Back in the Ghetto
We arrived at the Grodno Ghetto. There I stayed with my relative, an elderly woman who had lost one of her sons in the first days of the war. I was bedridden. The life of the old, sick woman was very difficult. She had already sold her last pillows and clothes for a piece of bread, and now she had to take care of me, as well. The Judenrat did not give out any bread for me.
Later, with tears [in her eyes] she managed to beg 100 grams of bread a day for me. There were neither potatoes nor wood. Thus, old, broken pieces of furniture were already burned, which had stood moldy in the attic.
Every day it got worse. For the first few days, I just lay there, unable to turn to the other side. Every single blow [that I had received] hurt me especially now. Once the doctor visited me and prescribed cold compresses.
After two weeks of lying in bed, I became healthier and could already walk around the room with trembling steps.
Every single day, there was a different incident in the ghetto. Both the Germans and the ghetto commissar demanded more and more. Every day, the population experienced minutes and hours, when they were scared to death. Today, girls are taken to work and no one knows where they will be sent. And tomorrow, gold, fur and other things will be demanded from the Judenrat. There was no enough for these bandits.
From the leather factory of Krynki often a truck used to come to get special materials for work and take (valuable) things for the commissioner.
My family knew where I was, and every time the truck came, I got a letter from my parents.
The situation in the Grodno ghetto continued to worsen every day. Suddenly, posters were put up, saying that everyone had to report to the Judenrat. Understanding very well what that meant, I wrote a letter home about how I should decide; what should I do next? Going back to the forest would have been very tough for me. Finally, it was already cold and in my current state of health I would not have lasted long.
From home, I received the answer that I should return with the factory truck to the Krynki Ghetto. There, I was to appear under a different name, because I had given my brother's name to the gendarmerie.
[So,]I hid well on the truck among the bags of selected things, and arrived at the factory. From there, I went to the ghetto, together with the workers.
The first meeting with my mother will remain in my memory forever. Maternal despair mixed with tragic joy sprayed from her good, teary eyes. Even before that time, my appearance had changed a lot. I had become anemic, my eyes sat deeply buried in their sockets, and my clothes were torn. My younger brother, along with other boys and girls, had been assigned to dig peat. The situation in the ghetto had worsened a lot. As in Grodno, in the Krynki ghetto, too, new decrees and new suffering were created each single day. The Jews were walking around like shadows, getting weaker and sicker every day.
The Judenrat was composed of the following persons:
Israel Kalinovitch, Yosl Goltz, Tale Goldshmid, Yankl Levi (The Clear), Yankl Grosman, Mair Kaplan, Notke Mastovl(y)anski, Yosl Mastovl(y)anski (Representative of the Commander) and Yankl (Yakob) Kozaltshik.
The ghetto stretched across one part of the shtetl, starting from one side of Mill Street, encompassing the second, [reverse?] Mill Street and Bath Street, which ended as a dead end at the river where the ghetto fence stood, crisscrossed with barbed wire at the top. Moreover, in the ghetto there was Gabarska Street, over which a bridge spanned to connect both halves of the ghetto. The bridge was located next to the brick houses of Yoshke Garber and Alter Kugel.
Further on was the shul's courtyard, which the Nazis had occupied as a place to repair their tanks. Gemina Street led through the ghetto up to Grosman's factory; the ghetto fence ran the entire length to the power station. The tsverke [the chapel at the Russian orthodox cemetery] stood outside the ghetto. The fence of the ghetto ran near Shteiner's fence. Both Tserkovne Street and half a side of Amdurer Street were in the ghetto. This was the area that the ghetto had taken. The other side of the shtetl had been destroyed.
The ghetto commissar and the Amtskommissar used to take their walks through the ghetto a few times a day, and then the few narrow streets died away, as if there were no living people there.
The houses were crowded with people. One square meter per person was prescribed. Three to four families lived in each house.Three or four women used to stand by the fireplaces, and while blowing into them (to start the fire), tears would run from their eyes, both from the bitter smoke and from their bitter, hard lives.
And despite the narrowness, more and more Jewish families were brought from the surrounding shtetls.
The shul and the Bote-Medroshim (study houses) were overcrowded with people, and one can imagine how depressing the sanitary conditions were in the ghetto. There was, as well, a hospital in the ghetto, but it was also overcrowded.
The food consisted of each 100 grams of bread and potatoes per person. No one caught sight of fat, except those who worked outside the ghetto. And these persons used to smuggle in, with great difficulty, a piece of butter, wrapped in a broom, or twisted into the hair of women. Woe to whoever was
caught participating in this activity. By the gates, the bribable Polish policemen were standing, together with a gendarme. And at the side, a Jewish policeman used to stand with a stick in his hand, demanding his share of the goods smuggled in. The Judenrat became a full government force with a president, police, and even its own prison, where those who would break the ghetto's strict discipline or would refuse to go to work were imprisoned.
