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[Page 248]

Survivors Testify

 

Bilgoraj Jews Under Occupation

by Israel Geist

Translated by Moses Milstein

A world of decrees began pouring down on the Jews whose intent was to single out and separate the Jews from the surrounding Polish population.

Towards the end of 1939, a Judenrat was established in Bilgoraj with the following people: Chaim Mordechai Hirshenhorn, chairman; Hillel Yanower; Itzchak Meir Warshaviak, Yechezkel Kandel, Yosef Rapaport, Shmuel Arbesfeld, Shimon Bin, Zelig Rosenberg, (director of the warehouse), and others.

Their job was to provide laborers for the German authorities for tasks such as road work, building a field hospital for the Wermacht on the “sands,” or loading and unloading cement, gravel, coal, lumber and other things from the Zwierzyniec train.

The Judenrat, in collaboration with the German authorities, created a Jewish police with the following members: Yakov Taber, Moishe Bleichman, Moishe Panzerman, Sinai Shper, Balek Entberg, Moishe Shwanenfeld, Yakov Alender, and others. Their job was to deliver the workers for the Germans, and also, to help in the various deportations.

In April 1940, the Germans issued a decree requiring every Jew over the age of 14 to wear a patch on the right arm,

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with a blue Star of David, so that he could be identified by everyone as a Jew.

People got used to the troubles, and the Judenrat continued to supply the Germans with Jewish workers.

 

Bilgoraj Jews in Labor Camps

Erev Shavuot, the Germman kreizhauptman (starosta[1]), informed the Judenrat that all men over the age of 17 must present themselves at the plaza opposite the starostve. Failure to do so would be met with strong punishment. Rumors circulated that from there, they were going to choose people to send to various labor camps.

That very day, a good portion of the Bilgoraj men showed up at the designated place. But some hid, and did not present themselves.

Then the Gestapo and the kreizhauptman showed up, and began to sort everyone into two rows. They began to select people, but no one knew which row would be sent away and which would stay. People tried to read the Gestapo's eyes. They ran in confusion from one row to the other, not knowing which one it was better to be in.

Finally, they chose a number of young, strong, men. The representatives of the Judenrat made a list of their names, and informed them that they were to be ready at the kolejka in the morning, bringing clothes and food for one day.

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The selected were: Geist Israel; Yeshiahu–Nuteh, Mordechai, and Shmuel Wagner; Shmuel Zisman; Ber Yanower; deaf Yankel; Betsalel, Michal and Meir Obligenhartz; Porcelen Pesach; Yosef and Leibl Kleinmintz; Baruch Wermut; Yoneh Shmirer, Hershel Solomon's son–in–law; Yosef Hirschenhorn; Shloime Zilberlicht; Trib Zelig (from Tarnogrod); Moishe–Chane Shuldiner; Dudish Entberg, Shloime Dorenbust; Zvi, Moishe, and Itzchak Brilliantstein; David Berlinerman; Yitzchak and Leibish Widerpelz; Zelig Bergstein; Itzchak Gedacht; Michal Olive; Schlechterman Feivel; Berger Eliezer, and others.

The following day, the first day of Shavuot, the selected men showed up at the kolejka. The Bilgoraj Christians, and the train workers, stood around happily and watched.

We crowded into the cars and went to Zwierzyniec where we transferred to the big train. We were in a good mood the whole way, not knowing what awaited us.

It is of interest to note that, travelling with us was Mordechai Basevitz, from Majdan. He spent about 6 months in the camps and would eat no treyf, subsisting only on bread and water.

Towards evening we arrived in Werbkowice, which is between Hrubieszow and Tyszowce. There, we were greeted by the German guards composed of Volksdeutsche. They have a lot of dirty work on their consciences over what they did in the camps and at the aktions. They began to drive us on foot in the sand.

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Many stopped and dropped their packs in order to run faster and avoid being beaten.

We arrived at Turkowice where there were blocks of housing in a Christian orphanage. We were all taken to an empty building. We were told to find wood and straw in order to build plank beds for ourselves.

An SS officer arrived and introduced himself as the head of the camp. He appointed Nuteh Kleinmintz as chief Jew. His job was to provide the prisoners with food.

The next day, we ourselves fenced in the area with barbed wire. Armed Volksdeutsche were recruited to guard us. The same day, they drove us to work deepening and widening a channel to the Khuchva River which is near Tyszowce.

The work was terribly hard and dangerous. We worked barefoot, up to our waists in water full of leeches which attached themselves to our legs, and sucked our blood. The heat was unbearable, yet we were not given a drop of water to drink, and we had to drink from the contaminated river.

The engineers and supervisors, who were Christian orphans, treated us sadistically and beat us murderously.

At the same time, the Jews in Bilgoraj were demanding that the Judenrat provide information as to what was happening to those who were sent away. And, in fact, we did receive a visit from a representative of the Judenrat in Turkowice.

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Meanwhile, in Bilgoraj, a hunt was underway. Truckloads of SS arrived and began to seize Jews to transport to Belzec which is near Tomaszow–Lubelski, and where they were building military fortifications. Among the captured were my father, Hershel Geist, and my brother, Shloime. Work there dragged on until late into the winter. A small number were let go. The majority was taken to the rock quarry in Chrabrowka, near Cracow. After a long time there, they were freed, and came back to Bilgoraj on foot.

 

From right to left: Esther Ritser, Chayah Spiro, Tileh Harman, Rickl Spiro and Basheh Spiro (All were killed)

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In the meantime, the camp was enlarged. A transport of Jews arrived form Tomaszow–Mazowiecki.

In the autumn of 1940, work was interrupted, and we were transferred to the river “Khuchva” to continue deepening it. The work had to be done before winter. Almost all of the Jews in the camp were from Warsaw and Lodz.

