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[Page 323]

Destruction

 

Sokolov Ghetto

Simkhe Poliakevitsh (Tel-Aviv)

Translated by Tina Lunson

The Germans entered the town with a wave of terror.

Already from the first day when their soldierly boots tramped onto the Sokolov streets a stream of physical and moral suffering was poured upon the Jews. It was with fright that Jews put a foot outdoors, trembling at the offensive chaos – robbery, attacks, kidnapping for work details and various humiliations.

In that same atmosphere the Germans later nominated the “Judenrat” [“Jewish Council”]. As “Elder Jew” they designated the then-chairman of the Jewish Community Council Khayim-Yankl Shpadel, who died shortly thereafter. After his death the well-known Folk-German Shultz advised the German authorities to nominate Nakhum Levin as chairman of the Judenrat, who accepted it and put on a green armband with the title “Uberjude”.

The chairman invited as his closest coworkers in the Judenrat the mill owner Elieyzer Shafran, the fur merchant Tuvye Tshifelevitsh, the clothes seller Yerakhmiel Ribak, and also Yitskhak Shedletski and Yankl Zshitelni. The bookkeeper Yitskhak Shlofmits was designated as secretary of the Judenrat.

A labor office was quickly formed at the Judenrat, which directed the forced labor. The head of that office was Kalman Rozn (“Klin”). He organized work details which were sent out to various places inside and outside of the town. Through that the Judenrat partly managed to establish the continual snatching of people from the streets and dragging people out of houses, a method the Germans had previously used. The Germans also set up through the Judenrat the “organizing service” which mobilized and called the Jews to work. The same organizing service – set up by Yosef Sukenik – was the core of the soon-developed Jewish police, with dark blue caps on their heads, blue armbands on their sleeves and rubber truncheons in their hands.

The budget for the Judenrat came from the taxes that the Jewish population had to pay. A separate revenue source for

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the Judenrat was the sale of forced labor. The prices for that were according to the judgments of the members of the Judenrat. After receiving the proportional sums from the wealthy, they would fill the labor-lists with the name of others who would have to be “sold” to the work. The work saved the poor Jews and their families from starvation, although they received only pennies for their hard labor. Poor people and refugees from other towns were in fact freed from the taxes. They were thus the first to all the forced labor and to be shipped to the camps.

There were also offices for sanitation, a post-office, appropriations and social help.

A few times a week the “Uberjude”, the chairman, had to present himself to the Germans to give a report, receive orders and instructions from them, and give them reports of the work accomplished by the Judenrat. He was personally responsible to carrying out the orders. The Jewish population had to be obedient and carry out all the instructions and orders of the German authorities that were the responsibility of the Judenrat. All orders and decrees were printed in two languages, German and Yiddish.

At the beginning of 1941 the regional chief, Grams, issued a decree that the town Jews were strictly forbidden to go into the village areas that were occupied by the German military. In Sokolov, near the border with the dozens of villages along the River Bug, there were many German garrisons. Those decrees thus hit the Jewish village-goers hard, as there were many of them at that time. Jews went around to the villages with baskets of men's clothing and received village foodstuffs. It was understood that the order was related to the military preparations at the border. Only the permanent Jewish village-goers could remain in their places.

In the middle of June the German military authorities in town ordered that people should prepare air-raid shelters. The earth around the houses was dug up in narrow zigzag ditches. People hid clothing and valuables in them. People packed backpacks with the necessary things, ready to flee. But where to?

The night on June 22 was a watch-night for Sokolov Jews. We already knew that only a few numbered hours separated us from the coming events. Our hearts and thoughts were then

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with the Soviets on the other side of the Bug. Jewish lips made prayers that the Hitler beast would be smashed by the Red Army.

As soon as day broke we suddenly heard heavy artillery fire. The quiet environs along the border were rattled by the echoing explosions. From the west came the deafening roar of many squadrons of aircraft bombers. Right after that the air was split by the heavy bombs exploding. Clouds of smoke rose from the towns and villages across the Bug. We had to listen to the explosions for hours and looked at the far horizon in the east; we waited tensely for what would happen next. Then in the afternoon hours deafening echoes of artillery shooting announced that the battle had carried over to the eastern side.

That same day we saw crowds of Soviet prisoners of war being led along the Ripke Highway. The transports were going in the direction of Shedlets. A few days later we realized that a large area in the village of Sukhozshebre had been prepared with barbed wire – as a camp for the war prisoners.

* * *

In July 1941 rumors began to spread that the German town-administration was preparing to institute a ghetto nearby for the Jews of Sokolov. Those rumors brought about a great stir. Wealthy Jews took to buying up food and preparing stores of food. Also the Christians began dissolving their business ties with Jews. Masses of Jews began trying to get work in the military work places in order to be able to have contact with people and places outside the ghetto area.

The tumult did not last long. The regional chief, as was his habit, temporarily allowed over-buying and put the decree aside. The tension subsided.

Only a few weeks went by and people started talking again – this time quite seriously – about a ghetto. From Shedlets came the unsettling news that there was to be a “resettlement” of the Jews there. They would be concentrated in the purely-Jewish streets.

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Before long it was apparent that in Shedlets a ghetto really had been instituted. Many Shedlets Jews who had relatives and friends in Sokolov, came to settle with us in town, which had a name of a “milder” relationship of Germans to Jews.

After the establishment of the ghetto in Shedlets our economic relations with the Jews there was broken. That had a fatal effect on the Sokolov Jews. First of all, on many wagon-drivers and merchants who received merchandise from the Warsaw ghetto by way of the Shedlets road. Besides that, Sokolov Jews now began to understand that the danger of a ghetto was quickly nearing them.

Beginning in August the chairman of the Judenrat, Nakhum Levin, let it be known that the situation had changed: Grams had become stubborn and a ghetto in Sokolov would be a fact, if we did not keep bribing the German authorities and this time with an even larger sum of money. The chairman appealed to all Jews that they not stint on money for the goal of rescue. The Judenrat then assessed everyone a tax according to their discretion. The sum was quickly gathered because every Jew who had even the most minimal means brought the money in order to push away the nearing danger that lurked over the town.

The second half of August 1941 we suddenly noticed that the Polish engineer Bonk from Pozen and several helpers had begun measuring the length of Pienkne Street up to the Rebi's house, and on the other side of the street from Shedlets Street up to the shul courtyard. That was seen as a sign that the ghetto plan was starting to become reality. It became known that the German authorities had given the engineer Bonk the plans for realizing a Sokolov ghetto.

A few days after measuring the streets the Judenrat received orders to assemble Jewish workers every day to be at the disposal of engineer Bonk, as many as he considered necessary.

In the last days of August the Jewish forced laborers under the direction of engineer Bonk began building two high brick towers, in two locations opposite one another, on each side of Rogovska Street, near Meyshe Rozentsvayg's shop (in the “Straganes”) and on Yablone Lane, by Meyshe Piekarski's house.

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We watched helpless as they began to fence us in. All the Jews who had lived spread over the town received a decree to move over into the designated borders of the “Jew Region”. In dividing up the housing however it appeared that it would not be enough, even with the greatest crowding, to settle everyone in the area of the earlier-measured limits. The chairman negotiated further with Grams and “bought” some houses from him on Pieratski Street – from the shul courtyard to Shedlets Lane. He agreed to that with the condition that all the entrances to the sidewalks from the front be blocked off and also that there be a different passage for Jews.

The Judenrat received an order to gather the necessary materials for enclosing the ghetto: barbed wire, nails, bricks, cement, rods and thick wooden poles. The ghetto decree from the Germans was accompanied by the cynical order that Jews were required to carry out the work.

Earlier, before extorting the money and numerous expensive gifts, the Germans had “ensured” us that for geographical reasons there would not be a ghetto in Sokolov.

By the beginning of September 1941 work around the ghetto was proceeding daily in full measure. A customs gate was installed between the brick towers on Rogovska near the “Straganes”; and near Meyshe Piekarski's house Jewish carpenters made a high, massive gate with two doors, which took up the entire breadth of Rogovska Street.

On Piekne, near the Rebi's house, which remained on the Christian side, a high brick wall was put up and was topped with barbed wire and filled with pieces of broken glass from dozens of bottles. Another such wall was erected on the same street, near Nietshiets Lane.

On the other side the enclosure began near the besmedresh on Pruzshne Street, across from the shul hill, and extended up to the town bath-house where another customs gate was also installed.

All the alleys and passageways that led to Pieratski Street and Shedlets Street were bricked over. Only one small passageway remained – in a bricked-up wall – to the small market square by the

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Nietsale. The passageway served to cross the street through Pieratski, which divided the two halves of the ghetto.

It took more than two weeks to put up the poles that were four meters in height, and were set up three meters apart. They ran the whole length of the ghetto, and made a circle around an open field on both sides of the town: from the side of the Rebi's house and the shul courtyard above, to Shedlets Highway.

The work of fencing in between the poles with heavy barbed wire began at the end of September. The work proceeded at a slow tempo. Thus many Poles were put to work as masters and overseers over the Jewish groups of forced laborers. The German representatives, accompanied by the Polish engineer Bonk, came every day to examine the work.

The work around the Sokolov ghetto ended in October 1941. Then the “action” of the forced moving of ourselves into the ghetto took place. Every little hut on every yard of earth that before the war would only have served as a chicken coop was settled with Jews, who were packed into cramped quarters in the worst possible conditions. The Sokolov Jews plus about two thousand refugees from other places who had lived here were soon left imprisoned behind the ghetto barbed wire. At the same time an announcement signed by the Regional Chief Grams and his deputy Dr. Herman was nailed to the walls on the Polish side. The announcement stated:

“To the Polish population!

From today on there will be a “Jew region” in Sokolov-Podlaski. As in all the towns of the “General Government” there are also areas of Jewish isolation being created. Public Polish life is protected from de-moralization and infectious diseases spread by Jews. The entire Polish population is enjoined not to come into contact with the “Jew Region”. Whoever breaks this demand by the German authorities is subject to severe punishment.”

On the walls of the Judenrat in the ghetto a second, shorter announcement was posted:

“To the Jewish residents of the “Jew Region”! All Jewish residents of the “Jew Region” are required not to step outside the designated borders of the closed area. Any Jew whom the authorities find outside the border

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without a special permission will be punished with the greatest punishment: Death! Only those Jews who possess a work card from the German labor bureau, as well as those with regular forced labor, can leave the area, and only in the direction of the workplace. Any Jew who abuses this right will receive harsh punishment. The Judenrat is commanded to observe that this order is precisely observed by all residents of the “Jew Region”.

 

Sok329.jpg
German announcement about the Sokolov Ghetto

 

With the establishment of the ghetto the German authorities ordered that the entire Jewish population must undergo registration in order to receive yellow documents, specially designated for the ghetto residents. With those documents each Jew would be recognized as a “legal” resident of the “Jewish quarter”. It also gave him the right to receive food rations. Not having such a document would draw the death penalty.

At the Judenrat special officers were busy processing all the written formalities connected

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with giving out the yellow documents. When the registration ended, all the forms with the photographs were sent to the town authorities. The Germans put off the distribution of the cards from one deadline to another. In the end they were completely quiet about the whole issue.

Shortly after that came another registration. An announcement appeared that all Jewish men of the ages 15 to 60 years must register their health condition, trade and their employment in the ghetto. Polish town employees whom the Germans had sent to attend to that strict registration knew to state that they must find special tradesmen for the important work in the workshops for the military, which would be built in the ghetto. They even knew to specify what skills would be the most needed and more advantageous. Volunteers and the first to be hired would be tailors, shoemakers, laborers, carpenters and locksmiths. Not registering drew the punishment of shipment to a concentration camp. After registering all the men of the designated ages, copies of all the registration papers went to the town authorities. The matter of the workshops that were to be built in the ghetto turned out the same as that of the yellow documents.

After the second came a third registration. This time it was only for those incapable of work – those with tuberculosis, cripples and the chronically ill. Jews understood that the ill were certain candidates for staying at home and thereby for avoiding forced labor. Thus during the registration some healthy people registered as ill. For a bribe one could get a certificate from the Jewish physician Holtser that one suffered from some malady or another. One could “purchase” weak hearts, stomach illnesses, asthma and even stiff legs, which included arthritis in the hands. In the labor department at the Judenrat they knew who was ill and who had “bought” illnesses. The latter had the possibility of buying themselves out of daily forced labor.

After that registration the labor inspector Lebe ordered he be given a list of all the Jewish men up to 35 years of age fit for work. A rumor quickly spread through the ghetto that the designated people were in danger of being deported to concentration camps at various points throughout Poland. Unease clenched around everyone. The situation became very serious because Dr. Herman

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already possessed certain details about the entire number of ghetto residents. The rising panic agitated the Jews. Nakhum Levin then succeeded in bribing Grams and Herman at a high price. Things got quiet about the list for the labor inspector. Meanwhile the tension abated and Jews breathed a bit, although for how long, no one in the ghetto knew.

The officers from the town administration, headed by the Polish mayor, remained at their posts as before the war. And the Polish police with its commandant, Antonievitsh, continued on in their offices in the police department across from the big market square. The Germans were interested in having all the lower positions filled by Poles. Only the heads of the bureaus would be Germans. The German chief governor over the whole region was also the ruler over the ghetto in Sokolov.

Who were the German governors in town who caused the Jews of Sokolov and the environs so much pain and humiliation and would in the end annihilate them?

I will mention only those who were on the official directing offices:

The District Director Grams, a German in his forties, was a major in the S. S. He occupied that office from the beginning of the German occupation in Sokolov until the time of its annihilation. It is known that Grams and his helpers worked out all the technical details of the evacuation plan. But suddenly the town was flooded with masses of Jewish refugees who had been uprooted from their homes in the area of Lodz and Kalish. That area was then absorbed into the German Reich.

The name Grams was also terrifying to the Polish population even in the farthest villages. The smallest violation of his orders did not go unpunished.

Dr. Herman entered the office of the assistant Bahu, Grams' right hand until the end of 1940, taking the place of the ever-drunk adventurer Bahu who went off to the Bialystok region.

All at once many anti-Jewish orders spread over the ghetto. The gradually-imposed terror suddenly became much sharper. Placards appeared in the streets with decrees signed by Herman. At first the Jews were surprised at the “mild” Dr. Herman. They did not understand what

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happened to him. One found some excuse, that perhaps made him “become” destructive, or tried to put pressure on him. At the Judenrat they turned to the old advice – they tried to affect him, begged, and sent him valuable gifts. But it did not help. In the ghetto people began to feel that the situation was changing for the worse; that Dr. Herman was beginning to claw with his until-now hidden nails.

