by Yehudit Golan (Rosenwaks)
Translated by Allen Flusberg
As I take pen in hand to write of my bitter memories of the Holocaust period, my hair stands on end again, and my entire body trembles…I feel as if my heart is about to go into shock…
I see them again, my Dobrzyn kindred: men, women and children, on the day of terror when they were expelled, destitute, from their homespursued like beasts of the forest, with no protection and no shelter; isolated and desperate in a cruel world.
Starting from that bitter and fateful day, the day the Germans entered Dobrzyn like ravenous, wild beaststaking the men, and among them my dear father, and sending them away, never to returnmy heart is continuously torn with the question: how was I able to take all this? How did I, a young, frail girl, manage? How did I survive the frightful catastrophe? How was I able to live through all the ordeals and afflictions, all the horrific sights?
How did we human shadows manage all this, transported in the train cars of death, crammed in together with no air to breathe? How did we not lose our humanity? Can it be that a Higher Power watched over us and accompanied us, those few who were saved, in our many wanderings from one village to another, from one city to another, via the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos to the crematoria of Auschwitz and Mathausen?
Who has ever been able to probe the mysteries of Providence? We, the few who were rescued from the furnaces, do not have any answers. We have been left with only the memories that inundate us every day, every night…
Already for several years before World War II broke out we had felt that the ground was slipping out from under our feet. In our town, too, anti-Semitism continued to grow more intense: a boycott against Jewish merchants, pogroms…In the evenings we did not step outside, fearing that we would be attacked by anti-Semitic agitators. Still, even in this somber period it did not occur to any of us that a frightening catastrophe might be hanging over our heads…
The persecutions and murders began as soon as the Germans entered the town. A. Riesenfeld of blessed memory, the owner of the Golub pharmacy, was the first victim. He had a noble character and was loved and respected by all. He was a devoted, passionate Zionist. His murder was a terrible blow to all of us, portending that worse was to come.
Afterwards the expulsions began. First they took all the men of the town on Rosh Hashana, transporting them away. To this very day we don't know where they brought them and exactly how they were killed. The mystery of this atrocity will apparently never be solved…Several days before the total expulsion they came to take away the wealthy townspeople, transporting them as well to some place they never returned from.
My thoughts turn to the daughter of Mayor Berka, the mayor of the town at that time. Is she now living in peace and security somewhere in Germany? How this murderous woman had rejoiced at our misfortune as she took an active role in the persecution of the Jews! May she be damned!
When the general expulsion order was given, we were already broken in body and spirit, apathetic to what was happening to us. We left everything behind, unable to take along even the minor objects that every person requires. It was hard to get a horse and wagon in that period. We all went on foot, a long procession of men, women and children, exhausted and at a loss, sighing and weeping, none of us knowing what the morrow would bring…walking without knowing where we were going…
How frightening and sad was my meeting with my oldest brother, Chaim of blessed memory, who lived in Lodz before the war. When he heard that we had arrived in Warsaw after much wandering, he hurried to come to us. My father and my brother Hersh (Zvi) of blessed memory were no longer alive at that point. He brought me with him to Lodz. After that I didn't see any of my other relatives again.
I stayed with my brother, his wife and small child until the ghetto was liquidated. Certainly it was not easy to hide a small child while the accursed Nazis were spying on every corner, every hiding place. It seemed as if even he understood that something terrible was happening around him, and he adjusted to the circumstances that we were in. As a result, we were able to hide him from the eyes of the murderers until [as we thought] the troubles would end.
After the ghetto was liquidated we were brought to Auschwitz. Even there we continued to believe that we would be rescued; we were unable to imagine that this was the very end…
After three weeks they brought me, together with some others, to Germany. I worked hard there, exhausted and hoping to die, until I had no strength left. What reason was there to continue living? I knew I was the only one left from my entire family. I was as desolate as a juniper in the wilderness, with no one to look out for me…
Only the yearning to see the defeat of the Germans kept me alive, encouraging me and giving me strength to tolerate the immense suffering. And indeed, while still on German soil, I did have my revenge: the sight of Germans bombed by the Allies, running for their lives, filling all the roads, their eyes wide with terror…
Even then, on the verge of defeat, they did not let us alone. Instead, they dragged us in train cars for three weeks, with nearly no food and under inhumane conditions, to bring us to Mathausen.
