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.
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.
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).
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 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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 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. 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.
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, hd [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.
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