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[Page 266]

From the Bundles of Testimonies[1]

Yonah… Born in the year 1928 in the city of Turka, distinct of Sambor in eastern Galicia, where he lived until the end of August 1942, tells:

… Our town Turka on the Stryj River is situation 25 kilometers from the Hungarian border. When our situation worsened to an unbearable point, the Germans shot and murdered without any break, and the poverty and lack grew to such a point that many Jews died of hunger - Father told me that all options are closed, and commanded me to sneak across the border and escape to Hungary.

I recall very well when the Germans did to the Jews in our town from that Tuesday, July 1, 1941, about a week after the beginning of the war with the Bolsheviks… Our food situation worsened. The Ukrainian farmers, who had been growing wealthier, brazenly demanded inflated prices for every small item. All Jewish businesses were closed. It was forbidden for the Jews to do business with anything - everything was in the hands of the Ukrainian cooperatives. They even expropriated the houses of the Jews and removed them from their hands. Any Jew who still had money, hidden merchandise, or household objects in his house could still purchase something. Everyone else literally died of hunger.

… Every Jew had a food card of the German authorities. According of the plan, every individual was supposed to receive nine dekagrams of bread per day. However, the Germans did not want to give the Jews any flour at all. The Judenrat had its own bakery and a cooperative store to distribute provisions. However, for the most part, they were not able to distribute to everyone - aside for the 100 to 200 forced laborers - other than twice a week. It was a holiday for all of us in the town when we found out that the Judenrat had received flour for the bakery.

At the beginning of the winter of 1941, the Germans still distributed half a metric measure of potatoes (50 kilograms per person). When the potatoes were used up, the hunger was terrible. I saw our neighbor Meir Ch., who owned a large house and had been very wealthy before the war, eating potato peels with his family. This is what everyone did: They would first rinse the peels well in water and cook them in salt. Then they would grind a bit of oats with a hand grinder, mix the oat flour with the peels, and make a type of edible wafer from the mixture. In the home of another neighbor, Leizer T., a builder and a monument engraver, they would eat grass. There were seven small children in his house, the oldest of whom, David, was my friend.

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I would help him cut that grass, called “Lavada,” a cattle food. My friend David's mother would cook a pot of grass each day in a large washing basin. She would prepare a type of patty from the cooked grass, like spinach. Eating grass affected the bodies of the children of our neighbor in a terrible fashion. Other Jews died from this reason. At Passover time, we would have four or five funerals a day - almost all of people who died of hunger.

*

Immediately, tribulations worse than these fell upon our heads, until we forgot even the hunger with everything that was happening. The German authorities were approaching. The men of the border guard moved to the border village of Sianki after having camped for four or five months in our town; and an entire group of 15-20 German gendarmes settled with us. Their commander was Feldfevel Strottman, and his deputy was Corporal Shlaumilch, who was more evil than the commander himself. In the meantime, a new command of the assisting Ukrainian police arrived from Stryj, whose name was Vanchun. He too tried to torment the Jews in any way that he could. The Judenrat was forced by the authorities to set up a cafeteria in the communal building. Any German or Ukrainian who came to visit Turka was to be provided with all his needs. Even when the head of the Gestapo of Drohobycz, Uber-Lieutenant Ginter, came to town for an inspection, he would take his meals at the Judenrat, and they would get drunk and boisterous there. They would order and force them to bring them the best and most expensive that they had: Hungarian liqueurs, champagne, sardines, and the like. After they had drunk to the point of inebriation, they would go out to the street and beat Jews. That Gestapo head Ginter would come to Turka often to visit his mistress, a Polish girl named Wanda. It was rumored that he would say that all the Jews must hide in their houses when he would come to town, for he could not tolerate the appearance of a Jew on the street, he would extort a great deal of gifts from the Jews, and his mistress would receive the finest of gifts.

On one occasion in the winter, at the end of December 1941, the Gestapo head along with a group of 30-40 sturmeisters came to town, and a command was issued that all the Jews had to give over their furs to the German Army, which was fighting on the Russian front. Fur clothing, hats, gloves, scarves, and even felt boots were included in this edict, in a way that no fur products would remain in the hands of any Jews, even if its size was only one centimeter. Ten Jews, including several members of the Judenrat, were imprisoned as hostages to ensure that all fur products, up to the last hand band, was given over. This activity lasted for about a week, and more than 1,000 fur products were collected

[Page 268]

at the Judenrat. There were Jewish fur merchants, and they had to give over all of the merchandise that they had. Many Jews who gave over their winter coats froze from cold due to the lack of warm clothing. When this activity was finished, the Gestapo leaders chose the best of the furs for their wives, and sent off the rest of the collection.

