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[Page 78]

From the Scrap-book of Horrors

by Pessah Milnek

September 2nd 1939

We're tired of the contradictory declarations by the government over the radio changing back and forth from optimism to pessimism. We are oppressed by a heavy premonition that disaster is looming. I fell asleep near midnight. Friday night was gloomy. At four in the morning I woke up as somebody knocked at the door. My mother-in-law was standing there, unnerved and shaken: "What's the matter with you? Everybody's packing up and leaving and you - as if nothing has happened!"

I look out of the window: a welter of people and cattle. Families who try to save themselves and their cow or goat, so that they might have a little milk even in these days of turmoil. Refugees are arriving from neighbouring townships, where they have already felt what the new times will be like and now it's our turn. The Jews of Rozhan always knew that their town, as a fortified place, was in for trouble in case of war and one had best leave it.

We live in the house of our in-laws, who are helpless and we have still more to look after: our eldest son Moshe is 41/2 years old and Abraham 3 months. There is another child in the house, my brother-in-law's orphaned son of 6. There is also Minna's great-grandmother of 103. How can you move such a family? You need a cart and horses - yet the Polish army has commandeered all the horses in the villages around Rozhan. So - what can you do?

I walk over to Govorovo, where there are Jewish teamsters. Some two kilometers before reaching there I meet a cart and ask the Jewish driver to come with me to Rozhan and rescue my family, He hadn't heard that the roads were blocked and agreed. I promised him that only those unable to walk would ride, while we, the adults, would foot it. I would pay him whatever he'd ask. On the way he remembered that he had relations of his in Rozhan, the Kaplans, and he wanted to save them, too. I agreed on condition that there be room enough - first we and then the others.

Indescribable panic reigned in town. Unkempt and ragged people were lying on the crossroads, tired and in despair, with their children and belongings. They were worn out already before leaving. Everybody swarms about my teamster, promising him treasures, if he'd leave me and take them: "We need your cart more than others." I plead and shout myself hoarse: "I've brought him here! Went 6 kilometers to fetch him! Is there no fear of God in you?"

Nobody knows me, nobody will know even those nearest to him. The fiery lava is approaching fast - how can you expect people to be considerate or friendly? I'm lucky and the good teamster from Govorovo decides in my favour. I walk behind the cart, pushing Avrema'le's pram. The driver's cousin turns up with a modest demand: "Look here, Pessah, you have to push the pram anyway: put some of my merchandise, some haberdashery on it and take it to Govorovo. That will be very useful for our wanderings." I agree. Meanwhile the cart drives on and I am left with the pram. Suddenly Polish officers arrest me near the barracks. I am of military age, and if I'm not in uniform, then probably I am a deserter, liable to be court-martialled. I entreat them: "I haven't been called up; my family is on the way to Govorovo and if you want me, you can find me there." After three hours they let me go and when I joined my family in the evening they had already despaired of seeing me again.

September 9th.

Govorovo is expecting the Germans, who may arrive any moment. A gloomy Sabbath day. We are sitting in the basements. The little town is shaken by repeated bursts of gunfire, but suddenly they stopped. We waited a little, thought of going out to see what was happening, but at that time the Germans were already in the streets and loudspeakers blared: "Come out! Assemble in the market square!" Somebody left our basement and so we were detected. The Nazis broke in and told us to come out - or else they'd throw in a grenade.

In the market place all the inhabitants of the township are gathered and thousands of refugees besides, who for some reason have flocked here from the surrounding townships to find a haven of rescue. Orders are given with a loud voice: "Separate! Men of 16 to 55 to the left. The rest stay where they are!" (I remember having a letter from H.M. King George the Sixth in my pocket, where he confirms our rights as British subjects and grants us visas of entry to the U.K. I had congratulated him on the occasion of his birthday, claiming British citizenship as a subject who had emigrated and now wanted to return home, etc. The answer had been in the affirmative, as befits a gracious King who came to the throne because his brother, King Edward, had abdicated. I push this precious document into Moishe'le's pocket hoping: with luck we may get out of this hell and go to England.)

Now I have to leave my family and we feel that it may be forever. We had heard what had happened to other men. May those papers help them. I have no chance anyway.

For hours on end we were sitting thus, facing each other in the hot sun or the cold wind that blew in turn, hungry and thirsty, longing to be together, but we must not look. Dusk. Germans with bloodhounds surround us: "Get up!" We are marching towards an unknown destination. We have to march briskly, while rifle-butts and whips urge us on.

Midnight. We are in the courtyard of an estate. A big stable, smoking horse dung. That's where they put us, 600 men, Poles and Jews together. We are hungry and thirsty, tired and footsore, stretch out on the litter and fall asleep at once.

