by Miryam Vaynbukh (Yekiv Katsev's daughter), Paris
Translated by Tina Lunson
Miriam Weinbuch-Mandelbaum, Paris. Her child was shot by the Germans and all of her closest relations were murdered. They were on their way to the railway station during the last transportation when she ran away and hid in the forest. There nine Jews in all including several young girls. The Poles gave them away to the Gestapo and SS who surrounded the forest. Seven of the nine were caught, ordered to strip naked and then shot. She and her husband hid themselves very deep among the bushes. The Germans did not find them. Her husband lost his patience at the last moment and wished to give himself up but she prevented him.
After that, they continued to hide in the fields. In the winter, they spent their time in in the snow and in summer among the crops. But finally, liberation came to them as well.
* * *
During the outbreak of the war in 1939 I was in Koriv [Kurow]. In 1940 we were moved into the ghetto in Konskevolia. During Peysakh 1942 all the Kurov Jews were brought here, among them my own family. No one was allowed to offer any food or drink; doing so brought on severe beatings by the S.S.
I made every effort to save my near ones but was not successful in getting anything done. On the second day of the holiday an order came that the Kurow Jews would be sent away.
Ignoring the fact that I may risk death, I stood in the road and gave my family something to eat and drink. In giving my brother a package he told me that at least I should be saved, so that one of our family remained alive.
The whole transport of Kurow Jews was taken to their deaths.
My husband and I worked in the Konskivolia ghetto. Once when we went to work we left a sister with my child at home, an action against children and elderly took place. The children were torn apart alive and the old people were shot.
Coming home, we did not find either the child or the sister. They had met the same fate as all the others.
After a while a transport of Czech Jew was brought in, still healthy and handsome. After being in the ghetto for half a year they began to die off as a group from hunger and want. In 1943 a resettlement of all the remaining Jews was carried out. As they were taking us to the train my husband and I managed to run away. We went toward Kurow, Along the way we me another seven Jews. We went on together through the forest that was not far from Kurow. We had no shoes or proper clothing. Later I went into town, to some familiar Christians. They gave me food, but told us to keep moving on.
We settled in the forest, built a hut, we were nine people then, and lived there several weeks. A Pollack reported to the Gestapo that there were armed Jews in the forest. This happened on a Friday morning we were encircled by 500 S.S. soldiers. It was impossible to flee. We heard the shout Halt! and then a shot was fired. My husband and I quickly slipped out on another side. The others very quickly gathered their things and got dressed. We ran for less than a kilometer when we saw a gendarme with a machine gun. We ran in another direction. A shot rang out, I fell, but the shot had not hit me, I ran further after my husband. Arriving at
the edge of the forest we realized that the forest was thickly ringed by gendarmerie. There was no way to get out of the forest. We ran back into the forest and hid in some bushes. We lay there in fear of death, awaiting our end. In a few hours we heard five Jews being caught about a hundred meters away from us; they were told to undress and soon we heard four shots. The fifth Jew did not want to get undressed. Only later did we hear the fifth shot and then it was quiet. The S.S. also searched and discovered another two young women, one 18 years old and one 15. They were lying hidden in a pit and were shot in their heads where they lay. They had now killed seven of our people. Then they rummaged around some more. But we were very well hidden. The S.S. had been standing very close to us. My husband finally wanted to stand up but I would not allow him to. We saw how thoroughly they looked around. The
air stuck in our throats. Soon we heard a whistle from their commander. They quit their forest shooting after a half hour. We lay hidden there until night. We started to walk and saw the Jews who had been shot. Items of their clothing lay scattered about, soaked in blood. We covered the blood. We went into the town after food. The Christians gave us food again and again told us to go away. In the morning we went back into the forest and there saw the two young women lying in the pit and we buried them.
We wandered around in that area for the whole summer, until in the winter, going through many hardships and death threats. In the winter of 19431944 we went into a village and hid in a barn full of straw. During the day we had to hide in a field, in the snow. We had to be doubly hidden from Germans and from Poles. So we wandered about until the Red Army liberated us.
