by Rokhel Brandt (Nahariya)
Translated by Pamela Russ
Winter 1942, terrible cold. Wherever I go, the sanitation facilities are horrific, without any plumbing and without any water to drink. We hadn't washed ourselves for months and worms were eating away at us. On Sundays, when we didn't work, our great pleasure was to clean our clothes from lice those tiny murderers.
The terrible cries from the sick and the frail was Water! Water! Only to wet my lips! One gave away one's entire portion of bread just for a few drops of water.
How did I, as well as others, organize to have water for drinking and for selling?
In the entire camp, there was only one washroom with only one faucet for the German guards. If you went in there without permission, you could pay with your life. Nonetheless, we risked our lives and looked away from the possible consequences. In the middle of the night, when everyone was deeply asleep, I went down from my cot, and quietly stole into the bathroom. I didn't want to think about the life threatening consequences, and more than one of us really did pay with his life. With a pounding heart and trembling hands, I
filled a few bottles with water and ran! I returned to my block, tired and scared. More than once I was beaten over the head with a stick.
The water that I had worked so hard to get, I sold for a few pieces of bread. I was satisfied with my prize and with the bread that I prepared to eat the following day, so I wrapped the treasured bread in a rag, put it under my pillow, and fell asleep.
Just as I awoke in the morning, I immediately noticed that the rag with the bread was missing. I cried, pleaded, begged from those close by, but it didn't help. I didn't even get a small piece back.
For nothing. The dream disappeared. And hunger was gnawing and gnawing.
Our Block was a big one, filled with many girls. Fifteen girls slept on each bunk bed. The bunk beds were many leveled and made of wood. The girls were covered with one dirty blanket. Each person pulled at the blanket towards her side. They are screaming, moaning, and crying. No one wants to sleep at the edge of the bed.
At four in the morning, a group is awoken to bring the black coffee from the kitchen. It's still dark in the Block and we can't find our clothes. It's hard to get up. We are all tired from the forced labor and from sleep deprivation, but there's no choice because we and I among them have our turn today to bring the warm, black drink. I wake up and move my neighbors. They wake up. We're all weak. We are hunched over as we carry the heavy iron pots. But we have to go; they are chasing us with sticks. A guard was escorting us, and for the slightest thing he rewarded us with a rap. Because of this strict guard, we couldn't even steal a few sips of the coffee. The coffee was divided among the important ones, and the rest was given to the supervisors.
When we had completed the coffee business, the morning roll call (appel) begins. It takes three to four hours to complete. We stand there frozen in our miserable clothing and wooden, Dutch clogs. All the hundreds of girls are shivering, and to keep warm, the girls huddle close to one another.
The German overseers can never finish counting. They always think that the count is higher or lower than it shows on the list. They beat and kick during the count. There is no end.
Finally, there is a long whistle that signals the end of the appel. Everyone gets into their row to go to work. The sick and weak girls begin to run off, hide in the bathrooms, barracks, and under the beds. But it doesn't help. The overseers quickly assemble them, beating and kicking them without mercy.
All kinds of diseases found their way into our camp.
The disease that was most widespread and most terrible among the girls was called the death disease of Auschwitz. The symptoms for this were swollen feet.
The secondary most prevalent diseases among the girls were dysentery, malaria, and finally, stomach typhus.
It was a winter day in 1942. A deep snow covered the ground, and there was a terrible frost. My hands and feet are almost frozen and I feel that my energies were dropping away. At dawn, when they awoke us for the morning roll call, I felt terrible pains in my head, my lips were dry, and my feet like cement. With superhuman efforts, I got down from my bed. My face was burning, I drag myself out of the Block, and I get into the rows for the appel. My friend Irke holds me under the arms so that I shouldn't fall over.
I tell her categorically: Iritchke, today there is no way that I will be able to go out to work.
Irke explains the huge danger of staying in the camp. She convinces me to gather all my strength and go with everyone to work.
However, all my efforts were to no avail. I fell without energy, and after that couldn't get up.
