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[Page 492]

Survival in the Forest

Written by Meyer Bidlawsky, Paris, France

Translated from Yiddish by Moishe Merzel

Edited by Jean-Pierre Stroweis

My companions in suffering, with whom I shared the road of thorns during our forest wanderings, have each according to his ability and memory, described in larger opuses, the tragedically dramatic adventures of a handful of Jews who survived in the forest. Writing these lines, I know I don't have much to add; however, I believe that some details, places, names of fallen Jews and their Polish murderers- unknown or little known - events in which I was personally involved are significant enough to be recorded in order to complete the tragic picture of a condemned community that lost the right to live because of jungle law.

 

November 1943

A group of some thirty men, women and children: We settled down in the 56th division, one of the biggest swamps in the forest, an area that in normal times no human would enter. One morning at 4 A.M. when almost all were in a deep slumber, a sudden heavy volley of fire was directed at us by the gendarmerie of Rytwiany, that Bublik, the warden of the church forest had brought. The attack was so sudden that very few managed to escape; among those, Abale Winzigster and two children, Zalman Boim's daughter and Moishe the butcher's daughter who lived in the house of Ephraim Singer. May the Almighty exact just retribution for their murder. Three days later, at night, a group of six of us went back there. We lit a memorial candle, buried our fallen brothers, and after reciting Kaddish, left the bloody field. Several days later, we wandered from place to place to seek a “safe haven”. We were a group of four or five Jews - Sanale Ehrlich, Pinche Rosengarten (Peke), Shaltiel (the Rabbi's grandson), the butcher's daughter and the writer of these lines - when we met up with the tailor Zucker and his two children and Golda Tchaikovsky and her fiancé, altogether about ten people. In a downpour on a Shabbat day we sought out some niche and settled in, thoroughly drenched, freezing and hungry. We lit a small fire to warm our weary bodies and cook something. We had hardly sat down when again a hail of bullets pinned us down. Zucker and his two children and Golda Tchaikovsky and her fiancé were felled on the spot; Sanale, Shaltiel and Pinche managed to escape. However, I was wounded with two bullets in my hand. (The attackers were the Poles; Capt. Kiempie and Bublik, the son of the warden both of the “B. Ch.” i.e. the Battalion Ch³opski). And in this condition I ran to Chajków where the doctor, Eli Friedman, was hiding out by a peasant. After endless beseeching, imploring and bribery, the peasant let me in to see Eli. By the light of the oven, Eli sewed the wound with ordinary thread. I remained there over night. In the morning, the peasant sent both of us away. I was running a fever of 40°C [104°F]. The pain was so unbearable that I begged Eli to give me his revolver in order to end my suffering. We had no other recourse but to return to the forest. In my condition, in freezing weather of 15 - 20°C below zero [-4°F to +5°F], my hand deteriorated further. My companions Eli, Shlomo Friedman, Simcha Rottenberg and Chaim Zimmerman (Gila) among others, decided to build a bunker for me at Shepczik's, a peasant who lived below the Golejów forest. They dug out the bunker under his house and several of us settled in. But gangrene began to set in my wounded hand and Eli Friedman decided to amputate. He sent a teacher from Czajków, Irika, to Dr. Niewirowicz in Staszów to borrow the necessary instruments, but Niewirowicz categorically refused. Having no alternative, Eli did whatever he could under the circumstances, but wonder of wonders (!), in spite of everything, my fever went down and gradually the hand started to mend.

 

March 1944

As time went on, my savings gradually dissipated. I had even extracted my gold teeth. Remaining penniless by March, 1944, I joined a company of beggars like Sanale Ehrlich, Shaltiel and two others. Sanale, by the way, had frostbitten feet and Shaltiel was bloated from hunger and cold, and both were naked. Thanks to several kind peasants (a rare occurrence in the general hate-ridden aura) who supported us with a bit of food at night, we somehow managed to survive the cold winter nights. In the summer we maintained ourselves with some potatoes, carrots and the likes that we managed to requisition in the fields. Thus we, a small group of several tens of people saved ourselves from the hands of an unhappy fate, the same fate that because of cold, hunger and above all the wickedness and hateful atmosphere that surrounded us, annihilated some 1000 of our brethren who entered the forest after rescuing themselves from the “Aussiedlung” (relocation).


[Pages 494-498]

From Skarżysko, to Omler,[1]
and Into the Woods

by Natanael Erlich, Bnei Brak

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

October, 1942. The work regimen in the ammunition factory in Skarżysko is intolerable. The overseers, especially the Polish ones, behave sadistically and murderously toward the Jews. Every day, people die like flies, more from the murderous blows they receive than from the work and starvation. But on the other side of the barbed wire, life is also risky. There, too, death looms everywhere. In this state of hopelessness you need to have a lot of courage and daring to throw yourself into the deceptive arms of “freedom”, where everyone did what he could to exterminate the few Jews who remained.

When we learned at the end of November 1942 that they hadn't deported the Jews from the Omler Camp in Staszów, I and Mendel Tenenbaum, who had just had typhus, leaped over the wires, and set out for Staszów. Weak and exhausted, we went to a peasant in Starachowice. Instead of helping us, the peasant, along with his brothers in law, set off with us to the police. In the face of such danger, I resorted to a trick, declaring that we had been sent by the partisans to carry out a certain mission, and if something happened to us, our comrades, who were in the area, would take revenge by setting fire to their house and the whole village. The peasants were terrified and released us. After this, we no longer trusted our “friendly” Polish neighbors.

