by Devorah Fleischer
Translated by Moses Milstein
The whole town of Szczebreszyn was enveloped in horror. Young and old, Jew and Christian, awaited the future with sorrow and despair.
Sept 1 1939
That cruel date marking the outbreak of the Nazi war. Like everywhere else, the news hit S like lightning.
Nursing classes were offered, for Jewish women as well. We had hardly had time to have a few classes before the German airplanes began flying over our heads. People hid where they could: orchards, gardens, fields, villages.
Sept 8 1939, Shabbes
A large armada of bombers flew over, and dropped hundreds of bombs on our little shtetl. Instantly, we came face to face with horror. There were many wounded and killed among them, Yosele Warman and his wife, Shmuel Yankel Grant, and Binyamin Shmacher's daughter.
Sefer torah burned with our own hands
Sept 13 1939, Rosh Hashanna
The Germans are here. The first thing they did: they took Yechazkel Ehrlich who worked in the soda water factory, and forced him to take the sefer torahs out of the ancient shul, and burn them, with his own hands, on the street.
He told me later, through bloody tears, about his great anguish and feelings of guilt. He has not forgiven himself to this day.
The Germans refrained from other dirty tricks, because the second day of Succoth, the Soviets arrived. We thought our salvation had arrived, and we were saved from humiliation and extermination. However, after a few days we heard news through the radio that the Soviets were withdrawing from our shtetl, and the Nazis were coming back.
That night a large part of the Jewish population fled. Some left with the Russian military, and some hid outside town.
The next day, the Germans returned, and showed again their bloodthirsty nature. They grabbed people for work, forcing them to clean the streets, the latrines and outhouses with their hands. Every day, tortured screams, every day, human sacrifices. By day, you had to work, at night, you hid where you could.
A story about a ladder
Sept 26 1939
Hiding in an attic, Abraham Reichstein's son-in-law was about to pull up the ladder, but on seeing an SS officer below him he panicked, and dropped the ladder on the German's hand.
After this, an order immediately went out that Jews could not leave their houses. All Jews, men and women alike, were driven from all over the city, like animals, to the Magistrat [city hall] which was heavily guarded on all sides.
When the lawyer, Paprotski, heard about this, he went to the priest, Tczeszlewski, and both went to the mayor, Franchak. All three then went to the German commandant and explained to him that the issue of the ladder was an accident, and assured him it would not happen again. The commandant made a big speech to everyone that if this or a similar incident happened again, every tenth Jew would be shot. Before this was even published, Rev Yichiel Blankman and Shlomo Maimon, and others had already been beaten up.
Oct 30 1939
The city is trembling with the news that Gestapo have been running around with a list of prosperous Jews. They beat them viciously with truncheons. Badly beaten were Baruch Shisl, Abraham Reichstein, and others.
A lot of people fled to the Soviet side last night across the Green border. My husband and son left then too.
In October 1939, the Germans burned the shul.
Winter set in. People fled to Zamosc on sleighs. Captured together near the agrar school, which has become a Gestapo post, were Israel Pope, Yosel and Getsl Weinbleit (Zelig Fisherl's son), Moishe Shpool's wife, Moishe Wolf, and Miriam Ziser. Only Isrulke Pope returned, because they took him for a Christian.
In December, on a fiercely cold night, a train arrived full of Jews expelled from other parts of Poland. Their cries rent the night. A lot of them were brought to the beit hamidrash from Rev Mordechai's court. In the morning, whoever had the means, took people into their homes. Later, a kitchen was established for the homeless in the beit hamidrash.
A few quiet months passed. People slowly went back to work. But on the Soviet side, conditions became very bad. People were sleeping in train stations with no means of supporting themselves. People began to return home. Along with many others, my husband returned. My son remained in Bialystok.
Problems from the Judenrat and the Poles
A Judenrat was established. Nobody willingly wanted to become one of them. They were constantly drinking with the Nazis, and betraying the Jews.
The Germans took Jews for street work, and to Belzec to dig canals. In order not to be sent away, every one tried hard to get work at the air-field near the sugar factory. My husband found work there as a foreman of the qualified workers. In order to lighten the lot of the Jews, my husband took on a large number of unqualified people, anyone who approached him. Because of this, he received a lot of trouble from the Judenrat who were trying to make a business out of this by squeezing more money out of the Jews.
There were other reasons they wanted to work at the air-field. They preferred to work under a Jewish overseer, it was near to home, and they received bread, soup, and some vegetables.
The Polish underclass contributed to German chicanery and the downfall of the Jews. They fingered Shimon Goldman, Hillel Eisen, and Leibkele Glaser and his wife as Communists. They were arrested and sent to Zamosc. After 2 months, Shimon Goldman and Hillel Eisen returned. But Leibkele Glaser, and his wife, perished in jail.
Conditions were deteriorating from day to day. Jewish stores and their merchandise have been long since confiscated. Only some merchandise has been secreted with amenable Christians. You had to steal it back little by little in order to try to survive. So time passed until June 22, 1941 when the war with Russia began.
For the last month, we have seen the German military continuously massing during the night. Jews have been increasingly oppressed, forbidden to go to the countryside, or to buy from Christian stores in town. For such a transgression, Itsku Minzberg (my brother-in-law's son) was taken to Lublin to the famous number 7 Lipowa Street to be seen no more.
Evicted from homes
In the winter of 1941, every Jew had to relinquish any furs he might have. For not obeying, the penalty was death. Because of one fur, found hidden between 2 walls, Haim Maimon and Gershon Staatfeld (Shloime Maimon's brother-in-law) were taken out to Zwierzyniec forest and, there, killed.
