of Ostrow-Lubelsk assumed another perhaps greater task. This was to improve the world in general, and that of Jews in particular, notably that of their fellow Jews in Ostrow-Lubelsk. Consequently, various parties, organizations and groups began to appear in the public arena: Zionists of all trends; Bundists who considered themselves to be the strongest protectors of the working class; and Communists, inspired by the October Revolution in Russia. Religious parties became active, cultural societies embraced most of the town's Jewish youth and a professional society was formed for workers to meet and discuss the problems of the work-place, which included such topics as the need for social achievements and improved wages.
Understandably, the police kept their eye on the workers' organizations and often carried out searches of the various meeting places and culture clubs. None of these activities dissuaded the youth from their ideals or their battles for a better future.
A year or two after my bar-mitzvah, I decided to become independent. Even though I considered myself a child of a better home where the problems of living were not so great, I found the differences between rich and poor and the constant injustices that surrounded me to be so great that I no longer wished to depend upon my family. I apprenticed myself to Yankel the carpenter, knowing that work would change my view of life. I felt the need to belong to a collective - to be a member of some society. Consequently, I joined Betar, the youth organization of the Zionist-Revisionists which was
led at that time by Wartzman and Leibl Shafran. My membership of this organization did not, however, last very long as, influenced by Moshe Liebhaber and Esterke Abarbanel, I joined the then illegal Communist organization. It was easy at that time to become convinced that one had to begin fighting for improvement as working conditions, especially for the Jewish youth, were very difficult. We had to work from dawn to sunset without any definite hours. We were also required to participate in housework; cleaning, washing and minding the younger children, often spending more time on this than on learning a trade. These factors generated conflicts and strikes against the employers. The members of my cell made efforts to penetrate into the professional societies as well as the library and the cultural organizations in order to influence others in the style of the Communist spirit.
Some of the men in town, called the strong men, were moved by opposition and even hatred of the leftists. More than once they attacked them, which resulted in many injuries for both political groups and which required Dr. Last's care.
In my eighteenth year, on a Thursday evening, I was arrested. I was sitting at home reading forbidden literature - proclamations, pamphlets and a book from the district committee in Parczew - when a uniformed policeman appeared at my door. He searched my room thoroughly and I was taken to the police station in December 1932. I was badly tortured during the examinations; they poured water into my nose whilst gagging my mouth until I lost consciousness. After a week of sadistic examinations, I was sent to Lublin for yet another examination. It was six months later, in May 1933 that the Lublin District Court sentenced me to four years imprisonment. The sentence was ratified by the Appeals Court, but as the Polish government declared an amnesty in December 1935, I had to spend only three years in prison.
There were all kinds of Poles and Jews from different cities and
towns in the prison; Yankel Duman from Ostrow-Lubelsk was there. In particular, I became very friendly with Feivel Fruchtengarten from Opole and we maintained our friendship even when he was living in Argentina. In my prison cell I also met the future General Vitold Frantciszek Jozwiak, Janek Youngman and Leibel Zilberstein, all hardened Communists with whom we carried out a hunger strike against the terrible conditions.
My arrest signalled the first time that a Jewish man in Ostrow-Lubelsk had been charged with Communism, an event that caused a tumult in the town. Even after my liberation, I felt that the police were keeping a watchful eye on me and I considered that the town was now too small for me.
I decided to go to Warsaw but, after staying a year without managing to find any work, I once again returned to my hometown. Once again I continued organizing and educating the youth of the town in spite of the ceaseless police persecutions.
In 1937 I had to leave Ostrow once again but I returned to the town in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II. The intervening years were spent travelling between Warsaw and Ostrow-Lubelsk, looking for work in the former and avoiding the police in the latter.
Early in the morning of Friday, September 1, 1939, the Germans attacked Poland. After only weak resistance from the Polish army, the Germans and the Soviets divided the conquered country so that the Bug River became the border between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. Suddenly my family and I found ourselves in German-occupied Ostrow and it was especially dangerous for me as I was known for my socialist views. The young people of our town decided to move to the other side of the river - to the Soviets.
One day in that September, I said goodbye to my family; to my mother, father brothers and sisters. We were all nervous but
nobody realized the true extent of our mutual anxiety, that some of us would be parting forever. I was accompanied by my future wife, Bronia Wasserman from Lublin. Our parents walked with us a little way, all of us were weeping and I remember how hard it was to say goodbye. I had originally met Bronya in Warsaw in 1937 and we renewed our acquaintance in 1939 when Bronya, also a political activist, had fled Warsaw for Ostrow-Lubelsk.
