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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.

 

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