When winter came, the camp was dissolved, and the Jews released. Back in Bilgoraj, we were continuously pressed into hard labor in construction, loading, and chopping wood.

In April 1941, the first deportations took place in Bilgoraj. 800 Jews were exiled to Goraj, among them my uncle, Eliahu Goldberg, and his family. After a short while, they almost all slowly came back.

There was not one quiet day. Every day, motorized vehicles carrying SS came and captured Jews for all kinds of work. People hid, but the SS rooted them out of their homes, and gave them a good beating in addition.

A decree was issued prohibiting Jews from leaving the city. The first victim was Israel Plotz who had gone to a village to buy some potatoes for his starving family. On his way back with his meager provisions, he was spotted by the Germans and shot.

One day, the Gestapo called for Hillel Yanower, and Shimon Bin. They were held until late causing widespread concern, because it was unusual to be held so long. The thought that something bad was going to happen, worried the Jews in the city.

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That night, they were taken out to the forest and shot.

Hersh Zilberberg was chosen as Jewish elder.

 

The First Extermination action in Bilgoraj

May 1942. A rumor was going around that the Judenrat was ordered to provide a certain number of Jews for deportation to the Ukraine. People ran to the Judenrat begging to be kept off the list. There was a feeling that things were not as they seemed. There were rumors that the Jewish people were being exterminated. There were also rumors going around that whoever worked at a German placowka, could remain. So there were many who paid large amounts of money to secure a work place.

The Judenrat could offer no way out. It had to provide the identified contingent. They secretly made a list, and on the last day, they informed those on the list that they must present themselves at the kolejka with all their baggage. And everybody showed up. Among them, me and my whole family, Zisman wth his family, and others.

When the train cars arrived, and the whole crowd was assembled, all the foremen appeared and began to disembark their workers. My father went over to Shloime Shtender, and asked him to come down. His response was, “What do I need this whole business for? I'll go to the Ukraine, get a little piece of land, and work.”

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All the workers who had been removed by the foremen immediately went to their workplaces. Their wives and children snuck away from the transports unnoticed.

As they began moving the crowd into the carriages, it became clear that it was going to be bad, that the Jews had been duped. Their belongings had been taken away.

A deathly stillness reigned in Bilgoraj after the first action, when hundreds of families were taken away. People who had no work places, tried with desperation to find one reckoning that they would stand a better chance of staying alive.

A while later, the SS arrived and began seizing Jews for transport to Majdanek. Among the captured were Itzchak–Meir Warshoviak, Ber Yanower, and even people who were in the Jewish police like: Bolek Entberg, Tuvieh Kandel, Moishe Bleichman, and others.

At the end of October, rumors circulated that another aktion was being readied, and that only tradesmen would remain in the ghetto.

The Judenrat, which was headed by Hersh Zilberberg, had prepared a list of 70 tradesmen that had to remain in the ghetto. The people were: Todros Lang, his two sons, and his wife; Isaac Renner with wife and family; Sholem Porcelen; Hershele Shulman's 4 sons; Hersh Torm (Kras's son–in–law); Pinchas Farshtendig and a son; David Laks (Moishe Shtrikendrier's son); Shloime Zilberlicht and his wife; David Bendler with his wife and children; Aaron Harnfeld; Beinish Adler and his wife; Abraham Yanower and his wife; Moishe Lichtenfeld; Moishe Boim; Fishl Kandel; a son of Chaim Hachner; Shmuel Zisman; Laizer Fruchtlender; Pesach (the Frampoler carpenter), and others.

People ran to the Judenrat begging to be put on the list of workers. The Judenrat made promises, though their hands were tied. In the end, the list stayed the same. There was pandemonium. Those whose names were not on the list gave their valuables to those who were on the list.

Sunday evening, November 1, 1942. The Judenrat announced that everyone on the list will, after tonight, have to move to the ghetto which consisted of the houses of Alezar Kandel, Yantche Kantor, and Hersh Panzerman, all on Third of May Street.

The city was in a dreadful frenzy. We could see the end coming. People on the list were already moving their last things into the ghetto.

The Germans purposely separated families. There were heart–breaking scenes of men parting from wives, parents from children. When night fell there was no sign of life. The Jews lay in their rooms in great fear of what the morning would bring.

A lot of people not on the list stole into the ghetto and hid in holes, in attics, in closets.

 

The Second Extermination aktion in Bilgoraj

November 2, at dawn, we heard shooting coming from all sides of the city. I ran out of the house along the entire length of Third of May Street, to the kolejka. There, I hid among the stacks of wood waiting to be onloaded.

 

At a wedding in Bilgoraj
Wolf Boim (lives in Brazil), Israel Honigsfeld (lives in Israel), all the rest (killed)

 

I hid there for a while until I was found by some Christian workers. They threatened to call the Germans. I got out of there and ran through the fields. I ran into an open wheat barn. Inside, I came upon Mordechai Sharfman's two children, hiding there in great fear. I could not stay there; it was too exposed.

The shooting had been going on ceaselessly the entire time. I fled the barn. There were some newly built barracks {nochen skarb}. I pried open a window, and hid there until it got dark.

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I could hear the shooting around me the entire time. The German murderers were hunting Jews like wild dogs. I left the barracks, and went to Polowa, a Christian acquaintance. She told me that the German murderers went from house to house shooting. They herded together all the Jews to Berach Hirshman's, and from there they took them to the barracks built on the old cemetery near Laizer Mitzner.

As they were driving them through the city, they would shoot at them. Dead bodies covered the whole city, and the gutters ran with blood like a slaughterhouse.

Since I had not said farewell to my parents, I decided to go surrender myself, and to suffer the same fate as everyone.

The entrance at the barracks was guarded by a German. He asked where I had been the whole day. I told him I had been working. He didn't believe me, but let me in anyway.

