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[Page 442]

From the German Hell

Khane Shtutman-Vishny, Nes-Tsiona

Translated by Tina Lunson

In the first days after their arrival the Germans caught only men as laborers. Later they snatched up women from the rooms of their homes since they often used to hide men who had successfully evaded capture. Once the German police came into our house and demanded that my mother show them where the hidden men were; they beat her and began to search the house themselves, but they never found the place. Those who did not respond to the orders from the Jewish council, the German police along with the Jewish police took them from their homes by force; because of that the Jews were afraid to appear on the street. The Germans beat Jews, sheared their beards, robbed their belongings and took them away on buses. One time a startled gendarme ran wild in the study-house and, shooting into the women's section, killed a Jewish woman.

The Germans took the captured Jews to the Jewish council building. There each was given his portion of bread. At that time the president of the council was Nakhum Levin and the members were Yitskhak Shlafmits, Kalman (called “Klin”) and others.

Before long the Jewish council received a strict order that all Jews must wear arm bands bearing the Shield of David. The bitter decree fell heavily on the Jews and everyone felt as though hard times were coming.

The leaders of the Jewish council called on the Jewish population to carry out the order, because otherwise there would be sacrifices. Nevertheless not every individual would adapt to the decree. And indeed the Germans did shoot at Jews out on the street without the armbands.

Months later many Jews from Kalish began appearing in Sokolov, whom the Germans had driven out of that town.

By the end of 1941 Sokolov set up the ghetto. The Jews from the surrounding towns were forced to come into

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our ghetto, which was enclosed with brick wall and barbed wire all around and was guarded by the German, Polish and also Jewish police. Soon a decree came out that forbade Poles from entering the ghetto. With that, all the trade died. Those who had prepared food supplies could get by, but the hunger was frightful. Then a typhus epidemic broke out, and the fatalities were extraordinary. The commandant of the ghetto, Surdik, a Pole from Posen, did not allow groups of people to gather at the funerals, of which there were dozens every day.

The capturing of young men for work did not cease. The Jewish council (now the Judenrat) had to provide the contingent. The work force was led out of the ghetto to work at washing laundry in the German hospital, clearing snow from the highway, bridges, latrines and so on. When the S.S. troops wanted entertainment, they brutally beat anyone who happened along. They shot large numbers of people and cackled with laughter at it. The workers were brought back into the ghetto each night.

About three months later the situation in the ghetto changed. The Germans sternly demanded from the Judenrat that all those capable of work be sent to the work camps. They convinced the Judenrat that the Jews would be sent out to work details.

Once a rumor went around the ghetto that those Jews were being killed in Treblinka. The rumor came from a railroad machinist who traveled with the train to Treblinka, which had become a death camp. The machinist told the peasants that he had seen for himself how the Germans killed Jews and pleaded with good Christians to let the ghetto know. Good peasants did just that. They also related the report from a peasant who had seen a luxury train of finely-dressed Jews from another country who had asked the passing peasants where Treblinka was located. The peasants were thus certain where the Jews were being taken and they let people in the Sokolov ghetto know. There was indescribable panic in the ghetto.

* * *

My father, Meyshe Shtutman, my father-in-law Asher Yaspershteyn and I were returning from the work-place Skrishev to the Shedlets ghetto. That was already after the liquidation of the Sokolov ghetto. Besides us there were many Jews from the surrounding work-places coming into the ghetto.

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The arriving Jews were thin, dragging their feet and full of lice. It was horrible to look on that scene. When we saw what awaited us in the new ghetto we decided to travel back to Skrishev, where we knew familiar peasants and for a lot of money – we thought – we could succeed in hiding with them. We were met by the familiar peasant Stanislav Rasakhatski, who had built his cottage on the main road through the village. We negotiated a price of 7,000 zlotys to keep us until the Germans left Poland. The peasant assured us that however long the war lasted, he would not drive us away.

The peasant Rasakhatski's cottage consisted of one room. He patched together a sort of wall behind the oven and let us inside. His neighbors noticed it immediately and asked him, why he was building such a wall now. Stanislav answered that he had made it because he wanted to store grain back there in case the Germans searched his property.

When the neighbors went away the peasant began to worry about the hideaway. He discussed it with us and we decided to dig a pit under the floor. We set right to work and dug a deep hole to the outside, to the little garden.

As soon as we had the hole ready the peasant covered the outdoor part and poured heaps of earth over it. We dug out little holes in the pit in order to look out and also to let in a little air, and that is how we lived for seventeen months.