Dr. Herman directed a special method against the Jews. With a scientific system he prepared plans against every strata of the population in the Podliash region. Even when he had already taken over the whole authority in the Jewish question, and he was now the order-giver of a reinforced terror over the ghetto, he used to also express ostensible “regrets” for the gendarmes' shooting of Jews outside the ghetto without an investigation, without any justification.

At the time of the establishment of the extermination camps in Treblinke – not far from Sokolov – he was the order-giver there at the tests of the gruesome torture methods on Sokolov, Sterdin and Kosove Jews. He ordered that the Jews be caught ostensibly “without their knowing”. Later, when a certain number of the trapped Jews had already been killed and the rest remained in a half-dead state, he suddenly appeared and ordered to cancel their crimes. And he said to drive the barely-living Jews home.

Just like Grams he was a bribe taker, but his letting himself be bought was always connected to his invention of plans for later.

During the time when the Germans were killing the Shedlets and Loshitse Jews, the Jews of Sokolov ghetto ran away, and Herman soon called the representatives of the Judenrat to him and demanded that they all should stay in their places. He ensured this with his “word of honor” that no one in the ghetto was in danger, and he took them all under his protection. Afterwards, when he had succeeded in getting them back into the ghetto, the hopeless Jews from the fields and woods, from where they came robbed and tortured, he himself was the chief leader in the execution action.

That murderer loved to lead a sadistic game with his victims, even in the last moment. When the first 4,000 captured Jews were already sitting encircled by the shul courtyard

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and in the throes of death, Dr. Herman ran around among them with pails of water and offered each one a drink. And later, when the Jews were already confined in the transport wagons, ready for their last road to Treblinke, he ordered hundreds of brats and wursts be brought. He stuffed them through the barred windows of the wagons and shouted, “Share it, for each one the same portion…”

* * *

On Pilsudski Street, neighboring Dr. Perlover, was a whole building taken up with the German labor bureau. A whole building of German and Polish office workers busy in the bureau's rooms, sitting over books and tables with tens of thousands of names. This was the central place for assigning worker slaves from the Sokolov area to the German war industry. Here it was set, who of the Pollacks would be sent to Germany as a “work force”. The thousands of names of Jews up to age fifty were registered in the labor bureau in separate registration books. The Jewish names were the cheapest in the “Bureau of the General Slave Trade”. The leader and responsible party for the entire bureau of workers in the labor bureau was the Labor Inspector Lebe.

It was rare to encounter Lebe in a sober condition. His dart-like blue eyes, always inundated by liquor, twinkled and sprouted with poison. Many Jews had felt the wild strength of his heavy beating-arms for themselves. His black uniform and the long, braided rubber whip in his hand were well suited to his chaotic arrogance.

He often appeared in the ghetto in such a state. Woe to the Jew who did not remove his hat for him. Before he even crossed the border of the ghetto Jews were passing along the agreed-upon sign – number “six”. Then everyone knew that Lebe was arriving and they needed to disappear.

A few facts will characterize the wild German beast-persona that carried the name Lebe.

It turned out I once had to be in the labor bureau in order to stamp my work-card. Then I saw Lebe's brutality for myself for the first time.

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A Jewish policeman was assigned to stand in the ante-room of the labor bureau each day. He was the connection between the labor inspector and the Jewish population. That day the Jewish policeman Yankl Farbshteyn was on duty. He was by chance standing in such a way that he did not notice the sudden arrival of the labor inspector in the corridor. Farbshteyn was not able to instantly salute him. Lebe spontaneously burst into a murderous rage. He attacked Farbshteyn like a wild animal and beat him with his hands and feet. The blows fell on him like iron bars. Bloodied, barely alive, Farbshteyn tore out of the building and left his police cap behind on the floor. Workers who were sitting inside showed hardly any interest in the screaming in the corridor. It appeared that Lebe's beatings were nothing new to them.

Another fact about Lebe's murderousness: Mendl Blekher's son-in-law, a carpenter, was sent to work at the labor inspector's to carry out various tasks in his household. The Jew often complained to the Judenrat that he was insulted and beaten by the labor inspector and explained that he could not finish the work he wanted. The Jewish carpenter knew that if he did not present himself every day for work that he would be shipped off to Treblinke, and had to bear all the torment in Lebe's house until the last day of the work. Then, as he was leaving, Lebe appeared with a huge dog that he incited to jump on the carpenter. Lebe shouted at the dog, “Pay the Jude for his work!” The Jew came home with his body bitten and his clothes bloody and torn.

Everyone in the ghetto knew the story of Vidovski the baker from Kalish, who baked sugar cookies for the house of the labor inspector. Every day for months Vidovski carried tins of cookies of various sorts and kinds until one time, a Sunday, it happened that the cookies he delivered were not tasty enough for the guests of the labor inspector. In the morning Lebe called out the Jewish baker and attacked him with the rubber whip. For Lebe it was nothing to use the whip. He had the baker arrested on the accusation of putting poison into the cookies. After a few days sitting under arrest the Jewish baker was sentenced to thirty days in a work camp at Treblinke. They took him away and he never came back from that place. Whatever

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kind of death the Jewish baker had, only Lebe – who was a frequent visitor at Treblinke – knew.

Lebe had a co-worker – a young Pollack from Posen. He was Lebe's closest advisor about Jewish matters; he considered him a specialist in the “Jewish question”. Lebe would often come into the Judenrat accompanied by him. One time the Pollack helped to free a son of a rich peasant from being transported to Germany for forced labor. Lebe found out about that and sentenced his former close co-worker to be taken out on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of the large market square and have a sign hung around his neck with the large words “I allowed myself to be bribed so I deserve the Treblinke labor camp”.

The Pollack could not avoid the sentence. He was indeed shipped of to Treblinke.

Forced labor was introduced in the ghetto, and all men up to fifty years of age had to have certificates for going to work for the Germans one day a week. On such a workday a certain haberdashery dealer whose name I have forgotten, had to go to work. Because of his poor health the Jew had to send his fifteen year-old daughter to work in his place. The girl, withered from hunger, did not have the strength to redeem her father. Lebe call her into his office in the labor department to investigate. The terrified girl could not answer one word to the inciteful and wild Lebe. He ordered her to go with him back to the ghetto. At the customs house at Rogovska Street he pulled his coiled whip out of his pocket and began to beat the girl. She wailed, screamed. Lebe drove her to the Judenrat, beating her along the way. The girl fell to the ground, rolled on the cobblestones under Lebe's soldier boots. She ran and ran, wetting the stones with tears and blood, until her cries pierced the walls of the Judenrat. With that inquisition Lebe warned the Jews of the ghetto to be obedient to his orders.

Lebe loved to collect pictures of Jews in various poses, to show them around, the wilder and stranger the better – something like Julius Streicher's Jewish caricatures. I saw Lebe working with his camera, gathering such “Jew pictures”.

In 1941, on Yon-kiper, Sokolov Jews were praying in the

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great shul with a special invitation from the regional chief. The shul was full of people praying, who had come to hear the beloved old prayer leader Khayim Shmuel Rozenboym. From the cantor's stand and from the reading desk his earnest voice resounded and his faithful words to the town Jews were to continue to be brave. “With faith in your hearts your torment will be lighter in the morning”. When he lifted his hands to heaven and loudly cried “God! Have mercy on your people Yisroel” – Lebe came up and managed to capture the picture.

Lebe remained standing above in the gallery with his camera and waited for “piquant” scenes. In the middle of the service despairing mothers came in and tore at the holy ark for their starving children. Lebe quickly set up his camera. During the silent amida he went up among the Jews and caught them bowing.

He thanked Yitskhak Shlofmits and Nakhum Levin by making a special photo shoot in their talesim.

In the days of the annihilation Lebe was among the most active murderers.

* * *

Brining was the referral for Jewish questions for the administrative authorities in Sokolov. We would see him in the street in his green uniform. On his right arm he wore a red armband with a black broken-cross, like a large paralyzed spider. He always made the walk from his residence on Lipova to the new elders' building with his rifle on his shoulder as if in a military march.

Among Jews he was known as non-aggressive and often even as a hidden friend to Jews. In the ghetto everyone knew his name because of his many encounters with Jewish petitions. As a high officer he always had the opportunity to show good will, do something to lighten the terrible situation, especially in granting approval for the ghetto. His signature was found on the ghetto's well-known “sick permits” with which Jews may legally travel by train to Warsaw to visit a doctor. It was said that giving Jews those permits stemmed from his initiative.

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Jews from the ghetto used to go into Brining's house in order to do house work there. For carrying in a few pails of water for him, or for chopping a little wood, one could receive and bring home pockets-full of bread and potatoes. His wife, who was very helpful, took the Jewish workers into a side room and gave them food until they were full.

Brining considered Jews as one of the older generations of Germans, with a left-over tradition of human friendliness – from before the First World War. In the entire area of raging terror, in the circle of despotic rulers, he stood out for his milder attitude.

In the first half of the year after instituting the ghetto people spoke well of Brining. But with time – with the intensifying of the regime and the gradual strengthening of ghetto ordinances – he tactically retreated from his “good understanding” of Jewish suffering. When someone from the Judenrat went to him later for an intervention in order to ask for a lightening of some problem, he answered politely that that was not within his power. Thus he apologized that he could not change it for the better.

A little time went by. Everything about Brining went quiet. We did not hear from him, as if he were no longer in his office in the department of the “Jewish question”.

In June 1942, after a visit to Sokolov from the Warsaw governor Dr. Fisher, Jews intuitively felt that something grim was being prepared for the town. Nakhum Levin went to Brining to clarify the situation. The representative of the Jewish Department made clear to the chairman about the generally-changed situation for the worse. Sokolov Jews – he assured him, however – had been represented to the higher authorities in Warsaw as workers, detailed into battalions that were useful in the war effort.

He knew to cite towns where large Jewish work-groups remained in the ghetto as normal employees of the Germans, while in others people had been shipped off to “someplace else”. Sokolov Jews, he said, must not be uneasy. Their fate lay in the sure hands of the administrative authorities who very much needed the Jewish workforce. As was his custom, Brining gave the information softly and quietly and thus served the trust in his assurances.

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During the days when Jews were fleeing the ghetto, Brining personally intervened at the Judenrat and explained that with their distrust of the German authorities, Sokolov Jews could lose the right that had protected them until now. He succeeded in getting the Jews to return, then nothing would change in the loyal relations with them and Sokolov Jews would be further able to exist in the ghetto.

Brining lived on Lipove Street across from the sports hall where the work-camp “accommodations management” was located. I worked there along with other Jews. We brought water for the whole town from a well in Brining's courtyard.

While the Sokolov Jews were fleeing the ghetto and later gradually returning, we sometimes went for water. On the way along Kosove highway we encountered a group of Jews, dressed in peasant clothing. As the Jews approached us we easily recognized several familiar faces. They were coming to find out whether they could come back to town. In order not to draw attention to ourselves we went together into the courtyard of Brining's house to get water, where we gave them all the necessary information. Mrs. Brining noticed us through the window. Soon afterwards she came down from the house with a package in her hands.

“Are you all Jews?” she asked in a soft, calm voice.

We were all shocked by her sudden appearance. We did not understand what she meant by her question. One of us answered that we had come from the work-camp for water.

Smiling, she regarded us thoughtfully while unwrapping the package of cut bread and sausage, which she handed out among those standing closest to her.

The Jews thanked her.

“I have a lot of compassion for you. Why are you running away from town? Just look, Jews are working here across the street and nothing is happening. Everyone should come back and work for the German Wehrmacht again.”

After being updated on the situation in town the Jews went back in the direction they had come from.

Brining would often come into the camp and take back a few Jews to do work in his house. Such workers would, as stated, come back with pockets full of food and with packets of cigarettes. We

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knew that across from Brining there lived some good Germans whom we did not have to be afraid of.

When the days of extermination came there was a whole detachment of armed Polish police and Ukrainians quartered in a military barrack across the street from our camp and close to Brining's house. Earlier they had wiped out the Jews in Sterdin. By day the murderers were busy with their bloody work and each evening they came back and spent the night there. After they finished with the Sterdin Jews the bandits went to help the extermination action in Vengrov.

In those sad days we suddenly noticed that Brining was bringing in cases of bottles of whisky to the murderers.

When the extermination action was going on in Sokolov ghetto a few ghetto escapees were rescued in our camp. From their descriptions we were shocked to hear about Brining's role in saving Jews.

They told us:

Brining was running around over the ghetto at the head of an armed band, with his rifle in his hand. He searched for hidden Jews in every corner, searching calmly, calculatedly, according to a plan. He led around a captured Jewish boy who went to each Jewish house and called out the repeated few words in Yiddish:

“Jews, come out from your hiding places! All the snatchers are gone now! I'm going around in the streets and no one is harming me!”

After that the boy was quiet and Brining and his band perked their ears around the walls to hear any rustle, any movement from under the earth. In many places the murderers found traces of their victims using this method.

One day in the camp we saw Brining coming home from his work in the ghetto in the same clothes as usual with the rifle on his shoulder and with the same easy gait. Several times he drove home wagons full of things that had been robbed from the empty Jewish houses.

After the liquidation of the Sokolov Jews, Brining still came to us in the camp, applying to the camp director to send him a few Jews for work. Every one of us wanted to avoid working for him. We had arranged among ourselves that each of us would go

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in turns, and survive working at his house.

One day the turn fell to me and to Yisroel Grinberg. Mrs. Brining received us, smiling as always. She offered us food, but we turned it down saying we did not want to eat before the work was finished. Then she led us to a cellar, and showed us how we should arrange the strewn packs and boxes in order. The German woman easily noted the mood that overtook us, seeing these packages, and she wanted to divert our attention from the loot.

“Is it correct that Jewish mothers beat their children to death in the ghetto?” she asked, while petting her own small bastard standing near her.

We stood there stunned and could not answer.

“My husband told me that, but it is hard for me to believe it. Can such a thing be possible?”

“Did your husband not tell you anything else of the ghetto?” Yisroel suddenly blurted out, looking her right in the face.

“No, my husband does not like to say much… only if there's something special or interesting… he tells me.”

