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[Page 29]

The Holocaust Period

 

How I Was Saved from Death in Mizoch

by Max Weltfreint

Translated from Hebrew by Corey Feuer and Yonatan Altman–Shafer

Our permanent residence was in Katowice, and our livelihood was in Mizoch; my father was a prominent fruit merchant, and he supplied fruit not only to the major Polish cities, but also to foreign countries.

Mizoch was a major source of fine fruits that were praised far and wide. Naturally, fruit sellers from all edges of Poland were attracted to it, and Dad was one of the first who opened a branch in the surrounding economy. Starting in the early ‘30s, Mizoch became our second home, and Dad and I spent most of the year there. We went back home to Katowice only for holidays. During the summer months, the entire family would come to Mizoch, which was like a retreat with its charming scenery and excellent atmosphere.

On September 1st, 1939, the date on which Germany invaded Poland, our family as usual was in Mizoch. The disintegration of Poland and the annexation of Katowice by the German Reich prevented us from even thinking about returning to Katowice, and Mizoch became our permanent home.

We chose Mizoch as our residence not just because of the mercantile roots we had in the area, but particularly because of its kind–hearted residents and comfortable social environment. For the same reasons, dozens of other refugee families from Polish territory occupied by Hitler went on to live there.

* * *

Two days before the Mizoch ghetto was wiped out, Mr. Goldbrenner, a Judenrat member on behalf of the refugees, told us that the Sonderführer hinted that the days of the ghetto were numbered, and we needed to flee. I turned to Yaakov Grossblatt, told him what I heard, and suggested fleeing to the forests. He hesitated and postponed the decision for a day or two. And while I was hesitating and was considering what to do,

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the ghetto was surrounded, and its residents were ordered to gather in the town square.

At this point, without thinking much, I headed towards the ghetto fences. I was not the only one involved in the effort to flee the encirclement; there were dozens of bold men among us. The guards shot at us, sent dogs after us, and even chased us. Some of the escapees were killed, some were wounded and apprehended, and I, after running intensely, barely made it to the village of Horvy.

Horvy village was located within thick forest and its residents were Polish. Some acquaintances in the village gave me something to eat but refused to allow me to hide among them for a few days. I wandered from place to place, from one acquaintance to another, until I made it to Zelinsky, a Baptist acquaintance.

Zelinsky agreed to hide me, and I stayed at his house for 10 days. I sat closed off in my room, only looking through a crack in a hidden window. I saw individuals from Mizoch walking around looking for places to hide or disappearing into the thick of the forest. I also saw Jews being led from the forests by the Ukrainian or German police. Among the apprehended was the pharmacist Finkel's family. I saw them all sitting cramped in a cart being guarded by police officers. Zelinsky told me after a few days that the whole family killed themselves with a potent drug while riding in the cart.

* * *

I learned from one farmer that Jews were living on the sloping mountain in the forest. I went there, and I indeed found the Berman family –– all three brothers and the sister. Over the course of two weeks we would see each other every day. I was not able to live with them because their dwelling was incredibly filthy.

During one of our meetings, Ukrainians surrounded us and began shooting at us. We all scattered in different directions. A few days later I found out that only a guy named Shimonovich and I were spared from the shooting. All of the rest of the participants at the meeting, including all of the Berman family, were killed.

I wandered from village to village and from forest to forest. I met with every survivor of the Mizoch ghetto who was living in the area, but I did not find for myself stable companionship.

Fate had it that I witnessed the murder of the Wasserman family at the hands of a farmer in whom they had placed their trust: I happened to go into the house in which they were hiding to ask for bread. I did not know that the Wasserman family was being hidden there. Suddenly Kraszewska the neighbor barged in, shouting in panic that the Germans were nearing the house. I hurried to escape and hid in an open space not far from the house.

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After a few minutes I saw the Wasserman family led by the master of the house to the fields.

I lay still for a long time and did not see the Germans come, so I got up and went off towards a distant house. The Wassermans' son Yitzhak arrived a few days later with his partisan group. He called me to him and told me that that night he would avenge the blood of his family, who were murdered in the most treacherous way by the farmer with whom they were hiding; I learned from him that the story of Kraszewska –– bursting into the house and calling that the Germans were coming –– was staged and calculated. Immediately after the scream of “the Germans are coming”, the farmer took the whole family to the field, and, with the help of some acquaintances, murdered them. Only the son–in–law, Moshe Maizlitsh, escaped. All of the family's gold, money, and jewelry of course fell into the farmer's blood–stained hands.

Yitzhak suggested I join his squad and participate in their quest for vengeance that night. Since Yitzhak, who led the squad, was its only Jewish member, and the rest of the squad consisted of Poles, and also because their demeanor did not mesh well with my character –– I refused.

That night, Yitzhak and his squad surrounded the house of the Polish murderer, woke everyone, and stood them up against the wall. After killing them, they lit their house on fire.

The actions of Wasserman's squad brought us respect among the Gentiles, and Yitzhak was feared by everyone in the area. I was once caught by a group of unfamiliar partisans. After interrogation, they imprisoned me in a room in which the Rosenblatt brothers and Yisroel Erlich were also found. Meir Roseblatt told the commander that he owned a weapon, and if they released us, we would bring him the weapon in order to be accepted to the group. The commander agreed. We went off and returned in the morning with a weapon. The partisans, however, were not there, and to this day we have no idea who these partisans were.

From that point on, I lived in the forest. I was saved from death countless times by unexplainable miracles. Many Jews from Mizoch and the surrounding area fell before my eyes and our numbers became very small.

One time, two young guys caught me, took my belt off, and bound my legs with it. They bound my hands with a rope. They tried to kill me with what was either a piece of a tin or a knife blade, but they could not do more than wound me with a “tool” like that. I was bleeding, but I was still alive. One of the guys went to get a knife and the other stayed to guard me. I collected all of my strength and with my bound up legs I kicked the guy guarding me forcefully in the stomach. He fell over moaning and I undid the binding around my legs and escaped. To my great fortune, I immediately ran into the Pliter brothers, who dressed my wounds and brought me to a quiet, safe corner.

Meanwhile, there was a change in morale and in the situation on the frontline. The defeat of the Germans

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was certain and fast approaching. In exchange for promising that we would pay in full for every kindness the farmers extended to us, a few of the farmers agreed to provide us with shelter and food. To be safe, we wandered from village to village and frequently changed our place of residence until we finally saw the first soldiers of the liberating Red Army.

 

The pharmacy in Mizoch (built in 1935)

 

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