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{555}

This Must Also Be Written…

by W. Ben Shimon of Tel Aviv

(A diary from that dark time)

End of November, 1939

It was already daybreak when the peasant took us with his wagon to the agreed upon place, after a night journey full of terror. Without saying a word, he pointed us with his whip in the direction of an isolated country cottage, and immediately started his return journey along the same dirt road.

We were eight people, including two women. We wished to go over the Bug River to the Soviet side. We did not have any large packs with us. We had just left our homes, saying: until the storm shall pass. We threw knapsacks on our shoulders and, with great caution, like mute shadows so that one dog would not disturb the next, we arrived at the cottage of the “Przewodnik” (guide) – which was not far from the riverbank.

Around, it was deathly quiet. On the right, between the willows of the riverbank, there was from time to time a glitter from the surface of the river. We had just traveled, and we were edgy from the night journey. We speedily went into the cottage. By its side, there was an overturned boat.

Suddenly, a shout cut through the air:

“Stop! Stand still!”

We stood frozen. Our hearts paused. Unexpectedly, we were met by a German border patrol with pointed guns who greeted us with shots. The deathly danger immediately brought us back to consciousness: We were caught!… and we were only about twenty meters from the Bug… at the threshold of rescue…

They took us in an opposite direction – over ploughed fields and roundabout ways. Finally, they let us off at a footpath that led straight into the woods. Our thoughts and feelings are easy to imagine. At that time, we already knew very well about the robbery, murder, and sadistic torture perpetrated by the guards when they caught Jews sneaking across the border. (Incidentally, this is a separate, horrible chapter, which should be written as an integral part of our Holocaust history.)

At that time, there was another dark thought that was drilled into our brains: nobody would know what became of our remains… The women sobbed out loud. The oldest of the patrols, apparently not yet completely poisoned, had a humane conscience. He understood our thoughts and tried to calm us, primarily the women, by telling us that we were being taken to the border commandant

A large, wooden building stood at the entrance to the forest. They brought us to a large hall with a bench in the corner, where we were to wait for the arrival of the commandant. He would interrogate us. We sat with our heads bent down as if we were doomed, each with our own thoughts, in which we conducted a painful stocktaking of our lives…

The commandant arrived. The mood of the soldiers became more serious. Our hearts started to beat faster – shortly, it would begin… It was not long until they took us, the entire group, with our packs in our hands, into the office of the commandant. He sat by the table – a firmly built man in his fifties – and seriously considered each one of us. The manner in which he conducted the inquest took us by surprise, and we were completely confounded – he talked to us like humans! And we… we were at that time officially known as thieves, bandits, parasites; as guilty for the war; as the greatest enemies of the German Reich and their Fuehrer; as enemies whom every scoundrel and sadist felt it was their patriotic duty to humiliate, beat, shoot or sentence to death…

After the regular questions: Who are you? From where do you come? Where are you going? etc. – looking over documents, he asked more personal questions regarding our professions and employment, about our families, about the reasons for our flight, and our prospects in the Soviet Union. Instinct prompted us that we should tell him the entire terrible and murderous truth. A feeling arose in our hearts that here sits and officer in whom, beneath his uniform, beats a humane heart, and also treats us like humans. We opened up our hearts and portrayed to him our tragic situation; that we went out from our homes, tore ourselves away from our families in order to flee with the fear of death so that we can find a refuge until the storm calms.

The commandant listened attentively to our confession. He went over to the women who were sitting down and weeping, and soothed them, telling them that nothing bad would happen to us. The soldier who was searching for “contraband” in our sacks throughout all this was told to repack the sacks and return them to us.

“They are all free, they can go!”

As we were thanking him for his extraordinary consideration of us, one of the women, completely unintentionally, asked something about the dangers of crossing the river. He caught on to this, and he asked about which danger she is talking. Then we told him about the robbery and murder defenseless Jews who cross the forests and rivers in the dark of night in order to cross the border. The organized gangs utilize the opportunity to get rich during the night, without risking legal proceedings or a punishment.

The commandant asked the name of our “Przewodnik”, but we did not know his name. We were only able to describe the place from which we were captured.

As we returned along the road through the fields, we did not say any word to each other. We were in a deep shock. One of us murmured: A miracle!… A miracle!…

The sun was high in the sky. It was already the height of the day when we approached the yard of the “Przewodnik”. Suddenly, we heard the sound of a galloping horse behind us. Who was chasing us? Our hearts were throbbing… We cleared the route for the approaching rider and… we recognized that he was the commandant!

