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[Page 311]

My Uncle Reb Chaim Aaron Silberberg

by Leibel Zabner

Translated by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

 

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In those early days when we were brought back into the ghetto after the first evacuation, and I saw my uncle Chaim Aaron, he looked just like someone who had been cut down after his hanging. He was very pale, his black eyes burned with a hellish fire, and his gartel [sash] was tied around his neck. Under no circumstances did he want to give it up [his gartel].

This is how I found him and his daughter Machtche. But “found” him is really not the right word, because I did not have the slightest clue where he could be hiding, but this is where Reb Yisroel Rosenberg helped me. I saw him walk around freely in the ghetto, and seeing my confusion at him feeling so free to walk around while everyone else was looking for a place to hide, so sadly, he showed me the laundry that was done [he was managing] for the Germans and even for the Jewish police, thus making him an essential element, meaning that nothing bad would happen to him.

When he found out that I was looking for my uncle Chaim Aaron, he whispered into my ear that they – and other neighbors – were hiding in the attic of the house and they did not even have a piece of bread or any water, so I needed to help them, and when I would come to the entry of the attic, I should scream: “Pola!” [likely a password meaning “tail,” or “fields,” or maybe someone's name] and they would open the door and let me in. But I needed to be very careful – he cautioned me – that no one should see me go there.

With great vigilance, which included being responsible for their lives, I bought a loaf of bread in the shop near the ghetto, searched for a kettle in the mess of dishes that was piled in the ghetto after they had taken away the household residents from the ghetto, and with the bread and water and a trembling heart, I entered the small room that led to the attic.

When I called out “Pola,” a small door opened and the first person who saw me (I do not remember who that was) called out: “Oy, Leibel Zabner!” And my uncle came over quickly, bent down near the door, where he wanted to throw himself into my arms…

Herr Leibel!” my uncle cried out to me. “If you are still alive and have come here to help us then it is a sign from heaven that we will be saved…”
At the opening of the attic, more familiar faces appeared, pale and depressed. They looked like people who were buried in the ground and now saw a ray of light. I could not remain there for long. I did not want them to be discovered. I gave them the bread and the water, and quickly left from a small side room.

That same day, I returned to my

[Page 312]

platzuvka” [shop outside ghetto], in the lumber mill of the German Shreiter, where my brother and I worked, along with another 30 Jews, who remained after the first evacuation.

A few days later, once more I was sent along with Nechemia Friedrich to prepare a place in an empty house for Shreiter's people. It was for the Shabbat of the Torah portion of “Lech Lecha” [Book of Genesis; usually read three weeks after Sukkot]. From Reb Yisroel Rosenberg, I learned that everyone was found in their hiding place, and they were now at an assembly point at the home of Henoch Rosenman, where they were awaiting their fate of being sent away with the next transport.

I had two loaves of bread with me, which I brought from my work place. That's how I went to the house that was the assembly place. In that ground-level house, no heat, about ten Jews sat on two benches, dressed in talits [prayer shawls] and kittels [white linen robe worn by men on Yom Kippur], and they were passionately reciting Psalms. It was still early, but I felt as if it was Yom Kippur, with wax candles being the only thing missing.

Among those present I immediately recognized the good-natured face of my uncle Chaim Aaron. Close to him, all the faces were familiar. Such as: Reb Meir Erlich, Reb Moishele Grinbal, the one from the printing company, also Reb Hersh Chaim Rappaport, and other Ger chassidim [those who were followers of the dynasty of the Rebbe from the city of Ger/Gur/Gora, Poland], whose names I can no longer remember. When I entered, I remained standing still at the door, not wanting to interrupt the holy silence.

My uncle stood up from the table and fell on top of me with warm kisses.