Tens of rows of girls go out to work and I am lying behind a wall, all curled up, my eyes red with fever the death disease of Auschwitz befell me too.
My friend Irke bends over to me and says: Listen to me, Rokhel
I won't leave you behind. We'll go into the gas chamber together because I won't be able to survive everything.
So I say to Irke: Listen to me. Go out to work. You are young and healthy, and maybe you'll survive it all. The war won't last much longer. You won't help me with this, if you die together with me.
My pleas and tears made no difference. And dear Irke stayed with me.
In The Death Block # 25
There were about 200 girls remaining with us in the Block. Suddenly, we heard whistling: All those who stayed were called to an additional appel. Not all those who remained behind were sick; many of them were barefoot and naked.
After this extra appel, all of us were chased out of the barracks, and like animals we were all herded into Block #25, the Death Block. An SS man opened a heavy and tall steel gate and locked us in the yard of the Death Block. The yard was surrounded by tall walls.
Nothing bothered me anymore, let things be what they will be. I only desired to lie quietly on the floor or on the plain ground. A terrible panic overcame me as I looked at the barred windows. The Death Block is filled with dead and sick people. It's dark all around, and a suffocating stench fills the whole Block. Dead people are lying here already for more than a week. Those who are still alive are screaming: Kill us! Don't torture us! Irke and I were sent to a bunk bed where there were eighteen half dead women.
Those who stayed in Block #25 were not obligated to be at the appel, because they were all headed for their death.
Irke is sitting next to me and moaning.
Five days I lay like that almost unconscious, only now and then calling out: Water, water, Mama
Irke fed me all this time with small pieces of frozen snow.
On the sixth day, I regained consciousness, sat up, and looked around. A terrible moaning came out of me: Where am I? I am going to my death!
I felt bad for Irke. I have to save her life at any cost.
Today, an SS doctor is supposed to come to see us. All those on duty were sweeping, cleaning, dragging they were preparing for something. There's a doctor coming and we're not too happy about that.
Girls, I say. We have to ask the doctor that he allow those of us that are healthy to leave this Block.The girls laugh at me. She's dreaming while awake in the time of near death. There's no hope for us. We have to die.
Suddenly, I hear an order being shouted: Attention!
In the doorway there appears a tall figure wearing glasses. It's the SS doctor. There's a sadistic smile on his lips, and in his hand there is a truncheon.
I don't know from where I gathered my strength. I quickly jumped down from my bunk, and now I am standing close to the doctor. I quickly began to speak, and scores of girls surrounded us, all of them shouting: I am healthy! Let us live! Let us out of this Block! There was a great tumult, one out-shouting the other.
The doctor didn't say a word, remained still with folded arms, then shouted out: Block commandant! What do they want?
She explained to him that there are scores of girls in this Block that are healthy and who did not go out to work because they do not have shoes, and in the meantime there had been a selection, and these girls were taken over to Block #25.
The doctor screamed: So then what do you want? The girls answered: We want to live and work!
The doctor ordered the Block commandant to call this Block to an appel. There was great chaos, pushing, running, and crying.
The appel takes place outside in front of the Block. The healthy ones quickly set themselves out in rows. Each is trembling, thinking: Maybe he won't select me!
One slight finger gesture determines life or death. Left means death, right means life.
And maybe the opposite? Who can read the thoughts of a murderer. Slowly, the half dead girls get down from their bunk beds. They move like shadows, their eyes dim, their faces yellow and swollen. All of them want to live, each wants to save herself. Only the dead bodies lay still and calm in the yard. For a moment, I envied them.
We are standing in fives. The doctor, followed by the Block commandants, walked past, looked, judged, and selected.
Only ten girls out of the hundreds were deemed well enough to leave the Death Block. Among those who were lucky, were me and my friend Irke.
The rest were quickly and brutally sent back to the Block. I could not turn my face to watch the entire camp of women and their terrible fear. Through the walls, I could hear horrific screams, crying, and quiet death moans.
