Monik told us about the fate of many of the Jews from Sokoly who escaped to the forests, as well as the way of life in the Bialystok ghetto. Of a population of 2,000 Jews, that Sunday 500 souls were expelled and the rest fled to the forests and hiding places. During a number of weeks, hundreds of those who fled fell into the hands of the Germans, some by means of searches and some being handed over by Poles. As is known, there also were some who turned themselves into the hands of the murderers in despair, after they had been robbed by Polish, and even Russian, gangs. Many Jews were shot in the forests. Some of them were sent to the Tenth Battalion camp in Bialystok, where they were oppressed for weeks with hunger and the most severe conditions. The daily portion of food included 70 grams of bread and one-half potato per person. For that, they managed complete lists and records.
The chief record-keeper there was the respected teacher and talented speaker from Sokoly, Goldberg, the husband of the teacher Freidman, who worked together with Yente, Alter Sarnovitz's oldest daughter, as secretaries. Yisrael Sarnovitz, one of Sokoly's wealthy men, and Rabbi Yosef Rosenblum were supervisors of the distribution of the scarce food. Those poor souls who became weak and lost their strength from hunger were sent, under strict guard, to the gas chambers in Treblinka.
Monik remembered that, at the time the Jews who had turned themselves over to the Germans and those who had been found by them were transported, Avrahamel Lapchinsky and Rachel Morashkevitz, the daughter of the owner of the ironworks shop, were shot to death in the train station. Rachel proudly lifted her voice in the presence of the Germans, the way Benyaminka Rachelsky had done, rebuked them, and predicted their end and that the wrath of G-d would fall upon them. They grabbed her father Yechezkel when he was trying to get into his house in order to take out some of his possessions. He was shot to death on the spot.
The members of the Bialystok Judenrat succeeded in getting Rabbi Rosenblum out of the military camp, together with his wife and oldest daughter Sarah. His two youngest children, the 7-year-old girl Nechamale and the little boy Yankele, aged five, who had an open mind and already knew the morning, afternoon, and evening prayers from memory, were also with him in the military camp. When the Germans came to take the Rabbi to the ghetto, the children were playing somewhere in the courtyard. The Rabbi and his wife were not allowed to look for the children and have them join the family. Thus, the poor children were left to their cruel fate in the Tenth Battalion camp without their parents. The Rabbi's two middle daughters died in the forest.
After that, the Rabbi remained in the ghetto for three months. He managed precise lists of Jews from Sokoly and what he knew about their fate. He made lists of those who were murdered, and under what circumstances they were killed. He listed those whose fate was still unknown, those who were wandering in the forests, and of course he did not pass over any Jew from Sokoly who was in Bialystok and what had happened to him until that very day, including those who had been sent to Treblinka to the gas chambers.
Rabbi Rosenblum and the remaining members of his family were sent to Treblinka in February 1943, with a group of Jews from the first action.
In this first transport, there was a young man from Bialystok named [Yitzhak]Melamed. At the moment when the men of the Gestapo reached his hiding place and began to drive him and his family out, he took from his pocket a bottle of caustic acid and poured its entire contents into the eyes of the soldier standing closest to him. The German was surprised and it appeared that his face was burnt and his eyesight was lost. Wanting to shoot Melamed, he wounded and killed his German companion. After his heroic act, the young man disappeared. The Germans took revenge on the Jews and killed one hundred Jews right there. After that, they requested that the Judenrat hand over the young man to them, promising to stop the transports in exchange for him. Otherwise, they wouldn't leave a single Jew in the Bialystok ghetto. Melamed appeared of his own free will at the office of the Gestapo, in order to rescue the congregation of Israel by his death. They tortured him cruelly and hung him in public. It is clear that the transports continued more vigorously and the Jews were brought in multitudes to the slaughter.
Yet at the beginning of autumn 1942, the head of the [Bialystok] Judenrat, Barash, gave a speech to the Jews. He said that, at his unceasing initiative and with every effort, he had succeeded in delaying the decree of expulsion of the Jews of Bialystok until the spring. and who knows, with G-d's help, it would be a real springtime for all of us .
Things calmed down and everyone made the calculation that it was good to live for the hour. Perhaps, during a period of half a year, a miracle would occur and things would change for the better?
But the first transports began immediately at the beginning of the month of February 1943, and within two weeks, 15,000 Jews were sent from the ghetto to the gas chambers.
In telling about the searches in the forests of Sokoly, Monik described the tragedy of Rachel Leah from Wienda. As I have mentioned previously, Rachel Leah was friendly with the Christians in her village. During the first few weeks after the expulsion from Sokoly, a group of neighbors and acquaintances followed her to the forest and she took care of their needs. At night, they would sleep in the farms. Later, they prepared a bunker for themselves, where they lived for a length of time.
One day, during a search of the forest, Rachel Leah's small son, who was bringing their cow to the cave, saw Germans coming toward him. The boy panicked and started to run in the direction of the bunker. The murderers followed him and killed everyone who was there.
Reuven Gonshak, Shmuel Bronstein's son-in-law, was injured during that same search. When they were digging a pit to bury those killed in the forest, they threw Reuven, alive and groaning in pain, into the pit.
Monik continued to describe the lives of the Jews from Sokoly that he met in the forest. Some of them had arranged permanent places for themselves, and some wandered from place to place.
Shabtai Esterovitz, the son of Shlomo, the owner of the Sokoly flourmill, found shelter for himself and his wife in a threshing house on a farm, among piles of grain. Shabtai was good with his hands and he knew how to do smithy and carpentry work, and knew how to repair things on a farm when needed. The farmer gained a great deal of profit from him. He repaired a machine for cutting straw and other agricultural tools. Shabtai gave his Christian master a significant sum of money and various household items. He was a faithful Jew and observed the commandments, and was especially careful about [not] eating non-kosher food. He ate potatoes with no fat, which were cooked in a pot he had brought with him from his home.
Since the village was isolated and quiet, every once in a while wandering Jews who had heard about the farmer's positive treatment of Jews would come to buy something to eat. Shlomo Kravchevitz the tailor and his 6-year-old son, Avrahamele were among these. The Germans had killed Shlomo's wife and his son Fishel. Shlomo would receive tailoring jobs from the farmers and he sometimes stayed with them for a length of time.
In the same group was Sarah Esther Malach, the granddaughter of Yaakov Leibel Perlovitz, who had previously been in the forest with her little sister Henele. Following a denouncement, their dugout was revealed and ten people who were found inside were shot and killed. Among those killed were Mordechai Yezevitz and Avrahamke Lapkovsky's wife, his son, and his daughter. By chance, Sarah Esther Malach was absent from the place at that time and thus she was saved from certain death. From that time onward, she stayed in the company of Shlomo Kravchevitz. His other son, Moshe, spoke Polish with the farmers' dialect and disguised himself as a Pole. After parting from his father, he joined a Christian group of partisans. According to rumor, they carried out daring acts of sabotage against the Germans and their possessions.
Itza Elinovitz and his son, and one of the sons of Rachel Leah from Wienda, came to the farm where Monik had stayed previously. Schultz also would come to the farmer's house. We heard details about him from Monik.
Schultz was a well-known personality in Sokoly. The Christians knew him well, as did the Jews. He had a wagon and had superior strength and quickness of movement. He was famous for his jolly stories and piquant jokes, which he would tell with a unique intonation until his listeners were splitting with laughter. Other than this, he knew how to do acrobatic tricks, such as climbing walls and the high, slanted roofs of houses.
Schultz was especially famous in the whole area after his last victory: A circus came to Sokoly, in which there appeared, among others, an athlete who lifted heavy weights and bent iron. During the show, the athlete turned to the audience with the question whether a man was present who was prepared to wrestle with him and win, for the prize of 100 zlotys (gold coins). Without any hesitation, Schultz appeared on the scene, struggled for a short time, and laid the athlete out on the carpet, according to the rules.
Schultz's wife was also known for her bubbly temperament and witty tongue. Schultz's wife, Chaya Zelda, was the daughter of Yosef Leib Shklarovitz, the glazier. She bore Schultz three children, who were murdered by the Germans together with their mother. Schultz himself fled to the forests, and his portion was suffering and many afflictions.
After Monik came to us, our situation became a little worse. In our apartment under the earth, there was hardly room for the four of us, and here, a fifth resident had appeared. We had to squeeze together even more, but we took the obligation upon ourselves willingly and with full understanding.
For five weeks, we worked hard to add more width and volume to the bunker so that it would be appropriate for all of us. The ground was hard and rocky, and it was difficult and almost impossible to dig with a spade, because the bunker was too low for the movements of the tool. It remained for us to use a pick, and by breaking through, to remove broken-off pieces from the walls and take clumps of the rocky soil outside. It was most important to disguise our footprints around the bunker.