*

… Thus did matters go until the first slaughter, called an aktion by the Germans, was perpetrated. This took place on Wednesday, January 8, 1942. First, the Gestapo men, headed by Ginter and Krauze, came to the Judenrat building, gorged themselves with the best foods and drinks at the community cafeteria, got drunk to the point of boisterousness, and then informed them that an order had come from Krakow regarding an aktion in Turka. They did not prepare a list of names. Rather, anyone who crossed their paths on the street would be snatched and placed in prison. In this manner, about 400 Jews - men, women, and children - were brought in. The next day, Thursday, January 9, all of the imprisoned Jews were loaded on transport trucks in groups of 25, and dispatched to a field outside the city known as “Na-Lipach.” There, every group was shot dead. As one group lay dead, another group was brought, until all 400 Jews had been shot. Only two people survived by miracle. One was Sarah N., a butcher. She later described how the event unfolded. When they pushed them out of the transport trucks, she saw an open pit nearby with a pile of corpses, who had been shot. She immediately understood what had happened, and she jumped into the open pit. The German gendarmes were so busy with the killing that nobody realized this. As she lay in the pit, she heard a succession of shots, and then the corpses were tossed into the pit. After the deed, the Germans were too busy or too lazy to cover the pit with earth, so they only covered it with boards. A miracle happened to that woman, had she succeeded in crawling out of the pit. They later nicknamed her, “The dead one.” The second person who survived was a 15-year-old boy, Chaim Sh. He was an orphan who was raised in the home of his Uncle Kalman. He was one of the last to be shot. It was already dark, and the Germans did not realize that he had only been injured in his ear by a passing bullet, and that he was still alive. It was a few days until the pit was covered with earth, for the Jews were afraid to go to the grave. I still remember the names of several of the victims of this killing. The rabbi of Vanovichi who was more than 80 years old; my friend from public school, Yehoshua Longenor, 16 years old; Fani Artel, a wealthy woman, the wife and daughter of the pharmacist Monash. It was said that

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the Germans wanted to free the 17-year-old daughter of the pharmacist, Arika Monash, but she refused to part from her mother, and they were both shot.

*

After a few months - perhaps two weeks after Shavuot (June 1942) - the Gestapo perpetrated the “delegation of punishers” in our district. In the village of Sianki, literally on the border, 62 Jews were shot, and 100 Jews of our own of Turka were captured to be shot. This time, the Gestapo already had prepared a complete list of those taken to death. The Gestapo Lieutenant Krauze headed that aktion. The victims included: Judenrat member Berish Loberbaum, the militia man Goldberg, the lawyer Dr. Freundrich, and Mrs. Eigler and her two children. At first hey also arrested the Uberman (chairman) of the Judenrat Yehoshua Nachman Meiner but they freed him at the last minute. For some reason, the story of the delegation of punishers became known. At the Sianki border point, a group of Jewish forced laborers from Hungary, called “ Munka Tábor” in Hungary, were camped, working on the paving of the road next to the border. They were housed in barracks over the German border. When the Jews of Hungary found out about the terrible poverty in which the Jews of Galicia found themselves, they asked their director, a Christian Hungarian captain, to give permission to the forced laborers under his command to share their bread with the starving Jews in the village of Sianki. The Jews in the Hungarian work battalions were treated much better than those in the German labor camps. They were given bread and good food, the work was easier, and they were given the entire day of Sunday off work. The commander Hamyor had mercy on the Jews and averted his eyes from the people helping each other. Each day, 500 forced laborers would leave behind a portion of their food allotment in the kitchen of the barracks (they had decided to leave over 1/3 of their bread allotment), and Jews from the village of Sianki and neighboring villages - men, women, and children - would come every evening to benefit from the taste of nourishing porridge. This continued for several weeks. The organizer of the assistance activity was one of the Hungarian Jewish forced laborers from Chust. When the Gestapo found out about this, they sent the delegation of punishers, and shot to death 65 Jews.

Translator's Footnote:
  1. There is a footnote at the bottom of page 266, as follows: The article was published in the “Knesset” anthology, published by Mossad Bialik, 5703-5704 (1943-1944). Return


[Page 270]

In the Holocaust

by Esther Brand (nee Longenor) of Kiryat Bialik

Uncaptioned. Esther Brand

 

A memorial candle to my mother Kreinchi Longenor, nee Kleist, my sister Rozia, and my brothers Yehoshua and Shlomo, may G-d avenge their blood.

As is known to the world, the Holocaust did not fall upon the Jews of Turka and its area at one time. It was preceded by daily fear, hunger, physical and spiritual suffering, and persecution by the Ukrainian population - to the point of the loss of the image of G-d. The aktions that were perpetrated in our city left a deep wound on every family. They diminished the Jewish community, which was eventually deported to the Sambor Ghetto in the name of the “final solution.”

The Germans captured Turka at the beginning of July 1941. As in all cities, the first task was the appointment of the Judenrat, through which the edicts would be transmitted to the Jews of the city. The city notables, such as Yehoshua Erdman, Yehoshua Nachman Meiner, Elimelech Wizner, and others belonged to it. The first edict was that a white patch with a blue Star of David must be worn on the right arm. Now, a Jew would be noticed from afar. Failure to follow the edict was punishable by death. Later, everyone had to turn in their furs. Whoever left a full fur in his house would pay with his life. A few more weeks passed, and we were forced to turn in our gold objects, including wedding rings. Indeed, we became accustomed to such orders, and did not oppose them. We prayed to G-d that the situation would not worsen.

