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[Page 328]

Lopatyners in Israel

By Yehoshua Nesyahu (Suchman)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My late father, Shlomo Aryeh Suchman, made aliya to the Land with my mother Nesia of blessed memory in 1932, following their children who had arrived earlier. After they came, they dedicated themselves to communal work in the realm of Torah institutions: the “Karmiya” Synagogue in Haifa, where he served as president until the end of his days; “Tiferet Yisrael” Yeshiva; and “Kupat Gemilat Chasadim” (free loan society) in Haifa.

Yehoshua Nesyahu–Suchman made aliya to the Land in 1920. He first worked in various pioneering jobs, like the rest of those who came in the Third aliya. Through the years, he served in various roles in the Technion, the Israel Technical Institute, in Haifa.

Naftali Nesyahu–Suchman made aliya to the Land in 1921. He too worked in various pioneering jobs. He was a member of Hadar–HaKarmel for many years, and later served on the Haifa city council. He died in 1974.

Rachel Gottlieb–Sendler was the only member of the Gottlieb family in Lopatyn. She too made aliya, along with my parents in 1932. She married a man from Metula and lives there to this day.


[Page 331]

My shtetl

By Yakov Bernholz

Translated by Andrew Cassel

Lopatyn – a small shtetl in eastern Galicia, not far from Lemberg, belonged to the Tarnopol województwa (province) in the Radekhov powiat (district). It comprised around 550 Jewish souls, with an organized Jewish community under the direction of Dr. Bardach, as well as a Zionist organization.

In general the Jewish community lived peacefully, though a portion of Jews struggled with the problems of earning a livelihood; some more, some less, made use of a community farm, a soup–kitchen from which several gained a livelihood. Every Wednesday there were markets and thus life went on until the outbreak of the Polish–German war, when the Soviets took over the entire region, and overnight everything perished, as if it had never been.

From Germany came refugees – the so–called “bezhintzes” – who told of the Nazi atrocities. During the Soviet occupation one expected every night to be arrested but one made it through with only terror, except for some who were taken away to the far steppes of Russia. That's how it went until Hitler, may his name be erased, attacked. As soon as the second day of the war, the Ukrainian nationalists took over all the official offices, and troubles upon troubles were heaped upon us. They gathered all the men, young and old, during the pouring rain to clean the roads. And so one labored, enforced at times by beatings and guns, along the roads that led to the Brody front. The heavy trucks went by day and night, and we filled in the potholes in the roads sometimes under artillery fire from both sides. Later they took us into the school building to load and unload heavy sacks of mail.

When the front moved deeper into the east, we were confronted by the Ukrainians. They intended to launch a pogrom, but thanks to the Ukrainian priest Kravchuk this was avoided. The first two victims, without rhyme or reason, were two young people: Mendel Kranz and Yeshua Gottlieb. We brought them to the Jewish cemetery. Soon after came a decree to wear white bands with Stars of David on the right arm. After that came decrees confiscating grain from Jews and also taking away the animals, leaving the Jews without livestock and consigned to the bitter fate of helplessness.

In the first weeks a Judenrat was required to be established. Elected president was Dr. Karol Weissman, who resigned after two weeks. The second Judenrat chose David Saul Reiff, who later perished in the Brody ghetto.

During the days leading up to the Jewish New Year, in September 1942, the first Aktion took place. They took Ab. Meiseles, his wife Roni and their children, Esther and Rivka Frankel, Yehudit Bernholz, Perl Kranz and three children. They were taken to the Gestapo in Sokal and shot in the nearby cemetery. Later, when the cold set in, everyone had to turn over their furs or be shot. The winter was harsh, with severe frost and we young people had to go into the forest to dig up tree stumps for the tar works, which had belonged to Mordechai Meir and had to be in perpetual operation. During the day we pulled out the tree stumps and at night the Ukrainians stole them. Later we had to chop wood and stack cords under the tough supervision of Ukrainians.

In December 1941, after coming home from work in the forest, while I was taking off my wet clothes, a Ukranian militant knocked on the door and I was taken away to the police, and by late that night many others had been arrested – Z.A. Anshel Bernholz, Abraham Zugman Morris Auerbach, Moshe Katz, Shulem Zatz, Fridel Niskavles, Lipe Halperin, Abraham Kranz and Abraham Ber Schargel from Lashkiv (Laszków). They gathered us all together and took us to Radekhov, where they kept us for 18 hours. They also brought Jews from other shtetls – Stoyanov (Stojanów) and Kholiv (Chołojów). They loaded us in trucks and took us to Zholkev (Zloczów). We traveled all night, accompanied by Ukrainian police who kept beating us. In the front cabin sat the Gestapo. We were sitting in two fully–packed vehicles. On the road near Kholiv, two jumped out in the dark and ran away. That caused them to watch us more intensely.