Because of this great surprise, both loaves of bread fell out of my hands. My uncle bent down and wanted to give the loaves back to me, but when I told him that the bread was for him, he turned to the other Jews around him, lifted the loaves of bread, and with great joy, called out:

“Look at what he merited to bring, “lechem Mishna” [the two loaves for the Shabbat table] to the Shabbat meal, a meal according to the Jewish law.”
When I asked how he was feeling, he answered:
“Here, we are a minyan [quorum of 10 men] of Jews, we are no longer in hiding. Thank G-d we are able to pray with a minyan, and pray with a loud voice, and we are preparing ourselves in a holy and pure manner for what is awaiting us… Maybe you can help save Machtche…”

 

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Bais Yaakov School, where Reb Chaim Aaron was the principal

[Page 313]

Photographs of the Ostrowiec Ghetto

by Simcha and Itche Meir Birnzweig

Translated by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

We wish to eternalize several pictures of the Ostrowiec ghetto under the rule of the Nazis, may their names be erased. The pictures that are included here were taken with great self–sacrifice, and were then hidden, and only after the war did we find them. These are living proof and important material for the history of that time. This is, without a doubt, part of the tragedy of the Jewish people in the ghettos during the years 1939–1945.

 

The Border [Edge] of the Ghetto

Picture 1 [picture at top, left column] is a picture that we took with a young woman that we knew, Chaya Mitzmacher, at the edge of the Ostrowiec ghetto in the year 1941. At the edge of the ghetto, there was a sign in German that said that anyone who crossed the border of the ghetto would be punished by death. With great self–sacrifice, we took the picture [of the sign] so that it would be a living document of the Nazi rule in the Ostrowiec ghetto.

There were four such signs at the edge of the ghetto: one sign by Lipe Goldwasser's field, where the road to Denkow ran; another sign was on Akiva Roset's house, near the firemen; the third sign was on Sienkiewicza Street, near the light stretchers (they were called that because they made light out of paraffin)

 

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Picture 1

 

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Picture 2

[Page 314]

The fourth sign was at Henye's house on Drildzher [Dreszera ?] Street.

On the picture you can also see the arm bands that the Jews had to wear and that was known as the shame band.

Taking the picture pushed me to want to perpetuate one of these signs, since they were connected to life–and–death threats. We were all convinced that if none of us would remain alive then it would be interesting to show the world, particularly the Jewish world, what happened to us and how much we suffered.

 

Employment Card

The second picture is from the time when they had evacuated some of the Jews from the ghetto, and those remaining were taken to work in the Ostrowiec steel factory. There we worked beyond our strength in the most inhuman conditions, but everyone maintained their employment if he was working in the steel factory.

According to our thinking, the employment card is an important document of those terrible times. Everyone guarded his job because this was very important so that he would not be grabbed up to a different job. But each of us knew well that in these inhuman conditions no one could last too long, and when you would already have no strength left, then your fate would be sealed.

 

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Employment Card of the Tailor's Shop

[Page 315]

The Tragic Death of Reb Mordechai Shimonovitch,
May His Blood Be Avenged

by Leibel Zhabner

Translated by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

 

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It happened on the third day after the evacuation. At that time, we were locked up in a small area of Reb Shmuel Heine's house, in the attic and in two small rooms, which at one time, served as the kitchen of the yeshiva. Shortly before the evacuation it was moved to the home of Reb Mordechai and his family.

Some young students took over one of the two small rooms. These boys remained as refugees from the former larger yeshiva which Reb Mordechai led.

In all the Study Halls and shtiebelech [informal synagogues], there was no longer any place to study or to pray. Crowdedness ruled in the ghetto. The small area from Koszczelnie until Brovarno, with the market in the center and a few streets on the side, could hardly contain the large number of people whom the Germans had herded there from the entire area, such as, those from: Konin, Lodz, Lublin, and even Jews from Warsaw. People hoped that because of the factory there, they would be saved. People came from all parts of Poland and settled in each corner, almost as if on a beanstalk.