We sensed that the war was nearing its end, and that the Nazi beast was gasping its very last death spasms. And we were then all filled with an intense desire to remain alive and be able to see their downfall.
I don't know how I found the courage, but at the first opportunity I jumped from the train.
I was free, but where might I go back to? Did I still have a home?
An unconscious force drew me, as if against my own will, to return to see the town. I wandered around in it as if in a phantom world, searching for a past that was no more; searching for my father's house, my relatives, the members of the community, and for all that had been dear to my heart here.
All had vanished. I was walking around in a desolate town. Where was the synagogue? Where was the Street of Gold? Where were the Jews who once filled the streets, and where were the little ones, engaged in mirth and mischief?
I could not remain in Dobrzyn. I left my town, ruined and devoid of Jews. I was headed for the old-new homeland, the land of Israel. But even now our hardships were not over. The British blockaded the country; we were taken by force and sent to Cyprus, where we stayed for eight solid months, until we were freed and immigrated to Israel. We merited to come to our own country and even to participate in the War of Independence.
My long journey had ended. My heart grieves for the millions who did not make it, who were felled by the hands of the murderers. But we look ahead with the hope that succeeding generations will know lives of freedom, peace and security in our homeland.
Woe, culture of cowards, woe to the mighty deeds of haughty rabbits!
That a thousand burly Gentiles should chase after one tiny Jew,
And myriads of evildoers after two plundered exiles.
(From And the Middle Ages Have Returned, by Z. Shneour. )
|Mrs. Yehudit Golan (née Rosenwaks), a Holocaust survivor,
lighting a flame to memorialize the martyrs.
|The cemetery, devoid of headstones.|
by Gorny Frum
Translated by Allen Flusberg
November, 1939. Nazi Germany has conquered Poland. The Jews are subject to persecution, with stories of atrocities growing more numerous from one day to the next. We are full of trepidation and at a loss; we do not know what the morrow will bring. We are holed up, hiding indoors, wrapped in winter coats because of the cold, and trembling with terror from the rumors we are hearing.
From the day the men of the town were kidnapped from the prayer houses on Rosh Hashanah, we have been living in perpetual fear; we have a feeling that a bitter fate is awaiting us, as well. At times we console ourselves, thinking that perhaps we will get lucky and they will let us be.
On November 9, 1939 the dignitaries of the town were asked to report to the Nazi commander. Gravely he ordered them to collect and bring him gold and silver with a total value of 50,000 zloty in the next few hours. He did not forget to warn them that only by paying this ransom could they cancel the decree to expel all the Jews from the town.
All the Jews were seized with fear and terror. We all hastened to bring our valuable objects: silver candlesticks, goblets, gold watches, coins, rings, and even wedding bands. However, we were about to realize the maliciousness of the commander, whose only intention was to rob us of our possessions. We were given travel documents and ordered to leave the town within an hour.
How immense was the blow that had fallen on us, and how great the pandemonium at that moment, as everyone began scurrying about in terror, searching for close relatives, gathering some belongings and preparing to depart. We left the town fearful and in despair, embittered and crying.
The sight was appalling: weeping, overwrought mothers carried their infants in their arms, walking with difficulty on the road leading to Rypin. The mournful convoy extended over several kilometers, with even the elderly and the children forced to go on foot. After a great deal of effort we did manage to rent several wagons from some farmers, and in them we seated the children and the infirm.
We had not yet come to terms with the calamity that had befallen us. From time to time we looked back toward the town we had grown up in, refusing to believe that we had indeed been uprooted from it. The thought gnawed at us: will we return there again someday?
The road from Dobrzyn to Rypin was full of refugees, Jews who just yesterday had sat around their ovens in their very own homes, refusing to believe, until the very last moment, that a terrible calamity was approaching.
The lot of the elderly was the most difficult. They were forced to stop to rest from time to time to catch their breath and recover their strength. How my heart went out to our acquaintance, the tailor Hersh Baruch Boretka, who was disabled and yet tried, in vain, to keep up with the others. Finally we found him a seat in a wagon that had been intended only for toddlers and children.