“Do you not understand what the shooting and explosions in the ghetto mean? Have you not heard about the hundreds of Jews shot to death in the streets – children, women, old people? Have you not seen all the Jews of the town being driven to the train station? Do you really not know that the Jews are murdered in Treblinke?” Yisroel, ignited, whipped the words out directly into the woman's awful face, which was provoked with our sadness.

“That is not correct! They rioted, that's all. You are too excitable,” she said. With that she turned around to the exit and touched the wall with her finger, as if to steady her self. She quickly disappeared.

Silent in our pain and with hands of clay we began our work. It was heavy on our hearts. We wanted to get out of the cellar quickly.

* * *

The commandant of the German gendarmes was located on Pilsudskii Street, near the labor bureau. That was the central

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headquarters of all the police departments in the whole region.

The gendarmerie was unlimited in its power to carry out the decrees and orders of the directing organs of authority. Every order that was put into the hands of the gendarmes was prosecuted with fire and blood. If in relation to the Polish population the gendarmes appealed in a certain degree to their right according to the occupation decrees, the relation to the Jews was wholly outside the decrees. In the hands of the gendarmes life for the Jews was complete chaos.

The Sokolov gendarmerie – which was sadly famous in the whole environs – contracted a detachment that was specially occupied with the ghetto. The head of the gendarmes – which kept its eyes on the entire border-line around the ghetto – consisted of a well-known Jew murderer, the gendarme Lolek.

His real name was unknown to Jews. It was known that he stemmed from Lower Silesia, he belonged to the Pollacks who had been designated as Folks-Deutsch by the German leadership.

The list of Lolek's victims was a long one. I will mention just a few of them:

A refugee from Kalish, Mayer Likhtenberg, lived in the ghetto near the border near “Zdray”. The hunger that tormented his wife and children drove him out of the ghetto. Each time he went out through a secret hole, he pleaded with God that he not come into Lolek's view. Until one time on a snowy day Lolek discovered his footprints. When the Jew tried to come back into the ghetto through the hole, under the cover of darkness, he was felled by two rifle shots. Likhtenberg fell dead. Lolek fixed a note to his victim, in handwriting: “Leaving the ghetto – has stopped”.

Refugees lived in the old besmedresh. Nearby in a concealed place there was also a masked exit from the ghetto. A couple of Jewish women used to extricate themselves there, disguised as village peasants. They took some merchandise with them into the villages and so came back with some food products.

One time Lolek came riding by on his horse and noticed two women on the road in a village who looked suspect to him. He demanded their papers.

Both women – who knew Lolek well – burst into tears,

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and pled the murderer for mercy. One woman was in her late months of pregnancy. The gendarme quickly got down from his horse and stood facing the woman with her coat open, which revealed her condition to him. While looking at her Lolek shot a series of bullets into her belly with his automatic revolver. Poles who were passing by on the road related that the second Jewish woman threw a stone at the murderer.

The grave for both of them can be found on the side of the Ripke highway.

In the small market square in a cellar lived a shoemaker. He was one of the bold walkers from the ghetto to the villages along Kosove Road. He spent his days and nights there with known peasants. Provisioned with work and food, he got back into the ghetto with his smuggled goods.

Even before the war the Jewish shoemaker was well-known among the peasants: he would come into the villages carrying the boots they had ordered. He had dealt with the peasants for years and was familiar with them. In the time of the ghetto when the hunger came into their cellar home, he mentioned it to his familiar peasants; he believed that they would have pity on him and help him with food.

That luck accompanied the shoemaker on the most dangerous roads. In the villages among his known peasants he aroused compassion.

Lolek found out through an informer that a disguised Jew was going around the villages. Lolek soon know exactly about the Jew's appearance and on what days he went there. He set out on those roads and stealthily followed the Jew. When leaving the village to go back to the ghetto Lolek came upon him and threw himself on him like an animal on its prey. Some of the murderer's partners in robberies were going by at the time. The Jewish shoemaker fell dead in a little wood outside the village, from Lolek's murderous hands.

After the extermination Lolek went around at night among the dead ghetto houses, lay in wait for a sign of life, in case some Jew might be breathing in some hidden place underground.

Two Jews, Meylekh Fisher and Yankel Morgenshtern, were just coming from the Kurtshev work-camp with the plan to creep into their abandoned houses in the ghetto. They had Polish

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documents. The friends had discussed traveling someplace as Aryans. To that goal they needed the small amounts of money they had hidden in their houses in the ghetto.

Under protection of the night they went with quiet steps into the dead ghetto. They slinked between the walls, each to his own house. In the cemetery quiet Lolek heard some indistinct mummer. His perked ears led him to Meylekh Fisher's house. When Meylekh came back out by the entrance a blinding light shone into his face and at the same moment, two shots. And a while later Yankl Morgenshteyn was felled by his shots as he left the ghetto.

That same night Lolek drank with his murder-bank, with the money he had robbed from the two fallen friends.

* * *

The regional chief Grams designated the Pole Surdik as commandant over the ghetto. His assignment was to guard the ghetto so that all the anti-Jewish orders would be strictly carried out. He was given the power to protect the internal “order” in the ghetto. The Jewish ghetto police was placed under his purview and orders.

Surdik came into the ghetto every day. He became the most dangerous face in the ghetto. He sniffed out everything that the Jews had hidden. Like a bloodhound he smelled after everything. Every thing that Herman wanted to grab in the ghetto, he had seen through Surdik's eyes.

How could one appease such an informer? That was the question, which occupied all the Jews in the ghetto. Jews began to sedate the excessive young man with whisky. Unfortunately he was a prisoner of the bitter drop, which made him more phlegmatic and lazy.

But Surdik was full of hidden suspicion, as in the ghetto he became more preoccupied with things concealed, which he did not know about and thus he lost his bribery money.

He knew exactly about all the extermination plans against the Sokolov Jews and he reckoned that he had very little time left and he needed to grab what more he could; that he needed

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to use his position as ghetto commandant because the end of the Jews was near, and with them the end of his source of money and gold.

How could one get any more money out of the ghetto Jews who were standing on the brink of extinction? Now this was Surdik's main concern. And who came to his aid but – Yozef the chimney-sweep.

* * *

On the Polish side of town he walked in the middle of the street, not on the sidewalk, along with other people walking; he sprinted quickly, as if he were ashamed before his Posner comrades for his black trade.

Coming into the ghetto to do his work he was quite different. Here he walked slowly, on the sidewalk, with measured steps, looking at all sides. He would stand still by a house, regarding it and finally go in to the neighbors to announce that they should take the pots off the cooking oven.

To the Jews, with whom he had familiarized himself, he would go into a house and take the utensils from the kitchen. So they looked carefully into the pots. Afterwards he would go up on the roof and clean the soot out of the chimneys.

In other houses Yozef would just barge in and ask for matches to smoke a cigarette. He would do this phlegmatically and at the same time look around in all the corners of the house. His eyes also assessed the clothes closets, and the tables, to see if people had eaten or were preparing to eat.

Yozef came often to clean the chimneys of the houses that stood near the ghetto border. There he saw more than once in the middle of a clear day how Christians from the Aryan side and Jews from the ghetto stood behind the wall with conversational hand-signs. Soon after that a concealed Pole who suddenly grew up out of the ground and threw a heavy sack or a small package by the ghetto wires and quickly ran off as though someone were chasing him.

Here a bold Christian sticks a bundle of food through the holes in the wires and receives a package through the same way and she is already gone. It all takes place with eye-blink speed.

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From his workplace – from the roofs of houses – Yozef could see what Jews were doing, all in order to maintain their existence. No one knew or could imagine that Yozef watched and saw what people were doing, until Surdik came to collect “what he had coming” for various reasons, which were itemized in the long list in his hand. A triumphant Surdik would then say, “In the ghetto nothing can happen that I do not know about”.

That is how Jews found out that Yozef the chimney-sweep must be guarded against as a spy, an informer, and Yozef himself quickly understood that people were protecting themselves from him. But that did not help – Surdik had to get the requested sum of money.

Surdik knew that Yozef also extorted money from the ghetto Jews. But he could not do anything and could not disrupt him in that, but for one condition – he could bring him further information from the ghetto.

The black chimney-sweep became a phantom for the ghetto Jews. Before Yozef even came into the ghetto to do his work the whole street knew that they must protect themselves, and the informer sought in vain for hidden things. But his ability to uncover things that would be useful to him and Surdik did not cease. He kept giving Surdik information, stories that were lies, which were born in his whisky-soaked mind. So the two Poles who had themselves suffered from the Germans, sucked the blood from the ghetto Jews.

Yon-kiper sav-shin-beys (1942) Surdik also went out with Herman to look- see where there could be a larger gathering place for the imprisoned Jews, whom they would collect a day later to deport them to Treblinke. In the morning Surdik bathed in Jewish blood. Familiar Jews, from whom he continually sucked money like a leech, he personally dragged to the slaughter. A wild man, he ran around and grabbed Jewish victims. He triumphed at empty victories over the Sokolov Jews. In that day his Posen anti-semitic dream would be realized. The Jewish town of Sokolov along with all of Poland would be clean of Jews.

* * *

Anyone who came to the ghetto and who wanted to see a Jew who was a stranger to the feelings of loss and insecurity which accompanied every Jew –

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could simply take a look at the more than sixty year-old, short-statured, roundly filled-out person of Nakhum Levin, with his easy stride as if he counted his steps, without fear, without a trace of unrest or worry in his watchful eyes which audaciously looked to every side like a proprietor. He always carried a brown leather briefcase that hung from his arm almost touching the ground, and wore a green arm-band on which was clearly written the single word “Uberjude”.

Before the war Levin was known in town as a “head-spinner”. As he operated his large-scale trade his businesses went briskly. When someone purchased a wagonload of oil-seeds from him, or a wagon of grain, and the transaction appeared to be fictitious, Levin would advise his customer that it was the “first hand” that was guilty. That “hand” was in truth a wrong by Levin himself, by receiving checks without coverage. In his businesses Levin always knew how to “regulate” everything and still land on his feet.

A familiar quote can serve to show how much Levin believed in his politics of corruption: “If I ever have access to Hitler I will bribe him too.”

Levin had been entrusted with the lives of the town's Jews, their sole redeemer, and what Jews saw of him during those fateful days was that he approached important life matters with brutal merchandising calculations.

A few facts of Levin's deeds will establish him in reflection of his activities in the ghetto as its chairman:

When the Germans began to make their preparations for the attack on the Soviets by the Bug River, only the Jewish residents allowed them to move into the villages nearest to the border. At that time a Jew from Kalish was arrested, a refugee in Sokolov with a basket of articles of men's clothing. The German border patrol took the Jew for a spy and turned him over to the Gestapo in Shedlets. Close relatives of the arrestee who tried to free him were informed by those who were in contact with the Gestapo, that they could save the young man from death for 5,000 zlotych. The relatives immediately began seeking material help.

A young woman from Kalish, a former neighbor of the arrestee,

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sent her new fur coat to help save the condemned Jew.

While seeking a buyer for the valuable garment the relatives approached the chairman Nakhum Levin, who very much liked the elegant bribe-coat. But even as his daughter, the young bride Rokhl, was already wearing the __________ coat, the chairman insisted that they sell him the coat at a bargain price.

Nakhum Levin knew well about the arrest of the Jewish refugee and what goal the money was designated for. But that had no effect on his commercial calculations. More than two weeks passed before the coat was sold to a Pollack for double the price that the chairman wanted to pay. But the money could not be put to any use. The Jew had been killed in the meantime.

It was known in the ghetto that Nakhum Levin had given the appropriations department at the town magistrate's the number of the Jewish population plus the refugees as more than it actually was. They spoke about 3,000 registered names. In the Judenrat circles they said 2,000 names. Nakhum Levin maintained the matter was an important accomplishment, as he created more food for the ghetto.

In the ghetto no one was occupied with investigating how many kilos of bread a day the Jews received from the other 2,000 names. The best statistic was the hunger in many Jewish houses where they did not get to experience any bite of bread from Levin's commercial accomplishment with the bribe-takers in the German appropriations department.

Very few people in the ghetto understood the result of giving a false figure for the number of Jews in town. The Germans gave out food cards for the Jewish population according to that number, and demanded a Jewish work-force for their war goals and work-camps according to that number.

Knowing about a large population in the ghetto they daily chased around the fleeing and hiding Jews and ordered night raids in the Jewish houses.

Grams and Dr. Herman's execution list of Sokolov Jews was ostensibly based on the list from the appropriations office. But they searched for the other Jews for days and nights in every concealed corner, in various bunkers, cellars, under the ground and over the whole area of the unwanted ghetto.

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On a June day in 1942 Nakhum Levin ordered that Jews should not move about on the street of the ghetto from early morning until night, unless necessary. Dr. Fisher was to come to Sokolov that day. Levin sincerely believed that the fate of the Sokolov Jews lay in the hands of the local leaders, Grams and Dr. Herman. His belief was so firm that he had everyone around him, all the Jews in the ghetto, support him, even after Dr. Fisher's visit during which he sealed the death-verdict for the Jews of Sokolov and environs.

Soon after that, the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto began. Sokolov Jews saw the transport trains passing by, filled with Warsaw's Jews, on the way to Treblinke.

The Shedlets Jews were exterminated at the end of August, along with all the surrounding communities. The Jews in town clung to one another. Distant families found relatives among themselves. People tried to stay together.

The ghetto Jews took turns as watchmen during the night. Signs, markers, were agreed upon to signal a danger. It became clear that the misfortune was nearing. At the time Nakhum Levin did not show any outward signs of unease. Rather, in chats that he had with his coworkers and neighbors he said that he took upon himself the responsibility for everyone's fate. He called for us to remain calm and safe.

Grams and Dr. Herman recognized in Levin a person with a weak character who would be compliant with all their orders. They drew him into a net of bribery and corruption.

And another in his place would not be able to dominate and change the hopeless situation. But among the Sokolov Jews there developed a rebellious feeling that came to expression most strongly in mass escapes from the ghetto. That very feeling about what difficulties the Germans would create in carrying out their murderous plans, was put to rest by the chairman who confused the danger with the compulsion to believe in the German assurances.

At the end of Yon-kiper 1942, when Jews in the ghetto saw their situation with open eyes and the larger part of ghetto residents were sitting in the greatest despair on packs near the prepared hiding places – Nakhum Levin slept peacefully after the Yon-kiper day and

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Jewish policemen sat in his house, friends of his daughter, playing cards without a care.

