(From Yehuda Broinshtein's Letter to Reuven Melamed)
Translated from Hebrew by Corey Feuer and Yonatan Altman-Shafer
...Well done on your decision to commemorate our town Mizoch with a memorial book. You all are doing a great deed. I am not able to return to that period of horrors even in my thoughts, and to write memories means to return to and to relive those dark days -- days of nightmares, anxiety, and humiliation. I will deliver only a few impressions and some knowledge on the last two or three years of the life of the beloved Mizoch:
The Soviet Occupation
As everybody knows, the Soviets conquered Mizoch without war; when the Polish army was crushed at the hands of the Germans and Poland's fate was already determined, battalions of the Red Army entered eastern Polish territory and took western Ukraine and western Belarus with almost no resistance. Many of the Jewish refugees that had fled from the Germans to cities surrounding us did not return to their homes and their cities, which were under Hitler's rule, and stayed to live among us. Our town Mizoch contained 3,500 Jews; during the Soviet occupation, it contained 5,500 Jews. This large growth came thanks to the many refugees who settled among us. A great many of the refugees were arrested after some months, while they were sleeping, as was usual among the Soviets, and they were taken to Siberia in freight cars since they refused to accept Soviet citizenship. This heavy punishment that the poor refugees suffered, however, saved them in the end from a life in hell on earth during the days of Hitlerite control. And about 50 percent of them from death.
Mizoch shifted and changed until it was unrecognizable; the stores disappeared, commerce went dead, the residents wore gloom on their faces, and worry gnawed at their hearts.
All the Jews managed to get a job with the authorities. They did it not so much for the salary as for the sake of obtaining the coveted status of being a decent citizen
After efforts, I too got an accounting position at the sugar factory as a talisman against imprisonment and expulsion to Siberia.
The occupiers treated the Jews with much more trust than they treated the Ukrainians because while the latter dreamed of national independence that they would achieve with help from the Germans, the Jews far preferred the Soviet rule to the situation of war, and some of them preferred the Soviet control even to the collapsed Polish rule.
Little by little, all the Jews adapted to the situation and integrated into the new life of the town while the Ukrainians plotted and watched for Hitler. And here their dream became reality. Germany attacked Russia.
The Days of Horror Under the German Whip
It is easy to imagine the panic that arose among us as a result of the new war. Us Jews were shrouded in gloom and worry while the Ukrainians were rejoicing and happy because here comes Hitler, and not only is he releasing them from the rule they resent, but he is also bringing them national independence. After a little while, they were indeed convinced that they were deceived and that it did not even occur to Hitler to grant Ukraine independence. Hitler kept his promise to them, however, with regards to at least one thing: the Jews were left at their mercy, and they were allowed to participate fully in the Jews' destruction.
Immediately after the German entry into Mizoch, the Gentiles from the surrounding villages organized a massacre of Jews. At the head of the rioters stood Yarmaliuk from the village of Darman. Yarmaliuk, who was known to be a communist, and during the time of the Soviets was close to the leadership, apparently wanted to atone for this sin with Jewish blood. He wounded with his own hands with an ax his acquaintance Eli Shindelhoiz, who survived only by a miracle, and Chana Trochlier and some other Jews were murdered. Gershon Mossman, husband of Rachel Melamed, was gravely wounded in these pogroms. The joke of fate is such that we were then saved from horrible slaughter thanks to the Germans, who opened fire on the rioters and scattered them to the wind.
Leading the rioters did not save Yarmaliuk. His fellow Ukrainian nationalists remembered his collaboration with the Soviets and murdered him.
When things calmed down, the Jews buried their dead and washed the blood that had congealed, and the decrees and harassment started. The Christian that just yesterday and the day before would bow to you and who was your friend no longer recognized you, as if he was seeing you for the first time in his life. And those who in their hearts secretly opposed the persecution of the Jews and wished them well had to act like everyone else and demonstrate their hatred for Jews.
The Jews slowly, slowly lost their security and with that their dignity.
Poverty took its toll, morality declined, and division and suspicion amongst the Jews increased. We knew that in times of trouble and distress, unity increased among the Jews. Unfortunately, this time was different. You know, Reuven, of the terrible incident when Bernio Sannis's son-in-law snitched on Zayde Gelman that he slaughtered a cow in the ghetto and sold its meat to Jews. Bernio did it because he did not get his share from Zayde. Zayde was hung for his transgression in front of the whole community, and the snitch lived in the ghetto as if nothing happened. A similar incident happened in the Judenrat, which I will tell you about below.
