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[Page 245]

Hellish Experiences in the Radzyn Ghetto

Sarah Bashe Voyazsher (Paris)

The ghetto in Radzyn was set up in the summer of 1940. The Jewish population was separated from the non-Jews. Jewish police patrolled the boundary line so that Jews could not leave the Jewish quarter and enter the non-Jewish one. The main streets of the city, Ostrowieka, Pilsuckiego (formerly Warszawa) were reserved for non-Jews. The Jewish businesses on these main streets were taken over by non-Jews.

Right from the very beginning the Germans demanded that the Jews contribute large sums of money and it followed that only the wealthy could remain residents. Therefore there were many expulsions because of the Jews not being able to come forth with the sums that the Yudenrat continuously demanded of them.

The first such expulsion was to Mezritsh. Later they also sent Jews to Slovatich. My husband, my six year old daughter and I were in this last group.

On the first night after our arrival in Slovatich we slept outside. Only on the next morning the local Yudenrat gave us one small room for a number of families. This is the way we lived there, approximately ten families, in terribly poor conditions. The women did laundry for the local residents and the men chopped wood or did other physically difficult work. The Germans came to investigate the sanitary conditions and at the same time beat us mercilessly.

During our presence in Slovatich the Germans shot forty Jews, three of them from Radzyn: Mordecai Neiman and his son-in-law and Yitzchak Shpivak. My husband was fortunate that time in not being among those who were shot. When an S.S. man came to arrest him, my six year old daughter stood up and begged him not to take her father away. The child kissed the German's hands and said: “My father works very hard for the Germans. Look how sore his hands are from the work. I beg you do not take my father away.” A miracle happened, the S.S. man left and my husband meanwhile remained alive.

When my parents in Radzyn found out about the murder of the forty people, they went to Dovid Lichtenstein and asked that he get permission from the Germans for us to return to Radzyn. He demanded a thousand Zlotys. My father managed to bargain him down to five hundred and we returned to settle in Radzyn.

After being in Radzyn for a short time, they arrested my father and my uncle, both of them tailors, because they found two dyed Polish Army overcoats that had been given to them by Poles for remodeling. They were sentenced to death by shooting. This time, I went to Dovid Lichtenstein and begged and pleaded with him. So we went together to the commander and I proved to him, by written documents, that the coats had been given to them by non Jews for remodeling into civilian overcoats. Thus, through great effort, I succeeded in having them released. The death sentence was replaced by a sentence of twenty five lashes. However, they were so badly beaten that that they had to stay in bed for two months.

Every night the Germans would visit Jewish homes and brutally beat the inhabitants. At that time I was living with Moishe Idelman who was taken out every night, and beaten mercilessly. One time my uncle Yaakov Leib Krein was dragged out of his house, beaten cruelly and had half of his beard torn off. They threw him down into the mud and trampled over him with their feet. That's the way life went…

In the fall of 1942, at the time of Succoth, the Germans posted an announcement in the streets that on a certain date all the residents must gather by the synagogue where a head count would take place. A terrible fear overcame the Jews. They understood that this was the end of everyone. The women wailed and quietly wrung their hands. Some Jews went to the Yudenrat and asked what could be done? Maybe they should try to run away? The Yudenrat replied that that they should all gather at the designated place and not be worried as no harm would come to them. The Germans just want to determine the number of ration cards they have to distribute.

At the appointed hour all the Jews gathered by the synagogue. The majorities were shipped off to Mezritsh and from there, on the next morning, were sent to the Treblinka death camp.

Only 320 Jews, who worked for the Germans in different jobs, were left in Radzyn. Among them were my husband, my two children and I. However, among those that were sent away were my parents. My mother with my youngest sister, Golda, came back to Radzyn, secretly, after they jumped off the train that was transporting them from Mezritsh to Treblinka. We had to hide them so that the Yudenrat would not find them.

Approximately three months later, the rest of the Jews were transferred to Mezritsh with the exception of thirty-five of them led by Dovid Lichtenstein. Seeing that there was no hope left, I went to a non-Jewish woman on Kasharan (St.?) to hide out. She agreed to my offer to bring her all my possessions, which I did, since I had no alternative. This was to be the last chance to save myself. After being with these non-Jews for one day, the children came down with the measles and she threw us out of the house. We went back “home.” When we got back to Kazsheh Street, I saw many Jews, who had been shot, lying in the street. I then went to Dovid Lichtenstein and pleaded with him to give us chance to go to Mezritsh. By great effort we arrived in Mezritsh where a new hell awaited us.

In Mezritsh they put twenty of us Jews together in a room without any facilities, without bread and without the minimum necessary to exist. Then the Germans took us to work again. Everyday they came into the fenced-in ghetto and took out groups to work at different tasks. After being in the ghetto for few a months, a typhus epidemic broke out. Many people died including my youngest child.

On the 30th of April 1943 the ghetto was surrounded by German gendarmes armed with machine guns. The Jews tried to explain this by the fact that the next day was the First of May. However, a good friend of mine, a Jewish policeman, told me, secretly, that I should go home and hide because tomorrow there will be an expulsion. My husband did not want to believe this. He gave our child up to me in the attic in which we were hiding, but he himself did not attempt to hide. He was shot immediately in the market place. The attic in which we were hiding was also fired upon and a Radzyner, Moishe Zoiberman got a bullet in his side. Our hiding place was revealed by his screams. On May 2 some eighty of us from Radzyn and Mezritsh were sent off, some to Treblinka and the rest to Mydanek. My daughter and I were sent to Mydanek.

In Mydanek I met many Radzyners who had been sent there some time ago on earlier transports. They were: Yitzchak Heiblumzil and Beryl Koptshak, Simcha Berchat, Meir Steinberg's two daughters, Pesach Rutberg, Dobeh Rosenboim, Velvel Vishkovski and others whose names I do not remember anymore. Yitzchak Heiblume worked in a soap warehouse and would help all us Radzyners with everything possible. Itzl and Beryl Kaptshock, who worked in a kitchen, brought us food.

On the first day they showed us pictures of mothers together with their children. This gave us the impression that they do not annihilate children. My child bent down and told me that five minutes before her death she would still like to see her father. On that very same day, my dear eight and a half year old daughter, Miriam, was taken away to the gas chamber to be killed.