During that entire day the little children did not stop crying. The sound of their cries was mixed with that of their parents' sighs, as they continued walking without knowing where they were headed. From time to time people looked at one another with a silent question, to where?
The sight of the women whose husbands had been taken away by the Nazis on the eve of Rosh Hashanah was particularly painful. They walked along with their childrenwidows with no breadwinner to support them, their eyes full of sorrow.
I was only sixteen years old when I left Dobrzyn, and my younger brother was thirteen. We marched along together on the road leading to Rypin. After innumerable hardships we reached Plock together with our mother. But as soon as we heard how the Nazis had abused the Jews there we quickly left the city, deciding to make our way to our father's birthplace, Minsk Mazowiecki.
Along the way we reached Warsaw and decided to visit our aunt, our father's sister, for a few hours. Our mother, who was exhausted and frail, decided to stay at her sister-in-law's home, and there she passed away shortly thereafter. My brother and I continued on our way, hand in hand. As we walked we met several families from our town, among them: Sali Pieniek, his sister Rochtsa and her husband Mordechai Lipka; the Pozmanter family; the Goldfinger familysisters and their parents. Together we reached Minsk Mazowiecki. After a short time, Franya and Tova Dobraszklanka arrived there as well.
It appeared that we had gone from bad to worse. The Jews here had been ordered to wear a white band with a blue star, which the ravenous beasts referred to as a lanta. Each and every Jew had to wear this badge, and woe to anyone who was caught without one on his clothing. He could expect to be imprisoned; or, even worse, to be sentenced to death by firing squad.
As was done in many other cities, a ghetto was established in Minsk Mazowiecki. Thousands of people were brought there, crowded into a small area, hungry and freezing. Every day orders were given whose only purpose was to make the lives of the Jews miserable; even without these orders the Jews were reeling under the burden of their torment.
As the war widened and the Germans needed more and more metal, the Jews were ordered to bring silver, copper and steel to a central location that had been set up by the Nazis. The other residents were also ordered to support the war effort, but the main demands were imposed on the Jews.
I had in my possession two candlesticks that I had carried along the entire way, wrapped in a blanket so that no one would see them. They were an heirloom from my grandmother and so were precious to me. I remembered how my mother used to light Sabbath candles in them. After spreading a white tablecloth over the table she would place the candlesticks on it. She would cover her eyes with the palms of her hands, whispering a prayer. As the glow of candlelight flooded the house, my mother's sad eyes would sparkle with joy.
I couldn't bring myself to hand these precious candlesticks over to the Nazis. I decided to bury them in the ground, in a hidden place, until that day when I would be able to come back to retrieve them…
Later on, during the summer of 1941, a command was given to hand over fureven torn bits of fur and fur buttonsto the occupying administration. Whoever had any fur in her possession quickly buried it in the ground, and only scraps of fur were brought over and handed in to the Germans. We understood that the Germans must be becoming well acquainted with the Russian winter, given that they were in such need of fur. The following saying was going around among us: Hitler, you won't win the war, even in a warm Jewish fur.
In the summer of 1942, rumors were beginning to reach us from Warsaw, and also from the outlying townsrumors of Jews being murdered in extermination camps that had been established for this very purpose. Filled with fear that our fate was also about to be sealed, we endeavored to be taken on in German factories; we hoped that if we could show that we were of some benefit they would let us be and not harm us.
My brother managed to get a job in a carpentry shop, and as a result his situation improved; he was entitled to a larger food ration and to a permit allowing him to leave the ghetto. But this improved situation did not last very long. On August 21, 1942, Lithuanian and Ukrainian gangs, accompanied by the German military police, raided the streets of the ghetto, and began to cruelly beatand even murderthe Jews. Children and the elderly were murdered then and there, while all others were brought to the market square, from which they were transported to extermination camps.
Hearing the shouts of people being tormented and murdered, we were all looking for some way to save ourselves. Many people hid themselves in attics or cellars. I saw my chance to slip out of the ghetto. Once outside I came upon some farmers who were going back to their villages, returning from market day; I joined them and tried to make myself look like one of them.
