Translated by Moshe Kutten
The author of the following letter, Slomia (Mushia) Luft, was born in 1912. After graduating in 1929 in Vienna, she settled with her parents, Shalom and Khana (nee Oks) Luft, in Ternopil. She became proficient in music and served as a piano teacher in the music school. In 1937 she married David Oks, a philosophy dr. and a teacher in the high school in Brisk de Lita [Brisk-Litovsk]. The couple spent the summer months of 1939 in Ternopil when the war broke out and they stayed there.
The author gave the letter to a Polish acquaintance, who hid it in a tin box in his cellar. When the Red Army approached Ternopil in 1944, the acquaintance gave the letter to the author's brother (Bobbie) who was hiding from and it was he who brought it to Israel after the war.
The author of the letter hid with Poles. However, they handed her over to the Germans on 4th July 1943. She was imprisoned and executed on 20 July 1943.
Bobbie and Tzila, mentioned in the letter, are the author's brother and sister. Tzila perished. Bobbie today Shmuel (Luft) Ben-Shalom made Aliya to Eretz Israel, and serves in IDF at the rank of captain.
The author of the letter hid with Poles. However, they handed her over to the Germans on 4 July 1943. She was imprisoned and executed on 20 July 1943.
Ternopil, 7 April 1943
Before I leave this world, I like to write a few words to you. If this letter would reach you someday, I and everybody else here would not be alive. Our demise is approaching. We know and feel it. We are all destined to die like all
|Slomia (Luft) Oks with her husband zl
the innocent people had already been executed. The turn of the few who survived the slaughtering will come very shortly (in days or weeks).[Columns 405-406]
This is terrible, but it is the whole truth. Unfortunately, there is no escape or way out from the horrible death.
I could tell you so much more, but how can I describe all the nightmares and suffering we endure. The pen cannot describe our nation's tragedy in this bloody land; the suffering, cruelty, and manipulated cruelty to hurt people, oppress, chase, degrade, and then kill. First, they squeezed us like lemons, sucked our blood to the last drop, and then threw it into a sewer ditch. They robbed us of our human feelings and instincts. After they converted us into animals who operate mechanically, they killed us en masse. No, you would not comprehend that, and could not feel what we feel. A normal-thinking human would never believe that a person can withstand such tortures and that such horrible things can occur in the twentieth century.
I will try the describe our fate since July 1941. At the beginning of July 1941, five thousand people were murdered, including my husband, David. He left home on 7 July (12 Tamuz 5711) and did not return. He volunteered to become a member of the Judenrat which is about to be organized. Despite my objection, he found it his duty, as a candidate for becoming a rabbi, to offer his service. He wanted to be an advocate for his nation. About six weeks later, after five days of searching, I found him among the corpses brought to the cemetery from the kiln (the killing location). My life stopped on that day, as there was no point to continue living. Even in my youth dreams, I could not have found a better and more loyal friend than my husband. I was given two years and two months to live a truly happy life with him. Strangely, it happened exactly two years and two months after our wedding (7 May 1939 - our wedding day to 7 July 1941, the day of our separation). There is no point in prolonging the discussion about my torments, and
my bleeding and injured heart, at the time that I had to bury him with my own hands, the person I love, the person who understood me, my beloved and loyal husband. How can I describe you being exhausted from the many searches until we were happy to find our corpse among the many forsaken corpses? How can I convey all of that in words?[Columns 407-408]
Here is a woman bereaving her husband, the second woman, her only son, and above all, a woman who bereaved her husband and children. Can one describe a brimful of so much sorrow and pain? And that was shared by thousands of people.
So, David is gone. He is lucky in that everything has passed for him. He would not have to see the coming two horrific years. The bullet of death is still waiting for us. In the beginning, I thought that I would not be able to live without him. But alas, the human being is a tenacious creature. I continued to live. How? It is hard to say. The deep and bleeding wound does not have a cure. It is so sad to live alone, particularly because I was so pampered by my loyal husband and because I got so used to our peaceful and carefree home. But we continued to live.
In September 1941, we were sent to the ghetto. Imagine that we were surrounded by fences. It was possible to enter the Aryan communities only with licenses awarded to workers. A large gate guarded by German or Ukrainian policemen constituted the border. Food items were smuggled into the ghetto with many difficulties and fear. I accepted a job in September with a German company as a secretary and typist. I was lucky because the office was located in our former home. The dining room served as an office. The desk stood where our piano used to stand. Instead of playing the piano, I began playing the typewriter. I should not complain. I had a good job. The employer and the staff were good, and their attitude toward me was decent. They treated me like a human being, not like a Jew. My father and brother Bobbie got a job in the same plant.
I was initially very depressed by the ghetto. However, we slowly get used even to these conditions.
The winter of 1941/42 was exceedingly cold and harsh. It became difficult to survive. People died from hunger and cold. However, despite the robbing visits, searches, growing hunger, and cold, life continued. From time to time, people sold their belongings, clothes, and linens and somehow survived until March 1942. Then the nightmare began. On the night of Saint Bartholomew's Day (23 March 1942 the Judenrat was ordered to supply a quota of seven hundred pieces of people to be murdered. What? You don't want to believe that? Indeed, it did happen. Our brothers - the Jewish policemen, were the ones who transported the people toward their death. The concentration location of the victims was the former synagogue. It was warm there so the victims did not suffer from the cold before being transported to their death. They were also provided bread and jelly. Later on, they were loaded onto trucks and transported to Janovka [concentration camp]. Everything there was ready: graves, a machine gun, and that was the end of it. It was a horrible night, but that was just the beginning. Quiet again, if that could be called as such. The forced labor camp's nightmare, the unending fear of what the next day brings. Despite all of that, we continue to live in distress and fear.