When the typhus epidemic broke out, the Judenrat looked for a place for a hospital. Then, the Judenrat arranged that the entire area of the Study Halls should be turned into a hospital. This particular hospital was managed by the well-known Doctor Meyer, of blessed memory, with the assistance of all the Jewish doctors in the city.

The ideal place for Reb Mordechai and his family, along with several yeshiva young men, was the attic. In the attic they were protected from the German thugs, who had not yet reached that place, and the young men were able to study there undisturbed, focusing on the study of Torah and its holy works, and to serve the Blessed Creator without fear. Reb Mordechai would actually try to go out into the street, and when he would appear outside, he spread around him a type of heavenly awe… Pale from starvation and lack of air, he portrayed a type of heavenly appearance, with his snow white beard and blue-gray eyes that always looked starry and deeply absorbed in thought.

Hunger and cold did not affect him in his behavior at all; on the contrary, being hungry and frozen made him feel loftier, on a higher level, as if completely removed from the materialism of this world. Also, he would comfort his hungry wife and young daughter as they shivered from the cold, with verses and parables, and made efforts to strengthen himself and them in their trust in the Creator. Trust was his daily bread, the air for him to breathe, without which any human being could not survive.

In the ghetto, there was no lack of people who were hungry, such as in his own family who would run around looking for an opportunity to find something to eat, selling anything they could in order to buy something to eat. But Reb Mordechai never tried to go find something

[Page 316]

to eat, he also had nothing to sell. In his home, in every corner, poverty always whispered. From time to time, their hunger was quelled due to the [kindness] of several righteous women who did not forget about them. [These women] would save [small amounts] from their own children and from their own mouths and bring these morsels to Reb Mordechai's family, which actually kept the whole family alive.

During the time of the typhus epidemic, his wife Tzippe lay in one bed, and in the second bed was their young daughter. There was no doctor, there was no medication, because for that you needed protektzia [connections] or money, and he had neither. His only source of medicine was his trust in the Creator. Every day he would stand near the sick ones and explain something to them from the book “Mesilas Yesharim” [“Path of the Just”; author Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto 1707-1746; text on ethics] and “Chovos Halevavos” [“Duties of the Heart”; 11th century, author Ibn Pekuda, classic work on Jewish ethics], and other holy books. He empowered them, comforted them, and did not leave them with any trace of despair. A miracle happened and they got better, even though their energy did not return. Tzippe was walking around in a daze, like a ghost; the young girl had no interest in getting out of bed, but who could worry about such things, at least they were alive. They had to just get past this. The redemption was near, and the harder the birth pangs, the closer the salvation.

New evil decrees came forth. Every day brought fresh bad news. There seemed to be no ray of hope, but Reb Mordechai did not lose his trust. The days became weeks, the weeks became months, and the months became years. The cup of Jewish challenges was not yet full. There was the destruction of Lublin, Radom, Kielc, and other Jewish cities. One sees evidence of the rope stretching itself more tightly around our necks, but Reb Mordechai does not lose his faith, the salvation was close, coming very soon.

They were very weak during the evacuation, dazed. They were almost like angels, where “G-d will not forsake us.” Everyone ran to get a work pass which at that time seemed to be the only hope and means to be able to remain in that place. Reb Mordechai was one who sat and did not act: “Many are the thoughts of man, but the counsel of G-d will stand” [Mishlei, Book of Proverbs 19:21, verse recited in daily morning prayers].

On the final Shabbat, when you could already sense the danger in the air, he did not allow the holiness of Shabbat to be disturbed, and he was happy for every minute that he was able to study Torah. His joy was great when the rabbi's young wife, Reb Yankele Halshtok's wife, brought them food that she had saved from her own family. He himself was able to have a bite in honor of the Shabbat, and he left the rest for Tzippe and the child who were both so weak.

