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[Page 617]

Destruction of Siedlce

 

Out of the avalanche

by Shlomo Rosen

Translated by Mira Eckhaus David

Parts from his book that was published in the series “from the Moked”, published by Am Oved, Tel Aviv, 5704,
translated by Haim Tratkover. The author fell in a battle for the defense of Kfar Etzion.

 

The horrible Thursday

A shiver goes through my body when I remember this day.

It was on Thursday, September 7, the seventh day of the outbreak of the war. While I was lying down in my bed, I heard a loud bomb. The bombings got me out from the bed, but I became indifferent to everything that happened. Before I went out, I looked, as usual, at my schoolbag, which was lying in the corner, packed from the moment I was preparing to make an Aliya to Eretz Israel. It was packed and ready for the ride, so I could put it on my shoulder at any moment and hit the road.

More than once I thought that there was no point in holding my belongings in the schoolbag, while I was sure that it was not possible to travel to Eretz Israel. This time, too, I thought of unpacking the schoolbag and forgetting everything that had happened, but this time I postponed it for another day.

Outside, it is said that the Germans are constantly bombing our city, because Siedlce is on the main road of Warsaw refugee escape. It is said that after the evacuation of Warsaw, also the government that was in the city left on its way to Brisk. Siedlce is suffering, therefore, because it is on the main road of the evacuation to the east.

It's about ten-thirty. I stand by a loudspeaker and listen to the news about the status of the war. Suddenly I heard a noise of aircraft engines and the crowd fled in panic. Only after all the people have been hidden, who is in the shelter and who is in the house, the alarm signal was heard in delay.

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I could find a shelter behind the concrete gate of the house, where the radio speaker was, but it was a small, one-story house, and I wanted to hide in a big house. The few houses that were destroyed by the previous bombings at the back of the city were all one-story or small wooden huts and I was tempted to believe that a big house was a better shelter. When a bomb falls on a large building, you have time to escape through the lower floors, until the upper floors begin to collapse. So, I ran to a large house, at 44 Shenkovitz Street, and hid in the hallway. There were about 15-20 people there with me. I remember the young woman with the baby in her hands and the black chimney sweep, that a rope was wrapped around his waist. The chimney sweep, a young Christian, was known to me from his visits in our house to clean the chimneys. He stood and I could watch his movements. I remember: he came running to the hallway, where we all stood, looked at the ceiling and moved aside, so he will not be beneath the iron beam that held the ceiling. I realized his concern and thoughts and I looked at the ceiling as well, as if asking for a safer place. At the end I decided to stay where I was, in the middle of the hallway, in the first floor, while my hand is holding the back rest because I thought in case a bomb will fall on the house, I could run away to the exit in front of me. I did not have time to finish thinking about it when hail-bombs slammed around and before I managed to understand what is happening, - Bang! - A bomb fell on our house. Neither I nor anyone else could escape though my senses kept clear, but I did not have the power to do anything, or even to move from my place, because within one moment the whole house collapsed on us and all of us were in a stifling darkness. I saw nothing around me. I just felt a terrible dust and my hands felt fractures of bricks and wooden planks and other non-recognized materials. My hands tried to look for the exit but without success. I struggled to get rid of what was blocking the path ahead of me but I could not move a thing. All my work was for nothing because darkness was all around me. Everything my hands touched could not be moved. I was about to faint and after a while weak voices reach my ears.

Someone was shouting: “Help!”. Another voice shouted “Shema Israel!”. A woman was weeping and shouting loudly: “My children!” and the voice of a gentile was heard:

“Jesus, for God's sake!”. A baby cried in fear, a hoarse voice repeated a name, probably of a relative or of a child. And the voices mingled within the living tomb and reached my ears as if they were across the wall. I realized that all the people that were in the hallway were covered in an avalanche just like I was. What should I do? Despair strikes me. Everything around is pressing on me and there is no space to move around. I will be buried here; I will die alive under these ruins. My whole life passed before my blind eyes, and I asked myself: Is this really the end of my life? Did I leave my friends and relatives before I made an Aliya just

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to be buried alive in a living grave? Did I receive permission from my group to make an Aliya for this purpose? I did not understand anything and together with the general choir of cries for help of all the people, which the avalanche covered, I also whispered words that expressed my bitter feelings at that time. Just as unintentionally I came to the people, which were covered by the avalanche on 44 Shenkovitz Street, the same way my redemption arrived. Something moved above my head and suddenly a small hole opened near me, through which I was able to see the daylight again. I felt like a blind man whose eyes were suddenly opened to see, someone in front of me was moving, climbing and crawling to the side from which the light came. It was the window in the corridor next to the stairs, where you go up from the concierge's room to the first floor. Through this window, apparently, someone saved himself, and when he came out, the rescue door opened for us as well. I helped the person that was before me and blocked the way, to climb and get out and after he cleared my place, I moved too. I climbed over objects I did not know what they were. A mix of brick fragments and wood, various soft things, maybe limbs of dead or injured people, my head bumped into something, my hat fell as a result. I didn't want to look for it from the fear of dragging something that would cover me again. I was drawn to the hole, from which the light came, another climb, a foray and I was rescued. I do not know how long I was under the avalanche; I guess ten minutes, because more than that I could not live without air. When I came out alive, I did not know what to do. First of all, I ran with all my strength as far away as possible from the place of destruction. I passed the passageway of 44 Shankvitz Street to Pinkana Street, and from there I crossed the alley Shpitlana, and only then I heard and realized that the bombing was still going on and houses around me were collapsing. I did not know what was better for me, whether to run on or hide again by “a protective wall” as before. I have seen people rushing like forest animals, their eyes protruding and their faces were strange and all looking like savages because of the layer of material on them and on their clothes. Suddenly an explosion was heard from the hospital street. I saw: Some people are lying on the sandy ground in the street (it was at the time the roads were repaired), I was also lying with my face down, not to see the bomb fall on me, but rather to die immediately. Someone at the gate calls us and demands that we'll enter and not lie down in the street outside. A tall man, who was hiding in the same gate, shouts at us in a loud voice, in a “true” Polish, with lots of curses, to hide in the entrance of the gate. I run into the gate and from there to the yard, outside, because I'm afraid of the “shelter” that the house will provide me, if a bomb falls on it. They do I not let me stand outside again. I tell them what happened to me. In the yard I see few more people with black and terrible faces just like mine. They probably also escaped from some ruin that covered them. Jews bring me water from their house. I wash the dust over my head and wash the wound on my leg, a light wound on my right leg, bleeding, and I did not feel

