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[Pages 362-368 - Yiddish] [Page 135-141 - Hebrew]

Chitkov Village—Its Life and Its Death

by A.G. Kupferstein

Translated by Moses Milstein

Kra362.jpg
A. G. Kupferstein – Israeli policeman

 

Chitkov[1] village lies about four km west of Krasnobrod. Jewish settlement in Chitkov dates from the 19th century. Although the settlement was small in numbers, it still managed to live a full Jewish life interwoven with the Jewish community of Krasnobrod in all its traditions and customs.

Its spiritual nourishment came from Krasnobrod. It always saw itself as an equal member of the Krasnobrod family. It turned there for help with Jewish problems and dilemmas. The Krasnobrod rav was our spiritual shepherd too, and answered our questions. For all lesser questions we turned to our resident, the humble and gentle, R' David Wexler, z”l—a perfect example of the character of a by-gone generation.

Almost all the Chitkov Jews stemmed from the family of R' Gershon Rendler, z”l, who was among the first Jews who settled in Chitkov, and did forced labor for the prince during the feudal period.

The principle form of livelihood was farming and sometimes also the trades and commerce. Peretz Rendler, the oldest son of Gershon Chitkover, was a potter and made clay pots. R' David Wexler had a general store selling everything from candies to textiles, to leather, and grease for wheels. He seemed to prosper. R' Yosef Holz, Gershon Chitkover's son-in-law, was a rich timber merchant and partners with his brother-in-law, R' Moshe-Yakov Rendler, a son of Gershon Chitkover.

R' David Wexler held a minyan in his house Shabbat and holidays. People from the surrounding villages would come there to daven.

Soon after Word War I, our settlement began to suffer from bandit attacks. During one such attack, Baruch Wexler, the son of David Wexler, z”l, was murdered. When Polish antisemitism began to show its bloody Nazi face, the Jews of Chitkov moved to Krasnobrod. Only R' Peretz Rendler and his family stayed, enduring great need.

At the outbreak of World War II, there were a few Jewish families living once more in Chitkov. They were: Peretz Rendler, my father Noah Kupferstein, Yakov Rendler, Eliezer Shtemer—the son-in-law of R' Moshe-Yakov Rendler—and their families.

When the Germans occupied our region, our situation was terribly difficult. Making our situation even worse was the cold of the first winter. On the 7th day of Adar, R' Peretz Rendler, z”l, died of hunger and cold, and was buried in the Krasnobrod cemetery.

In 1940, the Nazis carried out a census of all Jews. Our village belonged to Krasnobrod administratively, and we went there to be registered. No one knew why they were doing this. All kinds of rumours and theories were spread, one more fantastic than the next, but no clear premonition of their satanic plans did we have.

After some time passed, the Germans began to catch Krasnobrod Jews and send them for forced labor to Belzec on the Soviet border. Many Jews fled to Chitkov to escape the raids and hid with the local Jews.

The Germans endlessly decreed prohibitions. They stole freedom from the Jews bit by bit. They leveed huge monetary fines on the Krasnobrod Jews, and sucked out the last of the possessions still in Jewish hands. The situation in Chitkov was no better than in the shtetl. The Germans used to come to our village and beat us mercilessly. During one such “search”, Yakov Rendler, a son of Petetz Rendler, was beaten bloody. On the 14th of Nisan, 1942, he died of his wounds and was buried in the Krasnobrod cemetery.

Shavuot, 1942, the Germans surrounded the shtetl and demanded a certain number of men from the Judenrat. Their devilish plan was clear, and the Judenrat refused to carry out the order. Yosef Goldstein, a member of the Judenrat, went to the Gestapo and declared that they could have him, but he would not give them a single one of his Jewish brothers. His brave response infuriated the Gestapo. Like savage beasts they fell on him and murdered him and others of the Judenrat.

This was a signal for the bloody slaughter of the Jewish community of Krasnobrod. They murdered without mercy anyone they captured. Only a few Jews managed to escape to the forests. Broken, like twigs in a storm, they returned to the shtetl after the pogrom where they waited in great fear for the end of the bloody play.

Freedom of movement of Jews was forbidden. Leaving the shtetl without permission was punished by being shot on the spot. There was no food available and people were dying of hunger. Even worse off were the Jews who were sent here from the west of Poland. Urged on by hunger, we would sneak out to the villages to look for a morsel of food. The Polish police sniffed around like bloodhounds in the area, and every captured Jew was instantly killed. These Polish murderers were true servants to Hitler and his plans for the extermination of Jews.

In August, 1942, the Germans set fire to the remaining Jewish houses and burned all the inhabitants alive. The Jews still alive were imprisoned in the barracks of Moshe-Leibs building. The only ones left in Chitkov were just our family, Eliezer Shtimmer and his family, and Raizl Rendler. In the neighboring village of Suchowola lived the following families: Berl Wexler and his family; Shmuel Wexler and his mother, Gitl; Yakov Malash and family; his sister, Mirl and her family; Itche Ber and family; Pinchas Krelman and his family. A few Krasnobrod Jews were hiding in the Chitkov forests. Among them were: Mordechai Kopel, Yosele Suchowoler's son, with his family and his sister-in-law. In October, 1942, they were captured by Chitkov farmers and taken to the police in Potochek, where they were all shot. Mordechai escaped and fled. A Chitkov shaygetz pursued him and hit him in the head with an axe, killing him on the spot. The next day, a farmer found Mordechai's three year old child wandering around. How the child got there is unknown. Ephraim Kopel and his son, Yosef, were hiding in the colony near Chitkov. In May, 1943, Ephraim was hiding in an attic in the colony. The farmer who was hiding him betrayed him to the Germans. He was tied to a wagon and forced to run with it while enduring blows all the way to Krasnobrod. There he was tortured and finally shot. Two months later, the Chitkov farmers caught Yosef and killed him with an axe. The Chitkov farmers also captured a whole bunch of other Jews and took them to Potochek where they were shot. Among the captured: Itche Ber's daughters, Feige and Chava; Israel Radashtcher 's son-in-law with his seven-year-old son, and Bertshe Gortler and his family.

One day, Berl Wexler received news that the Germans and the Polish police were preparing to kill all the Jews in both villages. We immediately ran to the forests to hide. When the murderers arrived, in their anger, they destroyed everything we had. They gave to the farmers everything that had value to them. And what does not have value to a peasant? Before leaving, the Germans left an order with the village magistrate that we had to report to Krasnobrod. My family was taken to the barracks. Eliezer Shtemer was imprisoned in the bathhouse, and Chana-Raizel went to her daughter.

Life in the barracks was horribly filthy and cramped. People were swollen from starvation. Fear of tomorrow was unrelenting and threw people into despair. We endured this for two months, up to the final slaughter, the fifteenth day of Cheshvan, 5702[2].

At dawn, the Germans surrounded the shtetl, especially the barracks where the Jews lived. They took everyone to a building under construction. Then the Germans began to shoot into the densely packed mass of people, and threw grenades in through the windows. Who can describe in words the horror of the slaughter? The worst descriptions of hell pale next to the hell the Germans conceived for us. The terrible cries of the wounded were stifled under the bodies of the dead. The murder of infants took place amidst the murder of their mothers, and their blood sprayed on the walls of their “grave.” The fingers of the dying clutched convulsively at the throats of the living and strangled them. The groans and the wailing mixed in with the sadistic barking of the two-legged German dogs. The few left alive were taken to Izbica where they were killed.

On that day, my parents, my father Noah, my mother, Dina, and my sister, Chaya, were killed, may God avenge their blood. The Chitkovers who were outside the barracks managed to flee to the forests. Among them were: Chana-Raizel and her daughter, Gitl, and son-in-law, Yosef Edelstein; Yakov and his sister, Miriam Malash; Berl and Shmuel Wexler and their mother, Gitl; Itche-Ber and his family, and my sister, Esther, and I. We hid along with other Jews in a canal not far from Chitkov. During the day, we went out to the villages to look for food, and at night, we lay on the wet and icy earth, shivering from fear and cold. It went on like this for a whole week, until the farmers found us and reported us to the Germans. When the murderers arrived, most of the men saved themselves by running. The captured Jews, mostly women and children, were forced to lie face down on the ground and were killed by a shot to the neck. Children were killed by smashing in their heads with rifle butts. Killed in this way were: Chana-Raizel and her daughter, Gitl, and her children; Miriam, Ephraim's wife, and her children, and other Jews from Krasnobrod. Murdered in the Sochowol forest were Berl Wexler and his family; Shmuel Wexler and his mother, Gitl, and Itche-Ber and his family.

Alone and starving, my sister, Miriam, and I, dragged ourselves through the forest looking for other hidden Jews. After two weeks in the forest, we met, roasting potatoes at a fire, Yakov Malash and his family, and his sister, Miriam with her family.

The first snows began to fall and the cold tortured us mercilessly. We spent the days in the forest, and at night, we slept at various farmers, for which they were well paid. This dragged on for about a month, until our money ran out. Then the farmers decided to get rid of the Jews. One night they caught everyone, tied them up with ropes, and took them to Krasnobrod. There, they were all shot.