The children and friends of the Judenrat officials did not go to any work. In opposition to this, the commander, who held dictatorial power over the Judenrat, waged a strong struggle. Often, brawls broke out. One particular story is about a pool (pond) that the commissioner had built for himself and his followers (clique). Every day, thousands of women, men and children used to be driven to (work on) the pool. It was a mil fun beyner there. People kept falling down while carrying the heavy loads of earth, and leather whips (nagaikes) beat down on them from all sides, mainly by the hands of the venal, bandit Polish police.
Factory workers, too, after finishing their hard day's work, used to be forced into work again. At the gate of the ghetto, the bandits used to wait already together with the ghetto commissioner, and instead of letting the workers into the ghetto, they were taken away at gun point to the pool. And that's where they really felt what it meant to work under duress. The completely exhausted workers used to barely
manage to drag themselves back to their homes to arrive to an empty pot and nothing edible on the table, where the little children begged, with tears in their eyes: Dad, bread!, bread, Mom!, only to fall asleep hungry.
In the ghetto, people were informed about the daily news at the front, but they received this information from only a few people.
Nochem Blacher's son, Simche, had a radio built into an empty barrel in his cellar, and every day, Bome Fridman would stay there to listen to the news from London, Moscow, and Berlin.
For this, the death penalty of hundreds of people was threatened, and therefore, this matter was kept very strictly secret. Mostly, the youth had been
divided to do [different] work. A few dozens were sent to dig peat in Padbonike, and others to saw wood in the forest. There was an incident that the partisans in the forest took the picks and saws from this group, sending them back to the ghetto, not wanting to take them with them.
When the partisans of the area met a Jew in the forest, they generally took everything from him, telling him to go back to where he came from. The reason for this was that the Germans used to send their spies, disguised as Jews with yellow patches on their backs, into the woods. These later announced where the bunkers were
located. For those who dug peat, it happened that they were visited by partisans. Some young people, including my brother, wanted to go with them into the forest, but the partisans strictly forbade it, threatening that they would shoot them.
The Germans spread great fear among the Christian population. They were forbidden to give even the slightest support to the Jews. The Jews who left the ghetto to go to work, were strictly guarded by the police and gendarmes.
Those, who have remained alive, will forever remember the word Feldfebl (Feldwebel, sergeant). This man instilled fear in everyone. He was a tall, coarse German with large, piercing eyes. His job was to keep the main road to Bialystok clean. For this purpose, he often visited the ghetto, and the Jews then had to feel the blows of his nagaike (whip) on their backs.The worst time was in winter, when the main road was covered with high snowdrifts, and the Jews had to remove them as quickly as possible.
The feldfebl used to drive into the ghetto with his truck, herding out several hundred Jews. They then ran ahead, and he drove behind and impelled them with his truncheon.
He made no distinction, but forced everyone, women, men and even old people, to work. Once, he went in drunk, and, although he was always drunk, this time he really seemed like a wild animal. First, he shot into the windows, then he ran into the houses, took out several dozen girls
who were still lying in their beds (it was 4 a.m.), and herded them in their nightgowns through the ghetto to the main street. In the evening, he brought the girls back. All of them had frozen feet and hands. The sadist had raped several girls and brought them, half-dead, back to the ghetto in his truck.
When he used to drive several hundred people out of the ghetto, as well as generally in the execution of his sadistic and brutal plans, he was assisted by the thuggish police.
The production of leather and shoes flowed exclusively to the Germans.
It happened the day before Passover, 1942. It was a gloomy day and the wind was blowing over the ghetto. As happened every day, early in the morning the work troops stood in front of the gate, waiting for permission from the ghetto administration to march out. This time both the ghetto commissar and the Amtskommissar stood at the gate, preventing elderly Jews from leaving. No one understood the significance of this measure; everyone speculated on something else. According to the order of the ghetto commissar, the Jewish police ordered all young people to leave for work.
I then left the first day together with the leather workers. At ten o'clock, the ghetto gate was opened and one hundred and fifty German murderers, armed from head to toe, entered the ghetto, singing the Horst Wessel song: Wenn's Judenblut vom Messer spritzt (When Jewish blood spurts from the knife). They scattered around the ghetto houses and shooting was heard, mixed with crying and shouting. Yakob ran across the streets, his shirt unbuttoned, his eyes full of tears. He yelled without cease: Jews, hide yourselves. They are going to shoot you! He begged the Germans tooth and nail that they may not shoot, but the shooting did not stop. At the same time, negotiations were held in the Judenrat with the murderous officer of the death squad (toytn-grupe).
The officer demanded 300 Jews to be shot. After an hour of negotiations, and for the price of a large amount of gold, leather
and other valuables, the Judenrat managed to bargain down the demand: Only those with beards were to be shot, that is, several dozen Jews.
The massacre lasted two hours, until 12 noon. Until [early] evening, the number of those shot could not yet be clarified, because the victims were hidden in different places.