The Judenrat was established by the Germans for the further exploitation and easier eradication of the Jews. They would collect all sorts of contributions for the Germans; gather clothes, furniture, jewelry, silver, and gold for them; and organize labor groups for them. In exchange for this, Germans would promise personal safety and comfort to the members of the Judenrat. Of course, after these duties were fulfilled, the Judenrat members were killed together with the rest of the Jews and sometimes in a crueler manner.
I will note with satisfaction that with us the Judenrat members did not lose their humanity and even kept their morality and righteousness. Of course, we also did not exactly have it easy with the Judenrat, but the relationship we had with the Judenrat was ideal in comparison to that of other places. The role of the Judenrat was not at all easy because on the one hand, they had to fulfill all of the Germans' wishes, and on the other hand, they did not want to harm the Jews. And this could not be done. But relatively, our Judenrat was okay.
The Judenrat was officially headed by Abba Shtivel. He was, however, too weak for the role, and so Melech Gusack managed virtually all matters. In the Judenrat were experienced politicos like Yonah Namirober and Mendel Dordick as well as some members from amongst the refugees.
When the time came to fulfill the Germans' demands for various items, the Jews of course did not want to part from their property. It was necessary to create a Jewish police force in order to prevent the activation of the Ukrainian police, and that is how the Judenrat turned into the lowest kind of hell. The members of the Jewish police believed, like their masters the Judenrat, that for their faithful service to the Germans, they would be saved from extermination. I must again note that we did not blame the Judenrat for taking advantage of their positions for their own self-interests, and I could testify that everything that was done at their hands was done out of the necessity of the bitter reality and was inevitable.
I blame them only for one thing -- for their criminally naive trust in the Germans. Seeing how they wiped out community after community, without leaving a trace behind,
still believing the Germans that promised them that Mizoch would stay standing if German orders were fulfilled to the letter
Moshe Rudman served as secretary of the Judenrat. His moral standards were always dubious, and he fit the role quite nicely. Over time, he wanted to be the Judenrat's final adjudicator, and when they denied him, he went to the Gestapo and informed on the Judenrat that they had betrayed the trust of the authorities; he informed the Gestapo that he had proof that the Judenrat had exempted the Rabbi from the requirement of handing over of his cloak to the Germans and that they themselves not only did not hand over their jackets but took for themselves those that were intended for the German army
For its part, the Judenrat blamed Rudman for the disturbance in order and for the incitement of the population against the Judenrat. The two charges were of course baseless and fundamentally lies, but they constituted a big danger to all of us. In the end, Rodman was incarcerated, and two days after, his wife and two children were also incarcerated. They were shot in the basement of the Ukrainian police, but the rumor went that they were transferred to the Zdolbuniv jail.
A testament of the extent of the helplessness and blindness of the Judenrat was the fact that: we knew that all the towns in our area were purified of Jews. In Dubno, Równe, Radzibilov, Rokovich, Ozerna, and other towns, not one Jew remained there. The Germans, however, managed to convince the Judenrat members of the fabrication that those Jews were wiped out because they had not followed the instructions of the authorities and had incited rebellion. The murderers wanted until the end to exploit the blood of the Jews, their strength, and their assets.
During the German occupation, I worked in the sugar factory as a roustabout. About a week before the day of the extermination, the boss of the sugar factory called me into his office (he was a Pole and had been a good acquaintance of mine for a long time) and told me that during his visit to the brick factory, which was administratively linked to the sugar factory, he noticed a motorcycle. While he stood and wondered about the motorcycle rider, he saw Otto the German gendarme inspecting the brick factory's pits. To his question as to what he could do for him, the gendarme replied that he received a command to determine whether one hundred thousand bricks, much needed for German construction, could be obtained here. The manager, suspicious of something, called the gebietkommissar [area commissioner], and the gebietkommissar answered that they did not at all have a need for bricks. He therefore, risking his life, informed me that the end was near and that what could still be saved should be saved.
I of course immediately relayed what the manager had said to the Judenrat. Without delay, they sent Hersch Goldbrenner from Biłgoraj, who represented the refugees in the Judenrat, to the Germans. He, who by the way was a good friend of mine, knew how to
behave with the Germans and was well received by them. Loaded with precious gifts and with lots of gold coins, he presented himself before the Germans.