Four in the morning. Dogs and men break in. Savage shouts are heard "Walk!" - and we do so. At six we realized that we were approaching Rozhan. How did they do that? They urged us on for so many hours from Govorovo to Rozhan and we are not yet there? We look ahead: the bridge is destroyed; that means they are going to drown us here. A large German convoy approaches. We take leave from each other as we feel that we shall never meet again. Some murmur prayers - but the convoy passes by. They had been building a pontoon bridge elsewhere. At 6 we crossed it and here we were at Rozhan - but the town no longer existed. The fires we had seen. When leaving a week earlier, had burned it to the ground. A chimney here and there, some ruins - that's what Rozhan is like now.

Sunday, September 10th

They separated us from the Poles. The Jews are being loaded on motor lorries while Nazi officers gloating with wickedness go through the motion of cutting throats and say: "That's what shall be done to all the Jews. Up and you shall see the place!" We passed Makov and reached Prushnits near the border between Poland and Germany. Orders to get off and again hints at slaughter and remarks: "This is the end of all the Jews. Your doom is near." We are murmuring prayers, confess ourselves, say psalms, get ready to die and have only one wish that our families be spared the knowledge; let us die instead of the others, Lord!

Two, three depressing hours pass by. Again we are made to climb up. 40 people to a small lorry. Those two or three days we go hungry and thirsty. We cross the German border. Here's a little village, whose inhabitants greet their victorious soldiers with flowers, embrace and kiss them. We receive looks of scorn - we're the prisoners.

Towards the evening we reached Hindenburg. I am on German soil and my heart is in Poland, with my family. What's happening to them? Do they know what's happening to me? We are brought to a huge S.S. camp with an electric wire fence all around and inside rows of wooden huts, three together within another wire fence, electric and equipped with enormous search-lights. So at least we shall have a roof over our heads to protect us against the cold of night, against heat or rain - maybe we'll get a little water? They gave us a loaf of bread and some jam for each person, straw mattresses and a blanket for every three or four men, so we lay down and fell asleep.

At one we got orders: "Get out! Face the fence, nobody looks back!" And we obey. Immediately shots are heard, but it is pitch dark and you can see nothing. We were sure there must already be heaps of dead and that it was our turn now. The living envied the dead. At half past one the shooting ceased and again shouted orders: "Back to the barracks!" The scheme to frighten and humiliate us had worked - we might now be allowed to sleep.

Monday September 11th.

We are gathered in our hut. Officers come in and speechify. All the speeches to the same effect: it's at the fault of the Jews. If it were not for the Jews. Europe would enjoy eternal peace and so on in that vein. We try to explain that all these accusations are baseless: what good do wars do to us? It's ridiculous! And their answer: "Nothing doing - that's how the Fuehrer wants it!" They were not yet hardened; they were young Nazis who still argued with Jews. The days passed quietly, but the idea nags you: what did they carry us here for - if not to kill us?

Tuesday September 12th.

We're in for something. Well fed German estate owners come to choose slaves to work for them. Things brighten a little. Many throng to work, hoping to be fed at least. I have my doubts and do not want to move on. My heart told me that here in a public place I might be spared. I didn't want to go to slaughter. In the evening the workers returned content. They had got plenty of good food. So that had become the criterion of good or bad: the food.

Wednesday September l3th.

Our masters appeared again and the number of volunteers for forced labour increased. Among them the youngest of the Raitchik's, a boy of 17. He overworked and over-ate himself and at 11 in the night we could hear him sigh and presently sob. We approached his bed, where he was writhing in pain but there was nothing we could do to help him. At one o'clock David Pokshkivka woke us up saying that the boy was dying. David was a member of the "Hevra Kadisha" (Burial Society) and knew what he was saying. We went out to the fence and cried for help, asked for a doctor, but nobody came. At three in the night the boy breathed his last. The headman of our hut, a German Jew walked up to the guard, reported the death and asked permission to arrange the funeral according to Jewish custom, which was done with 10 people attending and Kaddish said.

Thursday September 15th.

In the third hut Poles had been housed, whom we used to meet. Our relationship was like those of two separate parties with a common enemy who brutalizes both. On that day they turned against us and we were shocked. We thought somebody must have incited them, maybe the Germans wanted trouble, whereupon they would step in and hand down their decision. It was obvious in whose favour that would be and therefore we resolved to restrain ourselves. First they demanded the suits we wore under our coats. Next they demanded our shoes we made holes in them so that they might not want them, but they took them anyway.

Yom-Kippur's Eve 1939.

