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[Page XV English] [Page 398 Hebrew]

As Beasts in the Woods

by Gabriel Singer, Israel

Scanned and proofread by Barbara Lipkin

In March 1943 ten of us from the Ömler Camp, conducted by the Ömler Road-building Company, were sent to work at the Klecianow quarries near Cusmir. I was fifteen years old in all, and the youngest of the group. Before long we were transferred to the Ostrowce Railway Station, where we loaded tins on lorries. Through the station passed long trainloads of Jews, who asked from time to time, “Where is the Treblinka Colony?” Instead of answering, the Poles who were working with us used to burst into mocking and sadistic laughter.

On June 3rd, 1943 we were suddenly dismissed from our work and Poles took our places. This seemed strange and suspicious to us. The Poles working while we were idling? That could certainly not be to our advantage! We made up our minds that the safest thing for us to do was to take to our heels and escape.

When it grew dark I slipped out of the camp and climbed onto a freight train which was just passing. Soon after I jumped off and fell between the rails. When I recovered I started to walk off. Naturally I intended to go “home”. I walked through the fields, gradually approaching the main road that led to Staszow. As I walked I noticed a suspicious movement. I stretched myself on the ground, and fell asleep through weariness and hunger.

When I woke up I heard two voices conferring in hushed tones. It was pitch dark all round. I did not know what to do. I was afraid to move for fear I would be caught. At last I rose to my feet and began to run like a startled hare. The two men also began running away in alarm. I was afraid of them, just as they were afraid of me; and neither side knew who the other might be. But before long I realised that they were also from Staszow, and were escaping like me. They were Gabriel Becker and Aaron Breiter. From them I learnt that the Ömler camp had been liquidated that same day in the town, and that they had jumped off the lorries that were taking the men to Skierziski.

So the three of us continued on our journey to Staszow. We passed through fields, we crossed roads and we moved through forests, while hunger consumed us. So we decided to enter a lonely house at some distance from the village, and ask for food.

When the peasant refused to give us any, we threatened that we would burn his house over his head. The threat worked at once, and the peasant gave Gabriel a loaf of bread. That gave us strength enough to reach the outskirts of Staszow.

By that time it was daylight. While we were crossing the railway lines on our way to the Goliew forest, the Germans saw us and directed a fusillade against us. Each dashed off in a different direction and I was left on my own. Young as I was and without any experience at all, the loneliness oppressed me very much. I though that if I remained near the main road I might come across one of the Jews. All of a sudden a man appeared with a weapon in his hands. I was sure that this was a Jew hiding in the forest, but promptly learnt of my grave mistake, which only by a miracle did not cost me my life. This was a Pole, an “A.K.” man.

He stripped me of my upper garments and went his way, remarking: “It would be a pity to waste a bullet on you.”

Now my position was much worse. I was all alone with nothing to eat but forest plants, and without any clothing to cover me properly. I spent about a fortnight like that, trying to think up all kinds of ways of helping myself, but at last I gave up in despair. I could not see any way out. More than once I made up my mind to surrender to the Germans, comforting myself with the illusion that maybe some miracle would happen in spite of everything, and they would send me to work. During that fortnight I was far more afraid of men than animals are. But since I had no choice I overcame my feelings, and one night I went off to a neighbouring village. When I approached the fences round the houses and saw washing drying in the open I took down a number of pieces to cover myself, for I trembled with cold at nights and then went back to the forest.

So the problem of clothing was solved, and that made things much easier, but what next? To be sure, my will to live gave me plenty of energy. I was determined to pass through this bad time whatever might happen. But meanwhile my stomach was empty, my head was aching and how could I help myself?

So I made up my mind to seek and find Jewish brethren in distress. I traversed vast distances. I never spent two nights in the same place. At first, I was absolutely lost in the forest, but before long I became as familiar with it as though I had been born there, and learnt to recognise every corner. I did my best to keep near dense woods, first as a matter of safety and second because I thought I might find Jews there, hiding from any watchers. Animals whose very names I did not know were there in plenty, but I became accustomed to them and they became accustomed to me, and I regarded myself as one of them.