We looked about and did not understand what was taking place. Our astonishment was great. We then saw the commandant engaged in a conversation with a tall person, in whose hands, as we were later to discover, rested our fate. Seeing us, the commandant said that we could be completely calm. He made the person personally responsible to insure that each of us would be transferred… The commandant also would make sure to send two soldiers at the designated time to be present as we were transferred over the Bug.

When the eldest of our group, the engineer Kazimierz Lewi (Isucher Szwarc's son-in-law) thanked him for his humane deed at such an extraordinary moment for us, the commandant said that he does not deserve any thanks, for it is every person's duty to help his fellow man during a time of difficulty. Then, he spoke to us freely and intimately – he never believed what they were writing about the Jews; he himself is from Vienna and often came in contact with Jews; he himself played sports with people from the “Hakoach” team of Vienna; he believes that we are doing the correct thing by going over the border; he had left a wife with children at home; we do not know what tomorrow might bring and when freedom might come. He greeted us with a handshake and bade us farewell. Then he mounted his horse and galloped away…


The sun had set, and it was getting darker and darker. A damp, autumn chill hung over the river. On the other side there was a gigantic forest – black and silent – that was shrouded in mystery. Around, there was a thick calm. We could hear the swaying of the river willows. It was uncanny and frightening. What awaited us, alone and forlorn, on that strange soil in such a stormy time? Would we find there the asylum we craved, or “the night of the long dagger”?

I glanced backwards. The sounds of the tips of the willows made a soft sound, like an evening prayer. Perhaps they were sending us their blessing on the threshold of our new, involuntary, and unknown journey?… There was also a silent and warm prayer on our own lips…

We noticed at first, there among the willows, two silhouettes of armed soldiers – reclining motionless on the tree stumps. Yes, he kept his word, the German commandant, regarding the border guard. Honestly, and with true self sacrifice…


When, many years later, I visited the forest of the “Righteous Gentiles” in Jerusalem, I knew very well how to evaluate the deep humanitarian meaning of the great, worthy and historical project. I thought about that officer in the uniform of the “Reichswehr” (Reich Army) who personally helped the forlorn and persecuted Jews – we were most certainly not the only ones whom he helped escape from the talons of the devouring Hitler-beast. Yes, without doubt he deserves to be mentioned here with full honor. Where can we obtain his name, and who knows if he might have paid with his life for his humanitarian and courageous heart?


Let these lines serve as a modest monument for eternal praise and gratitude in memory of all righteous gentiles, so that their deeds – often bound up with self-sacrifice – and their names shall be remembered.

{560}

The Way of Martyrdom for a Jew of Zgierz

by Adasz Rozenstrauch of blessed memory

{Photo page 560: Uncaptioned. Adasz Rozenstrauch.}

Adasz [1] , the author of the following written experiences from the Second World War, was the son of Daya and Shalom Rozenstrauch, grandson of the notable householder and communal activist Reb Natan Ader, and the great-grandson of Leib Parizer – an uncommon character from the old generation of Hassidim, who himself traveled to the Trisker Maggid, the Magen Avraham of holy blessed memory.

Adasz was beloved in his family. When the war broke out in 1939, he was a 9th year student in the Lodz Hebrew Gymnasia. He went through the war with all of its tribulations. The sole compensation for his hellish suffering was possibly that he merited to witness with his own eyes the downfall of his tormentors.

Adasz lost his family in the German death camps. A year after the war, his own young life was lost after an illness, on German soil.

May this mention serve as a good remembrance.

The First Bombardment

Long, incessant whistling of sirens – an air raid alarm. Thus began the repeated and already loathsome daily game of “hiding oneself”. But what can one make of it? It was the beginning of the war. There were readily issued threats and penalties. Without recourse, we would leave everything in the house and hide in the cellar among the firewood. Only grandfather remains in his post as the commandant of the block of houses for air-protection, and also as the emissary. The streets are empty, as a shudder passes through. Suddenly, we hear the noise of airplanes. I left up my head. We already see the steel birds in the skies. It is beautiful – yet at the same time frightful. The seconds pass, the noise approaches and becomes louder and louder. They are already over our heads. Doors open and some long objects fall out. A terrifying whistling of air takes away the breath. Then – a deafening explosion. One, two, three, four… a loud “Shema Yisrael” [2] from my grandfather brings me back to consciousness. Then I understood that the situation is serious. War has been etched in my thoughts. This was not a practice alarm. The minutes pass endlessly. I want to be with my parents and my beloved brothers. However, this is impossible. With the airplanes are flying low over the town, they would surely shoot me. I must therefore wait. The first hour of the war seemed to last for an eternity.

