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[Page 327 - Hebrew] [Page 519 - Yiddish]

The Holocaust and Destruction

 

Jewish Life in Sanok During the Time of the Nazi Occupation

by Hadassah Herzog-Lezer

Translated by Jerrold Landau

With a heart filled with feelings of agony and trembling I will attempt to put on paper some details or partial details about the time of the Holocaust in Sanok and about what took place to the Jews during those times in that city.

At the outset, I will point out that, as one of the few survivors from among those who passed through the terrible tribulations that are beyond man's imagination to describe, I can testify with pride that we, the Jews of Sanok, did not lose our G-dly image during that terrible time, and we did not embarrass Jewish honor in general, and the community of Sanok in particular. All of the Jews of Sanok knew that it was an honor to be numbered among the families of that city. Even when we found ourselves in a desperate, hopeless situation, we not only held strong against the realities, but even helped the local people or the masses of people that came to our city in order to cross to the other side of the San River.

The entrance of the Germans into Sanok took place relatively calmly. The event itself was a sort of relief from the tension that electrified the city during the ten days that elapsed between the outbreak of the war and the conquest of the city. Most of the men, Jews and gentiles, escaped eastward over the San River, and those that were left waited in fear for what was to come.

The quiet that settled upon the city after the commotion of the escape was disturbed by isolated shots from the retreating Polish Army. The Germans entered a short time later. They appeared outside the city riding on large vehicles, the likes of which have never been seen before in Sanok. The houses appeared tiny next to them, and the streets were too small for them. They arrived arrogant, full of self-confidence, and drunk with victory. At first, their behavior was exemplary, and aside from a few instances of robbery and pillaging -- primarily in shops and houses that were abandoned by their owners -- they did not harm anybody. However, we quickly began to hear stories about atrocities and victims who fell in nearby cities. The news was brought to us by the many refugees from other cities as well as others who passed through Sanok on their way home after the Germans overtook them and cut off their path to the east. We were told of low-flying airplanes which directed their machine guns toward the stream of refugees, killing hundreds. We heard rumors about the murder of Jews. The Germans murdered approximately 500 Jews in Przemysl, 150 in Dynów, and 30 in Ustrzyki Dolne. The Germans quickly revealed their true face in Sanok as well. In a night of terror, they set the synagogues and the Talmud Torah on fire. These buildings had been the pride of the city. The incident was perpetrated in an organized fashion at one time throughout the entire city. This did not take too much organization, for the synagogues were concentrated in one place. The first Jewish victim fell that night, Reb Yosef Rabbach, may G-d avenge his blood, who gave his life to rescue the Torah scrolls from the fire. He was shot by a German who was supervising the task, and tossed into the flames. Many others were shocked from the great tragedy and also attempted to take their lives in their hands to save Torah scrolls. However, they were not successful. One of them was Steiger of blessed memory, who was saved from death only through a miracle.

A short time later, the first Ukrainian council was set up in the city, headed by the lawyer Mazor Malchach, who used to be involved with Jews. The first task he took upon himself was to extort money from Jews. To this end,

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ten respected Jews of the city were arrested, and a contribution of 50,000 zloty was imposed upon the community as ransom. Since there was no community council, the demand to pay the money within 48 hours was given to Dr. Nehmer, the chairman of the Zionist organization. Dr. Nehmer quickly summoned Zionist activists to come to him, and began to collect the money with their assistance. Lists of people of means from among the Jews who remained in the city (and there were not many) were complied. With an emotional plea, and at times even with pleading, they were asked to contribute to the ransom of the prisoners. A door-to-door collection was also taken up to collect smaller sums. Not everyone understood the seriousness of the situation, and some people turned their back on the canvassers. Even with these efforts, we did not succeed in collecting more than 26,000 zloty. Dr. Nehmer went with this sum to the lawyer Mazor, who knew him well before the war, and requested that he forgo the remainder of the sum and free the hostages. However, Mazor hardened his heart, and chased Dr. Nehmer from his office, shouting at him to get out. Nevertheless, the wicked man agreed to grant a 24 hour extension for the full payment of the contribution, repeating the threat that one of the hostages would be killed for every 5,000 zloty missing from the sum.

With great despair, they decided to turn to the German authorities of the city. There was no Gestapo yet in Sanok, and the government was in the hands of the Wehrmacht. This was the first official contact between the Jews and the German authorities. Three men were sent, Melech Ortner, Leib Werner, and Jarmark, all of blessed memory, to intercede with the ruler of the city to repeal the decree that was imposed by Mazor. As they went along their way, they cast lots to determine who would be the spokesman. The lot fell upon Werner.