Once inside the barrack, I met my mother and sister. I also saw: Sholem Rofer; Yosef Moynes; Yoneh Rofer and his wife and children; Isaac Shper; Wolf Bendler; Ephraim Zimring and his family, and others. A large number had been killed trying to escape. My mother told me that my father had been shot that very day. She told me I was wrong to have surrendered myself when others were running away. Her words inspired me to live, and I resolved to get out of German hands at the first opportunity. But in the meantime, hunger and thirst gnawed at us.

The next day, November 3, in the afternoon, Lithuanian guards appeared, dressed in special black uniforms with German insignia.

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They assisted in the liquidation of the Jewish community.

We were all driven out of the barracks, and made to form rows near Shloime Israel's stable. Then we were driven on foot to the Zwierzyniec train. And thus began the death march of the remaining Jews of Bilgoraj.

The Lithuanians drove us along, while continuously shooting, and people kept falling, among them, my mother, A”H, on the Tarnogrod road.

People began to beg for water. They handed over their money to the Lithuanians in return for some water. Once the Lithuanians got the money, they shot the Jews saying,” You're all going to be shot anyway. It's a pity to waste the water.”

I made a pact with Wolf Bendler, and Isaac Shper to escape at the first opportunity. But we saw that escaping was impossible. First, the road was far from the forest. And second, whoever stepped out of line and tried to run, was immediately shot by the Lithuanians.

Along the way people kept falling helpless, among them Sholom Rofer, and Yosef Moynes. I carried them on my shoulders with my last bit of strength, as far as I could.

In the evening, when we were near Zwierzyniec, the Lithuanians stopped shooting into the crowd. When some peasant carts came by, they put the slowest ones on.

By the time we got closer to Zwierzyniec, it was good and dark. Coming to a fork in the road, I quietly moved away from the group, and took the road to the left.

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After about 100 meters, in the darkness I saw, a woman and a child walking. I was going to go past her, when I realized it was my cousin, Gitel Goldberg, and her little brother, Issachar–Ber. She had been hit by a bullet.

We wandered together without a destination, hungry and freezing. We came to a field, in the middle of which was a peasant wheat barn. We went in, lay down on the pile of refuse, and fell into a deep sleep.

When we awoke, it was already day. We went out and, looked around, and saw that we were in a village. We began to walk, and after only a few steps, we were grabbed by two peasants. They took our last few pennies, and tied us together with ropes. Tears, and pleas for mercy to let us live, were of no avail. They laughed, and said, “Ocekaliszcze is transport,” and took us to the village jail.

In the afternoon, they took us to the train and handed us over to the German guards. They opened the gate, hit us with heavy blows, and threw us in with the rest.

At the assembly place, I saw my sister, Gitel, and my youngest brother, Abraham Moishe. My cousin, Chayah Goldberg, told me that they had run away yesterday too. They had wandered aimlessly around in the forest the whole night. They were caught by peasants, and taken to the assembly place. Among the escapees, was Chana Berlinerman (Kopl–Bayle–Gitel's daughter). She too was captured by some peasants, and on the way to the assembly place, the Germans shot her.

There were several thousand people assembled at the train. They were from Bilgoraj, Tarnogrod, Frampol, Goraj, Kraszew, and elsewhere. People lay in the dirt, wounded, exhausted, tortured by hunger and cold.

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On Wednesday November 4, 1942, empty freight cars arrived, and they began to load people into them. The German murderers stood, armed with batons, along the entire length of the train, beating people bloody as they jumped into the freight cars. When the first car was full, they sealed it, and went on to the second, and so on.

In the wagon I got into, children were crawling about on the floor, half–dead, and dead. The German murderers packed us in so tightly that the children were trampled underfoot.

While we were locked in the cars suffocating and thirsty, the Lithuanian guards appeared, opened the doors, and asked for money in exchange for water. People gave up everything in order to get a drop of water. At first, they did bring water, but later, they took the money and said, “In Belzec, you'll get water.”

Pinchas Zimring had a sum of money with him, but rather than giving it to the Lithuanians, he hid it in the wagon.

We talked among ourselves, standing in the locked cars. Maybe they will take out the young strong men to work in German factories. As we are talking about this, the door of the car opened, and we heard the command, “All the men out.” People got up in a daze, they thought they were going to be safe. But we quickly felt the blows of the Germans who were lined up along the length of the cars on which was written, “Belzec.” We were packed in with adults, and the car was sealed.

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In the wagon, I again met Bilgoraj Jews, among them, Yosef Shmirer, Moishe Toitman, Isaac Shper, Wolf Bendler, and others. We decided to jump off the train.

 

I Jump Off the Train

As soon as the train began to move, Yosef Shirer began to daven minche–maariv. He said, there are people here who want to jump off the train. Let us daven the keddushah wth a minyan. Right after the keddushah, we discussed who would jump first. Only one person at a time could jump from the small opening we had made in the window. I could see that Bendler and Shper weren't keen on going first.

It didn't take me long to make up my mind. I grabbed onto the opening, they gave me a boost, and I went out feet first, and then the rest of my body followed. I was hanging on with my hands as the train rushed on. The guards on the roofs opened fire on me with machine guns. Going back in was impossible, nor did I want to. Better to fall under the wheels of the train than be burned in the gas chamber of Belzec. I let go. From the strong momentum, I was flattened against the wall of the car. I jumped down.

Once down, I pressed myself against the rails to shield me from the fierce volleys coming from the guards.

When the train was gone, I jumped up and began running to the nearby forest. I soon began to regret having jumped, seeing I was all alone, and my loved ones were going to their death. (Shper and Bendler had not jumped).

I was alone in the unfamiliar forest and I trembled at my own shadow.

