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[Page 658]

The Massacre in Pobikry

By Velvel Ptashek

Translated to English by Beate Schützman Krebs

Donated to the JewishGen Yizkor Book Project by
Miroslaw Reczko, Mayor of Ciechanowiec

Edited by Judy Baston and Susan Stone

Before their invasion, the Germans assaulted Ciechanowiec with big cannons. The shrapnel fell down onto Jewish houses, bringing with them great destruction.

On June 23, 1941, my brother, Yitzhak, went to Wiktorzyn, looking for my mother. While walking through the crops, a German discovered him and brought him to Wyszonki. He was forced to dig a pit beside the church with his own hands, and they shot him there. After two weeks the guard of the bridges came to me, telling me the sad news that my brother was dead, with his body lying in an open pit. Immediately I went to Wyszonki, gathered a minyan of Jews, and brought my brother to a Jewish cemetery.

Life in the Shtetl became dark and bitterly troublesome. At five o'clock in the early morning, one would report to work, carrying heavy stones from one place to the other, digging up and filling in loamy pits, and performing other similar tasks. They would give you no food at work, and they would pay wages in the form of hefty blows. The tormented Jews would actually be “happy” when the workday had finished.

One morning, the assassins murdered Chaim Butzkevitz, because he was accused of being involved in communism. They also murdered Pesakh Zlotolow's son, because he was accused of covertly reading communistic literature. Concerning Itshe Zeliger's boy, there took place a terrible tragedy. They shackled him and twisted his hands backwards. In that sorry plight, he had to crucify himself for seven weeks. Afterwards, the murderers did him a “favor” and shot him. After this bestiality, the murdering stopped temporarily.

They charged the Jewish population with heavy dues. In the ghetto, there was great hunger. The Jews sold off to the Christians everything they had, just for a little piece of bread. But it wasn't enough, and at great risk the Jews brought in products from the outside. Carrying products from the outside was not allowed. Carrying food into the ghetto was immediately punishable with the death penalty. Food would have been provided in accord with a quota, which was determined by the German mayor. The importation of food was in hands of the Pole Pszczolkowski, who used to send only a small part of the products into the ghetto. He would sell the major part to the Poles, telling them that the Jews had enough to eat.

On October 31, 1942 the Judenrat announced that young people should go to Pobikry to pick out trees for the village elders. To this effect, 240 young men and 20 girls were taken there. The place had been readied with thirteen big rooms, holding twenty people to a room. Leading the 260 young people was commander David Treibatsh. Alter Shmekowsky of the Judenrat and several Jewish policemen accompanied him. We were given a large amount of potatoes and bread to take with us.

Everything gave the impression that we were going to work for a long time. The next morning at 5 o'clock we heard a noise approaching us. Instinctively, we all ran to the windows and saw that armed Germans and Polish policemen were approaching us.

Immediately we realized that we were doomed. The Germans locked all the rooms from the outside. Next, they opened the first room and pulled out the 20 persons and brought them to the palace, which had been surrounded by deep water and to which led to a small bridge. When the first group was led away, David Treibatsh asked a German, “What was the point of that? We were brought here to do long–standing work.” The German replied that he had received an urgent message to bring us quickly back to Ciechanowiec because Romanus had to carry out important work and he lacked workmen.

Meanwhile, they emptied all the rooms and concentrated the prisoners beside the palace – five persons in a row. When we were standing, the murderers got close to us, tying us together with a rope on all necks of the first and the last row. And at the sides of the lines, they bound together the hands, so that a kind of a closed box was formed. When we were standing, bound like sheep and awaiting the slaughter, a policeman named Prokop got close to Berl Vinowitz, who was standing beside me. With extreme caution he laid a little knife in his hand, whispering in secret to him that they were going to shoot us. He gave the advice to cut the ropes when we were taken over the bridge and to run away as fast as possible.

