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[Page 451]

The Bedeviled Circle of Danger

Gedalye Vishny

Translated by Tina Lunson

During the German actions against the Jews I was with my cousin Yoysef Vishny (now in Germany), going to hide out in a barn. The owner, an old Jew, closed the barn and we hid there all night. Throughout the night we could hear how they were driving the captured Jews. At dawn the owner came to us and told us that the German gendarmerie themselves would search the ghetto the next night to find any hidden Jews.

My cousin and I decided that we could not lie there and wait but must climb over the high wire fence of the ghetto. We did indeed succeed in jumping over and escaped to a village, about twenty kilometers from the ghetto.

Likely because we were both blonde, the German passersby and even the peasants did not take us for Jews. We went to the house of a peasant who had always dealt with my father. The peasant recognized me and gave us both something to eat. We soon left there and went to a second village – to a peasant who had once worked with my father. The peasant served us bread and milk and inquired how my parents were living in the ghetto. Suddenly there was a sharp knock on the door. When the peasant opened the door, in strode a solitary, unarmed German soldier who upbraided the peasant with a sharp glance and asked where the two Jews who had been wandering around his cottage were.

The peasant was frightened at the language he had used. Orienting myself to the evolving situation, I quickly answered for the peasant, “We have not seen any Jews here.”

“Who is the home owner?” the German asked harshly.

“I,” the peasant answered in a trembling voice.

“Tell me, where are the two Jews?” the German shouted.

The peasant looked in terror at the German and at us, thinking that the

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German would surmise from his glances who we were. “Are those the Jews?” The German pointed his finger at both of us. The German ran up to my cousin and landed a loud slap on him, then did the same to me and demanded that we go to the village magistrate with him.

We went out first and the German followed us. We hurried along with quick steps, afraid that the German would kick us with his boots. Meanwhile my cousin managed to run away. The German gritted his teeth and told me that I would soon pay for him with my head too – and he took me to the village magistrate. There he took off his great–coat so that it would be easier for him to beat me. And he started to hit me and so knocked out several teeth. I fainted several times and when I came around again I saw that my hands and face were running with blood. The German took me to his guardhouse.

Walking along with the German he stopped with me in a peasant's yard and began chatting with a peasant. The German never took his eyes off me, so I would not run away from him. Some distance away there were some little peasant boys, who said to me, “Little Jew run away because they will kill you!”

Despite the fact that I was groggy from being beaten I grasped the grave danger I was in, and not knowing where the strength came from I started to run fast away from him. The German began to chase me. Happily I could run faster than he and I came to a little bridge over a deep empty pit. I ran over the little bridge, but the German apparently did not notice it because he fell into the pit.

Once out of the pit he saw me running and set off after me again. Turning my head from time to time I could see that the German threw off his great–coat and chased me like a devil. Some kind of secret strength drove me to run like that, so that I completely

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disappeared from his view. I ran into a village, to a familiar peasant, Virov. The peasant gave me food to eat, and I told him about everything. Since the German had taken my papers I began to fear that he would inform the police in Sokolov about me and they would take revenge against my parents. I decided not even to spend the night there but to return to the ghetto.

It was a very dark night and I could not even see my way. Still I arrived at the ghetto wall and climbed back over it. I went to the first house and knocked: the door opened to me. The terrified Jew offered me a bed and I lay down to sleep. Suddenly someone knocked on the door. The blood froze in all of our veins. But then we heard a familiar voice, it was my cousin Yoysef Piekarski, who had also just arrived from somewhere.

I was afraid to go home early in the morning, so called my parents to come here. They went to the Juden–rat and asked for help for me. The Juden–rat placed me in the rows of those going out of the ghetto to work. I did not hide out in our house and there I developed a lung inflammation and had to lie in bed for a long while.

Anyone who was not successful in hiding was caught and sent off to various places, and we in the ghetto could get no news at all about what happened to those people.

In 1942, at the end on yom kippur, the liquidation of the ghetto in Sokolov began. Before dawn the Germans, wanting to throw a fright into the Jews, surrounded the ghetto and started shooting. About 1,500 people were murdered in that savage shooting. Then they poured into the ghetto in large numbers, broke into the houses and dragged out Jews from their hiding places. They were taken in automobiles to the train. When they had scoured every corner, they let about 200 Jews into the places so that they could bury those who were shot and also carry out our work.

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The remaining Jews, only men, were arranged in the small market square where they were held for five weeks.