During this period, the place was cramped and the air was stifling. We could not turn over, or even move our limbs, when we were lying down. The food also became worse and there was not enough for all of us. We received the same four scanty portions we had gotten before, now for all five of us. Shmeig did not even enlarge the portion of bread and, to be accurate, he lessened it. Staczek brought us a new custom: twice a week, he did not prepare cooked food. On those days we were hungry. We suffered from his lack of punctuality, since he was periodically absent from home, busy with meetings of the underground, and came home near midnight. Then he would agree to send down to us a pot of cold food that we couldn't eat, in spite of the feeling of hunger that nagged us.
The boys conducted savings of the bread they ate and cut it into very thin slices so that it would last them the entire day or more. When hunger nagged them more and more, they found carrots, cabbage, and turnips outside and chewed on them. They gathered these findings on their nighttime walks when they went outside to get some fresh air. As for me, I wasn't able to enjoy such a meal, because I had lost my false teeth some time ago and the fresh, hard vegetables could not be chewed in my empty mouth. Thus, the hunger bothered me incessantly.
We suffered from flooding, during the months of February and March and in April, May, and June, from a lack of air. So that no one would detect us, we could not make large holes in the top of the bunker for air, and small holes occasionally became blocked.
Once, we were frightened to death and the boys blamed me. The incident occurred at midnight. The boys went out for their usual walk and I went out for a few minutes to the nearby forest to relieve myself. When I came back to the bunker, I did not have time to cover the entrance with the temporary wooden cover.
Suddenly, somebody opened the door of the toilet and asked in the Polish language, Is Staczek here?
I was very frightened. I thought that they had found our hiding place and that by morning the matter would be known all over the village and all of us would be lost.
When the boys came back to the bunker, I told them what happened and immediately panic set in. Avrahamel attacked me in a very loud voice and with insults, yelling, The old man, the idle sinner, has buried us! Where will we turn to now to find a new shelter?
My son Moshe was angry with me for not being careful and asked me: Why didn't you look around you to see that no one was there, or if you could hear footsteps?
I felt a deep stirring of conscience and pangs of repentance that I had caused a tragedy and endangered five lives.
My son Moshe and Avrahamel immediately ran to Staczek, to find out from him and his brother Palek who the man was who had asked the old man about Staczek. Moshe knocked softly on the window of the brothers' room. They were still awake and immediately came to the window and asked why he was coming to them in the middle of the night. Moshe told them that his father had caused them sudden fear and about the strange man who had asked for Staczek. Palek burst out laughing, saying that he himself was the strange man, and that he had come home late and found the door of his room locked, so he came to the bunker to see if maybe Staczek was there so he could take the key from him. Palek was surprised, how could the old man not recognize him?
All of us calmed down, and I gave thanks to G-d for the kindness he did for me in taking me out of my spiritual distress. After these events, the boys spoke to me and told me not to go out alone from the bunker, but always accompanied by one of them.
A short time later, again something happened to us that caused us a sudden fear of death. The event was as follows:
At that season, every day at 6:00 a.m., Shmeig was accustomed to closing and camouflaging the bunker opening with a cover having dirt on top of it. A short time ago, he would do this at 4:00 a.m. when it was still dark outside. This time Staczek appeared exactly at 6:00 a.m. As usual, he took off the light-weight, wooden cover that covered us at night and replaced it with the heavier, camouflaged cover.
Suddenly, we heard the barking of Shmeig's three dogs. Moshe put his ear near the bunker hole and said, Germans in the yard!
And the bunker was still opened! All they had to do was to open the door of the toilet and we were lost! They will find us! Trembling seized my body and my teeth began to chatter. I started to mumble the Viduy [Confession of Sins].
Avrahamel ordered us: Boys, grab the weapons! First, before we die, we have to kill a few Germans!
He grabbed a rifle loaded with bullets and handed a second one to Moshe. Monik and Chaim Yudel grabbed hand grenades. Avrahamel, who had experience in the Polish army, stood each one in his place,; instructed them how to shoot and when to throw the grenades; and in what direction to flee. In case it would be impossible to flee, the last bullets should be used for ourselveswe just shouldn't fall alive into the enemy's hands.
Meanwhile, the dogs hadn't stopped barking and the entire terrible campaign had continued for a quarter of an hour.
Suddenly the barking stopped. Shmeig approached us with the heavy cover in his hands, and told us that he had just had some nightmarish moments. Germans really were in the yard, but they did not come to conduct a search; rather, they came to ask for butter and eggs. It was a miracle that they did not see him carrying the cover which would certainly have brought horrible results. These Germans were guards on the Jamiolki Bridge. Staczek immediately brought them ten eggs and refused to accept payment from them. He told them that today he did not have any lard or butter, and they went away, the same way that they came.
Thank G-d, it all finished only with fear. From that day onward, Shmeig covered the opening at an earlier hour, when it was still dark outside.
At that time, the boys planned a daring, dangerous mission. They decided to burn down all the houses in Sokoly that remained after the previous fire.
The boys decided that not a single Jewish house in Sokoly would remain in the hands of those who hate us, neither Germans nor Poles. So that the mission would succeed, it was necessary to carry it out in three stages, and each stage in itself would be satisfying. There were three separate parts of the city that had to be burnt: Mountain Street, where there were a number of two-story buildings; part of the houses in the market that had been saved in the first fire; and some houses that stood alone on a number of different streets.
Since the first fire, a large fire department had been established in Sokoly along with a continuous night guard. Therefore, the mission was difficult and extremely dangerous. Besides the Jewish houses, the boys swore that they would burn down the house of the notorious, anti-Semitic, hard-hearted, and corrupt Janina Falkowska.
A special plan was necessary in order to set a large house on fire that was very far from the others; it stood near the Wysokie-Mazowiekie road and belonged to a Jewish crop merchant, Mordechai Surasky.
It was necessary to begin to act immediately, while the nights were still misty; it would be a shame to miss the opportunity.
The hour to act has arrived! The boys went out to Sokoly on a quiet night, and when they arrived, they immediately set fire to the cowsheds that belonged to Shlomo Leibel Itzkovsky. From there, the fire would naturally spread to the row of houses.
To our disappointment, the next day we learned that only a few of the houses caught fire. However, the flames ate up the cowsheds and shacks all along Mountain Street, up to the house belonging to the Christian blacksmith, Garabowski. This time, the fire department controlled the situation and arrived quickly at the site, located the fire, and prevented it from spreading.
This angered the boys very much and they decided to repeat the deed, and this time not to come back with empty hands. The second attempt, and after that a third one, also did not succeed, and because of new events in our lives, there was no further opportunity to complete our revenge.
During those days, some things occurred that brought about changes in our life underground. Shmeig's A.K. organization decided, in its last, secret meeting, and according to the instructions of its leadership, to carry out a series of elimination activities against the Polish police, who faithfully served the Germans. In the continued activities of the organization, attacks will be made against the German gendarmerie for the purpose of robbing them of weapons and equipment, but not to kill them. The members of the organization were not interested in the Germans burning down an entire village and killing dozens of Poles in revenge for one [dead] German.
One of the most daring operations carried out by the Sokoly A.K. organization, during the entire German occupation, was without a doubt the attack on the Amstkommissar's establishment in Kulesze. Thirty well-armed Poles, with masks over their faces, participated in the sudden attack, which took place in the middle of the night. They tied the hands and feet of the Germans that they found in the place, took away their weapons, and stole a great deal of booty, including additional weapons, ammunition, telephone instruments, radio receivers and a stock of various merchandise from the storerooms. All this they loaded onto wagons and brought to safe locations. The actions were done with great precision and exceptional dexterity. During the entire time that the operation continued, there was a strict guard over the tied-up Germans. Before the A.K. men left the place, they blotted out all the footprints that could lead to the attackers.
A large portion of the weapons and rich booty was brought to our bunker. There were machine guns, pistols, and a great number of bullets.
After the successful attack by the A.K., the Germans sent a reinforcement of Ukrainian and Latvian police to patrol all the roads, streets, alleys, and paths.
As an act of punishment, the Germans burnt down a few villages and destroyed some farms, suspecting that participants in the Kulesze robbery were hiding there.
Now we had periodic visits in the bunker from Staczek, who came accompanied by his cousin Czeczok from Warsaw, who was his confidant. Czeczok had known about us, and everything that happened to us, for a long time. As an active member of the underground, Czeczok had a significant part in the Kulesze operation. Once, Czeczok remained in our company while Staczek was absent, and our boys took this good opportunity and started a conversation with him. Monik gathered his courage and went straight to the point, asking the guest to sell us a pistol for a reasonable price in dollars.
By chance, Czeczok kept a pistol from the Kulesze booty in his house. He also did not hide the fact that he needed money, and he agreed to sell the pistol to Monik with seven bullets. He mentioned the sum of 30 dollars. Monik did not hesitate for a moment, and handed the seller 50 dollars, on the condition that he would add another 50 bullets.