Shepsl Grinberg (now in Israel) came to the chairman's house in the middle of the night to bring his attention to the serious signs of the danger of death. Nakhum Levin threatened him, in an angry tone, with sending him to Treblinke for arousing a mood of panic in the ghetto.

A few hours later, in the early-morning grey, the annihilation began.

* * *

Autumn 1942. In the small market square the last hours of Jewish life in the town chimed out. From under the ground the remainders of the Jews were dragged out from the most concealed hiding places.

Jews were sitting on the stones resigned, their heads hanging low. Armed soldiers stood around them, like the Angel of Death by a dying body.

In the midst of the mass of Jews sat a young man blanched from terror and hunger, Meyshe Soliazsh. Just here he felt the whole sharpness of the great danger. He had sat rumpled for weeks in all the corners of the ghetto, in dark earthen holes. All of the moments of terror had come together and like a clap of thunder over his head echoed: These are the last minutes of life.

He spoke into the ear of his younger friend Berele Shults who was sitting near him with fear in his eyes: “Remember what we talked about. When the truck with us in it comes around to the wood on Kosove Road, I jump first and you after me. Don't forget to run zigzag to the wood.”

“Maybe it's not worthwhile, there is also death for Jews in the wood,” Berele answered with resignation.

“All kinds of death, but not Treblinke! Nothing to lose!”

“Are you sure that the first bullet will not hit us and we will not lie like dogs shot in a field?”

“You will have hope again in the woods, but in Treblinke – decide quickly, the time is short!”

“I'll jump after you!”

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When the trucks, stuffed full of the last Jews, later left hurriedly on the way to Treblinke and passed the ghetto gates, two peasants approached, pushing a deathly-frightened young woman. An unruly band of Polish boys shouted after them,

“Go into the ghetto, go into the ghetto!”

They left the woman standing in the middle of the small market square in torn clothing from which pieces of flesh protruded. She stood lost, in the last shivers of her life.

One of the two peasants, with a little cross peeking out from his open shirt, lifting his hat, said in a low voice to the German with a skull on his breast: “We have driven to you a Jewess who was wandering on the road between the villages.”

“I, sir, have spoken with the Jewess on the way to the ghetto, that this must be her fate. Where are you running to? You must go there. Where all your Jews have gone!”

The German put his binoculars on the woman and shouted with authority: “I order you differently! You Jewish woman, stay alive! All your Jews are off to Treblinke, but you will stay in town to work for us.”

Both peasants could not take in this mild approach to their victim. They had imagined the whole way that at the threshold of the ghetto the first German they found would split her head open with a rifle butt and then they would get a reward.

“Jewish woman, will you take bread with us later and drink some rum?” a second German behind her shoulders shouted with a liquored voice to the armed Ukrainians.

“To the devil! Don't want to live near us, Jewess? So choose which death you want – to be shot like a dog here, or go with your comrades to Treblinke? I give you one minute's time to answer!” ordered the German near her, with the revolver.

Shots echoed in the empty ghetto.

On the ground, at the feet of the German torturers and Polish shkotsim lay the last victim of the Sokolov ghetto.

After the extermination action the Germans left more than fifty Jews, men and women, in the ghetto in order to clean it up.

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Under heavy guard those same Jews sorted the things in the abandoned Jewish houses into a specially-arranged magazine, where the more costly articles were collected in order to transport them to Germany later on. The things of lesser value were auctioned off and sold to peasants from the villages and the Poles in the town.

Among the remaining Jews was Khaye-Ite Perlshteyn (now in Israel) who came to the gendarmerie to work.

She related:

“The Germans turned the garage in Khane-the-rov's yard into a gathering point for the numbered Jews who after the extermination were uncovered in hiding places by the murderers. The gendarmerie had decided that that was the most suitable place for those captured who would later be sent to Treblinke. The garage was a long wooden barrack that had previously served as a magazine for cases of beer and whisky and a parking place for the cars with which they drove the merchandise around the area. With the same autos – which had earlier belonged to Jews – the police took the captured Jews to Treblinke.

A death fear overcame the Jews in the barrack when they heard the opening of the rusty lock. The door swung open with a screech and the Germans shoved a fresh group of Jews into the darkness of the barrack.

One time when the door opened, on one side of the barrack they heard a burst of laughter. In the open doorway the gendarmes shouted “You'll be happier now, we have brought you Jewish vaudevillians”.

Who were these Jews who were black from head to feet? Where had the soot on their faces and clothes come from?

One of them, Keymes the baker, told them:

When people in the ghetto began to talk about hiding, I made a path from my baking oven to a hiding place, which also served as a roof-chimney. We stood in there in the smoke and soot as in a vise for days and nights without food or drink, choking on the terrible air, until our feet gave out and we had to get out of there. There was a gendarme near our little house, and that's how we got here.'

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They stood with us and through the splits in the wooden barrack walls looked out on Pienkne Street, at the blown-up empty houses where there was no longer any sign of human life. From there we could also see the still-open mass grave where gendarmes were yet shooting the individual discovered Jews.

One time Lolek the gendarme brought a woman from the Kalish refugees, Sonye Benesh. Lolek ordered her to go into the grave and lie down. Then he aimed his revolver at her. The woman was still alive after the first shot. After the second shot Lolek screamed to her in the grave, “To the devil! You're still alive?! After the third shot and the woman was still alive, Lolek in murderous insanity stamped his feet on the ground and howled like a wild animal, “I aimed at your head three times and not one hit the mark! Get out of the pit fast and go wherever you want!”

After a few days of wandering in the area Sonye Benesh, the one redeemed from the grave, came back into the ghetto and was thrown into the garage with some other Jews. Here she told about her experiences in the last few days. And finishing that she said in despair, “And now there is only one last road – to Treblinke.”

Later she and the other Jews in the garage were put onto their last road.

 

Sok352.jpg
Germans capture Jews for the deportation to Treblinke

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* * *

Soon after the liquidation, when the town Jews had already been sent to the Treblinke gas-chambers and shot into mass graves in the ghetto, the commandant of Treblinke led Nakhum Levin to a caulk pit and shot him there.

 

The Labor Camp at Kurtshev

The establishment of the nearby Treblinke camp did not allow the Sokolov Jews any rest; the danger had now become greater, more real, closer. The word of horror – Treblinke – wove itself into daily ghetto life; it became a frightening tension that followed every person. People were terrified of new decrees and new deportations.

Shortly after, it became known that the Judenrat had decided to arrange a Jewish work-camp in Kurtshev at Shtsheglatsh. This was supposed to be a kind of calming measure in view of Treblinke and at the same time a demonstration for the Germans that all the Jews in the ghetto who were capable of work were employed in productive work.

On the south side of Sokolov, about 50 kilometers from the town, there was a large property called the “Kurtshever estate”. There were large wild areas over which Sokolov Jews had begun to make a complex water-management plan in order to turn the emptiness into fruitful, plowable land.

The estate settlers proposed to give them Jews from the ghetto for a very low wage as work-hands to carry out the plan. To that end the prince had to allow the installation of a stable work-camp. Also the German administration at the Kurtshev estate saw a significant profit in that plan. When the plan was also accepted by the German administration in Sokolov, the Judenrat began to recruit men for the work.

In Spring 1942 the Judenrat sent many Jewish men work certificates with this content: “A Jewish work camp is now being created in Kurtshev.

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Establishing the camp is necessary for the Jewish population, which stands in great danger. Anyone who receives such a work-permit must promptly report for work in his own interest. Otherwise, anyone who avoids his obligation to report promptly will be dealt with by the strongest measures.”

Under impressions of the reports from those who returned from Treblinke, Jews approached such “invitations” to work with distrust and with few exceptions did not report. Fearing repercussions from the Judenrat, most of them put themselves into hiding underground.

The Judenrat then let loose the entire police apparatus. They searched in all concealed places. After two days and nights of police sieges, repressions and threats against the remaining family members they were successful in capturing a large number of those hidden.

When the first transport of Jews arrived in the Kurtshev camp and they wrote letters home about it, the terror disappeared. A work-permit for the Kurtshev camp stopped being suspect. Disregarding the difficult working conditions, many poor Jews were prepared – for a certain sun of money – to replace others who could buy their way out of forced labor in Kurtshev.

It soon became know in the ghetto that they were making an independent kitchen in the camp and that each worker got a kilo of bread every day. The Jews got used to the hard work quickly. The Kurtshev camp for them became a relief from the sleepless nights of raids in the ghetto.

Near the swampy fields there was a high wire fence encircling the area of the work-camp. Hundreds of Jewish slaves filled the wooden horse stalls. The camp director had instituted an internal order with a light regime. The work regimen was under the oversight of the specially-created Jewish camp police. The kitchen set out food to sate everyone. A sanitary commission took care of medical help. Those seriously ill were sent back home.

The Jewish work-camp in Kurtshev became known in the region. With a permit stamped “Kurtshev Jewish Camp” Jews could go from the camp into the town

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and back. Even the German gendarmerie respected such a permit. Every month the workers were turned over. Whoever had to remain longer received a free day from work to go into town. The work in the fields proceeded under the oversight of a Polish overseer. People worked in groups. Jews got used to living with the Polish overseers, whose attitude to them was not so brutal. Beating people at work was unheard of.

During the time when the Kurtshev camp life had stabilized with tolerable conditions, in the ghetto new decrees and repressions poured forth. Day and night there were raids for grabbing workers. Younger men were, with breaks, lying suffocating in dark attic holes and in underground hideaways. In the heat of the grabbing actions in the ghetto, the grabbers freed every Jew they caught who had a permit for the Kurtshev work-camp. That fact forced the Jews in the ghetto to respect the place. The ghetto Jews in hiding were envious of those who were located in the swampy fields. After such raids Jews voluntarily reported en masse as candidates for work in Kurtshev camp. Thus the camp became overfilled with more people that the work planners had requested. The drive for Kurtshev had to be stopped with an announcement from the Judenrat that no new worker candidates were being accepted.

In the summer of 1942, when trains over-filled with Jews were running daily to Treblinke; when from Sokolov ghetto Jews were sent to “work” in unknown places from which no one ever returned, the Kurtshev camp grew and numbered over one thousand Jews. Dr. Herman was informed about the surplus of Sokolov Jews in Kurtshev. But he did not object that the Jews had concentrated themselves at one point. From the beginning he came often to the work-camp to look at the “arrangements”. He observed the work-groups in the fields. For the most part he was interested in the number of Jews in Kurtshev.

In the horrible days of the extermination actions in Sokolov the Kurtshev camp took in Jewish refugees from the ghetto. The number of Jews then exceeded fifteen-hundred. The Jews who had fled the town and reached Kurtshev safely, and from their impression of the existing Jewish life in the camp, had developed a desperate belief that they had saved themselves from death. In truth, as they

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later realized, Dr. Herman had transformed the Jewish work-camp to a stage where he could get to all the ghetto deserters in the days when Jewish Sokolov was annihilated.

In October 1942 Dr. Herman traveled to the Kurtshev work-camp. Reports of the mass murder called up a death-terror in the camp Jews. This time Dr. Herman came with a new devilish plan. His murderous intent was veiled. He explained to the camp leaders that since the frosts would soon arrive, he wanted to provide a large quantity of potatoes and cabbage. For that goal he ordered that long, deep holes be dug out at the camp for the hundreds of sacks of potatoes that would, he said, be the main food for the workers over the winter. Dr. Herman knew that the Sokolov Jews knew him very well, and his devilish ideas, he spoke in an earnest tone and tried to inspire more trust in his word. He presented work plans for the longer term.

After Dr. Herman's visit to the camp none of the Jews had any illusions now. They knew how to treat his assurances. Each person in the camp felt that the death sentence hung over his head. Nonetheless people did think that the promised food transports would arrive, because a lot of work was foreseen in the fields. Thus they dug long pits in the camp that stood open, ready for the potato transports.

When I left Sokolov in November 1942 on my way to Warsaw with Aryan papers in my pocket, I knew that the Jews in Kurtshev camp lived under a death threat. In Sokolov the Pollacks knew the predicted terminus when the Kurtshev camp would be annihilated.

Being in Germany already as a Pollack among Pollacks, I was successful in finding out about the tragic end of the remainder of the Sokolov Jews in the Kurtshev camp. One of the Pollacks from Kurtshev told me about it, a certain Stanislav Khamelantshik, who could be considered a testifying witness.

Stanislav Khamelantshik was a neighbor of mine in a Polish work-camp in Germany. When I realized that he was from Kurtshev village I often led him to speak about the Jews in the Kurtshev camp. He did not know that he was talking with a disguised

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Jew.

Khamelantshik told me:

“I was one of the Polish overseers of Jewish workers. On the 26th of November 1942 I was – as I did every day at that time – coming to take a group of Jewish workers to work. When I got closer to the camp I saw military vehicles with heavy machine guns, ready to shoot. The wire fence around the camp was thick with armed guards of Ukrainians and special service. I approached them and explained the purpose of my coming. They answered me with venom: “Take a good look, you will see what we are making of the Jews.” I went close to the wire fence and saw that around every barrack where the Jews were housed were armed soldiers ready for combat. Others were leading the Jews to the open pits, where dozens of Ukrainians were standing in their green uniforms. They hit them over their heads with iron rods. After a blow to the head the Jew simply fell into the pit.

“Dr. Herman directed the action. He ran around to each pit and showed the sluggers to change places so that the pits would be filled evenly. Dr. Herman did not allow the use of any hot [i.e. loud] weapons during the first part of the action so that the camp population could not quickly realize that they were leading the Jews to their deaths at the open pits. The Jews quickly figured out what was happening. Screaming sometimes came from the barracks. It appeared that the Jews still inside were trying to tear down the walls of the barracks. They wanted to tear down the walls with their last strength. The Ukrainians pulled back from the barracks. Dr. Herman gave an order and then a hail of bullets from the heavy machine-guns shot through the walls of the barracks. The earlier desperate turmoil was stilled. Now we heard the dying groans of the wounded, shot-through Jews. The extermination went on. Again the Ukrainians and the special-service troops dragged Jews out and pushed them toward the open pits with the bayonets affixed to their rifles. The Jews saw that they were lost. We also saw Jews who wrangled, cursed, did not allow themselves to be pushed, who were shot immediately, before they could even approach the pit. The head-cracking went on for hours. Every few minutes the murderers traded places with their iron bars. In the frosty winter day they seemed to think of this as a job to warm themselves in the sharp cold.