I don't know how to express my feelings of that moment when the heavy, tall, steel gates of Death Block #25 opened. No one ever came out of that Block alive.
I ran through the death gates with hysterical speed. This was, as they said, the first and only time that ten Jewish girls came out alive from Death Block #25.
In The Hospital
An SS man took me and the other nine girls over to the hospital (reveer). The hospital looked like any other regular Block, but the roll calls there were short.
There were not many sick people there. Dr. Rose, a
French inmate, gave us our beddings and explained the hospital's regulations.
Tired and confused, I went to lie down. But is it possible to rest here? From the other side of the Block, I hear ringing of hysterical laughter and a cry. One unfortunate is calling her children she has lost her mind wrings her hands and cries to those who are close by. Suddenly, she spreads out her hands as if she is hugging and stroking someone. Tired, she sits down on her bed and sings a sad lullaby
The crying stops and it becomes quiet in the Block for a while.
Late at night, loud screams wake me up. I raised up my head and through a small window I see large cargo trucks have driven into Block #25. Under a hail of beatings, the women are chased onto the trucks. The sick and weak ones are tossed aside like sacks, one on top of another. The majority die on the spot.
The trucks drive in the direction of the crematoria a bit longer and they'll go up in flames.
What a miracle happened to me and Irke. We had saved ourselves. I couldn't believe this myself
Broken, I moved away from the window and didn't know whether to be happy that death had passed me by. I am scared and have no energy to think of death. I so badly wanted to live .
It's already one week that I am in the hospital. From all sides, one hears: Dr. Rose, I want to live, help me!
Dr. Rose, a 45-year-old French woman, with a nice and gentle face, moves around among the cots. She has a nice word for everyone. In the pocket of her white coat she always has useful and good things such as aspirin, drops, and even a candy. She strokes, appeases, and quietly encourages: Girls, a bit longer, a bit longer. The time is coming closer, strengthen yourselves, a little patience.
Yes, but how is one to survive?
At night, after so many heartfelt and humane words from Dr. Rose
the murderers brutally tore the majority of women out of the hospital and send them directly to the crematoria.
Irke and I were saved once again. How to call this? Blind luck or just good fortune? The fact is that once again, death passed me by.
I am confused. My head is spinning. Just a minute ago, one of those who was tortured was sitting next to me telling me about her distant Greece, and was singing sentimental songs. She talked about her mother with reverence, with love; her eyes glistened and she was completely aglow.
On the nearest cot was Janet who dreamed about her three-year-old daughter Paulette, who was left in a village with strangers. Would Paulette recognize her? Would she run towards her and embrace her? Would her parents give her back?
Janet talks about her Paris, the Eiffel Tower, and so on. She shows off with her France.
At that moment, when she was dragged down from her cot, she screamed, bit with her teeth, and put up a strong resistance. But it didn't make any difference. The murderers were stronger. She was exhausted, but shouted:
Let me live! I left behind a small, beautiful daughter, my daughter As she was near the door, she turned to us and said: Say hello to my Paulette In a weakened voice, she muttered the child's address. I couldn't understand her anymore, and she disappeared. And suddenly, everything disappeared and it became quiet. The chaos disappeared along with the lives of scores of young girls.
A deathly silence was all around. I don't have the energy to leave Irke even for one minute. It's dark, the lights are out. Irke gets up and searches for my hand.
Rokhel, are you sleeping? It's a miracle again, a higher power![Page 399]
A regular occurrence. Do you believe in God? I think there must be a higher power that decides everything.
Rokhel, we have to run away from this hospital because there won't be a third miracle at the next selection.So, we ran away from the hospital.
Two skeletons, two ghosts, helpless against the merest wind, lost themselves among the Blocks in search of shelter.
Irke and I found a new Block and quartered ourselves there. All the girls were afraid for us and asked with astonished eyes: How did you get back here? No one has ever come out alive from Block #25! We mourned for you, thinking you were among the murdered.
The next morning, I went with everyone else to work to dig ditches.
