by Berish Asenhaltz, Tel Aviv
Translated by Ofra Anson
In the early morning of Friday, September 1st, several explosions were heard in the air, shaking the town and waking its residents. People hurried fearfully to the streets, asking what happened. We were told to be calm, that what we heard was just an experimental explosion. It did not take long before we learnt that the Germans had bombed the airplane factory in Vollye. It was clear that the war had begun.
Biala was bombed every day, especially Vollye, though the airplane factory, built in the First World War, was already in poor condition. The town was helpless: there was no was no way to resist the German airplanes. The bombing caused casualties and fires. One such fire ruined the house of Heartglass. Passersby were shot from the airplanes with machineguns. The dead and wounded, Jews and Christians, were laying in the streets. Many people left for the East and the roads were full of wounded who had been shot while leaving.
We celebrated Rosh Hashana under the German bombing. We prayed with extreme devotion. The words Who will live and who will die had a very realistic meaning that year.
The bombing stopped after two weeks. The German army camped in Siedlce, the Red Army in Brisk. Biala remained no man's land. The roads and streets, however, were full of refugees. Yet, instead of fleeing to the East, people started moving to the West. The wounded, with broken and swollen legs, asked for some bread and water. Long queues stood in front of the bakeries, hoping to buy a quarter of a loaf of bread.
The municipality recruited Jews and Christians to form a civil militia to keep order in the town.
Four German tanks arrived from Warsaw Avenue. Seeing the militia, they turned and left in the direction of Brisk Avenue.
A Polish officer, together with the town secretary, Limawski, decided to capture the German tanks. They quickly gathered 200 Polish soldiers from the streets, and sent them in different directions to ambush the tanks. In the evening, when the tanks drove back, they came out, but the Germans opened fire, and left some dead soldiers in the street.
On Tuesday, September 26th, Mayor A. Walawski called a number of citizens for a meeting. The Jewish city secretary came in in the middle of the meeting and brought news that Russian tanks had entered the town. He told the Jews in the meeting: You should welcome the Russian army and with a sarcastic smile put his coat on and left.
Russian officers spoke to the people of the town. The Jews in Biala felt relieved that the town would not fall into German hands. Shops slowly reopened, and the Russian soldiers bought many things, mainly watches. Jewish Russian soldiers quickly made friends with the local Jews, and Succoth was happily celebrated.
The relief was short lived. By Hoshana Rabbah, the German radio declared that the new border between Germany and Russia would be the river Bug.
It meant that Biala would be under German control. The news spread quickly, causing despair. The Russian soldiers did not believe the German news, yet it soon proved to be true, and the Russians started to leave Biala. The Russians declared their willingness to help anyone that wished to move to Russian territory, to provide transportation to people and their goods.
What will happened now? The Jews in Biala asked this question. Everyone knew that it was going to be terrible, but not everyone could decide what is worse: leaving everything, to become homeless and wander like the refugees they saw in town in recent weeks, or to stay put under Hitler's government and see what fate brings.
In the streets, one could see army vehicles driving Jewish families to the station. Nevertheless, only a minority decided to leave. The great majority stayed in their homes.
Thursday, October 10, was a beautiful autumn day. The town, however, was like a ghost town, all doors and gates were closed. The last Russian soldiers had left, and the German army was expected.
A car with a German officer arrived from Warsaw Avenue, accompanied by two armed motorcycles. They arrived at Wolnosci Square, and stopped by the store of Abraham Goldsmith. A few minutes later, a Soviet officer arrived at the same place. After formal greetings, the Soviet officer read the order to hand the town over to the Germans.
The German army entered Biala. Two hours later, German soldiers started to arrest Jews as hostages. Christians with white armbands walked in the streets and kidnaped Jews to work for the Germans, where they were bitterly beaten.
This is how it started.
by R. Bachrach
Translated by Ofra Anson
On Friday evening, the first night of Succoth (September 25, 1942), the secret police, gendarme, and the Gestapo surrounded the Jewish neighborhood in Biala. Early Saturday morning they started to expel the Jews out of their homes and hurried them to the new market, to the gathering point. At the same time, Jews were shot in their homes and on the way to the new market. From the market, most of the Jews were taken to Miedzyrzec Ghetto.
Some fifteen people, including me, my father Joshe Bachrach, my mother Reisel, my brother Yitzhak, my grandmother Rachel and Sara Weisman, hid in a bunker in Arke Weisman's house on Grabanover Street. The bunker had a double wall between a store and a room under the store. The entrance to the bunker was through a small wooden board, which opened under a bed. In the bunker, people stood in line; the children stayed in a hole above the heads of the standing people. We were there for several days. My grandmother Rachel could not stand it and went out. She was immediately sent to Miedzyrzec.
News from outside was heard in the bunker from time to time. We heard that Ivanitzki (the vicemayor) had joined the Polish police in the search for Jews in hiding. We heard Jews screaming as they were shot in the street. We heard that once, the Christian streetscleaners asked Ivanitzki what to do with a dead horse lying in the street and he answered: put the horse on the pile of dead Jews who were taken to the cemetery.
On the last day of Succoth the Germans discovered our bunker and took us to the secret police station on Grabanover Street, in the building of the elementary school. There they put us on a truck and sent us to the Miedzyrzec Ghetto.
In the Miedzyrzec Ghetto everyone looked for work to make a living. Selig Jacobovitch, Tuchshneider, and my father got a job digging up potatoes. Together with my mother, my little brother, and Zipporah Finkelstein, they went to Wysokie, 8 km from Miedzyrzec. A few days later, on Friday, October 9th, we were sent back to Miedzyrzec. On our way, the Germans shot Zipporah Finkelstein.
