Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Eight days after the outbreak of the war in 1939, Czyzewo, our shtetl [town], shuddered during a frightening bombardment of incendiary bombs. Very few houses remained undamaged. The Jewish population ran wherever their eyes led them, to the nearby villages and forests. Or even to the fields, under a hail of bullets that the German murderers endlessly shot from machine guns. This continued until night, when we no longer saw the blazing sky and mourned the shtetl, our Czyzewo, which had become a ruin.
The German military entered the city. People slowly returned to the shtetl, which had been turned into a large mountain of ash. Many families traveled to the nearby shtetlekh, which fortuitously were not burned. Several families along with ours moved in with Motl Szczupakewicz, whose house had remained undamaged. With the little food we had hidden, we lived meanwhile in fear for what the future would bring us.
The German murderers immediately on their arrival began their terror against the Jewish population. Young and old were grabbed for heavy work, with beatings without reason. We were quickly broken physically and emotionally. However, deep in our hearts a weak hope smoldered that the war would end quickly and we would all survive. The situation changed quickly. Poland was divided between Germany and Russia and our shtetl became a border city between both parts.
We lived under Russian rule over the course of 20 months. It was a strenuous life, but yet we lived. We worked in various cooperatives. People returned to Czyzewo. Building began again a little on plots divided by the government. It appeared that things were beginning to be normal.
One morning, we again unexpectedly heard the thunder of artillery guns and saw how the Russian military was running in haste. The Germans were soon in the street. A panic broke out among the Jewish population. The German murderers immediately gave an order that the Jews must put on yellow patches and bestowed murderous blows just for sadistic pleasure.
A Judenrat [Jewish council] was chosen that consisted of four people. They were responsible for carrying out the German orders exactly. The order that a sum of money and gold had to be provided came immediately. People saw a bit of a consolation in this; perhaps
our lives would be ransomed for money? However, time revealed that this was only an illusion and disappointment came quickly.
On a certain day, an order came: All people without regard to age and type should come to the market. No one could imagine that this was the call to the death camp. They consoled themselves that they were again being taken to work.
The S.S. men took the sick from their beds and small children from their cradles and, with the help of the Polish police, searched for all of the hidden Jews and brought them together to one place; my sick grandmother was among them.
Only those who were considered capable of work were chosen. All of the others were loaded in autos, driven somewhere and we do not know what became of their remains.
Those remaining were taken to several houses outside the city and they declared:
Only those capable of work remain here. Later, the areas will be fenced in as a work camp.
I, Ruchl Kachan, Horowicz's daughter and several others (I cannot remember their names now) worked in the Czyzewo courtyard near Sokolowski. In order not to have to endure being bothered by the hooligan policemen who would come to visit the work camp every night, we received permission to remain overnight in a house in the courtyard. Ruchl Kachan and I lay on a small bench.
The bad news about the annihilation of the Czyzewo Jews spread quickly to the surrounding shtetlekh. It also reached Sokolow. Although the Jews there also lived in a ghetto, they had nevertheless
convinced themselves that they would avoid the misfortune because they had better conditions. Therefore, my uncle sent a special messenger that we should all come to him in Sokolow.
My mother, sister and I traveled with him. However, my father in no way wanted to go because he bore a certain responsibility. He was afraid that because of his departure others would suffer. The Germans would punish them for his disappearance.
After several months in Sokolow, we returned to Czyzewo. We could not remain there calmly, not knowing what was happening to our father. Therefore, we decided to return and whatever happened at least we would all be together.
We imagined that we would live because we still belonged to the labor camp. But on a given day the commissar's Christian cook secretly told us that the alarm clock was set for 12 midnight. This was a bad sign.
Returning to Czyzewo, I was registered for work with the German commissar. Two men also worked there, Feywl Niewad and another one, whose name I do not remember now. My mother and sister worked on the highway.
Returning to the labor camp at night we saw all of the Jews in great despair because they had learned the Poles would carry out their orders very early.
The question was in everyone's mouth:
What do we do?But no one could answer. Some ran to the forests, others
ran to hide with Christian acquaintances, but what Christian wanted then to hide a Jew? Others ran to their work, thinking that they would not be taken from their work. My mother and my sister also ran to the highway work. Alas, I never again saw them among the living.
My father did not want to hide at first. He said that wherever he hid they would find him and shoot him. He was then in the Judenrat. What would people say if he also hid?
He went around and recited Psalms.
It was very difficult for me to leave my father and escape. I sat with him until he actually forced me to escape. Perhaps I would succeed in getting Polish documents and as a Christian perhaps I could survive.
These were the last words that I heard from him.
My thought was that I would hide somewhere overnight and in the morning we would be able to see each other. But the two men with whom I worked at the commissar came in and convinced me that I should go with them through the camp fence and we would go to the courtyard of the commissar where his beloved animals were located. From there we would be able to observe everything that was happening in the camp.
It was dawn, still dark, when the wild S.S. members surrounded the camp, gathering everyone there, loaded them into wagons and took them to Zambrow. We here, in the commissar's courtyard, waited for a miracle.
We sat in the animal garden. When the Christian servant brought food for the animals she also brought a little warm food for us. But none of us could swallow a drop. We had a premonition of what awaited us.
When the S.S. finished their work in the camp they came to the commissar, found us hidden in his garden and they reacted like animals. We were sure that they would shoot us at once, but the commissar arranged that meanwhile we would be taken to jail.