As night fell I found myself a place to lie down in a nearby forest. I was shivering from both cold and terror as I lay there, listening to the sounds of shots and shouting. The hours passed very slowly as I waited for morning and daylight.
In the morning I discerned a group of Jews, brethren in sorrow, who had also escaped from the murderers. I came over to them, and we conferred among ourselves. We decided to wait out the storm and remain in the forest for now. But after two days had passed we were extremely hungry and thirsty, and so we were forced to return to the city. We also felt a strong desire to know what had happened to our relatives and friends.
We made our way cautiously, trying not to fall into the hands of the military police. Here and there we observed Jewish workers engaged in various types of labor. From them we found out that the Germans left about 250 Jewish workers in the town, among them carpenters, tailors and mechanics. All of them were being housed in a school building, the Kopernik School. The rest of the Jews of the ghetto had been murdered or had been sent in train cars and trucks to extermination camps. Only a small number of Jews had managed to escape and save themselves during the pandemonium.
We continued on our way, our destination now the Kopernik School. There we found some workers, whose faces told the story of the terrible calamity that had been visited on the Jews. Their eyes were sunken with grief. Choking back tears, they told us about the horrifying acts of murder in the ghetto and how their close relatives had died.
We stayed there until nightfall, when other workers began returning from their jobs. My brother was among them. When he saw me he was so overcome with joy that I became concerned that he was losing his mind. He had been so certain that I had been murdered or that I had been sent with the others to an extermination camp.
The next day many more of those who had escaped to the forests, or had hidden out in various hiding places, began returning. To a large extent they were motivated by the information that had reached them that nearly all the Jews who had been in the Kopernik School had survived. Within only a single week the number of people in the camp increased to about 800. Among those who came back were Sali Pieniek, his wife, and children; Ruchtza Lipka and Franya Pieniek, who had hidden for several days in a nearby dung heap.
The school was too small for all of us. Some of us slept in the courtyard, while others slept in a sitting position. When SS men came by, which was often, we had to quickly hide from them. For the time being they let us alone, thinking that there were very few of us.
Two weeks after the mass murder SS men again raided our camp, surrounding the school from all sides. They ordered us to kneel down and began shooting indiscriminately. We were terrified.
Then silence reigned. An SS officer appeared before us and read out loud names of workers from a list that had been prepared in advance. Those whose names were called out were ordered to return to the school building. I was very glad when I saw my brother among them; at least he would survive…
The rest of us were surrounded by SS men. Threatening us with their weapons, they led us away, but we had no idea where they were taking us. We believed this was going to be the end, that they were about to shoot us then and there, or send us to extermination camps. The passing minutes seemed like an eternity…
Finally we were brought to an abandoned house. Only a small number of SS men stayed behind to guard us. We were permitted to move around within the house, but they warned us not to go near the door or any of the windows.
How difficult and dreadful the suspense is when you can't tell what is about to happen. Only the children quickly adapt to the situation, as if no danger is hanging over their heads. But we adults are steeped in fear; we sense something bad is coming.
Hunger is gnawing at us. We haven't tasted any food for an entire day and night. Nor do we have any food to give the children. The bolder among us are trying to think of ruses to escape from this place, but they are afraid to get close to the door.
On the second day of our stay here an SS company appeared, accompanied by several civilians. We were ordered to go out to the courtyard. There we were told that they needed 100 men and 80 women in good health with no children. And so, as we stood before them, they selected those they needed from among us. Whoever received the lash of a whip on his back was fortunatefor this was the sign that he had been selected. Franya Pieniek and I were among the few fortunate ones who were included in the group of women.
On the spot we were assigned workplaces. I was in a group who worked in the forest. The job I had been given was to strip the bark off the trees. It was particularly difficult work, but I carried it out in a manner that satisfied my taskmaster. That most intense desire to remain alive gave me the strength to overcome all hardships.
Every day we rose at dawn for work. After roll call we received a bowl of nothing but soup, without any bread. At noon as well we received nothing more than some soup cooked with coarse flour. Only in the evening were we granted 100 grams of bread with jelly. Yet we were given a salary, 20 zloty each and every week. How bitter and ironic that at a time when we were on the verge of being exterminated they were bestowing a salary on us...
