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[Page 342]

Posing as Aryans in Belgium

by Ephraim Farber

Translated by Moses Milstein

A brother brought his eleven year old sister, Rivkah Bashe Messinger, (Kuten) to Belgium. At the time, Jews were looking for ways, legitimate or otherwise, to leave Poland, a country saturated with anti-Semitism. Bashe, had to abandon her life-long dream of going to Eretz Israel. It was not to be.

She had to work, from her earliest childhood, helping her brother in his store. With the passage of time, Belgium became her home. She assimilated into Belgian culture and enjoyed the same standard of living as the local population.

Growing up, she studied painting at the Brussels Art Academy, and was distinguished with the Levi-Smitt prize at an exhibition of French painters. She was also honored with an international prize.

She lived happily with her husband, Albert, but a cloud darkened her life. She had no children.

 

On the “Aryan side”

In summer, 1940, the Nazi army occupied Belgium and immediately began persecuting the Jewish population. Bashe went over to the Aryan side, and declared herself to be Christian. Her husband, Albert, a Turkish citizen, was imprisoned with other Jews of non-Belgian origin. As a Christian, she had some limited opportunity to help her brother, Moishe, and his family, as well as her interned husband.

But living as a hidden fugitive with Christians under an assumed name kept her in a continual state of anxiety and had a fatal effect on her health. In order to pass as a “kosher” Christian, she took work as a domestic servant with a Christian family. She didn't complain at having to do all the hard work, and to have to cater to the whims of her employers, or her servile conditions.

That was the price a Jewish woman had to pay to survive the bloody enemy of the Jewish people. At night, in her room, she wept quiet tears into her pillow. She knew she had to maintain control of herself and not reveal her Jewish suffering.

 

Results of abnormal conditions.

The months of mortal fear stretched on slowly. The grating songs of the marching German soldiers that could congeal the blood in your veins, entered the house. There were days of disappointment, of hopelessness and feelings of loss without a ray of hope signaling the end of the Hitler nightmare. She heard her Christian neighbors say on numerous occasions, “They deserve this for killing our Holy Jesus.”

Her face was painted-like a piece of art-with a picture of good humor, but her heart was aching with pain. The slightest change of her facial expression could betray her Jewish origins and put her life in danger.

Fortunately, only a small part of the Belgian population behaved like this. On the contrary, others distinguished themselves in condemning the Nazi persecutions. The progressive part of the population helped Jews to slip away from the murderer's axe and fought against the occupiers.

After Belgium was liberated by the Allied armies, Bashe put her ruined life together again with her husband who had returned from the camp. But the suffering of the war years took a toll on her health. She died after a long illness in Brussels.

Kiryat Yam, 1982


[Page 345]

Returning from the Red Army

by Yehuda Weinstock

Translated by Moses Milstein

In 1944, after leaving the Red Army, I came to Lublin looking for surviving Shebreshiner landsleit. On the road from Kovel to Lublin, I did not encounter any Jews.

Lublin resembled a camp. Bombs were aimed at the Nazi side. The streets were deserted. I met a few Jews and they told me of the terrible fate of the Jews of Poland.

As a soldier of the Red Army, I was invited to Peretz[1] House where there were several hundred Jews-men and women, mostly partisans of the forests, many of them from other countries who had been sent to Polish extermination camps by the Germans.

It was Hoshana Raba. The Jews erected a lectern of stone for prayers, and a Polish priest who had secreted six sefer torahs, brought them to Peretz House. All of the couple of hundred Jews began to daven and to celebrate the yom tov. I had not come to daven, and I ran around to all the rooms looking for Shebresiner.

In room number one, I saw Jews lying on the floor. A young couple who had spent the whole war hidden by a farmer lay there with injured legs, exhausted, unable to move. There were many such couples.

In the second room, I heard Jews davening and wailing. I am not frum, but it affected me. I joined them in Hoshanes. Women and men together were weeping. Tears were shed, and I was so affected, I began to weep too.

I stood a little apart and observed the group of Jews. I wondered if they were thanking God for having survived, or whether they were asking God for vengeance. I stood there thinking about my parents. If they would still have been alive, and seen me davening and crying, they would have been overjoyed that I had survived the hard battle against fascism. I thought about my beloved wife and my only son who were murdered. I felt that I would be cursed for the rest of my life.

Suddenly, I saw a familiar person who was staring at me. He had been fervently praying and weeping. I could not place him. He could not bare it any longer, and he approached me, and asked, “Are you not Yehuda Weinstock?” And I to him, “Are you not Mendl Moishe Sternfeld?”

I received no answer. Our arms reached out and we embraced. Not a word was exchanged, but we covered each other in tears. Our hearts understood that we were brothers in suffering, the suffering of the Jewish people.

