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[Columns 657-658]

And I have remained alone

Yaakov Tchechovitch / New York

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Bulwar David-Hay

 

Yaakov Tchechovitch

 

Generalgouvernment stamp with German text

 

On the 1st of May, 1941[1] after an absence of eight years, we arrived in Hrubieszów. From the train we were away through side fields, the fear from Warsaw still accompanying us. At the Paheriya[2] we already breathed more easily. Something felt home-like to us. Upon going in to my brother-in-law, Yidel Gertel, I bade farewell to my friend.

It is easy to imagine our joy at being together again. Zlota and the children looked good, my brother-in-law and family – also not bad. My mother and sister moaned a bit, but still they all looked good. It gave me pleasure that I had succeeded in tearing myself out of the hell of Warsaw.

The town looked different from when I had left it in the year 1933. First, which really threw itself in front of one's eyes, was the Jewish police force, the O.D.[3] men.

Second, which also threw itself in front of one's eyes – there is not one Jewish business. Everything has been settled with Christians.

In Leibel Orenshtein's store there is active a first-class Ukrainian restaurant; in Holtzeroveh's tavern – a glorious Ukrainian nightspot. The entire building of the Zilbermintzes is taken up with a large German company, Geiser, which has opened a large business in the American manner. From Ezriel Finkelshtein's guesthouse a Ukrainian has made a restaurant.

The town was the same and yet how it had changed! The Jewish liveliness of the past has disappeared. Jews only ran through the streets. A few groups of Jews can be met around the Judenrat and at the Arbeitsamt[4].

The Judenrat was active 24 hours a day. The eldest [i.e. head] of the institution was Shmuel Brand z”l[5]. Together with him worked his brother, Itchele Brand, and his son, Yokeli, who played a significant role as an intermediary between the German institutions and the Judenrat. Whenever there was a decree, a new order, Yokl Brand had to be there. Together with Yokl also worked Yoel Rabinovitch.

The assignments of the Judenrat – already today at daybreak each one is known. It was a well thought-out plan, how to hold all the Jews together, and they always did so at all times.

On the second day after my arrival in the town, I registered myself at the Judenrat. They received me very nicely, asked if I am a tradesman.

– I am a first-class sign and decorative painter.

– It is good that we have you – called out Shmuel Brand – you will be of use to us.

They immediately registered me in the Arbeitsamt.

The Arbeitsamt had two leaders, the top one was a dog among dogs, a cursed Nazi, named Shtuber. And this very Shtuber had only to give you a look and your hands and feet were already trembling. His helper was a Pole, Kowalski, a true Jew-oppressor.

Every time when I went down the street and saw what had become of the Jewish toil, what a ruin they had made of it – a heaviness struck my heart. But even that heaviness began to be quickly forgotten, because in the town we began to feel the oncoming storm.

The town was flooded with all sorts of military divisions, German, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Polish, who took great pleasure in Hitler's deeds.

The town became a place of refuge for our brothers. Jews from the Warsaw ghetto began to come. I also met Meir Oder's wife here. She came from the Warsaw hell to the Hrubieszów “Garden of Eden,” as it was unfortunately said. This “well-being” did not hold out for long. The military was felt more and more in every corner and the stress grew.

 

How I was saved

The bubble burst on the 21st of June, 1941. It was a lovely, glorious Shabbat. Before dawn came heavy artillery and tanks. In the afternoon a German soldier came in to me to pick up a sign that I had painted for the commandant. The soldier whispered a secret into my ear, that tomorrow, Sunday, there would be quite important news.

At 7 o'clock in the evening a fearful silence fell over the town. After that we saw only Gestapo men. The air was full of gunpowder, we felt that at any moment something would explode.

We already knew that there was military standing at the Bug [River], as far as Horodek[6]. At night, many did not go to sleep.

We lived then near the Zamosc bridge, at the home of my brother-in-law, Yudel Gertel. Before dawn we dozed off, but a fearful cannonade woke us up.

Outside it began to grow light. At 5 in the morning we saw the labor inspector with his helper running around over the town like poisoned mice, and with them several Jews.

I, my brother-in-law, his two sons Avraham and Fishel, and Yasha Brenner went into the orphanage. Suddenly onto us falls the labor inspector and catches us with haste, as if he already wants to prepare us to be led away to be hanged. They caught us at a hot moment, as we were discussing politics. Their faces were furious. I tore myself away from them with force and ran away through a second door. I was trembling, thinking that they would hold me as a deserter.

They held all of them until they would find me. I understood that this was already war, and that if I would not present myself they would shoot all of them.

I lie hidden in the attic. Soon I hear my wife's voice. She is going around and calling me, that I should have mercy on Yudel and

[Columns 659-660]

the children and present myself. If I present myself of my own accord, I will receive only a small penalty. I lie there and think what to do. I cannot make a decision. Through a gap I see how my sister-in-law, Sara, runs around and wrings her hands in bitter weeping. I hear that there is only one hour left for me to present myself. So I heard her weeping and I went out from my hiding place and into the toilet.

Through the gap in the door I see the labor inspector with his helper. I make myself go calmly out of the water closet, adjusting my trousers, as if I have just finished with a human need, and I walk past them.

Then they saw me, and the inspector shouted out wildly:

– Here he is, the battle evader, he must be shot, like a dog!

His helper caught me by the collar and pushed me all the way to the chancellery. It is good that it is so close, otherwise I would certainly have fallen on the way from his blows. The Arbeitsamt was in Avraham Beker's yard. They left me for the time being under the supervision of an S.S. man. His gun lay on the table and he told me that with the help of that small machine I would soon be freed from all earthly suffering, and he would send me over to Moshe Rabbeinu[7].

I was so exhausted that his words already made no impression on me, somehow all my feelings had run off somewhere, I felt nothing. I had, it would seem, been turned to stone. I only wanted to see my nearest and dearest before my death.

The door crashes open and the two demons come in and take things up with me first once again. The inspector shouts and bellows:

Komm her, verfluchter Jude! Weisst du nicht dass heute Krieg ist?[8]

The Pole strikes me with his fist in my eyes, so hard that I fell down in a faint.

They, apparently, revived me and here, once again I stand on my feet. Now the inspector alone took to beating me. He split both my lips, and immediately a stream of blood was let out from me and poured over me and him. Then he left me in peace for the first time and then ordered that I be taken behind magistracy and there to wait for the execution.

They would shoot me, or hang me, and this would be seen by all the Jews.

Behind the magistracy they threw me into a cell, in which another Jew had already been imprisoned, Yossele Rechtshaft, Arele Beder's son. He was also waiting for death. It became a little easier for me, to meet a brother in suffering.

Outside were the zooms of airplanes flying past. It seemed to us that these were Russian airplanes and that soon we would be helped, the Russians would take the town.

The night came. Here it became dark earlier than outside. Suddenly the watchman gave a knock on the door. I stood up, let out a grumble, and immediately I felt as if my tongue had been taken from me. I opened the door and found a small cup of warmth. I grabbed the bit of water with chicory and the small piece of bread and took to eating.

The next morning I got up refreshed. All the bad thoughts had left me. Nothing bothered me, while I wait here to be shot at any minute. One desire dominated me: to see Zlota and the children. They were only four houses away from me and yet so far.

They took us out for a walk together with all the others who had been arrested. And again another day went by. A speck of hope was already able to steal in.

On the third day they released me from the prison, together with Yossele Beder. Nu, the joy at home – a person returned from the next world!

How did this miracle happen?

