Deep holes, red clay
I once had a home
Spring orchards would bloom,
Autumn-time birds would rise,
Winter snow fell there,
Now woe and pain blossom there.
My home encountered a disaster,
Door and gate are open
For the butcher, for the flayers,
Those who slaughter small children,
Those who hang old men,
Those who respect no one.
Deep holes, red clay
I once had a home
In January 1945, I had already been free from the Nazis for two months. However, will I ever be freed from their oppressive inheritance? A force, which cannot be controlled, chases one home. Brotherly pleas and advice from friends and comrades about resting and the danger on the roads do not help. Although you yourself know well that no longing heart waits for you and no tears of returning luck will greet you.
Your home is destroyed; your world is destroyed. Your home is now with you, in you, in your dreams only there. And yet I go, I go and bend deep under the weight of inheritance. I go to the Polish borders with regained freedom in my heart, and a bundle of memories of the painful and inhuman suffering of my battered home.
The Polish earth is cold, her roads, fields and woods are profoundly destroyed. With great effort I wander among the advancing military and howling storms.
Tank after tank speeds by. One wave of snow chases another and one thought another. Why is the soldier observing me so? I do not know. The snow drips so from my warmed face
The night falls. Shots echo from the nearby woods. The embittered, cruel murderers still struggle there for their naked lives. There they received the revenge-taking hand of justice. Will the hand of justice be long enough to reach everyone?
It is already night, going further is impossible. There is no strength and there is no point. I am already in Klomnice. I find a hospitable corner with an innkeeper, a hot drink and a bundle of fragrant straw. Soviet officers sleep near me. We do not sleep for long. They wake on command I from cold sweat and bitter dreams. I first feel my fatigue now and still I am drawn out of the stable.
I am already on the highway again. The stillness of night is about to give way, with the darkness receding to the background. The snow still accompanies me, which makes me part of the surrounding world. The first rays of the sun appear, breaking their way through the falling snow. Very often a dark red flake buried deep in the white down catches the eye. You know very well what this means, but you go further. This is blood from those who fell so that we would be able to live. What do I a wretched man have to say to Him in heaven? However, if the blood is from those who made a ruin of our world if there is a God, why are there not white flakes among the red snow?
By noontime I am already in the outlying streets of the city. A Polish youth noticed me and read my Jewishness. He quickly called those nearby and with darting, penetrating, searching eyes looked at me from head to foot. His eyes had betrayed everything, but not friendship. I return to the market and from there to the heart of Jewish Radomsk to the Shul Street.
There are still black smoke clouds over the shul. Passing Poles tell me that the departing Germans set fire to the shul. I believed that the Polish underworld youth are also capable of this. The same ones who dishonored, plundered and burned the shul in Czenstochow only 5 years before. Only Satan himself could contrive that this would be my welcome to my forthcoming freedom. The same smoke from Jewish possessions was our accompaniment to the death camps two years before the same smoke welcomed us now. The wind chases the smoke into the eyes, so that they have to be closed. With closed eyes one sees the small streets enveloped in the holiness of generations. Here they lived and suffered, dreamed and praised God. From here they went into the world and they never lost the image of God. Here one is reminded of the pillar of clouds and the pillar of fire from the Khumish, which once in the ancient times of our forefathers showed the way and provided protection from our enemies. And so there is a question why? Why did smoke and fire protect other generations and why did our generation go into fire and flames?
I open my eyes again and see among the clouds of smoke, in the ruin of the shul, the Ten Commandments there the golden letters shine: Thou shall not kill. For whom do they shine?
The Jews did not feel at home. We observed the relationship of the Polish population to us, Jews, survivors of great devastation, saved by miracles, and we came to the decision that in Poland there is no longer a place for us.
At that time I visited Radomsk. Arriving in the city, I saw with my own eyes the great destruction and with my own ears I heard those saved from gehenim. Seeing and hearing everything that had happened, I recalled my memories from far back in the happy atmosphere of childhood.
As a small girl, I would always wait every year for Tisha B'av in the shul with a mixture of happiness and sorrow. During the reading of the Book of Lamentations, I would sit on a small stool near my mother, may she rest in peace, holding my breath and listening to the terrible history of the destruction of the Beis Hamidrish, the history of hunger, need and death, which Jews experienced 2,000 years ago. My childish heart would melt from pain and my tears would fall together with my mother's tears we both lamented the great Jewish catastrophe of the past. However this devastation, as deep as it is embedded in the Jewish folk-consciousness, still has no comparison, in particular in time and scope with the last Holocaust, which took place before our eyes and annihilated everything and everyone that is truly ours flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone.