In July 1942, [my sister] Tzila was taken to the forced labor camp Jagielnica because she did not work anywhere. Her condition was not bad.
On 31 August, the Big Aktsia began. [The Judenrat was requested] to provide three thousand victims. The exact number of people who lost their lives in that aktsia is estimated at two thousand five hundred if not more.
That was when we lost our good, loving, and dedicated mother. The murderers used a new ploy the working people and their families received special stamps from the police containing details about themselves and their work. The working people and their families were safe from being selected in an aktsia. At that time, the aktsia was supposed to include only people who were not working and children. Our Jewish policemen searched again for their victims in apartments and hideouts. Bobbie and I went to work, leaving father and mother at home. After all, they possessed the Stamps of Life. They stopped us at the gate and transported us to the place of trouble. We were convinced that we were slated to die. However, we did not stay long at the concentration location: We successfully managed to escape. Many people got shot at that location. Luckily, I reached the office. A lot of work was waiting for me. I sat at the office while thousands waited outside for their death.
Thus, we continued our life without our mother that good soul, the loyal and dedicated mother. Alas, we miss you so much at every step.26 April
In October, Tzila returned from the forced labor camp in Jagielnica. In the meantime, the daily worries and the arduous but futile existence continued. We had to move again because the ghetto was reduced since the apartments of the murdered were vacated. We moved to 22 Szeptyckikh Street. Three houses on that street were within the limits of the ghetto (numbers 20, 22, and 24). We continued to live our lives.
On the 3rd and 5th of November, the aktsias were renewed. People were pulled out from all possible hideouts, and we had to move again. At 11 in the morning, the ghetto was suddenly surrounded, and the devil's dance began again. Luckily for me, without knowing about the aktsia, I left the ghetto precisely 10 minutes before it was surrounded. My fate would probably be to leave the ghetto on the last convoy.
We were forced to move again to a new place. We were ordered to evacuate whole streets again, and the crowding in the ghetto increased. Over time, we got so used to everything that we lived as fools. We did not respond anymore when we lost the people close to us. Nobody cried; We were no longer humans; We lived like stones, without feelings; No news made an impression on us; We lived in silence even when we were led to die. The people at the concentration square were restrained and silent.
In January 1943, we were transferred from the firm to the labor camp. We were subjected to a military barrack regime. Women and men were separated. It was now forbidden to appear on the street alone, only in groups accompanied by a policeman. We became prisoners of [forced] labor.
Father and Bobbie resided in the men's section and I and Tzila in the women's section. I forced my father to come with us to the camp while he was sick with kidney disease. I wanted to be together and die together. Many of our acquaintances escaped to the big cities. They were equipped with Aryan papers. Many were captured, and only a few evaded [the enemy].
From January to April 1943, quiet prevailed. We continued with our life again and got used to our troubles, all the census operations, etc
Everything started again in April 1943. A small number of people, about twenty, were pulled out of the ghetto and murdered somewhere. On Thursday, fifty people were murdered, and so on.
I am still alive and would like to talk about what happened from 7 April until today.[Columns 409-410]
The common opinion is that time has come for Everything. Galitsia must become free of Jews (Judenfrie). First, the ghetto would be annihilated by the 1st of May. Seven hundred people remain in the ghetto.
Thousands of people were shot during the last few days. People are transported to their death officially. Before it was called Ansiedlung [settlement], or Umsiedlung [relocation]. No such names are used now. The latest events were horrible again. The concentration point was located in our camp. Here, the victims, pulled out from their hideouts by the Jewish policemen, were sorted out and then transported to their death. We could observe everything from our windows at the camp. Alas, those scenes, those images! How can I describe them? We ceased to be human, became animals, and lost all human feelings. Sons brought their parents to the place of killing, fathers brought their sons, and women tried to escape leaving their babies behind. And that scene again children join their parents, although they could save themselves for some time, being able to work. We observe the square being filled up with people sentenced to death. This time the graves in Petrykiv [Petrikov] were ready ahead of time. The victims were forced to leave their outer clothing behind. Men were forced to strip to their underwear and were led to their death on foot. After all, it was very close, why waste gas for the trucks, and why bother with the trains? After all, it's simpler to get rid of harmful elements locally. When they transported people on a train, a few escaped from the train cars. There is no such opportunity now. In my opinion, it is easier to die locally instead of traveling for two or three days, knowing that the destination is death. It is horrible both ways, but at least dying locally is done quickly.
In Petrikov, the whole operation progressed as follows: People strip naked at the grave, then kneel down and wait for the shot. The rest of the people stand ready, waiting for their turn. Between each group, they pause to arrange the corpses to ensure that the place is utilized fully. The operation does not last long. Half an hour later, the clothes of thousands of people arrive at the camp.
This is really too much. My nerves cannot take it anymore. If somebody would have told me, ahead of time, that I would be able to experience so much agony, I would not imagine that. Where do I get the power for all of that when I know that everything I do is in vain? There is no rescue. waste to have an illusion that one can escape this mass murder operation. We do not have any hope. We live from one day to another, or more correctly from one hour to another.