This was on a Sunday when the pious Christians went to church. Two policemen took us with loaded rifles the way criminals are taken. The two men were led into a cell and I into another. I counted the minutes the entire day, knowing that these were my last hours and the end would be at night.
Around five o'clock at night the keys in the door of my cell were heard. The policemen reported to me that more hidden Jews were found; they would all be placed in jail.
This was true. All were actually crammed together in the jail that was near the gmina [administrative district office]. Now we knew that everyone was being brought together in one place and we would be sent to Zambrow.
But in the morning we received an order to go the work camp. There we were shown three small houses in which we were told to remain. Whoever dared to go out would immediately be shot. Everything that the Jews still possessed was taken out to a clearance sale to the neighboring Poles.
There were about 15 people in the camp then, women and men. We were sure that we would soon be taken to Zambrow. Several decided to escape into the forest. Others hid with Christians. I was never brave, but my will to live was so strong that I decided to escape to the Christian world.
Before going away I learned that my mother and my sister Faygl were hiding somewhere. I sent them word that they should go with me, wherever fate would determine for us. But my sister ordered me to go alone because their faces could betray me. They had decided to return to the labor camp.
Before leaving the camp I heard that Ruchl Zilbersztajn was hidden in one of the small houses and when she wanted to quickly move to a second house she was murdered by the police.
Due to the provocation of the Poles, it became more difficult to find a hiding place anywhere. We, therefore, made peace with our fate and waited to be taken to Zambrow.
Making use of a moment when there were few policemen, we succeeded in going over to the other side of the camp. Wrapped in a thick peasant-like shawl, I went in a wagon to a village near Zambrow where I had a Christian acquaintance. I could not travel too far. I did not have any documents. Despite this I hoped that perhaps I would be able somehow to help my parents who remained in the Zambrow camp.
Alas, I no even had a chance to try to do something because everyone had been sent to Auschwitz from which no one returned.
I succeeded in acquiring Christian documents under the name of Janina Zarczicka. I worked in the village and hoped for a miracle, a redemption.
But fate wanted something else for us and one day Czyzewo Christians, who I knew very well, traveled through the village. They noticed me; they did not say anything and I thought that they would not denounce me. But at night, Marcziniak, the Czyzewo policeman, arrived in the village with an order from the commissar to shoot me on the spot.
The peasants in the village had a little heart and they let me know that they would ask the murderer that he not do it.
The order was that I must come out at four o'clock in the morning into the garden in the courtyard where the murderer would need to carry out the execution.
I strongly doubted whether the good peasants would convince the murderer and, therefore, I spent the night in a nightmare between hope and doubt. I asked myself: is it possible that people would watch a person being shot without asking why and not providing any resistance?
At the chosen time, four o'clock in the morning, I came to the garden where Marcziniak, the murderer, was already waiting. I also saw some Christian acquaintances walking there who assured me that for appearance's sake, Marcziniak would shoot into the air so that it would be known in the village that he had exactly carried out the
commissar's order. They told me that a wagon was ready with which I would go away to Lomza immediately after this.
In no way could I believe my ears; was it possible? Were they successful in convincing the well known murderer!
But it happened as the good peasants promised me. I immediately left for Lomza.
I was also afraid of the bright light of day. Each day it became more difficult to hide. Several Christians from the place where I was staying volunteered for work in Germany. I joined this group.
After going through various inspections I sat a lucky one on the train that took the workers to East Prussia.
After arriving in Interburg [Insterburg], the labor office sent us to various areas for field work.
I toiled hard for two years with the German peasants. But I lived with the hope that it would end some day.
The day finally came. We heard the Russian artillery fire. The German peasants became very frightened, left everything and ran to the American side. They took us, the workers, with them because they were sure that they would quickly return to their estates and it was a shame to lose the slave workers.
A heavy battle with the Russians took place in the city Keslin. Finally the Russian tanks entered the city where a great number of Soviet prisoners, as well as all of the foreign workers who had wrested themselves from their German overseers, waited for them.
Taking their rucksacks on their backs, they immediately began to march back home.
There were no train movements then. So they went on foot.
I traveled for two weeks in this way.
I arrived in Poznan with many other Polish woman and men where we found trucks on which to travel.
On the entire road back I still had hope after everything that perhaps there had been a miracle and I would meet someone from those closest to me.
Arriving in Czyzewo, I went up to an acquaintance in the suburbs of the city in order to learn how the situation appeared in the shtetl. As soon as she saw me she ran into the city calling the several Jews who had miraculously survived.
The two Szwarc sisters, Dina Frydman and Grosodzin's sister came. They asked me to come to them to spend the night where we would tell each other of our experiences.
We did not say one word going through the paved streets of Czyzewo. A great pain pressed on our hearts. I felt as if everything was drenched in the blood of those closest to us.
I took out a document with my correct name at the gmina and went back to the Christians to spend the night and in the morning to drive through the cities to look for someone from my family, because I already knew that I had nothing to look for in Czyzewo. Everything was lost.
Avraham Iglo and the girls accompanied me to the Christians and calmly returned home. At night I heard shooting. I asked the Christian what this can mean. Her answer was:
The Russian like to shoot at night.[Column 1039]
But I had a bad premonition and could not fall asleep.