My sister and I hid in Chitkov. The winter and its cold and snow severely weakened us. We would sleep at a different place every night, and took great care not to be captured by the Germans, who were lurking around the villages. It went on like this until they began to settle Germans in the Polish villages. The whole region became filled with Germans. Just one village in the Zamosc area, Feliksowka, remained purely Polish. It was there that I went, and found a good-hearted farmer. He hid me with him until the Red Army arrived. My sister, Miriam, also survived in this neighborhood, and lived to see the day of our liberation.

 

Translator's notes:
  1. Possibly today's village of Hutki return
  2. Nov. 5, 1941 return


[Pages 369-381]

On the Aryan Side

by Malka Babad
(A granddaughter of Itzhak Babad)

Translated by Moses Milstein

The tribulations of Polish Jewry began immediately with the beginning of the war in September 1939. I was living with my parents, my husband, my brother, with near and far relations, in a large extended family that is no more.

Only my six–month–old child and I escaped from the bloody flood.

The arrival of the Germans in our town filled us with great fear. They began with forcing people into labor, searching for merchandise in Jewish homes, beating and shooting for any little thing.

I witnessed a scene in the street that congealed the blood in my veins. I thought then that that was the worst that we could expect from the cursed Germans. I couldn't imagine that this was only an introduction, a prelude to their bloody deeds and monstrous outrages. A young man passed an SS man on the street. The German turned around and called the boy back, and proceeded to slap him. The boy stood there with his hands at his side, and did not react. Then the SS man slapped his hat off, ordered him to pick it up, then to put it back on, and salute him. The story made its way with lightening speed among the frightened Jews. It was concluded that you had to doff your hat when meeting a German. However, they were beaten anyway by another SS who shouted, “What, are you my comrade that you dare to greet me?”

The Poles were happy. Hitler, they said, should have come here long ago. We saw that it was not for nothing that Hitler chose Poland to exterminate us. He found fertile soil here, and loyal assistants.

In 1940 we were segregated in a ghetto, where we suffered a lot. The men were taken for unbearable forced labor. They were beaten with rubber batons. They were not given any food, just water. When I tried to give them some bread along with the water, I met with hard blows from a rubber baton.

It was a bitter and hard enough existence for us up to the German attack on Russia, on June 22, 1941, but it became harder and more horrid still when the Germans perceived that things were not going as well as Hitler had believed they would…They took out their anger on us.

In November, 1941, a decree was issued forbidding the wearing of furs, and even fur collars. The judenrat ordered all the furs to be brought to them. A rush ensued of people bringing in their furs. That very same day, the Germans shot two women and a man for wearing coats with fur collars.

The fear was indescribable.

The darkest and most horrible year was 1942 when the aktions began, and the Germans transported our nearest and dearest to Beljec in sealed, overcrowded train cars that were “disinfected” with lime and chlorine, where they would be gassed and incinerated. You cannot imagine what the town looked like on the day of the aktion. There could be no talk of defiance. We were held in a vice–like trap, designed to sate the bloodthirstiness of the murderers, and vent their sadistic desires. At that time, I was hidden by a Christian woman, a doctor. There were others there, but because I was always afraid that my child's crying would give us away, I was always alone, separate. In this way, my Berele and I made it out alive from all these aktions.

On the 18th of October 1942, the Germans drove us, under the barrels of their machineguns, on foot, to Izbica. They told us that it was going to be a Jewish city. In Izbica, we met Jews who had been expelled from Lublin and Zamosc. But the Germans did not set up a Jewish city or a ghetto.

Monday, October 22nd, the shtetl and the nearby neighborhoods were surrounded by camps of Germans, Volksdeutsche, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Poles as if for a decisive battle between hostile armies…

Panic spread among the few surviving Jews. They didn't know what to do. The first thought was to find a hiding place. My parents hid themselves in the attic with the others in the house we were at. My child and I–he was now three years old–had to go find another hiding place. I went out and stole into an abandoned house from which the people had already been taken. Around 4:00 pm I heard Yiddish being spoken outside the door. I opened the door and saw people among whom was the owner of the house. He told us that the Germans had loaded the Jews into railroad cars. They released several men. Those who didn't want to leave their wives and children were either shot, or forced into the railroad cars. I wanted to go see my parents, but they were not there. A woman who had hidden under a bed told me that the murderers had forced everyone out of the attic and taken them away.

I was now alone and continued to live with the others who had hidden from the aktion.

About two weeks later, November 3rd, there was again a panic. At 5:00 am, shooting began. It was Monday, an awful Monday. The people I was hiding with removed three wooden slats from the ceiling, and we climbed up into the attic. Then we fitted the slats back in place. We were without food or water for three days. On the third day, at around five o'clock, the Poles discovered us and forced us out. They took us to the movie theater plaza in Izbica. There the remainder of the Lublin Jews were assembled waiting for the railroad cars. Around 11 o'clock, unobserved by anybody, I took my child and fled from there. I crept on all fours up to an abandoned Jewish house and spent the night there.

In the morning, I left the hiding place and went on with my child. I saw the Germans and their helpers, running around like poisoned rats, with axes in their hands. I quickly snuck into another lane and found a house. I entered and found a Polish woman alone there. I told her I had fled and asked for food for my child. She gave him some bread and milk and allowed me to wash and comb my hair. Then I begged her to allow me to stay the night. She agreed on condition I give her 1000 Zlotys. She led us into a field. It was raining, so she covered us with a blanket. We stayed like that until 6:00 pm. I gave her the thousand Zlotys and she led us to the train, bought tickets, and took us up to Zavoda. I travelled to Zamosc, because my husband, A”H, was in a camp there.

At 9:00 o'clock at night, unobserved by the guards, I stole into the camp. In the camp, there were also my father's brother, Chaim Babad, A”H, and other acquaintances. They hid me in a closet where I remained for five days with my child. We could not stay there longer. Every day, the Germans shot people who stole into the camp. My husband made an agreement with a Christian he knew to take us to his house. I was there for two weeks. Then I went to a second place, then a third…until the Jews in the camp were taken to Majdanek.

I decided to go to Warsaw. I went there without documents, without knowing anyone, filled with fear, and yet with great faith. In spite of all the hardships, the will to live was very great. Not for life itself, but in order to live to see Hitler's downfall, something in which I strongly believed.

On December 20th, 1942, at six in the morning, I went to the train station dressed as a village Christian. We arrived in Warsaw at 2:00 am at the Eastern terminus. All the passengers had to wait at the station until 5:00 o'clock. When the tramways began to run, they all went their way, and the station emptied out…only my child and I had nowhere to go. We spent the whole day at the station. It was becoming increasingly dangerous for me. Around 5:00 pm, a Pole and a woman approached. They looked us up and down. Terror ran through me. I took the child and went outside. They both followed me. The Pole asked me where I was from, and whether there wasn't a ghetto there…He said I was Jewish and demanded to see my documents…I told him that I had documents, but I would not show them to him as he had no right to see them. So he turned to my son and asked him his name. My Berele answered him: Bolaslav Adamczik. And what is your mother's name? Helena Adamczik, he answered. And your father?–Zygmunt Adamczik…Where is your father? he inquired further. My father, Zygmunt Adamczik is a prisoner in Germany. I taught my Berele all this in our last hiding place and warned him to remember all these goyishe names that I had made up. Before, he had never wanted to repeat all these foreign names, but now, a miracle happened. He answered all the questions accurately, without hesitation. The Pole, the extortionist, began to laugh: “Your mother managed to teach you all this in such a short time?…” And he and the woman left. I figured they were going to go to the Gestapo or to other Polish extortionists. I went back into the station, took my bag and quickly went back out again. Fortunately, a droshky pulled up and we got in and I told him to go to Chmielna 1. I had no idea who lived there…But we went…When we got there, I stood outside the house, not knowing what to do with myself. And again a miracle happened. While I was standing by the gate, on the other side of the street, I saw a Christian couple from my town. They had been living in Warsaw since 1941. I immediately ran over to them. They did not recognize me. I told them who I was, and they took me into their house. The lucky coincidence was that they lived nearby on this very street. They immediately began to try to figure out how to get documents for me. They asked me if I had any money because it would cost 10,000 Zlotys. I gave them the money. They brought me a questionnaire where I gave the name that I had crowned myself with: Adamczik, as well as the names of my parents, and where I was from. I swore that my family was pure Aryan, and that there was no Jewish blood in my family. The papers along with three photographs were submitted to the German bureau at Three Crosses Square. [1] I had to come in person to collect the ID card.

 

Kra375.jpg
Malke's Aryan ID card

 

I went to pick up the ID card on January 18, 1943. They fingerprinted me, and had me sign. I received my ID card, and left the place with my heart racing, looking around to see if anyone was spying on me. I had the card and my life was now dependent on it. I came back to my child.

During the time we spent in Warsaw, my son forgot his past. He only remembered what I told him and taught him. This was also fortunate.

On January 20, 1943, my rescuers found me a small room with an old Christian woman in Marymont. With that, their friendship ended. I never saw them again. They were understandably afraid that if I were captured, they might be implicated. Thus, I was alone with my small son in the big city, in danger at every step of the way.

Now my bitter wandering began on the Aryan side.

I left the house every day punctually at eight o'clock, saying that I worked for a baker in Prage. At 6:00 pm I returned, made something to eat and went to sleep, so I would not have to talk with the landlady. A month passed like this.

