Zwi Kleinman, of blessed memory
Translated by Pamela Russ
Sunday, September 10, 1939, the day after a German soldier was shot by a Polish storekeeper for robbing his store, a mass of German soldiers prepared for fighting was released across the city primarily on the Jewish streets. The assault was so tremendous that many people were convinced that the Polish military had again invaded the city and that both armies were meeting head on fully armed. But it wasn't the Polish army that the Germans had come to meet. They had come to pacify (calm down) the town that was preparing to put up a resistance against the military, preventing them from re-entering the city.
Very soon, in the first few minutes, were heard terrible screams from those who were being beaten and those who were beating, at the very same time. German soldiers spread out across the city to search the houses. Not one room was left unturned, destroyed beyond recognition. All mirrors were smashed, all the paned doors of the credenzas were broken up, all the linen was shredded and torn so much so that it was impossible to recognize what once was. Not one door remained unopened; not one lock could withstand the power of the soldiers' fists and boots.
As they stormed into the houses, they did not distinguish between men and women, the young ones or the elderly, the healthy ones or the ailing. All, with an extraordinary atrocity and sadism, were hurled into the streets some through the door, some through the window. The lucky ones tore themselves away, young and healthy people. After receiving the first beatings, they quickly found refuge somewhere outside of the house. The older and weaker people, who could not disappear so quickly, received murderous beatings. Even the children were not spared this sadism. All the streets were filled with these victims who no longer had any remaining resemblance to anything human and emitted eerie cries, because before coming to the market where all the Jews were forced to assemble, they all had to pass through the seven generations of hell
|The place where the Serock shul stood|
from the various German guards that were in the corners of the streets, and take along provisions for the journey: smashed up heads, broken noses, beat up sides.
Meanwhile, Jews did not forget that they were Jews. After surviving such a difficult trip, they set themselves aside to recite Psalms and Vidui (prayer of confession recited before death) with great passion in order to prepare themselves for the lengthy and final journey that awaited them. It was a sure thing for them, that all the people in the city would be shot out of revenge.
Herding the people into one place was done with such a storm, with such a rage, and with such foam on the soldiers' mouths, that no one doubted the end was near.
The entire marketplace was surrounded by a larger number of armed soldiers who with great fury chased the people from one corner to another.
The Psalms and reciting of Vidui were choked together with the cries of the elderly and the sick, along with the screams and convulsive cries of the women and sobs of the children.
At the very same time, there was a fight between the Polish army that was located two kilometers from the town, on the other
side of the Narew River, and the German army that had just about walled in the missiles and machine guns in the city. Bullets from both sides flew over the city, over the heads of those stampeded together in the marketplace. Every shot and explosion from the grenades that fell nearby aggravated the chaos even more and evoked fresh cries and screams each time.
Afterwards, a German officer came into the marketplace, and was informed about the terrible crime that the city had experienced the murder of a German soldier, and that according to the law, all the people of the town had to be murdered like dogs, but that they the Germans were refined people and so would release all women and children from all punishments, but the men would have to be punished and therefore they will have to be imprisoned.
Now the real wailing began from the women those who were forcefully torn away from their husbands. In the end, some policemen arrived and ordered the crowd to march, and finally we were herded into the shul that was transformed into a prison camp.
In the shul, the Jews saw the great massacre that had taken place there just a few minutes earlier. All the lecterns were broken, the Holy Ark was smashed up, the Torah scrolls were shredded and parts of them were thrown into a toilet, and the rest were stomped on with boots. They were spat on, and covered in garbage and excrement, and then finally burned. All the prayers that were etched into the walls were scribbled on or rubbed off.
Seeing this horrific desecration, the Jews dropped their heads in despair, and then this question was raised by not only one of them: Wouldn't it be nicer and better for God if only the hands of the vandals would wither?
An hour later the same Jews were forced to set fire to the Torah scrolls that were lost in the corners, and one Jew refused to set fire to them and for that he was severely beaten. He took a long time to set the fire, but it wouldn't light, so with his own hands he had to throw the scrolls into the toilet.
In the shul, they started to try to lie down on the broken benches.
Some of the non-Jews, who lived among the Jews, were chased together with them into the shul. Among them were the pharmacist and the post office manager, both known anti-Semites.
The guard that was assigned to watch this group, approximately 300 persons, was very tough. If you went to the window to try to get some air, you got murderous beatings. It was very difficult to get permission to go to the washroom so you had to resign yourself and hold yourself back with all your strength. The majority of those gathered held themselves back from eating the food they had brought from home in order that they wouldn't have to come to the state of asking for permission to use the bathroom.
The front came closer, and each time there were fresh military units and their officers. Knowing about the Jews who were in the prison camp, they came to look at them and then they would thunder against the Juden and then beat them.
On the second day, an officer came and sat at the entranceway that led from the shul to the bais medrash (place of study). Everyone had to pass his table as they went from the shul to the bais medrash. The Germans spread tables across the entire width of the bais medrash, which everyone had to jump over in order to get from there into a smaller room that used to be a classroom. The younger ones, who were able to get to the other side very quickly, got away with lesser beatings, in relative terms, whereas the older and weaker ones, experienced the taste of death. For them it was a real gehenem (hell), and their wails and cries went straight to heaven.
Every time after this sort of a test that cost him dearly the victim tried to turn over on his other side but lay faint on the ground. His tormentor exclaimed his joy and satisfaction and applauded.