Once when my father and father-in-law had gone to find bread – the peasant had agreed to provide everything we needed except bread, since he could hide everything about our being there but not bread because he could not bake more bread than usual since the neighbors would not become suspicious – two members of the “Akavtses” (Armia Krayova, an antisemitic military formation) saw us go out. The “Akovtses” spied on us and investigated which cottage we were hiding in.

A week later a band of “Akovtses” knocked on the peasant's door. One of them strongly demanded that the peasant turn over the

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Jews he was hiding. At first our peasant, very upset, denied it. But when they threatened to shoot him and burn down the cottage he opened the hideout and told us to come out.

We got out with our legs trembling. One of the band commanded that we lay on the floor with our faces up. When we did that he said that if we would reveal the place where we had hidden the thousand liters of whisky they would let us live.

My father-in-law realized where this was going. He had once told a friendly peasant that he had hidden a little whisky, and as this information had circulated to other peasants it had grown from a little to a thousand liters. My father-in-law replied that he could go with them and show them the hiding place. The band left my father in the pit and took my father-in-law and me with them.

When we arrived in their camp my father-in-law described to them where the hiding place for the buried whisky was, a few of them drove to that place and, returning, reported that our description was correct. However since they could not dig up the hiding place because the nights were illuminated by the full moon, they would free us in the meanwhile. They took us into a nearby forest and gave us some food. They ordered us not to leave the place until they could dig up the whisky from its hidden place and thus after retrieving the whisky we would benefit from their help.

We understood that if they did not find even that small amount of whisky – and even if they did find it – they would do the same with us as they had done with other Jewish partisans.

We quickly left that place and turned back to the cottage where my father was.

When we got into the house the peasant was very surprised that were we able to return alive. We did not find my father there. The peasant said that my father had asked him to tell us that we should go to the Skrishiv orchard, near the highway. We went straight there and indeed found my father there.

And so we wandered around in the forest, enduring hunger and fear.

Once on a summer night when we could not bear

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the hunger we decided to cross the highway which led to a camp, where a Christian family lived. When we were across the road we were stopped by German soldiers. Glancing around we saw many German soldiers. We thought that in any case it must mean the front was not far away. But since we did not have any documents we were arrested by two German soldiers. My father-in-law managed to escape while we were being escorted by the soldiers, and they took my father and me to the village Skrishev. The two armed soldiers took us to a large peasant cottage. Soon a German officer came out, regarded us and pronounced his thought that we must be Russian spies. The officer gave a strict order that we be taken immediately to the Sokolov gendarmerie.

When we were taken to Sokolov the gendarmerie there had been moved. We realized that the Red Army was nearing with giant steps. We were literally eating ourselves with woe that we had not stayed in the forest for a few more days.

The two soldiers went with us back to Vengrove. But there too the gendarmerie was abandoned. They deliberated and then turned us over to the military headquarters.

At the headquarters they investigated who we were. They came to me first. One of them treated me by beating me all over my body with a leather whip while screaming at me to tell the truth. Crying, I never stopped maintaining that I fled my home due to the terrible shooting at the front and I forgot to bring my documents. To the question of who the old man was, I answered that I did not know him at all and that I met him by accident walking along the road.

After that investigation I was taken, in pain from the beatings, out to a warehouse in the yard. A soldier with a rifle in his hands was stationed outside.

After that they investigated my father. My father maintained the same thing. Having a suspicion that we were Russian spies, an officer patted down my father's clothing. While patting a vest pocket he found something thick. He cut open the vest and an armband with a Star of David fell out. When the Germans saw it, they asked my father in wonderment,

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“Are you Jews?” My father – astounded that he did not remember that he had sewn in the band as a memento in the ghetto – strove to stay calm and began to deny that he was a Jew. The officer gave a wink to the soldier, that they should take him into the other room to search him and see if he was circumcised. Father then admitted that he was a Jew and begged them to shoot him now if they intended to, but not torture him.

Next father saw that they were bringing in a large wild dog. Father trembled all over in fear. The dog regarded the trembling and starving man and did not move from the spot. When the onlooking Germans saw this they stood there in amazement, and one of them, an officer, talked to the dog so that he would bite father. But the dog hung his head and did not in any manner touch the man. The Germans, wild and infuriated, ran to my half-naked father and beat him murderously. They bloodied him frightfully, knocked out his teeth and dragging him in a faint across the yard they threw him into the warehouse where I was.