The days are passing. It is already December. The cold is at its worst. Still wearing summer clothing, we are shivering from cold. Only after some time passes do we receive blankets. At least we will be warm at night.
The information reaching us is appalling: mass murder of the Jews in the nearly towns. Again Jews are streaming into Minsk Mazowiecki, to the Kopernik School, mainly those who managed to slip away from the transports to the extermination camps. Among those who return are Sali Pieniek and his daughter Ruth. Sali's wife and sister have been brought to the extermination camp in Treblinka.
Sali's situation is especially difficult, since sheltering children in the Kopernik School is forbidden. Mornings, as we leave for work, we hide her [Ruth] between the mattresses, where she stays until we come back. But our concerns about her fate and that of all of us never let up, not for a single moment.
Finally we decide to contact the partisans, thinking that perhaps they can rescue us. We get together with their leaders and propose to them that about 40 of us should join them, as a first preliminary group, joining others who were setting out on this very day to the forests. I was quite sorry that I wasn't one of those who were selected to be in this first group. I was jealous of them that they were already about to leave the Kopernik School.
How horrible was the information that came back to us the next day, concerning the bitter fate of that entire group. It appears that the Polish police ambushed them and killed them all.
I continue strategizing, knowing that our days are numbered…With the help of some acquaintances I succeed in obtaining passports for my brother and myself, but we can't use them, since we have nowhere to go. So we stay in Kopernik. Someone suggests that I should go to work in Germany, in a place where no one knows me, since young women can easily find positions there. However, I cannot agree to leave my brother behind by himself. And we are thinking positively, since in the meantime rumors are circulating that with the advent of spring the war will be over.
To our misfortune a typhus epidemic has broken out in our camp. Almost half of the population comes down with it. However, many of them are making the effort to go out to work, in spite of their high fever. The Polish doctor from Minsk Mazowiecki, who has been invited for a visit, hurries to report the situation to the German commander, warning him of the danger to the city inhabitants.
And indeed, his warning found a sympathetic ear. On December 24th SS men raided the camp and began killing those who were ill. Sali Pieniek was also among them. We hid his daughter, Ruth; but when the girl heard the sound of the shooting, she understood that something terrible was going on, and she burst into tears, shouting: I want to live together with my father; I don't want to be left alone! When she came out of her hiding place a bullet fired by the murderers struck her, and she was killed on the spot.
When the killing was over, a new count was made of the inhabitants of the camp. Then 218 men and women who looked weak to them were taken to the local cemetery, where they were ordered to dig pits. After that they were all shot. One of them was Franya Pieniek.
We burst into bitter tears, lamenting all our dear ones who had fallen by the hands of the murderers. We wept until no more tears could come, knowing that a similar fate was in store for us…
Now they are no longer taking us out to work; we are inside the camp, surrounded by a very heavy guard. They have given us the job of erecting a barbed-wire fence around the entire camp. This work intensifies our speculation that our end must be near. We decide we will not allow the murderers to lead us away like sheep to the slaughter. We start collecting whatever we can find: scrap iron, stones and bricks; and we resolve to avenge our own deaths. The camp is completely sealedno one can enter or leave. We listen for the slightest rustle that might indicate that they are coming for us, to take us away and put us to death…
Those with whom I share a room do not cease encouraging me to leave this place. They castigate me, telling me I should not deprive myself of life, that I have every chance of saving myself, and that I should not be seeking a hero's death. But how can I go away and leave my brother behindthe brother who is the only member of my family still left alive?
I remembered a Polish friend who was living in Warsaw. On a recent visit to the camp she had promised that she would stand behind me if I needed her. So I decided to slip away from here, together with my brother, and somehow try to reach Warsaw.
We are in a frenzy of preparations for our escape. I put red coloring on my pallid face, gather my hair into two long braids, and cover my head with a red scarfall of this to make myself look like a shiksa. My brother, however, is wearing a cap. On January 6, 1943 we slip past the barbed wire surrounding Camp Kopernik and wend our way to the train station, from which we wish to get to Warsaw. We proceed cautiously: we don't go to the nearest train station, but instead walk to the next one, several kilometers away. There we get on the train and go to Warsaw.
