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[Page 286]

The first so-called resettlement of the Jews of Zloczew

Hawa Bresler (Breslauer)

Translated by Bill Leibner

The first day of the war between Poland and Germany, most people fled the city for fear of the war repercussions. Slowly the people started returning to the city and here they saw a terrible spectacle. Many of the Jewish homes were robbed and then torched. Far worse was the lot of those Jewish families that did not leave town or did not find good hiding places. They were simply killed by the Germans and their local helpers. The general appearance of the township was desolate. The burned homes resembled human skeletons staring at the sky. Everywhere there were traces of dried bloodstains that were spilled by the German murderers. The smell of dead bodies was ever present. Even the twisted handle of the water pump in the center of the market where one could still pump a pail of water, could attest to the terrible pillage and fire that took place in this town.

Only ruins remained from the Jewish Township of Zloczew

 

[Page 287]

When we saw these scenes, we became apathetic to life. Life became meaningless. Still, we had to accustom ourselves to the sad and tragic situation for we had children. Everybody thought to himself that perhaps he would survive this cruel period. People started to look for living quarters where they could sleep the night. Our family located two small rooms at a home of friends whose place was intact. Here the entire family tried to restart life. Everywhere there was destruction. Still we started life from scratch. No one could get a regular job in order to sustain himself. Everybody tried to survive the day. My husband managed to get a job whereby he would smuggle some slaughtered geese to the city of Lodz and exchange them for other items of merchandise that he would resell in Zloczew. Here, he would sell these items for food to keep us going.

His dealings were very dangerous because the Germans and their local helpers were constantly looking to rob Jews. But we had no choice and the late Fall with the cold weather was already at the doorstep. This required winter preparations. Everybody knew that the prevailing conditions would make these preparations very difficult. People started to plan to acquire some potatoes for the winter. They also went to the burned homes and removed all the coal and wood for heating their places in the winter. German ordinances appeared daily. Each one was harsher than the previous one. The Jewish population was terrorized daily, but was determined to survive in spite of the German determination to break their spirit. They hoped to survive and see the defeat of Germany.

The Jews did not see the approaching black clouds. They did not even think about the Germans plans of extermination.

Meanwhile, the winter advanced and with it the cold weather. One morning, I entered the pharmacy to buy a prescription and the druggist told me in secret that the Jews would be expelled from town within a few days. He added that he debated with himself whether to reveal the information to me. He decided to reveal it in the hope that I might benefit from it. I came home totally devastated. Still, I informed the family of the situation. Of course, many doubted the news. But within three days the news was officially confirmed. All Jews were ordered to appear in the market on Monday. On that day, old and young assembled at the market. The Germans informed the Jews that they must leave town by Monday. They could take with them some items and 100 zlotys in cash. The rest of the money must be deposited with the office of the German Police. The same applies to all jewelry and gold possessions. Jews that refuse to abide by the order will be forcibly expelled and will lose all privileges. The Jews were in total disbelief. How do you leave town and wander about under German occupation? People lost their heads. They had the feeling that everything was lost. Pessimism and hopelessness overtook the Jewish population.

[Page 288]

Following many meetings and discussions, it was decided to send a delegation to the city of Sieradz to ask for a postponement of the execution of the order. It was hoped that the delay could be postponed until after the harsh winter for the sake of the children and old people. The delegation consisted of Nathan Dawidowicz, the prosperous landowner Israel Majerowicz, Hawa Bresler who spoke fluent German, and myself who had good contacts with the Volks Deutschen [native Poles but of German origin who decided to become Germans] at the municipality of Sieradz. We arrived at our destination Monday morning and went directly to the municipality in the hope of delaying the implementation of the order following the winter.

Our mission immediately encountered bureaucratic obstacles, we were sent from office to office. We soon realized that these clerks could not help us and we must meet the highest official who was out of town. He was due to return next day but we had no permits to stay in town. Furthermore, we were not certain that we would be successful in view of the events. Besides, the Jews of Zloczew were waiting for an answer since they had to leave town. The delegation decided to return and report to the community as to what transpired.

Black clouds overshadow the township

 

[Page 289]

The coachman insisted on an exit pass without which he could not leave the town. We did not have such a document. We therefore returned to the municipality to obtain such exit.. I approached the official that I knew and asked him for the document. He asked for identification and claimed that he did not know me. All my implications did not help the delegation. He refused to grant an exit paper and we were stuck in town. The official used to be such a fine person and now he refused to listen to our pleas. Of course, he knew our situation and us, but played stupid. Suddenly, a German official that sat quietly at the table asked my former acquaintance, “Do you know that woman?” He did not wait for an answer, signed an exit paper, and gave us the document. We left the office and headed to a coach. We gave the coachman the paper and left town.

The Jews of Zloczew did not wait for our arrival, they saw the day advancing and decided to leave town. As we headed to Zloczew, we encountered the Jews leaving the city. What a spectacle - old bearded men, women with covered heads, children and old sick people, all their faces were frozen. Pots, pans and teakettles hanging on the sides. The people were beyond description and their faces remained with me forever.


