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[Page 711]

Destruction and Heroism

 

[Page 713]

The Destruction of Mezritsh

by Berl Manperl–Charuzi

Translated by Jerrold Landau

We usually understand the concept of active resistance [to be accompanied by] the marching of a large mass of people, street demonstrations, battles with weapons in the hand, etc. I want to tell here about a completely different type of resistance, the passive resistance of the tortured and oppressed in the Mezritsh Ghetto, and of those who were killed. Only those who survived the German occupation, those who stood at the abyss and witnessed as [the ghetto's residents] were all beaten alive, can perhaps conceive of the enormity of this quiet resistance in the face of death. I will dig with the nail in my heart, and describe with blood [from that wound] several such moments.

It was the beginning of 1941. The Germans began to carry out their devilish plan to exterminate the Jews. They began to heap ordinances upon us, one wilder than the other. Jews must not shop from the farmers in the market before noon, Jews must not ride on trains, Jews must not travel in carriages and wagons in the city, etc. And then came a new ordinance: Jews were forbidden to move from place to place, and were not allowed to visit any of the villages around the city. On that same evening, the murderers ranged over all the routes and highways, sowing death right and left. Later, the Judenrat was ordered to collect the corpses and bury them. At dawn, they found the first victim, a young girl, returning home from a village at the edge of the city on the Bialer Highway. The child was lying frozen, face down, and contorted, with bullet–holes in her body. In her stiff hands there was a flask of milk and a basket with a few potatoes.

The first Aktion took place on August 25, 1942. On the previous evening, everyone's hearts were very heavy. The heavens, a bit grey, pressed down heavily. Rumors foreboding evil quickly spread through the ghetto: they had shot all the sick people in the building of the Yiddishe Folkschule[1] (the Jewish hospital

[Page 714]

had earlier been requisitioned by the Germans); many Germans, Ukrainians and Russians were already at the railway station, having come specially for the effort of driving the Jews from the city. Nobody slept that night. People sat with sacks in their hands and waited.

The heavy shooting began at dawn. Germans ran around and shouted, “Jews Raus!” The Jewish police went from house to house and ordered people to go to the market square– for they would be shot otherwise. We ran. The entire city ran. Many corpses were sprawled in the streets. People stepped over them and kept running.

The market square was already almost full of people. We sat down on the ground. We were surrounded by German, Ukrainian, and Polish police. The Germans were enjoying themselves around us, dancing over heads, beating people with whips, and shooting into the crowd. The cries of the wounded and beaten people mixed with the wild laughter of the torturers. People were still streaming in from all sides. The market square was already too small to hold so many people. The sun beat down, the heat and crowding were very great, the crying of the children was terrible. The S.S. man Geller, from the Radzyner Gestapo, directed the first Aktion against the Jews.

They began to free the brush workers, who worked for the military in seven factories in various parts of the city. All the brush workers received an “iron clad letter” that in the event of a liquidation Aktion, they would be protected, along with their families, and not deported from Mezritsh. However, we were bitterly tricked and mocked. The men were ordered to stand in rows of five. We were not counted out loud, but rather with a rubber baton: five blows in a row over the head. Later, the women and children, 12,000 in number, were driven to the railway station together with all the Jews, where they set out on their final journey to Treblinka.

Veve Weisloz went along with a fifth [of the people] to be sent, together with the brush workers, to a factory to work. He had his small daughter in his hands. The S.S. man did not let him go. He bellowed at [a fellow soldier], “Beat the dog! You will stay behind.” Veve stated decisively that he would only go with his wife and child. The German then ripped the child from his hands, grabbed her by a foot, and delivered a blow to her head on the pavement. The child's brain splattered onto the ground. He tossed the child away and howled at him, “So, now will you go to work?” “No,” said Veve, “Now I will certainly not go!” And he went together with his wife to Treblinka.

[Page 715]

On the evening of August 26 1942, after two days of rampage, robbery, and murder, people began to gather the corpses of the 960 people who had been shot – [those who had been shot in] the streets, as well as those who died in the houses. When they entered the house of Leizer Kaczer of blessed memory, the elderly brush binder, the following picture unfolded before the eyes: His wife was lying in bed, shot, and Reb Leizer Kaczer lay near the bed, with his head on his wife's cushion, wrapped in his tallis

It must have been around the spring of 1944, when I, pressed and crowded in a dark bunker, covered with bricks beneath a double wall, had long lost track of time. After having slept for ten hours, faint from hunger, the fact that I was not frozen to the wall helped us realize that it must certainly be springtime outside. Cut off from the outside world, dressed in rags, we wallowed like worms in the earth. Afflicted by constant hunger, cold, and lice, the question always arose as to whether it was worthwhile at all, whether it was worthwhile to pay so dearly for a bit of life when in Mezritsh, as in all Poland, there was already no trace of any Jew. However, the striving for life was so strong that it broke through the great need and pain. If we moved a bit more, and another bit, perhaps one of us would succeed in surviving to tell everything to the “world.”

It had already been a few days since we started to feel through the walls that something was transpiring outside. The movement in the street was stronger than usual. In the middle of the night, we found out from our “good gentiles” that German police guards had arrived in the city to fight against the partisans in the forests around Mezritsh. On the one hand, this news encouraged us, but on the other hand, it weakened our hope for survival, for the Germans requisitioned dwelling places from the Polish population.

We sensed a bit of a racket the next morning. The door of the room in which we were lying between the two walls was thrust open. We heard a German clearly say, “Yah, Tadloz, we will take this room.” A shudder went through the bones – our end is now, our struggle for so long has been pointless. We must leave the bunker and go out to the street.

We prepared to leave the bunker. We searched through our nearly–rotted clothing and laundry, so as to die in a clean garment and with shoes on our feet.

[Page 716]

There was also a six–year–old child with us behind the wall. We told him about our situation, that we must leave the bunker and go out into the street, where we would shortly be torn apart by the two–legged wild beasts. Then the child broke out wailing to his mother.

“Mommy dear, I do not want to go to them. I prefer that you yourself strangle me with your own hands!”

This was how children in the Mezritsh Ghetto spoke.