The old lady discovered that my Berele was Jewish, so we left for another place, where there was a woman with no husband and three children. I also told them that I was working, and every morning I left the house and wandered aimlessly around the streets of Warsaw. I visited the ghetto often. The large Warsaw ghetto had already been liquidated, and the remaining Jews in the small ghetto were driven in columns every day to forced labor renovating the destroyed houses in the large ghetto. The Polish street hawkers followed the Jews on the way to work in order to get bargains from them, clothing, jewelry. With my child by my side, I also followed along. I longed to see a Jewish face, to speak a Yiddish word, so I surreptitiously spoke to them. I bemoaned my problems, and wept. I did not notice that the son of my second landlady had overheard me speaking Yiddish and crying. Because of my carelessness, I had to leave my second accommodation. I was afraid that I would get into trouble, so that same day, I rented another room with an old janitor woman.

I was in Warsaw for six months, and lived in six different places. Everywhere they found out my son was Jewish. Our saving grace was that the poles had no power over us…

The uprising in the ghetto began in April, 1943. The Germans suffered big losses at the beginning. Soon though, using incendiary bombs, they conquered the ghetto. Terrible fires broke out which I could see from Marymont. Terrible was the scene and more terrible was what the Poles reported–that the Jews were burned alive. Men and women were throwing themselves off balconies. I forgot about my own troubles. I wanted to get away as soon as possible.

On May 15th, I left Warsaw with twenty Zlotys in my pocket. In the preceding six months, I had used up all my money. I arrived at the train station just as a train was leaving for Naleczow. The region was in a particularly anti–Semitic mood. The Poles constantly harangued against the Jews. This was their favorite topic. “Hitler really gave it to the Jews.” The goyim would receive 500 Zlotys or 50 kg of sugar per Jewish head. Like bloodhounds, the Poles would chase Jews and turn them in. I was terrified and I got off the train shaken. I began wandering again with my Berele by my side. I travelled through shtetlach and villages. We spent the day in one place, and the night in another. During the day we wandered in the fields and forests. At night, I would approach a small village house and beg to spend the night. Thanks to my ID card, I could go among the Poles and spend the night with them. I endured a long journey. I travelled through the Janow and Pilawa regions, and the villages surrounding Krasnik and Lublin. Everywhere I went I encountered anti–Semites who rejoiced in the downfall of the Jews. I would listen to their words with trepidation and fear. I fought hard with myself not to cry out or weep. I went from house to house. I sewed, knitted, spun thread. Once I had learned village work, it became easier for me. Christians from Warsaw and Lublin came to the villages to trade or look for work. I also passed myself off as a Christian looking for work. I did not stay at one place longer than eight days. I could not bear hearing the poisonous hatred of the Poles. In the villages, Berele was not recognized as a Jew. He could speak Polish well, and knew the Polish prayers.

It is noteworthy that in all my wandering, I was not stopped by a single German. The Poles, on the other hand, frequently stopped me and demanded my documents. They were hunting Jews.

Once, in the winter of 1944, as we were wandering hungry, exhausted from cold and fear, a young Pole stopped me and asked me where I was going. I mentioned a village I was familiar with. So he said, “It's such a long way and you don't seem to be hurrying much.” He demanded my documents. Being afraid he would steal my documents, I declined to obey him. He called over another Pole, and they both took me to another village. At the edge of the forest stood a peasant hut. They led me in there. I later realized that this was a gathering place for the A.K. (Armia Krajowa) partisans. They demanded to see my papers. I handed my ID card to the commandant, who looked it over carefully. He gave it back to me, squeezing my hand, and said, “Have no fear, you are a Polish woman. Go where you need to go.”

I couldn't believe the great miracle. It is impossible to describe…I had been in the jaws of the wolf, and my child too, and we got away alive. As I left the village, I begged God to give me strength to live to survive these bitter times, and for me and my child to live to see Hitler's downfall.

The winter of 1944 was terrible for me. But with the arrival of spring, new winds began to blow around the world. A flicker of hope began to grow in me, and my heart told me that salvation was not far off. In May, I came to a village near Lublin called Niedrzwica. I went to see an old rich landlord to ask about work. I said I had come from Warsaw. He was, fortunately, looking for a worker. I immediately went to work in the garden. They were very happy with me, and the family was very fond of my Bolosz, as I called him. I was able to relax a little. Fear gradually left me. I began to feel a little freer. After two weeks had passed there, the landlady heard me speaking in Yiddish in my sleep…I had seen my parents, A”H, in a dream. They had accompanied me all along my wandering in my dreams. When she told me that she had heard me calling out in my sleep, “Mamenyu, tatenyu,” I admitted I was Jewish. I thanked her for everything, and prepared to leave her house. But she told me that I could stay in her house, because no one in her house or in the village knew about my origins. I stayed with her for three months, until liberation, on the 17th of July, 1944, when the Red Army entered the village.

My heart was liberated when I saw the Russians driving masses of Germans along and confiscating their vehicles and weapons. I immediately began to look for Jews. I heard that several hidden Jews had survived in Zolkiewka, and I went over there on foot. From there I left for Zamosc.

In Zamosc, there was a house on Peretz Street where Jews who had returned from their hiding places and from the forests had gathered. Jews from Krasnobrod, Zamosc, Izbica, and Komorow. Altogether about 20 people. My Berele was the only Jewish child in the whole area.

The Poles behaved very badly toward the surviving Jews. When they encountered a Jew, they said, “You're still alive?” They threw rocks and grenades at the house and threatened us with death if we did not leave. They proclaimed that “those who Hitler had not managed to kill, we will finish off. Hitler had written that the Jews would celebrate no Purims, and we will fulfill his prophecy.” And they carried out their threats. Whoever travelled to Komorow or to a nearby village did not return.

I felt that we could not stay here any longer in the poisonous Polish air, where every step we took was on soil stained with Jewish blood. In my difficult wanderings, I had dreamt of my child and I coming to Eretz Israel. Now, after the liberation, I was intent on making my dream a reality. It was, as yet, impossible to go there. The war had not yet ended.

Peace arrived on May 8th, 1945. Jews, sick, bloated, physically and spiritually broken, were liberated form the concentration camps, and from their hiding places,. A mad flight to Germany began, in the hope that from there they could go to Eretz Israel.

I travelled to Germany and ended up in a DP camp. The Joint wanted to send my child to America. But I would not give my consent. As I said, I was determined to go to our holy land with my child.

It is painful for me to relive the memories of the nightmarish Hitler years, to remember the agonizing road I had travelled with my child. My consolation and encouragement are in finding my dream a reality. We are in our own land. My son, who is now sixteen years old, knows and understands that this is his homeland where he will live and contribute as a proud and free Jew.


Translator's note

  1. Square in the central district of Warsaw return


[Pages 382-394 - Yiddish] [Page 142-150 - Hebrew]

The Decline and Fall of Krasnobrod

by Esther Levinson-Lerner (Kfar Ata)

Translated by Moses Milstein

Kra382.jpg
Esther Levinson-Lerner

 

I will forever remember the day of September 1, 1939, the day the Nazis attacked Poland, and the storm broke out that wiped out the Jewish community in Poland, and with it, my shtetl, Krasnobrod.

Krasnobrod was a small shtetl. It was hard to find on a map of Poland. Why did all this have to happen to it?

Even though Krasnobrod was home to only a few hundred Jewish families, it bubbled with life. It had organizations of various parties—mostly Zionist—philanthropic institutions, and so on. Everything was vibrant and full of life.

On December 14th, as the battles drew nearer, the shtetl started burning, and the deaths began. People were unable to save themselves, because of the danger from bullets coming, without cease, from the front. Among those burned to death in the fire were: Shmuel-Ozer Kupiec, Leibish Kramer, Moishe Fuchs, Shmelke, and others. The Germans entered the city. And thus began the chain of sorrow and persecution, which did not slacken while a Jew still breathed.

As soon as they entered the shtetl, they began to rampage and loot. The local Christian population joined in enthusiastically. They stole whatever came to hand. They burned sefer torahs, and prayer books. People were captured “for work,” and in the meantime their beards were cut off for sport. Those captured were forced to do hard labor, without food or drink. An edict quickly came out that Jews were prohibited from living with goyim. The Poles were forewarned to make sure that we fulfilled the orders, and to help stifle the Jewish population.

One day, in the month of December of the same year, a group of Nazis appeared at Berl Shok's house and demanded that a Judenrat be established. Berl Shok got together a few prominent Jews and they made a list of candidates. The Germans took down the names and left. In February, an edict was issued that all Jews from 10 years of age, must wear an armband with a yellow Star of David on a white background, 15 cm wide. Judenrat members had to wear an armband, 20 cm wide, with a Blue star, and the word, “Judenrat.”

We felt terribly humiliated when we had to put on the armband, but we got used to it. Women tried to hide it under their kerchiefs. The Poles and the shkootsim ran after us calling us “verfluchte Juden,” their taunts pricking us like needles.