One time the ghetto commandant (“the Poznantshik”) [who is mentioned in other accounts: Translator] came into the small market and ordered all those remaining to gather in the shul courtyard in order to be properly counted. When the Jews came in, the S.S. from Treblinka were waiting for them. They forced the Jews by pairs into prepared automobiles and drove them to Treblinka. Those who tried to run away were shot on the spot. My cousin Yoysef Piekarski succeeded in escaping that last action, as did two sons of Avrom Perle, Itsl and Gedalye.

Well before the action to Treblinka, Jews had been asking their familiar Polish landowners to arrange with the Germans to assign Jewish workers from the ghetto at their estates. The landowners did so. Of course, each landowner had his favorite Jews. I was assigned to the well–known landowner, Tadeusz Khroshtshakovski, whose estate was near the village of Skrishev*. There were about fifty Jews at that estate. We heard about what happened during the last action in the Sokolov ghetto. We remained at that estate until the end of December, 1942. After that there was an order that all the Jews assigned to work places must be removed to the ghettos in Shedlets or Kasov. The Jews at my estate decided to go to Shedlets.

Our landowner appealed to the Germans to lengthen the term of his workmen, but the Germans would not hear such requests. In the end the landowner got three Jews, who worked making shingles for the roof, to stay for another two weeks. Understanding that staying those extra fifteen days was filled with danger we, the three Jews, met with the landowner about how to manage it. The landowner counseled us to simply escape, because the Germans would surely come and shoot us.

We made preparations to leave. The landowner told one of his farmhands to drive us to Kasov in a wagon. About halfway along the journey we bribed the driver to let us off near a small forest. We went deeper into the Kurtshev forest, where we encountered fifty Jews who were hiding out in a bunker. We stayed with them.

Two days later a young man from Sokolov arrived and told us that he had been hiding out with another four Jews on the other side of the forest, when

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a band of escaped Russian prisoners of war, who had been wandering around the forest, suddenly fell upon their camp. They attacked the Jews, stole everything that they had and then attacked the Jews with axes and other heavy instruments and killed the four Jews. The young man stayed with us.

Before long the whole band came to our bunker too. Seeing that there was a large number of us, they said that we were doing well to hide in the forest. When the band, about six persons, left us, we decided that they would probably go to get more Russians. We agreed among ourselves that we would not all twenty Jews go together, but in smaller groups. We split up and called out in loud voices, and when we were farther apart, a huge group of Russians suddenly attacked us. Two members of our group fell right away. One of them was Shloyme Kavaltshik who only two days earlier had escaped from a train to Treblinka.

A fight broke out. A few of our group ran away. Shmuel Stotski hit a Russian in the head with an axe. When I saw that another Russian was lifting his axe to strike Shmuel, fast as lightning I wrestled the axe away from him. Seeing our resistance, the Russians began to be afraid of us and they ran off.

We followed the “path” to get out of the forest. The Russians popped up again from someplace and attacked three Jewish women and a 16 year–old youth. One of them received a blow on his head with an iron bar and he fell dead on the spot. Then they started chasing the three women, who fled breathlessly. And when they could not chase them down they turned to pick on me. I protected myself with a sharp axe in one hand. In my other hand I was holding a bundle of dirty clothes, which I flung aside. The Russians, apparently thinking that there was some treasure in the bundle, left me alone and grabbed the bundle and held it up. I seized the moment and fled deeper into the forest.

Running in the forest I caught up with my friends Nosn Gviazde and Yoel Shpandel, who was killed some time later. In great danger we dragged ourselves to the Karsk estate.


[Page 458]

On the Aryan Side

Pola Shvarts, (Tel-Aviv)

Translated by Tina Lunson

When the Germans entered Sokolov my father Aron Vans was a country doctor in “Shrodek Zdrovye”. The Germans pestered him to tell them where to find more weapons, since they had found a hand-grenade there, which the fleeing Polish military had left behind. And because my father had no idea what to say, they arrested him and led him and other prisoners of war off somewhere. We could not rest, and thanks to certain respected Poles who had always loved my father, the Germans set him free.

One time the Germans went into my brother Meyshe's photo studio and conducted an inspection. Out of their anger at not finding anything – because my brother had earlier taken out all the photographic equipment – they requisitioned every valuable they could get their hands on. I then placed bottles of whiskey on the table and tried to dissuade them. The S.S. men liked the whiskey and they began to pour it into the glasses that I had set out.

One S.S. man held out his glass of whiskey and told me to drink from it first. As they had already started drinking I appealed to them and asked them to leave us in peace. I do not know whether my pleas would have been effective if not for the following case: One of my mother's sisters had a friend in Warsaw by the name of Petersburska. Mrs. Petersburska had a son, a musician who had fled Warsaw for Russia and purposefully passed through Sokolov to bring greetings to us from his mother. When the S.S men wanted to rob us of all our valuable things, the musician was with us in our house. He began chatting with the S.S. men in fluent German and told them that he had lived in Berlin for a long time and that he played at the German operetta there. The S.S. men, Berliners themselves, began asking for all kinds of details. When he could even tell them the name of the street where the theater was located

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they believed him and thanks to that they did not take anything from us.