Tel Aviv, March 1962


Editor's Footnote:

  1. For more information on the Yiddishe Folkschule, see pages 551–554, 555–559 , and 573–580 of this Yizkor Book. return


 

[Page 717]

My Visit to the Mezritsh Ghetto

by Yaakov Czelemenski of New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I was familiar with the city of Mezritsh from before the war. I went there many times as a representative of the Bund and the professional unions. I was very familiar with the market place and the charming alleyways, with the small wooden or brick houses. Mezritsh was a city of Jewish workers, primarily of brush workers. The brush trade was completely in Jewish hands, and was conveyed from father to son. Jewish workers were also employed in other trades, primarily in tailoring. Prior to the war, I knew the horse–cab driver Mordechai Zuker, known by the nickname Honik, very well.[1] He was tall, strong and jovial. Mordechai Honik was a simple Jew, and did not know much about politics. His two daughters, though, were dedicated Bundists from their early childhood.

Then, I went to Mezritsh once again. This time, it was no longer as the Bundist worker Yankel Czelemenski that I traveled, but rather the Pole Czeslaw. As I traveled in the train wagon, I felt a deep uneasiness. I knew that it was a long way to the city by train. How would I be received there? Evening had already begun to fall, and it was dangerous to go about in the dark. It was also not healthy to walk about in the zone that was designated for the Jews of Mezritsh at a late hour.

I sat there worried, and I was unable to dismiss the unpleasant thoughts. Suddenly I heard one of the passengers call out to another, “What are you doing here? How are you permitted to travel by train?”

All of the passengers turned their head to the person who was asked the question. I saw that he was a Jew – slight, short, and wearing the Star of David armband. The Polish passengers did not display any enmity toward him. He sat there immersed in his own thoughts and worries. The Jew answered the Pole, whom he apparently knew:

“I am from the Mezritsh Jewish organization. I have received a special permit to travel.”

I was relieved.

[Page 718]

It was already dark when the train stopped in Mezritsh. The Jew got on to a horse–drawn wagon with a few Polish passengers, and I quickly sat down near him. The Polish driver whipped the horses, and the wagon clanged off in the direction of the city. I quietly said to the Jew in Polish.

“Excuse me, I need your advice.”

He turned to me with a surprised look, and I calmed him, “I am a relative of the horse–cab driver Mordechai Honik. I want to visit my family.”

The Jew trusted me. Mordechai Honik was known in town. He asked, “Do you want to go to him at such a late hour?”

“No. Perhaps you can direct me to someplace where I can spend the night.”

“You are wise to do this,” the Jew agreed. “You are not familiar with this place, and you can run into difficulties. In a few minutes, we will pass by a Jewish bakery. You will get off there, and you will be able to spend the night. If you cannot sleep, you will at least be warm.” Soon the Jew told me, “Here it is.”

I paid the driver and got off. I opened the door of the bakery. A pleasant warmth and the aroma of bread struck me. The baker with a full beard, wearing a white apron stood near the hot oven. Beside him was his worker, a youth with strong arms. Troughs filled with dough stood around them. The elongated loaves of bread lay on the stone floor. The baker, an elderly Jew, looked at me with suspicion and a bit of fear, but I quickly calmed him, “I am a Jew. The horse–cab driver Mordechai Honik is my relative. I have come to be with him, but I want to go in the morning.”

The baker smiled and said, “It is doubtful that you will be able to sleep here, but you will certainly warm up your bones.”

He told me that a few months previously; he also had a guest, a woman from the JOINT[2], who promised him a few sacks of flour. I understood that he was referring to the comrade Itka

[Page 719]

Lazar–Melman. She was a courier for the JOINT, and also carried out missions for the Bund.

I was unable to sleep. I had a nap, and then woke up again. Various thoughts fluttered around in my head. I remained in the bakery for the entire night, until the first rays of blue light came through the door. The baker gave me a glass of hot tea and a piece of tasty bread. I bid him a very friendly farewell and set out. I knew where the horse–cab driver lived – in a small, poor house on the left side of the Brisk Lane. I began to meet more Jews, all wearing the armband. It was a cold day. I arrived at the door of the horse–cab driver and knocked on the door. Mordechai Honik himself opened the door. He looked at me with suspicion and did not recognize me. I said to him:

“Good morning. It appears that you do not recognize me.”

My Yiddish words calmed him. He stared at me with one eye, and then his face suddenly brightened, “A Jewish acquaintance. I drove you from the train to the city several times.”

He opened the door wide and I entered. The entire house consisted of one room and a kitchen, and had the ambience of gloomy poverty. Only he himself, the horse–cab driver, stood there smiling and happy with my visit. He was a widower, and his young daughter lived with him. An older daughter, Golda, was married and lived somewhere else.

He sat me down at the table. Even before I was able to say anything, he ran to the kitchen, where two wooden twigs were burning, and put on a kettle of water. I said to him:

“Do not trouble yourself. I have not come for long, and every minute is important for me. I want to see your daughter Golda.”

“Oy Golda!” He suddenly remembered that during my previous visit, I waited for his daughter and son–in–law. “She will be very happy at your arrival,” he said cheerfully. “Wait here for a moment, and I will bring her here.”

He put on a short jacket and went out. I remained alone, and felt exhaustion from my sleepless night and the cold. My eyes were pounding from weariness. It was not long before the door opened. Golda

[Page 720]

Zuker, her husband and friend Avraham Zdanowicz, and finally, the elderly Mordechai Honik all entered.

Golda Zuker was tall with black hair. She was full of goodwill and energy, and was firmly decisive. Golda was one of the last members of the Bundist organization in Mezritsh. Before the war, she had travelled to Warsaw from time to time on Bund missions. She had even come to Warsaw during the time of German occupation. Her husband Zdanowicz was exactly the opposite – easygoing, calm, and slow in talking and movement. He was a brush worker by trade. He greeted me cheerfully.

The father, Mordechai, prepared glasses of tea for us, and kept his distance. He understood the reason for my visit, and he pretended not to see or hear.

Golda Zuker had been a Bundist from her youngest childhood years. She was educated in SKiF[3], the Bundist youth organization and later in the Yugnt–Bund Tsukunft.[4] In Mezritsh, the revolutionary city of the brush workers, our movement was quite large. There, the Bund had a large organization, professional unions, a youth organization, and a sports club. It also ran a school and organized cultural activities. Now, all this was in ruins and the groups had dispersed. I asked about many members. At every second name Golda sadly said: “not here”, “in prison”, “in a work camp”, “in Russia”, “lost”. I asked her to convene a meeting of the remaining committee.