After this control, all the people were crammed into a narrow room where it was very warm and humid. After four hours in this narrow, warm room, the guard allowed the group to go back into the shul.
That same day, the Germans took out an old man, 75 years old, one of the great Torah scholars and enlightened Jews of the town, Reb Yitzkhok Blakhman, and accused him of preparing arms to confront the Germans when they would march into the city. The accusation came from the fact that when they had robbed his store that had kitchen products, they found a few dozen knives.
The response from this elderly man, whose age and frailty were evidence to the fact that he did not have the power to fight with soldiers, helped very little. He was severely tortured. The people who saw this, cried. It is incomprehensible how this weak man remained alive. After that, when he was relieved of this accusation, they found another opportunity to beat him: They told him to move about very quickly with lightning speed. The elderly man, who normally would walk very slowly, after receiving these blows, could hardly even move at all. None of his pleas helped. The old man simply remained lying on the ground. The Germans pounded all over his body with their boots.
Under their terrible behavior and under a very rigid regime, the assembled group in the shul lived like this from Sunday to Thursday. On Thursday, another officer came, repeated Monday's speech, and in the end all the people between 18 and 45 years of age were divided into two groups, from which one was sent on foot to Pultusk. Children under 18 and those over 45 were let go.
(From the archives of the Jewish History Institute in Warsaw)
Shlomo Sterdiner (Ramat Gan, [Israel])
Translated by Pamela Russ
Soon after the Germans captured Serock, they took over all the bridges. The community of Jablonna Legionowo, 15 kilometers south of Serock, was comprised mainly of Serocker Jews who settled there primarily to be able to find financial opportunity in the last few years prior to the outbreak of World War II. Shortly after Serock, Legionowo also fell, and the Germans immediately demanded a large fee. Since it was not possible to raise such a large sum within the allotted time, the murderers arrested 21 Jews, among whom were Reb Moishe Wisniewicz and his son Jidel Jakov Leviner, and so on, may G-d avenge their blood, who even after the monies were paid, were murdered nonetheless.
A short while after the invasion, the Germans established a ghetto on Legionowo in the section of the city that was called Ludwiszyn in which they also amassed the Jews from the surrounding towns and villages, such as: Piekele, Dombrowa, Henrykow, and so on.
There were many Serocker Jews in the Legionowo ghetto, who had run away from Biala Podlask, Lejkowo and Lomza, where they were sent from Serock in December 1939.
Life in the ghetto was tough and bitter. We had to give away all the valuables, fur coats and gold to the murderers.
October 15, 1942 (Simkhas Torah [the last day of the Succot holiday and normally a day of great celebration with the Torah]), the Jablonna Legionowo ghetto was liquidated in a horrific manner. (This town was called and this is factual the extended Serock.)
Some of the Jews were murdered on the spot, some of them tried to escape and hide in the surrounding forests, and the rest were transported out in simple railroad cars and taken to Radzymin a distance of 40 kilometers where together with the local and rest of the Jews, were all taken to Treblinka.
The Journey of Pain
On the 28th of April, 1943, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, they led us through the burning streets of Warsaw until we arrived at that bloody place (called the Umschlagplatz, [German: reloading point This was the place where the Jews were gathered and prepared for being shipped out.]) That is where I already began to see our tragedy. I began to look around, seeing how our sisters and brothers lay murdered by the hands of the Nazi murderers, who were even seen to dance in the Jewish blood. When they took us to the trains, I noticed that on the other side there were two rows of SS (Schutzstaffel, Nazi security officers) standing. Between the rows of these murderers, individuals passed, one at a time, both men and women. Some of the women carried children in their arms, tormented and exhausted from hunger. They had already been sitting in the buildings of the Umschlagplatz for a few days, and in that way, by the time the people walked between the rows until the trains, they were already downtrodden. For those who didn't go the way the murderers wanted, there stood a special band of murderers ready and waiting for Jewish blood, always with their pistols and machine guns ready and extended towards the unfortunates, who were already unsteady on their feet, and they immediately opened fire on the innocent victims. With a cry of Shema Yisroel (the final prayer recited before death, indicating the acceptance of G-d's Will), they fell to their death.
Right after that there was a command given to the workers of the Khesed Shel Emes (Jewish organization that prepares the dead for burial), to clean up the area. At the same time that the workers were cleaning the bodies away to the side, the murderers were going back to look for new victims. Two Jewish workers carried one Jewish victim. Noticing that the victim was heavy, one SS officer asked the worker: Is this too heavy for you? Then I can make it easier for you. He takes both of these workers away from this place and directs them towards the mountain of our victims, and commands the two workers to lie down. One of the murderers takes out his bayonet and plunges it right into one worker's heart. The second worker, seeing the death of his friend, started to run. A volley of bullets was released, and he fell dead.
And still, back to the rows, the work goes on. People go and they fall. Blood is flowing as we get to the railroad cars. Now, in the cars, begins the real tragedy. One person begins to scream: Where is my husband? And one woman
screams: They've murdered my children! Let me out! Let them shoot me! I want to die the way my children have died! One hears screams: Where are my sister and brother? They've already been murdered. All you hear is lamenting cries. And the car is crowded. We can't breathe already. People are pleading: Water! We're dying! People scream so long for water, that eventually they die of hunger and thirst. People are piled on the sides, one on top of the other. By the time we left, 17 women and 8 men had already died. The people stopped screaming. It became silent in the car. A deathly silence ruled over our heads. Then we hear about new victims. I squeeze myself close to the other side by the window and see that they are leading large groups of people. It seemed that they were removed from the bunkers. When these people neared the cars, we saw that their faces were black and they were in a faint.