[Pages 249-263]

Five Years in The Abyss

(The Experiences of a Radzyner)

Sarah Ashman Zaltzstein (Haifa)

The Beginning

Hitler's attack on Poland on the 1st of September 1939 found me in Siedlce where I was working in a cousin's business. Already from the first days of the bloody war, Siedlce got its fair share of bombs from the German Air Force and of course there was no shortage of casualties. Especially horrible were the bombings on the 7th and 8th day after the outbreak of the war. All day, almost without interruption, they murdered the civilian population and set their houses on fire in the most brutal way. Then, almost all of the Jewish population of Siedlce fled to Lositch and to Mard, towns that were near Siedlce. Of course, I too fled with all the rest. But unfortunately, German planes sowed death and destruction there too. By a miracle we, a group of Jews from Siedlce, succeeded to get out alive from there and flee to a neighboring village when it got dark in the evening. A few days later I went back from the village to Siedlce, where the bombing had meanwhile stopped with the idea of going back to Radzyn. When I got to Lukow, I met the Red Army, but they announced that they were pulling back to Brisk and whoever wished could go with them. I, however, had meanwhile decided to go to Radzyn to see my parents.

When I arrived in Radzyn there was no authority there except for a civil militia with white armbands. Only a few days later S.S. personnel arrived and began their bestial pranks. First they set up a Yudenrat whose task was to send the Jews to Levertov and to Parchew thereby making Radzyn ”Yudenrein” (Clean of Jews). Of course the Jews who had money bought their way out and those that did not have the means were transported by wagon. Along the way they were robbed of their last coins.

Sometime later many Jews stole their way back to into Radzyn. I, too, being in Parchew would often come to Radzyn with some produce. In those days the Germans in Radzyn decreed that the Jews leave the main streets and move to back streets such as Kotlarski, Kazshe and adjoining area. In this way a real ghetto was created.

Aktzia (The Campaign)

In Parchew, too, where I was living with my sister and brother-in-law there were tense and difficult days. The frequent deportations and requisitioning as well as the fear of being shot, threatened constantly. Therefore, we started thinking about preparing a hiding place. We decided to make it at my sister Devora's house. We moved away the bed and ripped up two planks from the floor. We cut the boards in half with a saw and made a small door that opened inward so that it would not be recognizable from the outside. We dug a not too large hole, covered it on top with the boards and moved the bed over it.

The frightful day of the “Aktzia” arrived. It was on the morning of a summer day in August of 1942 when the town was still asleep that the crackling of heavy gunfire awakened us. We immediately understood that something terrible was taking place. I went out near the house and saw that a few houses further away a tall Jew had been shot and lay dead by his house. I went back into the house and told this to my brother-in-law and sister, and we immediately went down into our hiding place. In that small hole there was not even enough room for even one person to sit down. But in this terrible situation we lay, all three of us, squeezed together for two horrible days and even partly managed to perform our human functions. Above us we could hear the coming and going of people in the house. They were searching for Jews and plundering. At night, as soon as we heard that everything was quiet around us, we opened the door of this living tomb, and I went out alone to inspect what had happened, figuring that if I was captured at least they would remain alive.

Outside, it was a dark, starry summer night. All around there was silence like in a graveyard without any sign of human presence causing terrible fear. I convinced myself that now there was no danger and went back into the house and called to my sister and my brother-in-law to come out and straighten out their limbs and perform their human functions. We washed up a bit as we were very dirty and then decided to go back down to our hiding place and wait for the following morning.

As we later found out, the plan of the Germans was as follows: On the first day they surrounded the town and under heavy gun fire, they began abducting Jews and transporting them to Treblinka for annihilation. After that, when they reached the required quota of people, they began to collect up the belongings from the houses. That is why they came into our house. As we lay hidden in our hole we heard them come into our house, collect up belongings and begin carrying them out to load them onto the wagons. While they were searching for the goods, they moved the bed aside and noticed the slits in the floor boards. They immediately understood that there was a hiding place here and ordered us to come out or they would throw in a hand grenade. Deathly scared, we climbed out of the hole and following their instructions went outside to the front of the house. A Volksdeutche (ethnic Germans who lived in Poland and formed units that helped the Germans.) drew out his pistol, aimed it at us and declared that now he would shoot us. My sister, Devora, began weeping loudly and asked the bandit that if he wanted to shoot us he should start with her and her husband and save my life, because I was young, only sixteen years old and healthy and could still work. A miracle happened! The German returned his pistol to its holster and ordered us to go get washed up since we were terribly dirty. He sent my brother in-law off to work and let the two of us go free. After that, we could move around more freely, because after a campaign there was usually a respite even though the Germans would occasionally arrest Jews and, without rhyme or reason, shoot them. We then started thinking about a safer hiding place, because we understood that another Aktzia would take place and hundreds of Jews would be sent to Treblinka to be executed. We then went up on the roof, made a double wall and prepared a hiding place.

The day of the new Aktzia arrived and it fell on Simchat Torah. We immediately hid out on the roof in the prepared hiding place and lay there for a number of days until they dispatched the transport of arrested people. We then found out that Parchew and the surrounding town must be made “Yudenrein” and that a ghetto would be established in Mezritsh for the Jews of the whole vicinity. The Germans announced that anyone who surrendered on his own accord would be sent to Mezritsh and anyone who would be found hiding out would be shot on the spot. We then left our hiding place on our own accord and were sent off to the ghetto in Mezritsh.

In Mezritsh

In Mezritsh we were packed into the synagogue like chickens and locked up together with the newly arrived Jews from Radzyn. Members of the Jewish Police together with some armed Germans guarded us. We had to perform our bodily functions on the spot. The dirt and the lice were unbearable. When you wanted a drink of water, you let down a pot with a sizeable sum of money in it through the bars of the windows of the women's synagogue. Then you would get back some water. Once each day the Germans opened the door and a long line formed. They would hand out small pieces of bread and some water. Of course the crowding was terrible, and the Germans then 'restored order' by shooting a few Jews every time.

One day, while I was searching among the hundreds of Jews that I knew, I found my father to my great joy. We fell into each others arms and wept like children. He took me in his arms the way one takes a small child and with fitful sobbing said: “My dear child, look under what circumstances we meet. Instead of leading you to the bridal canopy, I am a leading you to death!” I then answered: ”If there is a God in this world how does he allow his Chosen People to be murdered so brutally?” His answer was: ”if that is his desire then that it is the way it has to be and it is forbidden to argue against it”.

