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[Page 270]

The Camp Izavlin

Translated by Miriam Bluestone and Dorothy Flippen

Edited by Rona G. Finkelstein

The forced-labor camp Izavlin was set up near the town of the same name, not far from the station Strogah of the narrow-gauge railroad ( kolikah ), about ten kilometers from Radzymin going toward Warsaw. The work we had to do there was to load peat from the surrounding areas. The camp was administered by Poles and belonged to the Warsaw municipality.

We were sent to work there in the spring of 1942. There were 100 young men in our group. some time later two more groups joined ours: one from the ghetto Wolomin and the second from the ghetto Yadow.

The work was very hard. From morning until night we had to press the peat that had been dug (in its production Poles worked at full wages) into wagons to go to the grinder. I remember how backbreaking the work was, when for example I pushed wagons full of ground peat. In a day's work I made 25 round trips, totaling almost 25 kilometers, and for half of the way the carts were filled with peat weighing hundreds of kilograms. And frequently the cars went off the tracks, because of poor alignment, and great physical strength was required to push them back on.

At the end of such a workday, we returned to our huts and literally fell off our feet from exhaustion. Our wages for this work was 1/2 kilogram of bread a day, 1/4 by day, 1/4 by night, with ersatz coffee, unsweetened, and a little watery soup in the afternoon. Some of us received additional food from home, especially bread, and somehow, with difficulty, we maintained ourselves. As for those who did not receive additional food (in their homes there was no more food), they weakened more and more each day.

To this was added another blow, the murderous oppression of the Polish watchmen who showed us the strength of their arm when one of us lagged behind the rest. At the slightest fault they would beat us mercilessly with sticks.

In producing the peat, the Polish workers got paid by the piece. The more they produced, the more they were paid. And whatever peat was dug had to be worked on the same day, so that it wouldn't spoil. We were not done with our work until we had completed the quantity that was waiting for us. Our work went on even during rainy days, and it was stopped only if the rain was strong and unceasing. Often we were soaked to the skin before the work was finally called to a halt because of a downpour.

Who by Starvation and Who by Poison

Our living quarters were very modest huts with substandard straw and no washing or sanitary facilities whatever. One week after we started work, the Polish head of the camp, Korpt, brought gendarmes, and they slaughtered two Radzymin lads in front of our eyes. They were Vava Warshofsky (whose parents had a store for grinding grain) and Aryeh Shaynman (the son of a widow and the brother of Motl Shaynman, a tailor). After the Germans finished their deed, and the two lads were stretched out dead on the ground, Korpt approached the murderers, shook their hands and thanked them. The 'sin' of these two Jews was that for one day they did not appear for work. When this was discovered, the supervisor struck them with murderously heavy blows, screaming that they should be taken out and shot. At first we thought he was just trying to frighten them, but he made good his threat and shed blood.

In their steps fell additional sacrifices. One died from starvation. Another gathered poisonous mushrooms in the forest, boiled them and ate them. We tried to save him (it was impossible to call a doctor), but in vain. He died suffering greatly. He was a young man from Wolomin or Yadow. (It is hard for me to remember.) So we continued to work during all the summer months, though occasionally our group was permitted to return to the ghetto for a day's visit.

In the meantime on July 7, 1942, big 'actions' began in the ghetto of Warsaw, and then followed the liquidation of the ghettoes in all the small cities in the area. When the turn came of our city Radzymin, we had to flee at 1:00 AM on October 3, 1942, the day of the ghetto's liquidation. A group of about 70 men of the camp Izavlin continued to survive.

We knew that the camp would not survive for long. In the whole area not one ghetto population remained, except for Warsaw, in which remained 35,000 Jews, from the 400,000 there before the start of the 'action.' Despair gripped the refugees who gathered in the camp, everyone trying to find a place of refuge, some with farmers, others as Christians with forged signatures (if they did not look Jewish), and a few of them tried to reach forests in the east of Poland to join the partisans. But for the majority of us there was no place to turn.