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It was horrible to look at how hundreds of people fell like broken trees and the pits became filled with dead and still living bodies. I could not look any more, I got away from the fence and went back to my village.

“Later people told us that since the winter day was too short for such a mass killing the Germans in the end used machine-guns and so hurried up the bringing of all the camp Jews. Kurtshev Pollacks were then called in with shovels to cover over the pits. The entire camp area looked like a slaughter-house. The snow was covered with puddles of blood. The footsteps of thousands of feet in the white-red snow remained, like the last signs of the mass murder in the Kurtshev work camp.”

 

To Treblinke

It was the 10th of October 1942. At the railway station in Sokolov there stood a long train of Jews, brought from a long distance. One had the impression that the murderers in Sokolov knew that there was no more room in the gas chambers of Treblinke. We had counted them from behind the camp's wire fence – this was the fourth death-train in the same day. The long train stood there with the two locomotives and waited for an order for when the way to the death-chamber would free up for the fresh victims, among whom I was one.

At the train station they drove us out of the trucks, surrounded by armed murderers; other murderers looked into the train cars for where they could still squeeze in a few Jews. Holding tight to my hand was my old friend the sixty year-old Jew from Lodz, Bub, so that we would not get separated; also in the last minutes of life it is not good to be alone. A Polish policeman asked me whether I knew where I was going.

“Yes,” I said, “those who sent me there will not be able to avoid this road themselves.” A blow with the butt of his rifle was the policeman's reply. Soon we were directed to a train car, where the murderers made a place for another couple of Jews.

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Inside the car, which stinks from chlorine and the smell of corpses, my old friend and I remain standing, squeezed in among German-speaking Jews who are already in their second day of travel, ostensibly for work – to Treblinke. They ask us, “How far do we still have to go?” “What kind of work is there?” I start to tremble. Should I tell them the truth that they are being taken to their deaths? For a person who had not experienced much, it was impossible to imagine how horrible it is to be conscious, that death is unavoidable and getting closer. I was envious of them, who had been fooled into going for work to such a terrible, horrible end. I will myself to turn around to look at the half-dark car the way the German Jews see it, who are waiting now with impatience to arrive at the “work camp” in order to be able to rest from such an awful, difficult journey. But I cannot turn around. I am too pressed in. I hear quiet moaning from people dying. One is angry with another, as if the crush that was breaking his bones and not letting him breathe were his fault. We are pressed onto one another, poring out a sticky death-sweat. An old man –judging from his voice – who could barely talk, incessantly curses the whole world. One brother tries with his last efforts to free a little space for his already-dying brother. It seemed as though we are getting even tighter in the death wagon, which is already so jammed that the walls should have pushed outwards. People cough from the chlorine in the car, from the human filth, from the stink of the dead, everyone is thirsty. Water! A little water to wet our parched lips!

My elderly friend asks me if I have the strength to hold his head on my shoulder. Leaning against me, breathing heavily, he wishes that he could die like that and not see Treblinke. He asks himself, ”Does the world know about this terrible criminality?” He lists the names of his nearest who are no longer alive, mentions several times the name of his youngest son, the young pupil Hershl Bub, who was just murdered a few days ago in the camp.

So the hours go by, night falls, and in the train car

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a frightful darkness. We stand pressed together in deathly terror and wait for the train to move from this place on the way to death.

From time to time we hear shots and horrible screaming from the wounded and the terrified. In a nearby car people begin tearing at the doors. That was enough that the murderers would simply begin shooting at the door so that the bullets that penetrated went into human bodies.

The moaning of the wounded gets quieter after a long while, as if the coming death stilled them and once again a dead quiet rules, which breaks and exhausts.

A terrible tiredness torments me, good we are so tightly pressed together we can hold each other up. Several thoughts torment me too, I have in mind and can see the eyes of all my nearest who I loved and were so dear, all for whom I lived. My innocent little infant, whom a German beast held by the ankles and beat his head onto a wall or on the ground. All of them no more and I am going now to them. Why later? It would have been easier to go with them, shared that moment with the same fate as they. In my thoughts my younger years fly by, my home, where I grew up, not far from this place, which has now become the horrible murder place for tens of thousands of Jews every day. I am reminded how it was just yesterday, the times of love and harmonious family life, a child, a wife, brothers and sisters. Is there now an end to that life? So my memories run though my painful thoughts, as if something vague could chase the feeling away for a few moments, the feeling that I am standing at the edge of death. Will the eater of humans root us out entirely? No! Somewhere in the wide world where the devilish talons cannot reach, we have two brothers who remain alive. Others like that will live, and will remember our names.

The chlorine chokes. The death convulsions of those nearby have been exhausted. And my old friend has lost his strength – I want to lay him down someplace and raise his soul – he whispers in my ear “Why has the train stopped? Why is there no place for us? Why aren't the murderers there ready for us?”

A dawn comes, which streams in through the

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little grated window, again a beautiful glow! But before my eyes black wheels turn, and it is hard for me to recognize the light, better to close my eyes, the light is not for us… I can hear the heavy movement of the murderers' quick steps, and soon afterwards a lot of shooting from handguns and machine guns. The shooting announces that the train is moving from its place. And now the two locomotives are dragging up. Through the cracks I see for the last time the fields and forests, the sunrise, as if it is creeping out of some hiding place, to be a witness and to look to the murderous, hideous deeds that will be done under her. I look for the last time with conflicted glances at the sad landscape of pine trees, the swamps, lonely grey buildings, peasant huts, all that remains behind me. All that will go on living. The repercussions of dense rifle fire rips into my murmuring ears. I look around near me, everyone's faces are so pale! Do I look like that too? I move my head. Yes, I can still feel it. Slowly, slowly, the train lessens its speed, announcing that Treblinke is close.

 

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The road to death

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A Day in Treblinke

The train stands still and a strange tension grips everyone. But the moment is short, we hear movement between the cars and soon the train is moving again, but now with a different pace, as if getting to the right place. We hold our breath and in a short while it stands still. Murderous hands tear at the bolted doors with wild animal screams to get down.

Everything is dizzying in my eyes, but I still possess the strength to stay on my feet, I tear myself from the jam-packed mass of people in the car. Many of those who had been standing in the press now fall over, stiff, but most manage to crawl down, half alive. At the debarkation I notice that the train is shorter by more than half. I cannot understand it. I regret that I am not in the other part of the train, that did not come to Treblinke. I look around and see not far off a train terminal building with a sign “Treblinke”. I can hear an orchestra playing. At first glance I am confused. Why is an orchestra playing? What kind of train station is this? I imagine that I have arrived right into the death chambers. Until that moment I had only seen death all around me. And now tormenting thoughts arise, mixed with incomprehensible feelings of hope, that maybe I am not on the extermination camp but in the work camp Treblinke Number One! I breathe in fresh air that mixes with the stench of the death-train. Four Ukrainians in dark green suits begin beating people over the head with rubber truncheons near the car, to gather people who are still capable of carrying the dead from the wagons and into the already-prepared open pits. I am among the chosen, and they collect many more, because there are a lot of dead in the train cars.

The S.S. and Ukrainians beat us with wood and rubber sticks, with cruel ferocity. The half-crazed Jews have bloodied faces and heads. Jewish blood covers the truncheons. Wild screams echo: “Stand in rows!”

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Several thousand people carry packs, sacks, valises, satchels on their shoulders. Among them a few women hold children by the hand; old people who can barely stand on their feet are supported by their near-by relatives. A mother screams with woeful voices and shakes her child who is already dead, shakes it as though she could wake it up from eternal sleep. Sick people with pale faces try to make themselves look healthy and touching under the strict orders of the murderers.

Parents protect their children so that they do not get lost. We hear the crying and screaming of children from other places, who are looking for their lost parents. We hear names called out, from those who have lost close ones, those who have left dead relatives in the train cry out in despair. In a passing wagon stands a young desperate girl who does not want to get out because her dead mother is in the car, whom she does not want to separate from – murderous hands finish her off quickly and pull her down. A throng of thousands of Jews, old and young, sick and healthy – pressed together in rows, all of them moving slowly in the direction of the “terminal” building, under the orders of the Ukrainians and Germans. Some of the murderers look at the Jews with some kind of covered, held-back mocking glance and order them with cynical laughter to go faster and be ready to register on the other side of the terminal.

When slowly the train line is cleaned of all those who have to go over to the “terminal”, only those are left who were picked out to bury the dead from the train cars. They sort us into groups of ten men, and there are twenty such groups of us. They drive us into the wagons again, and the train moves for a few minutes until it stops still again. Not far from that place, in a sandy area with pine forests, there are dug-out pits. The murderers order us to carry the dead and fling them into the pits; the work must be done quickly according to the orders from the murderers. In my group some stand in the cars and drag the dead out, and those on the ground carry them over to the pits.

The murderers stand and watch to see if we are doing a good job, as we drag the dead and contort ours bodies. We carry and drag as if chased, no time to breathe, we are like living

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mummies who move as if hypnotized, following the will of the murderers, driven by wild shouting and incessant blows. S.S. men with aimed rifles stand on the sides and observe so that everyone moves according to their wild orders.

Many of the buriers recognize their close relatives among the dead. When some burier cannot show feelings of breaking down, the murderers simply push them in with the help of sticks and rubber truncheons. There were many cases of shooting while dragging the dead, especially those who were physically broken. My limbs, turned to stone, are trembling in me when I have to drag my old friend Bub to the open pit. His wish was to die and not have to look at Treblinke. I am envious of him, not having to see and feel these horrendous things. The train is emptied quickly and heads off in the direction it came from with its empty wagons. A few of the murderers go with it, and we are left still gathered. It seems that the work is not yet ready for us.

The murderers order: We are to sit. Whoever moves from his place will be flung into the open grave. We sit, each group separate. Everyone is struck dumb. No one speaks. No one even looks at anyone else. No one can speak. The atmosphere of death dominates us. Everything has been taken, deadened, every quality of feeling and thinking, we are now shadows of humans whose lives have already been taken.

We sit without moving, surrounded by forest and open mass graves. We have stopped worrying about the horrendous, we are not afraid of death now. The will to live is gone, because we have stopped thinking. We do not feel the warmth of the sun and no chamber of our fate.

An hour or two goes by like this, drawing out like an eternity. The sun is now up high enough in the sky that it warms and exposes the murderers and their work.

We hear the knocking and clopping of train wheels. The other half of our train that had been standing among the trees is approaching us.

The murderers order: Get up! And again the same wild chase to drag the corpses down from the wagons. This time there are fewer

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dead, but the majority are women and children.

In one car we come across a dead woman who lay pressed together with a child which still lies in her stiffened arms, pressed against her with motherly love and desperation, feeling that she died along with her child. The mother's mouth remains grimaced in the last curse that she gave to the world of the murderers.

In these cars we found, lying in the darkness in the chlorinated lime, children's play-things, white bread, wrapped smoked meat, cigar boxes, eye glasses, the last memory of those with whom we had made this last journey on the death train.

When the murderers ascertained that we had finished the work, the groups were disbanded. But the larger part stayed in the same places and I never saw them again. I was among the groups that were driven along the side of the rail lines that ran through the trees, in the direction of the extermination camp.

With slow steps, barely able to lift our feet, we approach the place where those sentenced to death are, to the “train station” building. Now we do not hear the orchestra playing. There is no one left to trick; for the few dozen victims now being driven here there is no orchestra, we are already deaf and powerless.

Among my group there are Czech Jews who do not know everything yet, or what fate awaits them. We are not permitted to talk to one another; whoever does not heed this order has their head split with the wooden butt of a rifle.

We come to the train station, which gives the impression of a proper terminal. A ticket window, signs with inscriptions for various cities, closed doors with different inscriptions. A worker in the building, dressed in a garnet suit, comes to see if the murderers are driving us through this building, which is being cleaned now. We go through an area that has been tramped down and it is easy to see that hundreds of thousands of feet have traversed it. The place appears horribly unsettling with its high barbed-wire fence. We can still see abandoned things such as old clothes, torn valises, utensils. The

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Czech Jews look around uneasily, we remain standing for a while and soon we are led further between a much higher wall of barbed-wire, covered with tree branches. We all go past a long and very wide pit with barbed-wire thrown over it; and soon we espy wooden towers from which murderers with huge machine-guns on stands look down on us from all sides. It inspires a horrible feeling. There is no way back now.

We are driven further to a fresh large area that is fiercely walled in, again very high with a net of thick barbed wire. In the middle of the place stands a large building, with barracks along the sides; we can see trucks in the distance and a lot of civilian people and armed military murderers, in black and green clothing. Murderers walk around with hand grenades, automatic handguns, revolvers in their hands; we see only remains of the earlier gruesome train of a mass of many thousands. They were naked and were driven to “bathe themselves” in the direction of the barrack, which stands in the middle of the huge place. We hear terrifying, wild screams from the murderers, screams from the desperate Jews, who have recognized the death. The screaming becomes mixed in with the barking of incited dogs, all of which announces the end of life.

The freshly-arrived Czech Jews look around at all sides, they cannot understand where they find themselves, in their shocked eyes and blanched faces one can tell how wild thoughts are tormenting them. Where are their relatives who got off the train earlier? Where is the work in the camp that they imagined? Where are the naked people going? What does the wild screaming mean? A frightened horror and hopelessness reigns over all. It was all clear to me. I expect death, which is unavoidable in this hell.

We stand like that for a short time with eyes lowered. One is afraid to look into the triumphal eyes of the murderers, so we look at the ground, which will soon swallow us up for eternity. So we stand there ringed by murderers who await the order of what to do with us.

An S.S. officer shows up, a skull insignia on his chest, a pistol in his hand, accompanied by Ukrainians to drive us, and who begin to divide us into groups again.

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I along with some other Jews are led between the big barracks which are filled with clothes and footwear. In a corner of such a barrack sit a few Jews pulling rings onto string. We stay sitting like them, our legs folded under us, by boxes full of rings, pulling them onto strings, until they are filled and tied.

My mouth is so dry with dust. I so much want a swallow of water just to sustain my strength, which is ebbing away.