We had to wear the armband day and night. Whoever was found without the armband, even in his own yard, was threatened with death. If you were lucky, you were just beaten murderously. To all that was added the hell of “revisyes.” The Gestapo from the district were frequent guests in the shtetl. With the help of the local goyim, who knew everybody, and knew how to “find” things, they would break into Jewish homes, turn everything upside down and search… What were they looking for? They were looking to heap troubles on our heads, to beat up everyone in their sight, to laugh and to mock us, to bathe in our blood.

At our house, we used to have at least two such “revisyes” a week. During one revisye they started on my father: Where had he hidden his merchandise? My father tried to explain that he had nothing hidden. Some of the merchandise had been burned, and the rest was stolen. A German shouted out, “Who are the robbers? The poor populace just took back what was theirs. You are the robbers who robbed them year after year!”

After this, the contributions began in fantastic sums and short terms. The slightest late payment threatened death. People would have given the shirt off their backs to save their lives. But even this did not help.

On Tisha B'Av night, the shtetl was surrounded by the murderers, and the hunt for Jews began. People began frantically running around. Germans broke into our house and ordered my father to get dressed. While he was doing this, they asked him where he had hidden the Jews. My father pleaded with them and swore that he had hidden no one. They began to beat him and kick him. Finally, they took him away. Together with thousands of others he was taken to Beljec, where they were beginning to build the crematoria. Every morning they would round up Jews and take them away for work. They forced them to sing the whole way. From time to time they were ordered to run long distances or to throw themselves on the ground. Whoever could not keep up, or who passed out, was shot on the spot.

It wasn't until Rosh Hashana that we were able to rescue our father from this prison labor. We ransomed him for a large sum of money and brought him home. We could hardly recognize him.

Around winter an edict came out ordering Jews to surrender all furs: fur coats, collars, and hats. But only those who had been reported by the Poles gave them up. Whoever was not frightened would have been better off burning them and thinking: “Maybe we'll
have the honor to live to see those to whom this was to go, burning as well.”

In February, the Zamosc Judenrat sent a couple of hundred families that had been expelled from those areas that had gone to the Third Reich. It was forbidden for Jews to live there. They arrived sick and broken, half dead. When they looked around and saw how small the place was and how impoverished the local population was, they understood that this was no place for them. They appealed to the Judenrat to help them get back to Zamosc.

In the morning, three Germans from Zamosc showed up unexpectedly at the Judenrat, and without a word, beat up everyone there. The “oldest” received 75 lashes. My father, Hirsch Shoch, and Berl Shok received 50. Then they went out to the street and attacked anyone they saw. They finished this little bit of work—and they left. My father came home black and blue from the beating, and lay in bed with compresses for several days. But that was not all. A few days later, they sent us twice the number of refugees. The close confinement in Krasnobrod was unbearable.

 

The Aktion

The first aktion took place on Shavuot. At dawn, vehicles carrying Germans arrived and surrounded the shtetl. On the agreed-upon signal, they began to shoot and murder whomever they came across. Panic ensued. People began running to the forest. Those who succeeded in escaping or in hiding, waited—for the next aktion…Those who didn't were either shot, or dragged off to the Beljec crematoria.

The second aktion took place in July. It did not come off as well planned as the previous one. On the way in, the lieutenant saw a Jew and tried to shoot him. Luckily, his rifle jammed and the Jew escaped. The lieutenant became enraged, fixed his rifle, and not waiting for the agreed-upon signal, started shooting into the houses and throwing in incendiary bombs. Whoever ran out was shot on the spot. The houses began to burn with the people in them. Among the dead, Baruch-Eliyahu Broder and his entire family, Chaim Faker and his family, Nathan Lipsz and his family, and Itche Fuks and his family. Later, we endured several smaller aktion until, on October 26th, Krasnobrod became “Judenrein.”

 

Kra387.jpg
Baruch-Eliyahu Broder and his family

 

We were the living dead. No one knew what tomorrow would bring. The “quiet” days were just a brief pause before the death that would certainly come, a day early or a day late. The Poles, our “neighbors,” poured salt in our wounds. They would go around to the houses and offer to buy this or that. In that way, they gave us to understand that “You don't really need all this anymore. Sooner or later, you're all going to be killed. Why wouldn't you want to sell it? If I come back with the Germans, I'll get it cheaper anyway.”

I will forever remember the last Shabbos with my father at home. A minyan of Jews came to us to celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat. A minyan of broken Jews with the fear of death in their eyes, and with deep despair in their hearts. Father put on his tallit, and stood before the assembled. When he began to chant Lechu Neranena, he broke down weeping, and so did the whole group of Jews. And the next morning, at Shachrit, everyone was crying. The walls wept too for the destruction and misfortunes that befell us only because we were Jewish.

 

Kra388.jpg
Itzchak Fuchs and his family

 

After Shabbos, my mother snuck out of the shtetl with my youngest sister, Shoshe, who was five. They left for Hitek, a nearby village. Me and my older sister stayed home with our father. We knew that the last aktion would come in the next few days. We spent sleepless nights waiting for the killers who could, at any moment, come and take us to our death.

After one such sleepless night, father said, “Listen, my children. Why do you sit here and wait for death? You are young. Leave, like others have done. Maybe you will live and be witness for what they have done to us here. Who knows? Maybe you will have the honor of taking revenge on the spilling of our innocent blood! I can't go with you. I am not strong enough. Besides, maybe we can buy ourselves out of these murderers' hands. I must stay with those who are still here. I can't forsake them.” He rushed over to us and began kissing us and crying. Our farewells could have moved a stone. And so, we parted, forever.

On that very Sunday, at dawn, the last aktion began. The Germans went house-to-house, peering into every nook-and-cranny, from the cellar to the attic. The captured were sent to the Umschlagplatz. At the slightest sign of resistance, you were shot on the spot.

They carried out this bloody work with German precision and thoroughness. The Poles nearly jumped out of their skin in their eagerness to expose the hidden. For one hidden Jew, they were paid a kilo of sugar, or naphtha, and even got the shoes after the Jew was shot. My father had been hiding with about ten other Jews. The Poles found them, and turned them over to the Germans. They were all shot. Five days later, my mother was handed over to the Germans. They took her to Krasnobrod and shot her.

My older sister, Chana, and I, and a few others, succeeded in getting to the forest. We lay in hiding during the day, and at night, we went out to the nearby villages to find food. In this way, it became known that there were Jews hiding in the forest. Such an “injustice,” the Poles couldn't stand. Within a few days, they encircled the forest and began shooting from all directions. My sister, Chana, was felled by a bullet. A wild stampede began, accompanied by the wild screams of the bandits, the agonized cries of the wounded, the wailing of the women, and the cries of the children. I began to run not knowing where I was going. When I came to myself, I found myself near a road not far from a village. Devora Goldstein was with me. We quickly saw that this place was dangerous for us, and we went back into the forest.

 

Restless days

We stayed hiding in the forest for three days. In the bushes, wandering lost, we came on Devorah's mother, Rachel Goldstein. Later, they were both killed when they tried to leave the forest to go to their place to dig out some of their valuables. They were taken to Krasnobrod and shot.

I went deeper into the forest in the hope of finding a survivor. After a day of stumbling around, I came on a group of Jews. A sad picture. These Jews had lost their human appearance. They were like wild, frightened animals. They were sitting around a fire where potatoes were roasting. Among them were Israel Dichterman and Tsipe Krelman and their families. Despite the biting cold, they had no proper clothing or shoes. Stricken by hunger and cold, with no will to live, but full of fear of dying, they wandered lost in the forest, aimlessly, without a spark of faith in mankind. The “man” they were likely to meet was a German, a killer. Or a Pole who had sold his conscience to the German for a kilo of sugar. Your years-old Polish neighbor now saw in you a kilo of sugar—and nothing else.

I was still, it seems, a little naïve, but I didn't have many options. I went to the Stempinskis, who lived not far away. They actually received me very well. So well, that I was at first ready to believe them, in spite of everything I had lived through. But as time went by, I learned that they thought I had saved valuables from home. Their “love,” and their “loyalty” lasted only as long as they believed I had something of value. Meanwhile, Mrs. Stempiniski used to give me “suitable literature” to read, as, for example, a Dmowski novel, or his writings. Or, holy scripture where the torture and death of Jesus was described in detail, where he cursed the Jews, “My holy blood will fall on your heads.” I often heard the Stempinskis telling each other that, “In any case, the Jews will disappear like smoke.”

I was sitting in the attic, but it couldn't be said that my “protectors” cared about what they said in front of me. They had long ago made their plans. In this way, I learned that Motl Dichterman was caught and murdered in March.

On April 11, Stempiniski came up to the attic and told me to go with him. Motl Dichterman wanted to see me…I quickly understood what he meant. But I thought, maybe he mixed things up and someone else sent him to me. The yearning to see another Jew was so strong, that I allowed myself to go with him. But as we left the yard and he started heading for the forest, I took off running. But I went back to Stempinski's property by another route, and hid in the cellar. The only one who knew was the farmhand. He secretly threw in a few dried potatoes. I was there for two weeks. But, I became afraid of the shegets, and a better place came my way.