The Jews were driven out of their houses and concentrated in the back streets. Only on Green street where we lived, in the market near the church, and on the potchene were the occasional Jews still living. The confinement, the crowding, and poor clothing brought Typhus.
Many people died then. My husband became infected from the newcomers who used to come to the kitchen to eat. He could not permit himself not to help the unfortunate. After two weeks of illness in hospital, he died on the 8th of January 1942. At the same time Binim Rosenfeld also died.
Two days after this tragedy, I too was taken to hospital. The doctors held out little hope for me. But I survived. I was bed-ridden and sick until Pesach. At that time, baking bread was forbidden, much less matzos. We got a small portion with our ration cards. With great difficulty, we managed to get a couple of kilos of flour from Christian bakers and, at night, with stealth, we baked at home.
Bad news, terrible events
Before Pesach, we heard bad news about Jews being transported out of Lublin and all the little shtetlach. We waited fearfully for the Aktion to happen here.
Rav Yichiel Blankman, at some risk, gathered a minyan and went to the grave of Rev Simchele, and begged for mercy for the Jews of S. Rev Simchele stated in his will that whenever there is danger in the city, he would help, if his grave were visited for the next 10 generations. This is the 9th generation. I don't know if it was a miracle, but the rail cars were already at the station. People wandered around in a daze. Everyone saw his death before his eyes. And then an announcement: the quota has been filled without S.
Our relief did not last long. Right after Pesach, it was rumored that there is a list of 70 people. I did not know if that meant women too. But I had a feeling they would not be spared.
One day, 6:00 in the morning, we heard a commotion. Through a window, I noticed that they were leading the Bronsteins, father and son, (the kazioner Rabiner and his son, the dentist).
I realized that their house would not be visited again, so I snuck into Natan Bronstein's house through Jodcikovski's orchard. There, I witnessed the heart breaking distress of both the wives and the children. They told me immediately that I was being sought too.
The murderers took away 13 people: both Bronsteins, Moishele Fersht, Liba Itta Berger, Shloime Dales, and others. Shloime Dales ran away. Liba Itta Berger, Moishe Arieh Gelernter and Moishe Fersht were shot near the Magistrat. All the others were taken to the Zwierzyniec forest and killed.
Also on the list were: Abraham Finkel, Abraham Rothstein's wife, Beile Berger, Esther Mantle, Heshl and Itzhak Haim Eisen, Itsele Fersht, Menachem Neitel, Shimon Rice, David Sapir (my brother-in-law), and Sala Danziger. We all hid away. The Polish police took huge sums of money to keep quiet, but we still had to hide. For four months, I slept in a tiny attic in our wooden house with two other people. Life became a monotonous misery. People went around like lunatics, not knowing what to do with themselves. Everyone was tortured by the thought: I am going to die. We had no peace, day or night.
Now there were shooting sprees on the roads. It was no longer permitted to go to the sugar factory, only to the air-field with proper documents. Everyone had to be find work. The unemployed were sent off. Half of the men and women of S. went to the Krasnobrod forest every day to work.
I and nine other women worked in the garden in the hospital. Among them: Hadass, (Moishe Buk's daughter), Hadass (Leib Doktor's daughter), Tzviah Fersht, and Ruchel Shpool. We hid ourselves: at night in the attic, or in another hiding place, in the daytime in the garden often without a piece of bread.
The Poles exploited the Jewish labor. We had to work with absolutely no wages. They were, moreover, doing us a favor by employing us. Even Dr. Zigmunt Klukowski, the famous physician-historian, understood that Jews should work without bread. The Poles treated us like slaves. We were powerless, and endured all kinds of sorrows and humiliations.
Shavuot, 1942, saw the first Aktion. The Judenrat fulfilled the German orders and rounded up Jews for shipment to Belzec. The work cards did not help. 280 people were shipped out. A lot of people also died in S that day.
Every day we received depressing news brought to us by the train workers: Every day 5-6 sealed cars full of people go through, bound for Belzec. Jews wandered around terrified, weakened, at the end of their strength. Seeing that even work can not save you, they gave up and avoided work.
In June, 1942, more people rounded up. Twenty six men were taken, among them: Hershel Ingber, Mordechai Frank, Baruch Frenkel, Yehoshua Glattman, Nathan Shtibel, Haim Nie. The Germans herded them in broad daylight through the streets to the vigon, and there killed them.
Right after this, they made sure we understood that Jews were not allowed in the countryside. The assassins in Deszkowice shot Yankel and Etele Bricks, Hadass (Moishe Biks daughter who had fled there to hide) and her uncle's family. At about the same time, they sent away to Mecholov, Laizer Zera and Leibish Shmayele's son, Yoseph (a barber), and shot them. People were crazed. We had to go to work, and every day, wait for another Aktion.
Hiding in an attic
The news was out that S will become Juden-rein. We saw no escape. What can you do? How do you disappear?
In the still of the night (so that the Polish neighbors would not hear) people dug deep cellars underground, under the latrines, or searched out hiding places in attics, well camouflaged. But all our toil and ingenuity was for naught. We envied the dead. The end arrived for us Jews who were so brutally annihilated by the murderers.
The following happened on October 21 1942: Quite early in the morning, we heard shooting. I barely made it into Isrulke Germanovitch's house. There was nobody left there except for his little 4 year old daughter, Ruchele, who, in the turmoil, was left behind. I took her to me, and calmed her down, and together, quickly, we got into an attic cupboard. There, we found her mother. We could not get to the prepared hiding place at Germanovitch's.