The Poles continued to harass us. They tore the coats off our backs which we were wearing over our undergarments. Again we kept back as we were afraid of a provocation planned by the Germans. If there was anybody who wanted to show resistance we urged him to desist. Next they took from us our straw mattresses and that was awful. How could we pass the night with nothing to lie on? So we tried to resist and there was noise. At that moment we heard footsteps outside, between the huts. Men in uniform appeared. At their head a German general. Now, we thought, we have done it. Had we only kept our peace! And lo and behold: a miracle! The men wore red cross badges and they had come to witness that prisoners got humane treatment at the hands of the Germans - apparently following an invitation, and here the performance had gone wrong. The general was visibly embarrassed when he saw us barefoot and in nothing but our drawers. He asked what the noise was all about, and we told him. While we were talking, an altercation was still going on between a Pole and a Jew, who refused his demands and in the heat of the struggle they were unaware of the commotion in the courtyard. The general walked up to the Pole, gave him a few blows and shouted at him: "You Polish robber!" He gave an immediate order to restore whatever they had taken from us and to compensate us out of the Poles' belongings for anything they might have spoiled. Everything was taken away from them, even their shoes and their sleeping bags, which the Germans gave us saying: "Here's for you to cover yourselves with." A miracle of Yom-Kippur's Eve indeed! For six weeks they kept us idle at this camp of Tannenberg near the town of Hindenburg.

October 27th.

In the morning we were standing in line as usual for bread and jam, when they told us that all the Jews were to be set free, and of the Poles those domiciliated in the area allotted to the Russians according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement. The conclusion of this announcement was worded with the well known German haughtiness we were to be transferred to the "Dirty Russians".

Before leaving we had to sign a declaration to the effect that: "We had been treated very well, had been allowed to take all our property with us, and that we undertook never to return, otherwise we would be shot like mad dogs." We were loaded on cattle-cars, crowded as sardines in a box and then we were packed off to a destination unknown to us under heavy guard. There were no windows and nobody could peep out and try to identify the direction. The night trip was hard, as we had to stand all the time. In the morning they opened the doors and we found ourselves at the station of Ostrolenka. Again the fear of death gripped us and still more the thought of our families from whom we were separated. But the loudspeaker urges us on: "Get out!" and when we have done so we get an "explanation". "You go to Russia. This is the direction. If anyone dare come back... a bullet in his head." So we walked on like waifs, not knowing where. We began to argue amongst us. There were differences of opinion about the right direction. Joshua Laufer, Tzvi Grinspan, myself and others from Rozhan decided to take the direction of our own town. Above all we wanted to find out what had happened to those we had left at Govorovo. We had to reckon with the fact that this was dangerous, as we might meet Germans; yet we took our courage in both hands and set out. In a village garden about 5 km. distant from Rozhan we met a young priest, who asked where we came from and where we were going. We told him we were returning from captivity and were looking for our families. He explained that Rozhan was in ruins and that many of its people were at Makov, but he warned us not to go there as German patrols were swarming all over the place and they were shooting indiscriminately. Here our reactions were again different: Joshua, Tsvi and myself decided to turn back and pass over to the Russians. The others went on to Rozhan and. unfortunately, were all shot the same night.
We reached Ostrolenka, where we met more Jews, who had been ordered to go to the "Dirty Russians". They however had been granted a number of days to get ready and on a certain date they would have to leave for Lomza. The Jews were in poor spirits but resolved to get away, to run from the Nazi hell. Joshua had a relation there, Golda Greenberg, who received us as brothers; she prepared a bath for each and gave us clean underwear and we rested a little.

October 29th.

We walked the short distance from Ostrolenka to the new Russian border-line. On the road we met the late Melekh Lifshitz, who invited me to come to the village of Simova, where his relations were already staying, which would make things easier. His people at Simova received us with open arms, and Lifshitz's wife took out a wad of banknotes and offered it to us: "If we survive, you may pay me back, and if not - then who'll need it?"

October 30th.

We went on together to Zambrov, on the Russian side, where I met P. from Rozhan, who had always looked like a Gentile - so much the more so now. He told me he had papers as a goy and a license to go to Makov. For that purpose he had bought a bicycle and he invited me to join him, but I refused. I told him quite seriously: "With a nose like mine, I'll betray you." I only asked for one thing; if he ever met my wife or other members of the family, to tell them I was alive, here and waiting for them to come. And, to convince them he was telling the truth and not just spreading rumours, I gave him secret signs: my wife had two jewels sewn in the children's clothes, as well as British banknotes we had prepared, hoping to emigrate to England.

The roads to Zambrov were blocked. An incessant stream of Jewish displaced persons was moving east towards the parts newly annexed to Russia. I used to stand outside the town and scan the newcomers for one of our family. My longing was intense - more intense still my misgivings. I saw a dogcart with rubber wheels approaching that attracted attention, I could see Ida Levartovitch sitting in there. I ran towards her, crying "I am Pessah". She wouldn't let me go near, as she was carrying her son who was ill with typhus. That was dangerous and that's why the Germans had given her the vehicle. to get her out of the way, but before going on she said: "Pessah. I met your wife on the road. She's coming with the kids. Don't go away. Within a day or two she'll be here."