A young boy in a group across from us which is doing the same work, asks a murderer for a little water; the Ukrainian points out a pail of water placed not far from us, by a ladder. The tormented Jewish boy, who looks so terribly exhausted with dried lips, gets up and goes to the pail and the Ukrainian goes after him. The boy leans over the pail with his mouth open as if he wanted to drunk up the whole pail. While the boy is leaning over that way the Ukrainian kicks him in the head with his military boot and hits him right in the eyes. The unfortunate boy grabs at his knocked-out eye. A stream of blood pours into his open mouth – instead of the water to drink. The Ukrainian laughs sadistically and asks him in Polish, “Do you still want a drink? March back to work!” The boy squirms in pain and drags himself away from the murderer.

And we sit after all that, putting the rings on the strings. Our hands shake from seeing that scene. Now I do not have such a bad taste in my mouth, my tongue not so dry, pasted with sand. I no longer need a drop of water in my mouth.

It is quiet now in the death plaza. The voices have been swallowed in the death chambers. Only there is no end to our torment. We see a lot of murderers walking around in a drunken state. From a distance we hear incessant motors, as trucks drive in and out of the camp. A fresh arrival would not understand that he has come to such a horrible extermination camp.

Suddenly we hear whistling. Drunken murderers with wild voices call:

“Stand up!”

Trembling I pull myself up from the place and fall back down – my legs are broken. I cannot stand any more.

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The people working with me try to help. At that moment a Ukrainian runs up and begins to beat us over the head with a rubber truncheon. Blood runs from our heads and faces. Other murderers come to help him and beat us over our whole bodies. Their truncheons are dipped in our blood. Now I can stand on my feet. Half crazy I do not know what we should do, what the murderer wants from us, considering the wildness of the drunken murderer, the beastly roaring and gnashing of teeth and wild eyes which are so bloodthirsty, the turmoil and the fear that is pouring out of every Jew with a bloodied face, it seemed that our fate is certain. Who knows what kind of death the wild murderers have thought up to satisfy their current wildness.

 

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A mountain of corpses

 

More S.S. men come and tell them to drive everyone to the exit through a gate there, near the railroad line where a short empty train waits and where the trucks are carrying clothing packed in rolls.

What should this mean? Are they going to take us alive? Are the murderers playing with our fate? Will we keep working, when our strength gives out?

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Other Jews are driven up from far behind us to this same place. A strange song comes from the last group, and grates in my ears. The singing, like shouting from crazy people, becomes mixed with mocking laughter from the agitated murderers, who laugh and enjoy themselves from their victims. Our group takes a place not far from the train. We stand waiting until those behind us arrive. The singing of that group of Jews draws closer; they are being driven in a military march. They march past us, surrounded by many armed murderers.

They are living corpses walking and dragging their feet, their legs like stilts, their flapping hands hang like whips from their arms. Their mouths are shouting an insane song being directed by the Vandals. It is a march of demons in a possessed screaming from the hundreds of thousands of Jews whom the Treblinke ovens have swallowed up.

The last group that comes by consists of only 12 or 15 Jews. A young man drags behind, being badly beaten. That Jew writhes under the rubber truncheons that fall on him and screams and shouts something in a supernatural strength. That group is isolated from everyone else. We look at them in horror and cannot understand what is happening, for the screaming of the one more than the others. We hear a call out: Jews… Jews… a death… Other murderers quickly arrive and encircle the group and drag them away deeper into the field. From a distance, the same screaming of the beaten is carried on the air. The murderers deal with that very quickly and drag off the victims. The agitated murderers also begin to beat us and drive us in the same direction. They order us to undress. Everyone tears off their clothing, and we are left naked. All of this is lightning fast, according to the orders from the murderers.

With wild shouting the murderers order us to get to our knees with our hands stretched out above us. The earlier dragged-off group is beaten without mercy. The young man who was screaming earlier now lays aside on the sandy ground, dead. The whole group is frightfully flogged. A murderer comes with a dog which tears and bites pieces from those so terribly beaten and stabbed with bayonets. I close my eyes. Better that I do not

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see what is going on. Why such torture before death? Death alone is not as horrible as the fate and torment for him. Why is my heart still beating? Why am I still alive?

But in the horrible hell Treblinke death does not come so easily. The murderers love the bloody sadistic game with their victims and we must kneel here paralyzed.

 

Sok370.jpg

 

After a massacre:

When there is nothing left of that whole group of Jews but a bloody mass, machine-gun fire begins to fly right over our heads. Now I can open my eyes. The human-eater has compassion for us and soon a bullet will put an end to our torment.

My God! None of us falls dead! Automatic gunfire all around us and we all kneel here with our arms stretched out! What is going on here? The human-eater is just playing with us. Death does not come so easily in Treblinke for those who are not going soon into the gas chambers.

Paralyzed to death I still feel blows on my naked body. How long it lasted, as the rubber truncheons tore at my frozen self I do not remember. I recognized that other naked Jews were still standing around me. The murderous blows

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got me back up on my feet. We are driven back to the train by wild shouting.

I run naked without knowing what I am doing, as if carried on a storm-wind. At the train Jews are standing and filling the wagons with the big bundles of clothing. We are driven to a wagon. I and six other Jews climb into the wagon and pack the clothing that they pass to us from below. The wagon is slowly filled. The murderers rage and hurry the work.

I feel a powerful horror of the death that I witnessed a few moments ago. Something begins to float before my eyes. I will run away. A thought occurs to me that I could hide here, in a space among the clothes, who would see? The murderers are drunk and do not see me. I will let the Jews who are with me get down first, I will stay then lay and hide in the hole which I prepare for myself while packing the rolls. I must get away from this horrible hell!

The thought shakes my deadened nerves. Every second that passes is an hour. The little window in the wagon tells me that it will soon be dark; the thought and the will to flee is like a spontaneous eruption that completely rattles me. My naked body is not shivering from the cold in the wagon this evening, I work unconsciously, this has shaken my previously deadened nerves. My hands and feet shake, my whole body is convulsing crazily.

I can hear whistles and orders to get down from the wagons, to arrange ourselves in groups. Wild shouting from the murderers and more beating. I see how the half-dead Jews who were working with me begin to climb down. None of them looks around at what is happening behind him. They climb down as if into an endlessly deep abyss, which will swallow them up.

And I lay stuck into my clothing hole. I close my eyes, although everything around is dark. My heart beats as fast as a murderous automaton.

I hear steps. I stop breathing. Someone latches the door of the wagon.

A cold sweat covers my naked body, realizing that I could get away from here. It seems that the door is already

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completely bolted and I am already barred from murderous eyes.

Suddenly I feel the train beginning to move! Is it really so, or does it only seem so to me? Yes! It's moving! I creep out of the hole, free myself from the packs that hold me back, uncover the obstructed window. The clear moonlight rushes in. I can tell that the train is running at a high speed. My thoughts quickly begin to concentrate on where and how to jump. I stick my head out of the window and look around – now I do not see the murderer on the steps of the wagon, ready to shoot. The night light embraces me, the telegraph poles and trees dizzy my eyes as the train passes by. All my desires are concentrated on the little window, which I must jump through. The train races on with my outstretched head which now will be freed like a wild animal from a cage.

Are the speeding wheels of the train making so much noise in my ears? Or are the dead screaming out from the clothes? The dead from the gigantic mass grave in the forest. No clothing lies here, it is the dead lying pressed together who are still in their clothes. And from those clothes they are crying out – the children cry out from the little clothes, the old people from their warm winter coats, the mothers cry out from their early-morning robes.

Now the mass graves of Treblinke are crying out.

The mountain of corpses that was still writhing cries out, that mountain of corpses that I hid from the murderers eyes.

My naked feet walk up the mountain of the dead and tear at the window that Jews, taken to Treblinke, tore the bars from with their hands. The train travels past the station for the town Kosov-Latski. I tremble with fury, one bundle of nerves now. Everything in me is concentrated on one thing: throwing myself from the racing train. A super-human, elemental power lifts my feet to the window. I stick one foot out, then the second, twist my head out. My body is broken in two, my hands grip onto the frames of the little window. The train carries me like that for a while, cutting the wind. I grit my teeth in wildness and fright and throw myself as into a deep abyss from the speeding train.

* * *

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When I regain consciousness I feel a powerful cold that makes me shiver. I rise up to look around – where am I now? How long did I lie here? Will I remember how I got here?

I feel wet grass under me. I am lying with my face to the wetness. My parched lips and dried out tongue awaken in the dampness and slake my burned-out mouth, which sucks on the wet grasses.

I swallow the moisture as though I am drinking the most expensive wine, I feel encouraged, the cold and the wet grass have revived me. I get up to take an assessment of myself. I do not believe that this is a reality.

But I am still naked! I see heaven and earth and I am naked.

The moon floats over the sky and my eyes run after it and take me with it to endless worlds.

A passing train makes me more wakeful. I look around me, where I find myself and I begin to understand that I have rolled down into a deep ditch alongside the railway which is elevated here.

Where will I start now? How will I find a rescue in the nude? I was with all those clothes, why did I not pull out clothes for myself? I begin to feel that my nakedness rules me, makes me powerless. I shiver all over. My teeth chatter. My body is covered with nighttime dew that is everywhere in this night of the harvest moon. I get a longing for something to protect me from the cold. I stand up, and can barely stand. Something makes me so shaky. But I do not think about that, now I just need to protect against the cold which is exhausting me. I see a wood in the distance and I start to move towards it. It certainly will not be so cold in there. I run in the direction of the wood. Now the human-eater is not chasing me to death, now I am chased by an inner instinct that pushes me to the path of rescue.

In the forest unmoving trees stand around me, which I cling to, jumping around with the cold, and my shadow dances with me. I already know my forest home, I have already

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been here a day and a night, now I am not afraid of spending the night in the forest. But I am naked, and I want so much for all the trees to bend together and embrace me and hide me from the cold, which is biting my body.

Suddenly I hear someone whistle. A second one answers, a third, a lot of whistling cuts into my ears.

Has someone seen me and lay in wait for me? I quickly climb up a tree like a monkey, reach the top and then crawl over to another. No one could see me here, and even if they did they would run away because a monkey in a tree in the forest frightens everyone.

I sit like that on strong limbs that hold me fast and I pull the branches over me with my hand and shake the top of the tree, which rocks me back and forth.

The trees shake as if they will whisper a prayer of sadness over the mass Jewish graves in Treblinke. I tremble with the trees that are praying. I see now all the Treblinke dead, for whom only the trees will remain to say kadish.

* * *

It is quiet again in the forest. And I grasp the branches with my hands, fighting the dead weariness and weakness from the shivering cold that want to toss me down from the tree.

Gradually the moon loses her nightly light to the grey early morning that pursues it. The sun begins to rise and ignites the grey morning with its golden rays.

Sunlight again. I am afraid of the light, but I long for the warmth. And I certainly watch as it rises, it will soon be over my tree, over my naked body. The branches are still wet and I shake the drops into my thirsty mouth. I stop shivering from the cold but the hunger begins to tire me. I will find a way to live. As I found a way from the Treblinke hell, I must begin to seek a way to live.

I look around. From my tree I see villages and settlements and the wide fields to the side of the forest.

What about my nakedness? Is there no one in the forest who is prepared to help me?

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I hear footsteps. Fast steps as though someone is running. Who is it? It is a dog running. Behind him is a forest guard in a dark green suit, but I am afraid of him because a forest guard will report a hidden Jew to the Germans. I will not find any rescue from him, he would send me back to Treblinke. He disappears, whistling to his dog, as if he is afraid to be alone in the forest.

So I sit in the tree feeling that the day is disappearing and also my little strength is giving out, not knowing how to find rescue in my desperate situation. The sun begins to sink and I feel terror of the oncoming night. I feel like the night cold will drive me out of the tree. So wearying myself with my dark thoughts I hear someone driving cows toward the exit of the forest. I take notice and see an old peasant woman and a small peasant girl with a basket in her hand coming in my direction; the woman is driving the cows with a small branch and coming in the direction of my tree. I quickly jump off my branch, which is by now cutting into my flesh, and begin to climb down with the same monkey-like swiftness that I climbed up the tree. When I jump down I hear a scream calling on God's name.

The old woman – dressed in a peasant blouse pulled down over the waist with a peasant wide and long half-dress, over which she wears an apron – has dropped the corners of the apron in her fright and scattered the forest plants she had gathered. The peasant girl holds fast to her basket and clings to the old woman, seeking protection in her grandmother and crying from fright. After a moment I try to subdue their fright and disorientation. I quickly tell them where I came from. I say to them, have God in your hearts and give me some help. The old woman was very touched and gave me bread and milk. She gave me her apron to cover half my naked body and showed me the path in the direction of the town. I was then 16 kilometers from Sokolov-Kosov.

The peasant woman, who promised to bring me more clothes in the forest, did not appear any more. I am again left alone in the forest, torn away from the living world. Yet the first help from the old woman gave me encouragement. I

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decided that when night fell I would set out on the path she had shown me. When the night fell I began to wander over the forest in the direction of the town, letting myself be led by an uncertain fate. I roamed in the forest and the moon lit my way. I was afraid in that strange habitat. I ran as though being chased by a phantom.

So wandering I reach to the edge of the forest, not knowing where I am. I go out into the fields and see sparsely scattered peasant settlements. I decide to turn my fate over to the hand of some peasant, perhaps I will again encounter a good person.

Quietly, down on all fours so that no one will see me, I crawl close to a peasant workshop and hide among a heap of drying straw and wait for the peasant to appear from his hut at dawn.

I lay buried in the straw which covers me and warms me and cannot resist the dead tiredness; I begin to snooze, then fall into an exhausted sleep. In sleep I am dominated by horrible nightmares, I dream of the Treblinke hell, how the murderers chase me over the fields and forests, and they catch me when I am lying stuffed into a hole. The murderers drag me to a mass grave in the forest in the sand, I writhe and twist in dying convulsions and it seems to me that I am laying among the dead.

* * *

A peasant wakes me up, dragging me naked by my outstretched foot from my stolen straw hideout. I am so confused and cannot understand where I am. I recover quickly and explain to the peasant where I came from and begin to beg him for help. He has pity on me and leads me up to a loft in a stall, gives me a pair of trousers and a peasant shirt to wear, provides me with food and with water to wash off the specks of blood. Having covered my naked body and quieted my hunger I begin to feel myself back in my human role. I see that the destiny of salvation has accompanied me.

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I have a strong urge to seek the paths to life with a blind hope that the lucky destiny will not leave me again. I spend the whole day at the peasant's among the sheaves of straw in the loft.

At night the peasant comes to me and tells me that I must leave this hiding place because the settlers anticipate a raid by the Germans. I leave that place thanking the peasant, who tells me, “If you got out of Treblinke, the devil will not take you.”

