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Reb Moshele the Shochet – Weiser

It is hard for me to describe in words the great tragedy that occurred to the family of Reb Moshele the shochet (ritual slaughterer) Weiser, may G-d avenge his blood. I do not have sufficient words to describe the pain, agony, and tribulations that came upon this fine family.

I was able to obtain details of this story from his grandson, Yankele Weiser, a boy of 16 or 17. He was the son of Zida and Bracha Weiser, and lived in the Stryj ghetto.

About ten days after the great slaughter in Dolina, his good friend and my friend Lusi Zitzer snuck out of the bunker one night. A large number of Jews were hiding in this bunker, who were standing at the threshold of death due to hunger and thirst, since they spent all their time in the large, dark bunker without any food and drink. Lusi decided on his own to go out in the darkness of night to search for any type of food that he would be able to chew and hold in his mouth, or to find a source of water so that he could show it to those who were thirsty. The bunker, in the basement of Dr. Redish, was quite well fortified. Aside from his parents, the following people were there: Lipa Teneh and his wife, Reb Moshele the shochet and his wife Feiga, their son Zida and his wife Bracha who was the daughter of Yosef and Shimon Stern, as well as their own two daughters Chitza and Reizele and their son Yankele, who told me the story. The other young shochet was there, the son of Moshe Eli, as well as Yaakov Hochman, his wife, and his two children, and some other people.

Lusi went around and looked for anything that he could carry. He did not find anything that he could bring back to the bunker in order to sustain the souls who were dying there of hunger and thirst. He estimated the situation with astute eyes. In Dolina there were already no Jews, and he saw no means of escape for those who were hidden. Even though it was possible for him to escape and not to return to the bunker, he did not do so. He decided that if he were to die, it would be best to do so along with everyone who was gathered in the bunker. Due to his great despair, he decided to put an end to the great suffering and the slow death in the bunker.

There were several dear families there, and he was no longer able to tolerate watching their slow demise and great suffering. He did what he did. The Germans came there, discovered the bunker, took out all the half-dead Jews who were there, who could barely even see daylight anymore, and brought them straight to the cemetery to be slaughtered.

Reb Moshe the shochet, as long as his soul was still with him, did not walk but rather ran to greet death. His eyes glowed with happiness. He raised his eyes towards heaven and began to sing the Psalm of David: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – I fear no evil since You are with me” [1]. Singing and reciting Psalms, he was brought straight to the open grave, where the S.S. men were standing at the edge with their machine guns. The S.S. men began to shoot the people with machine guns as they were being brought one by one to the pit.

The bullets injured Yankele in his hand, and he jumped into the pit, keeping near to the edge of it, near the wall. In the meantime, other people fell on top of him. The murderers finished their job and began to cover the pit. Yaakov was able to make a small opening for air. At nightfall, he was able to free himself from the corpses that were on top of him and beside him, and through quick movements, he was able to free himself from the pit. No dog barked and no bird chirped. Here, death reigned.

Yankele, who was lightly injured on his hand, overcame his pain, and by means of an unknown source of strength, he was able to flee quickly from the place and escape to the neighboring forests. He arrived in the Stryj ghetto and told us his sad story. However even here, death pursued him. On one of the days toward the end of October 1942, he was killed in an aktion.

I thought for a great deal of time, over and over again, about the story of the youth Yankele Weiser and what happened to his holy grandfather Reb Moshe Weiser, how he went to greet his death with enthusiasm. Only believers who are descended from believers are able to die in such a holy and pure manner, and to display such deep feelings of belief. This was not the frightened death of sheep brought to slaughter. This was the death of holy people, angels the son of angels, literally.

I heard various other stories that other survivors told me, describing how Jews went to meet their deaths. I heard the story how the Germans discovered a bunker in which the Meir family was hiding. The young daughter of Kutzi Meir mocked and scored the Germans as she walked with strength and honor to meet her death. She laughed at the Germans to their eyes until they began to scream from anger and shame.

The daughter of Moshe Sanes, Mrs. Klara Patrich, hurried to be the first. Holding her husband’s arm, she jumped together with him into the open pit before they had been shot. This was not the death of the fearful, but rather the death of mighty people, mighty people who raised themselves above the armed murderers and greeted death with honor and valor. Even though they could kill our bodies, they could not kill our souls. We are spiritually greater than you are, oh you nation of Goethe and Schiller, you nation of murderers.