For two days I waited by the roadside, without food or drink. I was restless. There was an endless stream of Grey degraded humanity and of animals. The people looked ragged and unkempt. Mothers were bearing in their arms little children frozen to death whom they wanted to bury in a Jewish cemetery. Children who were still living, dragged themselves after their mothers. The sight of these children broke my heart. I never saw such listless eyes, such utter despair. Old people with bent backs, spent and stumbling, were looking around as if they were searching for something. And the migration went on in a tremendous current, as if a dam had broken somewhere and released a flood. Good God, how shall I find my dearest here - all that is left to me in life?

It is winter, close to Hanukah. Puddles freeze over by night and thaw again by day. I am cold to my bones. And how about them? My little ones? I am all in rags. When the Poles assaulted us at Tannenberg I cut up my shoes. Now I had to tie them to my feet with rags and a piece of belt. My cap is all in tatters, and my clothes dilapidated and threadbare. I am unkempt and unshaven, look like an escaped criminal. Would they ever recognize me? And how do they look - maybe as bad as I? And how, than, would I recognize them?

And so it went on. One cart among tens of thousands attracted my attention because of a fur-coat that looked somehow familiar. The cart was full of children. It came nearer and - no mistake - it was my wife's old fur-coat, She hadn't recognized me. A short while before her cousin had found her, and jumped up to embrace her, laughing and crying. And she hid us from each other. I approached the cart slowly and whispered: "It's me. Pessah, Thank God!" Minna couldn't hear me whisper. She was as if trapped in her cousin's arms. But Moishe'le caught fright and cried: "Mummy, here's the madman I told you of. He's here and I'm afraid!" And he sobbed. Than only she turned to me, made sure I was her husband and soothed the child.

It was obvious that we couldn't stay in Zambrov for long. The little town was swamped with refugees and the authorities told us to move on and make room. They didn't tell us where - just move on. I was quite willing to move, but had neither money nor any valuables, without which we would have been forced to walk and that was beyond our forces and dangerous besides. We were very miserable. Every day I would go out into the street, hoping that something would "turn up". Maybe a miracle, that would help us to get away. Miracles did happen at the time - not enough, compared with the enormity of the disaster, but here and there something would turn up as a surprise.

One day we heard somebody call my wife by her name, We knew he must be from Rozhan, as he called her "Mindele". He was a young man from Rozhan, Meir Rosenberg, brother to Esther (Hadassa) Rosenberg, whom I had not known at Rozhan, Here he appeared armed with a rifle and felt more secure than others. When he saw us ragged and bewildered, he understood that we were in need of help, and he offered it. I asked what he could do and he said: "I can get you a cart to take you to the railway station and from there you'll manage somehow." And so we reached the station, at some distance from the town. With great difficulty we squeezed into a car. It was understandable that everybody was eager to go and that nobody showed consideration for his neighbour, but it added to the suffering and the situation became awful. In our car there was the mother of Lea Kurlender, mother-in-law to the poet Abraham Broides, and a number of people from Rozhan, whose names I have forgotten. We reached Bialystok at 8 in the morning, on a Sabbath. It was cold, raining and snowing and the moisture penetrated your very bones. What to do next? Where to turn? Where to lay your head? I alighted, told the family to await me at the station and went to town.

On the way I remembered a friend of mine, who worked in the office of "Hehalutz Hamizrahi" (Orthodox Pioneers) and I even remembered his address, or rather the name of the street, for which I began to ask. I passed by synagogues, Batei-Midrash and a bathhouse. Everywhere refugees were thronging in. I could see the miserables lying around or sitting picking lice. I heard the hungry children wail they were tired out, never got enough sleep, and their parents too, were nervous. It was a terrible sight. I was standing in the street and said to myself: rather put my family in an abandoned shack than bring them to this hell.

In Killinsky Street, where my friend was supposed to live, I went from one house to the other but nobody could tell me until finally at No. 21 somebody could show me where my friend lived. When I entered, I saw on the wall a Goblin my wife had embroidered for him as a wedding present. My friend was not at home, but when I told his parents of the story of this Goblin and said: "For Koppel Spitalny's wedding we wanted a very special present and my wife chose this one," they became very friendly indeed. Koppel had remained at Warsaw but they would take us into their home as if he were here. The Spitalny girls accompanied me to the station and we came to live with them.

The welcome they gave us was really unforgettable: a hot bath was ready and a cozy corner. Wonderful Jewish brotherhood! Next day, before I ever breathed a word about it, the father said to me: "I'm sure you have no money. Now you go to the cloth merchant next door together with my son. They'll give you merchandise on credit, so you can begin to earn money to feed your family. No sooner said than done.

The merchant accepted Spitalny's word and I began to trade. I met Chatzkel Geltchinski and Tsalke Broide, who had heard my story - one of the miracles of our times, as it seemed to them, too. Spitalny senior had been a teacher at the "Tahkemoni" School and, when this was closed, he turned his roomy house into a kitchen and dining-room. I used to get up early with Rabbi Noah and help him fetch bread from the bakery, a token repayment for what he had done for me.