There was no more talking. Everyone was pleading: Master of the Universe, just end it all for us. Don't let us be tortured for a long time in the cars. Soon we heard them open the doors to the car, and the beatings and shootings began. People are pushing very hard in order to get into the cars more quickly. From the wagons is again heard the lamenting cries: Where are the children? I have lost the children! And the murderers are strolling back and forth outside the cars. They are laughing and they call to us: Do you want some water? Get out [of the railroad car] and give us your gold. When they receive no answer, they begin shooting at us and kill five people. The murderers open the doors of the car and point their extended machine guns at us. When we saw the wild looks directed at us, we became silent for a time. This enraged them so much that they took a 23-year-old woman off the train. The murderers led her away, and approximately ten minutes later a shot was heard. Everybody froze. We heard the footsteps of the murderers approaching. They are here! Our hearts beat in terror. Soon the doors to the cars open and the murderers yell: Two men get out! Opposite the door were sitting two men. They stood up, became very pale, and cried out to us: All of you stay alive! We've had enough. And they went
out of the car. As they were jumping down from the train, they called back: Live and take revenge!
Soon others came and shut the doors to the railway cars. Near the small wired window, I stand and watch how the murderers lead our Jews along the same route in which the young woman fell to victim. It is quiet in the car for a while. I strain to look through the small window and see how those who were taken away are carrying the shot woman back to the cars. They open the door to another car and put the young woman in. Soon, a lamenting cry is heard from her mother who recognized her. On the side sits an elderly Jew who cries: Beloved people, how good it is for the daughter of this mother. She [the daughter] had a merit from heaven because she did not have to continue in this way of hunger and thirst then be burned in the coal ovens. Soon everyone in the cars began to cry, and for a long time nothing was heard but the moaning.
Around six in the afternoon, we heard the locomotive's whistle. Everyone sits down, heads bent towards one another, and they say: These are our last hours. We are going to be sacrificed [murdered]. Who will avenge our blood? Who will know what will happen to our bodies? And we hear the second whistle. Our fear begins to take hold, and our hearts pound. The train leaves that bloody place. After a few minutes, it stops at the train station in Gdansk. There, two wild thugs take us over, running from one car to the next. They steal, beat, and murder. The Jews are screaming to our Polish neighbors: Bring us some water! We are dying of thirst! And they ask for 500 zlotys to bring the water. A woman who is fainting, pleads with them: I'll give you my coat. Just give me a bottle of water. One of them replies: Give me your coat and a bottle and I will give you some water. The woman pulls her coat off and gives it away. No one comes back. And there is no water. The people stand and watch as the wild Ukrainians snatch off our clothes and sell them. The crowding is huge. They are pushing and rushing to get our clothing as quickly as possible
How great was our shame. On the side, one Jew sat and moaned. Jews, we have nothing to lose. We have to end our lives so that the wild beasts can no longer torture us. A woman, a doctor, replies: We have to live and suffer until we get to that place. She doesn't realize that we are going to Treblinka, she thinks we are going to Lublin, Trawniki, or Poniatowa, there where all the Jews are working and where we will work too. We Jews know too well that we are born only to give away all our belongings to strangers.
We were 120 people in the car. Every bit of time we looked out the window. Where are we? Are we going to Treblinka or to Lublin? Soon, another discussion begins in the car. One says that this is the route to Treblinka. Everyone becomes depressed. Everyone is sitting and moaning. Where will our bodies go? Who will know of us? One woman asks to be allowed near the window. We are going to Lublin, she says. Everyone breathes more easily. Another scream is heard: Water! We were faint, but there was no water. There were screams: Save us, people! You have a responsibility to save a person from death! We ride into the night, and we have little air. We hear as two young men are sitting on the side, talking about nothing and working diligently. It's already nighttime; we think it is about eleven o'clock. It becomes quiet again. These two young men are still sitting and working their pocket knife, trying to cut through the floor. We hear a train whistle, implying that we are nearing a train station. The shooting does not stop. People are jumping from the cars and the murderers are shooting. Soon we hear a signal and the train stops at the station in Demlin.
It's already eight o'clock in the morning. Through the small wired window, there is some light. And the people are asking again and again, for water and water, because we are dying of thirst. The train does not stay for long, and we are off again. The doors always remain closed. Even if someone would have wanted something, he would not be able to get it. In the car were dead bodies, and on the sides were people in misery, waiting for the same end. The young men are still sitting with their pocket knife and are working very hard .
until they successfully cut through the thick boards of the car. Just before Lublin, one of the young men stands up and shouts: We have cut through the floor! Everyone can save himself! The time is short. I am from Warsaw, and my name is Hershel Eisen. I lived on Niezke Street, number 12. If we don't give in, you will always remember this. Until we reached Lublin, approximately 20 people got out. Then we already heard a train signal, and the train stops. We arrived in Lublin. It is May 1, 1943. They open the doors to the cars, and the SS men go through all the cars and ask: How many dead are there? We say how many, and they go away laughing with extended guns. Then we notice how a train worker is taking a woman to the SS men. One SS man takes her near a car and asks her who she is. She immediately says: I am a Jewish woman. He pulls out his pistol and commands her to lie down. The woman doesn't obey quickly enough, and gets hit on the head from the murderer's gun. She immediately falls to the ground. One man in the group says to shoot her. The murderer shoots her and they walk off, looking at all the wagons. At lunchtime, we noticed that some higher ranking officers had arrived, and one of the SS men gave him a report. They went through each of the cars.