During my last visit to Radomsk, listening to stories about the last catastrophe, I did not sit next to my mother in the shul, surrounded by hundreds of living men, women and children born and reared before my eyes. I sat alone, quietly, broken mentally and physically, and listened to the sorrowful scroll of suffering not from the Book of Lamentations, but from living witnesses, who themselves experience everything. They told me about the aktsies in the ghetto, about families that were hidden by Christians and who denounced them, about Jewish property that was robbed, about the few Gentile neighbors who did help (Spaz the pharmacist, and others).
In the letter, which I sent from Poland (Kladzko) in the month of May 1946, immediately after my visit to Radomsk, to my friend Sh. Lakhman in Israel (Tel-Aviv), I give the following details that reflected on the fate of only one family.
Sh. Lakhman's mother died during the time of the first aktsia. She hid in the cellar of Fajerman's button factory; she died there and was buried there by Jews. His father was in the transport that was sent, apparently, to Treblinka, where thousands of Radomskers found their death. His sister was among the women who were taken to Bokhnya, where allegedly there were good Germans, and they perished there. Her husband was with her father in the transport to Treblinka. Their daughter, who was hidden by a Christian with Hanye Hercberg (of Stzralkower Street) for a long time near Ginter's garden, died very tragically. Someone denounced both girls and they were shot together with the Christian.
I cannot communicate my sorrow when I read the diary, which was written by Miriam Czaczewacki; a shudder goes through me when I read the words she wrote several days before her death: God, God where are you? We cried so much this Yom Kippur and You are silent and do not help us. I want to live; I am only 17 years old why do I need to die? Who gave the right to kill me We sent this diary to Lodz, to the Jewish Historical Commission. *
I came from Radomsk so depressed that I lay down very sick. One must, however, strengthen oneself, because one must live. Although, one must take again the wanderer's stick in the hand.
* The diary is published in this book (Ed.)
The way was very difficult and crossing the border, still more difficult. In the end, we safely crossed the border and arrived in Przemysl. From there we all dispersed. I remained in Przemysl several months, until May 1940.
A decree was then issued by the Soviet regime about taking out Soviet passports. All of the refugees had to leave Przemysl because Przemysl was a border city and only residents could remain. The refugees who did not comply with the decree were arrested and sent to Siberia. I left for Lemberg. I hid there for a week with 3 more Radomskers: Henekh Klajnman, Leibl Grosman and Yakov Szmulewicz. We had to make an exodus from Lemberg, too, and we traveled to a small city near Rovno Kostopol. Several Radomskers lived in this shtetl and we turned to Herman Rodol (Der Feter). He received us in a friendly way in his residence and it was the gathering place for all Radomskers. Every night we met there and Mrs. Rodol displayed much friendship to all Radomskers.
The 22nd of June 1941, when the war broke out between Germany and Russia, we were all ready to go to Russia. On the 5th day of the war we learned that in about 2 days the Germans would be in Kostopol. Only 3 families remained on the spot: Herman Rodol and his wife, the Cukerman family, which consisted of 4 people and Dr. Reuven and his wife Hanna
A Radomsker girl, Franye Moszkowicz, remained in Sarne (she was a member of Gordonja). In a small shtetl near Kostopol there remained Yakov Szmulewicz, Leibish Rozencwajg with his wife and mother-in-law. None of those who remained were saved. On the contrary, of those who went deep into Russia, almost all survived.
In those difficult days I worked at forced labor for the Germans, like all Radomsker Jews, 3 days a week. By chance I worked as assistant manager. However, the Gestapo leader was not pleased that a Jew worked at such respectable work and sat with an Aryan in one place. He called me out and asked if I know that I had committed an offense by sitting together with an Aryan in one place. I answered, First, I do not know if this is an offense; second, who has committed the offense, me or the 'Aryan'? Immediately, I was led away to the Gestapo and there I received my judgment: 10 blows. Going out I decided that I would leave my hometown Radomsk.
Traveling by train was strongly forbidden for Jews. In general, traveling out of the city was very difficult because one was not supposed to leave the Ghetto. Yet, on the 1st of March 1940 I succeeded in traveling from Radomsk to Piotrkow in the car of a Polish acquaintance, and from there I reached Warsaw. On the 4th of March 1940, in the evening, I arrived in Warsaw and the same evening I arrived at the Prager terminal. Arriving there I knew that the train to Siedliec leaves at 5 o'clock in the morning. One could only be on the street until 7 in the evening because there was a curfew and Jews were not permitted to be in the terminal. So Jews had to stay in front of the terminal the whole night in the snow.