Every Jew who lived in the ghetto felt that death stood before him, and that any moment he might meet it. In the meantime, he must take advantage of the time and the day while still alive. “Blessed is G-d day by day” [2] was the slogan of everybody.

Until death would arrive, one had to eat, drink, and somehow sustain the body. One had to live, work, possess a work permit. How could one obtain a work permit? Regarding the obtaining of work permits, and entire industry arose, with connections, favoritism, and payments. The “work permit” became somewhat of a purpose of life for the residents of the ghetto. I was fortunate to be a licensed nurse, and I owned a card permitting me free movement. I could wander around freely everywhere. I worked for some time as a male nurse in the Jewish hospital, as well as a janitor. In these positions, I had some connection with the civic prison. I was able to have constant contact with the poor Jewish prisoners who were imprisoned there, and was able to bring them news about what was taking place in the city, and what was going on with their relatives who were still alive. I was able to find out why they were imprisoned, and what might be done to free them. In the prison, I met Esther Lusthaus and her daughter-in-law Orna Feier with her daughter Ana Maria. We both wept over our bitter fate. I requested that we remain in contact, so that I could know who was imprisoned, and what was going on with the people who were imprisoned. I knew that Dr. Nunek Lusthaus, who worked as a doctor in the village of Vytoicha near Bolekhov was searching for a way to escape from there and go to the Stryj ghetto. He preferred to be among his suffering brethren rather than in the gentile “Garden of Eden”. However, as he was on the route from Bolekhov, before he arrived in Stryj, the German murderers captured him. They brought him to Stanislawow, and he was murdered there by Mueller. His mother, wife, and children were transferred to a prison in Stryj. Yaakov, the son of Bendet Yampel, worked hard to obtain freedom for the Lusthaus family. He succeeded in collecting all sorts of items of value to be used to redeem the prisoners – to free the family. However in the meantime, the notice came of the liquidation of a certain number of Jews from the ghetto, and the first were to be those in the prison.

In order to extricate themselves from the tribulations of hell that awaited everyone imprisoned in the ghetto, each person tried to obtain a few cyanide capsules. People would spend their last coin and exchange foodstuffs needed for the sustaining of life in order to obtain a small portion of that fatal poison, which would “rescue and save” from the physical and spiritual torture and put and end to the tribulation.

Jews who obtained that potent poison tied it around their necks as an amulet, and did not let it off of their bodies even for a moment. There was a great demand for this commodity, and there was even a “black market”. There were forgeries as well. On numerous occasions, someone would give all of his money and property in order to obtain a tablet, and at the end all they would have would be a small forged tablet, a simple saccharin tablet.

In order to find refuge from the constant searches before and after each episode of extermination, the Jews invented all sorts of gadgets and devices to help them build hiding places, and in particular to camouflage them. Some people became expert in this area. Everyone put forth his best effort in order to secure the hiding place, and in particular to hide from an evil eye. A few of these Jews who became expert at the building of hiding places became well known to the residents of the ghetto. People would pay good money in order to have a hiding place built for themselves and their families. According to my memory, the following people were expert in the building of such bunkers: Yankel the son of Bendet Yampel, Buni Angelman the husband of Tziso, Herman Laufer the grandson of Efraim Rechtschaffen, Meir Laufer the son of Yaakov Laufer, and Avraham Yechezkel Zimmerman the grandson of Sashi Feiga. It is worthwhile to describe one such bunker in order to illustrate the devices used for camouflage and in order to give the readers and idea of what was such a bunker.

In the Stryj Ghetto, on 14 Lvovska Street, in the home of Welian-Milsteon, the following families lived at the side of the lot where there was once a shoe store: Leibush Feldman and his two daughters Tzili and Minka; Buni Angelman and his wife and four year old daughter Edzia; Buni Milstein; and myself. We all “lived” in one small room. The following people were cramped into the small kitchen: a relative of the Milstein family Mrs. Sara, her daughter Chana and son Moshe who jumped off a moving train on its way to the crematoria, and as he fell he broke a leg and remained alive. There was also a young and pleasant boy with us, Moshele Hauser.

In the room that faced the yard, Magister Hesi Hoffman lived with his elderly, ill mother and sister Libchia. Once in a while another guest came to us to spend the night, Yaakov Yampel.