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Lying alone in the forest at night, I noticed some movement in the distance. I buried my head deep into the earth, to become invisible.

I soon saw a man with a large moustache coming closer. The picture of a Christian. I thought I was lost. I lifted my head up slowly, and I noticed he was walking with a limp. It quickly became apparent he was a Jew. Shloime Feil (Asher Feil's son), had also jumped from the train. He was hit with a bullet in the foot.

We had a hard time together. There was nothing to bandage him with. I tore a piece of my underwear, and made a bandage.

 

Chaya'le Greenboim, fell while serving as a nurse in the Red Army

 

He told me, that he jumped out of the train leaving his jacket and money behind. It was to be thrown out after him. He searched everywhere but couldn't find it. I had little money, but I gave him some.

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We decided to spend the night in the forest. When night fell, he was to go to the nearby farmers, and beg for some food. After walking a ways, we saw a light shining. He went in there. I waited for quite a while, and when I did not see him coming out, I thought I had lost another one. But he finally returned, and told me that he had eaten there, but that he had not brought anything for me. He explained, he didn't want to let them know he was not alone.

I visited a farmer, and begged for food. He said that someone of my kind had already been here, and that they had no more to give. On the way out, I noticed a pot of potatoes and took some and left.

I got back to Feil, and we went back to the forest to spend the night. In the morning, we found a peasant house with a well, and drank our fill. Then we went over to the window, and asked the old woman there where we were. She said we were near the highway, and to be careful, because there were always Germans on the road.

Shloime Feil tried to convince me to go with him to some Christians he knew near Frampol. There we would be able to survive the war. I didn't want to go along with this. I knew that in the Bilgoraj ghetto there were 70 Jewish workers, and maybe there was a way for me to get in with them.

The next day, Thursday November 5, we left for Bilgoraj through the forest, avoiding the roads which were full of Germans. There were always Poles too, looking for Jews to turn over to the Germans.

We stumbled around in the forest until Sunday November 8. We had no food; we ate plants that grew in the forest. We came to Parnasaw Mountain. The sides were bare of trees,

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and we were forced to travel on the open road. Here we separated. He took the road to Frampol, and I to Bilgoraj.

Coming down from the mountain, I ran into two Poles on bicycles. They stopped me and asked me where I was going, accused me of escaping from the transport, and told me to go back.

I pleaded with them to let me go, but they insisted I return. One of them gave me a shove with the bicycle, and I fell. I immediately stood back up, and took off into the plowed fields.

After a while, I turned around to see if they were chasing me. I saw a car with Lithuanians coming. They stopped the car, and pointed to me to show them an escaping Jew. The Lithuanian gestured with his arm as if to say ”Let him run. He's done for anyway.”

When I got to the “Rapess” near Bilgoraj, I met Elimelech Weintraub in the forest. He had been wandering all alone the Bilgoraj forests. I proposed to him that we both try to get into the ghetto, but he did not want to. I never saw him again.

Sunday evening, I came into town, soaked from the rain, through Gosh lane. I snuck into a Jewish house, and changed my clothes. Then I went through Yechezkel Arbesfeld's street and onto Third of May Street. There I ran into Shmuel Zisman. I asked him to help me find a hiding place. He showed me a place near Sholem Rofer, in the attic of the icehouse. He promised me that he would help me with food.

I immediately went up to the attic. I found bedding there, barred the entrance and went to lie down and rest.

I lay in great fear, and couldn't fall asleep.

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Every movement of the straw in the attic frightened me.

As I lay there, I heard fierce shooting on the Third of May Street. I looked through a crack, and saw Polish police shooting at the empty plaza near the Zimrings. Several Jews had been hiding there. I heard them say in Polish, “Where did so many come from?” Gzibek, the policeman in Bilgoraj before the war was among them.

When hunger became unbearable, I would creep down before dawn to the Jewish houses, and gather together abandoned things like dried–up carrots, beets, onions, and potatoes, and I lived on this for a while.

I often stumbled on Jews hiding in various holes. Once I came on Pinches Zimring's two children, who were hidden in the house of their grandfather, Hersh Yosef Zimring.

One day, in the attic, I thought I heard footsteps. I slowly went to look out the crack and saw my aunt, Rucheleh (Eliahu Goldberg's wife). I called to her softly. She came over in great fear and told me that she, and her two children were hiding in the attic at Shloime candlemaker, (Bendler)'s children. There were 19 people there.

Lying sleepless at night, I heard the steps of a German patrol, passing by the cellar, and talking; “Here there no Jews. Here is our beer cellar.” When they had passed by, I could breathe a little easier. They certainly didn't imagine there were Jews hiding above their beer cellar.

Saturday, November 14, 1942, very early, I heard the sounds of people running by. Through the crack, I saw my brother, Shloime. I yelled, “Shloime” He looked around, couldn't figure out where the voice was coming from, and kept running. I saw that he was running towards the ghetto. I immediately left and headed over to the ghetto. When I got there, the gate was shut. I called out to him, and he came and let me in. When I got in, we embraced. I told him where I was hiding. If he were to get kicked out of the ghetto, he knew where to go.

There was doctor in the ghetto, a German–Jewish refugee from Tarnogrod. He chased us, and others, out of the ghetto. In the attic of the icehouse, my brother told me that he had been hiding in a Mendl Hurwitz's bunker, in Eliezer Tayer's yard. There were over 70 people there, and he could not stay there. Together we blockaded the door so no one could get in. Our food stores were gone, and days of hunger began.

I decided to go down to the ghetto to see some people I knew, Abraham Yanower, and Moishe Lichtenfeld. Maybe they could help us with food.

I stole out of the attic at dawn. The German patrols were over, and the Polish population was still asleep, so it wasn't too dangerous to be out in the street.