Thus it went on until R. Noah's wife decided to risk her life in order to search for her son Koppel and to bring him home. I knew that I'd have to make room for him and moved to a wooden hut in the well-known summer resort of Ignatki, near Bialystok. There I became a member of the local committee in charge of the distribution of bread and other food in the refugee kitchen. On my way from Ignatki to Bialystok I had to pass by Dzhedzhinitz, where I would meet most of the other refugees from Rozhan. Once they told me the N.K.V.D. would allow people to register with them and name the place where they intended to go from Bialystok. Everyone was free to choose. Most people were tired of their situation as refugees and wanted to go back to the German zone. I did my best to dissuade them. The horrors I - we - had been through had impressed themselves deeply upon my mind As far as my influence reached, I prevented people from committing such an act of folly, which would cost them their lives, but they were afraid above all of the Russians. I explained how dangerous it would be to approach a Russian and to tell him, that you wanted to leave Siberia. I, for one, registered far travel to Russia and asked for asylum and refugee status in Russia till the war would be over.

On the way back to Ignatki I passed through Dzhedzhinitz, where I found the people from Rozhan confused and bewildered. Some even showing signs of a nervous breakdown. I tried to persuade them not to accept Russian citizen-ship. I explained to them what I knew about the Soviet regime and added that if entry in Russia was difficult, exit would be a thousand times more difficult. Above all I pleaded with those who had relations in Eretz-Israel not to make the mistake. I tried to persuade Fishel Gogol, as I knew that he had children in Eretz-Israel. But unfortunately I failed and we know what happened to them.

Meanwhile my cloth business activity came to an end and I began to sell meat, onions and other vegetables in order to feed the family. When we had stayed in Bialystok for six months "in transit", the authorities began to send the Jews away. Some were sent back to the Germans as they had wished -and we were sent to Siberia.


[Page 87]

Boys from Rozhan Among the Fighters

by M. Czechanover

How We Were Humiliated

In the Makov ghetto there were also Jews from Rozhan. They arrived there after the Germans expelled the Jews, two days after the town was occupied. At the time the ghetto was set up I was 18 years old and I didn't ask people's names nor where they came from. There were boys of my age and also children who had arrived with their parents. Together with these youngsters I experienced the horrors of those days and we became deeply attached to each other. Therefore I feel close to the Jews of Rozhan, who now want to preserve the memory of those days and of their dearest.

What causes me write these pages is the common fate I shared with your township for six months of suffering and humiliation during the period of the Holocaust.

In the autumn of 1941 the ghetto of Makov was set up and in May 1942 we were sent to a labor camp at Rozhan. The ghetto served as a kind of labor exchange, that supplied the Germans' needs for workers in the vicinity. Jews were sent as slaves, on forced labor, to German army camps, to estates seized by the Germans or as cleaners and road menders. Rozhan was found suitable, as the subterranean fortifications came in handy to house the Jews, so that the time and expense of preparing the housing could be saved. Tao hundred youngsters were taken from the ghetto and transferred to the forts of Rozhan, among them a number of natives of the town. To them it was a double tragedy: to return to their hometown and see it in ruins and then to live there like moles underground. Unfortunately, I don't remember the names of these boys, some five or six, although we were very close. We all felt very close to each other. Life was hard. We slept on straw, never renewed, where lice and other vermin multiplied. We received next to no food, one third of a loaf of bread per day, in the morning and evening, and infusion of leaves sweetened with saccharin and at noon one liter of thin soup. The camp commander, a sadist of the worst sort, gave orders to feed us with any kind of carrion to be found in town or in the neighbourhood. It was a feast day in camp whenever a horse or a pig died, as then our soup would be fatter and we'd enjoy it. And yet, it was neither the hunger, nor the hard work that depressed us most. On my forearm I bear my numbers from Auschwitz, Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. I have been through all the horrors and yet, what I remember first and foremost are two things I experienced at Rozhan.

We used to go out at sunrise and then were led to the market place and to other streets to clear away the debris. We came back to our dens at dark And thus for six days a week. They wanted to make Rozhan into a park for the vicinity, maybe they thought to leave it as a monument by which their friends, the villagers would remember them, if they were ever to leave: for having rid the town of Jews and leaving public gardens for the children of the murderers, who had helped them. The market place was all in ruins. Here and there were remnants of what had been a dwelling. The rest had been cleared by the Gentiles who had searched the debris for valuables and building materials.