We lay there a whole day in great fear. We heard the houses being demolished. The murderers were running around searching every hole. Sometimes they were in our prison in the attic. Shooting could be heard from all sides mixed with the cries of parents, the wailing of children. You could go mad listening to this.
I don't know what happened to those closest to me in the last moments. Beile Berger, who lived with me, was sick and bedridden. Reizl Berger tore herself free from the murderers' grasp, and escaped to the fields, and later to the forest. Before, she had not wanted to hide with me, thinking there was still time.
At night, I went down to my house. I crawled on all fours so as not to be seen from the street. Everything was demolished, the doors and windows shattered. I took along a little water, and a piece of bread, and went to the second hiding place which was behind a separate wall in Germanovitch's house. There were 14 of us there. We had to crawl up to an attic through an opening in the kitchen which was covered up after. We lay there in fear, the Germans passing by frequently in their searches. It was so comfining, there was no air. The lamp would not burn. At night, we went out to get some air.
A funeral of the living
I realized that I could not stay there. So I went to the previous hiding place in the attic. Hidden in other attics were Zelig Fisher's children, the Ketselech, and the shochet's family. Through the cracks, we saw them lead away Moishe Ketsele to the yard. The Polish policeman, Gall, who collaborated in the Aktion, shot him. This was 23rd October, 1942.
That same day, we saw them lead out the whole courtyard full of people. The heavily armed murderers, aided by guard dogs, led them. Polish children ran after them. I will never forget the horrible picture: a funeral of the living! Exhausted, filthy from hiding, resigned to their fate, they went wretchedly to the slaughter.
Lying in the attic, all manner of thoughts crossed my mind, thoughts of being doomed to die. I saw how people from other hiding places expired from thirst and hunger. I decided to run away to the forest. Also fleeing with me were Itshak Haim Eisen, and Latche Eisen.
Fleeing to the forest
On the 24th of October, early, we escaped through the fields to Klemensov station, and from there, into the forest. We were certain we would not live, but if we were to be killed by a bullet, better to die in freedom.
In the forest, we came across many people. They came here by crossing the river. We reckoned that there were more than 1000 people in the forest. Regrettably, most died at the hands of the Poles.
Among others there were: Motel Blatt, Israel Zirer, Laizer Untzig, Binyamin Shuk, Yankel and Shmuel Miller, Aaron Shea (Grishker's son), Hadass Beitcher (Leib Doktor's daughter) Feige Reiber, and her family, Zeftl Reiber and her family, Sarah and Breindl Shisl, both Hochgelernter sisters, the Dym family, Pessl Mabeh, Yosef Tuchschneider (Leibish Shmeieleh's grandson) the Eisen brothers and their sister, Hershel Bricks, the Kulpes, the younger daughters of Yankel Lutwack, the Herring family.
Out of all these, survived Itke Herring, Raizel Berger, Zindl Reiber, Itche Shtemer and his family, Gershon, Roizele, Zhiletts, and Yenkele Manker's boy.
After two days, I left the forest. We did not meet again until after liberation.
I want to add that there were Christians who empathized with the Jews and helped and suffered because of it. One such was the milner Brilowski whose garden bordered the hospital garden. He showed us an escape route in case the Germans came for us. Behind the barn, he cleared away obstacles and made a clear route to the river. I would also like to mention Dr Spaz, the priest Tczeszlewski, the vicar, the organist Stets and his daughter, the pharmacist, who helped Jews. Hidden Jewish things found there caused them much grief.
But people like these were few. Most of the residents declared themselves to be Volks Deutche, and collaborated with the murders and the aktions against the Jews.
by Devorah Fleischer
Translated by Moses Milstein
In 1945, after the destruction of Polish Jewry, the few families that survived wandered from city to city looking for a trace of their relatives. I too, as one of the survivors, dragged myself around for long months, on highways and byways, looking, asking, hoping, but without any sign of my only child, or my sisters and brothers.
Bitterly dejected over my fate, and after endless wandering in cities and villages, I settled in Lodz where there was a larger Jewish community. Few there were from Poland, most were returnees from Russia. They were in a terrible depressed state. They had come from the forests, the bunkers, and they were homeless, unable to start their lives, with no one to turn to, and no where to go.
It was then that each person first became aware of the great tragedy that had occurred, and the fact they were now alone. Anyone who came back to his home town, and saw that no trace of Jews remained, when it seemed like only yesterday that the streets were alive with thousands of Jews, was overcome with great melancholy. The towns were dead, like a huge cemetery with no graves.
There were just a few Jews in the larger cities. They lived in fear of the Christians who were still filled with hatred and often fell on the remaining Jews, and shot them for no reason other than that they were Jews. After years of suffering in their hiding places, their lives in constant jeopardy, often going weeks without food or water in the dark holes-now, having gained their freedom, they were killed by a bullet shot by the murderous Poles. Even now, after the liberation, those with a characteristic Jewish appearance were afraid to show themselves in the streets, or to take the trains which were often stopped, the Jews taken out, and shot.
Influenced by an Israeli emissary
In November, 1945, among the emissaries bringing the first greetings from Israel, was Leibele Goldberg (from Yagur), under the alias Turek, who came with the goal of returning Jewish children to the Jewish people.
I first met him in Lodz at the Bregman family. The Bregmans displayed great care for the reclaimed children, keeping them for many weeks like children of their own, sometimes paying out money to ransom them from Polish hands. Leibl was introduced to me by chaver Sheftl, chairman of the Central Historical Commission of Lodz.
Leibl, an intelligent young man, unassuming, energetic, persuasive, fervently explained the goal to me: Finding Jewish children kept by Christians, and rescuing them. Without a thought for how dangerous travel would be, I immediately agreed to help in this important work.