In the large, enclosed yard there was also a lavatory, which was next to a small shed. A deep pit was dug underneath it, and we placed thick wood shavings and boards over it. We covered them with the earth that was dug from the pit and made a strong ceiling. Next to the wall we left a small hole for air. The entry into this bunker of refuge was through the lavatory. We would lift a wooden plank from the floor and enter the bunker via a narrow wooden staircase. In the shed there was all kinds of junk, broken vessels and chairs. It was in disarray. There was a large, strong lock on the door of the shed, and it was kept lock. We conducted a practice session for entry and exit to the pit, and we calculated that it would take five minutes for all residents of this house to enter the bunker.

This was the appearance of a typical refuge bunker, in which many Jews would live and hide. Some would live there for months at a time, and their eyes would become dim, for they were not accustomed to daylight and sunlight. There were those whose backs became stooped since they were required to live in their bunker with bent backs at all times, due to the low height of the bunker. Those who lived in bunkers for long period of time would go out at night to attend to their bodily needs, and in particular to search for a small amount of food and water to sustain themselves, and the souls of those who lived with them in the bunker.

The residents of a bunker were like one family. The tribulations united them, and they all supported each other and attempted to help each other in a brotherly fashion.


In the Stryj Ghetto

At the end of December or the beginning of January 1943, the Germans in Bolekhov began to gather together the men who were fit to work into various camps. The old people and children were either already killed, or were hidden. The most important thing was that we did not expose before their eyes any young person, child, or old person. At around the same time, the Rabbi of Bolekhov, Rabbi Shlomo Perlow, and his entire family were brought into the Stryj ghetto. The residents of the ghetto, including the Judenrat, treated the Rabbi of Bolekhov with exceptional reverence and respect. All of them took comfort in their hearts, and hoped that in the merit of this holy, righteous person that was now with them in the camp they would merit life. However, the situation immediately turned against them bitterly. The situation worsened daily, and every movement was at the risk of one’s life. We discussed among ourselves that all of the curses of the reprimand [3] fell upon our heads, and even more so. Nevertheless, people did not lose their Divine image and attempted to help each other, and especially to help the stumbling and weak.

One day, a ray of light shone in the camp in the form of a young woman by the name of Blumka Horowitz-Laufer. After the terrible slaughter in Dolina, she succeeded in saving herself and returning to Rozniatow. There she lived for six months in a haystack that was owned by Stash Jurzko, who saved Jews. This was at the edge of the forest near Rozniatow. Twice a week, Stash would bring food up to her by a ladder in order to sustain her, so that she would not perish of hunger. On one occasion, children were playing near the hiding places, and they entered into the haystack to hide, and noticed the form of a person there. They immediately told this to Stash, who understood the situation, and speedily transferred her, with the assistance of her friend Duzia Dodenko, to the Stryj ghetto. It his hard to describe in words what happened to those gathered around when they heard her name from the non-Jew. I don’t have the ability to describe the shock to you. Before us there stood a skeleton of a person, and it was difficult to figure out if she was alive or dead. She lost the power of speech during the six months when she did not utter a word from her mouth. She was not able to look into the light of the world, and she always kept her eyes closed. Her words could barely be heard due to her great weakness. A few weeks passed until she was able to utter a comprehensible sentence from her mouth, and until she began to eat her food with zest. Slowly she returned to her strength, and turned into one of G-d’s creatures.

Stash and Duzia were indeed among the righteous gentiles. They advised us to organize ourselves into partisan groups, to hide in the forests and to fight against the Germans with weapons. Stash advised me to choose a group of 10-15 people who would be willing to hide on his property and to fight against the Germans when the time came. He was prepared to set up a bunker for refuge not far from his house – at the edge of the forest, and to provide food and any other requirements of such a group. When I came with their advice to Dr. Kahana and two other friends, who still had some financial means for such an endeavor, they told me that it was forbidden to believe such a person, to place oneself in his care and to pay cash. I defended him, for I was convinced that one could trust this good man who wanted sincerely and honorably to help us. However, nothing came of the meeting. His last words to me are etched in my memory: “When you find yourself in a bad situation, turn to me and I will help you!” [4]

At the same time, Hirsch Ratenbach, the son of David and Mamtzi Ratenbach of Dolina, arrived in the ghetto. I was a friend of his from my youth. We studied together at the Dolina gymnasia. I found out from him that in Dolina there were Jews from various different places of the region, who were hiding there with the help of the brothers Stach [5] and Heryn Babi. On several occasions Hirsch Ratenbach endangered his life by going to remove Jews from the ghettos of Stryj and Bolekhov and bringing them to the forest. Hirsch made a plan to remove the rabbi of Bolekhov from the ghetto, but in the meantime someone reported him, and he barely escaped with his own life. Thus ended the attempts to save the rabbi from the ghetto.