In the morning noontime, I arrived in Siedliec and there met several Radomskers, who were on the way to the Soviet Union. There was Anke Eikhner (the daughter of Haim Eikhner), who wanted to go to her
husband, Dr. Moishe Reuven, Hanna Fiszlewicz (the daughter of Nakhman Wolf), Edzje Fiszman and Shlomoh Fiszman, Leibl Grosman (the son of Abraham), Haim Minc a watchmaker, Koplowicz and Moishe Birnboim (a gaiter maker, who lived in Mark no. 19). They all went together further on their way.
This way was not an easy one. It was necessary to go 18 kilometers in snow and after to cross the Bug (this river was the border). Bearing in mind that rumors reached us that Dovid Sobel froze to death going the same way, we all decided that we were going. We started on our way and, on the 7th of March 1940, we arrived in Kovel. I was there for 4 weeks. I stayed with Aba Brisker (the husband of Pola Zalcman, the grandchild of Shmuel-Mair Fajerman). In the middle of April 1940 I arrived in Lemberg. There I met many Radomskers, among them the Bracki brothers, Lale Rapoport (the daughter of Haim) and her husband Prof. Rozencwajg with his family, the director of the Jewish gimnazye, Faluszek and his family, a daughter of Yekil Tajmakher (from her husband Gnat), Tzipporah Judkewicz (the daughter of the Malamed Shlomoh-Haim Dovid's son), Reuven Najkron's two sons, the two Kalka brothers (sons of Batzaleil), Mordekhai Goldberg's two sons and a daughter, Abraham Kaplan, etc.
We were a large group of Radomskers, who lived with difficulty, but free, until the arrival of the month of June 1940. In this month, an order was issued by the Soviet regime that all known Polish citizens who did not have any Soviet passports were to be interned. The order was carried out quickly and without delay; all of those who did not possess a Soviet passport were arrested on the morning of the 13th of June 1940. After delays lasting 4 weeks, I was sent away to Hetalla, near the Gulf of Finland.
The journey there lasted 41 days. The transport, in which I traveled, numbered 8,000 exiles (90% of them Jews). We were taken in closed wagons. The food consisted of 400 grams of black bread, a teaspoon of oil and a little spoon of sugar a day. We traveled across Central Russia to the White Sea; there we were taken several hundred kilometers in the taigas, where we had to start a new life.
We saw before us only three things: sky, woods and lakes. The climate there is three months of summer (25 degrees C heat), of these only 2 months full days, and 9 months winter (-55 degrees C cold). The work consisted of cutting trees. The food was meager and bad. The sanitary conditions worse. 250 of us died during the first three months. That is how we lived for a year's time, until the outbreak of the German-Russian War, when we were evacuated to the Urals. There, we again worked in the woods.
We worked for two years in this spot. When the agreement was made with General Szikorsky, we were freed. I obtained work in a Russian war factory and worked there until October 1944. From there I traveled to Moscow where I spent several weeks. Later I traveled to Poltava. There I entered the Polish military and was sent to the battlefield. In January 1945 I arrived in Lublin; there I met the first Radomsker Jew, Yitzhak Zalcman, the same one whom I had encountered at the beginning of the war in Kovel (then he was with his family and now he was forlorn, alone).
Yitzhak Zalcman described for me the fate of his family. Until the winter of 1943 they were still together his sister Pola and her husband, Aba Brisker and their child, and her younger sister, too. After the liquidation of the Kovel Ghetto, they were all hidden in a cellar over the course of several months. However, the Germans found footprints; they were all taken to the Jewish cemetery. Two men from the group Yitzhak Zalcman and a Koveler Jew had to dig a hole. When the hole was finished, the whole group was stood at the edge of the grave and all were shot. Only Yitzhak Zalcman and the other Jew, who had to cover the grave, remained. Two Ukrainians, who had to shoot the two Jews after they had covered the grave of the victims, stayed with them. Yitzhak Zalcman and his comrade, however, made use of the opportunity when the two Ukrainians approached each other in order to smoke a cigarette. The Jews threw themselves on them with their shovels. The Ukrainians were killed and Yitzhak Zalcman and his comrade escaped.
In March 1945 I left Lublin and traveled to Radomsk. The fear that I would not find any of my family did not give me any rest; unfortunately it was that way. I arrived in Radomsk on the 9th of March 1945 and disembarking from the train, I asked myself the question, Where am I going? The old address no longer existed. My brothers and sisters, family and kinsmen, no one is here. The Ghetto, which not long ago was full of Jewish life, no longer exists. All that was, belongs to the past. I go looking for graves of the people who once existed. However, no graves are here either. They all left here alive and perished later in the smoke of Treblinka.
I was only in Radomsk for a few days and stayed with my friend Yissakhar Minski, who also was the sole survivor of his whole family (he survived the work-camp in Czenstochow). It should be understood that I could not remain in Radomsk for long, where every stone is stained with Jewish blood. I decided to wander further, made several trips over the whole of Poland, perhaps I would find someone from my family. However, alas I found no one. I decided that the only alternative was to travel to Eretz-Yisroel. The road was not so simple, but I succeeded.