[Pages 290-305]

In the Hands of Brutal Destiny

by L. Wanda

Translated by Herman Taube

Zloczew was close to the German border. As soon as the heavy pre-war campaign began, the Jews of the town started to tremble fearfully.  The ones who remembered WWI were already familiar and knew well what it felt like to live close to a border during such a period. Not taking into consideration the circumstances of the fighting parties, a border town can pass from hand to hand several times. Since the local Jews already heard about the barbaric behavior of the Germans towards Jews, it was clear that we must leave this area to survive this critical time somewhere else. We knew that we must go to a more secure place, until the situation cleared up.

Therefore, the Jews of Zloczew began packing, fussing and busied themselves with liquidating businesses. It was most important to transfer worthwhile objects to acquaintances and relatives in the two adjoining cities, Warsaw and Lodz. Also, my father traveled to Warsaw for this purpose. It is interesting to share with you why he made this decision. For many years, we owned a sawmill in town. As usual, we had a great variety of lumber, a load of resources of timber in our storage spaces that belonged to us. In this connection, the Mayor and police commandant of our town came to my father a few days before the outbreak of the war and he shared with him a 'great confidential secret' that the hostilities, a war with Germany, would start one day soon. In order not to make the enemy have an 'easy life' by acquiring such a substantial possession of timber, they suggested that it must be set on fire.

The visit of the Mayor and the police commandant made a deep impression on the whole town. Adding to all the other rumors, it caused such a situation that on Thursday, just one day before the war started, it was not possible to find any means of transportation. It was decided that first of all we would evacuate the women and the men would remain temporarily to liquidate all businesses and other important matters. So we women and girls left - my mother, grandmother, sisters, aunts, and I. We moved in the direction of the town of Sieradz, because we had relatives living there. Next morning, they started bombing the roads and we were met by an avalanche of refugees coming from all directions running away from the front lines.

In the meantime, the men-folk from our family arrived. When they saw what was happening, they realized that staying in the area was not the right thing to do, so they decided to travel to Lodz, a voyage that would last several days. Because they did not want to travel on Saturday, we decided to stop for a while at the home of relatives in Zdunska Wola.

During our far-flung travel, we came across unusual characteristics of a war situation: thousands of refugees were flooding the roads, children were lost from their parents, people are suffering from the overload of baggage, no day and no night rest, worried, depressed, heartache, pain, despairing and aimlessly driven in all directions, hungry and thirsty, because the little food supplies we carried became fewer and fewer. Beside all this, rumors circulated, one more malignant than the other. They frightened and terrified the people.

When we reached Lodz, we heard the news that the Germans were closing in on the city and they were arresting all men, marching them off to concentration camps. The result was that young men and women, scared to face the Germans, started to run in all directions. This ghostly specter was a terrible scene to watch and I will always remember it. Among them were also my family and friends. They were running without a direction, like lost sheep without a shepherd, just to get away wherever their eyes would lead them. The rest of us just accompanied them with tears...

Back To Zloczew

It did not take long until we realized that the people who believed in the rumors and hurried to leave the town were right, because on the same day when the Germans marched into town, an armed unit on motorcycles arrived in the suburbs, riding around and then they left. But one hour later, the fully armed units of Hitler's army arrived.

Now, when the situation changed and the whole area was occupied with the Nazi pest, there was no reason to sit in a place away from home, and my mother returned to Zloczew to find out what was happening there.

After several days she came back with dreadful news: The whole town center and other parts of the town were destroyed, burned down. She heard that many people perished in the flames. Our house, by pure chance, was still standing, but was inhabited by strangers. It hurt us even more to find out that the man who moved into our home with his family used to be employed in our sawmill. When he saw my mother, he started cursing her, warning us not to think of returning to the home that he 'annexed' from us.

My mother returned from Zloczew upset, but to remain in Lodz was no solution and we decided to return home.  After much haste and strenuous efforts we were able to secure one room in our former home. Without any other alternative, we settled down in that room which was an exceptional situation.

My father was still in Warsaw and our daily sustenance became critical, more meager and crucial. The Germans appointed a “trustee” for our sawmill. They confiscated all our possessions, except a small part of the merchandise still remaining in our storage spaces, which they allowed us to sell. Beside this, we were forced to sell out different household items in order to survive.   We were lucky as it did not take long and my father and my uncle returned from Warsaw. They told us what was happening in the capital, the terrible war days and what the population was enduring.

Persecution

Meanwhile, the German Fascist Nazi regime began to show off its hatred toward the Jewish population. They started to grab people off the streets and from their homes for subservient work, to carry heavy loads, pull weeds from the streets and clean the sidewalks.

The situation in our home became very harrowing. Nothing was left of our furniture, all our household utensils disappeared, were pilfered, stolen. It became necessary to find a few dishes and pots to be able to cook something. Close to Zloczew, there was a German colony, a settlement of Polish citizens of German origin. My father was in close business relations with them for a long time. As the war started and the Germans occupied the whole area, many of the local Germans became: 'Volkdeutsche' - Poles of German ancestry. They became close followers of the Nazi functionaries.  As I mentioned above, the German terror against Jews became more brutal with every passing day, one of their actions was to kidnap people as ransom-objects.