Rabbi Shlomo Perlow, the Rabbi of Bolekhov

may G-d avenge his blood

I had the special merit to spend time with him every Friday afternoon at a time when the ghetto was quiet. I had the honor of being his assistant, bringing him to the bathhouse that was next to the Jewish hospital. During the evenings, I searched for opportunities to enter his residence and spend time with him. There I was able to meet people who brought with them news about what was taking place in other ghettos. The days of Passover were approaching and many began to worry about how they would observe a Seder and fulfill the commandment of eating of matzo. The Rabbi gathered nearly 100 people in his house, and each one received a half of a piece of matzo, which was completely kosher. I to this day wonder about from where he was able to obtain the matzos.

It is difficult to describe the emotions of those who were gathered at the Seder. Sighs and weeping were heard. A sea of tears were shed and filled the cups of agony. Everyone recalled his relatives who were no longer alive, and did not even merit burial. The fear was great that the Germans might fall upon them, since they knew that it was a Jewish holiday, and might wish to take revenge on the Jews in their manner. Watchers were set up in the corners and streets so that word would travel fast if anyone strange was approaching the ghetto, and those present at the Seder might be alerted. The guards stood at every street corner: Lvovska, Batorgo, Luna-Perk, Koshnievsla, and Berko Joselvitza. Just as those who reclined in Bnei Brak [6], we sat all night, observed our meager Seder, and planned about how to escape from the ghetto. A few advised to go out to those who were already in the forests. Others advised crossing the Hungarian border, for they had heard that the situation there was still not as bad as here. The brother of the son-in-law of Rabbi Hersheli, an intelligent and astute young man, brought with him detailed plans about how to cross the Hungarian border. Some people attempted to follow this plan. The first group of twenty people who set out, including Dr. Schiff, were captured and shot on the spot.

I approached the rabbi and told him about my friend Hirsch Ratenbach, who was hiding in the forests of Dolina, and I asked him as to whether I should follow in his path. The rabbi took my hand into his, and with great warmth squeezed my hand and said: “The accursed enemy will not succeed in killing everybody. Go my son, go and succeed in your path…”

Aside from my work in the hospital as a male nurse and disinfector, I also worked twice a week at laying the tracks at the Stryj railway station. My work there included a half a day of working with mortar and bricks, and a half a day as a nurse administering first aid to those who were injured from the work. My infirmary was in a hut made of wooden planks and worn out sheets of metal. It had a sign saying “First Aid”. When I worked on the railway tracks, I often had opportunity to walk through the “Aryan” streets, and how painful was it to my heart to see how life went on quietly and with security, as if nothing was taking place. The children were frolicking, with laughter in their mouths. Girls would walk slowly through the streets wearing splendid dresses. I remembered what they were doing to our own infants and children, what they did to the Jewish youth, the types of strange deaths that they inflicted upon them. My heartache was often more severe than my physical suffering which I suffered every day.

Once, as I was crossing an Aryan street, I ran into a group of children who were playing the game “botzea aktia”, that is to say, a game about the killing of Jews. They held small wooden swords in their hands, and with laughter, they would capture a child and shout at him “Juda raus!” As we passed by, they mocked us, laughed at us, and pelted us with stones. The parents who witnessed the “might” of their children beamed with pride. When I returned to the camp, I said in my heart: “I am no longer going to perform this work.”


The Escape from the Camp

At exactly this time, an order arrived at the heads of the camps to provide 100 Jewish slaves to work at the pottery factory in Bolekhov. A competition arose amongst the Jews, for everyone wanted to be among the 100 “fortunate” people who would leave here, and the price reached 20 dollars a person. I did not have that sum and I could not hope to be among the fortunate ones. Dr. Kahana, who was responsible for the workforce in the camp, did not want to send me. This was not due to my lack of money. He saw me as an important worker in the ghetto, and attempted to convince me as much as possible to continue my work in the ghetto, and not to be in a hurry to leave it.