My father lay almost unconscious. With all my strength I began ministering to my father. Coming around a little, he lifted a hand and said in a broken voice,

“Rabeynu shel eylem, what do you want from us?” And then be began reciting the final confession. I shuddered and banged my head against the wall. Later while I was laying breathless from crying, I saw my father had suddenly gotten himself up, gone to the closed door and tried to open it. To my surprise the door opened itself. It was before daybreak. Father saw the mistress of the house where the military headquarters was, go into the outdoor toilet. He asked her about the “guards”, because he had to go there too. The woman answered that the guards were away sleeping.

When the mistress went back into the house we realized that she gave us the opportunity to flee. We hurried to leave the warehouse and run away through back streets. We went into a field and hurried to find some hiding place, not knowing where to run. Finally we saw a forest and headed there. Standing by the forest we were afraid to go into it, unsure

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whether it was clear of ”Akavtses.” Seeing that there were ricks of straw all over the field, we went under one of those. About two hours later we saw German soldiers with weapons running, and after them a gang of Pollacks, all screaming “Jews, come out of the forest!”

And as no one appeared from out of the forest the soldiers began shooting into the forest. The shooting was so heavy that it seemed to us that the whole terrain must be torn up.

When the soldiers left we were still so afraid that we crawled out from the straw and sat up for the rest of the night.

At dawn we crawled out with aching limbs and wanted to leave that place. Suddenly a peasant popped up before us and asked where we were going. As we had asked him for a little bread he told us to wait until he could bring it. We did not want to wait and went further on. Father stood still and said that he had no strength to go on. We had no choice but to go under another pile of straw. I left my father there and went off to search for food.

And I came upon a settlement. Opening the door of a house I saw an elderly Christian. I presented myself to him as a Christian, saying that because of the heavy shooting of the nearby front I had lost my wagon and I asked him for some bread. The Christian invited me to the table and gave a wink to his wife that she should serve me some food.

When I had eaten with great appetite, the proprietor – never taking his eyes off me – said, “Don't think that I don't know that you are Jewish. One can see it in you. But do not be afraid. I will not turn you in and will not do you any harm.” Seeing that I was dealing with an honest person I told him everything. He gave me food to take to my father.

When I returned my father was lying on the ground with no strength. I had to chew the bread for him because he did not have any teeth in his mouth. We remained sitting there until night then went off to go further, to the Sokolov cemetery. But my father felt that his legs would not carry him and he said, “Listen, daughter, you can see that I cannot walk now, leave me here and go on

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by yourself. You are young! But if you survive the war, you must not forget that your father was killed on this spot or perished from exhaustion.”

I felt as though my heart would burst; I steeled myself and with great effort stood my father up on his feet. He leaned on me and we took difficult steps. When he had recovered a little, he gradually came to himself. We walked the whole night.

In the morning we encountered two armed German soldiers on the road. Terrified, I took us into the tall stalks of wheat. By the time the Germans were out of sight we had lost one another among the thick stalks of grain. I called out to father but did not hear any answer. I searched for my father around the whole area. Then I once again saw two armed Germans, and I passed them close by with my head held high and they paid me no notice. At that moment I heard a shot and a cry “Gevalt!” It seemed to me that they had shot my father.

I started running further to the place, and not knowing for sure whether father had really be shot, I went toward the Sokolov cemetery.

Nearing the cemetery I met two peasants who recognized me as a Jewess, and they told me I should run away because the whole area around was full of German military. I got out of there and walked to the village Ripki.

Arriving there I confronted the entire front and now could not go anywhere. The Germans asked me where I was going, and I told them that I was going to my home. They told me I should not go any further because the Russians were there already. I went through a short way and got into a peasant cottage, and asked the woman for a piece of bread. She gave me a whole loaf of bread. Going to several cottages in order to be further from the military, I saw a young Christian sitting with three small children. The Christian was weeping bitterly. I asked her why she was crying and she explained that because her fields were far from the village

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her husband and a son had to stay there with the Russians and so she and the children were separated from their family. I told her she should stay with me. She obeyed me. I gave her half the loaf of bread. Later the Germans fled and the Russians came in with a storm.

As soon as I was free I first went to Skrishev to search for my father. I met five Jews there. The Jews had no news of my father. I soon thought my father was one of the lost. Two days later I went to a nearby princely estate with the hope of perhaps finding father there. On the way I met some peasants. They told me that they had just seen my father. I hardly believed them.

Arriving at the estate I saw an old, very tattered person sitting, who looked a little like my father. But I could not believe that it was really my father.

As father raised his eyes I started to shout, though not in my own voice, “Tate! Tate!”

We both fainted.

When we recovered a little we decided to leave Poland.

And that is how we came to Israel.


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