In the [later] evening, 33 people were recorded as having been shot, among them the persons listed below:
Leibke Segal Munye L(y)evin Moshe Lapate, Muntshik Wolf (The grandson of the blacksmith) Yankele Wolf, Motl Kravyetski (Bashke Spodvil(y)er's son), Moshe L(y)ev the baker, who stood up heroically against the murderers not to get shot, Motke L(y)evi Arbultshik, the tailor, Henoch Nogidman (Israel-Hertzske's son), the blond Moyre-Hoyroe of the Hasidic shtibl, Blak (Blok), Mones F(P)itshebutzki Alter, The Rooster Veirokh, Natovitsh, Rabkin, Sender Shapir, Abraham Brevde, Pinye Gendler (Pinye Munye Feigl Yehoshua)
Shoshke Lasher, Yisroel Hertzke's wife-Nagdimon, Akon (stabbed in bed by a sword), Ilin, the wife of old Mendl
It was no longer allowed to take the dead out to the Jewish cemetery, so all had to be buried in the ghetto, next to the [house of] Linas-Hatzedek, in a common-grave. The Hasidic Moyre-Hoyroe, called The Blond, had his beard burned off alive, then he was nailed to the wall of the Hasidic shtibl.
The entire ghetto was enveloped in mourning. All around there was dead silence. The ghetto commissar forbade us to bewail the dead. They were buried with their clothes on, in the presence of the ghetto commissar and the Amtskommissar. The first Seder in 1942 was transformed into a Seder of destruction, mourning and torment.
The ghetto was divided into two parts, which were connected by a large bridge. Under the bridge ran Gabarska Street, on the sides of which was the ghetto fence. Until 9 o'clock
in the evening, one used to pass from one part of the ghetto to the other.
Material life was deteriorating day by day, all supplies had run out. People became paler and weaker. Mortality increased enormously, so that the empty piece of field next to the Linas-Hatzedek was already full of graves. The hunger spread more and more with each passing day. Very little could be smuggled into the ghetto. The majority lived with the hope that it would not be long before their liberation. When such people as Yudl Kaplan, Isaiah Glezer and my father came and held the opinion that we had to seek the way to our liberation alone, and that we had to go into the woods with rifle in hand to fight the enemy, others used to come along, such as Zeidl Filippski, and preach that we had to remain in the ghetto and wait, until the Amolek vet hobn dem sof fun Homenen.
The days passed by. I worked in the factory, because none of the able-bodied in the ghetto were allowed to remain without work. To return to the forest was too early for me, because I still felt too weak after my experiences, besides I did not know the exact place where my comrades were staying now. The forest was large, and I had no rifle. So I decided to wait and later, together with my brother, leave the ghetto for the forest.
Winter was approaching, and the majority in the ghetto had no wood. A rumor came that the Krynker Jews would be transferred to another ghetto. People were already packing bags and preparing for the move.
In November 1942, the black day came for the ghetto. Christians told that they had been ordered to come to the marketplace with their horses and carts. Immediately, the ghetto was extremely heavily guarded, so that it was almost impossible to leave.
The labor troops, who worked on the main roads in the surrounding villages, were brought into the ghetto. Everyone already knew that the ghetto would be transferred to another city.
However, no one knew where. There was only conjecture. Even the Judenrat did not know the truth, And so heavy, black clouds gathered over our pain-stricken heads.
The Liquidation of the Ghetto
Fall was approaching. The situation in the ghetto became worse and more desperate. Twenty butchers were imprisoned for smuggling a cow into the ghetto. They were taken away to the prison in Bialystok. Nobody knew what happened to them, and there were different rumors about their fate. Among the butchers was also a member of the Judenrat. After a few weeks, it was confirmed that all of them had been shot. The ghetto commissar promised that he would supply the population with enough potatoes and wood during the winter. In the meantime, I had also received information about the sad day, when the Germans bombed the city. At that time, all the people had run to the field. The German planes threw down leaflets that the population should put on white headscarves. So they did. All the Jews were sitting together in one place of the field, and the whole shtetl was on fire. After the bombing, a few Jews ran to check on their houses. In the evening, an airplane suddenly flew through overhead, letting off a white streak of smoke. At the same moment a firing of cannons was heard, and the artillery rounds fell on the gathered Jews. After two shots, there were 76 dead and many wounded. Whole families were killed while they had been sitting together in one place. People went mad and ran around the field. The first victim was Mr. Leibl Zak with his wife. Furthermore: Hershl Borowski. The family of Israel Kirzner except the father. [But] Shloime, Chane, Neche and so on. The pharmacist Zhuchowski perished with his two children, Roza and Tanya, and his wife went mad.
The days passed. In Virian's yard, the pool had already been finished. Now, everyone went to work at the ruins. The economic commissioner opened a tailor and furrier workshop. Work was done here exclusively for the use of Germans, who went to Germany every day carrying their looted goods.
