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[Page 219]

The Destruction

 

War Breaks out

by Shmuel Bron

Translated by Moses Milstein

The last sunny days of August were truly sparkling and beautiful. From time to time, an angry, autumn wind appeared ruffling the yellowed leaves of the chestnut trees. But it quickly disappeared, as if it had never been, and again the sun appeared with its barely perceptible warmth like a pat, a caress, like a whispered good–bye. As if it wanted to chase away the gloom with its last rays, to remove the frowns from worried faces, refresh them, warm them, and gird them for the future.

The world isn't ending yet, Jews argued. It's just saber rattling. Neither the Poles nor the Germans are so eager to go to war. The old days are over. We no longer lived in an era of “positional” battles, where soldiers rot in trenches, lousy, like hairy apes, waiting for years for the auspicious moment, for the bayonet charge, for the triumphant taking of a position.

Today is a different time. Today, steel birds fly in the skies, and blow up the earth. Giant, mobile fortresses, their killing necks protruding, spit lead and fire. They can destroy worlds. And the most horrible of all–gas. Both countries have it. Suffocating gases, burning gases, gases that cause the body to melt away. But the birds don't have to crawl through barbed wire.

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They can fly over the highest mountains. Each side faces the same dangers, and so it won't come to war.

What's the fight about anyway? Is it about boots? (Referring to the Danzig gulf). They'll work it out between themselves. Furthermore, Poland is not alone. It has alliances, and its own army. As Rydz–Smigli used to say, “We won't give them a button!”

So the Jews speculated, consoled themselves, and fended off the terrible specter of war. Jewish fathers and mothers had sons spread throughout the Polish army. There were Jews who had already served, fathers of young children, who had to be ready at any moment to be called up, further contributing to the reluctance to believe it was really going to happen.

The last days of the month went by quickly. Clouds formed in the sky, and the last birds, flying in formation, left our region on their way to warmer places. We tried to suppress the unsettling feelings, but they grew stronger.

Young and old stood in Todros Lang's store, and in other places, and listened carefully to the scathing speeches on the radio from the Polish authorities, with their slogans, “We will not yield an inch of our land!” confident that should war break out, Poland would be the winner. People listened with a mixture of fever and cold, anxiety and denial. After the speeches, and the war anthem (yeshtsieh folsko nieh zginenla), everyone left for their homes, neighbor to neighbor, to discuss what was heard.

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It wasn't just fear of war that troubled Jews. There was another worry that caused them to tremble–their Christian neighbors. On the eve of the outbreak of the great storm, they, the great patriots, went around arrogantly, with smug faces, saying, “Let war come and we will give the Jews what they deserve. (Your grandfather Pilsudski is long dead.)” By this, they made it known that we had lost our last protector. They were just waiting for the right moment when they would be free to riot among the Jews.

And it was, indeed, the looks in those gleeful faces that depressed us and chased away the last hope that war would be avoided.

That last Thursday, August 1939, we clearly felt that we were on the eve of something, but of what, no one knew.

The city seemed to be anticipating some great event. Business in the market was sluggish, without its usual energy, in spite of the fact that the proprietors had bought more than usual to be ready for any situation. Why this was so, no one could say. It was only a feeling that drove them, a feeling, if it could be articulated, that there was a snake's nest somewhere at the edge of civilized mankind, and there the devil waited with a watch in his hand for the birth of the unfortunate first of September, 1939, so that he could open the gates of hell. A hell that human imagination could not conceive.

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On Friday, September 1, 1939, at 4:00 am, the first bombers awakened the Polish people, erstwhile friends of Hitler's Germany, and announced that the war had begun.

With the break of day, the news spread with lightening speed across the entire country, and reached Bilgoraj as well.

Gloom and depression beset everyone. Muffled wailing and weeping in the homes. Mothers ran to the synagogues, to the cemetery, to pray fervently to ward off the imminent danger, to pray for their children to be saved, for the fire to pass them by.

People became sadder still when Kosibucki, the town crier, went through town, banging his drum, and read out the mobilization orders, and orders from the local city council with respect to the outbreak of war.