On the following morning they took all of us out of the synagogue and lined us up men and women separately and began preparing for our final transport to Treblinka. I tried to look for my sister Devora, who had just arrived from Radzyn, in the women's line. It turned out that she was just a few rows away from me. I then moved in her direction but I got a strong whack on my head from a whip, and I immediately lost consciousness. Then with my last bit of strength I managed to get to my sister Devora and stood near her. From the distance, I saw my father, for the last time standing in the men's line. However, he could not see us.

An order was given to march to the train station where freight cars were already waiting. They started loading us into them. I made an effort to find a place near one of the small windows so that I might be able to jump off the train. I decided that, come what may, I would never go alive to Treblinka! I was not the only one in the freight car who thought so, however, not everyone was lucky enough to be standing near a window.

In The Death Wagon

The freight car was crammed with women like herrings in a barrel and was closed hermetically. Those who were further away from the window choked to death slowly and were trampled on like rags. We, the fortunate ones who were near the window, (near me there was, in addition to my sister Devora, Zalman Mechlis' grandchildren, Yosefa with her sisters) collected on the palms of our hands every drop of moisture that ran down from the ceiling to moisten our lips. I was lucky that Yosefa's sister, Devora, had a small piece of a lemon which she allowed me to lick occasionally. When that gave out, we used our own urine to quench our thirst. We did not have any pot so we just put our hands underneath and made use of it that way.

Occasionally, when the train stopped along the way, the Germans would promise us a drink of water in return for money or gold. They would take the money but not give us any water.

When the train got near to Treblinka, we instinctively felt that our end was drawing near, and we had to do something. My desire was not so much to remain alive, knowing that everyplace was Yudenrein and there was nowhere to flee to, but at least to drink a lot of water before death. I began to prepare to jump from the train. I thought: If I get killed I won't need anything anyway. On the other hand, if I remain alive and the Germans capture me, I will ask them that before I die they should give me some water to drink.

I Jump From The Train

My sister Devora asked that she jump first and if she got killed I should jump differently. My dear sister Devora, in the last minutes of her life, she was only worried for my sake! I had already decided to jump. I dragged myself up to the small window. My sister and Yosefa Rubinstein pushed me up and when the train was traveling fast, about three kilometers before Treblinka, I jumped out. I immediately became unconscious.

I was awakened by the echo of a shot. I looked around and instinctively began to inspect my hands and feet to see if they had been injured. I was all in one piece. I also saw that I was lying on an embankment of sand. That was the reason that I had remained all in one piece. It was on a night in December of 1942 that I awakened, just as the morning dawned. In the distance I noticed shape of a small house with a well in the yard. My desire was that no matter what happened, I would be able to drink a lot of water. Immediately, I headed for the well, but I did not find a bucket and the trough was empty. There was not a drop of water anywhere, as if the only solution was to jump into the well. I went further and noticed a small place surrounded by a wire fence where water flowed from a small well. Quickly I threw myself on the ground, lifted up the bottom wire, crawled inside and threw myself on the water and drank until I ran out of breath. Right after that I heard the voices of a gang of drunken Ukrainians getting closer. I noticed that they were riding on a cart in the direction of Treblinka most likely to celebrate the arrival of the latest transport of Jews from Radzyn, Mezritsh and vicinity. I crawled quickly, under a tree with my head pushed deeply inside so that I would not see when they open fire on me. However, they drove by without noticing me, and I went quickly in the direction of the closest Jewish village Kosov-Telaki.

On the way, by the edge of the forest stood a small house in which a poor peasant lived with his family. I went in, and in return for money, got something to eat. They also allowed me to spend the night hidden in the stable and the morning to hide in the hay. They would not allow me to stay longer because, as they told me, they were afraid of the Ukrainians that visit there often. From them, I found out that there was still a Jewish ghetto in Kosov, so I started for there. I stole though the barbed wire fence into the Jewish ghetto. There I met many Jews who had jumped from the trains. Since Kosov was not far from Treblinka we understood that the Germans would not wait long to liquidate it. So a group of us Jews went through Sokolov to Siedlce.

We reached Siedlce safely and stole into the Jewish ghetto which consisted of … one house. After spending a few days there, we went back to the Mezritsh ghetto. From there, a group of us decided to go Vohin so that we could get into the Parchew forest to join the Partisans who were there. In Vohin I met Leibel Schtzupak with his wife and children and also his sister Golda and her husband. All of us decided to go into the forest. However, we did not manage to do so because of the beginning of an Aktzia, so we ran back to Vohin where we were cursed and were all sent to the ghetto in Mezritsh again.

In Mezritsh Again

On the way I took sick with typhus. When we arrived in Mezritsh I, was left to sleep in the street with my sickness. The next morning my cousin from Mezritsh, Avraham Zaltstein, happened to pass by. I made as if did not see him but he stopped immediately and was very happy to see me and took me along to his home.”What I will eat you will eat” he said. But I could not take anything into my mouth with the exception of a little water and saccharin, because I already had a high fever. My cousin did not want to put me into any hospital because there the Germans would shoot anyone sick with typhus. He and the others around him were insistent so I spent the whole period of my sickness with him.

In those days many Radzyners were shot, including my cousin Golda Zshita .Under different circumstances, my cousin, Zaltzstein, was also shot. When the Germans discovered a hiding place they started leading the group from there to the cemetery where they intended to execute them. My cousin grabbed hold of an ax, and with all his might, hit an S.S. man laying him out on the spot. Of course, a bullet fired by another German bandit put an end to my cousin's life. May his memory be honored!

The next day the Germans continued their search and declared that anyone who gave himself up would be sent to Mydanek. With that transport I, too, went there. While passing through Lublin, a large number of Radzyners came up to our train. They asked about us and seeing who we were, they gave us bread. Even while being in this transport, we began to make plans to escape. We began cutting an opening in the barred widows. However the Germans, at a certain station noticed this and with a few shots from inside put an end to our plan before we arrived in Mydanek.

In Mydanek

As we passed through the place on foot from the train station, we saw large pits and we thought that this is our end. But what happened was a little different. First the Germans carried out a selection in the place where we were gathered, men and women were separated and so were the young and the old. I was chosen to be part of a group of young girls who were to go to work.