On 9 April 1500 were murdered. There was quiet for two or three days after that and then everything started again. This is Endless.
Today only seven hundred are left in the ghetto.
I have to add that the Judenrat received a bill of thirty thousand guldens following the aktsia's, for used bullets. Interesting, isn't it?
We, the people in the camp, are forced to enter the victims' apartments and rob their belongings. What a disgusting job. How horrible all of this is? Remnants of a whole nation. Those empty apartments, deserted streets, the dead city. Oh, how much it hurts, and why does it have to be so? Why can't we scream and or get weapons to defend ourselves? How can we see so much innocent people's blood spill and not say or do anything but wait for death till it comes and claims us too? That is so horrible. I am thinking about exploding, but we do not explode. We live if we can call this life. And the world knows that we are being murdered, and nothing happens. Nobody wants to help us; nobody wants to rescue us. So miserable and abandoned, we descend to Sheol. Do you think we want to end our life like that? No and no. We do not want to, despite everything that happened to us. On the contrary, the will to live is stronger now - as death comes closer, the will to live becomes stronger.
Oh, how much do we want to live? We want to see, with our own eyes, the revenge of the millions of victims for the unimaginable suffering. Unfortunately, we would not live to see the day of the revenge.
My dears, you must take revenge; You must do something to take revenge for the injustice and the horrible and inhumane acts.
In fact, revenge is impossible since whatever happens, it would be very little, almost nothing, compared to our fate, since whatever was done to us is incomprehensible.
I cannot continue writing any longer. Even if I fill in additional pages, you would not understand. I will, therefore, finish.
My beloved David lies in the cemetery, and I do not know where my mother is. She was transported to Belzec. I do not know where my grave would be Petrikov, Zagrobek, or Zarodzin. If you would ever come here sometime after the war, ask our acquaintances where the latest camp convoys went.
It is not easy to say goodbye forever. However, we are going to die soon with a smile on our lips.
Live in peace and flourish, and if can, someday, take revenge.
by Janet Margolis
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Between a nightmare and death
The Germans entered Ternopil on 2 July 1941, after short battles. The city residents sat in the bomb shelters, and only a few dared to be shown on the street. The Jews preferred to seclude themselves at home.
At dark, a group of Germans arrived at our house gate. It was pouring rain. The German knocked on the gate. However, after a short discussion, the residents decided not to open the gate for them. Then, the Germans began to storm the gate, trying to break it with the butts of their rifles. They failed to do so. We had a night of horrors.
The following morning, we opened the gate when nobody was in front of the house. The streets were filled with military personnel, cars sped on the roads, and urban mob looted the stores.
Restlessness was in the air. A rumor was spread at noon. It claimed that corpses were discovered at the jail and that the Jews were at fault. The Germans gathered the National Ukrainian Committee to discuss the technical problems associated with the Ukrainians' plans for the pogroms against the Jews. Pharmacist Bilinski, teacher Khomoba, and others participated in that meeting. The houses' courtiers were ordered to provide details about all the residents. Gangs of thugs were organized to conduct pogroms in the city.
On Friday, 4 July, at about 9 am, machine guns were placed on the street corners, and companies of S.S. soldiers appeared dressed in their black uniforms adorned with skulls. The courtiers stood by each house gate to provide details about the house residents. The residents were pulled out of their houses. They were told they were going to work, but instead, they were shot on the spot. Mass killings took place in the yards and the cellars (e.g. in Me'ika's).
When pogroms raged in all their terror in the Jewish neighborhood, the Jews in other areas did not know about them. We also did not know about the happenings until the sound of gunshots reached us and until we saw the first dead casualties. Only then we closed the gate in panic and hid in various hideouts. A short while later, we heard knocks on the gate. We did not open the gate at that time either. The Germans tried the break through the gate, but all their efforts were in vain. Instead, they broke the glass windows and entered our home through the windows. The Germans searched and rummaged throughout the apartment, but fortunately, they did not find our hideout. They proceeded to rob the apartment and loaded themselves with all sorts of items they left the house.
We women went down in the evening and closed the gate. Shocking scenes were revealed before our eyes. Killed people lay down crowded with their heads ruptured, filled with blood and mud (after the rain). The cars steered their course through the corpses.
The following day, the Jews were ordered to bury the dead in the yards because of the stench that poisoned the air. The mass murder renewed in the afternoon. On the same day, Saturday, 5 July, my father was murdered in jail.
On Sunday, announcements appeared in the streets that forbade acts of violence and murder. They threatened anybody who defied the order with a court marshal. Calmed down somewhat, the Jews began to come out of their hideouts. A short while later, Ukrainians appeared at the houses and promised that the acts of murder would stop, and now they are only taking people for light work. Many fell for their solicitations and went out to work. At the end of the work, they were led to the jail and other locations and were murdered there. Only a few Jews survived that day and returned home.
On the same day, a mass murder took place in the yard neighboring our house. Thirty-seven people were murdered there, among them, also my mother.
The following was the chain of events that day:
The S.S. soldiers broke into our house and discovered all the hiding men except my husband. They ordered the men to carry heavy crates
filled with weapons. Among the people recruited for that work was my only son.