Everyone knew that I had no desire to continue with my work, and that I was looking for a way to leave the ghetto. Dr. Allerhand, the vice director of the Stryj camp who was responsible for fulfilling the quota of 100 workers for the Bolekhov camp, hinted to me to be ready and to present myself at the gathering place of those who were going. Prior to my going, I went to the home of the rabbi in order to receive a parting blessing from him. He took my hand and whispered quietly. I understood that this was a prayer and a blessing for my journey. He patted my shoulder and said: “Go in peace, and may you merit salvation.” I barely refrained from weeping. Many of my friends in the camp accompanied me to the gathering place.

Two trucks covered with tarpaulin were waiting for us at the gathering place. One of the drivers was a good acquaintance of mine. He was the driver of Archie Berger Bil, an intelligent gentile. After a few words that I exchanged with him, he immediately understood my intention. He took my personal belongings, placed me in the spare tire compartment, and covered me with sheets and his raincoat. Thus did I arrive at the camp without being enumerated, and without them knowing about my existence. Shoka Weidman helped me greatly there. He introduced me to the Jewish director of the camp, Rumek Samual, the son-in-law of Leizer Sheinfeld. He alerted a few of my friends about my arrival. Magister Zalman Shuster, the grandson of Mishel Artman, as well as the dentist Bomek Hamburger of Voynilov came to me. They concerned themselves with obtaining a work permit for me.

I went out daily with the people who were going to work, and returned with them. Many friends and acquaintances met me at work, including Sasha Gelobter, Yenti Freudenberg, Kalman Sastritan, Shlomole Spiegel, and others. Mrs. Riva Weidman brought me something to eat almost every evening. She worked in a different camp and went out from there via all sorts of cracks and breaches in order to provide me with a bit of food.

On Sunday morning, July 6, 1943, they woke me up from my sleep and told me in great confusion that the entire camp was surrounded by Gestapo men and Ukrainians. I did not even realize what was happing when they hauled me out in my leather coat to the courtyard. I was informed that the Germans were gathering up the workers who arrived there from the Stryj ghetto, apparently to murder them.

To my good fortune, at that moment the Jewish commander of the camp, Rumek Samual, arrived and told the Ukrainian militia man who hauled me out to allow me to return to my dwelling to get dressed. He winked to me with his eyes, so that I should know to what he was referring. Instead of returning to my dwelling, I hid under the planks of the roof. I had a chance to tell Blumka Kalman of Stratyn to remove the ladder and place it in another place. Within a moment, I was caught in a small, narrow place under the boards and the planks, and there I rested. I heard people entering the house and searching, and they began to ascend the roof. A shiver passed over my body, but I rested silently, and in the dark they did not see me, and descended.

The Germans gathered that day all of the 100 men who were transferred from the Stryj ghetto. They added to the group all the members of the local Judenrat and other “extraneous” workers. There were 300 people in total. They were brought to the Jewish cemetery and shot there into a pit that had been prepared the previous day.

After dark, the Germans and their Ukrainian accomplices left, and those that remained alive continued in their normal work.

I descended from my hiding place, and along the way, I met Shlomole, who brought me some sort of coat. Susi Gelobter brought me some bread, a bit of sugar, and shoes. The brought me through a tortuous route to the edge of the forest, to a place where there were already some Jews. These included Yechezkel Zimmerman the son of Meir Zimmerman, Meir the son of Yaakov Laufer, Hesio Rosenman, and Barron and his sister from Kalush. I wish to make note of the parting words that Rivtzi Nussbaum, Yaakov Meir, and others said to me: “Go Shaika, and be saved. Then there will be an extra bullet for us”…


In the Forests of Dolina

Those that fled had the intention of hiding in the forests of Dolina and remaining there until the redemption would arrive. However, who would show them the way, and who knows the paths through the thick and dangerous forests? I was given the task, and it was up to me to be the guide for a group of people who had escaped from the camp into the thickness of the forests. I had to make plans for living, how to go on, and how to exist. Every one of us and some implement, one had a knife and another had a thick stick. Someone had a gun with bullets. We decided among ourselves that we would be a united group. We would go together, die together, and fight together.