During my time in the Warsaw Ghetto, I met the following landsleit (people from the same town): Dovid Warsawski, Shia Zilbershteyn, Judah (Jidel) Kuligowski, Shloime Ostrowski, Rozenberg, Josef Fishman, my brother-in-law Skurnik with his wife and two children, and my brother Fishel Sterdiner.
As we were waiting at the station in Lublin, the German murderers would not stop the killings. An order was given that half the trainload should go to Majdanek, and the other half to Treblinka. I remained in the train headed for Treblinka. Riding back, we already understood where we were going. Late at night we arrived at the station in Malkin. There Pollaks were walking around, and we asked for water. Their answer was: It's already not worth your while
to drink. The end of your life is already not too far. Throw down what you have and maybe your guards will let you have some water. Women took off their rings and threw them down. The murderous guards picked up everything that had been thrown down and began shooting directly into the train. The SS men heard the shooting and came out of their cars, and ordered that the doors of all the cars be opened, and that they begin smashing the people on their heads with the guns. In my car, there was a bloodbath. And that's how they took us right away from Maklin to Treblinka, a stretch of seven kilometers.
We arrived at the iron gates of Treblinka that were opened with much whistling and signaling. We hear the whistle and the train stops. In a few minutes, they opened the cars with a murderous yell: Get down! Feeling the tragedy of our brothers and sisters, everyone jumped down screaming Shema Yisroel. I held on to my son who was fifteen years old. He said to me: This is the end of our lives. They are shouting right, left, and my son and I went to the right. It was nighttime. By that time we were already separated from our dear ones. They began to take us between mounds and pits. Everyone understood that these pits were prepared for us. We were already so downtrodden from exhaustion and starvation, and from closer up we already smelled the odor of burning humans. No conversation was allowed, yet everyone was mumbling Vidui (the final confession before death) and Shema Yisroel. And that's how it went until we came out of the deepest valley.
Not far from us, we see a high barbed-wire fence. Soon we are near a tall wall where SS men were standing. They shouted: Get in, you lousy Jews! They led us to huge barracks. Immediately the order was given that we stand in threes so that they could count the crowd.
That was on a May night, it was really cold and there was a lot of fear. You could hear everyone's teeth chattering, but we were not permitted to talk. The murderous Ukrainians were speaking Russian and gestured across their throats [implying death]. Tomorrow you are coming into the forest. You've lived enough. That is how the night went by, in pain and agony, until daylight arrived. Each person looked at the other and thought about the hardship of the end of our lives. Where did they bring us for more torture? My son looked at me and I at him, the pity .
was great, but no one could help. We can't even cry or scream. We can only choke back the tears. It is getting lighter outside, and we hear screaming: Get up! Everyone out to the roll call! From the barracks, Jewish victims are running out, everyone naked, with torn shreds of clothing. Whoever is not running, gets beaten. One falls over the other, they push a wagon full of dead bodies. Right after the roll call, they take some of our group to march to Maklin in order to work at the train station there. My son and I remained with the second group to work where we were. That's how the work day went, in deathly perspiration. The Ukrainian murderers shot some people in our group. We had to bring those who were shot into the camp's yard. There was a group of people there who were digging ditches, and that's how they buried the bodies.
On the second day, a new work day, the same beatings and shootings began again. So much so, that we all envied those who were shot. We were working alongside those who had already been in Treblinka for a longer time, and they told us what went on here. Barrack #1 was called the death barrack, and barrack #2, for now, was called the living barrack. The skilled workmen labored in shops shoemaker, tailor, carpenter, weaver, locksmith, and so on. One expert worker was a young man from the town of Sterdin, near Treblinka. When he heard them call me by my name Sterdiner, he came right over to me and asked me why they call me Sterdiner. He thought I was from his town and said to me, that if I am a skilled worker, he would take me out of death barrack #1 and get me into barrack #2.
I told him that I was a good carpenter, so he went to the SS man and told him that there was a good workman here. The SS man came over to me immediately and asked me all kinds of questions about what I was able to do, and I responded to it all.
On the third day, right away in the morning during roll call, the SS man came over to me and asked me if I could sort the barrack walls. I said 'yes,' and the SS man told the young man to give me work and to take all of us out to the place where the walls were laying. As soon as we began working, the Ukrainians began to take aim and shoot some of the workers.
At noontime, the SS man came out to the work place to see how the work was going. Seems that the work pleased him. As we came home from work dead starved, and we got some bread with some warm water, the same young man came over to me, Yitzkhak Majdenberg, may he rest in peace, and told me that the murderers were satisfied [with the work]. I asked the young man to tell the SS man that we couldn't work because they were shooting at us. He went to the SS man and told him what I had said. The SS man came to the work place and ordered them not to shoot at us. Yet, we were beaten and punished, until living became too awful. We had no strength left; the end of our lives had come. Deathly hungry, we practically crawled to the death barrack, lay down on the hard boards, one of us on top of the other, and we heard the wild, drunken cries of the SS men and the Ukrainians. They come right over to us and yell: Jews! Get out! And the murderers stand by the door with their clubs and pistols. They are shooting and beating. Jewish blood is spilling and there is no one to help. We fall one over the other. One is shot, the other is wounded, until the murderers became tired of this game and left. The night passed, and once again, in the morning, we are standing at the roll call. The murderers are looking for anyone who has a scar from the beatings. Anyone with these scars is told not to go to work. This was already a sign of death.