Ignoring all the dangers, I ran after them and begged the Germans to allow me to help my son in his work, but they drove me away and threatened that if I did not go away, he would kill me. Suddenly, the Germans blocked the street, and I could not do anything but return home.
During my absence, the Germans pulled my mother out to carry corpses. I saw her for the last time, pulling a corpse. She was all red from the extreme effort. I wanted to go and help her, but at that moment I heard screams coming from our house. These were the screams of my neighbor, who tried to defend herself from the Germans who abused her. Her two children stood by weeping. I went to help her. When the Germans noticed me, they left her alone and began to loot the apartment.
When the Germans left the house, I looked into the yard through my neighbor's apartment window to see where my mother was. I saw a group of Jews standing in front of the Germans with their arms up. I feared showing myself again to the Germans, so I just followed what was happening. Suddenly I heard gunshots. A few moments later, the Germans returned from the yard, and one of them said: finished. I realized that my mother was no longer alive.
I was crushed. Yesterday, my father was killed, and today my mother was. To top of that, my son was also missing. All of a sudden, I heard a voice calling me: Mother! Here I am. Not everybody returned. Our neighbor was murdered because he walked too slowly. I was so happy to see my son that I was distracted from all the disasters that had befallen me in the last 24 hours.
One of our neighbors returned from work together with my son. My husband came out of his hideout. Only two families remained in our house. My son and the neighbor were ordered to return to work the following day.
Dark fell in the room. We did not taste anything. We simply forgot that we had to eat. We sat down and debated what to do the following day. Should the men go out to work, or should they hide? Our neighbor thought that they should go. I objected. After a long debate, they decided to go to work. We didn't sleep a wink. I lay down in my clothes and hugged my son. My husband lay down below and held us both as if he feared of losing us.
We woke up early. I prepared something to eat, but again nobody tasted anything. My husband shaved and shaved my son too. They dressed up and prepared themselves to go to work.
Before they left, I went to the neighboring yard to the place where my poor mother was murdered. I encountered a shocking scene. I saw a large open grave filled with men and women corpses, and above them, I saw the frozen figure of my mother with her face down. German soldiers stood on the side and took pictures. They probably thought I was not Jewish and had the audacity to ask me who did it. I brazenly lashed out at them: You did.
I ran away home, and there I could not repress my pain any longer and burst into tears. My son and husband joined me in crying.
The neighbor began to urge them to go to work. I wanted to say goodbye to them, but they decided to save me the agony and left without saying a word. I decided to accompany them and followed them at a distance.
The concentration point was in front of the jail. The men were positioned in a row and were forced to perform military maneuvers under the guidance of one of them. I stood among the non-Jews who stood by to look at the scene. When the men entered the jail, panic got hold of me. I feared for their fate, and I decided to act to try to save them. However, everywhere I went, I encountered apathy and helplessness. When I realized I could do nothing to rescue them, I went back home.
The hours passed lazily. Our neighbor returned in the evening alone without my son and husband. I understood that their fate was sealed. I hurled heavy accusations against the neighbor, who persuaded them to go to work and caused their death, but what has been done could not be undone. I hit the wall with my fists and head. I wanted to commit suicide but people watched after me. They gave me brandy to drink, but which did not help much. There was no medicine for my grief.
Dead and more Dead
At the same time, my sister arrived from Velyki Hai [Gaia Velyeki]. She brought the bitter news that all the Jews there were murdered, including my brother-in-law and my son-in-law. The corpses lay in the forest and were still not buried. My pain was endless. I saw everything around me collapsing. I remained almost alone without all of my close relatives. Six people from among the people closest to me were dead. I stopped eating, lit candles, and sat down for a Shiva. People came to console me, saying that they saw my husband and son. I ran to go look for them but in vain. These were fabrications, trying to cheer me up and bring me out of my despair.
After a week of pogroms that lasted from Friday, 4 July, until the following Friday, 11 July, things calmed down somewhat. Five thousand Jews were murdered during that bloody week. Among them, about eight hundred women and children. During the same week, the city's Jewish intelligentsia was slaughtered, who were the natural candidates for the first Judenrat. It happened as follows:
The Germans summoned teacher Gottfried and tasked him with gathering several tens of Jews from among the city's honorable. The excuse was that the gathering would aim at establishing a Judenrat. Gottfried went from one house to another and promised no harm would come to the people. The gathering was slated to take place in the Vovidezetvo [the district government] building. When the people gathered at that place, the Germans loaded them onto trucks, brought them to the brick kilns, and murdered them. Gottfried himself was careful
not to attend that gathering. Rumors were spread in the city that the victims were sent to work somewhere until several weeks later when their mass grave was discovered.
In the meantime, a wave of decrees befell the Jews. All the men were required to appear and register with the labor office, which referred them to perform physical work. The Jews were ordered to wear a Star of David on their clothes and purchase a special sign for 100 zlotys to hang on an easily seen place in their house. Dr. Fisher, a lawyer, was ordered to collect among the Jews, within just a few days, a contribution of a million and a half zloty. Otherwise, the Germans threatened that they would jail hostages in the synagogue and burn them alive. Panic rose in the city; It seemed impossible to collect such an enormous sum. People sold jewelry and all other valuables. The Christians capitalized on the opportunity and bought everything from the Jews at close to nothing. Despite all the efforts, Dr. Fisher failed to collect the money by the deadline and had to ask for an extension. Several benevolent Christians came to the help of the Jews (e.g. Dr. Benshovitz and other anonymous contributors). The Germans were not satisfied with only the money and continually stole other goods, such as furniture, carpets, and more.