One day a uniformed German came to us with a civilian of the 'Volkdeutsche' from the German colony, with the aim to take away my father. But the civilian German had known my father for many years, so he tried to protect him from the dangerous situation. Entering our home with the uniformed man, he called out loudly: “The owner of the house is not at home?” He motioned to us to say: No. My father was in a nearby room; we secretly gave my father a note that he should 'sneak out' through the side door. He was able to escape to the German colony and found shelter in the home of a friendly Polish 'Volkdeutsche.' After a week in hiding, he realized that the place was not secure and he escaped to Warsaw.

Leaving For Warsaw

By the end of 1939, the German occupation command ruled that all Zloczew Jews must vacate their homes and 'voluntarily' leave town. Those who could find their own means of transportation were allowed to take with them all their belongings, except for valuables like gold, silver and money. This was to be given to the German authorities. According to the decree, we were allowed to take 100 zlotys per family.  Also, the direction of the evacuation was limited to three roads: Radom, Lublin or Warsaw. The majority decided to leave, yet many families decided to stay. The ones that decided to leave also were divided into two groups. One chose Lublin and the others chose Warsaw.  Because we had relatives in Warsaw we went to Warsaw. We loaded everything permitted on a horse-drawn wagon and were on our way.

This was in late fall, close to winter and the cold weather crawled into our bones. It was a difficult voyage. It exasperated all of my energy to a point that I fainted...The 'voyage' inscribed itself in my memory forever. Food supplies on the road were not available. We lived on the meager ration that we took with us from home.  The roads were full of refugees and there was no place to rest for any price.

After four days of wandering, we finally reached Warsaw and moved in with our relatives. They gave us a room. After a while, we found our father and we were together.

But the situation in Warsaw worsened from day to day. Many houses were destroyed in the first month of the war.

We started to get hungry and different epidemics spread all around us. For the moment, we were able to exist from selling off what we were able to bring with us from home. Seeing that our reserves were slowly running out, my father started to engage himself in business. But he was not very successful in his enterprises because the economic situation in Warsaw deteriorated and it became critically miserable. We felt that the ground under us was shaking, so we decided to leave Warsaw for a smaller place and try to settle there.

Our resolve to leave became more urgent when we heard that they were going to create in Warsaw a ghetto for the Jews. So we left for Otwock, a country spa resort. When we arrived there, we found many people from Zloczew, among them, the family Majerowicz.  Here we did not hear talk about a ghetto, but Jews were forced to wear an armband with a Star of David on it. Also, Jews were forbidden to use public transportation, like tramways, trains, etc.

Contraband of Meat

In our new place, we again faced the important, vital question, how to secure the minimal needs for our existence. We were able to come up with a brave, horrific and ghastly idea: My sister and I did not exactly look like the other young Jewish girls, so we were able to organize a wild activity that helped us to eke out a living. Not to be noticed, secretly, my father bought large amounts of meat from the local butchers and we transported it to Warsaw where there was a great shortage of meat.

When we were transported, we hid the merchandise in specially made girdles that were attached to our bodies. While traveling on the train, we took special methods of secret precautions so as not to be arrested. There was already a ghetto in Warsaw, but the Christian population was able to move freely, in and out from the ghetto. This gave us the opportunity to sell the meat to the ghetto Jews, without anyone being suspicious.

The Rabbi of Aleksander (Aleksandrow)

With the passing of time, we traveled together and by ourselves. On one of my travel routes, I encountered an episode that awakened in me great excitement and the impact of this happening remained in my memory for a long time: My father was a follower of the Aleksander Rebbe. He was one of the individuals close to and allowed to see the Rabbi at his home any time he wanted.

When the Germans entered the town of Aleksander, they searched for the Rabbi. As it turned out later, this was not by accident, but a planned Nazi policy, the murderous plan to destroy the leadership of the Jewish communities every place where the Germans entered. They concentrated on the spiritual leaders and “intelligentsia” elements and killed them in order to prevent any possible organized resistance. Following this criminal policy, the Nazis used different dirty tricks and false accusations. In the anti-Semitic, hateful, trashy magazine: “Der Sturmer”, edited by the infamous sadist, Julius Streicher, they published a picture of the Aleksander Rebbe and an appeal that they were searching for him, accusing him with a
blood-libel. The Rabbi was able to escape thanks to devout followers who found him a hiding place. Only a small group of people knew where the Rabbi was hiding, my father being one of them. Since entering and leaving the ghetto was forbidden, my father was anxious to use the opportunity of my travel to send some needed things to the Rabbi.

The house where the Rabbi was hiding was on Dzielna Street. When I arrived there, I was greeted by one of the Rabbi's sons. I gave him the small package sent by my father and I waited for an answer. While sitting in the room waiting, the door opened and the Rabbi entered, dressed in his distinguished rabbinical attire. He said, “I wanted to see the daughter of Reb Joseph.” When he saw me, he asked some questions and he blessed me that I should succeed.  

Leaving for Czestochowa

Having been so impressed with the encounter, I came home fully inspired and shared with my family my impressions. They listened to me with great eagerness.