 

The First Aktion

January 7, 1942 arrived. It was the height of winter. My brother Yehoshua went out to stroll on the street with his friend Mendel. Not far from the Judenrat building, they saw Germans

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arresting Jews and hauling them to the Ukrainian police station. They entered the Judenrat building, hoping to find a safe hiding place there. However, immediately upon entering, my brother was told to join Avraham Barth, who was already there at that time, to go out to work, since the Germans needed two workers to unload a shipment of kerosene barrels from the wagons and take them to the cellar. The request came from the head of the Ordnunsdienst, Elimelech Meiner. My brother pleaded before him and said that he saw with his own eyes that the Germans were capturing Jews and taking them to the police station. Elimelech Meiner urged them and promised that nothing bad would happen to them, since he himself would accompany them and take full responsibility for them. The three of them went out to do the work, but only the responsible person Elimelech Meiner returned from there… My brother Yehoshua and Avraham Barth never returned. They were shot along with 500 Jews by the brick kiln (Cygalnia). They succeeded in working with the Germans until noon. On the way home, they met a Ukrainian policeman who hauled them to the Gestapo. Their pleas and requests were to no avail. Elimelech Menier, who begged for his own life, was freed. This was the first aktion in the city of Turka. It left behind many orphans and widows, and sowed fear and death amongst the survivors. The death of my brother left a deep wound in our family. He was among the first victims in our city, and he was 15 years old at the time. May G-d avenge his blood.

We did not only lose my brother in this aktion. My grandfather Moshe Leib Kleist, my grandmother Gittel Kleist, and my mother's sister Chava Kleist were among these victims. Whoever thought that the Germans satisfied themselves with shooting alone is mistaken. They and their Ukrainian helpers beat the victims with sticks until blood flowed before they carried out what they had planned. I heard the details from my mother of blessed memory, who was caught up in that aktion and survived by a miracle. She returned home at 3:00 a.m. all confounded, to the point where she could not utter a word. When she calmed down, she told us how the policemen gathered the Jews in the police warehouse in Artel's building. Most of those gathered were elderly men and women who were beaten with rubber batons before being forced into the warehouse. My grandfather protected my mother with his body, and endured merciless beatings. She told us how the rabbi of Vanovichi was brought into the warehouse with beatings. A Gestapo man approached him, put a gun to his nose, and said, “Smell this and pray to your G-d to help you.” He continued beating him without stopping. The rabbi was silent. Everyone was ordered to sing Russian songs. “A Jewish Communa,” shouted the Gestapo men, and anyone who did not sing was beaten. In the meantime, groups were taken to the upper storey. There, everyone endured a body search and a classification. My mother was among the few who were sent home. She had indeed endured a search, but they did not find anything with her, even though she had several hundred marks in her stocking. As was customary, every Jew carried the majority of his property on his body. On the third day of the aktion

[Page 272]

they loaded all the Jews on vehicles and covered them with tarpaulin. Ukrainian policemen sat on the tarpaulins, singing jolly songs. In this manner, approximately 500 Jews were taken behind the brickyard and killed with shots. They were buried in two large graves. The fear of death overtook us. We did not leave our house for a few weeks.

*

After these things, the Judenrat transmitted an edict from the authorities to us, that every Jew was obligated to work and carry a certificate stating their work location (arbeitsausviza). Everyone attempted to find work. Young people found work in the quarry that belonged to the German firm “Hess Brothers of Breslau.” The work was backbreaking, and lasted from 5:00 a.m. until late at night. My mother's four brothers, Yosef, Yisrael, Shlomo, and Shmuel worked in this quarry.

 

Another Aktion!

Days and weeks passed in this manner until August 2, 1942 arrived. We were awakened at 5:00 a.m. by a noise. The noise was the screaming of Jews who were being hauled away in open vehicles, as the Germans were beating them over the head with the butts of their rifles. At 5:30, Jews from the ordnunsdienst passed through the city and declared in a loud voice that everyone must present themselves at the railway station at 7:00 a.m. to be transferred to a different city. Each person was permitted to take up to 20 kilograms of luggage; therefore it was recommended to take only the most valuable belongings. Our family decided to not follow this edict, but rather to go up to the hiding place in the attic. This hiding place was constructed with great care by my younger brother Shlomo of blessed memory, who was only ten years old at the time. My aunt Lipsha Kirshner, her husband Yosef Ber and their six-year-old son Aharon, who had escaped from the village of Bukla out of fear of the Ukrainians, were with us in our house at the time. Also with us were my aunt Manya Kleist, with her four-year-old son Salek and 6-month-old baby Benek. The Artel and Stern families also joined us. This group of approximately 20 people went up to our hiding place. We brought the ladder inside, and closed the cover, which appeared as an extension of the wall, behind us. We waited for what would come. We lay quietly for three days and three nights. Throughout this time, the Germans brought hundreds of Jews to the railway station. The trains, loaded with men, women and children, departed from the station twice a day. In accordance with the command of the Gestapo, the men of the ordnunsdienst removed all the furnishings and kitchen utensils form the abandoned houses and the synagogue. Jews who succeeded in avoiding the aktion returned to their houses, finding them

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completely empty. On our third day in the hiding place, we went down to our dwelling to stock up on food. My task was to look through the window and inform everyone of any suspicious movement. My mother had just managed to light the oven when I noticed our Polish neighbor Drangowiec bringing two Gestapo men in our direction. We left the oven lit, along with all the preparations, and jumped back to our hiding place. We brought the ladder in and closed the door behind us. My aunt gagged her baby so that he would not utter a sound. We lay quietly and listed to the footsteps of the Gestapo men. They searched in every corner, felt every board and plank, and finally left our house in a huff, spewing curses: “ Verfluchte Juden” (damned Jews).

We heard the whistle of the train. This was the final shipment. The aktion concluded. To where did they take the 4,000 of Turka? The Judenrat paid two Christians to follow after the train. They returned and informed them that the final destination of the train was Belzec.