In the ghetto, I went to Abraham Yanower. He immediately gave me a parcel of food. He asked me to take his youngest brother, Meir, with me to the attic. He was hiding in his room in the ghetto, and his life was in constant danger. He was trying to make him legal as quickly as possible, but it was extremely difficult.

I agreed with the plan, and early the following day, I took him up to the attic over the icehouse. The responsibility now fell on me to provide food for three people, and so I went to the ghetto every day for food.

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One Saturday, Meir wanted to visit his brother whom he badly missed. I could barely get him to wait until the afternoon. I wanted to watch the street through the cracks in the attic to see if there were any German patrols. In the evening, I carefully opened the door and let him go out in the street.

I saw him approach the gate, and knock. I felt something bad was happening there, and soon I heard several shots.

The next day, I discovered that when he got to the ghetto, the Gestapo were, by chance, also there. They took him and several others out to the fields, and shot them.

One night, after midnight, we heard footsteps in Eliezer Tayer's yard, and then shouts of , “Heraus!” We were riveted in place, scared to death, and at the same moment, we heard banging on the door of the attic and a yell, “Open up!” I immediately suspected it was someone from the bunker.

I carefully opened the door and let him in. It turned out, it was Abraham Hurvitz (Mendl Hurvitz's son) from the bunker. He used to bring them water from Sholem Rofer's well.

Suddenly there was a loud explosion. We heard someone running past our wall, the cries of, “Halt!” and shooting.

The next day, we learned that it had been Yotche Weintraub's son. He tried to take advantage of the darkness to run away. A few days later, he fell in the fields around Bilgoraj.

Abraham Hurwitz told us that there was a big store of food in the bunker, and we decided we would both go down to the bunker before dawn and get the food.

We did not sleep that night.

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At dawn, we stealthily left the attic, and got to Eliezer Tayer through Sholem Rofer's yard. A horrible scene confronted us. The whole yard was full of dead men, women, and children. It looked like a battlefield.

Abraham Hurwitz ran over, and grabbed the fur hat which had belonged to his father. He clasped it to his bosom, and weeping said, “This is all I have left from my whole family.” Approaching the cellar, we found that everything was mixed together in blood and earth. There was torn paper money scattered on the ground, ripped up by the innocent victims, in their last moments, to deny it to the murderers.

We left the bunker heads hung low, despondent, in despair, knowing that the Germans, and their Polish accomplices went around, with axes and iron bars, liquidating one bunker after another, in return for 2 kilos of sugar.

The day following the slaughter, I overheard Szwiersz, the pig dealer, going by and saying, “Israel has fallen, for sure.” He used to help me with food always.

We decided that we would go to the ghetto, and speak to Hersh Zilberberg, in order to get Abraham Hurwitz registered, so he could legally reside in the ghetto. Several days later, he succeeded in getting registered, and my brother and I were left alone with our hunger in the attic.

One day, Chaim Brandwein, (Yeshaye's son) came out of the forests to the ghetto. But he couldn't stay in the ghetto because of the daily Gestapo visits. Someone told him that we were hiding in the attic of the icehouse, and one night he came to us. Although we had little to eat from the ghetto, we shared what we had with him.

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The German guardian of the Jewish possessions–furniture, machinery, dishes–had piled them up against the wall of the icehouse where we were hiding. Our every movement put our lives in danger. The peasants came and bought up the goods of the murdered Bilgoraj Jews.

Once, when they had brought a load of furniture, I heard the peasants joyfully describing how when they had moved a cupboard away in Antschel Shur's house, they discovered a group of Jews, among them, David Zokman, Henoch Shier, and others. They took them to the cemetery, and shot them.

Lying in the attic, I saw through the gaps, the Gestapo Majewski, leading Nuteh Kronenberg, his wife, Rochel'tche, and his daughter. Exhausted, Nuteh fell down. The Gestapo shoved him with his foot a few times, and then shot him. A little further on, he shot his wife.

My grandfather, Shmuel Blander, had been hiding for several weeks, in the sheds which had remained on his property. One night, the gendarmes came and shot him in his bed.

My uncle, Eliyahu Goldberg, had been hiding for quite a while at the mechanic, Solski. The Germans found him, and shot him.

One day, at dawn, going through Yechazkel Kandel's to the ghetto, I came on a horrible sight. Dead, naked bodies lay spread throughout the yard.

[Page 271]

I later learned that the Germans, with the help of the Polish underworld, had discovered the best camouflaged bunker where the following were hiding: Yechezkel Kandel and his family, Abraham Taber with his son–in–law,and his family, Malke Kornblut and others.

Another horrible scene. I was lying in the attic when I heard a big commotion in the street. I looked through the cracks. I saw Germans, and the gangster, Kulasze, and peasants armed with axes, and iron bars. They went into the Bendler's yard. I did not move from the spot. I needed to see how this ended, because my aunt Rocheleh Goldberg and her children, and some other 19 people, were hiding there. I was glued to the wall. I heard boards breaking, and soon after, I saw them leading my aunt, and her children, and the others. They were all taken to the cemetery and shot.

 

Berl Shutz, and Itzchak Becher in the Bilgoraj forest

 

Chaim Brandwein told us that it was impossible to remain in the forest. The peasants lie in wait for any Jew. His entire group had been liquidated by the peasants. He was the sole survivor. We began to search for a way to get into the ghetto.

[Page 272]

On Sunday January 4, 1942 I went to the ghetto for the second time. I hid in a wood shed. Abraham Yanower was to tell me when Hersh Zilberberg was coming, so that I could talk to him.

Suddenly a commotion erupted in the ghetto. There was talk that they had found our hiding place in Sholem Rofer's attic. They led out my brother Shlomo, and Chaim Brandwein. Chaim Brandwein managed to escape. They took my brother to the cemetery and shot him

This was the end of the bunkers in Bilgoraj.