After eating, Tzippe and the child fell asleep, both of them satiated. Reb Mordechai could not sleep. With the “Chovos Halevavos” in hand, he thought about the dark news that was brought that day, and this disturbed his peace, his trust. Tzippe and the child slowly improved. They believed in everything he told them. But for him, his heart was torn into pieces when he thought about what could happen.

It grew dark, the Shabbat was leaving, and there was sorrow in his heart. Always, during this time of Shabbat's departure, he felt a terrible yearning. He lit a candle to recite the havdala [special prayer recited at the conclusion of Shabbat], he covered the window so that no one would see the candle. If caught, that would invite a death sentence. He woke his wife and child with gentleness, and he tried to make them understand that they should hear the havdala. Tzippe realized there was no water in the room and soon it would be the “watchful hour” and they would not be allowed to go out. She quickly grabbed the bucket and ran down to the well, drew water, and ran back as quickly as possible to the house. But she was hardly at the first step when she heard a gunshot in the next house where the Judenrat was located. She heard the horrific shouts of the SS man Peter, severe beatings, and cries and pleas of the one being beaten. “Here again with a visit,” she thinks. “This murderer always finds his victims, and if someone escapes from his hands alive, then that is a miracle.” His murderous sadism did not calm down until Jewish blood flowed…

She hurriedly ran up to her room where Reb Mordechai stood in fear, white as chalk, waiting for her return. There was no living person [to be seen] in the entire house. Everyone was in hiding. Hearts were trembling as if the murderer would have shot them. Everyone felt that any minute the door could open and the sadist could come in with his gun in hand, along with his bloodthirsty dog who was trained to torture his victims. First, the dog would tear the clothes off the victim

[Page 317]

and when he would already be naked, then the dog would attack the person and bite him right in the face, and would not leave the person until his sadism would be satisfied with fresh, running Jewish blood.

The three of them did not shut their eyes the entire night, lying there in embrace with one another, waiting for the next day. The truth is that no one in the ghetto closed their eyes that night. Everyone had packed up a small pack that they were allowed to take with them. The Jewish police informed them that they all had to be assembled at seven in the morning when the factory's siren would sound from the marketplace. Those who had work permits should go to the Florian place [street in center of the city]. Young and old sat there, as if waiting for their own funerals. There was a deathly silence in the ghetto. The air was stifling, as if there was no air for anyone in the ghetto to breathe.

Reb Mordechai and his wife decided not to go when the siren would be sounded, not go on their own free will into the hands of the demons, even though there was nothing in the house other than a piece of dry bread that was left over from Shabbat. For the child, it would be enough for another day. There was also a bucket of water in the house. Very early, when the siren had sounded and everyone had left their homes with cries and under the rain of bullets and beatings from the murderous Ukrainians, they remained in the house and locked themselves in as caged animals hiding from their hunters.

Two days passed. These were two days of apprehension and pain, the first two days after the expulsion. They were afraid to move from the spot so as not to be discovered by the Jewish police who searched for the illegals who had started to enter the new ghetto. These were mainly families with small children for whom there was no way out. Their cold and hunger did not leave them yet, and in their naiveté, they thought that since their house was in the new ghetto they would be able to save themselves. They considered this to be a miracle from heaven.

On Tuesday morning, the third day after the expulsion, everyone woke up to loud noise in the house. Once again, the murderous voice of Peter the killer was heard. He was running around the yard like a lunatic, screaming with breathless shouts, that they should quickly bring out all the illegals, old, and young, who were hiding in the area of the new ghetto. This time, he was also using the old method of Jew against his fellow Jew, wanting to save one's own life. He made the Jewish police responsible with their own heads [they themselves would be killed] if they would not clean out the ghetto of the old, the children, and the illegals. The Jewish police quickly went to work and began to chase out the half-dead ghosts, and that's how they also went to Reb Mordechai and chased him into the yard.