When night fell, we hid in a Christian cemetery and soon fell into a deep sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I tried to awaken Mendel, but it was in vain. Sadly, it turned out that he had not been able to withstand all the strain, and had gone to sleep forever. With a heavy heart I continued on the strangely dangerous road to Staszów. On the road I met a peasant, who advised me to run away immediately, because just two days earlier, two Jews who had escaped from Skarżysko had been shot. Seeing my condition, the peasant gave me some milk, and directed me where to run. The kindness of this Christian surprised me and gave me new courage.

After three days of wandering, during which I was chased by Poles several times, I finally arrived in Staszów. That same night, I got into the Omler camp. My friends – Sholem, Alter and Meyer Leyzer Herszkop; Mekhl Buchbinder; and Jaroslawski – warmly welcomed me and gave me all kinds of treats. I stayed there despite the danger from the police and the German masters of the Olmer Company, Stumpach and Eimer, who often searched the camp for illegals. I told them about the terrible conditions in Skarżysko, especially about the Polish Christian criminal Kotlenga, who killed several Jews a day. I also gave them information about Staszówers who had died of “natural” causes, like Aharon Frydman, Yoel Goldberg, et.al., and about Mikhl Glat, who was shot trying to jump over the barbed wire.

Hiding in the camp, I was once arrested during a night patrol by one of the German superiors. The Jewish camp supervisor, Szaniecki, came to see me and assured me that he would be able to bribe the Germans and buy my freedom. So it turned out. But I didn't have any place to go, nor could I go anywhere, because outside the camp the Polish and German police were on a rampage.

So I exited one door and went back through another, and hid in the attics. Many times I jumped out while the Germans shot at me. The following illegals were killed during the police raids: Sheyndl Solnik, two of the Wajnbaum sisters, Yaskulke, et. Al.

Despite the great risk, my camp comrades always encouraged me, not letting me go out into the street, even when the Germans made it publicly known that if illegal Jews were found on the campgrounds, the whole camp would be shot to death. After the German announcement, Szaniecki came to me and told me about the danger to everyone. Dovidl Kaufman (who lives today in Israel) said, “He is in our room, but we won't throw him out. Let him stay as long as he can.”

But the situation for the illegals became more difficult when a series of aktsies [attacks on Jews] took place in Sandomierz in early January 1943. The frequent searches of the camp, with the aid of Polish informants, took fresh victims each day. During this period the following were killed, among others: Eli Winer, Naftali Bishiskesmacher, Mendel Wechsler, Chaim Wincygster. The flames were licking at our feet. During this time I got frostbite in one of my toes, which seriously impeded my ability to run from one hiding place to another. The toe was treated and healed, in secret of course, by the Jewish camp doctor Bergson. Having no other choice, I decided to go to the forest. With me came my little partner, Shaliel Chencinski–Gersht.

Now began a new series of troubles. We were so tormented by cold and hunger that even though we were exhausted, we couldn't sleep the first few nights. But, here too, the Omler comrades didn't forsake us. Under cover of doing work on the road to the Golejów Woods, they would drop off, at agree–upon places, bread, sausage, kindling, a pot, a kettle, etc. For me, the three Herszkop boys were exceptional, doing everything they could under the circumstances.

In the difficult winter months, in addition to the “usual” torments, we had to struggle with nature. We consoled ourselves with the illusion that soon spring would arrive and our situation would greatly improve. But we were bitterly disappointed. When spring came, there began more frequent searches for the remaining refugees in the woods, whose numbers had grown with the arrival of some Jews who could no longer remain hidden with “their” Christians. Most of these raids were conducted by the Polish police, headed by Kaczmarski. During one such search, conducted not far from the pond, the following were killed: Yitsik Lowczyk's wife and child, Dovid Fuks, the Bomsztyk borthers , Moyshe Ber Kirszenwurcel, and Mordkhe Goldfeder.

With deep sadness over the murder of our innocent brothers by our “own” Polish police, we again saw how hopeless our situation was. To avoid paying so dearly, we began to try to avoid contact with any Poles. And whenever we noticed anyone, we would run as quickly as we could, several kilometers away, to erase our tracks. During this time, the Poles killed the entire family of Mordkhe Jaskolka; the baker Buzem, from Apter Street; and Lemel Beker. Abba, Zalman Sznajder's son, managed to escape, while still tied up. The whole group had been betrayed by Abish Bulwa, who believed that he would be able to escape before he led the murderers to their prey.

*

Our situation was difficult enough even while the Omler camp existed in Staszów, and the Omler workers helped us out however they could, often exposing themselves to deadly danger. But when the camp was liquidated, our struggle to exist became incomparably more difficult. My group, which consisted only of poor people, lived for months solely on potatoes, berries, wild sorrel and a few birds we caught, searching out their nests during the day so we could catch them at night. Those months we mostly stayed near the village of Czajków, whose residents treated us much more kindly than in other villages in the area, helping us out with a few potatoes, etc.

Once, walking with Shaliel Chencinski to get water, we suddenly noticed in the distance what seemed to be a colorful child's coat. When we got closer, we saw a child of four or five who had been left there. We took the child with us. The child spoke only Polish, and told us that he came from Mielec, and had been brought there by a Pole.

I did everything I could for the child, thinking that perhaps someone somewhere was taking an interest in my little sister and maybe, in return for caring for the child, I would survive this terrible time. We did the maximum. We brought food from the peasants. Leybl Szwarc helped a bit, too. But we couldn't keep him alive. He got weaker from day to day, got high fevers, and finally gave up his poor innocent soul.

We had tried to leave the child with Christians, but all our efforts couldn't, under these circumstances, prevent the inevitable sad ending. Even today, after so many years, when I think of that child I am overcome with deep sadness, and my tears come to my eyes over the fate of a people whose children were deprived of the basic human right – the right to live.