When this transaction was completed, Monik pulled out another fifty-dollar bill from his pocket and turned to Czeczok with the request that he neither forget us nor our difficult situation, and that he would supply us from time to time with a few kilograms of slonina (pork meat) at a doubled price. Czeczok took the bill and promised to take care of us as much as he could. The two of them agreed to meet in the forest every Monday night, at an exact time and at an exact place.
To our boys' satisfaction, these meetings took place a number of times. Czeczok gave Monik a pistol and bullets, and even fulfilled his promise with regard to the slonina.
Meanwhile, a sad thing happened. Following a denouncement, a number of Polish youths who had participated in the Kulesze action were arrested. Czeczok was worried that the Germans would torture them to loosen their tongues, so as to get out of them the names of all those who had participated in the robbery, among whom, as mentioned above, was Czeczok himself. He immediately decided to disappear from the horizon and moved to another, unknown place. With the disappearance of this man, our rosy hopes began to wither like a flower.
A short time later, Monik suggested to Moshe that they go to a Christian woman who was one of his family's acquaintances, and who lived in the neighborhood of their house in Sokoly. She was the wife of the principal of the school in Bruszewo. Her husband had escaped some time ago with the Polish army, and had reached England. Through that woman, Monik hoped to buy some food in exchange for his dollars and some possessions from each of us.
From that day forward, Monik and Moshe visited the Christian woman to bring essential food items from there. Our life in the bunker returned again to a state of normalization. We listened to radio broadcasts for long hours and received signals from Moscow and London. Among the booty brought from Kulesze were many different radio parts, batteries for pocket flashlights, and other parts. Moshe, like any expert, knew how to use every part in order to improve the receiver belonging to Shmeig, as well as ours, in order to receive broadcasts on all the wavelengths. Moshe and Monik, especially, listened to the broadcasts. They sat next to the receiver for hours upon hours, with earphones on their ears. Monik precisely wrote down important news, the speeches of important people, newspaper surveys and opinions of political commentators from all over the world. Monik later gave these records to Staczek and made sure that he would memorize all of them so that he would be able to pass them on to the A.K. organization.
Shmeig was accustomed to reading the news and commentaries to his friends, and in their eyes he was a wonder, because of the lovely style and the wise editing. He gave them the impression that he himself had done the work of preparation and they respected him for his knowledge and intelligence. It is clear that not a single one of them was able to imagine that Monik was hiding behind the wings, infusing his writings with his literary style.
At that time something happened that was engraved in my memory for a long time. One evening, at about 11:00 , the boys went out to the nearby forest for their usual walk before going to sleep. Suddenly, the three farm dogs began a very loud, ear-ringing barking. Staczek immediately stood at the entrance to the bunker, lifted the cover, and asked whether all the boys were present. I answered him that the boys went out to draw in some fresh air.
Shmeig sighed and mumbled, Too bad, too bad!
And what happened?
He did not answer, but took off the light-weight cover of the opening that we used during the nights, and in its place he covered the opening with the heavier cover that was camouflaged with dirt. I understood that Staczek was expecting a search of the farm by the Germans, following the burglary of the government offices in Kulesze.
I had dark thoughts about my boys. I judged that they would not have time to escape and that they were likely to fall into the hands of the destructive Yellow Satan who would go wild here. I trembled at the sight of the visions passing through my imagination; visions of brutality, cruelty, and the killing of the boys, Heaven forbid! I was sure that after the boys would be seized, Staczek would not help me any more and I would also be killed. I regarded this as the only rescue from further suffering that I would have. I prayed that Staczek would not hesitate to finish me off if these things actually did happen. Every minute that passed seemed in my eyes to be a year. Thus I lay for an entire day, and tortured myself with the pain of horrible thoughts and nightmares.
The second evening I comforted myself that it all was a nightmarish dream and any moment Shmeig would appear and tell me that a miracle from Heaven had occurred and the boys had been rescued. Don't I always see false visions? I will beg Shmeig to shoot me right now!
It was incredible. At 10:00 p.m. that night I suddenly heard footsteps. These were my boys who were more precious to me than anything else. My happiness was immeasurable, and I wept from an excess of joy. Staczek removed the cover and my boys came down to me.
As became clear later, matters had developed in a totally different direction. The Germans I had seen in my nightmare visions weren't in the yard at all, but I had imagined them because of my excessive fear. Actually, the members of Staczek's underground organization had come to have an urgent meeting at his place regarding the new situation created after the burglary at Kulesze. It should be remembered that a number of A.K. members had fallen into the hands of the enemy who was seeking revenge at any price. The moment was a serious one for the rest of the members who might be compromised and their identities revealed to the Germans.
When Shmeig heard his dogs barking, he thought that Germans had indeed appeared in his yard. First, he ran to ensure the safety of the open bunker, in which there were weapons and hidden Jews. On the other hand, the barking alarmed our boys and they also thought that Germans were searching the farm. They withdrew from the farm like arrows from a bow and hid in a deep pit in the forest, with which they were very familiar, for that entire day.
After the secret A.K. meeting, Staczek came to empty all the weapons out of our bunker. Our boys exploited a wonderful opportunity and hid one rifle. Shmeig hid all the weapons and ammunition in a safer place that was unknown to us. Many days went by and Shmeig did not react to the missing rifle. We came to the conclusion that he forgot all about it, or that he simply did not know how many rifles had been put into the bunker after the Kulesze operation. That is how we came to possess a rifle.
Avrahamel shortened the butt and barrel of the rifle as much as he could, so that it looked like a lengthened pistol. Thank G-d, we did not lack any bullets, and we still had a number of hand grenades from before. In this way we obtained for ourselves a significant store of weapons. Their happiness and smiles proved that the comrades were all satisfied.
It is the beginning of February 1944. One Saturday, Shmeig traveled to work in Lapy at the railroad workshops. After the destruction of the Jews, young villagers up to the age of 40 were roped in for labor, and they took turns going to work, once every two weeks.
At the time of Shmeig's duty by rotation, his brother Palek brought us our food. That Saturday we waited all day. By midnight no one had opened the cover over the entrance and, of course, also no food had arrived. We were afraid to open the cover ourselves. In the yard there was utter silence like in a cemetery and no dogs barked as they usually might have done in the presence of strangers. We speculated that something unusual had happened. We were even more surprised when we did not even hear the footsteps of old Kalinowski with which we were very familiar. He was accustomed to pass between the stable and the cowshed every day. Did the Germans arrest the entire family?! We worried about pushing the dirt cover upward for fear that the Germans had left a guard on the farm after they took the Kalinowski family away and he might discover us.
Despite our initial dread we decided to open the entrance after midnight. If the family really was no longer at the place, then what were we doing staying here without any food and acting as if we were locked up and couldn't get out? We no longer knew the exact time because we did not have any watch in our possession, but we guessed that it was around midnight and we sat tensely in our closed bunker, waiting for something to happen.
Suddenly we heard Staczek's footsteps coming closer to us. We were very happy that we had been afraid for nothing. But our happiness immediately vanished when we heard the bad news that we had to leave the bunker completely or the next day the Germans would find us. Staczek added that someone whom he thought he could trust had informed the Germans that he was hiding weapons from the robbery of the gendarmerie in Kulesze. This morning the gendarmes had come to his house to arrest him.
Since Shmeig was in Lapy, the gendarmes meanwhile arrested his brother Palek who happened to be in the house at the time. The Soltis (head of the village) and the neighbors all testified to the Nazis that Palek was innocent and that he had no part in political activities, but this did not deter them and they would certainly torture him to get information about his brother Staczek's affairs.
Staczek's friends, who met him at the Krzyzewo [Wypychy] train station, immediately warned him that the Germans were looking for him. He hid himself until midnight and he had just arrived in order to investigate his situation and what was happening on the farm. First, he directed a warning to us to leave the farm immediately and get away without leaving any footprints. Shmeig gave us half a loaf of bread saying that at the moment he had nothing else in the house.
We quickly packed up all the movables that we could take with us. We arranged the rest of the things in such a way that no suspicion could arise that people had lived here. We went out of the bunker carefully and quietly and set our footsteps in the direction of the Mazury forest.
We walked though plowed fields and pastures, and were careful not to go on the roads and paths. This was the season when the snow was melting and swamps were formed in the fields, sometimes very deep ones that we sank into.
Towards dawn, the puddles froze over again and the ice broke under our feet. The distance to the edge of the Mazury forest was eight kilometers. I felt weakness in all my limbs and tried with all my strength to go forward with the group and not delay them from their objective. My feet stumbled and I fell down more than once. It was with great difficulty that I got up out of the puddles.