That's how the days passed. Groups of people came, and after losing their strength, through the Selektzia process [selection process of separating the healthier from the weaker, ultimately those who would live and those who would not] they would be sent to the crematoria. I and my son Avrohom, may he rest in peace, were working as glaziers for the barracks that we were building. Another selection to the left, to the light. When it came to my turn, the SS man asked me what was my vocation, so I answered that I was a cabinet maker. I got the order to go to the right. Next was my son. When the SS man asked him what was his vocation, he said he was a barber. My son and I got together again. Those who went to the left were immediately taken to be burned, and we, those who went to the right, were taken to various places of work. They took me into a large workshop of carpentry where there were Jewish craftsmen and several other Jewish acquaintances from Warsaw. After
the SS men left the workshop, the Jews told me that they had been in Treblinka for over a year. One person wanted to know what was new outside of Treblinka. I had to tell him the truth that they were liquidating the Jews from all the cities. Even Warsaw was already emptied from Jews. Everyone sighs; the agony is tremendous, and there is no help.
I received an order from an SS man to build a file cabinet. With some help, the job got done. The next morning, when the murderers came into the workshop and began inspecting the cabinet and fortunately they liked it they immediately told the writer (Dr. Reisner) to send me and my son to the baths for disinfection, and to move us over to barrack #2. There, in barrack #2, the Jewish kapo [a prisoner in charge of other groups of prisoners] took care of us. He immediately helped me get a bed and set me up with a group that was receiving better food. Several times, the murderers asked that they put in some wheat pieces for us. For us, those days were like holidays. And this barrack was a little cleaner. Neither the Germans nor the Ukrainians came in too frequently. Again, we went to work without breakfast, and no bread. Everyone did his best to find whatever was possible some grass or a plant. We separated one from the other. We Jews from barrack #2 were forbidden from meeting with others in order to prevent any bonding.
After two months and becoming acquainted with everyone, the prisoners shared a secret with me. One of the Jewish workers came over to me (his name was Pinkhas Weisman, may he rest in peace; he later died in Israel) and said to me: Be informed that, all of us as one, have decided to make a revolt because our life is no life, watching day after day the torture of our brothers and sisters. We have to enact this as quickly as possible. He immediately explained to me how this revolt was to take place. Every morning, the murderers would go around and inspect the workshops. The organizers had already scheduled the days and what time these inspections would take place. Each one of us had received an order that when the murderers would show up in our workshop as in the other workshops, they would have to be murdered. Everywhere, there were sharp axes prepared.
The day arrived and we were waiting for the set time. Suddenly, we see that we are being surrounded by SS men and Ukrainians, and the order was given: Jews! Get out! Then we understood. The end of our lives had come. Right away, we were told to stand in rows and put up our hands. They started to search us for weapons. The murderers knew everything, even what time the revolt was to be. They knew who had the weapons because a tattle [spy] had told them everything about us. Meanwhile we were standing, hands in the air, until the order came to drop our hands. With clubs, the murderers beat our bodies. Then began the investigation who had brought the arms.
There was a young man with us; he was from Germany. They took him out of the rows so that he would tell them who had told him to bring the weapons. When the young man wouldn't answer, they brought over a large barrel and filled it with water. They took him by his feet, and with head bowed, they put him into the water [and held him there], then took him out. They repeated this. He was almost punished to death, and yet they still asked the information of him, until the young man screamed: The day of revenge will come! Seems that they understood what he had said, and then they proceeded to cut off his ear. After this bloody ceremony, they took another 17 Jews out of the rows, amongst them the kapo. They called him Ignacz, a Jew from Warsaw. All he thought about was how to free himself and others, and how to take revenge on those murderers. Each one of us wished our own death. The order came to get back to work. Downtrodden and broken, we went back to the workshops.
Soon, the unterscharfuhrer (junior squad leader) Lantz, came to us and yelled: Who else wants to be shot? Some of the Jews stepped forward and said Shoot! and proceeded to tear their clothes. The SS man left right away. In the evening
they took two Jews out of the barracks. We didn't see them any more, but we noticed traces of their blood when we went to work.
This is how '43 and '44 went by, until the day came when Treblinka was to be liquidated along with the rest of the few remaining Jews. It was Sunday, July 23, 1944. There were still over 500 Jews in the camp. We saw how they turned over all the booths of the watch towers, we saw the end of life was near. Six o'clock that evening, all the SS men and Ukrainians came into the camp and began to scream: Jews, come out and lie down! When we, the few Jews of the carpenter workshop began to hide, the murderers came in and began to chase us out with sticks until we would lie down on top of the others. I fell down on top of a Czech who was a fifth generation convert. He had been a terrible tattle all along and he'd had better accommodations. Seeing that now he too was to be killed by these murderers, I felt better. After 20 minutes of lying there, the order was given for us to get up. They took us between the walls of the entrance gates, and in groups of 20, led us into the forest, not far from the camp, to a large ditch. Soon we heard a lot of shooting, then silence. The murderers had come for a fresh group of 20 victims to take to the ditch. But right near the gate, beside the Jews, there was a great bang, and there was great confusion amongst the murderers. There was only one pistol and one bullet. Nonetheless, in the riot, some of the Jews managed to run away.