I left very early for the train station. There, a Christian acquaintance told me about the misfortune that had happened to several Jews from Czyzewo who were miraculously saved from the gas chambers or from other dangers and who had barbarically been murdered at home this night by the Polish bandits.
I left with the first train for Sokolow, with the hope of finding a trace there of our many branched family.
But here, too, the brown death killed everything that had the name, Jew.
Also here, I did not find anyone.
As it appears, the fate, the blind fate preferred that I survive in order to be able to tell about those who can no longer speak.
May their memory be consecrated.
A Czyzewor Partisan's Story
Translaton donated by Andrea Bolender
In loving memory of Benek Bolender
When the war broke out in 1939, I was 13 years old. I didn't yet comprehend what is war. I first came to grips when I had already paid a dear price. I lost all who were beloved and dear to me and their holy remembrance is forever etched in my memory.
I lost my parents and my entire family; I was the only one to make it out alive.
For years, I couldn't fathom that such things could transpire. Unfortunately, I made peace with believing that it was the truth yet I shudder every time I remind myself of it all.
When Czyzewo was bombed by the Germans, we were all lying in a cellar. There were many dead. The city was burning. We were left without a roof over our heads. At that point my father ob'm, took us to Gramadzyn.
There (in Gramadzyn) we got a place to sleep in a stable and we were also able to get by with the food but we weren't able to stay there for long so we returned to Czyzewo. We were taken into a house not far from the slaughter house. I don't remember the name of our host, all I remember is that he worked at the motel in the mill.
My father sent me on a train to Lomza, over there my grandfather ob'm had his own house. I returned safely and you can imagine the happiness when the saw me alive.
We said goodbye to all of our acquaintances and friends and left for Lomza (this was already in the time when the Russians were still in Czyzewo). My father would often travel to Czyzewo for business.
In the year 1941 in an early morning, suddenly airplanes appeared in the skies and they were throwing down bombs like a heavy rain. The Russians said that this was military maneuvers
but the bitter truth came out later when we saw the destruction from the bombing.
The next morning, the Germans were already in Lomza. On the roads we saw Jews who had been shot. A week later, my brother Avrohom Shimon was taken for labor and from that point on I never saw him again.
A short while later they made a ghetto in Lomza where life became unbearable.
One day a order came that all men from a certain age were to gather at a place outside the ghetto. They were all put on black machines and were officially taken to work. In reality they were driven to the Tzarvanne wild forest and were all shot. Amongst them was my father ob'm.
Our family now consisted of, my mother, a sister, 2 brothers and myself. A while later they sent me to work in Simova. Over there I worked at the chateau. Later they sent me to work in a stone quarry where I became sick and I later escaped from there to Czyzewo. Over there I met up with my relatives who forced me to go to Dr. Gerlich. He gave me a letter for the German camp commander (stating) that I couldn't work at the stone quarry and they sent me back to the Lomza ghetto.
Life in the ghetto was very difficult. They would suddenly grab people for forced labor. Those who could would hide on the roofs or in the cellars. At one such instance, I was hiding with other people
in an attic. My cousin, Boruch Sendoss was a policeman. The commander ordered him to go up on the roof and see if any Jews were hiding there. When he saw us there, he went down and said that no one was there. The commander didn't believe him and went up himself and found all of the people there.
On the spot he shot my cousin, HYD (Hashem Yinkom Domo- G-d avenge his death).
He fell as a sacrifice to sanctify the almighty's name.
The Gestapo demanded from the Jewish council of Lomza a few bearded Jews. Without warning the Gestapo police began searching on their own. They found my grandfather and another Jew from Kolna. They took both of them away. We learned later of their fate.
This is what Jews from Rutka told over.
When the car which was transporting bound up my grandfather and the other Jew passed a mountain in Rutka the Jew from Kolna managed to free himself and jumped out of the car. My grandfather was a weaker person and therefore couldn't help himself. When the car arrived in Rutka , the German opened the door and saw that my grandfather was alone and he shot him on the spot.
This was told to me by Yidden from Rutka who saw this with their own eyes. One person was named Avrohom Sendattsh Ob'm.
I worked in an artillery factory not far from Ostrova. On a certain day, rumors began were circulating that they'd be sending out the Jews from the ghetto to some work area.
I together with some other Lomzer Yidden snuck out of the ghetto by night and started walking towards Lomza where our parents were.
We went the entire way by foot almost entirely through forests. We passed through the area where not long before the Simaver Yidden were shot. Sticking out of the ground were bunches of hands and feet.
We stood there for a while kneeling with our heads bent however we soon schlepped on with our tired feet. We were already used to such happenings.
Entering the ghetto we saw destruction. Nobody knew for certain what was being done with those who were being sent out. With my mother's permission, I together with my older brother Leizer headed straight to the forest.
With a broken heart we said goodbye to our mother, sister and brother and without a word left the house.
We began looking for a way to escape from the ghetto.
After a long search we were successful.
We got going on the path which took us through the forest surrounding Zembrov. Along the way we met up with men, women and children who'd escaped from different ghettos. They told us that they were moving out all Lomza Jews to Zembrov.
In a forest not far from Zembrov we met a group of Russian Partisans. They allowed us to join them.
The Run From the Russians
They showed us that they considered us all equal in their goal. Each of us swore in his heart to defeat the Hitlerites and to avenge all of the spilled innocent Jewish blood.