 

New Aktions

Few people remained in the city of Turka. The Germans promised the Judenrat that nothing bad would happen to those that remained, on the condition that every Jew would work. They kept their promise for only two months. On a Saturday in the middle of October, the Germans gathered the Jews from their workplaces and transferred them to a train destined to Belzec. At the end of October, another aktion took place, organized by the Ukrainian policemen. They passed through the roads of Turka in vehicles, and when they saw a Jew, they stopped the vehicle and brought the Jew inside. They commanded him to lie down, so that nobody would figure out what was taking place. Children were also taken from the yards as they were playing. They snatched them by their arms or legs and tossed them into the vehicles like balls. They were all shot in the suburbs of the city. I recall that Avraham Loberbaum and the lawyer Freundrich were among the victims. During the aktion, I was with my mother on the street, and we did not succeed in reaching home. We fled to the cemetery and hid among the gravestones. We were jealous of the dead who were lying in peace, not feeling anything.

*

At the beginning of November 1942, an additional aktion was perpetrated by Jews who were members of the ordunsdienst from the city of Sambor. Apparently, Sambor had not succeeded in collecting enough Jews, so they received permission from the Judenrat of Turka to fill their quota. At 2:00 a.m., they passed through the houses with a list prepared by the Judenrat. They gathered the Jews in the

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Ukrainian police building, and transferred them to the railway cars in the morning. Noise from the neighboring houses woke us up during the night. We did not suspect an aktion; however we instinctively grabbed blankets and ascended to the hiding place. There were six of us in the hiding place at that time: my mother, my sister, my brother, Henia Shreiber, and Mrs. Steininger who lived with us after they lost there families, and I. We did not have enough time to inform the other residents of the house, and they remained in their dwellings. My uncle Yosef knocked two members of the ordnunsdienst to the ground and succeeded in escaping to the fields. My aunt Manya Kleist, her son Salek and her baby found a hiding place in their dwelling. They were discovered and taken to the Ukrainian police. They beat the six-year-old Salek cruelly to urge him to disclose the hiding place of our family. The child did not give in. At 6:00 a.m., they were all on the trains. Before the train set out, they came to us for the fourth time that night. According to the list, they were certain that we were somewhere in the house. They ascended to the attic, knocked on every plank with sticks, went down, came up again, and eventually left the house. We heard them saying that if they did not find us, nobody would. The Angel of Death passed over us that time as well.

*

Several days passed, and announcements were posted in the outskirts of the city of Turka that on December 1, 1942 at 8:00 a.m., every Jew of Turka and its area must be at the railway station. The train would take them to the Sambor Ghetto. Any Christian who would dare hide a Jew would be liable to the death penalty along with his family. This was the final phase before Turka would be judenrein. There were some Jews, especially young ones, who prepared to go out to the forests. The preparations had begun a half a year earlier. These lads worked in the quarry during the day, and in preparing bunkers in the forests, transferring food and acquiring weapons, which were very hard to find at that time, at night. My mother's brothers were among them. My mother, tired from all the tribulations, decided to go to the ghetto…

At 8:00 a.m. on December 1, 1942, the train laden with Jews, including the Judenrat, departed for the Sambor Ghetto. The Jews were weary and broken in body and soul. Several Jewish families remained at the recommendation of the Germans. These were professionals who were needed by the Germans. These included the Zeiman family, tailors; the watchmaker Wind and his family; and the shoemaker Zeifert and his family. However, they too were shot at the time of the liquidation of the Sambor Ghetto.

Thus was the Jewish voice silenced in the city of Turka.


[Page 275]

In the Atrocities of the Times

by Dr. A. Hamermash of Ramataim

We knew that difficult years lay ahead of us, but we never would have imagined that things would come to such an all-encompassing Holocaust.

During the first days, the Germans snatched Jews for work. They were barely given any food. Later, an edict was issued for Jews to give over all valuables that they owned: gold, silver, and diamonds. The Jews gave over everything to save their lives.

It was the winter of 1942 - a January month in the Carpathian winter. An edict was issued by the Judenrat to give over anything called a fur for the brave soldiers at the front. Of course, everyone ran around in fear, hurriedly giving over all the furs.

One clear day there were rumors… The Jews had violated an edict, and the punishment was to come. Thus, one day toward evening, a panic broke out: they were capturing Jews. The first victim was V. B. Rozen. Everyone ran away, especially the men, for it seemed to be directed at them. I lived with Mr. Avraham Fieler, and next to him was his brother Leib Feiler. His son-in-law Mr. Rozen, A. Fieler and I escaped in the direction of Borinya. We reached Lipa with difficulty due to the snow and ice. Rabbi Youlis was already there in a small, poor house. We waited for news. After a brief time, a messenger arrived with a warm coat for the rabbi, along with the advice to not remain there, but rather to proceed in the direction of Jablonka. The messenger told us that they were capturing Jews in Turka, especially men, and bringing them to the prison in the police yard.

Mr. Feiler and I were very worried about our families, so we decided to return to Turka. My wife Helena Hamermash (nee Rosenberg) was in her final months of pregnancy. Along the way, a wagon appeared before us, with uniformed Germans inside. We succeeded in jumping into a sewer at the last moment, and they did not see us… We were saved by a miracle.

We arrived home with great difficulty. In the meantime, the matter was clarified completely: Jews were brought to the police station and were beaten with deathly blows. Mr. Feiler decided to hide in a certain pit that had been somewhat cleaned, and I remained with my wife.