I fled to Belfant, to the Jaszenows. Mrs. Jaszenow received me very warmly and hid me in the loft over the stable. I was weak and exhausted and I crawled into the hay and quickly fell asleep. In my dreams I saw my mother, and my father, and my grandmother, Leah. They approach me, look at me with pity—and grandmother says, “Do not be afraid, my child. We will fight for you to survive the war.” At that moment, I heard Mrs. Jaszenow calling the chickens. I woke up. I felt a ray of hope open in me.

I stayed at the Jaszenows for sixteen months, until July 22, 1944 when the Red Army arrived. I began to breath more freely. I stayed there for another two weeks. The danger for Jews was not lessened. New victims fell every day among those who had come out from their hiding places. The Poles couldn't reconcile the fact that their efforts to help Hitler wipe out the Jews had not completely succeeded. They continued to murder Jews whenever they had the chance.

But more than two weeks, I could not wait. The sword that was hanging over us had been shattered. So I began to think…to do a little personal appraisal. I wept for my lost family, for my father, mother, my sisters, who died as martyrs and did not live to see the victory over our tormentors. I wept for being alone, without a relative, without a protector. I felt a yearning to see a Jewish face, to hear a Jewish word, to weep and mourn together with Jews for the great tragedy that had befallen us all.

I parted from the Jaszenows with tears in my eyes. Mrs. Jaszenow's eyes were wet too. “Keep God in your heart,” she begged. “Don't, God forbid, tell anyone that I helped you. They will kill me!” But I still believed then that, when the happy day of liberation comes, we would be able to testify before the whole world about these unique, precious people, these Chasidei Omot Haolam, who put their own lives in danger in order to save others. Their goodness and conscience shone like lonely flickers in the dense darkness, in a sea of racism and bloodshed. The Poles continued to try to fulfill the mass murderer, Hitler's, bloody work. On the threshold of liberation, Hersh Leibel Briks, and his entire family were killed by Polish partisans under the leadership of his close friend, Barbecki.

I left the Jaszenows and headed for Krasnobrod. I wanted to see my hometown one more time, the streets and squares, the house I grew up in and left in such tragic circumstances.

Arriving in town, and seeing the devastation, I felt an overwhelming sadness gripping my heart. I was blinded by tears. Every rock glared like a tombstone on an unknown grave from which the innocent spilled blood shouted to heaven. Every street echoed in my heart with the sounds of that life, a life that was extinguished with not a trace remaining. There was actually life on the streets, but a foreign life. Goyim, local and from elsewhere, who had forgotten, or who even did not know that Jews had lived here, were living in Jewish houses. A Christian was living in my father's house. He stared with astonishment at this unknown “Zhidovke” who had come onto “his” property. Near the park, papers were blowing around, holy pages. The wind blew a page to me, and I saw the title page of a Gemara. In an upper corner I recognized my father's handwriting.

I went to the cemetery. No trace of the holy place remained. The whole area was planted with potatoes. The surrounding farmers used the tombstones to pave their pathways and gardens.

And as the place of my birth drew me back before, now it was pushing me away. I felt I had to get far, very far, away from this place. I had to leave for a new country, find a new life where I would not be persecuted by the memories of my tragic experiences under Hitler's rule.

I swore to myself that I would never forget the near and dear ones who perished along with the six million other Jews.


[Pages 395-402 - Yiddish] [Page 162-167 - Hebrew]

In Hell

by Miriam Kopel-Blumental (Ber Yakov)

Translated by Moses Milstein

Kra395.jpg
Miriam Kopel-Blumenthal

 

At first, when war broke out in 1939, the town remained relatively quiet. There were alarming stories from here and there about German atrocities. We were worried about the future, but we had no idea of the terrible days that awaited us.

One night, we suddenly heard the sounds of shooting. All the neighbors began to flee. We quickly got out of bed. We hardly had time to get some clothes on our backs, and, under fire, we ran in the direction of the “new village.” There were 9 of us: me, my parents, sisters, brothers, and grandmother. We ran and fell, picked ourselves up, and kept running. Thanks to the thick fog, we got out unobserved, and made it to the village of Grabnik. There we were shocked to discover that grandmother was not with us. She was the first sacrifice in our family.

Exhausted and broken, a farmer we knew took us in to his hut. In the morning, my parents sent me to find out what the Germans had done with the Jews who had stayed in town. I was 7 years old and looked like a Christian girl. I found out from a goyeh that the Germans had shot all the Jews who had stayed in town. I came upon a horrible picture: the shtetl burned to the ground, burning embers still visible. I heard the cries of children who had lost their families wandering around lost and hungry.

In the forest, on the way back to my family, I met my uncle Velvel Tentser, my aunt Sheindel and their children. They were hiding in the forest and were too afraid to leave. Not long after, the Germans attacked the forest, and shot all the Jews hiding there, among them, my uncle and his whole family. Later, I was passing by the forest and the farmers were plowing the land. In the process, they unearthed human limbs, including a hand with a golden ring. By this, I was able to identify my aunt's hand. They were not even buried, but left to lie there for the wolves and the crows.

The farmer where we were staying ordered us to leave his house. He was afraid he would be reported to the Germans for hiding Jews. At that moment, the first chapter in the story of our wandering began.

My father had a large sum of money with him. He entrusted my 3-year-old sister, Ettel, to a goy, and every week, he went and paid him for her upkeep. The rest of us lived in an attic belonging to a farmer. For miserable rations, my father paid the farmer a very high price. One day my parents and my brother, Shloime, and sister, Tsiporah, went to see Ettel. While walking through the forest, they were spotted by Polish woodchoppers who took off after them. Shloime and Tsiporah managed to escape, but the blood-thirsty dogs caught my parents, took all their money, and handed them over to the Germans.

The Germans tortured my parents cruelly. They ordered my mother to take off all her clothes. When she refused to obey them, they beat her mercilessly. My father was unable to bear it, and he fell on the German, tore his gun from him, and shot him like a rabid dog. In the commotion, my father, dressed only in his underwear, managed to escape. My mother was murdered in a beastly fashion. My father, wounded in the head, managed to get to a goy he knew. He promised to hide him. When my father, exhausted by the terrible events, fell asleep in the barn, the goy left and came back with the Germans. It is impossible to put into words the horrible tortures he underwent until he died. I heard it all when they told this to my 15-year-old brother, Shloime. I could not even cry. I could not comprehend how it was possible that my father, the strong one, the invincible one, as I saw him through my childish eyes, who was always laughing, is no more, that I would never see him again.

When the farmer who had taken my sister, Ettel, learned that my parents were dead, and that there was no one to pay for her, he took her to the woods, stripped her clothes off, and left her naked and alone in the forest. It was a Friday. It rained heavily all day. Puddles accumulated. In one of those puddles sat a small child and helplessly cried, and called for her mother. It was my little sister, Etteleh, with her golden curls. She was condemned to death. A Jewish girl, who was hiding in the same village, and sewed for the farmers, heard the cries of a child in the forest. She went to investigate, and found my sister, naked, blue with cold and almost unconscious. She took the child with her and brought her back to the village. The Poles forbad her to take the child in with her, and ordered her to bring her to the “soltis.” We found out about this, and my brother and I went to the soltis and tearfully pleaded with him not to hand her over to the Germans. He replied that no one was willing to take her, and he had no choice. The Germans immediately shot her. We were helpless. We couldn't save her.

We had no more money to pay the farmers, and they threw us out. We wandered from village to village, trying to earn a piece of bread. It was easier in the summer. My brother worked, and I herded cows. At night, we would sneak into a barn to sleep. The coming of winter brought worse misery. We had no warm clothes and we were barefoot. I used to steal into the pigpens and eat the leftovers. At night we would hide in the Hutki forest and snuggle together for warmth. One day, after such a night, my 5-year-old brother, Berele, did not get up. My sister sent me to the village to get a shovel, and with my own hands, I dug a grave for him. We then decided to separate, everyone to go a different way. We could no longer go around together among the goyim, and maybe this way, we might find a way to save ourselves. My brother went to Suchowola, my sister with the smallest brother, Yosef, stayed in Hutkow, and I went to Zaboreczno, my mother's birthplace.

As I was passing over the bridge, I heard my sister and little brother crying that the goyim had caught them, and were bringing them to the Germans. In panic, I began to run, the cries of my loved ones following me. I didn't question why I ran away from them. It was the instinct for self-preservation that guided me away from death. Exhausted from running without rest, my feet lacerated, and my fingers frozen, running in the snow, I made it to Zaboreczno. I begged the goyim to let me in, promising them I would do any work for them.

Every day I was in another house. For a stale piece of bread and a place in the barn, I would haul water from wells, help with the washing, herd the cows. The Polish children would taunt me, call me “Parszywy Zhidowa.” (Mangy Jewess). My emaciated body was being eaten by lice. I could not take any more suffering. A goy advised me to go to another village where no one would know I was a Jewish child.

In my new place, the owner used me for hard labor. He would beat me with his boots when my work displeased him. I was always starving. I had to steal a piece of bread. His two daughters would report to him if I took a potato out of the oven, or a piece of bread that I had hidden under a pillow. His wife suffered from epilepsy, and I had to pick her up and put her to bed. I was afraid to sleep at night, picturing nightmarish scenes of her lying there with foam growing on her lips. I got so used to the blows that they ceased to bother me, they were as natural as the piece of bread they gave me. During the Christian holidays, I went along to church to pray. I knew the prayers well, and more than once, that saved me from death.