Top row from right to left: Fotshe Shneyvays, Yosl Rapnik's daughter, Rokhl Kaplan, Khaye Gotlib, Khanetshe Vurman (lives in Lod, Israel), Fotshe Ayzenshtat, Khayele Grosman, Reyzl Bergerman, Dvore Reyzl Kartmen, Golde Akerman (lives in Montreal, Canada), Gitl Helfand
Second row: Rivkele Grosman, Sima Fishbeyn, Sorele Taytlboym (lives in Tel Aviv, Perel Vaynman (lives in Yafo, Israel), Yakov Goldfayn (lives in Toronto, Canada), Feygele Oberkleyd, Malka Zlotygoure, Freyde Brener, Rivkele Lerman (lives in New York), Feygele Elenboygen
by Khaye Ritser Vaserman, Kfar Saba
Translated by Tina Lunson
Haya Ritzer-Wasserman, Kfar Saba. At the outbreak of the war, she was a young girl. There were four children at home. After the bombardment of Kurov, where all they possessed was burnt and pillaged, they ran away to the village of Khoshtchov. Their father worked as a tailor for the peasants and received a little food in return. When the Jews were hunted in the villages, they ran away to another village, hiding in the corn, in cowsheds and attics. Her brother Moshe hid with a peasant by whom he was murdered for the sake of his money and clothes. Haya herself escaped from several actions. At the last moment, she saw how the Kurov Jews were being shot on the spot, their children being torn to pieces. Her brother Itshe was also surrounded in the fields on one occasion by peasants who wanted to murder him. Severely injured, he succeeded in escaping from them and ran away. Once, Jewish partisans came to their hiding place and tried to persuade them to accompany them into the forest. They could not make up their minds. Soon after leaving the hiding place, this group of partisans was caught and killed.
The Ritzer family lost a son and a daughter. Their mother died in Rome on the way from Israel to Canada.
* * *
The Ritser family was a multi-branched family. In the language of Kurow Khaye's father was called Berl Krupnik.
The experiences of the Ritser family Berl Ritser and his children Khaye, Meyshe, Itshe, Mirl are in hindsight much like those of other families. But as each song has its melody, so do their sufferings have their separate painful character.
Burned Out and Robbed
A few days before the war many people in the town received mobilization orders. My father Berl also received such an announcement. Thursday the 28th of September he traveled to Demblin to enlist in the military and Friday morning came the official declaration of war.
After the bombardment on Shabes, on Sunday people hid all their goods in the cellars. Many merchants sent things to be hidden with peasants. Children were sent to a well-known peasant from Khoshtshov, Yendzshei Meynki. Mother stayed behind.
Our uncle Meyshe was also with us, his nerves already shattered. We grasped at every scrap of news from Koriv [Kurow] that we heard. The second Friday, after the heavy bombing, the village was destroyed and burned down, only ruins and ashes were left. We stood on a little hill in Khoshtshov, which was about 8 kilometers' distance from Koriv, and saw how Koriv went up in flames. We could not extinguish them with our tears. A few families from Koriv arrived, among them our mother, and we heard from her that in the cellar where we had hidden our merchandise, half of it was stolen and half of it was burned, leaving only bits and pieces.
The Polish military was demoralized and lost.
Our father comes home, and finds everything burned. He is certain that we are in Khoshtshov. He comes to us and we go to take the remains of the merchandise, in order to hide it with friendly peasants. We pack up a few sacks and father goes off to Volitse to find places for the merchandise. Then a group of
Germans and Pollacks arrives, sees the packed-up merchandise, orders us not to touch the goods, and asks where father is. We race to tell father not to go into the house. He cannot restrain himself and stands by the barn so he can hear what is going on in the house with his hard-earned goods. Forgetting their order not to touch the merchandise, they leave to bring a truck to take away the goods. Meanwhile we use the opportunity to hide whatever we can. When the truck comes, the bandits order me and my mother to turn to the wall and under the menace of revolvers they beat us bloody. A little later the truck leaves, we wash our wounds and decide not to stay in Khoshtshov any longer. We take a farm wagon to Plinik. We spend the night there and decide to travel to Lublin. But fate wills otherwise and along the way father reconsiders, that it would be better to go to Belzshits. In December 1939 we rent an apartment and intend to settle in. Father goes to peasants sometimes, to do work as a tailor, for which he got a little flour, some potatoes, but the winter is very hard with deep freezes, and in order to earn some produce one must go from peasant to peasant. Finally we get through the winter.