The roads and highways were choked with refugees and some soldiers, a few on small wagons but most travelling on foot. After several days of wandering, we came to the city of Kowel, a large railroad centre with a population of some thirty-three thousand persons consisting of Poles, Ukrainians and some eighteen thousand Jews. In Kowel we were allowed to stay at the home of a former Polish political prisoner where we found many men and women comrades and workers of the socialist movement as well as political prisoners. We were in dire need since we had left Ostrow-Lubelsk without anything; we had no winter clothing and no money with which to buy any. The only solution to our problems appeared to be that I should return home.
In December, I started back to Ostrow-Lubelsk, travelling by railroad to Brest-Litowsk. After crossing the station, I met a countryman - deaf Shaya (Avraham Rimmer's son) who related his experiences in Russia. As he had not been able to find any work in his trade of harness-maker, he had decided to return to Ostrow-Lubelsk. I met Yankel Shachnes Wasserstrum, also from Ostrow-Lubelsk, who had had to leave his wife and two beautiful daughters, whom I had known very well in West Ukraine. We all hired a man who brought us at night to the river and, very frightened, we crossed the almost frozen waters. It was only after considerable pain and suffering that I managed to make the journey on foot back to Ostrow-Lubelsk.
The town looked very different from that which I had left. It was desolate - the shops were empty, broken doors and windows, and
pieces of glass were strewn about the streets. Two days before my arrival home, the local Poles, armed with pitchforks and axes had attacked the Jewish shops, destroying them and looting whatever they could. In order to remain alive, all the Jews fled the city and my parents told me that they had never seen such ferocity. I knew then that I had made a big mistake and that I should have listened to my Bronya who had tried to dissuade me from making this trip.
During the few days that I remained in Ostrow-Lubelsk, I did not go out during the day for fear that some Pole might inform the police that the former socialist was in town. My parents hurried to arrange things so that I could leave Ostrow-Lubelsk as soon as possible.
One early Saturday morning, the Germans brought a carload of Jews from Poznan to Ostrow-Lubelsk. They broke our hearts with the stories of their sufferings on the journey to Ostrow-Lubelsk. As the trains did not reach our town, these Jews had been made to walk the remaining ten kilometres on foot. The road was very rough and all those men, women and children who, for some reason couldn't walk, were shot by the Germans. Those who had the privilege of reaching our town were worn-out from the beatings, hardly caring what happened to them. When the Gestapo arrived, a few Poles pointed out the wealthier Jews and helped to organize a contribution of money, jewellery and other valuables.
They came to take my father as a hostage, but since he wasn't home, they took me instead. Sitting on the bench in the corridor of the detention centre, I heard the cries of the persons whom the Gestapo were interrogating inside. Suddenly, my father entered the building. He went straight up to the Germans and told them who he was and that he wanted to take my place. The Germans were so astonished that they agreed to his request. My father saved me from being murdered. In a daze, I left the building not knowing what would happen to my father.
Feeling that I could no longer remain in Ostrow-Lubelsk, I made arrangements to escape that night. My sister Chavele begged me to take her with me but my parents, who had been reunited after the Gestapo incident, did not agree. I left my parents, four sisters and two brothers in Ostrow-Lubelsk. My other brother, Getzel, had already gone to Kowel with his wife. My mother wept bitter tears, sensing that she was seeing me for the last time, and that was the way it was. An Ostrow-Lubelsk Jew who survived Maidenak told me that he had seen my two brothers in the camp, both had had fever. Whilst working in the crematorium, he with his own hands burnt my brother Shaya-Yidel in the oven. He knew nothing, however, of the fate of my parents, sisters or my other brother Mendel.
At the beginning of 1940, I managed, after many troubles, to return to Kowel. Bronta and I were very excited when, towards the last days of October 1939, my sister-in-law arrived with her husband Getzel. Luckily, they succeeded in obtaining a so-called dwelling place with a Polish railroad worker but this did not last long. They soon had to move to an old wooden barrack not far from Koleyava Street which was very rudimentary, lacking the most elementary installations of a normal apartment.