All four of the boys were loaded down with heavy packages of possessions that they carried on their chests and backs, as well as in both hands. In this difficult situation, I could not expect help from the boys. But my son did not remain indifferent to his father's great suffering and he did not abandon me to the wind. He approached me, took the backpack off my back, put it on his own back with the rest of the packages, making his burden much heavier, and suggested to me that I hold onto him and be dragged after him, step by step. To my sorrow, this also did not help me and he had to actually carry me, because my feet would carry me no longer.
Moshe was prepared to do everything for me and made an effort to lead me by one arm, but it was necessary for somebody else to lead me on the other side to make it possible to drag me along. The consciences of the other three boys did not allow them to remain indifferent to the situation. Two of them partially freed the third one from his burden and he helped to drag me along. This was an unusual effort on the part of the boys. I did not believe that they would succeed in bringing me alive to the forest. The walk took over six hours.
We finally reached the Mazury forest at 7:00 a.m. We found a thick, wide wood, where certainly no one had walked all winter, and laid ourselves down to rest and stretch our weary bones. We fell asleep for a few hours, without deciding to do so. We simply fell into the arms of sleep, from total exhaustion. After that, we sat and planned how to keep ourselves alive.
Without any argument, it was decided to immediately begin digging a temporary dugout that would provide a shelter over our heads and a place to put our movables. Then we had to find a source of food and financial means, because most of our things remained at the Kalinowski farm. More than anything else, we had to find a source of water. The entire length of our journey, we had not come across a single living settlement.
After resting, the boys went to look for an appropriate place to dig. A place was found among thick bushes, and it would be possible to camouflage the place from the eyes of passers-by so they would not suspect that people were here. We brought spades with us from the previous digging.
It was very hard to dig, because the upper layer was sufficiently frozen; by evening only one cubic meter of earth had been removed. It was clear that there still was no room in the excavation to lie down, and the group decided to go back to the former bunker to sleep and carefully check whether Germans were there. Tomorrow, they would have to come back to the woods and continue digging. To remain here outside, wasn't acceptable to the boys because of the nighttime frost. It was also necessary to bring a number of vessels of drinking water.
I, who had been made lame on my feet and weak from walking, lay down the whole time that the boys were busy digging. I was covered with two blankets and wasn't able to chew the bread we had with us. From time to time I wet my lips with snow, and I trembled with the cold.
The boys suggested to me that I remain there and sleep in the new pit, which would meanwhile suffice only for me. They gave me to understand that I was too weak to walk eight kilometers at night and come back the same way at dawn. I was very afraid to remain alone in the woods all night. I told the boys that I was much improved and that I would be able to go with them, and that I would not agree to remain here alone all night, under any circumstances.
That same evening, we went back to our bunker in Bruszewo. We put our possessions, meanwhile, in the new pit, and the boys camouflaged it properly.
Again the hard journey made its signs. It was a night of a full moon. At a distance there was a road on which vehicles were moving, and they lit the surroundings with spotlights. If the boys had been without me, they would have easily progressed quickly and would have avoided going in dangerous places, but they had difficulties with me. Every moment my feet stumbled and I tripped, and they had to support me under their arms and pull me along. Because of me, they were exposed to danger the entire length of the trip, and we all were likely to fall into the hands of the Germans. Because of this, we mistook the way and had to add a lot of walking. In the hearts of the boys, grievances accumulated against the old man because of whom they were weakened, and they cursed their lives more than once.
The boys spoke among themselves about leaving me under a tree on the way, and when they would return to the woods in a few hours, they would take me with them. But my son Moshe aggressively opposed this and he did not agree to leave his old father to the kindness of fate, in a field.
Thus, we finally arrived at the bunker. It was quiet all around. We took off the cover, went inside, and lay down to sleep. We got up at dawn. The boys equipped themselves with a number of vessels, filled them with water, and took more of our possessions with them. The way back this time was easier, or it just appeared that way to us after we had rested, and we already knew the way that we had gone before.
After resting, they began to widen and enlarge the excavation. By the next evening, the new bunker was ready. All five of us could go inside and lie down somehow with all our possessions. Of course, the new bunker was far from the quality of the first one. One could not comfortably lie down and stretch his legs to their entire length, and he certainly could not lie down the way one should. In any case, it was better to lie down that way than to walk again eight kilometers each way, back and forth, and be subject to danger.
The next night, my boys decided to go to the nearby villages disguised as armed partisans, in order to obtain food.
Monik Roseman was armed with a pistol and a supply of bullets. Avrahamel Goldberg was armed with the shortened rifle, which the reader will certainly remember. Besides that, he made himself an artificial pistol out of wood that looked like a real one, for the purpose of frightening the farmers and giving himself the image of a real partisan. Our partisan platoon also was not lacking hand grenades, as will be remembered.
At nightfall, the four boys went out. Monik went at the head of the line as the officer in charge, since he unhesitatingly spoke fluent Polish and was an educated man familiar with events. By his appearance, nobody would identify him as a Jew. The features of the faces of Moshe Maik and the Goldberg brothers also were not typically Jewish ones.
The platoon reached some country dwellings after midnight and knocked on the doors of the local residents. First, Monik knocked on the door of one of the houses where the people already were asleep, and they woke up to open the door for those who came at unacceptable hours. Monik informed them, in the tone of an order but politely, that he and his companions were gathering food for 30 men, fighters for the freedom of Poland, who were found nearby.
As soon as the residents saw that those who entered their house were armed, in surrender and with fear they immediately gave them loaves of bread, a generous amount of fat and vessels of milk.
After they passed through a number of farmhouses that night, they returned to the dugout with the booty: a number of sacks full of all kinds of food that would be enough for several weeks.
The friends weighed their enormous achievement according to this first attempt, and their appetite grew. Seeing their success, they decided to continue to appear as Polish partisans, for the purpose of preparing a stock of food that would be enough for a long time.
We expected the warfront to come close to our area in the near future and then Germans would swarm everywhere, in their withdrawal from the Russian offensive that had begun during the days of the battle of Stalingrad and still continued at a changing pace. Every day, the Russians were freeing vast conquered areas and they had already reached White Russia, which borders on Poland.
The wealthy farmers feared the Russian advance and hurried to empty their possessions from their granaries and houses. Our boys exploited the farmers' fear and made it a kind of sport for themselves to frighten them even more; thus, it was easy to get whatever we needed out of them. Some of them, who certainly never allowed a Jew to cross the thresholds of their homes, now gave the partisans everything good, when they were barefoot and half naked during the late hours of the night.
In this way, our boys prepared a stock of food for several months during a period of two weeks. They brought water in milk vessels.
Soon after we moved into the woods, I was very weak for four days, and could not eat even a crumb of bread, only fresh milk. Slowly, my condition improved and I recovered.
During their night excursions, the boys heard news from outside that about 70 Jews from Wysokie-Mazowiekie had been living for a long time in relative comfort in the Mazury forest. They even had stoves for cooking and baking. They bought sufficient food and drink as needed and even slaughtered calves.
One day a tragedy occurred following the stealing of an animal that led to their bunker. The villagers sent gendarmes there and after a search, the entire group of 70 Jews fell into the hands of the murderers.
This news depressed all of us. We also could be revealed one day because of our footprints in the snow. The matter caused the boys to start thinking. They had already begun to discuss various plans for our future.
Monik suggested that we go to a certain owner of a farm where he himself had stayed for two weeks before he came to us, figuring that the Christian would agree to give us shelter for payment, especially now, when the situation was in favor of the Russians and the success of the Allies was certain. Even if the would continue another year until the complete surrender of the Germans, our area would certainly fall into the hands of the Russians in another six months at most. With this reasoning, Monik estimated that he would be able to influence the farmer that it was worth it for him to shelter us. Therefore, Monik went with one of the other boys to conduct conversations with Wladek.
Wladek answered that he doesn't want to take upon himself responsibility to provide shelter, even for a high payment, because gangs of robbers were running around in his neighborhood, whose task it was to eliminate the remainder of the Jews in the forests and the bunkers. The gangs would reveal the Jews' hiding places. However, he was prepared to give us shelter for one month, for the sum of three thousand marks. A few weeks ago his father died and he had paid a significant amount to the church for his funeral. In order to cover the burial expenses, he would agree to provide us with shelter for a month.
It was difficult for us to agree to these conditions. We would have to give Wladek all our possessions and Monik's dollars for only one month, and after that we would remain without any resources.
Meanwhile, we heard that Staczek's brother Palek, who had been arrested by the Germans instead of his brother, had been sent to Danzig. The boys thought that the danger was over that Palek would break down and reveal our bunker by being tortured during questioning. And so they decided that now we could return to our previous bunker, especially since we had a supply of food for several weeks and we no longer required Staczek's help to camouflage the bunker cover. Before we had left the bunker, Avrahamel had found a way to open and close the bunker cover from the inside in a way that would not leave any footprints above. Therefore, we did not need any outside help.