We worked very hard dragging stones to build new crematoria so that they could cremate Jews in Mydanek. Selections took place often among us inmates. If they found anyone who had any sort of weakness, or even any sort of a rash on their body, they were immediately executed. On our first night in Mydanek we experienced the worst: all the men, women and children who were designated as not being fit to work were immediately put to death in the gas chamber and those left over were shot to death. In our barrack that housed young women and girls, no one slept that night. When we heard the terrible screaming of the victims, we began running from fear and pushed through the doors and windows. However the Germans, by the threat of shooting at us, pushed us back inside. Half way through the night, when the screaming gradually died down, we fell asleep exhausted. In the early morning when we woke up, we saw a horrible sight in our barrack. The bodies of two young girls, who had put an end to their lives, were hanging in two of the windows.

In Auschwitz

I have already mentioned the many selections that took place by us. The weak stayed in Mydanek to be annihilated and the healthy were sent on to Auschwitz I was among those that were sent away. It was in the middle of the summer of 1943 when I arrived there. The first thing they did was to cut off our hair, housed us in separate barracks and gave us clothes When I asked that they give me a dress to fit me better, I got the first slap in the face from the oldest inmates and my face swelled up immediately. Our first job was to tear out the overgrown grass in the fishponds. It seems that the grass interfered with the development of the fish. We would go into the water up to our necks and many of us became sick with malaria. The Jewish girls from Greece suffered the most from this. They died in great numbers. Every day we carried dead bodies back from work. Only when the size of our group became very small, did they move us to another place.

I will never ever forget that place. It was Bashezinke, one of the quarters of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in which the crematoria were located. We lived in a barrack that was located a few meters away. Our job was to sort out the clothing of those who arrived on the transports and had been gassed and cremated. We had to stay inside and keep the windows closed when each new transport arrived so that we would not see the people going by to be exterminated. We would stand and look out through the cracks and saw horrible things that I don't have the strength to describe.

Once I saw a transport of Jews from Hungary that included many children. Two pretty little girls of about four and eight passed by our barrack that had flowers growing around it. They tore out two of them and sniffed them childishly. These little girls did not know that this was their last step on their way to the gas chamber.

The gassing was dreadful. The cries and lamentation of the choking gassed victims reached us. At first they were very loud, later they became less audible and little by little they stopped completely. Even today I think that I still hear those cries. They have followed me all my life and it is impossible to forget for one minute those gruesome days, weeks and years.

The nights were especially terrible. Oh! Those terrible nights in those barracks opposite the crematorium in Auschwitz! Where is the writer who can describe that awful hellish nightmare? Who can describe with his pen those horrible scenes? Anyhow, my pen is too poor for that.

Midnight! Everything is quiet and dark all around us. Through the small window in the toilet of our barrack I now see the smoking chimneys that are working at full steam. Together with the thick smoke, sparks fly from the singed corpses. The entire killing machinery of Auschwitz is now operating under full steam. In every spark I hear the last cry of a near one, of my mother and father, my sister and brother.

I tear myself away from the spot and run outside. A few hundred meters away I see another horrible scene. Huge flames flare up from big pits and one can see in the light from the flames how people carrying dead bodies and throwing them into pits. Those are bodies that the crematoria could not consume. The stench from the scorched bodies is unbearable. These scenes repeated themselves month after month.

The Resistance

It is interesting that in this midst of this gigantic death machine there existed and underground movement preparing for armed resistance. There was a Jewish girl from Tshechanov by the name of Ruzshke in the department that sorted the clothing of those who had been murdered. In utmost secrecy, she received arms from a Jewish girl from Warsaw who stole them from an arms factory in which she worked located in the concentration camp. Ruzshke would hide the arms under the tremendous piles of clothing. However, the Germans discovered them and the Gestapo interrogated them, using the most ruthless inquisitorial methods. However, they did not succeed to get a word out of the two girls. They then decided to hang them in public. They drove out all the inmates to the execution site so that everyone would see and be terrified. Meanwhile the Nazis observed everyone to see if anyone tried to make contact with the girls and in this way add to their list of candidates for hanging. The two Jewish girls, with heads held high and without betraying anyone, marched proudly to the gallows shouting “Zemsta!” (revenge) and breathed out their holy souls. For a whole day and night the murderers did not allow their bodies to be taken down. This happened at the end of 1944.

The Beginning of the End

At the beginning of 1945 there were frequent over flights by Allied planes. The Red Army got closer rapidly. The Germans begin to liquidate the death camps and prepare to move us to Germany. Our long march on foot to Germany began. In the winter of 1945 we are driven day and night on foot in the snow and freezing cold. Those that became exhausted and fell behind were shot on the spot. Now our desire to survive became stronger. We could already see the vision of the approaching liberation. Allied planes often flew over the route of our march. Then the ”brave” Germans would mix in among us and throw down their weapons. We waved to the pilots. They did not bomb us. They obviously knew who we were.

We arrived in Ravensbruck. Here, we, a couple of thousand concentration camp designates were driven into a large roofless barracks filled with snow and filth. Hungry and tired, we were squeezed together. Infrequently, they would throw in a small portion of bread to us. However, this created such a crush of inmates that that we were almost asphyxiated. In the evening we stole raw cabbage in the vicinity and got severe beatings. After a few weeks in Ravensbruck, they took us in closed wagons to Malchow (Concentration Camp). As we passed through German cities while they were being bombarded we were also hit and had a number of casualties. From Malchow we went to Leipzig.

From Leipzig we began the painful trek on foot on the accursed German soil. During the day, we hid out in the caves because of the frequent bombardments, and at night we would march. The discipline gradually became looser as the Germans already saw their approaching downfall. The SS. men gradually ran away and were replaced by ordinary Reichswehr soldiers who accompanied us. Then it happened that many different and large groups would break off from us and go free. That is the way that I and ten other Jewish girls got free.

We went into a yard in a certain German village. On the garbage bin we found a piece of dried out bread which we grabbed and hid. We went into a German house. We met two Russian women who were working there. They promised to provide us with food and also arranged a place for us to sleep in the attic where there was straw. When the owner of the house went out to the fields they would cook potatoes and give them to us to eat.

After a short time in the village we found out from one of the two Russian women that the American army had already entered a nearby city called Ashof. We went there immediately. In that town there was a concentration camp. We went in and saw that the place was teeming with dead, some of whom had just died after the liberation. America and Polish military police stood near the food supply stations and distributed food and chocolate to the former inmates.

Thus the longed-for day of liberation for which we had waited for five years, enduring pain and suffering, had finally arrived.