We were brought up to the brickyard of Pobikry accompanied by seven armed Germans and twenty Polish policemen. Approaching a certain place, the Germans ordered the Polish policemen to move over to one side. Soon after, shots were heard. Berl Vinowitz didn't lose his courage and quickly cut the ropes. With superhuman strength, we ran away. Among us, there was a young man from Wolkowysk, who carried a cigarette lighter. He lit it and threw it into the straw, which was lying on the field. Soon after, we were shrouded by a dense cloud of smoke.

The murderers lost our tracks, and this saved us. Fifty–one persons managed to escape. We traveled about 20 kilometres from Pobikry. In the village Konarze I met my parents and sister. We decided to remain in the place, because the gentile who hid us behaved friendly towards us. One evening the bailiff's wife, with tearful eyes, came to my mother and advised us to leave the place because the Germans had found out that Jews were hidden in the village. Soon we left for the village Luniewo. One day later the Germans came to the gentile with whom we had stayed. They beat him up awfully, in order to make him reveal our whereabouts. The gentile denied he had ever seen us. The Germans sent him to a camp where they tormented him so badly that after a short time, he died.

In Luniewo, my parents and my sister felt more or less safe. I, wandering about in the surrounding villages, was looking for Jewish survivors from Ciechanowiec. Arriving in the village Zawisty, the bailiff told me that Sheyndl Ser hid herself together with another women in his stable. The first encounter with her made a deep impression on me. Sheyndl was lying in the attic. She was very sad and disappointed. I asked her to come with me because great danger threatened her in this hideout. She didn't follow me because the woman, with whom she hid herself, had promised her to draw up a document, stating that she was a Polish girl.

A few days later the bailiff's wife told me that her husband had sent Sheyndl to a Christian, living in the village Trynisze. I left immediately for that place. Sheyndl asked me to guide her to the village Czaje. Her father once had bought a house there, and she was sure that the local gentiles would hide her. And so it was. She hid herself in the village with a friendly Christian for a whole month. Unfortunately, the neighbors discovered that she was a Jewish girl. She was led away to the village Rudka and left in the hands of the Germans. There she died a martyr's death.

My parent's end was the same. My mother was murdered in Luniewo. My father escaped successfully and hid himself in several stashes. But a gentile kept him and brought a “gift” to the Germans. For the “gift” he received 2 kilos of salt. I left for the village Zlotki. There I met my sister Rachel, her husband Ruben–Joseph Khazn and their three children. We had been staying with a Pole there from July 13, 1944 until the liberation. My sister Itke has been living presently in Bialystok. My sister Rachel, her husband, and children are living in America.


[Page 688]

Why I Was Saved?

by Chava Chazan, America

Translated to English by Beate Schützman Krebs

Donated by Dr. Miroslaw Reczko,
Chancellor of Bialystok University of Technology

Edited by Judy Baston and Susan Stone

We knew nothing about anything and went to sleep on Sabbath evening. But our sleep did not last long. A loud knocking of machine guns woke us up. We all went outside. There were German soldiers standing around, and there were already murdered people.

Before we could even look around, my father and my two brothers managed to escape. My mother and I stayed there, not knowing what would happen to us. But a good idea of my mother saved our lives. My mother tore open a board on the floor, and we both went to the basement, where we spent three days without any food or drink.

Above our heads the wild tigers ran and clattered with their feet on the floor. Fortunately, they did not discover us. We realized that we could not exist there much longer, so on the third night of our hiding we decided to escape. The night was very dark. While running, my mother lost me in a field, and I was left alone in the dark night next to a dense forest. I was afraid to scream and shout for my mother, because the wild Nazi beasts would have heard my screaming immediately.

I ran into the forest, wandering among the trees and tree stumps. My heart was pumping hard and tears were welling up in my eyes. For I knew that I was now left alone in the world and had no one, and that I was being hunted by bloodthirsty beasts.

In the darkness I suddenly bumped into a person. My first thought was that I was lost now, because it was surely a Ukrainian or one of the Gestapo. But I was lucky because it was my aunt. At that moment my joy was indescribable. I had found someone and was no longer alone. But the joy did not last long.