During the four-week interim of our absence, the underground water in the bunker had collected and risen almost to the cover. The silence of death reigned in the farmyard. The boys began to draw out the water. By three in the morning, they had not yet succeeded in drawing out all the water. That first evening they managed to draw the water level down to the shelves inside the bunker. Meanwhile, they brought dry straw from the threshing house and put it on the shelves as a mattress to lie on.
Avrahamel was so tired and worn-out from the work that he collapsed, and it took a few long moments until he revived.
The second night, they finished drawing out all the rest of the water and arranged our cave. We knew that old Kalinowski remained in the house. Staczek was hiding with his friends, from fear that the Germans would come to look for him. Staczek had divided the cows and pigs among his relatives and friends, so the farm looked like it was abandoned. Only old Kalinowski went about the farm all day, and at night he went to sleep.
From time to time, Staczek would visit his old father. Once, passing by the bunker, he heard a voice and movement, and he understood that we had returned. He panicked, and quieted down. He had estimated that over the past month nothing remained of his Jews. How could they bear the cold of the winter for weeks, without a roof over their heads and without food, at a time when no Christian would allow a Jew to cross his threshold for all the money in the world?
Staczek could not hold back his anger, and called out, You're here again? And you did not see the necessity to ask my permission? I am warning you to leave immediately, and I don't want you at my place at all! If you don't want to leave here, there are enough ways to send you far from my house and my property. I don't want to endanger my own head and my farm because of you!
The boys tried to convince him with logical reasons that he now had nothing to fear and that the danger had gone. Over a month had passed and if they hadn't come until now to search for him, they certainly wouldn't come any more. All the time that Palek had been in our area, it was possible to be afraid that they would torture him and he would reveal his brother's secrets. But now, he had nothing to be afraid of. After the great defeats of the Germans on all fronts, they had greater concerns than that of the burglary in Kulesze. The boys promised Staczek that they wouldn't bother him and that they had found a source of food. He was exempt from opening and closing the cover of the bunker and camouflaging it, and they had found a way to arrange everything themselves, without any outside help.
The boys managed to convince Staczek and they succeeded in reconciling with him completely. From that evening onward, Staczek had a good attitude toward us. He was careful. During the day, he was afraid to go around on his farm. He came only in the evening for two hours, and would come down to us into the bunker to hear the radio broadcasts and talk with us.
The boys continued to go out to the distant villages at night even though we had a supply of food for two or three months. They wanted to obtain a stock of food for half a year. Since the front was coming closer to our area, it would be difficult to go out of our cave. It is impossible to prepare bread too much in advance. Because of the dampness in the bunker, bread would spoil. But fat and other foods could be prepared.
Among other things, the boys planned a daring, very dangerous mission that according to all logic was doomed to complete failure at the outset. They decided to rob the Stokowisky landowner's holdings which were now in the possession of the Germans under the management of two German overseers dressed in civilian clothing.
Before the expulsion of the Jews from Sokoly, Avrahamel had worked for a number of weeks in the Stokowisky farm warehouses and the broad courtyards. He knew the Germans, who supervised the farm work very well, as well as all its entrances and secrets. It was Avrahamel who suggested a daring break-in into the homes of the managers, cutting off their telephone communications and forcing them to hand over the keys under the threat of using their weapons.
Two of us would guard the arrested managers, while the other two would go to the Soltis and order him to draft farmers with wagons so that the food could be loaded up and taken to the Bruszewo forest some distance from our bunker. From there, it was possible to transfer the booty to a new bunker that would be prepared for that purpose and camouflaged as necessary.
I tried to influence the hotheads, to moderate them and prevent them from carrying out their dangerous plans. I explained to them, with the best and most logical reasons why their plan could be expected to fail completely. They did not even want to hear my reasons. They only delayed the mission for two weeks because they needed to make all the preparations for the break-in.
Meanwhile, they went out foraging for food at night. Every time the boys went out on their dangerous excursions and left me alone in the bunker, I was seized by fear and trembling from nightmarish visions and soul-suffering, until more than once I envied those who had died and were freed already from a life of hell. After every trip the boys told me of miracles and wonders on their way and how they were rescued from the danger of death.
Once they entered a farmer's house to ask for food, apparently for their partisan comrades. By chance they met up with a group of men from a Polish gang who started to question our boys as to who they were, from what political party, and what was the purpose that they were gathering food. Coincidentally, the officer of this gang was not the same one who encountered Monkik at the farmer's house. Monik, thanks to his ideas and courage, was not at a loss during those dangerous moments and time after time he found a way out of the trouble.
In another place one farmer told them that a dangerous Polish gang of the N.S.Z. [Nardowe Sily ZbrojneNational Armed Forces], whose task was to destroy all the remaining Jews, had heard that four Jews were running around in the forests with weapons like Polish partisans. That gang was hunting for them and planning to catch them .
Another time, when our boys were returning from Kalinowa with sacks of food loaded on their shoulders, they met up with an armed Polish gang. They stopped our boys and asked who they were. Monik stood there talking with their officer. While they were talking, a group of youths and young girls passed by, who were coming back from a dance on this summer evening in the month of May. They stood still, looking at the gang and the four young men carrying the sacks. The officer of the gang wanted to first get rid of the company of celebrants and send them home, lest they interfere with the actions he was planning to take against the boys with the sacks, and he ordered them to stand near the cowsheds
To our boys' delight, they did not want to go away. During the argument between the officer and the dance celebrants, our boys sneaked away and were saved from certain death.
In spite of everything, they would not forego their trips, even with the dangers. They occasionally did not have time to return to the bunker that same night, because the trip in both directions took hours, and then they had to hide between the rows of crops. This was the time before the harvest. I had to remain alone and deserted in the bunker and bear suffering of the soul and a mood of fear and discouragement.
The battlefront drew closer to our vicinity. The boys were worried that they were likely to fall during the last moments before the end of the and truthfully, every day we saw miracles and wonders.
Wounded Germans were passing by on all the roads. In the Bruszewo forest and in the surroundings of our bunker, there were German artillery units. A German army headquarters unit was located in Staczek's house, 30 meters from our bunker. The farmyard, the cowsheds, and the storerooms were full of soldiers. We had to lie for complete days, day and night, smothered under the heavy earth cover, afraid to put out our heads to breathe a bit of fresh air. We used a pail to relieve ourselves.
There were dozens of chickens in the yard, and the German cook would catch chickens for his kitchen. The chickens were accustomed to sitting above our bunker on the holes that were made in the cover to let air into the bunker. The chickens felt the hot air under the cover. The Germans would hide in corners near the bunker to hunt and catch the chickens.
We had great difficulty getting water to drink. For days, we lay tired and faint from thirst. Avrahamel tried to dig in the corner of the bunker to reach the source of water. He did succeed in getting a small amount of water but not enough to slake our thirst.
During the last week, we heard the shooting of artillery. The walls and ceiling of the bunker, supported by flimsy and weak boards, started to move. We were afraid that the bunker was collapsing and we would all be buried alive. The posts that supported the ceiling of the bunker were rotting from their foundations because of the wet ground. The bottom portions of the posts were completely rotted. At any moment, the bunker was likely to collapse. A six-meter high pole fell at the edge of our bunker. It served as a lightening rod, but collapsed from the explosions of the artillery shells. We thought there was no hope of remaining alive that day.
My son Moshe heard on the radio that Bialystok, and many places in the direction of the train track to the Lapy train station, had been conquered by the Russians. Avrahamel begged us to go out of the bunker in the middle of the night and crawl from tree to tree until we reach the Russians. My son Moshe was of the opinion that it was worthwhile to wait another day and not do anything dangerous during the last moments of the war. Other than that, he was not prepared to leave his father.
Avrahamel, Chaim Yudel, and Monik decided not to consider the Maiks, and in the middle of the night they went on their way. They parted from us at midnight. Avrahamel opened the cover of the bunker and went up into the toilet. Chaim Yudel and Monik, ready to go out one at a time, stood below in the bunker. Avrahamel stood by the door of the toilet and waited, straining his ears as to whether any footsteps could be heard outside. Slowly, slowly, he opened the door of the toilet. He immediately jumped back inside the bunker and quickly replaced the cover. His teeth were chattering.
When he had put his head outside, he saw a few Germans close by who were lighting up the area with searchlights. For a long time, all of us were afraid that the Germans would see something above the bunker when they lit up the ground above, and would find us. After 15 minutes had passed, we calmed down.
During the night, the artillery shooting stopped, and we lay down to sleep until morning. It was August 11, 1944.
Suddenly, towards morning, Staczek's brother came running toward us and called out: Friends, come out of the bunker! The Russians have arrived! The Russians have arrived!