But when a few more days passed without my finding any townsfolk, I once again succumbed to sad thoughts and began to fear for the handful who were still left over. When things were at their worst I remembered tales I had heard at school about a large lake of sweet water where those who rambled in the forest used to bathe. It was obvious that if there were any Jews still alive they would need water. So I began a fresh series of feverish searches, hunting for the lake which might deliver me from my nerve-racking loneliness. Yet in spite of all my efforts I did not succeed. To be sure, I found several streams, but their water was so polluted that it was impossible even to imagine that it could ever have served for bathing in normal times. Still I haunted their banks for several days but in vain. A dreadful despair penetrated to my very bones. Once again I began to think about giving myself up. And in my depression, physical weariness and bitter hunger I fell fast asleep.

When I woke up the feeling of hunger was distressing me even more. Little by little I was losing my strength. With stumbling steps I sought this way and that for food of any kind. All of a sudden I saw two men at a distance. They must have seen me as well and began to move off. My first thought was that they must be the men from whom ! had parted when the Germans shot at us. But taught by experience I did not hurry to show myself. After all, maybe these two were also A.K. men who were out to kill us? I tried to keep track, but in the thick woods I completely lost all trace of them. Still, I did not leave the area. My heart told me that Jews were to be found thereabouts,

“OIF DEM PRIPETCHOK”

Meanwhile day followed day. My ears were pricked to catch any sound or whisper. I looked for signs of human life. The birds sang, the wild beasts screeched and squealed -- but the voice of the Jews had become silent.

With much difficulty I overcame my depression and went on waiting near the brooks and the springs. Did I have any choice? This was my only support, thanks to which I still managed to keep going somehow. And at length I had my reward.

Two men appeared at the waterside to fill their vessels. My nervous tension reached its height. Although I did not know whether these were Jews or not I could not restrain myself but shouted in Yiddish: “Who is there?”

There was a tense silence. I called again and saw from the distance that they were arguing together. Then came the sound of some one whistling. It seemed to me that the tune was the familiar Yiddish folksong “Oif dem Pripetchok” (On the Hearth).

Since I did not know the signal I shouted my name and the name of my parents, and called that I was one of those who had run sway from the Ömler Camp. They called me over to them. I became frightened. Maybe they were trying to trap me? Without moving from my place I asked, “And who are you?”

There was silence again. Then at last they gave their names, and to my great joy I found that these were Nathaniel (Sana) Ehrlich and Shealtiel Chanzinsky-Gersht. We fell on one another's necks and embraced each other for a long time. I felt as though I had been reborn. At last, after these nerve-racking wanderings all on my own and in absolute want for about three weeks, I was with my townsmen once again!

I was particularly happy with Nathaniel, whom I had known when I had been studying under his father Reb Yitzhak Melamed. And I should add that Nathaniel had been the most advanced of us. He also knew the reckonings of the Sabbaths and the months, and could calculate all that was needed for the Jewish Calendar.

Now I went with them and found some more townsfolk: Aaron Kunas, Joseph Goldfluss, Mordechai Goldfluss with all his family, and some others. Among them were entire families who had run away from other places and even people who came from other towns. While I was with them I learnt how to live and fit myself into forest life. I knew the meeting places and the signals. It was easier for me in all respects, and I felt incomparably better.

But my joy did not last very long. One day we were attacked. A hail of bullets was emptied at us as though it were the firing line. We did not see the attackers. We scattered in every direction. I ran away with Zvi (Hashu) Goldfluss, and we hid in a dense thicket. When it became dark we made for the meeting place. Only Nathaniel and a very few more arrived there besides us. We understood that something dreadful must have happened, and went back to the place of attack during the night. There we saw the dreadful scene. All the others had been killed and only a handful were left. It was very painful to think that their suffering had been in vain. But we overcame our grief, buried them and moved away to a different wood.