To their great surprise, the delegation was received politely by the commander of the city. After he heard their request, he explained to them that he had nothing to do with the imposition of the contribution, and if the Jews do not want to or are unable to pay, they are not required to do so. Of course, Mazor did not get any more money from the Jews, and the hostages were freed after a few days without any harm.

After a brief period, the responsibility for the Jews of the city passed to more “competent” hands. A Gestapo command was set up in the city with a “Judenreferent” named Brand, who was responsible for organizing the Judenrat. Dr. Nehmer, who was active to this time, was not able to tolerate any more tension, so he fled with his wife to Stryj is a known city.]]. Brand ordered the communal council with those remaining. The heads of the committee included Leib Werner, Elimelech Ortner, Aryeh Strassberg, Berel Jarmark, Karl Weiner, and Brat of blessed memory. They prepared lists of the young people who were fit to go out to work, and provided the Germans with daily quotas of workers. In this way they avoided the snatching of people for work from the street, which was often accompanied by cruel beatings. The provision of workers quickly became a daily activity of the Jewish community. When the turn came of people of means, they would usually hire somebody to take their place.

Lists of people of means were prepared, and taxes were imposed upon them to cover the costs of the community. Social institutions were set up to assist the needy. A low-cost kitchen was set up for the poor of the city and for the many refugees who passed through the city.

All of the communal heads worked in a voluntary capacity, without receiving a salary.

In the middle of the days of Sukkot, an event took place that seemed like an unrivaled tragedy. The heads of the Jewish families in the city were ordered to gather in the yard of the city hall, without anybody knowing the reason. The Jundenreferent Brand greeted them with a whip in his hand, whipping to the right and the left. He divided

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the people into two groups. One of the groups was ordered to vacate the city at dawn and cross the San, and the second group was sent to work.

It is difficult to describe in words the gloomy sight of the departure of the deportees as it appeared to the eyes of the “lucky ones” who were permitted to remain. In the rain and the wind, the men, women and children set out on their way, each with a small sack on his back. Nobody knew what awaited them there in the unknown land. Furthermore, some of their belongings were stolen from them as they crossed the bridge over the San River.

A short time later, the Russians conquered the eastern bank of the San, and all connections with the other side were severed. At first, it was still possible to stand on the banks of the river and conduct a conversation with a shouting voice with the family members who had been separated. Very quickly, the Russians put an end to this by forcing people away.

In those days, the Jews who remained on the German side were considered fortunate, and attempts were made to reunite families and return people to Sanok. On the other hand, the Germans encouraged the movement to the other side. The news that the Germans were permitting people to cross to the Russian side through Sanok spread quickly through Poland. People began to stream to Sanok to cross the San. With the consent of the Gestapo, the communal council took it upon themselves to organize the escape. Approximately once a week, caravans of approximately 500 people were organized in the yard of the communal council. At nightfall, the caravans set up under accompaniment from a member of the communal council -- usually Werner -- and a Gestapo man (the later was to protect the refugees from the border police).

They did not always succeed in crossing the San. At times, the Russian border guards noticed them as they were crossing and chased them back. Then, an attempt was made to send them over from a different place. Sometimes the same thing took place several times on the same night. There were cases where after moving all night, the refugees returned from whence they had come since the Russians did not permit them to ascend the riverbank. There was no shortage of tragic incidents. Once when I was accompanying such a caravan, a woman who was carrying a sewing machine on her back began to drown. Werner immediately removed his coat, jumped into the water, and saved her.

The caravans stopped after some time, when the Russians deployed guard dogs that did not permit people to ascend the riverbank. The Jews who remained in the city lived a relatively calm life. Nobody was prepared to believe the news that reached us about the tribulations of the Jews of Warsaw, where movement from city to city was forbidden, making communication even more difficult. It was indeed possible to travel with a special permit, but it was difficult to obtain such a permit. People preferred to remain in their homes. After December 1, all of the Jews were obliged to tie a band with a Magen David to their arms, revealing their identity openly.

Stores and workshops were opened in the city, and commerce took place. On occasion, however, Jews were imprisoned and beaten; but they were freed with the intercession of the heads of the community. In order to maintain proper relations with the Gestapo and to assuage their anger, they were provided with various provisions and many gifts, including liquor, fine foodstuffs, particularly coffee from Slovakia, as well as gold, silver and outfits for their wives and themselves.