All of us are sunken in, weak, and we are all cold in these tattered clothes and in the wooden Dutch clogs.
My friends and I put in all our efforts to stay alive.
I acquired the reputation of being a capable worker and won the trust of the German overseers. This allowed me from time to time to organize a little food for survival and to give some to friends close by.
The distance to work was eight kilometers. I did the trek without feeling my feet. From time to time, my friends actually almost carried me, holding me under my arms.
We went to work via the train ramp of Auschwitz. The road to the women's camp in Brzezinki (Birkenau) passes through the railway on the western side of the Auschwitz station. On the left side of the railway we see a big station that is called the Jewish line, which is designated to carry Jewish transports. Later a special side line was built that went from the main gates of Auschwitz directly to the crematoria.
In the area of Birkenau, there were four active crematoria where in one 24-hour period they gassed 40,000 people and burned 12,000 people in the ovens. The rest of the corpses were burned in nearby forests in bonfires.
Each gas chamber poisoned 2,000 people in about 20 minutes. In order to trick all those who were brought for work, they were told that they were going to the showers after a long trip, and so they were given soap and towels.
The gassed corpses were hauled over to three crematoria to be burned by the Sonnderkommando that were made up of young, strong, Jewish prisoners.
From time to time, the Germans killed off all the Sonnderkommandos in order that the world not become aware of all these murders.
Moishe Margulis, my neighbor from Serock, belonged to this horrific group. He was part of and died in the resistance of the Sonnderkommandos at the end of the war in 1944.
Every day, long transports with Jews came from the camps, prisons, and ghettos.
One day, transports with Jews from Belgium and France arrived. All of them were dressed nicely and had many valises, and carried children in their arms.
These Jews were calm and understood that they were brought here for temporary work.
Their first shock was when the Germans separated the families. Children, women, and the elderly were loaded onto trucks and all the men went on foot. This alone did not yet open their eyes to what was waiting for them.
When they passed by close to us, many times we called out to them in different languages: Jews! You are going to your death like sheep! Put up resistance! Scream, fight, it's already the end! Because in a few hours you won't be alive!
They didn't believe us and they all died.
One particular transport is etched in my mind. The boys of the Sonnderkommando told us the following facts with an extraordinary passion: In the transport of the day before, there was an energetic Jewish woman who understood as soon as they arrived in the station that they would all be taken to their deaths. In an unexpected manner, when the SS
man turned around, she deftly and quickly grabbed his gun out of his pocket and shot him on the spot. That SS man was a well-known gangster and sadist. To avenge what she had done, the Germans immediately shot everyone right then and there. After that incident, the Germans increased the security over the future transports.
The Large, General Selection by Dr. Mengele and His Bandits
Autumn 1942. Our camp is packed with women. Fresh transports come every day, there are 20 women sleeping on each bunk bed. Typhus is raging, and all the infirmaries are full.
One sunny day, our camp was overtaken by an exceptional fear. We found out that in this camp are the greatest murderers: Camp Commanders Kremer, Uberke, Mandel; the SS man Mahl, Dr. Mengele, Rudolph Hoess, and there was also a strict guard all around.
SS men and overseers with huge, wild dogs stood by each barrack.
What will be? one asks the other. Suddenly we hear the whistle for an appel. This was a roll call in the middle of a bright day; that was always an omen of terrible things.
Many sick and weakened women are hiding in every hole under the covers, in the bathrooms, in canals but the dogs, both human and animal, find them all. They beat them murderously, blood is flowing, and the dogs rip the last shreds of filthy clothing off their bodies.
Also the patients in the hospitals were ordered to come to the appel. Hundreds of women are standing and waiting: Commandant Kremer, Hoess, Uberke, Mandel, Dexler, Tauber, Mahl, and more, all according to their rank. Dr. Mengele and his assistants in the second row.
And once again, chaos. Pushing and violence. What's going on? Now we know for sure: Soon there will be a general selection. Everyone will go between the two lines and they will check each person.