I remember well how a native son of our city by the name of Washawsky (who before the war had a clothing store) wished that he could be stricken with a heart attack and die, so that he would not fall into the hands of the Germans.

The camp remained in existence nearly three weeks after the liquidation of the Radzymin ghetto. On the fifth day, October 24 at 4:00 AM, while it was still completely dark, a car came with 12 gendarmes armed with rifles. We awoke immediately. Our tents were set close to a part of the forest, and these Germans reached the tent of the survivors, a distance of 100 meters from us. There, they immediately grabbed the two brothers Wegman from Radzymin who slept in that tent, and their brother-in-law (who is now living in Australia) who was sleeping in the nearby kitchen tent. He succeeded in escaping through the window. Afterward the gendarmes went toward the forest. Others who escaped were: Natan Radziner, Yitzhak Riback, Abraham Shifrin, the two Brumberg brothers, and others. The truth is that all those who were in the tents were able to escape into the forest, even though it is hard to estimate now how many would remain alive and how many would fall into the hands of the Germans in the hunt they planned for the region.

To this day it is hard for me to understand what kept the people in that place. Why didn't those flee who were able to flee? I remember one young man in Wolomin who started to shout from confusion and fear, “Comrades, don't run! You will bring down misfortune on all of you.” Shaya Verk and I made our escape within the leaves of the forest, and we turned in the direction of Warsaw.

They removed the clothes of the victims

About twenty Jews had been caught and shot by the gendarmes. But before this they removed their victims' clothing, so that it would not be damaged by the bullets. One lad escaped naked and wounded. Shaya Verk and I continued to run through the forest until the echo of the firing could no longer be heard. Later we met a lad in Zambrow who came from Yadow. He too had escaped from Izavlin, but when the firing stopped, he had returned to the camp area and hid between the trees. He saw the dead of Izavlin lying on the ground as the Poles rummaged through their pockets, and then the burial of the victims there. Among them were the Radzyminers Moshe Morgenstern, Itza 'the lame', Butshe Kochnowitz, the brothers Moshe and Itza Wegman, Friedman (son of the tailor) and many others.

On our way to Warsaw we stopped at Staroga. At night we entered the home of a pair of Shaya Verk's acquaintances by the name of Ginter, refined and aristocratic people. We ate with them and after a short stay continued on our way. After three days of dangers and mishaps, on 'a road that was not a road,' we changed direction and reached the ghetto Zambrow.

In Zambrow I met several refugees from the liquidated Radzymin ghetto: Sarah Paskowitz and her husband Itza, Rosa Finkelstein and her son Mendel and little daughter Feigele, the two brothers Brumberg and others. I also met some Radzyminers who had jumped from the coach of a train that was taking the Jews to Treblinka, during the liquidation of the ghettos of Radzymin, Wolomin and Ligyonovo. Among them I can remember Anshel Kashmiersky (who had been a horse-trader before the war). From them I learned that the train carrying the Jews of those ghettoes was going to the Treblinka death camp. The very few who were successful in jumping from the train did this between Malkinia and Treblinka, not far from the death camp itself. Anshel Kashmiersky

(Photo, p. 271. The Family Paskowitz)

told us that even in the train on the way to Treblinka there were Jews who still fooled themselves into believing that they were going to work camps, and were not going to be destroyed. Moreover, unreadiness to believe that the Germans were exterminating Jews in such a barbaric manner made some Radzymin refugees who reached Zambrow doubtful of the stories of those who had jumped from the train to Treblinka.

I succeeded in remaining in Zambrow a week, until it came to be that ghetto's turn to be liquidated. We fled in the night together with other Jews, and we started out on a long journey that was dangerous and full of adventures. It was the start on a path of new suffering that lasted two years, until we were freed by the Russian army. I was freed in Kiev, having reached there while it was still under German conquest. Shaya Verk (events of the war had separated us as the front closed in on Kiev) was freed later in the area of Kamenetz-Podolsk.

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