In the meantime, Otwock was hit by a typhus epidemic and many people lost their lives. My parents also became sick. We were fortunate that there were some good Jewish doctors who tried to save the sick people. Simultaneously, the season for grabbing people in the streets for all kinds of forced labor began.

The Germans ordered that in each house where there was someone sick with typhus, the door had to have an announcement declaring that there was a typhus patient inside. Many did it to protect themselves from being grabbed for forced labor. A little while later, the food situation in Otwock became very critical. The opportunities for 'contraband' of meat became very limited due to the epidemic and we faced small prospects of surviving 'above water'...

Fortunately, our Uncle Solomon, who lived until 1937 in Zloczew, and moved to Sieradz, came to us. When the war started, seeing the nearing danger, he got Aryan papers for his family and himself. He changed his name to Stefan. Also his Christian looks helped him to identify himself as a Christian. Thanks to his papers he was able to acquire a home in the Aryan part of Warsaw. My uncle used his Aryan documents and freely moved around the city and occupied himself with various business activities. Among them, he established a sawmill in the Warsaw suburbs, and was doing pretty well, so much so that he was able to help us. Of great importance was the fact that he possessed Aryan documents and thanks to them he was able to move around freely to all places, to hear all kinds of news, important for the situation of the Jews, because none of the Gentiles kept secrets from him.

One day, my uncle found out the Germans were planning to deport all Warsaw Jews to concentration camps. No one at that time understood what that meant. Having received this information, my uncle did not wait. He went to the train station and came in a hurry to Otwock and shared with us the terrible news. We realized that what was happening today to the Jews of Warsaw, would happen tomorrow to us everywhere. This meant: The ground was burning under our feet. The consequence of it was that we had to disappear immediately from that place and we decided to move to Czestochowa because we heard that Jewish life there was still bearable.

At daybreak, we left Otwock. We walked all day and in the evening we arrived in the town of Polanica, not far from Czestochowa. We were hiding in an attic at the home of a friendly Polish family for several days.

Through the Hole of a Fence

Sitting in the peasant's attic, we took the opportunity to converse and get advice from the Polish family on what to do. They advised us to try to 'smuggle' ourselves into the Czestochowa's ghetto, thinking that that would save our situation.

The crossing from Polanica to Czestochowa was a very complicated task because Jews were not permitted to use the trains. We needed to have a “convoy” of Gentiles accompany us, in order to disorient the enemy. After many difficulties and complications, we finally came close and went inside the ghetto.

In the ghetto, we saw that the conditions there were much better that in other places. Yes, there were many incidents of brutalities against Jews, but the general situation was bearable and we all hoped that, perhaps, we would survive this tragic period. We just knew that we had to try not to lose faith. During these days, we even were able to receive letters from our hometown of Zloczew. I remember that my father received a letter from our uncle, Cohen (or Kon). I remember him saying: “It seems that his hand was shaking when writing this letter. We can imagine that the situation there is not good, and they suffer great pain.” My sister arrived with us together at Czestochowa, but she did not enter the ghetto. She returned to Warsaw to live together with our uncle, Stefan.

In the ghetto, they divided the Jews into different groups. We worked in ammunition factories, or at the Mobellager Werke. My father also joined one of the groups. After strenuous efforts, he managed to get the proper document. So time passed with very hard work and lack of food, but we were satisfied that in comparison with other places where we had been, this place was bearable. We lived with hope that perhaps we would survive.

As it turned out, all our hopes were an illusion. One day my Uncle Stefan found out that Czestochowa was also in line, that the Germans were planning an 'action' in the ghetto, with the goal to transfer the Jews to a concentration camp and liquidate them. He decided to inform us of the upcoming 'action' and told us that he was coming from Warsaw to Czestochowa.

As I was close to the gate, I noticed my Uncle Stefan walking back and forth, hoping that we would notice him in order that he could give us proper instructions. He wasn't able to enter through the gate because Ukrainian guards watched the gate. So he kept waiting for someone to notice him. In case he would not be able to contact us, he prepared a written note, outlining instructions for us. When he saw me at the gate, he wrapped the note in a stone, throwing it to me. I hurriedly picked it up and read it, so that no one would notice me.

Our uncle informed us in the note of the forthcoming German action. He also said that he contacted the Polish owner of a house close to the ghetto. My uncle gave us instructions on how to escape from the ghetto and enter the neighboring Polish home. Since the note mentioned children, I took my brother and we left the ghetto in a market place where there was an opening in the gate. We crawled over and went to the Polish home. Our arrival at the home did not draw any special attention because they knew that we were coming. Half an hour later, a man sent by our uncle came and asked us to follow him. We walked secretly through the side streets and entered the home of a Polish family. They took us to a cellar room.  The transfer was needed because the Germans were seeking Jews who escaped from the ghetto, and they would suspect the house near the ghetto of hiding Jews.

We did not sleep all night, shivering from cold and fear. We heard the scratching of rats running around the cellar floor. My brother, only eight years old, was very scared, but the most terrible was still awaiting us.