My father went with the musician Petersburska over to Pemyatitsh on the Soviet side and came back to Sokolov after two months.

Soon after that the Germans created the ghetto. We had to leave our beautiful home and go into the ghetto. Given that my father was beloved by the Poles, the Germans ordered that someone should give up a better house for us. My father also acted as a doctor in the ghetto and saved people without any payment.

When the Germans set up the Judenrat everyone wanted my father to be the “Elder Jew”, but he would not agree to that. So since Nokhum Levin was burning for that office, father recommended him and indeed he remained the “Elder Jew” until the liquidation.

In Shtsheglatshin, about eighteen kilometers from Sokolov, the Germans organized a camp, and there transported several hundred Jews from the Sokolov ghetto. My grandparents also ended up there. On erev yon-kiper my father left my mother on the spot, and tore into Sokolov.

When the Germans shot up the ghetto at the final liquidation I went with father and my husband Avromtshe Zaydenberg into a bunker – in the same house where we had lived before. We were left there for several days. Later we came out of there and set out in the dark night for Grudek – a workplace at a prince's estate.

After being there with us for several days my father could not let himself rest, and he went back to my mother in Shtsheglatshin. A few months later came the liquidation in Shtsheglatshin too and my parents were probably killed in that terrifying shoot-up as well.

Once the Germans pasted up placards that the Jews who were in some hiding holes should come out voluntarily and announce themselves, and thus they would be given work and places to live. My husband and I did not follow what other Jews were doing, but came back to Sokolov. A friendly Pole created Aryan documents for both of us, for an enormous sum of money. In my document I was called Yanina Glovinska and my husband was Yuzshek Kozshedatski. We soon set out for Warsaw and searched around for a place

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to live. It was very difficult to get. Suddenly we met a Christian on Brodna Street who had a sister in Sokolov. She was willing to employ me for a large sum of money. I managed to make an agreement with her and she was willing to take in my husband as well. Unfortunately we were not able to stay there for long, because the neighbors recognized us as Jews. Our proprietress found another place for us in Praga. This was in 1943.

We really suffered in the new place. They continually pressed us for money. Meanwhile I got pregnant and gave birth to a boy. Arriving home from the clinic with the child, our proprietress would not allow us to stay with her any more. We were very discouraged and did not know where to go with an infant in our arms. The proprietress had pity on us and recommended us to another Christian in the town Grodzisk, near Warsaw.

The family Vibarski in Grodzshisk laid their troubles on us, although we had paid them well, and the food was worse than that for a dog. Once in May 1943 a group of Ukrainian pogromists came to our proprietor's house to play cards. Supposedly we did not know who the pogromists were, but a week later there was a loud pounding on the door of our house. The proprietor was not at home then. When the wife asked who was there at the door, the answer was the gendarmerie. The wife opened the door. Confused, my husband ran to the ladder in the vestibule that led up to the attic. He was already on the ladder when one of the band shot at him and hit him in the right arm. My wounded husband got down from the ladder and stood there. They took him into a room with a light. I happened to be in another room with the child at that moment. I heard one of the band of gendarmes sharply demand my husband's papers. Given that the documents stated that he was a Christian they brought him in to me in the second room to legitimize me and to ask whether I was his wife. I answered that I did not know him at all. They left me and took him back to the first room. I heard how one of them questioned him strenuously about whether he knew me. My husband answered that he did not know who I was and that he did not even know whose house he was in, because he was drunk and had broken into this house.

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I was very surprised that they did not question the proprietor's wife. The eldest of the gendarmes ordered that my husband be searched. Then I heard a shot and my husband quickly fell down. Shaking, I strained my ears and heard how they dragged him out onto the street. I remained sitting as though paralyzed and could not move from the spot.

Later the wife came into my room and ordered me to get out of her house. I tried to plead with her to at least sit there until daylight, but she should would not hear of it, and she pushed me toward the door. I prepared to leave the house, taking my things, but the goya would not allow it. She only let me take the child's diapers with me. I wrapped the child up around me and went out in the dark night to the train station.

Approaching a lighted train car with passengers, two German gendarmes shouted at me, “Come here”. My heart nearly burst from fear. But I got myself under control and with bated breath went towards them. The Germans told me to go into the car with the wailing child and ordered someone to give me a seat.