Finally, I heard the whistling of sirens – the air raid ended. I ran back to the garden in one breath. Thank G-d, everyone was alive and well. As well, the city did not suffer much destruction. We were all greatly shaken up, including grandfather who always was always a paragon of boldness and self-assurance. With a feeling of relief, we together took the packages and returned home.

In the evening, after “Dziennik Wieczorny” (the nightly news), we discussed the events of the day.

Monday September 4th was completely calm. On Tuesday there was another air raid. We ran to the garden, but this time I did not leave the family. We lay under a large linden tree, pressed one against the other. This time, the air raid was frightful. A bomb fell in the neighboring garden and made a huge pit. The earth flew up into the air and was stirred it so much that it became dark. With great effort, I succeeded in calming the women, for they were certain that this was a gas bomb. A few minutes later, everything became still, and the air became clear. We lay there and waited until the cessation of the explosions convinced us that the airplanes had moved on. The sirens gave the signal that the air attack had concluded, and we were relieved. However, this air raid caused a nervous shock for my mother and grandmother. The city was bombarded heavily. Many houses collapsed, burying many victims underneath. The house of one of our cousins was completely destroyed, however they and their family survived.

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In Lodz

After hearing that the day had been calm in Lodz, we decided to go there. We left Zgierz at ten o'clock with the last train. When we arrived at the Baluter Rynek, we realized that the situation was not that happy. Military divisions and regiments from the Polish army that was defeated at the Warta River were retreating in disarray through Brzeziny, in the direction of Warsaw. It was terrible, but there was nothing we could do. Sorely frightened, we went to our uncle. The living quarters were not good. Ten people occupied a small room. We lay down on the floor and quickly fell asleep.

At 5:00 a.m., I got up and ran out into the street. That which I saw caused me to despair. Together with the troops, the police, and following them the P. W. “Przysposobienie Wojskowe” [3] ), a few organization, civilians, women and children were marching along. By an order issued over the radio from Polkownik (Colonel) Omiastowski, they were all leaving Lodz in order… to defend Warsaw. I ran back to my parents and told them what I had seen. They became very nervous, and nobody knew what to do: to leave town or to remain. There was a struggle between two opinions – but grandfather decided: we will remain.

For the Lodzer residents, leaving the town, as was to become obvious later, was a fatal error. The tragedy that took place on the Lodz-Brzeziny-Warsaw highway will certainly be written about in the history books. Polkownik Omiastowski was certainly a German spy, and with his appeal to leave Lodz, he intended for the civilian people to block the way of the retreating military regiments, who would have great difficulty passing through the masses of refugees. The German aviators took advantage of this situation. They flew low and opened a hurricane of fire with machine guns. There is no need for me to write about the outcome. There was a mangled mass of corpses, intermingled with killed horses and overturned wagons. Many people, seeing this bloody slaughter, returned along the way. Only a small number arrived in Warsaw. Afterwards, there were two calm days in Lodz.

On Friday, what we had feared took place. The greatest tragedy in the history of European Jewry had begun. At around 5:00 p.m., the first group of the Hitlerist Storm Troopers began to appear in the Plac Wolnosci (Freedom Square). A half an hour later, the city officially surrendered. I was an eyewitness to this. From that moment, the Jews were no longer free people. Our fate was sealed.

In the morning, pogroms and pillaging of Jewish businesses and homes began. Conscription for work and beatings became a daily, normal occurrence. This went on for days and weeks, during which time the morale of the Jews sunk, and they became physically downtrodden. We heard and saw things which makes the blood in the veins curdle.

