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[Page 178]

A Path Full of Obstacles and Suffering

by Henia Shourz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

At the Outbreak of the First World War

My father Aharon Fuchs and my mother Tzipi were considered to be a well-to-do couple in Podhajce. They had a meat and sausage business, and money in the bank for distribution of loans. Aside from this, my father fulfilled the role of meat provider for the Austrian army. When the Russian army entered our city in 1914, we were forced to leave our city and wander westward. We reached the city of Stryj and could not continue further, for the Russian army had filled all the connection routes. We remained in Stryj with our workers, three gentile males and three females. Our family consisted of ten children, five girls and five boys. My parents were forced to remain in their place of residence, for my father had to fulfill his role as an army provider until the last minute. Even Dr. Charupsky had to remain with the gendarmes in the place until the last moment. Finally the gendarmes fled from the city. My parents should have gone with them, but they were not informed about this, and they remained in their place along with Dr. Charupsky and the communal supervisor. A Russian guard entered the city in the morning. They went through the roads of the city, and our Ukrainian neighbors served as their guides. The first question that the members of the guard asked was: “Where do the wealthy Jews and the bourgeois live?” They showed them us, Binyamin Kitner and Yoel Rotenberg. At first they entered my parents' home. When my father answered the door, they stated their demand, “Yevrei Dovai Dyengi” (“Jew, give money”). Mother was in the back room, and she had the keys. My father's response was that he was going to get the keys. The soldiers thought that he was trying to flee, and one of them beat my father strongly over the heart with his rifle butt. He cried out in pain, stumbled, and slunk to the ground. My mother heard the shouts and brought the keys. The soldiers shot the lock of the safe a few times and wanted to open it themselves. However, the safe was too strong, and it was impossible to open it without the keys. They were only able to open the safe after my mother gave them the keys. They took all that was inside and demanded more. In the meantime my mother summoned the neighbors and Dr. Charupsky, but it was not possible to save my father. He asked that the family members gather so that he could take leave of them. My mother sent a wagon to fetch us, and we returned home. Father was wrapped in his tallis and wept profusely. We also wailed with the bitterness of our souls. He blessed us, passed away, and left us in grief. This was the first day of the Festival of Sukkot. My father was 42 when he died. My 36 year old mother remained a widow with 10 children.

The yoke of sustenance for the family rested on the shoulders of my mother. My sisters were Chaya, Leah, Rachel, and Libbe and Henia[1]. My brothers were Yisrael, Gedalyahu, Shraga, Leib, and Moshe Yosef. My uncle Fishi Fuchs, my father's brother, took in my two older brothers, educated them, raised them along with his children, and educated them in business. My mother continued to run the business. She fired all the workers, leaving only the lame worker whom was known throughout the city. Berel Breines also remained working with us. Since my mother was now a widow, all of the debtors who were late in their payments began to return to her the loans that they had received from the bank. Thus did the business reestablish itself. Mother continued with the business and married off her children. Mother would travel each year to the Poretz (landowner) in Mozilow, who permitted no Jew to enter the threshold of his home and courtyard except for her, whom he called Mrs. “Fuchsowa”. She conducted large-scale business for him. This situation continued until the Second World War.

I met my late husband in the Zionist movement. He was elected as the chairman and I was the vice-chairman. From this acquaintance, we became increasingly friendly until we got married. My husband, who was an expert in flourmills, set up a mill in the city. Thanks to this mill, we and 40 other people from Podhajce were saved from talons of death during the Holocaust.

During the Second World War

The Judenrat that was established by the German Nazis busied itself at first with the collection of small sums of money that was imposed upon it from time to time. Finally, they were no longer satisfied with money, and they demanded that my husband join the Judenrat and participate in the confiscation of furniture, silver, gold, clothes and other personal objects. My husband and his brother-in-law Leib Fink refused to participate in these odious activities, and they expressed their negative opinion and disgust with such matters. From that time, persecutions and oppression were directed against him at every footstep. Several other informers who wished to ingratiate themselves with the Gestapo joined the Judenrat. They thought that they would be able to save their skin and their family in this manner. They began to dig around our flourmill with the pretext of finding our hiding place in a bunker. However, this was to no avail. Their anger was kindled, and they demanded that my husband or my son who had not yet reached the age of 12 be sent to a death camp. However, their efforts did not succeed. Our bunker was concealed and hidden in such a way that nobody could

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expose us. Two open water buckets, appropriate for my husband's profession, stood on top of the bunker. Approximately ten young girls spread out the earth that was excavated from the dig during the hours of the day in various places where nobody would pass. The excavation activity took place day and night, and lasted for 14 days. The Jewish police snatched my husband only once when he left the bunker. They immediately brought him to the basement of the Judenrat office, where a car was waiting to transport them to the camp. My husband sent a note to me, hidden in a pot of food, leaving behind a bit of the food that I had brought to him in order to hide the note. He wrote that I should flee to Blicharski, his friend from the milling profession. He was a Volksdeutsche who worked in the mill of Zahajce. He would always assist my husband when something was wrong in the mill. Now he had risen to a high level in the Gestapo, and in his time he promised my husband that he would not be among the first Jews to be sent to the camps. I jumped over the barbed wire and ran to Blicharski, as my husband instructed. Five guards ran after me with sticks in their hands and could not catch me, until I fell and broke my leg. The guards no longer saw me, and I crawled with all my energy until I reached Blicharski. He was lying sick in bed. He told me to sit down, but I lay on the floor and asked that he fulfil his promise to save my husband. At that time, a Gestapo commander sat with us, and I did not know he was. He saw how I was kissing Blicharski's feet. Blicharski immediately turned to the Gestapo commander and said that my husband had always assisted him and stood at his right hand as he saved him from uncomfortable situations, and he promised that my husband would not be among the first who would be sent to the camps. Blicharski promised the Gestapo director that he took it upon himself to send my husband in the final transport. He influenced the Gestapo commander to the extent that he hastened himself to the Judenrat to remove my husband.