The preparation of the gifts for Christmas of 1939 remains in my mind as a depressing incident in which Yechezkel Hochdorf and Leib Werner were beaten harshly. The three of them, Werner, Ortner, and Hochdorf, were on their way to the communal offices laden with gifts that were being prepared for the enemy when suddenly a man of the Totenkopfverband appeared before them. One of them beat my husband. Werner, seeing this, turned sharply

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to the Nazi and asked: “why are you beating him?” He turned his wrath to Werner, knocked him to the ground and began to trample him with his feet and strangle him. Were it not for a push from Heaven to move me out to the street at that moment, I would not have known what had happened. At that time, several women, including Chaya Werner, Lotka Spiegel, Fridka Landesman-Kornfeld and I were preparing cakes for the wives of the Gestapo. I went out to the street, and when I saw what was taking place, I did not think much, and immediately grabbed the hand of the murderer and pushed him backward. He turned to me, waved a fist in my face, and disappeared. Werner got up on his feet with difficulty. He had four broken teeth in his mouth. He regained his health in a few days.

Photo page 330: Aryeh Leib (Leon) Werner, may G-d avenge his blood

What I have written is only the minutest amount of what took place; a drop in the ocean, the ocean of anguish and tribulation that we and our martyred brothers and sisters suffered. This was the suffering of a Jew for being a Jew. They went along their final steps to martyrdom in sanctification of the Divine Name with sublime self-sacrifice with the words of Shema Yisrael on their lips. May G-d avenge their blood!


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The Shoah of Sanok Jewry

by Avraham Werner

Translated by Jerrold Landau

(Sections of memory and impressions.)

The Jews of Sanok went through a period of relative quiet until June 1941, the beginning of the German-Russian war. During that time there were not many Jewish murders, and the communal council had a certain level of autonomy in running the affairs of the community. Nevertheless, their rights as citizens were removed from them. Movement between different locations was only permitted to Jews by a special permit from the Kreishauptmann, which was not easy to obtain. Every Jew from the age of 12 and above was obligated to wear an armband with a Magen David. It was forbidden for a Jew to be found outside the door of his home after 9:00 p.m. Severe punishments, usually accompanied by cruel beatings, were inflicted on anyone who did not follow the edicts.

The communal council was obligated to provide quotas of workers for backbreaking work for the Gestapo, border guards, and other groups. At times, the demand for workers was greater than the ability to supply. At that time, a class of fill-in workers was created. People of means whose turn came to go out for work were able to hire a replacement and thereby save themselves from the disgrace involved in the work.

In the summer of 1940, the communal council initiated an activity that left a strong impression upon all of the Jews of Sanok, and even caused waves in other communities throughout Poland. 150 martyrs of Dynów who were murdered by the Germans at the beginning of the war were brought to a Jewish burial. After receiving a bribe, the Gestapo in Sanok that was responsible for the entire area turned a blind eye from this “iniquity” of conducting a Jewish burial. People came from many places in order to identify their dear ones who had been murdered. Some of the victims were identified from certificates and other identifying marks. Pieces of clothing and other marks of identification were taken from others for later identification. Only after that were they buried in a Jewish ceremony.

The situation changed decisively when the Germans entered into war with the Russians. Every day brought with it new decrees. The communal council was ordered to provide more and more people for forced labor. The Jews worked at building roads, mining rocks from quarries, and other backbreaking work. Work camps were set up in the region of Trepcza, and people were taken out for work for entire weeks under dismal nutritional conditions.

Life became more difficult from day to day. The price of food skyrocketed and those who did not have any valuables to exchange with the farmers in the region suffered the disgrace of hunger. Many relied on the soup kitchen that operated next to the communal council.

During that generation, isolated shipments were sent to Auschwitz for various reasons, and at times without reason. The first victims began to fall in Sanok itself. On Rosh Hashana of 1941, a group of worshippers was captured and sent to Auschwitz, including Reb Berish Zeitzler. In the winter of 1942, all of the Jews were ordered to hand over their furs by a certain date. Immediately after the deadline, searches were conducted for hidden furs. A number of Jews in whose houses remnants of furs that were forgotten were found were sent to Auschwitz, including Mrs. Regenbogen of blessed memory in whose house an old glove was found. Jews were murdered for no reason. There were Gestapo members who murdered Jews solely for the enjoyment of killing (Pugt -- a butcher by profession), without even bothering to explain

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the reason. Only a notice was sent to the communal council indicating the location of the murdered Jews, and informing the council that they must take care of the burial.