Realizing that living in such conditions would bring a complete breakdown of morale, and seeing what was taking place in the Hitlerian hell, I decided to flee at any cost. I tried to convince my parents to sneak across to the Soviet territory, but my mother did not wish to leave her parents under any circumstances. I was not behind the times, though, and they thought that it was not reasonable that we should go away. When my parents realized that they could not convince me, they proposed a compromise: we would go to the Generalgouvernement – Warsaw would be our destination. We packed the most necessary belongings and sent them away with a Christian acquaintance. We left Lodz on December 25th. They inspected us from head to toe at the border. Fortunately, we had given over our jewelry to the acquaintance.

{563}

In Warsaw

The difference between Lodz and Warsaw was great. Here, there was business, and a great deal of movement and commotion, like before the time of the war. As previously, the Gensa and Nalewki were the centers of commerce, speculation, and high earnings. The unusually low prices of food products provided good opportunities for earning a livelihood. In such a situation, there was not yet talk of travelling on. I was dedicated to the will of my parents. Father earned well, and we lacked nothing. For a half year, I ate, drank, and enjoyed myself. At the beginning of June, I decided to become somewhat independent, and to work in a military enterprise. I had little means other than what I earned from the official service, so I was very satisfied with the work. I believed that one must have a profession to be able to coexist with the Germans. To that end, after three months of work, I had saved a little money, so I registered for a locksmith course with the Jewish community. I completed the course after six months with good results. Then, I had to search for appropriate work. Thanks to the contacts of my grandfather, I found work as an assistant machinist in the military mechanical workshop. I worked there until the outbreak of the war between Germany and Russia. Work in our workplace stopped when the Germans ceased claiming the finished products. I was again left without employment. At that time, the situation in Warsaw became extremely critical. Hunger, want, and epidemics were prevalent. I also became ill with dysentery, but I regained my health, since I had been robust previously. However, I did not have the means to support myself.

{564}

I Search for Field Work

In the middle of the month of July, the “Topserol” agricultural organization organized a work expedition to the Lublin countryside at the time of the wheat harvest. I volunteered, however the health commissioner rejected me because I had been greatly weakened. I did not resign myself to this, and I sought out 'protektsia' [4] . At the end, I was given permission to travel. Even though it was difficult to part from my parents at such a hard time, I went so that I could lighten the situation and send products.

I traveled to Lublin with a group of 120 people. From there, they sent us to Bukowa, from where the work office sent us to the neighboring villages and put us up in peasant's huts. As is usual at harvest time, the work was difficult, especially for me, for I was not used to it. I had no day or night. I was always compelled to work. However, the good food strengthened me.

After the wheat harvest, the peasants stopped the work and we had to leave. I returned with a heavy heart, for we had heard terrible news about epidemics that claim hundreds of victims daily. I purchased flour and shortening on the way, which I hid very well. The journey went peacefully, as did the search upon entering the Warsaw ghetto. I arrived at night on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

{565}

In the Warsaw Ghetto

I will never forget the welcome I received from my parents. They simply did not recognize me. I left the city pale and emaciated, and I returned tanned and filled out. When I told them about life in the country, they were astonished that life was so good. When I unpacked the sticks of shortening and butter, their astonishment knew no bounds. They made a feast in the middle of the night – the first time in a long while that they ate to satiation.

A few days after my return, I contemplated our situation and determined that no manna from heaven would fall in the ghetto. I should again go to work. This time as well, grandfather assisted. I worked as a polisher of molded aluminum spoons. Now that I was a metal worker, I learned the trade very quickly. I worked at night, and helped my father as much as possible during the day. I did not have the good fortune to work there for very long. The electric power was cut off at night, so the foundry had to shut down.

I again began to search for work. This time, my uncle registered me on the list of the egg workers, which led to employment in one of the best workplaces of Warsaw. Now I began to earn a living in an excellent fashion. The work was on the Aryan side. I smuggled various items of merchandise there, and brought products back in return. From these, I ate fifteen eggs daily – raw or in other forms (eggnog, with coffee or with borscht). The work was not difficult; therefore I was able to renew my strength. However, this did not last for long.