He pointed out the difficulties of the clandestine and illegal undertaking. We had to be ready to pay with our lives since these were turbulent times in the cities and on the trains. He affected me so strongly that nothing was going to hold me back. I thought to myself that with his characteristic Jewish appearance, he was putting his own life in danger. I then dedicated myself to one goal-tearing the Jewish children away from Polish hands at any cost, and with this, stilling my own pain.
I met him on a Friday night, and by Sunday, I was already on the road as a Christian. I went to the Lublin area which was the most familiar to me, but also the most dangerous at the time. It was, after all, the region of Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Trawnik in the time of the Germans, and, later, the biggest zone of anti-Jewish terror perpetrated by Ukrainians and Poles. My acquaintances and near ones tried to dissuade me from going. My only remaining father-in-law traveled from Chelm to Lodz (a considerable distance), putting his own life in danger by traveling by train, to plead with me, Why do you need to do this? You have survived the war and now you are putting your life in danger? I answered him, There is nothing to hold me back. I have no one left! It's all the same… earlier, later. And since I have survived, I must accomplish something!
I was in constant contact with Leibl during the year I was involved in this difficult, stressful work. I often had trouble locating him. He himself usually didn't know where he would be at any given time. He was often nervous when he left, and failed to write or telephone while on the road.
I remember that once, returning from travel, I was told that Leibl had been desperately running around in the Zionist coordinatsye looking for me. Who knows what could have happened to her? I, in turn, began to look for him. I ran to the organization on Narutowicza Street, to the Historical Commission on Srodmiejska, and to his residence. Finally, resigned to not finding him, I returned to the coordinatsye where I found him in a room with the newly founded Aliyat Hanoar teaching Israeli songs. He was active in all domains.
More than once, he put his life in danger traveling by train. Once, on July 1st, 1946, while traveling with the emissary Nathan Blizowski, from Warsaw to Szeczin, the A.K. stopped the train at Malkin and killed three chalutzim from the Bialystok Gordonia. Leibl and Nathan were shattered by this as well as by the news from Israel that the English military, on June 29th, 1946, had attacked Yagur where they had left their wives and children.
On arriving in Warsaw, they agreed that if one of them should fall, the other would transfer his body to Eretz-Israel.
The well known author, Chaim Grade, was present at this discussion, and it made a very deep impression on him. He asked them to describe the work that had motivated them to leave their families behind in Israel where their lives were in danger from the English, and to come alone to Poland, endangering their own lives. He later visited the orphanage in Lodz (Piotrkowska 88) where he saw the children rescued from Polish hands sleeping innocent and carefree in white beds, clean, well-fed, but lonely orphans. Deeply moved he wrote the poem. Yosel From Yagur.
There were four such orphanages, founded with great effort and difficulty, but with much love, and staffed by specialized supervisors and educators. Two on Piotrkowska 88, and Narutowicza in Lodz, and two on Pietrolesia and Kamienec in Lower-Silesia closer to the border, from where they were transferred to Germany and, after, to Eretz-Israel.
By various means
During the war, Jewish children came to live with Poles in various ways. The majority were given up to Christians by their parents who knew they were going to their death and still had the opportunity to do so before the aktions which took place in 1942-1943. At the same time, they also gave up all that they possessed. There were also cases where compassionate Christians, finding a child wandering around alone in the forest, or in a village, took them in. But such cases were few, because the farmers often betrayed and gave up the children. A blonde child with blue eyes, who could speak Polish, had a better chance.
Christians who kept Jewish children were mostly of the Polish intelligentsia, good friends of the parents. This was mostly in the larger cities, because in the smaller shtetls it was more difficult. The neighbors lived too closely, and knew each other too well, and often betrayed them, sometimes out of enmity, sometimes out of envy because the child could be exploited, or his fortune stolen.
Many Jewish children-I believe the majority of those alive after the war-were saved with the help of the Catholic clergy who took them into the church notwithstanding that they put their own lives in danger.
The Red Cross also helped. In 1943, when the Warsaw ghetto was burning, the Red Cross drove around in cars on the Polish side, and, quickly, so the Germans would not see, picked up the children who were wandering around, and afterward transferred them to the churches. There, the children found themselves among hundreds of Christian children, and were well protected from the murderous Germans.
Polish clergy does not want to relinquish
It is regrettable that still today there are many Jewish children in these same churches because the clergy converted them, and considered it a great sin to give them back to Jews.
In 1946, R' Herzog visited the Pope in Rome in order to see about reclaiming the children from the churches, but to no avail.
Getting the children back from Christians families was met with great difficulty, because they did not want to give them up. Everyone had their own interests in mind.
Many of them saw them as a source of income. The Jewish committees which were established soon after liberation in the large cities such as Warsaw, Lodz, and Lublin, gave the Christians holding Jewish children large sums of money practically every month, as well as clothing, food etc. Every Christian hoped that a rich uncle from America would materialize and pay him thousands of dollars.
The farmer in the village had, in the ten to twelve year old Jewish boy, a dedicated shepherd, working for free, whereas he had to pay the parents of a Christian boy to look after the cows, or geese, four to five measures of wheat annually, as well as clothing him. The Jewish shepherd, without a guardian, barefoot and poorly clothed, looked after the cows until late autumn, in rainy weather, and also in the frozen days of winter. The child also had to work and do the cooking in the farmer's house. A twelve year old girl told me that she had to cook for the whole family of seven during the harvest.
There were also cases, particularly in the cities, where the Christians became very attached to the child, and loved it as their own. These people did not approach the Jewish Commissions about their Jewish child, because they were afraid to lose it.