In our group there were also two children of Pintshe Dambrowski. When one of the little sisters went to the town one day to pick up something from a Christian there, the Poles caught her and handed her over to the police. The other sister went to look for her, and was also killed.

But it wasn't just individuals who were killed one way or another. There were also attacks during which entire groups of people were murdered, including decommissioned soldiers.

Once, when our hideout was surrounded by police from Rytwiany, twenty–two of us were shot, inlcluding Dovid Glat and his girlfriend; Itshe Dajtelczwaig; Meyer Teper; Leybl Szwarc; and the wife of Abele Wincygster. Another time they killed: Sore Kirszenwurcel and her mother; a woman from Łódź named Birncwaig, with two small children; and many others.

The wife of Chaiml Wincygster was in our group – an intellectual, smart and combative woman. With her clear and sincere words she often encouraged us to continue our hopeless struggle to exist. Although she was a mother whose two small children were with her, she never stopped thinking of and trying to find a way to obtain arms, in order to mount an attack on the local police. This was an unobtainable goal. When this woman was captured, along with her children, not far from where we were hiding, she addressed a fiery accusatory speech to the Germans, in which she spoke of taking revenge for innocent Jewish blood when the day would come.

The Poles did not lag behind the Germans, their thirst for blood not yet satisfied. Tirelessly, they searched for more Jewish victims. Several weeks after the death of the Wincygster woman and her two children, Shimele Frydman and his brother in law Erlichman from Warsaw, while walking to get something from a Christian, were caught by Genca from the farm, a former corporal in the border patrol, who, together with other peasants from the woods, severely beat them, breaking their arms, and took them to the police.

On another occasion they killed Melekh Tszajkowski, Leybush Szifer's wife, Moyshe Nisencwajg, and a woman from Tarnów from the Frydman family. They were denounced by a peasant to whom they had given money to buy bread. Instead of bread, he brought the police.

Bread was also the cause for the murder of Pinye Montsznik and Shloyme Magid. Two Jewish girls –– Malka and Manye–– who came from near Stopnica, were sent to the village to get bread. They were caught by Polish partisans who convinced them that they only wanted to help the Jews. They earned the trust of the girls, who led them to Pinye and Shloyme, who were shot on the spot. How many times these two escapees from Mielec and Skarżysko had come face to face with death and escaped, and yet it was here, “at home” that they were killed by a bullet from their “hometown” neighbors, Polish partisans, who although they too were persecuted by the Germans, collaborated with the Germans to exterminate the Jews. Incidentally, the two girls managed to run away.

Before we had a chance to mourn the fallen, tortured comrades, there came a new attack, this time by the police from Rytwiany, not far from the Regierung [Government] Forest. There, the following were killed: Yankev Milgram; Shmuel, a fellow from Łódź, who had escape from Skarżysko; Yosef Kestenberg's son in law, Piekorski; and Moyshele Kestenberg. Aron Braiter, also from this group, managed to get away.

Meanwhile, weeks and months flew by, our helpless struggle continued on three fronts: against the Germans, against the Poles, and against cold and hunger. At times, it was the latter struggle that was the hardest and caused great problems.

Once, on a snowy winter day, I and Alter Herszkop went to a Christian, a churchman, to ask him for bread, to still our constant gnawing hunger. But we became suspicious of him, and didn't wait, but went into his room, took a few chickens, and ran away. As soon as we crossed the rails of the small gauge railroad, on the Cemetery Road, we were seen by several Christians, who ran after us. Alter lost one of his boots, and had to run without it through the snow, until we arrived safely at the forest. Despite the great danger, we had held onto the chickens the entire time, and so our suffering was alleviated for a couple of weeks. Luckily, we escaped in one piece that time, and also had gained a bit of breathing space. But that didn't last long and the relative calm was soon disturbed.

Sitting in the woods, not far from Bublik's place, and peacefully cooking our poor bit of food, we were suddenly attacked by gunfire. In this attack, we lost Leybl Pienatsz (he had a revolver but didn't get to use it); Chaim Zalman's son, and his daughter, Golda Tszajkowski; Moyshe Kac's daughter; et. Al.

The murderers were once again our hometown Poles, Bublik's sons. When we escapees later found each other and returned to the place, hoping to rescue someone, the murderers, still in the grip of their pathological lust for blood, were waiting, and attacked again. But it was already dark and under cover of night we all got away.

Around the same time, Golda Goldhar and her child; Hershel Weiner and his wife; Emanuel Genzling; and Leyetshe Kohen were killed. They were denounced by Leybush Lowczyk, who having been caught by the police and promised that he would be spared death, gave up the group.

This is the way we were forced to live our miserable lives, each day growing fewer in number and weaker in our ability to endure.

And yet we, shadows of what had once been people, unthinkingly and stubbornly continued the struggle, as much against beasts of all species, as against the hardships of nature, until we finally lived to see the unbelievable day of our liberation.


Footnote

  1. The forced labor camp located in Staszów, run by the German-owned Omler road construction company. Return


[Pages 499-501]

For Ten Kilograms of Sugar

by Perl Goldflus, Toronto

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

Our terrible struggle just to survive had to be waged on two fronts. We had to defend ourselves not only from the Germans, but also from our own Polish neighbors, who either murdered us themselves, or handed us over to the Germans, in order to obtain the reward of 10 kilograms of sugar that they paid for each Jew delivered to them. Moreover, the fight against our countrymen was incomparably more difficult than that with the Germans, because the Germans didn't dare to show up alone in the forest, even during the day, without the active assistance of the Poles.

For us, a group of 22 people in all, the 20 kilometers of forest were too small to allow us to elude the hunts that the Poles conducted from time to time. In our desperate search to escape our traitorous neighbors, we spent our last remaining money on provisions that we buried in the bunker in the forest, so as to limit the number of times we had to visit the nearby villages, which each time posed the danger of death. During the day, we spread out in various locations, and only at night did we gather in a young, thickly grown forest, where we would make a fire and cook up a bit of food to warm our frozen, exhausted bodies.