The mustachioed Pole looked very serious. He read each word slowly, with care, sharply accenting the words. The Polish army, wanted to be seen as the vanguard of the country, and to join with those who will, in the coming hours, be in her service. His earnestness remained even after he ended his reading. None of the usual jokes or puns came out of his mouth. He quickly turned on his heels and left for another part of the city.

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There, he beat his drum again, and again another group gathered around him.

But they gathered not just around Kosibucki. Masses of people were glued to the billboards that had been erected everywhere. Reading the mobilization orders, everyone felt condemned, lost. The frightened eyes of mothers and fathers searched for some way to save their sons who could, at any moment, be lost.

War! War atmosphere in the homes, in the street, in shul, in besmedresh. No more work, no business, no cheder. Everything paralyzed, as if suddenly struck dead. Except here and there, a door opens, a young man steals quickly out, a little pack in his hands, and looks back several times. In the shadow of the doorway, stand transfixed fathers and mothers, younger sisters and brothers, their eyes wet, their arms outstretched as if they had lost their dearest possession. Another would vanish the same way, all headed in the same direction–to the kolejka (little train) which gathered up all the youths, and took them away to a nameless future.

The tension was even greater in the evening when the sun had gone down below the horizon. Daylight disappeared as if a light had been extinguished leaving a black darkness. The whole city looked like a large velvet cloth, the streets unlit, the windows covered, the shutters closed, so that, God forbid, no light should escape from them,

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so that when the enemy flies over, they will not recognize the city.

The city was locked up tight in the depressing gloom. The only things moving were the pair of night watchmen slinking around to guard the telephone poles against saboteurs.

Several days after the outbreak of war, the city was engulfed by a wave of Jewish refugees. They were mostly from Tarnow, and the Cracow environs. They arrived exhausted, drained, having lost their homes, their worldly goods, their blood and sweat from generations of hard work, all gone. They described the speed at which Hitler's hordes advanced breaking through all the Polish army's defenses. Entire regiments surrendered to the Germans, clearing the way for the German hordes.

Hearing the news from the refugees sent a shudder through everyone. It was clear that all the protective barriers were failing. People felt helpless. In the meantime, food had become scarce in the city. The locals still had resources, because everyone had prepared something. The situation of the refugees was worse. In spite of the help they received, they stood in long lines at the bakery for bread. As to their other needs, every household shared with them, like with family. They cooked for them, found them beds. There was practically no house without refugees. Concern for their plight affected everyone.

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These were the first signs of war, the first scenes of exile and suffering.

Wednesday, September 6. As Bilgoraj Jews were working with shovels digging defense trenches, not far from the kolejka, they suddenly heard the loud noise of airplanes. They were flying so high that it was hard to identify them, until a piercing whistling from the falling bombs rent the air, and the detonations from the explosions could be heard, and we knew that they were bombarding us.

The city siren started howling after it had all ended. No Jews were harmed. People stampeded to find a safer place. The streets emptied out. People disappeared to their hiding places, their hearts racing with fear of another attack. So we lay until the siren sounded the all–clear.

Thursday, during the day, was calm. There was no market. People were still reeling from the effects of the previous day's bombardment. We felt that the war was now also beginning in Bilgoraj.

Friday September 8 did not look as it usually did. The men got ready for shabbes, but without the usual joy and enthusiasm. Their movements were restrained, quiet, without noise, in order not to disturb the Sabbath. Everything was done quickly in order to finish as early as possible.

Ten o'clock in the morning, menacing loud noises were again heard over the city. A squadron of German bombers appeared in the clear skies of Bilgoraj.

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Soon explosions followed, one after the other. A wild stampede ensued. People were running without knowing where, falling, getting up and running further. Women fainted, had fits. Children trembled with fear. People waited in indescribable panic and fear until the sound of the airplanes retreated, until the danger, for the moment, had passed.

Dozens of bombs had fallen in various places in the city: Itzchak Wertzer's house was entirely destroyed. Two bombs fell in Nuteh Kronenberg's garden, and destroyed his entire property. Not one window remained whole.

On the other side of the street, in Nathan'le Maimon's garden, neighbors who had hidden among the fruit trees were fired on by the circling airplanes sowing death from their machine guns.