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it at all. I drink from the water that is mixed with the dust in my mouth - the thirst and the suffocation in my throat made me unbearable burning. At the gate howls of people who have fled here. A Polish woman falls into the officer's arms and whines hysterically: “Where is my husband? Did he escape from the taxi? Where is he?” I am told that the officer, the woman and her husband stopped here from their trip from Warsaw; their taxi was near the town hall; a bomb fell and the taxi turned into a broken box and no one knows where the passengers went. An injured person tells how and in which house he was injured. I see a Christian guy whose face looks like a real demon's face: his eyes are prominent and his wild hair is full of dirt and dust. I must have looked the same before I washed my face with the water the Jew had brought me from his house. From the same apartment water is also being brought to all the other wounded. Meanwhile the bombing has stopped and I leave the yard heading to the places where my friends and relatives live. Walking on the sidewalks is impossible, because you come across white mountains of bricks and dirt from houses that collapsed. Out of these houses rise heartbreaking cries for help. There is no one who can help them because everyone runs like a crazy to save his family and relatives. Everyone desires to see someone they know, and it gives them the power to run and enter inside the ruins of a house, in spite of the danger that the rest of the walls, which were damaged by the explosion, will collapse as well. Rescued people pounce on each other's necks while bursting into tears and excited shouts. They no longer believe that the brother is alive. We arrived at the house on S. Street where the members of the G. family live, a friend in our group and R., another member of our group. From the side, the house did not appear to have been destroyed, but immediately at the entrance to the courtyard, the destruction caused to the house by a bomb dropped on it was noticeable. It was a two-story house and now turned into an avalanche, its roof fell down and mixed with the bricks, planks, furniture fragments and other things that were in the house. From this mess, which was once a house, we see an old Jewish head, adorned with a white beard with blood all over him. His apartment was upstairs, on the second floor, and the old man did not have time to go down and crashed with the whole house. On the side were parts of flesh, shapeless, a mix of hands and other limbs of human beings.

The entire avalanche mound was piled up at the front, at the entrance of the corridor. The back of the house and the rooms of family C. were not harmed. Only the ceiling beams were displaced from their place on one side and were hanging in the air, threatening with the collapse of this part as well. The danger did not stop me and I entered through the window into a half-destroyed room. Out of a basement pit came weak strangled human voices, from the kind of voices I already knew. With the rest of their strength, women begged in a hoarse voice for rescue. Next to me were two men looking for their relatives and we immediately started the rescue work. Any touch we touched could have endangered our lives and the lives of those inside the avalanche, and among the ruins shouted people that were buried alive.

One woman wants to serve her, into the pit, some water - to save her fainting child in her hands. Another woman we managed to get out

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was so tired and weak from screaming and fearing death that she lost the power of speech and only her lips moved strange movements - she asked for water.

Another woman we could not rescue in any way. Her head and most of her body were already out, but one of her legs was stuck and pressed and all efforts to rescue her did not succeed.

I saw my friend A. He cried because his grandmother and her children were covered in the avalanche there. He knew nothing about my friend.

The people we rescued could not give us any information, they had not yet recovered and did not know what world they were in. With the rest of my strength, I helped pulling and saving more people. All that time the danger of the collapse of the second part of the house hovered over us. Finally, I learned from the young man G. that his brothers and sisters and the rest of my friends who live in this house are alive. They were among the first to be rescued here. He showed me the place. They were sitting in the garden opposite. I felt like I was being reborn. There was no limit to our happiness. God's supervision set us one destiny and we were very close to death. We might have died under the ruins, without anyone knowing the fate of another.

There was a plane noise again and I waited until it was quiet. We sat under the tree and told each other briefly what had happened to us. When it was quiet, I gathered the rest of my strength and ran home, to see if there was destruction there as well. On the way I met my friend A. with his mother and his little sister and I was relieved to see him alive. In general, when acquaintances met, they considered each other as returning from another world.

Horror images of destruction were seen everywhere in the city center. Just a half an hour earlier large and beautiful houses were standing here. Half-dead people are now shouting from their ruins. As a side story, Yosef told me that his apartment, which was on the top floor, under the roof, was destroyed and “flew” downstairs due to a strong shock caused by a bomb that fell on a nearby house. Luckily, there was no one in the apartment and the whole family survived from death, but they no longer have an apartment to live in. Now they are running out of the town, to wait in a garden until the end of the bombings, which do not stop at all.

I continued on my way home. Near the passage gate on Pinkana Street, I asked some of my acquaintances about what was happening at our house, they answered me that in this part of the city a fire was burning and probably also our house was full of flames, I ran fast, I see the fire in the distance and cannot access. I am forced to bypass and approach the house from another side. All the fences are destroyed. And I'm by the house. It is impossible to enter it through the door because of the strong fire burning in the wooden house opposite. Through some nearby window I enter to our apartment. It is empty. There is no one there. Part of the linings

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and the cloths were taken out. Through the open window a heat was blowing from the fire in the house opposite. In the hallway there was a large puddle of human blood, but there was no sign for a human being. A neighbor was saving his movables and taking them out from the house. I asked him: where are my relatives, where is my grandmother, her daughter and the whole family, are they still alive? The neighbor calms me down and says: they are alive, nothing bad has happened to them, they were just worried about me. Where are they now? He does not know.