He was hiding the child under his overcoat, and he thought he could escape to another place – anything to prevent them taking away the child. That was what he decided. When he went down the stairs, he met the deadly stare of Peter, who was standing on the first landing and commanding the action. Peter grabbed [Reb Mordechai] by the throat and wanted to tear the child away from under his coat. The little girl held onto her father's body with all her strength, and the father did not in any way allow the child to be torn away from him, his only child. In this wrangle, Reb Mordechai and the child fell down all the stairs. He quickly got up and continued in his fight to save his child, but his fate was sealed. The murderer jumped right in, grabbed [Reb Mordechai] by his neck, and with all the strength in his body, he pushed the frail Reb Mordechai onto the ground and shot two bullets right into his head. Reb Mordechai tried to scream “Shema Yisroel” [final prayer], and fell dead into a pool of blood. The murderer rolled over the body with his boot, and that's how the body remained, with his face towards heaven…

Meanwhile, Tzippe had run into the house to get the coat for her little girl, and when she came back out and saw the tragedy she also heard the cries of her child who was thrown on top of the cargo truck. Not waiting until she would be taken away with everyone else, she went to the nearby well and drowned herself. With great effort, later the police dragged her body out of the well and took it, along with the other bodies, to the communal grave.

Let us honor their memories!


[Page 321]

The Night of Slaughter April 28

by Mokhtshe Zshabner–Zilberberg

Translated by Tina Lunson

On the night of April 28 the black shirts with even blacker souls and skulls on their caps, went on a walk through the Jewish streets and sowed death at every house they stopped at.

Yosl Maliniak lived on the same street as we did in those years, and Alter Grinberg and their families lived with the Abramovitshes in a house on Ilzetski Street. On that night of slaughter they also knocked on doors and took away the men. Given that it was forbidden to go out into the street in the evening hours, the women only realized their misfortune in the morning.

In the middle of the night we were shuddering from gunfire near our window. We knew very well what that meant, but did not know whose family it was that night. Once it began to get light we heard a choking wail from the street, and we peeked out a bit from the closed shutters and saw the gruesome scene: at the door of the well–known anti–semite Butshnievavi lay the dead bodies of Yosl Maliniak and Alter Grinberg and standing over them were their wives who had grown old over night and their shocked and dumbstruck children who could not even comprehend their great misfortune.

The women went away quickly out of fear that the Christians would report them for being by the dead bodies of their husbands. We quickly closed the open crack in our shutters, not to allow in the infiltrating rays of the rising sun which promised a fresh awakening day.

Nothing changed, only the black crows cawed more often and sought the pools of spilled Jewish blood which smelled better to them than the ordinary garbage cans.

 

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Collecting the victims of Bartholomew's Night

 

[Page 322]

The Night of the Execution

by Yechiel Magid–Rosenberg

Translated by Yaacov David Shulman

God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
Put an end to the dark night!
Who knows how many Jews the Nazi murderers
Have already murdered this night?

I have recited the Confession twice,
And the day still does not want to come.
What good will my third confession do for You, God,
If You do not want to hear my prayers at all?

God help us if the most religious Jew here
Is hoping after today for any kind of miracle.
How can one still hope, how can one still wait,
After such a shuddering, bloody 24 hours?

We are tired of our lives,
God, quickly send the angel of death
And let there be a complete end,
Let us be where our fathers are.

Death processions drag on without end,
Funerals of innocent children and elders,
Young and old, religious and secular, men and women.
All go to death, all of them together.

And the ghetto gate, will give its only testimony,
Grating a sigh with its massive bolts,
And the steely voice of the executioner Westerheide
Will seal his last order to murder, with blood!

God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
Put an end to the dark night!
Who knows how many Jews the Nazi murderers
Have already murdered this night?


[Page 323]

The Gruesome Bartholomew Night

by Yisroel Aaron Friedental, of blessed memory

Translated by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

 

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Lawyer Friedental, died in Israel, month of Adar 5730 [February 1970]

 

The Germans in Ostrowiec decided to greet spring of 1942 with a huge blood bath that would surpass and pale against the murders until now. They approached the slaughter with their complete German precision.