Sunday, September 10. A podporutznik, and a sergeant in the Polish army, were riding the kolejka from Zwierzyniec to Bilgoraj. While sitting in the train compartment they overheard a discussion, in bad Polish, on the other side, and the name, Miller, mentioned. The two soldiers were from Bilgoraj. One, Skawerzak's son, knew Miller, the patriot, who used to make speeches on Polish national days. The two travelers struck them as suspicious,

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so they decided to follow them. Not long after, they disembarked and went off in the direction of the forest where Miller lived.

The two soldiers succeeded in getting into the yard. To their astonishment, they discovered that they were dealing with a widespread spy ring, with Miller at the head.

One of the two soldiers went to inform the city police. Within minutes, the courtyard was surrounded. The police commissar, accompanied by policemen, broke into the cellar under Miller's house, and discovered the whole gang gathered around the radio transmitter they had installed there.

On Monday, September 7, at 10:00 o'clock in the morning, the whole gang was shot at the trenches behind the jail. The inmates relayed the last words of the German spy, “Hitler, Hitler, we work for you.” To the police commissar he had said, “You may shoot me, but in half an hour from now, Bilgoraj will be annihilated.” And so it came to pass.

This was the start of the war in Bilgoraj, the beginning of the terrible end.


[Page 228]

The Fire

by Sh. Atzmon (Wirtzer)

Translated by Moses Milstein

Certain events occur in people's lives that can never be forgotten. For me, when I was still very young, it was the outbreak of the war and“the Bilgoraj fire.”

Monday, September 11, 1939 was a beautiful, sunny, autumn day. I was playing with other children in the yard. We were interrupted by the wailing of the city siren, and the ringing bells. Bilgoraj was on fire!

Terrifying tongues of flame quickly engulfed the Jewish neighborhood by the bridge street. The bathhouse was on fire! It all happened at exactly the time the Nazi spy, Miller, had mockingly predicted. The fire was regarded as an act of vengeance for his execution.

We could not figure out where the fire was coming from. The flames had already reached the bridge street, the marsh street, Szewsky street, Pilsudski street. Spreading along Kosciuszko street, the fire enveloped the market. People were running around in a daze among the flames. Bilgoraj is in flames, Bilgoraj is burning! The first thought was to rescue people from the houses. Bedding, clothes, furniture, dishes, lay trodden underfoot, and were later consumed in the frightful heat of the blaze. The wooden telephone poles ignited and fell burning.

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People stood in shock, wringing their hands as they watched as all their possessions, the work of years, went up in smoke. There was not even anything to fight the fire with. The firemen had left at the start of the war, taking the equipment with them.

Masses of people. Women and small children, carrying what they had rescued from the fire wrapped in white sheets, were leaving the city. They ran through the meadows to the river, or along Gosh Street to the fields.

My father, z”l, asked my mother to take the children, and follow the others to the river. He went back to the city, with others, to save whatever they could. Amid the panic, and the crying of children, women were shouting, “Gevalt, es brent, Bilgoraj brent!”

When we looked around, we were confronted with a frightful scene. The entire city was one black cloud of smoke. Giant flames, towering to the sky, devoured one house after the other. In the space of an hour, the entire city was aflame, a torch of Jewish worldly goods.

When them men got to the shul–hof, flames were shooting out of the windows. Without hesitation, they went in to the burning besmedreshes to save the Torahs. They emerged, half–dead, filthy, clothes and beards burned, carrying a soot–covered Sefer Torah.

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The Polish underworld took advantage of the fire. They broke into Todros Lang's store, and began to steal the merchandise. Police arrived on the scene quickly, and shot one of the robbers.

While the fire was consuming the whole city, the loud rumble of bombers was heard overhead, followed by the sight of a squadron of airplanes dropping incendiary bombs. The fires raged with a terrifying roar. Having done their work on the city, the planes began to circle the riverbanks over the burned, confused, Jewish refugees.

An indescribable, wild stampede ensued. People began to jump into the river. Women, clutching frightened children, fell on the ground to protect them. The planes descended very low, and opened fire on the terrified Jews.

People began to rush madly to the little grove of woods near Sheinwald's mill.

It was deadly quiet among the trees. Children lay shivering from the cold wrapped in things that had been saved from the fire, their only complaint,“Where is father?”

