by Eliyahu Zilberblech, New York
Translated by Miriam Bulwar DavidHay
When the Hitleroccupier took over our town, the Jewish collective instinctively did not feel safe. The little we had in goods was confiscated within a few days as contributions. Spontaneously the life of social organizations died out. That was the first, shattering blow for the Jewish population.
Immediately all philanthropic and social institutions ceased to exist. I would like to take this opportunity to call some of them by name: MalbishEromim [Dresser of the Naked], SomechNoflim [Supporter of the Fallen], HachnasatOrchim [Hospitality for Guests], and GmilatHassadim Kaseh [Free Loan Fund].
The free loan fund had success thanks to its watchful and active assistance for the tradesmen and the small merchants. The management of the fund produced the monetary means with the help of the women of the committee, which carried out a verification action, and with the help of countrymen from Hrubieszów in America, who responded very warmly. The situation that was created [by the German occupation] disturbed many plans that the management had wanted to develop.
Before the liquidation of the institution, the management, in which I had the honor to be one of the workers, held its last meeting in the house of the chairman, Shmuel Zeid, may peace be upon him. Apart from him, the following also took part in the management: Shmuel Buchtreger, Yankele Roiter, Yoske Veisbroit, Yitzchak Shimon Feifer [possibly Piper], and myself, the only witness who remained alive.
That same day, Friday, the 20th day of the month of Kislev, in the year 1939, that we decided with pain to halt our activities for an undecided time, the walls of Hrubieszów were pasted with large placards, on which was written that the next day, Shabbat at 7 o'clock in the morning, men aged from 16 to 60 had to present themselves on the Vigon, next to the slaughterhouse. Whoever did not show themselves, would be shot. We read the text of the placard when we left the chairman's house. Apart from the advertisements on the street, the magistrate of Hrubieszów sent his officials to announce the order in all the Jewish houses.
In the meantime, the former representatives and distinguished residents of our town exploited every way and possibility so as to discover the secret [of what was being planned], but without success. Various versions went around. They would take us for hard labor to Germany, or they would send us over to the Russian border.
The next day, Shabbat, in the morning, when fathers with children streamed en masse to the designated place, no one had any suspicion that we were going voluntarily to the slaughter. Everyone was cheerful.
But false and naïve were our thoughts then about the Hitlermurderers. As soon as all the men aged from 16 to 60 had assembled on the free field, we were caught in a circle of Gestapo, and already we could not move. They stood us in two long rows, took away our passports, and made us stateless.
At the same time, when we already saw and felt that something bad was going to happen with us, our ears were filled with the heartrending wails that we heard suddenly from the cemetery, which bordered the field that we had been lured into. For the first time now we understood how serious the situation was, and it became understandable to us why our wives and mothers had run to dig up graves. They saw the danger before we did, when they saw the small number of Jews remaining from those who had been driven from Chelm to Hrubieszów. We knew about this only when they [the Germans] added the halfdead Jews from Chelm to our rows.
The heartrending voices from the cemetery had only just reached our ears, but no further and no higher, and our sentence already could not be called off.
The murder plan for men in Chelm and Hrubieszów was carried out by the murderers with more success than they had expected. They themselves did not foresee such a large number of participants in that bloody march.
Shabbat, 1 o'clock, they led us out of our birth town to the road, in the direction of the train station. In front drove a cart, in which lay several Jews from Chelm in a dying state. Even before we came close to the train station, the wagon with the Jews from Chelm was driven to a pit next to the mill of Getzel and Avraham Valdman, and in a sadistic way the Jews from Chelm were killed.
After that shocking and wild death, we lost all hope of seeing our families again. When we came to the two forks in the road, one of which was the paved road to the train station, and the other of which was a muddy Polish road to the surrounding little villages, the murderers robbed us of the dream that we were going to the train and that we were being taken for work somewhere in German towns.
A number of us, more daring, jumped into the excavated pits that the local peasants had prepared for the potatoes for the winter, and temporarily saved themselves from the murderers. Many of us would have risked it, but the projectors with which the murderers lit up the road deterred us.