It emerged that the president of the Judenrat, Shmuel Brand z”l, had moved worlds so that both of us would be rescued. He succeeded in buying the inspector with 35,000 zlotys!

 

New decrees

There come new decrees against Jews. The Hitlerite victories on the fronts are colossal. Not only are the Germans drunk from them, but also the Ukrainians, and every victory bites, stings and causes pain to us.

Winter. The work in the snows exhausts us. The unloading and loading of the freight wagons, and the malnourishment, drain us.

At Chanukah time the order appeared that Jews must hand over their fleeces, even the children's things.

The first fleece victim was a Jew from Uchanie[9]. They found fleeces on him that had not been handed up and on the second day of Chanukah they shot him in the town – so that people would see and hear. On that day everyone cleaned their houses out of the least suspicion of fleece, and waited for a fresh decree.

We did not have to wait long. Several days after Purim 1942[10], we suddenly see sleds packed with men, women and children pulling towards Hrubieszów. The Judenrat organizes cakes and cooks food for them, and in this way we learn the following: The Jews are from Mielec[11]. Purim they still spent in their homes, they even held a Purim ball. The next day, Shoshan Purim, they were driven out of their homes. According to what was discussed then, this was the first case in Poland in which Jews were driven out of their homes[12].

The Mielec Jews did not stay long with us. There had already been a camp with barbed wire prepared for them next to the Bug River, about 30 kilometers from Hrubieszów. We accompanied them in a downcast mood and only now for the first time understand that black clouds are pushing our way.

Our situation became worse every day. The “Pozshanes” – Ukrainians in S.S. uniforms – soon took care that we would lick no honey[13].

The Germans figured that the Ukrainians knew exactly how to torment Jews and to steal everything away from them.

The murderers rejoiced, and harnessed Jews in tallisim and tefillin[14] to carts and drove them over the streets. In short, the fire began flickering under us.

That last Shabbat, May 1942, it fell to me to load wagons[15] at the train. I was doing the work then that before the war Yozhek Chmozshinski used to do for me, loading heavy logs on to freight wagons.

It was a bit hard for me but one could help oneself in this way[16] - that was the fate of the hour then.

God helped me and the hour of freedom came. Around 5 in the afternoon I was already at home, had eaten the Shabbat

[Columns 661-662]

meal, and bemoaned my fate, but with full joy, because I had once again seen my beloved family.

 

The first aktzia[17]

But my joy was quite quickly disturbed.

In the blink of an eye the dismal news became known that the Landeskommandant[18] had called in Yankele Brand and had given him five closed letters addressed to five places where Jews still were: in Dubienka, Uchanie, Bialopole, Molodiatycze[19], and yet another place.

I received the information from my uncle, Shlomo Firsht, peace be upon him[20]. It can be understood that immediately I was away to the Judenrat, but from a distance I could already see that things were not happy.

Itche Morgernshtern, peace be upon him, immediately revealed the secret of the letter to me: On the 1st of June, 1942, all the Jews of Hrubieszów must assemble at the green market and from there they would be sent away for work. It was all done so quickly, so that no one would be able to orient themselves as to what would happen.

I did not think for long, I took our family and we hid ourselves in the cellar. Apart from me, my mother, my wife and the two children, also in the cellar were Frida Buchtreger and her daughter.

We spent the night there and God helped us. In the morning we were already able to come out from our hiding place. The murderer satiated himself with 3,000 victims. They shut them in closed wagons[21] and sent them away.

Where to? No one knew. There was no house without victims. We already understood that those were only the first 3,000, and for us too destruction was waiting.

 

The second aktzia

Three days later a rumor spread that a letter had been received from one of those sent away, [stating] that they had all arrived in peace in Ukraine and they were waiting for the allocation of labor. There was not long to think and wonder whether the letter was a true one, because already after six days, on the 7th of June, a second aktzia had already been decided. This time all the Jews have to present themselves, without exception for age or occupation.

Everyone must go.

I decided that this time I would present myself alone and I would hide the family in the same hiding place.

On that night I packed up all my painting tools and sat down to wait through the night, so as to present myself in the morning.

It is quiet. I sit by the small light and wait for the dawn. A doubt as to whether I am doing a good thing begins to gnaw at me. Is it possible to have regret? But with my presenting myself I can save my family? Thinking like this, I dozed off.

It appears that it was quite a strong doze, because I did not hear how the small Nissel Pinchas woke me up and looked at me with surprise, at how I was surrounded with all sorts of painting tools. He asks me if I am going alone.

– Yes. Then he took me by the hand and led me out of the house.

I locked the door and left the house. In the grounds behind the Eastern Orthodox church, on the way to Shperolske's restaurant, Peretz Shturm with his wife took me with them. I asked them why they had decided of their own will to present themselves; they were not holders of a trade. He looked at me:

– Do you think, Yankel, that Hitler is looking for workers? [It is] us he needs, and sooner or later we will all be destroyed, therefore I have decided not to suffer any more, and if you should remain, you are quite a lot younger than we are, you will give my family greetings.

And thus we present ourselves at the green market on a lovely, sunny early morning on the 7th of June, 1942.

At the assembly point my heart was greatly troubled to see how we were encircled by the Ukrainian S.S. and all the while running around was Shiffer from the Gestapo, who carried out all the death sentences. When we saw him, all our limbs froze. I felt the mistake that I had made [by going there], but all was lost.

With murder [in his voice] he gave out a shout:

– Where is Yokl Brand? Why has he brought so few here on the square? I will shoot him immediately, like a dog! And where are the security men [i.e. the Jewish police], those damned Jews?

In the blink of an eye he went up to Shmuel Zeid and asked him if this is the way to fulfill the orders of the Gestapo. By 6 o'clock everyone must be on the square. And he went away.

Indeed Shmuel Zeid immediately took to the work and dragged out of holes and hiding places whomever he could meet. The most tragic scene was when they took out of a cellar room the old Zilber, Hersh Zilber's father, a very old man. He remained sitting under a telephone pole.

In the meantime the German propaganda unit arrived with film apparatus and they let them loose on the old and blind Zilber. They ordered him to take down his trousers, to take out his tzitzit[22], to put his arms around the telephone pole, to fall on his knees with his tzitzit in his hands, and various other ridiculous poses. Afterwards they ran around and made various film takes of all of us, told a young boy to embrace a girl and kiss her, and so on.

In the meantime the green market filled up. The sun was shining, we stood there like that until around 8 o'clock. Our neighbors, the good Poles, lined themselves up on the high sidewalk next to David Roitman's and soaked up enjoyment. Their impure faces shone like the sun, and when they lined us all up in rows and ordered us to march, the film apparatus worked once again.

I remember an episode. While passing by the high sidewalk, I lifted my fist up to that fat pig-thug Krasnopolski, and to Tchurashkevitch. I did indeed receive a punch from a Ukrainian, but I did my bit, without thinking, which has a priceless value.

At 9 o'clock we were already in the field, on the other side of the rails, opposite the train station.

A whole staff of high [ranking] military men came towards us with the labor inspector at the head.

They lined us up in one row and sorted us to life and to death, right and left. I fell into the right [side]. Voices and cries were immediately heard, they tore fathers and mothers away from children, separated wives from husbands and husbands from wives; they made the beginning for the horrible end. The wails reached to the heart of the heavens.

The procedure did not last long. Around 12 o'clock,

[Columns 663-664]

we, 150 men, were marched back into the town. And again some 3,000 Jews were [sent] away in carriages that were closed and spread with lime[23].