The Jewish committee after the war in Poland was pro-Communist and was not interested in reclaiming Jewish children from Christians. And if they were reclaimed, they were content to leave them in Polish orphanages in order to build a Greater Poland. The committee was also absolutely against transferring the children to Eretz-Israel. Furthermore, there was no expectation that the committee would help the Zionist organization in reclaiming Jewish children from Christians. They also did not want to share the lists of Jewish children. But we did find some interested people in the communist committee that did come to our aid, and gave out the lists.
by Aaron Shrift
Translated by Moses Milstein
My father worked hard all his life. Hard is an understatement. He would leave the house very early and return late at night. He would come home late in the winter night, broken by hard work, eat his poor meal, and sit down by the warm oven to learn Tanach with us. We children would eagerly swallow his every word.
But not everything proceeds as we would wish. Sometimes my father's hand would swell up from his labors and he would not be able to work. Then, there would be nothing to eat. There were seven of us small children and we had a healthy appetite. We didn't have to be coaxed to eat, we would have eaten stones.
The whole responsibility for making a living lay on my father. My mother was also not in the best of health, but she would do everything in her power so her children would not go hungry. Sometimes times were better, sometimes worse, but more worse than better. I was in Shebreshin until I was 18 years old, and I remember that even in the worst of times, I never saw my father cry.
My mother, however, would, from time to time, have a good cry. It's easier for women. There was no lack of opportunities. For example, Friday evening at candle lighting, erev Yom Kippur, and sometimes, when the soul is burdened, it doesn't hurt to cry a little. But my father was unmoved and he did not cry.
I don't think there was anyone in the shtetl who did not know my father Reuben Shrift (Sapuch), a tall man with a copper, a little grayish already, beard. He was a very intelligent man. He was always ready to give advice to others, but he could not help himself. He also liked to joke around. For this he had his friends-Yosel Kandl, Atchi Shiser, his brother Beirach, and many others. He went through life with a light heart.
So life went on until 1939, when the Second World War broke out. As soon as the Germans entered, the troubles began. First Chaim Laizer Shtreicher was beaten up. The goyim immediately began to steal. When I saw a goy carrying out bolts of cloth from Arish Maimon's store, I grabbed the goods from him and ran to Simchele Roife's house. The Germans saw this and shot at me. Luckily, they did not hit me.
It didn't last long and the Germans left and the Russians entered. We were overjoyed. Jews became big machers. They made arrests, they jailed anyone they felt like jailing. The spree didn't last long. After the big celebration came the sorrow. All at once, we heard that the Russians were leaving and the Germans were coming back. Things became tense and panicky. The young people began to organize themselves to escape, heading toward Lemberg. There were many in town who had to flee.
This was after Succot. The nights were already cold and the rains began. I decided that I would have to go. With me came Yenkel Miller, his brother, Shmuel, Piniele Reis, and many others. We left our homes at 4:00 pm heading for Zamosc.
Before we left, we heard that the last train from S would be leaving for Ludmir (Wlodzimierz Wolinski) at midnight. We had no hope of getting on this train because it was coming from Zwierziniec and was already half-full. In S., whole families with children who had to leave were getting ready because it was their last opportunity. Among these families were my sister Chaye and her husband Yenkel Becher who was in the militia that the Communists had organized in the time of the Russian occupation. With no hope of going along, we left on foot.
When my father returned from Minche-Maariv, he was told that I had left without saying good-bye to him. So he declared that I must be made to return. He was not against my leaving, but how do you go away without a Go in good health?
We were already quite far. Suddenly, I saw my little brother, Shaye, running after me and crying. I stood stock still, waiting to see what had happened. Father orders you to come straight back home, said my brother. Understandably, I did not want to do so. So he fell at my feet and did not let me go any further. At that moment, a goye passed by and said, Your voyage will not meet with good luck, if you do not return home. I didn't spend any more time thinking about it, and said good-bye to my friends and went back.
Back at home, my father was overjoyed to see me, but he knew I had to leave. We decided that I would leave on the last train at midnight with my sister, brother-in-law and their daughter Sheindele. The train left, however, when it was already daylight.
I made my farewells to my mother, my sister and brother at the house. My father decided to accompany me. Along the way, he stopped, clutched me to his chest and began to cry loudly. Today, after so many years, my ears still ring with the sound of my father's weeping. I believe he felt that we would never see each other again. The last train separated us forever.
My brother Shaye, soon after, became the first martyr. He was shot by the Germans. He was not yet sixteen years old.
by Sarah Fuks (Ingber)
Translated by Moses Milstein
It was a time of changes. New information came daily. Yesterday, we had the Germans, later, the Russians. The joy when the Russians came to S. is indescribable, because we were free of the Hitler-murderers, even if only for one day.
Suddenly more news: we have to get ourselves ready to leave, because the Russians are retreating, and the Germans are coming back. Rather than fall into German -Polish hands, it would be better to fall on the road. Mother prepares a pack for each child-bread and a little salt.
We are going to the train. In the dark, we see many people-women, men, children-everyone on foot. The question on everyone's mind-where to? Meanwhile, everyone is going in the same direction-to the train. People snake along led by the same desire to live. We are accompanied by a sea of tears. Only the young are going, the old are too exhausted from hunger and the bombings and the hiding. They have no strength to flee. At the train there is a din and a racket. Where do we go, is the question. All carry only as little as possible, something to cover themselves with. Suddenly, a new commotion: There are only a couple of cars along the long platform. There is not enough room for everybody. People crowded together. There are a large number of Jews from Zwierzyniec. The wailing reaches up to the sky.
