Testimony and experiences of How the Jews of Lanowice Were Murdered
Testimony and experiences of How the Jews of Lanowice Were Murdered
Translated by Yael Chaver
Rivka/Rivtsiye was born in 1905 in the village of Lanowice, GalitziaPodolia; the village was near the Russian border on one side and near the Romanian border on the other side. Her father, Berl Nagler, was the son of Itzik Hershen. His older brother, Meir Nagler, a scholar, led the Torah readings in my grandfather's synagogue; the synagogue and my grandfather's home
were very close to the GreekCatholic church. The house of the Polish postmaster Rogowski was also very close by. Berl Nagler's house was also on the same street, near the Ukrainian convent, the house of the Sisters of St. Basil. They were maintained in the village by Count Sapieha, who owned the Lanowice property and many other properties in the area.
I myself was born in Lanowice and remember Rivtsiye's entire family, as well as their Jewish and nonJewish neighbors. It is important to be familiar with the subject matter in order to have an idea of the backdrop for the events that Rivtsiye describes. Rivtsiye's mother Sheyndl (née Kerner) was distantly related to my mother. Rivtsiye's father, Berl Nagler, dealt in livestock. He bought stables for fattening livestock and contracted for oxen exports. They later prospered, and became farm leaseholders.
Rivtsiye graduated from the PolishUkrainian Volksschule in Lanowice; she also took private lessons from teachers who were usually brought in from Ternopil and were paid by the joint efforts of the Jewish families in the village. One of the teachers Rivtsiye mentions, who taught in Lanowice in the early 1920s (named Blader), was my teacher as well.
Before the war, Rivtsiye had become engaged to her cousin, Meir Nagler's son. This was the welleducated, balzemen Fayvish Nagler, who was murdered by the Germans. After the war she married BernardBerl Kremer, a saddler from Borszczow. They arrived in Israel from Lower Silesia with the immigration wave of 1950. They are currently living in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood of TelAviv, and make a good living by doing leatherwork for notions manufacturers in TelAviv and the environs.
The major disasters in Lanowice began in the interim between the Soviet retreat and the German incursion (which was preceded by Hungarian forces). The UkrainianFascist elements
organized horrific massacres of the Jewish residents, chiefly men, in various locations in eastern Galitzia, especially in villages and smaller towns. The Jews of Lanowice, like the Jews of Jezerziany, were temporarily saved then by the intervention of moderate Ukrainian patriots, who by various pretexts held back attacks on the Jews until the Hungarian units marched in.
(Nagel, the advocate who works for Amidar and is from Czernowitz, received messages from Ukrainian circles in 1941 that attacks on Jews in the newly settled Ukrainian territories were part of the GermanUkrainian agreement concluded prior to the assault that took place on the U.S.S.R. with the aid of emigrant Ukrainian elements in Berlin. A detail of R. N.'s description supports the accuracy of this information).
The most gruesome massacre in the Borszczow region took place in the village of Zielince: all the Jewish men were taken out of their beds at night, and murdered savagely in the forest nearby.
After evading the first threat, the lives of the onehundred strong Jewish population of Lanowice and its sister town Koszaczyna were in one danger after another due to various decrees and persecutions, until the early summer of 1942. The Jews of Lanowice then had to relocate to one of the two towns nearby, Jezerziany and Borszczow.
The Naglers moved to Borszczow. Rivtsiye herself recounts their tragic end in great detail.
Rivtsiye's description is very precise and matteroffact. It therefore qualifies her as a trustworthy, valuable witness.
I must note that stirring up the memory of the torture and murder of the
Lanowice Jewish community, most of them close or distant relatives of mine or of Rivtsiye, was very painful to both of us.We did it, as we want to preserve the last trace of our dearly beloved ones.
After the Soviets marched in, we were a bit afraid. We considered ourselves landowners, as it were, because we held the lease of Blisczenky. However, as the farm was in the Zalyszczyky district, this was not a problem. No one bothered us. I started working in the dairy cooperative. Perl worked in the government store, which was on the highroad.