The second Action in the Miedzyrzec Ghetto started on Tuesday, October 6th, 1942. This was the first deportation to Treblinka. My two grandmothers, Rachel Rubinstein and Tzivia Bachrach were deported that day. From Tuesday to Friday, Jews were collected from their working places, bunkers, and other placed and gathered in the school. We also went to the school and, a few hours later, we were marched through the streets to the city square. On both sides, gendarmes, Gestapo, the secret police, and Ukrainian and Polish police officers, who kept shooting, guarded us. The way was paved with dead bodies, and the shooting continued after we reached the square.
In the evening, we were brought to a cargo train, with very small windows with barbed wire. We were rushed into the carriages, women and children separated from the men.
I was in the same wagon with my mother, my brother, and my aunts Hadel BachrachSapir and Sara BachrachFinkelstien. Luba Tuchshneider was with us too.
About 10 o'clock, the train started moving. People immediately struggled to get to the windows. The Barbed wire had been broken and people started to jump out of the train. I was sleeping, but my mother woke me up and pushed me out of the window. This was before Siedlce. I fell into the ditch by the railway. Soon another person who jumped fell on me, hitting my face with his shoe so hard that I lost a tooth. The train guards kept shooting those who jumped, and my leg was wounded.
Together, a group of jumpers started running and looking for a place to hide. We reached a village. Some people went to look for us in order to give us in to the Germans. Each of us bought his way with what he/she had. We learnt to avoid villages from then on.
Meanwhile, the wound in my leg gave me a lot of pain, and I could not go on. I asked the others to leave me alone and save their own life. They refused and carried me on their back for as long as they could. We found a barn and they left me there.
I think that I was unconscious. I do not know for how long I laid there, perhaps 23 days. When I gained consciousness, my leg was bandaged, and a bowl of food stood next to me.
It did not take long before the door opened, and the owner of the barn told me that I could not stay there. He said that he could not throw me out of the barn in the state he found me, but he cannot take the risk that his neighbors will find out that he hides me. That night he put me on a wagon, covered me with hay, and took me to Miedzyrzec.
The Action was still going on in the Miedzyrzec Ghetto. A relative of mine took me to a bunker located in a leather shop by the river. There my wound was cleansed and I got some food.
When the second Action was over, all the people that were in their workplaces came back to the Ghetto. My father was among them, and when he learnt that my mother and my little brother had been sent to Treblinka, he fainted, and his hair became white overnight.
Doctor Koses treated my leg. He took out the bullet and treated the wound until it was healed.
The Ghetto was quiet for about three weeks. Suddenly, one evening, there was panic again. Those who worked outside the Ghetto packed up few things and left. I joined them, we went to the train station, bought a ticket, and went to Biala.
Next to the train station in Biala was a working camp, where Jews were working. I went in and people who knew me hid me. After a week, the camp was dismantled, and its inhabitants moved to a camp on Warsaw Boulevard.
All that day I was hiding in a concrete canal in a field by the train station. In the evening, I went to the station, to buy a ticket to go back to Miedzyrzec. I saw a few Christians who knew me, and I was afraid that they would identify me as a Jew. So I wandered off at a distance, trying not to be seen. A German soldier approached me and started talking to me. I ignored him as if I do not understand German. He told me not to be afraid of him, that he knows I am Jewish and that I understand German.
He asked me where I want to go and if I had money. I gave him money; he bought me a ticket and took me to the trains to the wagon he was riding.
I came to Miedzyrzec at the end the third Action, which had started while I was in Biala. The Ghetto was full of Germans. This Action took a long time, because it was difficult to gather enough Jews to fill up the transport. They were concentrated in the school and in the basements of the houses around it, where they had to wait before they were taken to the train.
I went to the German brush factory, where I had an acquaintance. They found me a place to sleep. Next morning they wanted to send me to work in the kitchen, but the Jewish supervisor did not allow it. My acquaintance took me to a bunker, which was inside the camp, where an old man with a long, white beard and a boy about 12 years old, were staying. The old man started shouting take out the female (I was 16 at that time). I was so tense at that point, that I told him that I am not leaving, and if I go, he will too. He screamed so loud, that the Germans overheard him and took us all out.
We were led to the school. Other Jews, who were working in different places, joined us on the way. When I had a chance, I left the group and hid under a big stone next to a heap of wood next to the road. I laid there until it was dark. At night, I went to the camp. The Jewish supervisor of the headquarters' camp wanted to send me away, but I asked him how much money he wants; he said a tenner (a ten rubbles gold coin from the Czar regime). I still had some such coins and I gave him one. He took me to the women's dorm, and in the morning, I went to work in the headquarters (washing flours, shining windows, and such).
On the second day, people started suddenly running to the windows. They said that a convoy of dead Jews was passing by. I was washing a window and looked out. On one of the carriages, I saw the head of my father, dressed in a black coat and bare feet. Something inside me pushed me out of the house, I ran after the convoy, and held my father's foot. I could not utter a word, and I for a whole month did not speak. The undertakers begged me to go away before the Germans shot me, but I did not even understand what they wanted from me. One of the street cleaners grabbed me and forced me back into the building. I worked there for a few days, and rumors started, saying that in the next Action even those who worked in the headquarters and in the factory would be taken. People started to leave their work and look for hiding places. I hid in an attic with some other people between bales of straw. The Germans found us and took us to a large square between the camps. More and more people were brought to this place. On the side of the square stood a wooden building, which used to be the workers' dining and later served as a storage room for the Germans. Inside were long tables and benches. I moved slowly towards that building and hid under a bench. An old German spotted me and aimed his gun at me. As I could not speak, I begged for my life with motions. He felt sorry for me and said that the place I found is not a good one because the light falls on it, and led me to the other side of the room. He covered me with a blanket, and told me not to move, because the place will be searched. Sure enough, some Ukrainians came searching with flashlights, and by miracle did not get to my corner. I stayed there for two days.
Two days later, I heard steps. The German who saved me came in, with the Jewish supervisor of the camp near the headquarters. He showed him where I was, told him to give me some food, and left. He told me that the Action was over, that people had started to return to the camp and within few hours, I would be able to go back too. He did not give me any food but asked if I had money left. I showed him the few tenner I had; he took one, and left.