* * *

I hurried to the window again and entered the room and I did not know what to do. I'm like a crazy, I do not know what world I am in. Should we save the rest of our belongings in the room, or perhaps pour water here, so that the fire on the other side will not be able to grip our house? Or maybe run again - although my feet are heavy - until I find a member of my family? I'm standing confused. But when my eyes see that my neighbor takes things out of his apartment - I do as he does. I save my Tefillin, I pull outside my schoolbag that this morning I wanted to unpack. I took out some household items, and I hear a neighbor calling me out loud, that it would be better if I bring water and help people wetting parts of the house near the fire. If I do so, I will not have to take objects from the house. I listen to him and I start carrying water from the well to the house. Neighbors from distant homes helped us. I put water in through the window and when I left, I took things with me from home. Then I hear the same neighbor shouting that I better hurry to fetch water and not take objects outside. And I did not know what to do. I did not know what was more important. I even sat on the first-floor window and helped pouring water on the small wooden warehouses nearby, which were about to be eaten by the fire. I was sweating from both the work and the great heat. We finally walked away in despair because the fire was already gripping the logs of the wood warehouses and the goose and chicken coop. Then, when the house had already turned into a hill of ashes, I watched and saw that we did not do very well. First, I could save more objects from the house; Second, we had to call few more people for help to dismantle the wooden warehouses and the fence that ran from the scene of the fire to our house. This way it was possible to save the house from the approaching fire. However, the good thoughts were late to come. Neither I nor the other people who came to save the house thought about it.

I learned that my old grandmother and her family were now in the yard opposite and I immediately went there. I found them all alive, they were worried about me very much and did not think they would see me alive. Now they did not let me go to the place of the fire. Despite that, I went there to move the belongings here. Then I looked at my new “apartment.”

Lots of people that were saved from the fire were sitting here, on the bedding that were saved,

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just on the ground, leaning on a tree, and each one sighs while reporting to himself what was lost and who died. People talk about who they still hope to see, but do not know where they are. One mourns for a son who was killed by a bomb, and one mourns for the silver lamps or the like that he left in the house. Among the survivors of the fire are also people who have not had anything bad happen to them so far. They took some of their belongings out here. The fire is still far from their house but they are crying that their house is about to be burn. A sickly old woman lay on a stretcher and sighed. She used to have a house where she could lie sick and now, she has been taken out of there, she has to lie down in the open air. Her apartment is on fire. There was a sound of geese that were rescued from the coop and later a bad dog, that did not let anyone get close to where he was tied up, barked. All this together with the groans of the people that survived the fire and the victims of the bombings joined to one shocking commotion sound. Everyone was miserable, even those whose house was still standing and existing. The fire brigade arrived. They could easily extinguish the fire in our small house but they did not go there, because the house was internal and they thought it would be wiser to save the large houses, those in the front, such as those of Rabinowitz, Gutgeld, Kirschenbaum, Skorzitki, Kokbaka and others, even though there was no hope to save them. All the windows were already on fire and there was no way to save anything. But these homeowners, and especially Herzl Halberstadt, promised the fire brigade commander a large payment in exchange for rescuing their property from the fire, and this apparently had an effect.

The old woman was still lying on the stretcher and sighed, there was no one to take care of her, she would serve her something, because everyone was in their troubles. Her son-in-law arrived. When he saw that she will probably die here and could not be buried properly (because the city is full of dead victims from the bombings of today, and no one knows how to bury them, because all members of the “Red Cross” and “grace and truth” have tons of work to deal with despite the help of others), he decided to take her to the hospital where she would be treated both her life and after her death. He offered me a payment to assist him moving her to the hospital in Starvish. I went with him and we carried the old lady to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, there was another attack from the air. People fled like mice from their holes. I did not run because I already knew that no matter if I hid in the house, in the shelter or stood with the old woman on the street, the result would be the same, because the bombs hit everywhere and anyone who is sentenced to be killed or injured would not benefit any shelters in the world.

I did not care what was done in the world of the Blessed One, I stopped thinking about it. After I rested a bit, I carried her again even though it was at the time of the attack. There was no obligatory to defend against attacks.

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Whoever wanted to hide – hid and whoever wanted to stay on the street - stayed on the street because most of the “violators of discipline” were among the people who had already suffered from the bombings: one lost his son, the other lost a family member; the home of another was destroyed and all the property of that person was burned, etc., etc. My heart did not think I should keep safe from the airplanes above. I continued to walk with the old woman. When we arrived at the hospital, a military car had just arrived and a wounded man was taken out, wearing civilian clothes, apparently one of the new recruits, who had not yet received his army uniform, had not yet had a rifle and was hit by a shell that caused his current condition: wounded, with a deformity that might kill him due to blood loss. I did not think much about him and hurried - I entered the hospital yard with the old woman. I was immediately reprimanded by those who carried the military wounded: “Don't you know – they read aloud – those soldiers have a priority in receiving help before everyone else?” I said I didn't know which was the truth as indeed I did not know. We both put the old woman in the waiting room which was a spacious hall full of stretchers with wounded. There were covered stretchers and I did not know if dead were lying there or wounded enjoying “sweet sleep”. Again, I saw people there, that seemed to me like a picture from a hospital for surgery according to Remark's descriptions rather than a reality. I think that among everyone, I have seen the familiar face of a Jew with a beard and he had a bandage where there should be a hand. And more sights. I was afraid to look at what was going on in the waiting hall and quickly escaped. Outside I looked at the coin I had received as a reward for taking the old woman to the hospital. I struggled with myself and was angry for being paid to transfer the woman to the hospital so she would not die in the street. Is it allowed to bind together a despicable coin with the salvation of a living soul? I was disgusted with this money but I did not throw it away because I remembered I don't have an apartment where I can stay, nor money to buy bread to stay alive in the first days of my measurable life without an apartment. With these thoughts I came to my “new apartment” among those who survived the fire in the fruit tree garden, on 29/13 Shankvitz Street. I did not have patient to sit there for a long time and when I saw that there were no more airplanes in the sky, I went to visit Rachela at her “new house” in the garden opposite, a place where the survivors of that house lived. They, the neighbors of the same house, meant to go to Makavada or other villages in that area until the bombings of the city will stop. Here they had nothing to lose after their house had been destroyed and each family had victims. Every soul wanted to escape from the place of disaster on this bitter and horrified day.