Every person, very tense, is standing at the appel.
The march begins. Single file, with hands stretched out in front, each woman walks down the pathway between the sadists. The murderers look on, and Dr. Mengele indicates with his finger to the right or to the left. To the right means that the girl will go to Block #25 (death), to the left means that she will go behind the fence of the hospital (life).
I know what is waiting for us. Everyone wants to be the last one, and goes to stand at the end of the line. Everyone is afraid, I am afraid of the hell. Everyone is smoothing down her hair and is washing her dry lips, eyes, and face with saliva. I have a tiny mirror, and it goes from one hand to another everyone wants to see herself.
And the march goes on.
I say to my friend Irke: Now we can say goodbye to each other forever. Look at my feet. On one foot there is a shoe, on the other is a rag. Irke doesn't answer. I rub my cheeks to look better.
Will I pass this time? Will I be lucky again this time? In such a short time, I have wrestled with death three times.
Will I outlive the others?
There's no time to think my turn is coming closer
Just a bit more and I stand in front of the court of law: death or life!
My heart is racing, my legs shake from weakness. But I strengthen myself, and in a voice under my breath, I say: Life! You must live!
Life! Life! the voice rings in my ears, and a final kiss to Irke. I get closer and I am between the lines of the gangsters. I smile. My face is shining with fear. Life or death, life or death I am going around in circles as if in a carousel.
Dr. Mengele's finger indicates for me to go left...
I go, I waver. I go behind the fence of the hospital. My friends fall on me with warm kisses. They are so happy. You are saved!
I stand near the wire fence and look towards Irke. I wonder what will be her fate.
And Irke also passes through! She approaches me and says in astonishment: Did this happen again by chance?
Those girls that were sentenced to death by Mengele try to run away from the walled-in area of Block #25. They climb up the walls, call out, cry, beg for help but no one can do anything. The SS men are beating murderously, and their hands are ripping off clothing along with pieces of flesh.
The infamous general selection the Germans called it the general cleaning lasted for several hours.
From the large women's camp in Birkenau there was only a little group of young girls left, and I was among them.
The selection was over the SS men left the camp.
A small group of saved girls is standing and trembling, no one has the energy to say anything. I am alive, but is my life certain?
At the gate of Block #25 there is a long row of trucks. German soldiers open the heavy, steel gate, and angrily they push themselves inside. With whips and truncheons they beat the remaining, terrified women. They are loading up one truck after another. From a distance, we hear the screams: Take revenge for us and for our deaths! Maybe you'll survive! Revenge!
The last truck disappeared onto yet another page of the history of Auschwitz.
The crematoria are burning flames of people's former lives are rushing through the chimneys.
All night after this selection, a group of girls was standing and I among them one pushed close to the other. What was I thinking then?
Yes, I looked into the eyes of the tormented, beaten up girls, and in that minute of human contact, a spark of hope awoke in me.
With the appearance of our brokenness, with the appearance of ...
our encased dead bodies, we promised that if we would remain alive, we would tell everything.
And on that night, we trembled and screamed to the whole world: Where are you?
And we trembled even more when we thought that Hitler had conquered and ruled the entire world, and Auschwitzes and Birkenaus were being built everywhere.
We tossed away those thoughts and said to ourselves: No! No! That's not possible!
And if Hitler does not rule over the entire world, then why are you all so quiet?
How can you sleep peacefully, eat, and play with your children at a time when it is hell here?
And what if only evil people will remain alive?
The Final Attack of Our Camp
In the middle of the night of January 18, 1945, the Germans began their final attack of my camp the women's camp in Birkenau (Auschwitz).
The lights were turned out, there was confusion among the inmates. Everyone is whispering. One tells the other that the front is coming closer to us, and in these last minutes they want to kill us.
In my knapsack there is a piece of bread and a cat. We are worried, and wait for further orders.
And what will be next? What will happen to us? Where will they take us?
The sick and frail remained in their confusion and pain. They stretch their dried out hands to us and beg for help and salvation. We could do nothing for them we had to go.