In the Monastery of Jasna Gora

We already knew that our road was mined with frightening danger; we walked 'with our soul in our hands and shuddering heart beat'. Slowly, slowly, we adjusted to the danger and we started to search for a 'natural' hiding place. We knew where we could find our uncle, but we knew that during daylight hours we could not go there and had to wait for the evening when we had to find a place to hide. We went to the town garden, thinking that perhaps we would find a place in the shadow that would protect us. But we discovered that we made a mistake: there were no people in the garden and our entry looked suspicious, so we left the place in a hurry.

In the meantime, we became hungry. We noticed a food stand, so we walked over to buy something to eat. As we looked around, we noticed that close by was the famous Polish monastery of Jasna Gora that I recognized by its magnificent tower and remembered from my geography class in school.  I started to think that if I could enter the church it could be a good hiding place. My brother and I entered the vestibule and to our surprise no one stopped us from going inside. Maybe they were thinking that we were Christian children, or perhaps because of the stressful times no one paid attention to us.

Our worries did not end. Because we never in our lives had visited a church, we did not know how to behave. My brother did not know that he should take off his hat, how to pray and how to kneel. We looked at the other people and did the same things as they did. Slowly we entered the main church and were able to stay there until the evening. At nighttime, we left the church and went to look for our uncle's place.  This time we were lucky. As we got there, a man was already waiting for us and accompanied us to a Christian home where some Czestochowa Jews who had escaped from the ghetto were hiding.

The home belonged to a Christian widow whose daughter belonged to the Polish underground. They were concerned with the fate of the Jews, and arranged that the Jews from her home be resettled to permanent, secure places. My Uncle Stefan was also associated with the illegal underground movement, but he did not let his children be settled in this home. He sent his children to a home run by the Church.

At this Christian widow's home, we lived for several weeks or perhaps months. During this period, the Germans liquidated the general ghetto. They left the so called: “Small Ghetto” with five thousand people, from a population of forty thousand Jews. The people remaining in town were employed in different vocations at the local factories, producing goods for German war industries.

My sister arrived from Warsaw to Czestochowa in order to find out what was happening to us. Since she looked like a Christian and had Aryan papers, she was able to move around freely. She was the contact-person for all our family, spread all over many ghettoes.

Arriving here, she discovered that all my family members were sent to Treblinka... Just our uncle, his sister in-law, Pola, my brother and I were the only survivors. With great self-sacrifice, my sister saved Pola from the Czestochowa ghetto and took her to a hiding place. But something happened and she was forced to bring her to us, and I was able to find her another hiding place, according to her instructions. Since we were now orphans, our uncle became our “guardian.” He cared for us and provided for our needs as much as he was able to. He had many acquaintances in Christian circles and thanks to his financial means he was able to find secure places to save us. One of his accomplishments was the securing for us of German Kennkarte (Identification card). It is worthwhile to describe how he was able to pull this off.

My Uncle Stefan knew a well-known priest in a small town who was in charge of the registration of all inhabitants in his area - native-born children and deceased citizens. It is possible that the priest knew that my uncle was Jewish, but he pretended that he did not know it. Maybe he did know, but he wasn't sure. In any case, he never let it be known that he knew with whom he was dealing. When my uncle appealed to him to register us and supply us with proper documents, he pulled out the list of deceased people, he destroyed some individual documents and entered our names, compared our ages to the deceased, to their height, age, gender and looks. In this way, the deceased was resurrected, continued to live, but the 'corpse' had to leave town and find another, far away place, so that God-forbid, someone would not meet the 'deceased' on the street and, God-forbid - “faint”. Still, even when armed with needed documents, our problems were not fully solved. Our appearance in a new, strange place would attract attention and people would be suspicious of us. Therefore, we needed to find places where the appearance of strangers would not raise suspicions of the local population. It was then that he had a brainstorm: We should go to a spa resort where many of the people were visitors who came to recuperate.

We must also add that in the occupied areas of the “General Government” (that was what the Germans called the area where we were), it was not allowed to change one's place of residence. The local governments did not allow registration of new arrivals. Only in resort areas people were allowed to stay temporarily. So these were our plans, to follow the local orders, and we moved to a small village, Mszana Dolna, near Zakopane.

When we arrived by train, we immediately went to the registration office and registered as 'spa patients'. We knew exactly to whom to turn. The person was the one with whom our uncle made all the arrangements. Naturally, the contact-functionary received a substantial gift from my uncle so everything went without complications. He also rented a room for us in a house that rented rooms to vacationers, so it did not awaken any suspicion. All three of us settled in one room: our uncle's sister-in-law, Pola, my sister and I. My brother remained in hiding in a home close to Czestochowa. After a while, my uncle brought his daughters and admitted them into a children's home. 

In Constant Suspense

Our life in our new place was in constant suspense. It was a life of people who were scared and persecuted. We were always on alert because we were always in danger at any step. Walking on the street, we noticed that we were not the only Jews in this town. It turned out that the 'trick' we used to save us, was not our only, exclusive monopoly. Others also had the same idea. Nevertheless, when we met a Jew on the street, our eyes crossed, and we silently continued walking. Because we never were one hundred percent sure who and when would be caught - in times like these, we shivered and feared our own shadow. Yet, deep in our heart, these types of encounters left a sharp gnarl and pain, because it showed the whole tragedy of our existence, that we were scared to exchange a worthwhile greeting when meeting another Jew. We did not even have the guts to say a word to each other.