Parents came to say good-bye to their children. My mother and father and mother-in-law also came, and took off their last little shmate and threw it on us. We looked at our loved ones for the last time, and the train pulled out of the Shebreshin station.
Our closest and dearest ones disappeared, and we lost the hope of growing up together with the rest in our shtetl where everything was so near and dear.
The singing of the Chasidim in the shtiblach is only a memory. Who can forget Moishe Kliske Farber's hammering Friday night, Kinder, shabes, close up, close up. The tumult of the young people on the new promenade Friday evening when everyone went to their organization-to the Chalutz, to the Bund, everyone with the desire to learn something there.
Early Saturday morning Isak Shmoiger Germanovitch would wake people for morning prayers. A little later we would hear, To shul, to shul! And our mothers and fathers, with their deep piety, went to pray.
Our big beautiful shul has been consumed by fire along with our families, and our hope that here, where we were born, we will grow and flourish in the company of our own.
by Balche Milstein (Langburd)
Translated by Moses Milstein
Very early on, the burdens of family fell on me. After a lengthy illness, my mother died. At the age of 9, I had to manage the household. I was forced to go give up my girlhood and become an adult.
My father, Feivel Langburd, like many other Jews who lived in town, carried out his business in the surrounding villages. We saw him only on weekends, because the rest of the week he was busy working among the farmers. Early on Monday morning, he would kiss us good bye, and go back to the villages. On Friday, covered in dust from the roads, he would return. When my little sister, Shaindel, and I would see him, our joy would know no bounds.
There were no modern communication methods then; trains or passenger cars did not travel to the distant small villages. Mostly you traveled on foot. If we were lucky, we could get a ride on a horse and wagon, driven by a farmer we might know, to take us part of the way. Even though we were young, we knew how hard our father worked so that we could be well fed. I took the place of mother and father to my sister.
As the Nazi plague descended on Polish Jewry, the persecution of the Shebreshiner Jews began.
I remember hearing wild cries in the middle of the night. Everyone was awakened. I ran to the window and looked out. and I saw fire. I could see the fire's reflection on the walls of the church, and the windows of the hospital. The sky was flaming red. People were running and screaming. My little sister and I became frightened. She fainted. Our father was not at home. The Germans banged on the door, and yelled at us to get out. I wanted to save some house-hold things, as well as clothing for my father and sister. I remembered that he had hidden some jewelry under the kitchen floor. But I couldn't find the exact spot where he had hidden it. So I quickly packed a few things, and we got out of the house.
I flew across the street, hoping to get help from the hospital doctor there who knew us as neighbors. While I was standing near the hospital, our house caught fire. The Germans were running around claiming that the Jews themselves had set the shul on fire, and that they would be held accountable. This was a tried and true method of the Germans: pin every crime on the innocent.
The Germans herded the Jewish residents into a garden, near the well, not far from Groisse Shloime's budke. The fire in our house was vigorously being fought, because the priests were afraid that the church near our house would catch on fire next.
I struggled to drag around all the things I had stuffed into a large sheet. My little sister couldn't stop trembling. I calmed her down a little. Not knowing what to do, I decided to go get help from my fiancé's family, so that they could help with the baggage.
A hand grenade was thrown into the courtyard of the shtrickendriers, meant for the Rav. They wanted to punish him. The Germans looked for various measures to frighten the Jews.
While looking for help, I came across the shtrickendrier's daughter, a mother of four children, who had lost track of one of them. I found the child, and brought it back to the desperate mother.
As I walked further along, a German stopped me, and forced me to go where the rest of the people were being assembled. My sister was still with our belongings, back near the hospital. Separated from her, I began to worry about her safety. Suddenly, I saw the Germans leading her and our packs to the gathering place, where I was waiting. My relief knew no bounds.
I saw how Jews were driven from their houses, half naked, in their underwear, some carrying small bags that they snatched in their panic.
Halfway through the night, the Germans ordered everyone to leave their bags behind at the gathering place, and they led us all to the Halle, the market hall. You could only bring along a small pack. So we decided, as before, that my sister should stay behind and guard our things. When I tried to get back to her, a German stopped me, and refused to let me go on. I told him that I had left behind a child, but he didn't believe me, and said that he would shoot me if I were lying. So he accompanied me back. When he saw my sister sitting on the packs, he believed me. To give the impression of gentlemanliness he helped us carry our things to the Halle.
The threats of shooting, as well as the minute displays of decency, were one way the Germans played with our nerves.
The majority of Jews were concentrated in the Halle. The stalls were empty, the merchandise had all been stolen. Our pleas to be allowed to bring our things into the Halle with us were ignored. Everything was left lying outside. The Germans assured us they would not allow the Poles to steal anything. They posted guards, and prevented the farmers from the villages from coming into the city.
As we sat in the Halle, we could hear its tin roof cracking from the heat of the houses burning around us. The Germans searched for the Rav, but could not find him. This enraged their beastly instincts. To revenge themselves, they threw an incendiary bomb into the shul. Flames escaped from the windows, and lit up the shul courtyard and the Halle.
The Jews held in the Halle, aware that the shul was on fire, began to bewail the devastation. The flames in the shul consumed its innermost walls, and licked away the prayers of hundreds of years that had been absorbed within. Outside, black crows circled the burning shul, and their cawing was dispersed in the dark night. The Shebreshiner beit hamikdash was no more.
When day came, the Germans accused the Jews of setting fire to the shul, and stated that they would be punished for this. They detained ten Jews, and demanded a large ransom. The rest were let go. The money, of course, was acquired, and the hostages were freed.