My two brothers also started working for the Soviets. Not all Jewish leaseholders in the area were so lucky. MoysheDovid's daughters with their children were all transported to Siberia, and only two of his grandchildren made it out of Siberia alive. There were also many problems in our area during the Soviet period. When the RussoGerman war broke out, at first the Jews of Lanowice did not understand the implications. The wealthier people, who suffered losses under the Soviets, even became convinced that a change for the better might happen.The daughters of Yehuda, the mill manager, actually danced in the street for joy over being rid of the Reds. Considering this mood, it was not surprising that the young people were not eager to flee with the Red Army.
The good mood was soon gone. Hladky, the political officer, and Aleksei Kurnitsky's son, of Shulhanivka street. called a
meeting and made speeches, saying that now, with the aid of the Germans, an independent Ukraine would be created, and that the first thing to do was to annihilate the Jews and Poles.
And in fact, the terrible news soon came from Zielince and Pilatkowice. Each of these neighboring villages had a Jewish population of 1015 families, all with relatives in Jezerziany and in Lanowice. Yehuda Nakht's family lived there, among others.
It happened after the Soviet retreat, before the Germans entered. On Saturday night the Zielince priest (may his name be blotted out) assembled the nonJews and ordered them to collect all the Jewish men and drive them into the Zielince forest. The Jews were hauled out of their beds, some in nothing but their underwear. A crowd of nonJews with sticks, knives, and iron bars assaulted the Jews and started to beat and stab them, killing many. Some Jews were tied to trees and tortured so long that they expired. One of those killed was a young man from Jezerziany who taught small children in Zielince and Pilatkewice. When his father later extracted him from the mass grave, he counted more than twenty stab wounds on his body.
After the horrific news about Zielince, the Jews of Lanowice were in such a state of terror that they started sleeping in various hideouts in secret corners. My father and my brothersand sometimes all of us, the entire familywould creep around behind our courtyard as far as the convent. Under an old tumbledown structure there remained a hollow cellar overgrown with grasses and weeds. We spent more than one night in this cellar.
The nuns were very decent to us, and gave us advice on hiding. We had always been on good neighborly terms with them. We also gave them a few silver objects to hide. They took the silver candlesticks to the church, and returned everything to my sister and me after the war.
Haniowski, the Lanowice priest, also treated Jews decently. Thanks to him, we were spared the fate of the Jews of Zielince. During the interim between the Russians' retreat and the Hungarians' arrival, political agitators came to him as well and wanted to know why he hadn't yet given the signal. The priest told them that the time had not yet come, and he would give the signal when the time came. At the same time, he let the Jews know that they needed to hide and not spend nights at home.
This priest also helped Fayvish (my bridegroom and cousin) when the Germans were informed that he had been a teacher under the Russians, after he had already been ordered to report to the community office. He was friends with the priest's son Bohdan, and remembered some secrets of their antiSoviet underground activities under the Soviet regime. Fayvish now went to hide with them, and stayed there for several weeks. He was treated very well; the priest gave instructions to peel baked goods made with pork fat, to make sure Fayvish was not too disgusted to eat…
There began to be gossip in the village about Fayvish's hideout at the priest's. Bohdan hid him in a cart full of straw and transferred him to Borzsczow.
During this period, Yosye Kimelman would hide at night on the threshingfloor between the stacks of grain at the Rozowskis'.
Speaking of help some peasants gave Jews, Rivtsiye mentioned Semko Tchapik's daughterinlaw; Semko was our neighbor, and lived across from our house, on Shulhanivka street. This woman, a widow, was named Sofiya. Thanks to her, one of Meir Nagler's grandchildren was savedBrayntsiye's son Ruvn, who currently lives in Tel Giborim, Israel. At the same time, however, Rivtsiye emphasizes that most of the help came from Polish people who were in danger themselves. At the end, in fact, most of them were murdered by the Banderovtsy, with the help
of the same Ukrainian leaders who had persecuted Jews and handed them over. Rivtsiye recounted an impressive episode of Jewish martyrology she had witnessed very early in the German occupation: the march of the Hungarian Jews, who were driven on foot at the border of our territory towards KamenetzPodolsk. These were supposedly Polish citizens, whom Horthy handed over to the Germans.