At evening we reached the big city and went straight to my friend. She and her husband gave us a warm reception, promising to provide all the help they could give us. Her brother, who introduced himself as Ukrainian, also lived in the same house.
On the very day after our arrival my brother became ill. His fever rose to a temperature above 40 degrees C. He needed a doctor but I was afraid to get one, since he might be able to recognize my brother as Jewish. On the third day red blotches appeared on my brother's body, a clear indication of spotted typhus.
We are in a very unpleasant andeven dangeroussituation, since concealing the illness from the government health department is a severely punishable offense. I am at a loss, especially since the Ukrainian brother's attitude towards us has begun to change. Apparently he is pressuring his sister to send us away. I myself hear him threaten her that if she doesn't send us away he will throw my brother out into the street. Fearful, I give the Ukrainian brother a watch the next day as a present. He calms down somewhat and I no longer hear him making threats. However, I sense that we cannot stay in this house anymorethat we have to leave as soon as possible.
Several times it occurs to me that we have no alternative but to return to Kopernik. But one day I get hold of a flier from the Underground, which reports that the Kopernik Camp has been liquidatedthe camp has been burned down with everyone in it. I can hardly believe what I have read, but there is no reason for me to doubt the veracity of this report.
I was shocked. My closest friendstogether with whom I had experienced so much suffering and hardshiphad been devoured by fire…My throat was choked with tears, but I had no more strength to weep. Nor was there anyone there who could comfort me in my great mourning for the death of my comrades, with whom I had been linked with every fiber of my soul, with whom I had shared my bread and water, and with whom I had woven dreams and hopes.
Meanwhile no improvement in my brother's condition has occurred; he is moaning and burning up with fever. The house we are in looks to us like a trap, since the Ukrainian brother is still plotting to get rid of us. Perhaps I might have overcome my concerns and gotten a doctor, but I am deterred by the frowns on the brother's face. I am at a loss, and I have no one to talk to about my anxiety.
In the end I decided to turn to someone who used to visit the house regularlyan elderly man, the very same man who had handed me the Underground flier. He seemed to me to be a good person, a gentle soul. I told him all about my troubles, and he promised to do his best to help me. And already on the very next day he happily informed me that he had been able to find a suitable place for us to livein the house of an elderly widow, in one of the nearby villages.
How happy I was when we put my brother, wrapped in a blanket, into the carriage we had ordered to take us to the village. The elderly lady was waiting for us along the way to bring us to her house. After I had told her in a long conversation all about the events of the last few years, I was glad to see that she was an honest, good-natured woman.
It was only at nightfall that we reached our destination. Quickly we put my brother to bed, covering him with blankets to keep him warm. At the same time the old woman revealed to me that two Jews were already hiding in her house. They were two brothers, Feivl and Shlomo Bronstein, from the town of Planitz that is near Warsaw. They had managed to slip away from a group of Jews that had been sent to an extermination camp.
My trust in the elderly woman grew stronger, especially when I saw with what great care she had prepared a suitable hiding place for us outside the rooms that were actually part of the house. She had told her village neighbors that her sister's children, from the city of Zamość had come to visit. To prevent anyone from becoming suspicious, I accompanied her to church on Sundays, and I even did some work in the garden and within the house.
The days went by. My brother recovered and began to walk around in the house. But now a new matter began to irk usour money had run out, and we no longer had any means to pay for our lodging and food. Although the good-natured old woman never even mentioned it, we felt uncomfortable. She was a masseur by profession, and she often made trips to work in Warsaw. She would bring back various staples. She didn't even forget to bring us books to read, knowing how we longed for reading material during the long hours in which we sat around idle.
In this manner spring and summer passed. Then we found out that a rumor was going around in the villagethat the old woman was concealing Jews in her house. One of the neighbors had said that with her own eyes she had seen a bearded man walking around inside the house. Another neighbor had added that for a while she had been wondering why the old woman was emptying her waste pails during nighttime only, and why she was cooking so many potatoes.