A few hour later, when I heard that people were walking by, I came out and returned to the headquarters. I stayed there for more than two weeks. During this time, the Jewish supervisor took all the money I had, and then told me to leave the camp.
One Friday night in early December, I was forced to leave the camp and return to the Ghetto.
I arrived at the Ghetto at 6pm, in the midst of shooting started by the SS members, Heine and Dukow, from Radzyn and the Gendarme Frantz Bower, whom we named the beater. The Germans in the Ghetto were extremely cruel and were proud of the number of Jewish victims they had shot. Shlomo'le Shuster (called Shlomo'le Bialer, because his family came from Biala), who worked in the Gendarmerie next to Shotz Square, used to say that each time Frantz Bower returned from the Ghetto he marked a little line above his bed for each Jew he had shot.
I was told that by the wire fence at the end of the Ghetto, in a room that used to serve for praying, I could find people from Biala. I went there and met Golda Kalichstein, Basha RosenKalichstein with her two children and the younger sister of Basha and Golda. The made me a place to sleep on the floor next to them. My relative, Nathan Eidelman, who lived in Miedzyrzec, soon came and took me to him. The next day I became sick, I had a high fever, and Dr. Koses, who had treated my leg, came to care for me again.
A day later there was again a panic in the Ghetto, everyone started running and hiding. The Germans were looking for workers for the brush factory in Travnic, and my relatives packed some things and went to work there. I got up, put some clothes on and went looking for a bunker. No one would let me in because of my fever. I went to the school, where the sick went, and laid on the floor among them. I fell asleep. I do not know how many days I slept. All I remember is that oneday an undertaker slapped my leg. I opened my eyes but did not know what was happening to me. One day I woke up and felt new strength in me. I got up, went to the sink to wash myself a little and went outside.
The first person I met was Abraham'ele Nussbaum from Miedzyrzec, who lived with the wife of Shimon Blankleider (the thin), a daughter Bela, a son Josel and his wife. A. Nussbaum took me in with them. Mrs. Blankleider immediately washed me with warm water, fed me, and got me a clean bed to sleep in. I stayed there until the fifth Action.
New Years' Eve 194243, SS men came from Biala and started amusing themselves by shooting Jews in the Ghetto. Many Jews from Biala were killed and wounded that day.
There were no Actions during the winter months, but Actions resumed immediately after Passover.
Sunday morning, May 2nd 1943 when it was still dark out, news that the Ghetto was surrounded by Germans passed from house to house. People started running, looking for a hiding place. With the first light, we heard the Germans shouting: All Jews out.
We went to the attic and hid under the straw. We heard a bang on the door, and the Germans came in and took out whoever they found there. They came up to the attic and took us to the gathering place located in the middle of the market.
They choose the young and healthy men and sent them to Majdanek. Those left in the market had to sit on the earth motionlessly. A young man who sat next to me was shot and wounded when he tried to lift himself a little to stretch a leg. He was bleeding and begged for help, but nobody moved, as we were afraid.
Before noon, we were marched to the train. Dead bodies and small children stayed in the market place when we left.
We were marched to the train in lines. Most people went straight, with no protest. We were tired of life. In the same line with me walked Malka Blankleider, her daughter Bela, and her daughter in law (Josel, her son, was taken with the other group). While we were walking, I asked Bela if she would jump of the train if it will be possible and told her how to jump. She said that she will not jump, she had enough and does not want to live any longer.
We went on the train, not too crowded, about fifteen people in a wagon. In our wagon was an old woman, I do not know from where. She asked who intends to jump and divided her money and jewelry between them. She gave me 300 zlotys, a watch and a necklace, telling me that I will need them.
About a quarter of an hour after we left the station, a woman put her stool under me, Bela Blankleider pushed me to the window,
which was quite high, and I jumped off the train. Another three people jumped with me. I hid in a canal by the railway, and the train passed. A broken house was close by and I ran and entered it.
While I was laying there, I heard steps. A Polish person came in and told me not to fear him. He told me that he saw me jumping off the train and getting into the house, that he was from Miedzyrzec, and there is an empty shed next to him, and invited me to go there at night in the dark, and he will make me a place and bring me food.
I was afraid to be alone, and I asked him to wait and watch me from short distance until night. He promised me to do that. Later, when we got closer to the town, some nonJewish youngsters spotted me and shouted: Jewish woman! I tried to buy my way and gave them all the money I had. At the end, the man chased them away. I entered the house he showed me and hid in a corner in the attic.
The Polish youngsters soon came back looking for me. They did not find me, and went to seek help from a German who did find me. I told him that I could not walk, because I hurt my leg jumping off the train. He pushed me off the stair I was sitting on and I fell through a broken stair. I could see that the German did not want to be bothered with me. Because I said I could not walk, they brought a cart and set me between them. On the way, he whispered in my ear that he does not set me free only because of the Polish pig.
They brought me to the Polish police, where a woman who worked there was called, and they told her: Take this shit. She led me to a different room, where she told me to undress completely; she searched me and made me jump to make sure I did not hide anything. Then she told me to get dressed and took me to a cell in a big barn in the police station yard. I saw there, Polish people who had been beaten so hard that they lay there and moaned and could not even turn from side to side. One of the beaten youngsters asked me for the jacket I was wearing because I am going to be shot anyway, and he will pray for the Jews. I told him that I will happily give him cholera. A Jew from Miedzyrzec was also there, and when he saw me, he said: Tomorrow both of us will lie in a grave. He told me that he was hiding with his sister; she was shot when they were found, and he was taken to the police because he convinced them that he had some gold hidden. His first name was Solomon. I do not remember his last name, but I think that he survived and went to America.
On the wall, we saw lists of Jewish names, probably of Jewish prisoners. Some were written with blood. There were dates next to some of the names. According to Salomon, the majority of these Jews had been shot.