When we returned from the train station, they were leading a group of men, women and children who had been dragged out of hiding places. With one word, the destruction began on a large scale.

Our group, whom they had permitted to live, was led away to the Vigon[24], not far from the slaughterhouse, and into a square encircled with a fence the “criminals” were let in.

The town was empty of Jews, apart from those who had hidden themselves in the holes. Meanwhile the Jewish police brought a piece of information, that the Gestapo had ordered that each Jew who was found would be shot immediately. It is easy to imagine what happened in each of our hearts then.

 

The shooting at the cemetery

Who among us did not have anyone among those hidden? With the coming of the night things became a little lighter for all of us. The Judenrat brought us food, and fatigued we became sleepy.

The next morning, Monday, the sun again came up gloriously. And again come tragic news, that Jews are being dragged out of their hiding places. Meanwhile, a German comes and takes us to work behind the village Dziekanów[25]. We worked there at digging canals.

Around 1 p.m. we suddenly hear a shooting barrage from the direction of the Jewish cemetery.

A cannonade of machine guns lasted for around 15 minutes, and then it became quiet. My heart told me that things are not happy in the town. Something terrible is happening there. This time it occurs to me that who is being shot are all the Judenrat members, for not cooperating with the [German] power.

Around 3 o'clock we again heard a shooting barrage from the cemetery. This time we were already convinced that the end had come.

The shooting was stopped by a heavy downpour of rain, which came like a redeemer. They indeed released us quickly from the work, because the rain made the work impossible.

We did not walk but ran back to the Vigon, so as to be closer and to know how big the affliction is.

In the camp we received the sorrowful news that more than 300 men had been shot today and the remainder were waiting at the magistracy, because the downpour had stopped the shooting. They had bound the victims five together with barbed wire and in this way shot all of them.

On Tuesday, after work, they handed out special life-cards to us, because we were necessary for the work.

Walking out of the camp on Tuesday – this I will never forget. A cloudy, gray evening. With me was also freed Yekl Tchap, [together with] his son and daughter, Nachum and Esterke.

Crossing the street was the hardest punishment. Poles and Ukrainians laid their eyes on us and asked in wonder:

– You're still alive?

Upon going into our yard I was greeted by a Christian woman who lived then in one of the apartments. We had taken her in specially, so as to have a Ukrainian connection. We had thought that perhaps this would help. I asked her whether she knew anything about my family.

– Yes – she says – on Monday before the big downpour they were taken out of their hiding place and taken away to be shot. And so, in this way, I no longer have anyone to wait for.

I went back into the house that three days earlier I had locked up. The house had been disturbed, everything plundered, thrown around, as if after a pogrom. I left the house, sat down outside under a tree, and benumbed looked into the hollowness of the heavens.

Esterke Tchap went into the house and began crying spasmodically. It seems that the shooter was wandering around the Jewish area and listening to the wails of those who had returned.

Suddenly he begins to approach. I tear myself from the place and stand up immediately. He knew me, because I had always worked in the Gestapo as a painter, and for the shooter himself I had only two weeks earlier painted his residence. Now he indeed treated me a bit better and asked me straight away: Are you crying?

– I have nothing more to cry about.

– Why?

– I no longer have anyone, do I need to cry?

– You have the right – he says to me – go straight into the room.

He gives me an order with his pistol in his hand.

He runs straight inside to Esterke in the room, drags her outside by the hair, and tells her to show him her card. When she shows him the card, he throws her down on the ground and places the revolver against her head. She grabs him by the boot and starts to kiss his feet, he gives her a kick with all his strength and tells her to disappear immediately, because for the slightest noise in the yard he will shoot everyone like dogs.

I, Yekl Tchap, and the two children gather together in one house. Night falls and we weep for our dead.

The next day, quite early, we take rodnikes[26] and boards and go to the sacred place, maybe we will find a trace of our dear ones and bring them to a Jewish burial.

At the cemetery I saw the destruction for the first time. The entire slaughter had not been hidden yet and they lay five in a row, murdered like sheep, several hundred martyrs, our friends and acquaintances from that raging town, Hrubieszów.

In vain I searched around among the martyrs for my family. I did not encounter anyone and soon I allowed myself to go back.

Suddenly along comes Shmuel Zeid and orders me to help in burying the victims. He gives me an order to unfasten their hands, which were tied one to the other. The work was horrible.

The first dead person I saw was Shaya Kiveles, a house painter, with his wife and children. Afterwards lying there was Zlota Yozheches and others.

By 1 o'clock we had cleaned up all the martyrs and we went to the Judenrat to report that the work was finished.

 

My family lives

At the Judenrat we ran into Avramek Finkelshtein, with the good news that my family is alive. They are sitting under the magistracy in the prison. The great downpour saved them. The hangman did want to go to the cemetery in such pouring rain, [so] he laid aside the death sentence. The downpour was the miracle that had saved my dear ones from death for now.

[Columns 665-666]

At 3 in the afternoon an order came from the Gestapo that all those captured, who are imprisoned under the magistracy, should be taken to the Vigon, in that camp where I had been a week earlier. It is easy to imagine my experience when I saw them.

Exhausted they could barely untangle their feet. Zlota with the children and my mother marched in one row. My old grandmother with Chana Grinberg sat on a cart, because they could not march. Through small side streets I went to the Vigon and I wanted to see what would happen there. I was sure that they would be murdered there. I tore a board out of the fence and I went inside. I saw my Mottele, Zlota with Moshele, and my mother, and once again we were united.

– How to rescue them from here?

The elderly woman and the children would be taken away to Sobibor, to extermination. We already knew this.

What should we do?

I did not ponder for long. I took both children and went with them to the fence, where I had torn out a board. I was successful in stealing through the streets, the whole Paheriya with the small bridge that stood then next to [the house of] Kvasovitzer and with the side streets barely dragged ourselves home. I washed the children, gave them food, put them to bed, and told them to be quiet and that if anyone knocked they were not to open [the door], until I was to come back.

Again I went to the Vigon, it was 5 o'clock in the afternoon. From a distance I see a camp full of freight cars, the leader of the Arbeitsamt, who beat me so badly, and the leader of the Judenrat with Yukele Brand at the head. When I came closer, I saw how they take out my Zlota and push her onto a freight car together with all the others who had been sentenced to death. Immediately I see how my cousin, Chanale Firsht, runs up to the inspector, begs for my Zlota, and shows with her hands how she is a young woman, one who is able to work. And she acted, it helped, they took her down from the vehicle and placed her in a second group. I had a bad fright.

And now, in the same minute, I see how they are leading my mother out together with the Galachers' daughter. With them the freight car was filled up.

It moves from its place, the motor makes noise to veil the sounds [of cries and shouts]. With my silenced weeping and benumbed glances, I accompany my mother to her destruction.

The car is quickly far away, behind the cemetery, in the direction of Zamosc[27].

I waited in a hiding spot until they would choose out the healthy women. Night fell. Then Yokele Brand ordered the chosen ones to go home.

Only a small number of women were saved then.

I went up to Zlota, we embraced and wept. We scraped through the streets, went into the house, and encountered the children fast asleep.

 

I have also forsaken my uncle already

The second aktzia has already finished.

The murderer satiated himself once again with several thousand Jews. The next day, each one looked around at his catastrophe. From our family were missing my mother, my grandmother, Chana Jachet Grinberg, and Frida Buchtreger with her children.

For several days we did not show ourselves in the streets. And in the meantime a fresh misfortune happened in our family.