Despite our deathly fear, and the frequent roundups, life was much easier in the summer, at least as far as nourishment was concerned. Out of necessity, we adapted to the conditions of the woods, and we each learned how to find something here and there to sustain our meager bodies. A bit later, when the new potatoes began to appear, we set out to “cultivate” a different field each time, even though we well knew the danger involved, and the constant threat of starvation eased a bit.

I want to mention here that the general darkness that surrounded us, so deeply affecting our psyches, was pierced by a ray of light: the village of Czajków, which in various situations, treated us in a friendly and humane manner.

We carried on in this way for two months, sustained by the potatoes, which we ate half raw, unable to wait until they were fully cooked. In the beginning, we lived under the open sky, exposed to all the elements, which wore away at our bodies. Later, we decided to build a bunker, naturally, near the friendly village of Czajków. But where were we to get the tools we needed?

I and my younger brother, Pesach, undertook to get a shovel from a Christian woman we knew, in Staszów. For half the night we two young children wandered through the dark forest, to the meadows outside the town, and from there to Długa Street, where the woman lived. Unfortunately, our fear and effort were in vain. The woman turned us away empty handed.

Embittered and scared, we returned to the woods, where our father, understandably terrified, was counting the minutes until he saw us come back alive. But the problem of the shovels still needed to be addressed. So we repeated our attempt the next day. This time we succeeded in obtaining two shovels, probably because this time we didn't ask for them; we simply “took” them from a stable.

As we were digging the bunker, people began shooting at us. Naked and barefoot, we ran away, wherever we could. When the shooting stopped, we reassembled one by one. It turned out, that out of twenty-two people, no fewer than twelve had been killed, including my 12-year-old brother Pesach. The bandits further destroyed their bodies, pulling out their gold teeth.

In profound sorrow, we mourned and said kaddish[1] for the fallen, who had suffered in vain for over a year, in the hope of surviving. In the face of this tragedy, there was nothing to say. Everyone was tormented by the tragic thought: Aren't our painful efforts as futile as theirs? And, if that is so, isn't it better to die sooner rather than later? But the will to live is strong, and despite the hopelessness of our struggle, we soon began, with our last drop of strength, to build a second bunker for the ten survivors.

In the meantime, a very hard winter set in. Or at least it seemed so to us, exhausted as we were. We no longer went into the villages. The “merciful” Christians probably thought we had all died, and abandoned their pursuit of us. We did everything we could to avoid the Christians, in order not to betray our existence.

But, as hunger began to torment us, one of us went into town and took a cow from a Christian's stable, and brought it back with him. Later, two others did the same thing. In this way, we fed ourselves for two or three months. We grew a bit stronger, while gaining courage to carry on with our unevenly matched struggle, in the reawakened hope of liberation, to spite our enemies.

But when the last, much reduced portion of meat ran out, and we could no longer carry out further thefts, because of changing conditions - the police and the A.K.[2] had begun to pursue us because of the stolen cows - our situation grew critical.

Unfortunately, it had stopped snowing, depriving us of our source of water. For about nine weeks we suffered in this way. It wasn't possible to go on. The struggle against cold, hunger and thirst was hopeless. Two of our group - Alter Hershkopf and Nachum Wajnbaum --died, begging with their last words for “a piece of bread.”

We looked at each other, paralyzed, unable to mourn our fellow fighters, dead of hunger. At heart, we envied them. They were now going to be given their bread, and all good things. We had no strength to do anything. Cold and hunger, filth and vermin, produced a psychic helplessness, that pervades one's entire being. Thoughts about surrender became more real. And in truth, what purpose was there to all this suffering and struggle if the longed for goal was unattainable?

But the healthy instinct for life exercises such a magnetic power that, even in these tragic circumstances, it holds on to the suffering soul, forcing it to continue the struggle for existence, despite everything.

Suddenly, the news spread in the village that there were Jews there. The peasants began searching energetically. On night, a peasant and his wife entered the stable where my father and I were hiding. By the light of a lantern, the peasant began pulling out bundles of hay with this pitchfork. We had no choice but to emerge from the hay, revealing ourselves to them in all our “splendor.” Observing our condition, the peasant took pity on us and told his wife to bring us milk, then forced us to leave.

 

April 1944

The snow began to melt, the sun to warm; in short, spring had arrived. But we could not enjoy it. On the contrary; it was just at that time that we were more vigorously pursued. Patrols came constantly, seeking to wipe us out to the last person, so as to leave no witness to the horrifying, disgraceful crimes against us. The Angel of Death pursued us ceaselessly. We ran from one place to another. Each day found us in a different spot, anything to make it through this time.

We had the feeling that these were the last, decisive days -- at most, weeks -- of our tragic struggle, and it would be a pity to succumb just on the brink of the almost imminent liberation. The military situation was improving from day to day. The Soviet army was advancing, quickly coming closer and closer. The critical thing for us in those days was just to hold on for a short time and not to lose hope.

We hid in the neighborhood of Osiek, lying down during the day in the fields of grain, which had in the meantime begun to grow. At night we would gather in various places in the forest, to warm our dried out bones around the fire, and cook up a bit of porridge that we had begged in the village.

The weeks flew by. The summer grew stronger. Around us birds sang, flying undisturbed wherever they wished. But we? We were filled with fear, trembling at every breeze, every falling leaf. We no longer resembled human beings. Broken down, gone wild, we wandered like hunted, filthy animals, from one place to another. One single, central thought ruled us: Will we make it? Will we live to have the satisfaction of once again being free people? It was hard, even impossible, to believe, but our will was strong.