Unfortunately, the Kowel Jews did not display much understanding or sympathy for the refugees. Later, when the German army came to Kowel, few of the Jews there fled and so we all ended up sharing the same bitter fate.
My future wife, Bronya and I lived in the house of former political prisoners together with other socialist workers. We had no employment and, with the help of acquaintances, looked for work. One day, as part of a group of twelve, we were sent to Zakosiel in Polesie. There we found an abandoned house and a neglected farm that had belonged to Poles who had been arrested, leaving the servants to flee. However, there was no work for us there and we found ourselves
in a wasteland with no one who could help us. After some time, even though we did have food to eat, we decided to leave this place. It was February 1940 and the cold and frost was eating into our bones.
We returned to Kowel and went to live in the wooden barrack with my sister-in-law. This was uncomfortable for all of us but there was no alternative. After considerable effort, Bronya managed to find work at the railway station.
Finally, I found work and our little family managed to survive the hard winter but we all did so hoping that the spring and summer would bring not only warmth but also a better life.
One day in the month of June 1940, we heard rumours in Kowel, especially from the refugees. It appeared that all those who had registered to go back to Poland in the belief that they were to re-join their families, were being rounded up and taken from their homes. They were led to a railway station and loaded on to boxcars and were carried deep into Russia instead of occupied Poland. It is easy to imagine the confusion and fear that these rumours aroused in everyone. My brother and two sister-in-laws had been arrested by the Soviet police. I had returned to Kowel from Lemberg in time to say goodbye and provide them with some food and clothing whilst they were held at the railway station. Who then could imagine that it was those who were being deported, those that had been fooled by the fake registrations, who were the ones that actually had a better chance of remaining alive than we who remained in Western Ukraine?
Bronya and I decided to get married officially in 1940, and the ceremony was both private and short, taking place in the presence of a few close friends. We adopted Soviet citizenship, left the barracks and settled in a small room which contained a table, a closet, a bed and two chairs. We shared a kitchen. Later, the owner of the barracks,
sued us for the rent that our deported family had failed to pay and we were compelled by law to repay this debt. At this time we both had jobs and I was employed as a carpenter.
Our parents were located on the other side of the Bug River and we communicated through mail although the links were weak and irregular. We received letters from far-off Siberia, from my brother and sister-in-law. These letters carried messages of doubt, sadness and bitterness and their needs were many. They were cold, hungry and forced to perform hard labour. We dried fruits, accumulated fats, bought sugar, rice and other groceries and every two weeks we sent them food packages. We shared what we had with them and received moving letters of thanks.
In October 1940, Bronya became pregnant and was transferred to an easier job in the bookkeeping department at the railway station. There she came to know many Polish workers, good people as well as Basha, another Jewish woman with whom she became firm friends.
At this time, the political and military situation was very bad and although we read constantly of Germany's military successes in Western Europe, we still believed in a miracle. But then we were young and even enthusiastic. At the end of March 1941, I was called for a few months of military exercises. Since Bronya was already in her last months of pregnancy, she could have had me released from military service but our principles would not allow this. It was our duty to fight against Hitler's Germany.
My parting from Bronya was very sad and I was too ashamed to weep openly thought Broyna encouraged me to do so. After our parting, I was taken to the reserve base beyond Kolomei where an airfield was being built.
Sunday, June 22, 1941 heavy bombardments woke us from our sleep. The fall of the dead and the wounded began immediately and a few hours later, we learned from an official Soviet radio communiqué
that the two countries, Russia and Germany, were in a state of war. Our military unit received orders to evacuate, but as we had no means of transportation, we took to the road on foot. When we reached the bridge over the Donetz River, we found that it had been blown up by the air attack. We had to cross the river and many soldiers drowned because they could not swim.
In reality, the evacuation march was a frightening flight of several days and nights marching until we reached Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Here we received orders to continue on to Rostov where new military units were to be formed. On this journey there were many cases of desertion and any deserters that were recaptured where shot. Consequently, the developments at the front were considered to be in the Germans' favour as they were advancing whilst we continued to retreat. My unit was part of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, and I came with them all the way to Stalingrad.
The heroic epic of Stalingrad as, by now, already been written, sung and analysed from all possible perspectives. However, as one who took part in that battle, it is still hard, even today, for me to grasp the scope and meaning of those heroic-tragic days. I lived through the time when battles were waged for every inch of land. I was wounded in one such battle and spent several weeks in hospital, where I was awarded a medal for participating in the battle of Stalingrad.