|Berl Ritser, Khaye's father, in Canada|
|Khama Ritser-Vakhnhazer, Khaye's mother, died in Italy on the way from Israel to Canada|
A Work-permit and a Star of David Armband
After Peysakh came the decree that everyone must have a work-permit, must wear an armband with a mogn-dovid, one is forbidden to walk in the street. Father and brother Meyshe work at forced labor. Also we sometimes go to forced labor in the fields. We hear that in Koriv things are getting organized. Father gets a desire to go to Koriv. He makes plans about how to buy some wood with his last groshen, but it remains a plan. We stay in our place. We begin friendships with Yankev-Leyzer Grosman, his daughter Sorele and his son Nekhemye, with Mendl Kalb and his family. Summer 1940 passes, winter sets in. Homeless Jews arrive from Germany, who have been shipped here. The Jewish Council assigns them to each family. And we get one such family. We are others in one common trouble. But, as it gets ever colder, life gets worse, but all things that we must sustain.
At the beginning of 1941 they are continually repeating the practice of encircling apartments and houses, taking out the residents and under a hail of bullets in which some fall dead, forcing them to various work details. Near Peysakh 1941 the situation becomes unbearable. The deportation to forced labor becomes a normal event. Some never come back. Without differentiation men and women are shipped to Belzshits (not the Belzshits where we live). The dark clouds slide ever nearer, and the conditions become ever more horrible, as the Judenrat in Belzshits chooses between Jews and Jews. And in order that their own old settled Jews of Belzshits do not have to go to work they send the newly-arrived in their place. Plus the monetary contributions we must make get higher. A large transport of Jews to Yuzepov takes place just before Shavues 1941. It always comes without any prior news about it, but the people never come back. Father tires to go to Koriv, but the local Judenrat demands a tax contribution from him which has to be paid to the S.S.. He does not have enough money, he is arrested and sits in jail for two days. We do not know who to turn to or where to look for him.
The First Greeting from Maidanek
Perl Dovidl's Gozshitshanski arrives close to Rosh-hashane 1941. She has stayed with her daughter in Lublin since the beginning of the war; she comes to Belzshits and relates the misfortune that they are constantly sending masses of people
from Lublin off to Maidanek and it is known for certain that people are being killed there. On Hoshane-rabe we hear that all of Belzshits is surrounded and all the Jews are being sent to Maidanek. People begin to flee. Many are shot as they flee. My father's father-in-law was captured, but he never came back. My brothers Meyshe and Itshe and I also run away under a rain of bullets. They shoot at us, but fate wills that we should remain alive. We hide in the fields and are spared from death. After lying in the wheat for half a night I went back to the house, but we saw clearly that fate had ignored no one. We know now what will become of us. But one still wants to live. And so we walk around un-dead and not-living. Peysakh 1942 we get the horrifying news that they have gathered all the Koriv Jews and sent them to Sobibor. To kill them. We burst into weeping, knowing that our row is coming soon. My father's brother Meyshe was then in Valiniets. We decide to travel to him, but we hesitate for a while until an announcement comes by way of placards, the everyone from seven areas around it must assemble in Belzshits. It is clear our end has come. Hearing that in Koriv, after having sent all the Jews to death, there are still 30 Jews who were saved because they were involved with work, we sent Meyshe and Itshe to Koriv while father and mother and Mirl remain sitting on their bags, waiting if perhaps anyone is left from those shipped off to death. Every night we expected the Germans to come. Jews presented themselves like calves to the slaughter. Gathered from all the areas around Belzshits people waited for the murderer to come and shoot them.
Encircling the Town
During a certain night we heard how a large group of Germans encircled the town. We got up, ran to a Koriv native Sorele, Yankev Leyzer Grosman's daughter, who had created a double wall in her house a hiding place. We girded ourselves with strength, as they said that the space was not large enough for so many people, but then no one deliberated it as one after another each one wanted to be saved. We stood there in the fear of death, hearing how the sadistic animals rampaged outdoors. The unceasing shooting, on the left and right. How bitter if was for us when we remarked that in our hurry we had forgotten Mirele outdoors. Terrible. My heart almost burst on the spot. But we could not open the door and look for her, because we were all jeopardizing our lives.