Even in the forest our lives were far from certain. Death hovered over from all sides. However, we thought that at least we won't go without a fight. We won't let them lead us to slaughter like sheep.
Every minute of the day we readied ourselves for a German onslaught. Then we had to be careful not to fall into their murderous hands.
Weapons, give us weapons the younger people begged from the partisan leader. We'll be victorious!We did all sorts of hard labor and thought of ourselves as partisans.
In our hands burns the desire to pay back the enemies of the Jews for their cruelty.
Suddenly, when we thought that the Russian Partisans looked at us as their own and loyal to their cause came the tragic turn of events.
Get away from us! the Russians screamed, deal with the Germans yourselves. We don't want you to follow us.They took everything from us whatever we had and they left us hungry, broken and totally relying on the Almighty.
We started digging ditches. Tired and hungry we dug with our last strength. The ditches immediately filled with Yidden who wandered in the forest.
The worst was the hunger, there wasn't anywhere from where we could get food. Some of the younger fellows went to nearby villages to try to get food.
It was very dark and we were overtaken with fear. We were scared to travel far. When we left our ditches, we suddenly heard shooting in our direction. We quickly hid, each person where he could. Later when it was quiet we went back to our ditches.
While we couldn't see, we could hear the moaning and cries for help from the wounded. Obviously, this was coming from those who were still alive. We had nothing to help with. There were many dead. It seemed like the villagers had reported and shown the forest where the Jews were hiding.
The few survivors decided not to remain in the forest to be shot like animals. We went back to Zembrov in the barrack and happen what may happen but at least together with all the Yidden.
It so happened that I fell into one of the first transports. They packed into wagons thousands of Yidden and took them to the train station in Czyzewo where empty cattle wagons were waiting for us.
We arrived at the station in Auchwitz 1/12/1943 at night.
The station was well lit. We were ordered to leave the wagons where there were many dead and we were ordered to leave everything in the wagon.
We stood outside for a long time and waited. I was together with
my mother, sister and brother and suddenly we realized that the Germans were selecting workers.
My older brother was amongst those workers.
I was very short and it enabled me to run over to my older brother who was standing on the left side. Right after, vehicles came and took away all those standing on the right. We later found out that a day later they were all burned.
All of the workers had numbers made on their left hand.
Being in Birkenau (now Brzezinska) we saw how every day new transports arrived. Immediately when the train would stop, members of the SS would shout orders for everyone to disembark from the wagons. Whoever tried to take anything with him even a piece of bread was shot on the spot.
Often we would see how on the spot they'd make selections. From large groups of Yidden were chosen smaller groups of young men and the rest of the men with all the women were transported in autos to the crematorium.
It happened that suddenly brought an entire town. Worn out, half dead, skeleton like. The Germans saw that there wasn't anyone to select and they sent them all to the crematorium.
Later in that day, the gas chambers in the death factory Birkenau consumed forever the last remembrance of a Jewish town.
The remaining people from our transport waited for their death. Every day people were
hit and beaten to death for no reason.
One time they called out that all stylists should gather at a certain place. My brother brought me along although I had no idea about styling.
We came to the place and came under a hail of blows and were then driven into a sauna. They then threw us out naked into 25 degree weather and ordered us to run. While running many people fell. Some of them were from Czyzewo.
My brother Lazer became sick and went to the hospital.
A few days later there was a selection and my brother was amongst the sick who were sent to the ovens.
When we became close to the Russian front the Germans instituted what was called the death march.
They led us from one barrack to another. People were falling on the way like flies.
They schlepped us to a territorial city in Tshechia.
On May 8th the Russians came to free us.
I began wandering with a real will to go back to Poland. Maybe I'd find one of my relatives.
When I came to Tzisheva I was notified that the previous night, the Polacks killed the surviving Tzishevar Jews.
I didn't go into the city.
In 1948 after wandering for a long time, I arrived in America.
I have a wife with two children and don't have a bad life however what I witnessed and personally lived through, I'll never forget.
My father Mottel Bolender and my mother Rochel Leah. My brothers Shimon, Lazer and Chaim Yitzchok. My sister Sora Feiga. My uncles Fishel Bronstein his wife Chynka, Yitzchok Starkovisky and his wife Beltshe and their 4 children
Moshel Blajwajs (Edmonton), Canada
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
It was a Friday night, the 11th of October 1939, two weeks since the Russians, had occupied Czyzewo.
I had just arrived at the house of prayer. A young Jewish man came in right after me. I knew he was the sausage-maker's son. He stood in the door for a minute, as if he was hesitating; should he say something to me. Finally, he hastily said: They are calling you to Revkom (revolutionary committee) for a minute.
Let me make Kiddush [prayer over wine] I tried to speak calmly, seeing the fear in eyes of my wife and children.
The young man was impatient and said that everyone was waiting for me there. They just needed to ask me something and they will let me go right away.
I was led to a room that was full of smoke from cigarettes. Little by little the faces of Jewish communist acquaintances in the shtetl [town] were unveiled for me. A uniformed member of the NKVD [Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs], who began to question me, sat in the middle at a small table. The others assisted him.
There was cross-fire; they were shooting questions at lightning speed from all sides, one after the other, with no logic, only to confuse me, dull my memory and get an answer that would be worthwhile for them, that would affirm that I was a manufacturer who had used and exploited people and was an officer in the counter-revolutionary Zionist organization, which had as its purpose the overthrow of the Soviet regime.