Now dressed in peasant clothes, I set out on the road to Sokolov, to which I have eleven kilometers to go. I am walking on roads already walked upon by thousands of Jews who wandered here and wanted to find rescue in a desperate situation. I already know every path and trail.

 

On the Aryan Side

After escaping from the Treblinke extermination camp I left with Aryan papers for Warsaw, where I wandered around the non-Jewish streets and spent the nights hiding out in ruined houses. By chance I got into an establishment for homeless Poles, and lived there for more than a month and then was captured by the Gestapo along with other residents of the same establishment. In December 1942 the same group and I were arrested and sent to the Polish camp “Leytn-shtrase” in Westphalia (Germany), where I worked in the coal mine “Zeche Holland”, in a camp near Westensheid, six kilometers from Essen, until liberation by the American Army on the 10th of May 1945.

I lived under a Gentile mask for two and a half years. That period of time in my life was full of extraordinary events and struggles to conceal my naked body.

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In the Coal Mine “Zeche Holland

On that day I had a wish that something would happen to me at work. For several days the German master Adolf had marked with his chalk pencil another meter of coal for me to dig out; it seemed as though he wanted to gradually draw out the little life I had left. It seemed to me that he hid behind me in the dark with his lamp turned off observing me, investigating how I stand it in the underground cloud of dust amid the lumps of coal that fall from the wall of coal that the air-hammer –that chatters like a heavy machine gun – has split up.

A wild fury is incited in me. I want to bite into the coal-wall with my teeth, like the boring machine across from me, into the hardness of its ancient development in the deepest depth under the earth. I wrangle with a bitter stubbornness against this raw wild Nature; my hand trembles from the air-hammer in the wall of coal which bursts onto me with a crack as pieces of coal rain down.

A roar like that from a wounded ox tears out of me. A piece of coal bounces off my shinbone. The boring machine falls out of my hand. I remain standing on one foot, gritting my teeth. I hear the angry voice of Adolf : “Why have you thrown the hammer away?”

We each stared the other in the blackened face for a while. Without uttering a word I showed Adolf my wounded leg in the shine of his lamp.

Adolf leaned his head down to see my leg and said lightly, “The wound is not serious. I'll get someone to help you and you can finish the shift. “ Adolf knew me as a “Posnan-tshik” who had the nerve to oppose him. I yelled into his ugly mug in an unnatural voice, “You son of a whore! You just try working on one leg! I will complain to the camp commandant about your ill-willed measuring out too much work, and for forcing me to work while wounded!”

Adolf sized me up with a sharp glance, gave me a dirty look and climbed back down. In a few minutes he was back scrambling up with a bandage and a permit to leave work in the coalmine in the middle

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of the work shift. The doctor at first aid wrote me a sick permit for ten days in the camp hospital.

The camp hospital was located in a large barrack, painted red and encircled by a rope painted white; the front was decorated with different flowers. A long corridor separated the administration rooms from the wide hall where there were long rows of beds in a line.

“Tsholem Stanislav!” I look around – in the corridor and in the sick hall other familiar faces of internees look out and greet me, with their bandaged heads and hands, limping on canes, leaning on crutches; others lie in the beds.

The chief medic who took me into his office to admit me, showed me to an empty bed and left me with a cane.

It is the first time after more than half a year of wallowing in dirty sleeping places that I can rest in a clean bed, on a white sheet, with a pillow and a warm cover. It was a dream: A bed without lice, without bedbugs. I wanted this event to penetrate deeper and even give me a little inner calm; but the feeling of spiritual joy was strange to me, and I could not manage more than breathing a little more freely.

Near my bed lay the giant Stefan, my barrack mate, with an injured arm laid across his chest, and taking up the entire length and width of the bed. He was in the hospital for the first time and was envious of those seriously injured who would be free from work in the coal mine for a longer time.

After learning about my accident at work Stefan looked at my wounded leg and shook his head. “Stanislav, you don't have any luck, it's a shame, a shame, a real punch – Your leg is in two halves. You won't have to look at the cursed coalmine for a year.”

“Stefan, death is better than that, finished, and an end to digging coal.”

Yurek laughed at both of us. Yurek was a frequent patient in the hospital.

“To the devil! Go on and waste your life! Learn from me, one month in the ground, the next month in the hospital. You don't need to overwork yourself for the Germans. For such a dog's life

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as we have here, even that's too much for them.”

Stefan turned his heavy body to face Yurek and asked him. “How do you do that? When I work in the mine there are German eyes watching me from every side.”

Yurek, who was known in the camp as a lively spirit, now put on a stern face: “Of course Stefan! Being in a coalmine is like being on a front; there bombs are exploding over you, here stone walls explode; there a soldier gets wounded sometimes and abandons the front, and in the mines there are similar accidents which do not cause much suffering and one can make a living in the hospital. One must be able to “manipulate”, and to hell with the Germans!” The previous time I was here with a light wound on my foot. But Yurek – he pointed a finger to his head – “knows what to do. Sometimes smear a little soap, or a little salt into the wound until I have a whole month away from the mines. Now I am sick inside, I have a fever, I bang my elbows on the wall a few times while they measure the temperature and the thermometer under my arm heats up. When I like, even until nine-thirty. Those German mugs can go to hell.”

After his narrative Yurek shook with laughter. Stefan rolled over with his clumsy fleshy face to my side, whinnying like a horse, and I could just make out what he said to me: “He has a Jewish head on him, Yurek…”

“And you, Stefan, have a horse's head on you. A Jewish head here would be hanging in the middle of the camp on a gallows,” Yurek hissed out in irritation between his teeth.

“And do you want to be the hangman?” I asked Yurek with a tight smile on my face.

“Yes! As I love God!”

“You are not an observant Christian, Yurek!”

“What are you annoyed about Stanislav, the head with belief may not be with the Jews. In our town the priest warned that we should not give any help and not conceal any Jew.”

“In Posnan I have not seen any Jews since the Germans came in.”

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“Yes, that why you talk that way Stanislav,” Yurek excused himself. “By us in “Kongresuvke” it is the same with the Jews…”

Stefan's bed creaked when half his body rose like a heavy log, and he spoke as if from an empty barrel:

“Not true, that they have cut out all the Jews? Many of them are still wandering around the village roads, but the peasants don't know what to do with them. So, two Jews came to us in the village, tailors, running from the ghetto. They worked for us for two weeks in our house. We promised the Jews a hiding place and they believed in that like they believe in their God. Suddenly gendarmes were in the village searching from house to house. When the Germans approached our hut we chased the Jews out. Children ran after them shouting “zhid”. The gendarmes ran up like incited dogs and the Jews were shot like rabbits in a hunt.”

I could breathe freely when the bell sounded for us to get in line for food.

The first conversation about Jews after my coming to the hospital had thrown me into shock. Although I had already lived in that atmosphere for two months my current neighbors in the hospital filled me with unease, and it occurred to me that my goyishe mask could become transparent here. Here it was too clean and comfortable, too much day, too much light. Here people had too much time to talk; too many eyes that curiously search an unfamiliar face; strange eyes that drill into a person.

As usual in such moments something in me took over and I continued to play my role.

The next morning I stood before the camp doctor, a middle-aged, dark-haired German with a long eagle nose on his Semitic face. I would have sworn he was a Jew. But the broken-cross emblem on his lapel quickly took away my first impression. After examining my leg the doctor tapped my knee. After that he probed in my thigh (between the legs) with the tips of his fingers and looked me right in the eyes and said, “Any pains?”

“No.”

After the doctor had examined me he commented to the medical chief that he should observe both places when treating me,

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the wounded leg and especially the thigh in order to prevent a serious infection.

 

Sok382.jpg
My work card in the name of Stanislav Fribel

 

Maybe a couple of days later I felt some pain in that place where the doctor had probed with his fingers. I began looking around for how they handled the patients with such wounds as mine and noticed that some of them received injections.

Once, while considering the red inflamed wound on my leg, the chief medic told me to uncover the inside part below my belly. Avoiding doing that I stated to the doctor that I did not feel any pain around the wound and believed that he took my words seriously.

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But, from that moment something began to eat away at me like a worm. The pain in that place in my body that had to be revealed to Gentile eyes had to be spared despite physical pain or psychological unease. I noticed that the doctor looked after me as I walked, as I sat and even while eating. He began leading me into frequent conversations, ostensibly in passing, and not directly. He was especially following how I felt. But the doctor did not offer such close attention to anyone but me.

 

Sok383.jpg
My photograph on the other side of my work permit at that time

 

What kind of plans – I worriedly thought – could I make up now to help protect my life? Suspicion had fallen on me as a Jew. What should I do now? Flee? That did not seem possible in my condition. There remained no other recourse but to begin to control the situation that had been created around me in the hospital. First of all repress the psychological unrest. I began to take part often in the usual pastime games in the hospital like checkers, dominoes and particularly cards. And for the most part I let my partners win money from me. That made me more familiar to them. I stopped avoiding the doctor, and even with a nickname sought out various pretexts so

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that he could not sense any feeling of fear of him. My short encounters with the doctor in his exam room had as a goal to draw him closer in order develop an image of him.

The doctor, who talked little, appeared to be in his middle forties; he was a thin, short figure with black hair, and had two vivid, sharply-penetrating eyes in his pale opaque face. In his work around the sick, in his white apron, he was serious-thinking, and gave the impression that he, the chief medic, must establish the diagnoses for the patients.

Once – and this was in the beginning of my coming to the camp – when I went by the doctor's open window he signaled me with his finger to come to him and asked me what town I came from. He probably tried to recognize a friend in me. According to what he said I was very similar to his friend. That moment, I thought, I may have appeared concealing. There at the beginning of my stay in the camp and now up close in the hospital the doctor had the opportunity to confirm his suspicion; to observe my gestures, speech, characteristics and my general conduct. At the same time I fought off the thoughts that began to dominate in me, to drive them away. It took huge strength to overcome the exaggerated thoughts that were a result of my tragic experiences, and now came psychic conflicts in my inner solitude in a world so weirdly strange to me.

If the doctor was really suspicious of my being a hidden Jew and wanted to uncover me – I thought further – he would turn the matter over to the Gestapo, which kept in close contact with the camp directors. If he did not do that, it meant no harm to me. Now I imagined the doctor in my mind as not someone who would do that. Now, it seemed to me, he took no special notice of me, and I did not feel his sharp penetrating eyes on me; now he even neglected me or ignored me. Today he is in the ward checking, looking to see that everything is in order and does not even come to my bed. I have not even been on the doctor's list for two days. Those factors strengthen me, although my leg creates worries; the swelling in the thigh has increased, the warm compresses with tin coffee cups as bankes which I have made in secret, do not help. It hurts to walk on my injured leg, which I begin to drag behind me.

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The first Sunday in the hospital was my first encounter with a general rest day. All the inmates were freed from work for the day. In the coal shafts the roar of the machines was quieted. It was known in the neighboring Polish work-camps that that Sunday there would be great entertainment in Wansheid, Leiten Strasse Number 2.

A transparent Spring sun shone over the barrack roofs of the tree-lined street; the middle of the camp area smelled of blossoms and green grass.

After a boxing scene, the humorous part of the entertainment began, playing to a full house.

The barrack was buzzing with commotion. Everyone's wide eyes looked at the spot where a hanging blanket had been set up. Two tables had been pushed together, where there appeared a bent-over figure with the appearance of a cripple, who got up slowly and with heavy moans and leaning heavily on a cane, took his place hunched over in a long black frock-coat, a crooked hat on his head and his face covered by a long beard. “Garbati zhid! Hunchbacked Jew!” the audience screamed. When the assistant medic barely succeeded in quieting the wild screaming, the one disguised as a Jew began speaking, stammering, accompanied by strange gesticulations.

“Ay… Ay… Ay… I am a Jew from Poland. Once it was good for me (sticks out his belly), I lived by fooling the goyim (puts his hands in his pockets). Now, folks, it's very bad for me (displaying how he looks now), so very bad (shaking his head), for us it's slit, slit, slit (drawing a finger across his throat). Just let me stay with you (stretching his had out like a beggar); let me, let me…”

Raptures of laughter, the inmates held onto one another. It looked as though all the spectators were intoxicated by the image, almost falling over with laughter.

I was sitting in the row among the patients, and laid my head on my cane and so hid my concealed feelings of disgrace, of aloneness as if in a forest of wild animals.

When I lifted my face I met the sharp eyes of the doctor. I felt as if something would break… I covered the expression on my face

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as the pain from my wounded leg.

“What's wrong, Stanislav? Are you in pain?”

The doctor had come near to me quickly, and he posed the questions very calmly, putting his hand on my shoulder.

Lifting my face, which had been looking down toward my feet, I answered, “It hurts a little, it could be because the bandage is loose on my leg.”

“So go back to the hospital. I will come later and look at it.”

When I left the barrack the heavy grating sound of the interminable harmonies in the hands of the musicians with nodding heads still rattled in my ears. Dancing couples reveled in tapping their feet on the floorboards, accompanied by shouts of “Hoo-ha, hoo-ha!”

It was already late in the afternoon. The long corridor in the hospital was empty, the door to the administration offices were locked. I remained standing in the middle of the corridor, looking at the list of the patients that the doctors had written out that morning.

Afterwards I went into the sick ward and met with a dead silence. Only a couple of very ill patients lay in beds around the room. One murmured something to me. I stood for a while, confused, until I made my way to my bed.

Lying there, the doctor's face appeared even more vividly in my mind. The more I thought about him the weaker my doubts became about whether he thought I was a secret Jew. What did I imagine about this person? Who was hiding behind that white apron? A German Gestapo-nik or a Polish provocateur among the camp folk? Must I be the first prisoner in his secret network, the first victim here in the camp? Am I standing in view of death once again? My face broke out in a sweat and I lay there as if in a dark no-man's land.

Suddenly I perceived quiet footsteps which stopped near my bed; and after that a shuffling of papers. I held my breath for a while and took in the muffled stillness all around me. After that I turned over, opened my eyes and saw the doctor before me. I sat up and with trembling hands uncovered my ailing leg.

The doctor, instead of looking at my leg, took my hand, and placed his fingertips on my pulse; then he looked deeply

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at the red inflamed wound and pressed his fingers into the thigh of my wounded leg.

I trembled.

“This hurts you a lot, yes?”

“No”, I said, suppressing the grimace on y face.

“So why are you trembling like that?”