Mid-July, 1943

From time to time we were joined by other Jews, who had hidden with Poles and had been driven away by them empty-handed. We mustered twenty-five people, including the wife of Ginger Meir (der Gele Meir) and her little child. In spite of the inhuman conditions, I looked after the woman and her child just as I did after myself. And here I feel it my duty to mention one kind village in the neighbourhood, Czajkow. During those dreadful days, when everybody and everything was united in order to blot out the name of Jew from the earth - it was something exceptional to see the humane way the villagers behaved. these simple people helped us of their own free will, and without receiving any money in return. From them we often heard some kind words, quite apart from the money, loaves of bread and boiled potatoes they gave us from time to time. It was true that the potatoes were sometimes rotten, but to us they seemed like royal dainties. We would fall on them and consume them with an appetite that no normal person is capable of imagining.

Naturally this was not all we lived on. From time to time we raided the potato fields of the district, and brought the potatoes to the forest to satisfy our hunger. That is how we kept up our miserable existence. Weeks passed in this way.

One day one of us went to fetch water. Within a very short while he came back to tell us that on the path in the forest he had seen a great many Jews.

My longing for more Jews made me forget my common sense, and without thinking much I went out to meet them. But these turned out to be Poles, A.K. men. One of them saw me in the distance and ordered “Hands up!' I had no alternative except to obey the order.

As he made his way towards me between the tall branching trees and approached to a distance of three to four metres, I slipped off one of my heavy wooden clogs and flung it in his face with all my force. The blow was enough to confuse him for a moment. I used the opportunity and began to run away towards our wood. When I got there I saw several dead bodies. I went on running. It was my bad luck that I ran exactly in the direction of the bandits, who were chasing those who had succeeded in escaping. So I stuck my head once again into grave danger. As I ran I saw an A.K. man standing by Nathaniel, ordering him to lie down and shooting at him. A calculated movement on Nathaniel's part must have given the murderer the impression that he had finished his victim, for he left him there and began to chase me and shoot after me. I ran like a deer until I was far enough away not to be in danger of a shot, and so was delivered from the claws of death once again.

As I sat down to rest I asked myself, where does the strength come from for such an inhuman struggle, a struggle which there are no prospects of ever ending? Wouldn't it he better to he with these who have already fallen and ate sleeping their eternal sleep without any fear or worry, instead of the suffering we can expect? Yet those moments of despair could not hold sway over me. A tremendous internal force always drove me on, and did not permit me to surrender to the bitter realities no matter what might happen.

I rose and made my way to our meeting point. About ten of us came together, and we returned to the place of slaughter. Heart-broken, we buried those who had fallen and who only a short time before had been struggling, praying and hoping together with us. We said the Kaddish, while on the tip of each tongue was the question: “Who is going to say Kaddish after us?”

Among these who fell in that attack were: Haya Glatstein, the wife of Meir Glatstein, and her seven-year-old son; the sisters Ionia and Sylvia Friedmann; Moshe Ber Kirschenwuerzel; and Pesah Goldfluss, the son of Mordechai Goldfluss.

Once again we faced the question -- where should we settle down?

After prolonged discussion and weighing all kinds of possibilities we decided that the best thing to do was us go back to one of the places where we had been, and where a few of our dear townsfolk had already been killed. The logic, if any, was very simple. Since the place was already known, nobody was likely to imagine that we would dare to return to it. And hence it was the “safest” place. And once again we began to raid the fields in order to garner potatoes for the approaching winter.

Winter, 1944

The winter began. We did our best to remain in our hiding places, so as not to leave any tracks in the snow which provided us with water. Since we had no matches, we never put out the camp fires we lit in order to boil potatoes and warm our suffering and shivering bodies. Instead we covered them with earth so as to preserve the glowing embers.