On leaving hospital, I was reassigned to a reserve unit which was soon to be sent to the front. I knew that if I returned to the Red Army, my hopes of returning to Poland and of being reunited with my wife and family would almost be nil. At this stage, I did not know if even one of them was still alive, nor did I think, even for a minute, that I might be a father. I learned, however, that a Polish army headed by General Berling was being formed in Soviet Russia which included a contingent of Polish patriots headed by the writer Wanda Wasizlewska. Joining this Polish army gave me some hope of returning to my old home and those closest and dearest to me.
With such fervent hopes, I sent a spirited application to the proper authorities but instead of receiving an affirmation of my request, I was taken in May 1944 from the reserve based along with criminals, deserters and political prisoners to a working camp in Siberia.
As soon as I received permission, I wrote a letter to Marshal Stalin requesting to serve in the Polish army which was now fighting on Polish soil against the Germans. I was greatly surprised and excited when I received an answer from Stalin's office freeing me from the camp and sending me to Lublin where I would be able to enlist in the Polish army. My joy and happiness were indescribable and I was determined to stop-off at Kowel on the way to Lublin to discover what had happened to my wife and family.
I found Kowel to be a city in ruins with the effects of war that could be seen at every step. I learned for the first time of the horrors that the city's Jews had suffered. Anxiously I came closer to Koleyova Street where I had lived with my pregnant Bronya. Surprisingly, our former home was still standing so I waited outside until sunrise for someone to emerge from the house. Finally, a Ukrainian woman stepped out of the house. She instantly recognized me and fainted. Later, she told me that a few weeks previously, she had gone to Rozyczeze to buy a goat and there she had met Bronya - the sole survivor of the ghetto at Kowel. She said that she had informed Bronya that I had been killed and she also went on to tell me that my Bronya was accompanied by a three and a half year-old boy. My son!
It is easy to understand how deeply this news affected me. Here I was in the uniform of a Red Army soldier and with papers which ordered me to go to Lublin to enlist in the Polish Army. How could I not ride to Rozyczeze to see my own family? I didn't waste too much time thinking about this and found myself on a train to Rozyczeze. When I arrived, coincidence was again on my side as I found a boy at the station who could take me to where Bronya was
living. After all the years of separation, longing, dreams, hopes and disappointments, I felt privileged to have this most hoped-for moment of meeting with all its embracing, crying and laughing, emotion and excitement. And the best of all was that the child, my own flesh and blood, had survived the Hitlerite hell with his mother.
It was December 1944, and Bronya was very ill from all her sufferings during the period when we were separated. She was confined to hospital so I remained with her for some two months. My son, Richard, was sick in another hospital, in another town and the sound of his crying when I had to leave him to attend to Bronya still rings in my ears. When Bronya could leave the hospital, we all moved to Lodz where for the first time, I was to hear of the virtual destruction of the Jews of Europe. In my travels, I was now surrounded by evidence of the destruction and loss of Jewish life as it was commonplace to find that all the Jews in the Polish towns had been murdered.
As of May 19, 1942, documents show that Ostrow-Lubelsk was a major depot for the transportation of the Jews. Around three thousand and sixty-two Jews had been deported from Ostrow-Lubelsk, leaving behind only those that were strong and able to work. Women, children and elderly persons were the first to have been loaded onto transports. To this day, I do not know how they all died, whether in the camps or simply shot and buried in the sandpits not far from town. Ostrow-Lubelsk, my former home had the shameful fate of becoming the final station for Jews who had been deported from Poznan, Slovakia, Lobartow and Lublin.
From Lodz, we later moved to Walbrzych where we lived until 1945 but our wanderer's road did not end there. We travelled on foot and frequently under the most appalling conditions. We were surrounded by sorrow and sickness. I can recall one dreadful night when some 150 of us made camp for the night in the pouring rain. Everybody was
complaining, everybody that is except my brave six year-old son who pointed out to all of us that by comparison; It's not so bad.