My mother's brother, Shlomo Firsht, was shot together with Fishel Zilbershtein, Mendel Shtich's son-in-law. This happened on the 12th or the 13th of June.

The reason: Shlomo and Fishel had decided to desert our town. They reached an understanding with a Pole, a fixer, who promised to take them in a closed freight car over to Ludmir[28]. After they gave him the discussed sum, the gentile was off to the Gestapo, which immediately arrested my uncle's daughter, Chayale Firsht, who worked in the Judenrat. They took her as a hostage, so that she would disclose where her father was to be found.

Apart from that, the Judenrat received an order to present the two Jews over the next two hours, and if not, the female factory workers would be shot immediately.

The two Jews presented themselves immediately, they wanted only to save their children. Behind the magistracy, they were immediately, on the spot, shot. The Gestapo sent a report to the Judenrat, telling them to come to take the two shot men.

So I buried my uncle too. Another limb has been cut off from the family. There was already no need to sit any shiva[29], because we had not yet finished sitting through the earlier shiva.

 

In the cellar

On the 15th of June a new decree appears: All those still left alive in Hrubieszów must move over to the ghetto, to the streets: Mitlawe, Nowy Rynek, and in the small streets up to the cemetery.

For us it turns out that we live three families in one room, together with the Galachers, in Mitlawe, behind the Judenrat, which then moved itself out of Monye Titcher's house into Mates Blau's house.

A new chapter of suffering begins. Earlier they had cleaned out the Jews who were not useful, now comes the turn of the useful ones. It is evident that the hangman is not yet satiated.

Every day we see here the head murderer of the Gestapo. He sniffs like a hunting dog, stops someone here and there, and asks:

– Why are you at home and not at work? After that he dignifies himself with a few blows.

One time, in the afternoon, I saw how he caught Meitchele P., led him down behind the house of Elia Veiner, and shot him.

A few days later I see how Shaul Eizen is being led away. Gentiles follow him with wild shouts and spit in his face. He is led into the cemetery and they shoot him.

This is how things went day in, day out. At night we sat in the dark. If someone smoked a cigarette and the guards saw him, they immediately dragged him out and shot him on the spot.

This is how things went until the 21st of October, 1942. Suddenly Jews from the surrounding settlements arrived, such as Uchanie, Bialopole, Nasybrowicz, Mołodiatycze, and other smaller places. They were all led into us in the ghetto. Now we already understood that yet again a new trouble was being prepared.

I go in to the Judenrat to be informed. There I meet Itche, Leibish Morgenshtern's son. He gives me the dark news that Hrubieszów will become Judenrein[30]. Fleeing and hiding begin.

[Columns 667-668]

On the 21st at night, I went with the Galacher and her grandchild away to my brother-in-law, Yudel Gertel.

– What are we doing and where are we going?

The Galacher says she has several gold tenners[31] on her and here, in Kvasovitzer's house, a Polish policeman lives, [and] we should do business with him directly. She will give him her bit of gold and for that he should let us hide out in his cellar – until the fury passes. From the earlier aktzias we already knew that whoever succeeded in hiding himself had for the meantime saved himself. We still could not believe that “Judenrein” meant without one Jew!

The policeman stood by the transaction. In the cellar were to be found:

Myself, Zlota, and our two children; my brother-in-law Yudel Gertel with his wife Sarale and three children; the Galacher with her grandchild, Shlomele Gevertz with his son, and a son of Kvasovitzer's with a cousin from Lemberg[32].

We all lay there dead quiet. No one closed an eye. And the night stretched on and on.

When it became light, we heard the noise from the street. They were, evidently, leading a large transport of Jews, and the Lithuanians, who had been brought down specially, were driving them with gun butts. The sounds and wails – terrible. The Lithuanians beat and shoot each one who lags behind.

We sit depressed and despairing. Suddenly Shlomo Gevertz's son stands up, bids us farewell, and says that he is going to unite with all the other Jews. His father's plea does not help, that we are not allowed to give ourselves over to death[33], that we must hide out until the last possibility, but he shouts and argues that he wants to end his life together with the entire Jewish community. He bid us farewell, went out, and disappeared immediately.

The banging of the broken doors and windows carries itself to us in the cellar. The tumult and the chase by the murderers continues until 11 o'clock.

It begins to become quieter. It seems that it has already finished. There are no more Jews in the town, only we alone remain in the cellar.

For how long will we be able to hide out here? For how long will the policeman want to hide us?

But what will thinking help us? We will soon see what the day will bring. Most of us are already quite resigned [to our fate].

Now each one does his own accounting, each one steeped in his torments, thinking about his very nearest [and dearest] who are already gone. What has happened to my two sisters, who lived together with our mother, our shot uncle Shlomo's wife with her daughter Chayale Firsht?

We sit, think, and relive our torments. Night falls. Suddenly the policeman runs in all breathless and tells us that the Gestapo has stuck placards around the town, [saying] that no one should dare to hide any Jews with him. From tomorrow morning they will go from yard to yard and from house to house, and whoever was found with a Jew would, with his family and with the captured Jews – be burned in a bonfire.

The policeman begins to ask for mercy from us, for us to take pity on his family, and in addition pushes back to us all the gold that he had received from us.

– You are already as if you have been sentenced [to death], why should you bring about the death of my family? What am I guilty of?

We took pity on him, he was indeed right, why should we cause him to perish for his goodness?

I do not think long, I take Zlota with the two children and we go quietly away. After us – all the others.

 

We say farewell and run away

At my brother-in-law Yudel's house we bid each other farewell. Shlomele Gevertz puts on his tallis. Yudel does the same. They ask me what I have in mind to do. I tell them that I am going, and whoever wants to should come with me. I have decided not to give myself up and not to wait for death.

As long as it is night, there is still time to do something. Tomorrow will already be too late. We were joined by Kvasovitzer's son with his cousin from Lemberg, [and] my brother-in-law's youngest son Yankele, and we said farewell to each other one more time.

The picture of the Jews wearing their tallisim I will never forget for my whole life.

We took with us a bottle of water and a [loaf of] bread. That was all that we could take with us.

Outside we still saw people who were running away. From one of them I was informed that there is no longer any Judenrat and that there are already no more Jews here. He had seen the last Judenrat member running away with his wife. That was Yechezkiel Druker.

I have no more time to listen, we must not lose a single minute. I ordered my [group] to go through the small door next to Avramele Shtokhamer's house. From there a small path leads down to the river, next to the cemetery. We crossed over the river in peace. We felt as if we had escaped from a trap, as if we had stolen out of the cursed Pale of Settlement[34].

We went in the direction of Dziekanów, to the nearest forest. In the fields, which had already been plowed, we mixed ourselves with the blackness of the soil. It was bad that the moon was shining. It was a bit foggy, through which our silhouettes could be seen. At the slightest rustle, we threw ourselves onto the ground.

 

Through forests and fields

In this way we succeeded in going on for 5 kilometers. We are already sitting at the edge of the Dziekanów forest.

I had the feeling that we had managed to defy the unavoidable death, that we had saved ourselves.

We felt that our clothes were wet, that we were bitterly cold. We gathered the children into the middle, huddled together, and tried to catch some sleep.

I did not fall asleep, I kept my ears alert, in order to hear the slightest rustle.

When the gray of day began, I woke everyone up. The teeth of the two little ones were clattering together [from the cold], they could barely get a word out. Zlota picked herself up as if from a coma. I take the small child in my arms and we go deeper into the woods.