In the evening we heard a key turning in the cell door. We were sure that they had come to take us to be shot. Instinctively, we moved to a corner. The door opened, and food was brought in, declaring: No food for Jews! We spent the night there, and each time we heard steps close to the cell, Solomon caught my hand and said: They are coming to take us.
In the morning, about 7 o'clock, some Polish policemen came, and led us all out to the yard. The weather was nice, armed Polish police officers guarded us. After a while, we were taken back to the cell.
By midday I heard a group of Jews marching by, I heard Yiddish, and for no reason I felt happy. I was sure I was going to stay alive. The door opened and about twenty Jews entered, most of them women. Of all of them, I remember the nurse from the Jewish police in the Miedzyrzec Ghetto, whose kindness stood out, trying to help in any possible way.
I learnt from them that a second transport had been taken from the Ghetto, and because the Ghetto was meant to be free of Jews, they were taken from the gathering place to clean up the Ghetto, and to take the stuff left behind to the stores. The people of this group set and mourned their relatives.
About 4pm, the group, Solomon, and I were taken to the yard. They arranged us in rows of two and they lead us to the Ghetto. The put us in a house close to the Ghetto's external barbed wire. This house became the shop where the different things that had been left in the Ghetto were sold. We were housed on the second floor, they showed us the beds and sent us to the Ghetto to look for bedding and food. A Shupa [horse groom, O.A.] remained downstairs.
The first thing we saw in Ghetto was the terrible condition of the buildings. Broken doors, smashed windows, feathers from torn pillows and bed covers, scattered dishes, etc.
In the Ghetto we could walk around freely. I went together with another three girls, one of them was Bronya Grossman from Lodz. I went to the bunker where my cousin, Ida Kornbloom, stayed, to try to learn what had happened to her. The bunker was in the attic. I went in and heard some noise. I understood that there are some people up there, who hid when they heard my steps. I called: Ida! she recognized my voice and came out. I told her that the Ghetto is, as the Germans say, Judenrein and that she must leave the bunker, which was within the Ghetto. I watched the Shupa [groom of horses, O.A.] who stood by the building next to the outer wire fence, and when he left his place, I shouted Now! One by one they came out of the house and left the Ghetto.
After that, I went from house to house to look for bedding. In the first house, I saw the headless body of an old woman under the quilt I wanted to take. I got scared, I jumped and screamed and stayed standing almost speechless. Later I saw her head from the corner of my eye. I left this house and entered a second one, from which I took few things. Suddenly somebody grabbed my ankle from underneath. I screamed, and that person covered my mouth and asked me what was going on. There were some people hidden in a bunker in that house, and when they heard Yiddish, one of them came out. I told him what the situation was.
I went on, to the third house. From there I took a quilt, a cover, and pillows. I also changed my dress, which was torn when I jumped off the train. We also found there a long piece yarn; we took it, thinking that it could be useful if we will have to jump out of a window. We packed the bedding, an alarm clock and few jars of comfiture, in the bed cover, tied it with the yarn and went back to the shop.
We made our beds and went to sleep. Two persons were always on guard, watching out of the windows. The guards changed every two hours. We saw the Germans looking for bunkers and hiding Jews in the Ghetto. Those who they found, they either shot immediately on the street, or took them to be shot in the graveyard. In the morning, we found dead bodies in the street.
Our group's duty was to bring from the Ghetto all the things left there into the house made to a store. The big things brought in on a cart. I worked sorting out the things in the store. New things we packed separately and brought them to the secret police to Lieutenant Seifert. Among the things, we often found Jewelry and gold sewed to clothes.
After few days, the Germans left the Ghetto. Jews who were hiding in bunkers came out and came back to the Ghetto. Some of them got a job in the stores.
The commander of the Jewish police was Lovech, a musician from Bialystok, who was a police officer in his past, and most of his time played for the Germans outside the Ghetto. He started to replace workers with his acquaintances. Later on, they gave him what he deserved. He fired me too, and I went back to the Ghetto.
The Ghetto was not a safe place. At night we used to get out of the Ghetto or and stay in bunkers.
About 89 in the morning, when we heard that it was quiet, we went back to the Ghetto, washed ourselves, refreshed we slept through the day. Food came from the farmers to the stores. There was no shortage of food.
As the time passed, groups of people left for the fields around Miedzyrzec. A variety of armaments had been found and taken by these groups. From time to time, they would return to the Ghetto to get food and other things. Jews had to be very careful in the fields. On the one hand, the Polish Armia Krajowa [The Peoples' Army, an underground resistance group. O.A.] (A militant Polish reactionary and antiSemitic group); on the other, groups of Russian warprisoners who had fled the German prison and took to the fields. The used to assault the Jews, take their armaments and any other thing they had, and chase them away. Their tactic was to show friendliness, to sit with the Jews and Jews were attracted to them and then to start shooting and take their belongings.
I joined such a group once, but three days after we took to the field, a group of Russian prisoners approached us, behaved friendly, ate with us, then surrounded us with pointed guns, shot and wounded a young man from Miedzyrzec, took everything we had and sent our men away. They invited the girls to stay with them, but we all run back to the Ghetto.
I then met my cousin Ida Kornbloom, who told me that she was going to a Christian man, to a bunker, because the rumor was that another Action was about to take place, and that I should also leave the Ghetto. I told her I had nowhere to go. She left with a group of people from Miedzyrzec, and later I heard that she was murdered.
Threefour weeks passed. At the end of May, about 9am, when all came back from their night shelters, the Germans surrounded the Ghetto and the sixth Action began. The people who slept in the store were left alone. The Germans did not look for bunkers, nor did they shoot. The arranged us in lines, and led us to the square downtown, where there was a big shed. There were machineguns all around. When we were all in the square, those who worked in the store were called to step aside. I went out and joined them. The commander Lovech saw me and told a German that I do not belong to the workers. The German approached me and hit me on the back so bad, that I lost my breath, and pushed me back to the other group.