I will not forget the following scene till the day I die. It was about 6 weeks after the outbreak of the GermanRussian war. People lived in terror, but nonetheless went out during the day to socialize with other Jews. A few people were visiting us when we suddenly heard terrible shooting from the highroad. Everyone started to scatter and seek a hiding place. However, our nonJewish neighbors calmed us down: Don't be afraid! You are not the target. The shots are part of a ‘Hurrah!’ demonstration. Come and you'll see for yourselves!
We went through the gardens to the highroad, where we saw an enormous group of Jews, men and women, young and old, shouldering bundles, carrying children in their hands and on their shoulders, men with beards and sidelocks, women wearing wigs pious Jews. One group included a Jew hugging a Torah scroll. They were deathly tired, bowed down with exhaustion, just about falling down; and yet they almost hurried, as they they were surrounded by a uniformed, armed escort that occasionally started firing wildly. The shots were in fact aimed into the air, but nonetheless caused the Jews to panic each time.
Children threw themselves on their mothers, hugging their knees and hiding their heads in the skirts; everyone ran even faster. They might have been Jews from Munkacs, CarpathoRussia, pious Jews. as the large number of children seemed to indicate… About two hours later a fresh wave, numbering thousands, arrived. When night fell, the drivers of the group called a halt, entered a farm, and spent the night there. This scene will stay in my memory forever: the Jews gathered to pray on the threshing ground. The sun was setting.The Jews said the afternoon and evening prayers. My sisters and I, and other girls from the village set out to gather food for the Jews. We even ran to the nonJewish houses, and collected good and spoiled apples, bits of bread, milk for the children. People were sitting on the ground, crying, and caring for the children. Even some nonJewish women wept and gave them food. They spent the night in the open, on the ground.
This occurred in the fall. It was still almost warm outdoors.
In this way the lives of the Jews of Lanowice and Kozaczyna careened between one dire, miserable emotion and the next, from disaster to disaster, from decree to decree. A Judenrat was established in Jezerziany; its authority over the village Jews consisted in the fact that it received demands for contributions, first of all to send young Jews to the Borki labor camp, near Ternopil. The boys went almost willingly. Among those who left were Rivtsiye's brother Mendl, Piniye Shifman's son Shimshon, my cousin Moyshe Kimelman's son Yudziye, Aunt Sosye's pious son Kalmen Rozenblat, Zaynvil Ayz, Mishke Shperling, Dovid Metzker's soninlaw Fayvl Apfelboym, and others. Only Mendl, of them all, returned 14 months later, having been ransomed
along with Apfelboym. Both were later murdered.
When winter began we were still in the village, but the nonJews were already divided and fighting about who would inherit which Jewish property. The Jews had already handed over their livestock in the very first month after the Germans arrived, and the nonJews divided the animals among themselves according to a list they had prepared. Furs of all types had been taken away much earlier. The expulsion order came around Purim. The village policeman, Ivan Zadarzhenye, went from house to house and announced that people needed to move out in the next two days. It was only possible to take as much as would fit on a cart. Everyone had to move to Jezerziany, but the Naglers had special connections with Motil, the mayor of Borszczow; he was the former leaseholder of Sapieha's properties, and they knew him from their farming business. Incidentally, this same Motil had used his influence in the Count's seat, Bilcze Zlote, to prevent a massacre just before the Germans marched in (the Count's family had fled to Romania in 1939). Motil allowed four Jewish families from Lanowice to settle in Borszczow: Berl and Meir Nagler with their families, Ruzia (the widow of Hersh Aynhorn) and her children, and Yehuda Nakht. Later, Avrom Feldshu and his family moved to Borszczow. The remainder of the Jews of Lanowice and all the Jews of Kozaczyna resettled in Jezerziany. From then on, the fate of these two groups was linked to the fate of the Jews in the Borszczow ghetto and in Jezerziany. I'd like to add that, besides all these calamities, the refugees there as everywhere were relocated according to the Judenrat's decrees.