[Page 689]

My aunt went away to look for my parents and left me in a barn in the middle of the field, where I lay for three days without a bite of bread and without water. My aunt found my father and my two brothers in a pit in the middle of the field. She told my father that I was alive and lying in a barn. My aunt returned to me afterwards and gave me the good news, but I hardly heard her words, for I was close to fainting.

For weeks, we rolled around in pits but since we couldn't lie in them for long, we finally set out. We managed to rush into a barn. There we lay under the floor for two weeks. We could not hide there longer because the cellar was flooding with water. Thereupon my father went to a Christian, a very honest person, who accommodated us very kindly and hid us in a small stable. There we spent a very dangerous and critical time. Once, when my father went away to look for food, he found my mother. So we were all together again.

Hunger tormented us terribly. We all suffered swelling from hunger. But we endured the misery and could hardly wait for the happy hour when the Red Army finally liberated us.

By the time we got back to the shtetl, we had no strength left to stand on our feet. We lay in beds for several weeks and walked on sticks. It was no wonder, considering that our indescribable suffering had dragged on for 22 months. When we were liberated, I was 7 years old.


[Page 690]

The Road to Liberation

by Leibel Soloveitchik, Ramatayim/Hod HaSharon

Translated to English by Beate Schützman Krebs

Donated by Dr. Miroslaw Reczko,
Chancellor of Bialystok University of Technology

Edited by Judy Baston and Susan Kaplan Stone

After we three brothers, Josl, David, and I escaped from the ghetto, we took refuge in a barn, without the gentile owner's knowledge.

At dawn we heard something moving in the barn. We understood that these must be Jews because the gentile was a friend of the Jews. And indeed, shortly after, the two sons of Simcha Wrona, Avigdor and his brother, and Abraham Gonshak showed up.

We stayed in the barn for several days. The gentile behaved well to us. He consoled us that whoever remained alive until November 11, 1942 would be saved. However, when the date passed, to our regret, there was absolutely nothing, nor any sign that salvation was on the way.

The gentile became impatient. He let us understand that there was already talk about him that he hid Jews. This was a clear signal that we had to find another hiding place. Reluctantly, we had to part.

I went with my brothers to the village of Usza (on the Polish side) to a farmer named Zawistowski, with whom we hid for several months. At night he brought us food and did everything possible. The days and nights dragged on until March 1943, when Zawistowski told us that we had to leave the hiding place because his brother from Warsaw had come, and the brother was a great Jew-hater and would surely kill us.

We understood that our situation was very critical. In dense darkness we went away to a second village, which was also called Usza , and hid in a barn. When it got dark on the second day, Josl and I decided to go see Zawistowski and tell him where we were hiding. Josl immediately returned and called out to me, crying,

[Page 691]

“They caught David!” He told me that David had been arrested by the son-in-law of the magistrate of Usza. Immediately we went to him and announced that we would burn the village if he did not immediately release David. But before we had finished our speech, we were surrounded by a crowd of 20 peasants.

We quickly left the house and ran with all our strength a distance of 5-6 kilometers, without any rest. Tired and worn down, we sat down next to a forest and waited for David, because we hoped that he would be released.

Thinking that David might have returned to Ciechanowiec, we crossed the Nurzec with great effort and went to a familiar farmer in the “old town”. He gave us the sad news that as far as he knew, David was in the hands of the Germans. He added that we should leave quickly because we were already being searched for.

We decided to put an end to our hiding and join the partisans. We went to the village of Kobusy and visited a gentile named Aleksey. He gave us food and instructed us to come back in three days. Then he would connect us with the Russian partisans. He used to be joined by a Ciechanowiec communist named Grabarz, who was in contact with the partisans. Aleksey apologized to us for not letting us spend the night at his place, but a short time before, the Germans had just shot a Russian prisoner who had worked for him.

After three days we returned. However, Aleksey told us that none of the partisans had appeared yet. He gave us food and instructed us to come back again after a few days. We sat down on a rock next to a forest and began to eat. Suddenly we heard noise between the trees, and a person stepped out of the forest. It was a full moon night. We slowly approached the stranger, and he turned out to be Grabarz.