In the same minute, a barrage of shooting was heard, surely aimed at those whom they [the Germans] had noticed trying to run away. Later, when they led us to the large wall of a peasant's stable and we sat down on the wet, halffrozen ground, it was made known to me that among those who had fallen from the first shots was my friend, Israel Mordechai Tzukerman, may peace be upon him, a grandchild of Yaakov Abas. May his memory be avenged!
When, already full of pain and suffering, we passed the dark night on the halffriendly mud and lived into the day, we already longed for the departed night to come once again. They began to drive us through the deepest of the muds, and executions began. Every minute they took out another Jew and left him with a bullet in the head.
After that day, which tore away hundreds of innocent lives, the Hitlermurderers, having themselves had enough of the muds, allowed us to rest for a limited time. In a field of cut grains, soon before the onset of the dark night, they told us to lie down with our faces to the ground, and after a few minutes they divided us up into two separate groups. In
that place there was a fork in the road, which led to two separate roads: towards Belz and towards Sokal.
The chief of the murderers ordered his killers to divide themselves into two groups. I was in the group that was led towards Sokal. When we had survived into the second morning, that is, Monday, after spending the night in the little village of Uhryniv, where like herrings in a row they packed us into the basement of the synagogue, they allowed us, after two days, to take a little water from the well that stood next to the basement. After that pleasure, a shot was heard, and Mendel Leibish Deitch fell.
On the way to Sokal a mass shooting began. On the paved road a dangerous chaos was created. Because the shooting was taking place in the rear rows, those in the foremost rows began running, wanting thereby to save their lives. But every few minutes the front rows became the last rows, because of the mass murder.
We were already only a few kilometers from Sokal, the border between the Germans and the Russians. When they unexpectedly told us to stand in place, the chief, who had led the murders, carried out a count, and then reported that three more Jews had to be shot, and the rest would cross over the Bug River to Russia.
We were all of the view that those who remained alive he would finish off in the water. No one dreamed that any trace of us would be left. In the same minute, while we were thinking about this, we endured a painful feeling: who would be among the three who still had to be shot. Everyone thought about himself. Even though all of us were more dead than alive, the urge to live was great, and we believed that maybe a miracle would happen and that those who remained alive would in reality cross over to the Russians.
The murderers did not let us ponder for long. They took out two Jews from Chelm and one from Hrubieszów and the tragic order was carried out. After the three sacrifices, they reminded us once again that they would not shoot us any more.
We continued the bloody march. We came near to a border village. To our great surprise, they led us to a bridge, where stood the border watches of the Hitlermurderers and of the Russians, the ostensible liberators.
The German watchmen freed up the way for us, and, singing songs of praise for Stalin, the murderers from the bloody march told us to run over [the bridge] to the other side, to the Russians. We obeyed the order and with our last strength ran to the middle of the bridge, where the Russian watch stood, not believing that we were already being saved from the bloody murderers.
The Russian border watch, which was small in numbers, not knowing what was happening here, and unable to contain our press forward, let us go ahead, until we reached the Russian territory.
As fast as lightning the news spread in Sokal about us. En masse, Jews from Sokal began to go towards the place where we were standing and waiting for our fate [to be decided]. With envious eyes we looked at them from a distance. They [the border guards] did not allow the Jews from Sokal to come to us, and we could not move from our place, because of the enlarged border watch.
In that moment, several highranking military men sprang up in front of our eyes and demanded a clarification of what had brought us here. A few Jews, who were able to make themselves understood to them, gave them all the details of the tragic journey that we had endured and how many victims we had left behind. The military representative gave us some good tidings, that soon we would be taken to the town [Sokal], and for us there would be prepared rooms, where we would be taken in with a meal, and we would no longer fall from German bullets.
A ray of light showed itself before our eyes. New strength and courage for life began to shine from our eyes, hearing the goodheartedness of the highranking representative. In that moment, we imagined that we had found ourselves standing before the doors of heaven and in front of us we could see angels in human form. We were, in truth, envious of the Jews who lived in that part of the world where the sun shone for everyone equally, where everyone had the right to breathe freely.