Rachela and her mother prepared for the journey. I said goodbye to her out of a feeling I would not see her soon. On the way back from her I met my friend Danziger, a member of a pioneering kibbutz in Lodz. He was in the kibbutz for about 4-5 years. His Aliya to Israel was also approved

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and he prepared himself for the illegal journey. I was about to set off before him and now we were both in the same situation. His house was destroyed by a bomb, so he decided to walk, after Shabbat, to Pinsk. His girlfriend was living there and he could live in her house, too. He said he was looking for friends to join him for the march and I could accompany him if I wanted. I told him I don't know what I will do after Shabbat and I cannot guarantee that I will join him. When I walked away from him, I thought that maybe it is wise to join him. I had no clear plan where to go and for what purpose but I really, really wanted to run away from the place of the destruction.

I told my family about it and immediately they disagreed. “You want to get out of here,” my grandmother said, “and it doesn't matter what will happens to me? Where will I be with my daughter and her small child?” My claims were blocked, because I knew that I could not help them here either and I could not prove her mistake, because I also did not know what benefit would my wanderings do to me and how far I would reach if I had no money to live on.

I was hungry after a whole day without eating and after experiences that exhausted all my strength. During the whole day I did not think about eating. When I took the things out of our apartment, I saw bread there and it never occurred to me to take it with me, because it was unnecessary in my opinion then. The reason for it is unclear to me until now. Later on, I learned about the blood puddle in our house. In the morning, before I left the house, my neighbor, the carpenter Zalazni, asked me to help dig the shelter at Kokabka in the garden opposite our window. He, who was in charge of defending against air strikes in several houses, was responsible for this work, in the same yard. I told him that I thought the work was unnecessary because there was not enough space for a shelter. If a bomb falls there, all the wooden fences and all the wooden houses that are around the shelter will fall and cover in their fall all the people who will seek refuge in the shelter and they will die.

I did not help with the building of the shelter and went on. After 15 minutes, when the horrific attack came from the air, bombs shrapnel hit the people that dug the shelter. Some of them were injured and they were put in the hallway of our house, one of them lost a lot of blood which created the puddle I saw.


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I Survived the German Extermination of Jews

by Herztel Kaveh

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Edited by Theodore Steinberg

Donated by Dana Szeflan Bell

The Outbreak of the War and Bombing of Siedlce

Friday, September 1, 1939 came as a total surprise. Everyone in Siedlce immediately felt the disaster of war was imminent, but no one could predict the threat and the annihilation of the Jewish people. Groups of between 1 and 10 airplanes appeared in the skies. We began to discuss: some said they were ours(Polish), others said they were German. Meanwhile they didn't touch Siedlce, but the panic intensified. We began to prepare food essentials, but shortly afterwards many shops were out of basic products.

In a period between Saturday and Sunday, the German planes were circling over our city. Monday they returned, dropped bombs next to the city and they left. Tuesday, they returned. Several bombs were dropped, the target happened to be a peasant village and again they left. On Tuesday they returned, dropped several bombs, hit a peasant wagon, and left. The enemy reappeared over the city with a large fleet of airplanes. The bombardments started at 10:15 in the morning and continued until 3 in the afternoon. When it became quieter, we emerged from our hideouts. Terrible pictures unfolded before our eyes: broken houses, deep craters where the bombs had fallen, close to homes. Many families found their dead under the rubble, and from the destroyed homes came cries for help.

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After the bombardments, thousands of people prepared themselves to leave the city. They left not knowing where to and to whom. Small children in their arms, bundles on their backs, they departed on their journey. The terrible bombings lasted 4 days. In these same days the Germans already began their routine-murders early in the morning ending at night. At night everyone was fearful: from a distance Siedlce looked like it was burning from all directions. Black [underworld] elements took advantage of the situation, looting and robbing. The bombs fell mainly on Jewish homes. There were at least 1500 dead. Sixty percent of the homes were destroyed.

 

Life Until the Ghetto was Established

On September 12 the Germans marched into Siedlce. Trembling and a panic arose in each one of us. There were rumors, all the men will be shot. The second day of Rosh-Hashana they caught men to be sent to East-Prussia for labor. Three days later it began again. At three in the afternoon, we suddenly heard shooting. We want to see what happened, but it was forbidden to go outside. We are chased back through our gates. We understood immediately what this meant. Several men hid but others were too scared to do this, because the first time when they caught them [the ones that hid] the Germans shot them immediately.

Every gate was manned with a German soldier so no man was allowed to leave. At the same time German officers with revolvers went from house to house and ordered the men to reveal themselves. When we asked what was happening, we were told the shootings came from the Jewish homes. You could see the men being led outside. A thorough search took place everywhere. They searched pockets. Worthwhile items were taken or thrown away. Conditions in the Siedlce prison were awful. People had to run with their hands held high. Whoever couldn't were badly beaten.

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At the prison-gate we were beaten with rifles, studded clubs and leather belts. Many of us were severely wounded. Night fell. A room that was meant for 2-3 people was crammed with 15-20 people. There wasn't an inch to move. Who even speaks of lying down to sleep. Those that didn't have a place in the cells, remained in the courtyard of the prison. Holding us for more than a day, they remembered about feeding us and we were given a piece of stale bread.

Wednesday morning, September 21, they ordered us into the courtyard. In front of the prison women waited with packages to say their farewells, thinking they were never to see their loved ones again. With bitter tears and heavy-hearts we left in the direction of Mordy or Mazowiecki. Passing through Polish villages, the peasants wanted to give us water, but the Germans did not allow them to approach us. Several of us managed to escape, others were shot escaping.

We were more than 8000 men, Jews and Gentiles. 40 soldiers watched over us, some on horseback others in automobiles. We arrived at Wegrow at night. Many wanted to escape now, but it was almost impossible. They brought us into the center of the city and ordered us to lie down. Exhausted and beaten from this long journey everyone dropped like a “dead person” and fell asleep, not even noticing the rain. Early morning we searched for places that were not heavily guarded. Lucky for some, such places were found and we started running. We had to climb over a fence 2 meters. Until the Germans realized what was happening, dozens of men were already on the other side. Also, my father and myself ran. I think, I was among the last ones, as shooting was heard from behind. In Wegrow and its surroundings no one was captured. When they brought water, also dozens of men escaped from the square. The remaining men were led further on their journey to Ostroleka. At the same time an order came to free all the men.