I got off at the main station in Warsaw and wandered without a goal. I was so physically and psychically depressed that I did not even feel my child in my arms. I dragged myself from street to street until I arrived at a customs gate, not far from the walled ghetto, not realizing the danger. But there was no one at the customs gate. I went into a house. An old Christian woman with a kind face appeared before me. She stood there trembling and full of suspicion – it seemed to me that she recognized me as a Jew. To her question of how I got through the “customs gate” I could not bring forth any answer. She regarded me, shook her head and told me to go behind a curtain to a dark little kitchen. Soon the brought me something to eat. I warmed myself and rested a bit. In the morning she told me very politely that once again the “customs gate” was unattended and that I should leave.

From that Christian I took the train further along the Warsaw-Tshenstokhov line. I traveled on the train for whole weeks without interruption, being that way protected not only from danger of being

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recognized as a Jew but also from hunger and cold, because on the train it was also easier to find food. Besides the weariness of the constant rolling of the train cars, I worried what would happen when the hair on my head – which I had dyed blonde – would at some point be black again and make my appearance more recognizable as Jewish.

After a while I began to see how passengers in the train took me in with surprise in their eyes, whispering into one another's ears and raising their shoulders. I perceived the danger and hurried to return to Warsaw. The days were cold then. I felt very tired and was afraid of falling down in the street with the child. Luckily I learned from a Christian that at 76 Yerozolimske Street, the supervisor of the house was taking in homeless people. I went right there and indeed encountered homeless or detained people, far from Warsaw. I settled in there with the child in a corner on the floor and, exhausted, fell asleep. Then I heard young Christians talking loudly among themselves “There's a Jewess among us!” I showed no nervousness and, being a master of the Polish language, I responded to them as one should. Later the supervisor, who was a member of the Polish underground, took me aside and sadly asked whether I was Jewish. I held my own and showed him my documents.

“It would be much better for you and for your child,” he spoke to me in a soft voice, “if you would admit it – admit it and I will help you. Your child will certainly be saved that way.”

I was as though speechless and I lowered my eyes. The supervisor did not ask me any more questions and gave me good food to eat. After that he explained that he could give the child directly to the “Findl” house at 76 Novogrodzka Street. He would see to it that the child lacked nothing there, and that at the end of the war I could take him back. I agreed to that.

When the child was relocated to the “Findl” house I began to look around for work, and found it in a restaurant. Working there I realized that the owner was really a Ukrainian. People were quite free in the restaurant work, but unfortunately the customers gave me curious

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glances, so, the owner called me in, paid me what I had coming for the work and told me to leave the place.

I looked for other work. I tried to cover my hair somehow, but the danger lurked for me at every step and turn. I did not find other work so quickly. Then they were catching people to send off to work in Germany. They caught me too and I was send to Breslau. Arriving there, I was given to a German family to do housework. Later I realized that his son was an S.S.-man. But it was not too bad there. Not long after that the wife freed me from my work and I was sent back to Poland. Perhaps the German had a suspicion that I was Jewish.

I arrived in Krakow and there also was assigned to housework. In time the Polish proprietors figured out my Jewish appearance and dismissed me.

I went to Tshenstokhov. I was taken into a two-week job at the “vofnshul” and after that in the barracks. I had enough to eat there. Once I was called into the chancellor's office for an examination, where they asked me all kinds of details about my past. I suddenly perceived the great danger and understood that my coworkers, mostly folk-Germans, of course had talked about me. The examiner told me to go back to work. However my instinct told me that I must not wait and must get away from there now. I did not have to think about it for long, I put on my coat and walked to the guard tower. It was attended by an armed soldier. I walked past him boldly.

“Where are you going?” he asked me.

“I must go out to buy something,” I answered with a smile. He let me go. As soon as I was out of his sight I started walking with faster steps, and went into the town.

I found a workplace once again, where I became sick and went to the hospital. I lay in a high fever and then of course spoke some words that betrayed me. It would certainly not have ended well for me if not

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for a folks-German who came in and claimed that he knew me. That worked and people did not bother me anymore. The folks-German had sympathy for me. When he left the antisemites ate at me with their wild glances, and even cursed at me: “disgusting Jewess”. But a goodhearted nurse had pity on me and put me in a different room.

* * *

After the Liberation I went to take back my child from the “Findl” house, which during the Polish rebellion was moved to Prushkov, near Warsaw. There I learned that a well-to-do, childless couple from the village Gnievkov near Tuirn had adopted my child. I traveled immediately to the place. The Christian couple, owners of a confectionary, did not want to hear about giving my child back to me. My crying and pleading to them had no effect. Only after a long mediation on the part of respected people and in particular the payment of a large sum of money which my current husband paid them, did I finally get my child back.