Night fell. The air was full of stifling smoke. The city looked like a glowing lantern. A cold dew covered everything. From time to time, a loud groan could be heard. The great disaster was on everyone's mind. A few hours ago, they had been leaders of households. Now, they were homeless.

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As night fell, we saw a group of men approaching, and among them, I recognized my father.

I will never forget the way my father looked. Completely blackened, his clothes burnt, his hair in disarray, he was carrying something wrapped in a half–burned taliss. We started shouting,“Father,” and he came over to us. When he got closer, we saw that he was carrying the“new” sefer–torah that the Mizrachi organization had sponsored, and had paraded with great ceremony to the Yavne cheder.

He told us that he and other men were helping rescue efforts at Itzchak Meir Warshaviak's, when cries were heard that the fire had enveloped the koszcelne (Shewski) street. He remembered that the rescued Sefer Torah was lying in a house there. He quickly ran over.

When he got there, he saw that the roof was on fire, and black smoke was billowing out the windows. He wasted little time, and entered through a side window. The room was already on fire. He grabbed the Sefer Torah and left the burning room.

The way back was much harder. The whole neighborhood was engulfed in flames. There was simply no way to get through. But thanks to the fact that his hat and the taliss were soaked with water, he succeeded in breaking through the flames, and returning safely to us.

People spent the entire night out on the meadows, and shivered with cold.

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My father kept consoling himself that the Sefer–Torah had been saved.

In the morning, as soon as the sun crept above the horizon, the wailing began:“Yidden, we are all burned up, all burned up! A punishment from God!”

They awakened the children, who had slept all night wrapped in whatever was rescued, packed up, and set off for the city, some to their burnt–down house, some to a relative, and others to an acquaintance whose house was still intact.

A sorrowful train of people carrying packs on their backs. Jews, who in the space of one day, had lost everything, burnt out, left without a roof over their heads, and no way to make a living…

Arriving in the city, we were gripped by fear. It looked like a volcano had erupted. A layer of white ash covered the smoking, still burning embers. Walking was difficult. Streets were unrecognizable. All of the Jewish community's worldly goods lay trampled underfoot. The city was one great ruin.


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Bilgoraj After the Fire

by A. Kronenberg

Translated by Moses Milstein

The day after the fire, people wandered through the ruins looking for anything that might be useful. They dragged out half–burned sacks of flour, sugar, and other things.

People slowly began to make arrangements for themselves. Some went to acquaintances, some to relatives, and some rented rooms from a Christian whose house was still standing. They soon turned their minds to pragmatic questions. They gathered stones, lumber, bricks to begin building a roof over their heads. One of the first was Yoel Baker (Weiss). By the third day after the fire, he had already fixed up his burned bakery, and had begun to bake bread.

Wednesday September 13, 1939. The Polish military was retreating. To our great misfortune, the general staff sought safety in Bilgoraj and was quartered in the shule building. Soon a squadron of planes appeared and began bombing the city from all sides. A wild stampede took place. People ran around crazed, not knowing where to hide. Having done their devilish work, the airplanes left.

When people had calmed down a little, they went out into the streets to see what damage had been done. They learned that the first three victims fell near Sharf's mill and were: Israel Sharf, {blank space} Sharf, and Hersh Yechezkel Harman who was badly wounded in the head, and died two days later.

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Thursday, September 14. The city was full of Polish soldiers retreating in great disorder. The Jews, still reeling from yesterday's bombardment, left their homes and fled to the nearby forests. The retreating Polish army exploited this event. They broke into Jewish houses, and took everything. When the Jews returned exhausted, hungry, they found an empty house.

Friday September 15. A light rain was falling. Jews got together, neighbor to neighbor, in order to daven with a minyan. They waited with anticipation for nightfall. They argued that it wasn't possible to bomb in the dark. Then suddenly, the roar of heavy bombers was heard, rending the air. A squadron of bombers appeared, and began to bomb the city. Several bombs landed and destroyed three houses and the people in them. In Yehoshua Klezmer (Zeifer)'s house, 30 people perished, men, women, and children.

As soon as the airplanes had left, a big crowd assembled, and was confronted with a horrible spectacle. Logs, stones, and bricks were mixed together with human arms and legs. The wailing and crying were heart–rending.