Quite a few weeks before the move decree came into effect, we started transferring everything we could to Borszczow at night, mainly flour and gold… A Pole, a member of the nobility, agreed to rent us a cart for our move; this was a very great favor. Our mother, however, did not want to leave the house. She said she wanted to die there, where she had lived her whole life.
In the Borszczow ghetto; the Aktions
When we were driven out of Lanowice a ghetto had already been set up in Lanowice. We moved in with the Rozenblat family, which lived on the road that led into town, close to the town entrance. We found this very useful, as it was easier to sneak out at night. We would walk into the village to beg some food from the nonJews, mainly the Poles. There were six of us in a single small house. We soon became very hungry. The food we brought with us from Lanowice, as well as whatever was brought in at night, had to be shared with the Rozenblats and the other families living in the small house. Panic broke out in the town even more often than in the village. The only benefit was that we lived among more Jews. However, over time it became obvious that Jews, too, could be very dangerous; and one needed to be on guard against Jewish policemen just as much as against nonJews. Men and women alike were snatched up for labor camps. The boys were still in the Borki labor camp, and could receive packages. Yankl Mayzl was one of the main organizers of these shipments.
This was our life with all its troubles the entire summer. People constantly talked about
an imminent Aktion. We heard what was happening in other places. People started to prepare hiding places. In our house, a cellar was concealed. A double wall was later constructed next to the attic; 25 people could sit between the walls. The dread increased during the High Holidays. A committee was formed before Sukkes. They started to collect gold and silver and sent a delegation carrying gold to Czortkow, to cancel the decree. The delegation returned with the good news that God had helped: the Gestapo had taken the gifts and had promised that there would be no Aktion. Everyone was told to bake cakes and celebrate the holiday, as decreed by God. My father and my uncle Meir actually built a sukkah, and we all prepared for the holiday as best we could. But Uncle Meir wept bitterly during Kiddush. He had a premonition that this was the last time he would make this blessing. Very early the next morning, at 4:30, Yehuda Nakht knocked at our window: Kids, get up! The fun is starting.The Aktion started simultaneously in Jezerziany, Borszczow, Kurylowka, Tluste, Mielnice, and Skala.
We saw a crowd running past the window. Everyone was rushing through the side alley, to hide in the fields. My father, mother, and I went into our hideout. Brontsiye and Perl started running into the field. It was long past the harvest, but corn stalks were still standing, in which people hoped to hide. The first shots rang out less than a minute later, and everyone started running back. My two sisters managed to come into our hideout. A space for six people now held fourteen.
At 3 p.m. we heard
Fayvish's voice: Daddy, Mama! He had a police number, and was running around under the flaps of the hideouts looking for Father. Uncle Meir had gotten up extremely early, dressed in his long coat and tallis, and gone to pray. Fayvish finally found him among those already arrested. He stood next to him, as if he was taking him and the others to the assembly place, thinking that he would be able to pull Uncle Meir out. But it was useless. Uncle Meir left on the train along with all the others. People later said that his tall figure, white beard, and pale face were visible in the train cars when it passed through the Teresin station. He stood wrapped in his tallis, weeping. He was the regular prayerleader in Lanowice.
Peering into the cracks of our hideout, we saw various scenes. The four beautiful daughters of Kopel Finger, one prettier than the other, were hauled out of a hideout. When they were discovered, they screamed terribly to be allowed to live.