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The Germans settled in and the Gestapo arrived in the city, together with gendarmes, Volk-Germans and also—new protocols against the Jews. Those Jews with shops(enterprises): each Gentile who pledges allegiance to the Germans and proves himself worthy, can take the shop; it didn't take long and he received it. Many times the Jew did not even have time to take his merchandise out and had to hand everything over.

The evening visits were frightening. Suddenly, a knock on the door, an order to open! German gendarmes entered and turned the house upside down, destroyed whatever they wanted, and whatever pleased them they stole. The evening guests appeared very often.

Jews started arriving from the outskirts, territories that were now in the Third Reich. We received these refugees with welcome arms and provided them with our limited means. A “Judenrat” [Jewish Council] was established, led by Dr. Leibel. Belonging to the Judenrat were: [Icchak] Nachum Weintraub [chairman], who was an outstanding citizen of Siedlce for many years, Hershel Tenenboim as the secretary and others [Hersz Eisenberg, vice-chairman]. Life became somewhat “normal”. We had to greet every passing German, and those who mistakingly forgot or didn't notice the German, were beaten severely. The Germans burnt our beautiful synagogue on Christmas.

On December 31 an order was issued that Jews must wear a blue-white arm band with a “Magen-David”, and from this day on, life for the Jews grew worse.

Erev Shavouth slave laborers began river-improving work on the River Liwiec. Polish engineers directed the work together with Polish overseers.

 

Sie629.jpg
Ziskind the book merchant with the armband

 

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Every overseer received a group of 15 men. The work wasn't difficult and food was still cheap, easy to obtain and a few “groshen” still remained in your pocket [inflation had not yet set in]. Nice weather—all things together made life bearable. The people called this work—“summer dacha(vacation). But this did not last long. One day the Gestapo arrived. They got out of their cars, inquired how the work was progressing and pressured the Polish overseers to report those who worked slowly. The Gestapo, with their rubber and spiked clubs arranged themselves in rows, approached those Jews who were pointed out, berated them and beat them with their rubber whips on their naked backs over and over. 15 bloodied and wounded individuals were led to the hospital. These unwelcome guests came every few days. The work dragged on until winter, and then the deportations to the work camps in the Siedlce-Trzeszanov (Lubliner province). Several never returned from these camps.

Beginning March 1941, someone threw a grenade and a German soldier was wounded. This was a provocation against the Germans. Shortly after, they blamed a Jewish girl that she did it. The Germans started a “pogrom” in the city. In the middle of the night they organized groups, broke down doors, tore out windows, shot and beat women and children, whoever they found. There were dead and wounded and it took the “Judenrat” several days to restore order and appease the Germans, by paying a large bribe [100,000 zlotes]. Inflation creeped in day to day. A kilo bread cost 17 zlotes and a kilo potatoes 3.25 zlotes; our survival became harder and harder.

There was a large celebration when the German-Russian war broke out. We believed our liberation was close-by. Quickly we realized our mistake. At the end of August a new edict was issued: all Jews must live in designated places which will be for Jews only. Two ghettos were formed: a large and a small. The large one, with the streets,

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a part of May 1st. until Aslanowitche, Brawarna, the Jatkowa Street [Butcher street], Okupove, Stary-Rynek [Old-Market Square], one side of Bane-Ligne(train station street), and 3 houses of 11th November-Street. In addition there were 2 gates, one at Pilsudski's memorial, the second—end of Aslanowitche and 11th November Street.

 

Sie631a.jpg
The map of the ghetto
The second ghetto, called Dreiek, was bordering these streets: A small section of Sokolower-Street, Aslanowitche and 11th November with a gate across from the gate of the large ghetto—Aslanewitche 11th November
(Drawing of the artist Ben)

 

Sie631b.jpg
A gate of the ghetto

[Page 632]

Sie632.jpg
The writing on the gate

 

Life in the Ghettos

By September 15, 1941, we already lived in the ghetto. Whoever had the means bought food for their families, with extra provisions for worsening conditions. It was clear to everyone, life in the ghetto will get worse. The Jewish police already existed. Their mission was to control life in the ghetto, to guard the gates and other duties. Erev Yom Kippur both ghettos were locked. With heavy hearts everyone awaited Yom Kippur. We wanted to cry, to scream, but this was also difficult. In a room meant for 2 people, 10-12 people were crammed. This led to the outbreak and spread of various diseases.

Day in, day out, they caught us for various jobs, despite the fact that the Judenrat provided more than 3000 workers. Siedlce became a source for Jewish workmen. Those with permission slips from the Germans could leave the ghetto. Those Jews slightly improved the lives for the others in the ghetto. They managed to smuggle

[Page 633]

Sie633.jpg
The ghetto gate guarded by Jewish policemen

 

from the Polish side important food items:

Bread, potatoes and other life-saving basics. Small children and women were used to ease the situation, some carrying 25 kilos of potatoes on their backs. Neither woman nor child escaped paying with their lives. It was enough when we were on the Polish side to be detected and denounced as a “Jew” to be immediately handed over to the Gestapo and beaten to a bloody pulp. At night they brought him [the injured one] to the ghetto and told him to crawl through the barbed wire. When he arrived into the ghetto he was met by bullets from these hooligans. Each day brought us sacrifices. The difficult winter also added to our misery: frost, cold, starvation. Typhus broke out and hundreds died.

We couldn't endure any longer the sacrifices of the slave-labour. Neither day, nor night, no Sabbath, no Sunday; work continued non-stop. So many people changed that they became unrecognizable.

[Page 634]

Many cried it was so difficult to see one's own father in such a condition.

The rations became fewer and smaller. We received 100 grams of bread daily. Whoever still had things to sell, sold them and bought more bread. Most of the people starved. [Soup] kitchens were opened for the most needy. Life continued to deteriorate. There were times when the living envied the dead.

At Pesach another rumor circulated: the Jews of Lublin were deported. Where to we didn't know. One July day, in 1942, the Gestapo informed the Judenrat that the train needs workers with wagons. This was immediately organized, not knowing for which train-line. They brought the workers to several closed railroad cars and ordered them to open them. A “black sight before their eyes”; this terrible picture unfolded: dead bodies, dressed in new clothes, new shoes. We saw they did not have a long journey. This was a Radomer transport and the first time the Jews of Siedlce laid their eyes on such a scene.