We knew that danger was looming over our heads, so we began looking for a suitable hiding place; after all, the farmers do not have a great love for Jews…The Bronstein brothers had hidden themselves in an attic, and I was also seeking a hiding place of this type for my brother. I was very glad when I did find a hiding place in an attica narrow, small area that was like a dungeon cell, so confined that no one could even stretch out in it to lie down. To reach it one had to climb up a ladder and then crawl over to its opening. We had no other alternative. My brother had to move there, while I remained very fearful for him. I continued to sleep in the same bed with the elderly woman.
One night the police knocked at the door to the house. The old woman, who was half asleep, opened the door and stood trembling before the military police. They began shouting at her, accusing her of concealing Jews in the house. Without waiting for a reply they went down to the cellar, looking for Jews in hiding. When they didn't find anyone there they turned to the attic, the clatter of their boots as they climbed the stairs audible at a distance. Our hearts stood still; we thought the end had come. However, they didn't find the hiding place. The men in hiding held their breath in fear as they listened to the policemen threatening to set the house on fire. But finally the police, having given up, left the house.
From that day onward we became much more cautious. The men hardly ever left their hiding place. For two-and-a-half years we remained this way, imprisoned in our hideout, as from time to time the police visited us, turning the house upside down as they looked for Jews.
A few weeks before the Liberation we were in bad shape. The little food that we had was running out, and the elderly lady, whose health had been affected, could no longer travel to Warsaw for work. There was no money, and we were starving for some bread.
With her remaining strength, the elderly woman made an effort to take care of us. She went to the houses of the wealthier farmers and gathered old bread and a few potatoes, explaining that they were for the goats that belonged to her sister, who lived in the vicinity. We toasted the bread and ate it to satisfy our hunger.
Rumors of impending liberation lifted our spirits, while at the same time we observed the airplanes flying overhead and heard the bombs exploding. How happy we were when the old woman came to us with the news that the German army was retreating in panic and that the Red Army was rapidly approaching our village.
In August 1944 we left our hiding place for the first time, going out into daylight after having hid for about three full years. We looked half dead, yellow and gaunt, like human shadows. We continued to stay at the elderly woman's house, first because we were afraid of being attacked by the local people, whose hatred for Jews was intense, and second because we didn't really know where we could go. And she, that noble woman who had saved our lives, continued to stand at our side, guiding us with her advice.
It is actually hard to appreciate how noble-minded this elderly lady showed herself to be as she endangered her own life to rescue us. From that time onward her image stayed with us as we continued to keep in touch with her by mail. From time to time we sent her money, packages, and crates of oranges.
When I stood under the huppa [at my wedding ceremony] she was my chief shushvinit, for it was only thanks to her that my brother and I had remained alive.
Twenty years have passed since then. My son is about to complete his service in the Israel Defense Forces. However, to this very day I have not been set free from the terrors of the Holocaust, which have left their deep marks on my heart. And how could it be possible to forget those terrible, dark days, during which we drained the bitter cup of suffering to its dregs!?
|Mrs. Degola, a survivor of the Holocaust,
lighting a candle in memory of the martyrs
by Bracha Rotolski (Goldberg)
Translated by Allen Flusberg
November, 1939. With the outbreak of war, Dobrzyn was bombed from the air. We were terrified. Hurriedly the men left the town, leaving only women and children behind. Quickly the Germans appeared. They broke into the houses and stood us up against the wall; threatening us with their weapons, they demanded that we hand over our silver and gold.
Trembling with fear we acceded to their demand, handing over to them whatever we had in the house. But this was not good enough for them: we were asked to fill out questionnaires that they had given us, listing all the goods that we had in our shops. The next day they were back to retrieve the forms and to demand the keys to the shops and apartments.
Everyone began hastily leaving the town. We went toward Lubicz, where we had relatives. We stayed there only a single week, fearful and anxious, until leaving. The Germans sent us towards Warsaw in a freight train, without food or water. There, in the big city, German soldiers were waiting for us, to beat us mercilessly.
We barely managed to reach the home of our relatives in Warsaw. It was perilous for us to walk through the streets; the German soldiers were attacking any Jews they ran into and beating them cruelly.
The men were in even greater danger: they were snatched away to concentration camps, where they were cruelly tortured. Whoever had the courage tried to flee east, toward the Russian border. However, any such attempt was at the risk of one's life, since those who were caught were shot dead on the spot.