[Page 465]

Escape from Treblinka

Shimon Greenshpan, (Nes Ziona)

Translated by Tina Lunson

On Shabes shuve 1939 the Hitler Army entered Sokolov. Even on the first day of their arrival a band of gendarmes with Ukrainians attacked the study-house with revolvers in their hands. Seeing a large group of people praying, they shot into the women's balcony and killed Khane Shedlitski. There was great chaos and Jews in great terror hid in their houses. In the morning men were snatched up for work, being murderously beaten.

Two days later the Germans left Sokolov and the Red Army marched in. When the Germans came back again a week later, most Jews in the town fled along with the Red Army. The Germans – to the wonder of the remaining Jews – did not take revenge on them; they just used them for various kinds of hard labor.

In 1941, soon after the war with the Russians broke out, the Germans created a ghetto, and they installed a Judenrat with Nokhum Levin at the head.

During that same time an order was issued that the Jews of the surrounding villages must come into the Sokolov Ghetto. It was very crowded in the Jewish houses, so much so that typhus became rampant and the death rate was enormous.

Up until the time of the resettlement to Treblinka the Germans required from the Judenrat a certain number of Jews for work. The Judenrat could hardly fulfill their demands because they always beat the Jewish workers. Due to the hunger that began to press onto almost every Jewish household, Jews reported voluntarily for work, although they were not required. Only after a few weeks of labor did we find out from the gentiles that the Jews from our neighboring town Esterdin who were supposedly sent to work in Treblinka, never came back – then we grasped what was going on

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and we no longer listened to the calls from the Judenrat.

The S.S.-men soon gave a strict order to the Judenrat that they must assemble three hundred men or else they would simply come and take them from their beds at night. Having no alternative, they gathered almost half of the young men in the ghetto of those and the older hundred men assembled, the S.S., to everyone's astonishment, chose only thirty and promptly sent them off to Treblinka to work for six weeks. When those people did not return to the ghetto after the stated term, their wives and children, fathers and mothers, ran to the Judenrat to complain. The Judenrat calmed them down, saying that in the worst case they would have to ransom them, and they did indeed ransom them for a huge sum of money. But not all of them lived to return. Those who came back were half dead, and they related that not far from their workplace, from a place about half a kilometer away, they could hear unrelenting heart-rending screaming. Also there was a fire at that place that reached up to the skies. From their talk it was clear that the rumors about the crematoria that the gentiles had spread were believable. Panic broke out in the town.

On September 22, 1942, right after yon-kiper, the town was suddenly surrounded by S.S.-men and Ukrainians. At first they opened fire and that way let us know that the action had begun. The Hitler murderers laid siege to the Jewish houses with a hail of machinegun fire and threw children out of windows. Every day the drove a number of women and children into the Great Shul and after holding them a whole day they sent them to Treblinka at night.

When the action ended there were only about one hundred Jews in the ghetto, so that they could bury the corpses that had fallen during the shooting. Three months later, they also brought those hundred Jews to Treblinka. It was from those who came then that I learned that the entire Judenrat had also been shot in the ghetto.

* * *

Triblinka Number 1 was a labor camp, with workers gathered from across half the country, and the work was very difficult. People were murderously beaten for the least thing. Often

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People were sent off to work in a neighboring place, Malkin, from which the majority of them never came back.

In the autumn of 1943, a rebellion suddenly broke out in Treblinka Number 2. The rebels killed an S.S.-man and several Ukrainians and opened the way for 1,300 Jews to escape. At the same time a train was going through carrying German militia. The train stopped and the militia took positions and gradually encircled the nearby forest full of the escapees, and shot half of them.

* * *

After the rebellion eight Jews succeeded in escaping from my work area. And I was among them. When we were nearing the forest – about seven kilometers from the work area – the S.S. and Ukrainians caught up with us and shot at us. The hail of bullets did not hit any of us and we managed to run into the forest. The persecutors did not come into the forest, it seemed they were afraid to go inside.

Spent from exhaustion and fear, we left the forest one half-dark night and saw a whitewashed peasant hut. When we approached the place a dog began to bark loudly, and soon a peasant come out of the house with a lit lantern and after we told him what we needed, he answered that he was already hiding several Jews from our town but that he intended to drive them out soon since they we no longer paying him the amount they had promised. Since three of us had sewn money into our clothing we discussed it with the peasant and he took all the money from us.

The peasant led us into his barn which was filled with bundles of straw. He had made the hiding place in a deep cellar and we were led down into it. The cellar did not have a window. It was always lit by a dim gleam from a lantern. We quickly recognized the Jews, they were residents of our town.