She left with her husband, and I stayed behind. The elderly Mordechai Honik wanted to cheer me up a bit. He was a joker. He always had a witty word, as he also had now; but this time, he did not have the power to drive away the heavy mood. Finally, he sat across from me and said:

“You came on a bad day. A terrible thing happened here yesterday.”

He told me that the Gestapo had shot the rabbi on the street the day before. The Mezritsher rabbi was short and hunchbacked. He was known for his scholarship and his kind heart. The Germans wanted to deport him, but he did not want to present himself, so he went into hiding. The Gestapo took 25 Jews from the city as hostages and ordered that if the “Jude” did not present himself, all 25 Jews would be shot. When the rabbi

[Page 721]

found out about this, he went to the Gestapo. There, they tortured him, and then took him out to the street and shot him. The entire city was now in a dark mood, feeling demoralized.

Before long, Golda and her husband returned. With them were: Moshe Ezra Edelsztejn, the chairman of the Bund organization; Hershel Borowski, an active Bundist since the Czarist period; Alter Sztokman, a former city councilor and communal representative; and Moshe Grynbaum, the chairman of the youth.

The meeting took place in a tense atmosphere. The chairman Moshe Ezra Edelsztejn gave an accounting of Jewish life in Mezritsh in terse words. There was no ghetto yet, but rather a designated zone; the situation was, however, intolerable. In the surrounding area, the Nazis had emptied out the towns and deported the Jews to Mezritsh. Jewish Mezritsh was suffering from hunger and terror. There was no bread for the arriving refugees to eat, nor was there any open floor space area upon which they could rest their heads. The entire economy of the city was in the hands of the Germans. Before the war, there were two Bundist representatives in the community. Now, neither of them wished to cooperate. The reason was the same as in many other cities: demoralization and corruption had spread widely within the Judenrat. Not far from Mezritsh, nine kilometers from the city, the Germans created a work camp in which they had imprisoned several hundred men. Golda Zuker, who looked like a Christian, served as the contact person between the city and the camp. Together with her sister, she went to the villages to purchase products for the camp inmates. She also bought butter, eggs and milk for the Jewish children of Mezritsh.

The committee members also brought me up to date on the brush cooperative. They had a large stash of pig hair hidden away in a warehouse.[5] From time to time, they would sell a bit of the remaining reserves, and use the proceeds to help the members of the brush workers union as well as the women and children who were left without their breadwinners.

As in all cities, the Germans would regularly snatch people in Mezritsh. The Germans could have obtained their quota of Jewish workers through the Judenrat, but the purpose of the snatchings was to turn the city into a wild forest in which a human hunt could take place, indifferent to the fact that the Jews comported themselves with a great deal of courage and dignity. On the previous May 1st, the workers acted in a particularly poignant manner. They

[Page 722]

moved in groups throughout the city, in silent gatherings. No words were spoken, no songs sung. The entire city was awestruck by this unprecedented demonstration. The Bund continued to be active; the movement now consisted of small groups, and the youth groups also convened. The bulletins and other literature that were sent from Warsaw were read with great interest. This illegal literature raised the morale of the members in those dark times.

At the end of the meeting, I gave them my report from Warsaw and from Bund workers in several other cities. I told them that the central committee was planning to convene a country–wide conference, and I asked them to select a delegate from Mezritsh. If they did not want to do so in my presence, they could do so later. I informed them of the financial situation of the party organization and the leadership institutions in Warsaw, which had to concern themselves with other cities as well. The Mezritsh committee decided to give me the large sum of 25,000 zloty. The chairman then turned to the youngest of those present, Moshe Grynbaum, who was sitting at the periphery of the group and said to him:

“You are the youngest among us, and you have the greatest chance of surviving. The money should be given from your hands. (He indeed survived and moved to America.)

It was very moving when the youngest member, with trembling hands, presented me with the gift for the Bundist Party.

Before ending the meeting, the oldest Bundist, Hershel Borowski, took some drinks from the cabinet, and said:

“This is all that remains from the good times. May we all remain alive to make banquets for our guests. Let us now drink a le–chayim.”

There was only just enough for each person to wet their gums. At the very end, I gave them a package of newspapers, and the members left the house together in a better mood.

In the evening, when it was already quite dark, I went to the house of the Zdanowicz comrades and spent the night there. The couple had three beautiful daughters, and Golda hugged them together. Her work –– wandering through the villages in search of food products, and her contact with the work camp –– were all fraught with

[Page 723]

danger. She always parted from her children as if she was seeing them for the last time.

Golda got up early in the morning and prepared to go to the camp. She invited me to come along, if I wished to see the camp. She said that my visit to the camp would provide great encouragement to our comrades who were imprisoned there.

We set out from the house onto the grey, cold street. The camp was located nine kilometers from the city, but we had to stop along the way in several villages to purchase food. We planned to arrive at the camp at 5:00 p.m. when the prisoners were forced back to their prison from their various workplaces. The prison was surrounded by barbed wire. Comrade Golda was given good advice from her interaction with the farmers. She purchased the items she needed at each location. We then proceeded through narrow, side–routes between the villages until we arrived at the main highway that led directly to the camp. Sparse forests spread out on both sides. Golda gave me a sign, and I looked ahead.

I saw the camp before me. I saw the fence that was made from narrowly spaced blocks, bound together with heavy rows of barbed wire. Wooden barracks stood inside the camps, but there was no trace of any people. Only by the tower, right near the highway, was there an S.S. man patrolling with a gun. Golda looked at her wristwatch and said, “They will be coming soon. We should travel alongside routes so as not to be obvious. When we see them, we will go to them.” (There were also a few Poles who had things to sell to the captive Jews.)

We moved along a side lane, not far from the main highway, for five or ten minutes. Suddenly, we heard hundreds of footsteps. We separated and quickly advanced onto the highway. I saw before me a dense, marching group. Two or three S.S. men and a few Jewish “supervisors” walked on either side of the group. The Jews were exhausted and could barely drag their feet. They soon noticed Golda, who without any hesitation approached one of the marchers and gave him the packages. Neither the S.S. men nor the Jewish kapos were disturbed, even if they had seen. Within a minute, the entire group was confined inside the camp, and the gate was locked behind them.