There are long rows, they are counting us. They are beating and kicking us.
My friends and I are crying and moaning. Finally, we wipe our tears, one comforts the other.
I march, we march in the darkness of the night
a cold night, and walk through the accursed gate of Auschwitz.
We have left Auschwitz. Is that possible?
The morning star is shining. I turn around and see at a distance the piercing wires of the cursed camp
I and the complete mass of people move away from there and the entire abyss of the last few years stands alive in front of me, with all its details.
We march on foot, far away from Auschwitz.
By Laya Kamelgorn-Blumberg (Kiryat Ono)
Translated by Pamela Russ
In May 1939, I and my entire family left to go to Ciekhocinek to our summer house. My father had orchards from the landowner Trojanowski in that place. Our partner was Yosef Sterdiner (now living in Israel). When the war broke out, we were still in Aleksandrow Kujawski. Not far from the train line, about 500 meters from our house, the first bomb fell. The train traffic was immediately disrupted and we were separated from all other parts of Poland. After the outbreak of the war my father said to us that he wanted to be buried near his own father and not here. We decided to go back to Serock. We packed everything onto two bicycles and left to Brisk Kujawski.
It's worth noting that the landowner Trojanowksi, who hid the fruit in the cellars, told us: Don't go to your deaths if you have to go, then go east. We spent the night in a village in Brisk Kujawski.
The following morning, we were on the way again, when suddenly we were attacked by Germans on motorcycles with guns aimed at us. My father became frightened, the bicycle was dropped to the side, and he fell faint on the ground. A German told us that we shouldn't be afraid but that we should go back. We actually did go back 60 kilometers, to the landowner. He gave us two rooms and brought us food. We stayed there for seven weeks. After that we rented a wagon and began our journey to Serock.
We travelled until Kutno and waited there for one week for a train to Warsaw, and after that finally arrived to Warsaw. In Warsaw we rented a wagon and went to Serock. At each security stop, we had to show our travel papers and then we were searched.
We arrived in Serock at dawn at the beginning of November 1939, and our house was locked up. We stayed with Hershel Borenshteyn (Sumtak) on Kosciuszko Street 20, together with Moishe Fogelman. There were no young people in the city.
My brother Nakhman ran away to Ostrow-Mazowiecki and from there we received a letter from him saying that he had been saved by an old non-Jewish man on the day that the terrible slaughter occurred. From Ostrow he went back to Serock until he came to the other side of the Narew. The Germans did not allow him to enter, but after my mother's plea, that with luck was heard by an older guard, they let him back in. My parents and my family did not want to leave Serock under any circumstances. My mother scolded us and pleaded with us children to leave the German hell as soon as possible.
In total, we stayed in Serock for two or three weeks. Shmayohu Zeidman, a friend from Wielisowo, who was blond and looked like blond Aryan and circulated freely from one border to another, guaranteed to get us across the Russian border.
At the end of November 1939, we I, my brother Nakhman, and the blond one, left in a wagon to Zegzhe, and the next day we went by train to Ponjatow (before Warsaw). From Ponjatow we went through fields until the Vilna station in Praga. My young brother Benjek stayed with our parents in Serock.
We arrived in Malkin in the evening. There were thousands of people there, and we heard screaming and shooting. From Malkin, I went alone following the instructions of my overseer, then following the train line for a half a kilometer, and then turning left where the top of a church marked the road to the Russian zone.
The Germans detained me several times, and at those times my blood ran cold.
I moved forward with great momentum and arrived late at night to Zaremba Koscielnie on Russian ground. All the trains were overly filled and it took three days until I arrived in Bialystok.
In Bialystok I again met up with my brother Nakhman who had gotten lost on the road. I could hardly recognize him. When he arrived in Malkin, the Germans caught him and beat him mercilessly. After that, he managed to disappear amidst the masses of people that were found around and in the station. Bialystok was crowded everywhere. There I also met Khaim Eliezer Gzhebieniazh and from him I found out about the evacuation in Nazielsk and in Biale-Podliask.