Moishe Sternfeld was sent back from Russia to the Polish army. The second Shebresiner I met, Yosef Shpul, was a partisan in the forests and survived that way.

Haifa


Translator's Footnote

  1. Named after Y.L. Peretz, Yiddish writer Return


[Page 347]

In Shebreshin After the War

by Chanoch Becher

Translated by Moses Milstein

You enter the rooms where you lived with your wife and children. Every corner speaks to you of bygone happiness. But at the same time you are reminded of the suffering and the enormous, inhuman pain, that they endured before death released them. You walk on the earth saturated with the blood of your nearest and dearest, and it sears your feet like burning coal.

I am one of those who sought out our shtetl after the devastation. I would not wish even my worst enemies to undergo what I experienced.

*

Arriving from the Zamosc side nothing has changed, except for the stillness reminiscent of a cemetery. Walking through the back streets, the enormous devastation revealed itself. Everything was destroyed, as if the trees themselves had been torn out by the roots

I did not recognize the place where my parents had lived. There was nothing to remember of our old beit hamidrash. The large shul, hundreds of years old, a piece of Jewish history, visited by thousands of tourists, Jewish and Christian alike, stood desolate and destroyed.

*

There were about 3,000 Jews Jews in S. as well as those fleeing from other shtetlach, at the time of the aktions. In August, 1942, the tragedy began. The Nazis sent the first 400 Jews, packed into freight cars, to Belzec, near Tomaszew-Lubelski. There they were burned. At the same time, they took 200 old and weak Jews to the pastures, shot them and buried them in a mass grave. Afterwards, they captured 700 Jews, transported them to a camp near Chelm, and then killed them in an inhuman fashion.

Towards the end, the Nazis gathered together all the hidden Jews, brought them to the cemetery, shot them and buried them there. I was told by Christians who were involved in burying them, that some were still alive when the earth was shoveled over them.

I stood by the five mass graves, and my heart turned to stone. My wife and children lay there. My lips whispered curses on all those who murdered and helped destroy our loved ones. In their name, I swore to take vengeance.

*

On the way back from the cemetery, I determined to seek out the house I had lived in. My heart beat wildly as I approached the door. I knocked on the door.

The door was opened by a woman, Christian of course, a former resident of Broida. After saying hello, I said, “I lived here before you.” She quickly interrupted me, and hastened to say, “But there is nothing left of yours here.”

Looking around, I saw that my house was exactly as I had left it, with small changes only. The bedroom furniture was exactly the same and even stood in the same place.

My head was spinning. I was afraid that I would pass out. I sat down on my own stool, and asked for a glass of water. I rested for a few minutes and said, “Don't be afraid. I did not own this house, and the furniture is of no use to me since I am going away to Israel, to our own land, where such horrible, murderous things can't happen. I want nothing from you.”

I left the house, and S., and the blood-soaked earth of Poland, and my heart was full of pain.

*

Once in Israel, I joined the survivors of my family: five brothers, and a sister. In spite of the difficult conditions in the immigrant camp, in a tent, I recovered my strength and the will to go on living.

I was especially moved when I took part for the first time, and had the honor of opening, the Shebreshiner yorzeit in memory of the fallen.

I felt conflicting emotions at the ceremony. Should I cry from sorrow, or should I force the tears inwardly, deep into my heart and acknowledge a more profound happiness? Because, no matter how great the pain is – the loss of our loved ones, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children – my own wife and two children – there is yet a spiritual satisfaction, a deep joy in meeting the small remnant of survivors. We not only managed to remain alive, but we survived the Nazis and their collaborators.

Greater is the joy after so much suffering and pain – the partisans in the forests, those saved from the bunkers in which they hid, or from German camps, or from the wild, wasteland of Siberia where we had to work in minus 40 degree weather for 600 grams of bread as black as earth, and some watery soup. We meet in a liberated Israel, in our hard won country, as free Jewish citizens.

The joy is also greater because we see among us religious Jews, Communists, Bundists, and members of various Zionist groups. We are all gathered here united in observing the holy Yizkor event, to remember our holy, unforgettable brethren from S.

We are determined to erect a monument which will reflect for the coming generations what our landsleit have accomplished, without regard to party or affiliation, up to the war, and the suffering endured by those who died, and what the few survivors, scattered all over the world have endured.

Wrozlaw 1946 – Kiryat Bialik 1982


[Page 352]

The Belzec Camp

Translated from Polish by Ephraim Farber

Translated by Moses Milstein

The description of the Belzec camp is the last chapter of the section, “Suffering and Devastation.”