Wednesday, July 22nd, a day that no Warsaw Jew will forget, was the day that the “liquidation” began (an unfortunate term coined by the refined German murderers). The Judenrat received an ordinance that they must give over 7,000 Jews daily to be settled in the newly occupied eastern regions and to be employed in various enterprises. They were promised good wages and food. Families who present themselves voluntarily would not be separated. Each person would receive 3 kilos of bread and a kilo of marmalade for the journey. Given the need and hunger that prevailed in thousands of homes, it is no wonder that a large number volunteered. This went on for 5-6 days. Then, the number of people [5] shrank, and they began to capture people on the streets, the poor, ragged and emaciated people, and the residents of the so-called “points”. When this “reservoir” was also depleted, groups of Lithuanians and Ukrainians were sent into the ghetto. These people (if you can indeed call them humans) broke into house after house and grabbed anyone who lacked a work permit. During such an aktion on August 3rd they took my grandfather – and I never saw him again. My father and I had our documents in order, so my mother and brother were able to be hidden temporarily. In order to be able to grab a greater number of victims, the German authorities ordered that all certified enterprises provide special blocks of housing for their workers. Therefore, I had to be separated from my parents. They lived in the block of the “Schilling” firm, and my fellow workers and I were on Zamenhof Street in the ghetto. During the time of the aktions, thanks to my locations, I was fortunate not to be a witness to the terrible scenes that took place in the Jewish quarter. The shrieking and weeping could rouse stones – but not the stone hearts of the German murderers and their helpers, the Ukrainians and the Lithuanians.

I was never sure that when I would come home from work, I would still see someone from my family. The required quota of deportees was raised to 12,000, and the number of people was shrinking. My heart would palpitate when I arrived home after work: would I still find my parents there? This was the only question that always tormented me.

In the ghetto, the starving people would not let us pass by. They wanted to purchase everything that we had succeeded in smuggling in from the Aryan side. They did not inquire about prices. Money was not important. I would pass quickly through at the side, running like a fool, as I wished to see my dear ones.

Alas, I was not fortunate for long. On August 14th, I received a terrible blow. On that day, they set up a blockade around the “Schilling” area. My father was at work when my mother and brother were in a warehouse of cooked goods and wood scraps. I do not know how this took place. They discovered my mother and shot her. Due to her strong constitution, she survived for about 20 minutes. Then, a second group of murderers arrived who had pity on her, and shot her twice more. Thus ended the life of my 38-year-old mother. Indeed, she had prayed for such a death, rather than being shipped in a wagon to the gas chambers.

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At Umschlag Platz[6]

I was completely broken for the first days. Finally I regained my composure, and father also pulled himself together. He did not change in any recognizable fashion. I began to work again. An ominous spirit came over me and told me that “this is not the last misfortune”. Indeed: on Friday, August 28th, they stopped everyone at the entrance to the workplace and conducted a selection. Twenty percent were freed. I, along with a majority of the workers, was set off to a side, certainly for evil. We waited on Leszne Street until 8:00 p.m., when the last group of workers came from their places. They ordered a march (better called – a run) to Umschlag Platz. Those who had knapsacks with belongings had no option, they threw off their bags, and those who came after fell over them and blocked the way. Those who followed, driven and beaten by the wild Ukrainians, trampled over the fallen. The murderers beat those who did not stand up in time with the butts of their rifles and poked them with bayonets. They shot over our heads along the entire route in order to cause a commotion. The shots flew over our heads. The run went on for a full half-hour, until we reached Umschlag Platz. We spent that night together under the clear sky, quaking in terror that they would load us on wagons at any moment.

The first day was relatively calm. People searched for acquaintances from the “Ordnungs Dienst” (the cleaning service), who, for a large sum of money, along with the Ukrainians, would take people into the ghetto. It went on like this for a second and third day. People came and went. Five Jews from our living place were freed, after each paying 6,000 Zlotys. I was there for five days, until Wednesday, when, for 2,000 Zlotys, I was placed among the freed workers of the “Avia” workplace, and taken back from the Umschlag Platz. At home they were certain that they would not see me again. Spending five days at Umschlag Platz and not being sent off – that was indeed a miracle. The miracle was indeed the dearth of train wagons.

It was not for long that I was able to catch my breath among the survivors. On September 6th, the A. G. “Kessel” was formed. Those who lived outside of the ghetto had to present themselves at the mill for a selection, so that “those who can remain alive” could be enumerated… After hearing about this ordinance, I immediately went to father, packed all of the belongings, and went with him and my brother to a dwelling to hide from their selection. Our block on the Koszarowa was excluded from the ordinance in the meantime. I succeeded in holding them in my house with great difficulty, for it was forbidden to hide people who were not employed in our place of work.

They conducted the selection in the afternoon. I saw it very well from my window. Parents who wished to save their children placed them in knapsacks, and appeared before the selection as such. Older children were immediately placed on the wagons along with their parents.