Sunday was the day of rest - and for us the worst. On that day Goyim (Gentiles) from the neighbourhood would be invited to our camp. They would sit down on chairs on top of the fortifications and look down while we were ordered to amuse them. The camp commander, a dandified German and a sadistic intellectual would be in charge of the performance. Somebody found a German song for us (which I shall quote later) and we had to stand in pairs and pick each other's lice. We were in fact infected with lice and we could collect by the handful. While this was going on, some Goy might walk down and "Help us", lift our shirts and show what they had "detected", at the same time beating our naked bodies with belts and horsewhips. Next five of us, who would be selected every Sunday, had to contribute to the high spirits of the onlookers - at the commander's orders. They had to run around with incessant commands of "Fall down" and "Get up" till they fainted. Then they were revived with buckets of cold water, that was kept ready, and the next game was leapfrog. This had to be done properly or else you were whipped and told to jump as a good frog and not to cheat, while the Goyim were roaring with laughter. In the end the volunteer taskmasters would apply a whipping of 30 lashes on our naked bodies until one became unconscious, whereupon you d be brought back to life with cold water and then the beating could continue. After such treatment a Jew could only crawl back to his den, his body all black and blue - but the next day he had to report for work as if nothing had happened. Every Sunday required its victims. Everyone was a candidate for this ordeal and the consciousness that you might be the next froze the blood.

There was always a third act to the performance and this humiliation hurt even more than the beatings. All the 200 boys were assembled and we had to bend the way Jews bend while praying fervently. Now and then the German sadist would interrupt these fake prayer movements and our forced murmurings and explain to the audience which was roaring with laughter how fanatic these people (the Jews) were and how barbaric to pray to such a god with these idiotic body motions. The performance would end in a march round the place in threes while singing the above-mentioned song, which was:

"What shall we make from the lice, lice, lice?
From the lice we make hides, hides, hides.
From the hides we make bags, lousy bags.
In the bags we put money, lousy money.
With the money we buy a shimmel (white horse), lousy shimmel.
On the shimmel we go to heaven, lousy heaven.
In heaven sits our god, lousy god.
And from heaven, we shit on the world, the lousy world."

A second thing that makes the memory of those days at Rozhan a nightmare was our walks through the streets at the end of those Sunday performances. Among the ruins we looked for some remnant of Jewish life. Maybe we could detect a Jew, who was hiding there, rescue him and make him join us - in vain. We only found torn pages of prayer books, Mezuzoth and other cult items; nothing else was left of this Jewish town, except for the Goyim who came to enjoy themselves and gloat over our humiliation.

How We Held Out

In that labor camp at Rozhan we nurtured the desire for revenge and for that it was worthwhile to stay alive. To go on existing was an imperative for the moral forces we had left. To exist and to live! Mayorek from Warsaw, a very fine young man, who overcame all these horrors and kept up his spirits and courage, gave expression to these feelings. For all the events of our lives he wrote songs. The grandest of all he wrote at Rozhan - both the words and the music - was like a hymn we would sing while going to work and while coming back. Local Poles, whom the Germans had enlisted as taskmasters and overseers, were sadistic like their overlords and they would harry and beat us at work. They would tax our bodies to exhaustion in order to depress and break our spirit. When they heard us sing, they knew that we were still keeping up our morale. To this day I don't know how they failed to grasp what we were singing - after all they had picked up some German and Yiddish.

At all events we managed to keep up our miserable lives and to preserve some hope for a fight and for the resurrection to come after.

Now, you might ask, where was the fighting spirit of the young men of Israel? Why didn't they rebel? In our eyes those days of Rozhan, our unshaken stand in the face of suffering and humiliation, were like a prolonged war of attrition; under the circumstances our answer could only be life itself, survival. No other form of fight was possible. Every moment of singing was proof of daring - the peculiar kind that suited the time.

Don't forget: to bear this tension, everyday afresh in those times, required moral forces, real heroism and faith in something beyond the needs of the individual, beyond his will to live as a particular man. I might perhaps call it the national will to live. This definition comes closest to what we felt at the time. It is something to deep to be spelled out, but I am sure that this was what we sensed. This was our only hope: to be a nation once more. I remember how we sang our anthem with our whole souls and we felt how it strengthened and refreshed us. We felt stronger, and our faith in the future grew.

It was chiefly Mayorek, the creator of songs whose spirit nothing could subdue, who imbued us with these feelings. At Rozhan we used to sing Mayorek's anthem. Here I'm quoting only the refrain:

"Sisters and brothers close the ranks,
He, who's afraid - let him not go to fight.
As long as we live, let us march, march -
The road is long, but never stop!"

Here in Rozhan one of the sparks was kindled that led to the armed rebellion against the Nazis. It is no coincidence that the survivors of the Rozhan camp were those who blew up one of the incinerators at Birkenau where boys from Makov and Rozhan were buried under the fiery rain that consumed it. All survivors of Birkenau know the fact.

You may add this article of mine as a contribution to your memorial book, as a stone in the monument in honour of the martyrs of your town, evidence of the heroism shown during the long, long days of the Holocaust.


[Page 90]

I Visted Majdanek

by A. Buchner

I had heard and read about Majdanek, but hearing and reading is not like seeing.