[Page 724]

I started to leave, but suddenly from inside, from the other side of the fence, I heard a sorrowful cry. I hastily turned around and saw that an S.S. man was standing right next to the fence, murderously beating a Jew with a wooden stick. The Jew was a middle–aged man with a short beard. His entire beard was covered with blood. From a group of Jews who were standing huddled together a few steps away, a young lad burst forth and tried to cover the beaten Jew with his outstretched arms. Blood soon began to flow from his face too. The S.S. man ordered the young lad to grab the bloodied Jew by the armpits and dance around the camp with him. I looked at comrade Golda. Like me, she stood there, shuddering. She indicated to me that we should leave, and we set out for home.

We were both silent for a long time. She later identified the Jew who was the victim of the beating, and said that the young lad who had run to protect him was his son.

We returned to her home in a somber mood. When I entered, her husband told me that a comrade of ours from Ostrolenka, a former Bundist councilor and his wife, were at one of the collection points to which the Jews were forced as they were driven from the surrounding towns. The three of us set out for there. The “guest house” was located in a dark building. Jewish families – men, women and children with their luggage, packages, and remnants of their meager belongings – were sprawled out over the entire floor.

When we reached our Ostrolenker comrade, we stood motionless – like stones. Stolarczyk, our comrade, sat on a bundle of belongings. On the floor near him lay his sister, covered with a cloth. She was dead. Comrade Golda called to him by name, and after a long while, he raised his head. He then lowered it again and fixed his gaze upon his dead sister. He sat there motionless, as if he himself was dead. A little later, he raised his head and said:

“She died a few hours ago. She is gone. She is waiting for me.”

I had no strength to approach him. I felt as though I was being strangled.

[Page 725]

We went out in silence. At the doorstep, I told my companion that, without question, we had to get him out of there as quickly as possible. Golda said that the comrades would promptly deal with the dead woman, and find a place for the man to live. When we returned home, a few comrades were already waiting for us; but I had no more endurance or energy to speak with anyone.

Despite my exhaustion from lack of sleep the previous night, I was unable to sleep, and I tossed and turned in bed the entire night. In the morning, I visited two dear friends and their two daughters, and I then I continued on my journey to Lublin.

Golda's maternal premonition that she might not see her children again each time she set out to conduct her holy work proved to be true. Comrade Moshe Grynbaum told me that one day Golda left the ghetto in order to make arrangements for 25 Jewish children to be housed with farmers. This was her final journey. Golda never saw her husband or children again.

Her younger sister Chantshe met the same fate. She went out to purchase food and never returned. Golda and Chantshe, the two courageous daughters of the horse–cab driver Mordechai Honik, were both brave populists and dedicated Bundists. They both willingly offered themselves on the altar of public service.


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Zuker means ‘sugar’ and Honik means ‘honey’. return
  2. The Joint Distribution Committee. return
  3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sotsyalistishe_Kinder_Farband return
  4. Yugnt Bund Tsukunft – was the youth organization of the Bund. For more information see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsukunft return
  5. The brush industry in Mezritsh used the bristles from pigs in the manufacture of their brushes. return


 

[Page 726]

Prior to the Destruction

by Tzvi Goldman of Petach Tikva

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The cold outside is biting. The autumn wind rips golden leaves from the trees, flinging them into the mud, where they are stepped on by the passers–by. Heavy gray clouds move quickly, high over the horizon.

A large poster rips through the eyes from a shop window in the marketplace: “The Jew spreads typhus.” The large synagogue building towers majestically, in contrast to the surrounding low houses. In the past, it was a symbol of Jewish pride. Now the synagogue stands as if in sorrow. The large windows with broken panes, the smoky walls, the “typhus” sign on the entrance (above which is engraved the verse “How goodly are your tents, oh Jacob”)[1] are silent witnesses to the difficult times. Today, the building is a refuge for hundreds of families expelled from Krakow, Nasielsk, Mława, and Mielec. They were torn away from their homes, robbed of their property. These unfortunate people live here, crowded and in need.

A woman passes by with a pot of food in her hands. Two children follow her. Their large, dark eyes peer from their pale, anemic faces with an expression of pain and deep terror. A woman with golden hair is bent over a pile of trash, searching. A pair of swollen feet stick out of her torn stockings.

Laundry is drying on the barbed wire fence. Torn shirts quiver to and fro in the wind. A sharp odor emanates from the synagogue – a mixture of carbolic acid and sweat.

Weary bodies are lying on the dirty floor of the long hall of the former women's section. There is a mother nursing her baby. Her withered breast has no milk. The baby twitches, kicks its legs, and cries.

In a corner, a family laments over their deceased father. His corpse is lying there – a heap of bones covered with a rag. The wife weeps with a weak, hoarse voice. The daughter is bent over the corpse, with broken hands. An oven is smoking on the side. A group of young people are warming up and roasting unpeeled potatoes.

In the corridor, the synagogue management committee is conducting an intimate conversation with Yagoda. Yagoda from the Red Army has escaped German captivity, and has been hiding in the synagogue for two weeks. I hand him a food package and greet him. “It is good that you have come,” Yagoda said, “We must

[Page 727]

say goodbye.” “The synagogue management,” declared Yagoda bitterly, “informed me that the Judenrat has ordered that I be sent away from the ambulatorium, and they have made the synagogue management responsible.”[2]

I made an effort to inform Yagoda of the danger awaiting him outside the synagogue. Every day, the gendarmes brought in from the forests people who had fled. They were taken to the Jewish cemetery and shot there. Yagoda, interrupted, “It is not so bad, they will not shoot everyone.”

“But what about you? In the meantime, you drag yourself from one story to the next. I will speak with K. He is my friend from the synagogue. I will go to the ambulatorium.”

“Glicksberg ordered me to send the Russian captive [Yagoda] away from the synagogue; if they find him there, they will shoot the entire Judenrat,” K. informed me, cold–bloodedly and with an official tone. I first try to calm him and assure him that there is no risk: Jews would not turn in the captive. But it does not help. (It is a miracle that Klarberg does not know, for he would have immediately informed the gendarmerie. Laws are laws, and nobody is willing to sacrifice their heads for anyone else.) Here, I had already lost my resolve: “You forget that the Red Army is fighting and bleeding for us, for our liberty! You want to live in the merit of the German law?!” “Quiet! Are you crazy? Why are you shouting? Go and speak to Glicksberg via the Judenrat.”