Lieutenant Seifert stood by the entrance to the shed, with other Shupas [horse grooms, O.A.]. When I came to the gate, I had the courage to speak to him, to remind him that I used to bring him packages, and that he saw me many times visiting the shoemaker Shlomele Bialer. He pointed to an open car with benches, where 810 persons were already sitting. He told me to get into the car. More people who were chosen from the square joined us.
The rest of the people were arranged in rows of three and were led to the shed. There they were undressed, men stayed in their underpants, women in blouses, all barefoot. From there they went, in lines, to the train station, and to a deathcamp.
We, who were in the car, were taken to the Polish police station, to the same cell in which I stayed during the fifth Action. A lot of Jews and some Poles were there. The Kleinboims from Radzyn were there too. I went to sleep, and Mr. Kleinboim, who saw how lightly I was dressed, covered me with his jacket. In the morning, we were taken to the stores to sort out pots and dishes.
Translated by Ofra Anson
After the sixth Action, 150200 Jews were left in the Ghetto. Quite a few of them were Jews who had jumped from the train in this Action.
Each one looked for a way to survive, most often in bunkers among nonJews. From Biala I remember Saratshe Waynesfield, Moshe Steinberg (with his sister
Elke, Fievel Bookhalter, Avraham Nuchowitz with his sister Rivka, Judith Ploer with her little son, Shmuel Gviyosdo with his wife Elke, Sara Freter and her brother Pinches, Peark Bas, and M. Feigenboim.
Like the others, I used to wander about during the days, not knowing what to do with myself. In the evening, each one of us went to his or her hiding place for the night's sleep. I did not have a permanent place.
One man, Potash, I think he was the soninlaw of Grodner Kant, sang very well. A group of people used to get together with him in the evenings. He would sing different songs, and people sang along with him.
One day Potash saw me in the Ghetto, and asked me:
Are you here?
How do you know me? I asked.
He told me that he saw me once with my mother and aunts, when my mother wanted to arrange me a job in the Court de l'Or factory. Then, he looked from a distance, but my mother impressed him. He remembered me from then.
He asked me where my mother was, and I told him that she had been taken in the second Action. Then he asked me if I had a bunker somewhere, in case the Ghetto should be emptied completely. When I answered in the negative, he had a suggestion for me: they were three persons; he himself, his wife's cousin (named Alte), and somebody by the name of Makover from Lodz. They had a bunker outside the Ghetto, prepared and used during the first Action by a Jew, and Potash knew about it. He said he will ask Makover, and if he agrees, I will be able to join them. I immediately agreed, of course. We agreed to meet with Makover the next day, and if we will get along, we will close the deal.
The next day we met with Makover, who looked like a real Christian. He liked me and agreed to take me as an additional partner to the bunker. He told me that they were preparing provisions for a whole year. They already had sugar, fat, buckwheat, bags of potatoes, oil, oil burners, pots, bowls, buckets, bed covers, pillows, matrasses, and the like. He said that if I can make some money, I should buy more food, and that I should make sure to have all my personal needs (that is, underwear, dresses, etc.). I immediately started to collect things from the deserted houses, sold them to Christians, and made 150 Zlotys. I bought some food, and gave the rest of the money to Makover, because we needed some cash too.
The next day I packed my things, and we agreed to meet in a temporary shelter in an empty house across from the bunker. In this house, we stored all the stuff we had prepared before moving into the permanent bunker. We also slept in this house, and in the morning, we went back to the Ghetto. A few days passed, and Potash told me that as we are still short of money, they had recruited another two persons, Fievel Bookhalter from Biala, and Leizer (Eliezer) from Serock.
We decided that in a week, when the moon goes down late at night, we will move into the bunker and stay there. The bunker was located in the following place. In the market place of Miedzyrzec stood a hotel, where SS people stayed. Next to this hotel, joined to it by a thick wall, stood a low, small house. On the market side of this house was a store for ironmade equipment. Under the store, on the side of the butchers' street, were the storage barns for this store. Over the store and its storage barns was an empty apartment, with an entrance from an external staircase. Over that apartment was an attic with a diagonal roof, which hung from the side of the butcher's street on a wooden wall of 70cm height, went up to a small window, and then went down, on the side of the market, to the apartment's ceiling. On the side of the market, where the roof descended, there were holes through which we could see all that was going on in the market, but we were hidden from the outside world.
We could not stand in the bunker, we could only sit or walk bent over. The only place we could stand was by the small window and stick out a head. On the wall of 70cm, on the side of the butchers' street, were cracks through which we could see the staircase leading to the apartment and the yard. One of us always sat there to keep an eye on the entrance. When a suspicious movement was detected, he gave a sign and we kept quiet. The entrance to the bunker was through a covered opening in the ceiling of the first room.
At night, a guard who walked around the house watched the store and its storage sheds.
We waited a week, as agreed and about 1am, we started to move to the bunker. We waited until the guard was on the market side of the building, and we ran with our luggage, slippers on our feet or bare foot, and entered the apartment. Most of our belongings were already in the bunker. We waited in the apartment for a while, until the guard finished his tour, and climbed quietly into the bunker.
The internal arrangement in the bunker was as described below. The side of the small wall overlooking the butchers' street has been left free, so we could freely access it. The entrance had also been left free. In the middle, under the small window, stood two oil burners. Next to the built wall, which was attached to the hotel, were the food products and conserved food. The mattresses were moved away a bit from the wall and, a little further on, old straw pillows, under which stood the buckets of water, divided the attic. A stone closed the entrance in the ceiling. Next to the entrance, we prepared a brush and paint, the last one to enter painted the ceiling around the entrance in case it had been scratched accidentally. We did not use a ladder, but we came in and out using a window that was close by and with the help of someone.
We entered the bunker on a Monday, in midJuly, 1943. During the days, the tin on the roof got hot, and we were sweating a lot. We looked out from time to time, and we saw a Jew walking through the market. After three days of silence, we decided to go out Friday night, to pass the Shabbat in the Ghetto, and possibly stay for few more days. We went to sleep dressed in our cloths, and agreed that the first to wake up will wake the others. Fortunately, we slept very well, and when we woke up the moon was high in the sky and we could not go out. We had to delay our plan for the next night.