Father wished to obtain a number, in order to be in compliance with the ordinance. I tried to dissuade him from this at all costs, for I felt that it posed a great hazard. Unfortunately, he did not desist from trying to arrange this. I only managed to persuade him regarding the children, seeing what it would come to. Therefore, he decided to leave my brother with me, and take him back upon his return.

The next day, September 7th, despite all of my pleas, father did not desist from making arrangements, and went out the gathering depot. He went out, and he never came back. My brother and I were left as orphans.

I found out a week later that they collected 2,000 healthy people, including my father and cousin, and sent them to work in the Lublin countryside. Now, I had to come to terms with the bitter fate, and not loose my bearings. I was the sole guardian of my brother.

The aktion ended three days later. All of those who remained sighed with relief. From July 22nd, there was not one day that did not claim victims. The authorities normalized movement and work, as if nothing had taken place. Only the beating of Jewish hearts had lost their rhythm. Since going out to the Placzowka [7] had become more difficult, I began to work in a group that cleaned the former area of the ghetto. I found many items of value, which I sold to people from the Placzowka or exchanged for products. My brother assisted in this business. He cleaned the dwelling and cooked food. In the evenings, I would visit my neighbor Madza, who interested me very much. In time, we became good friends. However, I was not destined to live with her. Our friendship did not last long.

A new misfortune came on January 18th. The second liquidation took place, which lasted for almost a week. Again, there were thousands of victims. Life returned to a semblance of normalcy after the aktion, even though we were awaiting a complete liquidation of Warsaw. Therefore, we began to build bunkers, so that we would be able to hide when the time came.

{569}

Underground Activity in the Ghetto

At the end of February, the large enterprise “Schultz and Tiebens”, which employed thousands of Jews, moved their workshop to Poniatow. They asked the Jews to move there voluntarily with their families and belongings. At the outset, everything proceeded in an orderly fashion, but when people began to hide, they began to capture them in the Ghetto. Then, Jews began to organize and arm themselves. The story of Treblinka, where they burned thousands of people, was known by everyone. There was nothing to lose. The partisan activity began in the hours of the night, and many Germans fell. The Ghetto was surrounded by soldiers, police, Ukrainians, and S. S. officials. An extinct city – that is how they referred to the ghetto, but it was not extinct, since thousands of Jewish hearts beat in underground bunkers, waiting impatiently for the night, when they could come out and deliver their blows to the Hitlerists.

On Thursday, April 25th, we were awakened by powerful detonations. The Germans blew up house after house. Parts of neighborhoods of the ghetto collapsed, burying thousands of victims underneath. The misfortune drew closer with each minute. While sitting in the bunker on Saturday afternoon, we heard footsteps, and then, the wild shouting of the Ukrainians. They warned us to come out, for they were going to burn down the house. When nobody came out, they got down to work. At a certain moment, the murderers fell upon the house beneath which our bunker was located. They searched every room. We held our breath and nervously waited. I felt my brother huddling up against me on one side, and Madza and her sister on the other side. On occasion, we heard hard knocks on the floor. The murderers were searching for an empty resonance, a sign that there was a bunker underneath. Fear took away our breath, for the knocks were coming closer to us. A minute later, everything was hopeless. We were discovered. There was silence, and then – a powerful explosion. We noticed that the light bulb went out and that the air had become heavier. A frightful truth – we felt the lack of air. We decided to open the door and look out at the “world”. Then we realized the terrible situation. Puffs of smoke penetrated our bunker. A panic ensued. Everyone stormed for the exit, for the wires had become ignited, and were live. I did not leave. My brother made his way out first. Later, I exited via the window. The fresh air intoxicated me. A terrible picture appeared before my eyes: we were surrounded on all sides by fire, and the houses were burning. There was nowhere to escape. What could we do? Finally, we decided that we had to surrender. Simply – to go out in the street and to give ourselves over to our fate. That is indeed what we did. We opened the doors, and a crowd of approximately 250 people went out. We were quickly surrounded by the S. S., who searched us. They then divided us up into five groups, and marched us off to Umschlag Platz with raised hands.

Night fell, and our fate was still unknown. Rumors spread that they would send us to Poniatow. The next morning, they began to chase us. Along the way stood Ukrainians who endlessly beat the Jews with their rifles. I grabbed my brother and pushed him down with one jump, so that he would not receive a blow.