Suddenly, we heard tremendous shooting, accompanied by wild shouting. My father, who understood Russian, began sobbing, “Children, we are free.” We ran onto the highway, toward the Russian army. Our first request was food. The soldiers greeted us with open arms, and with great compassion, giving us as much food as we wanted and could eat.

Proud, standing tall, fearing no one, we walked into town. When we arrived at the marketplace, we were horrified. Half the market was in flames. Seeking a roof over our heads where we could rest our weary bones, we found the house of Elihu Pomerancblum (Eli Mayer Atil's). In the meantime, the battle was still raging and bombs were flying over our heads. It turned out that the devil had not yet had his fill of Jewish victims, and snatched four more dear souls from the meager handful of survivors, in the streets of Staszów: Romek Segal, Avrom Anshel Bergman, Shoshana Goldflus and my father, Mordkhe Goldflus.

With deep sorrow in my heart, I left Staszów on August 9, 1945.


Footnotes

  1. Kaddish: Prayer for the dead. Return
  2. The A.K. -Armia Krajowa or Polish Home Army - was an underground army, containing various factions, organized to resist the German occupation. Their anti-German mission notwithstanding, some A.K. members, in spite of the official policy of the Polish government-in-exile, attacked Jewish partisans hiding in the forest, in a presumed effort to defend the Polish population against thefts and other “anti-Polish&148; actions. (ML/LL/DF) Return


[Pages 502-505]

How We Wandered

by Yehuda Feldberg, Tel Aviv

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

As the threat of deportation from Staszów grew ever greater in the last months of 1942, I joined the “Omler” [labor camp run by the Omler Road Construction Company], and sent my wife and children to Chmielnik. A deportation of the [Jewish] community there had already been carried out, and it looked as if the remaining Jews who had avoided deportation would not be bothered. But it didn't take long before Chmielnik was visited a second time by the murder squads, and the captured Jews were sent to Stopnica, to be transported. Among these were my wife and child.

Seeking to avoid this sad fate, many Jews sought to hide themselves with Poles. Among these was my father-in-law, Zalman Lipman. But the Poles generally wanted only to extract as much money as they could, and in the end either handed over the Jews to the Germans, or killed them themselves, or, in the best case, drove them away. That is what happened to my father-in-law.

One evening he arrived at the [Omler] camp, in such a state, that it was horrifying to see. After I tried to cheer him up, I hid him with me in the camp, in Yosl Yisroel “the Butcher”'s cellar. There he stayed until March, 1943.

In the meantime, searches of the camp intensified and the fear grew constantly greater, that he would be discovered and that, as a consequence, everyone would be shot. So I decided to hide him once again with a Pole, this time in Strzegom, where 9 Jews were already hiding, among them Eliezer Kozuchowicz, his wife and children.

After a month or two, it turned out that this Pole also unfortunately had the sole purpose of extorting bribes, ultimately killing his victims. And so the unfortunate ones went on in this way ,from one ordeal to another, suffering for months, until they were killed or betrayed by their “saviors”.

Once, we learned that several illegal Jews had been caught and confined in the Staszów jail. Among the arrestees were: Sore Matesins (Matys's wife) and her daughter; Beynush Tenenwurcel and his sister; and a nephew of Leybl Szwarc. Knowing full well what awaited them, they instigated a big commotion and in the meantime, set about breaking through the ceiling. By the time the guards realized what was happening, they had broken through, and several young people got out onto the roof, and some managed to escape. While jumping from the roof into the water, Beynush's sister broke both her legs, and of course was captured by the murderers.

 

June 3, 1943

Weeks and months flew by. On June 3, 1943, the S.S. surrounded the camp and in a matter of minutes, people were loaded onto trucks and sent under guard to Skarżysko.[1] We well knew the hell that awaited us in Skarżysko. Beyond that, one of the S.S. escorts had me in his sights. During the deportation from the Omler Camp, he had planted on me a bag of coal, and on the pretext of this frame-up, wanted to shoot me. The S.S. lieutenant prevented him from doing so, but I was afraid that on the road, or in Skarżysko, the murderer would manage to carry out his crime.

Thus, the entire time we were on the road, I was looking for an opportunity to escape. This opportunity first arose outside Ostrowiec, when a truck approached us, that was taking some people to Radom. I jumped out of the truck, and hid myself among the grain, waiting impatiently to be joined by more escaped Jews. Leyzer Yudke was also hiding among the grain. I went with him to Dobra, where he had hidden his two children with a Christian.

I didn't like the way the Christian was acting, so I left for the Golejów woods, to join my fellow sufferers there. As I walked alone, I was overcome by sadness. The forest was large, and I was tired, hungry, and depressed. Who knew, I thought, if I will meet up with anyone? Exhausted, I sat down, ate a piece of bread that I had gotten along the way from a peasant I knew, and fell asleep. When I woke, I resumed my journey, wherever it might take me.

 

Among Jews

Suddenly, I saw in the distance, Leml Gavriel Beker. My joy was boundless. When you are together with other Jews, you simply feel better, and the struggle for survival is easier, and the prospects greater. Leml brought me to his group at #13 Oddział [Street], consisting of:

the brothers Heniek, Maniek and Felik Beker and his wife; Yisroel and Dovid Sznifer; Dovid Kohen; Shoshe Sztajnberg; Melekh Rizenberg; Dovid Zylbersztajn and his sister; Yudl Wewerman (Hoflalke) and his two sisters; Itshe Prajs (Stsupe); Sore the Butcher's wife (Kirszenberg) and both her daughters; Leml Beker and his little brother; Tsvi, Leybush and Shloyme Kornblum and his wife; Leybl Zylberberg (Piegacz) and Golde Rizenberg; Shmuel Zylberberg (Borsht), his wife and his sister Mantshe.