The little forest was not a dense one, but we sought out several low bushes and crawled underneath them. It seemed that this was a good hiding place.

The day presented itself as an overcast and cool one. We shivered with cold. The two children looked half-dead. Zlota looks at the children and says that we have made the biggest

[Columns 669-670]

mistake in running away, it would have been better to perish before seeing this.

It is understandable that I had to be the strong one and to show her that our fate actually wants us to remain alive. The best sign: We had managed to escape.

But there is no purpose in sitting in the little forest, my goal is the Strzelce[35] forest. I knew that area well, I worked there for many years with my grandfather, Motte Strzelitzer. And in fact I was born there, in Strzelce. I figured that in those forests, with the help of peasants and former neighbors, we would succeed in holding out.

In the meantime, it became a bit warmer for us. We walk slowly and carefully, one behind the other, until we come to the edge of the forest. The sky clouds over, it begins to rain. Again we become wet, soaked through, again despair falls on us. Each of us already feels weak and that our strength is falling from us. But I take on to myself strength and courage and begin to encourage everyone that we must not give up, and then we may be able to hold out.

It rained like that for an hour and again the sun shone, even though it was already about to set, but it made the going easier and lightened the mood.

We are already out of the first little forest and into the second half of the forest. This is already a thicker, larger forest. Here for the first time we breathed a little more freely and kept ourselves near to the edge, so that we would not become lost.

There is already a cooling of the air, we sit down and divide out a small piece of bread to each of us, just to feel [the taste], to satisfy our hearts. We actually have only one small bread.

We leave the forest into meadows and thereafter into a freshly plowed field, and trod in mud. We must cross over the field in order to arrive at the Strzelce forest. In the middle of the way, a downpour of rain let itself down, and it became impossible to walk. We returned to the forest. The talk was thus: To go back to the forest was not so easy to do, but the fields were soaked through and when we put a foot in, we could not pull it out.

Kvasovitser's son and his cousin decided to leave us and to go look for their own way to save themselves. They parted from us and disappeared into the night.

 

We suffer hunger and cold

We remained only five: me with my wife and two children, and Yankele, my brother-in-law's son. About going further – for now this was suspended, our feet would not allow it. So we stayed in the forest until day. The next morning we again tried to go, but not over the fields, only along the edge of the forest.

Around midnight a thunderstorm and a downpour again broke out, and Zlota fell away unconscious, weakened. The children are crying from the cold and I do not know what to do first, to silence the children's weeping or to save the weakened one. I press on her temples, pull at her mouth. In the middle I see a rusty conserves can, I grab the tin, scoop in a bit of rainwater from a puddle, and pour it into her mouth. It was the first time then that I encouraged her.

The rain pours as if from a bucket, we moved ourselves under a thick bush and huddled one to the other. I did not let anyone fall asleep, out of the fear that because of weakness they could stay asleep for eternity.

And in this way we barely lived through the day. My younger boy lay stiff with cold, he could not move his little feet, and he cried bitterly. The bigger boy had a high temperature. Zlota could not speak a word. Only I and my brother-in-law's son were able to move.

The hunger begins to drive us. The taste of bread we have long since forgotten, the last small piece was used up long ago. Will we die of hunger right here?

I let them all sit and I go out to the field, to search for something. To our good fortune, I find several potatoes. I grab this bargain and run back quickly, with the thought that I will make a fire and roast the few potatoes, and we will satisfy our souls. I come back to my poor souls, they are sitting there languishing, half-dead. They were happy with the few potatoes, but with what will we make a fire? We had matches, but the rain had spoiled them. So it fell to me to send my brother-in-law's boy out to the nearby village to ask a gentile for a match. He is away and it does not take long before he comes running back out of breath.

The gentiles knew him and wanted to kill him, but his agility served him, he tore himself out from them and ran away.

We ate the potatoes raw.

We moved under thick bushes and hid out there that day. Today the sun is indeed shining, but not for us. The two children are half-dead. A despair fell over me, I began to doubt whether the Strzelce gentiles would help us.

The 24th of October. This day too is already fading. The sun is going down and a piece of the moon is shining. The hunger exhausts us, the thirst tortures us, the children cannot stand on their feet. Their pale little faces grow even paler. I sit there depressed. The older boy cannot even sleep any more, his eyes have been extinguished. He says that I and his mother and Yankele should go look for something to eat, and he and Moishele will stay here, under the bush.

I hold that it makes no sense to sit here any longer. I take the older boy on my back, Zlota takes the little one, and we go on. Zlota is constantly falling behind, she has already become entangled with her feet. I am also weakened from hunger, thirst and cold, and we must stop more often, to rest.

On the way we ran into a field with cabbage stalks. It can be understood that we did not pass up such a bargain and we immediately refreshed our hearts with the cabbage stalks. If only we would have had a bit of water to drink, it would already have been a fine meal.

Several hours drag by, and we came to a small river. We drank our fill and took a bit of water with us for the way.

We were near to the small village of Wołajowice[36] when suddenly there spread out a thick fog and we could no longer see where to go. After waiting out the fog, we saw that we had become lost, and I do not know where we are now and where we should go.

 

My dear ones are not here

From a distance I saw a house, I left everyone and knocked on the house [door] and asked how we go to the village of Stefankowice[37]. In that village I once had acquaintances among the peasants, perhaps I would be successful in receiving something from a peasant. They informed me [of the way] and I go back to where I left Zlota and the children.

I come to the place, I do not find them. I search around for them, they are not here.

[Columns 671-672]

I stand there in doubt and think what could have happened here. Suddenly I feel that a hand has caught me by the back and I hear:

– Ah, so you are the Jew?! What are you doing here?

I answer him that my wife and children were standing here and I am looking for them. He tells me to go with him and he will show me where they are to be found. In the meantime he begins to beat me. I already understood what had happened here and that he is taking me to the same end. Noticing that he was a Ukrainian and did not have any weapon, I tore myself out of his hands and began to run.

After running some distance, I lie down to listen, maybe I will hear something. It is dead quiet, as if nothing had happened. I picked myself up and began to move closer to the village of Wołajowice.

Sometimes I hear a rattling of weapons and German voices. It is dark and in the darkness I see the bullets flying. I thought: Maybe they have imprisoned my family in a house, here in the village, and I will be able to rescue them. I circled around like a bird around its nest, but in vain, my dear souls are not here!

The gray of day is beginning. [I see] Several groups of uniformed Germans accompanied by civilian gentiles. They search. I lie behind a barn and see how they scrabble through the fields, searching [for me], and let themselves into the forest.

 

I search for Zlota and my children

As I was lying there, along came a peasant woman, saw me, and wanted to create an uproar, [so] I went to her and began pleading that she be silent. I only want to ask her whether she has heard about a woman with children who were caught here last night. I tell her who I am, a grandson of Mordke Firsht. She immediately crossed herself and tears appeared in her eyes. Yes, she knows that a woman and several children were caught that night and they were shot immediately.

I did not want to believe the peasant woman and let myself go on. I see that they are still pursuing me, [so] I again stole behind a barn, waited out the hunters, and was away in the opposite direction.

After this I hid in a pit with dried twigs and the leftovers of potatoes. There I lay and wept for my dear ones. I do not know what happened next, whether I fainted or whether I slept. A downpour awakened me and it is already dark again.

I again began to circle the village, I still could not believe that I had indeed lost Zlota and the children, I could not make peace with that thought.

For four days I circled around the village, by day far from the village, by night nearby, almost at the houses, but the barking of the dogs did not allow me to go near.