When we arrived in Zholkev, the news spread like lightning that Jews were being brought. They wanted to help us, but the Ukrainian police didn't allow it. In the end the Ukrainians were bribed with money and food, and they let us have a little warm tea and water. The cold was horrible but the Jews from Zholkev did not give up until we had gotten a little something to eat. Dear sympathetic Jews, I remember how a Jewish woman ran around crying that someone should help us. A couple of hours later the Gestapo arrived with the second vehicle, which had earlier gone out toward Rava Ruska, and transported us to Kholiv. They put us in the jail there without food or heat. Early the next day they took us, under guard by the Ukrainians, to Visenberg, this time on foot. There we encountered Jews from Kholiv and learned that they were suffering horrible hunger. Soon they shaved our heads and took us to a school surrounded by barbed wire. The work was very hard and began as soon as the snow melted. Guarding us were three Gestapo members: Scheter, Mikel and Schmidt. They were horrible monsters, beating us without cause. They didn't cease until they drew blood. After the liberation, Mikel was arrested in Frankfurt–am–Main and sentenced to eight years.

Some of their sadistic deeds: Mikel took a Jew from Kholiv and ordered him shaved down to the skin, then directed two strong men to hold him upside down and dunk him in excrement in the latrine. Then he was forced to stand as it dripped off him. And we were all made to look on and the Gestapo men laughed. Or, he had a Jew from Kholiv actually bricked up in a cellar, where the door led to his administrative office. Before they bricked up the last small window, any of us who had a small bit of bread put it inside in a way that the Gestapo guards wouldn't notice. Only on the twelfth day, after the intervention of the Kholiv Judenrat, did they let the Jew out, already half dead. Another example: the area around there was hilly, with clay soil. In the hills were pits with spent lime. So thick furrow were made, four horses were hitched up, and the lime was loaded onto wagons. Even the horses had a hard time moving the wagons, as the wheels would sink in up to the axels. The S.S. men ordered that, to spare the horses, they would harness us up instead. Where we found the strength to pull, God only knows. Only when we were back on a flat road did they harness the horses again. Everyone perished, except me and Yermiyahu Ginzberg from Stoyanov. I left Visenberg with Abraham Zugman, who later perished in the Lutsk camp. I arrived home during the High Holidays.

In June 1942 the second Aktion took place, when everyone was taken to Kamionka Strumiłowa. Those who were late for the train came back two days later. Particularly horrible was that the entire Aktion was carried out not by Germans but by the Ukrainian police with Ukrainian hooligans under the leadership of a Pole who styled himself a Volksdeutsch, named Alojzy Lipa. He was caught after the war in Niederschlesien and arrested. We, the main witnesses, had to flee Poland. He was so severely beaten in prison that he croaked a couple of months later.

I should also mention: During the Aktion, our Rabbi Chaim Leibish Hemerling, who was very ill, could not walk and was severely beaten by the apostate Yakov Meir Halpern. They carried the rabbi to the jail where he died. The next day, when we returned from the forest, he was buried in the Jewish cemetery. This was related to me by his son, Natan Hemerling, who, as his father was being beaten, was sitting in a tree and saw everything. A couple of weeks later another Aktion occurred, in which all the remaining Jews were taken to Radekhov, and they never returned. Later various other troubles were visited upon the few Jews who still remained after the last Aktion.

They began to pass out tin badges, and whoever had a badge could remain at home. The badges could be obtained in Radekhov, for a certain amount of money, of course. It was a swindle, though. They took the money and only promised you a badge. Thus they cheated my brother Reuven, who paid twice, two hundred zlotys each time, and also others who happened to survive, but that is a separate chapter.

In November 1942, the aforementioned Pole with the Ukrainian police and other hooligans grabbed Reuven, Sarah and Menny Berholz, Chaye Tsirl Niskavles, Hinda Wilder and Mendel Ecker and dragged them into the forest near Lopatyn, and the S.S. man, Kopf and Ukrainian policemen Jozef Sukhatski and Rabano shot them.