In 1963 I visited Poland and on the 21st July I travelled to Lublin, close to which is Majdanek extermination camp. I arrived in Lublin by train and then proceeded on foot, a distance of about 4 km. which took me an hour of walking in silence. I had people to accompany me; they walked by my side or behind me but I didn't speak a word to them - I couldn't. I was trembling all over, shaking from cold in my bones in spite of the summer's heat.

As I approached the camp I could discern the flags that were flying over it. Our blue and white national flag clearly visible among them. Tears welled up in my eyes. I sensed that I was entering the place where a million and a half human beings had been done to death, most of whom had been Jews.

When I stepped on the accursed ground my feet tingled. I felt as if I was treading upon corpses from which life had just now departed. The buildings were left whole. I approached and touched the walls that had shut in a teeming mass of Jews, who were being led to the incinerators. Here they had lived through their last minutes facing inescapable death.

I went in and saw where the victims had been housed. The terror of death was in the air and I thought of the holy martyrs and their fiendish executors.

In one room there was a heap of shoes taken from those who were going to the gas chambers, shoes of all sizes, of children, women and men, new and worn-out. I had a feeling as if all those shoes were about to march towards me and continue their walking from where it had been stopped.

So I went on and reached the incinerator. How degraded must have been those who had done the devil's work here! How much thought they gave to perfect the machinery, those outcasts, who are our contemporaries, yours and mine, sons of the 20th century.

We were told that when this death factory was taken, the liberators found a heap of ashes of some fourteen hundred cubic meters, near the incinerator where the victims of the gas chambers were annihilated.

I stood there and wept. I was grinding my teeth and was angry with the world that stood by and didn't lift a finger when innocent human beings were mass murdered, only because they were Jews. I sent a postcard home with the words: "I am ashamed to think that the murderers were created in God's image. Majdanek, the shame of the enlightened world"


[Page 91]

Rozhan, Could I Ever Forget You?

by Nathan Wyggoda

May my tongue cleave to my palate, if I ever forget you! And how could one forget all our dear holy martyrs? Forget the place and the surroundings, life and friends, fellow men who gave us the feeling that we were modern Jews with values. Here I can see before my eyes the little township of Rozhan and its vicinity, the marvelous nature, the hills, the river Narev, the woods, the Older Brick about which were told grueling stories. And all around were Jewish, Jews with sad eyes, afraid of tomorrow, and yet with hearts full of hope that for us too, for the Jewish people, there might arrive better times and days of joy.

How much heroism was hidden away in each and every one, necessary in order to survive in an environment of hatred, which was in power. Who dare say that our brothers went like sheep to the slaughter, as the story is often told. The truth is that our Jews of Rozhan had more than once beaten back anti-Semitic assault and its pogroms.

In Rozhan you could find (Tora) students, traders and artisans, workers and associations, libraries, evening-courses, lectures, sport-clubs, a drama-circle and so on and so on.

On a Sabbath Jews put on their silken coats, their Sabbath clothes and went to prayer meetings. The youngsters went to their associations and everybody had the same aim, the same hope and will: to live as Jews. The innocent martyrs met death in every horrible way, what for? For whom? Only because they were Jews!

The Hitlerites and their supporters wanted to erase from the world and from world history one of the oldest nations; and the rulers of the world were content to look on and to keep silent. How can we forget that? How can we forgive them? On the contrary! We shall protest and demand that the Nazi murderers who are still strutting about in both Germany and in Austria not be allowed to go set free. We shall cry out and apply to the last shred of conscience in the world: Don't allow the law to pass that will grant pardon to the Nazis and oblivion to their shameful crimes!

The State of Israel that came into being after the 6 million martyrs had been killed is the repository of their sacred memory. Many of the dead might have been living with us here; they might have increased our number, added to our strength and rendered the land fertile.

Let us remember and let us swear: never to forget the horrible crime of the Nazi bandits and of their helpmates! Let's do whatever we can to strengthen our state, as a Jewish state is the only guarantee against another disaster!


[Page 93]

The Rozhan Relief Committee in New York

by Nathan Wyggoda

(Origins and Activities)

It was in 1937/38 that appeals from our township Rozhan to us, who had emigrated to America, became more and more urgent. Jews had much to complain of in semi-fascist Poland and the situation in Rozhan was especially bad, as it was surrounded by a hostile, gentile population, thirsty to vent its spleen upon the Jews.

We heard of the economic and political repression our brethren had to suffer, of the brutal aggression by the local N.D. anti-Semites who called quite openly for the economic extinction of Jewish traders and artisans through complete boycott of their shops.

In those days we already had the "Etz-Hayim Society" with its "Ladies Auxiliary", as well as "People of Rozhan" (Landsmannschaft). Following the appeal issued by the "Etz-Hayim Society", a group of people from Rozhan erected a corporation whose task would be to extend help to individuals and institutions of Rozhan, who might be in need of it in any respect. We used to send money and parcels to the "Ort" school, to the Talmud-Tora and also to individuals, who, in our view, required assistance.