Naturally, on the outside, we played the role of good Christians. When the Christmas holidays came, we decorated a Christmas tree and sang Christmas carols in loud voices.  But, often, all these 'cosmetic' decorations did not help much. Maybe some Jews did not absorb properly their new 'national belonging.'

The local Christians slowly discovered the whole 'affair' and rumors started to spread that among the newly arrived people there were Jews hiding behind false documents. There were incidents when Christians argued between themselves; they threatened each other that they would report their foe for hiding Jews. I also was upset when one of the neighbors made a remark that I had a long nose, like a Jew.

The person who lived through this dark period could understand the panic and fear upon hearing such a remark. Rumor and remarks of that type spread around, until one day posters appeared on all streets that the authorities ordered all vacationers to leave town within the next twenty four hours. For ignoring the order, people would be punished with the death penalty. When we found out about the posted orders, we were overcome with fear. We had no place to go. We ran to a phone to get in touch with our uncle, to share with him the sad news.

But our uncle was not scared about the news, as he already knew about the new order. He tried to calm us down and told us not to worry. He was coming over and would try to find a solution. It did not take long. Several hours later, our uncle arrived at Mszana Dolna and after a short visit with us; he went to the same official he dealt with when we arrived. He arranged with him that we would remain two more weeks in the same place, until he would arrange for us another hiding place. When our uncle gave the official a substantial amount of dollars, the whole transaction was conducted as an action of the underground movement. The word 'Jew' was not to be mentioned, not even as a hint.

Our uncle returned to Warsaw, planning a permanent solution. Our situation was temporary, limited for only two weeks. After the 24 hours given to all vacationers to leave the town passed, the Gestapo arrived, entering into all spas and vacation places and started to remove the Jews, who were denounced by the locals. They interrogated the Jews and marched them off in an unknown direction. In the house where we lived, there was a Jewish woman with two children. Sometimes we met her in the hallway and exchanged eye greetings, just glimpses at each other. We never exchanged two words of greeting. Suddenly, the Gestapo arrived and arrested the woman and her two children. This caused curiosity and drew attention among the neighbors. We pretended not to care, but inside, we were terribly shocked and dejected.

On another thought, we were reasoning, if they came to our house and did not bother with us; it was a sign that they did know about us. This put our hearts at ease.  Two days later, we received a phone call from our uncle. He informed us that any day soon my sister would come from Warsaw and pick up the children. He asked me to come with the same train. On the route I would be given an address where to go. He requested that I pay a visit to the home where his children were staying and tell the woman-owner that the children were leaving and she should prepare them for the voyage.

Our landlady was also the proprietor of another guesthouse, where rooms were rented to Jews. One day she came to us with the news that the Gestapo came and arrested the Jews. Naturally, her information made us tremble with fear. The documents in our possession originated from the same source as the papers of the people living in the other house of our landlady. We feared that after the Gestapo would investigate the arrested Jews, they could lead them to us... The landlady, sitting with us and sharing the news about the arrest of the Jews, kept looking at us with suspicion, as if suspecting us of some criminal activity. We told her that we would leave in the evening. We acted very calmly, but inside our bodies, we felt increased heartbeats, feeling the ground burning under us.

The winter was already in full force. A frosty wind was pinching the ears and deep snow covered the rooftops and the streets. It was impossible to travel on wheels, only riding with sleighs. We planned how to arrive in the home where the children were waiting for us and take them to the railroad station. It was still early, but we wanted to take care of all outstanding matters and disappear from the place before any surprise, ill-omened 'visit'.

Per our arrangement, we were supposed to first pick up the children because it would take some time to dress them and prepare them for the long train-ride. In the meantime, we ordered a sleigh to take us to the railroad station.  But this time destiny wanted something else: I was left alone on the road.  Pola was a very brave woman, a strong character; she did not fear any dangerous situations. But this time, she had a premonition that upset her. I suggested to her that we go together, but she refused, saying that we should walk together only in an emergency. If we could avoid going together it would be better. I thought that she was right and I left by myself.

We agreed that we would meet at four o'clock in the afternoon at the home where the children were living. While walking on the street I was thinking about our destiny that was forcing us again to wander, while wild hound dogs lurked around us, and we had no idea what we would face next.

I reached the place of the rental sleigh station and ordered one for the hour he would come to the appointed place. When we reached the children's home we dressed them, packed their belongings and conversed with the proprietor while waiting for the sleigh. But the entire time I was thinking about our future... For the people in the home, I pretended that I did not care about anything, that there was nowhere a happier, more satisfied person in the whole world. In the meantime, the clock was moving forward. It was already four o'clock and Pola did not arrive.

The Gestapo Arrives

A quarter of an hour passed from the time when we were to meet, and Pola still was not there. I thought maybe she was running late. But when three-quarters-of-an-hour passed and she did not arrive, I realized that something must have happened and I started to worry.