So everyone lived and waited for the day of liberation. The 2nd of November 1942 arrived. The ghetto was surrounded with machine guns, it was no longer possible to leave. The ghetto Commissioner and all the other Germans took from the Jews all the ordered works, though they were not yet finished. For a whole day already, people were not let out to work, and at dusk, the rumor spread that everyone from the ghetto would be transferred to another city. All night, everyone was already sewing backpacks and preparing for the move
The next morning at 6 o'clock, the ghetto commissar announced that everyone would leave the ghetto in one hour. Farmers' carts were already gathering at the market. Then, at half past six, armed Germans appeared, together with officers and Gestapo. The gate was already open for going out. After 10 minutes, there were hundreds of people already standing, young and old, with luggage on their shoulders. Just as they started marching out of the gate, a crowd of German and Polish bandits began beating the Jews on their heads and backs with clubs. People fell to the pavement streaming with blood. Children cried. Feathers from pillows covered the pavement. The whole Gabarska Street up to the market was covered all over with pieces of luggage and battered people. Children lost their parents and ran between the feet of the murderers, who struck without stopping, shouting, Faster! Faster! Ahead!
The officers, standing with cameras, took photographs of the gruesome scenes while laughing at the running victims.
My father had taken nothing more than tobacco leaves with him, when he left the ghetto. His eyes were full of tears.
My mother strode ahead, with her small children around her. When walking, Grandma's legs buckled after every step.
I walked alongside and looked at the officers' murderous faces. The whole street was black with people and the noise of wheels, rattling on the hard stones, was to be heard. We were already among the last to leave the ghetto.
Suddenly we heard a shouting from the murderous director of the leather factory:
|A group of Krynker Jews from the ghetto being driven to work|
All the workers of his factory would have to gather to the shul's courtyard! Mom asked me to go there and stand with the tanners. However, I objected because I did not want to separate from my parents again, although I knew that this was already the last way... But Dad also asked me, with tears in his eyes, to leave. So I accepted. I took the last look at everyone from my family. When I was already in line, my sister, Sonyale, came running to me,
bringing me a warm jacket. Tears were running from her black eyes and her heart was beating wildly. In front of me, a murderous policeman gave her a push, and my sister fell to the sidewalk. The others had already gone away to the carts on the market. I took the last look at everyone. The clatter of the wheels echoed in the surroundings. The murderous director, together with the Jewish representative, Yankl Shinder, was still sorting out those who remained standing. Those who were removed from the line, ran to the market to look for their families. Only the tanners remained, 170 people and all professionals. The Amtskommissar had the Judenrat put in addition, as well the best shoemakers, tailors and (female) dressmakers. A total of 350 people were then left standing. The clatter of the wheels became quieter with each passing moment. A gust of wind whirled the feathers into the air. The men who had to send their wives and children away, stood with tears in their eyes. A few more times, they enumerated us and wrote down. The director strutted around haughtily like a general. His murderous eyes gleamed like those of a wild, angry tiger. Formed in lines of 5 people each, we were led off to the factory. Several old wounded people were still lying on the pavement. A [mood of] deadly silence emerged from the ghetto. The heavy kicks of the killers echoed in the air. The [ghetto] gate was wide open.
We marched with our heads hanging down. At the side walked the policemen, their rifles ready to shoot. We walked to Tarlavski's factory. Here, we were led into an empty brick building with wet walls. Everyone fell to the floor, and a fierce crying escaped our hearts.
The Factory Camp
The remaining tanners stood on the wet cement, burying their faces in their hands and crying. Screams and sobs were heard: Why didn't I go with them?! Why did I leave the family alone?! The atmosphere was as if we had just come from a funeral
The tailors and shoemakers were taken to a second factory, at Grosman's, in the Krynki ghetto. We, in the leather factory, were 70 people, including quite a few girls and women for cooking, all the others were professionals, which the factory urgently needed.
No children were left, except Zeidl Filipski's daughter*, *who was the only (two-year-old) child who remained in the factory camp. He, Zeidl, did not want to separate from his wife and child, and since he was one of the best locksmiths and specialists in the technology of water pipes, the director was forced to accept Filipski's wish. But yet another reason compelled the murderous director: He needed Zeidl to have his residence finished. The second camp, where cobblers, tailors, quilters, and a few other needed professionals were housed, was called Grosmans Fabrik-Lager (Grosman's Factory-Camp). Any kind of communication between the two camps was strictly forbidden. There were also several members of the Judenrat who remained with their families, for example, the chairman of the Judenrat, Yosl Goltz with his wife. But their three children were deported together with the others.