During the bloody years of the Nazi Holocaust our activities came to a standstill. Only in 1944 the first reports of the catastrophe of Polish Jewry reached us. Rozhan, we were told, was one of the first places to be hit. As yet we did not know what was left of our town and who were the survivors, nor how to assist them, but we began to organize the members of our community in New York. A meeting was called for Wednesday, December 20th 1944 at the Rozhan "Shul", 9-11 Montgomery Street. In attendance were the heads of the above mentioned organized bodies as well as of the Rozhan branch 454 of the "Arbeter Ring" and of branch 98 of the Jewish Fraternal Order; the Progressive Young Men of Rozhan and the Radzimin Hassidim of Rozhan. The following officials were elected at the meeting

President:         Israel (Saul) Welwel Goldstein
Vice-president : Idel Katz
Finance Secretary: Abraham Rosenberg
Treasurer (Cashier): Anna Schultz
Recording Secretary: Morris Goldstein .

The following members of our community joined the executive committee:

Sam Orlowsky Morris Tshelst
Isidore Rozin Saul Goldstein
Jack Gruszko Sam Goldstein
Kalman Zamek Florence Goldstein
Morrls Shultzer     Alter Plotkin
Arthur Tshelst

On September 10th 1945 an enlarged meeting of members of our community living in New York or elsewhere in American was held, where plans were made to assist our people from Rozhan who had survived the holocaust. At the memorial service for the victims our president Israel Welwel Goldstein succumbed to a heart attack and we lost one of those who had been most active in our work. His place was taken by the vice-president Idel Katz, while Saul Goldstein became vice-president and assistance work was carried on. At this time came a first appeal from the (Organization of) Polish Jews asking us to adopt two orphans. At the next meeting, October 11th it was resolved to comply with this demand and two orphans were adopted. At the same time $600 were levied for the Association (Farband) of Polish Jews in America. Next we received the first direct calls for emergency help from Rozhan survivors at Reichenbach, Silesia. Financial help was sent at once and a collection of clothes and food began. Sam and Rose Orlowsky were specially devoted to the work, in whose house the food parcels were packed, also Benjamin and Norma Plotkin, who put their home at the disposal of those who prepared the clothes and made the packages to be sent to our dears. We should mention as very active our friends in New York Sam and Florence Goldstein, John and Sara Rosenberg, Paul Goldstein, Sam Nagel, Saul Miller, Haim Plotkin, Dave Rozin, Alter Plotkin, Jack Lipniak, Morris and Ann Shultzer, Abraham Keltch, Jack Melnik, Feiwel Pultusker and Shmuel Rogoza. Owing to the devotion of our community members in American assistance work could be expanded to reach survivors in Poland, Germany, Austria, France, Italy and the U.S.S.R. Help was even sent as far as Australia and China.

When the war was over, the Jews from Rozhan began to arrive in the U.S. We called a meeting (September 20th 1946) where it was resolved to take upon ourselves the task of assisting any newcomer from Rozhan who might be in need of help.

So our Assistance Committee carried out its activities for people from Rozhan in America and elsewhere. Then Jews from Rozhan also began to arrive in Israel and we made Israel the center of our activities. Above all we stressed help to the loan fund organized by the Rozhan committee in Israel.

Meanwhile we lost our president Idel Katz and another active member. Benjamin Plotkln, took over as president and Dave Rozin as finance secretary, so that relief and assistance work for our people all over the world could go on.

As time went on our "Landeleute" became established in Israel, while. In New York, the number of people active on the committee was shrinking, so that the work suffered a temporary eclipse. When however, the Israeli committee began to take practical steps towards publication of a book in memory of the community of Rozhan and its martyrs, and they applied to us for help in this sacred task, we reorganized our committee and put ourselves at the service of this important undertaking.

At a meeting specially devoted to this memorial book (Feb. 28th 1971. New York) a new active body was elected:

President: Benjamin Plotkin; Vice President: Jack Tshelst; Financial Secretary: Haim Plotkin; Treasurer: John Kvartgwitz; Recording Secretary: Morris Goldstein; Honorary members of the executive committee are: Arthur Tshelst, Alter Plotkln, Morris Beilis, John Rosenberg, William Berman, Morris Shultzer, Menuha Shultzer, Elia Wilgovitch.

We continue sending financial aid towards the publication of the Memorial Book as well as certain material for it. We do our work, being grateful to our "Landaleute" both in Israel and the U.S. for the effort they make in order to have this book published, which is to be a memorial for all times to our holy martyrs, testimony to their spirit and a warning to the fiendish Hitlers of the world to tell them that none shall ever be able to wipe out Israel.

Such a memorial book gives a deep meaning to the activities of our Landsmannschaft-Societies. Every small thing done, every meeting, the committees, they are all part of a deep Jewish national instinct and togetherness which has given the Jewish people the force to withstand all their enemies, to overcome them and in the end to establish their own state.

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