And when heaven did not crack open, the weeping was useless. Oh, that my eyes have seen such things…
On the eve of a new Aktion
After this Aktion, all the Jews remaining in the area were driven into Borszczow. The hunger, the filth, and the crowding were beyond imagining. People slept outside, in the cold, for lack of room. A roundup began. Young people were taken to Czortkow; some were later released. They returned to Borszczow
and brought typhus with them, infecting many and starting an epidemic in the ghetto. Many people died as a result.
A new Aktion suddenly took place after Purim of 1943. Ukrainians and Germans ran from house to house in the ghetto and shot whomever they encountered. I did not know what was happening, and looked out the window. Two Jewish guards saw me and shouted, You murderer, why are you sitting there? Blood is already being spilled in town. I went into our hideout. Mrs. Rozenblat and her child, from Bilcze, were hiding in a pack of bedding. They were found and shot. When we left the bunker we saw Frumtsiye Rozenblat sitting with her head resting on her elbows. People called to her but there was no answer. Only then did we realize that she was dead, surrounded by a congealed puddle of blood. The boy lay prone on the ground, but he answered, Yes, I'm alive.
He had been shot through the shoulder, and was treated for months until he healed. He was later murdered.
Mendl came back from the labor camp after Purim. It was suggested that he go into the security forces, but he did not want to do that. He started working for a German official as a gardener.
On the eve of Passover, the Germans told the mayor to announce throughout the city that all the spring holidays Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish would be celebrated at the same time, Jews could go shopping, there would be no Aktion. I was on my way back to Borszczow from Lanowice when I saw a car with Ukrainian militiamen who were loading their guns. I quickly turned aside and returned to the village. My parents were hiding in the bunker at the time.
Brontsiye and Perl had been taken in by a nonJewish woman from Tulin, who would bring us food in exchange for our possessions. Velvl was at the market buying potatoes, and stumbled into the turmoil. Those arrested on that occasion were taken to the cemetery. People who were hiding witnessed the events through the cracks in their hideout walls. Musicians headed the procession. The Jews were positioned over a pit and shot. Velvl managed to escape with one shoe. A nonJew from Lanowice named Tymka Miketin grabbed him by the collar and dragged him back to the cemetery. After the Aktion my mother told of a terrible thing she had seen through a crack: there was a bunker not far away that was inaccessible, and the people in it refused to leave. The Ukrainian militiamen crammed straw onto it and set it on fire. Later, people saw the fainting, burned Jews begin to come out …
Following the Passover Aktion, it became clear that all the assurances were worthless and the ghetto would not last much longer. Rivtsiye groans ever more deeply, and continues the thread of her tale:
My mother always instructed us to try our luck separately. When wood is chopped, a big chip sometimes falls. Brontsiye was with the nonJewish woman in Tulin, Mendl and Perl were in Iwankow. Meanwhile, people said that the safest place was in the Dobroniwka labor camp. This was an aristocratic labor camp, where the remaining Jewish intellectuals, lawyers, physicians, and leaseholders were gathered. The commander was a Christian named Fedorovitch, who didn't treat the Jews too badly and they believed that he wished them well. Most of their hopes
were pinned to the fields of Russian dandelion a weed that gave off a milkwhite sap the Germans used to produce artificial rubber.
There were other crops as well. People from Lanowice included Yosye Kimelman with Peptsiye and her son Mundek. His wife Dortsiye Kimelman, who was halfparalyzed, had been shot during the Aktion in Jezerziany. The others there included Anya Pohoriles, Beyle Grosser's grandchild,with her husband and cousin Hans Pohoriles, who held the lease of the Zalucze family property. One Wednesday, my mother sent me to Dobroniwka along with Yehuda Nakht's daughter Manya. It was before Shevu'es. Very soon, we heard
the dark and terrible news about the new extermination Aktion that occurred almost on the eve of Shevu'es, on the second day of Sivan. I remember the date because, sadly, that is the day I observe the yortsayt of my parents' death. On that occasion, people were killed on the spot. My parents went into our hideout during the Aktion, but now there were fewer Jews left to catch, and the Germans searched thoroughly. They heard a child's voice from the Rozenblat house, and brought in a Polish engineer to take measurements and calculate where there might be a hideout. He measured the house and discovered the double wall.