The Judenrat headquarters was besieged with people. The Judenrat conducts their business with their relatives in the rooms of the former Talmud Torah School.[3] Their work covered many agendas: post office, head tax office, labor office, social assistance division, lodging commission, etc.

At the entrance is a handbill announcing the death penalty for Jews who are found outside the city. Signed: District of Lublin, Cerner. A dialogue is taking place near me in the corridor:

A woman's voice begging: “You are letting me die of hunger…”

The Judenrat person: “You will not die of hunger, but from old age – you will get older and older until you will die.”

The begging voice: “I am not begging for myself, but for my three children. I do not have any bread for my three children.”

The Judenrat person: “You have come to consult with me, because you have three children?”

[Page 728]

The woman's voice with despair: “But what should I do now?”

The Judenrat person: “Bury two, and you will be left with one. You will be able to sustain yourself…”

The woman: “Why do you curse me? You may also find yourself in need.”

The Judenrat person (shouting in anger): “I always eat noodles with soup, and I will continue to eat. And you will die for a morsel of bread, and you will continue to die for a morsel of bread...”

I wish to pose my question to Glicksberg, but I suddenly hear the noise of a car driving by. The yard is empty of people. A German sub–officer is walking on the stairs with quick steps. He hastily opens a door: “Where is the chairman?” In the general silence, the Judenrat person with a bare head responds with a subservient smile: “Please, Mr. Uberwachtmeister, what does the fine sir desire?”

I encounter a funeral procession on the street. I join the crowd of people and set out for the cemetery. At one time, the majesty of death used to awaken respect from the living. Today, this has changed. The people are speaking about typhus. “This is a grievous illness. Poor people get through the illness quicker with black bread and water than do the wealthy with apple juice and injections.” They speak about the widow with sympathy: “She is dressed in black. She is still young and pretty.” “She weeps with false tears. In a month, she will already have a lover.” I look around – this is how her close girlfriends were talking.

In the cemetery, the stepping–stones tread through withered grass. The trees stand like orphans. The crowing of crows is heard through the overhanging, naked branches. Rows of gravestones, tall and low, beautiful and ugly, are shaking – as is the hierarchy of the living, human society.

There is a cry from the women as the body is lowered into the grave. Shovels dig, and clods of earth fall with a blunt clang. It slowly becomes silent. A sigh is heard here and there. Then people leave the cemetery in groups.

A pale ray of sunlight shines through the clouds. A locomotive whistles from the other side of the river. A truck laden with burnt tanks, twisted cannons, auto chassis, and broken airplane wings with glistening swastikas glides in from the east.

The cemetery manager, a short, agile man with a long beard, is speaking from the heart before a few of the funeral attendees who are the last ones remaining in the cemetery.

He sighs, “It has become a difficult life. I buried eight people today, including a Russian captive, a Siberian, a heroic youth.

[Page 729]

When the two gendarmes brought [the Russian captive] to the cemetery, he understood what was about to happen. He bent over, and gave one of them a smack on the face. That gendarme turned around, bloodied. He kicked the second gendarme in the stomach, and his gun fell out of his hand. The captive then attacked the first one again, and tried to bite his neck. One of the gendarmes grabbed a revolver and shot him. After being shot, with a twisted face, the captive tried again to attack the Germans, but the Germans shot him a few more times. The captive fell like a tree cut down. This was a young person! What might have been, had his hands had not been bound…?”

Yagoda swims through my thoughts. How might we arrange things so that the Judenrat would not know? I leave the cemetery immersed in my thoughts. A flock of sheep is being driven down the highway; They are moving through pastures, accompanied by an assistant gendarme. The sheep stand at the gate of the slaughterhouse. A few try to move to the side, but it is too late. They are beaten with sticks and urged on to slaughter. Their helpless bleating, “me–eh!” resonates.

A familiar form slinks nearby. He moves along the Brisker Way with decisive, fast steps. It seems to be Yagoda. I reach him at the edge of the city near the cemetery. “What is going on with you, Yagoda? Come back.” “I am going to the Rudnik Forest. There are Soviet war captives there, who have escaped from the ranks [of the German soldiers]. My place is together with them; We will do something together.” “You will not do anything. You have no weapons, and winter is approaching. You will perish in the forest from cold.” “It is better to freeze while moving than to rot away while lying down – you understand!” He disappears into the darkness.

The barking of a dog breaks through the silence of the oncoming night. A light flickers from a window. A thick fog covers the dark ground. Yagoda's words resonate in my ears like a “Mene Tekel[4].

I go through the narrow, muddy streets with low, unlit houses, in the autumn night, to my home in the Mezritsh Ghetto.

Mezritsh, 1941


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Numbers 24:5 return
  2. Ambulatorium – this word is used in the original Yiddish (אמולאתאריום). In a church setting, an ambulatorium is he covered passage around a cloister or the processional way around the east end of a cathedral or large church and behind the high altar. This word is not normally used in connection with synagogues, but may have been the author's way of indicating a wide hallway in a house of worship. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambulatory#:~:text=The%20ambulatory%20(Latin%3A%20ambulatorium%2C,and%20behind%20the%20high%20altar. return
  3. This wording is difficult in the original Yiddish, and may indicate that favoritism was shown by the Judenrat, to members of their families. return
  4. Mene Tekel” – The words from the writing on the wall during Belshazzar's feast (Daniel 5:25) – It's meaning, according to Daniel 5:26–27 is “Mene – God has numbered [the days of] your kingdom and brought an end; Tekel – you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” return


 

[Page 730]

The Five Aktions

Told by Esther Bronsztajn, Recorded by Tzipora Slodki–Broida

Translated by Jerrold Landau

On August 25, 1942, an edict was issued that the Jews must gather in the marketplace, from where they would be sent to work in labor camps. My eldest sister Itka warned us that we must not go to the roll call, for this was merely a pretext: they would be sending the Jews to a death camp. My sister had already been through this: her husband had already been killed, and she herself had escaped back to Mezritsh from some city near the German border.