On the 8th of November 1945, I arrived in Eretz-Yisroel and began leading a truly new life.
Arriving in Radomsk we entered our house (Reymonta 29). We remained there only for a few days because we were driven to the Ghetto on Przedborz Street. When we were still in our house, the former janitor caused all kinds of extraordinary troubles for all of the tenants. He would awake all of the inhabitants very early and drag them to work. Now, he said, the time has come that I will send you to work; I will be the boss and you will clean garbage.
My whole family traveled to Czenstochow and I remained in Radomsk together with my husband Yehezkeil Ukrent (Hershel Ukrent's son), whom I had married several months before.
An order was issued that Jews must not have any furs. By chance the Germans did a census of the Rozenblum family who lived in Berl Ofman's (oil presser) house and found a little piece of fur. The Germans put the whole Rozenblum family on a drozhke and drove them through the Ghetto to the cemetery. There everyone was told to completely undress and they had to dig graves for themselves and they were shot near them.
In Czenstochow, my father sold fine haberdashery (needles, yarn, etc.). My older sister Sala, dressed as a Christian, brought the goods from Sosnowiec, and thus took chances in order to maintain herself. During Passover 1940 I visited my parents. My father celebrated the Seder in a white kitl and the whole family was together. A few days earlier, we had been denounced for selling. In the middle of the Seder celebration, a folkes-Deitch, Szabelski came in with a black pointy staff in his hand and asked my father, Are you Krakowski? He poked my father in the eye with the pointy staff and momentarily my father stopped seeing. The folkes-Deitch took my father out of the house and sat him in a drozhke. Yakov Berger, my father's brother-in-law from Lodz was already in the drozhke. They were both driven through the streets, spat upon and the arrested at Zawadaje; my father was under arrest there for a month. My mother sold her jewelry and took my father out for one week on a health furlough. He traveled to Warsaw to the famous eye doctor Pines. He said that as a result of the blow the coloring in the eye was burned and that the second eye was in great danger, too. After the liberation, the folkes-Deitch Szabelski was arrested and he hanged himself in jail after the trial.
After two months in Czenstochow, my husband and I returned to the Radomsk Ghetto and we knew that we would curse the Ghetto. My husband had had a good friend, a Christian Wladek, who promised to hide us with him. We wrote a letter to my parents in Czenstochow on erev Yom-Kippur by way of a railroad worker and informed them that I had a place to hide and asked them to send my youngest sister Rusza to me. The railroad worker brought my sister to me on the same evening. My best friend Riwcze Szitenberg (Yehieil-Shlomoh's daughter) knew that I was going to hide with a Christian and she was ready to come along. However, when I told her mother, she cried bitterly and begged that I not take Riwcze, because she had a stable work spot in the Ghetto and it was believed that people such as this would not be deported.
My sister and I left as Christians and my husband had to come in the evening, when it would already be dark. However, in the evening the Ghetto was closed and my husband did not succeed in extricating himself. The Gentile with whom sister and I hid lived opposite the Jewish cemetery. We spent two nights with the Gentile and then we learned that the neighborhood was being searched for Jews. The Gentile took us over to his parents; a hiding place in the stable there was already prepared for us, where we stayed with another woman (Koplewicz) with her two daughters.
The old mother of our benefactor brought us hot soup with bread every night. Wladek's father was a shoemaker and he worked for the Germans, so we had to stay in the stable in constant fear. Moreover, when it became still colder, we saw that we would not be able to hide there for long. Wladek, also, told us we would have to leave the space.
In the evening I left the hiding place and went to the house of the Council. The last remaining useful Jews were concentrated there the Jewish police and the Judenrat. At the Council there was a house where several dozen Jews were hiding in the attic. It is impossible to describe in what kind of inhuman conditions these unuseful Jews lived there. Yet I hid there and on the second night Wladek brought my sister and the Koplewicz family. An aktsia took place several hours later and everyone who was found in the attic was taken away in goods cars and did not return.
I remained alive thanks to passing as a nurse with the Jewish police, who were sick with typhus. A few months later (January 1943) an aktsia was again carried out.
The remnant of Jews was taken together to Strzalkowska Street where there was a transport camp. This was the last aktsia in Radomsk.
The Ukrainians watched over us at the aktsia. Ten women came together, paid a Ukrainian 1000 zlotes and he promised to let us out of the Ghetto. When we left, he began to shoot and murdered 8 women. I lay in the snow the whole night. After the liberation I met the second one who had survived Ruchl Ukrent, who is now in Toronto (Canada).