We were awake all night. We were not daring enough to put on a light. Around, there were screams and wails. In the morning, we found out the details: at night, they continued to capture Jews and take them to the police. Then,

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we saw the police approaching the house of A. Fieler, on the street that leads to the railway station. Without giving any thought, Leib Feiler, his brother-in-law, Rozen's daughter and I jumped into the cellar. My wife managed to toss something onto the entrance of the cellar so that they would not see its cracks… Suddenly, there were screams above us… Our blood froze in our veins. What happened there? Perhaps they kicked my wife's stomach or captured people from the Feiler or Pikholtz families. We waited and waited… After approximately a half an hour, they took us out of the cellar. We found out that they had been searching for me and Mr. Feiler. They needed us to fill the Gestapo quota… My wife said that the doctor (referring to me) went to a sick patient, and Leib went to work. Having no other choice, they took the old woman, Mrs. Pikholtz, a semi-paralyzed woman. The screams were from her. They also took the daughter of Rabbi Youlis. Mr. Breuer, a member of the Judenrat, came to us secretly and told us that the quota had already been filled. There is already a surplus…

Suddenly, we saw a passing truck filled with naked people covered only with a tarpaulin. It was headed toward Jablonka. Toward evening we already found out that the captured people had been taken to the brick kiln on the route to Jablonka, where a pit had been prepared. The people were killed with volleys of shots and covered with pitch. The earth was still quaking on top of them… Two people were saved by entering the brick kiln: Mr. Chechkes and Mrs. Nistel.

*

My wife went into labor. We were faced with the choice of giving birth at home with the possibility of complications or going to the hospital. Toward morning on January 9, 192, we set out in the direction of the hospital… Along the way, we found German soldiers who displayed indifference because they had too much “work,” and they allowed us to pass. Toward evening, a son was born to us.

In the meantime, the tally of the aktion became known: 800 Jews, from among the most honorable, had been buried in the pit. A sign was placed atop the mass grave: “Here are found the Communists from the city of Turka.” Indeed, a completed job.

*

This was only the beginning. Life continued on somehow. The poverty increased, and there was no bread. The Judenrat faced massive and increasing demands from the Germans…. People died sitting down, lying down, or standing… The dead were fortunate - for them, everything was finished.

It was the summer of 1942, a Sunday in July. The infirmary (“Jewish Polyclinic”) in which I worked was located in the house of Nachman Meiner next to the Judenrat, close to the cemetery.

[Page 277]

There were rumors once again. As usual, the Judenrat did not know any details. In the meantime, our comrade Dr. Philip Schechter of Krakow, a refugee like me, died. We concerned ourselves with arranging the burial and waited for the wagon with the deceased.

It was 10:00 a.m. I set out for the main street. A child said to me, “Doctor, do not go - they are capturing Jews, the Gestapo is in the city!” If a child speaks, one must listen! I returned to the infirmary. A wagon appeared with a coffin and the deceased, but without a wagon driver. The wagon driver had been captured by the Gestapo along the way… Next to the wagon was Mrs. Schechter, wearing black. She was not dressed as a Jewess… Everyone escaped, and there was nobody to take care of the burial. The only one who volunteered to do so was Yisrael Avraham Kraus. He arranged everything, including the preparation of the body, the preparation of shrouds, the digging of the grave, and the arranging of the burial in accordance with law and custom.

The cemetery was located on a hill. From atop the hill, one could see frightful panoramas as if on the palm of the hand: Jews were being loaded onto trucks. There was fear and trembling. I somehow managed to reach home along the path near the river, and between the alleyways. I found my wife filled with worry and concern.

*

 

Continuing…

At the end of July, I was sent to Wysocko to inoculate Jewish children against smallpox… The Germans were concerned about the health of the Jewish children… However, it quickly became clear that this was merely a cover for the next aktion, which was not long in coming…

It was the beginning of August 1942. All the Jews of Turka and the area were being gathered in an area near the sawmill. Rumors were circulating that only Jews who possessed a work certificate for some enterprise would be saved this time. The gentiles took advantage of the situation and sold work certificates in exchange for large sums of money. Only very few people had the money…

It was the morning of August 5. My neighbors awakened me, “Doctor, they are capturing Jews!” They were being taken in the direction of the railway station that was near our house. My wife's parents were also in our house, hiding in a camouflaged room. I went out to the main street to find out what was happening. The gendarme commander noticed me from afar and shouted, “Halt!” Shots began. I managed to arrive home through a side route. At that time, I was living with a gentile. He placed a cross on the window and answered to any gendarme that was passing by, “Ukrainians live here.” This saved me that time. The next time, the gentile was not prepared to endanger himself anymore. We sat and waited in silence.

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We no longer dared to burn fire in the oven to cook food for the baby. In our house, there was another child whom we had gathered from the street. There were shots and screams in the area. My father-in-law hid in the garden; my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law in the cellar. Suddenly there was screaming. They took out my mother in-law and her daughters from the cellar… They were taking them in the direction of the train…

It was evening. The screams died down. I went out to verify the situation. Suddenly, the well-known Ukrainian slanderer Matkovski appeared between the rows of houses on Cokrowa Street accompanied by a German soldier. I began to give an excuse why my family and I did not go to the aktion. The German soldier was weary of blood and atrocities, but Matkovski pressured him - and they went toward my house. My wife managed to jump out the window. The baby was in the cradle. The slaughterer took out a revolver and was about to shoot him. With the aid of a gold watch, I convinced him with difficulty to not do so, and I promised to present myself with my wife and child at the next aktion

*

Aside from the quarry workers, a handful of Jews remained in the town to perform the cleanup work after the aktion. I had to concern myself with bread and a work permit. My wife and the baby were hiding in the cellar - they no longer had the right to exist… I received a work permit as the physician of the quarry. However, at the first opportunity, a young priest from Jablonka approached me and warned me that the entire new order was nothing more than a blindfold, and that I must make efforts to escape to Hungary.