One day, instead of going to church, I ran back to Hutkow. I can't remember how long I travelled, a day or two, not even knowing the way. It seems that an unseen hand directed me through the dense forest on the right way. When I got out of the forest, and could see village houses in the distance, I heard a noise and saw a carriage with two horses harnessed approaching. I scarcely had time to conceal myself when the carriage stopped at a house. A farmer woman came out and seated herself in the carriage and drove off to a field of rye. Two Germans got out of the carriage and began to search the rye, the woman pointing out where. A few minutes later, they led out my uncle Ephraim Kopel and tied him to the carriage. I had heard that my uncle Ephraim was alive and hiding somewhere. He was so close to me yet so far, a distance impossible to breach. The Germans whipped the horses to a wild gallop with my uncle tied to the carriage. He quickly fell and his body was dragged along the road, leaving dark trails of blood. I bit my lips until they bled so that I would not cry out for fear of being heard by the woman who was standing on the road, and watching with sadistic satisfaction the horror show.

I began to search for my brother in the hope that he might help me to endure my suffering. He was after all, older than me! I learned that my brother was in a ruined abandoned hut, half a day from the village. I set off, hungry, to find him. It is hard to describe the joy of our reunion, but it was not to last. In the hut there were about 10 Jews in hiding. The night after I got there, we were attacked by shkootsim armed with axes and spades. They stole watches, money, penknives, everything was valuable to them, and, he who had nothing, received a beating. Among the shkootsim was the son of the soltis who knew us from before the war. My brother began begging him to, at least, leave me alive. I was crying, and I called out that I wanted to go together with him. The shegets promised that he would save us both. They loaded everyone on carts, and he pushed me behind a wall, and told my brother to get up in the attic with him. After the carts drove off, I went back into the hut and called my brother, Shloime, to come down from the attic. Nobody replied. In tears, I ran in the direction of the carts. As I was running, I heard the sound of shooting and machine guns. I knew that the Polish animals had murdered the group of Jews, and my brother, Shloime.

And so I was alone in the world. A young girl whom fate was punishing without mercy. I dragged myself from place to place, from house to house. I myself do not know how I stayed alive, how I survived the hard labor, the hunger and cold. But I lived to see the day of liberation.

When the war ended, I was still in the village. There was no one to care about me or to help me find a way out. One day, a shikse I had become friends with, came and said to me, “Manye, run away, because the boys (shkootsim) want to kill you today. They are afraid that you will tell the Russians who betrayed your family to the Germans.” In panic, I took off running. I ran through swamps and forests until I fell exhausted. I don't know how I got to the Russians. I was sick, feverish, calling for my mother, hallucinating and begging to be hidden. The Russians helped me a lot, and later they brought me to Zamosc. There I was taken in by Ephraim Zitser, through the efforts of Moshe Fishel.

After a while, they put me in an orphanage in Lublin, and from there I was transferred with other children to Chazhaw. I was there for over a year while my lungs were healing. I went to school. There I also learned about our land, about the Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel, and the struggle for aliyah. I came to the borders of the land in the illegal aliyah, but was torn away from there by force, and taken to Cyprus, to a camp encircled by barbed wire.

I lived to be able to come to our free country, to feel the joy of a full Jewish life that will no longer be captive to the whims of mad men.

I find the consolation for the hell I went through, in the circle of my little family, in my own home.


[Pages 403-406]

With the Partisans

by Hersh Gortler (Haifa)

Translated by Moses Milstein

Kra403.jpg
Hersh Gortler

 

As soon as the Germans invaded our shtetl, my father, Moshe ben Zainvel, gathered the whole family together, and we left Krasnobrod.

Along the way, not far from Hrubieszow, we were attacked by peasants who tried to rob us. Fortunately, we were armed, and we drove them off.

From Hrubieszow we went to Kipetchov where my brother Falik was living at the time. While there, my father was accused of engaging in commerce. He was soon arrested by the Soviet authorities and sentenced to 8 years in prison. On the way to jail, my brother, Abraham, and I tore him away from the guards. We all hid out at our townsman, Nachum Lefler's. He lived in the forest near the shtetl, Treuchenbrod. My father stayed there for a whole year. My brother and I parted. I went to Vilitsk, and Abraham to Rowne.

In 1941, when the German bandits invaded the Ukraine, I went back to Kipetchov. I only travelled by night. Ukrainians intent on murdering me, on more than one occasion, attacked me. It was only through a miracle that I was able to save myself from them. After ten days, in the middle of the night, I reached Kipetchov, and tearfully fell into my mother's room.

In the morning, early Thursday, I left to find my brother, Falik. While I was sitting there in his house, the door opened and a neighbor woman came in. She told us that a bunch of killers were sitting in her restaurant getting ready to come over here and murder me. I immediately ran away and hid in the fields. Friday, at dawn, I went to say good–bye to my mother, and I left for the Psianara forest. I wandered around lost in the forest for several days, and on Saturday morning, I came upon a group of Jews davening. They gathered around me and asked me where I was from and what news there was.

I left for Ludmir that same day. I was accompanied by a Ludmir Jew with the family name of Laizerovitch. As we were travelling through the forest, we were attacked by two Ukrainian bandits armed with one revolver. They took our valuables and let us go. As we were getting ready to go on our way, one of the bandits came over to me, gun in hand, and demanded the golden ring he had seen on my finger. I suddenly threw myself at him, and wrenched the revolver from his hand, and wounded him badly. The other bandit ran away, and we too took off running deeper into the forest.

We got to Ludmir in the evening of the following day. I spent the night at Laizerovitch's and left early the next morning to search for people I knew.

As I was visiting one of my friends, a group of Germans and Ukrainians came in and took me away. I worked for them for several days, and then they let me go. On my way, I noticed placards posted in the streets ordering that all the Jews must present themselves at the plaza by the shul. So I went to the designated place. And there I saw young storm troopers murdering Jews, and rivers of Jewish blood flowing. I immediately began to try to find a way to escape, and I was successful. I got out of there, got my revolver out of its hiding place, and looked for a way to get to the partisans in the forest.

After wandering around in the forest for several months, I came to a place where a partisan group had organized itself. There were 25 of us with weapons. Since I only had a revolver, the commander ordered me to get a rifle. I headed for for the military barracks at Ludmir. I concealed myself and tracked the movements of the watchman. At the right moment, I jumped him, tore the rifle away from him, and ran away into the forest to my squad.

With time, our group enlarged, and we began to carry out attacks, and various diversion activities against the Germans.

One day, I stole into the Ludmir ghetto, took several families out, and got them settled somewhere safer. One family is in America today, and still others are in Israel. I also saved the two Friedling sisters, of Zamosc, from certain death.

The second time I went into the ghetto, I was surrounded by about 20 Jewish policemen who wanted to turn me over to the Germans as the one guilty of freeing the Jews. The Germans had demanded a reckoning for the escapes from the Jewish police and the judenrat. As the ghetto police had no weapons, and I did, I started shooting, and in the commotion, I escaped. I hid in a well. I don't know how I got out of there alive, other than through a miracle from heaven.

There were several Krasnobrod families in the ghetto, of which I can only remember Hersh ben Shmuel Gertler and his wife. Unfortunately, they did not heed my pleading for them to join the other families I had rescued from the ghetto. They shared the fate of the Ludmir Jews and perished in the various aktions.

Some time after the first aktion, I went into the ghetto again. This time a terrible picture of despair greeted me. Jews were standing ready to be slaughtered and could only cry, “Shema Israel!” I shouted out, “Jews, come with me and let us save ourselves!” Twenty people rallied to me. We succeeded in escaping the ghetto and fleeing to the surrounding forests. One of the group, Nachum Weissman, lives in Ramla today. The next day small groups of Jews tried to escape the ghetto, but this time, the Germans responded with fierce firepower, and they fell dead or wounded.

A while later, I left the partisan troop, and set out for Kipetchov to find my parents. But I came too late. My parents, brothers, and sisters perished with all the Kipetchovers in the shtetele, Azreian near Kipetchov.

May their memory be for a blessing.


[Pages 407-423 - Yiddish] [Page 151-161 - Hebrew]

And I Was Left Alone

by Rivka Lamm–Burstein (Ber Sheva)

Translated by Moses Milstein

Kra407.jpg
Rivka Lamm–Burstein

 

The year, 1939, brought the Second World War, and the beginning of our tragedy.

The Jewish population of Western Poland fled to the Eastern regions of Poland. They fled from fear of the German army and Hitler's rule.

At the time, we were living in Lublin. During the first German bomb attack on Lublin, our wood shed was burned. Mother immediately sent us off to Krasnobrod where our grandparents, and uncles and aunts lived. We were not the only ones. Many other refugees also fled there. German airplanes followed us. A few days later, they bombed the shtetl because the Polish army had been concentrating its defensive forces there. We fled the shtetl under the fire of both battling sides to hide on St. Roch Mountain. There we learned that the shtetl was on fire and no one dared to try to fight it.

The battles did not last long, and the Germans entered the shtetl.

Soon after their arrival, the Polish Christian population, with the help of the Germans, enthusiastically took part in looting Jewish possessions. Some entertained themselves by cutting off beards and payes, and mocking the Jews when they bent under savage beating.