[Pages 264-270]

The Struggle For Survival

(As told by Liber Farbiash)

When the Germans proceeded to liquidate and exterminate the Jews from the cities and towns of Poland, I was, together with other Radzyners, in the Mezritsh Ghetto to which we had been driven from Radzyn. Together with hundreds of other Jews, we were transported to the train. There we were shoved, approximately one hundred people into a car that was covered with lime to make breathing more difficult. The crowding was unbearable. About seventy Jews died immediately from asphyxiation. The living tread on them and also on those that were still partly alive who could still breathe a bit but could not speak up. They would howl like animals or would pinch the legs of those standing on them. This was the way they expressed their desire for help. In order to calm their thirst they would wet one another's' lips with urine and that made them only thirstier.

The train moved along very quickly. At my feet lay my suffocated dead mother and my seven and four year old brothers. The living knew that they were being transported to the death camp Treblinka, so many Jews began to jump from the moving train, preferring to find their death under the wheels. I, too, jumped but as fate would have it, I would remain alive. This took place near Siedlce at midnight. On the way, I met Jews from Mezritsh, and we decided run back to the Mezritsh Ghetto. Along the way we saw many dead Jews who had been cut apart by the train wheels. With inhuman speed we managed to get back to Mezritsh before sunrise.

When we arrived in the ghetto, I went immediately to our flat. There I met my father who was all alone. When he asked: “Where are mother and the children?” I broke out into a mournful lament. Both of us wept for our nearest and dearest.

The Jews began to prepare bunkers in which to hide in case another cursed Aktzia took place. At the same time they began to bring new transports of Jews from the vicinity. A lot of Jews arrived from Radzyn among whom I found Moshe Edelman with a son and two daughters. I took the children into my bunker where we remained hidden for a number of nights. A few days later, when the arrests of the Jews ceased, we went out of the bunker. Eidelman's children, too, went back to their parents. But exactly on that same day the second Aktzia took place. During that Aktzia Eidelman's wife and children went to the woods near the city. On their way there they were all shot.

During the third Aktzia the Germans discovered my bunker. We were seven Jews in the bunker including my father. We were moved to the Beit Midrash where the Jews were rounded up before being transferred to the concentration camps. My father decided that by no means would he go to the concentration camp, preferring to die in this place. Two days later the Beit Midrash was surrounded by a unit of the military police, S.S. troops and Polish police. An order was given to leave the Beit Midrash. While leaving the place my father threw himself onto one of the S.S. men and began choking him. I went to help my father. Military Police tore me away from him but I managed to see my father lying on the S.S. man and choking him with all his might. My father was killed by a bullet to his head.

___*___

We were led off to the barracks that were located on the sands on the way to Radzyn. There they would undress everyone and search them to make sure that they did not have any money, gold, or arms. Then they would transfer them to the railroad yard.

On the same day, more Jews were brought from Radzyn and I met Shlomo Migdal and Shlomo Lozer Fleiss. Shlomo Migdal asked me that if I survive and meet his daughter, I should tell her the place where he had hidden some money. The old Fleiss just stood there and cried like a small child because he had not had the honor of dying in his own bed. We all stood there as if we had been condemned to death.

In the evening we were led to the train and from there to Treblinka. I was in the same car with Migdal and Fleiss. I had decided to jump again from the train and asked them to join me. They, however, refused. They said good- bye to me and wished me success and that should I survive I should tell about these depressing times.

I did jump off. I lay on the ground with my eyes closed listening to the clatter of the wheels. When the train passed by I opened my eyes and saw that I was lying near a forest. I went in and slept for the whole night. In the morning I realized that I was not far from Siedlce. As I went further in to the forest I met seven Russian partisans armed with rifles. They told me that at night they would free the thirty thousand Russian prisoners being held not far from Siedlce. This seemed unbelievable to me. How could seven people armed only with rifles free such a large number of people? All day I thought that maybe it was only a joke and they were testing me to see if I was not a spy. However, when night fell, I saw that they were making all the preparations for starting out. They did not have a gun for me, but they ordered me to do as follows: When they started shooting at the guard towers I should begin shouting loudly so as to make a commotion. I of course, agreed.

At about ten o'clock that night, we went out of the deep forest and moved by different routes to the vicinity of the camp. The night was very dark and around twelve o'clock we were close to the camp. The searchlights on the towers lit up all the surrounding area. However, we managed to get up close to the barbed wire fence. The plan was to shoot the guards and free the prisoners. One of the partisans gave an order and suddenly shooting broke out. I heard a heavy load fall from the tower. It was like the sound made by a tree when it is cut down. My heart was filled with joy. Suddenly the Germans on the towers turned the projectors in our direction and opened heavy machine-gun fire in our direction. Two of us fell dead and the rest of us went back into the forest. That night we did not sleep, being under the influence of what had happened and expecting a German visit. The partisans went away at midnight to find food for themselves, leaving us behind. I utilized their absence and again went in the direction of Mezritsh.

Along the way I was seized by four non-Jews. They tied me up, put me on a wagon to take me to Mezritsh and turn me over to the Germans so as to get a reward of four kilograms of sugar. I pleaded with them to release me and promised that I would give them my winter coat which was worth more than four kilograms of sugar. Their answer was: “We are four people. How will we be able to divide up the coat between the four of us?” However when I promised to add my boots they agreed, untied me and let me go. Naked and barefoot, I went off to Mezritsh on a freezing snowy day. The cold made me feel weak. My feet became two frozen limbs that gave me the feeling that they were two artificial limbs that were attached to my body.

When I got to Mezritsh I met acquaintances in the streets who told me that the Aktzias had been discontinued. All those now in Mezritsh would be sent only to work. That is the way it was. They sent us to repair sidewalks. I worked, along with many other Jews, in the German firm “Stuage” that repaired sidewalks and built new ones. However, after working for a month, the Germans carried out the fourth Aktzia.

On the night of that Aktzia, our foreman did not let us go home too avoid our being caught. However, the Chief S.S. Man, Fisher came from Radzyn and ordered that we be turned over to the transportation authorities and shipped off.

From 'Stuage” we were sent to the market place in Mezritsh. The order was that all the Jews must line-up and kneel down and anyone who dared get up would be shot.

In the evening we were taken to the train row by row. There were many Christians in the streets witnessing our black day. They 'parted' from us with a smile on their faces. The rows of Jews were very long with German Military Police and both Polish and Jewish police marching along on both sides. Again we were packed into the freight cars with the doors and windows locked from the outside.