At first, in 1940, it was a work camp. Later, from the beginning of November, 1941, until the end of June, 1943, it was an extermination camp where 600,000 victims were killed, among them, most of the Jews of Shebreshin.

Belzec is located in the Zamosc region, south east of Tomaszow Lubelski. The camp was established in a forested area, and occupied an area of six hectares. The trees were cut down, and the area was encircled by three rows of barbed wire. The center of the camp was connected to the Belzec train station through a railroad siding with a ramp for the prisoners.

The building of the camp was begun in November, 1941, and ended in February, 1942. The extermination camp existed until the end of June, 1943.

The camp was divided in two sections–economic and administrative. The economic section held the barracks for personnel, other barracks for the prisoners who worked temporarily, store houses and other installations. In the center, there was an execution building with gas chambers, and graves for the victims. At the beginning, there were three gas chambers active, driven by exhaust fumes from diesel engines. Later, another couple of gas chambers was added.

The Sonderkommando Belzec, or the Dienststelle Belzec of the Waffen SS ruled over the camp. The personnel consisted of thirty SS, and 200 “strazniks”, (supervisors), under the command of the commandant. The name of the first commandant has not been established. The second, until September, 1942, was Christian Wirth. The last one was, Hauptsturmbannfuhrer Gottlieb Herring. (The first commandant, Dolf, was personally known to me as a prisoner; mentioned in the description, “In the Hell of Belzec”, p.232, E.F). The extermination program was under the leadership of A. Globocnik[1], chief of the SS, and the police in the Lublin district.

The “strazniks” carried out the functions of guards, and sorting the stolen goods. About 1000 prisoners detailed by the camp authorities to collect the clothing from the victims, and to burn the bodies helped them. These workers changed from time to time as new prisoners arrived, and the first ones were murdered.

The prisoners were brought to the camp mostly by train, and from nearer locations, by automobile. The limitations of the size of the ramp at the siding required that larger transports be divided at the train station into sections of 20 cars which continued on into the camp.

It is difficult to establish the number of transports to Belzec, because the documents could not be obtained. As well, the train documents were not saved. Sources of information include: the declarations of the train workers working at the train station; statements of the local population; documents concerning the deportations from the ghettos of the districts Kracow, Lublin, and Radom.

The first hundred people from Lubic Krolewski who built the camp were murdered in February, 1942. The train transports of prisoners continued, with some breaks, from the 15th of March until the end of November, 1942. In March and November, there were 15 transports. In the other months (with some exceptions), about 20. Each transport consisted of 40 to 60 freight cars containing from 100 to 130 people.

The prisoners were driven to the area connected to the off–loading ramp. The men were detained there. The women and children were taken to the “shatniyeh” (cloakroom) where they left their clothing, money, jewelry, and so on. Then to the barber where their hair was shorn. Then the prisoners were driven to a small courtyard separated from the camp by a tall wooden fence, and from there, to the gas chambers. When the gas chambers were full, the doors were hermetically sealed. The motors were started and after fifteen to twenty minutes, the dead bodies were dragged out through special sliding doors to the small tram that led to the mass graves.

All the bodies were subjected to a “dental examination” in order to extract any gold dental work.

From among the men left at the arrival place, they chose the young and strong for work in the camp. The remaining men were driven to the barracks where the women and children had been undressed previously. The clothing and monetary possessions from the victims were later taken out of the camp, near the station, and there they were sorted and prepared for shipment. The children were used to tie the shoes together in pairs. Sick and crippled prisoners were forced to walk into the gas chambers on their own.

The bodies of the victims were buried in long graves that were prepared as anti–tank barriers when the war with Russia began.

In October, 1942, they began to burn the piles of bodies from the arriving transports, as well as those previously buried. The incineration of the bodies continued without cease until spring, 1943.

With time, they dismantled certain installations and destroyed the gas chambers. The area was cleared and reforested. The last prisoners who were used to liquidate the camp were sent to the Sobibor extermination camp.

Over 550,000 Polish citizens of Jewish origin were sent to the Belzec extermination camp, of whom around 300,000 were from Galicia, and from Jewish populations in Soviet Russia, Austria, Holland, Germany, Norway, Romania, and Hungary.

Christian Poles were brought from nearby areas and from Lemberg, mostly for helping Jews, or for belonging to opposition organizations.

*

About 600,000 people were annihilated in Belzec. Those who carried out the crimes were not punished. For example, seven criminals–onetime members of the camp personnel–were not punished by West Germany, which, in 1965, recognized that they acted “at the command of Germany's greater needs.”

At the site of the camp, a monument has been erected upon which it is written, “The memorial to the 600,000 victims of Hitler's extermination camp Belzec, murdered in the years 1942–1943.”


Translator's Footnote

  1. Odilo Globocnik Return

 

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