Grabarz was an envoy of the Communists, hiding from the Germans. He had a rifle with him, and we felt braver now because he was armed. From then on, we roamed the woods together with him. Grabarz told us that there were two boys from Ciechanowiec prowling in the forest.

[Page 692]

And indeed, he soon led us to them. We discovered a fire in the forest, next to which the boys were warming themselves. When they saw us, they were very frightened and ran away in panic. We remained by the fire. One of the boys returned immediately. He was swollen with hunger, so I hardly recognized him. It was Berl Moncharz, the son of Feiga the tailoress (from Kozarska Street).

I asked the children who was taking care of them, and they answered that Abraham Kopytowski was really sacrificing himself for them. This was very touching to me. As it turned out, Kopytowski was with the children, and at night he went away and used to risk his life. In the darkness, surrounded by enemies, he would go to the abandoned ghetto to bring food for the boys. He treated them like his own children and cared for them like a faithful father.

Kopytowski knew a familiar farmer in Ciechanowiec, where he was hiding together with Jacob-Meir Lifshitz.

We settled in the forest. Late at night “Abtshe” returned. Thus, we became 4 people then.

Once at dusk, we heard footsteps in the forest, which were very well known to us. Those were the footsteps of A.K. (“Armia Krajowa”) people, a Polish underground movement that bathed itself in Jewish blood.

At that time a misfortune happened. Our protector Grabarz was wounded by a bullet which accidentally came out of his rifle. He lay bleeding profusely in the field. We carried him with our hands and after two days, we arrived in the Pobikrer forest. We did not stay in the same place for more than a day because we were in great danger.

Josl suddenly cried out, “The Germans are leaving!” Immediately after that, a terrible shooting was heard, and they were shooting from all sides. Before we fled, we determined a special place where we would meet in case we survived.

[Page 693]

Out of sheer fright and confusion, Josl began to flee in the direction of the Germans. From a distance, I saw the killers shooting at him. I ran into the forest as fast as my strength would allow, then I fell powerlessly to the ground. My body was covered with cold sweat. I saw death before my eyes. But I didn't care about myself, I only thought about Josl, and I was sure that he and Grabarz had been murdered.

When I came to, I went to the designated place where we wanted to meet. Deep in my heart, I didn't want to believe that Josl was dead. It was late at night, and I came to the house of a farmer. I was afraid to knock on the door and lay outside all night. At dawn, the loud barking of a dog woke me up. The door opened and to my great surprise I saw a farmer I knew. He told me the almost unbelievable news that Josl was alive and staying with him.

When I caught sight of Josl, I was lost for words. We both fell around each other's necks, choked with tears. To this day, it has remained a mystery to me how Josl was saved from certain death, because Josl had no explanation for it either.

Miserable and hunted by the enemy, we wandered across barren fields and dense forests. After a month, we suddenly saw Grabarz sitting under a tree. He was completely changed. His wounded foot was overgrown with wild flesh, and he was suffering terrible pain. We took him with us and went to a farmer, whom we asked how to heal the wound.

Just like a doctor, the gentile prescribed that powder of azure-stone should be sprinkled on the wound. He gave us the cure, only we didn't know how exactly to use it. In fact, only a fraction of a gram should be sprinkled, but since we were not experts in this field, we poured a whole 50 grams on the wound.

This burned terribly, and Grabarz screamed that he was dying. Since we became afraid that his screaming would betray us and we would be discovered, we plugged his mouth and cut out the wild flesh with a rusty knife. After this “operation,” he got better and with time he became healthy again.