They forced men to dig graves to bury the horses that had fallen in the battles. They forced them to undress and to bury their clothes under the horses. After a couple of hours, they ordered them to dig up the graves and put on the putrid clothing.

A few days later, the German army left and the Soviet army came in. We went to my uncle Motl, in Zamosc, with the idea of returning to Lublin.

Two weeks later the Russians retreated to Rava–Ruska, and the Germans re–entered Krasnobrod.

Some of the Krasnobroder Jews whose houses had been burnt had nowhere to go. They had had an early taste of Nazi rule, and decided to leave with the Russian army. Thus, the Krasnobrod fire was an indirect cause of their survival. Without that, no sign of Krasnobroder Jewish existence would have survived.

My father did not want to, nor was he able to, abandon everything he had, so we returned to Lublin.

At first, we lived as well as was possible. But, after a few months, the Germans confiscated our apartment and furniture and exiled us to the Jewish street. There we decided to return to Krasnobrod because life was easier there at the time. Because of the fire, the Jews were crammed together in the few remaining houses, for example, Unzug's house, Chaim Bronstein (the baker's) house, or in the “tcherinaske.” Others lived with the goyim. We stayed with Kwarcziani until they left the forest for Zolav. We had stayed there for almost a year in reasonable peace, until the aktions began, and put an end to the few Jews in Krasnobrod.

The first aktion took place yom–tov, but I don't remember which yom–tov it was. As the Jews were returning from shul, the Gestapo and SS suddenly appeared and opened fire on the Jews. In a blink of an eye, the street emptied out. Only Chaim Stringler remained lying shot on the ground. After that, people fled in frightened panic whenever the murderers showed themselves.

Some time later, a transport of refugees from Zamosc arrived. They were Jews from Western Poland who had been “ausgeziedelt” when the western regions were apportioned to the Third Reich. They had been driven from one place to another until they ended up in Zamosc, and from there to us.

But the shtetl was destroyed by fire and the inhabitants had no place either. My father proposed that we move them into the public bathhouse after we renovate it a bit to make it suitable for people. The proposal pleased neither the refugees nor the shtetl residents. The latter gave the refugees to understand that there was no place for them here, and the best thing to do was to return to Zamosc.

We paid dearly later for my father's mixing in. As the refugees were returning, the Germans accosted them, and out of fear, one of them said that a man called Lamm had ordered them to turn back. (It so happened to be that just my father's name came to his mind).

A few days later we were visited by an important person–the well–known Gestapo officer, Forst–accompanied by his three henchmen. Fortunately, my father managed to escape at the last minute, and only we women were left. They immediately began to poke around and look for trouble. They found my school identification card and demanded that I tell them what it was. I explained to them it was school identification and that I didn't belong to any organization. Then they found an electric cord from an iron and began clamoring to know where the radio was hidden. Fortunately, we had a certificate stating that we had surrendered our radio in Lublin. Then they asked me how old I was. When I told them, they began to hector me about why I wasn't wearing the yellow Star of David. I told them that I was not required to wear it in the house. In response, I received a whip across the face, the handle cutting into my cheek. I was so scared, I didn't feel the pain. When they saw the mezuzot, they made my mother take them down and explain what the writing meant. Then they took my brother's tefillin, and ordered us to put them on, and enjoyed themselves greatly humiliating us.

When they had had a good laugh, they ordered my mother and I into another room and ordered me to lie down on the bed and gave the whip to my mother and told her to beat me. She refused, so they exchanged our roles. I, obviously, also did not want to beat my mother. So they grabbed my arm, and hit her with my arm. I tore myself out of their hands and fell across my mother. They began beating me with the whip. Then they exploded a gas bomb in the house and fled outside and looked in at the window to see us suffocating from the gas.

Finally, they came back into the house and promised another visit in eight days. They took me with them when they left. I thought they were taking me to jail, but I was mistaken. They brought me to the bathhouse. There they ordered me to take off all my clothes and go into the mikveh. They stood around me and ogled my body, black and blue from the blows. When they tired of the show, they ordered me to get dressed and to go right home. I ran with the last of my strength. But my strength failed and I passed out. Fortunately, my grandmother had been following me all along. She helped me up and led me home. I was broken physically and spiritually, from the beatings and from shame. But when I entered the house and saw my mother lying unconscious on the bed, I bit my lips and said nothing. She was in bed for a couple of days with the doctor at her side throughout.

A few days later, the refugees from Zamosc returned for good. They arrived in the company of the Gestapo. About 10 families were brought to our house. We squeezed them into the largest room. This was also the day of their promised second visit. Mother and I went to Stanka's where my father used to spend the night.

As we were sitting in father's room, we saw three Volksdeutche come up. We quickly got out of father's room and went over to Stanka where we sat around as if we were “guests” so that they would not suspect anyone of hiding here. Stanka also said we had just arrived as her guests.

They brought us back home, and the same scene of a week ago was replayed. They beat mother and me with no mercy. This time, my little sister, Zisele, was also beaten. By chance, Zisel Mozes happened to be there. But she managed to quickly escape. And again they promised that they would return. But they would not find us again. We left our home and went to the forest to the gajowa,[1] Kaniya. There a new period in our life in the forest began.

After a while, we got used to life in the forest. On one beautiful, wonderful, summer day, as I was out in the forest picking blueberries, an oppressive feeling suddeny came over me. I grabbed my sister and pulled her home. As we approached the ranger's house, I saw my parents and my grandmother and my aunt standing outside, waiting impatiently for us, ready to flee. It turned out that Yosef Goldstein had learned from the hoif that they were looking for father. He learned it from the mayor who had telephoned the hoif to see if he was there. Before we could turn around, the mayor arrived with a Gestapo man. The ranger was not at home. They began to question his family about us. The ranger's wife categorically denied everything. Suddenly, the ranger's eldest daughter mixed in and began to talk back. The mayor kicked her and declared to the Gestapo man that not only was she lying, but with chutzpah too. It was lucky that the German did not speak a word of Polish. They both got back on the carriage and drove away. A few hours later, the ranger's dog, who had become very attached to mother, brought my uncle David. He told us we could now return.

We did indeed return, but our peaceful interlude was over. We were afraid to sleep in the house, so we slept in the stable in our clothes. Father kept guard while we slept. At around 3 am, he heard the sound of a car approaching the forest, and then getting stuck on the sandy road. He woke us up and we fled, taking the dog with us. In the forest there was a valley ahead. We had planned to take the upper road. But the dog began to pull toward the valley. We followed him. When we got deeper into the woods, we heard the police car again. It was travelling on the upper road. And so we were saved yet again. The killers had surrounded the whole area. They were certain they were going to capture us. It did not occur to them that the noise of the car would alert us.

Since father spent most of his time in the forest, he was also accused of having ties to the partisans. We had to leave the ranger's, so we went to Olszewski. Father hid in an attic in Zaguza. He had to hide not only from the Germans, but also from the Poles. Mother often snuck out to him. We kids would ostensibly be going to pick berries, and we would hang around the house. Sometimes I would go with my brother, Maniek, sometimes Zisele and Berele, and father would see us through the cracks in his hiding place. We were not allowed to see him. My father stayed in hiding until the Germans sent a secret–agent, a Jew, and he did sniff something out, and telephoned to Zamosc. But my father found out, and found another place.

The next day, the Gestapo arrived. They surrounded the village, mounted machine guns, even dug a grave, and began the search. Hersh–Leib Briks was also hiding in Zaguza at the time. They found his wife and interrogated her, but she knew nothing. She couldn't tell them anything even when they brutally beat her. My father's cup of suffering and misery was not full enough it seems. He had to endure much before his death. They looked everywhere but where he was hidden, and they left without achieving their goal. But they put a price on his head.

My father was still consoling himself with the thought that he had escaped certain death, when news came about a new aktion. We also got news about the aktions in Zamosc that had wiped out that community. My father now saw the senselessness of the game of hide–and–seek that he was playing with the Germans. What kind of thing is capable of coming one fine day and wiping out an entire community of Jews, old and young, big and small. He decided to leave hiding and come and live with us. If, God forbid, it is fated that we all die, then it will be together, not alone. And maybe, who knows? Maybe it is fated that we all live?

We became aware of the possibility of getting “Aryan documents.” We decided to try to get the documents, and we began to prepare for our roles. I was sent to Stempinski. One day as I was sitting and learning a Polish prayer, I heard Esther Lerner's voice. She was describing how, on St. Roch Mountain, they had found my parents hiding place. I went straight out to her, and when she saw me, she became rattled. Later, she tried to calm me down by saying that she had not seen it with her own eyes, but she had only heard about it. People talk. I did however, know that my parents were there, and I could not calm myself. I quickly set out with her to discover their fate. Along the way, some farmers told us that Esther's mother and sister had been arrested. She wanted to run to them, but I held her back. As we arrived in town, we saw them sitting in a horse–drawn carriage guarded by police. When the carriage departed, we took off running back to the woods, calling for a few armed Jewish boys to intercept them. But as we entered the forest, we heard two volleys coming from the direction the carriage had gone. We knew that there was nothing to run after anymore. It also made no sense to return to the shtetl and certain death, so we entered the forest and wandered around lost. In the evening, we found a group of Jews. Later, I met my uncle, Laizer, who tried to reassure me about my parents, and promised that he would unite me with them. At two o'clock that night, Yosef, Laizer's son, came and led me to a hiding place between piles of branches where I waited a whole 24 hours.