The crowd gathered there began to drag the dead from beneath the ruins. They brought out: Shmai Adler and his wife; Bertshe Stolar (Yegergarn) and his daughter;

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Mendl Erlich and his wife, (he survived); Devora Hiter (Sheinsinger), and a daughter; Yehoshua Seifer and his children.

Removing the dead from under the rubble went on until late in the night. Terrible, heartbreaking scenes took place when people recognized their relatives. The wailing could be heard all through the city.

The dead were gathered together and brought to the house of the city–rabbi, which had not burned down, so that they could be buried in the Jewish cemetery after the holidays. People got together and davened in a minyan. But the holiday atmosphere had vanished. The chazzan ended, “Tichla shana v'kileloteha, tachel shana u' birchoteha[1]” with deep emotion. The participants left quietly, each to his family waiting impatiently.

Saturday, September 16. A fierce battle was fought over Bilgoraj. The Polish army deployed in the middle of the city with heavy machine guns trying to prevent the German advance troops from cutting off the Polish army retreat. Heavy German artillery continuously pounded, the whistling of the shells cutting through the air right over our heads.

A shell fell on one of the remaining houses in the shul street. The house began to burn, and quickly enveloped the rabbi's house where the dead were lying.

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In minutes, the house was consumed. We could not remove the dead, and all of them were incinerated there.

That afternoon, the Polish army left the city. A city militia was quickly established that patrolled the streets, and protected the city from attacks and looting. A deadly silence reigned in the city. The streets–dark, unlit. The only sounds were from the night watchmen patrolling the streets.

The Jews sat in their houses listening intently for any movement in the city. They spent the whole night as if glued to the cracks in the shutters, and peered out looking for any movement. A multitude of anxious thoughts worried their minds. What will tomorrow bring?

Sunday, September 17, 1939. At eight in the morning, the first Germans appeared riding motorcycles. They made a circuit around the market. Soon armored jeeps appeared with four Germans in each, and trucks, foot soldiers, tanks, and other personnel. The city quickly filled with Nazi troops.

German officers could be heard giving orders. The shouting, which penetrated through the shutters into the Jewish houses, caused fear in the hearts of the listeners. We soon saw whose hands we had fallen into…

The real suffering of the Jews quickly began. Non–Jewish hooligans went around town

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pointing out–“here, Jude”–the houses where Jews lived. At every house you heard the same, “Aufmachen!”

Armed German soldiers arrived, and the robbing began. The best things they kept for themselves. The less valuable things they gave to the Polish hooligans who followed them around, and helped them in their thieving.

Every day, Jews were forced into labor. The work consisted of filling the craters made by the bombs. While they worked, they would be beaten with the butts of the German rifles. After a day like this, they returned home beaten, and bloody. The German murderers broke into Lipeh Wagshol's wholesale store and took his merchandise. The Polish population promptly gathered around the Germans, who then distributed some of the things. It was shameful to see how our Polish neighbors plundered Jewish possessions. Every day at daybreak they would break into the Jewish residences. They would drive the half–dressed Jews out to work with blows from their rifles. The German murderers derived a special pleasure from seizing doctors, engineers, or others of the intelligentsia for labor. They gave them the hardest, foulest work to do, like cleaning the latrines with their bare hands, and after that, they beat them horribly.

September 22. The whole day, they went around seizing Jews for various brutal tasks. When night fell the Jews shut themselves in their houses, lit the Yom Kippur candles, and with sad, quiet tears, began to chant Kol Nidrei.

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With that, the Germans began to break into house after house, robbing and murderously beating.

While we were sitting, confined in our house, around the body of our brother, Baruch, who had died Erev Yom Kippur at four o'clock, we heard a loud pounding on the door that led to Koszcziuszki Street. We pretended not to hear it. When the banging became more forceful, and we realized that they were going to break down the door, I went over to the door, and innocently asked, “Who's there?” Then I heard the murderous command, “Aufmachen!”

As soon as I opened the door, two Germans burst in, revolvers in hand. We were all struck with deadly fear. They gave me a hard shove so that I fell hitting my head on the edge of the table. My parents protested loudly that there was a dead person lying here. They uncovered the dead body, and ordered my father to take a candle, and go with them to the first floor. The said they were looking for bread. They searched for a while, then left.