A rumor spread suddenly that the Germans would allow, for a certain amount of money, to exhume the dead and rebury them. I managed to receive such a license and came together with several other women, with the sanitary committee in attendance, to exhume my mother's body from her temporary grave. It was an extremely difficult task to do the work because of the stench emitted from the grave. The committee ordered us to stop our work after about ten corpses for two reasons: Firstly, they claimed that too many people gathered to look at the horror, and secondly, because of the terrible stench that spread in the air. Luckily, I had already exhumed my mother's body and transferred her to the cemetery.
I felt depressed and bitter. I almost stopped eating. I went to my mother's grave every day. There, I met many sisters in distress, who like me, came to cry over their family members and pour their hearts. I returned to my dark and gloomy home in the evening. I was lonely. People avoided meeting me. My husband's friends, who used to visit us often before the war, evaded seeing me in the street. Even my cousins ceased exchanging letters with me. I remained alone with my pain, leaning only on my own resources.
While thinking about my situation, I began to believe that I was saved from the claws of death for a reason: to fulfill a mission. My mission was to find my beloved murdered father and son and bring them to a Jewish burial. I turned all my thoughts and energy to that. I wandered around in every place where a mass grave was discovered hoping to find the bodies of my husband and son.
A while later, I found out how my husband and son were murdered. They were told to transport the slain Ukrainians from the jail to the Christian cemetery. While my husband was busy with his work on the cart, the Germans pulled my son and other Jews and began to brutally abuse them. They chased after them and hit them with sticks and batons. My son stood up suddenly and turned to his torturers: You do not have the right to hit and torture us. We are innocent. Kill us, but don't torture us. Hearing that, they hit him harder until he collapsed and died. When my husband saw that, he passed out. The Germans began hitting him with murderous blows until he had to stop working. When he showed some signs of being alive, a German approached him and finished him by shooting him dead.
That story crushed me again. I felt that I was losing my mind. The tortured image of my son stood before my eyes, day and night, and I felt the physical pain he suffered as if I was beaten and tortured myself.
About ten weeks after the disaster, a mass grave was discovered in the cemetery. The corpses were already in a state of decomposition. Most were covered with only undergarments, and their hands and feet tied with a barbwire. On the first day of my search, I did not find my husband or my son. My son came to me in my dream that night so tangibly that I felt him near me. I woke up early in the morning and ran to the cemetery. In the meantime, they moved the corpses to the cemetery morgue. I entered the room and noticed suddenly a familiar pair of pants, a shirt, and undergarments. Their colors faded, but I recognized the zipper right away. My son, my dear son, my beloved
As I was stood there, bitterly mourning my son, they called me that they had found my husband. They identified him based on the certificates he had with him. I saw him several times but did not recognize him. He changed so much.
I buried my husband and my son, one near the other. The only thing left for me to do is to find my father. However, despite all my great efforts, I could not find him.
The establishment of the ghetto
In the meantime, life did not stand still. A ghetto was established in Ternopil, the first in Galitsia. One of his organizers was Fierstenberg, a Jew from Bedzin [Bendin], who arrived in the city wearing the uniform of an officer in Warsaw's Jewish militia. He was lodged with Shmuel Cooper. Furstenberg convinced people to join the militia and organized its first company. He also praised the idea of a ghetto, pointing at the Warsaw ghetto as an example. He intermediated between the frightened and confused Judenrat and the Germans and in the end
it was agreed to establish the ghetto. A special committee set its borders, and Jews were ordered to move into it from their various places of residence by the end of September.
The crowding in the ghetto was horrible, but even there, one could easily distinguish between the wealthy and the poor. While the wealthy lived relatively comfortably and had plenty to eat, the poor resided in small rooms and died from hunger. Although a soup kitchen that provided hot soup daily was organized, the people who benefitted from it and other social assistance programs were the first to suffer from any calamity. Therefore, the ghetto's needy preferred to forgo assistance, which could have cost them their life. In addition to the hunger and crowding, the poor suffered from the cold, which was one of the harshest hardships that claimed many victims.
Except for the searches and kidnapping for forced labor, life in the ghetto was quite monotonous. One day was similar to another, and one worry chased after the other.
I decided to start working in public service. The teachers planned to open a school and gathered several times to discuss their plans. However, the parents objected to assembling too many children in the same place. In the end, small groups of 5-8 children gathered and studied in private homes.
At the same time, the Judenrat organized social work department and a hospital. Donations were collected to maintain an orphanage and nursing home, which were later established. A kindergarten was also planned. The hospital was located in Me'ika's home in the old market and the orphanage in Beit HaMidrash. The children at the orphanage lay down on bunks and were hungry most of the time. The institution was managed by Professor Joachim Hirschberg, who headed a group of workers; however, a lack of resources and food hindered their work. The nursing home was also located in Beit HaMidtrash. The state of the poor elderlies aroused pity in the hearts of all who saw them. The kindergarten was not established since the building slated for it housed the jail of the Jewish militia.
Those who destroy and ravage you
The population began to look for ways for making a living. One man opened a coffee house and the other a workshop. Many baked pastries for the shops. Children sold cigarettes in the streets. Those who went out to work outside of the ghetto smuggled food products.