I confessed that I was a Zionist, wanted to go to Eretz-Yisroel, the national home of the Jewish people, but never thought about counter-revolution, had never exploited a worker.
The next morning, early on Shabbos [the Sabbath], I was taken under guard to the train. On the way I met Jews who were going to pray. Some turned their heads in fear, as if they were afraid that my misfortune would draw them in.
I was taken to Sakala [Sokółka], the district location of the NKVD headquarters, which could not find a suitable house for its extensive work in burned out Czyzewo.
It appears that it was known in the shtetl where I was being taken. We wife and my oldest son, Simkha, came on foot to Sakala on the same day. She was not permitted to come near me; I could only look at their terrified faces through barred windows.
In the evening I was loaded into a vehicle with other arrestees and taken to Bialystok. There was a terrible frost that stung every limb. I was in a bare jacket.
The basement cell into which I was led in the Bialystok jail was filled with wild, bearded men, blond, dark and grey beards. At the beginning I therefore thought that they were all Jews. It became obvious that this was a mixture of White Russians, Poles, Jews and Ukrainians. The starosta [village elder] for the cell, a Vilna Jew, lawyer Prajs, turned to me, speaking in
Yiddish. He asked me from where I came, why I had been arrested. Listening to me, he sighed sadly:
It smells of counter-revolution. They will slip you in as a 58 (paragraph, according to which one was judged as an active or passive counter-revolutionary, which could mean from eight-years up to the death penalty).
It already was 1:30 in the morning when the door opened and the soldier on duty came in, let out an inarticulate, angry shout and remained standing: to the devil; I have forgotten your name. It begins with the letter 'B'
He called out Birnbaum, Binder, Blausztajn. When I mentioned my name, he was happy:
Oh, I need you.
He ran quickly with me through the corridors and circular staircases, shouting, Bystei, bystrei! (Fast, fast!). At that time, I barely understood Russian and in my confused mind I mixed up the word strelyat, which means shoot. I was sure that he was chasing me to my execution. He had a blanket in his hand. Whenever an approaching step was heard, he threw the blanket over my face. I did not know then that this was done so that the arrestees would not speak to their acquaintances.
I was taken into a room where all of the walls were covered with rifles. This increased my certainty that they were going to shoot me.
An officer entered. He carried a pistol and his belt contained many bags of bullets. He stood near me and silently
did not lower his stinging gaze from me, as if he wanted to hypnotize me. Finally, in a hoarse voice, he said:
Do you smoke?
He went to a cabinet, took out two pictures of [Chaim] Weizmann and [Ze'ev] Jabotinsky, showed them to me, asking:
To which of them do you belong?
It was all the same to me. In any case they would soon shoot me.
He was very satisfied with my answer.
So, I understand. Describe what kind of diversions [revolutionary work] they entrusted to you?
What kind of diversionary work?
Swine, again you do not want to speak?
Insults, blows began to pour. I was taken back to the cell bloodied and having fainted.
I came to myself a little after a few days. I was called again on the fourth night. This time there were seven officers. Each one had his own particular manner of questioning. The purpose was the same: I should confess and describe my plans for diversions against the Soviet regime.
I was without strength and hysterically shouted:
Cut me in pieces I have nothing to tell you. I am innocent.
Swine, you spoke in the house of prayer?
Who sent you? What was the purpose of your appearance?
Collecting money for the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund].
Explain the idea. The accursed fascist ideology and the murders, and the murders that you planned against the workers. Did the workers oppose you, huh? Speak
The truth was that at the time, when there was the threat of a pogrom, I opposed Lepak, who had called for our appearance in the street with weapons. I believed that we would only agitate the Christian population even more. I tried to make them understand.
They mockingly laughed:
You yourself agitated the peasants against the Jewish workers. You organized the pogroms What methods did you use? Describe My thoughts became confused. I spoke:
I did not agitate I did not have any methods Shoot me.
You will die in jail, like a dog.
I was not called for any questioning for four months. The cells became still thicker and more suffocating for me. Several dozen people lay on plank beds. Human feet, hands, heads, stomachs, backs, human faces were mingled together. People were covered in lice. No one changed clothes during the entire time, did not wash, [were] sick, swollen. At night when one wanted to empty himself, he walked over the heads, throats, backs, feet. Fights broke out because of a crust of bread, because of nothing. Those who did not have a spot on a plank bed lay on the floor, in all of the crannies, sitting, standing, lying, one's foot lying on the chest of another, and a third feel asleep over them and his foot came out on the throat of the first one A man
whose lungs seemed as if they had been eaten away pushed toward the small barred window that was always open. But no air came in. Individual volleys of bullets were heard. Everyone thought: tomorrow could be my turn From time to time, someone was called. He came back after a few hours, battered, mutilated and crying.
After four months I was again led through the corridors and labyrinths with a blanket over my eyes to an investigation.
The officer received me very courteously, so genteelly, that I did not believe my ears that I had heard correctly how he addressed me so politely with ir [the formal word in Yiddish for you] and he spoke so civilly that I was hopeful that I would not be treated badly. However, [I was told] it was truly worthwhile not to suffer. I only needed to provide the methods and contacts of our counter-revolutionary leaders and I would be finished with this tiresome investigation.