The group, several of whom were armed, established a night watch. One night, we were attacked, and there was a gun battle. We lost one person, one of the Kornblums. Our attackers -A.K. people from the village Wola Osowa, near Kurozweki-lost three men.

We were betrayed by the Myśliwcy of Staszów. One of the family, Stach, supposedly fell in love with Wewerman's sister, Pesl, and when, after the assault, she escaped to the “pipale”[2] and summoned her “beloved”, he brought along the Germans, who shot her on the spot.

One evening, Yisroel Sznifer and Felek and Heniek Beker went to see a Christian in Rytwiany. As soon as they arrived, they were surrounded and were about to be shot. Yisroel and Felek managed to get away. Heniek, seeking a way out, entered the house, climbed onto a table, broke the window with his head, and escaped. Not until dawn, when we had already given him up for dead, did Heniek return with a bloodied and lacerated head. I cleaned the blood and dirt from his wounds with warm water, and applied iodine and bandages. By the time Dr. Eli Frydman came to examine him three days later, he was almost completely healed.

Under constant pursuit, we could never stay long in any one place. We ran from one place to another in the woods, from the woods to the village, then back again. Once, in the course of such a pursuit, I found myself alone once again. I went off into the woods to search for fellow sufferers, and met Golde Goldhar and her little daughter, Khayeshke, and Sanele and his group. The child, who hadn't eaten for several days, was licking salt. When I gave her a piece of bread, Golde burst out sobbing over the miserable fate of this pure, innocent little soul. That same evening, the group was attacked, and Golde and her child, and Sore Kirszenwurcel and her daughter, and others, were “liberated” forever from their troubles.

Once again I faced the question: Where can I go? I recalled the peasant in Czajków, Gaweł, who had once told me that if I had no other choice, I should come to him. When I got there, 16 people were already hiding there. They wouldn't let me in, complaining that there was no place. Gaweł sent me to stay with his brother, and I left with a heavy heart. For 16 people, I thought, there is room, but not for me alone.

I stayed [at the brother's] for four weeks. I was joined there by Leyzer Yudke and his two children. (They had been hiding with the Adamuses). One frosty, sunny Sunday I emerged from the trench [where I was hiding], stretched out my limbs, and went into the stable. There I noticed that there was a commotion at the house of the other Gaweł, and people, probably Jews, were running away. I immediately alerted the Christian, and he rushed off to investigate. When he returned, he ordered us, “Chlopaki do dziury!” [Boys, quick, back into the trench.]

Feeling stifled in the trench, we left after three days, and made a hiding place in the stable where Tsevye Eliaszewicz also found a spot, after he managed to escape from the attack at Gaweł's. A few days later, there arrived Yisroel Goldgrub, Shifre Eliaszewicz and Avigdor Cytrynbaum. They remained in the stable even though we tried to dissuade them, because it was built like the bunker at Gaweł's that had been discovered. But, since they had no choice, they stayed.

One Saturday night, at midnight, an A.K.[3] band showed up. The Christian denied that there were any Jews at his place. They beat him up, began searching, and found the hiding place in the stable. While the murderers were “busy” with Shifre, Goldgrub managed to escape, but after the A.K. men had finished satisfying their basest instincts, they murdered Shifre and Avigdor. By some miracle, they didn't notice our hiding place in the stable, and we survived.

The next day, the Christian brought us provisions for the road and ordered us to leave. Ignoring our objection that the danger was past, since the attackers had already accomplished their goal, the Christian strongly insisted that we leave. Having no choice, we left. Again, and how many times, the question was where to go. Leyzer assured me that his “good” Christian, Bazak, would agree to take us in, for a substantial sum, of course. So we started off for his place. In the meantime, Yisroel Goldgrub found a place for Tsevye, who was his aunt , and when he went to get her, I went along, while Leyzer and his children remained in the village.

 

May 1, 1944

Correct or not, we suspected that our bunker in the forest had been betrayed. Without much deliberation, we decided to leave, and not to expose ourselves to danger so close to liberation, which could come any day now. In this bunker were: Nokhem Nisengarten, Ruzhe and Leml Apelbaum, Shoshe Sztajnberg, Moyshe Fuks, Simkhe Rotenberg, Abale, Leybush and Shimen Wincygster, and I.

When we set off, Abele, whose legs were stiff and who couldn't move, and whose children were too weak to support him, said, “Go, children, go and save yourselves. I am lost in any case; I'll stay here.” These words broke my heart. I went over, took him on my back and carried him for several kilometers, until we reached another “refuge.”

In this way, we wandered from one place to another, from hiding with Christians to the forest, and back again, until our small group managed to live to see the day of liberation.

Photo captions: p.505 Hungry Jews in the ghetto.


Footnotes

  1. Skarżysko: location of forced-labor arms factory. Return
  2. Pipale: [derivation unknown]-local name for a field outside Staszów, adjacent to Naftali Wolman's farm. See Moshe Rotenberg, “Our Childhood Years,” pages 286-294. (LL) Return
  3. The A.K. - Armia Krajowa or Polish Home Army - was an underground army, containing various factions, organized to resist the German occupation. Their anti-German mission notwithstanding, some A.K. members, in spite of the official policy of the Polish government-in-exile, attacked Jewish partisans hiding in the forest, in a presumed effort to defend the Polish population against thefts and other “anti-Polish” actions. (ML/LL/DF) Return


[Page 506]

Our Polish Neighbors

by Avraham Zylbersztajn, Jerusalem

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

In June, 1942, the ghetto was established in Staszów. Jews who lived in various parts of the town had to abandon their homes and move to the area of Long Street, Synagogue Street, Bath Street and Rytwiany Street. But even in those streets, one couldn't go beyond a particular point, and going beyond the designated boundary posed the risk of death.