After the fire, not a day passed without some new evil decrees inflicted on the Shebreshiner Jews.
by Shaindl Knabl (Stern)
Translated by Moses Milstein
My seventeen year long journey, counting from the time I left my home, my birthplace, until I came to Israel, was one of hard struggle for life and existence, a fight against starvation and destruction. I can still hear my mother as she came to my workplace at Pesach Berger's, and telling me in tears, Shaindele, leave your work and come and get ready to leave your home, because the danger is great. All the young people are fleeing, and you and Brochele, will also go.
This was in 1939, when the Red Army was in Shebreshin, and people were saying that they were leaving and ceding the territory to the Germans who had already been here. I obeyed her, settled with my employers who rewarded me generously, and went home to prepare to leave. The following morning-it was Chol Hamoed Succot-my sister and I left on foot on the long journey, following the wagons filled with Jewish refugees from Shebreshin.
We parted from our parents, and my sister Raizele, with broken hearts and hot tears. They accompanied us until the sugar factory, and then they turned back. They kept looking back at us, and we at them, until we were out of sight. My sister and I kept going, resting often, and sorrow kept us from exchanging a single word. Russian soldiers gave us rides on their trucks, and we reached Ludmir by nightfall.
We spent the night in a shul with many others like us, and in the morning we met our relatives who took us to their place which was in barracks on the outskirts of the city. I want to point out that the family were also refugees from Tishvits, and had been here several days, and had secured a room in the barracks. Aside from them, two other families lived in the same room. We slept on the floor. Some had a pillow, others did not. The streets in Ludmir were full of Biezhentses. To buy bread or other food in the stores was very difficult-the lines stretched far, far.
In a Siberian labor colony
Having no way to provide for ourselves in Ludmir, we signed up to go to the Russian interior for work. We were now three people, because in Ludmir I married my present husband. We arrived in the Siberian labor colony with the registered echelon. Most of the population consisted of exiled Kulaks from the time of the revolution, and criminals. They allotted us a room in the barracks, a plank bed, a blanket, and sent us to work in a textile factory.
The winters were freezing. Snow and frost came in through the wide cracks in our room. Water froze. We had to slice the bread with an axe. (A lot of work with the bread wasn't necessary, because we didn't always have bread.) Both my husband and I worked in the factory. My sister, Brochele, had her own place and earned money to buy the small piece of black bread and watery soup in the Stolovke where you had to wait in long lines. There were another twenty Jewish families with us in the Pasholek. With the coming of summer, the Jewish families set out for the Ukraine, because they did not want to perish of hunger and cold in the Taiga. We were also among the wanderers. We gathered our meager belongings, and with a young child in hand, we set out in a parachad (a cargo ship) looking for better fortune. We got to Krukov, a small town in the Ukraine on the Dnieper river. There we met Yankele and Leah Shtible from S. They helped us get a room with a Ukrainian family. My husband had trouble finding work. But finally he found a job which paid very little, but we managed somehow to live.
But we were not to enjoy the Ukrainian Garden of Eden for long. Soon the Russian-German war began. The town was unexpectedly quickly captured by the Germans, and we had barely enough time to cross the Dnieper on a raft and save ourselves. My aunt Iteh-Riva Weinrib and her two daughters Ettele, and Surele, and her sisters Shaindl-Gitl, and Rivka Boim were also in that area. Unfortunately, they could not save themselves. From that time on, we kept running and the Germans kept destroying our home.
In a stone quarry in Uzbekistan
We would stay for several weeks in one place, and then be forced to run further and further until fate drove us to Middle Asia, to Uzbekistan. There we encountered a heartless population. We were in a kolkhoz where we were fed a lepiashke (a kind of flat bread). There, our child died of starvation, and we nearly succumbed as well.
At that time, they recruited young people for work in Ural. We registered ourselves, and were taken to a stone quarry. We were given quilted pants, undershirts, and straw shoes with leggings, and we dug out the rocks from mountains that had been blown up with dynamite. We had to break up the rock, load it into wheel barrows, and carry the load onto a barge in the water. The quota was very high. Whoever made the quota received soup and a side dish, and whoever didn't, got soup alone. Thus we lived until repatriation, sundered from the world, from human existence, seeing only rocks and water.
When we registered to go back home to Poland, we had no idea that the devastation was so great. In everyone there had glimmered a spark of hope that, coming back to Poland, we would find someone, that the Poles had saved even one child from families that had remained in Poland. When we crossed the Polish border, we were shocked and depressed by the tragedy that had befallen our people. Many left the train stations to look at the gas ovens, the barrels of ashes, and brought back the tragic news.
Repatriates in Lower-Silesia
Most of the repatriated were settled in Lower-Silesia where Germans had lived. We received good houses with nice furniture, clothes and dishes that had belonged to Germans. But all this frightened us. I couldn't use any of the German things. I felt they were covered in Jewish blood. Feelings of fear and pain accompanied our stay in the house. I found a lot of anti-Semitic material in the house, illustrated magazines that mocked Jews, and several pieces of soap with the initials RJF. (Pure Jewish fat.) I sent it all to the Jewish historical institute.
The Kielce pogrom completed the bitterness and fear. The Poles believed that there were no more Jews left in the world. At the end, they realized that a few Jews had survived, so they wanted to complete what Hitler had been unable to. Many Jews left Poland illegally at that time, but they soon stopped that, and we remained where we were.
Life became a little more normal. The various gangs were subdued, and it became a little quieter. The government declared that they would support emigration of Jews to other countries, and we lived in hope. A lot of time passed before that became a reality. We underwent many difficulties in that time, both materially and spiritually.