Sorele, daughter of
Leyzer Grosman, murdered
The weeping and screaming from outside must have split the heavens. We look through the cracks and see how the murderers shoot. Old Jews who cannot run are shot on the spot, Children are impaled on sticks. Those found in hiding are sent on the road to Mendrovits. We sat for a whole day in the bunker. At night we got up to stick our heads out. First we ran out to look for Mirel. We heard that someone had seen grandmother with Mirele, but no one knew what happened to them. Those were our first victims. We traveled to Koriv to see what we could find out there. Brother Meyshe and Itshe were staying in Plinik with peasants. We heard that the Uncle Meyshe and a few other Koriv Jews were hiding in Klode. But he came back, because it was impossible to find a hiding place. He succeeded when he gave money to the peasant Petshak. Father and mother went to spend the night in a stable. We dragged around like that until October 1942.
Do Not Hide Any Jews!
An agitation was begun among the peasants, that they should not hide any Jews. Announcements from the Germans that peasants who hid Jews would have all their possessions burned. The peasants began to drive Jews away. We could not determine where Uncle Meyshe and his children were hiding. Father and mother did not have any regular place. One night here, one night there. Each night one must find a place to bed down with another peasant, hoping he took pity and allowed it. And Petshak started to say that he will not hide me. Meyshe had no place to stay either. Except for Itshe who had been given to a peasant to help him work. What to do? German S.S. were constantly coming, searching for Jews to kill. Once they saw me and Dina,
Uncle Meyshe's daughter, and we barely escaped from under their bullets. They shot at us. Father gave us each a little money that he still possessed and he went off with mother to Khoshtshov. After a lot of wandering around someone Yuzshik, whom we suspected of robbing our merchandise from the cellar volunteered to take Meyshe. Meyshe's uncle Simkhe was also there. Itshe went to Yendzshei and I went to a peasant woman who lived in a small village near Khoshtshov. Meyshe Naymark's daughter Malka Naymark was also hiding there; she had a friend, a Polish Christian, who looked after her. Arye Goldberg was also there, the son of Aba Gabay. Meyshe then made himself a Polish pass and called himself Tadek. Once Arye Goldberg came to us along with brother Itshe and mother and father, They spent the night with us on the straw. Someone knocked in the middle of the night. We heard several people. We were certain that they were Germans, but when they opened the door we saw that it was a large partisan group, among whom were Shmilke Shtern, Mayer Kartman, Leybl Manis Alieyzer. There were also Russians and Ukrainians among them. We were happy to see them. Malka and I cooked chickens for them. They paid for everything. We discussed joining the partisans, but we did not want to. They spent the night with all of us. During the day they hid in the attic, but we later heard that when they left they went to Karmovits.
|Khaye's brother Itshe Ritser (in Italy), her cousin Dina (Paris), and Goldele Kotlazsh (Los Angeles)|
There they were betrayed and after a battle they were all killed. Obviously, after such a situation we were afraid to remain here. Both the Germans and the Pollacks were very agitated. We tried to run away to Khotshtshuv. Maybe we could hide there, where father came from, or maybe no one would hide him there either. They gave him a little bread but no one would let him stay for a moment. By day we stay in the fields and at night we steal into a loft and spend the night. Creeping around in that way we went to a different loft each night.
Tailoring Comes to Good Use
On New Year's Eve 1943 father got some sewing jobs from a peasant, for a little food to nourish the soul. One day the peasant came home and told father that there had been a big meeting of all the peasants of the village, where agitators incited them to kill all the Jews. Many Jewish partisans had killed Poles and all the peasants had sworn not to let any Jews into their homes, or to give them any bit of bread. He demanded that we should leave the village immediately. We tried going to Meynke. Walking there we heard from a distance some chatter and screaming from a voice that we easily recognized as that of Itshe. Some Pollacks were standing around. We understood that someone was killing him. We recognized among the Poles our dubious friend Yuzshek, who had hidden Meyshe. We asked him where Meyshe was, he told us right away without even turning to face us that he had driven him out. He came looking for us, beaten and wounded. We washed the blood from his wounds in the dark, hidden behind a barn, waiting to see if Meyshe would also arrive. But we waited the whole night. We were afraid of the light of day. The frost singed us. We had to dig into the straw. But how could we leave without Meyshe? As it became day, we met a familiar peasant and asked him about Meyshe; he answered: Get out of the village, because people are searching for you. If they find you they will kill you.