Our stock of potatoes dwindled steadily. Our rations decreased from day to day. At last everything was finished and the problem of what to do next had to be faced in all its urgency. A spiritual depression which paralyzed every idea and initiative spread throughout the group. We all sat in our places as though we were petrified without knowing how to continue. The situation was beyond despair, so the shadow-men began quarrelling. One sent another to do something. There were no volunteers. Not one of us had the spiritual and physical strength for any initiative at all. Yet staying there in a state of absolute starvation meant certain death.

In this hopeless situation I decided to do something. I told Nathaniel I would go out that night, and said goodbye and left without any plan at all. I reached the main road, wandered this way and that and did not know where to turn. Grave doubts troubled me. I was startled by my own daring and decided to go back, but remembered the death by starvation which was in store there. After a harsh internal struggle, I decided to rely upon fate which had already delivered me from dangerous situations, and to make my way to Staszow.

I reached Stazhow after two or three hours, crossed the Stodolna Street and prepared to enter the home of a Pole named Rotkwsky. I raised my hand to knock at the window and drew it back.

The will to live that was within me whispered that Poles were not to be trusted.

At that moment an idea struck me: To enter the cowshed, take out a cow and bring it to the gang. With the speed of lightning and complete internal tranquillity I did so.

I left the town together with the cow. There was dead silence all round while I prayed that nothing should go wrong on the way, and that I might arrive at the haven of my desire together with my precious spoils.

There was not a living soul to be seen all the way, but one thing worried me. If no more snow were to fall they would certainly discover my tracks next day, we would all be in grave danger. But there was no way hack, so I went ahead. To my and our good fortune, my prayer was heard and snow began to fail That gave me redoubled strength and assurance. With vigorous paces we made our way and reached Goliew just as the dawn broke. I tied the cow to a tree and entered the wood from a slightly different point, in order to wait until the day had passed and then make my way hack home after dark. I rubbed my body all over with snow in order to warm myself, and sat down to rest.

That day lasted forever. When it became dark I began to move till I approached the exit point. I listened feverishly, making every effort to catch any sign of life, hut there was absolute silence all round. In spite of the darkness I could recognise the place well, and was quite sure that I had not made a mistake. But still I began to be afraid that I had made some mistake, that my tiredness and hunger had confused me and misled me. And maybe this was the place, hut possibly they had been found while I was away, and were no longer alive. Confused with these thoughts and doubts I stretched out on the ground in order to rest and think things over. To make things worse I had also forgotten the agreed signal. And even if I had remembered, it is very doubtful whether it would have been wise or useful to make use of it. For there were good ground for the suspicion that the A. K. knew our signals.

I could see no other choice, so I whistled. There was no response, but it seemed to me that I saw a spark. Maybe they are trying to light a fire, I thought to myself, and they are blowing on the embers; and of course that takes a long time. ! waited for quite a while hut could see nothing. I whistled again and at last received a reply from Nathaniel. Then I announced my tidings.

They were all astounded at my success. Nathaniel prepared water. We killed the cow with a little axe we had in our possession. It was very hard indeed to cut the animal into pieces without any tools, but we overcame that as well. We placed the pieces of meat in a pail of snow-water and began to boil it. But who had the patience to wait, after ten days of almost complete starvation, for the meat to cook properly? Within a moment we fell on the meat before it had grown cold and began to devour it like wild beasts.

The problem of food was solved for six weeks. This had a good effect. It became clear to us all that there was no reason to despair in a hurry, and that initiative and daring made it possible to find ways of getting out of our straits in any situation. Our spiritual feeling improved boundlessly. We wanted to live and go on struggling. Even Aaron Breiter, who was more depressed than all of them, came to life again.

Now a way had been found. When the meat gave out Joseph Goldfluss and some one else went off, to try their luck as well in fetching a beast. They were also successful but then for some reason we began quarrelling, and during one loud argument it seemed to us that Uszmial the forest keeper had noticed us. We left the cow and vanished in a hurry.