Suddenly, I heard bells. The sleigh arrived. In a hurry, I looked out the window and I saw the sleigh, harnessed with two horses, but from where I was standing I wasn't able to see who was sitting in the backseat. I waited until the sleigh reached the front of the house, hoping to see Pola. Before I was able to turn around to see who had arrived, I saw three Gestapo officers walking toward the entrance. For a moment I was in shock, stupefied.

But, I regained strength from my trauma and cried out to the children: “RUN OUTSIDE!”

I myself crawled out through a window into the back yard and started to run all through the yard until I reached the street. I kept running, not even looking back to see if anyone was following me. I didn't want to lose even a minute. I kept running for some time until I reached a street corner. I was short of breath. I looked around: Where am I? I looked in the direction of the children's home and saw that the sleigh was still standing at the entrance and the driver was walking around his sleigh. This meant that the Gestapo was still in the home. I was thinking that if Pola had not arrived yet, perhaps she was still in the home where we lived and for some reason she was late. But, if she would arrive now, she would fall into a 'trap of fire' - into the claws of the Gestapo. I realized I had to run back and alert her to the danger.

But I also had to run and save the children. I stayed and worried what to do first. Both Pola and the children were in danger. I was 'between a rock and a hard place.' I stayed and looked to the road from where Pola was supposed to arrive, and I looked to the house where the children were hiding. Time was passing, every minute felt like a year...

The Gestapo was still inside. There was nothing I could do now, but run to find out what had happened to Pola and try to save her.

A Spark in the Darkness

Walking hurriedly in the direction of the home where Pola was, I met the young son of the homeowner, a young lad who didn't care about things that happened to their guests. He told me what was happening. I asked him if he saw Pola? He said: No. But the Germans came to the house. His words hit me like a thunderbolt. I realized why Pola did not come to us at the designated hour.

I became desperate and did not know what to do and where to go. I was thinking that in an hour my sister would arrive. If she would not find us at the railroad station, she would go and search for us in both houses where we were living, or she would go to the children's home. Both were dangerous places, and this could cause a new calamity.

I decided to go to the railroad station to warn my sister of the peril awaiting her. I returned to the sleigh station and asked to be driven to the train station. On the road, I noticed that the Gestapo was controlling passersby. I was thinking, maybe they are looking for me? Naturally, I was tense and depressed.  It got dark and this helped to cover my worried face.

The driver did not notice the change because the Gestapo control got his attention. In the middle of the road was a mountainous area and we stepped off the sleigh to help the horses on the snow-bedecked road. The driver used the occasion to start a conversation with the passenger. He started to 'jabber' about the latest news: “At the railroad stations the Germans are controlling the documents of all people entering the station, something must have happened, they are searching for Jews.”

He said it in a tone that required a response. Keeping silent would be suspicious so I answered him with an astounded question: “How come they are looking for Jews? Didn't they already remove them all?”

But he immediately remarked that I was mistaken, that I was very naïve that I could not understand what was happening around and around. So he took the opportunity to enlighten me, that the “Jews are very refined, sophisticated, they know how to crawl out from any tangle. Today two women ordered my sleigh to take them from a home to the station, and guess what? Both of them were Jews. The Gestapo arrived before me and took them away.”

Listening to him I started to shiver, thinking that perhaps in his words there was a hint about me, remembering that when ordering the sleigh, I said that three women would travel to the railroad station, Pola, my sister and I. If they caught me, this could be catastrophic for many people, because all our false documents were issued at one place. I started to tear up my papers on the way, before we reached the station. I told the driver that my train was due later in the evening, and I wanted to use the extra time to drive around in the fresh air, as that was my hobby.

I told him to let me off at a little distance from the station to stroll around and enjoy the fresh air. To my luck, no one controlled my documents. I went to the ticket window and asked the clerk when the train from Warsaw would arrive. I was told that the train was already there and would leave again in ten minutes. I started to search for my sister, but was not able to find her. I was disappointed and mixed up with all the tragic happenings of the day. The Gestapo was in the home of the children, Pola found herself in great danger and here - I could not find my sister. What could I do? Where shall I go? I went to the cashier's window and asked for a ticket to Warsaw, changed my mind and asked again. The cashier looked at me like at a crazy woman. Finally I got on the train, did not travel to Warsaw, but only two stations. When I stepped off the train I remembered an address of some people who would perhaps be able to help me in my situation. 

In the time when we were still in Mszana-Dolna, my sister met a young Polish man while traveling on the same train. He recognized that she was a Jewish girl. He tried to entrust his 'discovery' to her, but she denied, did not admit, for understandable reasons, that she was Jewish. Quietly, he whispered into her ear that he knew who she was and there was no reason for her to fear him. He added that he was willing to help her and as a sign that he could be trusted and his offer was serious, he told her that he was active in the Polish underground, that he was living on false documents and was being sought by the police.

It seemed like from that encounter, a friendship and trust developed between my sister and the young Polish man. The new friend lived together with another close friend, also a member of the underground, in the village where I now stepped down off the train. They lived in a house away from suspicious neighbors' eyes. Leaving the railroad station, I just walked aimlessly on the street of the village, not knowing any address and not even knowing any names. I just asked several people if they knew any young men living alone somewhere in the village.