The rest of us remaining Jews, they took into a bunker where we spent the night. In the morning, again we were taken into the camp and divided into groups of 20. Every group received the order to complete the work for the Wehrmacht [armed forces]. I was in carpentry with two other men, but because those killers had murdered my 16-year-old son, I was unable to do anything with my hands, and for that I was strongly beaten. The SS men strongly pushed me to complete the work. My friends calmed me down and we began to think of ways to free ourselves.
In approximately the next seven days, of the 20 men in our group
nine remained. They killed people every day. October 1, 1944, 5 a.m., the SS men ordered us to be ready. A few days after we left Treblinka, we came to a place near Krakow and again we were separated for work under the watch of the Ukrainians. Again, we were murderously punished.
Then we were again taken to another place, near Kazimierza Wielka, and we had to do dirty work. But in this time, the Russian army had been consistently moving forward. The SS again prepared to move us out to Wolbrom to the Gestapo, and there to tie us with wires and murder us. We arrived in Miechow at 11 o'clock at night. While the SS men were sleeping, the remaining nine of us began to run back.
We heard shooting, and as I was running, I fell into a ditch of snow. The cold refreshed me, and I began to run the same way back, following my footsteps in the snow. About one kilometer later, I arrived in a village.
Searching for the other eight hidden Jews, a German soldier stops me and asks me where I am going. I answered him in Polish, and since he did not understand what I said, he let me go. Going a little farther, I arrived in the town of Sandomierz. It was already daylight, and there I saw a lot of German military and also a lot of other murderers.
I went to a farmer and asked for something to eat, but he tells me to run away as quickly as possible because the Ukrainians were catching many people to take them to work in Germany. I try to explain to him that I see few Germans, but he explains to me that not far from here are the front lines and the German military is lying in the trenches.
After, I asked the farmer to have mercy on me because I was dying of hunger and exhaustion; he takes me to the gate and shows me at a distance a farmyard where he says I can find shelter. I start to go on that way, and hear shooting all around me. As I come to the yard, a Polish woman sees me and asks me where I am coming from. Once I told her that I was running away from the Germans, she quickly took me into a cellar where there were already many women and children. The
woman brought me bread and milk, and assured me that she would help. Around 9 o'clock in the morning, the shooting subsided. Soon they came to tell us the news that the Russians had arrived, had taken over the palace, and were killing the Germans that they caught.
Soon all the women and children that were hiding came out of the cellar, but I still remained there. The Christian woman takes me into the house and assures me again that everything will be alright. Already, there was Russian military everywhere, and they were talking to all the farmers in the villages.
In the house, again I was given food. Her husband asks me all kinds of questions and gives me advice that after such a hunger I should be careful with my eating until the doctor has had a chance to examine me. Meanwhile, again there was another change on the front, and the Germans came back.
I started to look for a road to a settlement, and decided to go to Pinczow, around 35 kilometers away. I went back to Sandomierz, and from there to Pinczow that had already been liberated. There I saw the first Jews. After sleeping on the floor that first night, I went to Radom, where there already was a Jewish committee, and I received help.
After a few days, on January 29, 1945, I left for Prague by train. On the Prague Jewish committee, where there were already Jews from the ghettos, camps, and Russia, everyone registered their name and current address in order to make it easier to find dear ones.
After great searching for family and friends, and after finding some people from my town, I went to Germany through Austria, then to Israel.
The author of this testimony, Shlomo Sterdiner, on the 26th of November, 1966, came forward as a witness in Vienna (Austria) in a process against one of his torturers, the foreman Leopold Lantz, who one month later was sentenced to ten years in jail.
Hillel Friedman (Petakh Tikva, [Israel])
Translated by Pamela Russ
Two days before capturing Serock, the Germans began their bombing and scores of families were killed, and along with them was Yakov Rosenberg in whose cellar they were hiding. With great effort they removed the victims from there and buried them in a brider kever in the cemetery.
On Sunday morning, we already felt the enemy's hand. It was a pogrom. They also killed four Polaks and took Jews to bury them the very same day. Then they took all the Jews, old and young, also the non-Jews, and assembled them in the large shul that had been cleaned out. On Wednesday they said that all those over 45 and under 17 can leave the shul, and the rest stayed in the shul until Thursday, 10AM. They were taken in pairs into the bais medrash. There, a line of SS men herded them into the women's bais medrash and there beat all the Jews. People passed out. At night they had to break open the windows for some air and it was like that until Friday, the next day.
Friday morning, the second day of Rosh Hashana, year 5700, September 15, 1939, they allowed us to go into the small bais medrash, and by 10AM we had to be ready to march. Where to, we had no idea. It was said, to work.
At 10 o'clock, everyone was taken out, set up four in a row under the supervision of a pair of Polish shkotzim who understood a little German: Zygmunt Wzjesyn and Sobolowski, and a son-in-law of Itche Majer Wajngart from Sosnowiec (he also knew German well) and Shloime Borenstajn. They had to take us to Pultusk to the German Commander, with the order that for every one that escaped, ten others would be shot. Among us were also many young Polaks, so we believed that for sure they were sending us to work. The second day of Rosh Hashana, Friday evening, we arrived
in Pultusk. We were soon separated from the Polaks and were herded onto the first floor of the building without windows or doors. (The Polaks were set up below us.) With great beatings and smashing, we were chased up. There were no steps, but there were two ladders that we had for climbing. I received a terrible blow from a German. We were kept on the roof the entire night.