At night I went again to Wladek. He was very frightened because the Germans knew that he had earlier hidden Jews. He drove me in to Czenstochow in a goods car where I entered the Ghetto and worked in the Hasag until the liberation.
My father and mother had 9 children. Those who survived were my father, me and two brothers. My mother Perl and the rest of the children: Sala, Franye, Moishe, Fela, Manja and Rusza perished in Treblinka to which they were deported from the Czenstochow Ghetto.
Radomsk was full of life. The city possessed literary circles, sports clubs, large communal libraries, organized folk courses, professional unions, important aid organizations, and so forth, and so forth.
The political parties were well organized with proud workers. They were always ready for all just struggles completely unified and devoted to defending the smallest and largest interests of ordinary people and [debating] political problems. Honored is the memory of all former party fighters and social workers of our city Radomsk.
When I entered the train, which was supposed to take me to Piotrkow to my military unit, I heard the first appeal against the Jews, from anti-Semitic uncultivated youths. Our unit traveled from Piotrkow to Czenstochow, back through Radomsk. From Czenstochow we went on foot to Gnaszyn to the border. There we prepared trenches and took up defensive positions. On a certain day before the outbreak of the war, I heard frightening screaming as a spy with a bicycle was captured near us. I went out of the trench and immediately recognized the spy this was a young man from Radomsk, named Keselman, who had come looking for his brother Idel Keselman. I removed him from the hands of the soldiers, told him to leave the border area and not to say one word to me.
The largest division of young men from Radomsk was in the first front line near Gnaszyn. Friday, September 1, 1939, exactly at 5 minutes to four in the morning, the first German reconnaissance airplanes appeared. Later the bombers, which flew against Czenstochow, arrived and we heard the heavy bombardment of the city. The next morning, Shabbos, we received an order to pack up and be ready to leave the spot. We withdrew through Czenstochow on the road to Olsztyn, because the entire air around us was already poisoned by bomb blasts and all of the roads shone with great flames. There were also great stoppages caused by the civilian population, which had left their destroyed homes and were searching for a roof over their heads, out of fear of the arriving Nazi murderers. Our shtetl Jews were noticeable on all roads (I met Alter Gancarski and others, for example, in the large Olsztyner Woods).
On a certain day a tall Polish officer appeared in our unit and called out that we are free that each of us should save himself. I look around; from all sides the beasts are storming with their savage tanks. We have
no way out behind and in front of us is a large bridge, which we must try to break through. Arriving on the bridge, the soldiers began falling like flies, because all of the fire was concentrated in our direction. We succeeded in breaking through and I reached a nearby woods. With me were Fishel Graszke, Moishe Fajerman and still more Radomskers.
The Germans later shot up the woods and made a blood bath there. We left the spot and reached Dzialoszyn and later Koniecpol. However, the Germans were already there, too. When I arrived in Jedrzejow, I met Yame Rozenstajn and Berish Gotlib. We had barely greeted each other when a fresh bombardment began. I remember Yame Rozenstajn's shout, Quickly, [get] out of the city; there is nothing to wait for, the earth is burning under our feet. We went into a forest and went through the mountains of Zlota Gora, to Kielce, Suchedniow, Skarzysko, Radom and reached the area of Potocke's Woods. However, here we, too, encountered a fire. Our hearts cried from fear; the whole body congealed. We did not know what to do because it was getting worse and worse. I decided to go further into the woods, because there was no alternative. The trees were the only salvation for me and so I ran from tree to tree until it got very dark. The murderous artillery played with the most savage and the highest caliber tone. However, I no longer paid any attention to it.
When the day began, I came across a military group of Poles. My heart gradually began to lighten. This was the 16thday of the Polish-German war, when German radio announced that three divisions of the Polish army were surrounded in the large Potocke's Woods. In the morning, this Polish unit received an order that all guns must be smashed, all artillery weapons must be destroyed and the horses must be unharnessed and set free. We were surrounded on all sides and I again had to seek a way, on my own to save myself.
The Polish officers opened the chests with money and maps and divided them among the soldiers. Only a few took [money and maps], because a feeling of fear dominated everyone. I was one of the individuals who did take [money and maps] and so one of the officers noticed me. He came over to me and said: I see that you are a skillful person, a strong fellow and are fit; we will organize a larger group of soldiers and try to save ourselves. I gave him my agreement and emphasized that there must be three, at most, four people, because with more people there would be still more worries and difficulties. The officer agreed and chose a capable young Gentile, who would take care of the food. We shook hands that we would stay together and not betray each other. I took the maps and compass, the spy glasses and revolver and we started going in the woods, which was surrounded on all sides by thousand of murderers and heavy tanks.