Czech Sokolowski came and took me to my parents. I met my grandmother on the way. She was half crazed from hunger and deprivation. She didn't recognize or understand me. She could only mumble grandfather's last words. “I am dying before my time… but I do not envy you your life.” I took her with me and begged Mrs. Sokolowska to give her something to eat and allow her to sleep in the stable. She agreed at first, but later she threw her out. Finally, my grandmother, starving, exhausted, resigned, could not endure any more. She went to the shtetl, and begged them to kill her. And so did many others who had been hiding in the forest. The Poles had stopped selling them food, and they could no longer endure the hunger and the misery without a roof over their heads. They could not, and no longer wanted to, live like this.

The reunion with my parents was short. I received my document and the address where I was to meet Zisel and my brother, Berl. I said farewell to my father, my mother and my little brother, Maniek. I did not know then that we were saying farewell forever.

I went away from them with a new name into a world that wanted people like me dead, where if I, God forbid, revealed the secret–that I am a Jewish daughter.

And so I entered the Aryan side, a foreign world, as Felicia Lotz, as my document confirmed. It was not so easy, however, to travel from one place to another. The Germans were carrying out the latest aktions in the area, and every station was carefully watched. They pried into every little corner, maybe a Jew had succeeded in saving himself. I did not fool myself into relying too much on my document. I continued to hide and scurry from place to place. It was clear that practically any Pole would recognize me. I was also not so experienced in my new role. It was not hard to uncover my secret when they saw my reaction to what I had witnessed. And if I still had any doubts, I soon had the chance to change my mind.

I was standing in the station in Zwierzyniec and witnessed the deportation of the Jews of Bilgoraj. I had until then endured something, but such a horror I would not have believed, had I not seen it with my own eyes. The Germans were driving the people like a herd of sheep, driving them along with wild, bloodthirsty dogs that were well trained and attacked anyone who strayed out of line, or old people who were lagging. And should they be attacked, they would not get out alive. And this all took place under the eyes of the SS who walked on beside them with bayonets mounted, on which hung the heads of dead Jewish children.

My eyes could not believe what they were seeing. My body was numb. It must have been seen in my face, as a Pole quickly came and arrested me. It turned out, however, that the pshadavnik knew my father, and after a long sermon, he let me go. I had to, however, give him my medallion, a remembrance of my mother.

I finally got to Wilkoloz where Zisele and Berele were. When day dawned, we set out, the three of us. Just as we got to the station, we were told Jews were being hunted. Nevertheless, we took the train and got to Lublin. At the station, again the same thing. Secret–agents and spies were running around looking at everyone. We saw that Berl was, for understandable reasons, in greater danger of being exposed, and we too as a consequence. We agreed to separate. I later learned that Berl returned to Krasnobrod and hid near our parents and Maniek. He could not be with them in order not to arouse suspicion. At the end, some farmers caught him near the hoif, and brought him to the Germans. The Gestapo came and tried to get him to reveal where our parents were. They tortured him terribly, crushed his hand between millstones. But he told them nothing. Finally, one of the betrayers couldn't stand it anymore, and begged them to shoot him. The German agreed out of “good–heartedness,” but he did not do a complete job. When my brother was buried, he was still alive. He was buried near the mill in the hoif.

 

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Chava and Yosef Lamm – Rivke's parents

 

A while later, my parents met their tragic end. After years of pain and fear of death, of vegetating in their hiding places, after they were drained of every groschen, they perished at the hands of their “friends” who they had depended on for help, whose holy oaths they had foolishly believed.

In Lublin station, I lost track of Zisel. I found her a few days later in the “arbeitsamt.” We couldn't find any work in Lublin. The danger of being exposed was greater here too. We decided to go further away, the further the safer. We signed up for labor in Germany. We registered and we went off to the “umschlagplatz” on Krochmalna 1. A few days later, we were sent to Germany.

 

Slavery

We worked for 6 month in an aluminum factory. On the day we had planned to escape with a French woman to France, the police showed up and arrested 18 girls, including us. Apparently, someone betrayed us.

We were dragged from prison to prison. We went through: Bitterfeld, Halela, Leipzig and Dresden. Finally, on a dark and rainy night, we arrived at Auschwitz. It was pouring buckets. Our greeters were dead drunk. Zisele wanted to make a move to escape, but I prevented her. They brought us to the guards at the entrance and told them they were bringing another pack of dogs. We were soaking wet and they brought us to a barrack that was stuffed with people who had arrived before us. During the night, a new transport of Greek Jews arrived.

The Germans quickly got to work tattooing numbers on our arms. Zisele got the number 39938, and mine was 39939. In the morning, they shaved our heads and took us to the baths. This was on April 4, 1943. Snow was still on the ground and it was bitter cold. They forced us to go outside naked and lie down in the snow and mud, then back into the cold baths. After the “washing,” they gave us filthy soldier uniforms. I got the uniform of a Red Army soldier. When I was dressed, I went outside, and Zisel was shocked to see a Red Army soldier coming straight at her. But when I began to talk, she recognized my voice.

We got sick 3 months later. I got Typhus and went through 2 operations. Zisel got the Grippe and dysentery. Because of the different nature of our illnesses, we were separated. It was not easy to get together. After my illness, I was sent to the munitions factory, and Zisel to the death division. With a lot of effort, I was able to get her out of there and into the shoemaking division. But she fell sick again. This time she got a lung infection and a frozen foot. She stopped eating, and couldn't stand on her feet. She was transferred to Block 25. From there they would go to the gas chamber. On the day they came to take people to the gas chamber, someone from the administration came and took a few people off the list including Zisel. Once spared, she looked for a way to let me know. Thus, I had another chance to see Zisel again.

Those who had been taken off the gas chamber list were sent to the hospital. A few days later, instead of going back to my barrack, I went to the other camp to look for her at the hospital. If I were discovered, I would go straight to Block 25. But if you spend each day under the ever–smoking chimneys, not knowing if today, or tomorrow you will become smoke too, you look at danger differently. I finally found Zisel. Her face had the look of a dead person. Only her black eyes glistened and I could see it was she. She begged me for a spoonful of potato soup, but who could get such a thing?

She went through two more “selections” without trouble. But she could not endure much longer. On February 16, 1944, she gave up her soul. And I knew nothing about it, going that day, like everyday, to be with her. It was late because it was “shpere” at the barrack and I couldn't get away. So I went ostensibly to the doctor and then snuck into the hospital. I could not find her anywhere. I asked the sister and she pointed to a pile of bodies in the yard. I did not want to believe it, and I began to feverishly search through the bodies, hoping I wouldn't find her. Then I found, off to the side, an arm with the number, 39938, a number that was burned into my heart. Yes, it was Zisele's body from which the tselem elohim had long ago left. Her black eyes were shut. As if they no longer wanted to see this depraved world, this world that allowed her to wither before she had bloomed. I felt a stab of envy deep in my heart that she was done with her suffering. Who knows what still awaited me? I had done everything I could to be with my dearest ones. What kind of a so–called life did I have? But, out of spite, death spared me.

I got out of Auschwitz on the last transport. They drove us to Ravensbruck. There they gave us hardly anything to eat. Whoever could not “arrange” something, died of hunger. Then they sent us to Malchow and from there to Taucha. On the way to Hamburg, the railroad line was heavily bombed. Most of the cars were damaged. I somehow arrived in Taucha in one piece. The Germans already felt they were doomed, but they couldn't bring themselves to let us go.

We weren't even in a camp, but were driven from village to village. They didn't know what to do with us. All we got to get through the day was a raw potato or an onion. Once, when I left the ranks to go pick a turnip in the field, bullets whizzed by my head. And another time, for the same reason, I was hit so hard by the guard that I almost passed out.

We could see no end to this. So a Dutch girl and I agreed to escape together. We crawled on our knees for a kilometer and a half before we dared to get up and run. This was on May 3, 1945. I later learned that in a few more days all the Aryan women would be released, but they would continue to drag the Jewish women around. That same day, they shot 10 of them.

Further away, I began to feel free. I decided to go to the front, closer to “home.” Maybe, maybe, God had shown some mercy and I would find someone alive. I walked for two days and came to Afala. From there I took the train to Czestochowa, and from there to Lublin, and finally Zamosc. I wanted to travel to Krasnobrod, but I couldn't find a ride. I didn't yet know that every goy who recognized me would consider it a mitzvah to kill me. I went to the new city to see if maybe someone from my uncle, Motl's, family was left. He was my mother's full brother. But I found no one there. Someone brought me to Moshe Fishel's, and there I learned who was still alive. From our large, extended family, I was the only one left, alone and forlorn. Like a stone in a field.

Sometime later, I joined a kibbutz in Krakow. That same year, we set off to make aliyah. Czechoslovakia, Austria, and finally the sadly famous port of La Spezia.

On May 19, 1946, I arrived in the port of Haifa.

 

Translator's note:
  1. Forest ranger return

 

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