Later more transports with closed railroad cars went through Siedlce which took Jews in the direction of Treblinka. The death-camp was 60 kilometers from Siedlce. We in Siedlce started to feel the threat which was approaching. Some believed that the Jews of Siedlce will meet a similar fate, even though they contributed thousands of workers. With this idea we lived until August 22, 1942.

 

The First Action

August 22, 1942, at night, many rumors in the Siedlce ghetto spread. One was, something was taking place in Minsk-Mazowieckie; exactly what, we didn't know. But soon everyone understood that it was about the deportation of the local Jews to Treblinka. The representatives of the “Judenrat” tried to lie to us that this was about the Jews of Minsk. I believe, part of them

[Page 635]

knew the details what happened there. The catastrophe didn't take long to reach us as well.

At two o'clock at night the 2 ghettos were surrounded by gendarme and Polish policemen. Shooting began from all directions, a panic broke out, fear paralyzed us. Next morning we left our homes to see what occurred. We knew immediately the ghettos were surrounded and no one was leaving for work. Everyone understood what lies ahead. But we still couldn't believe that the leaders of the “Judenrat” didn't know, at least some hours ahead of time what lies ahead of us? I blame these men for turning a blind eye. All that was needed was to give us a warning so hundreds of our young people could escape the ghettos and perhaps would have survived. I turn back to this dark Shabbos day!

As it became clear what lies ahead we ran to each other. Perhaps we can save ourselves by preparing hiding places. Not everyone wanted to or was able to do this. We needed courage and the will to continue with our struggle. Understandably, people who lived in fear and in such conditions for almost 3 years were psychologically and physically exhausted. In the early morning the Jewish police appeared house to house advising us to be ready at a given hour. Those that didn't leave their homes were forced with their belongings, by the Jewish police out onto the street, some in their work clothes, others in their “party” clothes.

The Gestapo chased us into the street. Those who lagged behind had a shorter distance—they were shot. This is how they chased us to the former cemetery in the Synagogue-street. There they combined the Jews from both ghettos. My family consisted of my mother and 2 sisters. My father was in the hospital at that time. We needed to sit among the tombstones. Thousands sat squeezed together. Watched by Volk-German and Polish policemen, we couldn't dare raise our heads. Who even thought about

[Page 636]

standing up? The Gestapo and other hooligans were jovial. They walked over to us, shot at us and beat us. At this critical moment the will for revenge awoke! We needed to do something, to spill some blood of our enemies, but our hands were paralyzed.

At 11, before noon the, “death-squads” arrived led by the Gestapo-leader Feivish. They took charge of us. A squabble began between the leader of the German command and the death-squad of Treblinka. The first one wanted the artisans to remain, the second one wanted as many as possible for the death camp. People fainted for a lack of water. The murderers didn't allow us any water and with their sadistic laughter on their faces instilled fear in us.

At two in the afternoon an order came: men aged 16-40 should come forward. We didn't know what this meant. A small number of men didn't move from their spot. I can't imagine how children left their parents. Men—women, bidding farewell with their dearest and departed for a designated place in the Synagogue street. With tears in my eyes I kissed my beloved mother and sisters and with force I was torn from them. My mother spoke the entire day with me and assured me that I will remain alive. Her prophecy came true.

The murderers were waiting for us in the Synagogue-street, standing on both side with sticks, rifles and revolvers. The selection started. Who will be selected for work and will return to the former spot. Everyone had to pass through this street. Those who were sent to the right were chosen for work. Left, back to the cemetery. Broken-hearted and defeated, they returned to the cemetery. Those chosen for work were told to sit on the grounds of the hospital, the former Polish “Red-Kreitz [Red Cross]”. We were told the Gestapo leader will speak to us. He arrived at 5 in the evening and made a speech. He informed us we were the lucky ones, to have remained alive and everything will be fine.

[Page 637]

You will work. We are giving you 3 houses in the small ghetto.

At the same time the gunshots at the cemetery intensified….and they led us to the 3 houses. The walls between the rooms were destroyed and broken, unrecognizable.

That evening Saturday to Sunday was a miserable one for us, the survivors. The shooting of the Jews continued non-stop throughout the night. Sunday morning we saw wagons passing by carrying the dead and half-dead. The Polish overseers were removing the clothing, shoes and other items from the dead bodies. The remainder in the cemetery were shot during the night from Shabbos to Sunday.

Saturday evening many were taken to the train

 

Sie637a.jpg
Siedlce Jews on their last road to the gas chambers of Treblinka

 

Sie637b.jpg
A transport of Jews to the train, among them Pinchas Konopne, Melech Radushinski

 

The road from the cemetery to the train station was a difficult one. The Polish townsfolk were overjoyed to witness this.

[Page 638]

Very few of them had regrets. Broken hearted, thirsty they arrived at the train. There they waited for the railroad cars that were transporting them. Several hours later, covered railroad cars with barbed-wire windows arrived. 40-50 people were shoved into a railroad car.

I will describe the road between the train-station until we reached 3 kilometers from Treblinka.

The painful journey was told to me by my cousin Shloime Kaveh, who was transported to Treblinka and at the gate of death escaped from the train.

The floor of the cars were covered with a layer of quicklime. The train stopped at a designated spot, which everyone knows very well. Families remained together. They didn't want to separate. They wanted to die together. The lamenting, the screaming cannot be described. The heat in the wagons became unbearable. The quicklime was suffocating, many fainted, some undressed because the heat was so unbearable. One request—a drink of water before death. There were cases, when some drank urine. The train stood to the side, 3 kilometers from Treblinka. Each incoming train did not go directly into the camp. This was specially orchestrated, so people could not hear the cries from the camp. This happened to our transport of Siedlce Jews. An entire day, Sunday, the transport waited by the side rail-way line.

At 12 in the evening, the train moved to the line to Treblinka. A small section arrived in the death camp. Amongst them was my dear mother and both sisters. Many escaped when the train was on the way to Treblinka, also my cousin. Many were shot or killed during the jump. My cousin survived intact. They brought him to another passenger transport, also destined to the death camp. He jumped again from this train.

[Page 639]

After the First Action

We, those remaining in the ghetto, awaited our impending destiny. At this time many of those that were hidden reappeared including women. We numbered about 1500 people.