At sundown we went on our way. We walked for about an hour and a half, and then suddenly, from a side road, a young, armed gentile met us, and told us, getting to the point directly: “I know who you are and to where you are going, and I wish to save you. Don’t go further along this route, go along this other route, so that you will not meet up with the bands of Germans and Ukrainians who are swarming through the paths and ambushing Jews…”

I thanked the young Pole, and told him that I had a clear plan, and we know the route that we are taking. The meeting between the young Pole and us was exactly at the crossroads, and, despite the danger that might be, I decided to go along the path which he pointed us to. We continued along the paths until we reached a railway crossing, when we suddenly noticed by the light of the moon that a shadow of a man was accompanying us the entire way. Since we were six in the group, and the shadow was of a single person, we quickly overcame our fear. We stood and called for him to approach us. It became clear to us that this was a Ukrainian worker who was on vacation from his work. He was one of the local residents, and he knew the routes very well. He told us that a few days previously, on June 6, 1943, a terrible aktion took place in the Stryj ghetto and very many people were killed there. We asked him to guide us. This was too far a deviation from his route home, but with a bit of urging, and a small “gift” he was convinced, and began to run with us along the path until we reached the banks of the Bistritza River, where there was a large bridge. Then he left for his home.

As we walked quietly across the bridge, a man armed with a gun approached us. When he saw that we were a large group, he was afraid and positioned himself at the edge of the bridge. We continued on our path across the bridge to the other shore, and reached the main road that leads to Dolina.

We were tired from all the exertion of that night. We turned off the road and entered an open field, where we all fell down into the haystacks and fell into a deep sleep.

Some sort of unknown internal power awakened me from my deep sleep, and I began to awaken the rest of the group. We continued along the main road to Dolina when it was still quite dark.

We already arrived at the edge of Brodotzkov, a neighboring village of Dolina, when suddenly a pocket flashlight shone in our eyes. Shivers passed through us all, for we had fallen into a trap, directly into the arms of the Germans. After a few moments of confusion, we saw a form hiding in the bushes. The man was holding a flashlight in one hand, and in the other hand an automatic rifle pointed directly at us, and he began to speak to us in Ukrainian: “Myself Stas and my brother Heryn Babi help Jews who are escaping from the Germans. I have just come from the Stryj ghetto. There I was on a special mission from Regina Pilzen of Kalush, to bring her brother and two others from the Stryj ghetto. One of them is Shaika Lutwak.”

From his words, we could see that the person was speaking the truth, and was sincere. He certainly was looking for monetary reward – but he was true to his task. To convince us further he said: “I am waiting here for a man by the name of Leizerke Schiffman who went to the village to prepare food for us, and afterward, we will return to the forest.”

I was a friend of Leizerke Schiffman from the time that we were in Dolina, and I knew him well. We were still talking, when he appeared before us with a full pack on his back. When he saw me, he fell upon me, hugged and kissed me, and sighed loudly.

We all joined them and entered the thick forest with them. They led us until we arrived to a valley filled with pine trees, which at one time was the summer retreat of Yaakov Laufer. In that wonderful place, filled with trees and small creeks flowing among the rocks of the forest, Yaakov Laufer (the husband of Blumka Horowitz), as well as his sister and brother Leibele Linek had a wonderful summer resort. Leizer and Heryn gave us instructions about how to conduct ourselves in the forest. They informed us of the secret password of the group, and told us how to make arrangements for ourselves in that place. Along with this, he alerted the other residents of the forests who were scattered around in all sorts of secret places that a new group of Jewish refugees had arrived, with Shaika Lutwak among them.

Who has the ability, who has the pen to be able to describe to you our feelings as we rested in the thick forest, in the splendid grass between the pine trees, with the wonderful mountain air blowing, as if indeed we were here on vacation rather than being refugees from the sword who were fleeing from the fear of death? I had the feeling that the blessing of the rabbi of Bolekhov was accompanying us. As we were getting our bearings in our new place, various residents of the forest came to us. The first to come to us was the head of the group, Heryn Babi, who spoke to us pleasantly, as a father would speak to his son. Regina Pilzen arrived with him. She brought us bread and potatoes. After them came Moshe Klein (who today lives in the United States), Avraham Haber, Srulka Helfer, and various other people who I did not know. One of them brought a pot of soup with him. Is it possible to describe what it was like to eat some cooked food after we had not eaten for two days? This was a hot cooked dish that was brought by comrades in the midst of the thick forests surrounding Dolina.