On the fifth day I understood that for me everything had already ended, my dear Zlota with my two beautiful sons are no longer here. For them this chapter of torments is already finished.

What way out is left for me now? Either I decide to take my own life, or I go into the forests, to the partisans. The second thought outweighed the first.

Hungry, broken, in torn clothing, I went into the forest. There I sat out a night and a day.

During the day, a peasant drove by and began gathering up the fallen leaves. The peasant saw me, [but] continued with his doings and from time to time threw a glance at me over his shoulder. I did not move from my place until he drove away, I did not want him to see in which direction I would run away.

So the peasant went away, [and] I went on to Stefankowice. There I reversed [directions] and wanted to go to Moniatycze[38]. There I had a good acquaintance who was a colonist[39], who had once been in America and came back with a lot of money. He used to buy wood from us and I believed that he would help me out.

When I had already come to his window, I heard from there German voices and singing [inside the house]. With all my strength I dragged myself to the village of Moniatycze, went into the cemetery, and lay down. There between the graves I fell asleep. I was awakened by a barrage of shooting from the direction of the Hrubieszów brickyard. As I later was informed, there they shot our brothers and sisters, the last captured Jews.

Lying between the graves, I heard how the German gendarmes were saying to each other:

– Today the town of Hrubieszów becomes Judenrein, the last Jews are being shot today.

A strong spasm took hold of me. I cried myself out and I remained lying there benumbed.

From a distance I fare welled the shot Jews of the town, my nearest and dearest, and I went away in the direction of Strzelce.

 

God is settling his accounts with all the Zhids[40]

During the day I found myself already not far from the village. There I have acquaintances among the peasants, who several months ago had been at my place in the ghetto, and I had honored them with a “L'chaim[41].” I still had with me several cabbage leaves, and with them eased my hunger. However, I was being overcome by thirst. Along the entire way, I did not find a single drop of water, not even any puddle. Finally I dragged myself to the village. I stole in to the cattle stable and hoped that soon, if not now, it would be morning, and I would receive help.

It seems that I had still not made a proper accounting of my situation. When my acquaintance the peasant woman appeared with a lantern in her hand and saw me, she got a fright. After all, I have been torn up, closed down, overgrown, and she let out a squeak. I ran back into the forest. The next day I stole out again to the stable and waited until she went to milk the cows. When she saw me I told her who I am and that I want something to eat and a few matches.

She let me stay in the stable, saying that I must not dare to go into the house. Her husband had come from Hrubieszów today, [she said, where] he heard that if a Jew was caught at anyone's house, he [the house owner] would be shot immediately.

I begin to plead my case with her, speaking about our acquaintanceship and friendship. I remind her how nicely I took both of them in, tell her my misfortune, that they had shot my wife and children two days ago coming here. She actually grew angry:

– What do you mean, coming here? Who sent for you then?

[Columns 673-674]

She tells me to remain in the stable, she is going to bring me something to eat.

When she went into the house, I came out of the stable, out of no strategy. [Simply because] it was better to be sure. I saw then that we must not believe a friend – a gentile. I hid myself in another place and waited until she would come out with the cooked food. She brought me cooked potatoes with milk poured over them, a small piece of bread, and a little packet of matches. However, she told me not to show myself here any more. If I do come here, she would call her husband [she said] – and then you already know what will happen to you.

– God is now settling his accounts with all the Zhids! – she finished.

I looked at her and hardly wanted to believe that this was what she was saying. Because back then, when she was at my house, she spoke only about communism and brotherhood. I returned to the forest, wandered around not far from the village, waited in case I would run into someone who would want to give me something to wear, because in the nights it is already cold. A day later I see a peasant acquaintance, a former neighbor of ours. Here, in Strzelce, there is not a single peasant who does not know me, after all, we lived here. I went up to him. He did not recognize me. I told him who I am, he makes a gesture with his hand to me, that I should go away, the quicker the better.

I go back again to the forest. I become frozen there. At night I come out of the forest and bury myself under a haystack. It warmed me up wonderfully and I thought to lie here like this for a few days and rest up, until I come back to myself a bit. But already on the second day I had to leave the place and run away. Children had gathered around the haystack, playing hide-and-seek, and one of them pushed himself into my foot and created an uproar, and the children began to run away.

I ran back into the forest, up a tree.

From there I could see how they were searching for me. Five peasants went in with poles to search for me, they hunted for me in the forest and even passed by not far from my tree.

I went away in the opposite direction, on the road to Dubienka. There too I ran into a peasant not far from the forest. When he saw me, he began to chase after me.

So, I see already, my fate is sealed. I must perish. To the partisans I will not be able to go. And the cold is already heavy. According to my reckoning, it should already be the 10th of November. Cold and bitter rains.

I decide to go back to Hrubieszów. Whatever will be, will be. I do not have the strength to commit suicide, courage fails me, I will give myself up to the Gestapo and I will go the same way as all the Jews.

I soon turned myself around and walked for two full days and nights, until I came to the Holbowice[42] forest. It was evening, I had swollen feet, and I could not go further. I feel that I have a high fever, that I am sick. I fell asleep and a rainfall completely soaked me through. I refreshed myself with the rainwater.

I lay thus for three days and nights, and licked the water from the leaves around me.

On the fourth day a shining sun showed itself and it appears that life is returning. How is that possible? My clothes had already dried out, but hunger tormented me. I cannot stand on my feet, pus runs from them and the pains are strong. I had no other choice and I ate grass.

 

I meet a brother in suffering

The evening creeps up. The sun goes down and the cold comes on. I shuffled back under the thick pine trees and lay there, stiff [with cold]. Looked around at the lovely autumn evening in the forest. The reddish leaves on the oaks look as if they have been painted with gold. Yes, a pretty autumn sunset here in the forest.

And as I lie there, I hear steps. I place my ear against the ground and I hear human footsteps. They come near to me. And how amazed I am to see a brother in suffering, Mottele Manes's son-in-law, Tsirel Klingel's husband, Koppel. When he was already close to me, I shouted out his name. He froze on the spot and could not move. I soothed him, told him who I am, he did not want to believe it. He looked at me and could not recognize me. Only when he approached me, helped me sit up, and looked at me properly, did he recognize me for the first time. My first question was:

– Where are you keeping yourself?

He was clean, washed, shaved, his clothing and boots whole. But what is he doing here in the forest? He must be hiding out somewhere with a gentile.

Yes, he is hiding out here not far from the forest, at the home of a colonist acquaintance, a gentile with whom he always used to do business. He gave the gentile a lot of money and jewelry, and therefore the gentile lets him stay overnight and gives him something to eat, but only at night, during the day he hides out in the forest. When it is well and truly dark, he comes to the stable and there food has already been prepared for him.

He encouraged me a little, maybe he would be able to save something to eat for me too? I told him that I had not eaten for three weeks already, [and] he promised to bring me something. HE could not sit with me for long, because it was already pitch dark, and he too wanted to eat as quickly as possible. I asked him to leave me a few matches, so that I could make a small fire for myself, if only to warm my hands.

He dragged me to the thick bushes not far from the edge of the forest, [and] laid a lot of dried twigs around me so as to conceal the light from the small fire that I lit. He parted from me and promised to bring something to eat.

When he went away, for the first time I gave myself up to an accounting of what had happened to me three weeks ago, a longing for my beloved Zlota and my two little children seized my heart. Now I have forgotten hunger, cold, only the longing and the pain pressed on me and I wept.