In Bialystok I lived with an uncle. Then I left with my husband to Brisk. And after two months we went back to Bialystok. That night there was an investigation and all those who had not taken on Russian citizenship were put in a freight wagon and they travelled for about eight days in terrible conditions.
In July 1940, we arrived in Orkhangelsk. In the middle of a huge forest there was an open space with three barracks. We then went by train 100 kilometers to the camp. The women went by truck and the men walked for 100 kilometers through the forest where there were white bears. That was during the time of the White Nights.
We stayed in that camp for 14 months, until September 1941. The climate was cold, about 60 degrees. The men worked in the forest chopping wood, and the women directed the logs to the water. That was the normal job. We received a little bit of soup from the kitchen. All day, we existed from a bit of bread, 400 grams a day, and a woman that had a child also received some sugar. People simply starved and suffered from dizziness and loss of teeth.
At that time, I bore a child in the hospital, but the child got the measles. In Ulianowsk they told me very forcefully to take the child to the hospital. I carried the child through the winds, and as I arrived in the hospital, the sweet little girl died in my arms, and my anguish
was tremendous. My husband came to me with great difficulty. I was very upset.
In November 1941, I decided to go to Tashkent to the warmer areas.
We went by train from Ulianowsk, and at night we were attacked by bandits and thieves. I became ill on the train. On the way, when we stopped to transfer, we stayed over in a kolkhoz (collective farm) in Bukhara, where our acquaintances from Praga were also staying. After great difficulties, I went into a hospital and was there for two weeks. When I got better, I left to the kolkhoz. There were two groups of Polish Jews there. We worked hard and got a half a kilogram of dried plums and some flour. Those women who were weak or who had received notices from their doctors received an extra half kilo of bread. My husband was also very sick and after that he also left to go work in a kolkhoz.
I learned to speak Uzbek and worked in a children's institution. I took care of the children and then took them to their mothers in the fields. We remained in the kolkhoz for one year.
Later they sent us to a lime factory in Kagan, and we lived near an Uzbek cemetery. The end of 1942 was the most difficult time, a time of real hunger. If I didn't work, I received no food. Those who did hard labor received 600 grams of bread a day.
We stayed in Kagan until the end of the war. In April 1945, I gave birth to a boy in the hospital
My neighbor Khaim Gudes was at the bris. When I was in Orkhangelsk, I wrote a letter to the Rav of Biale-Podliask to see if he could find my parents I received a very sad reply.
Until the end of the war, I didn't know about the enormity of the destruction of the Polish Jews.
In April 1945, I found out from Khaim Gudes about all of this, and that all our close ones were no longer alive.
At the end of April 1946, we left Poland, and
we travelled for a few weeks until we arrived to Szeczyn. I stayed there for three weeks and had a nice home. There I met Pesakh Pienik and Shloime Paskowycz. My husband went to Praga and lived there with a cousin. We remained in Poland for a few months and later went to Austria and there we found my brother Nakhman. We were there in Ebensee for 14 months. With us were Yehuda Menzelewski, Yakov Menzelewski, and their families, and the daughter of Yakov Stelang (now in America). I left Austria for Germany. There I found my family and the Fogelman brothers, and I gave birth to my second son (1948) in Aswega, Kassel.
In January 1949, we arrived in Israel.
By Shlomo Sterdyner
Translated by Pamela Russ
Yekhiel Rosenberg, a Jewish merchant, owned a large store of wood and was recognized in all the Jewish institutions. He was also president of the Jewish communities in Nowydwor and Legionowa. When the Germans invaded Legionowa, they forced Yekhiel Rosenberg to be the representative of the Jews in Legionowa, and that's when his tragic fate began.
Every day, he had to bring a few hundred workers to do all kinds of work in the barracks where the German military and railroad workers were stationed. But he still did very much to help the Jewish forced laborers: He risked his own life and won over the German officer, making it a bit easier for the Jews. Each day, about 250 Jews were forced to go to work. When the officer returned the Jews, Yekhiel Rosenberg was waiting for them and asked each one how their day had passed when he heard that it was very difficult, he immediately began thinking of ways to make things easier.