Because it was implemented, as it was announced before,
that all Jews must leave the ghetto. But at that time no one knew that after all the above-mentioned people would nevertheless be staying. Therefore, Yosl Goltz had already prepared a good hiding place in a double wall. He had remained there with his whole family until two o'clock in the morning, but then went out to find out what's new. But as soon as he appeared on the street, he was caught and taken to the gendarmerie. His wife was waiting with their children, getting restless when he, the father, did not come. At 5 o'clock in the morning, she decided to go out and check on him. But as soon as she was on the street, she heard heavy footsteps of the German guards; so she ran into a cellar to hide. The children waited for another hour, but when their parents did not come, they decided to go out into the street to look for them. Immediately, when they went outside, they were caught and taken away by truck to where all the horse carts had gone with the other people. Their father was taken to the factory camp in the morning, and his wife stayed in the cellar until late at night. When she came out on the street, she was immediately caught and the next morning, she was also taken to the factory camp. Both were out of their minds when, after two days, they learned of the fate of their three lost children.
The factory we were in was fenced off and strictly guarded. The director often visited the camp and introduced strict discipline. The commander of the camp was Yakob Kozaltchik, who had remained alone. His wife and two children had been transported out of the ghetto together with the other Jews. After a few days, we learned that our families had been taken to a camp for former prisoners of war near Grodno, to Kelbasin (Kiełbasin). Fifteen thousand Russians had lived there, and after a short time, they had all been killed. In their place, they now brought the Jews from Krynki and the surrounding shtetls. People lived there in mud-huts, in very poor conditions. It was impossible for outsiders to come into contact with people of this
horrible death camp, Kelbasin. The mortality there grew with every hour, and the dead were not allowed to be taken out of the camp.
We had sent quite a few peasants to bring bread there and to give a greeting. But everything was in vain. The camp was cut off from the outside world.
Winter was approaching. The frosts brought temperatures of up to 35 degrees below zero. Each attempt to flee into the forest was doomed to failure. A few youths ran away, taking with them picks and shovels. But two days later they all came back, with frozen hands and feet. Knowing, that we would not remain in the factory camp for long, we started to make plans to escape or to hide in a bunker. After some deliberation, a place was chosen in the Jewish cemetery, in a cement pit where sheymes were kept. Only a few people knew about this. Our work had to remain strictly secret. The initiators of our following activity were Shepsl Kushner and Yudl Kaplan.
Every night, around 2 o'clock, we would bribe the policeman, telling him that we would carry bread or other food into the camp. Then we went to the cemetery and prepared everything there. Each time, two people went and took what they could: rusks, meat, water and other food. There had to be enough room in the bunker for 20 people. Yakob, the commander, knew about our plan and helped us a lot. We had to be very careful and only walked when there was heavy snowfall so that our footprints would be covered right back up. I also went there several times, together with Yudl Kaplan, and when we lowered ourselves into the pit, we could see there the sacks filled with rusks and various cookware. Everything worked out very well. The pit was large, with plenty of air; it was to be entered through a tombstone. Our activities were carried out at night, when the wind was whistling and we were sinking into the snow up to our knees.
Everything was almost ready. Also a woman should be there with us to prepare the food. Once, when two comrades came to the place, they found the pit empty. Everything had been taken out. As we learned later, these had been little non-Jewish rascals who had found human footprints in the snow very early in the morning.
So, our hard work had fallen through. We started to make new plans and decided that in case our camp would stay in Krynki, a group of us would escape to the forest.
After 6 weeks the sad news reached us about the fate of our families: they had been deported to the hell of Treblinka. And now we too knew exactly what was waiting for us. In the second camp, where the cobblers and tailors were, a group had also prepared to escape. Among them was a very energetic young Russian fellow named Mair. It was also plotted and studied here where, possibly, to hide in the period after the garbage was sent out. A few people then set up a place for 6 people in a boiler in the bathroom, where six people were actually hiding later: Chaim-Mair and Yosl Goltz with his wife, Soreke, Mair and Chaimke Gendler.
Some of us tried to go to a village to a known farmer and ask for a future hideout there. But the peasants did not know anyone, nor did they want to provide a hiding place, because the rulers acted vigorously against those who wanted to help Jews, even threatening to shoot them. Once in the evening, when we were already standing at the entrance of the factory waiting for the whistle to leave, suddenly the door opened and the director came in. This moment, I was just smoking a cigarette. This was strictly forbidden and meant sabotage! Immediately I ran away through the back door, and disappeared into the yard. Since it was already dark in the factory, the director had not been able to recognize my face. Immediately after that, the whistle sounded and everyone went back to the camp. However, at the same time the director came running out of breath, demanding to know
the name of the escaped person who had been smoking. If not, he would call the Gestapo and insist that 20 people were to be shot.
Before he left, he gave 10 minutes respite. I reported to Yakob, the commander, that it was me. Immediately we went to the director, and Yakob made such a racket, hue and cry that the director became quite confused. He shouted, I've already paid him back!, and at the same moment, Yakob gave me a light slap. But then, the director got up from the chair and went to me. From the first blow he gave me, a pool of blood immediately formed on the floor. That was enough. Then he pronounced my sentence: I was no longer allowed to work in the factory, but from now on I was a penal prisoner, a detainee who had, all alone, to do the hardest work in the camp.