We immediately opened the cover of the bunker and ran into the yard. The boys went into the forest where the German dugouts were located, in which a lot of food remained, which they gathered. Meanwhile, Staczek came with bad news: the Germans had shot and killed his father. They asked the father something that he did not understand and they immediately shot him.
Avrahamel and Monik went to Sokoly to see what the situation there was and find an apartment where we would be able to stay temporarily. The rest of the group remained in Staczek's yard to wait for the return of the two spies and their report; then they would decide what to do next.
After two hours, Avrahamel and Monik came back and told us that Sokoly is unrecognizable; it does not look like it once was a town. The streets have disappeared and an empty area remains. The market, Tiktin Street, Bathhouse Street and a large portion of Ganosowky Street, up to Eliezer Rosenovitz' house, were wiped off the face of the earth. Here and there, remained isolated houses, occupied by strange Poles. On Market Street, only the three-story house belonging to Little Alterke and Aharke Zholty's large house, now occupied by the temporary militia, remain. In Alterke's house there are two or three rooms that are empty, but all the windowpanes are broken.
Maik's small wooden house next to the horse market is still there, but four Christian families occupy it. The Polish tenant in Maik's house was an underworld figure before the war and his wife was a prostitute. She was called the black goya. Immediately after the Jews were expelled from Sokoly, this goy took over Maik's house, the bathhouse, the garden, and an empty lot. He also grabbed Moshe Tzvi Seines' wool spinning machines. He put these machines in the Jewish public bathhouse, and a long row of farmers' wagons was lining up now near the bathhouse. Farmers from all the villages in the area came to spin wool, and the man from the underworld became the heir and was made wealthy by Jewish possessions and the destruction of the Jews.
A few houses remained on Bathhouse Street, but most of them no longer had any windows or doors, and Poles occupied the few that were in good repair. The Russian headquarters was now in Mordechai Surasky's large house. Monik spoke with the Russian commanders, who promised to provide apartments for the Jews who had survived.
We decided to return to Sokoly. Not one of us had a remaining shirt, or other clothing, or even a pair of shoes. Everything had rotted.
On August 12, 1944, we returned to Sokoly, the town of our birth. The boys felt free and were in high spirits. But I felt myself partially paralyzed. I couldn't even walk a few steps. The boys carried me and supported me in their arms. After ten steps, I had to lie down on the ground and rest. My son and his friends had to wait for me, so because of me, the four-kilometer trip from the bunker to Sokoly took about five hours.
My son and I reached our house that remained whole, next to the bathhouse. We turned to the Christians who had taken over our house and asked them to free at least one room for us, as the owners of the house. The Poles did not want to listen to our request, remembering the tenant protection law. They had grabbed our house, which at the time was an ownerless Jewish house, and now it is forbidden for the owner of the house to take anyone out of his apartment until he receives another one in its place.
We went to Little Alterke's walled house. There, we found an empty room. The boys brought bundles of straw. They spread them on the floor and prepared a mattress for five people. On our lot in the horse market, they dug up a few potatoes for lunch.
That same day, other Jews reached Sokoly from bunkers in the forests: Chaim Tuvia Litvak, the blacksmith, with his three sons Shammai, Yankel and Sheikele and his daughter Shaintzie; Avraham Kalifovitz from Dworkie; Issur Wondolowicz with the little girl Yehudit, his murdered wife's cousin, orphaned of her father, Itcze Rachelsky; David Zholty, Aharke's son, with his mother Freidel, who had hidden in a bunker in the village of Ros. All the refugees kissed each other emotionally and felt like members of one family.
During the first few days, all of them lived together. They divided all the food as they would to family members. Every one had mountains of miracles and wonders to tell that had happened to them during the years of the Holocaust: about those who seemingly gave shelter to the Jews, but took their money and possessions, and afterwards invented various ways how to destroy them and be freed of them; they were saved from death only by miracles.
On the second day, Zeev Gritshak, his wife, and their three daughters arrived in Sokoly. A Christian friend had sheltered them. Recently, he had tried to force them to commit suicide, for their own good .
Also among the first refugees to arrive was Bartzi from the village of Dworkie, who had been in the Treblinka death camp. For a few weeks he had watched how thousands of Jews were brought to the gas chambers. It was his luck that they transported him to be killed in the Lublin area together with a group of other Jews; during the last actual moments, he succeeded in jumping out of the boxcar of the train.
Aharon Slomsky from the village of Dworkie and a few women from Warsaw and Metshizev were also among the refugees.
During the first week after the liberation, a total of 25 Jewish souls, men, women and children, gathered in Sokoly. We received the news that two refugees from Sokoly had reached Bialystok.
Chaim Yehoshua Olsha and his sister Mushka, who had been under the protection of a devout Christian woman as Aryans, with Christian identity cards, were forced to observe the Christian religious customs. Rashke's son Moshe was hidden by a Christian, naturally at an exhorbitant price in dollars, in a storehouse full of bundles of wood.
Avraham Yitzhak Lev, the son of Shmuel Leib the shochat, hid in a bunker with the brothers Chaim Tzvi Hershel and Zeidel Rachekovsky after the liquidation of the Bialystok ghetto. The Gestapo found them. They were arrested and until recently they were employed digging graves and burning the bodies of Russian and Jewish prisoners brought from European countries who had been shot before the gas chambers were prepared. There were mass graves scattered in the Augustow, Grodno, and Bialystok areas, mostly in locations close to the train tracks.
After the defeat of the Germans on the Russian fronts, the Germans wanted to wipe out the footprints of their crimes in killing the Jews. The Germans exploited the Jews that they caught after the liquidation of the Bialystok ghetto for this purpose and gathered them in prisons in Bialystok. A short time before the liberation, when the job of burning the bodies was completed, the Germans commanded the forty workers to dig a large pit. The grave that the workers prepared was intended for them, but before the work was finished, they began to flee. Only ten of them succeeded in escaping from death. Among them was Avraham Yitzhak Lev. Among those who were killed there were the brothers Zeidel and Chaim Tzvi Hershel Rachekovsky.
Also among the refugees who arrived in Bialystok were Masha Kaplansky and her daughter Rachel. There was tragedy in their bitter fate. By chance, about two months before the liberation, Masha's only son Avrahamel went out at midnight to the village of Lachy to a certain farmer named Troskoleski, to ask for food for his weak mother and the remaining members of the family. When Avrahamel Kaplansky entered the Troskoleski house that fateful night, the farmer Troskoleski, together with his grown sons, fell upon Avrahamel Kaplansky, tied him up with ropes and turned him over to the German murderers.
Others among the refugees from Sokoly in Bialystok were Benyamin the glazier and his cousin Benyamin Gurkovitz the son of Chaim Razshayshek. They had been among the partisans in the Bialystok area. Also among the refugees was Solka the adopted daughter of Itzel the tailor.
Two weeks after the liberation, my son Moshe and the brothers Avrahamel and Chaim Yudel Goldberg traveled to Bialystok to look for work in order to earn enough to buy clothing and shoes because, as stated above, they left the bunker with their clothing worn out and torn. I, who could walk on my feet only with difficulty, remained in Sokoly.
All the survivors moved to live temporarily in Alter Slodky's house. With the intervention of the head of the Wysokie-Mazowiekie district, I succeeded in receiving one room in my own house next to the Jewish public bathhouse. Very slowly, the rest of the Sokoly refugees succeeded in finding a roof over their heads.
David Zholty succeeded, with the intervention of the head of the Wysokie-Mazowiekie district, in receiving one room and a kitchen in his father's house from the Sokoly militia. With a great deal of difficulty, David Zholty obtained a small part of his furniture from the past Mayor of the town, Grabowski, which his brother Chaim had transferred to his house on the eve of the expulsion. At that time, David Zholty sold a clothes closet that stood in his father's building supplies storeroom, and from the payment for this he supported himself and his mother for several months.
Chaim Tuvia Litvak succeeded in freeing two apartments, one belonging to him, and one to his father-in-law, Dov Shaikes. Chaim Tuvia succeeded in gathering the working tools needed for a family and began to work at his profession and to support himself honorably. He was one of the happiest people in Sokoly, who had remained alive with his entire family.
Zeev Gritshak, whose family was happy to remain alive, arranged an apartment for himself in Mottel Shafran's house. He succeeded in his dealings with farmers among his Christian friends and earned a good living.
Rashke's son Moshe, who was in Bialystok during the first days after the liberation, returned to Sokoly, arranged an apartment on the second floor of Alter Slodky's house, and began to do business with Polish merchants.
Chaim Yehoshua Olsha had a great deal of merchandise in Sokoly: paints and other materials. He occasionally came to Sokoly to do business. He bought apartments in Bialystok for himself and his sister.