Drained of our strength, we waited impatiently for that happy minute when we would find ourselves already in the town. But how surprised we were when, after an hour of waiting for the military representatives, who had driven over to the other side for a conference with the Hitlermurderers, they returned with the order that we would have to go back to where we had come from.
We threw ourselves to the ground and begged, we do not want to fall to the German murderers any more, shoot us here in this place, we will not go back to the Germans. We were of the view that we would succeed in getting the order canceled. But at that time, while we were lying on the ground, where by the way two Jews suffocated for lack of air, they called up a larger number of Russian military and they began to carry us one by one over to the German side. They carried the operation out perfectly, without leaving a single one of us behind on Russian territory.
The operation stretched until late into the night. The greater number of us crossed [back over] the Bug to the Russian side with the help of the local peasants on small boats, and went on to Sokal. The small remainder of us were taken in by the peasants [on the Polish side of the border] overnight and had the pleasure of a little piece of bread and hot tea, which since Friday evening had not been seen by our eyes.
I was also counted among those who decided to share our fate with our families, and the next morning, Tuesday, I and several others set off to return home, not certain whether we would be able to come back to our families alive.
When we came near to one of the small villages that divided us from the town, peasants halted us and showed us the mass grave of our martyrs, whom they had gathered together according to an order from the murderers. The grave was still open because of the not yet finished operation to clean the roads up of the fallen Jews. That picture will never disappear from my eyes, which saw it. We said Kaddish and with broken hearts continued on our bloody way, back home.
Wednesday night, for the first light of Chanukah, I arrived at my house. I am not capable of expressing what I went through then, 17 years ago, when our house filled up with the neighborhood wives, who had lost their men and children on that bloody march. I had to find for them an encouraging answer, that some had crossed over to the Russians, and that some had gone with the second group towards Belz, as I have already described in my writing.
The spasmodic weeping of the wives, who themselves later perished at the hands of the same murderers, I can still hear now, as I write this tragic chapter about our town.
I have a request for all of you who will read this book, that all the tragic chapters should be read with feeling, as though he [the reader] himself had lived through this, because only such a feeling will eternalize the cruelty of the HitlerAmalekites.
by Reuven Katz, New York
Translated by Miriam Bulwar DavidHay
It was in reality a difficult road. The walking for the most part took place at night. The night protected us from the disarmed Polish soldiers, who had not forgotten how to beat and kill Jews.
In the quiet of the night, all the Polish roads were filled with Jews. Like hunted animals we ran where our eyes led us.
After eight days and nights of running like this, exhausted and worn out, on a foggy, cold, autumnal morning, I recognized my home town, Hrubieszów, there where I was born and raised, went to cheder, and studied in the shtiebel. I recognized the Chelm road, [and] Avraham Brandes's mill, where in my youth, with my father Kalman Shmuel, may peace be upon him, and I used to grind a few measures of grain and sell it to the bakers, so as to earn an income for the family.
Here and there men and women showed themselves on the thresholds of their houses. Without having slept, with hidden terror in their eyes, one asked the other:
How are things? Is it quiet? I felt that it was the same trembling and fear as of the Jews in Warsaw, Lublin and Chelm.
I met a troubled Hrubieszów. The Russians were pulling out back over the Bug and the town was waiting for the arrival of the Germans. Jews pale and confused, with fear in their eyes, were running around and asking each other:
What should we do? To run with the Russians and wander homeless, or to remain in our homes and place ourselves at the mercy of God.
The youth ran away, but the larger part of the Jewish population remained in its place. With every day the fear grew.
Already in the first days of the marchin by the German army, the Jews immediately saw the danger that lurked for them. Houses were plundered, businesses and means were confiscated, Jews had to pay rent for their own dwellings.
After the robbery began the persecutions. Young and old were sent for hard labor. Death blows became a normal phenomenon and we already had begun to feel the danger of perishing. Of the hope that they would use us as free labor, this came to nothing.
The situation became hopeless, life became lawless. Here they shot a Jew, Yaakov Shofel, at the door of his shop, there they led a group of Jews to Rosalka and shot them.