We, the three sisters and the eldest sister's daughter, went into our attic in the courtyard on Lubliner Street. From the hiding place, we saw everything that was going on in the marketplace. Things became silent after two days of murder. After the frightful slaughter of approximately 80% of the Jewish population, the survivors gathered together, wept for the victims and those who were deported, and continued again to live their difficult lives with the hope of a better tomorrow.

Between the first and second aktions, the murderers perpetrated a fur collection aktion. Everyone had to bring their fur coats to the Talmud Torah, where the storehouse was located. The death penalty was threatened for those who did not obey. Moshe Gliksberg was appointed as the overseer of the warehouse. The murderers killed him, however, when they found out that he was a Polish officer.

Not long after that, when it was already quite cold, a rumor spread through the city that the fighter with a dog, Franz Bauer, was again going through the streets. The fighter was a Gestapo person, and his large bloodhound was called Juda. His walk was a foreshadowing of a new deportation. When the fighter with the dog encountered someone on the street, that person did not emerge alive. It was sufficient for the fighter to issue a command “Juda! Get him, Juda!” for the person to fall victim. He also did not spare any Poles.

At that time, we were hiding in the cellar of Kronharc's dwelling. The entrance was through the kitchen. Kronharc himself and his

[Page 731]

family were privileged citizens, since he worked as a photographer for the Germans. As usual, it was damp and cold in the cellar. It was already chilly, and there was no place to warm up. Mrs. Kronharc would bring us food. For various reasons, we had to leave that place.

My older sister and her daughter were in mortal danger, and returned to the ghetto. Itka Roizenblum and her child went to her stepmother who was with Dr. Bek, who was hiding at Moshe Cukerman's home. My father, Mates Roizenblum, was no longer alive. My younger sister Chaitsha and I snuck into our house and went up to the attic. We had to sneak in, for a drunken, anti–Semitic Pole was living in our house. He lived with a girlfriend.

The murdering recommenced. We saw all the atrocities from our hiding place. They hauled Jews into Yosef Tisz's yard, where blood flowed like water. Some were murdered in the cemetery. In this way, we lay in the attic for several days without food, water, or warm covering.

Unable to bear this any longer, we decided to approach the Christian [woman living in our house] and ask for some food. We took the opportunity when the gentile man, the lover, was not at home. Then we descended from the attic, and knocked on the door of the gentile woman. We fell at her feet and told a lie, saying that we had now come from Pilsudski Street, where we had been hiding with gentiles, and they had just thrown us out. The gentile woman was greatly surprised as to how we had made it through such a commotion. We asked her to let us into the attic, and also to permit us to take some warm things that we had left behind. She received us in a friendly fashion, gave us bread and milk, and led us herself into the attic, telling us not to tell her beloved.

The Christian woman visited us often and brought food. We would open the door of the attic at a set time. She would tell us about the situation in the city and tell us that, when it would be calmer, she would lead us to the ghetto. She said that she was afraid that her beloved might turn us in. Mrs. Kronharc also brought us food and water. Three weeks passed in this manner.

At one point, the Christian woman came to us and told us that she could transfer us to the ghetto that day, for the fighter and his dog were not to be seen. Slinking along the walls, we arrived at the ghetto, where we

[Page 732]

met survivors from the aktion. We also found my sister and her daughter.

The situation in the ghetto was terrible. Up to fifty people lived in one room. It was crowded and filthy; however, life normalized with time. Everyone put things in order to some degree, hoping to survive. A Jewish commandant, Brukarz, was appointed. The Gestapo shot him after some time. His place was filled by the well–known Srol–Leizka Cuker. At some point, he [too] lost the good–will of the Germans, and they decided to rid themselves of him as well. Bound in chains, he fled from their hands and entered an attic. The police warned that they would kill 500 Jews at one time if the fugitive was not turned over. A great panic ensued. People wept and lamented. People began to run to their hiding places, until one old woman gave up the location of the attic in which Srol–Leizka was hiding. The Germans shot at him and dragged out his dead body. The Jewish police then announced that the Jews could come out and go free.

After a bit of time, the air became heavy once again. It felt as if they were preparing something new for us. One evening, I was sitting with a girlfriend, a Brisker who lived with her mother who was a dentist. A female patient had come to her mother, and mentioned during the conversation that a fifth aktion was being planned for that night. Rivche Finkelsztajn, Chaitsha Goldberg, and Sima Wysznia were also together with that woman. It was hard to believe this. When I came home, I informed those near to me, but nobody took it seriously.

In the middle of the night, we heard shooting from all sides, along with wild shouts, “Juden, Raus!” People began to run and seek shelter wherever possible. We hid under the floor of Moshele Stolar's house. There were about 150 people there, including a nine–month–old baby. When the baby cried, the hidden people strangled him against his mother's will. Unfortunately, this did not help. A person from Mezritsh gave over our hiding place, thinking that he would be able to save his life. He himself moved the beds and the boards that were protecting us. Soon we heard the wild shouting of the Nazi bandits, and we were all forced to leave and go into

[Page 733]

the yard, where the Gestapo men were rampaging under the direction of the fighter with the dog. Each of us had to turn over whatever we had. I gave a jewel that I had hidden, thinking that I might succeed in saving it.

They placed us in rows, and selected 26 girls who were fit for work. The rest were transported to the death camp. One person was shot on the spot because he wanted to go over to his child on the other side of the yard. The person who had informed on [the location of] our bunker was also quickly killed.

We, the ones selected to live, were taken to the Talmud Torah, and all placed in a single room. The next day, we were taken to the ghetto and ordered to clean the dwellings. We still found belongings there, and there was no dearth of food. We took the valuable objects to a storehouse in the Talmud Torah, where they were sorted and sent to where they were needed.

The empty houses were burnt. In this manner, the streets of Szmulewyzna were cleaned out. When they no longer needed us, they again surrounded the building of the Talmud Torah at night, and we, the 26 girls, were taken to the sand dunes on the Radzyner highway. A train was standing there, with other victims from other places. We were ordered to undress. We were searched, and then forced onto the crowded wagons. I attempted to save myself with the help of a Radzyner woman whom I had met in the ghetto. The woman still had gold and other objects with her. The lovely, goodhearted woman invited me to come with her, perhaps we could both survive. Hearing this, a Jewish policeman from Białystok (who lives in America today) came to me, tore me away with force, and gave me over to a German, who beat me soundly on the side with his baton, and forced me on to the wagon. They took the money from the woman and immediately killed her.