On Monday at 12 noon, we heard shooting again. The hospital wasn't spared. In cold-blood, they first shot the sick and then the personnel. Among those shot was my dear father.

On August 25, Tuesday morning, many arrived to select workers for different places. People were running from place to place. We thought the other place would be better. I was sent to do train-work. Several people including the aged and women remained in the small ghetto. The large ghetto burned down and we couldn't enter.

They sent us to a place about 2 kilometers from the station. They gave us a barrack to rest our “parcel of broken bones”, no beds, boards of wood with a few pieces of straw. A kitchen was opened for us railroad workers. The kitchen personnel were made up of those individuals who hid themselves from work. The food was not sufficient to keep us alive. A quarter kilo bread and some black coffee in the morning, at night a watery soup. Some did not settle for this. Those that had money had an opportunity to buy other things. There were some other food products, but the staff sold it for their own profit instead of putting it in the food they were cooking. The train workers were divided into groups, some to unload the coal, some to load sand. I was sent to a Polish workshop.

The workshop performed various services for the Germans. We were a group of 20 men. Amongst them was Nelkienbojm and Liwerant. Going alone between the railroad track risked being shot. To and from work we were escorted by a Polish foreman. It was an order, one time they caught 3 workers on their own between the tracks

[Page 640]

The German train-police brought them to us and shot them in front of us. The unwelcome guests often visited us during the night. They rushed us outside, kept us there for a long time, beat us, yelled at us and left. At the time I was still at work. None of us wanted any altercations with the Germans. The engineer of the workshop was a man over 50 years. He was a quiet, decent and good-natured person. He spoke with kind words to us. He told us, our work was essential and confidentially speaking, in short order all the workers will be shot. He told us to prepare warm clothing and boots and quietly leave. His words reminded us to think of our destination [plan].

There were some Italians stationed in Siedlce, in railroad cars on the railway line, and their job was to unload the cargo coming for those doing business with Italians. In those times, Italian soldiers fought on the Russian front and many of them drove through Siedlce. Liwerant had an idea—perhaps the Italians can be of some use to us. The plan had to be implemented by Yablonafski, who worked closely with them. He believed it would be a good opportunity to carry out the plan. Involved in this were Liwerant, Nelkienbojm, and Yablonavski who badly wanted to succeed.

Very few knew about this plan. On a given day I went to Liwerant and Nelkienbojm and asked them to include me in their plan. We agreed and the next step was how to implement the plan. We couldn't waste time. We saw Italian trains passing through to Warsaw, not knowing where these trains were going. These were Italian transport trains with Italian soldiers, who abandoned the Russian front. Sometimes they stopped for an hour or two, or even an entire day in Siedlce. Then we decided to act on our plan, be prepared at any given moment. For several weeks we all went to work with 2 kilos of bread and a flask of coffee. This was until October 23, 1942. The night before I told my cousin about

[Page 641]

our plan and begged him to join us. He refused and said he had enough and wished me success. This was the same cousin who jumped from the train to Treblinka.

Friday, October 23, 1942, going to work like any other day, we had the feeling that something “good” was awaiting us. We had to cross 3 kilometers of railroad to reach our work. On our way we noticed one Italian train waiting on one side, another further away. We continued so as not to arouse suspicion. We quickly made a decision between us: if one train leaves the station before noon, we will leave at lunchtime and take the second train. And if both remained until noon, then we still have time to execute our plan after work. To our good fortune neither train left the station, the whole day.

Restless, we awaited the right minute. Half past six maybe we bid our friend goodbye and left the workplace quietly. With determination and with heads held high we marched to our train. Ten past seven we passed the Siedlce train station. The German train- police that were standing there observed us but we continued on our way. This strengthened our will and with a quicker pace and stronger determination we continued. When we reached the train we looked for the best possible way to board. On either side stood 2 German trains with the Italian one in the middle. We went from wagon to wagon looking for a small window, a crack into which we could squeeze ourselves. Every minute seemed like an hour. In the last car we found a spot to climb in. One by one we climbed in and we held our breath until further developments. We didn't know where this transport was going. This we left for uncertain destiny.

[Page 642]

The Road from Siedlce to Italy

Friday evening, October 23, 1942, the train moved and we left Siedlce. When the train passed the city we looked around to see where we were. Shortly afterwards, we opened a flask of shnaps and made a “L'Chaim”. This was a transport train, but it was well equipped inside with some benches to sit on. In the corners there were 2 small iron ovens with 2 wooden boxes, which could serve as kindling wood.

In the same evening we passed Praga [suburb of Warsaw]. Saturday, 8 in the morning, the train stopped. We were lying on the bench when the wagon was opened by a Polish train-worker and then closed it immediately. To our good fortune he didn't notice us. We saw him. This was in Skerniewicz. After this we looked for places to hide. The fore-mentioned wooden crates were useful for two of us. The third one found a place in another car under heaps of cotton, which were in the car. We could pass from one railroad car to another. From time to time we left our hiding places and met up to see where we were heading. We passed Pietrikow.

On Sunday mid-day a soldier on patrol found one of us. They tried to communicate between themselves in sign-language, finally the soldier understood that he was a watchman who was guarding the merchandise in the wagon. At night we emerged from our hiding place which was cramped. We were hunched over all day long and couldn't feel our feet. We had enough bread. We did not have enough to drink. We had reached the German territory, passing German towns: Coltbus, Glogau, Munich and others.

Monday night a soldier found us all. He was drunk. From him we learned several things. He spoke a few words of German. It was possible to speak with him. We told him everything, including our goal. We begged him not to reveal this to the commander.

[Page 643]

He assured us he would not to inform on us. From him we learned that in 8 hours we will reach the Italian border.

I had several rings and a 10-zlote silver coin which I pressed into his hand. He didn't want to take it. This took place in the Austrian Tyrol. We went back to our benches to rest.

Thirsty, broken-hearted and dirty we waited impatiently with the news the Italian soldier brought.