We lay in a turf bog the whole day, until it became very dark. In the evening we neared the Vistula River. However, the bridge had already been destroyed. From afar, we noticed a small boat and we called the Gentile to us. However, he told us that it would cost 5 zlotes a man to take us over. I took out the money, paid for all three and said to the officer (a lawyer from Katowice): You see, even in time of war, money is of use. You did not want to take any money with you in Potocke's Woods, when we left the army Having enough money with us, we were able to get to Demblin quickly and then to Lublin. On many days and nights, we scarcely ate and did not sleep, in order to escape from the surrounding Germans and arrive more quickly in another area, which was free from Hitler's military.
The bridge on the Bug was already destroyed; I safely crossed the water and arrived in Lubomil. The German murderers had already been there and withdrawn and everyone waited for the Russians to march in. Meanwhile the Ukrainians were in control. Free as a bird, they murdered Jews in the streets and shot at the Poles. I remained standing alone in the middle of the street and thought about my sad fate.
Suddenly a young Pole appeared and said, I will show you where the Germans have hidden weapons that they took from our soldiers. (He mistook me for one of his own Polish soldiers). I went with the young man to the market, to a pharmacy, where there actually lay a mountain of weapons. I took a gun and a knapsack full of bullets and went out into the street. I started shouting in a loud voice: Soldiers, Polish brothers, old and young, go and take weapons in your hands and fight against the wild highwaymen. If not, I will shoot every deserter. My non-Jewish appearance and clear Polish speech worked there was a great commotion, literally a stampede for weapons. We began to shoot the Ukrainian hooligans and the struggle with them lasted for 6 to 8 hours under my command. I paid the Ukrainians for all of my earlier pain and suffering and the city crossed into our hands.
During the struggle, near the train station, from afar I noticed Wolf Birencwajg, who was standing near a wall, his hands in the air. Several Polish soldiers were near him ready to shoot. Seeing this tragic picture, I yelled with my whole energy: Stop! Then I went over with
my co-fighters and freed him. He realized the situation and did not turn to me as a friend. However, later when it became dark, we strongly kissed and cried with great joy. When I remember that day in Lubomil, more than 20 years ago, I do not understand to this day, from where so much courage and such energy came to me after so much suffering and hunger.
We traveled back to the Bug, took out all of the weapons that the Polish army had left and buried them in the woods, not far from the bridge. After, we traveled to Maciejow. There we met the Bugajski brother, Ezriel and Feiwel, who were once in Eretz-Yisroel with their parents, and Yamele Ojfman, too. After a short conversation with them, I left the shtetl and arrived in Kovel, then I went further to Rovne. There I first came across Russian soldiers and their red flags. They greeted us heartily, with great joy and said: From now you are all free, all of you Polish soldiers who fought for your country. We take you to us and our great socialist fatherland, where you will be equal brothers. With these words we were loaded onto wagons and were sent to Soviet Russia through the Polish-Soviet border station Szepietowo and interned in a camp for military prisoners.
On a certain day, talk began in the camp about an exchange with the Germans of imprisoned soldiers. A few days later, Russian Jews appeared and strongly agitated that we, the Polish Jews should remain in Russia. They promised it would be better and pleasant for us: work, money and genuine freedom. Then, I believed them with sincere trust and decided to remain in Russia. Although the longing for home was very strong in me, at that moment I made a clear calculation about what would await me at home, where the Nazi murderers were found. I tried to argue with other friends from Radomsk who were there that they, too, should remain. However, none of them wanted to hear of it. We kissed heartily in parting and wished each other luck. I begged them to give greetings and wishes to my family, comrades and friends and hoped that a time would come when we would see each other again and relate in freedom all of our difficult and tragic experiences. However, fate wanted and decided differently
After liberation from the military camp, I was given work in a sugar factory. The earnings and conditions there were very low. Later I made arrangements for myself privately and in a collective and so I lived for 2½ months. In the month of January 1940, I was on a visit to Kiev and there at the train station I met the son and daughter of the Blumstajn family from Strzalkowska Street. Returning to Szepietowo, I met our whole group, which had been arrested and immediately I, too, was arrested. When I asked for what, I was answered this way: Firstly, here one does not ask questions; secondly, all Poles are spies and traitors. Several days later, we were taken out to the Donbas region, where the large coal mine is found near the Sea of Azov. We were quartered in a shtetl Novotroitskoye in a military prisoner camp. There we worked by day in large stone pits and by night we suffered with inspections and investigations and chicanery by the Jewish and non-Jewish provocateurs.