We set off walking in the direction of Klode. We had heard that Sheyndl Neyekh Kapis' son was hiding there. Before we got to Valitse we stopped and hid in the forest for a while. We noticed that young non-Jewish boys were racing by on bicycles. We heard that they were talking about Berl, which is my father's name. They were searching after him to kill him. We hid ourselves deeper in the forest so they would not notice us and then were afraid to come out for a whole day. We did not have a piece of bread or a sip of water, but who thought about such things? When it got dark we moved out. We had a familiar
peasant there, Staniak, and also a friend of whom we were sure, at worst he might drive us away but he would not kill us. Out of caution we first stole into the loft. We settle there for a few days without food, without water. When we saw that we could perish from hunger and thirst, father stuck his head out of the loft and called Staniak. At first glance he was shocked and started shouting that we had to leave. We tried to offer him money, he replied that he was not interested in any money, and was afraid that the village people would stone him if he hid Jews. We try to fool him, that his father-in-law in the village .was hiding Itshe and our mother. He should hide father and Khaye. After a while father got the upper hand and gave him some money. He got softer and said that he would only hide us for a few days, until it got quieter, and he was doing that only because he felt sorry for us and did not want us to be killed. So, stay with us, and we will pray to God that things calm down and we could leave him. Since we had told him a lie that we were only two people, we would have to stand by that lie. And accept food for only two people and we had to divide the food into bites so that we would have some kind of roof over our heads. We spent several weeks like that in his loft.
Where is Meyshe?
We asked Staniak to find out about Meyshe, whether he was alive or if anyone had heard anything about what had happened to him. Germans were suddenly coming searching for young rascals, young Christians who would help them rout out Jews. They came up to the loft to search. We thought that this was our end. But we pleaded to God and buried ourselves deep in the straw and they did not notice us. But because of that, after they left, Staniak demanded that we leave immediately. We came down at night, Staniak noticed that we were four people, but he cannot say anything now, because now we were leaving. We set out to walk to Khoshtshov. Father began knocking on peasant doors and begging for bread, but when he asked if they would take us in they gave us a little more bread on the condition that he would go away. We saw that there was no place for us, and night was fading into day. We used an old device once again. We went into the loft of someone's barn, some Christian we knew. Father spoke with him in the morning. But everyone denied us, maintaining that in the village everyone was talking about Berek being a partisan and killing Poles. In talking with him we also tried to get any news about Meyshe.
If he was hiding with Yuzshek,[Column 516]
you can be certain that he killed him himself in order to take the money for himself.There could be no discussion about his being with him. The only favor he would do was to go to a friend of his who was marrying a son and had no money and ask him if maybe he would agree to help. He went off the Dembitse, where there was a kind of colony. He returned with an agreement for no more than two weeks, for two thousand zlotych. There was an old peasant woman at the peasant's house and she reminded us of better things. She served us and showed us so much mercy and goodness that we were resting there until after Passover. From time to time since mother did not want to show that we had cash because it happened that even the best peasant might kill the Jew and take all the money she would climb down from the loft every two weeks and ostensibly go to a familiar peasant and collect some money she was owed. She was a little confusing about the interloper and came back, paid the peasant what he was due and came back to the loft.
Eating no khomets
During Passover we got by on just potatoes and milk. We did not heaven forbid eat any khomets. After Passover we again heard about killings. We also heard how Germans ran through the fields searching for bunkers and threw grenades inside them. We also heard terrible reports for Koriv, that the few Jews who were still hiding with Ulrikh had been shot. And in Konskevolia, several Jews who had been in work details had been killed out of a clear blue sky.