Later we went to Austria and settled temporarily in a D.P. camp, Enns, for nearly a year. By 1947, we had made our way to Germany and were already in the D.P. camp in Rosenheim, Germany. It was on in 1951 that we could finally leave that cursed German soil and Bronya and I with our ten year-old son, immigrated to Australia which to this day we had made our home.
by Bronia Waserman-Eckhaus (Melbourne, Australia)
In memory of our dear parents, Moshe and Golda Waserman, Ester, Miriam and Josef Eckhaus, sisters and brother, my little sister Sara who was 14 years old murdered by the Nazis in Ostrow Lubelsk in 1942. In memory of the Six Million Jews including one and a half million children who perished in the Holocaust. Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption. The Baal Shem Tov.
I have on my desk pages and pages, some handwritten, some typed, some covered by figures only: documents, very important pieces of paper. It took us a long time; it was very difficult to seek them out. Thanks to the good will of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, we now have these documents. This is what remains of the history of the Jewish population of Ostrow Lubelski in the past years. These pages tell us about the sufferings of innocent victims, murdered in Ostrow Lubelski by the Nazis, by evil people.
These victims were not only the permanent Jewish inhabitants of Ostrow Lubelski but also refugees from other townships and those forcibly deported by the Nazis. We learn now from these precious documents that Ostrow Lubelski was designated by the Nazis in 1939 as a gathering ghetto in which Jews from Lubertow, Poznan, Lublin, Sosnowice, Czechoslovakia and Hungary would be resettled.
Thousands of tortured, exhausted victims were brought to the already overcrowded ghetto in Ostrow Lubelski where they were cramped together, condemned to hunger, cold and disease. Death in all its shocking forms was their fate. There are no words to describe their sufferings or to tell about the anguish of these people.
I read these pages and I see before my eyes the victims; children, women, men, young, old, sick… their faces, their sad eyes,
their thin, emaciated figures. Are these people, these children - guilty? No life for them, no love, no hope… Why? How to explain? How to believe? How could it happen?
I read these documents again and again. From these pages wed learn about noble persons whose names will never be known, about heroes in the ghettoes, who, to the very last moment, strove to help the others, the more vulnerable; the old people, the sick, the weak, the homeless, the children; to provide them with a piece of bread, a bowl of soup, a piece of soap, medicine… Honour their memories.
Nazi propaganda tried for years before and during the war to convince the world that we are an inferior race. They talked about us as vermin. They compared us in their propaganda books, speeches and films, to rats. Documents, history books, photos, testimonies, reports by survivors and witnesses will tell us who the subhuman were! Who were at the lowest level of barbarism; we, the unfortunate victims or the Nazis and their collaborators?
The township of Ostrow Lubelski was one of the many small towns in Poland where Jewish life flourished for a few hundred years before the Nazis - before Hitler's storm broke out. Jews in Ostrow Lubelski were nice, decent people. They earned their livings honestly by work, by trade. They were tanners, saddlers, tailors, shoemakers, shopkeepers, teachers, musicians, Talmudists, etc. They were mostly religious people and they observed the traditions. In the town there were a number of synagogues where the Jewish inhabitants met, very often for divine services or for studies, for happy occasions such as marriages, bar-mitzvahs, festivities or discussions.
They shared their joys and their sorrows. The Jewish residents were friendly with their gentile neighbours.
There are no more Jews in Ostrow Lubelski. All were murdered, killed in Aktions by the Nazis at the end of 1942. Mostly the
sent by the town's social welfare organization to the center in Krakow.
innocent victims were assembled by order of the armed and powerful Nazis and their collaborators, and shot then thrown into pits around the city. Many still alive - all thrown in together and covered with soil. Some were sent to Maidanek, to the gas chambers. How was it possible to form a resistance against something unbelievable?
The township of Ostrow Lubelski is still on the map of Poland but there is no sign of Jewish life there now. There are quite a number of studied, statistics about the Holocaust, about the millions of human beings who were murdered but nothing about Jews from Ostro Lubelski; nothing in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, nothing even in the archives of Yad Vashem. It is our duty, our debt that the not so numerous who are alive by sheer miracle, who survived the Holocaust and all its horrors to tell about the terrible crimes committed by the Nazis. Not to remember the victims would mean to betray ourselves. We should give evidence, organize Holocaust Museums, and publish books - Yizkor books. Our memories, testimonies, books, photos, drawings and documents should be collected.
Memory is our strength.
From the Yizkor Book following generations will learn the history of our disastrous experiences during the Holocaust.
They will learn and they will remember.
The Yizkor Book is the best insurance for a future without wars, without genocide, for peace.
A Yizkor Book for Ostrow Lubelski is an eternal monument to our martyrs.
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