I have explained everything. I have nothing to add.
I was again led out, battered and fainting. I was brought to consciousness with a dipper of water, poked from behind, pushed in the front. I was pushed back into the cell.
Yes, they do this a Jew sat next to me and helped me bind my wounds with pieces of my torn shirt.
Why do they not shoot me already? I asked in pain.
They do this, too he answered pensively.
It is better than being tormented.
You think so?
A secret wind blew from the question, but I was in too much pain to catch what he meant out of the air. My mouth was full
of blood and my ribs still felt the boots of the members of NKVD. My loosened teeth struck one another. I barely murmured:
I will finally not endure such a hell
They still want us to perish, to be crushed like lice, but we will not die, we endure the Jew whispered close to my ear.
The days in the frozen cell extended, long and difficult. The nights were full of moans, laments, supplications and curses. We were not permitted to lie down during the day; we learned to sleep sitting up, standing and moving. Sitting with open eyes, I felt that I was sleeping. The brain rested. Near me stood my father with outspread arms, stroking my wounds and talking to me in a soft and warm voice: You hurt, you hurt badly. But you will endure. Be strong. You will survive.
A shiver went through my body. The dream disappeared, but, I still heard my father's words in my ears: Be strong. You will survive!
Several days later I received a package from home. There was a handkerchief, which was cut into pieces by the prison guards so that I would not be able to hang myself; a piece of soap cut into two pieces and a shirt, the first shirt I changed into after five months. This also was the first news for me in the Bialystok prison that my wife and children were alive and were in Czyzewo.
Eight months passed and no one called me. It appeared as if they had forgotten me; that I had been sentenced to die in prison. Is there
a more terrible death than the slow dying and suffocation in dirt?
I was called again in the ninth month. The officer who questioned me spoke gently and I immediately felt the gentility was not artificial. He often said to me that my wife and children were threatened; they should live Russia. And I? I would probably sit there for as long it would be until I confessed. He did not try to pressure me to confess, not even with questions. He gave me a packet of cigarettes when I left [the interrogation]. He was a Jew.
After 11 months I was moved to a separate cell.
At first I breathed freer, but I immediately felt the horror of sitting alone day and night in the stone grave filled with silence. I wanted to move, to speak, to shout so that someone would hear me. Shouting in a grave. The steps in the corridor dull blows in my head, blows that dulled, deafened. The longer I listened to the steps, the duller the sound became. Somewhere a door opened and closed. They brought new victims. Orders, echoes of movements. I heard human screams at night of a man who did not want to confess to criminal offenses he did not commit. The screams tore into my head as if thin needles would open wide my brains, smash my skull. The quieter it was, the stronger and more frightening the distant scream rang in my ears.
One night I was taken out into the courtyard. Many other arrestees were already assembled there. All had to kneel down. An officer read the sentence for each one separately,
each sentenced in a private conversation among three people who had never spoken to him, had never seen him.
My sentence sounded: five years labor camp. We immediately were led in the direction of the train station. Soldiers surrounded us on all sides. The officer warned: Do not say one word! At every superfluous movement, at every stop of a step on the march you will be shot immediately.
We traveled; the small windows of the train wagon were barred. We had no food. Over 15 days, they distributed bread and herring twice. We were taken off [the train] at Kotlice at the border with the Komi S.S.R. to a transit camp. There were thousands of arrestees, various kinds of criminals mixed with pale faces of genteel people in giant barracks. Terrible fights broke out. The soldiers, who stood guard, always were on the side of the strong ones.
From there we travelled 10 days on coal and wood barges on the Dvina [River]. The name Dvina reminded me of a Polish river, but this river was much larger, endless and sadder. It [the river] devoured three thousand [people] who had been fed with bread and herring over 10 days, from our transport, which numbered over 6,000 people. They became sick with dysentery after drinking from the river, writhed in pain and had severe convulsions and not being able to bear the suffering, they threw themselves in the river. A typhus epidemic spread quickly. The weakened organisms did not wrestle for long, gave into death. Their neighbors, who were still standing on their feet, silently lowered them into the water. The barges
swam further over the sad river.
We were taken off somewhere near a forest. Some were sent to hospitals and some to work sawing trees in the forest.
The blinding snow was high. To cut a tree one had to dig into the snow, two meters deep. The standard [quota] was six cubic meters a day. The portion of bread was lowered from 600 to 300 grams for not reaching the quota.
During the work I once cut down a tree badly and it fell in the opposite direction, raising me into the air and hurled me 30 meters. I woke up in the hospital, where I lay for 10 days. I was sent to work as soon as I began to recover. My work consisted of hanging notes on the up-to 500-600 dead who were sent from the hospital.
After several months we were taken several hundred kilometers deeper into the forest to a camp where the conditions were even more difficult. We slept in unheated barracks on the bare ground. The mice crawled over our heads and the hunger frighteningly tortured us.
It appeared to me then that this was the worst hell. Later, I learned that there were many worse in Russia, but this camp also had its bloody history of pain and murder. In 1937 they had begun to build the train line that ran for 2,000 kilometers up to the North Pole. Every meter of the road cost thousands of victims. An old resident of that area once told me: See, under every wooden
railroad tie lie buried hundreds of people. The railroad here travels over millions of dead.
The war broke out. Thousands of criminal [prisoners] were freed, went to the front. However, I belonged to the political [prisoners] and I remained for a long time.