That's how ghetto life went. There was fresh news every day. Once, there was an order to bring forward a certain number of healthy Jews to send them out to the camp. Other cities complied, but Yekhiel Rosenberg listened and did not let one Jew leave the ghetto.
In the ghetto, there was talk that from certain cities they were starving the Jews to death in the Panikhow forts where cholera had broken out. The Germans, afraid for themselves, began to chase the swollen and broken Jews across the border of the German Reich into the province (that was three kilometers from our ghetto). On the way, and at the border, many Jews died. Then the order came to burn all those who had died. The rest of the Jews came to us in the ghetto half dead, and from them about half died during the day. Yekhiel Rosenberg went to the mayor, and got out of him
a little bit of food and organized to cook something for these people. Because there was no room by us, he convinced the mayor to transfer these Jews to the Warsaw ghetto. He connected to the Jewish community in Warsaw who sent representatives to help bring these Jews over.
During this time, and wanting to help, Yekhiel Rosenberg wrote a plea to the governor of Krakow. Because of that, Rosenberg was summoned to the Polish police commandant. SS men were already waiting for him there. He was locked in a cellar and then he was beaten until he was unconscious. When the Polish commandant went down to the cellar and revived him somewhat, a non-Jewish acquaintance brought him back to the ghetto. I was Yekhiel's neighbor. Soon, Dr. Finkelshtayn came, our ghetto doctor, and he sat with him for a few days.
Every day there were new orders, and Yekhiel again began his activities, and with an even greater fear, had to follow very carefully each order from the Germans. Later, because of one denunciation, one Jew was sentenced to death, and Yekhiel, with all kinds of objects from his house, saved this Jew from the hands of the murderers. Very often, Yekhiel risked his life to save the lives of Jews in the ghetto.
When they liquidated the ghetto, they took the people by horse and wagon to Radzymin. At the Aktzia (action of gathering and murdering the Jews), they selected 13 men to bury those who had been shot. Yekhiel Rosenberg was among these men who helped bury the others. Other Jews remained to clean up the ghetto from all the victims. That's how we worked for two days in the Legionowa ghetto. On the third day, we were taken to Warsaw to Zhelasna Street, to a place the Jews called the slaughter house. From there, under the watch of SS men, we were taken to the ghetto prison where the Jewish police took over charge of us. All 13 of us were in one room. The Jewish police commissioner came to visit the ghetto prison and told us that he would help get us out and to work in the Warsaw ghetto.
The following morning, a certain Jew (Vogel) came with an SS officer and took everyone to 16 Nizke Street. The next day
an SS man led us to a large group and all of us together went out to work. They took us to Fransciscan (Franciszkań ska) Street, where there were large platforms. We were ordered to clean houses and stores of all types of goods. All of us were taken to different kinds of storehouses: separate for furniture, separate for clothing, separate for machines, and so on.
Again, Yekhiel was our representative, and around us there were groups of Jews from Legionowa (from the ghetto and of those who had run away). There was now a larger family.
It was this last day when the flames of the real fire began. The final Aktzia was beginning. There was shooting on all sides. Some of the Jews resisted. On the Umschlagsplatz (gathering point where Jews were assembled then put on death trains), they did a selection again to the left, to the right and then we were separated. Part of our group was taken to Treblinka, and some became workers at the train station.
Within a few months, they had taken the entire transport to Treblinka. In this transport, there were many people from our town. Then, again we succeeded to take some of the Jews out to work: Yekhiel Rosenberg and his son Moishe, Yosef Fishman and
his 12-year-old son, Avrohom Kronenberg, and Leibish Bzhansi. This last one died of dysentery. His final words were: Take revenge for our blood!
Yekhiel Rosenberg, who had the misfortune of being in a group of unqualified workers, later died along with them.
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