In the month of May 1940 we left Novotroitskoye. We were taken in closed wagons under heavy guard, through Dolinovka (?), Stalina, Zaporozh'ye, Charkov, Smolensk, Gorki, Kirov to Kotlas and there again quartered in a camp. Kotlas is an independent land, with special laws, a center of prisons and penal camps, which stretch to the frozen sea. This whole area is called the New North and it encompasses Arhangel'sk and Konezer'ye. There are only three months of summer and then the sky is lit by nature with white and bright nights. In contrast, in winter, the skies are covered with dark clouds for 9 months, 21 hours a day (it is light for only three hours a day). The surrounding area for hundreds of kilometers is covered by taigas, over which are scattered and spread workers' camps of various kinds of arrestees and exiles, who worked very hard and lived in very painful conditions, in which we had the occasion to work and live equally with the tens of thousands of other exiles of all ages, of all nationalities, from all lands
On a certain day, when returning from work, I came across Yekil Alferd and we were both delighted two lonely comrades from the former home. We both supported each other and helped each other in our common need and hoped that we would be redeemed. The redemption actually came in 1942, when we were freed on the basis of the Sikorski Agreement about creating in Russia an army of former Polish citizens who would be able to fight against the Nazi-Germans.
Iran Iraq Trans-Jordan Finally Palestine
From far and cold Siberia we traveled through Vjazniki, Sverdlovsk, Kuy'byshev, Chkalov to Totskoye, where the first Polish military unit was formed. I was one of the first soldiers in the unit and, later, Wolf and Natan Witenberg, Heniak Fajerman and Ruwen Yakubowicz (all are now in Israel) joined. We were transported as a Polish unit through Orsk, Samarkand, Tashkent to Uzbekistan. We were quartered in a small town Yakhak in the southern part of middle Asia, not far from the Pamir Mountains, near the Soviet-Turkish border.
Besides our various problems, which we seemed to experience in the Polish army, the Yiddish trouble crept in, too. We knew according to a secret order that on a certain day all of the Jews would be freed from military service; they would remain in Russia, while the Poles would leave the country and go to another country, not far from Eretz-Yisroel. This evil decree was carried out; thousands of Jewish soldiers were freed, allegedly by a health commission. Only a small number of Jews succeeded in evading the edict and I was one of them.
From Russia we were taken to Iran (Persia), and stayed in the city of Pahlavi. There we joined the divisions of the English army and became part of it, as autonomous Polish formations. After our units were equipped, we were transported to Iraq. There I met Natan Witenberg, Dovid Temer and Ruwen Yakubowicz. It was then the time of Passover and the Jewish soldiers had furlough in order to celebrate the yom-tov among the local Jews. It is worth underlining that the Iraqi Jews in Rabat and Baghdad welcomed us with great joy and cordiality despite the ethnic differences between them and us, it felt that there still existed one Jewish people who carry the yoke of exile in common.
We went through Trans-Jordan from Iraq and arrived at the Bnos-Yakov Bridge the border point with Eretz-Yisroel (in 1943). My heart began to beat fast when I saw before me the inscription, Eretz-Yisroel. At that moment I decided that I would first go to the Western Wall and give thanks to Providence that after so much pain and suffering I was worthy to live to come to the land of my forefathers. I fulfilled this resolution before I started to travel around the land, in order to search for friends and acquaintances from my hometown, Radomsk.
On taking my first step in Eretz-Yisroel, I found friendly relations and a warm home with all of the Radomsker landsleit. When I settled down, I first felt the taste of true freedom, brotherhood and equality among Jews in our own land particularly in the aftertaste of everything that had so persecuted me in the course of all of the terrible years that I lived through before arriving in Eretz-Yisroel. First here was it clear to me what I had lived through in my long road of war from Radomsk, through cold Siberia, until I reached the warmth of Eretz-Yisroel.
When I left Radomsk, I left my family, friends and acquaintances there and coming back, I did not find any of them. All were annihilated; their possessions were looted and destroyed and their homes were burned.
Day in and day out, I have wandered over the devastation and have not been able to free myself from the terrible nightmare that has oppressed my spirit.
I felt as if I could not and did not have to leave this dark home of mine. Not only because I first have to absorb in me the whole horrible truth that encircles me, but I must also see, sense and perhaps, perhaps, find, too, some of my family, some of my friends, some of my Radomsker Jews. I have not dreamed of living Jews; I know that this in no longer possible. The enemy has already taken care of this, so that no living Jews would remain. I have searched for dead Jews, Jews murdered and buried somewhere in mass graves. I search for these Jews in order to bring them to a Jewish burial.
The memory of the murdered Jews, buried and the ground returned to its natural appearance would not leave me alone and I searched for so long until I learned that 12 kilometers from Radomsk
Exhumation of the Martyrs after the war (1947).
there was found in the village of Lenk, Krusziner Gemini, a Jewish communal grave.