On hearing the news, I fell completely apart. I did not return to that place. I did not get to talk with Hersh Zilberberg. Abraham Yanower spoke with him, and he promised he would get it done. But in order to become legal in the ghetto, I had to have a photograph. So the next day, I shaved, and simply took a chance and went to the photographer who lived in Zimring's house. Back at the ghetto, I gave the photo to Hersh Zilberberg, and the next day I had my certificate as a worker in the Bilgoraj ghetto.

 

The Liquidation of the Ghetto

During the last days of my stay in the ghetto, there was talk that the Germans were preparing to liquidate the ghetto.

Friday, January 10, 1943, the Germans and the gendarmes surrounded the ghetto. Still in our beds, we heard banging on the shutters, “Get up! Control!” People said to each other, this is the end.

We got dressed, it was still dark outside, and everyone went outside to the yard.

[Page 273]

The Gestapo ordered everyone to form two groups: young men in one, and old men, women, and children in the other. When some daylight appeared, the young group was given an order to march out of the gate. The group was: Israel Geist, Shmuel Zisman, Abraham Yanower, Beinish Adler, Shloime Zilberlicht, Binim Shulman, Moishe Lichtenfeld, David Bendler, Aaron Hornfeld, Pinchas Farshtendig, Sholom Porcelen, Elizer Shochet's two sons, Abraham Hurwitz, David Laks, Berish Lang, Moishe Boim, and Fishl Kandel.

And in order to finish the work in progress, they left behind: Nachman Renner, Laizer Fruchtlender, and Nechamia Lang.

We later learned that Nachman Renner, and Laizer Fruchtlender had run away to the forest. Nechamia Lang had gone to a Christian acquaintance who was supposed to hide him. All his money was taken from him, and he was poisoned.

As we walked along, we heard shots being fired, and we knew that everyone left behind was being killed.

In the Bilgoraj jail, the Gestapo ordered us to hand over all our money and valuables. They left us a small amount. They told us we were being transferred to a camp. They tortured Fishl Kandel to get him to reveal where the Judenrat gold was.

People who had money threw it into the latrines to keep it out of the murderers' hands.

A tall man, a giant, dressed in a Gestapo uniform, by the name of Pinkowski, , came to see us in the jail. He asked us where our women and belongings were. We told him that everything had been left behind in the ghetto.

[Page 274]

He stopped the torture of Fishl Kandel, arguing that the money the Gestapo had left us should be given to him, and in return we would get food in the camp. He took two people with him to go to the ghetto for some blankets.

In the ghetto, we saw that everyone left behind was dead, their bodies lying spread across the yard. We took a few tattered blankets, and returned to the jail. In the evening, Pinkowski showed up in a truck and parked it in front of the gate.

He stood there, revolver in hand, and as each man was let out one at a time, he shot those who did not please him. Among the fallen: Pinchas Farshtendig, and David Laks.

Once seated in the truck, the murderer, Pinkowski, ordered that the boots should be removed from the dead. The last one in, Michal, a Frampoler, jumped down, but as he was too slow taking the boots off the dead for Pinkowki's liking, he shot him.

But the murderer was still not satisfied, and again ordered that the boots should be removed. So someone jumped quickly down, took off the boots, gave them to Pinkowski, and we drove off in the direction of Zamosc.

We arrived at our destination late at night. It was a horse stable where the inmates of the camp lived.

 

Driving and Riding school for SS Janowice

We opened the door and saw people lying in terrible conditions on the floor. An awful smell hit us.

There was a small place in the stable for a stove.

[Page 275]

He ordered them to make soup for us which we greedily ate. He made all the sick people give up their places for us, and moved them to the back of the stable.

We talked to the healthy Jews in the camp almost all of whom were from Zamosc. They were working on building a riding school for the SS. The architect was a Jew from Zamosc, Broinstein, and a Czech Jew, Basch.

One day, the murdered opened the stable door, and shot randomly into it. He hit Aaron Hornfeld, who died on the spot.

From time to time, the overseers had to provide people for execution.

And to such a contingent, as it was called, Eliezer Shochet's two sons, and Yakov Renner from Bilgoraj, were condemned.

As they were being driven to be shot, they jumped from the car, and came back to the camp and hid there. The Czech Jew, Basch, for a large sum of money, managed to convince the killer Pinkowski to let them stay.

There was Typhus in the camp and Bilgoraj Jews were affected as well. The sick were shot. Isaac Renner managed to avoid getting shot, but died of the disease several days later.

In May 1943, the Janowice camp was closed, and we were marched to another camp, Luftwaffe, and from there we were loaded onto trucks, packed in like herrings, guarded by armed SS. While underway, one of the trucks broke down, so they packed everyone into the other trucks. They took two people to help repair the truck, and afterwards, they shot them.

[Page 276]

Arriving at the gate, we saw a large sign that read, “Majdanek labor camp: Arbeit Macht Frei.”

Driving through the gate, we saw half–dead people wearing prison clothing with stripes.

We were unloaded from the trucks and led to a barracks. We had to form a line, and pass by an SS man who called out, “Lay down all your money, gold, earrings, and rings.” We had to take off all our clothes, raise our hands, and feet, open our mouths, to check whether we had hidden anything on our naked bodies. From there we went to a nearby barrack where they had the shower and the gas chamber.

We went into the showers in great fear, afraid of the deceptions we had already seen, afraid we were going to a gas chamber and not the showers.

There were barbers there who shaved our heads and everything. After we had washed, we were given the striped clothing, and wooden shoes.

There were benches in the blocs, but we were not permitted to sit on them.

After lunch we were driven out to the yard to perform exercises. Woe to him who could not keep up. I would rather have worked than do the “exercises” all day. And the next day I was, in fact, assigned to a work detail. It consisted of building a road in the camp with stones from destroyed Jewish houses in Lublin.