The first bloody mass action began in November 1939. On a Friday, after the candlelighting blessings, pious Jews would run to pray [in the synagogue]. Mothers with their trembling hands covered their thin, pale faces for the candle lighting and wept for their bitter fortune, and did not know what was awaiting them the next day.
At the same time, Dudl Shmerl's [son], the town beadle, acting according to the order of the [town] council, ran around like the wind to all the batei midrash and Chassidic shtieblech and called out that all Jews aged between 15 and 65 had to go to the Vigon at 8 o'clock the next morning, to register themselves for [deportation to] Russia.
A dark cloud lowered itself immediately over the frightened Jews. With broken hearts the Jews received the Sabbath. Kalman Shmuel, may peace be upon him, in the Husiatyner shtiebel, with a broken heart and trembling, wept into the Lecha dodi, likrat kallah, pnei Shabbat nekabelah.
A dead silence reigned after the prayers. Jews quietly said: Good Shabbes. Neighbors ran from one to the other asking what they should do tomorrow.
What is there left for us to do, we must go.
Women and children cried the entire night. The whole town was transformed into a valley of tears and psalms were said. Others still had hope that we would cross over the border in peace.
We were hardly able to wait for the morning. Jews prayed with intention and were accompanied with tears from their homes.
Old and young, fathers with their little boys, like little Isaacs led to the Akedah, they set off to the Vigon.
On the way to the Vigon Yossele Sher related it already became clear to us that we were surrounded without any well thoughtout extraction plan. When I, with my father Yeshayahu Sher, may peace be upon him, hurried to the square, Shmuel Brand emerged from somewhere and in the quiet gave a wink to go back to the town. When Jews started to go back, a German vehicle with gendarmes in it immediately drove up and ordered whoever wanted to be closer to us to come forward, trapping them to be shot. In this way Efraim Deitch's daughter was shot, when she tried to hand something to her father.
On the square we learned about the Jews from Chelm, what they had been through on the way to Hrubieszów. Many of them had been shot by the Germans on the way. It immediately became clear to us what was awaiting us. A road that no one knew where it led.
The march of the Jews of Hrubieszów and of Chelm has not been placed in the history of the martyrology of the Jews in the Second World War under the name: The Death March.
[But] it really was a death march related Yossel Sher a knot, a knockedtogether, collapsed, crooked mass moving along in the cold, rainy November days on the muddy Polish roads. The Germans on horses and wagons, with a sadistic, murderous pleasure, hurried the exhausted Jews along. We threw all our clothing off from us so that it would be easier to walk, and whoever did not have any strength left, they shot him immediately.
Pinye Tokers, a young boy of 14 years, could barely drag himself along behind, and with his childish hands he clasped his father and wept out loud. The Germans shot him. Like a little bird he fell on the muddy ground.
There was no lack of any holiness, of any mental and physical heroism, on the death march. Feivish Katzav, a Belzer Chassid with a stately black beard, upon being pulled out to be shot, with eyes wide and bulging and his hands outstretched to the clouded sky, in an inhuman voice, cut through the air with his shout:
Shmah Israel! The echo of his cry carried itself far away over forests and fields. We all felt a shiver at his shout. The German for a while lost his power over us. A second German helped him out. With hands outstretched to heaven, Feivel fell to the ground.
Before he was shot, Noach Vertman, a manly Jew, broad of back, threw himself upon the German, catching him by the hand that held the revolver, and wrestled with him. A second German shot Noach from behind. It was perhaps the first symbol of Jewish resistance against the Nazi murderers.
Hungry, thirsty, clasping together one to the other, we went on. When someone threw himself down to drink from a pool of muddy water, he was shot immediately. Dudl Shmerl's asked permission to drink and was shot immediately.
From a wagon that drove behind, the Germans from time to time took out a piece of bread and held it out, but whoever went out to take it never came back again. With his hands outstretched in the air, he fell from several shots.
Next to Dołhobyczów we lay an entire night on the muddy ground, squashed together, one to the other. Many of us were halfnaked, barefoot, bloody. The groans and cries were indescribable. From someone's crooked mouth a wail tore out.
It was a long, difficult night, which stretched as if it were an eternity.