There were up to three hundred people – men, women, and children – in the wagons. We were taken to Lublin, on a five–day journey without water or food. They often shot into the wagons, which were full of dead people. I remember how a child was wounded with a bullet, and there was nothing with which to stop the blood. I tore the only dress that I had on my body, and used it to seal the open

[Page 734]

abdomen of the child. When we reached Majdanek, someone took a dress off of a dead woman and allowed me to wear it. I no longer had shoes on my feet.

In Majdanek, I found my two sisters, and the daughter of the older one. My older sister and her daughter were killed. [My] younger [sister], Chaitsha, remained with me. We endured all the horrors of the camps.

[Page 735]

Mie735a.jpg
Gathering in the marketplace

 

Mie735b.jpg
On the way to the train

[Page 736]

The Liquidation in Mezritsh

Told Tzvi Goldman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The following article about the fifth liquidation is an incomplete portion of a larger, muddled work. Unfortunately, the author was taken from us unexpectedly at the young age of 55. We include here two fragments which we have obtained – incomplete.

The editors

Sunday, January 2, 1943

On the night of the 1st to the 2nd of May, at 3:00 a.m., we were awakened by shots from automatic guns, thick like potatoes being poured out of a sack. We got dressed as quick as lightning, and went into the hiding place. The shooting quieted. Yoske went out to see what was happening. This was truly a liquidation. He returned, “Yes, a liquidation.” The entire ghetto was surrounded with Schupo (Schutzpolizei) and gendarmes. Yoske went up to the hiding place, taking a pail of water with him.

Our hiding place was constructed with a good concept: the yard was disguised and closed off with a lock in the front. There was a small hut in the yard with a hidden attic at the top, with the goal of avoiding the attention of the Germans from the ground floor. If one broke through the floor, one would see only the ground. Underground, at a depth of 22 centimeters, one would find a second floor, beneath which was our hiding place. The entrance to the hiding place was through a staircase, which opened on hinges. None of the Germans would imagine that there might be a hiding place there.

The terror that overtook me during the first shots lessened. I regained my equilibrium in the hiding place. My beloved youngest sister Sara sat near me. Further on was Yoske, his brother, his sister Sara, and parents, as well as Adek Warszawski and Janek.

I heard the voices of the Jewish police: “Everyone go out to the place! They are sending you to the camps for labor.” (I already knew their camps…) Suddenly I heard someone calling my name. I recognized the voice of my brother. I wanted to call out, but someone grabbed me

[Page 737]

by the neck. Yoske warned me: “If you call out, I will kill you. Now is not the time for sentimentality.” I felt the blade of a knife on my neck. A gentle stab. I thought: How quickly people turn wild. Yoske is my closest friend, and now he is prepared to kill me if I call out to my brother. Yoske did not know that I had told my brother about our hiding place a month earlier.

In the meantime, my brother crawled over the fence and tore open the door of the hiding place. A pale light fell inside. Yoske held the knife and gritted his teeth, “Did they give over our hiding place? We are lost. If he barges in, he will turn us in.”

“Crawl up into the attic,” I called out to my brother, “There is no room in the hiding place.” “Good,” he tossed a loaf of bread to me in the hiding place, “The Ukrainians are marching into the ghetto. I am crawling into the attic with my mother–in–law and wife.”

Suddenly I heard quick steps approaching. They tore the cover of our yard. “Give the axe!” I recognized the voice of the policeman. One dull knock, and they tore open the lock. They entered. A beam of light fell into our hiding place, and the merciless voice of the Jewish police, “Come out!” Now I knew that our hiding place was indeed discovered. Everything was lost.

Yoske stood up first. He grabbed the axe and tried to crawl out (we were prepared with axes in the event that we were turned in via the Jewish police, who were armed only with batons). In a moment, he tossed the axe back into the hiding place. When I first stuck my head out, I understood and grasped the situation: The Jewish police and the informant could not be killed, for two Ukrainians stood behind their shoulders with guns.

I exited. “Come, Sara,” I said to my sister. They led us to the marketplace. I led my sister by her hand, and looked over the alleys of the ghetto. Ukrainians were everywhere, shouting wildly, “Juden! Raus! Get Out.” Behind them, the Jewish police were scanning in fear: “Everyone is going to the marketplace. Whomever does not go voluntarily will be shot!”

In one alleyway, I saw a Ukrainian dragging

[Page 738]

a girl by the hair. Her long, golden hair flowed over her torn jacket, from which her white shirt poked out. Her face looked as if she had just woken up from sleep. She looked terrible. Further on I saw the corpse of a woman, with her face turned to the ground. Her dark hair was disheveled and bloodied.

We approached the gate of the ghetto. A mass of gendarmes and armed police were milling about. They were armed with automatic guns and grenades. We exited the ghetto, from where we heard shooting and the exploding of grenades accompanied by the wild barking of the Ukrainians.

The marketplace was surrounded by a thick cordon of Schupo, with a thinner cordon of armed police behind them. Several hundred Jews – elderly people, women, and children – were already in the middle of the marketplace, all in a sitting position, facing the church. We sat down beside them.

It was Sunday. Crowds of Catholics were going to church. They looked at us with curiosity from afar. No expression of sympathy could be seen on their faces. Some of them were laughing with devilish laughter. I looked at my sister with mercy. She was calm. She knew that we would no longer be alive the next day, but she was not afraid even though she was 12 years old. Pressing her hand, I whispered quietly in her ear: “Do not worry, we will jump from the wagon.” The thought that they could shoot us here in the marketplace tormented me.

In the meantime, the number of people brought into the marketplace grew. The Jewish police uncovered new hiding places. Through their intensive work, they fulfilled the will of the Ukrainians and the armed police – their masters. The Ukrainians and the armed police beat and tortured the helpless elderly people – women and men – to please the Schupo and the German gendarmes. They left the last of the corpses to display before the S.S. officer Globocnik, who had come to the market to conduct the “Judenaktion” in Mezritsh. The hierarchy, the fear that the junior killers had of the senior ones – was another reason to release the depraved, devilish instincts through sadistic orgies in the marketplace and in the ghetto.