On the night of April 28, the demoralized Jewish residents suddenly heard shooting that grew steadily.

We did not give much attention to the first volley of shooting. We knew that the German “culture bearers” enjoyed themselves and lived normally with these attacks of shootings and murder. We were anguished for every Jewish life that was ended with each shot. Who knew, whose life was ending – we sighed quietly.

But the increased shooting said that something other than one death was happening. We felt something instinctively, that this was the onset of a great tragedy. Because of that, everyone got out of bed, and quickly ran to hide: some in an attic, some in a cellar, or somewhere else.

It happened that I and some other Jewish neighbors lay in the attic. We pushed away the ladders to erase any trace of where we were. The scene that we saw through a hole in the roof froze the blood in our veins. Before our eyes went the Gestapo, fully armed, with guns pointed outward held in their hands. They were chasing Jews, and shot some on the spot. In front of our eyes, in their very underwear, Hersh Dovid Pantzer and his three sons were shot. A second group of gendarmes was chasing Avrohom Bainerman, all bloodied up and also in his underwear, in the direction of the cemetery.

With sadistically refined torture, the murderers evoked the final minutes of their victims' lives.

The killing activities, meanwhile, buzzed incessantly in the Jewish homes. We, in hiding, had no idea what the Germans were doing outside with this. All we saw were wild murderers who were running from house to house and cutting off people's lives. No one could even imagine the unexpected outbreak of killing. We lay in terror, afraid of death, trembling and shaking at every small rustle. Every noise was an indicator that they were coming after us.

At around seven in the morning, as if on signal, the murder orgy stopped. We were able to see this from our observation point – the hole in the roof. We saw terrified Jewish faces, Jewish women with broken hands. Soon, we also saw

[Page 324]

the Jewish police. We came out of our hiding place to find out about the horrible tragedies of the night.

When we came out into the street, we first saw the total destruction, the murders committed on that terrifying night.

At each step lay Jews who were shot in the head, facing down into the ground. This is how the German “culture bearers” profaned the martyrs after their death.

The sidewalks were flooding with spilled Jewish blood. Those murdered were all types of Jews and this complicated figuring out the reasoning behind this terrible mass murder. We started searching for a rationale.

The psychology of the human being dictated those who survived had to figure out some hidden motive. Foolishly, we wanted to calm ourselves by convincing ourselves that this was not the beginning of a killing spree against the Jews, but it was only a punishment against certain Jews who had sinned [or committed a crime].

Some interpreted this as a punishment against illegal merchants – a proof of this was these killed businesspeople. The slaughter was attributed to a second group, the Jewish communists – a sign of that was the murdered Eli Bainerman, Shimon Fishman and his son. A third interpretation of this was that this was a battle against the Jewish intellectuals – pointing to the dead advocate Tseisel and Dr. Wocholder. The tragic reality, however, indicated the bitter truth – that this was the beginning of the total annihilation of the Jews which had its gruesome beginnings in the “General Government” [German occupied Polish region] in the spring of 1942 and ended in January 1943. The Jews realized the bitter truth, that Jewish life was lost.

Among the martyrs of that killing spree were Yisroel Melamed, Shaul Mutzmacher, and others who did not belong to those above-mentioned groups. People stopped having illusions. They were certain that all the Jews were headed to their death. The total destruction was now inevitable.

 

The Mystery of the List

The tragic outcome did not allow for any rest. The terrifying knowledge that we were the walking dead tortured us day and night. Parents quietly mourned their children who slept in their beds. A life of darkness and pain took over. The living were worse off than the dead. “And I praise all the dead…” and the heavy judgement of the dead – was felt by the Jews on their own skin.

But with all this, we still dug for answers. We

 

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Yankele Hertzig, from the “Good Shabbat, Jews,” with his wife and child. He was shot by the Nazis on the day of evacuation, dressed in his tallit and tefillin. (See the publication of Shloime Shtreitman “Streets and People in Ostrowiec, p. 148.)