One day the peasant came in and said that we must be very cautious because Stakh was jealous of him. Plus other peasants were jealous of him, because he was getting rich from us. In so many words he suggested that we should try to go and live with Stakh for a while. We went to talk it over because since it was summer we could hide in the fields and if Stakh was jealous, it was worthwhile to make a change and stay with Stakh for a bit. And perhaps we might still hear something about Meyshe who was rumored to be with him?
By Day in the Grain, By Night in the Loft
We leave at night. We take our leave in a friendly manner from the old peasant woman. We go out and stay among the wheat during the day, and at night we slip into the lofts. And thus we had several surprises. At one loft we climbed up and found a shepherd laying there sleeping. We nearly passed out. Once we went up to a loft and heard talking from the straw. We realized that partisans were hiding here, and that we had better get out of there.
We walked back to Stakh. We went in at night but did not find him. We decided it was better to go back to Dembitse. It was late at night, we did not want to waken the peasants and we just went up to the loft. But how shocked we were that in that space of time the place had been taken over by partisans. We fled again and again wandered around outdoors like dogs. By day in the wheat, by night in some other loft. We tried again to go to Stakh and again were unable to stay and went back to where we found a place in Klone, but only for a week. After a few days we hear that Germans are coming and searching the lofts. We knew that they would finally find us and we fled in various directions in the broad daylight. We were sure that the peasants, as soon as they realized that we were there would turn us in to the Germans right away. We found each other at night and we four were together. We tried to go to one of the peasant families. We paid him a lot of money to hide us for a few weeks. He agreed. But then we heard shooting.
One time the whole village of Volitse was encircled by Ukrainian murderers. They searched place after place. We were afraid to run. We buried ourselves deep under the straw. Again our lives hang on a miracle. They come up, look around, find nothing. We exhale. As soon as they go, the peasant comes up. He does not want to hear about hiding us. Once again we are wandering through the grain fields. We can longer go up to any of the lofts. We have not had any water all day. But at night we get to a stream to drink, even though the water is muddy. We go further to Staniak, to Volitse. We plead for his pity. Now he agrees, but already the next morning he came and demanded that we leave. We have seen that we cannot stay in that village. We decide to leave for the other side of Koriv, to Plinik. The path is a bitter one. Frightful. Itshe develops foot problems. Khaye and father have to carry him. More frightening is that when we pass Klode and go into a field, we recognize from the things scattered there bed clothes, pots that his is where Jews have been slaughtered.
We also heard that in Klode they murdered Nekhama Alter Shnayder's and her girl, one of Yisroel
Dovid Poplnik's daughters. And the son of Yankl Poplnik was killed in Klode. We run away. As day is breaking, we arrive in Plinik. We quickly go to Meynke, because we have left merchandise with him. We begin to plead for him to take us in. But he can barely agree to take two. He is afraid, his wife is weak, she is easily frightened. We stay with him a few days. Once at night, already in 1944, father went to the wife of Ludvik Meynke, ostensibly to get a little money that we were owed. She answered that she did not have it. He said, We will still give it to you, only you have to let us in.
She did want to hide us, but there was one living with him who had been sent out of Poyzn, and she would turn us in. Nevertheless we succeeded in convincing her that she should not be afraid. We went up to the attic. We were very cautious that the Poyzn people did not notice us. There were also searches by the Germans who came to take wood and steel, and we were again filled with fear. They tried to find any signs that Jews were being hidden there, but then they went away. The children kept shouting that we should go away, but the old one said that she would not let them drive us away. Soon the Russians would come and it would be a shame to risk the lives of four people. The children shouted at us: You will have an end like in Lonkitsh, where they burned the peasants' house and all his possessions.
But yet we stayed on and so were with her for eight months, until the liberation by the Russians. The last day we were still terrified because people told us that the Germans had retaken the village. But now this was the last time of fear. We decided to remain hiding for a few days, until we heard for certain that the Russians were running around asking, Where are the Jews? They can come out, they are free.
We Outlast Them
All four of us came through, thank God, except for Meyshe. We heard that the same murderer, Yuzshek, who robbed the merchandise from our cellar, he himself, who acted so friendly and supposedly hid Meyshe, had already taken his money and killed him. Peasants said that they had found his head cut off and his body separately.
Of the uncles there were just Meyshe and Simkhe. Meyshe's wife and children had been killed in Klode.
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