I should point out here that Blicharski, the Volksdeutche did a great deal for the Jews. He even sent food to the hidden rabbis. He always issued a notice about searches that were to take place. In this manner, he endangered his life and that of his family. He would also strengthen the hiding places of the bunkers. He would distribute full sacks of flour to the Jews in the ghetto. He was forced to accept the job of serving as a translator between the Polish guards and the Gestapo since he was a Volksdeutsche. Similarly, I must also point out that during the time of the third aktion that was to completely liquidate the few Jews who remained alive, Blicharski went around the street that was named after Baron Hirsch. His job was to ensure with great vigilance that our “dear” Ukrainian neighbors would not pillage the property of those who perished. The Gestapo directors related to him with complete trust, and gave him the responsibility for the Jewish property. The Gestapo forced him to accept this task. He wept and pleaded to be freed from this task, but without success. At that time, there were still a few Jews remaining who were hidden in bunkers, and the Gestapo conducted an aktion to expose the bunkers. They were accompanied by Ukrainians and perhaps also by Jewish slanderers. The Ukrainians excelled in this lowly work. They also reached our bunker, knocked and searched. From inside the bunker, we heard the voices of one of our Israelite brethren stating that there is definitely a bunker in this location, since he had heard conversation there with his own ears two days ago. The entire gang stood next to the wall, and if they had lifted it, they would have exposed all of the 40 people who had found refuge in the bunker and killed us. Once again I must mention Blicharski, who went around the streets that night and realized that they were about to expose our bunker, for they were tarrying longer than usual. He also approached our hiding place and listened to the words of the Jewish informer that a bunker should be exposed here. In response to this, Blicharski told the Gestapo men, “Don't listen to him, he himself is interested in fleeing, and he is making efforts to confuse your thoughts in order to ease his escape. I guarantee to you that here there is no bunker, and here there is no person. Thus did he save us at the last minute. We must thank him for our lives, as the adage states, “The gentile prolongs the exile…” He then went to another place which belonged to Keila Moshe and Goralnik. There as well, he answered negatively by stating that there is nobody alive there. He continued on stating that already during the second transport, he saw the local residents being transported from their homes on wagons, and it would be too bad if one wastes time on naught. There as well, he saved approximately 60 souls from destruction. Another bunker was located next to the residence of Avraham Meizes. My late mother was hidden there along with approximately 30 other souls. Blicharski expressed his opinion there as well and told the Gestapo in German, “Don't believe the word of the deceitful Ukrainians. There is nobody there, and these deceivers only want to search for places with the sole purpose of coming later to pillage the property of the Jews who perished.”

I should mention here that at the beginning of the Nazi rule in our city, they had not yet come to cruelty. They satisfied themselves with forced labor, including snatching of people from the streets for labor, but without murder. They also captured me and forced me to drag heavy rocks as they stood with whips in their hand to beat anyone who was lax in their work. They immediately decided to dismantle our mill. This was a new, modern mill with the finest technological setup. Two shifts worked in the mill. At first they dismantled the most important parts and sent them to Germany. Aside from this, they confiscated all of the grits and spelt, as well as other shelled products and cereals. They loaded up everything and sent it to Germany. They gave my husband a job next to the train station. Meir Goralnik and his brother Avrahamche worked at his side. They were ordered to supervise the grain as it was being loaded upon

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the transport trucks. The Ukrainians also worked there. The three Jews received transit passes that allowed them to go from the train station and back. The Ukrainians were not pleased with the fact that Jews were going around supervising the work. They turned to the Germans with the request to remove the excess Jews from there. One of the Ukrainians knew my husband. He whispered in his ear, “Don't come here tomorrow, for tomorrow they will be coming to take the Jews.” My husband fled and hid in the mill, in a place where no worker knew or saw. He sent me a note from there through a Christian acquaintance, telling me to also hide with the children. Thus did we enter the bunker, and my husband joined us.

When they took out the Tzadik of Berezhany with his students from the city, they brought him to Kozowa. The Rebbe sent a note to Blicharski, who made great efforts with the Gestapo to save the Rebbe. He traveled to the Gestapo in Kozowa and proclaimed to them that the Rebbe had saved his children when they were ill, and that he is a man of portents and great deeds, the greatest Rebbe in the entire country. Blicharski influenced the Gestapo to issue an edict that the Rebbe can return to his home. The Rebbe came to Blicharski to thank him for his actions in saving Jews. Along with this he told the Rebbe that he would not return to his home without the students, and what will happen to the students will also happen to him. Blicharski spent the entire day with the Rebbe and attempted to convince him to let him take him home, but he did not succeed in changing his decision. Blicharski returned alone to the city, and the Rebbe perished with his students. I should add here that Blicharski's children would bring food to the Jews in the ghetto, and did not wear crosses on their necks, as did the other Christians. Instead of crosses, they wore amulets that they had received from the Rebbe.