Almost all of the Jews, who constituted five percent of the general number of camp inmates, remained. In free minutes, we told each other about our pasts when we were still people. However, very few such people remained.
Returning from work once, I was told that there was a letter for me at the post office.
Shaking from the cold, hungry, I stood and read the several short lines: I send you 50 rubles. Write your exact address. It was signed by a Jew who had been with me in the Bialystok jail. It is still uncomprehensible to me how he knew in which camp I was located. He also searched the address of my wife and children, who had been sent to Krazna-Kievka, a village near Petropavlovsk and learned where they were. They succeeded in sending me two letters. They did not receive my answers.
Finally, it also was our turn; an order arrived to free all of the Polish citizens, with out any distinctions.
They again spoke to me as to a person. They let me wash, trim my hair. They gave me a clean shirt, as much bread as I wanted.
My first steps were to go to Krasna-Kievka. But I did not find anyone there. They had been taken to another village in Chkalov Oblast.
I remained without money, without food. I succeeded in begging for a piece of bread, going by foot from village to village. I went over a hundred kilometers in a week. I completely lost my strength when I finally was near the village. I slowly reached the chairman of the sovkhoz [state-owned farm], who told me that it was true, Brajna Blajwajz had been here, but she was sent away by train to other work in Akmolinsker Oblast. Her father and mother were with her. They were not far away, 30 kilometers from here, in the shtetl [town], Suchaton.
Again, I went 30 kilometers on foot. I barely dragged my starving body. I had just seen the first houses in the shtetl when I fainted.
When I woke up I found myself in a room. The people, who were moving around, spoke Yiddish. In a corner on the floor lay my father-in-law and mother-in-law wrapped in blankets.
There was deep joy mixed with unending sorrow. The two eighty year-olds barely understood what had happened to me. They were completely dulled by the years and the suffering they had lived through.
Here I learned that my wife and children no longer had the strength to suffer hunger and had left for Uzbekistan. But a letter immediately came from there. Yes, the children are very sick in a dying condition in a hospital and their mother did not have the means to keep them alive.
After long hardships, they returned to me in Suchaton where I worked and earned barely enough for dry bread.
Our luck lasted for several months. My oldest son was taken in the military. My wife traveled by train, wanting to produce a few pieces of goods that she wanted to sell in Suchaton to earn expenses. But the militia, which caught her traveling on the train without a ticket, took her off the train and searching her found the goods. The court sentenced her to five years in a labor camp and exiled her to Karaganda [in Kazakhstan], where she was for four years at hard labor in the coal fields.
I remained alone with the three children.
Days passed slowly. The war was ending. A wagon suddenly pulled up to me with a member of the NKVD and he invited me to go with him. He spoke very politely and tried to pretend that this was something of a usual formality. But a terrible premonition immediately hung in the house. The children cried, hanging onto the wagon and begged the man from the NKVD: Do not take away our father from us. The man from the NKVD whipped the horse and we left. The cry of my children accompanied me the entire way.
The officer, who was waiting for me, read from a paper that on this-and-this day I had said to a worker that it had been better for me in Poland than in the Soviet Union. I could in no way remember that I would have said such a thing. A worker appeared immediately, and as if he had memorized a Psalm, said to me to my face: You had talked to me that way, that the fascist Poles were good for you!
None of my entreaties helped. I was again ordered to jail. I
was sentenced to eight years in a labor camp.
I was in the camp, which was somewhere on the road to the North Pole, until 1947. My wife came to me there two years later. The children had left for Poland in 1946 from which, through various ways, they arrived in Canada.
An amnesty for the Polish arrestees came in 1947. On the night of our departure from the camp we were surprised to notice the chief of the NKVD at the camp, a captain, put on a rifle and take over our convoy. On the way, he said to me in simple Yiddish: Go slightly slower, let the gentiles go in front
When I remained behind with my wife and another Jew, Fiszman, who is in Israel now, the captain came to us and quietly said: Do you understand why I went along with you? My intention was to say goodbye to you as a Jew to a Jew.
It was a long time since I had heard such humane, moving talk and this was from an NKVD captain, who was the specter of fear for the entire camp. Who could imagine that under the hated uniform beat such a warm, Jewish heart?! He spoke with a broken voice:
As I have looked at you, my heart cried with pity. However, I saw then that I was not so alone. Now, I remain here alone. My daughter, an adult, will marry a gentile. Ech the life of a dog.
I actually had a great deal for which to thank him. During my last two years in the camp
I received work in the warehouse thanks to him and it was a little easier for me. No one recognized him as a Jew.
When we were nearer to the train station, he hugged and kissed each of us. He pressed our hands for a long time and spoke with a determined voice: Do everything so that you do not stay in Poland for long. Travel out from there quickly. I asked him, Where?
He added, This is very difficult for me to say. Make sure you go far from Poland.
Alas, I had to wait in Poland for over a year, working in Wroclaw in a small brush factory. At the beginning of 1950 I succeeded in finding an address for my children and, receiving papers from them, we departed for Canada.
A Czyzewor Partisan's Story
Dov Saba as a witness, Tel Aviv
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Not only I but also those who sent me here to the distant north, approximately 120 kilometers from the Arctic Ocean, did not know for what offense I received this [punishment]. Although I was pelted with enough crimes: chairman of the Zionist organization of the Tarbut [secular Zionist] People's Library, of Tsentos [organization for aiding children and orphans], others were added: kerosene and coal merchant and so on. However, no case was carried on against me. I simply was torn away from my home and family and exiled there where the majority of crude oil wells and coal pits were and the frost lasted up to 10 months a year.