In the yard, they divided us into groups of five, and marched us to the wagons. The Lithuanians calmed us, saying that we were not being sent to Treblinka, but rather to Poniatow. At first, when they divided us up, placing 70 people in a wagon, and gave us each a half-kilogram of bread, we were calmed. The trip lasted for an entire day. A deathly silence pervaded in the wagons. A glimmer of hope existed in our hearts.

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In Majdanek

We remained for a half day in Lublin as they unloaded us. Order was kept by Jews, prisoners of war from the Polish army, who treated us with exceptional severity. Then the segregation began: tailors, shoemakers, hat makers, and furriers were placed together. Then they again loaded us in wagons. My brother and I were placed in the group of locksmiths, electricians, technicians and engineers.

We continued on. The journey lasted for approximately one hour, and we approached a lit up area where we saw barbed wire and buildings. There were watchtowers with machine guns on all four sides. There were guard booths near the towers. There were strong, blinding reflector lights on all sides. Inside, there were rows of wooden barracks. A deathly silence and calm pervaded. We were taken to the so-called “Koiln Platz”, where men and women were placed separately. The men were taken for a march through the entire camp. This march lasted a good three hours. Afterward, we were led back to Koiln Platz. The women thought that they would not see us again. Unfortunately, we were not reunited for long.

After all these events, I lay on the ground and soon fell asleep. At 6:00 a.m. a new guard arrived. He commanded us to line up, and began with a new selection. The handicapped and old people did not pass through. The others were led to a bath. During the march, they captured my brother. I was helpless. We managed to catch a glance for the last time. Until my death, I will never forget his sweet blue eyes and blond head of hear, and the way he smiled at me for the last time.

I was left alone.

I continued marching. They led us to the bath. They beat us with sticks and drove us into a hall. When we appeared before the camp commandant, the put three chests in front of us, and everyone had to put their money, gold and valuables into them. There was a special place for clothing and other items. From there we went to the barber, and then came the selection. “Left” or “right” were the only words that the camp commandant said. Later we found out that “left” meant – the gas chamber. I went “right” into the bath. Then they prodded us naked through a field to a second building with wooden steps, inscribed with the letters K. L. (Konzentrations Lager). There we received underwear, clothing and belts. I simply could not climb the first pair of steps, for I had turned around. When I saw my friends, I laughed and cried. We looked like circus clowns.

When we had all gotten dressed, they took us to a barrack on the third punishment field, in one of the large concentration camps not far from Majdanek – in Majdan Tatarski. They wrote down our details, and we were given small numberplates, tied with a wire around our necks. From that time, I was prisoner number 981. The camp commandant informed us of the regime of the camp, and after the speech we all realized – that we had been sentenced to death.

I went into block number 8, where the block master was a Jew, one of the greatest murderers in Majdanek. Already at the first encounter, I received 25 lashes. Then, I received a brief lecture about restraining myself. In the afternoon, I went under the supervision of a kapo to my first stop, for a medical examination. Standing in line, I recognized my cousin who was sent away together with my father. I wanted to run to him, however fear took away my strength, and I was not able to stir. As he passed by me, he told me that father had been together with him, and he died in the middle of January.

The next day, we were placed into groups and assigned work places. I worked for the first two days at the railway grounds with a group of 100 people. The kapo was a Jew from Vienna who arrived a few days before us. As time went on, he learned from his friends their sadistic methods, and our life became hell. Every day brought with it beatings. In order to save ourselves from the massacre, we had to sell our daily bread ticket (referred to as the “peike”), and one of us would give the kapo 1,000 Zlotys each week. Thereby, our situation improved slightly. Nevertheless, the work was very difficult.

Two weeks later, I went to the A. G. “Sheiss-Commande”. There, I was able to catch my breath a little. A few times a day I went out to the field where women worked. I met many acquaintances, to whom I transferred over letters, at great risk. Thereby, I received some food, so that I would note waste away from hunger. The only problem was that I had to present myself at each excursion, and I received beatings.