As I had mentioned above, my late mother Tzipi Fuchs hid in a bunker with 30 other people, including all of her daughters-in-law and grandchildren, after my brother had been transported to the death camp. My mother left the bunker and asked for advice regarding what to do now. In the interim, panic ensued in the city once again. Old men were snatched and murdered in the cemetery. My late mother came to me in my bunker. It was very difficult for an old woman such as her to crawl through the network of trenches. However, she succeeded in passing through and arriving in the bunker. She remained there for two days. The Jewish police made great efforts to capture my mother and extort money from her. Quiet returned after this. They succeeded in snatching old men, and again my mother returned to her bunker, that had been expanded and fortified further. They prepared as much food and drink as possible. After there was some calm, Mr. Buzi sent me some milk. He was one of the “important ones” in the Judenrat, and he risked his life in bringing food packages to those who had been sent to the death camps. He told my mother that he was prepared to rescue two of her children (my brothers) from the camps, and my mother paid 1,500 dollars in gold for this. They took the money but did not free my brothers. My mother still remained in the bunker with her daughters-in-law and grandchildren after Podhajce had been declared Judenrein. In the interim, three of her grandchildren died before the eyes of their mother and my mother.

Three months passed from the time that we entered the bunker. The suffering and tribulation was severe. Not one man could be found, only widows with young children. My mother could not look at the pain of the children, so every night at 1:00 a.m., she went outside to fetch water. She did this at a time when no living person could be seen on the streets. This continued until the Ukrainians informed the Gestapo that some woman, apparently a Jewish woman, comes every night. The Gestapo ambushed her one night and captured her. She was tortured with great atrocities at the guard station. The human vocabulary does not contain the words to describe this in words. At first, they demanded that she give over her gold, and then she would be allowed to live. The Gestapo men went to her home, dug in the floor, and found a suitcase with gold. They demanded more. My mother showed them two more suitcases with gold, and felt that they would all be set free on account of this. Finally, they commanded them to leave the bunker one by one, all of her daughters-in-law with their children by their side. They were all brought to the cemetery with my mother at the head. There, everyone was forced to dig a grave for themselves, and then they were all murdered. Thousands of Ukrainians stood around, enjoying themselves immensely. Paulina Dosgutch and the hunchback Pankalsi told us about this. I should point out that the Gestapo took along the bodies of the three grandchildren who had died in the bunker and were still lying there

I wish to introduce one other “personality”. He is none more or no less than the Podhajce dogcatcher. He was a Volksdeutsche, and became “close to the government” when the Germans entered the city. I will relate one of the actions of this man. We had a large dog which we would hitch to a small wagon to bring water for our needs and for our animals. This dog was intelligent and faithful. Once the dog was in the yard, and the dogcatcher cast him the rope through the fence, strangled him, and dragged him over the fence. The dog's yelps reached me ears. I ran outside and saw the dog dead. I ran to him thinking that I could still save him, but it was for naught. I approached the dogcatcher and asked him why he had done this, and he laughed at my question. I approached him and slapped him over the face a few times. This took place while the Polish government was still in place. After the conquest of the city by the Germans, he came to me to kill me and to take revenge on me for the slaps that I gave him. My pleas and weeping were to no avail. By chance I was at my father-in-law's at the time, and he urged him to forgive me. He told my father-in-law that he would forgive me only because of him,

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for my father-in-law had loaned him several gold coins and also treated him to a glass of liquor. He was only able to forego what had happened on account of my father-in-law.

Similarly, I must mention one other Ukrainian who endangered himself for my family, and on account of whom, my husband our children and I were saved from death. During the era of Polish rule, a settlement for poor Poles who received land from the government was set up in our area. They were called by the nickname “Lemks”. They were brought there from the area of Krakow. Among these settlers was one Ukrainian named Dimitry Launchuk. Still during the era of the Bolsheviks, I once traveled to purchase clover and fodder around Novoselka–Pavlovo. I purchased a wagonload of these products, and this Ukrainian brought the products to our house in his wagon. He was poor, tattered, downtrodden and barefoot, in a pitiful state. My husband invited him into the house and treated him to a cup of liquor. He took down some old clothes from the attic for him and his wife. He fell at my husband's feet with feelings of thanks, and wanted to bring a present from his farm. We refused to take any, and we always gave him old clothes. We also paid very generously whenever he brought us straw. Once he came to us with weeping: “Dear sirs, news reached me that the Germans are about to come, and that they are murdering Jews. I wish to save you from their hands, for there are no people in the world as good as you.” We had not yet known about the level of cruelty of the Nazis, and we thought that they would suffice themselves with taking the men to forced labor. We decided to hide my husband and son with the Ukrainian, while my daughter and I would remain at home. When the Germans entered, a ghetto was immediately established for the Jews. Freedom of movement was already difficult for the Jews. The Ukrainian came to the ghetto with a sleigh and straw for the animals, although the animals had already been taken from us, and written receipts were given to us in return. The Ukrainian brought us furs to protect against the cold. My husband took with him work tools, hammers, saws, and hoes for digging – items that the Ukrainian did not have. He also took various household objects for him. The Ukrainian lay my husband down in the sleigh and covered him with straw so that nobody would see him and capture him. When they arrived at the farm, they began to dig the bunker in the barn which housed the horse, cow, goat, and pig. The entrance to the bunker was constructed under the evestrough. My husband and the Ukrainian finished setting up the bunker after three days of work. It was 2 meters by 1.5 meters, for there was no more space. My husband returned to the ghetto, and we were somewhat calmer for a brief period.