The work was this: Me and another prisoner had to fill a cart with gravel with our bare hands, and run with the cart to another spot. We were struggling to run in the wooden shoes, when I heard a cry from the overseer, “Bik dich!” I stopped still, not knowing what he meant. He called over an assistant, who grabbed my head and held it between his legs. The supervisor began hitting me with a club, and when I cried out, he hit me harder. I have the scars to this day.

After this bloody joke, they sent me back to work. After several days, I met Itzchak Meir Warshaviak, and Feivel Ziskraut (Rivkeleh Meir Greener's son).They were captured in 1942, and sent to Majdanek. Itzchak Meir Warshoviak looked very bad. He told me that he just got out of the hospital. His toes were frostbitten, but he was returning to the hospital, knowing that he would not leave there.

I also met there other Bilgoraj boys who had been caught with Warshaviak and sent to Majdanek. They were always ready to help other Bilgorajers in any way they could.

With the passage of time, we were witness to the abominable crimes of the German killers. They hung people in the middle of the square, and forced everyone to watch the executions.

There were people missing at roll call every day. They were searched for and found hanging by their bunks, and their bodies brought to the roll call.

One day during a hard rain, one person was missing. They made us stand in the rain for hours while they searched for him. After a lengthy search, they found him drowned in the latrine.

After a month, I heard rumors that they were going to ship the healthy people out to German factories. We thought, whatever it is, it's better than this hell.

Every day, after work, they returned carrying the bodies of those who had died under the murderous beatings.

[Page 278]

Then began a whole business with doctor exams, and lists. I ended up with the healthy.

From Majdanek, we walked for about half an hour on the road to Lublin. We arrived at the train where the freight cars were already waiting. We were loaded on, and the cars were sealed. After a tedious voyage, we arrived the next day at a station. The doors were opened, and we were ordered down.

Getting off the freight cars, we were confronted with a sign stating, “Hassag Skarzhisko.” We were handed over to the “work guard,” who, in order to frighten the newcomers, immediately shot several people. They formed us into rows, and took us to the factory, where they assigned us to various jobs.

The following Bilgoraj Jews were there: Geist, Israel; Zisman, Shmuel; Adler, Beinish; Zilberlicht, Shloime; Bendler, David; Shulman, Bonim, and others.

It was a weapons factory. We worked in shifts: two weeks day, and two weeks night. We worked there until May 1944. When the Russians arrived at the Vistula, at Warsaw, the Germans began to transfer the prisoners to Germany, and some to Czestochowa. Shmuel Zisman and I were sent to Czestochowa to a similar factory.

On January 15, 1945, I was working the dayshift, when I heard a commotion break out in the factory. We had already heard that the Russians were very near the city, yet our masters continued to abuse us as before. We heard that those due to work the night shift were going to be sent away. And Shmuel Zisman, who worked the nightshift, was sent away.

[Page 279]

Around three in the afternoon, it became clear that our German masters were slowly stealing away.

Knowing that the Russians were practically here, we looked for a way to hide ourselves to avoid being dragged along with the Germans.

Everybody managed to find a hiding place somewhere. There was not a German to be seen in the whole factory.

I hid with a large number of Jews in a cellar of the factory. We were there for a while. We heard the sound of windows breaking all over the factory, the detonations from the constant air bombardment, and shooting.

Lying there in great fear, we heard voices calling, “Out, out! The Russians are here!” People ran madly out of the cellar. We were greeted by Polish firefighters who said, “You are free! The Germans are gone.” We all went out to the street and fell on each other's necks, embracing, kissing, weeping for joy. And then, we looked around, and realized that we were alone, cruelly separated from our loved ones.

I left the camp, and along with several friends from the camp, settled in Czestochowa. I remained there for 6 months, then went to Wroclaw, and from there to Israel where I was reunited with Shmuel Zisman.


Translator's footnote:

  1. In Russia, village elder Return


[Page 281]

I Survived in Order to Take Revenge

by B. Wermuth (Australia)

Translated by Moses Milstein

I live now in Australia where I got the call from the surviving Jews of Bilgoraj who live in Israel, to help create a book about our home and the murders of our fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers. I have been waiting, with an aching heart, for ten years to put my sorrowful memories in writing. My two brothers–in–law, Benny Hochman and his son, and Hersh Silberfein and his daughter, survived with me at a certain Skoko of the Boyars, and I have undertaken the duty to relate a small part of the destruction of our city, Bilgoraj.

Before the Germans entered the city, they burned it down, and our Bilgorajers today are spread all over the world.

In 1940, the Germans sent 200 Jews, including my brother Eliezer and I, to the Turkowice labor camp. We suffered greatly there. The work was punishing, and there were beatings and murders. We were released after 6 months.

But that was not the end. The Germans needed fresh Jews in their camps, and they captured more people. This time I hid.

They finished with the small camps, and set to building larger ones. In 1942, the Germans captured Jews from all over Poland and sent them to Belzec and Dzikow to build fortifications for war with the Soviet Union.

They transported about 600 Jews from Bilgoraj. On the way, they shot Kalman Bendler and others. In these camps, the Germans began sentencing people to death, and

[Page 282]

many Bilgoraj Jews perished there. But we could not imagine that they were capable of much worse.

At the beginning of 1942, the Germans began to prepare death camps, but even though we were close to Belzec, we were ignorant of that knowledge.

One day, the Judenrat received an order to prepare a list of 1000 Jews who were to be deported for farm labor in the Ukraine. Each person was allowed to bring their belongings, and 1500 Zlotys. They selected all the older people, among them, my father, and mother, and my brother Eliezer, and my brother–in–law Hersh Silberfein. He, Hersh Silberfein asked my father whether he should show up, and my father told him to do what he thought best, so he went into hiding with his family. The Judenrat searched for him for a long time, but with time, things got quieter, and we went to work for the Germans in the forests.