We arrived in the Majdanek Extermination Camp. At the entrance gate we met the daughter of Dovid Zysman from Radzyn. I asked her what do they do here. However she did not answer. Meanwhile we were all led to the baths. There I again met a Radzyner Yudel Ravniak. I saw him sweeping the area around the baths and I tried to speak to him, but he, too, did not reply. A little later he came up to me, gave me a few potatoes and told me on which side I should stand during the lineup. I did as he told me. Our transport was divided into two groups. Both groups went into the baths. One came out, the one that I was in. The other was executed by Cyclone B gas.

___*___

I spent six months in Majdanek and after that I was sent to a coal mine in the swamps in Zaglembia. There we worked very hard while going hungry. When the battle front moved near to us in 1945, the Germans pulled out and moved us to Blachamri. I and two other Jews ran away and most of the others were shot along the way.

I went in the direction of the Russians. While running away, I came to a river. I saw Russian troops and heavy Russian tanks on the other bank moving to the western side. I walked along the bank of the river looking for a bridge to cross over. Along the way a German came out of one of the trenches and wanted to shoot me. I begged him to take me to his commander as I had something very important to tell him. After much pleading he fulfilled my request. I told all sorts of stories to his commander, and the end was that he ordered them to tie me up and lay me down on the bridge that was to be blown up by the Germans saying that it was not worth wasting a bullet on such a Jew.

They did as they were told. I lay tied up on the bridge like an animal for slaughter while the Germans made preparations to blow it up. All the facts of my struggle for survival ran through my head as if on a movie film. I had descended all the steps to hell and stayed alive. Yet here, when Hitlerism was about to get the final blow before its defeat, my body lay waiting to be blown up together with the steel from the bridge. My eyes overflowed with tears and I saw the blue sky as if through a fog.

Suddenly from the eastern side, I heard the sound of the heavy artillery fire. For a moment I turned my eyes to the water wanting to wash the tears from my eyes. However, my hands were tied to my back. From afar I saw the green trees of the approaching spring. A breeze smoothed my ruffled hair like a loving hand stroking a corpse to make it easier for him to die.

Unexpectedly, I heard a loud clanging of tanks approaching from the east. One of the tanks stopped near me .A soldier got out, cut the ropes and freed me.


[Pages 271-281]

Two Years in a Dark Pit

Sarah Fass

I was one of the last, if not the very last, from our Jewish community that left the town in which we were born in that terrible time for us. I can unfortunately say that with my leaving Radzyn I closed the doors to the Jewish community forever and took with me the most painful terrible memories: the sad histories of our close relatives and friends, the saintly souls on their final journey. I carry the picture of those days with me and it does not disappear. Therefore I would like to record some of my memories.

___*___

Shortly after the arrival of the murderous Gestapo in Radzyn, they suddenly came to my house and started yelling at me in their drunken voices that I should give them the ”English Protocol”. For the first few minutes, I did not understand what they wanted from us, and from fear I could only mumble “Meine herren ('My Lords') meine herren”. The six Hitlerite bandits drew their pistols angrily and threatened to kill all of us if we did not hand over the pact that England had made with the Jews. When I began begging them that I knew nothing about it, while at the same time hugging my child who was shaking with fear, they angrily ordered that my Jewish neighbors should all gather in my house. They immediately dragged in my neighbors Henich Nussbaum from the town of Valasvinsk, his son Yechiel and the sick grandchild of his son Moshe, who lives in Argentina and also Henich's son from Kotzk, with his three children, who were in his house at that time. The Germans then ordered all the Jews to line up facing the wall and yelled at them,”Hand over the English Protocol and don't move or we will shoot you right away!” I happened to be standing close to the door and seeing how my ten year old son was shaking all over, I moved, almost unconsciously, and slipped out of the house with my child. However, in the street I remained standing. I thought: “Where can I dare go walking in the street so late at night without being shot by the military patrols?” Therefore, I went through the back street out into the fields nearest my house, so that I could hear what was happening to everyone in the house. I sat there stifling my child's crying and fearful about the fate of those left in the house. I sat that way the whole night, without hearing the sound of a shot. I calmed down and calmed my child who was shaking from the cold. At dawn, when the murderers too, got tired of this game, they left my house drunken and tired ordering that when they come tomorrow everything should be ready for them. In the morning, we were not in our houses. We went anywhere we could go. When the bandits came again and did not find any of us, they cursed us vehemently in front of our Polish neighbors but never came back.

___*___

In the winter of 1941 the oldest Gestapo-thief, Fisher, ordered that all Jews must immediately surrender their fur coats and fur accessories. The Jewish population, knowing that sooner or later they would be deported from Radzyn, wanted to keep their furs in case they would be deported in the winter. They all took their furs to Polish families who were their friends. Some of the Poles did not want to accept the furs saying that they did not want to be left with the last possessions of their unfortunate Jewish neighbors. However most of them accepted the furs with obvious pleasure, without showing any sympathy for their Jewish neighbors and added that it was better that the Poles get them rather than the Germans. One woman from Radzyn, Sarah Neiman, whose husband the Germans had already shot in Slovatich together with some fifty other Jews and was left with her two orphans, took her furs to hide by her good friend Katchky. He accepted them readily, but a few days later he informed the Gestapo and Sarah was arrested immediately and shot by the door of the detention building. This caused a great turmoil in the town. The whole Jewish population was so filled with pain they could not communicate with each other but, as if ordered, they all took back the furs from their Polish neighbors at night and threw them through the fence into the yard of the house where the president of the Yudenrat, Dovid Lichtenstein lived. When Dovid Fishel wanted to open the door in the morning he could not do so because of the piled up furs. The booty was taken away by the murderers in trucks.

After the frequent contributions of money and our last remaining valuables, when the Gestapo murderers knew that we had nothing more for them to squeeze out of us, and that we were are all physically broken and mentally exhausted, when almost the whole Jewish population existed on the little bit of soup that was distributed by the last remaining Jewish institution, the communal kitchen, only then did the oldest bandit, Fisher, begin carrying out his fiendish plan, the final curse on the Jews. In the fall of 1942, at five o'clock in the morning, they suddenly attacked the Jewish houses together with their live four footed dogs and with other, even worse two footed animals, foreign Ukrainians and local Poles who, with a terrible frightening uproar, drove the old and young, half naked Jews out of their old homes. The heart-rending crying of the small children mixed with the choked up wailing of the adults, mingled with the sobbing

and pounding of the murderers and the barking of the dogs, awakened the still sleeping Polish neighbors. The simpler and more honest ones immediately ran to the school yard where the Germans had driven the wretched Jews. The fences and the roofs of the surrounding buildings were crowded with curious Polish spectators. At the same time the majority of the Polish neighbors ran to collect the as yet not cooled off bedding and other items that were still wet with the tears shed by the Jews before they left.