This calm did not last long. Every day, they would snatch people for work and send some to camps. Then the difficult days began. On account of the great hunger, we were permitted to leave the ghetto for one hour each day (12:00 – 1:00) to purchase food or barter objects for food. Woe unto the person who would be late in coming and going, for they would beat him with murderous blows. The market was next to the Great Synagogue, and the farmers of Verbova would sell a bit of food. Most of them did not want payment in money, but rather in objects. I had to give a few pillowcases for ten eggs, or give a cloak for a glass of milk, and a cloth for some potatoes. The person who succeeded in bartering his property for a bit of food was fortunate. There was a shortage of wood for fuel and straw, and the cold was fierce. The hunger also increased. The situation worsened each day. Objects for barter ran out, and we began to dream about a morsel of bread. People began to beg the farmers to bring the potato peels. We washed them with water and grated them with meat grinders. On account of this situation people became bloated with hunger. A typhus epidemic broke out in full force because of the hunger, and it was impossible to get medicine and medical equipment. Dr. Torten excelled in administering aid to the sick, and Dr. Dik was also very dedicated to this task. However, their possibilities were limited. I became ill with abdominal typhus and had a fever of 42 degrees. They took me down to the bunker, because the Gestapo chief Herman Mueller was commanded to kill those who were seriously ill. We did not even have a bit of food to keep us alive. My daughter Genia jumped over the ghetto fence to search for a bit of food to save me from death. She was caught a few times, and the “shkotzim” threw stones at her. She remained lying in the snow and almost froze from the cold. She would beg the Christian woman to have mercy on her mother who was lying gravely ill, and give her a bit of food. Thus did she save me. She was then 8 years old. Our son Aharon ran to the depot and always brought a board or twigs to be able to cook something. Once a miracle took place: he took down a board from an inner wall of one of the buildings. It began to fall, and a full bag of grits rolled down from it. It became clear that rats had prepared full meals for themselves there. The grits fell upon Aharon and almost covered him. He dug himself out of there with difficulty, and returned to us with a happy face. These grits sustained us in the time of difficulty and want, and saved us from dying of hunger.

It is worthwhile to note here that the porters who used to work for us liked my late husband very much. When they were bloated with hunger, they would turn to us and ask us to save them from dying of starvation. In my attic I had a sack of spices that was called “Lipowi Czweit”. I would boil an urn of tea and treat them, and they were saved with this tea. Among them were Shmerel the porter, his brother Shmuel the porter, and other porters whose names I no longer remember. When my son found the grits that were hidden by the rats, we saw this as a miracle from Heaven. I cooked the grits in clean water, and everyone came to us to take a bit of grit water, with wishes for eternal life for the kindness that we did to them.

In the meantime, the state of my health improved somewhat. After my bout of typhus, I received a seamstress certificate after paying the sum of 50 dollars,

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and I was permitted to be outside the ghetto for the entire day, without limited hours. The Gestapo chief signed the certificate and gave it to me, putting the fee in his pocket. Despite this, I had to be careful, and wear the Star of David mark on my sleeve. I wore a large shawl like a Christian woman, with a black kerchief on my head. I looked like a gentile villager. Thus did I obtain a bit of food every day. I would openly carry a measuring ruler and scissors, so that everyone passing by could see them. Every time I left the ghetto, I would take with me a pair of socks and some other household object to exchange for a bit of food. I must point out that most of my wanderings were in villages far from Podhajce. My father-in-law, husband and the children waited for me at home impatiently and with pained hearts. I returned home as if I had come from “the other world”. Once I came from my way during the day, laden with food provisions. The Gestapo chief came to meet me as he was riding on his bicycle, and ordered me to halt. I did not lose my composure, and I did not enter the ghetto for I would not have anywhere to escape there. Rather, I mixed myself among the gentiles, ran in a zigzag manner and entered a burnt house, for it was impossible for him to go through the narrow alleyways on his bicycles. I stood in the ruins of the house until late at night, as the Gestapo chief was searching for me through all the streets and alleyways. I looked through the holes until he disappeared, and I entered the ghetto late at night. When I entered my house, the entire family broke into hysterical weeping. Nobody believed that they would still see me healthy and whole. It was not long before I went out of the ghetto again in the same disguise that I mentioned, for the hunger afflicted us and the desire for life urged me on. Despite the danger, I went out once again to bring food for my family in exchange for various objects that I gave to the Christians. However what type of exchange could be given for our finest and best possessions that we had, when in their eyes it was seen as a great mercy that I remained alive since they could take all that I had brought and turn me over to theGestapo.

As mentioned, I had to also look after my elderly father-in-law, who was a rare type of Jew who was a scholar, a maskil, and a great fearer of Heaven. I also had to concern myself with Sani Shechter and his wife Rivka who were with us in our house. I was considered as a daughter to them, and my husband and children also held them in esteem.

I was blessed with exceptional strength of heart and fearless brazenness. On more than one occasion I looked death in the face and nevertheless I was not moved and I continued with the struggle for life and existence. The desire for life waxed greater and gave me no rest.

Another wondrous miraculous event took place with us. One day, my husband stood at the gates of the ghetto. A Ukrainian named Potra who worked in the mill with my husband during the communist rule of the city as a supplier for the “Cooperative Soyuz” passed by. When the Germans entered, he continued working there for the Germans. He had the keys to the food storehouses, and he had been promoted to the rank of chief bookkeeper. He passed by the ghetto and saw my husband standing in front of the gate. He approached my husband and said: “My dear friend, what is happening with you? I hope that good days will again come when we will both work together, and an end will come to the great tragedy.” As he was talking, he placed a few boxes of cigarettes into my husband's hand. These cigarettes fell into my husband's hand life a gift from heaven. My husband asked him to provide a bit of food for us. He answered my husband: “I have great trust in you and believe that you will not betray me. I am giving you the keys to one grain storehouse. Various grain storehouses were set up by the courts, and each storehouse has a different kind of grain. The key that I gave you is for the storehouse on such and such a street, and you can take as much as you want.”