A few of us supplied various manufactured goods to the farmers in exchange for food. At that time, the only business was in trading, in other words, one type of merchandise was exchanged for another. Very slowly, the economic and material situation of the refugees became relatively stable. Transportation in the Bialystok metropolitan area was mostly by means of military vehicles, which went back and forth day and night. The Russian drivers took one-fourth liter of whiskey for each trip from the travelers.
My son Moshe was one of the few in Sokoly who did not engage in trade or in smuggling. At the beginning, he worked in a textile factory in Bialystok as an electric technician. Every Sunday, when he was off work, he would travel to Bruszewo to see Staczek, who had sheltered us during the Holocaust. Most of the time, when my son traveled to Staczek, he went together with our cousin Avrahamel Goldberg.
Once, on a Sunday in December 1944, when Moshe and Avrahamel were visiting Staczek and remained overnight to sleep in his house, a search of Staczek's house was conducted by the Soviet security forces. Someone who hated Staczek informed the Soviets that he was a member of the illegal A.K. party. Moshe and Avrahamel, who were coincidentally present during the search, were arrested together with Staczek and they all were taken to jail by circuitous paths so that their relatives wouldn't know in what direction they had gone.
I had been told that they were going to visit in Bruszewo and would come home the next morning. When the first day went by and they did not come home, I was restless and nervous. All that night I did not close my eyes. At 4:00 in the morning, I went to Bruszewo to find out what had happened to my son. I was informed that Moshe and Avrahamel had been arrested during the night along with Staczek and sent in an unknown direction. I immediately ran fifteen kilometers, on foot, to the Jews of Wysokie-Masowieckie, who had connections with the Soviet civil leadership. I tried to find out, with their help, where Moshe and Avrahamel were located. I couldn't find out anything for three days.
On the fourth day, Avrahamel was released. He informed me that my son Moshe was in jail in Zambrow, suffering from hunger and cold, and that the Soviets had tortured him for three days. Avrahamel argued that Staczek had hidden him from the Germans with a few other Jews, but he did not know whether Staczek belonged to some party thus, they released him. Moshe tried too much to protect Staczek and they held him because of that, as a faithful friend of Staczek who knows his secrets. They said that Staczek was a British agent who hated the Soviets. I hurried to Zambrow, a distance of 35 kilometers.
There, I turned to every Jew who could mediate with the government. Finally, I reached an intermediary who knew the Kommissar appointed over state arrests. The intermediary advised me to bring an acknowledgement from the factory in Bialystok that Moshe worked there and that his behavior was good. I hurried to Bialystok, and there I received an acknowledgement of Moshe's excellent behavior from the manager of the factory. The acknowledgement also stated that Moshe was an expert professional and the factory needed him to work for the Soviet army. After a week, I succeeded in freeing my son from prison.
Moshe's feet had frozen in the cellar of the prison and he suffered from that for several months. Staczek was sent to Russia, and according to rumors, they killed him there.
A short time after the liberation, the persecution of Jews began again in Poland. Young Poles occasionally attacked Jewish survivors in the cities, in the towns and on all the roads. They robbed Jews who made the rounds of the villages with their merchandise, beat them severely, and threw rocks at them. The Jews who earned their living from trading in the villages were in great danger.
David Zholty called a meeting of the survivors. It was decided to establish a few plants for the small Jewish community in Sokoly, such as a cooperative store, a factory for spinning wool for the village farmers, and an oil press. The first to be employed would be the peddlers, who were suffering from persecution. For this purpose, an official Jewish community had to be organized and acknowledged by the Bialystok Regional Center, and through the Center, the community would try to obtain a license from the government entitling the Sokoly Jewish community to sell the Jewish houses and plots of land that remained without heirs, and to be given back the workshops and machines belonging to Jews that had been stolen.
The required steps were taken quickly, and an official Jewish community was established in Sokoly, with a rubber stamp and all the formalities. Chaim Tuvia the blacksmith was chosen as chairman and Michael Maik as secretary. The Wysokie-Masowieckie District Chairman gave the Jewish Community of Sokoly an acknowledgement of Jewish property without heirs.
Suddenly, a tragedy occurred that put an end to the last Jewish settlement in Sokoly. It happened under the following circumstances:
On Sabbath, February 17, 1945, one-half year after our liberation, the survivors had a celebration in Sokoly at Mordechai Surasky's house near the Mazowieckie road. During the first period of the liberation, the residence of Colonel Dubroshin, the Soviet Kommandant, was in that house. Ten days before the fateful evening, Colonel Dubroshin handed over the Surasky house to three Jewish families numbering twelve souls.
The celebration took place: a) as a housewarming for the three families; b) to celebrate the engagement of one of the survivors from Sokoly, Benyamin Rachlev, to Batya Weinstein from Swieciany [Lithuania], a survivor of the death camps; c) that same week, a boy from Sokoly, David Koschevsky, the son of Itza (Yitzhak) the milliner, had arrived from the death camps.
About twenty people were gathered in the house where the celebration took place. The torn ones who had suffered so much now celebrated the evening with happiness and joy. The young people played cards, the elderly talked among themselves, the women took care of the kitchen and fried latkes [potato pancakes].
In the kitchen, there was a conversation led by the young engineer David Zholty, who accompanied Sheintze Gritshak home after her visit to the Zholty family.
Suddenly the back door opened. A Pole with a large mustache, and dressed in an Army uniform, came in with an automatic rifle in his hand. Zeev Gritshak saw the Pole first, and cried out, Robbers have come! He ran to the other room and locked the door. The Pole opened a round of fire. With the first shots he killed engineer David Zholty and the bride from Swieciany. Batya Weinstein, who had been frying latkes, fell dead with a knife in her hand. A third victim was the pretty, 4-year-old orphan Tulkale.
After that, the murderer entered the room full of guests and started shooting again. Panic arose. For a moment, his rifle jammed. A number of celebrants succeeded in breaking the window and escaping through the front door, and they thereby were rescued from death. But a few ran in panic and hid under the beds. A kerosene lamp that stood on the table fell down on the wood floor. The kerosene spread and a fire broke out. Additional robbers entered the room and shot Shammai Litvak and David Koschevsky. Shammai Litvak's body covered Avraham Kalifovitz. The shots did make holes in his clothing, but he was saved by a miracle. Issur Wondolowicz, who was standing behind the closet, was also saved. Shaina Olshak, 22 years old, who had been recently married, fled outside and was shot on the spot by the robbers' guard. The robbers stole the boots and shoes from their victims, as well as possessions from the beds and closets.
In the middle of the robbery, the 13-year-old boy, Sheike Litvak, came in. The robbers asked him To whom are you going?
He answered, To my brother.
One of the robbers shot the boy in the face. The boy instinctively covered his face with his hands and cried, Oy!
Are you still alive? asked the murderer, and shot him a second time. The boy fell down, rolling in his own blood.
Seven victims fell in that bestial murder, six of them on the spot. The seventh victim, David Koschevsky, was wounded at first and begged, Jews, have mercy on me! Save me! They took him in a military vehicle to the hospital in Bialystok. After suffering horribly for a few days, he returned his soul to his Maker. He was fully conscious until his last moments.
Avrahamel Goldberg arrived in Sokoly from Bialystok in a military vehicle half an hour before the murder. He went to get his sister's daughter, an orphan who was at a farmer's house in the village of Lendowa-Budy, near Bransk. The farmer's wife had adopted the girl as a daughter. The Poles murdered the girl's parents and their sons. Only their small daughter, Feigele Tabak, aged five, remained, who had hidden when her parents were murdered. When Avrahamel found out after the liberation that his sister's daughter Feigele Tabak was in Lendowa-Budy, he and his relative Moshe Lev tried to prove whether the rumor was true.
Passing through the woods near the village of Lendowa-Budy, Avrahamel and Moshe Lev met Feigele, who was herding some cows and sheep, wearing a peasant girl's dress and wooden shoes. Avrahamel immediately recognized his sister's daughter Feigele and called to her, in Yiddish, Feigele, don't you recognize me? I am your Uncle Avrahamel. I always used to bring you dolls and chocolate.
Feigele was frightened and ran away to the forest, screaming, Jews are chasing me! She fled to the farmer woman's house and hid under the bed.
Avrahamel and Moshe spoke to the farmer woman and found out that she did not intend to return the girl to her Jewish relatives. Since Avrahamel was not yet properly organized, he did not want to act with strength and take Feigele away from the farmer woman. But after a short time, when Avrahamel was organized with an apartment and a job, he rented a Russian car and invited a Jewish soldier with a weapon to come with him. When they passed through Sokoly, Avrahamel went to Mordechai Surasky's house. From the celebration, he picked up Benyamin Ratzlev and Benyamin Gorkovitz, both of whom had pistols and had volunteered to go with him on a joint mission. They traveled to the village of Lendowa-Budy to take Feigele back from the farmer woman and then returned with the girl to the party. When they returned with the kidnapped Feigele, they found the seven victims.