Several people were killed for going beyond the ghetto. Yosl Wajnbaum's son was shot near Beleszok's house, and Berelshe Szuster's daughter was shot while buying a half pound of potatoes two meters outside the ghetto.

There was great hunger. The communal kitchen could not provide for the needy. The kitchen administration had to follow the orders of the S.S. and the gendarmerie. The Jewish communal leaders afflicted the population, in order to satisfy the demands of the German bloodsuckers.

Housing was one of the problems of the ghetto. Jews who had been forced to occupy apartments belonging to Poles were obliged to pay rent, while Poles who had moved into Jewish dwellings refused to pay rent, explaining unabashedly and without hesitation, that if you're going to die, you don't need the money. Since the Jews are going to be killed anyway, what do they need the money for? They'll have to leave it behind in any case.

A Polish neighbor of my sister's went so far as to find in the crying of my sister's baby a justification for the deportation of the Jews; he shouldn't cry, she said, because in any case, he'll soon be gone.

In such ways, almost all the Poles caused great pain to the Jews. Days and nights passed in fear, sorrow, and pain, until the unfortunate time of deportation. Jews from surrounding small towns, like Osiek and Polaniec, were expelled and sent to Staszów. The gendarmerie openly robbed them, the Jewish police unashamedly demanded money.

Jews began to make arrangements to hide their children with Poles. They would make an agreement, turning over money or valuables in exchange for protection for their children. But then the Poles would renege, bringing the children back after a day or two trying to extort more money. Some of them were embarrassed by returning the children, and left them outside the door or window.

A Polish woman came to Motl Witenberg and offered to hide him for a price. Shifre Eliaszewicz was visiting him at the time, and decided to go along. When they got to the Vistula [River].Shifre was left waiting on shore, because the boat was too full. Shifre watched as a horrifying scene unfolded. The Poles threw everyone, one by one, into the river. (On the boat were Motl Szteper and his two sisters, Manye and Golde.) Breathless, she ran back and conveyed the terrible news.

That is how our Polish neighbors treated the Jews.

Photo caption, p.507: [Heading in Polish]. Leon Dysenhaus, of blessed memory, son of Reb Yoske the Cantor, h”d [May the Lord avenge him], Officer and recipient of military honors from the Polish Army. Fell in the performance of his duty in Poland, March 9, 1946.


[Pages 507-511]

A Memorial Candle
for My Murdered Family

by Menachem Lifshitz

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

I have long struggled over whether I should, first of all, even write about the tragic fate of my family. By bringing my private story into the public domain, I am able to fulfill my obligation to contribute to the overall portrait of how the Germans along with local villains totally destroyed hundreds of thousands of Jewish families, leaving not a remnant.

Once I determined that I had something unique, something valuable to contribute, I faced another question: will I be able scrupulously and objectively to fulfill this difficult task, and not to yield to the temptation to over-praise and idealize my loved ones, in my effort to eternalize them.

But despite these objective and personal obstacles, I chose action over inaction, in the sincere hope and desire to be true to the facts and to set down on paper only that which accurately reflects reality, and also has universal application.

 

My wife, Rivke Reyzl

Despite their deep distrust of the various hiding places available to them, many Jews, seeking to avoid the fate which the German state machine had prepared for them, had no choice, in the days before the deportation, but to build bunkers in which to hide until the storm had passed.

Twenty six Jews – men, women and children – hid in the cellar of our house at 10 Rynek Street, among them my unforgettable wife Rivke Reyzl and our children. On the third day of the deportations, Rosh Khodesh Kislev (October 11), 1942, the Polish proprietors of the shops in the building reported the cellar hiding-place to the Germans. The Germans marched the occupants to the cemetery, and killed them. (My three youngest children managed to escape.) Their collective grave was about 50 meters to the right of the gate at the main entrance.

 

My Oldest Son, Zakariah

On September 5, 1939, five days after the war broke out, Zakariah, a cheerful and good soul, a former devoted member of Hanoar Hatzioni [Zionist Youth], fled east, to the Russian border, along with a stream of refugees. Under the impression he got from news that despite the German occupation, the situation at home was not as terrible as had been thought, he decided to return home in 1941, shortly before Germany attacked Russia. He hid in Zlatshev, a town in Eastern Galicia, until the end of the year [1941], when the Germans arrived, and experienced the horrible attacks by Germans and Ukrainians, during which many of his comrades were killed. He became very pessimistic about the fate that awaited us.

The terrible news in the summer of 1942, increased his worry and, feverishly searching for a way out, he joined the 300 young men who entered the munitions factory labor camp in Skarżysko, On November 2, 1942, a few days before the liquidation of the Staszów ghetto, he escaped and came back home. He immediately contacted friends with whom to go into the forest, but because of unforeseeable circumstances, stayed at home one last night and hid in the terrible bunker.

When the unfortunate Jews were discovered and driven out of the bunker, he managed to hide in the attic of the same house. But he was sighted by the sadistic Polish police commander, Kaczmarski, who guarded him for two hours, until he could turn him over to the Germans. When my wife tried to ransom him with a gold chain and watch, Kaczmarski cynically responded, “I'll soon take it myself.”

 

Feygele, Avrom Itsik and Yisroel Dovid

We had prepared a hiding place for our daughter Feygele, of course for a large amount of money, with a Christian acquaintance, a shoemaker who was a very close friend of the household. At a critical moment, he betrayed us. So she also went into hiding [in the cellar bunker] with her mother and brothers.