[Page 325]

could not figure out the list, the secret of what was hidden. The city was comprised of 17,000 Jews, but the murderers went to specific addresses from one end of the city to the other, and dragged out 81 victims from their homes and murdered them.

Who had given this type of list? Who had signed in these specific 81 names from among the 17,000 Jews? These questions grated on the Jewish minds. We wanted to find the hand that had ordered these killing actions.

 

The Gruesome Fate

After lengthy calculations, searches, and judgements through all kinds of means and methods, the horrible truth was established:

With their own refined killing machine, those murderers had designed this fate. It [the list] was set up in this manner:

In each Judenrat, there were details about the Jewish population, with material about the Jewish residents of the relevant city, and even their exact addresses.

The Gestapo murderers came to the Judenrat, to the information unit, and threw out all the official workers. When they were alone, they began the fated-death game, as they wrenched out from the catalogues a number of cards matching to their numbers for their killing spree.

As they recorded the addresses, they easily found their unknown and innocent victims. This is how the selection for murder was explained.

After that, the Jews already knew that after a visit from the Gestapo to the information unit of the Judenrat, you had to hide as best as possible. But where? We could not know who would fall under this horrible fate.

There were incidents where the Gestapo did not find these people who were sentenced to death, at home. They may have been at a neighbor's home, and in that case, were actually saved from certain death.

These occurrences actually took place very often. Those who were saved by chance were no longer being hunted down. After ending their bloody actions, the murderers tore up the cards as those of the dead, and no longer looked for them again.

That's how the Germans' gruesome fate [game] killed masses of Jews in Ostrowiec.

 

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A group of Ostrowiec youth
All those who are seated were murdered, all those standing now live in Israel

[Page 329]

Mordechai Zev Toppel

Reb Moshe Yaakov Toppel Brings Victims
to Kever Yisrael [Jewish Burial]

Translated by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

The institution that was the busiest in the ghetto was the Chevra Kadisha [Jewish burial organization], that did not know of one single quiet moment the entire time, from the beginning of the Nazi occupation until the mass evacuation. Hundreds of people died of hunger, sickness, and mainly from the typhus epidemic, whose burial carried great danger from being in contact with the terrifying, deadly disease. Hundreds of others were massacred by the Nazi murderers, who, in many instances, did not want to allow the victims to be buried according to Jewish law.

One of the most devoted members of the Chevra Kadisha risked his life to bring the victims of the ghetto to a Jewish burial, this was Reb Moshe Yaakov Toppel, may his blood be avenged, a longtime member of the Chevra Kadisha. He was the son of Reb Chaim Nochum and Chana Rochel Toppel, and grandson of the Ostroweic Rav, Reb Dovid'el Hakohen Rapaport, whose lineage stretches back to the holy Schach [Rabbi Elazar Menachem Man Schach, 1899-2001] and to the Kotzker Rebbe, of blessed memory. While still a young man he stood out among the best students in the Ostrowiec Beis Midrash [Study Hall], and also as a faithful chassid. In the later years, he helped establish the “Tzeirei Mizrachi” [“Mizrachi Youth”] in the city. For many years, he was on the committee for this organization and a delegate for conferences of the Mizrachi movement. Over the years, he delivered a shiur [lecture on religious studies] to tens of Jews in the old Beis Midrash. While in the ghetto, he saw it as his holy responsibility that Jews should have a proper Jewish burial.

During the evacuation, he was transported along with his wife Perele and two daughters, Ratze and Raizel, to Auschwitz. His son, Mordechai Zev, miraculously was saved and lives in New York today.

 

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A group of congregants who were removed by the Germans, from Kudlowycz's Beis Midrash. The third Jew from the right is Reb Yisroel Rosenberg, and the sixth, Chaim Majerczyk.

 

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