Easy to say, but hard to carry out…

Sianki

 


[Page 279]

A Young Man in a Nazi Work Camp
-- A Record of Events

by Shalom Braier, Bat Yam

Uncaptioned: Shalom Braier

 

The Camp

It was in the Kostopol[1] Camp. The entrance to the camp was on a side street on the eastern side of the city, and was accessed through a short alleyway. The building of the Ukrainian police was on one side of the alleyway, and the building of the German military command on the other side. The central building of the camp was large, with four stories and three entrances. A river flowed on both sides of the building, and there was a sparse forest on the other side of the river. On the south side of the building, there was a concrete fence, with a four meter high wire fence on top. On the north side, however, there was a regular wooden fence, connected with the field latrines, which border on a tall cliff. The railway tracks were located on the other side of this fence, at a distance of 8-10 meters. They cross the river over a tall bridge. On the other side of the tracks there was a large wheat field, beyond which was the road that leads to Janowa and Dolina.

 

People and Their Work

Jews from near and far were concentrated into the camp. There were Jews such as me whom the Germans captured in Volhyn, to where they had been brought previously by the Russians. There were Jews from the area: from Berezany, Stepan, Kostopol, and even from Rowno. However, there were also Jews from Warsaw who had escaped to Russia and were captured by the Germans as they attempted to return to their homes…

Most of the people of the camp were middle aged. There were few youths. We were divided daily into work groups, in accordance with the needs of the various German divisions. There were certain permanent work divisions, such as the group that worked at loading blocks of wood at the railway station.

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These blocks were 15 meters long and used for building bridges. This group was guarded by 15 Germans. Another group worked for Reichskommissar Ginter, may his name be blotted out, building a pool for his wife who was about to arrive in the district. The luck of the people of this group was poor. A spring flowed out from the place designated from the pool. They had to draw the water away and pave the area with the gravestones from the Jewish cemetery. There were various other groups.

I was not interested in any special type of work. My sole desire was to work together with my father of blessed memory, who was also in the camp. I worked for a time for Ginter, where one workday seemed like an entire month.

At 6:00 a.m. we received a cup of “coffee.” We then arranged ourselves for roll call, from where the Jewish guards would take us to our work places. There, we were received by the Ukrainian or German guards who were responsible for us. After various attempts, I succeeded in joining the group in which my father worked, numbering 40 “Juden”. We worked for a German engineering group. The command language for issuing work orders was… shots above our heads. The work, which was carried out with incessant fear, was loading large wooden boards at the Mokvyn train station to be sent to the front.

One rainy day as I was loading the wood, I could not reach the appropriate height. My hand let go of the board, and I began to return to my place. I suddenly heard the German shout “Achtung” (a warning call). The board was also too much for the other weakened Jews, and it began to tumble downward. I was not able to escape, but I was able to jump high at the last moment. The board passed beneath me and I remained alive…

At that moment, the angry German foreman appeared before me. I generally wanted to avoid his attention for an entirely different reason: I had once worked at an entirely different place under his supervision as a “Ukrainian” lad. At the urging of my father, the Ukrainian foreman agreed to take me on as a wagon driver at the work place, where I excelled greatly. At this point, I did not want him to recognize at my present work place…

The German came to me… “Are you a Jew?” he asked with great astonishment, “are you not the good wagon driver… Why did you not tell me previously that you were a Jew?...” I took my life in my hands and answered, “Had you known the truth, you would have killed me a long time ago, when the person in charge of the forest first met me.” His answer was not long in coming, “Right, you are correct…”

[Page 281]

 

Why We Did Not Rebel…

Incidentally. I will not rehash everything that happened to me when I worked with the aforementioned forest supervisor, on my expertise as a wagon driver, on my ability to hitch up and take control over wild horses that had never previously been harnessed. I served as a translator between the Germans and the Ukrainians. An incident took place to me there that will allow me to answer and explain the eternal question: “Why did we not rise up against the Germans and go as sheep to the slaughter?” This is what took place: One evening, I approached a Ukrainian village with a German. The German turned to the head of the group, responsible for ten people, telling them that they must go out to cut down trees. I translated their words. The head of the division responded, “We do not have any time now, for we are busy tilling our soil.” The German response was a volley of machine gun fire that pulverized the Ukrainian. There were about 50-60 gentiles around us, and I began to tremble with fear. I searched for a way to escape. However, the entire crowd did not move – they were afraid to touch a German…

 

Exceptional Germans

There were German work directors who related to us properly and with secret appreciation. Aside from the aforementioned German who asked me why I did not tell him that I was a Jew, and who later frequently related to me at various opportunities with mercy, and who even scolded others who behaved cruelly to me; there was another German there, called Kurt, who even told us that we would be soon taken out to be killed. We did not believe him… He offered us weapons and advised us to flee. Even during the work he did not shoot over our heads, but did show himself as shouting at us…

A small amount of weapons were smuggled into the camp. I did not know all the details, for I was a “minor”. These weapons were given to my father and Yaakov Lerer, for we all wanted to take a stand and believed that we may be able to pass through the times in peace – “for the Germans need us to work for them...” We received a daily ration of 1½ kilograms of bread for eight people, and water without restriction… We waited for salvation. However, that is not how things worked out.