I took hold of the certificate that I had that enabled me to go outside of the ghetto without time restrictions and also the strength of my heart, and I ran several times a day with two coffee mugs under my shawl. Aside from this, I sewed a corset with pockets under my dress. I ran and endangered myself six times a day. One week passed by with my daily walks, and the Ukrainians saw me as I passed through the dirty alleyways. They noticed that I was passing by too often. Among them was one enthusiastic follower of the Nazis called Tomashevski. He gathered together all of the citizens and incited them to turn me over to the Gestapo. They did not want to capture me, and only agreed that the Gestapo would capture me. Among the Ukrainians, there was a crusading woman who was very religious. She earned her livelihood by predicting the future through cards. She also went to church often. She recognized me well. Once when I passed by her house, she stood by the window and called me (after she crossed herself as a sign that she was telling me the truth and thinking of the truth). She literally cried to me that I should have mercy upon myself and not come anymore. She was not interested to know what I was doing there, and why I was passing through the side alleys several times a day. “However, I must tell you the entire truth, that all the neighbors around are murmuring about you that there is a Zhidovka (Jewess) wandering about her too often, and they decided to inform the Gestapo so that they would capture you.” I returned to my house in the ghetto with a heavy heart, for the small light that gave hope in our hearts to stay alive was extinguished – indeed it was locked. At night during my sleep, my late father came to me in a dream and warned me: “Enough running”. I arose from my sleep in great fear. The next day I did not go, and I felt myself in a very bad state. I did not tell anyone

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about these matters. I later found out that on that very day that I stayed home, the neighbors in the alleys informed the Gestapo, and they closed off the path in order to capture me. They did not succeed, for I did not leave home that day. Two days later, I could not overcome the “evil inclination”, and I once again went as before. Next to the storehouse, one Ukrainian stood and asked me, “Why are you coming here, Zhidovka?” I pretended not to hear, entered the washroom, and stood there for about half an hour, until the Ukrainian left. I opened up the storehouse, filled my pockets, and started to leave. Then something unexpected happened. Two young skotzim aged 12-13 ran after me and called: “Here comes Zhidovka. Gang, come to us.” Several other shkotzim joined them, and this entire procession ran after me calling: “Catch the Zhidovka, and we will immediately receive sugar and oil.” This was the reward that the Gestapo gave for snatching a Jew and giving him over to their hands. I started to run quickly through the gardens and orchards, hiding from the shkotzim. I finally came to a Christian woman called Pankolski who knew me well. When I went to her, she understood that I had come to hide, and she hid me. The shkotzim came to her as well to search for me and get what they wanted. However the Christian woman claimed that she did not see any person. They stood their ground, for they themselves saw the Zhidovka enter her house. They searched for me and did not find me. The shkotzim left the house and the Christian woman kept me until late at night. Then she went out first to see if it was safe to go out. After she was convinced that the path was clear she told me that I could now go. Furthermore she put many plums in a bag, and she put salted fish in my shawl. She took off the Magen David sign from my sleeve and dressed me in a white kerchief. Only then did she let me go. I went out though a narrow alleyway beside which stood next to the cross, and I returned to the ghetto. I threw the bag with food into the ghetto, and then went through the gate. I told my husband what had happened to me. My husband then took the key from me and ended the entire episode of bringing food from the storehouse. A few days later I went to Rinow Jablonowka, where a trustworthy Polish man lived. He lived in a nice villa which we rented every year, and spent a few weeks there with the children. My husband would visit us each week. I went through the fields, and I hid every time that I heard the sound of a wagon traveling or people walking. Finally, after great toil and fear of death, I reached the Pole.

The Pole was astonished to see me so pale, and he literally wept from grief. He crossed himself many times and got down on his knees: “What is happening here and what will the end be?” He swore that he had brought various food provisions several times to the Judenrat to send to me via the gate of the ghetto, and they refused to fulfil his request. His wife crossed herself, wept, and said that such a situation is impossible, and the human intellect cannot make peace with such a situation. Is it the desire of Heaven that the Jewish nation be wiped out, without any possibility of working against this? I sat there for two hours. Suddenly, powerful sounds of movement and confusion were heard, and through the confusion – Germans and Ukrainians. The Pole hastened outside to find out the cause of the uproar. It became clear that the Ukrainians had reported that there were Jews hiding in a pit in the forest. The hidden Jews heard the uproar and hid behind the leaves and branches so that they would not be noticed. Only 8 young people who were not able to escape were snatched as they were running. The murderers thought that this was all. The Gestapo tortured the captured people util death. The Pole did not allow me to leave all day, and I remained until the next day.

The next day he packed me some food, took me on a wagon, and hid me in the straw and haystacks. He took his mother and wife with him so as not to arouse suspicion – as if they were traveling to the fair. He drove his wagon until the ghetto fence not far from the gate. Then he threw the food and other provisions over the fence into the ghetto. He then set up a ladder for me made from the small ladders of the wagon. Thus was I saved once again. When I arrived home they all wept, for nobody thought that I was still alive. All of them swore that this would be the last time that they let me leave the ghetto. They decided that if we were to die, it would be best if we all died together.

I should add that the following people were also with us in the house: Mendel Abend and his daughter Rachel, Sani Shechter and his wife Rivka, my brother-in-law David Shourz and his wife Yachtzi (Janina) with their two children Sara and Shalom, my sister Liba Fink with her husband Leib and two children Yisrael and Aharon, Bergman with his wife, two sons and a daughter, the widow Milsztok with her son and daughter, my father-in-law Reb Moshe Shourz, my husband Yitzchak Shourz, I, my son Aharon and daughter Genia, Gittel Fink of Zawolow who today is my sister-in-law and lives in America, Broncha the daughter of Slova Fink, a sister of Shlomo Gluck whose name I do not remember, Pepi Altein who is the daughter of my eldest sister Chaya and her husband Hirsch, Rivka and Pepi Heller the two daughters of Leib and Roza Heller, Tovia Breines and his wife and sister, as well as his sister and sister-in-law (Kroner) whose child was strangled at our house. The boy wept for an hour when the Gestapo men were above. They searched, and someone strangled the child, without us knowing who. Also Weisman and her sister Doncha Rozman, Mrs. Margolis the wife of Peisi Margolis (the chief “trafficker”), the sister of Yisrael Silber with her two children, Abba Fish the son of Sima Fish, and her two grandchildren

[Page 184]

The Nazi Murderers Perpetuate their Victims

The murderers concerned themselves with publicizing their atrocities by issuing pamphlets denying their activities of torturing the Jewish “rebels”. Two of the photos speak for themselves. The German caption under the photo on the right states: “A Jewess armed as the leader of one of the gangs of murderers.”