We learned from those Jews that the peasant had already

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long intended to turn them over to the Germans. But if he had not done that it was because of his son-in-law, a Communist, who had warned him that if he did turn in the unfortunate Jews, or even drive them away, the partisans would take revenge on him and even burn down his hut.


[Page 469]

From Those Days

Shmuel Kohen, (Kriat-Shalom)

Translated by Tina Lunson

When the Germans took Sokolov in 1939, half of the Jews in town fled to the Russian-occupied territories. Because their houses remained unoccupied, the Germans brought some 10,000 Jews from the town Kalish, and also a large number of Poles from the Posen district, to Sokolov. For those with no place to live the Germans threw them into the empty Jewish houses and also in the surrounding villages.

With the establishment of the ghetto all Sokolov Jews were to be moved to Vengrov (the great “Jewtown” as the Germans designated it), but Tsilov, the chief of the provincial criminal police who presented himself as a friend to Jews, made the case that Sokolov should remain an independent ghetto.

Tsilov was a German from the Berlin area, already past his middle age, and took that office only after Hitler had come to power. My father Menakhem – who was for a short time vice president of the Sokolov Judenrat – was acquainted with that Tsilov. During times when he was a bit tipsy he used to even make fun of Hitler. As long as the ghetto and especially I were of some use to Tsilov, the following facts can serve: armed soldiers from the Wehrmacht would walk near the fenced-in ghetto and shoot into Jewish houses, and Jews fell dead and wounded. The uproar in the ghetto was huge – the Judenrat met in great fear and it decided to turn to Tsilov for help. Tsilov ordered a search for the cartridge-cases of the bullets fired into the ghetto. He took the cases to intervene at the military barracks. No more German soldiers walked through the ghetto.

Once the labor inspector, a wild S.S.-man, organized a big drinking party in his rooms. He invited his comrade S.S. folk to the evening revelry. Given that my workshop was located under his rooms, he called me and ordered me to go to the Judenrat and demand that they send him ten

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lamps. When Shlofmits, the administrative member of the Judenrat, did not send the lamps quickly enough, the labor inspector thought that I had tricked him and put out a search for me.

Two days later the ghetto police sought me out and warned me that if I wanted to live I should not appear before the labor inspector. I obeyed.

The mad, half-drunk labor inspector ran to the Judenrat and demanded that if they did not present me to him quickly the entire Judenrat would be held responsible.

The Judenrat told me to present myself. And my father agreed to that interpretation. But I was very afraid and did not go to the Judenrat, and feeling that the wild labor inspector would not allow my “sin” to pass, I left to go tell Tsilov the whole story. Sending a civilian secret agent along with me, he told me to appear before the labor inspector. I did so. The secret agent stood behind the door. The secret agent had said to me, that I should go in and in case the labor inspector would do me harm I should quickly call an alarm. That would be a sign to him that he should come to help.

Soon after that Tsilov called out to the labor inspector and warned him that he should not play such tricks on me anymore. The labor inspector was very surprised that Tsilov wanted me to appear before him, disregarding that he was afraid of Tsilov, he nevertheless said, that I would be his first victim to be sent to the extermination camp.

* * *

With the outbreak of the German-Soviet War the situation in the ghetto changed greatly. The hunger raged frightfully in every house. The German army quickly grabbed the Soviet areas from the Polish, and because of that victory the S.S.-men became even more unruly and threw the ghetto into panic. The ghetto Jews were eventually left so desperate and helpless that their hope in other countries almost disappeared.

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On one of those days the labor inspector collected about fifty Jews – young men and women – and sent them to work in the quarantine station that was located in a corner of the town. (I was gathered up in that fifty too.)

The quarantine station occupied a very large space and consisted of large barracks in which there were long rows of beds.

When the fifty Jews went through a medical examination they were freed from wearing the blue Star of David armbands and were given booklets in which it advised that we were Jews.

We worked hard, but not in bad conditions: our woeful hearts were literally filled with joy at seeing unending numbers of wounded German soldiers being driven in from the front, some of whom soon died.

One time this event happened to me: Wanting to visit my home in the ghetto, I asked the chief doctor at the station if I could be freed for a few days, and received from him the wished-for permit. I went without the armband and had no fear from anyone. One afternoon, walking as usual in my street without an armband, I suddenly noticed how a special service S.S.-man was following me. I did not even pay much attention and went into my house. When I was standing in the room, I realized the S.S. was standing beside me. He looked at me angrily and asked why I was not wearing the armband. I showed him the permit from the chief doctor at the station. The S.S. did not want to accept the permit, and shouted “Shit!”