Saturday morning we heard gunshots from the direction of the Ghetto. We understood what was going on, and stayed in, trembling with fear. About 8pm, we heard steps on the stairs, then in the apartment, and then scratches on the entrance to the bunker. We recognized that these were Jews and opened the door. The same happened on Sunday. In total, four people came to us: Moshe Steinberg from Biala, his sister Elke, Saratshe Waynesfield, and Goldberg from Miedzyrzec. I do not remember who came first. We were now 10 people in the bunker. They told us that some Polish people had shot Germans out of the Ghetto and soon after that the Germans entered the Ghetto. Whoever they found, they shot on the spot, and now the Ghetto was completely empty. Only two Jews were left in the secret police, the shoemakers Shlomo'le Bialer and Siskind. Leshtshuk, a Pole who lived close to the Ghetto and was the main dealer in Jewish belongings, organized a group of Polish youngsters who went from house to house looking for bunkers, taking the Jews out to the Germans, who immediately shot them.
That Sunday we saw a Shupa standing by the church in the Market, supervising the cart leaving the city. They hid two people, probably Jews, and took them away.
One day a group of young Poles came into the apartment under the bunker, shouting Jews out! The searched the apartment and left. I cannot express how we felt.
A week, or ten days later, we saw through the crack in the wall how Leshtshuk and his gang went into the house we had stayed in before we moved to the bunker. Soon they went out, and Leshtshuk was in a hurry. We understood that they had found Jews. Not long later, a Shupa came in. The found about 10 Jews, and they immediately shot them with a machine gun.
The days passed by. We saw the young Poles roaming about, but they did not return to our house. It is possible that they could not believe that Jews would hide next to a hotel that hosts Germans and a above a storage of iron shop.
Meanwhile, each one adjusted to life in the bunker and to the other people. In our small world in the attic, human nature expressed itself, in both positive and negative ways. On one hand, fate had thrown a set of individuals to live together. On the other hand, each individual or each couple lived their own life.
For eating, the women used to boil potatoes, clean groats, etc. Makover, as the head of the bunker, used to cook and divide the food to the others. Usually we had to do with potatoes and groats. As we got our portion, each swallowed the food quickly, in fact, so quickly it seemed that we could see the bottom of the plate before we started eating. Food was not an issue of dispute in the bunker, and meals passed smoothly.
The men changed the water once a month, late at night when it was dark. The street where our bunker was located, went up to the river. Most of the houses were empty; only two Christian families lived on the street, close to the river. The men went quietly and carefully to the river, in one place they spilled the dirty water, and in another filled fresh water to drink and cook.
The summer was very hot. The tin roof over our heads got very hot, and the sweat ran like water. We undressed as much as possible, but to no avail. Through the cracks in the wall, we saw that there is a world out there, where people conduct free lives. NonJews were walking freely in the streets. On Sundays, we saw the girls dressed in their best, going to the church near the hotel. It made us jealous and we wondered whether we would ever live to leave the bunker and live a normal life. Sometimes we became desperate, losing all hope and believed in nothing.
In the evenings, when the outside became quiet, we made sure the bunker also was silent, not to be heard in case someone goes by. When the outside was noisy, we let ourselves express our feelings, not necessarily in a nice way. Couples fought, one young man talked to the girlfriend of another, and the two men had a fight. Since there were several couples in our bunker, there were occasions when almost everyone fought with everyone else. Potash then opened the door of the bunker and shouted: Go down! Why do we need to be discovered and led to extermination? Go of your own free will!
The man from Miedzyrzec had a Polish acquaintance; we used to send him to buy things we needed with the help of his Polish friend. He was one of the best bunker members, but it seems that he could not overcome his human weakness. He did not contribute all his money to the general pool, but kept some for himself. When he went to shop for the bunker, he used it to buy things for himself and his girlfriend. At night, after we went to sleep, we could hear the sound of unwrapping sweets and the smell of sausage.
Potash used to read quietly to us selections from Shalom Aleichem and Gretz, books that we had in the bunker. Later we brought some more books from the Ghetto. A few times, he read and translated for us something in Hebrew, but I cannot remember what it was. He also quietly sang Yiddish songs for us. I remember one song, about Yom Kippur in the synagogue, when the congregation prayed with respect and devotion.
On the market, the Germans set a loudspeaker, which used for announcing the news from the front a few times a day. We could clearly hear the news, but we did not believe it. On the other hand, our member from Miedzyrzec, whose Christian friend had a hidden radio, brought us news from English radio station, and we compared the sources.
Several months passed, and the relationship between the people was tense. In the autumn, Makover, who was afraid that we would be discovered, went to find a new bunker with Christians in a village. As I said, Makover looked like a Christian, and he was best suited for the job. He never came back, and only nine of us were left in the bunker. After a while, our member from Miedzyrzec heard from his acquaintance that somebody had recognized Makover in the street, turned him in, and Makover was shot.
Meanwhile, the sanitary situation in the bunker deteriorated. We almost never washed our bodies. We had lice, flees, and we took turns in getting rid of these. We had only oil and matches against the pests.
The old wound in my leg opened, infected, the infection got deeper and deeper, and the leg started to blacken. In addition, a gland became swollen, and wounds appeared on my skull. We decided that when two men will go shopping, I would go down with them, buy medications in the pharmacy, and some loaves of bread in the bakery.
That time of the year, the night fell quite early. It was dark out, but the Christian shops were still open. If I remember correctly, that day was a Catholic holiday, All Saints, we saw Christians walking with flowers in their hands.