This improved my situation in two ways: firstly, I no longer had to get up as early as everyone else, and secondly, it gave me enough time to do some work for realizing our plans we still had in mind. However, the director always had it in for me. As soon as he set foot in the camp, he shouted, Where is the wood sawyer? (he called me that because sawing wood was considered the hardest work). The director was an old German, a rager. We called him Malakh Pyatsh. This was the name of the bad angel.
The new year was approaching. And there, we entered already 1943. The frosts did not let up, and the mood among the older workers was very depressed. Most of them lay awake for whole nights crying. Zeidl Filipski organized religious lectures every Friday evening and used to prove to us, by means of figures and facts, that we were already close to salvation and Messiah would come shortly on his white horse to liberate us. During the lectures, quarrels would arise with the young people, who vigorously fought against such harmful propaganda. The speaker also used to bring examples of Jonah, the prophet, who was swallowed by a fish. After he prayed into its belly, the fish spewed him out unharmed. This
meant that if we behaved in the same way, we too would come out of the situation just as unscathed. Therefore, some workers used to sit and recite psalms all night long.
The food in both camps, ours and the cobblers and tailors, was good. All the food that remained in the ghetto had been transported to the camps. Several women worked by the discarded clothes that had been collected at the Bes-Hamedresh (Jewish House of Study). The better things used to be sent to Germany by the ghetto commissar, who was the master over all. He used to sell the leftovers to the farmers who came every day from the surrounding villages. They would stand in line to get hold of Jewish belongings that were splattered with our blood. The girls, who worked as sorters, had to watch the selling of clothes and pillows of their families and loved ones. A group of Jews worked tearing down the ghetto fence, and in fact Christians from the villages had already taken up residence in some Jewish houses.
In the first few days after the deportation from the ghetto, a number of Christians had gone into the empty ghetto houses and stole everything. A gendarme, named Gaver (Naver?) noticed it and shot several of these Christians.
During the whole time in the (tanner) camp, I could go to the cobbler camp twice. Also, my uncle and aunt with their two children were staying there. When I got there, my aunt was crying hard, remembering her other sisters and families. She begged fervently that I could stay with them, so that whatever came, at least we would be together.
My uncle Yisralke, however, disagreed. He used to argue that we had to organize ourselves and get weapons. We would have to escape into the forest, no matter what the cost. Although Yisralke had two small children, he had the courage to flee into the forest. But the freezes fought with the greatest ferocity against any attempt to realize this.
We now hoped to hold out until Passover and then fight in the woods.
But the power holders did not sleep and had already planned the day of our deportation. On January 17, the order was issued: Krynki must become 'judenrein'!
Right in the morning of January 18, our two camps were already surrounded by policemen and the gendarmerie.
|Yankl (Yakob) Kozaltshik (center), commander of the Krynki Ghetto|
During the night of January 17-18, some people escaped from both our camp and the other camp.
Of us, 18 men and women fled. The former chairman of the Judenrat, Yosl Goltz, fled together with his brother, Chaim-Mair. They hid in the boiler of the bath. The 18 who fled were: Peretz and Yoshe Pruzhanski,
Velvl Wolf, Yitzhak Zutz, Moishele Kagan, Abrahaml Vacht, Kushn(y)er, Mair Gendler,Chaim Veiner, Motke Shteinsafir, Sore'ke Goltz, Sore'ke Gendler, Leah'tshe Wolf, Perl Levi, Fridke Zalkind, Mashke Kaplan and Itshe Wolf. They were later caught and shot. Some others ran to known farmers, the rest into the forest.
From the survivors, I learned the terrible fate of those who had frozen to death in the forest. My cousins, Peretz and Yosl Pruzhanski, had been caught and tortured to death.
The Russian engineer, Dimitrov, hid in his house two girls, Perl Levi and Leytshe Wolf, who stayed with him until the day of liberation.
We, the remaining ones, were led out to the marketplace. There, sleighs were already waiting to take us to the train (26 kilometers from the shtetl to Sokolka).
Everyone was allowed to take only one backpack; we had to leave everything else in the camp. Several Germans came to the factory courtyard and demanded that everyone hand in their jewelry. In case they still found any more of it on someone, he would be shot.
Soon, more assassins appeared in the market, lining up around us at gunpoint. Again, people gathered, who sifted through our clothes and took everything they found there. As we were already driving out of the shtetl, a second group appeared and threatened to fire if jewelry was found among the unfortunate victims. On the way, we were accompanied by dozens of gendarmes and Polish police. There was a heavy frost, and the people sitting on the sleighs immediately froze their feet off. (We) all walked on foot. As we left our shtetl, peasant women with tears in their eyes came to escort us. A girl, Fanye Roitbard, had left her four-year-old boy, who could not speak Yiddish, with a Christian. The mother, Fanye, had come from Russia with her child, and had already been shot by the Germans. When we were just
lined to march off, the Christian brought the little boy to us and instructed him to go with us.