He returned without the gifts but not quite calm. He of course did not mention the manager's name to the Germans; he only told them that the Ukrainians were bragging that the end was near and that it was even known to them that the brick factory's pits were chosen to serve as the mass graves for the community. The Germans answered him that this idea was born out of the Ukranians' own desires, and since they wanted our extinction, they fabricated it. In the end it was advised not to listen to the lies and to continue to work. Just in case, one of the Germans solemnly reiterated his promise that if matters were to be worsening, he would notify Goldbrenner a few weeks beforehand. Eventually, Goldbrenner became emboldened and said that the Ukrainians were even saying that he, the very same Otto who made the promise, was himself seen by the pits. Regarding this, the Germans did not reply with a single word.
This fact indeed saddened some of Judenrat, but they wanted to believe in the Germans' lies, and so they dismissed every warning. And so the day of extermination came about.
I have sat down a few times already to write something for the book, but I have failed. I hope you understand my state of mind and forgive me. I will always help you in other matters.
by Miriam Kashuk-Szprync
Translated from Hebrew by Corey Feuer
In the first days of Nazi control in Mizoch, life carried on as usual, and the Jews were hardly harmed. I remember that the mothers whose sons had fled with the retreating Soviet army cried and mourned, jealous of the mothers whose sons had stayed in Mizoch, as it seemed that things were not as bad as expected. My mother was one of these mourners. Her only son -- my brother Yitzhak -- wandered far away, to suffering and hardship, while others were living in Mizoch with their families safe and sound.
The quiet days, however, did not last. Already on the fourth day of German control of the town, we all realized how miserable we were. And it was just my luck that I happened to be among the first harmed. As ordered by the Ukrainian police, about two dozen of us girls, the prettiest and most educated of the town -- including the sisters Bella and Tzvia Trochlier, Eva Finkel, Mnucha Miller, Adla Fidelman, and two of the refugee girls whose names I forgot -- presented ourselves at the government offices. Our parents and loved ones of course parted from us with cries, prayers, and beating hearts.
When all of us were gathered, we were stood up in lines, and we marched in procession through the town streets. On the way, the police harassed us, abused us with the rudeness characteristic of the Ukrainian rioters, and tried to make love with us. We did not respond. We concluded amongst ourselves not to cry and not to plead with the rioters no matter what. We therefore marched in silence and sorrow without muttering a word. After going around the town three times, we were led to the hospital, which was at the time installed in the count Karwitzky's palace and was full of wounded Germans from the battlefront. They brought us into the laundry room and gave us piles of undergarments and clothes stained with smelly blood to be washed immediately. It was terrible and awful. But we worked and did not break. Only when Anton the policeman took with him one of our friends, a refugee girl, did we break. We did not see anything -- we only heard her terrifying screams from the adjacent room. When half an hour had passed, she returned, and he followed. She was as pale as whitewash and did not look at us. An oppressive silence prevailed in the laundry room. Anton walked out and she asked: Why aren't you asking anything? We continued to be quiet. There was no need to ask; everything was clear. Suddenly, she began to wail in an inhuman voice. She dropped face-first onto the floor and banged her head against the bricks. We all broke out into bitter crying and mourned our bitter fate.
At the memorial service, I was asked to tell of our lives in the ghetto, in the forest, and in hiding places, and to tell of the miracle of our rescue. But I have no more tears left in me and do not have strength to return to those terrible days.
I am no longer that cheerful girl that you, my fellow townsmen, knew and were acquainted with. I am already a mother to two daughters, a broken and destroyed person who has the period of the Holocaust imprinted in their flesh and blood. I cannot, however, refuse you and will tell you only a little about my life from the day of the ghetto's destruction in our town. I cannot recall everything, and there are many things I also do not want to remember. Before my eyes stands my old elderly 80-year-old grandmother, with her white hair unkempt, her face fiery, her skinny hands spread out to the sky, and she is praying to God: Master of the universe! I want to come to you. But please not by the hands of the murderers. I remember my parents and their parents, all of our loved ones, surrounded by the murderers, rushing and hurrying and seeking refuge. Screams and gunshots were heard. On the Ghetto's fence were already lying the corpses of those who had tried to flee. We resembled at that time mice looking for a hole to escape from the claws of a predatory cat. I hear my mother's voice, unforgettable: Manitchka, you are young, save yourself. My death will be made pleasant when I know that you are saved, I will go dancing to the pit if I do not see you there. And from that point on, I decided to live. I turn to my father to show me the path to Meizlitch's flour depot, where I worked all the time, and which was three houses away from ours', and where I was used to going month after month, every day. He does not know how to answer me, and I am confused. We all looked insane. Terror ran rampant and wives fought with their husbands, parents with their children, young people and old people. I was pushed as if by an unknown force to the fence and I jumped to the other