There were also big merchants in the ghetto, such as Teikhman and Haus. They worked in selling Jewelry and even accumulated wealth. These people were just a few individuals. Most of the people suffered from hunger.
There were also intermediaries who did good business. These people included: Cooper, the Jewish militia officer; Fleishman, the contact man of the Gestapo; Dr. Baral, the camp physician; Eisner and Rosa Schwartz, the workers at the labor department, militiamen, and others. Pharmacist Freudenthal's house served as the place of residence for the top people and was called the palace. The Gestapo people gathered there with their lovers and their Jewish adjutants, gorged and drank, played cards, and did all sorts of shady businesses.
Among the leeches who sucked the ghetto's blood was Labiner, the manager of the supply department of the ghetto. The ghetto residents received 70 grams of bread per day and a tiny portion of jelly. A portion was allocated for social institutions, and the rest disappeared into Mr. Labiner's pocket. Obviously, he did not deprive the Judenrat's members. He provided them generously. All of that was done at the expense of the poor since the wealthy managed themselves.
Baral sorted out the candidates for the labor camps, and since he did not object to receiving gifts, the poor were again the victims.
Rosa Schwartz headed again the women's department. She was not content with all sorts of extortions but used her position for all sorts of private services at her home, which people had to do after a full day of hard work.
That was how some agile people and parasites thrived and lived at the expense of their brothers' hardship.
The first Aktsia
A rumor spread at the beginning of 1942, that the Germans demanded to be supplied with a blood donation of about a thousand Jews. Negotiations between the Judenrat and the Gestapo were conducted, and it was decided that the Judenrat would execute the aktsia in collaboration with the Jewish militia. They prepared the list of the people who were sentenced to die, and Dr. Dretler approved it.
At the head of the list were the residents of the orphanage (except the staff) and the nursing home. It also included all those who depended on any form of social assistance - again, the poor and the needy.
Although the Judenrat tried its best to keep all the preparations secret, the population knew that something was about to happen. They just did not know when. One day, the militia and the Judenrat's officials were summonsed. They have been divided into groups of three. Every group received a list of victims and was tasked with bringing them to the old synagogue using various excuses. The operation began at the curfew hours in the evening, when going out to the street was forbidden. It was supposed to end at five o'clock in the morning. The Germans did not intervene and relied on their caddies from the Judenrat and the [Jewish] militia. When the messengers failed to deliver the quota
until 4 a.m., Dr. Baral ordered to capture of people on Podlska- Nizsza Street ( the section of the poor people).
It was a horrific night. The screams and wailings rose to the heavens. I heard the calls: mother, don't cry. I am going with you. Don't be afraid, your daughter will not leave you.
The transport of the victims from the synagogue to Bianov forest began at exactly 5 a.m. The Germans loaded the victims on trucks. They lay them down in layers upon layer and covered them in tarpaulin. The S.S. troupes stood on the top and trampled the victims with their boots and machine guns. The convoy began to move toward the forest. The Baudinst (construction service) has already prepared mass graves in the forest. The victims were ordered to strip naked. Men, women, and children were separated. The children were murdered first before the eyes of their parents.
Great was the resentment among the ghetto residents when the news about the aktsia became known. Under what authority did the Judenrat take it on itself to be the ultimate judge in determining who would live and die? People raised other cities as examples where the leaders of the Judenrat chose to commit suicide than serve as stooges at the hands of the Germans, spilling their brothers' blood. The people of the Judenrat had only one response: the murdered did not have any chance to stay alive in the conditions of the ghetto, and people should not be sorry about the barn when the house is on fire
People learned a lot from that aktsia. They had no more illusions concerning the role the Judenrat and the Jewish militia play. Everybody tried their best to avoid falling into their hands, entrenching, and escaping their claws at a time of fury. Feverish hideouts and bunkers' construction activity began.
The stranglehold is getting tighter
The first Passover holiday in the ghetto was very gloomy. The Judenrat forbade baking matzas, and the ghetto residents baked them at home. The rabbi allowed them to eat porridges, legumes, and beans. During the holiday a group of prisoners was brought to Bianov forest and executed there. Operations such as this became routine.
Rumors spread that anyone between the ages of 14 and 60, men and women, would be recruited to work. The work would be allocated by the labor bureau, which would equip every worker with the letter A [for Arbeit work] in the middle of the Star of David. Those rumors became a reality very quickly.
People without that sign could not move around, not even stand in front of the house for a breath of fresh air. People were persecuted from all sides. It was forbidden for a lone Jew to appear outside of the ghetto (the objective was to prevent any contact with the Christian population). Within the ghetto, it was forbidden for even the owners of the signs to move around during work hours, except for people equipped with a special license from the doctor. The city looked like a ghost town during the day. People ran around in a panic to stock up on food and water only during the evening,
All of a sudden, news spread that women would be recruited to a camp to work in the natural rubber orchards. [The Germans] usually kidnaped women when they went or came back from work. Therefore, the women avoided going out. Many women were kidnapped from their own houses and hideouts. After work, they were transported to Belzec's crematoria.
In July 1942, a rumor spread that the work certificates had to be stamped and that anybody who would not get the stamp would go to the himelkomando (sky command). The family members of the stamp owner would also be protected from kidnapping.