The bandits meanwhile drove the helpless Jewish population into the Radzyn school yard. The leader, Fisher, declared demonstratively and with an amused look on his face, that from now on the Jews had no right to be in Radzyn and all of the community properties were to be confiscated. Temporarily, the most necessary of its employees would be allowed to remain including the president, his colleagues and their families, altogether thirty-eight people. A few weeks later the Germans assembled them all in one house. It did not take long before all of them were murdered.

At that time I was living in a side street and therefore I was 'forgotten' by the bandits and they did not come into my house. However, hearing about what was going on in the town, I took my child out of the house without knowing where to hide. We wanted to run to the house of a Polish friend, however, they closed the door in my face. I ran wildly from house to house but everywhere they refused to let me in. Then I ran to the house of our old acquaintance the washerwoman named Akusht. She hid us out in her house and she herself then ran to see if everything had quieted down and if the murderers were not running around between the houses. A few hours later she came with the good news that my husband had managed to slip out of the hands of the Gestapo.

Late at night we returned to our house indifferently and apathetic to life and knowing that at any moment we might be noticed by the Germans or the local scoundrels. Being cut off from all the Jews, we became indifferent to everything that might happen. We stayed that way in our house for another couple of weeks. During that time, a number of Jews, who had not fallen into the hands of the Germans but had not gone back to their houses and were wandering around in the nearby woods, found out about my being in the house. At night they would come there to eat some hot food. Not knowing what lay in store for us on the following day, we would part cordially and choking with tears. At that time my sister Zlota's daughter Sarah, who had jumped from the train that was carrying them to Treblinka when it was only eight kilometers from the extermination camp, came running to us. She was then only fifteen years old.

The terrible sight of this heroic child and her half nude body, her short but horrible stories about what happened to our closest relatives in the last minutes in that freight car, her experiences running a couple of hundred kilometers ragged, hungry and fearful, froze our blood. Even at that time when we had already seen and heard about so much pain and suffering, the child's description exceeded our wildest imaginations and fantasies. We wept with her, but at the same time, in our hearts, we were happy that she had come at the right time since we were planning to go that very night to the nearby village of Biala to a peasant with whom we had already made an arrangement to hide our family survivors. My sister and her younger daughter Esther were already there. We had waited for a dark night without a moon to steal out of the town. Two days after the child's arrival, seeing that there was a danger of our being discovered, we, my husband and I, my son and my sister's child, went to the peasant in the village. There he had prepared a place in his barn for us to hide in .It was located in the middle of a hay stack that surrounded it up to the height of the balcony. The entrance to this 'dwelling' was through a hole in the earth in the pig pen near the barn, so that no one could guess that there, in the middle of the hay, lived six Jewish souls.

___*___

The peasant's farm was located in a colony outside of the village and was safer and more protected from the eyes of strangers. But little by little the peasant used up the hay for his animals until he got close to our hiding place. At the same time, there were frosts and it became impossible for us to stay there. Our plan, when we entered that hiding place was, like that of most of the Jews in that dark period, that the Russian army which was already advancing would in a month or two catch up to the Germans. That gave us the courage to carry on in such terrible conditions. But, seeing that the advance of the Soviets was taking longer than expected, and that there was danger of our being discovered, we thought up a new plan; to dig a pit in the earth and there spend the time that was left, according to our estimation, before the Russian Army's arrival. One dark night we started working and we managed to dig a pit with four corners into which we set up poles and covered the top with planks which we then covered with earth and topped with snow so that it would be unrecognizable. In the morning, the owner of the plot parked his sickle for cutting fodder for his cows there. In this way it was well concealed. We made the entrance through a hole dug in the earth of the pig pen, so that it was very difficult to push one's way into the hole. There we felt like half dead corpses, not knowing when it was day and when it was night. From that day on we were dependant on the peasant's hospitality for our survival, naturally for a very considerable payment.

At the beginning he would pass down bread to all of us every day. But every week the amount was less, until he started feeding us only potatoes in their peels, the way he fed his pigs. He claimed that he could not give us anymore. We understood that having squeezed everything he could out of us he was sorry about the whole business. But the longer it continued the stronger was our desire to live and see the end of Hitler which we all hoped for, this despite the severe hunger that we had been suffering from since the spring. At that time the water from the melting snow began to penetrate the earth together with the sewerage from the pigs who liked to lie near the opening of our pit. All this soaked the little bedding which we sat on because it was impossible to stand up in the pit. One could only sit or lie down.

That is the way the winter passed and the summer of 1943 arrived and still we could not hope to see an end to our troubles. One day, in the middle of that summer, our host told us that the Germans had ordered that all the Polish residents must leave the village immediately, and it was said that Germans were coming here to settle there. For us in the dark pit, things became darker yet. What should we do? Should we go out of the pit and go to a certain death after being captured by the bandits, or should we stay in the pit and die of hunger? We decided to stay in the pit and not to surrender to the Germans. Our peasant, before leaving his house let down enough bread and other food and water to last us for a number of days. Everything around us became deadly still. We were prepared to die of hunger in a few days. One day passed and then another and everything was quiet and we did not hear or see any Germans. On the fourth day we suddenly heard a loud noise, the sound of horse's hooves, and later the sound of human voices. We were sure that Germans were already living here. When we listened more closely we heard, from a distance Polish being spoken. We could not understand what was going on here. Soon we heard the voice of our landlord who went up to the opening of our pit and yelled in: “What? You are still alive?” It turned out that after three days went by, the Germans regretted their plan to settle Germans there and they told the former residents to return to their places. A ray of hope shone for us that we might survive all this suffering.