I would certainly have grown old there in hardship and pain as the Jewish overseer of the camp baths, a former captain in the Red Army, Comrade Lipszic, prophesized Your homes! Little brothers he spoke sarcastically you will
never see, just as you will never see your own ears. In short, a part of his prophecy was fulfilled. My old home had disappeared and is no longer there, but I have left paradise.
Again, blind fate played first fiddle, because I myself was busy with trying hard to join the category that received 450 grams of bread and could not mix in any political matters, such as, for example, the group was called together one morning and it was announced with a sweet smile on the lips: Children, you are free, not, God forbid, pardoned. But simply everything that had happened was nothing; every offense is null and void like the dust of the earth.
Fate, blind fate.
This was the same fate that led to the night of the 13th of April 1940 when
those who extol themselves with the ideal of fairness and justice loaded up to 40 people in a wagon in which more than eight cows were not allowed to be taken.
After several weeks of going through the spaciousness of Greater Russia, we were unloaded somewhere in a faraway Siberian steppe and told that we were free citizens, with the right to move within a circle of three kilometers. In addition we were given the right to work without pay and to be hungry.
The workdays were exactly documented, but there was no one to make payments. As long as one had something to sell and exchange for bread, the soul still remained in the exhausted, worn out body. When there was nothing left to sell, as for example, with Mendl Glina and his wife, Nakha, they could not endure and died. In contrast, others wrestled with their last strength to keep their souls [not die]. My wife and children were among them.
At the same time, when we had been so generously freed, we went to them with a magnanimous proposal to have us be recruited for regular work, suitable for women and the young to build a new train line in an area of 800 kilometers that would connect the coal basin in the Karaganda with the iron basin in Magnitogorsk. In addition, a great privilege was given here, that each worker had the right to his money to buy the entire daily 800 grams of bread and 400 for each nonworking child. There was a rumor that from time to time we would also be able to buy a meter [a little more than a yard] of linen for a dress.
It is understandable that they took upon themselves the expense for taking the people from one steppe to another. Wagons harnessed to oxen were provided for their convenience, on which they were taken on the 40 kilometer road to the Sokhotin [possibly the Shymkent] train station.
Whereas we needed to wait for wagons and this was to last for about 10 days, the people, the women and children meanwhile were permitted to enter the open train station, right near the fence. It was autumn. There was not yet any frost, so why should they not be permitted to move in the station, as is suitable for free citizens?
In those regions, there always was movement, particularly in those days, when train formations followed train formations and in great haste they would be held in various stations for hours and days. These were transports of people, freed from the other regions, from which people rarely returned.
In the great game of fate of those days, a kind of coincidence could happen; on a beautiful morning, a young Pole who had more luck than me got off one of the train formations and by chance learned that his old mother was exiled to this area where we now were. By chance, he went over to my wife and asked her if she knew, had seen or had heard of a woman with the name Lutustarska.
Yes my wife answered she had remained in village no. 3. Go to the square, there you will see the wagons or a vehicle from this village where your Mother Lutustraska is located.
Said and done. The young Pole immediately ran there. In the morning he and his old mother sat in the train formation and departed. The Pole's trip ended in the distant south, Tashkent area, about four and a half thousand kilometers [2,796 miles] from the Sokhotin train station. It was warm there, did not rain, did not snow. There one could sit in the area of the train station not only near the fence and sit and rest as much as one's heart desires.
I already was an old resident for eight days of this train station, 12 kilometers from the city of Bukhara, which carried the name Kogon. Our train formation stood, moved to a sidetrack as if it had been forgotten.
Our work consisted of waiting to be taken to lunch. We used the time before and after lunch to move around a little among people in the city, seeing how it looked, if there was an opportunity to acquire work.
From time to time we would go to the train station to look at the newly arriving faces and there were plentiful faces, in the thousands. Every free spot among the train tracks was occupied. Old and young, women and children, men. It should be understood that rare ones sat on the packs. One could recognize their origins according to the size of the packs. The tumult was oppressive. The noise from the people, the crashing of the wagons, the turbulence from the wagons merged in a deafening symphony of uneasy longing. Who knew where my wife and children were now wandering?
Among the innumerable mob, my gaze fell on an old woman who sat peacefully on her packs and dreamed. I recognized that she was Polish and I went over to her. I asked her in Polish, Where are you from?
She measured me with her quiet eyes and answered: From a village very far from here, from near Zembrowa.
I asked further:
From where have you come now? Do you know Czyzewo? Perhaps you met someone.
Yes, I know [Czyzewo], she answered.
And Czyzewo Jews I asked do you know or did you hear anything about someone.
No she said there were no Jews from Czyzewo with us.
Perhaps in neighboring villages do not give up.
The woman became impatient and replied:
I know only one woman from neighboring villages. She is named Sheva G. She is here with a daughter, Ruchl and a son, Shmuelik… I was brought here by my son who was liberated from a camp and, passing me, took me along… Nothing torments me any longer…
Today who knows if Elijah the prophet, from Tishbe, from the Gilead [region] calls one it is also blind chance.
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