 

Signs of Bad Tidings

This took place in the month of Elul, 1942. We returned in a group from harvesting in the large plains. My father, who was known as an excellent worker, was there. He was revered for this by the gentile work directors to the point that they gave us permission to go to the

[Page 282]

nearby village to seek food. When we returned in the evening, we saw many S.S. men on the road leading to the ghetto and the camp. I turned to my father, “I do not like this; they have come to liquidate us.” My father, as was usual under such circumstances, was silent and did not answer. “Stand – Who are you?!” The Judenrat guard who was accompanying the S.S. responded, “They are returning to the camp after work.” They asked us a few questions and allowed us to pass.

When we arrived at the camp kitchen, I sensed the electric atmosphere. We recognized signs of bad tidings. This started in the kitchen, which gave us a relatively good soup that time, containing 6-8 broad noodles, and continued with the continuous arranging of people. Everything hinted to tension. Then the head of the Judenrat appeared and said, “Do not heed the rumors, for I am promising you peace and quiet. Not one hair of your head will be harmed.” Nobody believed him. We were arranged in rows of three, and we set out to the other side of the camp, located on the other side of the city. As we passed through the main road, I noticed many strange glances from the windows of the houses, some of pity and others of curiosity. Everything foreshadowed the end. My heart told me that I must escape immediately.

 

Death From the Windows

We entered the camp, where other Jews who had retuned earlier were waiting for us. They asked us about the situation – but who was able to give an answer? We felt only that our end was approaching. We could feel it with our hands…

I then clearly saw how they are placing us into a long, wide grave with steps that lead to the World of Truth. I very much did not want to go there before at least bidding farewell to my mother… And behold, my mother was informed of my death, and I saw in my imagination how she was weeping over our bitter fate…

Night fell in the camp and I lay down. I was awake and not sleeping. Then I saw that my Father was speaking with Chaim Gross and Yaakov Lerer of Rarnowa, as well as with Itzi the brave man, one of the refugees from Warsaw, his friend Martin the eternal pessimist, and several other of his friends. I got up, approached Father and told him, sort of quietly and sort of loudly, “Come, let us cross the river and sleep in the forest. If it is quiet here at night, we will return to the camp early in the morning.” As I was speaking, a delegation of two Jewish policemen appeared. They turned directly to Father: “Mr. Braier, the Jewish police requests that you do not foment revolt among the community. It will be quiet, and there must be quiet, because if anyone is missing from the night roll call, other innocent people will be killed on your account…”

[Page 283]

The words were spoken with simplicity, and of course, they influenced my father to refrain from escaping. I did not want to move without him. I entered our sleeping quarters, which contained 50-60 two story beds, and I lay down. I did not remove my shoes. I only tied the laces around them, so I could remove them quickly if I needed to grab hold of a tree, or for some other reason. At 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., I heard the voice of Shlomo Katz, “I hear German commands from the ghetto. I smell the odor of burning!” I jumped quickly outside through the window. People were running outside, but complete silence pervaded. I once again met my father and once again urged him that we should escape. However, he stood his own, “We are not escaping now.”

 

“Jews, We Are Being Destroyed!...”

We returned to the building. I calmed down a bit, and apparently a light sleep overtook me. Then I heard the voice of Martin, “Jews, we are surrounded, Jews we are being destroyed.” I attempted to jump out of the window as before, but a shot awaited me… It was the same at the second window… Ukrainians began to break in and chase people outside… I jumped into the heating chimney and from there I heard that my father had already been chased out. I decided to join him and be killed together with him. When I exited the corridor, I saw that they were beating people with rubber batons, so I decided to flee to the cellar. There, I noticed that 8 – 10 people had already preceded me. As they were objecting to my joining them lest they be revealed because of me, a Ukrainian guard came down the cellar, and lit it up by setting a flea-infested mattress on fire. However, one of the group jumped upon him with an iron bar that had been there, apparently, from the time of the Polish army. The guard remained there… I ran through another room, and with great difficulty, I reached a ground-level window. I went outside and joined the entire crowd. I decided to shout loudly, “Father, Father!” until someone told me that he had seen him in the other side of the crowd in the camp. I could not reach him due to the large volleys of cross-fire that were being shot by the Germans from all sides of the crowd, so that they would not escape. The noise and shouting was great. Jews were running around without pants or anything to cover their nakedness. I shouted incessantly, “Jews, escape!” Then someone lifted me and threw me behind – my father! I fell upon his neck and we kissed farewell kisses. My father held me with his hands between the other friends who were all holding hands. I saw Yitzchak, one of the refugees from Warsaw, Yaakov Lerer, Chaim Gross, Meir Fuchs, and Shalom Katz next to me.