  Judisches Flintenwelb als
Arfuhrerin gemeiner Mordbanditen

 

pod184c.jpg
 

[Page 185]

Aharon and Pepi the children of her eldest son Moti Fish, Mordechai Shapira and his sister, Slop and his entire family.

I must tell what happened to Mendel Abend and his daughter Rachele. After the Gestapo demanded the fulfillment of the quota that was set for taking out people to be killed, the Judenrat had permission to decide for itself the types of people who would be sent to be killed. First they took the handicapped, the lame and the elderly. Among the elderly was Mendel Abend, who lived with us and hid with us in the bunker so they could not find him. They searched for him for several weeks and could not find him. Finally they took his daughter Rachele as a hostage. There were other elderly people who hid with me, but they could not find hostages in their place. They demanded that the daughter of Mendel Abend reveal the hiding place of her father, or she would be liquidated in place of her father. The Judenrat issued a final warning to her next to the grave that was dug in the Podhajce cemetery. The Judenrat rounded up the people who were designated to be killed. Later the Gestapo men came, ordered them to strip and to place themselves in the graves. While this was happening, a member of the Judenrat entered our house and said that Rachele the daughter of Mendel is about to be killed if her father does not present himself. This became known to the girl's father. He wrapped himself in his tallis and tefillin, recited the confession (Vidui), and went to present himself to the Judenrein. When the girl saw her father, she started to weep bitterly, hugged him and did not let him approach the grave pit. However the Judenrat guard forcibly removed her from her father, and he was murdered before the eyes of his daughter. She requested that they also kill her, but the members of the guard took her from there to take her to her home, to the living grave.

All of the readers of this description should know that scenes such as this were our lot each day, and whoever did not see this with his eyes could live eternally. Our eyes were suffused with tears, and the source of our tears became dried out. Every one of us lived with the hope that the Dweller on High would let us die a natural death. After the event that I described, we thought that the murderers had reached their quota and that the situation would perhaps improve. However three days later we learned that the snatching of people had resumed. We quickly hid in the bunker, except for one person who remained above to close the bunker. We were all already below, except for my father-in-law and Sani Shechter who remained above. I went into a crevice filled with harichka seeds. In the meantime, the Gestapo men and the Ukrainians came to search the mill and the house. The Ukrainians suspected very strongly that there were Jews hidden there. As proof to this they found warm excrement that still exuded vapors. This was a definitive sign that Jews were hidden there a short time ago. They began to murderously torture my father-in-law and Sani Shechter so that they would reveal the hiding place. They responded that there was nobody there aside from them. They removed both of them from the house. Why did both of them remain above in the house? The reason was that Sani Shechter suffered from asthma and he coughed violently. He was afraid that they all might be exposed because of him. My father-in-law decided that he should not remain alone, so he remained as well. Both of them were loaded on a train to be taken to the crematoria of Auschwitz. The train cars were crowded as if they were transporting animals.

The train passed through Rudnik at a great speed. During this trip, Sani Shechter jumped from the train and hastened to run into the forest. My father-in-law jumped from the train a short time thereafter, and he continued on to the Rebbe of Premishlan. He remained there for one day. An aktion took place there the next day, and the Rebbe with his Hassidim, including my father-in-law, were taken out from there. We heard this news from the women Kestenblatt and Reiter who also jumped from the Premishlan train and returned home. Many people jumped from the trains. My father-in-law refused to jump again, or he did not want to part from the Rebbe. Sani Shechter returned to his home and lay in his bed very ill. He died a week later. His wife Rivka did what was possible for him, but there was no doctor in the city who could save him. Everyone was jealous that he was able to die in his bed. Before his death he said with a smile on his face, I laugh at the entire world for my children were saved.” He then recited Shema and gave up his soul. We all stood beside his bed, and brought him to a Jewish grave dressed in shrouds as is the Jewish custom.

After this news spread that the city of Podhajce is about to become Judenrein shortly. That is to say, that no Jews would be allowed to be in the city. The idea of suicide began to spread. We began to think how and from where we could obtain poison. Chaim Lehrer had obtained a large quantity of poison, and whoever was able to do so paid a hundred dollars for one dose. Apparently, 40 people purchased poison, and when the Gestapo guards came to take them from their homes, they poisoned themselves. These people lost their will to live and to struggle against the bitter and terrible fate, so they ended their lives. There was another group of people who were sick of fighting the angel of death every day, and they decided to end their lives. They gathered glowing coals and put them in the furnace. The smoke went up from there and they were asphyxiated. Approximately 20 people died this “easy” death, and everyone was jealous of these dead people.

I will now write a bit about Yisrael Silber who was the living spirit behind the idea of organizing resistance activity, of preparing defense cells in the forests with food supplies and kitchens with the help of the Subnotniks (Christians who observed the Sabbath on Saturday) who were great believers. They would provide the provisions and weapons in return for payment. The money would be gathered from

[Page 186]

people who registered with Yisrael and paid their dues to him. People also gave money to purchase weapons to resist the conquerors. There were already more than 100 men and women in the forest. There were no children, for it was difficult to bring them into the forest. In the forest they were waiting for the arrival of approximately 50 more people, who were late in coming one day. Yisrael Silber trained the men how to use the various weapons. The women also learned how to shoot. I should point out that in the forests there were various bunkers of Jews from the region of Zawalow, Roznkiche and several other cities. Each group made its own arrangements, and each communal head from those cities obtained weapons and food provisions. The Subotniks were the providers.