We were in the Warsaw Ghetto. At first it was possible to sustain ourselves in the ghetto, whether by working or by selling a few belongings and some jewelry. We were able to buy and sell to Christian city residents who would find a way to get into the ghetto. We were forced to hide not only from the Germans, but from the Jewish police as well, who were charged with supplying, on a daily basis, a quota of men, women and children to be sent to extermination camps.
When the policemen came into our house, they broke down doors and shattered windows as they searched for people to fill the quota demanded of them. Trucks were waiting outside to transport this live cargo. Feeling my end was near, I decided to run away and try to save myself. I moved away from the truck that I was already standing next to and went back into the house, running; I had decided to flee, come what may. I hid behind the entrance door of the house. A Jewish policeman chased after me to bring me back to the truck. I was lucky: he searched through the entire house, but it never occurred to him that I was hiding right near him, behind the iron door.
How appalling it was to see people following behind the policemen without trying to resist, even though they clearly knew that the trucks were about to transport them to extermination camps. It was a miracle that I found the courage to run away and hide. Meanwhile my two brothers were also rescued, thanks to the fact that they were working in a carpentry shop and were considered professional workers.
We hid in a bunker that we had built by hand in the ghetto, a strong bunker in which ten families were living. As night fell some more people would join us. Among them were those who during the day were involved in planning the resistance against the Nazi foe.
We believed that we would be able to sustain ourselves in this bunker until the liberation would come. However, our bunker's location was discovered by the Germans. They sent soldiers to get us out, but we shot dead any German soldier who got near the entrance to the bunker.
The Germans then decided on a cunning scheme. They sent members of the Jewish police to persuade us to leave the place. The policemen convinced us to leave the bunker, explaining that the Germans were determined to blow the place up. Seeing that there was no hope left, we came out into the street. The Germans quickly blew the bunker up.
Afterwards they put us into a truck and sent us to an extermination camp. Those for whom there was no room in the truck were shot on the spot. Among them was my brother Yosef Gershon. My other brother, Yaakov Moshe, was [later] executed by hanging after he was caught trying to escape from a death camp.
As for me, I was sent to Birkenau, to a work camp. Life here was like an extended, slow death I recall one occasion when I dozed off, from weakness, and did not report at roster. When they realized one person was missing, they sent agents out to search the camp. It was clear that, once caught, that person would immediately be executed. Fortunately, when my friends found me asleep they managed to sneak me into the head count, and thanks to that I remained alive.
In the Birkenau labor camp they mistreated us abominably in order to sap our strength. They made us go out to work no matter what the weatherin rain, cold and snow. The work was difficult and grueling, enough to overwhelm even the sturdy who were used to hard labor. When the guards observed that we were unable to lift large logs or heavy stones, they brought us elsewhere, where they made us lift logs that were even larger On a daily basis several of the laboring women collapsed from exhaustion. The entire intention of all this work was to torture us as much as possible, to make us die from the severe and cruel torment, with no food or water.
But that wasn't all. Near our camp there was a large house, where Jewish children were brought to be put to death. All day we would hear terrifying, heart-rending screams coming from there. We knew they were being horrifically tortured to death. Only once evening came did the screaming abate.
The wailing of children as they were being put to death and the spectacle of caravans of people being brought to the crematoriathese were our daily bread. Only God knows how we survived all of this, how our hearts did not burst.
The cries of the young children still ring in my ears, demanding retribution!
|Nachman Freilich (right) visiting the Jewish cemetery in Dobrzyn|
by Gorny Frum
Translated by Allen Flusberg
Note by translator: in the original, it is stated that this article is a translation by Avraham Dor (Dobroszklanka) from Polish into Hebrew. A Yiddish version of the same article appears on pp. 381-384; see the English translation of that article, in which any differences from the Hebrew version have been highlighted in the footnotes.
The following photographs appear within the pages of the Hebrew translation:
|Mrs. Sonabend (first on left), daughter of Tuvya Pieniek,
visiting the grave of her father in Dobrzyn
|The bank administration of Dobrzyn
In center, at table: Tuvya Pieniek, Tzvigil, and Yosef Chaim Rojna
|Dobrzyn townsmen in Berlin on the their way to new lands of refuge|
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