Mendl, Brontsye, and Perl soon came to me in Dobroniwka, where we mourned our calamity. Once again, we went our separate ways. Brontsye stayed with me in Dobroniwka. Mendl and Perl, who had had a prominent position in Blisczenky before the war, went there. Mendl had a good friend, a Polish property owner named Dziadakh, who in fact took him in. This man hid Mendl and Perl and cared for them until the Red Army came in. However, Mendl did not follow Dziadakh's instructions; he and Perl emerged into the sunlight prematurely, and Ukrainian Banderovtsy shot them both as they were setting out for Borszczow. Of our entire family, only Brontsiye and I survived.
Rivtsiye arrived at the bottom line of her family's fate much too soon. There were also eleven long months of hiding with a Pole from Lanowice, before the short period in the Dobroniwka labor camp that occurred somewhere towards the end of June or in early July of 1943. It was actually a quiet interval,
except for some stormy episodes, such as the Banderovtsy assault on the Polish community of Lanowice. Rivtsiye recounted this very nervously, moving back and forth spasmodically as she spoke. She felt obligated to testify to everything that had happened, but her nerves could not handle it. I, too, found recording this particular testimony to be harder than the hundreds of other testimonies I recorded. This was because every person murdered was one of my own, or Rivtsiye's own, familiar since childhood, even the murderers, were people with whom we grew up and went to synagogue. I hear about the last transformation of Yosye, the village head and my mother's youngest brother, the radiant, mighty hero of my childish world, the large, rich, influential man who enjoyed making fun of the entire neighborhood; how, when he had no food, he would steal out at night and walk several kilometers from Dobroniwka to Lanowice, to dig some potatoes from his own garden; and how, as he was leaving my grandfather's large house with its two balconies, the nonJewish inheritor beat him and drove him off…
I will try to briefly convey the last chapter that Rivtsiye recounted, stammering and groaning.
Back in Lanowice
The system in Dobroniwka camp was not too harsh. Fedorovich, the commander, designated Jewish overseers who were responsible for the work done. My uncle, Yosye Kimelman, was also a kind of okoman under Fedorovich, and took his duties very seriously. My two sisters would sometimes leave after work to spend the night at the house of the nonJew Baran.
They worked in the beet fields, but were preoccupied with other things. A few days before the Aktion they had encountered the Pole Adamowski at Baran's house; Adamski told them that the Dobroniwka camp was to be liquidated. Brontsiye never went back to the camp, but Rivtsiye went to warn Yosye, He didn't want to believe her: Fedorovich doesn't know this, but you do? and was angry at the sisters for not finishing their share of raking up the beets. Rivtsiye did believe Adamowski; the next day, she didn't return to the camp either. Both girls took the highroad to the Polish part of Lanowice, which was on the left bank of the Nieczlawa River, closer to Dobroniwka and Hluboczak. Mikhail, the stepson of the former village head Staszek Szczepanowski, had said he was willing to hide them. As soon as they arrived, they heard that Dobroniwke had been surrounded that night and the Jews were being shot on the spot. Terrible shooting could be heard. The Pole became terrified, and told the girls to go and hide in the field among the grain stalks. He foresaw that some of the Jews would flee and that the police would search for them in the huts of the Polish residents. That was in fact what happened. Quite a few Jews managed to escape, and roamed the fields and forests, searching for a hole they could hide in. The earth did not crack open to take them into her bosom. The crying and wailing of those who were snatched up filled the air.