I went into the pharmacy and asked for medications. The pharmacist looked at me and told me to go into an inner room. I did not know what his intentions were, and when I entered the room, I looked for a window to jump from if I had to run away. The pharmacist gave me an injection in the hand, two ointments (Ichthyol and Rivanol), a bottle of oxygen, and cotton wool. I paid him and left. Outside I waited for the two men with whom I came. I went into a bakery and asked for bread. The Christian owner asked how many loaves, and I answered five or six. He looked at me and said he had no bread, and I went out and quickly left. As the winter approached and we had to protect ourselves from the cold, we decided that in a dark night all the men would go to the Ghetto and bring pillowcases, yarns, and a rope. They filled the pillowcases with hay and straw, and brought it in. The women sewed them together and the men laid it under the roof tied to the beams. We also made two walls, four or five meters apart, and put our matrasses between them.
The man from Miedzyrzec remembered that he had seen a small iron stove, and it was brought in. Little by little, we brought from the Ghetto bits of pipe. One dark night we lit a little lamp between the walls we built, and one of the men went out and around the house to make sure the light could not be seen from the outside.
We put the stove in the middle and pulled the pipes to the hotel's wall, where we made a hole. Making the hole in the wall took us almost a full week. We hit the wall, and waited to see if the noise was heard anywhere. When it was ready, we put the pipe through it. Coal we brought from a cow shed we found somewhere and broke its lock.
When the winter came, we realized that the amount of breadtoasts was going down; the bunker family was larger than initially planned. One dark night we broke into a bakery our member knew from Miedzyrzec, and took all the bread we found. We broke into bakeries several times, each time to a different one.
When the rain came, we wanted to collect the fresh water. We found a place in the diagonal side of the roof where we could bend the tin a little and make a little hole. When it rained, we put our buckets under the hole and collected the water.
One day the men came back carrying sacks with three dead sheep they took from a sheep house. We skinned them, hung the skin and cooked the flesh. This was the beginning. Later we took to go to villages, pretending we were partisans. We made a wooden pistol, painted it black, and took it to with us in case we will have to frighten someone.
We prepared food in the following way. In the darkest night of the month, about 11pm, usually when it was snowing so footmarks were covered, or when it was frozen and no footmarks were left, the men went to the farms. They entered a farmer's house with the gun in their hand, closed the people of the house in one room, and took all the food they found. They looked especially for salt, bread and lentils. Once they brought some buckwheat; a few times they brought slaughtered sheep, half a cow, and once they brought pig. They avoided pigs because of the noise they make when slaughtered. Apart from food, they did not take anything. Only once they took boots they needed.
Overall, the winters passed fine. There was no shortage of food, though we strongly felt the shortage of salt. I remember that once we cooked liver without any salt. We did not want to fry anything, to avoid the smell that could reveal our existence. We ate the pieces of liver, but since then I cannot touch liver.
The man from Miedzyrzec once bought from his Christian acquaintance a pistol and bullets. The pistol, however, did not fire the bullets, and all our efforts to make them useful did not succeed.
Yet our men used it as they used the wooden gun, frightening the farmers, who feared the partisans.
As I described earlier, the space between the walls that we built from strawpillows took up only a small part of the attic. Around it, we always had a guard watching the surrounding through the cracks in the wall. Quite often we saw the Poles who worked in the iron shop lifting their heads and looking in our direction. We were constantly afraid that they saw us.
I suffered a lot from the wound in my leg, and when I was on guard, outside the small heated place, I had a lot of pain. Potash was the only one to be aware of my suffering, and he quite often replaced me and sent me inside. Second, I suffered from the wounds on my head, which developed and covered my entire skull. Since we all had lice, the parasites entered my open wounds, causing me a lot of pain. Some of the people in the bunker took me for a parasite because of that. I got a small ration of oil and water to wash my hair a little and to clean the lice from my wounds. It did relieve my pain considerably.
Quite often there were quarrels in the bunker. When food had been brought in, each one stole something. When the theft was detected, we accused one another of stealing; we quarreled, and offended one another. At the same time, we were friendly; we ate together and told stories and anecdotes.
One day, our guard saw a couple coming our direction. They climbed the steps to the apartment below us. We held our breath, and listened. We heard them talking about what needs to be done in the apartment. We understood that they intend to come and live there. We became depressed, as this would have certainly be our end. We stopped believing in the future, being sure that the end is around the corner.
When the couple left, we decided to demolish the apartment. At night, our men climbed down, broke the doors and the windows, took out the floor tiles, and left the apartment in ruins. A few days later, the couple came again, and seeing the apartment's condition, left and never returned.
Another time that we were in danger of being discovered was when we heard a fight and screams from the house of the Christian family who lived on the way to the river. A short, fat, man left the house in anger ran to a house next door from us. As soon as he left the house, we saw smoke and fire coming out of it. The fire got stronger and stronger, and we were afraid that our wooden house is going to catch fire. Firefighters came, many Polish people gathered round, and some of them climbed to the apartment below to get a better view of the fire. We felt that either we will die by the fire or be discovered by the Poles. We were lucky: the fire was put out without damaging our house.
All winter we heard from the German megaphone on the market: Smolensk, Smolensk. By the end of the winter we heard Kovel. We already knew, from the Christian acquaintance of our member from Miedzyrzec, that the Russians control Kovel. Hearing that from the Germans, hope entered to our hearts, and we started believing again.
Before Passover, the Hungarian army came into Miedzyrzec, with Jewish soldiers who carried guns just like any other soldier. We saw the Hungarian army walking in daylight in the market and the surrounding streets. For a few days we observed the Jewish soldiers, where they go in the mornings in groups, alone, with no guns. We learnt from our informant that by order of the Germans, the Jewish soldiers were concentrated in a separate working group. We decided that two of our men would go down and seek contact with the Jews. One night, two men went to the Jewish working camp, somewhere by the river, and waited until the morning. They made themselves known to a few of the Hungarian Jews. They were surprised by the strange reaction of these Jews. One wanted to kidnap them give them in. Another chased them away, shouting Run away!
Our men immediately fled, of course. The hid all that day in the burnt house next door, and returned to the bunker in the evening.