We were taken to Sokolka and there, we were thrown into dirty cattle wagons for horses with shuttered windows. They packed 50 people into each wagon. *In each wagon there was a soldier who prevented us from looking through a small window. They threw in some bread and locked the door. *The train started. Thus our shtetl became Judenrein.
The Last Way
Together with my aunt and uncle, I fell into a wagon. Besides me, there were in the same wagon: Yakob Kozaltshik, (Yankl Khazer), the former commandant of the camp, Berl, Blumke and Rochele Zakheim, Henech Muglos with his daughter Mertshe, Israel Kalinovitch, his wife and two children, Abraham'l Efraimson (Shiskhes') with his wife, son and daughter. Dode Kirpitch with his mother and his brother Zundl, (who threw himself off the train), Moishe Skovronski, his wife and two children. Furthermore, as mentioned above, my uncle Israel Skvoranik (the Africans), his wife Peshe and two sons, Lozerke un Hershele, Nyomke Skavranik and his wife Dvore (Deborah) Maniches, Hershl Abramovitch, (who threw himself off the train), Motl Kirzner un Yudl Kaplan. After sitting down in a corner, various thoughts and images came to my mind. A few Jews recited psalms, and the women wept. In addition, the remaining Jews from Sokolka were squeezed into our wagons, so that we were 1200 people in total. We stood at the station for a few more hours until the train started moving in the evening.
Everyone was sure that we would be taken to Treblinka via Malkin.
Yakob broke open the small window, and a group of young people prepared to jump out. The train flew along at full speed. I, too, decided to jump. We lined up in a row. First to jump was Shepsl Kushn(y)er's boy Moishele and then his father himself.
And so one by one jumped out of the train, which was running at full speed. A mother encouraged her two children to jump and helped her little son at the window. But finally, the main initiator was Yakob, who stood at the window, helping everyone to throw themselves off the train. When I went out of the window to pull myself up to jump out, my aunt rushed to me and tugged me by the sleeve. With tears in her eyes, she asked me not to jump. I should go together with them, staying with them at all costs, whatever might happen to us. Also my two cousins held me and asked not to jump. Meanwhile, the train was just passing Bialystok, and I stood bewildered against the wall out of the wagon, unable to make a decision. Yakob stripped down to his shirt and threw his clothes out the window. He now wanted to jump himself. However, his corpulence did not allow it; the window was too small for his oversized body.
Realizing that all his efforts were in vain, he took out a vial of poison and drank it off. But the toxin did not work sufficiently on him; his heart was stronger than it, and he now was lying on the ground and roaring like an animal after the slaughterer's cut, with white foam on his lips. None of us had water, we could only scrape the frost off the boards, but we actually managed to save him with it. We were now approaching Malkin. Again, some Jews, with tears in their eyes, started reciting psalms. Zeydl Filipski put on
his talis (tallit, prayer shawl) and tefilin. Our hands and feet were shaking: In the next moment, we will be in Malkin, and our lives will be put on the line! But, there the train flies past Malkin station in a flash, without stopping! We felt an inexpressible joy! The pious Jews claimed that their psalm prayers helped us: Now, we would be led somewhere to work, as the director of the factory had promised us; we would work and live like in a palace. My aunt came to me saying, Well, I told you not to jump! Now you will be with us!
I didn't answer, just sat there in silence and looked closely at everyone in the wagon. There were the beautiful children with their black, lively eyes-how they snuggled up to their mothers! And now I hear Valodke, the boy whom the Christian brought, asking in Russian: Will we survive? Won't they shoot us? And his lips are trembling.
My two young cousins, Lozerke and Hershele, stood beside me, their hands high on my shoulders, and asked in their sweet voices, Avroheml, where are they taking us? You won't jump, Avroheml, you will stay with us! A deep sigh was my response. I comforted my cousins, if only with my eyes, for the words stuck in my throat. We're traveling in the direction of Warsaw. It is already dark, but no one is asleep. In the deep gloom, heavy sighs and knocking noises from [cold] feet can be heard. The frost is very strong, and therefore, the walls in the wagon are white. We scrape off the frost with spoons and use it, as a substitute for water, to quench our burning thirst.
The first night is over. Early in the morning we arrived in Warsaw, where we stopped for a whole day. Nine people jumped out of our wagon, here I give their names: The first was Moishele Kushn(y)er. Then followed Shepsl Kushn(y)er, Yosl and Chaim Braverman, Leibl Naliber, Hershl Abramovitch, Sonye Funk, Avroheml (Abraham'l) Kleinbard, Zeydl Yakobinski, Dora Kirpitch and her brother, Zundl Kirpitch.
However, the wagon was now strictly guarded so
it was no longer possible to jump. In Warsaw our thirst worsened even more, because there was no more frost on the walls.