The silver moon, as if ashamed, hid itself. The black, rainy clouds covered its white face. A cold drizzle of rain dripped over us. We lay without moving, like a dead, dying mass, no one moved from the spot.
From a distance small fires lit up in little peasants' windows. A cow called out with its hoarse moos. A peasant's dog cut through the air with its gloomy howl. On a small side road a peasant's wagon hurried home.
With weeping and prayers, we waited for the day. Elderly Jews quietly said the Modeh Ani and the blessings. A while later was heard the coarse, gargling German voice:
Everyone stood up immediately. The second command:
The mass of people with a shiver moved themselves forward, dragging their tired feet. A mixture of hardbooted laborers' feet with household, Sabbath shoes and childish feet with little shoes. These all mixed together into one in the bloody march. The strong helped the weak, dragged them along, and held them up, so that they would not fall. Each one tried to be in the middle of the mass, so as not to be noticed by our escorts. We were hungry and weakened.
On the way a peasant woman was leading a cow, carrying in one hand something wrapped in a shawl. Based on its appearance, I surmised that this was a piece of bread. I quickly ran out, snatched up the packet with the bread. I divided it up around me and each one stilled his hunger with a bite of bread.
After four days of hurrying us along the muddy roads, mixed with the blood of our near ones, they divided us up into two groups.
Our group related Yossel Sher went into Belz in the evening. There the Germans reported to us that we must cross through the river, on the other side of which the Russians were to be found. They gave us 10 minutes to leave the place.
With our last strength we began running, dragging with us the weak and the sick. Like hunted animals we leaped into the cold water. Many of us were swept away by the cold current. The sounds and the cries were heartrending.
Those who crossed the water were encircled by the Russian watch [Border Guard]. They ordered us to lie on the ground. We lay like this for the entire night. Many souls breathed their last, others were frozen from lying there in their wet clothes.
In the morning the Russians ordered us to go back. We did not want to. We knew what was waiting for us on the German side. Our weeping and begging did not help; it was an order from the commander.
With force they hurried us back across the bridge; it was a shocking sight. A mass of maimed, frozen, shaking skeletons, in wet clothing. They threw us brutally over to the other side, and we barely dragged ourselves to Belz.
In the ruined Jewish houses, we drank. After several days of rest, the local peasants took us home.
In the homes there was the true Tisha B'Av. From all the houses was heard the weeping of wives and mothers whose nearones had not come home.
In this way our town wrote another chapter into the Jewish martyrology under the name: The Exile of Hrubieszów.
The sufferings of the driven ones of our time mixed together with the sufferings of all those driven and tormented from all times, starting from the exile in Babylon.
The witness testimonies from the bloody march should, like a sacred object, be guarded and passed down from generation to generation.
Not to be described it is but written down it must be.
Tragic dates from the martyrology of Hrubieszów:
1 December 1939 The death march of Hrubieszów Jews to the Bug River.
1 June 1942 Some 3,400 Hrubieszów Jews were tormented and exterminated in Sobibor.
79 June 1942 Some 2,000 Hrubieszów Jews were tormented and murdered.
28 October 1942 Some 2,000 Hrubieszów Jews were tormented and exterminated in Sobibor.
September 1943 The last 160 Hrubieszów Jews from the cleanup kommando were liquidated.
by Yaakov Tchechovitch, New York
Translated by Miriam Bulwar DavidHay
The Dzielnica that was what Jatkowa Street was called which was agreed [as the site of a camp] for those few Jews who remained to clean up the Jewish houses and the few remaining property storehouses.
Yankele Brand saw me then, and gave me a motion with his hand. He clarified for me that the Gestapo had left behind here only 160 Jews for the work. And when that would be finished, we would all be shot. Even a bath has already been prepared, that means a grave, a mass grave has already been dug up and prepared. And Yankele smiled through this, when he said:
Nothing will help us, I and you and all of us here will have to go the same way as everyone, into the bath.
Life in the Dzielnica became ever more unbearable. The murderers came in all the time to Jatkowa, searching and ransacking. The Gestapo felt that we were helping out hidden Jews.