 

The First Victims

People slowly got used to the situation. They resigned themselves to it with the thought, “What can we do?” In the meantime, the Germans broke into Hershele Sheinwald's mill. A line of Poles quickly formed, and the Germans began to distribute flour. When the Jews in town, who were already suffering from a lack of food, learned of this, they sent some young girls over to see if they could get a little flour.

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Food was already hard to find then.

A long line of Christians stood by the mill, among them the Jewish girls. The Germans were distributing flour. When the turn came for the line where Chelke (Yudashka's niece) was standing, the Poles pushed her out, calling her a Jew. Upon hearing this, the German pulled her out of the line, cold–bloodedly took out his revolver, and shot at her. He hit her in the leg. Pandemonium broke out among the Jewish girls. They ran back home terrified carrying the wounded Chelke. That same day, at noon, the Germans broke into Mordechai Shtulman's food store, stole the flour, and proceeded to distribute it to the Polish population that had quickly formed a line. No Jews were allowed. As the Germans were distributing the flour from Shtulman's store, Mordechai Lieber (who had worked for years as a porter at Shtulman's) came over to them, and begged for a little flour for his starving children. The German pulled out his revolver, and shot the porter in the belly. Why? For having the audacity to beg for some flour that the German murderers had stolen from a Jewish shop? Having done his murderous work, the German nonchalantly returned to distributing flour to the Christians.

Mortally wounded, they hurriedly carried Mordechai to the hospital, but he died in great agony on the way.

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After the two events, the Jews of Bilgoraj were gripped by terror. We began to see that the Germans were getting ready to exterminate the Jews.

No Jews were to be seen on the streets. People shut themselves up in their houses, afraid to go out in the light of day; there was no life to be seen.

Monday September 25. The day after the murder, the Germans again seized Jews for work details. No one hid anymore. We had seen what the murderers were capable of.

Rumors began to circulate that the Red Army was going to come in, but because of the dejected state the Jews were in, they were reluctant to believe it. But soon, some signs appeared that the Germans were departing. The army was slowly leaving town.

Wednesday, September 27. Erev Sukkot. The Jews, knowing the Germans were leaving, and afraid of a pogrom, locked themselves in their houses, and listened anxiously for any disturbance.

The Germans left the city at night. There was no one in charge the entire night. Nevertheless, the Jews felt a little happier. We were certain that the Red Army would now be coming.

Thursday, September 28. A Polish army detachment entered town. A firefight ensued with the last remaining German patrols, and a German soldier was badly wounded.

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Two Bilgoraj Jews, David Brenner, and Yehoshua Hof, happened to be passing by, and saw the soldier writhing with pain on the ground. They picked him up and carried him to the hospital.

After the shooting, a German armored vehicle with several soldiers arrived along the bridge street, and drove to the Jewish neighborhood. They seized several Jews, accusing them of firing on the German patrol.

They were deaf to any arguments. They were going to shoot the Jews. Suddenly a real miracle happened. The Polish soldiers reappeared. The Germans abandoned the Jewish captives, and took off after the Polish soldiers. When the Jews saw the Germans leaving they immediately fled. For the rest of the night, the Jews stayed locked up in their homes, alert for any disturbances.

Friday, September 29. At four am, the rumble of tanks was heard. The Jews sere seized with terror. Are the Germans returning? But it did not feel like it. All night long, an army streamed through without end.

People could not contain themselves. They sent out children to find out what was happening. They quickly returned with the news: the Red Army had arrived.

The news spread like lightening through the entire city. The Jews jubilantly went out into the streets shouting, “Yidden, we are saved!”

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Red flags were fluttering on all the state buildings. Jews breathed a little easier after the terrible ordeal with the Germans. A people's militia was quickly formed which restored order in the city.

The celebration was short lived, however. Rumors began to circulate that the Red Army was abandoning the city. Several Jews even asked the senior officers whether the rumors were true. Their answer was, “Wherever the Red Army sets foot, it will remain.” This was of some consolation for the Jews.