[Page 284]

The S.S. men were around us. I saw very clearly that the commander of the operation was short, armed with a revolver and a rubber baton, wearing a high hat with a visor, riding pants and shiny boots. He then began to speak to us, “Since the automobiles that went out to pursue the Russian paratroopers in the Lodopol district got stuck in the mud, we must extricate them at any price… I am hereby issuing an order to arrange yourselves in threes, and anyone who does not listen to the order will be shot like a dog! One, two, th…”

However, the three was not completed quietly. My father, who had spoken to his friends before this, began to shout “Hura, Hura!” with the entire group. I lost sight of him within a moment. Everyone began to run and escape. The machine guns began to operate, and Jewish blood flowed from all corners. I could not move, for I was in the middle of the crowd. I did not see my father. Only the shouts of Hura still echoed in my ears. I jumped over a fence and fell atop the body of Chaim Gross, who had just been hit by a bullet. From there I could see clearly how the Germans were chasing after the escapees and pursuing them from the right and left. Many were wallowing in their blood, and many continued to escape through the volleys of fire emanating from the machine guns. As I was lying on the ground, I wanted to approach the well, to jump inside, and wait until the wrath would pass. I stood up, and a tall German shot in my direction with his revolver. I fell, and the German approached and kicked my right side. I turned over and stared at him with alert eyes. Apparently, he took me for dead and abandoned me, as he ran toward another group of escapees.

*

During my wanderings after my escape I found out that my father of blessed memory was not killed during that revolt. Later, he killed the commander of the aktion, and captured his gun and hat. His friends also displayed bravery, allowing many people to escape, a few of whom succeeded in surviving and reaching the liberation.


Translator's Footnote:
  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kostopil where the story in this article is transcribed in brief. Return


[Page 285]

Inhuman Suffering and Horrors

by David Schwartz of Ramat Gan

On June 21, 1941, the Hitlerist gangs attacked Russia. The Red Army retreated from our area in great disarray. The Jews remained helpless. A very small group of the youths went along with the Red Army. The confusion was great. There was no time to decide.

When they left Turka, the Russians left behind two soldiers to preserve order in the city. Soon, the Ukrainians began to act like they were in charge. Of course, their first task was to rob and beat Jews.

The Ukrainians shot one of the remaining soldiers. They took Jewish men and women and ordered them to take the corpse to the Jewish cemetery and bury him there. The men and women were forced to kiss the corpse and sing proletariat songs. Two days later, the Germans entered the city. I do not have the ability to describe what our brothers and sisters endured during those times, other than describing a few incidents that are etched in my memory.

*

The first time that they took men and women to work, they barely gave them anything to eat. A worker received 180 grams of bread a day. Furthermore, the work was very difficult. A few weeks later, the Germans issued an order that the Jews must give over their gold, silver, jewels and diamonds to the German authorities. The edict included the threat that any Jew who was found with would be shot on the spot. The Jews gave over everything that they owned. The Germans went around with bloodhounds that dragged away any item that still had some value.

[Page 286]

One day, the Ukrainians and Germans found hidden pictures of the Soviet leader. They gathered the Jews together and ordered them to carry the pictures; this was a sort of procession to the Jewish cemetery. The Jews were forced to sing and endure terrible blows throughout the entire way. Then, they buried the pictures. The Germans ordered the Jews to dig graves for themselves. There were 300 Jews in the cemetery at that time, and the murderers prepared to kill them. Miraculously, this did not happen… suddenly, the commandant of the city, who was a German Austrian, appeared and ordered that the Jews be set free. That time, they were saved, but not for long.

*

An order was issued that the Jews must turn over all fur garments in their possession to the Germans. They Jews gave everything over. They remained naked, hungry, and broken. However, our martyrs always hoped for a miracle. Nobody knew when their tragic end would be at hand.

On January 4, 1942, Gestapo men with Ukrainian assistants appeared in Turka. They began to capture men, women, and children. They gathered together about 800 people and imprisoned them in several points in the city. They beat them terribly. The Jews who were still free turned to the Judenrat to ask them to try to ransom the Jews. The Germans promised to free the unfortunate people. They gave over to them the last things that were found in the Jewish homes. The Germans took everything, but they tossed the Jews onto transport trucks, as if they were tossing lumber. They seated Ukrainians atop the victims who sang in loud voices so that they would not hear the crying and shouting of the Jews. The wild murderers took our tormented brothers and sisters to a place behind the city, where they had prepared mass graves. They shot them all, or tossed them live into the graves.

[Page 287]

Out of the 800 people, one woman survived. She related how the people were murdered.

The Jews who were still living in Turka at that time suffered from debilitating hunger. They no longer possessed anything. The Germans had stolen everything from the Jews. They had to give over their last shirt for a potato or a bit of flour. At that time, the Germans issued an edict: If they catch a farmer selling provisions to a Jew, he would be shot immediately along with the Jews.

Jews swelled up from huger and died en masse. The holy, weary souls departed. Those who still survived were jealous of them… Fifteen to 25 Jews died a day, aside from those in the villages around Turka. The Jews who died at that time were unable to be brought to a Jewish burial, for the Jews were forbidden from traveling from one place to another. A Jew was not permitted to go out on the street other than on specific hours of the day. If a Jew was seen on the street, he would be shot on the spot. Every Jew had to wear the badge of shame. If a Jew was found without that badge, even close to his house, he would be shot immediately. It is hard to believe today that a person could survive all this.

*

The most terrible thing came: on August 1, 1942, the Germans ordered all the Jew of the province to gather in Turka. They were ordered to set up a ghetto there. In the meantime, the Ukrainians organized the farmers in every village, so that they would not let the Jews out of their houses, until they were loaded upon wagons under a guard and hauled to Turka. The entire city was surrounded by the Nazi murderers. Trains were prepared. They loaded all the Jews and sent them to Belzec. There, they were all murdered. Several Jews succeeded in surviving at that time. Their fate was no better, however. Later, they were all tragically murdered.

 

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