On Shabbos, first thing in the morning, they sent up civilian Polish hooligans, and among them were from Serock: Suski and Kopjec, superintendents from Rosenberg and Malawanczyk. These two pointed out the two Jewish wealthy men Hurwic and Dovid Rosenberg, who were stripped naked and murderously beaten. And after them all of us. The Polaks, who were chased out with us, helped with the assault.
On Shabbos at 10AM, there came an order from the German powers that we were to be sent on foot to Czekhanow to the train. We put up some resistance against the German might, and wouldn't come down from the roof. We were sitting naked and were searching for our clothes. After half an hour, an officer approached and ordered that we be given our clothes. The Polaks brought back a lot of the clothing and put them in the yard in a box, and everyone had to go and identify his own clothes. Since that was impossible, we put on what we had much of it without underwear.
After that we were sent out towards Czekhanow, escorted by Germans on bicycles and carrying guns. They soon began with their beatings. The first one that was shot was Avrom Ostrowski, and he fell right near my feet, and that was because he had no energy to walk. That was before Golomyn. After that there were more victims: Yosef Borenshtajn and Avrom Spilke. A few kilometers later, Hersh Leyb Shnajder died, (son-in-law of Pesakh Shnajder); after him the son-in-law of Gutman Bobek Leizer (from Pultusk; died from blows of a rifle butt). He begged to be shot, and the German answered that it would be a waste of a bullet. The heat was great. Jews from other cities who came with our transport died as well Hershel Stajnski's son. Eliyahu Pnjewski and others who had no energy to keep walking, we carried on our backs
.. until Czekhanow even though this was a great danger. In the afternoon there was a downpour of rain and hail this completely sapped our energies.
We arrived in Czekhanow on Shabbos night. Some non-Jews came out with water, but the Germans began shooting them. The last victim of this journey was Pinje Sokol the watchmaker (Blinc, the barber's son-in-law). That's how the tragic journey from Pultusk to Czekhanow looked.
In Czekhanow, they took us to the military barracks and put the group in rows on the road until eleven at night. Whoever sat down got a bullet. During this time, the Germans prepared a demonic plan: Between the road and the entrance to the barracks, they ordered that a big ditch be dug out and filled with dirty water. They positioned a narrow wooden bridge across this ditch. At night in the dark, when everyone was exhausted, these thugs ordered us to run quickly across this narrow bridge into the horses' stalls. They chased us, one on top of the other, with blows and beatings, and whoever fell in there could not get out any more. That's how scores of people died.
In the stalls, the Germans searched to make sure there were no Jews among the Polaks, since they risked being shot. The first ones to come out of this type of group were two Pultusk Jews, and they were almost killed. I grabbed my cousin and the Stajnskis in order to run to the other side, and it worked. But later I climbed on a log and fell unconscious. All the Serockers were searching for one another and they found me in an unconscious state and saved me.
They kept us here until Sunday morning without food. Sunday morning they told us to go out and collect carrots, told us to get dressed many of us were simply naked. Each of us received one quarter of a moldy, black bread from the Polish military, that
they had thrown away. Those that had not left some of the carrots for later suffered terribly from hunger and thirst. They hurried us again to the train in Czekhanow until we arrived there at eleven in the morning and we waited there until five in the afternoon. Then they hurriedly crammed in about 80 men into a horse's wagon, and that's how they rode us around in the train for a full day.
The next day, Monday during the day, they let us out at a station and within five minutes, we all had to have a drink and return to the wagons. We attacked the water with greed many contracted dysentery from this. We returned to the wagons already with more beatings because there were no steps and it was difficult to climb into the wagons. Yehuda Leyb Stajnski received terrible beatings as he was climbing into the wagon, and a German helped him by stabbing his backside (to hoist him up) with a bayonet and wounding him terribly. That's how we were brought to Riesenberg (East Prussia) on Monday evening.
As we arrived in Riesenberg, they immediately separated the Jews from the non-Jews (they were sent to a different camp), the Jews were sent to a stall for horses, and all were ordered to grab a little bit of hay. They gave two bundles of shredded hay for 400 people. This was to be used for sleeping purposes. That's how we got organized and everyone went about arranging his own business. There were about 100 Jewish Serockers. The next day, Tuesday at noon, they opened faucets of water, and there was a great crush of people (trying to get some water), and everyone was beaten with sticks. On Tuesday around four o'clock, a German came in and ordered that we pick out the oldest in the group so that we could get food.
The leader of the group of the Serockers Fishel Sterdiner, I, and Dovid from Orczikhowa (from the other side of the Narew), went to get food for all the Serockers. We got a few biscuits, a small piece of liverwurst, a quarter of a bread, and a small piece of margarine for each person. That was hardly enough for one meal. On Wednesday morning, they gave us a little coffee. Our job was to pick the leaves off the
trees and dig field toilets. Several times we were beaten because we fought over a bit of straw before going to sleep.
On Yom Kippur, we organized a quorum (minyan). On those days when we didn't work, we were closed up in a stall, and we had half an hour to take care of our natural needs. That's how we lived until Chol Hamoed Sukos, year 5700. We received lunch from a boiler (large pot). We ate in another camp. There were four camps: 1) a military one for Polish prisoners; 2) a military one for Jewish prisoners; 3) one for Polish civilians; 4) and one for Jewish civilians. Once, we were feeling sick, one person vomited, and there was a tumult. The Germans came in and quietened everything in their own fashion. Yakov Kaluski and Pinkhas Kaluski were also there.