Tuesday, October 3. It was becoming clear that the Red Army was leaving. Gloom settled in all the Jewish houses, and hope vanished. In the streets, circles of troubled Jews formed, asking the same question, “What should one do? Where should one go?”

At 9:00 am, a Russian commandant informed us that the Red Army was leaving the city, and that whoever wanted to was welcome to leave with them. Everyone would be provided with every opportunity.

An indescribable panic arose. Young and old, men and women with children, rushed to be ready for the withdrawal, which was to begin in the early afternoon.

A light rain was falling. There were people with packs on their backs, and women with small children seated on wagons. It is hard to describe the scene when the carriages began to move. The heavens were rent with the weeping from children parting from their parents, parents from children, men from women, women from men, while the rain kept falling more and more intensely.

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A large crowd had gathered at the kolejka which was taking people to Zwierzyniec. Parents were left standing in shock when the kolejka's whistle blew, separating them from their loved ones forever.

In spite of the heavy rain, wagons full of people kept coming all through the night to the train to Zwierzyniec. Afraid of what tomorrow would bring when the red Army was gone, Jews were leaving in mad panic.

To go, or not to go? No one had an answer to that question. People's minds wrestled with the question. Many still remembered the flight that had taken place in WWI, the wandering, the homelessness.

Wednesday, October 4. The talk in town is that the kolejka will be making its last trip. Pandemonium in the city. People who had resigned themselves to staying got caught up in the tide. They stopped everything, packed the necessities, and ran to the kolejka.

The kolejka was full. All the places were taken. It was deathly quiet except for some quiet weeping. The sad partings pierced the heart. Everyone's eyes were wet, tears flowing from a never–ending well.

The sounds of the whistle blowing, the locomotive's heavy panting, were mingled with the people's crying. The kolejka began to move, handkerchiefs waved from the windows.

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Fathers, mothers, relatives and friends stood watching as the departing train took their loved ones away on an uncertain journey.

This was, in fact, the last train. The Red Army loaded the locomotive and all the cars onto the big train, and left Zwierzyniec.

And, just like that, the Red Army occupation had come to an end. Jews were left in fear of the morrow, dreading the return of the murderous German army.

Saturday, October 7, 1939. The German Army has re–entered Bilgoraj. Their entry immediately spread fear among the Jewish population. There was not a single Jew to be seen on the street. That very day, the Germans ordered all Jewish men to present themselves for whatever work the German army required.

As if that weren't enough, they also demanded a large contribution from the Jewish community, and in order to be sure they got it, they took several prominent Jews hostage.

Discussions were of no use. The hostages were mercilessly beaten. The Jews had no option but to pay. The hostages were released thereafter. Yechezkel Kandel was so badly beaten, that he lay an invalid for months.

After this business, the Jews could see

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what lay in store for them under the German occupation–their lives would be in constant danger.

People began to search for a way out. Some went to Tarnogrod, smuggled themselves over to Sziniawa which was then under Soviet control.

In the early days, the border was practically open, and many people did, in fact, cross over, and saved themselves. But the border was later closed, and crossing over became impossible. There was the danger of being shot, or ending up in a Russian jail.

And that is how a large part of Bilgoraj's Jews ended up in the murderous hands of the German executioner.

Several days later, the German murderers arrested David Brenner who had brought the wounded German soldier shot by the Polish patrol to the hospital. They accused him of shooting the German soldier.

In short order, Christian “witnesses” appeared to confirm the fabricated charges. Tears were of no help. Neither was the intervention of the city priest. The German savages sentenced the innocent, David Brenner, to death.

They tortured the innocent victim for several days. Finally, they led him out, barely alive, to the fields, and shot him.

After this horrible murder,

[Page 246]

many people, notwithstanding the danger of crossing the border, fled the city.

 

From right to left: Meshulem Honigbaum (killed); Yakov Stempel's wife, Shimon Buchbinder, Raizl Stempel (lives in Israel); Leah'tshe Goldberg (killed); Levi Sheinwald, Baltche Greenfal, (lives in Israel); Nechemiah Lang (killed), Sholom Greenfal (lives in Israel)

 

Translator's footnote:
  1. May the year and its curses come to an end; may the year and its blessings begin. Return

 

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