Now I will discuss the story of Yisrael Silber in the forest. The 50 latter people were late in coming by one day, and it was already impossible to go out. Various plans were hatched, but we did not succeed in taking the people out, aside from Silber's wife and children, and Leib Ritkis with his entire family, who still succeeded in getting to the forest. The rest of the people who remained with me in the bunker began to look for various ways to save themselves after the final ordinance was issued declaring the city Judenrein. A day before this, the police of the Judenrat took out men and women without children. The mothers put their children to sleep and gave them sleeping pills, as they fled dressed as men. They carried hoes and spades, saying that they were going to cover over the pits of the martyrs who were murdered. The 50 people who were supposed to go t0 Yisrael Silber in the forest tried to escape through any means, such as jumping out of the windows that faced the outside of the ghetto. However the guard surrounding the ghetto was very strong. The Nazis placed the vilest men around the ghettos, of which nobody could imagine a worse element than them. They were called by a variety of names: Kubans from Asian Russia, sadists, murderers and criminals of the worst kind. Their greatest pleasure was cutting out the tongue from a mouth and hanging it on the fence, cutting over the stomach, cutting off the male organ, and pulling out the eyes and the brains from the head. There are no words in the human language to describe their atrocities. Only a person with a heart of stone could write down the satanic descriptions of these acts. It was specifically these types of people, who rule the netherworld, who were brought to liquidate the ghetto of our city.

I myself ran to and fro all night, for we all had to present ourselves at 11:00 a.m. They attempted to mislead us by telling us that they were taking us to Tarnopol. Only about 600 Jews remained in the city. They told us that we could take with us belongings of up to five kilograms, valuables and food for four hours. However, we already knew their ruses, and nobody believed them. I ran to and fro searching for any crack or break in a window or fence through which I could flee with my family. I stood in a narrow lane in the alley where the house of Avraham Meizes was located. Zalman Katz approached and firmly pushed me from my place, shouting at me: “Are you perhaps thinking of jumping?” I answered him: “I also want to live, I am a mother of children, and I must save myself.” He answered me curtly, “You will not succeed at this.” I answered him, “I desire to live more than you.” I uttered these words with the hope that I would remain alive. Indeed, thus it was. I always remember these fateful words. Indeed, it was impossible to jump from that place, so we searched for a breach in different places. Many people attempted to jump from the ghetto but the Kubans caught them, and it is easy to imagine what they did with them, everything that was fitting to do to poor Jews who desired life…

I made great efforts to search for an exit from the ghetto. I attempted to find the desired place in another place, near the synagogue. I entered the home of the Lamper family near the “Kreniche”. He was a grain merchant. The windows of their house faced Sziroka Street. We found many desperate people there sitting on the floor as if reciting the dirges on Tisha BeAv, to the light of small candles. These were people who lost their will to leave, and bowed their heads to the bitter fate that was awaiting them. This image left a deep impression upon us. We were already considered to be brave people who continued with the struggle for life before giving up. We stood next to the windows, looking to and fro and around us. We first attempted to lower our boy Aharon through the window. My husband and I held him with out hands. Suddenly we heard a whistle from the murderers, as a sign that a victim was arriving. We quickly raised Aharon back to us and closed the window. No more than five minutes passed before they starting throwing stones at the windows. This possibility of saving ourselves was also thereby closed off, and we came to the conclusion that we might be murdered before we succeed in saving our lives. We left there and saw people running and wandering around, each one wary of the other. We saw that they were running to the Russian monastery, and we also ran in that direction. We attempted to transfer our son Aharon through the fence. We agreed among ourselves that he should search around to see if it was possible to continue on and flee in that manner. If the answer was positive, he was to knock three times with a stone, which would serve as a sign that we should also come. If the response was negative he should knock only once. After this he entered the Russian monastery. About a half an hour passed without hearing any sign from him. Only after a half an hour did he give one knock as a negative response. We suddenly heard the source of noise around the Russian monastery. Several people were snatched from there, and the Kubans all began to run in that same direction, like a cat after a mouse. In that panic, our son succeeded in stealing away and returning to us in the ghetto. We immediately went to Binyamin Shochet and asked him what he thinks we should do. His answer was that they too had a place but they were too late, and they were also full of despair. From there we

[Page 187]

went to Rivka Teiner, who told us that she decided not to go anywhere. She wanted to return to the bunker, for she could not stand up to the hard struggle for she has lost all of her energy. From there I went to my nieces Sheva and Golda Fuchs (the children of Mordechai and Gittel Fuchs), and found them dead. They poisoned themselves with burning coals. The windows and doors were sealed with rags. From there I went to my sister Chaya Altein, and when I entered her house I saw a frightful scene. I literally wallowed through blood. The house was full of corpses. Emil Zelemeier and his wife Dvora (the daughter of Moshe and Breina Altein) lay dead in one bed. I also found my sister Chaya Altein with her daughter Salka and son Moshe. Salka Altein attempted to flee through the fence. However the murderers caught her as she was fleeing, and she remained hanging from the fence. There were approximately 30 more corpses in the yard. The entire yard looked like a slaughterhouse. From there I returned home with my husband, and we found people who went out to bury the dead – that is to say they were sent for that purpose by the Judenrat. We returned to our house in despair, despairing of any futile effort to save our lives.