side, not that far from the police officers that kept anyone from crossing over. But they did not notice me and that to me was a good sign. From a distance, I noticed Yakov Grossblatt and his relative from a nearby village. I approached them, and together we broke a board off from the wall of the flour depot and went inside. And there immediately arose the problem: and what next? Through the cracks of the walls, we saw death moving about in the form of the Gestapo men with big dogs. They all wore steel helmets with the symbol of death on them. Shooting machines are in their hands and everyone is dragging and beating Jews. We saw how they were dragging a mother with her baby who was found hiding between a pile of wood in the yard of the depot. We saw blood marks all over. We heard screams and gunshots, looked at each other, and were silent. Eventually, following Yakov's instruction, we all started to break off a floorboard, and the three of us crawled into the hole that was created. For three days and two nights, we lay motionless in that grave of a hole. I felt all my strength leaving me. I was suffocating. I begged the others in the pit to let me leave, but they refused, saying it would be better for us to be burned alive in the big fire that spread at that time through the town -- because the living Jews had lit their houses on fire before they were taken out to be executed-- than fall at the hands of the Germans. However, the Germans succeeded in controlling the burning and the fire did not reach
the mill. The Gestapo dogs wandered through the spacious yard of the mill, sniffing and sniffing but never finding us. And then the others acquiesced to my leaving the pit on the condition that if I were caught, I would not reveal the hideout. Stunned and shattered, barely able to stand up, I left the hole and managed to call the manager without anyone noticing. I had trust in him and revealed to him our secret. Under the pretext of closing the floor on which we were hiding, he came to take my companions out from the hole and gave us something to eat and drink. We were a terrible sight, and our situation was hopeless. He advised us to separate for our own good.
He directed the guys to Horvy village and decided to take me to a different village. On the way, he told me that he was bringing me to his sister under the condition that if I was found by the Germans, I would not reveal to them that I was helped by him. He walked a few meters ahead of me and led the way with a lit cigarette. That is how we reached his sister. I was there [with the sister] for two days, until the Germans announced heavy punishments for those who were hiding Jews. In the darkness of night, I was expelled from the house and reached the forest. To describe my life in the forest in hiding, my many encounters with death -- I will not be capable. Chills grip me even now to remember those days. I will tell only a few tragicomic incidents that, with. all their horror, put a bit of a smile on our faces. We once hid 11 Jews in a pit dug in a stable, below the living space of a large workhorse. The pit was covered in manure and its entrance was through a small, narrow lid which was always covered with manure and on top of that the horse. We breathed in the air from a few narrow cracks. During one of our sleepless nights, the ceiling suddenly collapsed, and the horse fell right on us. Its feet were in the pit and its body in the space above. We stayed without air and without the option to move. We were certain that this time the end of our suffering had come, and they would find us. In the pit were nine men and two women -- me and Senka, a cute teenager from nearby Varkovychi. However, this time as well the matter ended in fear. They rescued the horse and also removed us from the pit, and we were only forced to move to a different pit. We migrated to a new place and to a new pit. On the way, some among us met their merciful death, and among them was my companion in suffering and sorrow -- Senka. She was incredibly beautiful. Everyone who saw her was fond of her. She had two long braids, deep eyes full of sadness, a gorgeous figure, and a delicate face. Once, during our time in the pit that had collapsed, she fell gravely ill. She was always suffering from a headache and complaining of strong pains. Us doctors started to check her head and discovered the disease; her head was covered in wounds and in the wounds swarmed hundreds of lice We cut her braids, cleaned her, and she recovered. Later, after she had regained her strength, she was murdered. And she was only 17. Here I wish to mention the good and righteous man Yonah Firer, may God avenge his blood, who saved some Jews with his money and gave a slice of his bread to those who were hungry. I too made it this far
thanks to his helping me. May his memory be blessed, and his soul bound in the bundle of life.
The day of joy arrived. The Red Army expelled the Germans, and we went out into the light of day. How much did we hope for this day? How much did we wait and pray for it? And here it had come and we, how miserable we were, I -- of all of my extended family was left by myself and alone. Sick, broken, and penniless. I could not really walk. My friends carried me out from the pit, and with their help I practiced the art of walking. I made it to Mizoch. More accurately, the place where Mizoch once stood -- my beautiful and dear town. I came to say goodbye to the grave of the brothers of our martyrdom, to those youthful days of happiness that I once had there. I stood by the grave and saw a plot of land covered with fresh grass. But when I kept looking, it seemed to me like the ground was rising and I heard a voice crying softly, similar to the sound of my mother's cries. I tearfully choked up; my eyes cried on their own. Broken and exhausted, with a curse in my mouth, I ran away from the place forever.
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