Meanwhile, we felt more and more the German movement. Tanks and artillery entered the city from the east. The city filled with German army. The hotel next to us filled with German high officers. Together with the spring, when the nights became shorter by the day, it became difficult or impossible to conduct our normal life. We could no longer go to a village to bring food in one night. We had to hide in a field during the day and come back the next night. Bringing water became difficult, because the Germans were active in the streets all night.
One night, farmers in a field attacked our men, and their pistols were taken. Fortunately, they escaped alive.
We were desperate. We could not come up with anything that would enable us to hold on. We felt that we would not be able to go on for long.
Yet, we found some opening outside. The German army did not stop moving. Tanks, artillery, big wagons with fat horses, and soldiers filled the market place and the streets. We could not believe it, but we sensed that the war would soon be over. We started to feel that we would live to see it end.
A few weeks passed. We thought that we heard the sound of shooting from a distance. We could not be sure, because this sound could very well have been from one of the army camps around the city. Yet we heard the shooting clearer and clearer, until one day we heard artillery exploding quite near. Yet we had to get some bread, as we still had some other supplies. One night the men went down, sneaking to a bakery they knew, broke in and stole all the bread they found. We had to make sure we had enough in case the artillery bombing will get closer and it would not be possible to go out of the bunker.
The shooting grew lauder by the hour. From both the Russian and the German sides shells flew over the city, and could be heard day and night. We understood that the bunker, which was attached to the highest building in town, was no longer safe, we decided that each will take a loaf of bread and leave it. It was about July 20, 1944. We all left the bunker on a clear day, taking nothing but bread, and went to the Ghetto, to a house close to the riverbank. The house was closed with wooden boards, but we found a small window through which we were able to crawl in.
In our hurry to escape the threeway danger from the Germans, from the Poles, and from the shells flying over our heads in the bunker we thought we had found the right place. We soon realized that we were wrong. The house was the last one in the neighborhood, with an open space around it, and close to the river. The Russian were just across from us, and their shells not far from us. Every few minutes we heard a shell launched, and a new hole formed in the empty space next to us.
We understood that we were in great danger. Our Miedzyrzec man said he knew about a house with a solidbuilt cellar. We waited until it became dark and left this house. One by one, we crawled out and started running under the shelling and the red sky, to the house recommended by our Miedzyrzec friend. While we were running, we saw a shell entering the house we had just left, destroying a wall. It was a miracle, as if a good angel was guarding us.
We ran bent to the ground, afraid of the shells flying and whistling over our heads. We met some Poles running, who shouted: There are Jews here too! Yet, in that situation, they too were running for their life and left us alone. We immediately turned to another way, until we got to our new shelter, which was also close to the river.
We went in, and, in a corner, covered with a lead, we found an opening through which we went down to the cellar. The cellar had a small, high, window, overlooking the river.
The night passed, and another morning came. The artillery bombing strengthened, and got closer. Each time a shell was shot close by, pieced fell from the cellar walls, and we became covered with sand and pieces of bricks. We heard clearly the movement of the German armaments. Is it possible that the Germans are withdrawing? We could not imagine that.
The noise around us declined a bit. We opened the window and peeped outside, and saw metal helmets, masked with green, crossing the river, and we heard calls in Russian. We started to argue the person from Miedzyrzec said the soldiers were Russian, the rest of us did not believe that the Germans had withdrawn, and said they were from Vlassav.
Not long after, we saw large groups of soldiers speaking in Russian, and among them were women wearing redcross uniform. The person from Miedzyrzec said that we should go out, because if they find us, they will throw a grenade into the house and killing us all. He did not wait and went out calling: Welcome, liberating army!. The soldiers approached us pointing machine guns at us and asked: Who are you? We answered Jews. A Jewish officer immediately came out. I cannot describe our joy. We hugged him and kissed him and all the soldiers.
The Russians took us to the center of the city, and the Germans left. We felt free, though we could not believe that we can walk in the street and not hide. When the Russian reached the market, we suddenly heard shooting from the direction of the church, and we saw Russian soldiers wounded. We were told that a group of German soldiers had remained in the church, and when the Russians got nearer and opened the gate the Germans opened fire.
We heard that Leshtshuk was treating wounded Russian soldiers in a yard not far from the church. We went there, and saw him giving orders and care for the wounded. We started shouting, and told the officer what Leshtshuk had done, how he looked for hiding Jews and handed them in to the German murderers. We all screamed together, until the officer shouted at me (it seems that I was louder than the others): Who is the commander here, me or you? He asked that only one of us will speak. We told him everything, and Leshtshuk, with an ironic smile, answered: You are Jews. The officer asked him to come with him, led him to the Ghetto, and we all followed. He took his gun out, shot Leshtshuk once, and gave us the gun so each of us could shoot him too. We undressed him, took off his boots, and left him lying. We felt some revenge seeing Leshtshuk lying there for eight days, with the hungry dogs and cats nibbling on his body, and his wife pulling her hair out.
The artillery continued to shoot for few more days. We choose an apartment on the market, where a family used to live, but had probably run away. We changed our rags and put on what we found. We were sure that no Jews were left except the nine of us. We remembered our family and friends; we longed for them, and felt deep sorrow that they could not survive the two years of the war.
We started to get organized in the apartment we had chosen, and started looking for food. In the apartment, we found a box of different liqueurs and wine. We opened the bottles and got drunk.
The Russian army poured into town and with it more Jewish soldiers. Our apartment became a meeting point for the Jewish soldiers.
After Miedzyrzec was liberated, more Jews came out of their hiding places. Jews that had hid in the fields and in the wild also came. We heard that the Polish Armia Krajowa (Polish resistance underground) murdered Jews on their way to Miedzyrzec.
Still, we did not reveal our bunker; we could not believe that we were free. Who knows, we may need to go back there one day…
Yet, we did not go back. I started a new life, wandering around the city, concentration camps, different towns, until I boarded the ship ExodusEurope 1947, and after five months on board arrived in Israel.
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