I mentioned again that the permit was issued by the chief doctor at the quarantine station he just kept shouting “Shit! Shit!” Whereupon he wildly snatched his bayonet out from its sheath (he did not carry any firearms) and threatened to slaughter me, if I would not go with him. Had I not moved from that spot he would have leapt on me with his bayonet in hand. I got behind the long table in the room and did not let him near me. He went into a wild rage and started chasing me around the table. We chased around for several minutes until he succeeded in giving me a hit in the neck with the bayonet. Sharply feeling the pain I grabbed a chair and hit him over the head with all my strength. I

[Page 472]

ran outdoors and saw my mother standing shaking and wringing her hands.

I went into someone's house. First I took in what I had done by hitting a special service agent. As always in a time of trouble I went to Tsilov and told him about the eventful episode. Tsilov said he would investigate the matter.

Returning to the quarantine station I immediately announced myself the chief doctor and told him about the whole event with the special agent. The chief doctor was broken up by it, probably not so much because the special service man wanted to slaughter me but because he had not acknowledged the permit and had designated it as “shit”. The chief doctor did not calm down and demanded an investigation.

Meanwhile someone let the special serviceman know that both Tsilov and the chief doctor were preparing to call him to a hearing. He became ill and was taken into the quarantine station. When the chief doctor learned about it he went himself to find him and discovered that he was not sick at all and because of that had him removed from the special service.

* * *

Standing near a barrack at the quarantine station one Sunday afternoon, from where I could see the train station, I saw how the Sokolov Jews were driven down to the train. My friends were coming out to look and now we understood what the night-time shooting meant.

We looked on at the tortured and exhausted people who were walking with their heads down under a strong but not numerous guard. Soon we were driven back into the barrack and did not see anything else.

Some time later a high-ranking S.S.-man came from Treblinka and ordered that everyone in the station must go outdoors and stand in a row: men on the right and women on the left. While we were standing so we heard how almost none one of our masters had any desire to give

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up their workers. In the end the Treblinke S.S.-man collected only 17 Jews.

Then four people came back and told us something horrifying. Six weeks later the same S.S.-man came again and demanded 25 people. This time he had a prepared list with names, mostly women. This time I also remained in place.

When we, those remaining, saw that, we understood that our row's time of being taken to Treblinka would come soon, and we began to seek a way to escape.

And before long I and another five Jews including a woman succeeded in getting out of there. We escaped into the Sokolov ghetto. There we realized that after the liquidation of the local Jews about 150 of them managed to hide out in bunkers. Before we could even begin to make contact with the hidden Jews we were caught and taken to the commandant, which was located in Nokhum Levin's estate. We were beaten as we were being taken there, and were shoved into a half-dark storeroom with one wall with a closed-off window. We encountered other Jews who had just been captured. Outdoors, just beyond the window, lay the drawn-out corpse of Elye Pentsik. The Germans had laid him out that way in order to frighten other Jews to flee. Elye Pentsik had been shot after he returned to the quarantine station after he jumped out of a wagon taking him to Treblinka.

Seeing that we would be killed there, or sent to an extermination camp, the five of us men and the girl from Kalish looked for an opportunity to escape from there. And soon such an opportunity came about. Because one of the Sokolov gentiles had stolen a closet-full of merchandise from this same building, the armed guards caught the thief and tortured him; and because we could see how the guards were very involved with the thief we grabbed the moment to quickly pull ourselves up to the window and let ourselves down onto the sidewalk. Four friends and I managed to run away but the girl from Kalish had, while dropping down to the sidewalk, had gotten tangled in a wire, and while trying to untangle herself the guard noticed her.

[Page 474]

A shot echoed out and the girl was injured in the arm and shoulder. She lay hanging on the wire and began to scream. The guard dragged her out of the wire and threw he back into the storeroom.

We, the group of five, ran into the dark night and across fields to Ripki. We arrived at a familiar princely estate and met some Jews who worked there. We spent the night there and then went further across the fields.

A while later we realized that after we had left the prince's estate a group of gendarmes had gone there and asked the working Jews if we had been there. One of them, one of Shlofmits's brothers, replied yes. To their question of where we had gone, he said that he did not know. Thy stood him up where he was and shot him.

We went to Kurtshev. The gendarmes followed us but did not reach us. The gendarmes arrived in Kurtshev before we did and asked the camp leader if we were there. He said that we were not there. The gendarmes ordered him to notify them at once if we show up there.

When we appeared before the Jewish leader (Max Rozenberg) he told us what the gendarmes had ordered and told us to leave immediately so that he could say he had not seen us at all. We did not have the option of staying there, but where could we go? The camp leader advised us to go to the other side of the Bug River, which was occupied by the Reichs Germany. He also told us to turn to his cousins for help. We left. Leye Rozenboym, a woman from Sokolov, also went with us.