When she ran from the cellar, pursued by the Poles, she cooly and cleverly began throwing money, in order to divert their attention. And she succeeded. While the “merciful” Christians were busy gathering up the money, she managed to escape to the Golejów Woods. In the meantime, I hid the two other children, who had also escaped, in the Omler labor camp. A week later, I hid Feygele with a peasant in Czajków. But the peasant demanded more and more money each week. Also, the children hidden in the Omler camp were in constant danger of discovery. In the midst of this hopeless situation, we received notice about the Sandomierz “Judenstaat.”[1] Exhausted by the desperate search for safety, Jews, suspicious but without any other choice, grasped at this possibility. In the stream of people rushing toward Sandomierz were my brother and his children. I sent Feygele and my two younger children off with them.

Just before the liquidation of the German trap called Sandomierz Judenstaat, Feygele came back home, trying to buy food for the hungry children. Just then, German and Polish police besieged Staszów in a bloody reign of terror, transporting the Jews to Sandomierz, and from there, several days later, on January 10, 1943, to Treblinka. Feygele was saved from this mortal danger, along with Chaya Wajnberg, by hiding with a relative of Witkowski's, not far from the camp, until it was dissolved. Then, our “good friend” Witkowski came to them with the ostensible excuse that he had been denounced, and sent them away in broad daylight.

After staying two days with the Christian woman Sobienak, right near the Golejów Woods, the house was attacked by German and Polish police. Feygele escaped by jumping out a window, but Chaya Wajnberg was shot on the spot. In a letter from that time, Feygele wrote that Witkowski was behind all of this. I received her last letter at the beginning of 1944. In it, she described her intolerable situation, how she was wandering in the woods alone, hungry and half naked, in a condition worse than death. She wrote that the night before, having nothing to lose, she went to Witkowski and was given a pair of shoes and some money. After that, I lost all traces of her, and to this day, I have not been able to find out where and when she breathed her last breath.

How many difficult temptations by the Angel of Death this child confronted and overcame, and in the end, it appears that she lost that struggle because of an ostensible friend of the family, who enriching himself at her expense, in the end did everything he could to bring about “[having] murdered and then inherited.”[2]

 

Isaac

Raised in a Zionist home, and an active member of Hanoar Hatzioni, nothing interested him except that organization, and Hebrew books. In 1938, at the age of 17, he made aliyah through the aliyah hanoar and arrived in Ben Shimon. He completed that institution in 1940, and went on to the kibbutz of Hanoar Hatzioni, in Nitsanim.

When the Jewish institutions called for young people to mobilize in 1940, he volunteered for the Jewish brigade, and made the long, difficult journey to Italy, Germany, Belgium and Holland. When he was travelling through Landsberg, near the Displaced Persons camp where we had arrived from Theresienstadt just the day before, my youngest son, Meyer, who was with me in all the camps, defied the camp rules and jumped over the fence, and through a happy coincidence, recognized Isaac among the soldiers passing by.

Soon after leaving the army, true to his Zionist upbringing, he left Tel Aviv and went with fellow members of his brigade to establish Irgun Wingate, a moshav [cooperative farm] of discharged soldiers in Ramat Naftali in Upper Galil. Soon, the Arabs began to mount attacks in retaliation for the partition decree of November, 1947. It was no easy task to defend this isolated place, not far from the border with Lebanon, surrounded by enemies, cut off for months from surrounding settlements and suffering from a shortage of water. On May 1, 1948, under heavy assault by the Arabs, Isaac, as the leader of the group, ordered a retreat to the fortress. But there too they were heavily bombed, and standing guard at the gate to the fortress, Isaac was gravely wounded, and died twenty-four hours later without regaining consciousness.

 

Meyer Yankev

Like Zakariah and Isaac, Meyer was a loyal member of Hanoar Tzioni from his earliest youth, preparing to make aliyah at the beginning of October 1939. While he was on hakhshore [Zionist training camp] near Vilna, the war broke out and his plans to emigrate fell apart.

By nature a person who loved to work, he joined the Omler [work camp] as a permanent worker. In my pressing pursuit for a more secure work situation, I purchased an Omler card from Elimelech Kukelke (who thought he had found a better way to save himself). This is how we made our joint way together through the German camps, until Theresienstadt. Meyer's work skills and boundless endurance were for me a source of encouragement and greatly alleviated by situation.

In 1945, he travelled illegally with a group from Landsberg [displaced persons camp] to Eretz Yisroel. When he arrived, in March of 1946, on the blockade-runners ship, Tel Chai, he was detained for two weeks in Itzlit by the English. Like Isaac, he couldn't adapt to conditions in the city and decided, along with fellow blockade-runners, to go to Kibbutz Masada, then to Kibbutz Kfar Hakhoresh. He was a member of Haganah and in general fulfilled all his duties to the nation [of Israel]. In March, 1948, he was mobilized into the Tzahal [Israeli military] in Hativat Carmeli, and participated in the conquest of Haifa, Akko, and Upper Galil, although, according to the rules at that time, he was not obliged to do so, as an only son after Isaac's death. But his feeling of obligation to the national state obviated any other choice except to voluntarily take on the most difficult and dangerous tasks. While fulfilling his duty as a loyal son of his people, he was killed in June, 1948.

He found his final resting place near the grave of his brother and predecessor, Isaac, in Ramat Naftali.

Photo caption p.510: Mendl Lifshitz (Lipszyc) with his family


Footnotes

  1. Judenstaat (“Jewish State,” after the title of Theodor Herzl's Zionist pamphlet): An ironic name that the Nazis gave to the Sandomierz ghetto, which was liquidated a few months after they lured Jews there with promises of a safe haven. Return
  2. A reference to Elijah's accusation of Ahab (I Kings 21:19). Return

 

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