Losing the sensations of hunger and cold
Rivtsiye and Brontsiye lay among the stalks in the field for hours, days. I ask Rivtsiye
whether they had come out at night to search for food. She says no. It now seems to her that she and her sister lay there for several days without moving, that they felt no hunger or cold; it was as if they were frozen stiff. Because our destiny was to stay alive, God blocked the eyes of all the murderers. They heard nonJews speaking. Women were carrying bundles of possessions that the Jews had left behind in the labor camp. The women talked about the murdered people they had seen sprawled on the threshing floor in Dobroniwka and laughed at the poses of the dead bodies.
Only once did they suddenly see the figure of a young nonJew looming over them, holding a gun; they thought their time had finally come. It was the son of the landless, redhaired peasant Yurka Kuka, who had a bad reputation in the village even when I was still living there. His son was a real rascal, feared by all during Soviet times as well as the German period. However, something odd happened. We were fated to live, Rivtsiye says once again. The guy gestured to them, putting hand to mouth to indicate that they should remain quiet and not be afraid. Nezam, nezam, he whispered, meaning that they should stay low to the ground so that no one could spot them. Then he went away. Rivtsiye thinks that her father once did a favor for his father, and this cold soul had a speck of God in his heart.
After this, there were no more Jews living in the area legally. When matters settled down, Mikhail placed both girls in the stable at his Ukrainian motherinlaw's. This widow of Vassily was 96 years old and had a reputation in the village as a stingy shrew, which was very good for the girls. No one would
suspect her of anything like hiding Jews. Rivtsiye was really at a loss for words to describe the kindness and moral support of Mikhail, who treated the two sisters extremely gently, and did not take advantage oft them in any way.
Mikhail would bring them news of the few Lanowice Jews who, after all the liquidations, continued to wander through the woods and villages of the area. They knew about Zelik Grasser and his son Yosl, Moyshe Kimelman, Avrom Feldshu and his entire family. However, they apparently knew nothing about Moyshe Feldshu's son and daughter, who had moved to Borszczow even before the war. His son BenTziyon hid for a time with one of the Khodzhikowskis on the highroad, very near the place where Rivtsiye and Brontsiye were hiding.
Like ghosts from under the earth
Rivtsiye recounts two small episodes of that period. One concerns her venturing out at night to the Rogowskis, to recover objects, like a spirit. She was afraid of her own self at that point; it seemed to her that she had already become a ghost from the nether world. Wladek Rogowski's wife was indeed as frightened of her as though she really were a ghost. She handed over all the objects and agreed to everything, just so Rivtsiye would leave the house as soon as possible… The second account is of a daughter and grandchild of the old woman who arrived from Constanza, went into the stable, and suddenly discovered the girls. The son demanded that the girls leave the place of their own will. However, his mother later took pity on them: they had hidden from death for so long, and where would they go now? The girls heard their conversation, and on that occasion the
disaster had a happy ending. The mother and son did not even tell the old woman that the girls were in the stable attic. This all happened because we were destined to live, Rivtsiye reiterates.
The Christian who saved them was even more convinced of their destiny. This is connected to another story the drama of the Lanowice Poles. I heard this account from BenTziyon Feldshu as early as 1945.
As is well known, the dream of an independent Ukraine as part of the German Protectorate came to nothing. The Ukrainian nationalists therefore set up an underground organization that included armed groups, which ostensibly fought against the occupying German forces. However, they mostly acted to exterminate the Polish and Jewish populations. This caused them to be tolerated by the German authorities. This attitude became more pronounced when the eastern front broke down and the Red Army began to draw closer; the fascist Ukrainian military groups, like the rightwing Polish groups in the west, could serve as a desirable diversionary force. In 1943 and 1944, the Polish bulbovtsy in Volhynia and the Ukrainian Banderovtsy in Galitzia (named for the Ukrainian terrorist who shot the Polish government minister Pieracki and fled to Germany) murdered the residents of entire Polish settlements, as well as s.e. Poles whom the government had resettled on reparcelled estates along the eastern borders. These groups also attacked the longestablished Roman Catholic enclaves, with their strong Ruthenian identity, which had existed for centuries among the large GreekCatholic population.