On November 28 1942 an order came down: Judenfrei and we could go to Sokal, Busk, Zholkev and Brody. In town there remained only Dr. Beitz and his family and the pharmacist who were later shot. All those who went to other places never returned. Only from Brody did a few come back. They hid themselves in dugouts in the woods, or took shelter with gentiles. With regards to Brody, a ghetto was made there where the crowding was horrible, with ten or more people often forced to share a small room or shack.

On November 30, 1942, the Brody ghetto was locked up, with some 12,000 Jews from all the surrounding towns as well as many from Volhyn. Typhus, hunger and cold were rampant, and the hospital overflowed.

On May 15, 1943 a pogrom broke out, in which 300 people perished, and on May 21, 1943 the ghetto was surrounded and all the Jews were taken to Belzec. Some Lopatyners successfully hid themselves temporarily in “skhronis” (dugouts) and we all ran away into the Lopatyn forest. In a few cases, such as Chaim Friedman and his two sisters, their own Ukrainian friends turned them over to the police.

On May 21, 1943, the liquidation of the Brody ghetto began and we ran off to the Lopatyn woods – I, Meir and Henoch Krieger, Abraham Frankel and Moshe Distenfeld. We were there four weeks, but the heavy snow made it impossible to move, so we headed back to Brody via Stanisławczyk, where there were a very few Jews with so–called badges, and from there we arrived in Brody. On the road we were attacked by bandits from Stanisławczyk with weapons, and as soon as we realized that they wanted to murder us, we pounced on them. During the dreadful and desperate fight we managed to beat them and take their weapons and we hid them. In the forest and through the snowdrifts, they recovered them and we went off to the Brody ghetto. Arriving there, we were met by the Jewish police, and we needed to ransom ourselves.

The S.S. came into the ghetto each day, and there wasn't a day that they didn't catch people and haul them off to the camps or shoot them, so when they entered, the streets would be entirely empty. On March 30, 1943 the Gestapo, under the direction of S.S. Obersturmführer Varzog, who now finds himself in Cahir? undertook a selection, and all the men, young and old were taken to the Lutsk camp and none of them returned. Abraham Zugman and Abram Frankel later escaped but the Judenrat turned them over and they were hanged in the Lutsk camp.

Here in the forest we lived like animals. In summer we collected food from the fields, but winters were worse. A few friendly gentiles would give us something from time to time, and we sometimes had to do a little stealing. In two dugouts, we were nine persons, including me, Josef, Feyge, Rivka, Abraham Dov, Sima Bernholz, Meir, Henoch, David Krieger and Moshe Distenfeld. By the end four other people had come to us: Josef, Serka and Rose, Roht and Kehos Barach.

Life in the forest can't be described. Each day, each hour we had to be watching out for anyone who might give us away. Several times at night we encountered local Ukrainian bands, but we succeeded in getting out of their murderous hands. Thus we lived in the woods from May 21, 1943 until March 31, 1944, terrified, cold and hungry until the Russian army liberated us and we began our wanderings. First to Dubno, where a greater number of survivors gathered, and later, with the transports, to the wider world.

[Page 337]

Zionist youth association “Gordonia” in Radziechow
On the poster: Zionist youth association “Gordonia” in Radziechow

 

From right to left: Izio Schwarzwald, Mimi Ecker, Motel Leider, engineer Rosenberg (son–in–law of Moshe Ecker), Herszko Ecker [husband of Mimi], Hela Senensieb, Pepa Schwarzwald, Nuni[o] Worm
Sitting, from the right: Nulek Heichman, Salka Ecker–Feurstein [sister of Herszko], Chaim Landau, Nusi Pfeffer

[Page 338]

Moshe Eker, his wife [Ester nee Wasser] and his son Shmuel Milek

 

 
 
Arye Leibisch Gasthalter, his son Elyakim and his wife Scheva

[Page 339]

 
Heinrich Suchostaw and his family
 
Benjamin Suchostaw

 

Nachum Gasthalter, Motel Friedman, Israel Kardiman

[Page 340]

Moshe Waldbaum and his wife

 

Memorial in the forest of martyrs in the hills of Jerusalem in 1964

From the right: Lippa Kitzes, Batya Weinberger, Sara Kitzes, Rachel Pelz and her husband Joseph Chaim, Meir Fisch

 

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