The religious Jews ate hardly anything from the boiler. We gave them our bread and we took their soup. For the end of Yom Kippur we prepared bread and coffee for them. The last day of Chol Hamoed Sukos, the SS man came in asked who wanted to go to the Bolsheviks. The first second, this made a fearful impression, because everyone was afraid to answer. Maybe this was a provocation, but soon hands began to go up, so that soon almost everyone in our camp raised their hands to leave. That same day, he prepared a list of names on the condition that we had to clean out the carpenter's factory from dirt. With our last bit of strength, we cleaned everything out, so that there could be no excuse (for not being allowed to go).
The next day early morning, when it was still dark outside, everyone was taken out into the yard, set out in rows, and all the names that had been written down were called out. Each person received half a bread, and we were taken to the train near the camp.
They assured us that after today we would be with the Bolsehviks. They loaded us onto wagons that were in more humane conditions, and each person received an identity book saying that the person was in this camp and whatever he owned he had a right to keep. On the second day, in the morning, the train stopped in a place. At a distance we saw Polaks with lacquered caps we started to shout to them, that they
should open the wagons. As luck would have it, there were some Polaks with us who also shouted to those other Polaks outside. Brothers, open! There was one non-Jew that went over and opened a Polish wagon, and with our plea, also released us. We were in Grabowa near Ostrawenka. Some left to Ostrawenka, and among those were Alter Wisnjewicz, my brother, and several other Serockers. They went over to the Russian side.
I and another group of Serockers went home through Ruzhyn. On the way, we were met by Germans on horseback. They detained us and took our apparent identity cards, and said that this was scheisse (shit).
We were told to lie down in the field and not to move. This lasted until evening, until they assembled all the people, including the Polaks that were in the camp, and then we continued on the road of Pultusk -Serock.
That evening they set us up in military rows and said that they are taking us through Ruzhyn with the excuse that before us there were Greeks that had attacked the stores, and that after they will have taken us through the city, we would be able to go wherever we pleased. This was all a lie because as we approached the road that goes to Krasnaselsk, the attitude of the Germans that were directing us was a better one than that of the Germans who had captured us. We asked them why we weren't going via Ruzhyn, and we were answered that we had not come out of camp with a fixed direction. On the way, they even allowed us to rest (it was eleven o'clock at night) and to go to the peasants in the village and drink some water. After that, we went until Krasnaselsk until five in the morning. There we were led into a church and were given bread to eat. In town they said there were no Jews left.
We had a few incidents with the non-Jews in the church. This lasted until five o'clock at night. Big trucks with armed SS men arrived, and again they asked us if we wanted to go to the Bolsheviks. We said yes, we already had
resigned ourselves to everything, and saw that this was the devil's game. The process took an hour until they had separated the Jews and removed them from the church, and again they were set in rows. Each person received half a bread with two spoons of marmalade. They loaded us onto the trucks that closed automatically, and drove us back to Ostrawenka. There we were placed in the middle of the marketplace, and we saw Jews at a distance who mourned for us. No one was allowed near us. That's how we stood in the marketplace for an hour, then were driven with the trucks for another 20 minutes, stopped again in the middle of the road, and with a yell, we were ordered to get out. As soon as we got out, the trucks disappeared. We were left alone in the field and again didn't know what to do. Some began to go to Ostrawenka, and a new round of shooting from machine guns began, and we started to run on the road to Lomzhe. At night we spread out among the non-Jews. They told us that there was no one there no Germans, no Russians.
In the morning, we began to go in the area of Lomzhe, and we saw Jews going around in wagons. They said to us: Go children, Moshiach is waiting for you. After a few kilometers, we met a farmer who was leading cattle.
It became easier for us everyone already had swollen feet, and continued running in the area of Lomzhe.
Arriving in the evening two kilometers before Lomzhe, several Cossaks on horseback with guns aimed at us, came towards us. They detained us and asked who we are. None of us knew any Russian, only Polish. They took us into their group, and brought us to Lomzhe. Behind the city was the military headquarters. Those that had brought us here told them that they had brought people who don't understand what is being said to them. They sent us an officer, a Jew. He asked us if we were Jews. When he heard that we were, his eyes began to tear up. He consoled us saying he would take care of us and that he knew what was going on there with us. They gave us food right away from the military pots. After that, they
took us into town and handed us over to the Jewish community. We arrived in Lomzhe on Hoshana Raba, year 5700.
Lomzhe was destroyed. We spent the night in a small shul, and the next morning we went to the commissioner of the city to look for work. He told us that he didn't have anything yet, but meanwhile, he told us to go to Bialistok. We said that we have no money, so he gave us coupons for haircuts and three extra rubles for pocket money so that we would be able to buy food. That same day, we left for Bialistok.
In our group were: Fishel Strediner, Yehuda Leyb Shtajnski, Eli Pnjewski and his brother, the son of Dudek, Hershel Bernshtajn, the son of Shlomo Leser, and Yitzkhok Koifman. We spent the night in two villages Gotch and Zawadi. There were a few Jewish families living there.
That's how we went out of the German hell and arrived in Bialystok.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Serock, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2013 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 4 Jan 2013 by LA