Two hours later we heard shots from the direction of the spot we had left behind. We had escaped, to be sure, but now it was clear to us that our situation, which was bad enough in any case, had become far far worse. Henceforward it was obvious to the A.K. men and the Poles in general, who had not seen us for a long time and must have supposed that we had perished of starvation and cold, -- that we were still alive. And what was more, that we were stealing their property. So we decided to leave the whole district and move to the neighbourhood of Oszich.

But it was impossible to stay for any length of time. The forest in that neighbourhood was entirely different from our own district. No dense woods and thickets were to be found there, suitable for shelter and concealment. And in that district the forest was closer to the villages as well. In brief, the spot was entirely unsuitable for us. In that district, to be sure, the problem of the Jews had been completely forgotten because not a living Jew had been seen thereabouts for ever so long. Still, it was a very dangerous challenge to stay there almost in the open, plain to any passer-by. So as there was no other solution we returned some time later to the Staszow district near Czajkow. The friendly attitude of these visages had not changed. In particular I should mention a certain peasant family named Totach, whose friendly behaviour and help, although it was meagre, raised our spirits more than once. In the course of those wanderings from district to district Nathaniel, another fellow and I separated from the Goldfluss family. When we returned to the Czajkow neighbourhood we met them again, and after that we continued to stay together.

Spring 1944

The Spring of 1944 arrived. Heavy rain beat down ceaselessly upon us. We turned into bundles of withering shrivelled rags. The cold penetrated our 'dry bones, worse than in Winter. Our capacity for endurance grew steadily less. Nathaniel and I decided to go to the village and steal into some building or other in order to be done even for a single night with this distressing rain. We entered a properly built outhouse belonging to one of the rich peasants. Our plan was to stay under a roof until dawn and then go back. But weariness triumphed and spoiled our plans completely. We fell asleep with the good feeling of people who had been compelled for many months to live in the open air, had suddenly been brought on a rainy night into a house, and had fallen into a pleasant sleep just because they were there.

It is not surprising that we slept until late in the morning, and we would certainly have gone on sleeping if we had been allowed to. But suddenly we woke up to the sound of a heavy blow on the door. We understood at once how dangerous our situation was. From time to time the peasants banged at the door with all their force, while we kept it closed from the inside with whatever strength we had. And meanwhile all the villagers assembled there.

In the interval between one blow and the next we managed to take out a board at the back, and burst out and ran off. By the time the peasants realised what had happened we were quite a distance away. And so we were saved once more from a situation which might have cost our lives. Back we went to the woods, and never acted so light-headedly again. Sometimes we went to Czajkow in the evenings, where we waited beside the haystack of Mrs. Anielka until she came out and brought us some boiled potatoes. And one evening she told us about the rumours that the Russians would soon be there.

In our despair we could not believe that we would still live to be free human beings. But we kept it in mind and waited in tense anxiety for their arrival. Before very long we heard the rattle of tanks from the direction of the main road.

Then we became dreadfully afraid. We felt that these must be the Germans, who at this very last moment were planning to liquidate us once for all. So we did our best to hide and make ourselves as small as possible in our holes until the fury had passed.

The dreadful and terrifying sleepless night passed, and the traffic died down. We breathed freely again. When we came to Czajkow a few days later they told us that those had been Russian tanks, which had passed and visited the village too.

During those fateful days we did not part from one another. When our water supply gave out, we went together to the spring. And then came the great moment for which we had hoped so much. A file of Russian soldiers were advancing towards us! We ran towards them and fell into the hands of freedom.


[Page XXII English] [Page 449 Yiddish]

The Last Struggle

by Menahem Lifshitz, Givataim

As soon as the Germans commenced their attack on Russia in June 1941, the mass extermination of the Jewish population began. Wherever the Germans came seas of Jewish blood were shed, with the voluntary and active participation of Ukrainians, White Russians, Lithuanians, Letts and Poles. It is true that even earlier, when the Germans had taken over Poland, the Jews had been subjected to all kinds of murderous excesses. But since they did not assume a mass character the Jews, who are always optimists, believed that this was merely a temporary development.