I saw how the Ukrainians led a group out of the gates of the ghetto. Among them, I recognized Dr. Lichtenberg with his wife, child, and brother Izik. The gendarme Franz Bauer immediately jumped toward him. That gendarme was known to have already killed several hundred people with his own hands, always from behind.

[Page 739]

His victims were unarmed, helpless, captured people who had fled from the wagons, were [re–]captured by the armed police, and given over to the hands of the gendarmes. Many Jewish women and children died at [Bauer's] hands during the liquidations of 1942. He also killed many Poles in the villages. His method of murder was always the same: a shot from the revolver in the back of the head. Even though his behavior was marked by bloody fear and bestial sadism, the Germans recognized him as a hero. They surrounded him with esteem and decorated him with medals – he was the “hero” of his time.

I witnessed the entire orgy of sadism that unfolded at that time. At first, [Bauer] jumped at them [the victims] like a wild tiger, took several steps, and ordered them to raise their hands. Suddenly he turned around and ordered them to kneel down in the gutter. Those who kneeled down were beaten over the face as they held their hands up. They begged for mercy with their hands. The five–year–old child of the doctor was among them. Finally, he had satiated himself with the beatings, and vigorously ordered them to stand up and, apparently, return to the ghetto. He then raised his pistol behind their shoulders and shot them in the head from the rear. He approached the marketplace, removed the white gloves from his hands, and smoked a cigarette that was given to him by a Gestapo man from Lublin.

The Gestapo man from Lublin was the chief manager of the liquidation. He was a middle–aged man with a sadistic appearance. He wore a uniform, an S.S. hat, polished boots, and white, silk gloves. He stood motionless and as the Schupos related to him with great respect. The Ukrainians could not hide their terror when they saw him. The “Ubermensch” cast murderous glances full of disgust at us, the victims. We were moving quickly to our fate. We were full of thoughts that we were about to die. For us, there was no salvation.

Several hundred Jews who worked in the military command were led to the marketplace under the guard of the Wehrmacht soldiers. They were mainly wealthy people,

[Page 740]

for they had paid well to be designated as “working people.” Until this time, they had lived outside the ghetto, living with the false hope that they would not share the fate of their brethren in the ghetto. Now, they approached us and sat down, like us, on the cold pavement of the street.

Mrs. Roza Brott – who worked at jobs for the Radzyn Gestapo – had brought full valises with her, in the hope that they would soon free her, but it was for naught. The Gestapo man from Radzyn who was the chief of the ghetto approached Roza, who from afar had begged acquaintances from the gendarmes to save her, and said the following words to her (he was worried lest the Gestapo men from Lublin notice that he was talking to a Jew): “Roza, everything is for naught, Judenrein.” Indeed, the decision to make the place Judenrein that day put an end to the careers of Cukerman and Klarberg.

Cukerman, a poor tanner, had received from the Germans during the time of the occupation a concession for leather work, and he earned significant income. He joined the Judenrat and lived outside the ghetto. When the Ukrainians led him to the marketplace, he marched proudly at the head of his family, with the belief that after presenting his district documents, confirming that he produced leather for the army, he would be freed to go home, as usual. This time, however, the Gestapo men from Lublin said, “It is over.” The gendarme Bauer led Cukerman to one side, and, in the midst of a friendly conversation, he suddenly took his revolver and killed him on the spot with a shot in the neck.

At the same time, the leader of the Ukrainians entered Klarberg's pharmacy and asked the chairman, who was standing calmly at the table selling medicine, to come out for a minute. The chairman of Judenrat, Klarberg, who had carried out all the orders of the occupation like a slave, put on his coat and hat and followed the Ukrainian. He was led to us at the gate of the ghetto – and shot there. When the Ukrainian returned, he was carrying the chairman's new coat in his hands.

There was a spring rain. Buds appeared on the trees. It was the beginning of spring. The outside smelled like the aromas of awakening flowers and grasses. The lifegiving sun peeked out from behind the clouds.

[Page 741]

Soon, the earth would be covered with a blooming, green carpet. In our hearts – there was the cold awaiting of death.

Suddenly, an S.S. officer called the harsh words: “Whomever turns in a hiding place will be freed from this place. Whomever knows about a hiding place in which acquaintances are hiding will be freed if he tells the Schupo.” The S.S. officer repeated the same words several times.

A deathly silence pervaded throughout the entire marketplace, in which about 3,500 people had been gathered and were kneeling down. Before death, he wanted to torment and oppress us. Standing near the Gestapo were: the chief of the gendarmerie of the S.S. Sturmunterscharfirer Dieter, the Uberlieutenant Schupo. Perhaps they would shoot us in the market.? I did not know about the others, but I had not lost hope completely. If they were going to load us onto the wagons, I had decided to jump with my sister and uncle, who had sat down beside us in the meantime. Motel Bruk had already traveled to Treblinka three times, and he had always succeeded in jumping from the wagon. He had a special trick for opening the door of the wagon using the belt of his trousers. I must admit that since our uncle had sat down, we gained a bit of strength in our hearts.

Suddenly something new took place: the crowds, who were sitting calmly to this point, began to sway. This was the Unterofficer, the Schupo, ordering the brush workers to go back. The first to go back was V. Rozenberg, followed by Shmuel who had succeeded earlier in hiding his wife and two children from the liquidation. Later, all the brush workers began to go back to the group.

In general, the crowd did not display any initiative. It was apathetic, and had no power to undertake anything. They are going after whatever – – –

 

After Jumping from the Wagon

… Lying there weak, unconscious, I suddenly felt a shiver of cold. I realized: where I am I? From where had I be taken? What had happened? Soon, soon…

Slowly, the events of the last day came to my memory: the liquidation, the uncovering of our hiding place, the orgy [of violence] in the marketplace, the march through the city to the railway station, being placed on the

[Page 742]

wagons, the choking crowding inside the wagons, and finally – my successful jump through the window. And perhaps, perhaps, it had all been a nightmare?

And where did I end up? I tapped around with my hand. Around [me] – wet sand… I stood up. I felt a pain in my bones. I took a step, and brushed against the railway tracks… This was indeed no dream, but – – –

Translated from Polish by Leah Diment

 

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