Weeping I fell asleep. When I was awakened, I saw Koppel in front of me. It was already dawn. He shows me a small bottle of milk with a piece of bread. Can I now describe the feeling I experienced by looking at that bottle of milk and that piece of bread! When I began eating the bread and drinking the milk, it seemed to me that before me was standing an angel from heaven, to keep me among the living. After that I looked at his clean, white hands, which still gave off the scent of fresh water, [and] I was jealous of him.

Now it was his turn, and he began telling me about his fate. He had lost everyone. His wife was sent away with the second transport.

He sat with me like that until around 11 o'clock, it became lighter and warmer. He goes to collect a few dry twigs so that I will be able to make a fire at night. After that he comes back

[Columns 675-676]

with a few dried twigs and raw potatoes, which he found in a field. We quickly roasted them, ate them, and slept next to the small fire.

At night Koppel went away. Now for the first time I felt the loneliness, but I made peace with the thought that this is how it is and it cannot be any different. With crying over my fate, I will achieve nothing. I must fight for my life until my last breath. I must live, so as to take revenge.

 

A story with two shkotzim[43]

In the morning my friend again brought me a small bottle of milk and a piece of bread. It is understood that he dared not tell the peasant this, and he saved the food from his own mouth. Of course I thanked Koppel strongly, and afterwards he again goes away to collect twigs for me.

But instead of dried twigs, he comes back with a sheigetz[44], the forest keeper's son. That one came on a bicycle. Koppel presented me to him, told me that he had told him everything about me, [and] showed him my bloodied feet and that I cannot move.

The sheigetz heard out our history. He took great pity on us, especially on me. He asked me if I have any money. I showed him my wealth – two insignificant zlotys. He made a gesture with his hand and did not want to take it. He asks me what I want.

– A few rags to bind up the wounds on my feet, a few tobacco papers to roll a cigarette, and a piece of bread. And I give him the two zlotys.

He stands up, goes away, and tells us to be here around 5 in the evening. Afterwards I had complaints to my friend Koppel, as to why he had brought him to me. After all, he could have gotten rid of him in a different way. Koppel answered me that he got such a fright when the other man suddenly ran into him, that when the man asked him whether there was anyone else in the forest, he immediately blurted out the truth.

In any case, the thing has already been done, and what will the explanations help, when this is how it happened. But now we must do something, again to use a strategy, to be careful with such “good” shkotzim in such a base time. We must quickly leave this place, so that he does not meet us here again.

Koppel agrees with me and we are away in a different direction. There we hid ourselves under thick bushes, and did not let out any loud breath. It became night and the sheigetz did not come. I was happy about this, because of late I did not have any trust in any gentile, even in the best one.

Koppel holds that we must return to the previous place, because that place is comfortable, not far from the edge of the forest. So, I have no choice, I join Koppel and go with him back to the previous place. And indeed soon the sheigetz comes along. He brought me a [piece of] bread, a bit of tobacco paper, and rags for my feet.

And suddenly from the forest out jumps a second sheigetz, with a pistol in his hand, and orders us to stretch out on the ground immediately. And he shouts in broken German:

– “Farfluchte Juden!”[45]

He orders us to lie down with our faces to the ground and places his revolver to the head of each of us. He wants us to give up to him the money and the gold that we have, [and] if not, he will shoot us immediately on the spot. I say to him:

– How can I give up the money when I am lying here and I cannot move.

He lets go of me immediately and tells me to stand up. I try to lift myself up, but I fall back. He tells me to sit and lean on a tree. Now he takes to Koppel, his clothing and appearance say more to him than mine do. No riches, he sees, would he have from me, but from Koppel – maybe yes.

It is odd: When I was lying on the ground and felt the cold steel of the gun barrel against my forehead, I did not have any fear. Now too I sit opposite the sheigetz with the revolver in his hand and I do not feel any fear. Indifferently I take out the photographs of my perished family and show them to the murderer, and I say to him in Polish that this here is my wealth.

He looks at the pictures and I notice in him a certain sympathy. He tells Koppel to pick himself up [from lying on the ground] and to sit down. He makes a small fire and he already begins to chat with us in Polish. I ask him who he is. He is a son of Bonczkowski from across Tzina Minka Oil[46] (צינע מינקע אויל) , they lived not far from Yankel Shtrom. He tells me that he knew my wife Zlota well, after all we were neighbors. Now he honors us with cigarettes. He asks me how I have arrived in this situation and where I was during the time of the fighting. I ask him where he was during the time of the fighting. He says that he was in the town. I began to tell him of my battle experiences. With that, it seems, I interested him a little.

It was already very dark in the forest. He was already, it seems, satiated with my battle stories. He also left Koppel to rest, stood up, and parted from us. We can make a fire for ourselves and we do not need to have any fear, we are safe here. He tells us “good night” and disappears.

The experience affected me strongly, but even more so Koppel. He no longer wanted to go back to the peasant, but sat frozen with me for the entire night.

My feet have been bound with rags, a piece of bread is here, a cigarette too. But the snow is just about to fall, would it be the messenger of death? Yes, death, it seems, is driving inexorably before us. We both decided to go back to the town and give ourselves up to the Gestapo. To commit suicide alone I had no courage. Koppel even showed me that he had on him a rope, so that if things became too bad for him, he would hang himself. I managed quite suddenly to talk him out of hanging himself. I make a plan that we must struggle back to the town, maybe we would find something there.

At dawn, it was already snowy enough, [so] we made a small fire to warm up our hands. After warming ourselves, we set off on the way.

And here from somewhere someone springs out with a rifle and shouts at us:

Halt! Hande hoch![47]

He was dressed for winter, in a hat with flaps over his ears. The shout was an imitation of German. But when I looked at him more closely, I recognized him immediately as the same person from yesterday. We did not have much time to think, because he takes us straight to the German gendarmerie, here, in a nearby village. I begin to argue with him, I call him by his name:

[Columns 677-678]

Panie[48] Bonczowski, jak idzie to[49], you alone told us yesterday evening that we can be here and no one will do anything bad to us, and already you are going to take us to be shot? Dlaczego[50]? Why?

He opens his filthy mouth and answers in Polish that three weeks ago several Zhids deceived him, they had promised him money and gold and only gave him a little. For two weeks he had kept them [at his home] and given them food, but when they had to pay him the rest, they ran away in the middle of the night. It now seems to him that to let two Zhidkes[51] go would be a great crime. In some time, when all those who had tortured Jesus had been cleaned out, it would feel to him like a “grzech[52],” a sin, if he let two Jews live. He feels obliged to help out in the holy battle against Jewry.

He leads us half-naked, the cold bites, our teeth knock together. In the middle of this, a memory of something falls on me and I ask him to stop for a bit, I have something to present to him. We come to a halt.

– So, speak, what do you have to present to me?

– Listen, I will pay you in gold, also for those other Zhidkes who did not pay you. Apart from that, I will also pay you in gold for us.

– Did you not say last night that you already have nothing, now here from where do you have gold again already?

– Hear me out. When you hand us over to be shot – what do you get for that? A pound of sugar and a bottle of liquor for a head? How much is that worth in money? – 25 zlotys. But then [if he does not take them to be shot] I will show you how you can take back my friend's gold watch with a gold chain – is that bad? That is already worth a lot more than 25 zlotys, true?

He thinks to himself:

Ty madry Żydek[53]!

Koppel is terribly dejected, collapsed, he cannot utter a single word.