A stamp panic commenced. The provider of the stamps was Shmuel'ke Cooper, a former militia officer. When he appeared in the street, people surrounded him from all sides and begged with tears in their eyes to award them the stamp of life. The truth is that Shmuel'ke helped many, particularly his acquaintances.
In the meantime, the news about Operation August in Lviv arrived in Ternopil. There, stamps were accommodated. That news amplified the panic.
People predicted that an aktsia would begin in the city at any moment. The famous Rollbrigade, which toured the cities and sent Jews to Belzec, was supposed to arrive in Ternopil. With fear in their hearts, people ran to the train station every day, to check whether the death cars have arrived.
On 31 August in the morning, I heard a voice: Lulek, wake up! It is starting They called the Judenrat person - Lulek Pohoriles. I saw through the window that the ghetto was surrounded, and many Gestapo troupes were positioned in the market. We hurried up and hid in our hideout. It was a room located behind a closet and a moving wall. We could see what was happening in the market through the room's window.
The market was full of people. Trucks arrived continuously, and people were loaded on them and transported under a guard equipped with a machine gun to the train station. It was very hot that day and people passed out of thirst. Sounds of screams, wailings, and gunshots reached us. The militia pulled people from all sides. The people of the Judenrat operated in an official capacity in the two concentration points (a second location was at the Umshlagplatz [transshipment square] in the horse market near Targowica Street).
The Germans came to our house twice but
>by a miracle did not find us. Five thousand people were murdered in that operation.
The ghetto shrunk. Now, people were ordered to abandon the streets of Perl, Lvovska, and Berek Yoselevitz Streets, as well as one side of the market.
People predicted that another big aktsia would occur again in October. People looked for new ways to hide. Some passed to the Aryan side even then. The supplier of the faked Aryan papers was a Jew by the name of Weinstein, who was captured in the end and murdered. Aryan papers were now the dream of everybody. However, only a few managed to get them, and even fewer use them. Aryan appearance, Christian acquaintances, etc., were conditions only a few could meet.
About a thousand Jews were annihilated at the end of October's operation. After that operation, the Jews were ordered to abandon the Kazimierzowski market. The ghetto now extended from Ruska Street down to the [Seret] river.
On the way to death
On 8 November, while I was busy transferring my belongings to my new apartment, I noticed a panic in the street and the sound of gunshots. I realized that an aktsia began again. We ran with the rest of the neighbors to the hideout in the cellar. The entrance was not camouflaged sufficiently, and I immediately felt that this time, I was entrapped. However, it was too late to do anything about that.
The Germans broke into the cellar a short while later, together with militia people. They robbed our money, rings, and watches stating: You would not need these things any longer. They yelled and kicked us out of the cellar. I received a few strong blows to my back and found myself in the square by Kazimierzowski Street.
Many people were already in the square, but new ones were brought in continuously. Many slain people lay in the street. The headquarter of the gestapo was located on Baron Hirsch Street. About a thousand people were crowded into that building. We stood there, pressed to each other. All of a sudden, they ordered us to sit down. Because of the crowding, this was impossible to do. However, as we absorbed blows from the rifles' butts until blood was drawn, we fell on the floor without paying attention to each other. The living sat on the dead and trampled them. The guard changed continuously because of the stench.
We sat like that for two days without any food or water. In the meantime, the Judenrat people pulled out their confidants and brought over other victims to replace them since the number had to be preserved
In the evening of the second day, we were taken out to the street. The Germans and the militia people arranged us in groups of ten and led us to the train station.
I said goodbye to the familiar streets and the cemetery that could be seen from afar. I tried to walk fast to avoid the beatings inflicted on people who lagged behind. We were surrounded by the Jewish and Ukrainian militias and the Gestapo troops. Miller himself marched at the head of the convoy. Christians stood on the side of the road and looked at us curiously. Their glances were apathetic and even mocking. We walked in silence, concentrating on ourselves. Everybody said goodbye to the city where they were born, educated, and spent beautiful days.
A policeman approached me on the way and whispered in my ear to try to join the group of young people as they entered the train car. On the way to the station, the men were pulled out, and we, the women, were turned toward the train cars. I noticed a group of young women, and I pushed myself into the car with them. The car was locked quickly behind us.
A leap into life
We were about eighty women in the car. There was a hatch on top of the car that was grilled and latticed with barbed wires. A short while later, we found out that somebody had smuggled a file to cut the grilles. I organized the work. A few women stood by the hatch, and a few others stood on their backs and filed the grilled. The train raced forward. The jumps commenced when the grilles were removed. The jumping contender would climb on her friend, take her leg out through the hatch, hold on to the lintel, let go of one hand and jump in the direction of the racing train.
I followed each of the jumpers. Most of them were killed immediately, and others were run over by trains traveling in the other direction. Some women were shot by the Gestapo guards. Those who survived the jump were captured by special guards of the train workers, who handed them over to the Gestapo. If I am not mistaken, I was the only one that survived out of all the jumpers.
I hesitated to jump for a long time. I thought that it did not make any sense. I thought that even if I survived the jump, and returned to the ghetto - and then what? They will capture me again, and I will have to endure the seven Halls of Hells again? I looked through the window and saw an abyss gaping before my eyes. However, when I realized that out of the eighty women, only a few remained, I thought about what would happen to these poor women who would be charged with helping the escapees. I decided then to jump.