The catastrophe unites the remaining Jews and Poles
These Poles mostly spoke
Ukrainian among themselves, intermarried with Ukrainians, and lived peacefully with them. Now they felt as threatened as the Jews. This gave rise to the characteristic circumstance that we come across in all the information on the fate of Jews on the southeastern borders: most of those who helped Jews were Poles. There was even PolishJewish cooperation between armed groups in Galitzia, which roamed the forests and defended themselves against Germans as well as Ukrainian gangs.
The Poles of Lanowice considered themselves special. They originated in Cracow, and had not lived under feudal conditions before the abolition of serfdom in Austria (1848). Their neighborhood was therefore called nobility. They were small freeholders peasant nobilityand consisted of several extended families. Descriptions by rescued Jews include names like Adamkowski, Szczepanowski, Ziolkowsky. The Polish peasant nobility was organized in a religious society, the Brotherhood of St. Francis, and this membership might have influenced their decent behavior towards Jews. Such behavior was widespread. Everywhere, activist religious groups, members of religious sects, and the like, were more inclined than others to help the persecuted Jews (Subbotniks, Bible scholars, etc.).
During the last winter before liberation, the peasant nobility were attacked. An armed gang arrived from outside of town, but the local agitators prepared the ground and helped the perpetrators. The Poles were surrounded, like a ghetto during an Aktion. The Nieczlawa River flowed along one side.
The Banderovtsy set fire to the properties on all sides,
and opened intensive machinegun fire on those escaping the flames; as BenTziyon Feldshu told me, the bandits were so wild that they shot the domestic animals fleeing the fire as well. How many were killed? How many survived the onslaught? The surviving Jews could not say. Remarkably, it is those Jews who hid with the peasant nobility who were saved. BenTziyon left his benefactor's house and hid under a boulder on the hill above the house. This was his regular refuge in moments of danger. From there, he watched the fire and the confusion, which lasted for several hours. Those who were able to stay in a spot that the flames and smoke could not reach survived. Among these were the benefactors of the two sisters who crept into a cellar full of potatoes. Mikhail later claimed that they themselves had been saved thanks to two Jewish orphan girls.
The two girls stayed there until the front neared. They lived through the confusion of the retreat, until that early evening before Peysekh when Mikhail came into the stable and shouted, Why are you sitting there? Come out! You're already free.
After the liberation
Rivtsiye and Brontsiye left for Borszczow, where a few surviving Jews had gathered from the forest and the villages. Soviet rule was reestablished, but the Banderovtsy continued their operations for a long time. They continued to murder Jews and terrorized the population with attacks and acts of revenge.
Rivtsiye recounted a remarkable tale about the midwife, Yultsiye Kotomska, Kurnicki's daughter, who was famous in the village and the entire area. She helped many Jews who drifted through Lanowice sometimes with food, and on other occasions offering them a corner to hide temporarily. She hid seven Jews: Esther Nagler and Shua Lindenboym, Moyshe Kimelman, Fayvl Apfelboym and his wife Freyde, as well as Fayvish Nagler (Esther's son). She knew everyone in the area, and was familiar with all the outrages that were perpetrated throughout that period. One day she came to Borszczow, went to see the girls, asked for a glass of brandy, and declared that could now die because she had given testimony about the murders and robberies that she had witnessed. She left for Lanowice; that same night, the Banderovtsy dragged her out and shot her dead not far from her home. Yultsiye Kotomska was over seventy.
This is what Rivtsiye and Brontsiye wrote to their uncle in America their mother's brother after liberation:
The two of us remain like the fragments of a destroyed ship, neither here nor there. Of the entire village, only nine people remain: Avrom Feldshu with his wife and children, who had been in the Red Army since 1941, and Fayvish Leybhart's grandson, a son of Sheyndl in Skala, survived no one else.
In this letter, the sisters mention several times that 150 Jews lived in Lanowice and Kazaczyna before the war. Now, these villages are completely Judenrein.
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