And furthermore we, the remaining ones, were ashamed. We were already not counted as any Jews, because formally Hrubieszów was already Judenrein. Next to the train, on the train station, a sign had been posted with the inscription: Judenrein!
Our time was ending, our work was ending, and our lives were ending. We were already very few. Before that time several selections had already taken place, and they sent everyone away to Majdanek.
On the 31st of August 1943, the labor camp on Jatkowa Street was abandoned. On that day to be found with us were the Jews:
Nioniek Orenshtein with his three brothers and one sister, David, Moniek and Fela Rotenberg, Velvish Veinberg, Avraham Eizen, Avraham Goldman, Moshe Lutski, Ester Oisbrach, Bentche Pink, a brother of Klinghofer's with his wife and daughter, Chaya Koifman, Feivel Shmutz, Yoske and Neta Sher, Mottel Horvitz, a daughter of Avraham Shetchkemacher, Moshe Rur and his wife, Hersh Holer, a Kamashnik from Lodz, Naftali Meil, Avrahamele Lerer with two daughters, David Lerer with his son Leibele, Dvora Feil, Avramek Finkelshtein, Lipik Obertziger and his sister Irka, Avraham Goldfarb, Aizik Finger with his son Mechel, a daughter of Klinghofer's, Pesha Zinger with her sister Sarale, Fishel Vimer with his wife Chaya, Yitzchak Sher with his wife and daughter Temka, Yossel Rechtshaft with his wife, Shimon Glik with his wife Doba, Mori Kornblit with his wife and brotherinlaw Tzuker, and Yaakov Tchechovitch. [All names have been spelled phonetically.]
That was the remaining small remnant of Jews from Hrubieszów and from the whole county.
We were sent over to the Budzyń labor camp, not far from Krasnik.
I was happy that I was rid of the open, prepared mass grave waiting for us in the town. But I could not forget that we had to leave behind to God's mercy several children whom we had been hiding at home.
Among the children were to be found a child of Genendel Finkelshtein's and a child of Gzhimek the barber's.
On the 14th of February, during a stormy winter night, we, several of us from Hrubieszów, discussed amongst ourselves running away from the camp.
One of us, a young fellow, Aizik Herbst, took it upon himself to cut through the wires. He carried this out, and together with his brother, Moshe, ran off. We waited outside [the barracks] beside a wall, [to see] if everything would pass smoothly, then we would as one run away. However, the watchman on the tower noticed immediately and there was soon a barrage of shots. We went back inside the barracks immediately, as if nothing had happened.
by Yechiel Feier zl
Translated by Miriam Bulwar DavidHay
Nineteen years after the infamous tragic death march of Jews from Chelm and Hrubieszów, the opinion of society is still divided: yes or no [to] resistance. When the Jews from both towns were driven to the Soviet border, along the way instinctively the thought of resistance was born, given that the Germans were small in number, six to 10 men with the yellow [very visible] Yimach Shemo at their head.
Immediately the fear of revenge swam up. What would the Germans do after such resistance with those left at home, the wives and children. In the struggle between yes or no resistance, in the meantime, what was left of the world grew less and less.
Noach did not take part in this argument. A few words he muttered through his clenched teeth:
Jews, let us throw ourselves on them!!!
Also Noach felt sadness for his life and the life of his family, apart from which, he had worked hard all through the years to feed his family. Even stronger in him became the desire to live, when he reminded himself that he had not yet even managed to try the taste of the joys [that come] from children. From that thought alone he grew warm in all his organs.
It silenced the picture of tormented and despairing faces. A celebration is happening now. Everyone has come to rejoice, do not disturb, Noach is holding a wedding for his first child.
He does not run any more during the march, but sweeps along. He is entirely not tired, his feet lift themselves as if to do a mitzvahdance.
And when the German threw a look at him, and ordered him to step out [of the group of marchers] so as to shoot him, this was for him momentarily not understandable. He looked at him with a pair of frozen eyes.
Why? I can still walk, I want to live still.
And he decided: I will not lie down.
And when the German with the revolver in his hand ordered him a second time to go out, he grabbed him together with the revolver and they both began to wrestle for life and death, until a second German came along and shot Noach.
It was not Noach's destiny to live to see joy from children.
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