I did everything I could so that the murdered would have a Jewish burial. In November 1948 the exhumation of the following graves was carried out:
1) Max Klejner with his wife and son; 2) Mrs. Baris; 3) the brother and sister Gwozj 4) Fishel Griszka; 5) my sister Manja Honikman and her child 6) Abraham Zylbersztajn 7) Moishe Zilkowicz.
The same day the murdered Farbman family (the manager of the sawmill) was also brought to a Jewish grave; the father, mother and child were buried on the Jewish cemetery.
The few Jews who stood near the fresh grave, did not lift their eyes to heaven they stood with heads bent down toward the earth with deeply sunken eyes, down to the earth, which now wrapped itself around the bodies of the Jewish martyrs.
While in Radomsk, we successfully discovered the murderer of Mrs. Keselman and her daughter. They were murdered after the war in 1945 by a Pole, who also severely wounded the Keselman youth (he is today in Argentina), who survived then by pretending to be dead.
I discovered the murderer accidentally when a Polish woman complained to me that her husband was constantly persecuted because of his knowledge and connection with the murder of the Keselmans. After an energetic intervention by the local security regime, the murderer was found in a city of the defeated Polish western realm. He served there as a policeman. Keselman's revolver, which he had received from the Radomsker Security Police for self-defense purposes, was found with the murderer. The murderer committed suicide during the investigation.
I was also successful at uncovering, thanks to different endeavors and with the help of Zwi Haze, who today lives in Ramat Gan, the Polish murderer who killed Miss Manje Witenberg and with her, an Opoczner Jewish girl.
Mr. Haze was with the two girls; he was successful in fleeing from the murderer.
The murderer of the two girls was brought before the county court and was sentenced to death in 1948.
Exhumation of the Martyrs after the war (1947)
The first photograph on top was taken during the exhumation of the bodies of the Grejcer Family, who were murdered in the vacant field, 30 k.m. from Radomsk. In the second photograph from the top are the landsleit, who were involved in the mitzvah of bringing the bones of the dispersed victims to a grave at the Radomsker Jewish cemetery. Standing (from the left): Yakov Giszman, Heniek Zylberstzajn, Eliasz Markowicz, Henuk Klejnman, Dovid Sandomierski, Moishe Rubinsztejn, Moishe Janecki, Haim Gwozj.
In the third photograph the same people during the filling in of the graves of the murdered martyrs.
It is superfluous to say that it is impossible to report the heavy oppressive mood that accompanied me on my visit to the city and did not leave me from my first steps in her streets.
It was not only the grief and pain that I felt seeing the Radomsker cemetery this is an understandable and normal feeling, when one leaves the cemetery and falls back in the open arms of effervescent life. This feeling becomes quiet and the sorrow becomes less and slowly forgotten.
Leaving the Radomsker cemetery, the pain does not remain behind its gates; it accompanies you and does not leave you so that you cannot turn away. The gates cannot make you forget the poor lives; just the opposite, it strengthens it more and even the little group of surviving Jews and the few righteous Gentiles who secured this life for their Jewish friends cannot bring you any kind of consolation.
My visit to our surviving brothers in the city strengthened my heartache. I met with people who were, ostensibly, living people and no doctor had established their death. These were people doing everything that a living person does. However, life is far from them, has left them and their Polish neighbors hate them, the not murdered, and in their own eyes they are like the dead.
When I met with the Sandomierskis, Besers, Zilbersztajns and others, to my astonishment, they began to speak to me in Polish and they spoke Yiddish with me only at my request. They took me to the Polish family that saved them. The family made a good impression on me, but they refused my request to photograph them, arguing that they must protect themselves from their neighbors. It was better and safer that no one know that they had rescued Jews from death.
Visiting the cemetery, accompanied by several of the Radomsker Jews, I shook as I remained standing at the mass grave of the Jews who had been shot. The cemetery is wildly overgrown and abandoned. All of the headstones, except the marble ones, which were stolen, are overgrown with tall and wild grass and it is almost impossible to read the names.
I continued to shake as I stood at the graves of Tiferes Shlomoh, Khesed L'Abraham and Knesset Yehezkeil and other tzadikim of blessed memory. At their graves, we said chapters of psalms with heavy hearts and lit candles.
Even now I see before my eyes the burning light on the holy graves, still now I feel the tears that fell from my eyes and I still hear the echoes of Yisgadal Veiyiskadash
At the cemetery in Radomsk in 1960
(Photographed by Moishe Swarc, of blessed memory, during his visit)
Right: The few remaining Jews in Radomsk (H. Zilbersztajn, Yosef Beser, Sara Sandomierski, Dudzia Sandomierski) at the grave of fellow victims at the cemetery
Left: A portion of the cemetery
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