The atmosphere was tense in Jewish circles during the doctors trials in the Soviet Union, and the Slonski murder in Czechoslovakia. We feared that the same thing was imminent in Poland. We were also shocked when we heard about the activities of the NKVD against Jewish authors and artists.
Happy in Israel
Later, the 20th conference of the Communist party proclaimed freedom of speech and democracy. Anti-Semites in Poland used this to spread anti-Semitism in Poland. What was previously hidden was now revealed. But the change also had its good side. It allowed the Jewish masses who had been registered six years before, to leave Poland.
My family and I received permission to make Aliyah to Israel. On November 20, 1957, we crossed the border to Israel, and thereby put an end to the dark wandering episodes of our lives, and thus a new, bright, productive life for me and my family began. I feel fortunate that my children will be raised in their own land, and if they will love and sacrifice for it, they will not meet with disappointment and deception.
by Ephraim Farber
Translated by Moses Milstein
Shebreshiner Jews who served in the ranks of the 27th artillery regiment stationed at Ludmir Wolinsk and surroundings were: Yosef Tsoler, Leibish Leibhaber, Ephraim Farber, and others. In far away Danzig, at the famous fortress near the Baltic Sea, Westerplatte, where the German army faced a determined defense from the Polish army, one of the heroic defenders was Moishe Hilf. Shebreshiners fought on every front against the bloodiest enemy of the Jews, the Nazis.
In distant Pomerania, at the slaughter in the Tuchol forest, Yosef Tsoler fell.
After three, four days of fighting the Polish army was completely broken. The military officers took to the air, and fled the field of slaughter leaving the soldiers to their own destiny. The fighting spirit was paralyzed and mass desertions began.
Yosef Tsoler and other Jewish soldiers dug fox holes and mounted a resistance against the bloody enemy with the full conviction that they were defending thousands of Jewish mothers and children. He fought until a bullet put an end to his young life.
His grave is found not far from Tuchol shtetl near a lonely forest path. There are no wreaths or flowers to decorate his grave, just withered leaves that fall in autumn.
Berl Koil languished in Stalag A-1 in East Prussia as a prisoner-of-war. I met him at Luba Gall's after I was released from the Lipowa 7 transit camp in Lublin.
I was seized with bitter pity when I saw this person known to the whole working class of S. His belly was swollen from the inhuman conditions suffered by the Jews in Stalag A-1.
I can picture Berl on his shoemaker's stool, his thoughts carrying him far away, over the Alps, where in deep snow the last freedom fighters of the Austrian Schutzbund plodded. And, animated, he removes his glue-covered apron. His lion's roar thunders through the Bund hall describing the lost Viennese Schutzbund battle. With his mighty voice he recounts the last days of the Austrian Schutzbund. His listeners are carried along and raise their fists against the oppressors.
He inspired us with his great persuasive voice.
This dreamer of human happiness endured the entire Hitler nightmare until death released him.
by Simah Berger (Elbaum)
Translated by Moses Milstein
Our family was not rich, but our upbringing was. There were seven of us children. A grandmother and her son, Shloime Dales, whose father had died, also lived with us.
Life was not easy. We treated the grandmother with respect. This I can't forget. Now I understand it better, being alone in my old age. In general, everyone behaved with respect and love in this small house, where everyone had a place. On Saturdays, my father, zl, could not sit at table unless we had a guest. There were plenty of poor people coming from other towns. That was the custom.
My father was a scholar. Everyone knew R' David Elbaum from the Radziner shtibl. He would conduct din-torahs which were received with great honor but no money, even though he could have used it.
My mother, Bashe, and grandmother, Hinde Beile, did much on behalf of the poor and sick. On Thursday evening, they would bake bread and chales for the needy on Shabes even though we ourselves had very little. Friday morning, my grandmother would run around distributing the chales, although no one was to know who received them, not even we children.
Salvation in Israel
My travel to Israel did not come easily. For my religious father, it was as if I had converted. All of a sudden, here comes a girl from such a Chasidic family, and announces that she is going to a kibbutz for hachshara, because she wants to go to Eretz-Israel! It was a difficult fight. I succeeded only thanks to my uncle, Moishe Hersh Berger, who later became my father-in-law. He was in the leadership of the Zionist organizations in S. He also helped me out materially.
While in Israel, I received heartfelt letters full of woe. My father, mother, and the rest of the family envied me because the earth in Europe was burning, although no one was anticipating such devastation as occurred. Later, my relatives began to plead with me to help them come to Israel. However, I did not know how to help them while the British were in charge.
My oldest brother, Abraham, zl, graduated from the Lublin yeshiva with the title of Rav.
At the time of the German occupation, he was selected to be a member of the judenrat. I arrived in Israel in 1936, bur according to the survivors of S. who had been there during the occupation, he often put his own life in danger. At the end, when he was ordered to assemble all the Jews, including his wife and four children, in the center of town on a certain date, he went to the German commander, and out of overwhelming grief, he begged them-Shoot me!
To shoot a Jew was an easy thing for the Nazis. In full view of the whole community and his family, he was shot on the spot.
My other brother, Mordechai, baruch hashem, lives in Belgium. He was saved from Hitler's hand and survived the war in Russia.
One of my younger brothers, Moishele, conducted himself-as some children do in times of trouble-like an adult. Much was relayed to me about him.
Prior to being transported to the crematoria, in order to punish someone, they would be confined in jail-they called it the Kozeh-where they experienced pain, hunger and cold. Moishele wanted to help everybody. Fearlessly, he clambered over the high fences to bring food to the prisoners.
He was successful for a short time, until he was shot by the murderers during one such attempt.
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