___*___

At the end of the summer of 1943 our peasant informed us that because his potato crop was not successful, he could no longer supply us with food and we would have to find other sources from which to obtain potatoes in the winter. It meant that we would have to go to other fields at night, dig up potatoes and bring them to him to cook for us. We calculated the danger involved in being seen walking in the fields at night. However, because we wanted to save our children, who at the time looked like pale thin skeletons, we started out on that dangerous course. We were very careful and everyone went alone and to a different part of the fields. We chose the darkest cloudiest nights. My heart shook with fear, and I held my breath as I pulled the potatoes out of the earth and gathered them into the sack, but I did not have the strength to throw the sack over my shoulder. On top of that, I often tripped over a stone and in falling let go of the sack. I got dizzy and lost my orientation, not knowing in what direction I had to go to get to the pit. Then I remembered that the treasure which I was carrying, the potatoes, could save us and make it possible for us to survive and I got the strength to overcome all the dangers that I saw in front of me. We prepared ourselves to eat heartily.

However, with every month that passed our situation grew worse. The peasant continuously cut down the amount of food and our children suffered seriously from hunger and looked terrible. My sister and I were very frightened about the fate of our children. We had already sacrificed much for them, and what could we do now to keep them alive? I decided for myself that I would endanger my life, and go to the nearest village where I had a friend, a good hearted peasant woman. I thought that she would surely give me some bread for the children. We hadn't seen bread for a long time. I crawled out of the pit so as not be seen by our landlord who would not have let me go out of fear for his own safety. In the evening I went to the neighboring village and was recognized immediately maybe because of my terrible appearance. It seems that they immediately recognized me as that terrible worldly creature the “Yude”. This message spread rapidly through the village so that when l came to peasants hut, she asked me anxiously to leave immediately. She was afraid to give me anything. I started going back agonizingly, not thinking about the danger that awaited me but only about what would happen to the hungry children for whom I had nothing. Suddenly I heard an old man speaking to me: ”Run away quickly! The administrator of the district told the Germans over the phone that you are here”. As if suddenly being awakened, I remembered the danger that faced me. I went off the road, into the field and lay down on the earth. My heart grieved but I did not have the strength to cry. After lying there for a short time, I heard the sound of motorcycles. I heard the Germans shouting to the peasants as they drove their cycles back and forth over the road. Meanwhile night descended and I could not recognize the way back. I lay confused all night in the field. Late that night I heard the sound of shooting. I was beginning to get used to the thought that the Germans would find me there and I would never be able to go back to the pit. (After the liberation, peasants from that village told me that on that night there was a shoot out between the Germans and the Partisans who had come to the village that night). I lay that way the whole night until I saw the beginning of daylight. I raised my head and slowly began figuring out the direction to the pit. I moved slowly, partly lying down, until I reached our hiding place. Understandably my husband and sister had already started to mourn me being sure that I had fallen victim while searching for a piece of bread for our children.

___*___

The winter of 1945 was unbearable for us. We all felt that we were reaching the limit of our strength. The dampness of the pit got into our bones. The propped up beams and boards became warped. There was a danger that everything would soon cave in on us. We could not repair it, and we didn't feel that we had the strength to rebuild it in one night. The peasant too, did not want us to appear in the light of day because of the gangs of rioters who were wandering around in that neighborhood. So we lay on half rotten bedding while the water from the melting snow ran in over our heads. My son could not put his hands down normally because the skin and flesh between fingers and his hands were cracked. His groaning made us even more heartbroken. He could not even cry because all sorts of strangers gathered in the barn over our heads. We were tired of living.

However, our desire to live grew again when we heard that the battle lines were getting closer to us. The desire to outlive the murderous Germans was boundless. For a whole winter we could not get out of the pit because we did not have any warm clothing. When the spring arrived, without considering the danger to our lives, from time to time we quietly crawled out of our hole and went to a friendly Polish family who would give us some bread. Seeing that our children were strengthened by the small piece of bread, our instinct again drove us to go wherever we could so as to survive. To our great pain, my husband went once to bring us some food. This was ten days before the Germans were driven out of Radzyn. He was met by a gang of anti-Semitic hooligans who brutally murdered him. After my husband's violent death we broke down and became completely indifferent to everything that could happen to us. We believed that these gangs of local murderers would sooner or later murder us.

A few days later, I heard the loud roar of airplane motors and of bombs exploding. Realizing that the frontline was getting closer to us, we were instinctively afraid of asking our landlord about it. He too, while passing down our supply of potatoes, was silent. When we did hear the sound of horses' hooves and wagons and the noise of people, we understood that the army was passing near us but, not being able to hear the language that they were speaking, we did not know if they were Germans or Soviets. When it became completely quiet our peasant's old father yelled down into the pit that the Germans had gone and that the Red Army had entered Radzyn. He added, I do not know if you people have the “right to live” therefore I cannot let you out of here yet. We became more frightened, and the silence of our landlord added to our fright not knowing what he was thinking about doing to us. We, my sister and I, decided that we must leave the pit quietly without our peasant noticing it. But how can we circulate among people when we are half naked? All of our clothes were torn from the dampness. In town we had left some clothing with a Polish friend, so we thought that one of us should go to bring them. But in the light of the recent, still fresh, misfortune of my husband's death, we decided that we would not go alone, only all of us together. What ever happens should happen to all of us. So, early one morning, when the owners of our house were still asleep, we crawled out of the pit. This was already ten days after our town Radzyn had been liberated. We went, five unfortunate souls through the fields, avoiding the highway because we went with our emaciated bodies wrapped only in sacks. When the sun rose we first saw the death-like look that lay spread out on faces of our children. It was difficult for us to walk on our feet, and we had to sit down and rest every few meters, so that it took us a half of that July day to cover the distance of approximately five kilometers. Along the way we met a Soviet soldier who examined us anxiously. We asked him if we have the right to live. He answered: “By us, all people have equal rights”. This gave us strength and we slowly moved closer to Radzyn.

Coming into town dressed in sacks and with our deadly pale faces and being the first Jewish souls who showed up in Radzyn after the Germans, the Polish passers by stared at us and moved aside. When we reached the house of our old Polish neighbor, a friend of our mother's, she looked at us and with fearful eyes, crossed herself three times and yelled out: ”Oh my God, you are alive?” She received us cordially but was still scared, without knowing why. Therefore she took us into the barn were we stayed for a few more days.

Gradually, the accumulated layers of fear left our minds and we began to appear on the streets again. However every street, every house every stone or brick from the homes of Jewish acquaintances cried out to us and we wandered around like lonely orphans looking for the holiest of martyrs – the Jews from our beloved town of Radzyn.

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