Only a few escaped. Some searched for refuge with the Polish population, but only a few succeeded. At best, the Poles and Ukrainians were indifferent to the fate of the Jews.

There was no connection with Jews in other cities. Gentiles brought news about the liquidation of ghettos. In Sanok, Jews deceived themselves that they would avoid a similar fate through performing vital work for the Germans. On their side, the Germans encouraged that thought. Then, the idea was hatched to utilize several unfinished buildings in Zaslaw to set up a manufacturing enterprise that would be vital for the Germans. Under the guise of enlisting the Jews for vital work, the Germans began to prepare lists of the Jews of the city, and signed their certificates. The Jews believed that obtaining the appropriate certificate in their identification cards would prevent their deportation. Once, a date for deportation was set, which was pushed off for two months. This caused indescribable joy for the Jews of the city.

The Germans continued carrying out their plans in a systematic fashion. They decreed a confiscation of furniture, rugs and bedding. All of the goods were collected into one place by Jewish workers and sent to Germany. Tens of young people were killed during these tasks. In the towns and villages in the region of Sanok, Gestapo men with their Ukrainian helpers would make the rounds during that time, murdering all of the Jews in sudden aktions. The survivors who succeeded in saving themselves would come to Sanok and tell about the valley of murder. They said that all of the Jews would be gathered together in the cemeteries where there were open graves. The victim had to lean over the open pit. The murderer would shoot him in his neck, and the victim would fall directly into the pit.

The decree of deportation was issued about a week before Rosh Hashanah 1941. The Germans gathered about 6,000 wagons hitched to horses from the people of the region. Approximately 10,000 Jews of Sanok were transferred to the Zaslaw Camp in one day. Every Jew was allowed to take along up to 10 kilograms of personal belongings. In Zaslaw, they were loaded upon cramped transport wagons and sent to the Belzec death camp. Some people attempted to hide from the deportation, but they were unsuccessful. Most were captured within a short time. Some of them were murdered in the cemetery, and others were sent to Zaslaw and murdered there.

Approximately 1,500 Jews remained in Sanok after the large aktion, including 300 in the Sanok Ghetto that encompassed several houses around the courtyard of the Admor of Dynów, and approximately 100 Jews in the railway car factory. There were also concentrations in Zaslaw, Trepcza, and the bunks of the Schutzpolizei in Domborska -- mainly young people who were occupied in the liquidation of property, the building of roads, and other work for the military.

The activity of the communal council had ceased a long time before this. All contact between the heads of the community and the Gestapo stopped. Directives to the Jewish population were transferred via the Jewish Ordundsdienst which was set up by the Nazis. In the middle of December 1942, the communal heads who had still survived were taken out to be murdered; including Leib Werner, his wife Chaya and son Mordechai, Elimelech Ortner, his wife and son Motek, and Leibish Strassberg. They were all shot in the Sanok cemetery.

At that time, the head of the Gestapo gathered the remaining Jews in the ghetto and the camps and delivered a calming speech to them, claiming that there would be no more deportations on the condition that they worked with dedication and behaved in an exemplary fashion. Indeed, this situation continued until January 1943, when the survivors of the camps were gathered into the Sanok Ghetto. One night, the ghetto was surrounded by Ukrainian and Polish guards under German protection. In the morning, the residents of the ghetto were marched in the direction of Zaslaw. A few Jews from the wagon factory joined them along the way. When they arrived at Zaslaw, they were all brought into one of the halls under heavy guard. Two days later

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approximately 1,300 people were loaded on 10 transport wagons and sent to Belzec. Approximately 50 Jews who were occupied with the liquidation of the Jewish property remained in the Zaslaw Camp. They were shot on the spot during their work, with the exception of a few who succeeded in escaping.

Photo page 333: A smile on the face and an armband on the sleeve -- a group of young people before entering the Zaslaw Camp


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Mother Along with Children

by Batia Ohren

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Dedicated to the souls of the pure Jewish children who were murdered by impure hands.

A dear child, a darling child, thriving child
You were placed onto the pyre, the strand of life was cut off.
The tender oak was cut down, the innocent song stopped.
The bright light was extinguished, the shining day darkened.

Where is the pen to describe the depths of the agony,
Where is the balm to cure every torn heart?
Where is the grave where your bodies rest.
The monument upon which can be read: “Here is buried...

In me, the mother, in my heart I will tend to your grave.
I will hover over it with my agony so great.
I will weave a wreath with my daily tears and grief,
It will rest on the heart of the mother, as a memorial for every generation.

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