For a while I rambled around the village. It was pitch dark and already the 'Sperstunde' (curfew). People who found themselves on the streets then were threatened with the death penalty. But I had nothing to lose, so I kept walking, with the little information I was able to collect. Suddenly I noticed from a distance a pale lantern light shining in the darkness. That was the house of the two illegal Polish men. Naturally they were surprised and bewildered at my appearance.

A Cavern under the Bridge

Leaving The Cellar

In the beginning, the food rations were bearable. As time passed by, hunger became a force, as there was less and less food because we were running out of things to sell. To leave the cellar to inhale some fresh air was a luxury that we were able to enjoy very seldom. Once a month we were able to leave the cellar, one at a time, for a little while. While we were 'upstairs', all doors were locked and the window shutters closed, so that no one could see or hear us.

Our proprietor was a drunkard who liked to drink very often and when he was drunk, he started to jabber, 'whatever was on his lung was babbling on his tongue'...On these occasions we often heard that it was his great wish and desire that we disappear, that he was scared to keep us. Once he came home highly inebriated, he started to assault his wife, screaming, throwing utensils. His screaming was so loud that we heard it in our cellar-hiding place. He wasn't satisfied with his shrieking and violent behavior, but insisted that he had to go down to the cellar. His wife blocked him from entering.

We were alone in the cellar listening to the commotion, not paying attention to his wild behavior. But later, when he went to sleep, one of his grandchildren who seemed to have been sent by the owner's wife told us that when the house owner got drunk, he talked too much to “strange ears” about our existence...

The news was a great shock for us. We considered our situation catastrophic and we understood that to stay was very dangerous, so we decided to escape.

Again we faced a decisive moment on our sad martyrs' road. We had lived in the cellar over a year, from 1943 to 1944. We were already reconciled to the distressful and miserable afflictions. It was already the time when spring was approaching. We noticed a spark of hope, a light in our deep darkness. The Germans suffered one defeat after another on all fronts and constantly found themselves in “orderly retreat.” So we believed that if we tried to hold on a little more, we would live to see Hitler's downfall.  And here, suddenly, such a calamity!  Again we were facing a terrible reality, naked, lonely, facing the question: Where could we go?

The decision to escape was not a problem; it was easy. But, what should we do? Not one of us knew.  In any case, we decided for all of us not to wander in the same direction, because if they arrested someone of our group, not all of us would be lost. I myself, my uncle and the other Jew went one way and the others went on another track. We started going in the direction of Polanica, where we hid some time earlier when we were close to Czestochowa.

Back To Otwock

At nightfall, we walked on the road and after a while we came to a forest. We continued on side roads all night in order that no one should notice us. We tried to cover a long distance, unnoticed.  In the early morning we reached the end of the forest and only a few kilometers were left for us to go on a dusty, sandy road in order to reach the house we were thinking would help us in our goal. We came to the door, but when the owner realized who we were, he explained to us that we were not welcome...

We were very hungry. We begged that he should allow us to enter his home. He became softhearted and allowed us to enter his stable and stay overnight. Late in the evening he brought us some bread. We were thinking that perhaps we found a place where to rest, but this was an illusion. Early in the morning, the homeowner came and ordered us to immediately leave his premises, because he had no place to hide us. Not having any other alternative, we returned to our former hiding place, the home of the old drunkard... The one we escaped from, because of the danger of his irresponsible chattering... Late at night we returned to the cellar where we had hidden for a whole year.  We knocked on the window. Responding to the question: “Who is it?” we gave our names.

Contrary to what we were expecting, the owner of the house came out and greeted us in a friendly manner. He was happy to see us and glad that we came back because after he had awakened from his drunken stupor, he was sorry that we left. He realized that this was his mistake. He knew that we were at his home in hiding, arranged by the underground where our uncle was active. Our uncle used to come, from time to time, to visit us. The homeowner was under the impression that we were in very close relations with the underground and because he treated us in an unfriendly way, it could have had some unpleasant consequences for him... Now, when he saw us coming back, he was happy, gave us a warm welcome, courteously invited us into the house, saying: “You are welcome to stay here, without fear...”

Liberation

After a while the other people who were in hiding there also came back. The situation on the war fronts became more intense. The Germans suffered one defeat after another. They were leaving one country after another in their “orderly retreat.” Simultaneously, the activities of the partisans and the underground movement became daily more forceful and more vigorous. Many of their leaders came to visit our hiding place, using us for a variety of secret activities.

One day, an activist, dressed like a nun, came to visit us and I got her attention. She was interested in my background, and said that she would like to take me out from that hiding place. I thought that she was only saying this as a 'wishful thought', but it did not take long and she came again and asked me to leave with her...

On the way, she told me to continue pretending that I was a Christian but at the place to which she was taking me, they knew that I was Jewish. She brought me to a town close to Warsaw, called Piastow and she placed me at the home of her relatives. I lived with her family for two months, until one summer day in June 1944, after a battle, the Germans escaped and we could welcome freedom.

 

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