The next day, after the customary payment of “kashim” [7], that is to say dollars of pure gold, Heryn began to guide Hesio and the two Barrons to the forests of Perehinsko, where Hesio’s brother-in-law and other relatives were. They wanted to be together in the forest. Yechezkel Zimmerman and Meir Laufer returned to the camp in Bolekhov to fetch from there some necessary items and perhaps to bring as well some friends to the forest. However, their luck did not hold out. They were captured and murdered on the spot.

Heavy rain began to fall in the forest, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The pouring rain soaked our already damp clothes, and penetrated to the marrow of our bones. Here we were, with our teeth chattering, shivering from the cold, with nowhere to flee and nowhere to hide. From every branch, raindrops were falling onto us, which penetrated the soul and made us feel like pieces of rags. However, our friends did not allow us to remain out in the torrential rain without protection for too long. A few of them came to us to bring us to their “den”. It was deep in the ground, with broken pieces of wood and branches as a roof. This roof frame was covered with earth and many branches, which prevented the rain from penetrating. There were wooden couches which served as sleeping accommodations. One could also sit comfortably on them. We had all our necessities taken care of at this time.

Another group of Jews lived not far from us. This group included Yosef Frischer of Dolina, Chana Deutscher, and a few other people from various places. They already had a connection with a certain gentile from the area, who brought them food in return for a good sum of money. Moshe Klein was the “expert” in finding sources of food in a variety of manners. On occasion, he would bring a live calf or twenty heads of poultry in his sack, which he succeeded in obtaining in a variety of manners.

I attempted to help out in all sorts of ways, including the maintenance of cleanliness, cooking, and serving. I became like one of the family to the residents of the forest.

At that time, expulsions and massacres were taking place in all the cities of Galicia, and Jews who were fleeing for their lives came to the forest from all sorts of places. With such a situation, Heryn began to become jealous of his brother Stas, who also had some Jews under his care. He decided to enlarge his “kingdom” and his areas of shelter, and he began to gather any Jew who came by, of course in return for money, silver, copper, diamonds, or any other objects of value. Generally, anyone who would flee to the forest would bring with him all sorts of necessities and items of value in order to be able to meet any circumstance that arose. He would gather these items for “safekeeping”. There were those who did not desire his protection in the forest, and went out into independent groups. These included the Pilzens, Helfer, Haber, Izi Lindenbaum, Velvel Kofalis-Kuperschmid, Yeshua Teichman of Dolina, Zelig Eber and his sister from the village of Rybno, the two Feier brothers of Stryj, Shlomo and Zani Ratenbach with their two nephews, Sobel of Stryj, and Chanale the daughter of Abramche Zilberberg.

In Heryn’s group there were a few other people who I still recall: Shaika and Yanka Shrager, Muni and his sister Fanka Kandler, Mondik Zahen and Rita, Karel Ister, Fitzer, Leib and Dvora Schvitzer of Stanislawow, Wilekkowel of Nadworna, Wilech Yasiunech Garfinkel of Stryj, Fred Kowaler, his sister Lotti, and their mother, Desio Zilberman-Landsman and his grandchild of Kalush, Aharon and his wife Regina Walkentreiber, Hirsch Katzman, Dontzi Hochpelzen of Zawirona, Dr. Neuhauser of Dolina, Dr. Stern and his wife and daughter, Pinio Stern of Mizon, the dentist Schindler and his wife of Bolekhov, Max and Sabina Katz of Stryj, Shmuel Shlakes, and Shmuelko Teitelbaum the son of the rabbi of Neisands. I got to know the latter at the rabbi’s house during the time of the occupation of Dolina. Afterwards, I met him many times at the home of the rabbi of Bolekhov in the Stryj ghetto. He was also a participant in the Passover Seder at the home of the rabbi of Bolekhov.