We therefore asked the guards to bring us some water, but had to hand over either a watch or a finger ring for a small pot of water.
In the evening, the train started again. When we asked the guards where we were being taken, they answered that they didn't know themselves. The older Jews with Zeydl Filipski at the head, did not take off the tehilim any more. So, we left the second night, and no one knew where to.
On the third day, we passed a railroad station where Jews and Christians were clearing away the snow. When we came close to them, they made a gesture with their hands under their throats and shouted, Flee, you are being led to the slaughter!
Immediately, a weeping began among the women, and the psalm prayers became very loud. An exclamation was heard that we were being taken to Auschwitz. But no one knew where it was, we had never heard that name before. Only two hells had appeared to us so far: Maidanek and Treblinka.
Night fell. Yakob ordered us to burn everything we still owned. Aizik Brustin was the first to take a bundle of banknotes and set it on fire. His example was followed by almost everyone who still had some money. A little fire was burning in the middle of the wagon. We all had tears in our eyes, and a darkness settled heavily on our hearts. A complete gloom surrounded us. The next morning, Tuesday, January 21, 1943, we arrived at Auschwitz station.
We had been standing at the station for an hour, and no one came to see us. Only the guards marched around outside with their shoes clacking. But suddenly, trucks and cabs appeared, from which tall, murderous figures with skulls on their hats got out. With each passing moment, more and more of these people are arriving. Just now, a group of SS soldiers is already standing there, armed from head to toe. They spread out around our train so that there is one of them every five meters. And there, we also see people in striped clothing and with numbers on their chests and pants. They run back and forth. A tall man with a hoarse voice runs after them, yelling, Quick, forward! He holds a rough oak stick in his hand. The people in the striped clothes look well; each wears polished shoes. Who might they be? What kind of people are they, we ask each other.
The trucks gather and park next to each other. On the sides there are big wooden stairs. Every moment, more and more murderous faces can be seen. Everyone in the train car pushes to the window to see what is going on. The women are packing up their things and crying desperately. The elderly Jews have their eyes rolled upward, shouting, Ya'anha Adonai Beyom tzara!...
Zeidl Filipski is standing there, dressed in his talis (tallit) and tefilin. His two-year-old child is next to him, holding a tsitse in his trembling little hand. Next to me is one of my young cousins, the other is with his mother. Suddenly, there is a rumbling at the door, which falls wide open, and a wild shouting pierces through the carriage: Everybody out! Leave the packages! Women here, men there!
At the door stood several young bandits, beating people's heads with rough sticks in their hands. When Zeidl Filipski appeared in the doorway, all the sticks hit his head and he immediately fell into a pool of blood. Yakob, dressed in his one shirt, stood in the first row of men; I in the second. Line up five to a row! the SS-men shouted, banging people's heads. The women stood to the side of us.
A tall, older officer with a cigarette in his mouth, positioned himself in front of us, holding one hand behind his coat. His murderous eyes gleamed like those of a wild tiger. His gaze immediately fell on Yakob. After a few minutes, we were all standing one behind the other in rows of five. Opposite, five trucks stood waiting for people. The old officer approached us, separated the first two rows of five and led them to the heavy wooden staircase. We moved the stairs next to the open truck and climbed up on them.
Downwards, you cursed swine, dogs!, we heard the cursing of the officer, who was a little shaky on his feet.
We quickly descended and got back in line. First, they picked out quite a few girls up to 20 years old and put them to the side. Then the killer went to us and pointed with his index finger whether we should go to the right or to the left, asking everyone about his profession. Together with Yakob and several other young people, I stood on the right side. Immediately, they counted and checked us a few times. When they reported that we were already 150 people, they stopped sorting. The elders stood on the left side. Blood was running from some of their heads. Opposite the wagon, stood a group of young girls, and in the very back women with their children. Among us was Pinye Klas, but his father was in the second group. Pinye gestured to him with his hand that he, his father, should leave his row and stand with us.
When the murderous officer turned his back on us, the father quickly ran over and stood in line with us. After him, another one wanted to run over, but one of the SS-men noticed this, came running and hit him on his head with a stick. The man fell into a pool of blood. When they ordered us to march off, the trucks were already on standby, packed with women, men and children. My last glance was at the little children who were waving to us, and at the women who, with tears in their eyes, were shouting and waving their hands to their husbands who were among us.
We marched off, guarded on both sides by SS-men who gestured pointing their guns at us to walk close together. One last time, we looked around and saw the trucks from which scrabbling hands were reaching out to us. We march. We feel dizzy. No one knows where we are going. Just now, we see in the distance high barbed wire fences and small stone houses where many people are standing like shadows, dressed in gray striped clothes. The closer we get to the wire, the more clearly we see their emaciated, helpless faces. Finally, we stop next to a wooden barrack with dyed windows, where several SS-men are standing. One of them holds a paper in his hand and counts us off several times. The SS-men who accompanied us come to a halt. We march into the camp.
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