Bonczkowski asks us about all the details, and I tell him exactly, that my friend receives food from this one and from that one, and that is why he gave away to the other fellow a gold watch with a chain. Together with my friend, he [Bonczkowski] should go in to the other peasant, you have a gun in your hand, you can easily take the Żydek's property. He allows us to dress ourselves again, and he will indeed go there immediately, to the indicated address. He takes Koppel with him, [and] me he leaves in the forest, because he knows that I can barely walk.

I move myself deeper into the forest, I stick myself under bushes, but I keep myself not far from the edge [of the forest], so as to observe what will happen. From a distance I see how they go in to the peasant. It takes around a quarter of an hour, and Koppel runs out in full haste in the direction of the forest. I fidget with impatience.

– What could have happened there?

He comes to me half-dead and tells me:

– When they went in to the peasant, he told him to give Mister Bonczkowski the gold watch with the chain. The peasant tried to deny it, to resist, [so] Bonczkowski began beating him with the gun stock. Then he quickly gave everything away. In anger the peasant warned that he would run quickly to report to the Germans that Zhidkes were hiding out in the forest. During the commotion and tumult, Koppel tore himself out and ran away.

There is no time to think, I strain with all my strength, [and] I no longer feel the anguish in my feet, and we both begin running deeper into the forest.

For four hours we ran like that, until we came to a main highway. I understood that here would be the best to hide ourselves, because if they would pursue us, they would certainly think that we had run as far as possible into the forest. Here we hid ourselves under low trees and lay there for the whole night. We even smoked cigarettes.

When the night had already fallen, and we were overtaken by a desolate cold, we came out of our hiding place and set off on the road towards Hrubieszów.

Three days and three nights the journey lasted. When we came nearer to the town, we circled around the barracks and I stole in to a former superior of mine, a watchman in the military. The watchman, Czwarnog, barely recognized me. He immediately gave me a piece of bread and told me that here in the town there are still hidden Jews. He wants me to be away from him already, because he is frightened of keeping a Jew in his house.

Koppel was waiting for me outside. I went out to him and we quickly sneaked over the Chelm bridge. It was still before 7 [a.m.]. I parted from Koppel. He went away to his house, which was not far from the bridge, and I went in to a sheigetz acquaintance, Franek [or Pranek] Haponski.

I knock on the door, he opens it, but he does not want to let me in. He does not recognize me, it seems. I showed him several signs, only then did he begin to believe that this is indeed me. He quickly opened the door and let me in.

Now he stands next to me and immediately trembles with me. He told me that if a hidden Jew is seen, they shoot the home owner together with the hidden one.

Then he took hold of himself, made tea, and every time that he looked at me, he would, as a matter of routine, cross himself, [when] he would recognize in me new features that this is indeed me, the one and the same.

He took out a photographic apparatus [i.e. a camera] and photographed me. If I would live, I would have a memento of how I once looked, of how a person can look. But he quickly grew fearful and burned the picture on the spot.

He gave me several rags to wrap around my feet, gave me food, then he led me out into a chamber, pushed me into a corner, and covered me with old rags. He told me that he would go see Yankele Brand and would tell him about me. He says that Yankele Brand is the leader of the few living Jews.

He indeed reached an understanding with him, and on the second night he led me out from the hiding place and led me through back streets.

He went in front and I went behind him, [and he] led me to Jatkower Street and there parted from me. That was at the end of November 1942.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The year is not stated here, but becomes clear in the third paragraph since 1941 is eight years after 1933. Return
  2. Exact meaning uncertain. It may refer to the Jewish section of the town. Return
  3. Abbreviated from the German Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst (“Jewish security service”), Jewish police units set up inside ghettos and towns to carry out German demands and maintain order. Return
  4. German for “labor bureau.” Return
  5. Abbreviated from the Hebrew “zichrono livracha,” may his memory be for a blessing. Return
  6. Almost 200 kilometers southwest of Hrubieszow. Return
  7. Hebrew for “Moses Our Teacher,” a traditional title for the Biblical Moses. Return
  8. The author writes in German: “Come here, damned Jew! Don't you know that today it's war?” Return
  9. Village in Poland some 20 kilometers northwest of Hrubieszow. Return
  10. The holiday of Purim began on the evening of March 2, 1942. Return
  11. Town in Poland some 183 kilometers southwest of Hrubieszow. Return
  12. This information is incorrect. The author at the time was apparently unaware that Jews were driven out of their homes in towns all over German-occupied Poland from 1939 on. Return
  13. In other words, would remain miserable. Return
  14. Prayer shawls (tefillin in Yiddish, tallitot in Hebrew) and phylacteries, worn by religious men for prayer. Return
  15. Wagons appears to refer to train freight cars or box cars. Return
  16. In other words, he was forced to do this with no alternative at the time. Return
  17. A Polish/Hebrew variation on the German word “action,” a generally violent operation to clear an area of Jews, deport them to forced labor and/or to their deaths, and plunder their property. Return
  18. German for “state commander.” Return
  19. All towns or villages in Poland less than 30 kilometers from Hrubieszow. Return
  20. Traditional honorific for a deceased person. Return
  21. The term ‘wagons’ refers here to ‘railcars’. Return
  22. Ritual tassels worn by observant Jewish men under their clothing. Return
  23. Powder used to absorb strong smells. Return
  24. Pasture or paddock in Russian, an area of the town. Return
  25. About 4 kilometers north of Hrubieszow. Return
  26. The meaning of this word is uncertain. Return
  27. Some 45 kilometers to the west. Return
  28. Then in Poland, now Vlodymyr Volynsky in Ukraine, some 30 kilometers east of Hrubieszow. Return
  29. The seven days of mourning following the death of a close relative. Return
  30. German for “clean of Jews.” Return
  31. Most likely gold 10-zloty coins, minted in the interwar period. Return
  32. Now the city of Lviv, Ukraine, known as Lemberg when it was part of the Austrian empire before World War I, and then Lwow as part of Poland in the interwar/World War II period. Return
  33. Jewish religious law prohibits suicide. Return
  34. The restricted and impoverished region outside which Jews were prohibited from living from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries in the Russian empire. Return
  35. Less than 20 kilometers northwest of Hrubieszów, about 17 kilometers northwest of Dziekanów. [This area can be found in Google Maps as “Strzelce 22-135” Return
  36. About 4 kilometers north of Dziekanów. Return
  37. About 8.5 kilometers north of Dziekanów, 4.5 kilometers north of Wołajowice. Return
  38. About 4 kilometers south of Stefankowice. Return
  39. People who left cities to establish new settlements, usually agricultural, on previously uninhabited land. Return
  40. “Zhid” is a Jew in Ukrainian, Polish and other Slavic languages. The word can be neutral or pejorative, depending on context. It should be noted that In Russian it is purely pejorative. Return
  41. “To life” in Hebrew, a traditional toast. Return
  42. Unlocated. Spelling is phoenetic. Return
  43. A derogatory Yiddish term for (male) gentiles, suggesting loutishness and hooliganism. Return
  44. The singular of shkotzim. Return
  45. A Yiddishized version of the German “Verfluchte Juden!,” meaning “Damned Jews!” Return
  46. The meaning of these three words is uncertain. They most likely refer to a name of a place or a person. Return
  47. German: “Halt! Hands high!” Return
  48. “Mister” in Polish. Return
  49. “How's it going” in Polish, an ostensibly casual greeting. Return
  50. “Why?” in Polish. Return
  51. “Little Jews,” derogatory. Return
  52. “Sin” in Polish. Return
  53. “You smart Jew!” in Polish. Return

 

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