[Page 694]


A group of Jewish survivors from Ciechanowiec in a camp in Foking (Germany) in 1946

Standing from right to left: 1) Alter Pioro 2) Gotlib 3) Reuven Bochkevitz 4) Meir Raizeles 5) Ephraim Winer 6) Reuven-Yosef Chazan
Sitting from right to left: 1) Jeger 2) Hersh-Ber Pasternak 3) Rachel Chazan 4) ----(no name) 5) Feyvl Rosochatzky z'l
Third row: The children of Reuven-Yosef and Rachel Chazan

 

After that we parted. I went with Josl to the village of £uniewo and to a farmer we knew. He told us that many Jews came to him. When we sat with him, Yehuda Ritz appeared to ask for bread. Together with Yehuda Ritz and his son, there were Abraham Gonshak, Shmuel Vinowitz, Moshe Rosenberg and Mrs. Chazan with her three children.

Yehuda said that many Jews were wandering in the forest in a hopeless situation and a day before, a Ciechanowiecer girl named Mishe was murdered.

[Page 695]

She was the daughter of Yukl the Beyder from “new-town”. Yehuda added that we would have to oppose with rifles in hand, otherwise we would all be lost. Our first defensive action was to dig a deep pit. It was well concealed from above and had as its entrance a secret door. There were burning frosts, and it was terribly cold in the pit. Thus, we hid the children of the Chazan Family for a large fee at a farmer's house.

We hid in the pit for several months. But then a farmer who had seen us by chance betrayed us. Soon after, many Germans came and shot around in the forest. They really plowed up the forest with grenades, but they could not find the pit.

On the day of that raid, I was staying with Yehuda Ritz in a neighboring village. When we heard the terrible impact of the shells, we remained in the village for a whole day and night. The Germans brought the farmer who had reported us, and he showed them roughly where the pit was. They soon brought a large group of peasants with shovels, who dug until they reached the door of our pit.

Shmuel Vinowitz had a rifle, and when he saw that the enemy was so close to him, he began to shoot without stopping. The Germans were frightened and retreated. They wondered, what powerful and dangerous weapons were in the pit. But when they realized that there was only one rifle there, they advanced to the pit and tore apart with grenades all who were in it.

In this murderous attack Shmuel Vinowitz, Moshe Rosenberg, a girl from Andrzejewo and the son of Yehuda Ritz were torn to pieces. A day later I visited the pit together with Yehuda Ritz. We wanted to bury the shattered body parts of our kodoshim (saints), but the murderers spared us this work. When we got to the place, everything had already been razed to the ground. Not a single trace remained of the pit and there was no indication that only yesterday human hearts were beating there, full of hope to survive the enemy and take revenge for the spilled blood.

We went away to a farmer who received us quite kindly

[Page 696]

and hid us in a pit covered on top with thick beams on which lay piled dung. Above our heads trod the hooves of the German horses. Thus, we laid there for three days and three nights without food and drink. Our situation was very critical.

But on the fourth day a miracle truly happened. The military that had been quartered in the village was replaced and the horses were taken out of the stables until the new military was brought. Meanwhile, the farmer took the opportunity to bring us bread and a bucket of water down into the pit, from which we fed for a whole 12 days. One evening we heard heavy shooting accompanied by bomb impacts. Suddenly it became quiet. The farmer came to us and said that no more Germans could be seen, but he still advised us to stay in the pit until daybreak.

The sun rose, bringing with it a strange silence that rushed in the ears. The farmer went to Ciechanowiec and when he returned, he reported that in the shtetl they spoke only Russian. We interpreted his words to mean that Ciechanowiec had been liberated by the Soviets. The next day we went straight away to the shtetl and met 14 Jews there, among them the Winer family. We had to realize that there was no more room for us in Ciechanowiec. The situation was terrible. The A.K. bandits had attacked us and robbed us of everything. So, we went to Bialystok, where there were several Jews living and where life was safer.

Meir, Chava'tshe, and Rachel Holtzman stayed with the Winer family.We wanted to take them to Bialystok, but they said that after surviving the Germans, they would surely continue to live. And they wouldn't move from the place. We often drove from Bialystok to Ciechanowiec, and each time we asked the Holtzman family to come with us. Until one evening a group of bandits broke in and killed Chava'tshe and Meir. Rachel managed to escape and moved to Bialystok.

 

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