{573}

In Skarzysko

One July day, after roll call, they conducted a selection and selected 1,000 young and healthy men and 500 women. The transport went out, and we had no idea what this was about. Two weeks later another selection took place. This time, I was also placed in the transport to Skarzysko. There, I saw people from the previous transport. In Skarzysko, there were three camps near the “Hasag” ammunition factory. As a locksmith, I was fortunate to remain in camp A, where the conditions were the best. I began to work in the infantry division. Life in this camp was different. There was a lighter discipline, a calmer work, and freedom after work. Anyone who had money – did not feel any lack. The food and living conditions were better than in Majdanek, but one did not really feel it. We exchanged ideas. However, the earlier workers did not receive us well. They oppressed us at every opportunity, which had a bad impact upon us.

Aside from all of the difficulties, I had a diseased foot, and there was no opportunity to heal it.

At the beginning of February, the Hasag firm opened a branch in Czestochowa. Due to a dearth of professionals, they selected a few people for each job type and sent them to Czestochowa. I was also one of this group. One March 27, I along with 200 people traveled to work in “Wartawerk”. At the outset, the conditions and food were better than in Skarzysko.

After working for a few months, I became ill and went to the hospital for six weeks. A faulty injection infected the veins in the flesh of my hand, and as a result, I was not able to bend my arm. I had to again recover for a month. After recovering, I began work in the “Hauf Kolone”, whose task was to keep the camp clean. I was occupied with this work until noon. I searched for some sort of job to do after that. Thereby, I came in contact with the kitchen. We had to concern ourselves with bringing coal and provisions from the warehouse. As a reward, we received 3-4 soups twice a day. For the most part, I sold mine, and therefore obtained other necessities. Now, I was not able to complain. I was able to take care of my appearance, purchase a few things, and obtain a different perspective on life. Moreover, good news began to arrive from the fronts. Hope reawakened.

At the end of November, they liquidated our “Hauf Kolone” and the people were sent to the new enterprise “Zicherung –Hilzn” (grenade detonators). The new work required a great deal of exactitude, the quotas were large, and there was not one minute to rest. I was a robot. I was not away from the machine for twelve hours, for we had to manufacture the 2,700 detonators. This was our quota.

{Photocopy page 575: A page from the diary of Adasz Rozenstrauch, written in Polish.}

The sole incentive that gave us the strength to work was the news from the front, and the steady approach of the Red Army, which seemed like our only redeeming angel from our Hitlerian tyranny. The camp continued on until the first day of January, when a transport of Jews was sent to Germany. From then on, we were able to navigate. We counted the days until our liberation – and then news came. In the factory, the proprietors made new lists of those who were selected to travel on. Our despair had no bounds. Five years of being crushed under the Nazi yoke – and now, at the final moments, death. No, this must not be.

{576}

The Liberation

On January 14, the situation became extremely tense. The Russians pushed onward. Our factory was occupied by the S. S. They began to perpetrate all kinds of sabotage. At the same time, they selected 1,000 people for deportation. We were not allowed to work any more, in order to cut off any contact with the city. On January 17th, the Red Army completed their encirclement of the city. The German army retreated in a disorderly fashion. When the camp commandant fled, his deputy ordered us to line up so that 150 persons can be taken to the place where there were machine guns. We were so near to rescue that we acted crazily. The minutes were decisive. Airplanes bombarded, fire was all around, the Katyushas played their “music”, and there was nothing to loose. We fell upon the Ukrainians who guarded us. They quickly fled. We were now in control of the situation. There was no trace of the Germans. Whoever had arms went out on the street. After a long time, our people returned and told us that they had met Soviet patrols who advised us to return to the camp for our own safety and wait until the morning. This is what we indeed did. When the people heard this news, they broke out in dances, with shouting and kisses. We waited for this minute for six years.

Unfortunately, not very many lived to see this…

(Translated from Polish: D. Sh.)


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

1. The following four paragraphs, written in small type around the photo, is obviously a biographical section, and not authored by Rozenstrauch himself. Back

2. “Hear, Oh Israel…” – the confession of faith recited daily during the prayers, and also to be recited as death approaches. Back

3. Paramilitary teaching – a form of basic military teaching at the high school level. Back

4. A hard to translate word, also used in Modern Hebrew, meaning to utilize influence towards people in power, contacts in high places, etc., to get one's way. Back

5. Presumably, volunteers. Back

6. Umschlag Platz was the area in Warsaw where Jews were gathered for deportation. In German, the term means a place of facility where goods (sic) are moved from one transportation vehicle to another. Back

7. The name of his work place, it seems. Back

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