The engineer, David Zholty, was born in 1909. In his youth, he received a religious education in his home. When he was 18 years old, he began his secular education. He learned intensively for two years and succeeded in obtaining a matriculation certificate. He continued his studies at the law school in Vilna for one year, but then he was drawn to technical studies. He learned at first in the Danzig Technical College and from there he transferred to the Polytechnion in Warsaw, where he completed his studies in engineering with excellence.
David was fluent in the Polish and German languages. He was an eloquent speaker and his speeches mesmerized his listeners, both Jews and Christians. He was a warm-hearted Jew and believed that soon there will be a complete Redemption of the Jewish people. David was a follower of Jabotinsky's doctrine that a Jewish state would arise on both banks of the Jordan. In his private life, he was modest and a gentle soul. More than once, he waived his personal matters and gave himself over with all his soul for the good of the community.
During the first few months of the liberation from the Nazi hell, David Zholty became the spiritual leader of the last Jewish community in Sokoly. Jews turned to him with their worries and problems and asked him for advice or a recommendation, and he helped everyone, not only with advice, but also with actions, and he rescued people from their troubles more than once. His unique devotion to his elderly mother was marvelous. When he was in the bunker with his mother for 22 months, he took care not to desecrate the Sabbath or eat non-kosher food, even though he was not devout and observant of the commandments. He did this to respect his devout mother, and quietly suffered the lack of food, making do with a little.
After the liberation, David was offered a job as an engineer, but he did not accept it so as not to leave his mother alone, subject to the kindness of strangers.
David spoke bitterly about our Jewish bretheren; those who quickly forgot what had happened to the Jewish people and worried only about themselves. In his opinion, and according to common sense, the only, greatest desire of any Jew who remained alive should be to immigrate to the Land of Israel and live there among its people, its builders, because we have no future in the lands of Europe, or even in America, and the bitter, tragic lesson of the last few years is enough for us.
David himself was not privileged to realize his lofty ideals. His pure blood was spilled and he died before his time. May his memory be blessed!
Chaim Tuvia Litvak, the father of two murdered sons Shammai and Sheikele, had rightly been regarded as being happier than anyone else among the survivors in Sokoly. His entire family remained alive and came back to Sokoly. Among his children, he had three tall sons and one daughter. Two of his sons fell victim to the bestial murder at Mordechai Surasky's house, and after that, his third son Yaakov (Yankele) was murdered by a Polish soldier in Bialystok.
Shammai Litvak was 19 years old when he died. He had completed the public school and also received a religious education. He was a charming boy, talented in all kinds of work, and he was willing to help others. He had a logical approach to every matter. His father, Chaim Tuvia, did not do anything without consulting his son Shammai.
Yankele Litvak was 15 years old when he was murdered in Bialystok.
Sheike Litvak was 13 years old when he was tragically killed, a victim of cruel murder.
Shaine Olshak was 22 years old when she fell at the hands of the murderers. She was a seamstress by profession. She knew how to do beautiful embroidery and handwork. She was a woman of valor in matters of trade, and she managed her matters with intelligence. Shaine married a boy from Zaromb [Zareby Koscielna], Zeev Velvel Olshak (with whom she had hidden in bunkers in the forests). She was an energetic woman and a good housewife. She was not accustomed to sit and do nothing; she was always busy with something. She was especially known for having guests. She invited Jewish soldiers who were staying in the hospital for lunch and she was insulted when they suggested that they pay her for the unusual expense.
A few weeks before the murder in the Surasky house, Shaine succeeded in getting her tiny relative Tulkale, who was four years old, out of the hands of the Christians. The little girl was orphaned of both her parents, who had been murdered by the Germans in the forest during a search for Jews. A good-hearted Christian woman found the girl and took her home, and over time she adopted her as a daughter. After the liberation, the Jews of Sokoly found out and tried every possible way to get the orphan back. The Christian woman was not prepared to give up the girl to whom she had become attached. Finally, the girl returned to her origins and Shaine took care of her with great dedication. Fate intervened, and both of them became victims on the same day.
Tulka, the 4-year-old orphan, was a cheerful and sweet little girl. She clung lovingly to any person who took her into his arms to spoil her and play with her. She filled every Jewish heart with pleasure and everyone took comfort in her. The beautiful little girl, innocent of any sin, an actual little angel, lay dead with open eyes. Her eyes expressed deep protest against the bestial murderers.
Batya Weinstein, 20 years old, was born in Swieciany to wealthy parents. By profession, she was a bookkeeper. Batya passed through all seven stages of hell. She was, like the rest of the Jews, in constant danger of death, and bore hunger and suffering until she came to Sokoly after the liberation, where she believed she would find safe shelter among other Jews. Fate was cruel to her and she found her tragic death.
David Koschevsky (the son of Itze the hat-maker) was 28 years old when he was murdered. He was a talented young man and energetic at his work. He fulfilled his obligation as a soldier in the Polish army. Before the war, he married Kabula Bialystotzka, the daughter of Nachum the tailor. He hovered between life and death for 27 months. He was in the death camps of Maidanek and Auschwitz. He was sent three times to the gas chambers and was rescued from death only by miracles.
After all his wanderings, he finally was privileged to safely come home to Sokoly, yet here he fell victim to a Polish fascist's bullet.
After the horrible murders, representatives of the Bialystok Community Committee came to Sokoly, and it was decided that the last local Jewish settlement must liquidate itself. Life in the small towns of Poland is always subject to danger, and death lurks in every corner. Apparently, the gangs of Poles were not satisfied with what Hitler had previously done, and they strove to destroy all remainders of Jewish survival, at any price.
Thus, the Jews of Sokoly moved to Bialystok, which became a center for Holocaust survivors. Hundreds of returnees, from the concentration camps, the bunkers and the forests, gathered there. The Jewish partisans also were happy to be again with their brothers, the Children of Israel.
Companies of the Russian and Polish armies camped in Bialystok so that the gangs of Polish murderers and robbers would not dare, meanwhile, to run wild and carry out their wicked deeds. Because of this, our brothers felt safer there than they did in the small towns. But it did not take long for the plague of robbery to spread in this city as well. The purpose of the murderers was to plant fear and panic within the Jewish settlement, in every location. One morning, one of the Jewish women was shot and killed when she went out to shop in the marketplace. Another incident occurred in the Bialystoczienska Alley that led to the Jewish shops. Two soldiers wearing Russian army uniforms entered one of the shops and without saying anything, shot the shop owner, Patak, from the town of Rutka. Patak was very seriously injured. A second bullet was aimed at Patak's wife, who was killed on the spot.
And there was another case of mass murder after the liberation. A group of Jews was travelling south in a vehicle on the road between Bialystok and Jasiernowka. Robbers, disguised as traffic policemen, stopped them on the way, supposedly for the purpose of inspecting their papers. They were taken out of the car and stood in a row, and all of them were shot to death. And here, another Jew traveled to his town in order to sell his house, and there he was murdered not far from where he was born.
Incidents like these, and similar ones, aroused panic and fear among the remaining Jews, even in the big cities. Now there was no one to trust and no one to believe. Those who had sheltered us, and whom we regarded as our friends, were those who were behind the events intended to destroy us. To go out during the evening or at night was dangerous, and every rattle of the shutters caused the Jews to tremble, thinking that murderers had come, disguised as police. There were many Poles who robbed the Jews during the Occupation and became rich by taking their possessions. These Poles were interested in sowing panic, so that the Jews would leave and would never claim back their possessions. Simply, they wanted to eliminate Jewish heirs.
In the month of May 1945, the borders of Poland were finalized according to the Potsdam Agreement. Wide areas of German Silesia were annexed to Poland. Jews immediately began to stream there, so as to perhaps find a safer, new refuge, and they did find an intermediate way station there.
At that time, Chaim Yehoshua Olsha presided as the vice-chairman of the Kommitat of the city of Bialystok and the surrounding area. He gathered Jewish orphans from the village farmers and left Bialystok accompanied by 48 orphans, after being threatened by Polish gangs. Olsha established a dormitory for the children in Bielsko, Silesia, under the management of Dr. Paula Kammai from Vilna. Youth Aliya sent the children of the institution and the workers to the Land of Israel.
Multitudes of Jews, repatriated from Russia, began to reach Silesia. At that time, many groups began to organize, whose purpose was to reach the shores of the Land of Israel illegally. The members of Habreicha were very active towards that purpose, and they succeeded in bringing many Jews to Israel from Poland and the D.P. [Displaced Persons] camps in Austria, Germany, and Italy.
A large portion of the survivors from Sokoly knew that there is no solution for Jews, even in the democratic countries, other than to immigrate to the Land of Israel and there to build our national home. The rest of the surviving Jews of Sokoly went to other countries and dispersed all over the world.
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