Now I met him again in the forest. He told me that, when he was still in the Stryj ghetto, his job in the workgroup was to bury in a large communal grave anyone who was killed, or who died via any other means of death. Once, when he was busying himself with burial, he suddenly came across the body of the rabbi of Bolekhov, Rabbi Shlomole Perlow, may G-d avenge his blood. He endangered his life and secretly removed the body. When he finished burying the rest of the dead, he began with holy solemnity to take care of the body of the rabbi. He washed the body, changed it into new clothes, dug a separate grave, buried the rabbi in that grave, and recited Kaddish afterwards, quietly and with holiness.[8]

When the liquidations of the ghettos and camps became more frequent, as has been noted, the number of refugees who fled for their lives into the forest increased. Meirka Turteltaub and his son Itzil Leizer were among those who arrived. I will later tell about his might and the beneficial service that he provided. Slowly the life in the forest began to take a regular pattern. The residents began to acclimatize to the life of quiet and fear in the forest. There was enough food, for some people were dedicated to this task and insured that there would be a sufficient supply of food. These were strong young men who were prepared to go out for any need. These people included our own Wilosh Weinfeld, Meir Turteltaub, and others. Hershka Ratenbach maintained a list of gentiles who had on occasion caused trouble for the Jews of the area. These people were the targets of the group of people who concerned themselves with the food supply. They would fall upon them at nights, and forcibly obtain food from them. The gentiles of the area were afraid of the Jewish “partisans” who lived under the protection of the brothers Stas and Heryn Babi. All types of legends developed about the deeds, caprices, and bravery of these partisans. It was told that their number was 10,000, perhaps even more.


High Holy Day Prayers in the Forest of Dolina

The summer passed, and autumn arrived, with its days of rain, cold, and dampness. We were before the High Holy Days of the Jewish people. The two days of Rosh Hashanah passed by with sighing and weeping. Everyone made his own accounting before the Holy One Blessed Be He silently, with stifled weeping. However, when the great and holy day, Yom Kippur, arrived, all the people of the forest gathered together, without exception, both the observant and secular. All of them felt the need to appear before their Creator together.

Our prayer leader was David Lieberman. The efforts of Reb Moshe Kalman should be remembered for good, for he found one Machzor (holiday prayer book) which the cantor used. The entire congregation listened and repeated the words after him, word for word. The prayers took place in Stas’ yard. The women somehow found some candles, and lit them carefully so that there would not be, Heaven forbid, a fire.

It is difficult to describe that Kol Nidre[9] night in the forest, the great weeping of the pitiful congregation of Jews who were being pursued up to their necks. Everyone remembered their relatives, parents, children, or family members who were slaughtered, murdered, or killed by all sorts of unusual forms of death by the Germans or their Ukrainian neighbors. The prayer leader Reb David attempted to pray slowly, so that we all could follow along and pray with him. However often, his prayers were interrupted by the great weeping of the congregation who could not hold back the tears, which were choking their throats.

We did not all understand the meaning of the prayers; however, it was not necessary to understand the words or to translate them. Reb David, with his prayers, screams, sighs, and gestures of his hands toward the heavens, expressed exactly the meaning of the words, and we all felt as if we were saying the words ourselves. We felt at this time as if our prayers were certainly ascending and penetrating the Heavens, and He Who Dwells in the Heaven should hear our prayers, save us, and open up for us the gates of mercy.

The Yom Kippur prayers in the forests of Dolina penetrated far beyond the forests, all the way up to the Throne of Glory, and even perhaps beyond.

Translator’s Footnotes

  1. From Psalm 23. Back

  2. From Psalms 68:20. Back

  3. The ‘tochacha’, reproof or reprimand, refers to two chapters of the Torah which outline the punishments awaiting the Jewish people if they do not follow the word of G-d. The two chapters of tochacha are in Leviticus 26, starting from verse 14 (Bechukotai Torah portion), and Deuteronomy 28, starting from verse 15 (Ki Tavoh Torah portion). Back

  4. It is not clear to who this is referring, but it seems to be the words of Stash. Back

  5. Here, the name is Stach, but in all subsequent references, it is Stas. The first occurrence may have been a typo, or alternatively, the two versions may be alternative nicknames for the same person. Other names in this section are also presented with inconsistent spelling in the Hebrew text. Back

  6. A reference from the Passover Haggadah (liturgy book for the Seder), which described how five great sages of old reclined at a Seder all night in the city of Bnei Brak. Back

  7. I am not sure of the meaning of this word here. Kash in Hebrew is straw or hay – kashim would be the plural. More likely, the word has some Polish or Ukrainian significance. Back

  8. There are various regulations that are followed in preparing a body for burial in Jewish law. These include washing the body, dressing it in shrouds, and placing it in a coffin for burial. The Kaddish is the prayer recited after burial, as well as at various places in a religious service. It has taken on the connotation of being a prayer for the dead. Back

  9. Kol Nidre is the opening prayer of Yom Kippur. Back

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