Approaching the border we went to see the peasants who knew Max – we worked for him for a day. After that a peasant led us across the border. We turned to Max's cousins and related to them what had happened to the Jews in general, and to us in particular. The people of that place were astonished by our story and could not believe what was happening to Jews in the “Polish area”.

Once a Jewish girl arrived who had worked in the gendarmerie, and she related that she had heard how the elder

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had told the president of the Judenrat to assemble 500 horses and wagons. According to that discussion, she stated, she saw it as preparations for a huge action against the Semiatitsh ghetto. But the Jews of the ghetto there – who had not suffered so much (one could tell by the parties in many of the Jewish houses) – did not want to believe that such an action was being prepared for them.

Nevertheless there were people who did value the young woman's announcement and considered how to manage during such an action. People went under cover of darkness to cut out parts of the wire fences surrounding them in order to make it easier for people to escape if such an action did take place.

I do not recall whether the president of the Semiatitsh Judenrat did assemble (even if he was capable of doing that) the demanded 500 horses and wagons, but when the ghetto was surrounded one early dawn by German tanks – it definitely convinced the unbelieving Jews of the girl's report. Soon one could hear such terrifying shooting that it seemed the houses would shake. People fled in great chaos to the fences, wanting to run to the nearby forest. Fleeing people fell down, many were left hanging, shot, on the wire fences.

Knowing the places where the wires were cut I ran straight there and because of that had the chance to run out to the forest, and in that way also saved a few dozen Jews as well.

I stayed with a group of four young men. We crawled deep into the forest and did not know what to do with ourselves. Meanwhile a cold, hard rain began to fall – and that lasted a whole week. Our clothes were soaked through from the rain, and we felt completely broken. But fortified by an indescribable desire to live we decided to go out of the forest search for, first of all, food from some peasants.

Walking through the forest we suddenly saw a very low hut. We went right to it and heard a quite kind of murmuring. We knocked on the little door. Saying in Polish, ‘Please open, we are Jews’ we did not hear any answer, and repeated the same thing again in Yiddish. The door quickly opened and we saw a group of Jews who had also fled the shot-up ghetto.

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Since those Jews did not have anything to eat themselves, we left them and searched for a way to travel to a village. Trying to get to the other side of the highway an armed German suddenly appeared riding a bicycle. Terrified, we ran back into the forest, and heard the shots that the German fired after us. But no one of us was hit. At night we went again to cross the highway and reached a small village. We knocked on the closed shutters of a hut.

“Who is it?” said a peasant voice.

“We are homeless and hungry Jews. We have not eaten for several days. Have mercy on us!”

“Get out of here if you value your lives!” we heard from two peasant voices.

We went to a second and a third hut, but got the same response, and given that the dogs were barking and yanking on their chains we left that place and went back into the forest. We sat in the forest, frightened, desperate.

In the morning our hunger drove us to seek food in another village, even if the worst happened to us. A young peasant was crossing the highway as we approached. One of us stopped him and explained what we had gone through, the peasant regarded us with pitiful glances and told us to wait until he brought us some food – although we had a suspicion that the peasant could instead of food, bring Germans, we nevertheless waited for him. To our surprise he did come back with a sack of food: a large loaf of black bread and a bottle of whiskey. “Drink the whisky, it will warm you up,” he said handing the bottle to one of us.

After drinking some whisky we literally swallowed the loaf of bread. The peasant looked at us for a long time, and said, “Come with me to my barn, I will feed you and can rest a little.”

“We went with him. The peasant led us into his large barn which stood in an empty field, a little distance from the village. We went in among the sheaves of straw and warmed ourselves.

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Later the peasant brought in a large pot of cooked food, bread and again whisky. We ate all we wanted and rested a whole night. In the morning the peasant opened the barn and said, ‘You need to get away from here, you know already that I am prohibited from keeping you.’

“We thanked him and quickly went away. But that night we returned to the barn and quietly dug ourselves in. When the peasant opened the barn the next morning and saw us lying in the straw he began talking in an angry voice. One of us took his gold watch out of his pocket and gave it to him. Soon another took out some paper money. The peasant took the watch and money and went away.

Later he came back with various food items and gave them to us. He had, he said, spent all our money on food.

We stayed in the barn another few days. But we had to leave that place because we knew the place was not safe for us and we also put the life of the good peasant and his family in danger.

From that day on, the whole time until the coming of the Red Army, I wandered around in the forest and in peasant barns, even now not knowing how I lived through all of that and stayed alive.

 

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