A few minutes later, I was already hanging on the other side of the hatch, ready to jump. I felt that I was caught by the barbed wires. I started to scream out of fear, and at the same moment, I felt that my body was leaping forward and falling. A bullet struck my head. Fortunately, it was only a light scratch. The guards missed their target. I had not recovered yet from the jump when I saw a locomotive speeding toward me. I rolled over in a flash
to a nearby pit. All of that lasted just a few seconds
I was saved, but I was beaten and wounded. Blood trickled from my head and hands. I tore off some frozen weeds and put them on my wounds. The blood stopped. I later wiped my face and arranged my clothes.
While I was taking care of myself, two young Ukrainians appeared before me. Hay Jew, come with us to the Gestapo!, they welcomed me. When I asked them how did they know I am Jewish, they responded that only Jews jumped from trains, and my condition indicated that I was not a tourist. I preached morals to them. I told them who is what the Germans were, betraying and cheating the Ukrainians, etc. One of them was probably an honest man, and he whispered to the other to leave me alone. However, that man demanded a ransom from me. I tried to argue that I did not have any money, but in the end, I gave them 20 guldens. Before we parted, they explained where we were: about fourteen kilometers from Lviv and there are two ways leading to the city: one through the forest and another on the road. I chose the road.
On the Aryan side
It was early in the morning and cold (I wore a summer coat) when I arrived at a village. I saw a woman farmer milking a cow in one of the cowsheds. I approached her, greeted her, and asked whether she agreed to sell me some milk. She looked at me suspiciously. To calm her down, I made up a story that I was a peddler from Lviv. I told her that I carried some belongings to the village to barter them for food products, and the despicable driver robbed me and threw me out of the car. I was almost killed. Now I have to return home destitute. My story probably made an impression on her, and she invited me to her home and offered me soup.
I went for three days without food and drink, so I ate with a great appetite, everything she offered me. During my meal, I thought about the poor people who reached the end of the trip and the suffering they endured. I could hardly believe that I was sitting quietly and eating.
After eating, I felt tremendously tired and asked the landlady to allow me to rest a bit. She agreed. I lay down on the bench and fell asleep.
My nerves did not allow me to sleep for a long time. I woke up, washed, fixed my socks and the torn coat, and ate something again. The farmer told me about a truck passing through the village that evening, transporting workers to Lviv. She told me that I could join them. I expressed my joy, but in my heart, I knew it was not joyful information. I began to converse with my host and tried to test whether she would agree to host me for a few days. She absolutely refused. I only secured her permission to stay for the night. I lay down on a straw bunk and felt that I was experiencing a miracle.
In the following days I convinced the landlord to transport me to Lviv in his cart. I obviously paid handsomely for it. The landlady lent me a large shawl. I wrapped myself in it and sat down in the cart.
During the journey, I thought about how to use my host to help me settle in Lviv among Christians. I entered into a small talk conversation with him. Suddenly, I turned to him, addressed him in a mysterious tone, and asked whether he was a good Pole and a patriot and whether I can rely on him. When he answered in the affirmative, and I got the impression that he was a decent man, I told him that I was a a member in the Polish underground in Ternopil and that I was running away from the Germans. I told him I need to hide, for a certain amount of time in Lviv, since they would be looking for me in Ternopil. I mentioned the names of several clergies, my so-called friends, who cooperated with me and would be willing to cover my expenses. They would also pray for those who would help in my time of need.
My story made an impression on the farmer. He thought about it, and in the end, he said that he had a relative in Lviv who was a strange man but would probably be willing to lodge me for a handsome fee.
When we reached our destination, the farmer entered his relative's house and stayed there for a short while. I sat on the cart and felt as if my fate was being determined during those minutes. A short while later, the farmer appeared with his relative and invited me into the house. Two women welcomed me. One of them, as it turned out, was the landlady, and the second one, chubby and made-up, turned to me and said: We were sure that there is a Jewish woman in the cart, but instead, we see you, etc
After a short negotiation, we agreed on the conditions. I also asked the landlord to recommend a physician who could take care of my wounded hand, which was swallowed and covered with black spots.
The two of us, the tenant woman and myself, sat down for lunch. She presented herself as a Ukrainian from Buchach. During the meal, I asked her to send a telegram in my name to my relatives to notify them that I arrived peacefully in Lviv. She did not take her eyes off me and said: Don't be afraid. I know you are Jewish, and I also guessed you jumped off the train. You played your role well. Please know that I am also Jewish. They call me Yula here. I have papers, and I was even registered in the registry office. I will help you too. We will tell the neighbors that my acquaintance came from a provincial city to recuperate. In the meantime, lay down and rest and be strong.
It was like a dream for me. The woman's words slowly penetrated my consciousness. I felt a kind of warmth pouring through my body and faith filling my heart.
|Common grave for the martyrs of Ternopil
With the signing of the book of remembrance, we collectively raise the blessed memory of Ternopil veterans - dreamers, and fighters, the last and first, who were brought out of a foreign land by their redemption aspirations and rooted in the land of our homeland; People of all ages and classes, intellectuals and commoners, that the love of their nation and homeland brought them to the shores of Eretz Israel, and perished in it in the campaign of work, guard, defense, and the great independence war.
The state of Israel, the fulfillment of the nation's dream for generations, is the living memorial who escaped and made aliya in a youthful storm and gave their energy and blood to lay the pillars for its formation.
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