As I mentioned above, Tuvia Breines, his wife Anna and sister Salka, today living in Lvov, lived with us, as well as Risia and her husband. I saw that they were preparing themselves and packing their belongings. I asked them to explain the situation, and what they were intending to do. They said that they were going to attempt to go out to bury the dead with spades, and perhaps they would find in this manner the opportunity to flee to the places that they had prepared for themselves. I asked my husband to also go to the Judenrat to see if he could also save himself and our son. My daughter and I would at least remain with the hope and faith that some of us would remain alive. My husband divided the money that we still had into four portions. Each of us hung our portion around our necks, and we all agreed that any of who remain alive would go to the “Kaplicza” on the hill.

Thus did we part from each other. My husband and son took spades and hoes in their hands, and set out for the Judenrat. They were forced to pay an advance of 50 dollars each, and in return for this they received passes to leave the ghetto and bury the dead in the holy cemetery. After they paid, they set out on their way, and I remained in the kitchen. Suddenly I felt myself overcome with sadness and emptiness. My innards trembled, my teeth clattered in my mouth and I began to shout, “Geniale, hurry and get your father back, for I cannot continue on.” He was everything to me, and I felt like nothing without him. Everything that he said to me was holy in my eyes, and with him I had some value, more or less. I began to scream to myself, “What did I do, why did I send him, what am I without him?” My daughter Genia was perplexed from my state. She hastened to the gate of the ghetto and began to shout “Father”. My husband, who was holding the spade over his shoulder, and Aharon heard Genia's screaming. My husband ran back to the gate of the Ghetto along with Aharon, and Genia shouted to them, “Father, return home, mother is screaming bitterly. Something happened to her.” My father and son returned, opened the gate of the ghetto, and returned to their home. As soon as I saw them I was again overcome by an attack of sadness. I hurried to him, hugged and kissed him, and did not let him go. Later, when my state improved somewhat, I asked him to forgive me for calling him back with our son. He answered that he never thought that he would save himself without me. It was I who forced him to do this, and his sole desire was to save the boy alone, without paying attention to us adults. We sat together and could not look at each other. Our eyes were lowered to the ground. I asked my husband to listen to me this time, just as he listened to me throughout all the years. He extended his hand and said that he would do whatever I asked of him. My husband and I, our son and daughter hugged each other with great love, so that the four of us were one unit. I told my husband that when I was a young girl, I was once in the Christian cemetery and saw a family grave in which the grandfather and grandmother were resting, with room for the rest of the family. I liked this idea, and I said that whatever should happen to us should be together. It is best that we enter the bunker, where we would either remain alive together or die together. If we were to die, we would leave a note on the wall: “Here lies the Shourz family”, and we would write our names.

As we were hugging each other and attached to each other, my mother of blessed memory arrived and found us in this state. She asked us what we had decided to do. I answered that we had decided that we would stay in our bunker, and what would be would be, whether for life or for death. I told my mother that after we had decided that my husband an our son would go to bury the dead in the cemetery, and they paid the required sum and went with their spades to the place, I changed my mind and asked them to return at the last minute, and here they are before you. My mother said that I had done well, and she parted from us as we all wept bitterly.

In the meantime, the possibilities for salvation increased somewhat. My sister Liba and brother-in-law Leib Fink came to me, as well as my husband's brother David Shourz and sister-in-law Wonka with her children, and asked us what we intended to do. My husband answered that he decided to do anything that his wife said, and told them what we intended to do. I must inform you here that there was practically no hope or chance of the situation improving, but it seemed to me as if someone was whispering in my ear what to do and how to do it. This was a kind of push from my soul and a command of the hour to act in accordance with hidden forces. My husband explained to everyone present that Henia said that the claim that we were to be transferred to the Jewish ghetto in Tarnopol was nothing but a Nazi lie and ploy. My husband asked his brother and all present to prepare for themselves

[Page 188]

provisions for food and smoking. He did not suffice himself with those who were with him, but he ran to two of his closest friends in order to bring them to us. These were Ala and Anchia Weisman, and Rivla and Wilosh Lerer. However he was too late. It became clear that just as we had desired the previous night to escape by jumping outside through the windows or the fence, approximately 200 other men and women did so, and the Kubans murdered them all through all sorts of terrible tortures, and many of them committed suicide with their families. Those who returned told us in the ghetto what had transpired. They noted publicly that I, the wise Henia was the most intelligent, and my advice was the most correct. However, none of those present were initiators of any actions of salvation. I was an initiator, and I started taking anything that was possible into the bunker. The neighbors closest to us who remained alive asked me what we intend to do, and I told them that we are not going anywhere, but rather remaining in our place. They all went down with us to the cellar until it was full. We only had to beware of the Judenrat and its assistants.

In the meantime, an unexpected event happened. The adage states, “The walls have ears” and thanks to this the following people came to us: Sima Weisman and her sister Danchia; Aba, Fishel Aharon my neighbors; the Margoles family with their children who were the owners of the first tobacco store in Podhajce, she was also the sister of Yisrael Silber and she also had a place prepared in the forest with her brother; Izak Fink; Gittel and Breincha Fink; and Rivka and Pepi Heller. I myself did not know how word spread to these people that we had decided to remain, aside from those who lived with us whom we told. We brought in all those who turned to us, on the condition that there would be no more chance of “return”, for anyone who would want to leave later would be liable to bring a disaster upon all of us. All of us who entered the bunker decided to die in the bunker and not to submit under any circumstances to the cruel murderers. All were forced to sign and to obligate themselves not to leave, even if someone would die with us or would be dying. I already mentioned the names of those who were with us in the bunker, aside from the names that I have just mentioned. There were a total of more than 50 men and women.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Henia is the author herself. Return

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