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 longstanding 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. Fiftyone 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 RubenJoseph 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.
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