In this way, the Germans annihilated 1000 people who were ostensibly traveling to the Ukraine to work. I had arranged with my parents that they should write as soon as they arrived as to whether the farm work was hard, whether one could survive there. If so, I would join them with our families at the next deportation. They released my brother, Eliezer. They needed young men for work.

From Tarnogrod and the surrounding cities, they brought about 1000 Jews to Bilgoraj, and transported all of them away. Right on the Zamosc road, they killed several hundred Jews claiming they were trying to escape. The remaining Jews in the city could not believe that they were being taken to be annihilated. Rumors went around town that letters had arrived from various of the deportees. When the supposed recipients were questioned, they said they had not received any such thing, but that they had heard that Yenkele Maimon's wife had received a letter.

[Page 283]

So they went to see her, but she said she had nothing. The whole thing came to nothing.

We heard there was a woman, Devorah, Hershke Hochman's daughter, who had been on the transport. She reported that, in Zwierzyniec, the German bandits ordered that everyone hand over their money and leave their belongings there, and whoever was found later with money would be shot.

 

From right to left: Moishe Silberman, Belke, Shloime Silbermintz, Hersh Yanower, Nuteh Kleinmintz, and Tauber's grandchild

 

They handed over everything, under blows from the German murderers. While the Germans were doing their murderous work, a terrible rain was falling, a veritable flood. All the Jews were driven into the wagons with blows from rifle butts, and the cars were sealed.

She described how she had to leave her young child and escape from there.

[Page 284]

But where our loved ones were taken, she did not know.

Later a train conductor, Sadowski's son–in–law, came and told me, “Baruch, you know that your people are being taken to Belzec. There is a crematorium there, and they are incinerated.” I asked him how he knew about that, and he said that, as conductor, he had driven the train there twice already.

I reported this to Shmuel Arbesfeld, and Abraham Leichter. They warned me not to speak a word of this, that the conductor was an anti–Semite and that was why he was telling such tales.

A while later, Shebreshin[1] Jews were rounded up, loaded into freight cars, and taken away. A number of them jumped from the train, and from them we learned that the train was headed to Belzec. Two days later, a Jew returned form Belzec. He had hidden under the wagon they were brought in. He told us everything, and we finally began to believe.

In the meantime, the Gestapo continued to do its work. They grabbed innocent Jews, took them out to the Raper forest, and shot them. Among them: David Shlafrak, Leibish Grinboim, Motel Hodes' daughter, and others.

The heroism of the Bilgoraj youth was displayed by Mordechai Renner (Itzi Renner's son). When the Gestapo came for him he refused to go. He fought back, and beat them fiercely, until he was overwhelmed. They took him out to the same forest and shot him.

Things went on like this until the big aktion. I was evicted form my dwelling, and had to live in the ghetto on Third of May Street, or by the bridge.

[Page 285]

I did not want to live locked up, because the Germans could get me whenever they wanted. I went out to the Boyars, and hid in my own house with my wife and children, my sister, and my brother–in–law, Hershele.

One day, we heard loud shooting coming from the city. I, Hershele and Benieh with one son went to the mill. The women and children were supposed to have hidden themselves in the attic. But it was not to be. The Volksdeutsche who had taken my mill, chased them all away, and they fled to the forest.

 

Moishe Boim during the occupation

 

Moishe Boim and Fishel Kandel told me that that day was a horrible one in Bilgoraj. Blood ran like water in the streets. The dead were brought to Berach Hershman's place. A grave was dug there, and they were all buried. Among the first buried was Yekele Leichter. He was still alive, begging them to shoot him.

[Page 286]

He was immediately approached by one of the murderers who said, “The dog is not dead yet? A pity to waste a bullet,” but he shot him anyway.

The mayor came by, and asked that all the dead be buried in the Jewish cemetery. They brought Moishe Boim and Fishel Kandel from the ghetto to dig the graves.

Moishe Boim, and Fishel Kandel escaped from the Zamosc camp, and came to us to our bunker in the Boyars by a certain Skako. Moishe Boim died in the bunker from a hemorrhage. (from Consumption). Just when we were going to bury him, a raid took place, and his body stayed with us for several days. Later, we buried him.

Fishel Kandel, and his uncle, Yekl Perlmutter, left for Kapronie, near Frampol. Yekel Tauber and his family were there at a certain Jarmol. Towards the end, they all perished.

As I lay in the bunker, I often received news of who had been shot, and that the accomplices were the forester Blichasz, Tomaszewski, and the chief degenerate, Kolesza.

On July 22 1944, my brothers–in–law and I were freed from the bunker. When I returned to my old home on the Boyars, I found no trace of my loved ones. The Christian neighbors came to see us, and told me how my wife, and two children, sister and brother were killed.

Kolesza had found out where they were hiding. He informed the gendarmes, and at 5:00 am, he showed them the spot. He went straight up to the attic, dragged them out, and the Germans shot them, and left. He stayed behind to rob the bodies. He took everything and left them naked.

He took my brother, Laizer, to the river, and shot him.

[Page 287]

The first day after my liberation, I went up to the empty Bilgoraj marketplace. I didn't see any Jews or Christians. Everything was dead. I walked and asked myself, “To whom am I going, and who is mine?” Suddenly, I saw Kolesza coming towards me. I jumped as if I were standing on hot coals. I was overcome by one word, “Revenge!”

He came up to me and said, “Don't be mad at me. I'm not guilty. The Germans forced me to do it.”


Translator's footnote:

  1. Szczebrzeszyn, about 30 km from Bilgoraj Return

 

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