“That place is sensitive on everyone.”

Our eyes stayed locked together for a while and a question mark hung between us: Who are you?

After a short silence the doctor said to me, nodding his head, “Tomorrow I will let you know what time you should report to me. Your leg requires a special treatment.”

When the doctor left the ward I looked back at the things on my night table. In the same order as before lay the Polish book, a German newspaper, a domino and the cards. Moved was the wrapper of a hidden food package from the woman Rogozshanski, addressed to Stanislav Fribel, sent anonymously from Yadviga Bieletska, Sokolov Podlaski, Pietinska 91. Near that lay a postcard which I had sent to myself before I came to the hospital. The card, stamped from the Bakhum post office, read:

“Dear colleague Stanislav, Vitsek from Dortmund came to see me. He works, like you, in a coalmine. I am better – I work at my trade as a locksmith in Bakhum. At home in the village there is no one who can help my elderly parents to work the fields. Mother just cries about why we were sent away from home. Write which Sunday you would like to come be my guest. Your colleague, Bronek.”

I lie in bed and think: Did the doctor take those things I so earnestly prepared, in order to draw his notice to read them? Were they strong evidence against his suspicions about me? But another thought occurred to me: Did I make a mistake with all that? Did I not just lay evidence in his hands that I stay in contact with someone that he could be suspicious of? Did he understand that? What should his words mean? I should report to him: what did he mean by that? Has he already given

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information about me to someone, and will I have to stand for a cross-examination? God! How can I get the strength to endure such an event after wrestling with death so many times? Will they believe what I will say?? Will someone reach out a hand to me, or will I be hanged in the middle of the camp in shame and ridicule? A gallows for a hidden Jew among so many goyim. The last Jew…. And Yurek would be my hangman? Yurek, who eats and sleeps with me and even has respect for my observant praying in the camp church?

From the corridor the sound of unfamiliar footsteps reaches me. Soon the ward is filled with commotion and laughter. Stefan comes to my bed, gives me a shake: “Hey Stanislav! Why did you leave the performance?”

“It annoyed me,” I told him sleepily.

Yurek, to the rhythm of a mazurka which he was humming, called out in good humor, “Stephan, let him sleep. Stanislav is too old for amusements; he likes praying in the church better. And you too, good grief, were like a beaten Jew in Germany!”

“Good grief.” Stephan shouted, “you're calling me a beaten down Jew? You yourself are like the hunch-backed Jew, just like the one you presented today…”

My heart started to beat faster. I gave Yurek a shove in the leg. “Was that you disguised as a Jew? As I love God, I did not recognize you! From where, Yurek, did you learn such theatrical imitations of a Jew?”

Yurek, who considered me as not very experienced in Jewish matters, explained it to me:

“You, Stanislav, in your Posnan, did not have much to do with the creature that calls itself ‘Jew’, but among us in Zshirardov we always had Jews, in all the streets, almost in every house; and in fact across from us where we lived we had Jewish neighbors, rich manufacturers of white linen; Jews growing beards and peyes. I saw their lives from childhood on, I even remember not only their weddings but also their funerals. I knew the Zhid with all his peculiarities as God is my witness. Stanislav, take one Jew and place him among a thousand Poles

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and dressed in the same clothes as everyone else and I can recognize him…”

I interrupted Yurek's speech.

“Tell me, how did you develop this as an artist?”

Yurek answered me proudly:

“Actors in the camp recognize me as one of them, who can present comical pieces. Last Sunday I played a Jew here in the hospital. The patients shook their beds with laughter and shrieked so loudly that the chief doctor came running to see what was going on. Imagine, Stanislav – the doctor, who usually goes around with a sour face and squinty eyes, I even made him laugh. When I ended it he asked me to do the same presentation today for the entertainment.”

“Did you know the doctor already from Poland?”

Yurek shrugged his shoulders and creased his face.

“The devil knows where he came from. I don't even know his name, some say he's from Silesia – he speaks good German – or maybe he's from Congress Poland. In the camp they say that he's from the Russian regions. I myself heard him speaking Russian with Ivan the hairdresser, and who knows where he comes from?”

Yanek the assistant medic appeared in the ward with a small bell in his hand. Everyone put aside their dominoes, checkers and cards and other games. Each patient took to his bed. It got dark in the ward.

I lay in bed surrounded by the darkness. The difficult experiences of the day pressed on me like a heavy weight. My mind was no longer capable of thought. All of my limbs were tense. I slept heavily.

In the morning I stood in the line among the sick, to get my leg bandaged. When the doctor saw me he took me out of the line and pulled me aside and said sternly, “You will not be treated now! Come to me at eight in the evening in my office, I will decide what to do with your leg.”

“What is wrong with my leg that demands a special treatment?” I asked, leaning on my cane to maintain my balance.

The doctor focused his eyes on me and tossed

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out these words: “No questions! Now go back to bed!”

It became clear to me that the doctor had to try to rip the mask off me. He planned something against me and would drive his plan to its end.

I lay in bed and thought about the coming meeting with the doctor. I felt that this would be the great weight in my continued life in the camp, where fate had landed me after I escaped from Treblinke. I began to formulate various plans. The first plan was that I should hide a sharp knife on my person for the moment when I would see that I was completely lost. Then I would attack the doctor, stab him, and then be on my own. But I could not find enough physical or moral strength to carry it out. The thought occurred to me that I may be a suicide.

Another plan came to me actual and logical. That plan I began to consider in detail and carry out.

When the time neared for the meeting I started a conversation with the two camp gentiles Stefan and Gzshigorsh and they told me that they were meeting up to buy a cheap package of clothes and also a cake, and they asked me to help. For my help they would give me some cake and a pack of cigarettes. They would come at 8:30 in the evening and wait for me by the doctor's door. If I was delayed they would come to ask about me. Right after coming into the room the doctor asked me who the two men were.

“My good friends,” I stated.

“Where do they come from, they seem familiar to me from someplace.”

“We lived together as refugees from the Posner area in Sokolov-Podlaski.”

“I made a mistake,” he murmured to himself.

After a short chat the doctor motioned with his finger that I should sit down. I sat with my face across from a mirror on the wall and could see how he put on his white apron, slowly smoked a cigarette, stood thinking for a while in front of the glass cabinet of medicines, searched for something with his face close to the little bottles, closed the cabinet and opened it again, walked a few steps across the room, stood by

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me and opened my shirt at the neck. After that he stuck a thermometer under my arm, looked at his watch and stayed sitting in the same pose as I. Our glances met in the mirror. On his face I could tell that he was preparing to speak. Then he told me that someone had stopped him and as soon as he spoke he recognized him as a Jew whom he had helped to escape from Poland.

I wanted the doctor the see that I did not understand what he was talking about. I just wanted to bring his attention to my condition as a wounded patient, and answered with a heavy voice, barely audible, that for me what I was hearing was not strange and I came in here to be treated as a patient.

The doctor pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and crossed his legs.

“It should not disturb us to talk a little if the mood is to talk…”

As if not hearing him, I took the thermometer from my mouth and laid it near the doctor. But now he was not interested in it. As if directed he began talking again:

“I came to Watensheid from Kasel. I was a doctor in a camp there, as I am here. Once two women who worked in the kitchens came to me with scalded hands. One of them seemed to be Jewish. She denied it for a long time… but my eyes had not fooled me… she had to confess it. After that we became so familiar that she substituted for my wife, whom I had to leave at home.”

The doctor was quiet. His eyes kept observing me in the mirror. For me the goal of his talk and of his watching me in the mirror became clear. I turned my face to the doctor, measured him with piercing eyes, gritted my teeth and looked at him sharply.

“Why are you being so impudent with me?” he shouted, jumping up from his chair.

“What is your goal in telling me your Jewish history? What do I have in common with that? Tell me! Answer!”

We both remained standing opposite each other,

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eyes wide. From the corridor came the sound of heavy, dragging footsteps. The unexpectedly opened door interrupted the incendiary mood between us. Stefan's large head came through the opening and asked when I was coming out.

The doctor, who was still standing, confused, moved his eyes from me to Stefan's head, which looked wild at the door and had frightened him. The impression of the doctor grew more when I approached the door when Stefan's head withdrew. In the corridor I told him that I could not go to Valetski right now, because he was working the night shift. We could meet him tomorrow around lunch time.

“No problem, no problem. Morning it is,” Stefan replied, and went with bear-like steps back to the ward.

When I went back to the room the doctor was sitting at his desk with the thermometer in his hand. The somewhat agitated mood had suddenly vanished. Calmer, with soft speech, he asked me if I had a fever and told me to unwrap the bandage.

“What did the bumpkin want from you just now?” he went on.

“A private matter,” I answered shortly.

“How did he know you'd be here in my office?”

“I'm sure he saw me come in here.”

The doctor seemed in agreement with my answer and asked to see my injured leg. Regarding the wound, he looked at me sternly and from his mouth poured words like hot coals:

“You have swelling in your thigh… You hid this from me. But tell me the truth, what is the reason for hiding it?”

“Am I visiting with a doctor or an investigator?”

“In this question, with an investigator.”

“I'm sitting before an investigator?”

A strong rattling of the handle and knocking at the door caused the doctor to turn the key and open the door a little, and Gzshegorzsh's athletic figure pushed its way in. Gzshegorzsh blinked his eyes and looked around the room, and like a polite

[Page 393]

boy asked if we had finished.

I quickly grabbed Gzshegorzsh by the arm and went with him out to the corridor and quietly told him that Franek was working the night shift today and we would go to see him tomorrow. He agreed.

Turning back to the room the doctor was waiting for me at the open door, which he later locked and put the key into his pocket and began to nervously pace the room until he stopped with his fists balled up. From behind my back I heard his breathless voice.

“You are a hidden character in the camp! You organize intrigues, tell me now who you are. Tell the truth.”

“My name is Stanislav Fribel!” I shouted at him.

“Not correct! Not right. Your name is Meyshe… or Yona! You are a Jew! Yes, he who sits here is a Jew. A Jew.”

In the mirror I managed to see his threatening, stretched-out arm over my head: I felt a shiver over my body and remained powerless with my head down and my arms hanging down.

I do not know how long that lasted until I could utter a word. When I looked in the mirror again I saw the doctor's eyes fixed on me, I made my shaky feet take me to the desk where the doctor was sitting at the other side.

“Well, what do you have to tell me now, when your mask has been ripped off and you sit before me with your Jewish face?”

The poisonous words that the doctor spoke with a sarcastic smile, stretching his head out over the desk closer to me.

“Sir Doctor, I am prepared to tell you something when you will listen to me with patience and give my words a little attention.”

“What kind of strange things can you tell me,” the doctor shook his head in mockery. “Well, tell me, I will listen.”

“I do not know with whom and for whom I speak here,” I began with a quivering voice. “It could be with a masked German, who after finishing with me will seek out another victim in a camp, but I would rather believe that I am speaking to a Pole. A Christian who believes sincerely in God, who has a human

[Page 394]

heart. Who is himself hunted by the Germans. As such I am grateful for you, as I am actually a Jew.”

“Why I came to Germany and how I got here under a strange name, that is tied to my life history for only the last half year. What I have experienced in that short time would be enough for a person who lived one hundred years, and he would still die like a tortured man.

“I do not know if the Treblinke extermination camp is known to you, where the Germans have established a factory to kill people. I escaped from there, naked, a few minutes before I would have been killed. God has sent me good people along the way. The first clothing, an apron, was given to me by an old Polish woman in a forest; the first shirt with which I covered my wounded body was given to me by a Pole with a human heart. And another Pole took me into his house, where I got back the feeling of being a person. Even here in the camp there are a few Poles who know my background. Two of them you have just seen in your office. Those Poles helped me come to Germany. Also they are concerned that here I am not revealed as a Jew, that would be certain death for them as well.

“I forgive you for your detective work against me until now, I am sure that you, yourself a tormented Pole who only strives to be a free person in his fatherland, are still also an observant Catholic. I see how religiously you pray in the camp church. Ask the priest Rutshevski if you may do that against someone like me. The priest will tell you whether you must persecute me or protect me. I appeal to your human conscience, will you be different to me, will you jeopardize all the good Poles who have given me human help… that is all that I have to say to you, and now do with me what your heart and conscience dictate.”

After my speech it was quiet in the room. We both sat for long minutes, he with his face in his hands, I with my head thrown back against the frame of the chair, breathing hard, as after a long run.

Fateful minutes stretched before my eyes. The rest

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of my life was in the hands of the secret-filled person who sat across from me. I trembled for the first word that would soon come from his mouth – a word that would determine whether my speech had touched his human conscience or was a confession before death.

The chair the doctor was sitting in moved from its place. The doctor stood up. He went to the glass cabinet on the wall, took out a small bottle and a half glass of water, counted out a few dark drops and brought it to my mouth.

“Drink it, it will calm you.”

“Sir Doctor,” I pleaded, barely able to speak, “just give me a warm word. From that I will be calm very quickly.”

“I will not do you any harm.”

“Explain that to me properly and more clearly…”

The doctor settled near me by the desk and crossed his legs. His hands were stretched out along the edge of the desk, with his face to the side where I was sitting and he began speaking quietly, as if only I should hear.

“From now on, after your pardon, the dramatic play between us is ended. You have capitulated for me, but you played your role very well to the last minute, when I forced you to raise your hands for me. I was a secret agent for the Polish police for many years, in Tshenstokhov. I have not forgotten my profession, although I wear a white apron in the hospital. I say to you honestly: chase away your fear of me. Take on trust in me. And my name is Stanislav too – Stanislav Silvester, a well-known name among the Tshenstokhov Jews. Keep that as a secret. Remember that I do not have any close friends in the camp, I live quietly without any adventure. Avoid playing cards. Don't give too many speeches, especially with the intellectuals in camp. Lose your manners, walk more regularly, more like a peasant; empty your nose in the middle of the walk and don't use a handkerchief – then no one will uncover you. Because in camp there are eyes that observe. Remember what I have told you.”

After his talk, which filled me with vitality, I was so touched I wrung his hand, saying “I have had good fortune again – to meet a good person in my sad life.”

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The doctor smiled and shook his head no.

“I do not know what it means to be good. No one ever knew me as such, especially the Jews. But it does not bother me to hate the Germans for their murders. I have seen many things the Germans have done to the Jews in Tshenstokhov. I see in you such a Tshenstokhov Jew that I strongly pity, although I do not love the Jews.”

 

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