Tuesday, 6 in the morning the train suddenly stopped. The wagon was opened and immediately closed. Again they didn't see us. We understood something happened. We couldn't reach our hiding places because they could hear our footsteps below. They came and took us off the train. We immediately saw we were on the border town of Bienner. They brought us to a cabin of the border-police. They took good care of us, gave us water, apples, cigarettes. Shortly they advised the commander of the train about us. The commander approached with 2 soldiers. He heard we came from Warsaw and gave each one of us a pat on the back, said something and was very generous with more cigarettes. When it got lighter outside, they brought us to the commissar of the city, a middle-aged man, and very gentile. He interrogated each one separately and took our finger-prints. One of the last questions was if we want to return to Poland or if we want to remain in Italy. The answer was quite clear for everyone. The commissar told us the papers will be sent to Rome to the Italian Minister and they will decide our outcome. We received food, which we ran out of weeks ago. In the evening they brought us to Vifitene, a town 17 kilometers from the border, a beautiful district where they put us in their local jail. This was a pass-through jail for people who smuggled and other things. We were well treated in this jail.

On December 5, 1942, a telegram arrived

[Page 644]

from the Italian Interior Minister, we will be sent to “Ferramonti”. Where this is and what awaited us we didn't know. But it was sufficient, as long as we were in Italy.

In the pass-through jail, in the town of Vivitena, [Varena] we stayed for 40 days. The town was 27 kilometers from the Brenner Pass. The jail personnel were from an Italian family which took care of all of our needs. I want to emphasis my thanks to this family, who greatly helped us, knowing that we were Jews.

December 6, on the 40th day in this jail, 3 carabineri [policemen] came for us and put us in handcuffs and then bound us together with another chain. The trip took us on several different luxurious trains, passing through beautiful villages, fruitful landscapes, valleys and hills filled with vegetation: Bologna, Verona, Napoli, until Calabria. We got along very well with our greeters. They collected money for us. From their faces we could feel their sympathy.

The trip went rather quickly. It took 2 days. We arrived at Terasa [Teramo or Teranto [unclear] on the 8th, a station for Ferramonti and from there we went by foot. We arrived at noon at Ferramonti. All formalities were dropped and we were treated like the locals. Bernstein, from Warsaw, took interest in us and helped us to settle in. We cut our hair, shaved, changed our clothing and felt like we were reborn. We became a sensation in Ferramonti. Everyone knew that 3 young lads arrived from Poland.

The first weeks we didn't get any rest—invitations, sight-seeing. A woman named Natanson befriended us; she provided and worried for us the entire time like a mother. I am very thankful to her for the great attention that we received.

[Page 645]

Ferramonti [Di Tarsia], Internment Camp Near Calabrian Town of Cosenza

Ferramonti is situated in Calabria, in a valley between hills. There was an internment-camp which was home to citizens of different countries, also Christians. We didn't have to work. Everyone was given a ration and we were able to do whatever we wanted with it. The personnel consisted of a director, local officials and the militia [Black Shirts] which guarded the internees. They treated us fairly.

We acclimatized very quickly, made new friends and companions. There was a group of young people who went to work outside the camp in the woods, about 6 kilometers away. We were interested in obtaining this type of work, so Nelkienbojm and I joined the group. This work was good for one's health, especially for us. Also economically it was worthwhile. We were able to procure more food. Our rations were small.

Life in the camp was friendly, sanitation was not bad. Families lived together in small homes, singles--in larger barracks. We led a cultural life and we waited here for the war to end.

Life was uncertain for awhile. When news arrived that our friendly armies landed in Sicily and will soon be arriving in Calabria, we sensed the day of liberation was near. At the same time we were afraid that the fleeing German army will take this road that was so close to us. The Italians removed the barbed wire and gave the means with which we could leave the camp. Most of us left for the mountains and waited there until liberation. The German army actually retreated using this road close to our camp.

After several days in the mountains we became aware that officers of the liberation army arrived in the camp. We could now consider ourselves free… leave and return.

One day an automobile arrived in the camp

[Page 646]

with a “Magen-Dovid” [Jewish-star]. Soldiers from Eretz Yisroel were in the car. A “Simcha”, long awaited joy overcame us. We saw liberated Jews and also Israeli Jews. Many cried for joy. We didn't want to separate from them, we wanted to stay with them. We wanted to hear news from home.

The Israelis came to visit more often.

Then Nelkienbojm and I left the camp so we begin to inquire inquire how to make Aliyah to Eretz Israel. We arrived in Bari, where Israeli soldiers were stationed in the neigbouring area.. We approached the mayor of the city, Mayor Sacharov, the current police-commander at that time [I. Sacher]. We had a long conversation with him, recounted our tribulations about our escape and internment and our goals. the Mayor showed great sympathy towards us. In the middle of our discussion, a sergeant entered, who later was our leader.

It didn't take long and we joined his group. The sergeant who took great interest in us, he was Yechiel Teiber [one of the Teiber brothers]. We started work immediately. Our first job was to help the cooks. Shortly after we became independent cooks. Liwerant arrived several weeks later and went to work with us. This new life was very interesting.

Weeks went by, months, and rumors began that a transport to Israel will soon leave. We didn't have to worry, we knew someone that would arrange this for us. In the mean-time Pesach arrived. A Seder was prepared by the military. Hundreds of civilians and the entire military partook—this was very uplifting. We felt like home. It was well organized and went through the night. Singing and dancing ended the Seder.

The day of our departure was approaching. The staff prepared an entertaining evening for us. Every person drank a” L'Chaim” with us and spoke some kind encouraging words.

May 29, 1944, we boarded the ship in Taranto. This was a Polish luxury boat “Batori” and brought us to Alexandria. There were also hundreds of English soldiers. The trip was very comfortable.

[Page 647]

The sea was calm, the atmosphere very sophisticated. Everyone had awaited this day that they could be in the “land”. The first day, at noon, we arrived in Alexandria and then continued our trip by train. As we got closer to the border our happiness intensified and the singing was filled with joy. In the morning we passed the control and found ourselves in Eretz Israel and danced a hora. The train continued until we arrived at Atlit—some went to relatives, others to the synagogue and our new life began.


Translator's note: Names and places often misspelled or unknown. The train ride from Siedlce through the Austrian Tyrol to Italy, Ferramonti denotes some unfamiliar or mispronounced names.

 

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