Their faith was strengthened by the fact that after a certain time the situation had actually quieted down slightly and it began to seem that in spite of the harsh decrees and laws voided on the heads of the Jews and making normal life impossible, the great majority would still be able to emerge with their bare lives.

But once the German troops began appearing in Russian Occupied Territory the situation took a radical turn to the worse. News soon spread about dreadful events. All kinds of strange tales passed from mouth to mouth about the mass murder of Jews in the Eastern Provinces of Poland. The information which began to spread more rapidly and in ever greater detail was naturally difficult or impossible to check, in the absence of any contact between Jews and the outer world. So people did not believe, chiefly because they did not wish and were unable to credit the cruel truth which beat so obstinately and continuously at our ears.

Seeing is Believing

In March, 1942, refugee fugitives arrived from Mieletz, a small Galician town not far from us, and brought details of the terrifying destruction of the defenceless Jewish population there by the Germans. Three thousand people had been killed on the spot, while close on another three thousand had been expelled naked and barefoot into the Polish frontier districts. Only then did we begin to understand what the word “Resettlement” meant for the Germans, those masters of using innocent terms for their gravest crimes.

Later other refugees arrived, who had escaped from the death transports being taken to Maidanek, Belzec and Treblinka, the Jewish extermination camps. They arrived in town and gave eye-witness accounts of the overwhelming calamity which had befallen the Jewish population. Then it began to become clear that we were not facing individual or sporadic cases which had no logical connection; but that this was a carefully thought-out and diabolically prepared plan with the purpose of bringing about the absolute physical destruction of the Jewish people.

“Shops”

The Judenrat or Jewish Council found itself faced with the exceedingly difficult task of establishing and obtaining the legalisation of the so-called “shops”; workshops for the repair and sewing of military uniforms and boots. Unlike earlier workshops, everything had to be created here from the very start. It was necessary to establish the initial conditions without which it was quite impossible to set up the working places. First there had to be premises. Second, the tools and equipment had to be provided, And third, legalisation was necessary.

It was easy to find places for setting up the workshops. The Synagogue, the House of Study and the neighbouring Gymnasium (high school) were chosen. But the other two problems of finding the tools and equipment were far more difficult. It is easy to imagine the feelings of a Jewish craftsman who had been using his machine all his life long, and who knew that this was his only means of making a living, when he was suddenly called upon and compelled to hand it over. There were absolutely heart-rending scenes when the machines were requisitioned, in spite of the fact that as compensation the owners were taken on to be employed in the workshops.

And yet the legalisation of these workshops was even more difficult; and incomparably so.

This was the height of the season for Jewish extermination activities. Yet at this gruesome period it was necessary to establish contact with the German Company in Cracow which held the concession and was under the supervision of the all powerful KS. When at last, thanks to boundless self-sacrifice, devotion and bribery, the Judenrat, with the cooperation of a few energetic persons who did not belong to it, did finally succeed in arranging everything, days of tension and expectation began again as we waited for the promised transports of material, clothes and leather for the actual work -- the transports without which the entire undertaking would naturally be worthless.

During those days all kinds of contradictory reports spread through the town. Optimists brought all kinds of signs and wonders to disprove the arguments of the pessimists. It was no trifle, after all! The lives of several hundred Jews, in the most literal sense of the word, depended on the positive or negative reply to the question. And when the consignment did actually appear at the end of October, Staszow did calm down a little. There was a breathing-space. People tried to persuade themselves that they might after all still succeed in escaping from the angel of death, with the aid of the angel of death himself.

No sooner was the chapter of the consignment finished than a new chapter began that caused no less nervous tension. This time we were waiting for the German Commission which was due to come, and approve and confirm the last hope of a few hundred Jews. And when that Commission arrived shortly before “Resettlement”, everything in town seethed like a boiling kettle. The only question that held sway was Hamlet's: To be or not to be? Would the Commission confirm the workshops or not? When the Judenrat announced that the workshops had been recognised and as a result eight hundred Jews had been automatically legalised, believed that what they had achieved by dint of great effort, much money and nerves had not been in vain; and the townsfolk breathed more easily.

“0. D” (Ordnungsdienst)

The so-called O.D. constitutes a special chapter in the tragic Jewish struggle for life during the Nazi period. The German authorities had demanded as early as 1941, that the Judenrat should establish these “Ordnungsdienste” or Constabulary Services. Formally speaking the task of the O.D. was to maintain law and order among the Jews. But the true intention of the Germans was to execute their devilish extermination plans with the help of the Jewish victims themselves.

To begin with, this Police Force consisted of a dozen or so men, because there were very few volunteers for such a doubtful honour as this. But later their number increased considerably and amounted to sixty-odd, particularly after the Germans “promised” security of life and freedom of movement not only for them themselves but also for their families.

When that happened quite decent and worthy young fellows, including married men, also volunteered and even paid well in order to make their way into the Police Force.

The behaviour of the Jewish police at critical moments was far from decent, and was on occasion very brutal. But because of the abnormal conditions of that tragic period I do not feel that I am competent to condemn the O.D. and their activities.

So I rely on the historian to declare an objective verdict about this painful matter.

“Ghetto”

In June, 1942, the Germans ordered the establishment of a Ghetto for the Jewish population of Staszow. The Jews were compelled to leave the northern side of the Marketplace, the Apta Road, the Koszczielno Road and the suburb called the Folwark. The main gate of the three other sides of the market where Jews were still permitted to live had to be blocked up by them.

The boundaries of the Ghetto, which was in two parts, were the following:

One part included the real exit from the south and eastern sides of the market with the surrounding streets, such as Gurna and Dolna Ritwianka streets, Popvzeczna and the little streets running down to the river.

The second part consisted of the rear exit on the western side of the market, with the Synagogue and Dluga streets and the surrounding cross-streets.

The Cracow Road, which was the only connection between the two parts of the Ghetto, and that only during two hours of the day, had to be run across quickly in order not to “pollute” the Aryan streets with the presence of Jews.

Sleeping in our Clothes

Until the time of the Ghetto, when Jews were still living in their own homes and for the greater part had their own shops save for a number of economic branches (groceries, textiles and leather goods which from the beginning had been officially confiscated and with which we were forbidden to deal), the situation had been difficult and even hopeless. Nevertheless people still managed to find ways and means of doing things, and maintained some kind of contact with the surrounding Polish population. But with the closing off of the Ghetto there was a drastic change. The snapping of every contact with the non-Jewish surroundings gave us the unequivocal knowledge that our bitter fate was very rapidly approaching.

The situation became worse and more unbearable from day to day. Many slept for weeks on end in their clothes, awaiting the dreadful end. Others became absolutely indifferent to their approaching fate. There were also some who actually prayed that it should come quickly, in order to deliver them as speedily as possible from the hellish nightmare which oppressed their broken hearts.

The Small Ghetto

The roughly twelve hundred surviving “legal” Jews were crowded together into a small Ghetto which consisted of a few tiny side streets and squares round the Synagogue and House of Study, as far as the Old Cemetery. It was walled off with barbed wire.

There as well a large number of “illegal” Jews began to gather. They included people who had come out of hidden bunkers which had. become unsafe, and also those driven away by Poles who had robbed the Jews of everything in their possession.

The Summing Up

The war was survived, thanks to all kinds of accidents and chances, by 400 people amounting to about 8% of the Staszow Jewish population before the war, arid about 5% of its population during the war.

At the same time I wish to stress that all those who escaped owe their lives to chance and only to chance; for according to German “law” literally not a single Jew should have survived.

That is the tragic summing-up of the Jewish Community of Staszow, which had been deeply rooted there for hundreds of years.

And I cannot refrain from admitting, in view of this terrible catastrophe which struck our own brothers, that this was also the inevitable result of their belief and trust in other peoples.

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